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Posts from the 'Local News' category

Complete Interview With Ruth Wood on Jessica Stevens Community Foundation Challenge Grants

Friday, May 22, 2015

 

Attached is the complete audio of Phillip Manning’s interview with JSCF board member Ruth Wood regarding the changes to the foundation’s grant process for this year.

 

More information is available at the foundation’s website.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly Passes Budget; Mayoral Veto Likely

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Mat-Su Borough Assembly has passed a budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, but Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss says to expect some vetoes.

On Wednesday evening, the assembly met for the third time to deliberate on and amend the borough’s budget for fiscal year 2016.  The proposed budget submitted by Borough Manager John Moosey at the beginning of the process was right around $400 million.  In the course of its deliberations, the assembly added funding for schools, maintenance at Port MacKenzie, eight emergency services positions, two ambulances, and a full-time recycling and community cleanup position.  The assembly also voted to allow the Mat-Su Borough School District to keep all of it’s $10.9 million fund balance, which is money not yet spent from the last budget.

At the end of the process, the borough’s areawide mill rate was set at 9.984, which means just under ten dollars in taxes per thousand dollars of property value.  Other mill rates, such as for service areas, are added on top of that to determine each property owner’s property taxes.

At a previous meeting, Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said that he would likely get out his veto pen if the areawide mill rate rose above ten mills.  Even though the mill rate remained below that mark, DeVilbiss’ last remark at Wednesday’s meeting was that a veto document would be forthcoming.  The mayor has until the next regular meeting, scheduled for next week, to decide what line items to reduce or zero out.  An override of a mayoral veto takes five votes from the assembly.

Changes to “Alaska Safe Children’s Act” Receive More Criticism in Committee

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Changes to a bill that would require education for children on sexual abuse and dating violence are receiving significant criticism from some of those who originally pushed for the measure.  The bill, known as the “Alaska Safe Children’s Act,” was the subject of a second hearing before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.

Originally, House Bill 44 was one of four introduced under the name ‘Erin’s Law.’  The bill was named for Erin Merryn, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has become a voice for victims and has made it her personal goal to have all fifty states require age-appropriate sexual abuse education in schools.  During the current special session of the Alaska Legislature, content from three other education bills has been added to House Bill 44, and the requirement for school districts to establish the curriculum has been removed.  On Wednesday, during a Senate Education Committee hearing, Erin Merryn called out Chairman Mike Dunleavy in a Tweet, saying:

“His gutted version is NOT #ERINSLAW he has made it optional any state can do it right now that way. #disappointed.”

Erin Merryn was not alone in her criticism of the changes.  Butch Moore, whose daughter Breanna was killed last summer, advocated for an addition to the bill dealing with dating violence, known as “Bree’s Law.”  In testimony before the committee on Wednesday, he criticized the new version, which includes provisions on parental rights and unfunded mandates for schools.

“Quit playing with it, please. Please pass it on the three page version.  Go back to it; retract your [committee substitute] version.”

Senator Lesil McGuire carried a version of the original bill in the Alaska Senate.  She says the rolling back of the requirement for sexual abuse curriculum on districts would not stop her from supporting the bill.

“If making it optional allows for the bill to pass, then I’m supportive of that, because I believe at a certain point the culture will begin to change and shift in a way that people come on board.”

What Senator McGuire says concerns her is the addition of content from three other bills, which she says may cause a loss of momentum for the combination of Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law, now called the “Alaska Safe Children’s Act.”

“It’s a good bill, and it should pass.  My concern is that it has been weighted down, now, with three other measures, which independently I might support, but I don’t know that they’ll be collectively supported.”

Senator Mike Dunleavy says he agrees that training children about sexual abuse and dating violence is crucial. At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, he reiterated that point, then defended the addition of the sections to House Bill 44 dealing with parents’ rights.

“I think the parental rights component is crucial.  I have a lot of constituents—and this is something that has not been discussed much, but I’ve had a lot of constituents call me who feel like they are no longer citizens of the State of Alaska or the United States, but that they are subjects of Alaska.”

House Bill 44 passed out of the Senate Education Committee without objection.  Its next hearing will be in the Senate Finance Committee.

Reporting from Talkeetna, I’m Phillip Manning.

KTNA attempted to contact Senator Dunleavy for a response, but did not receive one by deadline.

Senate Committee Hears, Changes ‘Erin’s Law’

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Tuesday, the state’s Senate Education committee took up the “Alaska Safe Children’s Act”, also known as Erin’s Law. The committee is chaired by Senator Mike Dunleavy, whose district includes the Upper Valley.  The bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship, requires schools in the State of Alaska to provide age-appropriate education on sexual assault and dating violence.  That changed on Tuesday, when a committee substitute for the bill changed the wording.  Instead of saying that school districts “shall” develop the curriculum outlined, the new version says that districts “may” develop and teach it.

The new version also incorporates portions of three bills that were brought up during the legislature’s regular session, but did not make it through both chambers of the Legislature.  Some of the added provisions allow parents to opt their children out of a number of activities, including curriculum dealing with human reproduction and sexuality.

House Majority Leader Charisse Millett is the bill’s sponsor.  In a press release issued after Tuesday’s meeting, she says the new version of the bill, which quadrupled in length from three to twelve pages, is not as focused on its original goal of protecting children.  She also expressed concern about the opt-out provision for parents on the sexual assault and dating violence curriculum.  She says, “Keeping Alaska’s children safe should not be optional…”

The committee substitute was not passed out of committee.  Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Local Author Receives Individual Artist Award Grant

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Tuesday, the Rasmuson Foundation announced that Talkeetna author Sarah Birdsall will receive one of this year’s Individual Artist Award grant.  Birdsall is the recipient of one of twenty-five Project Grants, worth up to $7,500.  According to the Rasmuson Foundation, she will use the grant to build a small, portable writing studio to help complete the first draft of her new novel, Wild Rivers, Wild Rose.  Sarah Birdsall’s previous works include The Red Mitten and Ghosts of Talkeetna.

The grant is part of a program begun by the Rasmuson Foundation in 2003 to provide support to individual working artists across Alaska.  Rasmuson says it has awarded a total of 373 grants, totaling over $3.1 million, since the program began.

Rain Damages MV Susitna’s Engines

Monday, May 18, 2015

KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer provided portions of the audio and script for this piece.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s would-be ferry, MV Susitna, has suffered expensive damage, and now the Borough estimates repairs could cost as much as one million dollars.  The Borough has been trying to sell the vessel for years, and is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on the repayment of a twelve million dollar grant.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

According to the Mat-Su Borough’s Port Director, Marc Van Dongen, rainwater has damaged three of the ferry Susitna’s four engines where it is currently being stored in Ketchikan.   The damage was discovered in February, and seems to have occurred during particularly heavy rains in late January.

“It was over 51/2 inches in one day. And apparently some of that rain went into the exhaust, manifold of the vessel. It went through the exhaust stack down into the manifold, and water went into the cylinders and into three of the four engines.”

When the crew tried to start the Susitna for the regular exercising of the vessel in February, those three engines failed.

The ship has been docked in Ketchikan since 2011, at a cost of 30 thousand dollars a month.  Van Dongen was not specific as to why water was able to seep into the engines.  Borough Manager John Moosey says the vessel has been operating for five years without covers on its vertical smoke stacks without issue, and that it’s not clear why the problem showed up this year.  What is certain is that the insurance estimate on repairs will not be cheap.

“We are working on the estimate.  It’s going to be significant; it’s anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 is what we’re guessing.”

The borough’s policy carries a hefty deductible — 250 thousand dollars.  Marc Van Dongen says tarps now cover the smoke stacks.   He says plans to sell the vessel are proceeding, despite the new chapter in the long saga of the Susitna.

“And we’re still attempting to dispose of the vessel either by transfer or by selling it as is.  We could still claim the insurance money to do the repairs, but that won’t happen until we have a buyer.”

John Moosey says there is no rush for determining what to do next with the MV Susitna.  He says once more information is available, he will take it to the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.

“We’re still in kind of wait and see mode and just examining the situation.  Once that is concluded, I’ll report back to the assembly, because this has sucked up a lot of energy and time.  I know my assembly, as is, has a deep level of frustration.”

Meanwhile, the borough is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on twelve million dollars in grants the government agency wants back, because the ferry never went into service.  The assembly held a closed-door executive session on the Susitna earlier this month, and has scheduled another.  For now, Marc Van Dongen says the borough does not have plans to repair the boat.

“It appears that we’re not going to until we have a buyer.  Then, we would negotiate with that buyer on the deductible portion, based on what their offer might be for the vessel.”

Van Dongen says ship brokers in Florida and in Hawaii have contacted the Borough about the ship, as has an individual in Texas.  According to Van Dongern, another individual, a foreign national, has made an offer, but Borough Manager Moosey says there are no offers in writing at this time. The borough would need federal approval to sell the Susitna outside the country.

Borough Does Not Plan to Close Talkeetna Transfer Site

Friday, May 15, 2015

While changes may be coming soon for the Talkeetna Solid Waste Transfer Site, the top borough official in the Public Works Department says the current plans do not include closure.

Currently, the borough solid waste division operates at a significant deficit.  The division is set up as an enterprise fund, which means that it should, in theory, pay for itself.  Since that is not currently happening, Public Works Director Terry Dolan says the Mat-Su Borough Assembly has directed him to look at other options for the transfer sites.

One option being considered at the direction of the assembly is privatization of the sites.  Terry Dolan says that the Solid Waste Division is discussing options with the Talkeetna Community Council, and that the community’s needs have to be taken into account.  He says that’s because the elected members of the borough assembly have final say over any change in the structure of the division.

For now, the Talkeetna Transfer Site will operate the same way it has for years, and while change is coming, it will likely take some time.

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The National Park Service reports that the remains of a solo Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.  The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb on May 6th.  He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.  No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th, and mountain patrols were not yet in place at the highest camp.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.  Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues”.

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the only death reported thus far in the 2015 Denali climbing season.

Talkeetna Elementary Receives Threatening Phone Call During Field Trip

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Wednesday afternoon, Talkeetna Elementary School received a threatening phone call while students were out of the building on a field trip.

Joe Schmidt, School Safety Coordinator for Mat-Su schools, says that the call is similar to one received at Pioneer Peak Elementary last week.  He did not give details of the call.

Schmidt says that Talkeetna Elementary Principal Lisa Shelby made the right decision by keeping the students at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar while the situation was being assessed.  Bus and parent pick-ups were re-routed to the hangar.

Joe Schmidt says he expects the situation at Talkeetna Elementary to be resolved by tomorrow.

Wednesday’s call is one of several received at schools throughout the state in recent weeks.