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Posts from the 'Local News' category

Three injured, one seriously, in Parks Highway crash

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A three-car collision Tuesday morning on the Parks Highway involved two Upper Valley drivers, according to the Alaska State Troopers.


The crash occurred shortly after 11:00 am near mile 52 of the highway. According to troopers 71-year-old John Hensel was driving southbound, and had either slowed or stopped to turn left off of the highway.   Troopers say Hensel’s vehicle was rear-ended by a van, driven by 62-year-old Roger Demiller of Trapper Creek. Hensel’s car was pushed into the northbound lane, where it was struck by an SUV driven by 68-year-old Ruth Strong of Talkeetna.


Hensel, whose place of residence was not identified, was trapped inside his vehicle and was removed by emergency responders. He was taken to the hospital with what troopers describe as “serious” injuries. Ruth Strong and her passenger were also transported for evaluation and treatment.

New for the 2015 hunting season,a Hatcher Pass youth hunt and custom hunting maps

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

While the bulk of moose hunting season has yet to open, some early season hunting activities are underway in the game management units around the Upper Valley. Todd Rinaldi, area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says one completely new hunt in Hatcher Pass is specifically for young hunters.


“What this does is it has a youth only area from August 10th through August 25th. What that means is the area is closed to small game hunting, except that small game can be taken by hunters sixteen years old or younger when they are accompanied by a licensed hunter at eighteen years [or older]. We’re pretty excited about this. This is a proposal that went through the Mat-Valley advisory committee, and basically what it’s going to do is provide an opportunity for young hunters—for families—to get out and actually get an opportunity to take some small came and instill some hunting safety practices.”


In this case, small game means rabbits, ptarmigan, and grouse. Todd Rinaldi says bowhunting for moose, which began on August 10th in game management unit 14, will be allowed in the area, but adults will have to wait one more week if they intend to take small game in the Hatcher Pass area.


Also new this year are custom hunting maps. Todd Rinaldi says the new map tool, which is available on the Fish and Game website, lets hunters create a map that is specific to their needs.


“Typically, most of the maps that are produced online are either an entire game management unit, which someone may or may not want, or it’s the entire draw unit or hunt zone. Sometimes those maps are bigger than people want; sometimes they don’t contain as much information or as much area as someone would want. So, you can go online, and you can customize. Maybe [you] have a map that includes both game management units. Maybe you want to zoom in to a specific drainage in a sheep hunt area. It just gives you a lot of flexibility…”


Keep listening to KTNA this week to hear about changes to hunting regulations in and around the Upper Valley.

Mat-Su School District announces new app for school information

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

On Tuesday, the Mat-Su Borough School District announced a new app that allows parents and students to keep up with school news. This is the second app that the district has put out. The previous app was custom-made by student workers, and the new version is produced by Blackboard, a company that makes a number of technology products for schools and colleges. Mike Brown, Executive Director of Operations for the school district, says using an established brand has potential advantages.


“This version’s a little bit different in that it gives us the capacity to grow. There’s not a lot of custom work inherent in the application itself, so it’s not difficult to maintain and add features to.”


With the app, which is available for both Android and iOS mobile devices, a great deal of information is available. Mostly, that information mirrors what is available at the district website. Mike Brown says the purpose of the app is to make that information available anywhere, not just at a computer. While links ranging from the district’s social media accounts to the login page to view grades are in the app, Brown says two particular parts of the district website tend to get the most attention.


“Probably the two most common features or information sets that folks access are the school calendar, so they know of upcoming events and whatnot, and actually what I understand is the second most-accessed is the school menus.”


In addition, the school district plans to use the app as another means of reaching parents in case of emergency, school closures, or other time-sensitive situations.


“There’s a notifications feature, much like there is to sign up for on the district website, so there are these, I guess what we would call them push notifications, where if information is sent out it would notify folks automatically, especially if they were on the move with their mobile devices.”


The app notifications will not replace the current text and email notifications, and are intended as a supplement.


Users can select which school or schools they want to receive notifications and news about, and are prompted to select one or more schools the first time the app is opened.


Mike Brown says the district intends to continue expanding the app’s capabilities, and that one target feature is the ability to register students for school with a mobile device.

New poll asks Alaskans about state’s budget shortfall

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On Thursday, the Rasmuson Foundation released the results of a poll gauging Alaskans’ knowledge of the state’s budget shortfall and their opinions on how to deal with it.

The poll was conducted in mid-to-late July by the firm Strategies 360, and has a sample size of just over 1,200. One of the first questions asked respondents, without prompting, to list one or more issues facing the state that the governor and legislature should address. The economy and the state budget were each mentioned by more than thirty percent of people polled. When respondents were directly asked about the state’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, more than eighty-five-percent said they had heard about it.

Additionally, more than sixty percent say they believe the economy is in fair or poor shape, and two thirds showed low levels of trust in elected state officials to “do the right thing for Alaska residents.” Governor Bill Walker fared better than the state legislature in the poll, with an approval rating of fifty-three percent. Legislators, collectively, received an approval rating just less than one-third.

When it comes to solving the state budget problem, a majority of Alaskans polled say that some form of new revenue is necessary, and many believe it should accompany budget cuts. The Rasmuson poll presented sales tax, income tax, reduction in oil tax credits, capping the Permanent Fund Dividend, and use of the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve as potential revenue streams for the state. Of those, only a personal state income tax saw majority disapproval.

Talkeetna sewer system exceeds permit limits in July, but borough says progress is being made

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When the Mat-Su Borough submits July’s fecal coliform measurements for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, they will be out of compliance with their permit, but the head of the Borough’s Public Works Division says that progress is being made toward bringing that number down.

Back in May, the Mat-Su Borough was issued a notice of violation from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for missing records for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. According to both the borough and ADEC, the records were being kept, but were not on the correct form, meaning that some data was not making it into the state’s database. As a result, it appeared as if the records were missing. Now, both the borough and state say that the correct forms have been submitted, and the paperwork violations have been resolved.

Where there are still struggles for Talkeetna’s sewer lagoon is in the treatment of the sewage itself. According to Terry Dolan, Public Works Director for the Mat-Su Borough, the lagoon’s fecal coliform numbers came back at more than seven times the allowed amount when tested last month. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, while fecal coliform is not particularly hazardous on its own, high levels could indicate contamination by other pathogens associated with human waste.

Terry Dolan says that, while the amount of fecal coliform is higher than permit requirements, there has been progress. July’s numbers are close to measurements taken in September of last year.

Terry Dolan says the problems the sewer lagoon is experiencing are the result of a number of issues over time. He says the borough has taken steps this summer to help get the lagoon back into compliance. Those steps include skimming duckweed and grease off of the lagoon’s surface and replanting the wetlands that act as part of the treatment process. Dolan says that duckweed and oils can prevent oxygen transfer, part of the natural process that the lagoon uses to break down fecal coliform and other bacteria. Vegetation can also prevent penetration by ultraviolet light, which is also part of the treatment process.

The Talkeetna sewer lagoon is on a self-reporting system. Samples are taken and tested where the water flows into a slough leading to the Talkeetna River. The results are then sent to ADEC, who control’s the lagoon’s permit. Now that the sampling data is complete and in the correct format, the state is assessing the information, according to ADEC Enforcement Officer Kara Kusche, who wrote the notice of violation to the borough in May. Kusche says that ADEC has a system of escalating enforcement that begins with letters, and then moves to notices of violation. In cases where problems persist, she says further escalation could mean fines or monitored action plans. As of right now, the Talkeetna sewer lagoon has not moved into the more escalated forms of enforcement.

Terry Dolan says the borough is prepared to take more drastic measures to bring the fecal coliform measurements into compliance, potentially including temporary artificial aeration using borrowed equipment from the City of Palmer. He says the ultimate goal is to get the lagoon back to compliance levels in the hope that the system will be able to sustain itself once again once the high levels of bacteria are diminished. Whether or not that step is taken will depend on the measurements taken this month.

Two questions to appear on Mat-Su ballot

Monday, August 10, 2015

In October, voters in the Mat-Su Borough will choose their mayor, three assembly members, and three school board members. They will also vote on two ballot questions that could change how elections work in the future. They will not, however, be voting on banning commercial marijuana in the borough.


Borough Clerk Lonnie McKechnie (mik-KEK-nee) says petitions to change the election date and create districts for school board seats received the requisite number of signatures by the August 4th deadline to appear on this year’s ballot. The election date initiative would change the current October date for borough elections to line up with state and federal elections, on the first Tuesday after a Monday that falls in November. The other initiative would create districts for school board members to align with assembly districts. Currently, all school board members are elected at-large, and may live anywhere in the borough.


One petition that did not receive its requisite signatures would place the issue of commercial marijuana on the borough ballot. While personal recreational use and limited cultivation of marijuana is currently allowed after a statewide vote last year, municipalities may decide whether to allow marijuana businesses within their boundaries. Because it started later, the marijuana petition has until early September to achieve its required number of signatures. If that happens, it will either appear on next year’s borough ballot unless the assembly calls a special election.


The borough election will be held on October 6th.

Permanent registration for older vehicles will continue in Mat-Su

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

As of right now, owners of vehicles eight years old or older in the Mat-Su Borough have the opportunity to register those vehicles for as long as they continue to own them. On Tuesday, an effort to repeal that program was tabled indefinitely. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.


On Tuesday night, an ordinance to repeal permanent registration for the older vehicles and trailers in the Mat-Su Borough was tabled indefinitely.

Assembly Member Jim Sykes, who represents District 1 in the southeastern area of the borough, proposed the ordinance earlier this year. He is also the one who proposed killing the repeal effort.

“The reality of this is that we have arrived a bit of an unfairness.”

Sykes says that unfairness comes from the fact that permanent registration has been in effect for eight months.

“So, if we do cut it off now, it does create a de facto two groups: one who got the permanent [registration] and one who did not have the opportunity to get it.”

Permanent registration for vehicles eight years old or older was allowed by the state legislature last year. Lawmakers in Juneau left it up to local governments to determine whether it would take effect, however, since local governments receive some of their road maintenance funds from vehicle registration. The state measure has a built-in sunset clause that takes effect at the end of next year.

Assembly Member Sykes’ attempt to repeal permanent registration stems from potential impacts to the borough’s road service areas and dust control funding.

Barbara Doty, who represents District 6, says that the program should be allowed to continue until its natural sunset date.

“I do think that, if we pass something, we need to test it out. We may need to revisit this when push comes to shove when we’re doing the budget, but we’re not doing the budget at the moment.”

The motion to postpone the repeal indefinitely was unopposed, effectively killing the ordinance and allowing permanent registration to continue.

Talkeetna celebrates the start of new recycling program

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Talkeetna’s Mat-Su Borough Transfer Site, often referred to by locals as “the dump,” is not the sort of place you would normally expect to find a celebration, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the community’s first recycling container was brought online. KTNA’s Phillip Manning was there, and has this story.


As the first aluminum cans were tossed into Talkeetna’s new recycling container, there was an air of celebration. Many Talkeetna residents have been waiting decades for a local, regular, reliable recycling solution.   On Monday, that became a reality.

A major factor that makes this iteration of recycling in Talkeetna different than previous attempts is borough involvement. Borough contractors will pick up the recycling container just like any other dumpster at the transfer site. Instead of taking it to the landfill, however, the contents will go to the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions. Butch Shapiro, the borough’s solid waste manager, says that there is an economic incentive for his department in diverting recyclables away from the landfill.

“That’s the big thing for us. The more we can keep out of there, the more we can save, the longer we can make a cell last. And that’s huge, because it costs between $3.5 to $5 million to build a landfill cell.”

Shapiro estimates that the Mat-Su Borough saves about twenty-five cents for every pound of material that is recycled instead of dumped in the landfill. He says that the current program, which includes plans for recycling in Talkeetna, Willow, and Big Lake, could save the borough $100,000 in the next year. He says adding more recycling communities would increase those savings over time.

While the borough is handling the transport of the recycling container, the community had to come up with the funding for it. The final cost to refurbish a retired trash container and make it suitable for recycling is between $8,000 and $10,000. Butch Shapiro says a new container with similar capabilities could cost three times that much.

“Quite a savings, there. It really brings it within the realm of possibility. It’s been a long time coming.”

The Talkeetna Recycling Committee had little difficulty in raising funds in short order. Grants for $10,000 each from the Mat-Su Health Foundation and Matanuska Electric Association, as well as local fundraisers and donations, meant that the committee was able to bring the first container online this week, with a second already undergoing refurbishing.

Talkeetna resident Katie Writer organized much of the fundraising. On Monday, she told the gathered crowd of more than thirty people why she took the leadership role for the project.

“I’m really honored to fill those shoes, because the Earth is the most important thing to me. And, being here in Alaska, we need to be able to honor the Earth and take care of our trash in a better way.”

Mollie Boyer is the Executive Director for the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions in Palmer, the facility where Talkeetna’s recycling will go for processing. She says VCRS was founded with the initial goal of establishing reliable recycling options. Now, she says the establishment of recycling programs in individual communities helps her organization move toward its long-term goals.

“…To provide a permanent recycling facility and opportunity for the Mat-Su…This bin here represents the fulfillment of that long-term goal.”

The container is not the end of the story, however. The Talkeetna Recycling Committee is actively seeking volunteers to help guide local residents in what can be recycled and how it should be prepared. For the moment, aluminum cans, steel cans, and #2 plastic jugs, such as milk jugs, are accepted.


Sockeye fishing on Larson Creek to become catch-and-release only

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Starting on Wednesday, Larson Creek will be catch-and-release only for sockeye salmon. According to an emergency order issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, escapement numbers for red salmon are well below the seasonal goal. Fish and Game says that, even assuming the run is five days late, there will likely not be enough more fish to meet the minimum escapement goal of 15,000.

The catch-and-release order applies to all of Larson Creek and within one-quarter mile of its confluence with the Talkeetna River.