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Brown Jug to close 1 Mountain View store in response to neighborhood pressure

Alaska News - 1 hour 5 min ago

A Brown Jug liquor store in Mountain View will close by the end of the year, the company's owners said Friday, a sign of an Anchorage-wide trend: Citizens are having more success pushing liquor stores to address problems caused by chronic alcoholics and litter. 

In an unusual agreement with neighbors, Brown Jug made a series of commitments. In addition to closing the store on North Bragaw Street, the company plans to spend $25,000 to spruce up a second Brown Jug store a few blocks away, stop using plastic bags, create a "do-not-serve" list of customers with addresses at local homeless shelters, and open the stores at noon instead of 10 a.m., according to the agreement signed with Mountain View neighbors Friday and first reported by the Mountain View Post.

The stores will also stop selling tiny bottles of alcohol and cheap fortified beer and wine, the kinds favored by people who drink on the street, neighbors said.

"We sell a product that those type of individuals seek, and there's a responsible way of doing this," said Gerald Proctor, the vice president of government and community relations at Liquor Stores North America, the Canada-based corporation that owns Brown Jug. "We think this will elevate the responsibility in the community."

Some members of the liquor industry say things like changing inventory, prices or hours will make little difference. Chronic alcoholics have other alternatives, they say, and the problems that neighbors seek to solve are complex. In the 1990s, for examples, some stores agreed to restrictions on Everclear grain alcohol and bottom-shelf liquors, but problems have persisted.

[This Midtown liquor store sells high-octane alcohol in small amounts. Some neighbors want it to stop.]

In a place that census data show is one of the city's lower-income neighborhoods, advocates say the trouble associated with chronic alcoholism stands in contrast to the improvements they've achieved, like school and library renovations and the opening of Credit Union One in the past two decades.

Daniel George, a past president of the community council and the current treasurer, called public drinking and problems that stem from alcohol "the No. 1 variable holding back our neighborhood." He said it affects property values, business growth and the perception of Mountain View as a place where people want to live.

George and others say there should not be a liquor store a few hundred feet from a middle school and a library. They also say that two stores within blocks of each other is too many.

On Thursday afternoon, on the sidewalk in front of the credit union, a dozen people sat side by side, inches from a lane of traffic. One woman had a bottle of alcohol resting inside her winter jacket. Some people there said fights happen regularly.

Right across the street is the Brown Jug store that's slated to close, in a strip mall next to the Red Apple grocery store.

The trash can was overflowing, mostly with empty alcohol bottles and cans. George pointed out one of the cans, a Four Loko "Hurricane."

"This is $1.99," George said to Jasmin Smith, the current council president.

"Are you serious? That's huge," Smith said, looking at the size of the can.

"Twenty-four ounces, 10 percent alcohol," George said.

It's this type of cheap, strong alcoholic beverage that has no place in the neighborhood, George said.

Smith has two young kids. She said she's worried about what they might see while walking home from middle school.

Jonathan Kevin Goodlataw George, who said he sometimes passes time with people drinking on the sidewalk, didn't think it would make much of a difference if the Brown Jug on North Bragaw Street moved.

"Everybody's going to migrate to the next store," George said. "It's not going to change nothing."

Community council members and Brown Jug representatives both said it was worth a try.

Under pressure from neighbors in recent years, Brown Jug had promised to change business practices, said Daniel George, the community council treasurer. But there was high turnover among managers and executives, and nothing changed, he said.

Proctor, the Brown Jug representative, said a recent meeting with the Clark Middle School principal and other neighborhood representatives "hit home" with company officials.

"We've had some changes in leadership, and some things fell through the cracks," Proctor told Anchorage Assembly members at a Friday meeting about Brown Jug's liquor licenses. "So this is great to get back on track … and try to find a solution that works for Mountain View."

With the two Brown Jug liquor licenses in Mountain View currently up for renewal, Assembly members said they may ask state alcohol regulators to attach the neighborhood agreement and other conditions to the licenses, so the conditions will apply no matter who is in charge at the company.

Proctor noted in a later interview that Brown Jug has invested thousands of dollars in Mountain View clean-ups in recent years and plans to keep doing so. He said that while the Brown Jug location next to Red Apple will close, the company may open up a different location in Mountain View, or in a different part of Anchorage.

This is the second recent example of a detailed neighborhood agreement with a liquor store operator.

In 2014, under neighborhood pressure, two Fairview liquor stores agreed to more tightly regulate alcohol sales to street alcoholics.

Oaken Keg, owned by Carrs-Safeway, has continued to operate while abiding by the plan, which included an enforcement list of people not welcome to buy alcohol. The second store, Spirits of Alaska, did not, neighbors decided, and the store lost its license the next year.

Putin wins another six years at Russia’s helm in landslide victory

Alaska News - 1 hour 27 min ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory on Sunday, extending his rule over the world's largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.

Putin's victory will take his political dominance of Russia to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024, by which time he will be 71. Only Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ruled for longer. Putin has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia's defenses against the West and to raise living standards.

In a widely expected outcome, the Central Election Commission, with just over 70 percent of the votes counted, announced that Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, had won 75.9 percent of the vote.

In a victory speech near Red Square, Putin told a cheering crowd he interpreted the win as a vote of confidence in what he had achieved in tough conditions.

"It's very important to maintain this unity. We will think about the future of our great Motherland," said Putin, before leading the crowd in repeated chants of "Russia!" He told a meeting of supporters afterwards that difficult times were ahead, but that Russia had a chance to make "a breakthrough."

Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 percent, his victory was never in doubt. His nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, got around 13 percent, according to partial results, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got around 6 percent.

None of the seven candidates who ran against Putin posed a threat, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from running. Critics alleged that officials had compelled people to come to the polls to ensure that voter boredom at the one-sided contest did not lead to a low turnout.

Turnout figures will be closely scrutinized. Early signs suggested turnout would exceed 60 percent.

Russia's Central Election Commission recognized that there were some irregularities, but was likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate.

The result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West, Putin loyalists said.

"I think that in the United States and Britain they've understood they cannot influence our elections," Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament, said on state television.

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house, hailed the victory as a moral one over the West.

"Our elections have proved once again … that it's not possible to manipulate our people," she said. "People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections."

Opposition leader Navalny is expected to call for anti-Putin protests demanding a re-run of an election he says was neither free nor fair. A senior opposition politician has warned they could descend into street clashes if police crack down too hard on demonstrators.

The longer-term question is whether Putin will soften his anti-Western rhetoric now the election is won.


Putin's bellicose language reached a crescendo before the election in a state-of-the-nation speech when he unveiled new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a U.S.-built missile shield.

At odds with the West over Syria, Ukraine, allegations of Russian election meddling and cyber attacks and the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter, relations between Moscow and the West are at a post Cold War low.

Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000.

Allies laud the former KGB agent as a father-of-the-nation figure who has restored national pride and expanded Moscow's global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

Critics accuse him of overseeing a corrupt, authoritarian system and of illegally annexing Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, a move that isolated Russia internationally.

Western sanctions on Russia imposed over Crimea and Moscow's backing of a pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine remain in place and have damaged the Russian economy, which only rebounded last year after a prolonged downturn.

Britain and Russia are also locked in a diplomatic dispute over the spy poisoning incident, and Washington is eyeing new sanctions on Moscow over allegations it interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, something Russia flatly denies.

Putin said on Sunday it was nonsense to think that Moscow would have poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain and said Moscow was ready to cooperate with London.

Officials and analysts say there is little agreement among Putin's top policymakers on an economic strategy for his new term.

How long Putin wants to stay in power is uncertain.

The constitution limits the president to two successive terms, obliging him to step down at the end of his new mandate — as he did in 2008 after serving two four-year terms. The presidential term was extended from four to six years, starting in 2012.

Asked after his re-election if he would run for yet another term in office, Putin laughed off the idea.

"Let's count. What, do you think I will sit (in power) until I'm 100 years old," he said, calling the question "funny."

Although Putin has six years to consider a possible successor, uncertainty about his long-term future is a potential source of instability in a fractious ruling elite that only he can keep in check.

Kremlin insiders say Putin has selected no heir apparent, and that any names being circulated are the product of speculation and not based on insider knowledge of Putin's thinking.

"The longer he stays in power, the harder it will be to exit," said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank. "How can he abandon such a complicated system, which is essentially his personal project?"

3 people hospitalized in 2 overnight shooting incidents in Anchorage

Alaska News - 1 hour 27 min ago

Three people were hospitalized in two separate shooting incidents in Anchorage early Sunday morning, the Anchorage Police Department said.

The first of the two incidents happened at about 3 a.m. in a parking lot on the Old Seward Highway, north of Dimond Boulevard, according to a statement from police.

Police report they received several calls about a shooting on the 7900 block of Old Seward around 3 a.m. Sunday. When officers arrived, they found no victims at the scene, but later, two adults arrived at an Anchorage hospital with gunshot wounds. One victim had life-threatening injuries and the other had non-life threatening injuries.

Detectives believe the two victims were taken from the parking lot to the hospital by friends, and that there were multiple people in the parking lot at the time of the shooting. This investigation is ongoing. The shooting happened around bar break, he said.

The parking lot is where the shooting happened is near East 78th Avenue and adjacent to Al's Alaskan Inn, APD spokesman M.J. Thim said.

Police then received a report of a shooting at a house party on the 3500 block of West 88th Avenue in the Sand Lake neighborhood around 5:20 a.m., according to a statement from the APD.

Police say a man was shot "in the lower body" at the party and was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Alcohol is believed to be a factor in the shooting, according to the statement.

On Friday night, a man's body was discovered in a car parked in the middle of the road on the 8900 block of Dewberry Street just a few blocks from the location of the party. Thim said police are investigating the man's death as a homicide. Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle of the victim, who has not yet been identified.

Police don't think the two incidents are linked, Thim said.

School officials wanted Florida gunman committed long before massacre

Alaska News - 1 hour 29 min ago

MIAMI — On the day an 11th-grader named Nikolas Cruz told another student that he had a gun at home and was thinking of using it, two guidance counselors and a sheriff's deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland concluded that he should be forcibly committed for psychiatric evaluation, according to mental health records obtained on Sunday by The New York Times.

An involuntary commitment of that kind, under the authority of a Florida state law known as the Baker Act, could have kept Cruz from passing a background check required to buy a firearm.

But Cruz appears never to have been institutionalized despite making threats to himself and others, cutting his arms with a pencil sharpener and claiming he had drunk gasoline in a possible attempt to kill himself, all in a five-day period in September 2016.

The revelation that school officials considered trying to commit Cruz under the Baker Act in 2016 appeared to be another in a string of missed opportunities to deal with the troubled young man. He went on to commit one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history last month, killing 17 people and wounding 17 more using a gun he bought legally.

A Florida social services agency investigated Cruz after it was alerted about the same disturbing behavior in 2016, but it determined he was at low risk of harming himself or others. Local sheriffs' deputies were repeatedly called to Cruz's residences but never found reason enough to arrest him. And the FBI failed to investigate tips about Cruz's apparent interest in shooting up a school, even after a woman called to say Cruz had weapons and was "going to explode."

At the time when school officials said they would initiate Baker Act commitment proceedings against Cruz, he apparently did not own any weapon other than a pellet gun. But five months later, after being kicked out of Stoneman Douglas High, he legally purchased the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle he used to open fire in the school's freshman building.

The mental health records, first reported by The Sun Sentinel of South Florida and The Associated Press, form part of the criminal case against Cruz, 19, who has been charged with murder and attempted murder in a 34-count indictment. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

The records are from Henderson Behavioral Health, a local clinic that school officials called for help dealing with Cruz. The clinic sent a mobile assistance team to Stoneman Douglas High on Sept. 28, 2016, the records show, because Cruz had made threats and exhibited disturbing behavior after a breakup with a girlfriend. Cruz was also said to be upset that his mother, Lynda Cruz, would not let him get an identification card required to buy a gun.

Cruz denied telling another student that he wanted to use a gun or that he had ingested gasoline, the documents say.

Five days earlier, on Sept. 23, Lynda Cruz had summoned a different Henderson clinician to her home because Nikolas Cruz was verbally aggressive and "punching holes in the wall."

The clinician who wrote the Sept. 28 report concluded that Nikolas Cruz "did not meet criteria for further assessment." The sheriff's deputy at the school, Scot Peterson, told a clinician that he wanted to initiate a Baker Act request against Cruz anyway, the records show, and two school counselors agreed. Peterson also said he would search Cruz's home for a gun.

But Peterson apparently changed his mind about the commitment request the next day. One of the guidance counselors told the Henderson clinic that the deputy had decided Cruz did not fit the criteria for involuntary commitment. Clinicians had repeatedly concluded that the Baker Act would not justify committing Cruz because he denied having an intent or a plan to hurt himself or others.

Peterson was still serving as the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas High when Cruz carried out his deadly rampage. Surveillance video showed that the deputy remained outside the freshman building during the shooting and did not try to confront Cruz, in apparent violation of the Broward County Sheriff's Office policy for dealing with active shooters. Peterson resigned and retired after Sheriff Scott Israel placed him under internal investigation.

An attorney for Peterson, Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, has said Peterson did not enter the building because he believed initially that the gunfire was coming from outside.

DiRuzzo did not immediately respond Sunday to questions about Peterson's decision in 2016 not to pursue a Baker Act commitment of Cruz.

U.S. and British lawmakers demand answers from Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg

Alaska News - 1 hour 47 min ago

Lawmakers in the United States and Britain are calling on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how the names, preferences and other information from tens of millions of users ended up in the hands of a data analysis firm connected with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

The demands came in response to news reports Saturday about how the firm, Cambridge Analytica, used a feature once available to Facebook app developers to collect information on 270,000 people and, in the process, gain access to data on tens of millions of their Facebook "friends"- few, if any, of whom had given explicit permission for this sharing.

Though both companies have been embroiled in investigations in Washington and London for months, this weekend's demands have taken on a more personal tone, focusing explicitly on Zuckerberg, who has not testified publicly on these matters in either nation.

"They say 'trust us,' but Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, British lawmaker Damian Collins, who has been leading an investigation into political influence in which officials from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have testified, suggested that neither company has been sufficiently forthcoming.

"I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, appear to give evidence in front of the Committee as part our inquiry," Collins said in his statement. "It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid asking difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers. This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook's stated policies are always robust and effectively policed."

[Consultants for Trump misused Facebook data of millions]

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment to the requests for Zuckerberg to testify. It has said previously that the company has made changes to privacy policies to prevent similar data loss without explicit consent from users.

Zuckerberg has kept a low profile as controversy over the political uses of the Facebook platform – especially by a Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential race – have intensified. He has authored blog posts and spoken by video link from Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. But Zuckerberg has not yet been exposed to the rough-and-tumble of legislative questioning, designating that job to senior attorneys such as General Counsel Colin Stretch.

And on Sunday, the tech giant faced fresh criticism for its failure to be forthcoming with lawmakers investigating the matter.

"Sometimes, these companies grow so fast, and get so much good press, they get up high on themselves, that they start to think perhaps they're above the rules that apply to everybody else," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The new controversy stems from the actions in 2014 and 2015 of a Russian American professor, Aleksandr Kogan, working for Cambridge Analytica. His app, called Thisisyourdigitallife, offered personality predictions and billed itself on Facebook as "a research app used by psychologists."

It gave Kogan access to demographic information about Facebook users – including the names of users, their "likes," friend lists and other data. Once obtained by Cambridge Analytica, political campaigns could use those profiles to target users with highly tailored messages, ads or fundraising requests.

Facebook suspended Kogan, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica and one other former employee from the social media platform on Friday, hours ahead of news reports on the extent of the data grab. Cambridge Analytica has repeatedly denied wrongdoing or improper use of Facebook data.

"We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook's terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted," Cambridge Analytica said in a statement Saturday.

Facebook has acknowledged that its user data was collected on a vast scale, but it has declined to confirm or deny reports in the New York Times and the Observer of London that information from 50 million users was accessed. Facebook has said that changes it implemented in 2014 and 2015 sharply restricted the ability of app developers to collect data in this way.

The company also has worked hard in recent days to cast the data collection by people affiliated with Cambridge Analytica as not a "breach" because Facebook's systems were not compromised and the app developer worked within the company's terms of service, at least initially. Facebook has said Cambridge Analytica later violated terms by improperly sharing and then failing to destroy the data, despite assurances that it would do so.

But the idea of a "breach" seems have taken root in the public debate and in some news reports. Klobuchar's statement refers to a "major breach."

Among the thorny issues facing Facebook is its 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. That agreement specified that Facebook must give consumers clear and prominent notice and obtain their express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established.

In a statement Saturday, Facebook said, "We reject any suggestion of violation of the consent decree. We respected the privacy settings that people had in place. Privacy and data protections are fundamental to every decision we make."

U.S. lawmakers last fall questioned Facebook and fellow tech giants Google and Twitter over the ways in which Russian agents used major social networking platforms to spread disinformation during the 2016 election.

The hearings emboldened many lawmakers, including Klobuchar and Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., to call for new regulation of political advertisements that appear on those sites. Their bill has not yet advanced amid sharp partisan divisions over Russia's role in the election.

In February, British legislators visited Washington to question Facebook, Google and Twitter about "fake news" and the extent of Russian disinformation online, particularly in the wake of Britain's vote to exit the European Union. Members of the House of Commons repeatedly criticized Facebook for failing to answer questions, at times threatening regulation.

One member of Parliament, Jo Stevens, said Facebook's relationship with its users' personal data "reminds me of an abusive relationship where there is coercive control going on." At another point in the hearing, fellow lawmaker Rebecca Pow questioned whether Facebook was a "massive surveillance operation."

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that special counsel Robert Mueller III had requested documents from Cambridge Analytica, including copies of emails of any company employees who worked on the Trump campaign. On Saturday, a day after Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said she was opening a probe into Facebook in response to news reports about Cambridge Analytica.

Increase in thefts and bad behavior leads Loussac Library to seek security camera upgrade

Alaska News - 2 hours 17 min ago

Anchorage's Loussac Library wants voters to authorize bond money for upgraded security cameras because of a dramatic spike in thefts and disruptive behavior in the building, library officials said.

Proposition 7, a facilities bond package appearing on the ballot mailed to Anchorage voters this week, includes a $500,000 request for a new digital security camera system for the city's main library.

[Anchorage ballots have been mailed to voters. Here's an overview of what will show up in your mailbox]

The library has an extensive security camera system. But it's outdated and could be further expanded, said Clare Ross, the library's development director. The new, higher-resolution cameras would be in color, making suspects easier to see and identify, Ross said. She said the upgrade was planned about three years ago but it's become more urgent as the library draws more visitors and has seen more social problems.

"Like everywhere in this town — a recession and the opioid crisis — the library's had our share of thefts and people who are inebriated in the building," Ross said. "It's a really high priority for us to keep it safe."

In 2017, the library reported 124 instances where a person was asked to leave the building for a day or longer because of disruptive behavior, such as theft, harassment, public intoxication or fighting, according to data provided by Ross. That's compared to 55 instances in 2016, data show.

Calls to police also spiked in 2017. Police were called to the library 210 times, compared to 153 times in 2016.

As a central civic facility, the library has to constantly balance the demands of being open to everyone and maintaining a safe, welcoming environment. Nearly a million people visit the Anchorage library system annually, with most coming to the Loussac.

The library's recent $15 million renovation removed some nooks and crannies, Ross said. But the building is still large, at 137,000 square feet.

"It's hard to keep our eyes everywhere," Ross said.

On the floor with iPad rentals and computers early Thursday morning, Misty Nesvick, the community relations manager for the library, pointed to a security camera mounted on a wall.

The current cameras are black and white, making it harder to identify suspects, Nesvick said. She also said that new cameras would deliver a more well-defined picture to give security the best view possible.

Officials hope additional cameras will deter or stop theft, a problem for the library. DVDs are especially vulnerable, Nesvick said.

"One of the great benefits of the library is you can borrow 'Downton Abbey,' " Nesvick said. "But if 'Downton Abbey,' disc three, disappears … it has to be replaced."

The Loussac's security camera request is one of several facility upgrade proposals on Prop. 7. A new roof for the city's Animal Care and Control Shelter and new carpets, restrooms and audio-visual equipment for the Anchorage Senior Center are among the other projects.

The library also wants $90,000 for a new electronic book-handling system for the Chugiak-Eagle River Library, the second-busiest in the system.

That system has already been installed at the Loussac Library. On Thursday morning, a librarian was placing books on the automated conveyor belt. The books zipped down the belt and toppled into black bins to be returned to library shelves.

Officials predict the book handling system will save 15 hours a week of staff time and pay for itself in four years.

Find more details on the bond projects on the Anchorage city website. The last day to vote is April 3.

Wasilla Fred Meyer store evacuated due to smoke

Alaska News - 2 hours 33 min ago

Wasilla's Fred Meyer store was evacuated Sunday afternoon due to a suspected electrical fire in the men's restroom, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough official said Sunday.

As of about 2 p.m. the store, located near the intersection of the Parks Highway and Palmer-Wasilla Highway had been cleared of customers due to smoke, according to Ken Barkley, Mat-Su's deputy director of emergency services.

The fire is believed to have been contained to a wall inside the men's bathroom, Barkley said.

"Store employees tried to extinguish it but now there are (fire) crews on scene," he said.

Dimond Bar-B-Que Pit restaurant ‘a total loss’ after overnight fire

Alaska News - 3 hours 17 min ago

A South Anchorage barbecue restaurant gutted by an overnight fire will be a "total loss," the building's owner said.

No injuries have been reported.

The fire at the Dimond Bar-B-Que Pit restaurant at 1160 Dimond Boulevard, just east of Minnesota Drive, appears to have started overnight, said property owner Larry Garner.

Garner owns the building, but not the restaurant that has occupied it for at least 20 years.

At 3:15 a.m. a caller told a 911 operator that fire and smoke were coming from the building, the Anchorage Fire Department said in a dispatch. Firefighters arrived at the scene six minutes later and found "heavy fire coming from openings at the rear of the building."

The fire had progressed so much that going inside wasn't safe, said Garner, who is a retired firefighter himself.

He said he thought that because the squat cinderblock structure lacks windows, the fire likely had time to burn before it became obvious outside.

By then, the wood roof "pancaked," he said. "It had time to get really hot in there."

The fire was under control by 6:23 a.m., the AFD said. In all, 21 firefighting units were involved in the effort.

As of noon Sunday, Anchorage Fire Department investigator Brian Dean said he hadn't been able to enter the building yet.

The building was built in the early 1970s and has housed various restaurants over the years, Garner said. The barbecue restaurant has been in the spot for at least two decades, but with new owners about five years ago, he said.

APD: 2 people shot in South Anchorage parking lot

Alaska News - 4 hours 22 min ago

Two people are in the hospital after a shooting Anchorage Police believe happened in a parking lot on Old Seward Highway north of Dimond Boulevard.

Police report they received several calls about a shooting on the 7900 block of Old Seward around 3 a.m. Sunday. When officers arrived, they found no victims at the scene, but later, two adults arrived at an Anchorage hospital with gunshot wounds. One victim had life-threatening injuries and the other had non-life threatening injuries.

Detectives believe the two victims were transported from the parking lot to the hospital by friends, and that there were multiple people in the parking lot at the time of the shooting. This investigation is ongoing.

This is a developing story; check back for updates. 

Alaska elections officials certify salmon ballot initiative - Albany Times Union

Legislative News - 5 hours 21 min ago

Alaska elections officials certify salmon ballot initiative
Albany Times Union
And now we officially have the chance to vote on this critical issue." The state has challenged the ballot initiative in court, claiming the measure is unconstitutional. The state has said the measure would effectively spend state resources without ...

and more »

Owed tax credits aren’t just about oil companies. Service companies depend on them as well.

Alaska News - 6 hours 15 min ago

In 2015, Gov. Bill Walker vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in owed oil exploration tax credits. This not only negatively affected many oil companies, but also many oilfield service companies in Alaska. When an oil company explores, they hire service companies to provide hundreds of services and products. These service companies are often small, Alaska-owned companies. They are directly affected by these decisions. These companies don't directly receive the tax credits, but they depend on the companies that do.

These service companies provide drilling contract services, casing and tubing running services, welding and fabrication, wireline and slickline services, remote camps and catering, OCTG pipe and products, downhole jewelry, communication support, ice road construction, perforation and stimulation work, roustabout labor, trucking, chemicals, fuel and much more. These services account for thousands of jobs and payroll dollars for Alaskans.

No one is disputing these credits are owed. The oil companies who engaged in exploration did so on the full faith and credit of the state of Alaska. They spent or borrowed money to explore for oil based on a system of credits that the state created. By vetoing these credits and not fully funding the credit payments, many have lost faith in the state of Alaska. This kind of uncertainty is bad for business.

There is a legitimate conversation to be had about exploration tax credits. Incentivizing exploration does not always lead to production, which is the goal. Since Gov. Walker vetoed the tax credits, the Legislature has eliminated exploration tax credits. But this still leaves the nearly $1 billion in credits that are owed to independent oil companies like Accumulate Energy Alaska, Caelus, Bluecrest, Armstrong Oil & Gas, and Furie.

[Oil company says it likely can't continue to drill unless state pays tax credits]

These companies are waiting to be paid on money they already spent. They are having to refinance loans and pay interest while they wait for the state to decide how and when they will pay them the money they are owed. This affects service companies because many of these oil companies can't do more work until they get paid the money the State owes them.

With the price of oil holding steady around $65 a barrel and new discoveries waiting to be further explored, there is a lot of work to be done in Alaska. Paying these tax credits will not only be good for the oil companies who are owed the money, but also for the oilfield service companies who rely on these companies for work. Oilfield service companies employ thousands of Alaskans with high paying jobs.

This should have never been an issue. It has caused uncertainty and made many question the faith and credit of the state of Alaska. The state needs to pay these tax credits and restore the faith it once had. The sooner the state lives up to its obligations, the sooner Alaskan companies will be putting Alaskans back to work.

Jim Wohlers is the general manager of GBR Oilfield Services and Jeff Landfield is business development manager.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Trump unbound amid a cloud of chaos

Alaska News - 6 hours 15 min ago

WASHINGTON — It is a natural tendency to examine presidential decisions for what ideological content or policy direction they indicate. What does the removal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signal about President Trump's view of U.S.-Russia relations? What does the sudden acceptance of a summit with Kim Jong Un reveal about Trump's approach to diplomacy and military force?

The answer to these and similar questions: Not much. They assume a process of reflection and planning for which there is no evidence. Trump seems to fire people when they defy him, displease him or look bad on television. "This guy never gets a good story about him," Trump is reported to have complained of Tillerson. Trump's shift in North Korean policy was, by all accounts, a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing — less like a high-stakes diplomatic gambit with nuclear implications and more like, hey, what the hell, let's have breakfast for dinner. The decisive White House meeting with South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong began with flattery of the president (what White House meeting doesn't?) and included an assurance that Kim was "frank and sincere." This was enough for Trump to accept a summit on the spot.

We should hope that Mike Pompeo is wonderful at his job and that a new approach to North Korea ends up succeeding. But it is difficult to view either change as evidence of something bigger. Trump's guiding principles are a disdain for precedent, a preference for institutional chaos and an invincible trust in his own instincts.

This means that the best interpretive framework to understand Trump's leadership is psychological rather than ideological. One would think that a president with historically low poll numbers, facing an investigation by Robert Mueller of growing seriousness, heading (in all likelihood) toward a disastrous midterm repudiation that could lead to his impeachment and presiding over an administration run on the management principles of Maximilien Robespierre might be acting out of desperation. On the contrary, White House insiders indicate that Trump's increasingly flailing decisions are the function of a president gaining in confidence. Having decided he has gotten the hang of the job, Trump has lost patience with opposition and constraints. He seems, not frightened, but giddy.

[Trump evangelicals have sold their souls]

What does this mean for Trump's presidency? Paradoxically, the man with complete trust in his own instincts is easily manipulated. Because Trump lacks historical and ideological grounding for his views, the content of his instincts often seems determined by the last person who captures his attention. This was true of Chung, who could quickly sell a massive change in American diplomatic strategy in East Asia to a leader who knows little about diplomacy, strategy or East Asia. But Trump came away from the meeting convinced, I imagine, that the whole thing was his idea. The rootless are easily shifted, as everyone from the leaders of China to the hosts of "Fox and Friends" have discovered.

The most damaging implication of all this is obvious. The world is a complex and chaotic place. People in the White House, including the president, need to control what limited amount is under their control. And this requires a working White House policy process, giving the most serious possible scrutiny to presidential decisions. The failure of past decisions is not an excuse for the reign of randomness. It is absurd to argue that, because the last 30 years of Korean policy hasn't succeeded, a new policy should be chosen by throwing a dart at a dartboard.

Trump unbound is having one further effect. It is adding to a squalid atmosphere of autocracy from which America has traditionally been exempt. The president insists on humiliating those who displease him. And everyone, eventually, displeases him. Those who delay this fate the longest are bootlicking mediocrities — the survival of the sycophants. The surest path to political advancement is to be a member of the ruling family or to praise the president on television. Loyalty matters far more than competence or character. And even that, in the end, is never enough.

At the center of the presidency is a total vacuum of idealism. And always there is a cloud of chaos surrounding the president, who revels in the kind of power demonstrated by breaking and mocking.

Republicans can no longer dismiss this as evidence of inexperience. It is getting worse as a failing president becomes more confident of his own judgment. And more disconnected from reality.

A pathogen that can kill wild sheep and goats has never turned up in Alaska — until now

Alaska News - 6 hours 16 min ago

PALMER — Four Dall sheep from the Talkeetna Mountains and two Kenai Peninsula mountain goats just made unfortunate Alaska history.

The animals became the state's first wild sheep and goats to test positive for a pathogen known as Movi that has led to deadly outbreaks among bighorn sheep in the Lower 48 and is triggering calls for restrictions on domestic livestock here.

The test results, announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last week, confirmed fears that the strain of bacteria could turn up in Alaska wildlife coveted by hunters and camera-wielding tourists alike.

The Dall sheep that tested positive — four out of 136 brought in by hunters — all came from an area east of Chickaloon and north of the Glenn Highway and Matanuska River. All appeared healthy.

State biologists live-captured 39 mountain goats in Southeast and on the Kenai; two from the Kenai tested positive for Movi and showed no signs of illness, state officials say.

The pathogen –Mycoplasma ovipneumonia — can pass from domestic livestock. It's considered a pathogen because it can prevent the small hairy cilia in an animal's lungs from clearing bacteria, allowing viruses to spread and cause pneumonia.

There's been no evidence of die-offs in Alaska's wild sheep or goats, according to Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh.

State officials cautioned the preliminary results involving a small number of animals need more study before any conclusions can — or should — be drawn.

They also don't know if there's any connection to domestic livestock.

About 4 percent of roughly 350 domestic sheep and goats in Alaska tested in the past eight months came up positive for the pathogen. None showed signs of illness.

The pathogen strains found in wild sheep and goats appear different from those found in domestic ones, according to state veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach.

But that's just preliminary information before painstaking genomic sequencing begins, said Gerlach, who praised Fish and Game for informing the public with the test results, and then spending the time it takes to tease out specific results.

"We have just four positive samples in wild sheep and two in goats. We know it's present, we don't know how long it's been there, we don't know how widespread it is," he said. "People are saying this is a crisis and a disaster. Let's do what we're supposed to do … look at the facts."

The state's Movi announcement Tuesday prompted renewed calls for regulations on domestic animals from a group that's lobbied the Alaska Board of Game since 2016 for fencing and other restrictions on farm-raised goats and sheep.

The Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation in 2016 and last year asked the state Board of Game to bump domestic sheep and goats from Alaska's "clean list" of animals that don't require permits, a proposal that triggered outrage in the farming community.

But the board, saying it lacked authority over domestic animals, tabled a decision in December.

The foundation called the test results "tragic news" and is calling for mandatory testing of domestic sheep and goats. Foundation president Kevin Kehoe offered in a statement to pay for testing and "mitigation" of infected domestic animals for a total projected cost of $600,000.

Kehoe said in a statement it's no surprise the pathogen appeared in wild sheep near Chickaloon given the proximity of nearby farms.

Kehoe didn't immediately respond to an interview request.

But livestock producers say the owner of the only sizable goat farm in the area moved away some time ago and only a few small farms remain.

Sheep and goat owners have been working with the Alaska Farm Bureau, Fish and Game, the Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, the state Division of Agriculture and state veterinarian on a collaborative plan.

The state only began testing for Movi last year, so it's possible the pathogen existed in wild sheep in the Talkeetnas for years and just wasn't caught, said Suzy Crosby, who raises American Alpine goats on a Wasilla farm.

"There have been no die-offs. This is not to say we should let down our guard," Crosby said. "However, it does not mean that it's time for a shotgun approach or drastic action."

Fish and Game is working with the USDA Animal Disease Research Unit and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Pullman on additional research.

Trump rails against Mueller investigation, dismisses McCabe's notes as 'Fake Memos'

Alaska News - 8 hours 28 min ago

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump fired off angry tweets Sunday morning railing against the Justice Department special counsel’s Russia investigation and attacking the integrity of former FBI director James Comey and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe, charging that their notes from conversations with him were “Fake Memos.”

For the second straight day, Trump was unrestrained in his commentary about Robert Mueller III’s expanding investigation, which is probing not only Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to his campaign, but also whether the president has sought to obstruct justice.

In one of his tweets, Trump protested, “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added ... does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”

The tweet overstates the partisan makeup of the special counsel’s team and falsely asserts that no Republicans are on it.

Mueller is a longtime Republican. He was nominated as FBI director in 2001 by a Republican president, George W. Bush, and was appointed special counsel by the Republican whom Trump picked to be deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

At least seven of the 17 lawyers brought on by Mueller - including James Quarles, Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissman - have donated to Democratic political candidates, five of them to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 opponent.

Under instruction from his attorneys, Trump has in the past been careful not to publicly criticize Mueller by name or otherwise directly antagonize the special counsel, but rather to make more general criticisms. On Saturday night, in an apparent change of strategy, Trump for the first time tweeted the name of the special counsel.

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump wrote. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”

The president’s attack comes after his personal attorney, John Dowd, on Saturday called for an end to the Mueller investigation. He initially told the Daily Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president, though he later backtracked and told The Washington Post that he was speaking only for himself.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned Trump that any interference in the Mueller probe would result in “a very, very long, bad 2018.”

“If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Gowdy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Russia attacked our country. Let special counsel Mueller figure that out.”

Later, as if directly addressing the president, Gowdy said, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and an informal adviser to Trump, said it would be inappropriate for the president to try to fire Mueller.

The special counsel has “conducted this investigation so far with great integrity, without leaking and by showing results, and I don’t think the president’s going to fire somebody like that,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned that a move by Trump to order the firing of Mueller would be a step too far for lawmakers. “If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency because we’re a rule-of-law nation,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said he is concerned about “a constitutional crisis in this country.”

“This president is engaged in desperate and reckless conduct to intimidate the law enforcement agencies in this country and to try and stop the special counsel,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That is unacceptable in a democracy.”

In a pair of separate tweets on Sunday, Trump also attacked Comey and McCabe, both regular foils to the president. Trump sent his Sunday tweets from the White House. He departed the residence shortly before 10 a.m., heading to the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia. Aides would not say who the president’s golfing partners might be.

McCabe, who was fired from the FBI late Friday night just hours before he was set to retire with full benefits, has kept contemporaneous notes of his interactions with Trump, according to two people familiar with his records. McCabe’s memos could prove useful to Mueller’s investigators in their obstruction-of-justice probe.

Trump tweeted, “Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”

In an Oval Office meeting in May, Trump asked McCabe whom he had voted for in the 2016 election, several current and former U.S. officials have told The Post, and he complained about the political donations McCabe’s wife received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate campaign.

Comey also took contemporaneous notes of his interactions with Trump and confided in McCabe about those private conversations, including when Trump asked him for his loyalty.

Comey is publishing a memoir next month that is expected to detail his interactions with Trump and investigation of Russian interference, among other topics.

In a Sunday morning tweet, Trump accused Comey of lying in testimony to Congress when he was questioned by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

The president wrote: “Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked ‘have you ever been an anonymous source ... or known someone else to be an anonymous source ...?’ He said strongly ‘never, no.’ He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends.”

Trump in the past has masqueraded as a fake publicist by the name of “John Miller” or “John Barron” to leak flattering or boastful details about himself to tabloid reporters.

Both Graham and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a frequent Trump critic, said on CNN that the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold a hearing on McCabe’s firing and give Attorney General Jeff Sessions and McCabe opportunities to explain their actions.

The handling of McCabe’s firing - he was ousted just hours before his 50th birthday on Sunday, at which point he would have been able to retire with full benefits - drew bipartisan disagreement on Sunday.

“I don’t like the way it went down,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I would have certainly done it differently.”

Rubio added, “He should have been allowed to finish through the weekend.”-

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites, Paige Winfield Cunningham, Carol D. Leonnig and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

How Girdwood twins built a life around skiing and beer

Alaska News - 8 hours 46 min ago

If the ideal life requires skiing and beer — and many would say that it obviously does — then Brett and Rory Marenco are heroes of that quest.

The brothers honed their skills as brewers and backcountry powder hounds for years while saving money working during the off-season. Last year, they invested their savings in a brewery in the ski resort town of Girdwood.

We talked while Brett prepared a vat for fermentation.

"There's nothing that says we have to brew this beer today," he said. "We can do it tomorrow if there's a foot of powder. That was part of the plan for brewing in a ski town."

Another part was the ample economic opportunity. After 12 months of operation, Girdwood Brewing is profitable, with eight added employees. Despite Alaska's recession, the equipment is at capacity and the brothers need to expand just to meet demand in an on-site tap room.

"It was kind of a no-brainer," Rory said, from a control panel atop a catwalk. "A resort town with no brewery?"

[How rural Alaska tinkering prepared a SpaceX engineer to launch rockets]

But the story has more parts. The Marenco brothers have tried many adventures, taken big risks, and studied hard to gain their skills. They also are identical twins, with identical gray beards and bald tops.

They think the same way and anticipate each other's reactions — they agreed on that. Neither leads or follows. They divide up jobs by happenstance, not personality.

Their father, Greg Marenco, said he still can't always tell them apart.

Greg put the boys on skis at 4. They left him behind before their teens, although he was an expert — a ski patroller at Heavenly Mountain Resort, in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Greg contributed a gearhead gene, too, with a career running machinery maintenance in an electronics factory. The brothers attended the University of Utah in Salt Lake to be mechanical engineers.

That's where they learned to brew. A roommate had equipment. At first, they made beer to stretch tight student finances. But soon they sought to improve and eventually studied seriously.

College parties with four taps of free beer running were not the best place to get a sharp critique.

"People would say, 'It's so good.' And we'd say, 'Can you give me something a little more constructive?'" Rory recalled.

A couple of business ideas came and went before they turned to beer. As a student engineering project, the twins built custom skis, thinking they could become manufacturers.

But in 2005, a college friend from Alaska convinced them to come here. After seeing the immensity of the skiing backcountry, they decided to move. Manufacturing skis in Alaska appeared uneconomic, so they tried professional skiing, making videos of their exploits.

I met the Marencos on a radio show about snowmachine-assisted backcountry skiing. They're well known in that tiny niche. For several years, their videos screened at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage.

The sport suits them, as mechanically minded twin ski bums. For a day of skiing, they take off into mountains from Turnagain Pass, south of Anchorage, or Thompson Pass, near Valdez. Skis ride in brackets on the side of the machine.

Getting up a mountain — especially before they had newer, more powerful snowmachines — meant high-lining ever upward to build a trail. On each ascent they would drive straight up as fast as possible until losing momentum and arcing back down. Each climb rose nearer the top until the trail reached the crest.

They also know how to double the number of runs down the mountain. Both ride upward on a single sled, balancing in tandem on opposite sides. At the top, the snowmachine ghost rides down the mountain — no one driving — while the brothers follow on skis.

After a few years, the brothers started using their engineering degrees in the oil industry. They landed in the same jobs.

Work on the trans-Alaska pipeline put them at similar tasks at different pump stations. One year, they worked with another set of identical twins, in matched teams miles apart. That especially freaked out co-workers, who couldn't figure out how two guys could be in two places at once.

The dream of a brewery came into focus a few years ago, after Rory hurt his back and started to take jumps only in powder, and after he married. He now has two young children.

Friends in Girdwood wanted to invest in a brewery and needed someone to run it. Five partners — the Marencos plus Josh Hegna, Karl McLaughlin and Amy Shimek — put up equal shares of a $600,000 stake, Rory said. The brewery has no debt.

There was risk involved, Rory said, but after so much training and mechanical experience, it wasn't scary.

"I compare it to a day in the backcountry," he said, like skiing a video-worthy line. "From your perspective, that's crazy, but from my perspective, I'm comfortable, because I've been out here."

At first, the Marencos thought they could operate the business in their own, but it took off fast and they realized they had underestimated the work load. Now they employ servers and a person to do merchandising — logo items that bring in 30 percent of their revenue.

Tim Ball was manning the taps the afternoon I came in. He bubbled with enthusiasm selling me on the really good beer and its awards.

Ball traveled America sampling craft beers. He fell in love with Girdwood Brewery and became a bar fly, sitting all day in the post-and-beam tap room, among retired skis and chair-lift seats. Being hired there was too good to be true.

"This is more than a good job," he said. "This is the soft, squishy center of the universe."

With employees covering the front, there can be skiing again for the Marenco brothers. During the first winter of operation, skiing almost wasn't possible. Even now they don't get as many of those long backcountry days as they once did.

Nothing is perfect.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

<b>Juneau</b> World Affairs Forum returns with annual lecture series focusing on Europe

Juneau Hot Topics - 8 hours 50 min ago
The annual Juneau World Affairs Forum returns this week with the theme of “Europe: Allies and Alliances in a Turbulent World.” The forum will take place in the Egan Lecture Hall at the University of Alaska Southeast. All events are free and open to the public. The forum opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March ...

New forecast of Alaska oil revenue takes chunk out of state’s deficit

Alaska News - 8 hours 54 min ago

A new forecast of state revenue says higher oil prices will help slice a big chunk from Alaska's budget gap, though it didn't seem to change lawmakers' disagreement about how to fix the deficit.

The new forecast, released Friday by Gov. Bill Walker's administration, says the state will bring in $2.34 billion in unrestricted revenue in the current fiscal year, which is $250 million higher than the previous forecast of $2.08 billion.

Revenue in 2019 is projected at $2.26 billion, up $210 million from the $2.05 billion in the previous forecast.

Oil prices are projected to average $61 a barrel for the current fiscal year, compared to the $56 in the previous forecast, and $63 for next year, compared to $57.

If the projections hold true, the state will have to spend less cash this year and next from its primary savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The account should hold about $2.4 billion at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, June 30, according to the Legislature's budget analysts — down from $13 billion four years ago.

State lawmakers are currently drafting next year's budget and considering how to fix Alaska's massive deficit, and the rosier revenue forecast is likely to influence the debate over which measures are necessary.

The current year's budget is projected to draw about $2 billion from the budget reserve for some $5 billion in spending. Without a major change in the way the state structures its spending, the budget reserve will still be close to empty at the end of the next year, even after the updated forecast.

Most lawmakers agree that a big part of the solution is the $65 billion Permanent Fund, which is forecast to have more than $15 billion in investment earnings available for spending at the start of the next fiscal year. But legislators disagree on how much cash they can sustainably take from the fund each year, and whether other steps, like raising additional revenue with taxes, are necessary.

[Related: Can the Permanent Fund save Alaska's budget? The Senate says so, but it depends]

The largely-Democratic majority in the state House is advancing a budget that, before Friday, was projected to maintain a deficit of nearly $1 billion, even after withdrawing cash from the Permanent Fund. That's because House majority members favor slightly higher spending levels and larger Permanent Fund dividends — which reduce the amount of cash available for government programs — along with lower annual withdrawals from the fund, which they say are more financially prudent.

Friday's revenue forecast reduces the House's deficit to a projected $650 million, or about one-fourth of the cash left in the budget reserve account, according to legislative budget analysts.

That's a significant improvement from the previous forecast, which would have left the House budget withdrawing nearly half the cash in the reserve account.

[Related: Alaska House budget proposal, without taxes, could drain state savings account in two years]

But one majority member, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara, argued that the forecast is still a prediction that could turn out to be wrong. He added that the predicted boost in oil revenue doesn't reduce the urgency for lawmakers to adopt measures beyond a restructuring of the Permanent Fund.

"I think you've got your head in the sand if you're taking out cheerleading pompoms or popping a champagne bottle. If oil prices dip, the state is still on the edge of catastrophe if we don't come up with a real revenue plan," Gara, who sits on the House Finance Committee, said in a phone interview. "If you want to play Russian roulette with oil prices and run the risk that you're going to run out of money in two years, I guess you can. You just won't be able to fund the university and prosecutors and police."

One leader in the mostly-GOP Senate majority, Eagle River Republican Anna MacKinnon, said it's too early to assess the effect of the new forecast on next year's budget, given that lawmakers haven't yet agreed on spending levels nor a framework for pulling money from the Permanent Fund.

The Senate majority, compared to the House, favors lower dividends and less state spending, as well as using slightly more cash from the fund each year, which would leave a smaller deficit than the House's proposal. Senate leaders have said taxes would hurt Alaska's economy and aren't needed unless the state's financial problems become more urgent.

The first step, MacKinnon said, is still for lawmakers to agree on a system for spending the Permanent Fund's investment earnings. If they take that step, the Senate will assess its effects "after we watch those numbers settle and another year go by," she said.

Until the Permanent Fund is restructured, the state's deficit remains at more than $2 billion, MacKinnon added. And the extra cash in Friday's forecast, she said, is small by comparison.

"The Senate sees it that we need to solve the $2.5 billion problem," she said.

Joint fish, game board call for proposals

Juneau Hot Topics - 9 hours 1 min ago
... of local fish and game advisory committees and uniform rules of operation. Proposals are due by May 1, 2018, and can be submitted electronically to ADF&G. A full list of topics up for consideration as well as proposal guidelines can be found at adfg.alaska.gov. Juneau-Douglas' advisory committee is ...

Brown bear season opens for ABC islands

Juneau Hot Topics - 9 hours 1 min ago
The spring brown bear hunting season opens today in Game Management Unit 4 (GMU4), which includes Sitka as well as Chichigof, Baranof and Admiralty islands. Hunting in inside drainages close May 20, while outside drainages close May 31. Boundary descriptions can be found in the latest Alaska ...

Searchers use radar technology to locate missing climbers, wait for recovery continues

Juneau Hot Topics - 10 hours 31 min ago
The next morning, Troopers released the news that Johnson and Leclerc were presumed dead. “I would just say it was an emotional day for everyone involved,” Ebert said. “Juneau's a small climbing community and we feel the loss as much as everybody else does, and we definitely feel for the families.”.