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Five other companies expressed interest in buying Anchorage’s ML&P, records show

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 21:11

Anchorage voters will decide in April whether the city should move forward on a deal to sell Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric Association.

Once-confidential records obtained by the Anchorage Daily News show that at least five other buyers had shown interest in the city-owned power company.

In November and December, the companies wrote letters to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to express interest in buying ML&P;, the electric utility that serves downtown, Midtown and parts of East Anchorage.

But by then, Anchorage officials say, the city had spent weeks discussing a sale with Chugach Electric Association — the member-owned cooperative serving much of the Anchorage Bowl. It wasn't long before Berkowitz announced a deal to sell ML&P to Chugach, for an estimated $1 billion.

The letters from other potential buyers were obtained through a public records request and shed new light on the terms and pace of the deal and the perceived value of the utility.

In the Chugach Electric proposal, more than half the money would pay off ML&P;'s debt. Another portion would be deposited in a trust fund, which spins off close to 5 percent annually to pay for city services, like police and snowplows. The deal also includes payments over time and money to replace lost taxes — and Chugach has promised that rates wouldn't rise and employees would not be laid off because of the sale.

The other proposals came from utilities in Fairbanks, Juneau and the Mat-Su Valley, from an energy subsidiary of an Alaska Native corporation and from a financial firm in New York City. Most laid out temporary freezes on layoffs and rate hikes.

Price estimates ranged from $750 million to more than $1 billion.

"Folks who really dig into this should be left with a sense of confidence that Chugach is giving us a very fair price," said city manager Bill Falsey. He said the city could not voluntarily provide the records because of non-disclosure agreements.

The mayor's December announcement that the city would seek to sell the company for $1 billion to Chugach surprised some of the potential buyers who said they thought they were still in the running.

The member-owned Fairbanks cooperative Golden Valley Electric Association started talking with the city in late September or early October, said Cory Borgeson, the chief executive of the utility. The Fairbanks utility buys 20 percent of its power from ML&P;.

Borgeson said the co-op hired a financial firm to assess ML&P;'s value. He called the utility's final estimate of up to $1.05 billion "fairly conservative." The estimate included more up-front cash than other proposals because the offer did not include tax payments, according to an analysis by the city.

Then, Borgeson said, he got word that the city had decided to sell to Chugach.

"You sometimes wondered if they were just stalking horses, if it was always going to go to Chugach," Borgeson said. "It appears they had done an awful lot of negotiation back and forth, and we did not have that opportunity."

The president of CIRI Energy LLC, Ethan Schutt, also said in an interview that his group thought the letter was the first of a two-step process. He said materials provided to the prospective buyers indicated that the city would ask the Assembly to approve a sale to the highest bidder, not specifically Chugach.

Anchorage has talked for decades about a merger or sale of ML&P.; But the current deal stemmed in part from rate increases proposed in 2016 to pay off the cost of ML&P;'s new power plant, Plant 2A. Business customers of the power company took their concerns to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., which recommended the city look hard at a merger or sale of the utility.

In June 2017, the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution urging the city, ML&P; and Chugach Electric Association to look at a merger. In July, the city of Anchorage hired the investment fund Goldman Sachs to analyze ML&P;'s worth. That analysis completed in August, indicated that $1 billion was at the upper limit of what ML&P; was worth.

[ML&P's $1 billion price tag: Confidential report sheds light on deal]

After the Assembly resolution, Falsey said, the city started discussions with Chugach Electric. But Falsey said other groups eventually approached the city as well.

By October, Falsey said, the city created what's known as a "data room," a website for prospective buyers with information about ML&P;'s financials.

Two months later, the city asked all interested bidders to write letters. Falsey said the city wanted a sense of how much they would pay for ML&P; and what they would do. The first deadline was Nov. 22; a second was set at Dec. 12.

In addition to Golden Valley Electric Association and CIRI Energy, letters of interest came in from Avista Corp., which owns Juneau's electric utility, and Ares EIF Management LLC, a New York City-based financial fund.

The general manager and chief executive of Matanuska Electric Association, Tony Izzo, wrote a letter to Berkowitz on Dec. 7 that generally stated his utility's interest. Izzo wrote that he looked forward to further discussions.

A Dec. 12 email exchange showed the city's adviser, Steven Kantor, telling Tony Izzo that the city wanted a range of what MEA would expect to pay. Izzo wrote that his organization would expect a "significant reduction in head count" and would need to review labor contracts.

Kantor then told Izzo that the city wanted a two-year rate freeze and a two-year guarantee against layoffs.

Borgeson, of Golden Valley Electric Association, said he expected to be involved in negotiations down the line. He said he's concerned about the impact of the sale on the cost of energy for Fairbanks ratepayers.

Schutt, meanwhile, said CIRI Energy had wanted to see what would happen for ML&P; in a pending regulatory case. He said he expected that could affect the terms of a deal.

"We are very skeptical of the promises that have been made here as far as ratepayer and community benefits, especially when paired with promises in the short term," Schutt said.

Falsey said the Chugach offer was consistent with the city's independent analysis and looked as good as any of the other proposals that came in.

He said there were larger reasons the city went with Chugach, in addition to the financial details. That included, he said, the ability for Anchorage taxpayers, as current or future members of the cooperative, to decide whether to sell the utility to themselves.

A town hall meeting on the ML&P; sale has been scheduled for Monday, March 5, at 6 p.m. in the Anchorage Assembly chambers in the Loussac Library.

The meeting will also be broadcast live in Channel 9 and recorded.

Read the letters from the other companies: 

Golden Valley Electric Association — Nov. 22 letter

Avista Corp. — Nov. 22 letter

CIRI Energy, LLC — Nov. 22 letter 

Ares EIF Management, LLC — Nov. 22 letter

Matanuska Electric Association — Dec. 7 letter 

Golden Valley Electric Association — Dec. 12 letter

Avista Corp. — Dec. 12 letter

Ares EIF Management, LLC — Dec. 12 letter

Matanuska Electric Association — Dec. 12 email exchange

Ursery’s late bucket lifts UAA to key men’s hoops win over UAF

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 20:56

D.J. Ursery drained a long-range shot with one second remaining Tuesday to lift the UAA men's basketball team to an important victory over UAF in Fairbanks.

Ursery's clutch perimeter shot on an in-bounds play gave the Seawolves a 43-42 win at the Patty Center and keeps them in the running for a spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.

UAA improved to 10-9 in the GNAC (14-13 overall) to maintain sole possession of sixth place in the 11-team conference. The top six teams advance to the GNAC tournament March 1-3 in Anchorage.

Ursery racked up 14 points and 10 rebounds in the defensive battle, which featured eight lead changes and three ties. Jack Macdonald added 10 points.

UAF was led by Michael Kluting's 10 points and 10 rebounds and Davis Kimble's 15 points.

With one game remaining in the regular season for both Alaska teams, the Nanooks (8-11, 10-15) are out of playoff contention.

UAA wraps up the regular season Saturday with a road game at Montana State-Billings. The Nanooks play the Yellowjackets on Thursday.

The Seawolves are among four teams fighting for the GNAC's final three tournament spots. Central Washington and Seattle Pacific are both 10-8 with two games left — including one against each other — and Northwest Nazarene is 8-10 with two games left.

Western Oregon (17-1), Western Washington (15-3) and Saint Martin's (13-5) have clinched playoff berths.

After 100-mile warmup, Anchorage fat-tire biker wins Iditasport 100K

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 19:58

Fat-tire biker Josh Duffus won the 62-mile Iditasport 100K late Monday night, two days after completing the 100-mile Susitna 100.

Duffus, a 43-year-old Anchorage man, finished the wilderness race from Willow to Yentna and back in a little more than 11 hours.

The race began at noon at EagleQuest Lodge. At 11:03 p.m., Duffus returned to the lodge as the race winner.

The race attracted four racers, three of them bikers and one of them a skier. Paul School finished just before 1 a.m. Tuesday to claim second place and Monica Gargan of Italy placed third.

Shawn McTaggart, the lone skier, finished at 5:15 p.m. Monday, just beating the 30-hour time limit.

Duffus spent the holiday weekend biking through the Susitna Valley. On Saturday, he finished 23rd in the Susitna 100, which started Saturday morning at Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake. His time was 13 hours, 55 minutes.

The Iditasport 100K is one of four endurance races that began at noon Monday.

The 200-mile Iditasport Original, which goes from Willow to Shell Lake Lodge and back, attracted seven competitors. The Iditarod Extreme, which goes 370 miles to McGrath, has 24 racers, and the Iditarod Impossible, which goes all the way to Nome, has six racers.

As of Monday evening, Kevin Murphy was setting a fast pace in the race to McGrath, having already made it to Puntilla Lake, nearly halfway through the race.

Gov. Bill Walker appoints former F-22 pilot to vacant Alaska Senate seat - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-02-20 19:19

Juneau Empire

Gov. Bill Walker appoints former F-22 pilot to vacant Alaska Senate seat
Juneau Empire
The Alaska Constitution and Alaska law require the governor to fill a legislative vacancy within 30 days. The replacement lawmaker must be of the same party and district of the departed lawmaker, and fulfill all constitutional requirements for the job ...
Pilot told Walker he'd take leave from FedEx to serve in SenateKTUU.com
Walker picks Shower to fill Dunleavy's vacated Senate SeatMat-Su Valley Frontiersman

all 11 news articles »

University of Alaska president appeals for public support for more funding - KTOO

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-02-20 19:15

KTOO

University of Alaska president appeals for public support for more funding
KTOO
“We didn't just sit back and crawl under the table and wait for oil prices to come back. We went forward and came up with very strong, proactive plans,” Johnsen said. “And I think that legislators see 'Wow, OK, those guys are moving forward. They want ...
University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about systemJuneau Empire
University of Alaska President stresses importance of reinvesting in educationKTUU.com
University advocates for land grantUAA Northern Light

all 4 news articles »

Is downtown Anchorage dying, being killed, or just a bit under the weather?

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 19:06

Twelve noon on a workday and downtown Anchorage is quiet. Lots of empty parking spaces. Hardly any traffic. Just a few people walking around.

The area was once the heart of the city, but the center of business activity and new investment has moved to Midtown. Street-level businesses downtown are suffering. Some restaurants have closed for lunch service. Business is dead.

"The tales of why downtown has stagger-stepped for so many years are myriad," said Jamie Boring, executive director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, a business improvement district.

Some of those tales reflect cultural changes, including the rise of online shopping. The ongoing Alaska recession also has hit downtown hard.

Every setback is unique. The Williwaw bar and restaurant complex opened just as the economy fell and now is in financial trouble.

But Boring feels, and I agree, that government disinvestment hurt, too.

He calculated statistics showing downtown gets back much less than other areas of town in city capital spending compared to the taxes it pays. He would like to see more money put into improving and maintaining the streetscape to attract private investment.

Downtown also carries the weight of community problems, with a concentration of social services, including the close proximity of a campus for the homelessness and the Anchorage jail. The state dumps problem offenders from all over Alaska in downtown Anchorage.

[Going home: How Alaska Natives released from prison get stuck in Anchorage]

"Yes, you can see long-term disinvestment. It's terrible," said Chris Constant, who represents the area on the Anchorage Assembly.

But he doesn't blame city government.

Constant said the Alaska Department of Transportation should fix outdated streets. Fifth and Sixth avenues are built for far more traffic than they carry and could be narrowed and landscaped to make the area more attractive to pedestrians.

The loss of the Legislative Information Office was a major blow. The Alaska Legislature contracted to build a stylish new office on Fourth Avenue, then refused to pay for it and moved to Midtown, in violation of community and state policies to keep government offices downtown.

Litigation over the walk-away continues. The building remains empty.

Private offices have moved away, too. Downtown has seen no new private office buildings constructed in many years, while plenty of large buildings have gone up in Midtown. Same story with hotels.

Land prices and abundant parking lure builders to Midtown. But public safety plays a part, too.

Boring's organization fields street patrol ambassadors, as well as cleaning the area and putting on events. A self-voted levy on downtown property owners funds most of the work.

The patrols were intended to be additive to the Anchorage Police Department, something like a mall security detail. But Boring believes the city has allowed that effort to displace money it should be spending.

When the district started (and I was heavily involved with that, as a member of the Anchorage Assembly), the city, state and federal governments contributed with payments in lieu of taxes, but Boring said that stopped at some point.

In 2020, property owners will vote on whether to continue the improvement district with its special tax, which raised $1.1 million last year to support the privately directed services. If voters don't feel fairly treated, they might say no.

Boring doesn't blame Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who he says has cooperated with the district and created opportunities for the area.

After a long career in the Marine Corps, he said, "I didn't know this was going to be a political job."

Constant, who is usually free with criticism, said Berkowitz has done his best with what he has been given. He believes the mayor has made progress on homelessness.

"He's housing the people who have been haunting our streets for a long time," Constant said.

Berkowitz does deserve credit for creating the conditions that would make a downtown renaissance possible.

His administration increased the Anchorage Police Department from 320 to 435 officers, a process that took his entire first term. With those numbers, the department has fielded foot patrols downtown that Berkowitz said cost around $1 million a year.

Officers have largely resolved chronic anti-social activity at the Town Square (now it is deserted) and calmed the Transit Center (even accounting for the recent arson fire in a restroom). A crackdown on loitering and drug dealing at the Brother Francis Shelter campus also had results.

But Boring's members complain that the vagrants who were outside the shelter moved into their entryways and stairwells.

When scary street people accost office workers downtown, offices end up moving to Midtown, where the car-oriented urban design keeps everyone on the other side of auto glass — both those you want to keep away, and maybe people you wouldn't mind meeting.

Downtown could have exciting, fun street life. It was built for walking. What's needed is consistent policing, housing for the homeless and a critical mass of activity to bring the area back to life.

Berkowitz believes the streets can be enlivened with more people living there — not more offices. He fired off a long list of planned residential developments in the offing. He also pointed to new amenities, like a park on the roof of a parking garage, that have made the area more exciting with little cost.

I tried to find out mayoral candidate Rebecca Logan's vision for downtown. After an email exchange about the subject of my column, she did not respond.

Berkowitz said downtown had suffered cumulative problems, including the economy, the state's fiscal crisis — with fewer workers and a closed courthouse on Friday afternoons — and the lack of state attention to major roads. But he also played the cheerleader.

For example, he pointed to the Anchorage Museum expansion. That is a big deal, and if the other development projects happen that he has been pushing, downtown could turn the corner.

"There's some really good stuff happening downtown. There's a vitality here there hasn't been," he said.

I hope he's right and the centrifugal force spreading and thinning Anchorage can finally stop and allow an urban core to thrive.

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.

Ahtna elder Roy Ewan, involved in passage of ANCSA, dies at 82

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 18:00

Ahtna elder Roy S. Ewan died Tuesday at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage surrounded by family, an Alaska Native corporation said in a statement. He was 82.

Ewan was born in Kluti-Kaah — a village on the Copper River — and "spent his life advocating for the rights of Ahtna people and protection of all Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights," Glennallen-based Ahtna Inc. said in the statement.

He was also "instrumental" in the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

"Roy's heart was always for the people," said Nick Jackson, chairman of the Ahtna Inc. board of directors. "Roy was orphaned at a young age and sent away but he later returned to become a respected and beloved leader of the Ahtna people."

Ewan had served as a co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. He was the first employee of Ahtna Inc., and later a president and board member.

State wants Legislature to approve $10 million to jump-start ANWR exploration

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 17:48

The Walker administration wants the Legislature to approve a $10 million budget request that would allow Alaska to partner with other entities on a seismic shoot to enhance the search for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The state's investment would pay for itself by attracting companies to bid on leases in the refuge, said Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack, speaking to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.

In December, the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump  agreed to open the coastal plain of the 19-million-acre refuge to drilling, after decades of unsuccessful attempts by Congress to allow drilling there.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, calls for the federal government to auction off land in two lease sales within seven years. The first must be held within four years.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the lease sales would bring in $2 billion that the U.S. and Alaska would split.

The state believes new seismic information will lead to more lease income, said Mack.

A seismic shoot – using seismic waves to reveal underground formations that might hold oil – would require a permit from the federal government, Mack said.

"We want to make sure we have as many qualified bidders as possible and increase the value of that lease sale," Mack said.

A seismic shoot is expected to cost more than $10 million, so the state will seek partners that could include oil companies, the North Slope Borough, or others, said Pat Pitney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, speaking to the committee on Monday.

Pitney said the money is an investment in the state's future.

Alaska has previously sought permission to conduct seismic work in the refuge. In 2015, U.S. Anchorage District Judge Sharon Gleason rejected an ANWR exploration plan submitted by the previous administration under Gov. Sean Parnell.

Gleason sided with the Interior Department at the time. The agency had said its authority to approve seismic exploration ended in 1987.

[Federal judge rejects Parnell-era push to open ANWR]

But that was before Congress approved drilling in the refuge. Also, Trump and his Interior Department have signaled strong support for exploration there. Trump has called the refuge "one of the largest oil reserves in the world."

It's uncertain how much oil might exist in the refuge. The lone exploration well there was drilled in the mid-1980s on privately owned Alaska Native land. Companies have kept the results a closely guarded secret.

[Mystery surrounds only well drilled in ANWR]

What's publicly known about the refuge's oil potential is based on a two-dimensional seismic study done in 1984 and 1985.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated about 10 billion barrels of oil could be economically extracted from the coastal plain, an amount similar to the original production estimate at the giant Prudhoe Bay oil field west of ANWR.

State officials have argued that the 1980s seismic data is extremely dated. They say a modern seismic study would reveal far more detail.

Asked by a reporter how the state could legally obtain a permit for the seismic shoot, Pitney said state officials have been discussing the idea with the U.S. Interior Department. The federal government is one possible partner in the seismic shoot, she said.

The Washington Post reported in September that the Interior Department was looking to alter the 1980s regulations to allow such seismic work.

Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska, said Tuesday the conservation group will monitor any application for seismic activity to make sure the refuge is protected.

"We will absolutely evaluate any proposal the state or anyone puts forward for seismic," she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a reporter Monday any industrial work conducted in ANWR must be legally "airtight" to avoid lawsuits from conservation groups. One possibility now is doing a seismic study on the Native-owned lands within the coastal plain, she said.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the village corporation for Kaktovik own 92,000 acres of private land in the coastal plain.

"We will in this next year begin to see more announced activity," she said. "But keep in mind this is a very much a step-by-step (process)."

At Monday's hearing, Sen. Pete Micciche, R-Soldotna, warned that new seismic data could hurt the effort to boost lease income for Alaska. The data might reveal that some areas of the coastal plain aren't favorable for oil discoveries, reducing interest there.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, suggested the state, with its limited resources, should wait and let others invest in seismic work.

Mack said the state has seen a connection between seismic studies conducted in the North Slope's Colville River region and the discovery of "tremendous prospects," he said.

"There seems to be a strong relationship," Mack said.

[ConocoPhillips plans largest exploration season in 15 years]

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, suggested the state might want to commit more money to study the refuge after it waited for 40 years for Congress to allow drilling there.

"I'm looking at $10 million — I'm wondering if that's enough, because I don't know if we'll ever get back in there again," he said.

Right-wing media uses Florida school shooting as fodder for conspiracy theories

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 17:40

The teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who lost 17 of their classmates and school staff members in a mass shooting a week ago, have emerged as passionate advocates for reform, speaking openly of their anger in the hope of forcing a reckoning on guns.

But in certain right-wing corners of the Web — and, increasingly, from more mainstream voices like Rush Limbaugh and a commentator on CNN — the students are being portrayed not as grief-ridden survivors but as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation's laws.

In these baseless accounts, which by Tuesday had spread rapidly on social media, the students are described as "crisis actors" who travel to the sites of shootings to instigate fury against guns. Or they are called FBI plants, defending the bureau for its failure to catch the shooter. They have been portrayed as puppets being coached and manipulated by the Democratic Party, gun control activists, the so-called antifa movement and the left-wing billionaire George Soros.

The theories are far-fetched. But they are finding a broad and prominent audience online. On Tuesday, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., liked a pair of tweets that accused David Hogg, 17, who is among the most outspoken of the Parkland students, of criticizing the Trump administration in an effort to protect his father, whom Hogg has described as a retired FBI agent.

[Russian bot army pounced on Twitter after Florida school shooting]

Hogg, the high school's student news director, has become a sensation among many liberals for his polished and compelling television interviews, in which he has called on lawmakers to enact tougher restrictions on guns. Just as quickly, Hogg attracted the disdain of right-wing provocateurs like The Gateway Pundit, a fringe website that gained prominence in 2016 for pushing false conspiracies about voter fraud and Hillary Clinton.

In written posts and YouTube videos — one of which had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night — Gateway Pundit has argued that Hogg had been coached on what to say during his interviews. The notion that Hogg is merely protecting his father dovetails with a broader right-wing trope, that liberal forces in the FBI are trying to undermine President Donald Trump and his pro-Second Amendment supporters.

Others offered more sweeping condemnations. Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the site Infowars, suggested that the mass shooting was a "false flag" orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Limbaugh, on his radio program, said of the student activists on Monday: "Everything they're doing is right out of the Democrat Party's various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the NRA and guns."

By Tuesday, that argument had migrated to CNN. In an on-air appearance, Jack Kingston, a former U.S. representative from Georgia and a regular CNN commentator, asked, "Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?" (He was quickly rebuked by anchor Alyson Camerota.)

Conspiracies, wild and raw online, are often pasteurized on their way into the mainstream. A subtler version of the theory appeared Tuesday on the website of Bill O'Reilly, the ousted Fox News host. O'Reilly stopped short of saying the students had been planted by anti-Trump forces. But, he wrote: "The national press believes it is their job to destroy the Trump administration by any means necessary. So if the media has to use kids to do that, they'll use kids."

Some of those who have been spreading the conspiracies are facing consequences.

Benjamin Kelly, an aide to a Florida state representative, Shawn Harrison, emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter on Tuesday accusing Hogg and a classmate, Emma Gonzalez, of being actors that travel to the sites of crises.

Kelly was soon fired.

"I made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting," Kelly tweeted. "I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland." His boss, Harrison, said on Twitter that he was "appalled" by Kelly's remarks.

But by Tuesday evening, a new conspiracy was dominating Gateway Pundit's home page. "Soros-Linked Organizers of 'Women's March' Selected Anti-Trump Kids to Be Face of Parkland Tragedy," read the headline. Within an hour, it had been shared on Facebook more than 150 times.

Trident Seafoods didn’t report a large fire at its Akutan plant

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 17:36

A fire at Trident Seafoods Corp.'s Akutan plant burned around 25 acres of grassy hillside near the Aleutian Islands town early Monday morning, but wasn't reported to the community's sole law enforcement officer, an Akutan official said.

Monte Chitty is Akutan's village public safety officer. He also runs the village's volunteer fire department.

"There's a failure of Trident to communicate with the village," Chitty said.

Chitty said that the fire originated at Trident Seafoods' Akutan processing plant, about a quarter-mile from town. The fire burned between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Monday, he said.

Chitty said he first learned of the fire when a media outlet called him at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

Joe Plesha, chief legal officer for Trident Seafoods, said Tuesday that Chitty should have been alerted to the fire. The company would reach out to Chitty, Plesha said.

The fire burned around 25 acres on the northwest side of the processing plant and on a steep hillside sloping up from the company's property, Chitty said.

Chitty believes that the fire started from an area where the company routinely burns pallets.

Plesha said the company was investigating the cause of the fire. He said it "probably started on our property," which includes some of the hillside above the plant, but that Trident was still unraveling the details of what happened.

The plant itself was not damaged.

Trident's Akutan plant is the largest seafood production facility in North America, according to the company's website. Around 1,400 employees work there during the peak season, but the plant operates all year. The plant can process more than 3 million pounds of raw fish per day, the site says.

Akutan is about 760 miles southwest of Anchorage. Chitty said around 90 people live in the village, and the Trident employees live in company housing at the plant.

This time of year in Akutan, "the whole island is dry grass and the prevailing winds are over 30 miles per hour," Chitty said.

"So, a fire out here could be a major thing. The only thing that saved us … was it started raining at 4 this morning," Chitty said.

Volunteer firefighters in Akutan "work off of ATVs and backpacks," Chitty said.

"If you've got a fire like that, it's got to be fought on foot," Chitty said. "That's why early warning is important."

Are you a fan of fermented foods? Local farmers markets have got you covered.

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 17:36

Lacto-fermented foods. Dog treats. A taste of last autumn's harvest. Alaska-grown meats. Find those items and more at the mid-winter local farmers' markets.

Thankful Thursdays

For Julie Meer of Farm 779, it's always about the fermented foods. "Properly lacto-fermented whole foods are predigested powerhouse additions to a healthy, balanced diet," Meer says.

This week, Farm 779 has four varieties of coconut kefir, including regular, double thick, citrus and turmeric. Other fermented foods include krauts and vegetable blends, alongside fermented onions and citrus. "We're also well stocked with ketogenic-compliant cacao chip cookies… and coconut bacon," she says. "All vegan and gluten free."

Also look for kombucha teas and beet kvass, along with coconut base body products.

Duane Clark will have his booth full of Denali Dog Treats, local honey, honeycomb, birch syrup, jams, salsa, zucchini relish, potatoes and products from Alaska Sprouts. His seafood selection includes black cod, smoked black cod, sockeye salmon, Pacific cod, spot shrimp and scallops and Alaska potatoes.

Center Market

Alex Davis of AD Farm will have a great taste of autumn with carrots in four colors, two varieties of beets and four types of potatoes. Davis is at all three Center Market days.

Rempel Family Farm is at the market on Saturdays only. But they bring a large supply of produce with them. The Rempels will have orange and purple carrots, parsnips, daikon radish, jumbo pink banana squash, acorn squash, stripetti squash, snow apple turnips, kohlrabi, four varieties of beets, green and purple cabbage, purple onions and 11 kinds of potatoes. They also have a selection of yak meat.

In addition to his storage crops, Davis will have chicken eggs, raspberry jam, pumpkin butter, apple butter and a wide variety of cuts from the AD Farm-raised pigs. Pork cuts include: chops, loin roast, fresh side sliced, ground pork, Italian sausage, spicy sausage, breakfast sausage, chorizo, fajita meat, ribs, roast, bone for broth, fat for rendering, feet and hocks. Davis also has dog treats from his pigs.

Davis says these items or vendors will also be at the market: Alaska Sprouts with micro greens, sprouts, tofu and basil; Alaska Fisherman Seafood Direct with smoked black cod, shrimp, halibut and other seafood; Alaska Flour Co.'s barley products; Alaska Seeds of Change; Far North Fungi; Wild Child fermented salsa; Mosquito Mama balsamic vinegar; Windy River Farm grass-fed beef; Tonia's Biscotti; Evie's Brinery items, including krauts; Jonsers' hand-crafted nectars; and Doggy Decadence treats.

Dee Barker from Earthworks Farm will be at all three markets with the farm's honey, its skin care products and chaga chunks for making tea. "We are introducing our new 'spa packs,' a sampler of our skin care and bath products," Barker says.

Williwaw Public Market

More than 20 local artists, crafters and artisans will gather 1-5 p.m. at the Williwaw Public Market. Daisy Nicolas of Drool Central will be among the vendors. Drool Central will have treats, snacks and meals for our canine friends.

Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at akmarketfresh@gmail.com.

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Saturday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave

Sunday in Anchorage: Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

One potential way to diversify Alaska’s economy: Building more ships and boats

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 17:23

Growing the shipbuilding and boat building industry in Alaska could be one way to diversify the state's heavily oil-dependent economy, according to a new study by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development.

The report is the first of several that will be released this year looking at economic sectors Alaska might try to grow. The university is partnering with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to produce the series, assessing the potential of several industries.

Marine transportation is already crucial here, from the state's ferry system to the cargo ships that Alaska relies on to the fishing industry and recreation.

Right now, facilities in the Lower 48 — especially in Washington and Oregon — build a large share of the vessels that operate in Alaska, but the manufacturing of boats and ships here is an industry with high growth potential, according to the study.

"So much of the economy is tied to vessels," said Nolan Klouda, executive director of the CED at the university. He worked on the study. "It means there's this large in-state market for marine vessels, and any work we can do where we can build or service more vessels, that's money that stays in Alaska."

There are constraints to growth in the industry, the report said, including labor availability, financing and a need for more space. There are also things policymakers and the business sector can do to foster shipbuilding and boat building here, such as developing shared branding and marketing for Alaska-built vessels and promoting innovation in the maritime sector.

"It's important for our conversation about the economy not to just focus on oil and gas," said Gretchen Fauske, associate director at CED. "It's important to talk about other industries and bright spots that have potential."

[Craft beer, air cargo and new business: Looking beyond oil in Alaska's future economy]

Alaska has roughly 30 active boat building and shipbuilding businesses, according to the study, and the sector has about 300 to 400 employees in ship and boat manufacturing and repair combined.

Most of the companies in the sector in Alaska focus on boats (smaller vessels); Vigor Alaska in Ketchikan is the only one that builds ships. Vigor also operates the Ketchikan Shipyard on behalf of the city, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

"The potential for growth is certainly here," said Doug Ward, director of shipyard development at Vigor Alaska. "However, Alaska has a disadvantage in that our workforce is what I'd call a nontraditional manufacturing workforce. That means … in Alaska we haven't done a lot of shipbuilding or repair recently, in the last 30 to 40 years."

Vigor isn't the only one citing workforce issues. Out of the 14 companies interviewed for the report, Klouda said, "almost everyone" mentioned being constrained by a limited workforce.

"Everything from needing people who are skilled when it comes to welding all the way down to people who will show up and learn," he said. "A lot of these boat building companies are in smaller coastal towns where a lot of workforce is going commercial fishing in summer. That's kind of an issue."

Since oil prices dropped precipitously starting in 2014, the state has lost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector, and losses in that industry have rippled through others.

"There may not be any one thing that strengthens Alaska's economy," Klouda said. "It may not be that there's some big new industry that takes the place of oil, but that there are a number of areas of high potential."

[Here's what low oil prices have done to Alaska's jobs picture]

University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about system - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-02-20 16:56

KTUU.com

University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about system
Juneau Empire
Neither the governor nor the Legislature have been inclined to follow the regents' suggestion. In December, Gov. Bill Walker proposed a budget a few hundred thousand dollars below last year's figure, or about $317 million again. The Legislature has not ...
University of Alaska President stresses importance of reinvesting in educationKTUU.com
University advocates for land grantUAA Northern Light

all 3 news articles »

University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about system

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-02-20 16:52
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File). In his annual “State of the University” address, University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen urged Alaskans to support increases in funding ...

Street construction begins downtown

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-02-20 16:52
Mariyan Aleksiev, of Earthmovers, cuts into the pavement at the intersection of Franklin and Front Streets on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. A section of Front Street will be closed as remodeling work to replace utilities, pavement, sidewalk and lighting fixtures take place over the next few months. (Michael Penn ...

University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about system

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-02-20 16:52
The Anchorage location of Johnsen's speech was a departure from last year's event, which took place in Juneau's Hangar Ballroom as part of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's luncheon series. Johnsen will return to Juneau Wednesday for a Lunch and Learn presentation to be held at noon in the ...

JROTC members killed in school shooting receive medal, one admitted to West Point posthumously

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 16:21

PARKLAND, Fla. – The U.S. military is awarding medals to three Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets who were killed in last week's high school shooting here, and one of them has received a rare posthumous admission to the U.S. Military Academy.

The students – Peter Wang, 15, and Alaina Petty and Martin Duque, both 14 – were members of the JROTC program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting occurred Feb. 14. Police said 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz – a former JROTC member at the school – opened fire inside the school with an assault-style rifle, killing 17 people. Authorities have hailed the JROTC members for their bravery that day in helping other students reach safety.

The U.S. Army Cadet Command said the JROTC Medal of Heroism is given to a cadet who does something "so exceptional and outstanding that it clearly sets the individual apart from fellow students" and "involved the acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage."

JROTC is a national service and leadership program that involves more than 300,000 students in 1,700 schools. Cadet Command spokesman Michael Maddox said that just 48 JROTC heroism medals have been awarded in the past 20 years.

Maddox said JROTC students who survived the shooting at Douglas High might also receive medals for the help they gave to others as the attack was underway; Zackary Walls and Colton Haab helped to build a makeshift shield out of sheets of Kevlar for students who fled to the JROTC classroom, and Jude Lenamon helped panicked students to safely and quickly leave campus after he recognized the sound of gunshots and realized that the incident was not a fire drill.

"Awards for other possible cadets are going through a review process," Maddox said.

['Code Red!' The school had prepared, but when the shooter came, no one was ready]

The families of the three slain JROTC cadets either have been or are to be presented with medals at the funerals for their children. Wang was buried in his uniform Tuesday, with his medal pinned to it. His family received a keepsake medal, Maddox said.

Petty's family received the medal at her service Monday, and Duque's family is to receive the medal at his funeral Saturday.

Wang is credited with saving lives by holding open a door for others to escape and was in his cadet uniform when he was killed. His family and friends said he loved being part of JROTC and had dreams of attending the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

"Peter Wang, an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a lifetime goal to attend USMA and was posthumously offered admission for his heroic actions on Feb. 14," a statement from the academy said. "It was an appropriate way for USMA to honor this brave young man."

The statement said the honor is given "in very rare instances for those candidates or potential candidates whose actions exemplified the tenets of Duty, Honor and Country."

A spokeswoman said the honor is so rare that the academy is unaware of the last time a posthumous admission was granted.

Petty was a member of the unit's color guard and was anticipating her first competition in the coming weeks. Her brother, Patrick Petty, who also is in JROTC, survived the shooting. He was in a front office with other members of the unit, as well as adults and special-needs students whom he helped usher into the room.

Cadet Capt. Madison Geller, 17, was in the same room, and she remembers Patrick Petty trying to reach his sister as the attack was taking place. "He kept texting and texting her," she said.

['I would take a bullet for the kids': Teachers face a daunting new role]

About 1,500 people, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R, attended Petty's funeral. Duque, like Wang and Petty, was proud to be a cadet, his friends said.

Cruz, the alleged shooter, trained with the Douglas JROTC marksmanship team when he was in JROTC in 2016.

Rozsa is a Florida-based freelance reporter and frequent contributor to The Washington Post.

Don’t overestimate Trump’s ability to knowingly collude with Russia

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 15:51

Despite the indictment of 13 Russian professional social media pranksters who worked to tip the 2016 election to Donald Trump, I remain somewhere between skeptical and agnostic on the question of whether or not Trump knowingly and secretly colluded with the Russians to win the election.

We'll come back to those important qualifiers — knowingly and secretly — in a moment.

But first, a word about conspiracy theories: As a rule, they will almost always let you down.

The conspiracy theories that capture our imagination usually depend on false assumptions about how the world works. They rely on the idea that government (or some other large organization) is both profoundly evil and profoundly competent, particularly at keeping secrets. Sometimes the former may be true, but the latter virtually never is. Conspiracy theories also rely on the belief that objectively bad outcomes are subjectively intended. It's like trying to read the world like a work of literature, where all actions foreshadow future events.

That's why I tend to avoid conspiracy theory in favor of what one might call character theory. Character is destiny, as Heraclitus observed, and it serves as a far more reliable guide than feverish dot-connecting of disparate events.

It is President Trump's character that leads me to think he didn't do it, at least not in a way the impeachment-hungry mob hopes he did.

Oh, I think he's morally capable of having done it. As a candidate he publicly called on the Russians to (further) hack Hillary Clinton's server and release the missing emails. He is the one member of his administration incapable of condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin or his regime. Indeed, his instincts are to hail Putin's "leadership."

Nor do I think Trump surrounded himself during the campaign with people who would have talked him out of collusion (save for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions). Saying that his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is not overly scrupulous would be a mind-bending understatement. And Trump's son Don Jr. has already admitted a) that he met with a Russian emissary, and b) that he didn't care where anti-Clinton dirt came from.

But while they may have been willing to coordinate with the Kremlin, I'm not at all certain they would have been able to pull it off — and keep it a secret. Everything we know about the Trump campaign is that it was a shambolic movable feast of warring egos, relentless leaks and summary firings. But we're supposed to believe that everyone maintained total secrecy about Russian collusion?

More implausible, we're supposed to believe that Trump has never let it slip, in private or public? The man admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey to thwart the Russia investigation. Indeed, his blunders are what invited the investigation in the first place.

So why, you might ask, is Trump so obsessed with stopping Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe? I have three mutually reinforcing theories.

First: Trump thinks the probe is unfair. He knows he didn't personally collude and feels unjustly accused. Second, it's a blow to his ego, because he thinks it robs him of credit for what he believes was a landslide victory. (It wasn't.) And third, he fears Mueller might find something else. Perhaps Trump's not nearly as rich as he claims. Maybe his business practices (or those of his family), particularly with regard to Russia, would not withstand close legal scrutiny. One explanation for why Trump always flattered Putin on the campaign trail is that he thought he would lose the election, so why foreclose future business opportunities?

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon matter-of-factly told author Michael Wolff: "This is all about money laundering."

Mueller's "path to … Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner," Bannon added. "It's as plain as a hair on your face." Tellingly, the president has said he might fire Mueller if he looks into his family's finances.

These three factors add up to an explanation for why Trump insists the whole Russia investigation is a witch hunt and why he can't stop obsessing over it. It's not the only explanation, but it's more consistent with what we know of Trump's character than the current conspiracy theories, which depend on us believing he's a villainous mastermind.

Former fighter pilot nominated for Senate seat vacated by Dunleavy

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-02-20 15:45
Alaska's Republican and Democratic parties have created procedures that allow local party officials to draft short lists of candidates to guide the governor's decision, but the governor is not bound by those lists. After Kowalke was rejected, the governor nominated Tom Braund, a Mat-Su Republican who ...

Alaska’s newest state Senate nominee is a former F-22 fighter pilot

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-02-20 14:52

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, in his third attempt to fill a Mat-Su state Senate seat, has appointed a former Air Force fighter pilot who now flies for FedEx.

Walker announced Tuesday that he'd appointed Mike Shower of Wasilla, a Republican, to fill the seat formerly held by another Wasilla Republican, Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy resigned last month to run for governor.

Shower worked for two decades as a pilot in the Air Force and held the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He commanded the first squadron of F-22s at Elmendorf Air Force Base; his call sign was "Dozer," and in 1999 he shot down a Yugoslavian Mig-29 fighter jet.

Shower said he was busy with coordination Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment, but he released a prepared statement thanking Mat-Su Republicans for nominating him.

"I am also deeply honored by my appointment to that seat by Governor Walker," the statement said. "I look forward to to speaking with Senate leadership and to the Senate's consideration of my appointment."

Walker's first appointee, Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke, was a break with political tradition because it ignored three candidates suggested by local members of the Alaska Republican Party. Senate Republicans, who must approve the appointee in a confirmation vote before he or she can be seated, rejected Kowalke.

Walker then appointed Tom Braund, who was on the list of Mat-Su Republicans' recommendations. But Braund, amid a furor over his social media postings, withdrew from consideration last week, saying he needed to spend time with a close friend.

[Related: Republican Senate appointee whose Facebook posts drew attention withdraws from consideration]

Shower was on a list of additional names that Republicans sent to Walker after he rejected the GOP's two other initial suggestions, teacher Todd Smoldon and Sutton Rep. George Rauscher.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said in a prepared statement that Senate Republicans would meet soon to consider Shower's appointment.

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