Governor urges reopening Capitol to the public | Alaska News | newsminer.com - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Singer-songwriter Erin Heist records 1st EP, releases single.
This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.
The voting board in the Alaska House of Representatives is seen through the anti-COVID plexiglass on House lawmakers' desks during the Tuesday, June 15, 2021 vote on Alaska's state budget in the Alaska State Capitol at Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)
JUNEAU — The Alaska House of Representatives narrowly approved a compromise state budget on Tuesday night, but Republican opposition meant two key procedural votes failed, leaving significant uncertainty.
Unless lawmakers successfully re-vote, one of the failed votes will cut this year’s Permanent Fund dividend from about $1,100 to roughly $525. The state’s rural-power subsidy will end, high school students will lose state-funded scholarships, and a variety of construction projects will be put on hold for lack of funding.
Those parts of the budget are funded with money from specific savings accounts, and spending from those accounts requires 30 of the 40 members of the House to agree.
On Tuesday night, the vote failed 24-15. All 21 members of the coalition House majority voted in favor, as did minority Republican Reps. Bart LeBon and Steve Thompson of Fairbanks, and Mike Cronk of Tok. Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, was excused absent for a previously scheduled medical appointment.
“It’s all a bunch of mess right now,” said House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, shortly before Tuesday’s votes.
A re-vote could take place before lawmakers adjourn their ongoing special session or in another special session scheduled for later this year.
The budget itself passed 21-18, with all “no” votes coming from members of the Republican minority.
“This is the worst budget I have ever seen, bar none,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake.
The Alaska Senate may vote Wednesday on both the compromise budget and how to fund it, but even if the Senate passes both votes, the House’s failure means an incomplete budget.
The budget needs to pass both the House and Senate before advancing to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who must sign it before July 1 to avert a government shutdown.
Alaska’s fiscal year begins on that date, and without a completed budget, most state services will stop functioning. If lawmakers don’t pass a budget before Thursday, tens of thousands of state employees will receive contractually mandated notices warning them that they will soon be laid off.
A second failed procedural vote may add further complications. The budget was written to take effect July 1, but the Alaska Constitution says that if a bill takes effect fewer than 90 days after enactment, two-thirds of the House and Senate must support that earlier date.
On Tuesday night, that “effective date clause” failed, 23-16. LeBon and Thompson joined the majority coalition in voting for it.
Staff for the House majority said they believe the budget has been written in such a way that the effective date clause will not be a problem, but that interpretation has not been legally tested.
Tuesday night’s failed votes were due to differences over the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend and the lack of a reliable long-term formula for paying future dividends.
Most minority Republicans in the Alaska House want a dividend larger than the $1,100 amount that was set on Sunday by a panel in charge of drawing up a compromise budget.
Members of the House majority were unwilling to increase the amount because doing so would violate a limit on annual spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Money that remains in the fund is invested, and part of those investments are transferred each year to the state treasury. The transfer now makes up more than 60% of the state’s general-purpose revenue, much more than oil taxes.
“If we spend that down today, it won’t be there for the future,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage.
Members of the minority argued unsuccessfully that the fund’s extraordinary performance this year — it’s now at a record $81 billion — means that it makes sense to spend more.
Adding to the minority’s aggravation, part of the dividend is funded with money from a state savings account rather than the Permanent Fund. If the House fails to vote in favor of spending from savings, the dividend will shrink.
Other things are tied to the savings vote as well — construction projects in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, repairs to an earthquake-damaged school, money for state troopers and the Department of Natural Resources.
That minority Republicans feeling as if they were being coerced and set up for blame if they voted against spending from savings.
“I really feel that’s similar to a husband that chooses to beat his wife and then blame the wife for the beating. I really feel like that’s what’s happening here,” said Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, shortly before he voted no.
But members of the majority said tying the dividend and construction projects to the savings vote is leveling the playing field. The vote traditionally assures funding for Alaska’s Power-Cost Equalization program, which subsidizes the price of rural home electricity.
The minority had planned for weeks to use the savings vote as leverage, similar to what it did in 2019.
“We should all feel the effects if that three-quarter vote is not achieved,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and one of the authors of the compromise budget.
“We’re all going to be in the same boat,” he said.
Leading legislators spent most of Tuesday unsuccessfully negotiating behind closed doors to find a compromise that would avert the evening’s failed votes.
House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, each said that members of the minority want to see an agreement on a long-term fiscal plan before they provide their votes for the budget.
But any agreement on that could take months, until an August special session planned by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
In the meantime, said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, tens of thousands of Alaskans in rural areas will see their home electricity prices skyrocket.
Across the state, high school students will lose access to scholarships promised by the state.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, called the Legislature’s failure a “travesty,” but he said work will continue.
“I’m going to fight to get this vote in place. Later on, we’re going to be back in special session, maybe more than once. The battle isn’t over, and I’m sorry we didn’t succeed today,” he said.
Capitol reopened, and lawmakers prepare for take off.
The former Juneau resident was indicted for five more felony charges early in June.
Murkowski said she was flabbergasted that Haaland did not address the court ruling.
Three is the magic number.
Search begins for new leaders
The perfect spruce tip is tightly bound needles without the brown papery casing.
House leaders left open the potential for continued talks or even possibly another vote.
Marijuana may be off the table in most states, but luckily, bottling up certain cannabinoids is still in style. One of the most popular ones, CBD, has been making waves in the industry for a while now, but it’s time to introduce a new contender — delta-8-THC.
Although CBD has been around for a long time, it has only recently started to see an increase in popularity. As a result, more and more people are willing to give cannabinoids as a whole a try. And while CBD remains a fan favorite, a newcomer called delta-8-THC is making a name for itself. In fact, almost every cannabis store is offering delta-8-THC oils, tinctures, and other similar products. But is this cannabinoid really worth your time? And if that’s the case, what are the best delta-8-THC tinctures, and what should you know when shopping for delta-8?Best Delta-8-THC Tinctures and Oils Brands
A woman who was reportedly charged by bears while hiking the Pioneer Ridge Trail near Butte remains missing after a daylong air and ground search Tuesday, Alaska State Troopers said.
Efforts to find the missing hiker will continue until dark and resume in the morning, troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said Tuesday evening.
Troopers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough received a notification just before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday that a solo hiker on the trail needed help, according to an online report. The woman had reached out to her husband to ask for help after multiple bears charged her and she discharged bear spray, troopers said, and she stopped responding to calls and texts shortly afterward.
Troopers said they went to the trailhead to conduct a rudimentary search of the first part of trail but didn’t find the woman. Starting Tuesday morning and multiple times throughout the day, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center deployed a rescue team to fly over the trail and surrounding area, according to troopers.
Volunteers with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and MAT+SAR also have been conducting ground searches using K9s, troopers said.
The 4.5-mile Pioneer Ridge Trail, which begins at a parking area along Knik River Road south of Butte, is a moderately steep trail that tops out at about 5,300 feet after winding through dense forest and open tundra. From there, some hikers continue on a more technical route to the summit of Pioneer Peak.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
The incoming administration of Mayor-elect Dave Bronson has identified a current police impound lot near the intersection of Elmore and East Tudor roads, seen on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, as the proposed site of a new homeless shelter and "navigation center." The Alaska Native Medical Center campus is across Tudor Road to the right. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
The incoming administration of Mayor-elect Dave Bronson on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan to construct a large-scale homeless shelter and “navigation center” in East Anchorage near the old police headquarters building.
The proposed shelter represents a potential sea change in the city’s role in addressing homelessness, one of Anchorage’s most urgent and chronic problems.
“Fundamentally, we believe that providing shelter to the unhoused is a necessary first step,” John Morris, the Bronson administration’s homeless coordinator and a local anesthesiologist, told Anchorage Assembly members Tuesday. “It’s the humane thing to do. It is the practical thing to do. And it’s the legal thing to do.”
The plan got a warm reception from some Assembly members in a presentation Tuesday while others expressed concerns it would be too large, too expensive and in the wrong spot.
Bronson takes office July 1.
The city has housed around 400-500 people in a mass shelter run by Bean’s Cafe at Sullivan Arena since the beginning of the pandemic. The arena shelter has to be decommissioned by the beginning of September, with winter following on its heels. That means the city needs to find a way to house hundreds of people with a short lead-time of a few months.
Acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson last month announced a plan to decommission the Sullivan Arena shelter and create a smaller shelter in Midtown along with other options for the city’s homeless population. Bronson’s announcement marks a potential shift away from that plan.
Morris outlined the details of the navigation center in a meeting in Anchorage Assembly chambers Tuesday:
An “intentionally designed, purpose built and strategically located” navigation center would be constructed with semi-permanent domed tents called Sprung Structures and located on a lot immediately east of the old Anchorage Police Department headquarters at East Tudor and Elmore roads. The spot currently houses an APD parking lot filled with hundreds of impounded vehicles.
About 400 people would be able to shelter at the site initially, said Morris — about the same number as have been staying at Sullivan Arena. The shelter would be designed to accommodate as many as 900 people.Mayor-elect Dave Bronson discusses his plan to address homelessness to the Anchorage Assembly on June 15, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Lessons from Sullivan Arena shelter
Unlike the arena shelter, the new facility could be split into multiple separate structures, like townhouses sharing a roof, Morris said. Those could serve as separate shelters and office spaces, and the walls would be constructed from soundproof material, he said.
“Functionally and practically, we can divide this up into small shelters, trying to gain those things that we know are advantages,” Morris said. “If one person is having a bad night, somewhere between 30 to 50 people are going to lose sleep, not 200.”
He said the emergency shelter at Sullivan Arena — thought to be the largest mass shelter in the country — proved to be a successful experiment, despite many challenges.
“We’ve seen what happens when the municipality steps in and it can do it,” he said.
Dr. John Morris, homeless coordinator for Mayor-elect Dave Bronson, speaks to the Anchorage Assembly on June 15, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Morris said he plans to apply the lessons learned at the Sullivan to the navigation center, including keeping it open 24/7 and bringing direct services to local homeless shelters.
Those services would include a medical facility, rehabilitation services and job services among others, Bronson said. Visitors to the center would also get help securing permanent housing. The idea is to make homelessness a brief experience, Morris said.
Bronson said that his team hopes to break ground this summer. Morris said the project could be completed by the end of September if it begins July 1.
The proposed shelter would be “low barrier,” meaning that people wouldn’t have to prove they are sober to stay the night, and they could bring “partners, pets and possessions,” the plan says.
Locating the shelter on the APD property would provide a “persistent adjacent police presence” and would put a major hospital, the Alaska Native Medical Center, within walking distance. The site is also already zoned for a potential shelter, easily fenced and located “away from residences and businesses,” according to the administration’s plan.
The city put a price tag of “under $15 million” on the project. Details about the exact cost of constructing and operating the shelter — and where the money would come from — haven’t been revealed.
Morris said the building itself would cost about $5 million and that the rest is the cost of adding beds, utilities, fencing and other components.
“The cost will go up the faster we have to build it,” he said.
The police department did not answer questions about whether it had been consulted about the plan. In a statement, the department said it “has been and continues to be in discussions” about the preliminary plan site.
The Elmore-Tudor property houses dispatch, records, evidence and special operations units within the police department and is undergoing a “massive renovation,” the statement said.
“The parking lot mentioned in the plan currently holds approximately 500 vehicles considered evidence in ongoing investigations.”
Other aspects of plan still to come
The navigation center doesn’t represent the entirety of Bronson’s plan to tackle homelessness — rather, it’s an initial phase, he emphasized at the presentation. Other aspects of the plan, such as the long-term housing promised, haven’t been detailed yet.
The administration looked at examples of navigation centers in Houston, Reno, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City to develop the plan, Morris said.
Assembly members and homeless service providers expressed support for the plan, but also reservations. Several said it seemed to diverge widely from Bronson’s rhetoric during his campaign, in which he called homeless people “vagrants” and suggested jailing people as a viable solution.
“The Assembly wants to do something about this, the administration wants to do something about this and the public does. We have a changing point,” said Lisa Aquino, the executive director of Catholic Social Services. “That doesn’t mean I agree with every aspect of the plan yet.”
Socially distanced cots on the floor of the mass emergency shelter operated by Bean's Cafe in Sullivan Arena, April 14, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
During his campaign, Bronson heavily criticized a plan proposed last summer by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz that allocated federal CARES Act funds to purchase three buildings for homeless and treatment services — the former Alaska Club on East Tudor Road in Midtown, Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen and America’s Best Value Inn & Suites.
That plan elicited outcry from residents concerned about the impact to their neighborhoods, and some opponents said that the use of federal relief funds was illegal and inappropriate.
The Assembly approved the plan but the city has not followed through, deeming two sites too costly and in need of too many repairs. The other, Bean’s Cafe, was purchased by Weidner Apartment Homes and the Rasmuson Foundation and will become a “resource hub” serving homeless people.
The city recently returned to the idea of purchasing the former Alaska Club on Tudor Road when Quinn-Davidson last month announced, as part of her plan to stand down the Sullivan, that the city has entered into a contract to purchase the building for $5.436 million. It would become a 125-bed congregate emergency shelter and resource hub — if Bronson follows through with the purchase after taking office July 1.
As part of Berkowitz’s plan, the Assembly also approved the purchase of the Best Western Golden Lion Inn with funds from the sale of Municipal Light & Power. That building is set to become a treatment center.
Bronson said that he doesn’t yet know where exactly the funds would come from for the proposed navigation center and shelter and that his administration must work with the Assembly to find the money.
“They control the money, they budget the money. The executive spends the money,” Bronson said during a press briefing after the meeting. “And so we’re looking forward to an opportunity to work with them to actually find the money.”
“I think the Assembly and certainly Dr. Morris and I are on the page that we are changing. This is a sea change,” Bronson said. “We can’t let this go on anymore. Because we have to pay — we have to pay for our homeless problem, the overall homeless problem, as well as the visible homeless problem.”
Dr. John Morris, homeless coordinator for Mayor-elect Dave Bronson, answers questions outside Anchorage Assembly chambers on June 15, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Assembly members Felix Rivera, left, and Forrest Dunbar listen to Morris. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who ran against Bronson in the mayoral election, said he was surprised by Bronson’s plan.
“I would say represents almost a 180-degree change from the rhetoric they used on the campaign,” Dunbar said. “Now, they are comfortable using CARES Act money where previously, they said it was a misappropriation. Now they are comfortable using alcohol tax money, when previously they said it was a cash grab. The attacks ... they made on the Berkowitz administration, now, they are adopting a significant part of that plan.”
Dunbar, who represents East Anchorage, the area where the facility would be built, expressed skepticism, calling the project “far too large, far too expensive and far too rushed.”
“It’s better than any one I’ve seen, with an actual plan and rules and safety and location and cost figures, right?” said Jamie Allard, who represents Eagle River on the Assembly and who supported Bronson’s campaign. “I think we’re on the right track.”
Dunbar and other Assembly members questioned Morris about funding sources and the administration’s ability to complete the project on time.
John Weddleton, who represents South Anchorage, said that the plan is “pretty impressive” considering Bronson’s team has had just about a month since the election to pull it together. Still, he expects many challenges.
“Everything is more expensive than you expect,” he said. Weddleton said that key pieces, like the foundation, sewer utilities and water for showers for the 400 people who would be there, are expensive.
“Sprinklers are hugely expensive. And these things will be needed,” he said. “Can you get it done in time? Something needs to be done by the end of September — early September, really.”
The Assembly is scheduled to decide next Tuesday on two proposed ordinances that would expand where shelters can be located regulate, through licensing, how they are run.
Proponents say the city needs more options for shelter locations as it transitions away from using Sullivan Arena, and that it also needs a way to regulate new shelters and any negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.
The zoning ordinance would allow shelters, through a conditional use permit process, in areas zoned as “B3” business districts.
[Read the presentation by the Bronson team to the Anchorage Assembly below:]
A recreational kayak rests on the shore of Eklutna Lake on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The kayak is believed to have been the one used by a kayaker who was rescued a couple days earlier when it overturned. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
When Dan McDonough heard that a woman had fallen into Eklutna Lake last week, he knew what to do.
McDonough, the owner of Lifetime Adventures kayak rentals, gathered up warm clothing and went to wait by the shoreline. One of his employees had seen the woman fall out of a small boat without a life jacket on and hopped into a kayak to come to her aid, he said.
The woman clung to the bow of the kayak as they headed toward shore around noon on June 8, McDonough said. When they were close, McDonough said, he helped grab the woman and bring her to shore.
Dan McDonough is owner of Lifetime Adventures, a kayak & bicycle rentals business at Eklutna Lake. Photographed on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
He’s seen his share of people falling from their boats or overturning in kayaks during the last 30 or so years that he’s worked on Eklutna Lake. But lately, McDonough said he has seen more people fall into the cold water without wearing personal flotation devices or having a plan to save themselves.
Chief Tim Benningfield of Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue said the department has been called to three rescues on Eklutna Lake during a three-week period. There’s no normal number for how many water rescues the department does each year on the lake, but Benningfield noted that the number is a high point in the ebb and flow of responses.
Eklutna Lake, about a 40-minute drive from Anchorage, is 7 miles long and fed by freshwater and glacial streams. It’s popular for hiking, biking or kayaking because of its turquoise waters and beautiful mountain views, Chugach State Park ranger Ben Corwin said.
Because the lake is so accessible and popular, Corwin said, people often let their guard down. But weather on the picturesque lake can change quickly, and a bluebird day can quickly bring overcast skies with heavy winds, causing big waves that can take kayakers or boaters by surprise.
People took to the water and paddled at Eklutna Lake on a warm sunny Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Because the lake is glacially fed, the chilly water poses a significant safety threat to anyone who may fall into the water, Benningfield said.
“That lake is always less than 40 degrees,” he said. “With temperatures less than 40 degrees, it’s very significant for hypothermia.”
Ice remained on the lake until about May 10 this year. Just a few days later, the department was called to help two kayakers who had overturned. After a long winter, Benningfield said, it seems like some people have been overeager to get on the water.
Response times at Eklutna Lake take longer, too. There’s no cell service at the lake, so the ranger station has to be notified of an incident to phone rescue crews for help, according to Benningfield. And once the call for help is placed, it’s still about 20 to 25 minutes until first responders are able to get to the lake with a boat in tow.
Sometimes, the stranded people are pulled to shore by other boaters, but that’s not always the case. On May 26, two women were stranded in the 38-degree water for about an hour after their kayak overturned, Benningfield said. The women were both taken to nearby hospitals, where they were evaluated for hypothermia and exposure.
Cold water immersion can quickly cause swimming failure from a loss of muscle coordination. Benningfield said both of the women were wearing life jackets but had been unable to reach shore.
Sometimes, other boaters are able to reach stranded people in the water, Benningfield said, and responses from the department require ATVs to reach sections of the shore to bring people back to safety and get them medical help if needed.
Not every person exposed to water in Eklutna Lake needs advanced care, McDonough said, and not every rescue prompts an emergency response.
“If someone has a lifejacket and is out with another person, frequently they’re able to get themselves out of the water and you will never hear about it and it’s not necessarily a life-threatening event,” he said. “We’ve seen people tip and watch them do the right thing, get to shore within 10 minutes, and we’ve been prepared but they’ve been totally fine — they were doing everything right and knew if that happened what to do.”
McDonough said he’s seen boats on the water lately that are not made to handle conditions in places like Eklutna Lake. When weather conditions turn, smaller boats or kayaks meant for use in calm conditions can easily overturn.
“I don’t know whether people understand that not every boat can go on every type of water safely. So many stores from Costco to Walmart to Target are selling little play boats that are perfectly fine in Mirror Lake or Goose Lake and not so fine in the wrong conditions on Eklutna Lake,” he said.
People took to the water and paddled at Eklutna Lake on a warm sunny Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
The biggest safety key, McDonough said, is simply having a personal flotation device and wearing it. He’s seen people bring a life jacket with them but not wear it, and after they overturned in their kayak, they weren’t able to find or reach their life jacket — rendering it useless.
It’s also important to pay attention to the weather conditions and be prepared for an emergency situation before going out on the lake.
“A part of the preparedness would be to have extra layers that aren’t wet that you can slip on really quick,” Corwin said. “A little bit of extra water and some granola bars might be nice to help warm you up.”
The Fairbanks Goldpanners baseball team canceled its second straight game Tuesday because of a COVID-19 breakout among players.
Several players have tested positive in recent days, Goldpanners media director Henry Cole said by email Tuesday.
“In the last few days, we have had several players test positive for COVID-19,” Cole wrote. “In order to protect the health and safety of our team and visiting teams, we have cancelled yesterday’s and today’s Goldpanner games. We will continuously re-evaluate the situation in partnership with our team physicians and will not return to play until it is safe to do so.”
Tuesday’s game against the San Diego Waves and Monday’s game against Berkovich 35 were canceled, with no makeup dates immediately set.
The games were part of the three-day Denali State Bank tournament at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks.
Goldpanners general manager John Lohrke told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner he doesn’t think the outbreak will impact the 116th Midnight Sun Classic, which as always is set to begin at 10 p.m. on Monday, June 21, the night of the Summer Solstice.
“We expect to be out of the woods by then,” Lohrke said.
The Goldpanners are one of the original members of the Alaska Baseball League. Although they now operate independently from the league, their schedule always includes games against ABL teams. Fairbanks played a series in Kenai against the Peninsula Oilers earlier this month and is scheduled to play road games against the Mat-Su Miners, Chugiak Chinooks and Anchorage Glacier Pilots early next month.
Though Tuesday’s Goldpanners game was canceled, the night’s other game between Berkovich 35 and the OC Riptide was scheduled to be played at 7 p.m.
Lohrke told the News-Miner the Goldpanners, who are 5-4 on the season, are likely to resume play Wednesday.
“With the available players we have it’ll be a short squad for a few days, but we want to get guys back on the field for our fans, for the business community, for everybody,” he said. “... We want to complete as much of the schedule as possible.”
All of Alaska’s summer-league teams took last season off because of the pandemic. A description of COVID-19 protocols for either the Goldpanners or the Alaska Baseball League could not be found on either group’s websites.