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Rebuilding of Twin Lakes playground on schedule

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2018-07-18 07:33
Eagan Lagerquist is one of the City and Borough of Juneau Project Playground managers. ... a lot of hard work,” Eagan Lagerquist said in a phone interview with the Empire Tuesday. ... The last phase includes finishing miscellaneous projects and placing in the poured-in-place surface. ... Local News.

Grassroots group plans Disability Pride day at Marine Park

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2018-07-18 07:22
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination of individuals with disabilities, brought civil rights protections to people ...

European Union fines Google a record $5 billion over mobile strategy

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 07:06

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager holds a press conference on a Competition Case involving Google Android at the European Commission building, in Brussels on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. The European Union's antitrust chief has fined Google a record $5 billion for abusing the market dominance of its Android mobile phone operating system. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) (Olivier Matthys/)

BRUSSELS — The European Union fined Google a record $5 billion Wednesday for using the market dominance of its Android mobile operating system to force handset makers to install Google apps, reducing choice for consumers.

The EU said Google broke the rules when it required mobile phone producers to pre-install the Google Search and browser apps if they wanted to use Google's app store. Google also paid big producers to exclusively pre-install the Google Search app.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said "companies must compete on their merits," playing by rules that favor consumers and open markets, and not restrict competition.

Google immediately responded that it would appeal. "Android has created more choice for everyone, not less," said company spokesman Al Verney.

The EU's fine, which caps a three-year investigation, is the biggest ever imposed on a company for anticompetitive behavior.

Vestager said that once the financial size of the company is taken into account, the 4.34 billion euro fine is not disproportionate. Google parent company Alphabet made $9.4 billion in profit in the first three months of the year and reportedly had over $100 billion in cash reserves.

In June last year, regulators already fined Google 2.42 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for favoring its shopping listings in search results.

But the EU's insistence that Google change its practices could have a bigger impact than the fine itself.

"The important thing is not to be distracted by the size of the fine, what is important is that Google has to change its abusive behavior," Rich Stables, CEO of the rival search engine Kelkoo, told The Associated Press.

Android is an open-source operating system that Google lets mobile phone makers use for free. As a result, it is the most widely-used system, beating even Apple's iOS. The EU says Google has market shares exceeding 90 percent in most European countries.

The EU wants to ensure that phone makers are free to pre-install apps of their choosing and allow for competition in services such as internet search. It also wants them to be able to more easily use altered — or "fork" — versions of Android.

Google argues that could hurt its ability to provide Android for free, as its main way of making money from the operating system is through advertising and the sale of content and apps. Its main rival in mobile systems, Apple, makes most of its money from the sale of devices.

Giving phone makers more freedom to use altered versions of Android could also hurt Google. Samsung, a hugely popular maker of Android devices through its Galaxy line, could break off and take much of the Android ecosystem with it.

If Google's business activities are too harshly constrained, the argument follows, it might no longer be able to provide Android for free to handset makers.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington, said the ruling "is a blow to innovative, open-source business models."

The EU's clash with Google is reminiscent of its past battle with Microsoft. In that case, the EU said Microsoft used the market dominance of its Windows operating system to lead consumers to use Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer. Microsoft was also fined and in the end was forced to give users a more explicit choice of browsers.

As technology's impact in modern life spreads, European regulators have set the pace in shaping rules for the industry. European governments tend to want to control companies more than in the U.S., which has given tech companies like Google a freer hand.

The difference in approach was highlighted after a scandal over the misuse of millions of Facebook users' personal data in political campaigns, including the 2016 presidential vote in the U.S. European regulators had already been working on tougher privacy regulation and in May enforced new rules that are influencing the way some companies operate outside of the region as well.

The Google crackdown also comes at a sensitive time for trans-Atlantic relations, with U.S. President Donald Trump lambasting the EU as a "foe" only last week. The U.S. has imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum this year and the EU has responded with tariffs on American goods. The U.S. is now also considering taxes on imports of European cars.

The U.S. has also complained that the EU has mainly targeted U.S. companies — including also Apple and Amazon — for breaking competition or tax rules.

"We have to protect consumers and competition to make sure consumers get the best of fair competition," Vestager said. "We will continue to do it, no matter the political context."


Ryan Nakashima in Menlo Park, California, contributed to this report.

Alaska megaproject hits financial headwinds as elections loom - E&E News

Legislative News - Wed, 2018-07-18 06:46

E&E News

Alaska megaproject hits financial headwinds as elections loom
E&E News
Alaska legislators last week raised concerns about funding options that the state Department of Revenue is considering to pay for the state's portion of the massive natural gas commercialization project. Lawmakers were particularly opposed to the ...

Democratic candidate for U.S. House seat doesn’t live in Alaska

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 06:42

Carol Hafner in Lincroft, N.J., on July 12. Hafner is a congressional candidate running in the August primary election for the U.S. House in Alaska. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

JUNEAU – Carol Hafner is on the Democratic primary ballot for an Alaska U.S. House seat.

She doesn't live in Alaska. In fact, she's never been to the state. Hafner, who listed New Jersey and South Dakota addresses in her candidate filing, says she's serious about running, though she doesn't plan to campaign in person.

Democratic officials are questioning her authenticity and political affiliation.

Under the U.S. Constitution, to serve in Congress one must meet age and citizenship requirements and inhabit the state at the time elected. Generally, Alaska candidates in such races are from the state. But not always.

In 2014, a New York man, who has run in other states, challenged then-U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska's Democratic primary and got crushed.

It happens elsewhere, too: In Wyoming, also in 2014, an Arizona man whose campaign consisted almost entirely of sock-puppet videos, won the Democratic nomination for U.S. House – unopposed – but lost to incumbent Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis in the general election.

"You may have a right to run, doesn't mean you're going to be well-received, or it's going to be an easy campaign for you," said Jay Parmley, executive director of the state Democratic party. "If you're not from somewhere, that's a pretty tall order."

[Here are the people challenging Don Young for Alaska's sole congressional seat]

Hafner faces long odds and has focused her attention online, where she boasts a comparable number of Twitter followers to those of the highest-profile candidates: Democrat Dimitri Shein and independent Alyse Galvin. Independents who want Democratic support can run in the party primary.

Shein and Galvin have been campaigning and participating in spirited debates ahead of the Aug. 21 primary. Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young faces little-known opponents in his primary.

Hafner listed on her candidacy filing a home and mailing address in New Jersey. She also listed an address at a mail-drop location in South Dakota popular with RVers and others with more transient lifestyles as her campaign contact on Alaska's website listing of candidates. Public records show property and voter registration records for Hafner in New Jersey.

The New Jersey addresses match those used by Eric Hafner during a failed run as a Democrat in an Oregon U.S. House primary earlier this year, which caught the attention of Julie Olsen, an Anchorage Democratic party leader. She said she was worried that Eric Hafner had "hijacked" Carol Hafner's identity and created an online persona to file for office. Olsen supports Shein.

Hafner, 64, said Eric Hafner is her son. She said he also ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for a U.S. House seat in Hawaii in 2016. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press reached out to Carol Hafner via the email listed as her campaign contact. She responded by phone.

Hafner said she travels extensively and considers South Dakota her base. She said she has been in New Jersey for a family illness but is "on my way out."

She felt compelled to run to share her perspective on the environment, including climate change, education, health care and other issues. Hafner said she was stunned that Alaskans have kept Young in office for 45 years.

"I want to do good in a place that I feel a kinship for," she said.

She said she's angry that Olsen has been "playing Nancy Drew" and questioning her run.

People must pull together to solve problems, Hafner said. "Don't lock me out just because I'm not a homeboy," she said, adding later: "You ought to be thankful that I care enough and I'm interested enough and passionate enough to want to make things better."

"I'm certainly permitted to do what I have done," she said.

The Division of Elections said challenges to Hafner's candidacy by Parmley and Olsen were received after the protest deadline passed. The division said Hafner properly filed to run, a process that includes submitting a $100 filing fee, and it had no reason to question the veracity of her candidacy.

Olsen said she'd like to see changes to the process, such as having a candidate file in person or provide a phone number or copy of their driver's license.

Kimberly Slone, of Wasilla, found out about Hafner by Googling candidates.

Slone said she sent Hafner via email questions about the Arctic National Wildlife and found that she opposes drilling there, as does Slone.

"I thought how audacious of her to run for election in Alaska," Slone said.

She donated to Hafner's campaign, but Slone said she's not sure who will get her vote. It doesn't matter to her if a candidate lives outside Alaska "as long as the candidate shows up to campaign and is knowledgeable about the state and will move here as required."

Suzanne Hudson, an antique shop owner in Juneau, said she hasn't been paying much attention to the race but bristled at the idea of an outsider weighing in on Alaska issues.

"If you don't live in the state and don't know what's going on personally, you should stay out of it, because you could be making a law or a rule that's going to really hurt a lot of people, even though it's your opinion that it's going to be better," she said.


Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York and reporter Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, contributed to this report.

Helsinki hath no fury like a nation scorned

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 06:06

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 in Washington. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford (Jabin Botsford/)

WASHINGTON -- Surely, now, we can concede that letting Trump be Trump has exhausted itself -- even among the smugly credulous.

For a year and a half, we've heard his supporters say: Watch what he does, not what he says. Sure, he's rude and crude, they said, but he's going to make America great again.

No, he's not.

Nor was he ever, notwithstanding a column I wrote just before Election Day, saying that America would survive no matter who won. My optimism was based solely on faith in the U.S. Constitution and the inherent checks and balances prescribed therein. To be wrong would mean that the checks aren't being applied when imbalances occur.

We are there.

President Trump, rather than holding a hard line with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki, essentially sided with the enemy by attacking U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies regarding their solidly conclusive finding that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election. (Trump tried to backtrack Tuesday afternoon, saying that he does, in fact, accept the intelligence community's findings on Russian meddling.)

The two leaders all but held hands during a news conference Monday as each dismissed the idea that Russia wants to undermine American democracy -- and that the Robert Mueller investigation into possible collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign has no legs to stand on. This despite Mueller having just last Friday issued 12 indictments against Russians believed to be involved in hacking the computer networks of Democratic organizations.

Are we to believe that these two known liars were telling the truth or hadn't agreed to a script during their private, one-on-one meeting?

On Sunday, Trump, in his usual manner, blamed the Democrats for having a weak defense system against hacking. On Tuesday, he again waved the "fake news" flag, blaming the media for unfavorable summit coverage. The whole experience surely bonded him further with Putin, who favors a state-run media and rules a nation where journalists who become troublesome are often killed.

Between Trump's antipathy toward the First Amendment, which he previously has expressed wishing to weaken -- and his stated desire that "my people" sit up at attention when he speaks, as North Koreans did during his visit with Kim Jong Un -- the president has made his dictatorial proclivities clear.

That said, such inclinations may more accurately reflect a severe narcissistic personality disorder than a conscious desire to subjugate the American people. Given Trump's paltry understanding of world affairs or his role as president, he quite possibly aligns himself with thugs as a means to man-up, as they say, and correct some sense of impotence that persists despite his impressive success.

Consider Trump's reply when challenged about his dubious posture toward American intelligence agencies: "I have great confidence in my intelligence people," he said, "but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."

Note "my" intelligence people, plus the obvious lie about confidence. And the words "strong," "powerful" and "denial." This is Trump in four words: self-absorbed, impressed by authority, and at home in denial. This makes him easily unlikable to a majority of Americans but not necessarily treasonous, as some have charged out of proper outrage. Treason, frankly, sounds a little high-minded for such a reckless, clueless vaude-villain.

Where does this leave us? What might one deduce from the Helsinki summit? Either Trump is too thoroughly inept to continue as president, or his predatory nature, as demonstrated in his business -- not to mention his boasting about aggression toward women -- has led to his collecting rogues to enhance his own power. Or both. In any case, he has stepped over all lines of acceptable presidential behavior and presents a clear and present danger to the United States.

When our chief executive, whose principal job is to defend both the Constitution and the nation against aggressors, stands alongside our chief geopolitical foe and betrays two of our most important institutions in the service of his own ego, he has dimmed the lights in the shining city on a hill and left the world a far darker place.

It's often said that America is great because America is good. My faith in the institutions and the individuals who conferred upon us a singular role in the history of humankind is yet unshaken. But a cancer lives among us, and the good people of this country must be precise in its excision. If Republicans don't do it now, Democrats likely will sweep the ballots in November and do it then.

History will note when, and by whose hand, America ceased to be great.

Thai soccer team makes first public comments since cave rescue

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 06:02

Coach Ekkapol Janthawong, left, and the 12 boys show their respect and thanks as they hold a portrait of Saman Gunan, the retired Thai SEAL diver who died during their rescue attempt, during a press conference in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued after being trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand are recovering well and are eager to eat their favorite comfort foods after their expected discharge from a hospital soon. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

CHIANG RAI, Thailand — The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a cave in northern Thailand left the hospital where they had been recuperating and appeared at a news conference Wednesday, saying the ordeal made them stronger and taught them not to live carelessly.

The group, looking healthy, entered the news conference to applause from reporters and classmates and put on a quick demonstration of their ball-handling skills on a miniature soccer field set up in the hall where they met journalists from around the world.

They then hugged their friends before taking seats up front with doctors and members of the Thai navy SEAL unit who dived to help bring them out, along with others who helped them during their ordeal, which ended after more than two weeks when they were rescued last week.

The boys, whose ages range from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach answered questions submitted by the media, including about the lessons they learned during their experience.

"I feel stronger, I have more patience, endurance, tolerance," said 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam.

Rescued soccer player “Titan” Chanin Vibulrungruang reacts after paying respect to a portrait of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who died in the rescue attempt, during a press conference discussing their ordeal in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Adul Samon, 14, said, "This experience teaches me not to live life carelessly."

Several said they want to become professional soccer players, while four said they wanted to emulate the heroes who saved them.

"I want to be a navy SEAL because I want to help others," said one.

All said they want to apologize to their parents, most of whom they had not informed in advance about the trek to the cave after soccer practice.

"I know my mom is going to punish me and I am in big trouble with my mother," one of the boys said when asked what he expected to happen when he got home.

Doctors said the 13 were healthy in body and mind. They said the boys gained around 6.6 pounds on average since they were rescued from the cave. They were said to have lost an average of 9 pounds during the more than two weeks they were trapped in the cave.

Coach Ekkapol Janthawong, left, and members of the rescued soccer team express their thanks during a press conference discussing their experience of being trapped in a flooded cave, in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

The news conference was the first opportunity the members of the team had to speak directly to the media, though video of them was released previously. Officials reviewed questions in advance to make certain none might cause damaging psychological effects.

They were asked about the moment when two British cave divers first found them and also the circumstances of how they entered the cave and got trapped there.

The Wild Boars teammates had entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23 for what was to be a quick, relaxing excursion after soccer practice. But rain began falling while they were underground, and water filled the caverns, cutting off their escape.

The British divers found the group huddling on a spot of dry ground deep inside the cave nearly 10 days later, hungry but generally healthy. An international team of rescuers using diving equipment and pulleys extracted the 12 boys and their coach through the tight, flooded passageways over three days, concluding July 10.

Some of the boys were treated for minor infections during their hospital stay, but all 13 have been described as recovering well.

The family of one of the boys was preparing their home for his return Wednesday night.

Banphot Konkum, an uncle who has raised 13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, said he'll have a renovated bedroom and gifts awaiting him.

"We'll do whatever he wants. If he wants anything we'll buy it for him as a present as we promised that when he gets out, whatever he wants we'll do it for him," Banphot said.

Trump isn’t the first president to embarrass America by cozying up to Putin

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 05:58

WASHINGTON -- The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get a different result, which is one of the many reasons President Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed so insane. Trump is trying to do something that both of his immediate predecessors tried to do: turn over a new leaf with Russia. They both failed, and so will he.

Recall that George W. Bush entered the White House promising to end the "dead ideological rivalry" of the Cold War. At a 2001 summit with Putin in Slovenia, Bush declared, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy -- I was able to get a sense of his soul." President Barack Obama tried to appease Putin by giving in to the Russian leader's demands that we cancel our missile-defense plan with Poland and the Czech Republic -- and did it on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. And while serving as Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton humiliated herself when she gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a giant red button with the word "reset" on it (which, adding insult to injury, misspelled the Russian word for "reset" to read "overload").

It is now Trump's turn to learn the hard way that Russia is an adversary, not a competitor. His summit with Putin was a moment that called for presidential strength. It came on the heels of the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents for intervening in the 2016 election and of Russia's brazen use of a banned chemical weapon on British soil, which resulted last week in the death of a British citizen. But instead of condemning these actions, Trump refused to acknowledge or denounce the fact of Russia's election interference, and he publicly sided with Putin over his own intelligence community. It was a position he wisely retracted on Tuesday, declaring what he should have said standing next to Putin: "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place."

Trump does not seem to fathom that the problem with U.S.-Russia relations is not a lack of effort on the part of U.S. presidents. Russia is the only country on Earth other than North Korea that would dare use a toxic nerve agent to attempt to carry out assassinations on foreign soil. It is a regime that blatantly violates its nuclear and chemical weapons treaty obligations, has invaded two of its neighbors, and has threatened NATO countries (and even Mar-a-Lago) with nuclear annihilation.

Yet, as cringeworthy as Trump's news conference was, unlike Obama, he didn't throw U.S. allies under the bus to appease Putin or take any of the actions many feared -- such as lifting sanctions or recognizing Putin's annexation of Crimea. Unlike his rhetoric, Trump's Russia policy has actually been a dramatic improvement over that of his predecessor. Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats, approved a $47 million arms sale to Ukraine, continued the deployment of NATO forces to the Baltic states, posted troops to Poland's border with Russia and levied new sanctions against Moscow for violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. During his first year in office, he got NATO allies to increase their defense spending by $12 billion and twice bombed Putin's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for his regime's use of chemical weapons. If Putin was looking for a more pro-Moscow policies from the United States, his election interference backfired in a big way.

Critics say, words matter -- and they are right. But if words matter, then Trump's critics should be careful what they say. In many cases, their responses to Trump's news conference have matched the president in absurdity. John Brennan, the CIA director under Obama, tweeted that "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous." And Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., declared, "A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House. What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States?"

As always, Trump's critics bail him out by overplaying their hands. A news conference, however humiliating, is not an impeachable offense. And conspiracy theories aside, there is a simple explanation for Trump's performance in Helsinki: He is deeply wrong on Russia. He thinks he can charm Putin into behaving like a normal leader. He'll learn that Putin is KGB to his core, just as those before him learned.

When should we be worried? When Trump’s actions match his rhetoric. Until then, Trump’s summit was simply an embarrassment, not a disaster.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Trump returns to hailing his summit with Putin a day after doing damage control

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 05:51

President Donald Trump speaks to the media Tuesday as he meets with members of Congress in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – A day after trying to do damage control, President Donald Trump offered a fresh defense Wednesday of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, firing off morning tweets in which he claimed that his widely panned news conference afterward actually was appreciated by "many people at the higher ends of intelligence."

On Tuesday, Trump sought to tamp down a global uproar over his warm embrace of Putin at Monday's summit in Helsinki, delivering a statement at the White House in which he said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Early Wednesday, Trump was back to touting a meeting that he said would lead to "big results" and "many positive things" – including Russia's help with his efforts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.

"So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki," Trump wrote on Twitter about a joint appearance with Putin that was slammed by members of both political parties. "Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!"

So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2018

Trump's performance at Monday's news conference drew widespread condemnation, as he appeared to side with Putin over the U.S. intelligence community, which has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

In a subsequent tweets Wednesday, Trump claimed that a meeting with NATO allies in Brussels last week was "an acknowledged triumph" and that his summit with Putin "may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success."

Trump said that Russia agreed to help with North Korea and claimed that the "process is moving along."

"Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!" Trump wrote.

Trump tweeted "While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting..

"….Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along. There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!"

Alaska spaceport shortlisted for Rocket Lab launch site

Alaska News - Wed, 2018-07-18 05:39

File — A rocket leaves the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak (Alaska Aerospace Corp. handout photo)

KODIAK — A California-based rocket company has shortlisted the Kodiak spaceport as a possible permanent home for its launches.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports Rocket Lab announced Tuesday that it's seeking to build a launch complex in the U.S. to complement its current launch site in New Zealand.

Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex is among four finalists, including Cape Canaveral in Florida, the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.

[Rocket launches and allegations of government waste: The hidden story behind that Glenn Highway bridge wreck]

The company, headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, is planning to build a launch pad and infrastructure to support its Electron rocket.

The company expects a decision to be made next month. Construction would start immediately.

The company says it hopes to have monthly launches at the site upon completion of construction.

State wants Alaska medical providers to pay back millions in Medicaid payments after uncovering administrative error

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 21:31

(iStock / Getty Images)

Alaska health care providers are being ordered to pay back millions of dollars in Medicaid payments that the state health department says they received in error.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services needs to recoup a total of about $15 million from about 1,100 health care providers, according to Jon Sherwood, deputy commissioner for Medicaid and health care policy at the department.

"It was a really big shock," said Angela Beplat, an occupational therapist and owner of Nature's Way Rehabilitation Services in Soldotna. Beplat, the sole, part-time provider at her business, expects to repay a few thousand dollars that she had received as payment through Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care coverage for low-income Americans.

"It just felt like a really bad joke," Beplat said.

The state health department is still calculating how much each health care provider must pay back, Sherwood said. The payments will likely range from a couple dollars to $1 million depending on the number and type of services the providers billed to Medicaid between October 2017 and the end of June — the monthslong stretch when the state says it was paying too much.

"This was a mistake on our part," Sherwood said. "It was an omission."

The mistake: Last year, Alaska cut Medicaid payments by about 10 percent for services billed by medical professionals providing primary, specialty and acute care, including physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors and optometrists. The reduction was supposed to go into effect Oct. 1, 2017. But it didn't.

The error was caught last month, and the state is now implementing the cut retroactively. Alaska health care providers aren't happy.

"Providers in Alaska who are seeing people with Medicaid shouldn't be the ones who have to pay the price for what the state of Alaska is calling, quote, an administrative oversight," said LeeAnne Carrothers, president of the Alaska Physical Therapy Association.

In interviews, health care providers said they were surprised, confused and concerned to learn they had to send money back to the state. It was something they hadn't budgeted for, they said. Some said they worried the recoupment paired with the reduction would be enough to persuade some health care providers to turn Medicaid patients away, or at least further limit how many they treat.

"I definitely have to reconsider how many kids I'll be able to see on Medicaid and not only just because the cost of repayment but the reduction in rate," said Nancy Lovering, a speech-language pathologist in Anchorage and a representative for the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association. "My rent didn't go down and my malpractice insurance didn't go down, but my reimbursement continues to go down."

Sherwood said the Medicaid reduction can be traced back to 2016 when the health department had to tighten its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year in light of the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit. It cut costs in several ways, including reducing Medicaid payments for services from primary, specialty and acute care providers. Sherwood called the 10.3 percent reduction "very unusual." The rate change went through the required regulatory process, including a 35-day public comment period, he said.

While the other cost reductions went into effect, Sherwood said, the 10.3 percent cut never got implemented. That's because the state didn't submit a work order to have its vendor change the rates in its Medicaid payment system. There was a lack of clarity about who was responsible for submitting the work request, the department said.

"In the case of this regulation, it involved multiple divisions and would have resulted in multiple work orders," Sherwood said. "We did not catch that one of the work orders that should have been attached didn't move forward."

The department typically has over 250 work orders at any given time, according to a health department spokesman.

Changing the rates in the system would have also triggered additional notifications to health care providers — alerting them that a reduction was underway, Sherwood said.

The error wasn't caught until last month when someone went to adjust the Medicaid rates, and realized they'd never been reduced, he said.

Now, the state must backtrack and enact the 10.3 percent cut retroactively, recouping about $15 million, Sherwood said. The state's Medicaid services budget totals about $1.7 billion.

"We do have an obligation to recoup overpayments and return the federal portion because Medicaid is both federally and state funded," Sherwood said. "We regret that providers have to deal with this."

Sherwood said the department expected to tell medical providers how much they owe by the end of July. Providers can pay back the money all at once or in installments, he said. He also expected the state to allow providers to request a hardship waiver if they can't pay.

Beplat, Lovering and other health care providers said they had a lot of questions for the state, including how much they would have to pay back and by what date.

"There's a lot of unknown factors," said Brice Alexander, medical practice administrator at Anchorage Pediatric Group, a nine-provider clinic.

Some providers said they had heard talk about the possibility of a Medicaid payment reduction last year, but when they never got notice that it was going into effect, they assumed it had not gotten approved or didn't impact their practice.

"I was told we'd get a 30-day notice," said Lovering, who is the sole provider at her business, and has one part-time employee. "There's been literally no notification from the state."

"We just assumed things were not affecting us as much as we thought they would be," Alexander said.

Alexander estimated the Anchorage clinic will have to pay back roughly $100,000. Providence Health and Services Alaska could have to repay anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, said a spokeswoman. Lovering estimated she'd have a bill for roughly $7,000 or $8,000.

"I know there are other practices that are going to be paying much more," Lovering said. "I have co-workers who are retiring at the end of the month and it's like, what are they going to do? No one expected to have to write a check for $8,000."

Sherwood said he wasn't aware of the state failing to implement a Medicaid payment adjustment in the past. He said the health department had recently reviewed and changed some of its policies in an effort to avoid having it happen again.

"We have clarified our policies to make sure everyone understands their roles and to make sure there's a certain level of redundancy — that it's not dependent on one person getting everything right," he said.

Our ‘America first’ president put America last in Helsinki

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 21:08

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to U.S. President Donald Trump during a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/)

WASHINGTON -- America’s child president had a playdate with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing daycare. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Democrat closely associated with such Democratic national security stalwarts as Sen. Henry Jackson and former Sen. and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations. In her speech to the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, she explained her disaffection from her party: "They always blame America first." In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase "America first" put himself first, as always, and America last, behind Vladimir Putin's regime.

Because the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco, Kirkpatrick branded the "blame America first" cohort as "San Francisco Democrats." Thirty-four years on, how numerous are the "Helsinki Republicans"?

What, precisely, did Donald Trump say about the diametrically opposed statements concerning Russia and the 2016 U.S. elections by U.S. intelligence agencies (and the Senate Intelligence Committee) and by Putin concerning Russia and the 2016 U.S. elections? Precision is not part of Trump's repertoire: He speaks English as though it is a second language that he learned from someone who learned English last week. So, it is usually difficult to sift meanings from Trump's word salads. But in Helsinki he was, for him, crystal clear about feeling no allegiance to the intelligence institutions that work at his direction and under leaders he chose.

Speaking of Republicans incapable of blushing -- those with the peculiar strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment -- consider South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with John McCain. Graham tweeted about Helsinki: "Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections." A "missed opportunity" by a man who does not acknowledge the meddling?

Contrast Graham's mush with this from McCain, still vinegary: "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Or this from Arizona's other senator, Jeff Flake: "I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression." Blame America only.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and others might believe that they must stay in their positions lest there be no adult supervision of the Oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this: Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them?

Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe's short story with that title, collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight. We shall learn from Robert Mueller's investigation whether in 2016 there was collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign. The world, however, saw in Helsinki something more grave -- ongoing collusion between Trump, now in power, and Russia. The collusion is in what Trump says (refusing to back America's intelligence agencies) and in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukraine, downing civilian airliners, attempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

Americans elected a president who -- this is a safe surmise -- knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained -- his compliance -- is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Cut it out, critics: Trump said what he always says about Russia

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 21:04

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin leave a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/)

Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, is a freelance writer based in Hillsboro, Ohio.

Even President Donald Trump’s supporters sometimes yearn for him to simply acquiesce to his critics and say the words they want him to use, the traditional talking points that establishment Washington and the media embrace. In Charlottesville, condemn the racists and stop talking. In speeches, stick to the teleprompter. In Helsinki, look at Russian President Vladimir Putin and tell him - oh, maybe something like “cut it out,” which was enough to earn President Barack Obama a pass.

Instead, in Helsinki, Trump said exactly what he always says on the subject of foreign interference in the 2016 election, to wit, Putin denies it, there was no collusion, it’s a witch hunt, and what about Hillary Clinton’s server and her 30,000 missing emails? What got him into hot water was repeating that mantra with Putin standing at his side.

Career politicians would have known better. Trump only knows how to be who he is and say what he thinks, regardless of who's standing at the other lectern. It was hardly "treasonous" or "impeachable," as too many cable TV talking heads and Twitter commentators hysterically declared. But it was a diplomatic blunder that unfortunately will detract from an otherwise appropriate outreach designed to lower tensions between superpowers. And even in reversing his comments on Tuesday, who knows what Wednesday will bring, if history is any guide.

Just as wrong as Trump's news conference performance was the insistence from some quarters that he should have traveled to Helsinki to publicly humiliate Putin, which would have been another example of meaningless political theater. What Trump knows is that the endless attention on election interference (it used to be "collusion," but that's fading away) is connected not to real concern over the sovereignty of our democracy, but rather to the fact that the wrong candidate won. It's why he has trouble feigning outrage over it.

Foreign interference in our elections did not begin in 2016, but you can be forgiven if you don't know that. The media largely yawned about it in 2008 and 2012, but there were a few isolated stories.

In May 2013, Time magazine reported that in August 2011 the Obama campaign learned that “foreign nation-states were trying to gain access to the campaign’s databases and social media accounts with extraordinarily sophisticated means.”

The article added that the same was true for the Romney campaign, which was "under constant attack." The National Republican Congressional Committee was also later targeted. While no one would confirm which foreign powers were suspects, "one Obama campaign staffer said she was warned about the threat from China in particular."

The story noted that similar efforts had been detected back in 2008 when "both the Obama and McCain campaigns were the victims of a sophisticated hack, believed by law enforcement to be tied to foreign governments. . . . Viewed in hindsight, the attacks present a disturbing picture of interference in core American political functions."

The article - written five years ago, mind you - added, "The revelation in the days following Obama's historic victory was largely overlooked, and it was just a taste of what was to follow."

Consider that last point - the hacks were "largely overlooked" in the wake of "Obama's historic victory." In other words, no big deal. The right candidate won in 2008. No special counsel needed. No more ink or airtime wasted on the subject. No sanctions suggested. The breadth and width of foreign interference will probably never be known, since there was no pressure for additional scrutiny, as happened in 2016.

But in 2016, Trump was, of course, the wrong winner, and his narrow, upset victory made Russian interference wall-to-wall news, all day, every day, which, in turn, made Russia's goal of sowing discord and distrust among Americans wildly successful.

A New York Times article earlier this year noted that career intelligence veterans were not overly alarmed at Russia’s attacks in 2016. Loch K. Johnson, a renowned intelligence scholar, told the Times that Russia’s 2016 operation “was simply the cyber-age version” of what the United States itself has long done. Johnson said, “We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the CIA was created in 1947. We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners - you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”

Everyone quantifies such admissions with a reminder that there is no "moral equivalency" - the United States interferes in elections for the right reasons, and it's done to us for the wrong reasons.

But although Russian election interference in 2016 was quickly weaponized politically, even Trump’s supporters sometimes wish he would just say the words that will make everyone happy. But Trump seldom grants such small favors, and hysteria ensues. Calm will eventually be restored - until next time, which will no doubt arrive any day.

Alaskans deserve credit for their part in legislative ethics reform - Anchorage Daily News

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:54

Anchorage Daily News

Alaskans deserve credit for their part in legislative ethics reform
Anchorage Daily News
If the Legislature fails to pass an operating budget by day 121 of the legislative session (as is required by the Alaska Constitution), legislators will not receive per diem. Basically, if we don't do our job in Juneau in a timely fashion, the people ...

Alaskans deserve credit for their part in legislative ethics reform

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:51

The State Capitol building in Juneau on Friday, April 17, 2015.

We want to thank you, Alaska.

Why? Because this year, in a massive step for legislative ethics reform, House Bill 44 passed the Legislature. And it's all because of you.

Alaskans have long demanded major improvements that create more trust and transparency with our elected officials in Juneau. However, asking legislators to change policies that affect themselves is almost like skiing down Denali backwards – a little challenging. That's why we, along with Bonnie Jack of Anchorage, a Republican, became co-chairs of the "Alaskans for Integrity" ballot measure so that the public could demand changes. You may remember signing a petition for this outside your local grocery store or reading about it in the news.
The ballot initiative was a multi-part package of public interest and good governance reforms. Some highlights included:

• "No budget, no pay." If the Legislature fails to pass an operating budget by day 121 of the legislative session (as is required by the Alaska Constitution), legislators will not receive per diem. Basically, if we don't do our job in Juneau in a timely fashion, the people of Alaska shouldn't have to pay for it.

• Closing the lobbyist food and drink exemption. There's a culture in Juneau of being wined and dined by lobbyists over expensive meals and drinks. Lobbyists pick up the tab and it's perfectly legal. We think we as legislators are perfectly capable of picking up our own tab, just like anyone else.

• Strengthening the foreign travel policy for legislators. It's expensive to travel overseas, and when it comes to legislative travel, it shouldn't be done without good reason. Rather than automatically qualifying for state funding, we think legislators should go through a more rigorous pre-approval process and demonstrate their travel has a clear legislative purpose that benefits Alaska.

• Defining stricter conflict-of-interest rules. To best serve all Alaskans, legislators should at least acknowledge matters that affect their own financial interests or those of their immediate family members. They should also declare their conflict of interests openly in committee before acting on legislation. Municipal officers across the state are held to this standard – state elected officials should be too.

As we worked to get these reforms to a vote of the people, nearly 50,000 Alaskans signed the petition to make it happen. Across the state, from Bethel to Valdez, Sitka to Nome, Alaskans put pen to paper and said, "we're ready for the Legislature to change their policies." And, rather surprisingly, it worked.

Seeing the wave of public support for these reforms, and knowing the initiative was as popular as Flattop on a nice summer evening (polling around 80 percent support), the Legislature responded. This spring, as session in Juneau came to an end, the legislature passed House Bill 44. Largely mirrored after the ballot initiative, HB 44 focused on achieving the major reforms Alaskans were calling for.

Wait, what? The Legislature voted to regulate itself? To cut off their own per diem? To strengthen their own conflict-of-interest rules? To reform lobbyist food and drink rules?

That's right. And this accomplishment is one you can squarely take credit for. Without your signatures, your pressure, your voices – these changes simply wouldn't have been possible.

So, what does this mean for that initiative you signed? By law, passing legislation that is determined "substantially similar" to a proposed initiative knocks it off the ballot. So that means we won't be seeing these reforms on the ballot this November. And, to be honest, we were slightly disappointed the people wouldn't get their chance to vote on these issues directly. However, HB 44 is a huge leap forward. It's a win for good governance, and work that we as a state can be proud of.

So, Alaska neighbors, HB 44 is your bill and your victory. By championing the ballot initiative, you made it possible to eliminate excess per diem, to strengthen our conflict-of-interest rules, and for more transparent foreign travel policies to be signed into Alaska law.

We take seriously the responsibility as elected leaders to continually create transparency to build trust with the public. Our goal as legislators should be to find ways to show the public that our work is focused on benefiting Alaska, not ourselves. HB 44 helps achieve that.
Take a bow, Alaska. You deserve it.

Jason Grenn (I- Anchorage) and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D- Sitka) serve in the Alaska House of Representatives. They are co-sponsors of House Bill 44.

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@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

State investigates diesel fuel spill in Gambell

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:51

The village of Gambell is on the western end of St. Lawrence Island. Photographed on April 19, 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

The state is investigating a diesel spill that it says happened during a fuel delivery to a remote Bering Sea community last month.

Between roughly 2,300 and 2,700 gallons of diesel fuel have been released into the environment in Gambell, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a release Tuesday.

Gambell is a community of about 680 people, according to state data, on the northwestern tip of St. Lawrence Island.

The local water supply was not affected by the spill, said Laurie Silfven, North Slope and Northwest Arctic unit supervisor for the DEC. She wasn't sure how much of the fuel may be recoverable; officials planned to meet Wednesday to figure out the next steps.

Residents began reporting strong diesel smells and an oil sheen at a local pond July 13, Silfven said.

The fuel spill was traced back to a June 25 barge delivery. Fuel records from the Gambell Native Store showed that an additional 2,500 gallons or so of diesel had been offloaded but not received in local fuel tanks.

A fuel pipeline pressure test showed it was breached, Silfven said. The breached pipeline, the valves of which have since been closed up, is about 100 yards from the ocean.

Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the DEC went to Gambell to assess the situation. The agencies were "evaluating whether and how to get a contractor out there to delineate and recommend a response of clean up method," Silfven said, and would be meeting Wednesday.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signs bill banning indoor smoking - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:29

Juneau Empire

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signs bill banning indoor smoking
Juneau Empire
Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 63, a statewide ban on indoor public smoking that mirrors local laws in Bethel, Juneau, Anchorage and other Alaska cities. According to information provided to the Alaska Legislature earlier this year, about half of ...
Alaska governor signs bill banning smoking in workplacesPlainview Daily Herald

all 4 news articles »

Fish board rejects emergency petition over pink salmon hatchery production

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:29

The Valdez Fisheries Development Association can move ahead with its plan to increase its pink salmon production after the Alaska Board of Fisheries rejected an emergency petition from groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association who oppose the plan.

The seven-member board ultimately decided the issue does not constitute an emergency on a 4-3 vote during a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Anchorage. Board members Israel Payton of Wasilla, Reed Morisky of Fairbanks and Orville Huntington of Huslia voted in favor of the petition meeting emergency criteria for consideration.

Those voting against were chair John Jensen of Petersburg, Alan Cain of Anchorage, Robert Ruffner of Soldotna and Fritz Johnson of Dillingham.

The petition was signed by KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease and 18 individuals representing Lower Cook Inlet commercial fishing interests, the Chitina Dipnetters Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, among others.

It urged the board to reverse a previously approved increase of 20 million pink salmon eggs by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association this year for expanding future hatchery-produced harvests.

KRSA first submitted the petition May 1. The first version was signed by nine sport and personal use fishing groups, sans the Lower Cook Inlet commercial representatives. The board subsequently voted to a 3-3 tie on the issue during a May 14 teleconference meeting.

The petition alleges that increasing the number of hatchery produced salmon poses a threat to wild salmon stocks as the hatchery fish compete with wild salmon for food while they are collectively rearing in the ocean. It highlights that a sampling study found up to 70 percent of pink salmon returning to some small Lower Cook Inlet streams in 2017 were found to be from Prince William Sound hatchery stocks.

"In addition to the straying issues of PWS hatchery-origin pink salmon observed in Lower Cook Inlet, recent scientific publications (building on past published reports and internal Alaska Department of Fish and Game reviews) have provided cause for great concern over the biological impacts associated with continued release of very large numbers of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska," the petition states.

Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten wrote to a letter to Gease on June 14 in which he denied the petition via authority delegated to him by the Board of Fisheries, but noted two board members had already requested a special meeting to discuss the matter.

Fish and Game officials as well as board chair Jensen said at the Tuesday meeting that emergency findings are rare; there must be an unforeseen event that threatens a resource or an instance where action would lead to a loss of harvest opportunity that couldn't be had in the future.

"I don't think taking eggs is an emergency," Jensen said.

Gease said in an interview that the state has policies in place that make it illegal to transport salmon between regions, but the department is passively allowing it to happen by approving increased hatchery production when the fish are known to stray.

"It seemingly now is OK that there is no standard for hatchery fish straying," Gease said.

Valdez Fisheries Development Association leaders could not immediately be reached for comment in time for this story.

Morisky said he feels instances where 70 percent of the fish spawning in a stream have strayed from hatchery stocks constitutes an emergency and allowing an egg take that will lead to more hatchery fish could threaten wild salmon stocks, the health of which Fish and Game is required to prioritize above other salmon.

Payton said the potential issue of hatchery fish competing with wild salmon for food in the ocean is of particular concern to him.

"I do think there is a potential threat to the wild stock resource here," Payton said.

Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Division Director Scott Kelley said the Valdez-area hatcheries originally wanted to take an additional 70 million eggs and increase the total egg take to 300 million from 230 million, but the department agreed to a phased approach of increases in 20 million-egg increments in 2016 and 2018.

It's an approach that is commonly used with hatcheries across the state, according to Kelley.

"That's why we ease in — test the waters, literally," he said.

Kelley noted recent wild stock returns of pink salmon to Prince William sound in 2013 and 2015 — pinks typically return in two-year high and low abundance cycles — were among the most prolific on record.

Board member Johnson of Dillingham said the egg take is supposed to happen in three days, adding the board is already scheduled to take up hatchery issues during an October 15-16 work session in Anchorage.

It was also emphasized at the meeting that the department, in conjunction with hatchery groups, is working on a long-term study to flesh out theories of how hatchery salmon from Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska do or don't impact wild fish stocks.

Cain, of Anchorage, said the issues of how hatchery salmon interact with wild salmon are very important but the petition didn't meet the board's threshold for an emergency.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signs bill banning indoor smoking - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:27

Juneau Empire

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signs bill banning indoor smoking
Juneau Empire
Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 63, a statewide ban on indoor public smoking that mirrors local laws in Bethel, Juneau, Anchorage and other Alaska cities. According to information provided to the Alaska Legislature earlier this year, about half of ...
Alaska governor signs bill banning smoking in workplacesThe State
Alaska governor signs bill banning smoking in workplaces - Times ...Albany Times Union

all 5 news articles »

It’s midsummer, and the local farmers markets are hopping

Alaska News - Tue, 2018-07-17 18:26

Farmers markets are bursting with greens, new potatoes, some early-season carrots, meats and other locally grown and produced items.

It's easy to stroll into your favorite market, shop around and go home with something tasty. But sometimes it's good to reflect on where that food comes from.

Enter the Mat-Su Farm Bureau's annual Farm Tour. The ninth annual tour is Aug. 2; the theme is "Old Farms, New Flavors."

People learn about a Mat-Su farm during the Mat-Su Farm Bureau’s annual tour. The ninth annual tour will be Aug. 2 (Photo by Margaret Adsit)

"The intention is to expose more Alaskans to products made in Alaska with Alaska grown products," says Margaret Adsit, owner of Alaska Farm Tours. "What could be better than a day spent eating the local products made with produce, seeing farms at their most beautiful and being entertained by local Alaskans?"

The farm tour includes a tasting room visit with some new, Palmer-made products, a tour of three farms and an Alaska-grown lunch. Farms on this year's tour are VanderWeele Farms, Alaska's largest vegetable farm; Juice, Jelly and Jam, a small fruit farm production that does value-added processing; and Bushes Bunches produce stand and farm.

"Meet the farm and food producers that are putting Palmer, Alaska, on the map for our distinctive local food and flavors," Adsit says.

The $75 ticket includes bus transportation from Anchorage and a lunch featuring pulled pork sandwiches or a vegetarian meal. For more information, visit alaskafarmtours.com.

Bristol Bay salmon delivered to Anchorage

The Alaska Marine Conservation Council's Catch 49 program is back and offering Alaskans the opportunity to get responsibly harvested seafood on their tables and in their freezers.

And the best part? Little to no effort.

"Customers can fill their freezer with fresh, wild Bristol Bay sockeye fillets—vacuum-sealed and frozen without ever touching a rod, net or fillet knife," says Katy Rexford, director of the Catch 49 program. "When you buy seafood from Catch 49, you're supporting an Alaskan fishing family, a family-run microprocessor and, the best part, marine conservation efforts that will keep the fishery healthy for years to come."

The council works with local fishermen and businesses to curate seasonal offerings while helping stewardship-minded fishermen get a better price for their catch. AMCC makes three to four annual seafood offerings of species ranging from Norton Sound red king crab, Kodiak tanner crab, Homer Pacific halibut, Alaska sablefish, Copper River coho salmon, Prince William Sound spot shrimp or the currently offered Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.

Order online at catch49.org by July 27. Pickup is scheduled for Aug. 1 at AMCC's office, 106 F St. in Anchorage.

"Catch 49 embodies the Alaskan values we all hold dear—providing fresh, wild seafood by Alaskans, for Alaskans, while supporting the fishing lifestyle and protecting our fisheries for generations to come," Rexford says.

From the markets

The local markets are, of course, hopping in their midsummer glory.

Jerriane Lowther says the "summer abundance" comes to the Muldoon Farmers Market this week, while Mark Butler from the Spenard Farmers Market says there is "lots and lots of produce coming out of the fields now."

Some market highlights include:

Muldoon Farmers Market: Look for "beautiful blossoms from Mountain Bloom Peonies and delicious smoothies from Sweet Berry Yogurt and Drinks," Lowther says. Other highlights include fresh strawberries and new potatoes from Dinkel's Veggies and onions, beets, radishes, kohlrabi and cabbages from other farm and garden vendors.

Spenard Farmers Market: The vendor list in Spenard is lengthy and includes BaLesca's Brothers, Black Bear Farm, Chugach Farm, Dinkel's Veggies, Four Tern Farm, Midnight Sun Farm, Three Ladybug's Farm and Wildrose Harvest. Butler says to look for Prince William Sound shrimp from Glacier Seafood and greenhouses by Arctic Chicken Coops.

South Anchorage Farmers Market: The Wednesday market near the Dimond Center Hotel is adding a new vendor: Alaska Wonder Marketplace. The Saturday market also adds the Alaska Peony Co-op this week. "Local produce is truly exploding," says Barbara Landi. "I counted six varieties of lettuce at the VanderWeele stand last Saturday." Other vendors include Juice, Jelly & Jam; Beach Tribe Soda; Rempel Family Farm, which will introduce "grown in the dirt" tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro and basil; Drool Central with dog treats featuring salmon, carrots and goat kefir; Farm 779; and loads of other vendors.

Anchorage Farmers Market: Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics says this week's harvest includes zucchini, broccoli, snow apple turnips, rainbow chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, Easter egg radishes, greens mix, baby lettuce mix, escarole, Chinese cabbage, pac choi, rhubarb, arugula, leaf lettuces, chives and basil.

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

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: APU Farmers Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 4225 University Drive; Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Farmers Market at Airport Heights, 3-7 p.m., 2530 E. 16th Ave.; Northway Mall Wednesday Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Northway Mall

Wednesday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 2-6 p.m., Ocean Drive; Soldotna Wednesday Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Soldotna Creek Park; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks; Wasilla Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Iditapark

Thursday in Anchorage: Mountain View Farmers Market, 3-7 p.m., 3543 Mountain View Drive; Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday outside of Anchorage: Peters Creek Farmers Market, 3-8 p.m., American Legion Post 33

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

Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.; Muldoon Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 1301 Muldoon Road; South Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., O'Malley Sports Center; Spenard Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 2555 Spenard Road

Saturday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ocean Drive; Kenai Saturday Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center; Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., East Corral Avenue and Kenai Spur Highway; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

Sunday in Anchorage: Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Sunday outside of Anchorage: Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks