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SitNews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska
December 09, 2015

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Alaska: Alaska's Housing Market: The First Half of 2015 - There’s heightened interest in some of the state’s broad economic measures recently as a result of low oil prices and state budget challenges. Through the first half of 2015, Alaska housing prices and other housing market indicators showed no major signs of weakness according to Juneau-based ‎Economist Karinne Wiebold.

In the December 2015 edition of Alaska Economic Trends, Wiebold reports the average sales price for a single-family home in Alaska increased 4 percent from the first half of 2014. But despite higher prices, housing affordability improved over that period. Statewide wages rose 3.5 percent, outpacing a 1.1 percent increase in inflation, and the average mortgage interest rate dropped a little over half a percentage point.

For more than two decades, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section has worked with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to collect and analyze Alaska’s housing statistics, including residential loans, new construction, foreclosures, interest rates, and affordability.

What follows is a summary of the department's most recent findings. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

Alaska: Alaska Faces Lower Oil Revenue with Lower Oil Price in Fall 2015 Forecast - Alaska Department of Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck released the Fall 2015 revenue forecast Tuesday. This annual forecast provides basic information about state revenue, as well as a forecast of state revenue over the next 10 years.

“The reality of our current fiscal condition is that total state revenues have dropped more than 50% from fiscal year 2014, and, of that total, general fund unrestricted revenues have declined nearly 60%,” Hoffbeck said.

Total state revenue was $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2015 from all sources. Of that total, general fund unrestricted revenue (GFUR) totaled $2.3 billion with oil and gas revenues accounting for approximately 75% of all unrestricted revenue. Unrestricted revenues have also collapsed by over 50%. For comparison, in FY 2014, total state revenues were $17.2 billion and general fund unrestricted revenue totaled $5.4 billion. The Department of Revenue forecasts total revenue as $9.5 billion in FY 2016 and $10.3 billion in FY 2017.

Overall oil production has declined by about 5% in the last year. “While there was a 13.6% increase in production in the Cook Inlet, that was not sufficient to offset a 5.6% decrease on the North Slope,” Hoffbeck said. “We are forecasting North Slope annual production to remain above 500 thousand barrels per day until 2018.”

The Fall 2015 revenue forecast is based on an annual average Alaska North Slope oil price of $49.58 per barrel for fiscal year 2016 and $56.24 per barrel for fiscal year 2017. “Beyond that, we project that annual average prices will slowly increase to more than the $80-per-barrel nominal price within the 10-year-forecast period, based on the analysis of the structure of oil markets,” Hoffbeck said.

This year’s forecast introduces a new presentation of revenue available for current-year appropriation, in the Executive Summary of the Revenue Sources Book. Revenues available for current-year appropriation include, in addition to unrestricted and designated General Fund revenues, realized earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund accounted for in the Earnings Reserve, earnings of the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund, and other deposits. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

President Signs Long-Term Highway Bill: Alaska stands to receive more than $2.6 billion - The legislation providing funding for our nation’s surface transportation needs over the next five years, from highways to ferries and railroads was signed by President Obama on December 04, 2015 becoming Public Law #114-94.

Known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, FAST will provide annual increases in funding over a five year period which means that Alaska stands to receive more than $2.6 billion from Fiscal Years (FY) 2016-2020. This amounts to $281 million or 10.6% increase above current levels.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was a member of the surface transportation conference committee and able to negotiate the differences between both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate versions of the bill. Through this leadership position, Murkowski was able to give Alaska’s interests and priorities a voice at the negotiating table, and help retain provisions secured by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) as a member of both the Environment and Public Works Committee and Commerce Committee, and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Alaska has unique transportation needs and challenges—whether it be due to our state’s vast size, remoteness, difficult terrain, or harsh climate. Because of this, it’s imperative that we have the certainty that comes with a long-term transportation funding bill,” said Murkowski. “We all recognize that Alaska is in the midst of budget crisis, so being able to rely on federal funding for critical infrastructure projects, whether it be on roads, bridges, or ferries, is key to our state. I’m proud that with the FAST Act, we have a five year bill with stable funding - the longest time period for transportation funding that Congress has secured in seventeen years.”

“Passage of a long-term highway bill will provide Alaskans with much-needed certainty in infrastructure investments throughout our state,” Senator Sullivan said.

Sullivan said, “Building off Congressman Young’s work as a past chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Senator Murkowski’s position on the Surface Transportation Conference Committee, combined with my position on both the Environment and Public Works and Commerce Committees, we were able to secure a number of Alaska-specific provisions that will increase transportation funding for core highway programs, tribal transportation and the ferry system that are so vital to Alaska’s economic future. The bill also includes reforms to our permitting system, which will help cut through project-killing red tape and streamline regulatory burdens. This bill amounts to a big win for Alaska as it will allow us to not only address our infrastructure needs but also promote and sustain economic growth throughout the state.”

The FAST Act contains numerous Alaska-focused provisions championed by the Alaska delegation. Alaska-specific provisions included in the five year transportation bill: - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

Alaska: VA Misses Mid-November Deadlines to Improve Veterans Healthcare in Alaska - At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing last Wednesday, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) changed his tone and lambasted the Deputy Secretary and the Undersecretary for Health of the Department of Veterans Affairs on the lack of progress on the Alaska Pilot Program for the Veterans Choice Program. After conducting a field hearing and a series of listening sessions throughout Alaska in August – held at the request of Senator Sullivan – the VA announced the pilot program would be fully implemented by mid-November 2015 to help fix the problems Alaska veterans were having with the Choice program.

But since the August announcement, the agreed-upon deadlines for the Alaska Pilot Program have not been met and veterans continue to complain about the implementation of Veterans Choice Program in Alaska.

“When are you going to fix the problem in Alaska like you committed to when you were there in August?” Senator Sullivan asked VA Undersecretary Dr. Shulkin. “On behalf on my veterans I'm pissed…By mid-November, it was all going to be done. It's not done.”

Senator Sullivan continued, “[The VA is] asking for $13-14 billion [from Congress] to fix the Choice Act and can't even fix it in my state where you know it is a freaking disaster… It is a nightmare.”

During the hearing, the VA admitted that they had not met their mid-November deadline, despite agreeing to implement the second and final phase of Alaska’s Pilot Program by that time. According to the VA, no staff has been hired and they have yet to even create job descriptions. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015


Alaska’s Secret Gardens:
Aleutian Island Coral Gardens Hold Secrets - Some That May Save Lives
By CHRISTINE BAIER - A few special places on earth support a great wealth of its species: tropical coral reefs and tropical rainforests might come to mind.

laska’s Secret Gardens:
Aleutian Island Coral Gardens Hold Secrets - Some That May Save Lives

An Aleutian coral gardenscape.
Photo by Bob Stone, NOAA Fisheries

Most people wouldn’t think of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This stark and stormy archipelago in the far north seems an unlikely contender to rival the planet’s biodiversity heavyweights - until you look beneath the surface.

Deep under the cold seas, life flourishes in an array of colors and forms. Corals and sponges create an oasis where fish, crabs, and stranger creatures shelter and forage. Bubblegum corals and bamboo corals, vase sponges and glass sponges—some 137 coral and 150 sponge species have been discovered here so far, 85 or more of them found nowhere else in the world.

Biodiversity and Biomedicine

As in tropical rainforests, the bounty of species in coral gardens may hold treasures yet to be uncovered.

“The sponges in Aleutian coral gardens have potentially great biomedical importance,” says NOAA Fisheries scientist Bob Stone, who has conducted pioneering research on coral ecosystems in Alaska for nearly 20 years. “They have incredible potential for biomedicine.”

A leading biomedical scientist recognized the potential of the region after reading a 2003 Science Magazine article about Aleutian Island explorations by Stone and his colleagues. Now Stone is working with scientists at the University of Mississippi to find novel compounds in Alaskan sponges that can be used in medicines.

Stone collects sponges from very deep waters with submarines and ROVs, and NOAA Fisheries scientists have collected specimens from annual trawl surveys in the region. “This is really exciting research,” says Stone. “Very few people get to go out there and find something that might lead to a cure for asthma or tuberculosis or cancer. We have had some very close calls so far. I am convinced we will find something earthshattering if we keep looking.” - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015


Columns - Commentary

jpg Tom Purcell

TOM PURCELL: Civil Discourse Needed to Address Terrorist Threat - Last week was an ugly day for civil discourse.

Innocent employees were enjoying themselves at an annual Christmas party when two shooters, clad in military gear and carrying assault rifles and numerous magazines, began mowing them down - killing 14 and wounding at least 17.

A thoughtful person would be furious - furious with the two well-trained shooters, a husband and wife, who had carefully planned to carry out such an attack.

He was an American citizen. His wife was born in Pakistan.

He was 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook. She was 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik. They had a 6-month-old child, who they left with the grandmother before slaughtering innocent people.

He worked with the victims, government employees and was, according to his father, a very religious Muslim. Neighbors said he and other men were working in the wee hours in his garage.

A thoughtful person would want to know what motivated this latest attack. A critical thinker would want to get to the root cause. Until we understand the root cause of our problems we will never solve them.

But thoughtfulness and critical thinking are running short in public discourse these days. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

DICK POLMAN: A Key Shift for Obama in ISIS Address - One particular passage in President Obama's Sunday night address to the nation caught my attention:

"As we've become better at preventing complex multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year, and now in San Bernardino."

At Ford Hood, a radicalized Muslim soldier, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, killed 12 soldiers and one civilian. In Chattanooga, another radicalized Muslim, Mohammad Abdulazeez, killed four Marines and a sailor. And we all know what happened in San Bernardino. What's significant is that Obama linked all the assailants to Islamic extremism — or, in his words, to "a perverted interpretation of Islam."

He didn't quite say "Islamic terrorism" (the GOP's preferred terminology), but he has shifted nonetheless, dumping some of the political correctness that has long hampered him. You may recall that when Fort Hood happened in 2009, Obama refused to state the obvious — despite the fact that Maj. Hasan had repeatedly emailed with a radical Islamic cleric, and that he had publicly contended, in lectures at the military base, that all Muslims should "fight those who do not believe in Allah." Indeed, Obama's Pentagon brass refused to call the attack an act of terror; they described it as just another case of workplace violence.

So I was glad when Obama plainly stated that "an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities." Many Americans, who think that he has been pussyfooting around that issue for too long, needed to hear him say it. Perhaps some of the skeptics were also pleased when he challenged the Muslim community. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

jpg Editorial Cartoon: Terror Speech

Editorial Cartoon: Terror Speech
By Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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letter Open Letter to Councilman Bob Sivertsen: Future hopeful House Representative By Amanda Mitchell - According to a quote by KRBD, you said: “You wonder why somebody would run when we have such a budget issue with the State of Alaska. I think that might be an opportunity for us to restructure and do some good things. But it’s going to take a lot of work, and I believe my experience and ability to work with people and gain consensus will help our district and our communities.” - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

letter No timely response to REDDI report By Shawn Kimberley - On the evening of December 7th 2015, A friend of mine and I were leaving A&P market heading north. It wasn't long at all before I realized that traffic was moving very slow, yes slower than normal even for Ketchikan. There were probably 12-15 cars in front of us and before long there was 20 plus cars behind us all forced to drive 25-30 miles per hour. By the time that we hit the Ward Cove area, the line of cars behind us was so long that you couldn't even see the end of it. As we passed the old pulp mill area, many of the cars in front of us had pulled off leaving me a view of the actual cause of the hold up. We saw an obvious drunk driver leading the pack. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

letter Local Vessel Horizon Pearl Harbor Oil Supply Ship By Bob Young - Vessel Horizon, moored in Ward Cove, is ex-navy vessel YO-43. Constructed and operating as a small oil supply vessel in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Probably one of the very last surviving Navy ships from that day in Pearl Harbor. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

letter Radical Islamic Terrorism By Donald Moskowitz - The greatest threat to world peace is radical Islamic terrorism. Radical Islamic terrorists killed 14 Americans in San Bernardino, CA; 130 people in Paris; five military personnel in Chatanooga, TN and 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, TX; a soldier in Canada; beheaded journalists and aid workers in the Middle East; killed non-Muslims in Copenhagen, Paris and Tunisia; attacked the Jewish Museum in Brussels, a mall in Kenya, Iraqi Christians, Syrian Christians, 40 churches in Egypt, our embassy in Benghazi, and the Boston Marathon. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 09, 2015

letter Ketchikan City Council Vote on Pot By Charlie Freeman - I'm having a problem understanding why, in the name of God, this was even brought up. #1. The State hasn't dealt with it and the State trumps local law. #2. Federal law trumps State, and even though the Feds at this present moment say they are not going to make an issue of it, Federal law still stands. #3. And more to the point, it's a loser as an issue. You cannot win. You either ignore the public vote in favor of you're own opinion, or you must be some kind of pot head. Can't win, either way. - More...
Saturday AM - December 05, 2015

letter What is a Budget Lapsing Organization? By Ken Bylund - Budget Lapsing Accounting is code for “Use it or Lose it” of huge amounts of money being wasted in State and Federal government agencies. Government agencies ‘waste it rather than lose it’ because federal rules require them to return unspent funds at the end of each budget year. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 02, 2015

letter Refugees By John Suter - On the issue of refugees, the problem is not here, it is over there. If the government wants to help out on this issue, then the government can help out over there where the problem is. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 02, 2015

letter Horrific shooting By Jim Minnery - The horrific shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs recently has brought out a litany of unnecessary and predictable media accusations regarding senseless murder and peaceful pro-life activism. - More...
Wednesday AM - December 02, 2015

letter GOVERNOR URGED TO NOT MIX POLITICS WITH SAFETY By Rep. Shelley Hughes - As Alaskans, we are accustomed to harsh weather and less-than-ideal road conditions that often grace our commutes throughout the state this time of year, but we are also accustomed to an adequate response by our state road maintenance crews. Lately the weather has been winning the battle of man versus the elements. Every year we hear complaints about slow response time or lack of attention to specific roadways, but I find myself asking, why this year more than others? - More...
Wednesday AM - December 02, 2015

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