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Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson hit by vehicle, says she broke her back and leg


UPDATED STORY: 

Four-time Iditarod finisher Karin Hendrickson suffered a broken back and broken leg after a vehicle struck her dog team just before 8 p.m. Tuesday near Willow, according to the musher and borough officials. 

As friends and family wondered how seriously she had been hurt, a post appeared on the 44-year-old Hendrickson's Facebook page just after midnight Wednesday:

"Looks like I'm going to be out of commission for awhile. At Mat-Su Regional Emergency waiting to be transported to Anchorage. Broken back and leg. One team dog still missing but everyone else amazingly just minor injuries. Could have been so much worse."

( Photo from Blue on Black Kennels.com, the home of Karin Hendrickson and team. http://blueonblackdogs.com/ )

A vehicle collided with Hendrickson's dog team at about mile 91 of the Parks Highway Tuesday night, seriously injuring the musher and scattering sled dogs, said Mat-Su Borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan.

The vehicle had left the roadway, Sullivan said. 

The team was hit in an area known for dog yards and racing kennels. The condition of the dogs was not immediately available. 

A helicopter was unable to land at the scene of the accident, Sullivan said. Fire officials told the borough that Hendrickson was hospitalized in serious condition.

Shortly after the crash, Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey told Channel 2 he had just heard about the accident and said he was climbing into his truck to help round up the dogs.

Hendrickson's mother followed the news from Southern California, waiting for word of her daughter's condition. "The last time she was injured, the dogs were her first priority. That's how I know she is in rough shape this time, because she couldn't take care of the dogs," Gwen Rodman said.

Rodman said her daughter is a fighter.  "Oh, she's been dragged many times and you just don't let go." 

Hendrickson was enrolled to compete in this years race. Anyone who finds her missing dog has been asked to contact the Willow Dog Mushers Association. 

Mike Ross, Maria Downey, Caslon Hatch, Sarah Evans and Austin Baird contributed to this report. Check back for details on this developing story. 

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North Pole proposes tax increases ahead of Flint Hills Property tax reduction


The city of North Pole is looking to make up for an anticipated operating budget shortfall of $180,000 for 2015 due to the closer of the Flint Hills Refinery. 

The city expects to lose about half of the money it normally collects from the refinery, once its value has been reassessed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

During a second reading of the city’s proposed operating budget the North Pole City Council proposed:

--A 1 percent increase for the rate of alcohol tax and a 2 percent increase for tobacco tax.

-- An increase in the base rate for ambulance fees from $800 to $900 and reducing the discount for residents from 50 percent to 20 percent.

-- Reduction of a proposed administration position as well as a proposed public works position.

The city’s proposed operating budget for 2015 totals $5 million $400 thousand.

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Former Anchorage mayor authors book on diabetes and weight loss


Former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 50 years.

His latest book, "What Should I Eat?" was published in the spring and includes advice on how to manage diabetes and how to lose weight.

The information in his book is based on the results of Mystrom's own blood sugar levels.

He would eat certain foods or full meals and then wait 90 minutes before taking the proper dose of insulin. Every 10 minutes, Mystrom would test his blood sugar.

"I know what every food does to your blood sugar. For a non-diabetic, that's what every food does to your weight gain and so I've learned what foods contribute to big weight gains and what foods contribute to weight loss," said Mystrom.

The core message of his book, he says, is that people, diabetic or not, should stay away from foods like breads, cereals and pasta. Starchy carbohydrates are a villain in terms of weight gain, said Mystrom.

Another message in his book may be a bit surprising. "Fat is your friend. Fat is not your enemy. Fat does not make you fat," he said. He says fat is healthy and the body rarely stores it, unlike carbohydrates.

The book includes charts that show the rise in his blood sugar over 90 minutes, for dozens of different foods and meals. "It turns things upside-down. It says 'eat less starchy carbs, eat more fat' if you want to lose weight, if you want to keep your blood sugar under control," said Mystrom.

"What Should I Eat?" is becoming a popular resource on how to control diabetes. Hospitals across Alaska are ordering copies of the book, he said. He is also the author of "My Wonderful Life with Diabetes."

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Walker's first order of business: accepting Medicaid expansion


Governor-elect Bill Walker takes office on Dec. 1, following his inauguration, he says one of his first orders of business will be to reverse the 'Parnell administration's' decision to reject federal Medicaid funding. In this story: -- Can Medicaid expansion be accepted through executive order or does it require the legislature? -- According to Walker, more than 40,000 Alaskans will benefit from Medicaid expansion. -- If accepted, the federal government will finance 100 percent of the cost for Medicaid expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent in the years that follow.

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Walker announces 4 appointees; names law partner attorney general


Alaska Gov.-elect Bill Walker on Tuesday announced four new staff members, naming his law partner Craig Richards as the new attorney general. 

Richards said he'll be reviewing the status of the National Guard investigation and the state's lawsuit that is trying to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage.

Walker also announced that he will retain Gary Folger as the public safety commissioner.

He said a former University of Alaska-Fairbanks vice chancellor, Pat Pitney, will be his budget director. She replaces Karen Rehfeld, who retired last Friday after 35 years with the state.

He also announced that Guy Bell will be retained as director of administrative services for the governor's office.

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1 dead, others injured in 2-car Sterling Highway crash


The Sterling Highway has reopened to stop-and-go traffic Tuesday night following a two-vehicle crash that killed at least one person.

In addition to a single confirmed death, multiple people were hurt when the vehicles collided at 5:40 p.m. at mile 146 of the highway in the Happy Valley area, according to a trooper spokeswoman. 

"Motorists should use caution and avoid the area, if possible," wrote spokeswoman Megan Peters.

The crash is under investigation. Troopers have not publicly named the person killed in the accident, nor anyone else involved. No other details were immediately available, Peters wrote. 

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Palmer man sentenced to 50 years for abusing children


More than a decade years after repeatedly sexually abusing three children and recording some of the incidents on video, Robert Cunningham, 49 of Palmer, on Tuesday was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Beginning in September 2002 and continuing until May 2003, Cunningham abused two children who were about 10 years old, according to the charges.

Part of the way he controlled the children was with his imposing size: he is 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, said U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler.

"He pressed the children up against the ceiling and the wall to impress upon them that they were powerless against him," Loeffler wrote in a news release.

When one victim died in an accident, Cunningham found a new victim, according to prosecutors.

"Cunningham could not as easily groom her as he had groomed the boy, and instead used alcohol and nitrous oxide on the 'new' girl," prosecutors wrote.

The federal sentence, which is the maximum allowed under the law, will run concurrently with an 88-year state sentence.

“The lengthy sentence in this case reflects the horrendous victimization perpetrated on innocent victims by Cunningham," Loeffler wrote.

Judge Sharon Gleason said the reason for a lengthy sentence is the likelihood of repeat offenses if he Cunningham were released.

“There is no feasible way to protect the public at whatever age [Cunningham] might be,”  the judge wrote in a release, adding that the use of nitrous oxide bordered on "torture."

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Staying safe when moose-vehicle collisions are most likely


With snow finally falling on many Alaska highways, biologists want to remind drivers that this is the time of year when moose collisions are most likely.

“The majority of our road kills occur during the winter months,” Kenai Area Wildlife Biologist Jeff Selinger said in a release from the Department of Fish and Game. “Decreased visibility due to lack of daylight, icy roads, and moose movement patterns all contribute to the increased collision rates we see at this time of year.”

The Department of Transportation offered several drivers several tips to help avoid crashes:

-- Slow down when it is dark or weather is bad.

-- Stay alert by avoiding use of cellphones and other distractions.

-- Pay close attention if you see a moose, because there could be more: cows often cross roadways with calves.

-- Watch for signs warning of high moose-vehicle collision areas. They're there for a reason.

-- Back off and avoid getting too close to the car in front of you.

-- Watch for flickering in the headlights of oncoming traffic, a signal an animal may be crossing in front of that vehicle.

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Traveling for Thanksgiving? Check out these tales of vacationing Alaskans & Hawaiians


Thanksgiving travelers spent the day Tuesday catching flights in Anchorage and Honolulu to destinations as remote as the Alaska village of Pitkas Point and as far away as Saipan.

Some were cashing in on holiday deals on hotel rooms in Las Vegas or in the case of one Anchorage family, escaping to golf courses in Hawaii.

Here's a sampling of travel tales from the largest airports in Alaska and Hawaii:

IN ANCHORAGE:

Ruth Riley was sitting at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, waiting for her flight home to the tiny western Alaska village of Pitkas Point, a Yup'ik Eskimo community of about 100 people. She had been attending a meeting of shareholders of Calista Corp., the Alaska Native corporation for her region.

For Thanksgiving, she and her husband are splurging on a turkey in the village, where a 10-pound bird runs in the $40 range. They will also enjoy traditional Native foods such as dried chum salmon strips and her version of akutaq, or Eskimo ice cream, with her ingredients including a concoction of shortening mixed with sugar, berries and mild whitefish.

A family reunion with her daughters will have to wait until Christmas, when she and her husband go to the hub town of Bethel 100 miles to the south.

"Since my husband is a dog musher," she said. "He didn't want to leave his dogs."

...

Larson and Alice Hunter and their two young children were in Anchorage, heading home to the Yup'ik village of Scammon Bay on Alaska's western coast.

Larson, the city manager of the village, had been in Anchorage on business and his wife and children came along as a vacation treat. His work paid for his trip and he had enough airline points for the family because he travels a lot.

In Scammon Bay, the family will have two Thanksgiving feasts — first with Alice's parents then with Larson's mother. Along with turkey and the usual fixings, they will have akutaq. Larson's mother also will prepare some other Native food, but they won't know what until Thursday.

"Moose is typical," Larson said.

"If we're lucky, snow goose," Alice said.

...

Dennis Kline picked up his son Isaiah from the airport after the 14-year-old flew home from the southeast Alaska town of Sitka, where he attends Mount Edgecumbe boarding school. Kline, his wife and two children would return to the airport later for the flight to Hawaii, where they planned to hit the golf links.

To keep down the high cost of traveling, Kline, a retired Army colonel, and his wife plan ahead. They are both retired and can afford the luxury of fitting their schedules to the best flight deals while avoiding travel crunch days.

"The holiday rush in winter season seems to be a real tough time to travel," Kline said. "There's a lot of sometimes delays and weather and things."

...

Lexi Cherry and her father, Bryan, were sharing a cinnamon roll at the airport after her flight from Juneau, where she is a history major at the University of Alaska Southeast.

She had split the cost of the flight with her parents, who live in the Wasilla area north of Anchorage. Cherry said it's her first Thanksgiving back home in a few years, and she's looking forward to her mom's whipped sweet potatoes and getting lots of sleep.

"Wait until you see the list of chores we have for you," her father said.

...

IN HONOLULU

Alfreda Camacho was hoping to get home to Saipan in time for Thanksgiving. She had attended a conference in American Samoa then visited family in Honolulu and was rearranging a suitcase to make room for Christmas presents she was taking home.

"I feel that it's going to be a really full flight and ... I got here about an hour and a half early than check-in time," she said about her flight from Honolulu International Airport to Japan. After a layover, she would catch another flight to Saipan.

...

Joel Akins and his girlfriend Alex Tingat were at the airport on a layover from Brisbane, Australia. They opted for a Las Vegas vacation because they found deals on accommodations during Thanksgiving. After flying to Los Angeles, they planned to take a bus to Vegas.

"We figure no one wants to go to Vegas on Thanksgiving," said Tingat.

Hotel prices were cheaper, but flights were more expensive, Akins said, adding that he was bracing for travel to be more hectic once they got to Los Angeles.

...

Justin Hornsby was seeing his wife, Mayumi Hornsby, off at the Honolulu International Airport. She was traveling to Japan to spend the holidays with her family. "I'm surprised it's not more crowded," he said after arriving several hours before her flight.

...

Kelleher reported from Honolulu, and D'Oro reported from Anchorage, Alaska.

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Nome Council votes to keep sales tax exemption for churches, nonprofits


Nome’s nonprofits and churches will remain exempt from city sales tax—and retailers won’t have their unsold inventories taxed—but at Monday night’s City Council meeting, efforts to charge property tax on airplanes moved forward.

The rejection of the sales tax proposal follows a months-long struggle by city budget-writers to find more revenue after disappearing state and federal funding left a roughly $800,000 dollar hole in the city spending plan.

A packed house gathered in City Council chambers to hear the introduction, or “first reading,” of three ordinances meant to bring in more revenue for the city. The council wasn’t able to debate the issues—that debate is only allowed on “second reading”—but that didn’t stop small businesses owners, nonprofits directors, and residents from telling the council their thoughts. And those thoughts were a chorus of rejection for all three proposals.

On the sales tax exemption issue, Danielle Slingsby with the Nome Community Center—which runs the town food bank, the Nome Children’s Home providing transitional youth housing, the XYZ Senior Center, and more—said ending the exemption would have a direct impact on services.

“All of our purchases are direct program purchases, so anything we purchase, we try to support local business as much as we can,” she said, addressing the council as well as the more than two dozen members of the public. “I think if you take [the sales tax exemption] away from nonprofits, you’re basically just taking away services from the people of Nome.”

Kawerak president Melanie Bahnke said services the regional nonprofit provides are usually performed by government agencies; agencies that she noted would remain exempt from sales tax with the proposal under consideration.

“Many of these programs exist because Kawerak assumed the functions of the federal government to deliver these services,” Bahnke said. “The federal government enjoys the benefit of the exemption. It would seem to penalize the tribal governments in this region for exerting self-governance by taxing these programs because they are not operated by the federal government.”

Though the sales tax exemption issue would have impacts on faith-based organizations like churches, no one from the roughly dozen churches in Nome spoke on the issue.

Levying tax on business inventories was characterized by many business owners as a “double tax” that would be collected both when items sit on the shelf and again when they are sold and subject to Nome’s 5 percent sales tax. Barb Nichols with the Nome Chamber of Commerce received a round of applause from members of the public after she spoke against taxing inventories.

“This additional cost can’t be shown on receipts, such as a retail sales tax,” Nichols argued. “The impact of these non-transparent taxes are hidden to most consumers, and an invisible issue to most voters.”

Nichols also spoke to the timing of the new tax, which would have gone in to effect Jan. 1, 2015. “Our business community has already ordered and received their goods to last through our long winters, to ensure the community has what it needs. Now, without any notice, this exemption could be removed this year.”

“This is not about business profit,” Nichols summarized. “Removing this exemption will dig even further into the ever-slimming wallets of all of our community members. These businesses should be celebrated, not double taxed.”

While dislike for the proposals was nearly unanimous, Rolland Trowbridge of Trinity Sails and Repair (and KNOM Chief Engineer) took the podium—without expressing support or opposition to any particular ordinance—to emphasize the need for organizations and individuals to be more willing to support a city that allows their nonprofits and businesses to exist.

“There’s a lot of business going on in Nome where sales tax isn’t being collected. A lot of people doing business on the side, repairs, the kind of stuff where they’re just taking cash money. And for those people doing that, you’re not helping yourself, you’re not helping anybody, because that is what it costs to run this town,” Trowbridge said.

“The reality is, I depend on this city to function correctly for my business to operate, and so do the nonprofits,” he added. “We all need to start saying, OK, where do we want the money to come from?”

Many speakers called on the city to get its own financial house in order before raising taxes, but City Manager Josie Bahnke said it wasn’t a ballooning city budget but rather state and federal funding shortfalls that has led to the current deficit. She said the new tax proposals were not considered on a whim.

“We did make cuts, we did get down to a bare-bones budget. This year our operating budget has gone down, we all continue to deal with healthcare costs rising … The discussion was around how we could make up for that approximately $800,000,” Bahnke said. “I think the idea of [sales tax] exemptions [as well as] meetings with the city attorney led us down that road.”

But fresh from attending last week’s Alaska Municipal League — a gathering of city administers from around the state — Bahnke said other Alaska cities, large and small, are facing similar budget shortfalls and identical scrambles for revenue, raising questions of just what jobs people expect their city to do.

“Some of the challenges, I think, are … the disconnect in what residents see, what they want, and what they’re willing to pay for. I think this is going to continue on here through the next several months … sometimes there’s disagreement on what the core functions of the city are, of what they should be.”

The room became quiet as the ordinance for the sales tax exemption went before the council, which required just one other council member to second the motion to move it forward. But the ordinance died on the table; not a single council member voted to even consider it for a first reading. The proposal to tax business inventories also failed to pass muster for first reading, failing in a vote of two in favor to three against.

That left just one proposal passing for a second reading, one that would assess property tax on aircraft. That brought Paul Costo, the Nome station manager for Alaska Airlines, to the podium to tell the council that taxing airplanes could send businesses to other hubs like Bethel, Kotzebue, or Unalakleet.

“There’s some real-life ramifications for the airline industry if you were to start taxing aircraft. Nome would lose not only aircraft, they would lose services and they would lose jobs.” Costo requested more information on how the city would assess any tax, “a formula, a tax plan, and quite frankly, what the aircraft owner is going to get in return for paying their tax dollars.”

Costo added that few other Alaska cities collect property tax on planes, and when they do, it’s usually on city-owned airports, whereas Nome’s airport is state-owned. Council member Jerald Brown said there are enough city services at the airport to merit the tax.

“I’ve see the fire trucks responding to issues at the airport, I’ve seen police responding to issues at the airport. I know there’s water and sewer provided out there, probably for a fee, so services are being provided,” he said.

Brown called for a list of other cities that assess property tax on airplanes—and a list of what entity owns the airport in those communities—when the proposal comes up for a second reading (and formal public comment) at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 8.

The only other item before the council was handled quickly, approving a $7 million bid for the port’s Middle Dock project to Orion Marine Contractors.

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A shopping guide for Black Friday in Anchorage


Retailers are gearing up for the peak of holiday shopping season.

Many national chains are even getting a jump on Black Friday by opening their doors with sales and other festivities aimed at drawing holiday shoppers to line up on Thanksgiving Day.

Locally-owned stores in Anchorage, however, are largely sticking with regular hours of business, and some are participating in national movements such as "Shop Small Saturday."

The Anchorage Downtown Partnership organized about 30 local downtown businesses to participate in the national event, with a kickoff event that includes the lighting of the tree in Town Square on Friday, Nov. 28.

Maps of participating businesses will be handed out at that event and will also be printed in the Wednesday, Nov. 26 edition of the Anchorage Press.

In case your search for deals will include a stop at some of the city's popular national retailers, here is a list of the hours of operation for many businesses:

MALLS

5TH AVENUE MALL Closed on Thanksgiving Day 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Black Friday

THE MALL AT SEARS Closed Thanksgiving Day Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Black Friday

DIMOND CENTER Individual Store Hours vary, starting as early as 4 p.m. Thanksgiving Day to 6 a.m. on Black Friday

NORTHWAY MALL Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

STORES

BARNES & NOBLE Closed Thanksgiving Day Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Black Friday

BASS PRO SHOPS Open Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Open Black Friday at 5 a.m.

BED, BATH AND BEYOND Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

BEST BUY Open Thanksgiving Day from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday

CABELA'S Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Friday at 5 a.m., with crowd entertainment starting at 2:30 a.m.

CARR'S Regular hours on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday

COSTCO WAREHOUSE Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

FRED MEYER Open Thanksgiving Day at 7 a.m. Open Black Friday at 5 a.m.

HOME DEPOT Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

JCPENNEY Open Thanksgiving Day at 5 p.m. Black Friday deals last 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday

JOANN FABRICS Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

KOHL'S Open Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m. through Black Friday

LOWE'S Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

MICHAEL'S Open Thanksgiving 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday Open Black Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

NORDSTROM Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

OFFICE DEPOT & OFFICE MAX Open Thanksgiving Day 6 to 9 p.m. Open Black Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

PETCO Closed Thanksgiving Open Black Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

PETSMART Closed Thanksgiving Open Black Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

REI Closed on Thanksgiving Day Open on Black Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

SEARS Open Thanksgiving Day at 5 p.m. through Black Friday at 11:59 p.m.

SAM'S CLUB Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

SPORT'S AUTHORITY Open Thanksgiving 6 p.m. to midnight Open Black Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

SPORTSMAN'S WAREHOUSE Closed Thanksgiving Day Open Black Friday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

TARGET Open Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m. through Friday 11 p.m.

TOYS "R" US Open Thanksgiving Day 5p.m. through 11 p.m. on Black Friday

WALMART Open 24 hours on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday

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Anchorage groups honor Thanksgiving tradition with free feasts


As Anchorage prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, several local groups and restaurants are planning to give back on the holiday by offering free meals during midday hours. Local soup kitchen Bean’s Café is offering its traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., with help from volunteers and food donations. According to Bean’s Facebook page, a variety of food items are still needed including mashed potatoes, marshmallows, fresh fruit, and cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. Kriner’s Diner in Midtown will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, with both in-house dining and take-out meals available. Lucy Kriner Hollenbeck, proprietor Andy Kriner’s daughter, said the restaurant served about 170 people in 2013, the first year it held the event. She emphasizes that everyone, not just those in need, is welcome at Kriner’s. “We started to invite regulars to our family Thanksgiving, then we started holding it in the restaurant,” Kriner Hollenbeck said. “All staff have the day off -- it’s the Kriner family that’s serving.” According to Kriner Hollenbeck, the Thursday event will include donated beverages and prizes from Pepsi, as well as turkey from food supplier Sysco. The diner’s new Mountain View establishment, Kriner’s Burgers and Pies, will be closed for the holiday. Another local restaurant, the Hard Rock Café at 415 E St., is already full for the holiday, after offering free Thanksgiving meals on its Facebook page a week ago. Jamie Gates, the restaurant’s sales and marketing manager, said many people called to reserve space for people they knew were in need at its 10 a.m. and noon seatings. “We’re planning on feeding about 300 people, about 150 people each between the two seatings,” Gates said. “We’ve had a great response -- people have been nominating families for us.” Gates said staff decided at the local level to serve the free meal, a plan in the works since the restaurant’s August opening. While the Thursday opening ties into Hard Rock’s alignment with national organization WhyHunger’s “Imagine There’s No Hunger” campaign, Gates said it’s a more personal way to offer thanks to Anchorage. “This is a way to show we are Anchorage, and we really appreciate what the community has done to welcome us,” Gates said. The Union of Students at the University of Alaska Anchorage and other volunteer groups are offering a free Thanksgiving meal at the Lee Gorsuch Commons, at 3700 Sharon Gagnon Ln., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. In an online form requesting volunteers to help with the service, USUAA said the meal is as much about community as it’s about consumables. “The event serves the community as a whole, including housing students -- many of whom do not have families to celebrate the holiday with in Alaska,” USUAA officials wrote. At Kriner’s, any tips or donations received will be donated to the Children’s Lunchbox. “It’s all from the heart,” Hollenbeck Kriner said. Here’s a list of locations offering free Thanksgiving meals in Anchorage: Kriner’s Diner 2409 C St. All are welcome from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; take-out meals available Union of Students at UAA and student volunteers 3700 Sharon Gagnon Ln. All are welcome from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bean’s Café 1101 E. 3rd Ave. All are welcome from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

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Suspicious fire extinguished in Juneau landmark


Juneau police and fire officials are investigating five suspicious fires in the last month in the Merchant's Wharf building, the wooden structure on pilings that's home to restaurants and shops on the city waterfront. Fire marshal Daniel Jager tells the Juneau Empire the situation is serious. He says the building is old and a fire would be devastating and dangerous. The latest fire was Saturday night. Retail employees at about 6:37 p.m. found a fire in the women's bathroom trash can and extinguished it with water. Police Lt. David Campbell says a woman was recorded on a security camera entering and exiting the restroom near the time of the fire and officers are trying to identify her. Previous fires were also set in the women's bathroom.

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Fairbanks teacher abuse lawsuit heads for mediation


The Fairbanks school district and the family of a student who says he was sexually assaulted by a high school tutor will attempt to settle claims through a mediator. The family sued last spring, claiming the district ignored warning signs of inappropriate behavior with students by Hutchison High School tutor and correspondence teacher Claude Fowlkes III. Fowlkes has been charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor. The family offered to settle for a payment of $1 million to the student and $200,000 to each of his parents. The district countered with an offer of $250,000 for the student and $10,000 to each parent.

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Health officials say spike in Alaska flu cases expected to continue


A spike in confirmed cases of influenza prompted a warning from Alaska health officials.

In October, there were 345 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu. There were 405 in November.

“From last year, in terms of confirmed cases, this is more than double what we’ve seen through October and November,” said Jason Grenn, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Putting an exact number on how many people Alaskans have the flu is an impossible task, Grenn said.

“Many people sick with the flu do not seek medical care,” according to a press release distributed by the Division of Public Health Epidemiologists.

The division reports that most positive test results come from urban population centers, though cases have been reported statewide.

When the peak of flu season will be is difficult to predict, but Dr. Michael Cooper of the Infectious Disease program said the season makes it likely the spike will likely continue.

“The holidays present an opportunity for a greater spread of respiratory illnesses, like influenza, with increased travel and social gatherings,” Cooper said in a release.

Health officials recommend everyone older than six months get a flu vaccination. Washing hands and staying home when sick also help the cause.

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Feds seize over $1.5M of cocaine, meth in Alaska drug case


Federal authorities have seized over $1.5 million in cocaine and methamphetamine as part of an investigation into an Alaska-linked drug conspiracy, seeking more than $250,000 in forfeitures from one suspect. A Thursday grand jury indictment against 53-year-old Steven Bradley Powell charges him with one count each of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and money-laundering conspiracy. According to the indictment, Powell allegedly laundered money in Alaska since May 2012 and trafficked drugs since April 2013, with both activities ending in October 2013. The indictment also includes a pair of criminal forfeiture orders, under which Powell would forfeit a total of $263,100 in cash and checks -- as well as real-estate property at three Las Vegas addresses -- upon conviction on the drug-conspiracy charge. A money-laundering conviction would see him surrender the property and only some of the money, $42,000 held in a Chase Bank account. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Courter, who is handling the case for U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler’s office, said Tuesday that a variety of agencies are still investigating the case. She declined to say where the drugs in the case came from, but said that seizures took place both in Anchorage and in the Lower 48. “For the cocaine we’re looking at five kilos (11 pounds); we’re looking at over 15 pounds of meth in this case,” Courter said. “It’s over a million dollars on the methamphetamine alone -- it’s about half a million on the cocaine.” Courter didn’t have assessed values for the Las Vegas properties, but said they have been significantly developed.

Courter said. “There’s a residence, a duplex, and 12 different condo units.” Alaska court records show Powell pleaded no contest to third-degree felony assault in 1997, as well as entering guilty pleas to two misdemeanor assaults. He has also pleaded guilty in earlier incidents of driving with a revoked or suspended license, and is accused of the same charge in an open Oct. 18 case. Courter said federal agents didn’t have to look far to find Powell. “He was in state custody at the time he was charged,” Courter said. Editor's note: An earlier version of this story which inaccurately said five pounds of methamphetamine had been seized and 15 Las Vegas condo units were included in forfeiture orders has been corrected.

Channel 2’s Kyle Hopkins contributed information to this story.

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Judge invalidates part of school funding mechanism


A borough has successfully challenged one facet of how the state of Alaska funds education. Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William B. Carey has invalidated the local contribution requirement for school districts. Carey ruled for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which sued over the state's requirement that it must pay a local contribution to the school district to fund education. The state says in a statement it's disappointed and is evaluating appeal options. A lawyer for the district didn't immediately return a message. Carey found the state's requirement is a dedicated fund, which violates the Alaska Constitution. However, Carey said the district wasn't entitled to a refund of the $4 million it paid in last year.

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Troopers name drivers in Monday Parks Highway crash


Alaska State Troopers have identified the drivers injured in a head-on collision that briefly closed the Parks Highway near Talkeetna Monday, saying one of the vehicles involved was passing traffic at the time. In an AST dispatch on the incident Monday evening, troopers say 49-year-old Anchorage resident Esther C. Serikaku was headed north on the Parks at Mile 101.5, when she lost control while passing a vehicle. The pickup truck she struck was driven by 72-year-old Marshall Yelverton of Trapper Creek. “The driver's side of Serikaku's vehicle collided with a bronze 2000 Dodge Ram 2500 driven by (Yelverton),” troopers wrote. “Yelverton had been driving southbound on the Parks Highway.  Both vehicles were totaled in the collision.” Both Serikaku and Yelverton, the sole occupants of their vehicles, were wearing their seat belts. A LifeMed air ambulance flew Serikaku to Anchorage for treatment of serious injuries; Providence Alaska Medical Center staff listed her in serious condition Tuesday morning. Troopers had originally said only Serikaku was hurt, but Yelverton also suffered minor injuries. AST spokeswoman Beth Ipsen had said the highway was closed for about 20 minutes as the helicopter landed and the vehicles -- both of which were totaled in the crash, according to the dispatch -- were cleared from the scene. Troopers said Serikaku was cited for passing improperly and basic speed.

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Wasilla man gets 90 months on heroin charge


A 38-year-old Wasilla man will serve 90 months in a federal prison for trafficking heroin. The U.S. attorney's office says in a release that Baretta Faatafuga was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. He earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 1.6 kilograms of heroin in the Anchorage area. Officials say Faatafuga received an Express Mail package in October 2013 from California. There was a safe inside the package, and heroin had been hidden in the safe.

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Pebble vs. EPA, federal judge delays final ruling


A federal judge is stepping in to block the Environmental Protection Agency from taking any further action against the Pebble Mine Project, at least for now. In this story: -- Federal District Court Judge H. Russell Holland has granted a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against the EPA. -- In its complaint, Pebble alleges that the EPA violated what is called the Federal Advisory Committee Act, by getting together with three different groups, the judge ruled that contact with one of those groups could have violated the law. -- With the judge's order, pebble will now have the opportunity to show evidence to prove its claim that the EPA was working with other groups to preemptively shut down the Pebble Partnership's efforts.

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