By a vote of 32-8, lawmakers advanced a 5.1 billion dollar budget early Saturday after nearly 3 days of negotiations. The budget heads to the Senate for consideration.
Following the budget vote, House members voted 39-1 to access the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve account. The move covers an estimated 4 billion dollar budget deficit. Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was the only member to vote against the CBR draw.
Lawmakers had reconvened around 8:00 p.m. Friday with a budget compromise in hand, but members of the Republican led majority and Democratic minority huddled for several hours to work out details of the deal.
The arrangement adds 15 million dollars to the original budget proposed earlier this week. Those monies are spread among Pre-K and early learning grants, senior benefits, the Alaska Marine Highway System, Office of Children’s Services and public radio.
A dramatic drop in oil prices last year triggered the financial turmoil facing the state today. Legislators have struggled to pass a balanced budget since the legislative session began in January.
The 13 member Independent Democratic Coalition has been leveraging their votes for a super majority needed to access state savings. The caucus’s leader, Representative Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage pushed for several of the items added back to the budget late Friday. Representative Tuck however, voted against the budget.
If the Senate makes any changes to the budget; it will have to go back to the House for a concurrence vote.
Lawmakers were called into a special session by the governor last month after passing a budget that only funded state government until the fall.
ANCHORAGE -- With no budget agreement in sight, thousands of state workers are set to receive pink slips Monday informing them of an upcoming layoff.
The 10,000-plus notices provide a month notice before a work stoppage would occur, but if lawmakers let gridlock prevail, the impacts will be visible in all types of state services.
The Division of Motor Vehicles, for example, would have increased wait times if its 155 employees are furloughed or laid off.
"I fear many people wouldn't be able to get their identification, their driver's licenses," said Amy Erickson, director of the DMV. "You know their registrations are not quite so important, but people's identification and ability to drive is really, really important."
While the DMV would remain open in some capacity as it generates about $30 million for the state's general fund, wait times could also worsen.
With a reputation for big crowds and long waits, some people believe slower service would be a bad thing: "I think I've been here about 45 minutes," said Jonathan Harrison, who was at the DMV Friday morning to renew his driver's license.
"I think the Legislature should find an agreement and do their job," Harrison said.
The Department of Administration, which provides an array of support services impacting nearly all aspects of state government, would also take a noticeable hit according to the department's leadership.
Leslie Ridle, a deputy commissioner, said the impact would trickle to other parts of government.
"In Fish and Game they won't be able to issue permits. Department of Conservation will not be able to keep the health safety lab open, so if there's an outbreak we won't be able to respond right away," Ridle said. "Maintenance on roads will not be taken care of on a timely basis, and commercial drivers will not be monitored as they usually are."
The looming potential shutdown has labor unions worried.
"They won't be in at the work site. They won't have a paycheck. They will have health insurance for the first year," said Jim Duncan, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, the largest public union in the state.
Even with all the concerns about delays and inconveniences, some Alaskans believe the trouble is worthwhile if the budget shrinks as a result.
"I think we've overspent in the past because we had lots of money and now that we don't have much money we need to cut back and start cutting out some of the stuff we've financed in the past," Chuck Schmidt said.
If no agreement in the legislature is reached by June 30, layoffs would take effect the next day.
ANCHORAGE -- A body was found Friday washed up on a beach in Kincaid Park, according to the Anchorage Police Department.
A citizen walking near the water not far from Kincaid Motorcross spotted the body.
"It appears the body has been deceased for quite some time," police spokeswoman Renee Oistad wrote in a news release.
Little information is available about who the body was and how it arrived on the beach, and it could take a while before more is known: "It's going to be a process to get the body out," Oistad said by phone. "It's kind of a hike to get out there, and it's the kind of mud that sucks you in."
Please check back for updates to this developing story.
ANCHORAGE -- A motorcyclist died in a Friday afternoon crash that started when a shopping bag slipped from the bike's handles, according to the Anchorage Police Department.
The motorcyclist -- whose name has not been released pending next-of-kin notification -- was riding in Spenard, heading northwest on Breezewood Drive.
"According to witnesses, the motorcyclist was driving northwest on Breezewood Drive when a shopping bag slid off the bike's handles and landed on the ground," police wrote in a news release.
Instinctively, the motorcyclist looked over his shoulder at the bag, causing him to veer into a patch of vegetation and to collide with a large tree near Klamath Drive, police wrote.
The motorcyclist was wearing a helmet and the distraction was the apparent cause of the crash, according to police, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital.
A 28-year-old North Pole man died Sunday while camping in southeastern Interior Alaska, according to Alaska State Troopers.
No foul play is suspected in the death of Dustin Woster, with the state Medical Examiner’s office expected to perform an autopsy.
Troopers and the National Park Service were called at about 10 a.m. to a mountainous area off of Mile 21 Nabesna Road in Slana, between Glennallen and Tok. Woster was camping with friends and family who phoned for help when they found him unconscious and not breathing.
The investigation is ongoing.
In a victory for opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine, an Alaska Supreme Court ruling has reversed a finding for the state and backers of the project in an environmental lawsuit.
Friday’s decision by the state’s highest court stems from a September 2011 decision in a lawsuit over exploratory drilling for the mine on state land. The filing against the Pebble Partnership and the state was made by Nunamta Aulukestai, a group of Alaska Native corporations and tribal associations, as well as individuals including elder Alaska statesman Vic Fischer and former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond.
The plaintiffs argued that the state had neither studied the Pebble work’s possible impact, nor given proper public notice before issuing Pebble work permits. Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth disagreed with that view, however, deciding that the permits were legal under the state constitution, and that the state had no need to make any public notice.
In the appellate decision (PDF), the three justices of the five-member high court who heard the case -- Daniel Winfree, Peter Maassen and Joel Bolger -- said they focused on whether public process was actually necessary for the permits. That question, in turn, hinged on whether the drilling permits transferred an interest in the land where the drilling occurred.
“After a trial, the Superior Court held that notice was not required because the permits were nominally and functionally revocable and therefore did not transfer an interest in land,” justices wrote. “We conclude that the land use permits were not functionally revocable.”
Friday’s decision remands the matter back to Superior Court, for “a declaratory judgment reflecting this view.”
Nunamta Aulukestai quickly issued a statement praising Friday’s decision, saying the drilling had involved more than 1,200 boreholes as well as the use of millions of gallons of water drawn from the region’s lakes and streams.
“We applaud the court’s ruling,” Kim Williams, Nunamta Aulukestai’s executive director, said in the statement. “As subsistence users of the region, we know that exploration is having a serious impact on land, water, wildlife, and fish. We rely on these resources for survival, yet DNR has never explained these impacts or let us participate in the decisions to allow them. The Alaska Constitution requires it.”
In a separate ruling (PDF), the court found that the plaintiffs in the now-reversed suit did not have “sufficient economic incentive” to file it independent of its legal merits. State law protects groups which can prove they lack “sufficient economic incentive” from being billed for up to 30 percent of opposing attorneys’ fees -- close to seven figures in the Pebble case, which Fischer said last year that he couldn’t pay -- after failed lawsuits challenging government action.
The Pebble Partnership didn’t immediately respond to a call Friday afternoon seeking comment on the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision.
Gov. Bill Walker’s spokeswoman, Grace Jang, said a statement on the ruling was pending from Walker’s office Friday afternoon.
Steven Mulder, the chief assistant attorney general with the Department of Law's Environmental Section, said in an email to Channel 2 that the department was evaluating Friday's decision.
"While further appeal is not available, the state could ask for reconsideration but no decision has been made at this time," Mulder wrote.
UPDATE 2:00 p.m.: The Alaska Department of Transportation has announced tentative plans to reopen Dalton Highway on June 5 - a date that is contingent on weather and the progress of repairs, officials wrote in a press release Friday.
Officials warn that once opened, the road surface will be rough and narrow through the flood zone but the department aims to have the road at least as wide as 20 feet in the project zone.
According to officials, repairs are progressing on both the north and south ends of the flood zone. "On the south end, crews have progressed to just north of Mile 397 and will be going back to install culverts today. On the north end, contractor staff are repairing a culvert pipe that failed early this morning near Mile 412.5 and will bridge a breach just north of Mile 412," officials wrote.
ORIGINAL STORY: The U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced $2 million in relief funds to be made available for repairs to the Dalton Highway, officials wrote in a press release Friday.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the emergency funds will help pay for repairs to various types of infrastructure damage including damage to pavements, embankments and drainage systems.
State officials estimate the total value of the damages at about $7 million.
Anchorage police are looking for a 26-year-old convicted felon wanted on three warrants for felony charges.
According to APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad, one of the warrants outstanding for 26-year-old Michael Joseph Murphy is on charges of third-degree assault and criminal mischief, as well as resisting arrest. The other two are for contempt of court, on original charges of third-degree misconduct involving weapons and second-degree theft.
Oistad said Friday that state authorities are also looking for Murphy, but police didn’t have any indication of where he might be.
“Adult Probations is trying to track him down as well,” Oistad said. “I’m fairly certain that they’ve checked all the locations we have for him, and haven’t been able to scoop him up.”
Anyone with information on Murphy’s whereabouts should call APD at 786-8900, or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at either 561-STOP or its website.
Juneau police are asking for help finding a person of interest in connection with a burglary at a store in the downtown area Sunday morning, during which a total of $3,000 in coins and merchandise was taken.
JPD Lt. Kris Sell said in a Thursday statement that officers are looking for 52-year-old Juneau man Ronald McKinney, known to split his time between Juneau and Seattle. He is being sought after a 3:30 a.m. Sunday break-in at 225 Front St., in the CMT convenience store within the Miners Mercantile building.
Sell described a surveillance video of the crime released by JPD in a statement accompanying the clip.
“The man is wearing a mask,” Sell wrote. “You can see that he is wearing gloves and a watch on his right wrist. He is also wearing a cellphone case horizontally on his right hip. The time on the video is inaccurate.”
Sell said Friday that police hadn’t determined whether the man seen in the video is McKinney -- a regular occupant of the Glory Hole shelter on South Franklin Street, a few blocks away from the crime scene.
“He frequents our homeless shelter and hasn’t been seen since the burglary,” Sell said. “We’re examining that possibility, but we’re also putting this out to the public to see what information is out there.”
Damage caused by the suspect to the store Sunday was significant, but not extensive.
“He used a prybar to get in,” Sell said. “He destroyed a display case and did some damage to the door, a few hundred dollars, but it’s pretty minimal compared to what was taken.”
Sell said the total value of the four tablet computers taken from the store was about $65. The vast majority of the burglary’s value came from the stolen coins, some of them Morgan silver dollars -- a coin series dating back to 1878 -- worth up to $400 apiece among coin collectors.
“What we find in cases like this is that people will steal a silver dollar and they’ll try to sell it, but they won’t get $400 for it,” “They’ll get a dollar for it -- but the damage (is) done to the victim.”
Anyone with information on McKinney’s whereabouts should call JPD at 907-586-0600 or submit an online tip to the Juneau Crime Line.
A magnitude 6.67 earthquake struck at 11 p.m. Thursday night, 80 miles northeast of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula, according to NOAA.
The Associated Press had this update on the quake Friday morning:
The temblor was felt on the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island, more than 100 miles away.
Alvin Pedersen lives in Chignik Lagoon, a community on the Alaska Peninsula's Pacific Ocean side.
He says residents "got shook up pretty good" and some ran to higher ground in case of a tsunami.
Pedersen says pictures fell off the wall and items were knocked off shelves, but nothing was broken.
KTUU viewers also report feeling the quake in areas across Southcentral Alaska and in Kodiak.
The Alaska Earthquake Center reports that the epicenter was 395 miles southwest of Anchorage. No tsunami warning is expected, according to the center.
If you have information you would like to share about the quake, please email Channel 2 at email@example.com.
Yukon Quest leaders announced a $38,000 surplus, the largest surplus the organization has seen in six years.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that leaders of the 1,000-mile Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse sled dog race announced the budget at their annual meeting Thursday. Board President Bill McDonald says he expects prize money for the race to stay the same or increase in 2015.
The announcement comes in stark contrast to the organization's Yukon board meeting held last week, where members announced a $50,000 debt. Yukon Quest has two nonprofit boards in both Alaska and Canada.
The Quest has struggled to break even since the global recession reduced sponsorships and finances in 2009. Officials talked about halting the race four years ago and reduced the purse to $100,000 in 2013, half of 2007's purse.
A California woman reported missing in the Aleutian Islands village of Akutan was found dead Wednesday, with Alaska State Troopers reporting no foul play involved in her death.
A local village public safety officer informed troopers shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday that 30-year-old Bakersfield, Calif. resident Yuliana Zazueta hadn’t shown up for work that day at Trident Seafoods.
“A search of the island was conducted using resources from Trident Seafoods, Aleutians East Borough, and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers out of Dutch Harbor,” troopers wrote. “The body of Yuliana was located (at about 11 a.m. Wednesday).”
AST spokesman Tim Despain didn’t immediately have details Thursday morning on where Zazueta’s body was found, or the nature of her death.
Zazueta’s body is being sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy. Her next of kin have been notified.
Editor's note: The spelling of Yuliana Zazueta's last name has been corrected by Alaska State Troopers, after an initial AST dispatch inaccurately said it was Zazueca.
Anchorage police responded to a vehicle crash inbound on the Glenn Highway Friday morning, with no reports of injuries from the scene.
APD dispatchers said at least one vehicle in the collision, initially reported just before 7 a.m., was in the median near the South Eagle River exit.
While neither injuries nor lane closures were reported, dispatchers said the crash may slow commuter traffic into town Friday.
A Nenana man with a dislocated hip was medevaced from his placer mine near a Brooks Range community during a search-and-rescue mission Wednesday, Alaska State Troopers say.
In a Thursday AST dispatch, troopers say Doug Jones called Fairbanks dispatchers to inform them of his situation near Wiseman, a small village on the middle fork of the Koyukuk River. Alaska Wildlife Troopers were sent to the mine.
“Coldfoot AWT responded to the placer mine via ATV,” troopers wrote. “Due to the terrain and severity of the injury, a helo with Maritime Helicopters (Pump Station 5) was contacted to assist.”
A paramedic and an emergency trauma technician accompanied the helicopter, which picked Jones up at the mine and took him to Coldfoot. The arriving chopper was met by a Guardian Flight medevac aircraft, which carried Jones on to Fairbanks for further treatment.
The Alaska House adjourned for the evening Thursday without passing an operating budget. Members had hoped to finalize a budget and send it to the Senate before going home.
House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) adjourned the chamber until 2 p.m. Friday. When lawmakers return, they'll finish the amendment process, and begin closing statements on the $5.1 billion budget.
Friday marks the 130th legislative day. The session was supposed to end April 19, but lawmakers were called back in by the governor and then by themselves to pass a fully funded budget.
Furlough notices will be in the mailboxes of 16,800 state workers by Monday, alerting them of potential layoffs effective June 30. Those letters would be rescinded if the Legislature can pass a budget before that time.
Even if the House passes a budget Friday, it will have to be reviewed by the Senate before Gov. Bill Walker has the chance to sign it.
1:50 P.M. THURSDAY UPDATE: Anchorage police say alcohol and speed are “suspected contributing factors” in Wednesday night’s head-on collision which left one man dead in Eagle River, with three other people also injured.
APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad identified the deceased as 22-year-old Yong Lor, a passenger in a car which crossed the Old Glenn Highway’s center line near its intersection with Monastery Drive shortly before 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. A second 22-year-old man -- the car’s driver, Xeng Yang -- remains hospitalized Thursday.
“A 2003 white Subaru Legacy, driven by (Yang), was traveling northbound on the Old Glenn Highway when it crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a 2012 blue Toyota Rav4 which was traveling southbound,” Oistad wrote in a Thursday statement on the collision. “The Subaru burst into flames.”
Yang was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center, where staff listed him in fair condition Thursday afternoon. Both of the Rav4’s occupants, who had been wearing their seat belts, reported only minor injuries in connection with the belts and the SUV’s deployed airbags.
“Due to the damage done to the Subaru, it was not readily apparent whether or not either Yang or Lor were wearing their seat belts,” Oistad wrote. “That is a question that will hopefully be answered during the vehicle examination. Alcohol and speed are suspected contributing factors to the crash.”
Oistad said Thursday afternoon that there wasn’t word from investigators on why speed and alcohol were suspected in the crash, or how fast the vehicles involved were traveling at the time of impact. The Toyota’s occupants haven’t yet been publicly identified.
Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department Chief Virginia McMichael said a total of three ambulances, one heavy rescue unit and an engine responded within minutes to the crash, which occurred during a gathering of firefighters at a nearby station.
“We were having a business meeting that night, and everybody was there,” McMichael said.
Crews arrived to discover part of the Legacy ablaze. McMichael said the car’s wreck was barely recognizable.
“Basically, the (Legacy) was almost ripped in half -- basically the rear half of the vehicle was on fire,” McMichael said. “It was on fire and the grass around it was on fire.”
Volunteers were able to extinguish the fire as medics loaded Yang for transport, with the ambulance involved spending just four minutes at the scene.
According to Oistad, the highway was closed until almost 1 a.m. Thursday as investigators examined the crash site. She urged motorists to wear their seat belts Thursday, both as a requirement of state law and as a measure that saves lives.
McMichael called Wednesday’s crash one of the worst collisions she’s seen as a firefighter.
“As long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen that extent of damage on a road that you can’t go that fast on,” McMichael said.
A crash Wednesday evening in Eagle River left one person dead and sent another to the hospital.
At about 8 p.m., two vehicles crashed at Old Glenn Highway and Monastery Drive.
Anchorage Police say a vehicle traveling northbound lost control and collided with a car traveling southbound. Investigators say one male victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
"Both vehicles were occupied two times, one occupant was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries," said APD Sgt. Danielle Hrovat.
Two other occupants in the vehicle refused treatment according to Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department Chief Clifton Dalton.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
ANCHORAGE -- A 39-year-old man who was shot multiple times May 11 in Muldoon has died at a local hospital, police say. His death marks the 16th Anchorage homicide of the year in the highest annual body count in the city since at least 2010.
David French was being treated for gunshot wounds suffered more than two weeks ago during a fight outside a trailer home at the Rangeview trailer court, according to Anchorage police.
French died today from his injuries. “He never left the hospital," said police spokeswoman Renee Oistad.
One person was arrested at the time of the shooting because he or she was wanted on a warrant unrelated to the gunfire, Oistad said. No one has been arrested in connection to the killing.
Police have said French was struck in the chest and thigh. Oistad would not reveal additional details in the case citing the ongoing investigation.
Anchorage police saw a spike in homicides to begin with year with six people killed in six weeks. Mayoral candidates made city violence a cornerstone of the recent election, with frontrunners vowing to hire more police despite a statewide public spending crunch brought about by crashing oil prices.
While the murders slowed in the spring, May has been another deadly month. A man was stabbed May 4, followed by a domestic violence murder-suicide that left a mother and two small children dead May 13 and a shooting death May 25th.
With more than half of the calendar year remaining, more people have been killed in 2015 in Alaska's largest city than in any of the previous five years, according to annual reports.
ANCHORAGE HOMICIDES PER YEAR
-- 2010: 13
-- 2011: 12
-- 2012: 15
-- 2013: 14
-- 2014: 12
-- 2015: 16 as of May 28
(SOURCE: Anchorage Police Department and the city annual crime report. Oistad said homicide totals for years prior to 2010 were not immediately available.)
vid-UPDATE Man critically injured in East Anchorage shooting
EAGLE RIVER -- When Louie Amundson of Eagle River had a conversation with his daughter about bullying, she asked if he had ever bullied anyone.
After a moment of thought, the father admitted he had years ago when he was in junior high school.
The conversation left Amundson feeling like he owed his former classmate, ChadMichael Morrisette, an apology.
While Morrisette left Alaska long ago, Amundson found him on Facebook.
This week, Morrisette returned to Alaska for the first time since he left at age 15 and met with Amundson in person.
Watch the video for the full story...
BETHEL -- Police are asking for the public’s help identifying and locating a person of interest in the homicide of Eunice Whitman. Whitman was found stabbed to death early Sunday morning along a boardwalk in a Bethel park.
Police Thursday released a video from the Bethel AC Quick Stop store. Police have already arrested the primary suspect, but Lieutenant Joe Corbett says they’re trying to identify another male who appears with him in the video taken around the time of the murder.
“The man with the gray sweatshirt over his head, we have not been able to identify yet,” said Corbett.
The video shows two men walking down a hallway at the AC Quick Stop store apartments early Sunday morning. Whitman’s boyfriend Justine Paul, walks ahead while the person of interest trails behind in a gray hooded sweatshirt. Paul, the primary suspect, was taken into custody and arraigned on first-degree murder charges Tuesday. But police say they want to talk with the other man in the video.
“We know that he was there right around the time of the homicide or at least the time of the report. He was with our primary suspect, so his role in it is unclear us and that’s why we want to talk with him and figure out how he was involved,” said Corbett.
Bethel Police are asking anyone with information about the man in the images to contact Investigative Sergeant Amy Davis at the Bethel Police Department.
This story has been reprinted with permission from the original at KYUK Public Media.
A bear-motorcycle collision on the Glacier Highway in Juneau ultimately left one man injured and three bears dead Thursday morning, after officials decided to kill two cubs of a sow that died in the crash.
Juneau Police Department Sgt. Chris Gifford said in a Thursday statement that the 58-year-old motorcyclist called police at 8:20 a.m. from Mile 32 of the highway, near the road’s end beyond Auke Bay and the state ferry terminal.
“JPD and Capital City Fire and Rescue responded and found the caller, who had been injured after a bear ran in front of his 2000 BMW motorcycle while he traveled on the highway,” Gifford wrote. “The bear, a sow, was killed in the collision.”
Medics took the man to Bartlett Regional Hospital, as state authorities went to the crash due to the bear’s involvement.
“Employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska State Troopers were notified and responded,” Gifford wrote. “Two young cubs were located in the immediate area and were euthanized.”
Gifford said the motorcyclist’s injuries in the crash were relatively severe. He declined to identify the driver Thursday, noting that no criminal charges or citations were issued in the crash.
“They were fairly serious injuries, but not life-threatening,” Gifford said. “I think it’s a good thing that he was wearing his helmet.”
There wasn’t any word from JPD Thursday on who made the decision to kill the cubs, or why they did so.
“They appeared to be black bears,” Gifford said. “That decision was not made by the Juneau Police Department.”
Gifford said the crash closed the highway for about half an hour Thursday morning, but added that traffic disruptions were likely minimal. The motorcycle sustained an estimated $5,000 in damage during the crash.
Stephanie Sell, an area management biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, told the Associated Press Thursday afternoon that the agency responded to a call to pick up a dead bear but realized the sow had been lactating. She said two young cubs were found in a tree nearby.
She said no placement was available for them, and they would have suffered if they had been left on their own.