Naomi Klouda

Sitka’s surplus water may help Cape Town crisis

Sitka’s water source at Blue Lake is said to be so pure it doesn’t need to be filtered.

And now, if logistics pan out, thousands of tons of it will be loaded on a ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa, before the city of 3.7 million people runs out of water.

Cape Town’s drought, coupled with population growth, is sparking one of the world’s worst urban water crises as South African leaders warn reservoirs are running so low they will have to turn off the taps.

House passes supplemental budget to cover some of Medicaid shortfall

The State of Alaska pays $12.5 million per week for its share of Medicaid expenses.

But in order for the Department of Health and Social Services to continue processing medical assistance payments through May 14, the department will require an estimated immediate $40 million in funds.

Tax bill leads to rebates, $50M investment for Premera

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska announced March 12 that the company will make a $50 million investments over five years in Alaska thanks to the tax reform bill passed by Congress in December.

The money will be spent to shore up the individual insurance market, improve access to care in rural areas and support local communities in their efforts to address behavioral health, Premera announced.

Another vacancy arises on Marijuana Control Board

The Marijuana Control Board needs yet another member for its public safety seat after Travis Welch resigned from the board before facing confirmation after losing his position as police chief of the North Slope Borough.

The process next is an online call for applicants and a look-back at past applicants who have sought to fill the five-member board’s public safety seat. State law requires the person be employed in that sector, which could be a firefighter, paramedic, village public safety officer or police officer.

Alaskans serve as test market for Premera Pulse platform

A new platform devised by Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield opens opportunities not only for the insured, but to help crack the conundrum of high medical costs.

Alaskans enrolled in the individual and employer-sponsored insurance market with Premera can tap into an app that makes it easier to track their health care. Results will feed into a year-long pilot program before Premera opens the service to its Washington state customers.

GCI closes ‘17 with quarterly profit, but loses $25M for year

After a year of reporting losses, General Communications Inc. posted a fourth quarter profit of $48 million in the final stretch of 2017, a factor the telecom attributes in large part to tax reform just as it finalizes its acquisition by Colorado-based Liberty Interactive Group.

GCI took in $236 million in consolidated revenue in its fourth quarter and $919 million in revenue for the year. Despite net income of $48 million for the quarter, the company still reported a net loss of $25 million for the year.

Duluth, Dave and Buster’s cushion recent Anchorage job losses

Ax throwing and log sawing contests vied for crowd approval outside but it was probably the flannel shirts or underwear inside that stole the show when Duluth Trading Co. staged its grand opening March 1.

Duluth took over the 24,500-square feet former home of Sports Authority at 8931 Old Seward Highway, which closed in 2016. After an investment of $800,000 in renovations performed by local contractors H. Watt &Scott Inc., it took about a month to set up the store and hire 50 individuals, said manager Erik Hansen.

UA president delivers grim look after years of cuts

The University of Alaska president painted a distressing picture of what’s occurring in the university system after enduring $145 million in cumulative state funding cuts over the past four years.

UA President Jim Johnsen outlined his concerns during his annual “State of the University” speech Feb. 20 to Commonwealth North at the Cuddy Center on the UAA campus. The system has 1,183 fewer employees and 50 fewer programs than three years ago, he said.

‪Launch Alaska selects four energy startups for 2018 program

Four energy companies were selected in a competitive process to participate in Launch Alaska’s 2018 business accelerator in Anchorage.

They will complete an intensive four-month program beginning March 26 at the downtown Boardroom, a shared working space for innovators. In the program, they receive mentorship, business training, business services, and $75,000 in exchange for equity in their companies.

The 2018 group is BoxPower, Carter Wind, Correlate and Omega Grid.

Startup community brainstorms to save nonprofit farm

Managers of an Anchorage hydroponic farm at risk of shutting down in March made an unusual move to save their operation.

Seeds of Change, located off Arctic Boulevard and 26th Avenue, occupies a 10,000-square-foot warehouse designed for the purpose of high-tech agriculture growing. During its first year of operation, it served 18 youth employees through a program for at-risk youth at the Anchorage Community Mental Health Service, or ACMHS.

State gets more than expected for reinsurance program

The first disbursement from the federal government to help cover Alaska’s high-cost individual insurance market pool was announced Feb. 9 at $58.5 million for 2018, an amount higher than projected.

The funds come after the State of Alaska was approved for what’s known as an “innovation waiver” under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act that will allow it to continue the Alaska Reinsurance Program, or ARP, created by the Alaska Legislature in 2016.

Senate considers changes to education tax credit

A Senate bill is on the move to save a popular education tax credit for businesses that donate money to Alaska universities and schools from expiring later this year, though it may require some fixes to ensure the program is functioning as intended.

As the state looks for means to plug the budget chasm, the education tax credit has been identified as foregone revenue. Between 2015 and 2017, the Alaska Department of Revenue calculates $20.5 million was given in tax credits to corporations.

House to vote on bill to increase max unemployment benefits

Alaska’s unemployment benefits would rise for the first time since 2009 to provide up to half of average lost wages under a bill heading for a House floor vote on Feb. 16.

The current maximum weekly benefit amount of $370 only replaces 36 percent of the state’s average wage according to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who introduced House Bill 142. That’s about a third of the state’s average weekly gross wage amount of around $1,020 with fulltime employment.

House passes education budget bill with just $118M in funds

Alaska House of Representative leaders on Feb. 13 claimed credit for getting an education funding bill passed and over to the Senate within three weeks of the session starting, but the funding source and the size of the budget are now up to the Senate.

After removing $1.2 billion in funding from House Bill 287 that was to come from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, the bill as transmitted to the Senate includes only about $118 million for Alaska’s 54 school districts.

House education budget bill passes without appropriation

Editor's note: This article and headline have been updated to reflect the bill transmitted by the House to the Senate includes about $118 million in funding for education compared to the initial version of the bill which would have provided $1.3 billion.

Northrim attorney calls size of request for Rogoff loan docs ‘ridiculous’

Extracting communications related to former Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff’s $13 million loan from Northrim Bank will take upward of 1,600 hours, the bank’s attorney complained to the judge in the latest bankruptcy hearing Feb. 5.

At issue are Northrim loan documents that involved bank committee meetings and voluminous communications after Rogoff borrowed $13 million to help pay for the Anchorage Daily News.

Board seeks change to pot tax; Drummond bill would clear records

The Alaska House Finance Committee heard testimony Feb. 6 on the Marijuana Control Board’s role regulating the industry and an appeal to change the current tax structure of $50 per ounce.

The Finance Committee was hearing about at House Bill 273, sponsored by Rep. Sam Kito D-Juneau, a measure that extends the life of the Marijuana Control Board beyond the June 2018 sunset.

Onerous health insurance taxes put off by Jan. 22 spending bill

The immigration stalemate that temporarily caused a government shutdown over a late January weekend was ended with a three-week funding bill that included a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and postponed instituting two problematic health insurance taxes.

CHIP, referred to as the Denali Kid Care program in Alaska, covers 9 million American children including 17,700 Alaskans. The extension is the longest one granted to the program, which had its funding expire last September, since CHIP was created in 1997.

Board hears concerns about crimes targeting cannabis industry

An uptick in burglaries targeting marijuana businesses has officials concerned, but no one seems to be tracking thefts and break-ins at Alaska’s cannabis businesses to get an idea on how safely the cash-only industry is faring.

According to James Hoelscher, the chief enforcement officer at the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, or AMCO, the number of theft-related hits targeting these businesses is on the rise.

Marijuana board carries on with new member after federal shift

The Marijuana Control Board approved more than 22 new business licenses at its Jan. 24-26 meeting in Juneau, and continued to wade through public safety and new federal scrutiny on the state’s legal marijuana commerce.

The board also voted in a new chair after former chair and Soldotna Chief of Police Peter Mlynarik resigned Jan. 4.

Former Vice Chair Mark Springer of Bethel, who has the seat designated for rural Alaska, was voted unanimously as the new chairman, while Brandon Emmett, who holds one of two industry seats, was named vice chair.


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