Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- A Black Hawk helicopter unit that returned from Afghanistan late last year is set to begin providing emergency search-and-rescue assistance in Interior Alaska next week.

Fort Wainwright crews from C Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment will assist with emergency medical evacuation and search-and-rescue missions under an agreement with the Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board cut 60.5 jobs and sliced $11 million Wednesday from its spending plan for the next fiscal year, though it opted to include a letter asking the borough Assembly to restore $7 million of the cuts with local property taxes.

"This is a starvation budget," said board member Mike O'Brien. "It cuts things back to where I question their feasibility. The silver lining of this budget, if there is one, is that class sizes were preserved. But we just stabbed the arts, library, music, nursing, behavioral aides. Those are vital parts of children's education."...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- A federal budget rule requiring written justification for certain no-bid contracts topping $20 million has harmed Alaska Native corporations, according to the Alaska congressional delegation.

“It is our concern that the implementation of Section 811 has unnecessarily and negatively impacted Native community-owned contractors,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young said in recent letters to Defense Secretary Ash Carter , signed by 13 other members of Congress.

In 2009, Congress approved a defense bill amendment, known as Section 811, that required a written justification for sole-source contracts more than $20 million under the so-called 8(a) program...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS --Ten legislators have signed onto a bill introduced by House Speaker Mike Chenault despite a warning from legislative attorneys that it is unconstitutional.

Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski, wants to order the federal government to transfer upward of 166 million acres of federal lands to state ownership on or before Jan. 1, 2017, but state attorneys say Alaska legislators don’t have the power to make it so.

“The bill is unconstitutional,” the Division of Legal and Research Services said in a Feb. 13 legal opinion, five days before Chenault introduced House Bill 115...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has joined critics challenging the means by which the Dish Network partnered with a Fairbanks-based regional Native corporation to qualify as a “very small business” and secure billions in bid discounts.

“I am against slick lawyers coming in and taking advantage of a program that was designed for a specific audience and a specific purpose,” Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman, said Wednesday at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on FCC oversight in Washington, D.C...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The state is liquidating about $4 billion of long-term investments in stocks because it may need the money soon and can't afford the risk of a market decline.

The need to draw billions from the Constitutional Budget Reserve over the next few years prompted the move away from stocks, Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck said in a phone interview Thursday.

“If you need the money, you can’t afford to take the risk,” said Hoffbeck.

The state expects to empty the Statutory Budget Reserve, which now contains about $2 billion, and make withdrawals of roughly $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the state budget shortfall in the three remaining months of this fiscal year and the next fiscal year...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Climate change stands to trigger a regime change in Alaska with far-reaching consequences as frozen ground thaws beneath us, a prominent University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist told the Tanana Chiefs Conference on Tuesday.

“Permafrost is the most important part of the ecosystem for engineering in Alaska,” said hydrologist Larry Hinzman. “When you thaw the permafrost everything falls apart.”

Hinzman, the director of the International Arctic Research Center, said Alaska is well on its way to switching from a frozen to a thawed state -- not a seasonal swing, but something more permanent...

Dermot Cole

Alaska's financial dilemma: A 3-part series

Oil taxes and royalties have been the source of about 90 percent of Alaska’s unrestricted general revenues, but with oil prices flagging and production way down, they’re not coming close to matching state spending. Alaska is staring down a $3.5 billion deficit and the state’s long-term prospects are bleak.

One bright spot: Investment income from state savings has shown remarkable resiliency and has overtaken oil-production taxes in their value to the state. But the deficits will require the Legislature to spend down those savings accounts, eliminating any help they could provide. Only one giant savings account is protected by the state Constitution: the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Veteran Alaska Dispatch News reporter Dermot Cole has written extensively about state spending and the Permanent Fund from his base in Fairbanks. Now, in this three-part series, he examines how we got to this point and what we can do to move forward.

Dermot Cole

Last of three parts

One of the most successful investments in the history of the Alaska Permanent Fund grew out of a chance conversation by two men waiting in line at Gate A18 in Boston’s Logan Airport for a flight to Seattle.

A friend introduced Dr. Larry Corey, the president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to David Fallace, a portfolio manager for the Alaska Permanent Fund.

“He was a nice guy. We talked about children and life, and where you’re from,” Corey told a reporter for the website Xconomy about his March 2013 meeting with Fallace. “He said he was interested in cancer and cancer therapy.”...

Dermot Cole

Sporadic power problems at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this winter highlight the urgent need for a new power plant, UA President Pat Gamble told legislators Tuesday.

“We had what I would call a major failure already this winter , where we had to evacuate buildings,” he told the Senate Finance Committee. An expansion joint in an underground utility tunnel overheated in late January, leading to a loss of steam heat on a part of the campus with temperatures near minus 40. “In the process of looking at that, we found these two cracks in the boilers,” he said...

Dermot Cole

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