Dermot Cole

On July 4, 1915, no buildings could be found amid the birch and aspen trees covering the home of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

The college had no class schedule, no students, no employees and no budget. The one thing it had, however, as of that day, was a 24-cubic-foot cornerstone.

This was no chicken-or-egg situation. The cornerstone came first, at a time when the college didn’t exist, even on paper.

But it already lived in the imagination of James Wickersham, the Alaska delegate to Congress who dedicated a 3,600-pound cornerstone that day to give substance to his college dream...

Dermot Cole

No one has kept an exact count, but the state has invested about $1 billion in recent years to promote oil and gas development in Cook Inlet through tax breaks and direct cash payments to companies.

The result, supporters say, is a record of investment and development that has transformed the energy industry in Southcentral Alaska. As Anchorage Republican Sens. Anna MacKinnon and Cathy Giessel wrote in a recent opinion column , “in just the last three years, Cook Inlet tax credits have taken us from brown-out drills in Anchorage to affordable energy for another decade.”...

Dermot Cole

In 1910, the head of the computing division of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey offered a detailed set of careful calculations about the height of the biggest mountain in North America, three years before anyone set foot on the summit.

“It is believed that the value (20,300 feet) for the elevation of Mount McKinley is correct within 150 feet,” William Bowie wrote in a government report.

We’ll soon have a good idea of just how close the early surveyors came to the mark when they took the measure of Denali from afar...

Dermot Cole

At the fire retardant supply depot on the east end of the Fort Wainwright runway, the pilot of an Erickson Aero Tanker plane received the coordinates for a new blaze requiring a 4,000-gallon bath on a hot and smoky afternoon.

“Tanker one-zero-one, you’ll be rolling west of Fairbanks,” the dispatch center said, and the twin-engine MD-87 jet was soon roaring toward its next target.

In a nearby one-story office the other day, Rick Thompson monitored radio traffic and air traffic, governing a bombing campaign aimed at the flaming forests of Interior Alaska...

Dermot Cole

We think of fire in black spruce as an unwanted intruder spreading noxious smoke and destruction, but we’d be better off treating fire as a natural part of the landscape in most of Alaska.

This is of little consolation to those who have lost their homes or had their lives disrupted, but fires every 50 to 150 years are no accident, regardless of how they are ignited. Fires are like mosquitoes on the tundra or ice-jam floods on the Yukon. They can’t be stopped...

Dermot Cole

Robin Barker, a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Bethel, struggled with chronic illnesses for years that kept her from working. Her only option for health insurance cost nearly $800 a month for a policy that came with a $15,000 deductible. Prescriptions alone set her back $12,000 a year.

“Money was just pouring out of our retirement savings,” she said.

For her, the world changed after Congress approved the Affordable Care Act five years ago. She qualified for a federal subsidy and a policy that cost her $42 a month. “I just sat down and cried when I realized what it was going to be. It was such a relief,” she said. “The subsidy saved our lives. I don’t know what we would have done without it.”...

Dermot Cole

Prisoners who now make local phone calls for free will have to start paying $1 for each local call under a plan approved Friday by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

The commission waived a regulation that normally puts a 25-cent limit on local calls. It approved the rate plan offered by Securus , a private company that operates in 46 states. It has an exclusive contract with the Department of Corrections in Alaska to serve 14 jails...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Gloria Steinem, a founder of Ms. Magazine and a leader of the feminist movement, visited Fairbanks on Friday because a local Assembly member wanted the magazine banned from the shelves of a local food co-op a year ago...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Existing customers of Fairbanks Natural Gas can expect a rate decline of about 13 percent this fall following a unanimous decision Thursday by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to buy the utility and its parent company, Pentex Alaska Natural Gas , for $52.5 million...

Dermot Cole

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said it won't set a standard for sulflolane pollution outside the former Flint Hills Refinery yet because long-term toxicology studies won't be complete for about two years.

During that period the company will continue to be required to provide drinking water to about 1,500 people who live near the refinery. The company will also be required to continue monitoring the underground sulfolane plume, which has slowly moved to the north and northwest.

Sulfolane has been detected in more than 350 wells and the levels are increasing in some areas. Flint Hills has argued that the Williams Co., which owned the refinery until 2004, is responsible for the problem and is involved in a court battle over that matter...

Dermot Cole

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