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Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The national average gasoline price has dropped to $2.66 per gallon for regular, and gas prices are dropping in Alaska as well, though not as quickly.

The national average price for a gallon is down by 75 cents since mid-September, according to AAA, while the drop in Anchorage has been closer to 43 cents.

AAA predicts that national gas prices are likely to dip to $2.50 before Christmas, but Alaska prices remain above $3, with the exception of one gas station in Chugiak that posted a $2.99 price Tuesday.

As what appears to be the first Alaska station to crack the $3 barrier, Alice Mae's Shoppers Cache and Laundry Center in Chugiak is following its usual practice, said one of the owners, Vern Foster...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Mike Hopper and his friend Erik Peterson had made the journey before, skiing up a valley about 2.5 miles east of the Richardson Highway in the Alaska Range.

Hopper, 63, and Peterson, 35, both experienced backcountry travelers, ran into trouble Saturday, the first time this winter they had been out in the mountains 60 miles south of Delta Junction.

Looking back on it now, Hopper said Monday with a sigh, the two men -- who had both taken avalanche training courses -- missed a key warning sign about the avalanche danger.

Had they fully realized the hazardous nature of the slopes that day, Peterson might still be alive...

Dermot Cole

The trans-Alaska pipeline owners want to cut the roofs off four massive empty oil storage tanks in Valdez -- in part to eliminate the need to shovel snow from the tank tops.

If approved by state regulators, the oil companies would no longer have to dispatch crews in winter with shovels and snow scoops.

Snow, which falls in Valdez at an average rate of about 330 inches a year, would pile up at the bottom of the unused tanks and melt of its own accord.

The four tanks in question have not been used for years because with the steady decline in production over the last quarter-century, the 14 other tanks provide more than enough storage capacity, the oil companies say...

Dermot Cole

As the administration of new Alaska Gov. Bill Walker begins to scrub the numbers in the state budget, an analysis released Monday suggests big holes in the economic assumptions justifying the proposed 735-foot-high Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. But the agency leading the charge on the project stood by its price estimate as the "most probable cost."

“The Susitna hydro project does not survive any plausible market test,” writes longtime Alaska economist Gregg Erickson in a report commissioned by the Alaska chapter of Trout Unlimited, opponents of the Susitna plan...

Dermot Cole

The Department of Revenue predicts that oil prices could be $65 per barrel for the rest of the fiscal year, down by more than $45 from the market price for Alaska oil five months ago.

The final three months of the Parnell administration coincided with a dizzying collapse in world oil prices, creating a monumental financial challenge for the Walker administration, which inherited a budget deficit that could total $3.5 billion this fiscal year...

Dermot Cole

Of all the things that Gov. Bill Walker might say about the state of Alaska’s finances, I’ll bet that he won’t say “All bets are off.”

Not that he couldn’t find a reason to quote the memorable 1986 words of Gov. Steve Cowper, uttered at a news conference three weeks after Cowper became governor.

“There was a lot bigger deficit than we had reason to believe before we got there,” Cowper said from Texas in a phone interview about his offhand comment about campaign promises. “There wasn’t enough money for me to keep every promise. Of course everybody screamed and yelled and said I was a thief and a liar, but that’s the way things are.”...

Dermot Cole

The August rocket failure at the Kodiak Launch Complex triggered damages to the facility now estimated at $26 million to $29 million, said Craig Campbell, president of the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp.

“We are working with our engineer, state risk management and the insurance adjusters to refine what is covered by the insurance. It does appear that most of the damage we have identified will be covered by our insurance,” he wrote in an email this week...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The biggest change in the semi-legal status of marijuana in Alaska in 40 years goes into effect in less than three months.

Lighting up in public will remain illegal and subject to a fine of up to $100, but as of Feb. 24, it will be OK under state law for adults to possess or transport an ounce of marijuana and to consume marijuana in private.

“What the law is very clear about is no consuming in public. That’s going to be against the law. We don’t know yet what ‘public’ is going to be,” Fairbanks North Star Borough Assistant Attorney Wendy Doxey told elected officials and the public in an overview of the new law this week...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The Fairbanks school district has agreed to pay $920,000 to settle a civil case stemming from allegations a former Hutchison High School tutor sexually abused a 15-year-old boy.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board announced the settlement Tuesday, saying it would have to pay $250,000 while the balance would be covered by insurance.

Claude Fowlkes III remains jailed while awaiting trial on criminal charges filed in March. The charges deal with alleged sexual abuse of a minor during the first three months of this year. Additional charges filed in June dealt with incidents from 2010...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- The election is finished, but the debate over legalized marijuana remains as contentious as ever.

About 20 local elected officials from the three governments in the Fairbanks area spent Tuesday night hearing arguments for and against allowing commercial marijuana establishments.

No legislators attended the session, an absence noted by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins.

“I don’t think any of us are sure what the state Legislature is going to do, how they’re going to move into this,” Hopkins said.

He said he plans to present a zoning ordinance to the borough assembly to address how marijuana establishments might be regulated on the local level, where they would be allowed and what standards would be set...

Dermot Cole