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Dermot Cole

Turnover at the top of Alaska state agencies is standard practice following the election of a new governor. That's taking place with Gov. Bill Walker, who says he wants at least nine new commissioners out of 14.

In decisions announced before and after he took office Monday, Walker replaced the leaders of administration, commerce, corrections, labor, health, fish and game, law, natural resources and revenue.

The only Parnell-era commissioner he has chosen so far to stay is Gary Folger, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. There may be up to four others, but so far the leaders of environmental conservation, education, military and transportation remain in an "acting" capacity...

Dermot Cole

Two hours after he took office , Alaska Gov. Bill Walker added to his cabinet Monday by appointing two commissioners and a deputy commissioner in three key departments.

Walker chose Valerie Davidson to lead the Department of Health and Social Services and former state legislator Sam Cotten as acting commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. He named Marty Rutherford as deputy commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, a post she also held during the administration of former Gov. Sarah Palin...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Jim Whitaker, chief of staff for Gov.-elect Bill Walker, served three years on the Fairbanks City Council, five years in the state House and six years as mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

And none of it might have happened had the flip of a coin gone the other way.

With Walker set to assume leadership of state government Monday, Whitaker has been busy for the past few weeks with nonstop phone calls, interviews, meetings and the other groundwork of the transition.

He made a quick trip home on the day before Thanksgiving and sat down with a reporter in his home in the hills north of Fairbanks to talk about his years in Alaska and the challenges ahead...

Dermot Cole

Getting a complete grasp on the Alaska National Guard scandal is likely to require the appointment of a special prosecutor, candidate Bill Walker said during his campaign.

Walker, who is to be sworn in Monday as governor, said he’s seen nothing to dissuade him from that view. It's an action that would be unusual in Alaska history, but not unprecedented.

“I’m still inclined to do that,” Walker said in a phone interview Friday. “I’m going to have access to information once I become governor that I don’t have access to now, but my inclination is that still makes sense.”...

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Long before Brent Sass had the words tattooed on his left forearm, he figured that “Attitude is Everything.”

As the Norman Vincent Peale of dog mushing, equally at home with overflow on the Yukon or an overflow crowd in the Pioneer Park civic center, he says that the right attitude is critical even when a good adventure goes bad.

Sass was one of eight speakers in a storytelling session Saturday in Fairbanks. The others addressed topics as varied as driving with wolves on the Steese Highway and finding love and family in Nome...

Dermot Cole

We don’t know if oil prices near $70 or lower are a short-term phenomenon or a sign of things to come. The OPEC nations met Thursday in Vienna to plot strategy, deciding to keep their production quotas the same.

Oil prices dropped sharply again on world markets. As Reuters reported , "The wealthy Gulf states have made clear they are ready to ride out the weak prices that have hurt the likes of Venezuela and Iran -- OPEC members which face big budget pressures, but cannot afford to make cuts themselves."...

Dermot Cole

Fairbanks Natural Gas wants to sell its natural gas plant in Point MacKenzie to Hilcorp and sign a 10-year deal under which it would buy natural gas from Hilcorp for $15 per thousand cubic feet.

The proposed deal is likely to come under review by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska as part of a request by FNG for a rate hike of 6.92 percent.

Currently, FNG sells gas to itself from a company called Titan, a corporate entity it set up last year to run and own the Point MacKenzie plant. Fairbanksan Dan Britton is president of both companies, which are owned by Pentex...

Dermot Cole

Gov.-elect Bill Walker is moving quickly to assemble his cabinet, naming a former head of the U.S. Geological Survey to lead the Department of Natural Resources and a former state oil and gas property assessor to lead the Department of Revenue.

Both have long backgrounds in Alaska and considerable experience in dealing with the Legislature, local governments, and the oil industry and other elements of private enterprise in Alaska.

Mark Myers, now a key figure at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in research, is to be the natural resources commissioner, while Randall Hoffbeck, now on a mission to Kenya, is to lead the Revenue Department...

Dermot Cole,Alex DeMarban

FAIRBANKS -- The winter blast that buried Buffalo this week left residents reaching for shovels and reporters searching out snowfall records.

Parts of Buffalo received 6 to 7 feet over a couple of days, leaving the one-day record intact, the news reports said. They reported the record as 75.8 inches , which piled up during 24 hours in April 1921 in Silver Lake, Colorado.

But what the stories didn’t say is that the one-day record snowfall in Alaska exceeds the Colorado level by 2 inches, which raises a question about whether the Alaska total from a 1963 snowstorm deserves top billing in the weather annals...

Dermot Cole

A sharply critical legislative audit questions whether a backlog of 55 oil and gas tax and credit audits can be completed before the six-year Alaska statute of limitations runs out, potentially putting hundreds of millions in back taxes at risk.

The backlog of audits includes tax returns submitted annually by the big oil companies from 2008 to 2013 under the former tax system known as Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share.

The first ACES audits covered 2007, and while the state completed them within the six-year deadline, “four of five 2007 tax return audits were completed just days before the deadline," the report said...

Dermot Cole

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