Zaz Hollander

PALMER --The ferry Susitna isn’t done with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough yet. The Mat-Su Assembly learned this week that repairs to the water-damaged engines of the borough’s beleaguered, never-used passenger vessel could cost nearly three times more than expected -- $3 million instead of $1.1 million. Borough Manager John Moosey gave the Assembly the bad news during a special meeting Wednesday. The 195-foot Susitna was supposed to carry passengers and cars across Knik Arm, but failures to get funding for landings left the ferry at a dock near Ketchikan, where it was built. It’s cost the borough more than $2 million since 2011. Borough officials say they're continuing to negotiate with the federal government on its demand that the borough return $12.3 million in grant funds spent on the...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- Arthur Keyes, a Palmer vegetable and strawberry grower who founded a popular Anchorage farmers market, is the new director of the Alaska Division of Agriculture. Gov. Bill Walker last fall ousted then-director Franci Havemeister, an appointee of former Gov. Sarah Palin. Walker at the time said he sought someone with a more aggressive vision to market Alaska-grown produce. Havemeister married into one of the last dairying families in the Matanuska Valley but had little personal farming experience. Walker announced his choice with a video posted Wednesday night on his official Facebook page. The governor can be heard praising Keyes for teaching him more about carrots than “I ever knew in my entire life” -- Alaska’s are apparently seven or eight times sweeter than California’s --...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- The teenage boy killed by a vehicle on a Meadow Lakes road Monday afternoon died after he pushed a friend out of the way, his stepfather says. Austin Edenfield, 15, died within about 100 yards of his family's home, his stepfather Ed Blocker said Tuesday. He and at least one other teenager were walking back from a trip to the bank near the Three Bears store. The teens were on the shoulder of North Pittman Road when the collision happened around 3 p.m., said Alaska State Troopers. Edenfield’s mother was home at the time, Blocker said. She ran out of the house, but her son was already dead. “The paramedics pretty much said it was instantaneous,” he said. Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said Tuesday morning the driver whose vehicle hit Edenfield, 28-year-old Willow resident...Chris Klint,Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- The owners of contentious gravel pits in Meadow Lakes and Trapper Creek both failed this week to get permits for large-scale extraction. Matanuska-Susitna Borough gravel is the source of much of the rock used in Anchorage and Southcentral construction. Extraction of gravel -- deposited generously across swaths of the Valley area by glaciers -- isn’t taxed or heavily regulated here. But Tuesday night, the borough assembly rejected a proposal from B&E Construction, a company with a checkered past at its Meadow Lakes pit, which hoped to remove more than 500,000 cubic yards of material over 18 years from nearly 30 acres on North Pittman Road. In a separate decision, the assembly also denied a bid by Trapper Creek Gravel to extract up to 1 million cubic yards of material over 10...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- Friends are reacting with stunned grief to the Monday morning killings of 40-year-old Renee Millard and her 10-year-old son Dean at their Meadow Lakes home. Alaska State Troopers responding to a report of gunfire in the quiet neighborhood where the family lives discovered the bodies. A juvenile inside the house placed the 911 call that alerted them, troopers say. Several troopers cars temporarily blocked access to the neighborhood Monday morning as they appeared to search for a shooter. A troopers helicopter swooped low overhead near the house. But the intensity of the search diminished within an hour or so. Troopers on Tuesday said they took a minor into custody on charges related to the deaths. The Division of Juvenile Justice is handling the case. A spokesperson for the...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- A new methadone clinic is opening here this spring, nearly a year after the city’s only clinic closed despite deepening concern about the Valley’s lack of drug treatment options. Along with the new clinic, run by an Arizona-based company called Community Medical Services, Wasilla is also getting a new counseling center with a substance-abuse component expected to open this week. Wasilla’s planning commission approved permits for the methadone program and the other facility, operated by Anchorage-based Wisdom Traditions Counseling Services LLC, at a largely favorable public hearing in January. The addition of two outpatient drug treatment options -- especially a methadone clinic -- represents a significant addition to the scant options for drug treatment in the Matanuska-Susitna...Zaz Hollander
MEADOW LAKES -- Alaska State Troopers say they found two people dead at a home near Wasilla after gunshots were reported around 8:30 a.m. Monday. Troopers released little additional information Monday about the victims or circumstances surrounding the shooting, saying only it remained under investigation. Reports of the two deaths rattled residents of North Autumn Lane, a quiet, forested subdivision with numerous horse farms and views to the Talkeetna Mountains. The home where the shooting occurred is a neat, light brown two-story house where woodsmoke could be seen wafting from a chimney Monday morning. The first hours after the incident were marked by heavy trooper presence of a half-dozen marked vehicles and a perimeter to keep media and neighbors away from the property where the...Zaz Hollander
MATANUSKA EXPERIMENT FARM -- The state’s only comprehensive soil sampling lab open to the public is closing due to system-wide budget cuts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The university’s Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Soil and Plant Analysis Laboratory processes thousands of samples a year for home gardeners and farmers trying to home in on that delicate balance of soil nutrients and pH necessary to grow the best food. The lab also tests the nutrient content of forage materials. Once thriving, the lab is now down to one full-time scientist: Melissa Dick. Her last day is expected to be in February or March . The lab is still running tests but stopped taking new samples as of last week. “I hate having to direct people out of state,” Dick said Monday as she processed...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- Growing marijuana commercially or selling it in stores is now illegal in Wasilla despite fears that banning legitimate operations will fuel the city’s already thriving black market . The city council ended a marathon meeting Monday night with a unanimous vote in favor of an ordinance banning retail marijuana operations within city limits, including retail stores and commercial-scale grows. It also clarifies a prohibition on public consumption, saying cannabis can be consumed only on residential private property. Alaska voters in November 2014 approved Ballot Measure 2, legalizing recreational marijuana in the state. Licenses allowing for the sale of cannabis products to adults are expected to be issued beginning in May. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is Alaska’s reputed cannabis...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- A sudden spate of dogs caught in traps in the Valley is galvanizing a push to ban snares and traps around schools and some trails as the frontier pursuit bumps up against population growth. Kyle Drasky was one of five people to report dog encounters with snares or traps in December, according to Alaska Safe Trails, a group pushing for more restrictions in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Drasky figured he had seconds to get to Coco, his family’s young sled dog mix, before the snare around her neck killed her as his young daughters looked on. “They were hysterical. They were screaming and crying,” he said. “I was just thinking the whole time: 'Please do not let my dog die in front of my kids.' It was, like, a week before Christmas.” 'Go out in the woods' Drasky’s 6- and 8-year-...Zaz Hollander