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Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly this week moved ahead with two resolutions intended to give Valley residents a say in local and state marijuana regulation.

The Valley is already home to a thriving underground marijuana industry, residents here told officials at a crowded meeting last week, and needs to chart a course for legitimacy.

The borough Assembly on Tuesday night approved the formation of a 17-member Marijuana Advisory Committee, with members to include a marijuana grower and a non-marijuana farmer as well as representatives from the fields of health, education, government, marketing and the borough’s three cities, as well as three people who live outside city limits...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Saying it's not to blame for the failure of Cook Inlet passenger ferry service, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough hopes to repay just a fraction of the $12.3 million in grants spent on the ill-fated M/V Susitna, according to a letter sent last week to the Federal Transit Administration.

The Transit Administration in August demanded repayment of the federal money spent on the ferry, designs for landings at Anchorage and Port MacKenzie, and a terminal. Borough officials were on the hook, the agency said, because the ferry never started making the 2-mile run across the inlet, so the public money was spent without public benefit...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Authorities say they still don’t know what caused a massive fire Tuesday that destroyed a two-level commercial building in Wasilla that also contained two apartments.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough fire departments from Houston to Palmer, as well as firefighters from Chugiak, spent 15 hours fighting the stubborn blaze in the metal structure that was originally built in 1970, according to Mat-Su fire Chief James Steele.

The building, which was destroyed, was located between Wasilla-Fishhook Road and Nelson Avenue, near downtown Wasilla. The fire, reported just before 5 a.m., lit the pre-dawn skyline with an eerie glow and sent a plume of smoke over the city Tuesday...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A former federal agriculture official and Valley Dairy Inc. co-owner was sentenced this week to 30 days in prison, $2,200 in fines and three years of supervised release for making false statements to cover up a dairy partner’s fraud.

Karen Olson, a 68-year-old Wasilla-area resident and once-influential Valley farm advocate, was also sentenced to 250 hours of community service during a Tuesday hearing in Anchorage before U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A stubborn, long-burning fire destroyed a commercial building just outside downtown Wasilla Tuesday despite a massive response from Matanuska-Susitna Borough firefighters, authorities say.

No one was hurt in the fire, though a family of four was displaced, along with an electrical parts business and a nonprofit that helps veterans and military families in need. Authorities said Tuesday they don't know what caused the blaze...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A stubborn fire burning for hours Tuesday morning in a commercial building just outside downtown Wasilla drew a massive response from Matanuska-Susitna Borough firefighters but caused no injuries, authorities say.

The fire was reported just before 5 a.m. in a two-story building off Wasilla-Fishhook Road near Nelson Avenue that contains Crescent Electric Supply Company and a thrift store, according to Mat-Su emergency services director Dennis Brodigan. Two adults and two children escaped an upper-floor apartment and were getting help from American Red Cross of Alaska.

The building also housed the offices for Hope for Heroes Inc., a nonprofit that helps military families and veterans in need...

Zaz Hollander,Megan Edge

PALMER -- An easygoing, old-fashioned pace is part of the charm of this city forged from a 1930s New Deal farm colony.

But short staffing slowed the pace of Palmer’s post office to the point that fuming locals were forced to wait in seemingly unmoving lines for a half-hour or more -- sometimes much more.

The mailing public of Palmer then proceeded to get the attention of a state legislator and U.S. senator...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Tracking with the Valley’s farm roots and small business spirit, entrepreneurial drive and agriculture dominated a crowded marijuana forum in Palmer on Thursday night.

At least 150 people turned out for the packed but civil work session hosted by the four mayors in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The officials told the crowd they wanted feedback as they craft local strategies from taxes to business regulations and work with legislators on statewide policy.

Many in attendance urged them to let legitimate pot businesses thrive in a fair taxation atmosphere that replaces the borough's humming black market.

The Valley is already world-renowned for its marijuana, one audience member noted. Another tossed out some big albeit unsourced numbers...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The emotional trial of a Wasilla father accused of killing his 15-month-old daughter in 2008 got underway in Palmer Superior Court this week.

Prosecutors say Clayton Allison abused the girl, critically damaging her brain. He told authorities she fell down the stairs the day she died.

But supporters, including the girl’s mother, believe Allison deserves to go free.

Christiane “CJ” Allison sat in the courthouse gallery Thursday with nearly a dozen relatives and friends fighting to clear the murder charges against her husband...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska Valley is Alaska’s source of a notorious marijuana strain known in polite circles as Matanuska Tundra -- the more common name starts with “Thunder” and ends with an F-bomb.

But despite the statewide success of a ballot measure that made Alaska one of four states to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, Valley voters in November at best were evenly divided and may have narrowly rejected the initiative, according to a district-by-district analysis by the borough’s attorney.

Now, as state legislators and other policymakers start working on how to regulate the nascent industry, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough joins communities throughout Alaska trying to get out ahead of legalization with a public forum in Palmer on Thursday night...

Zaz Hollander