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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

PALMER -- A civil jury took less than an hour Friday afternoon to find that the Alaska Department of Corrections was not negligent when a former maximum-security prison inmate was assaulted in 2007.

Richard Mattox blames the state for not letting him move out of a rowdy housing unit before another inmate punched him in the face.

The state does not expect an appeal from the former Spring Creek Correctional Center inmate, corrections department spokeswoman Sherrie Daigle said Monday.

“We believe that the jury coming back in 45 minutes or less lends itself to show that we had a very solid case,” Daigle said...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is seeking candidates to fill the Assembly seat left vacant by Jim Colver, who was elected to the Alaska Legislature.

Colver represented District 6, which includes north Palmer and Wasilla areas such as Hatcher Pass, Wasilla-Fishhook and Schrock roads, and Memory Lake. He was elected as a Republican to serve in the House. A new session gets underway this month in Juneau...

Zaz Hollander

Update, 2:40 p.m., Saturday:

Troopers have identified the driver of the pickup truck as 32-year-old Jacob Philbin of Wasilla.

Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen said the girl was still listed in critical condition at Providence Hospital Saturday morning.

Original story:

A 10-year-old elementary school student was hit by a truck at a bus stop near Knik-Goose Bay Road Friday morning, Alaska State Troopers say.

A LifeMed Alaska helicopter flew the girl to Providence Alaska Medical Center, authorities said. Emergency officials say she suffered a head injury.

She remained hospitalized Friday afternoon, troopers said...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The trial of a former inmate who blames the Alaska Department of Corrections for the face-shattering punch delivered by another prisoner got underway in Palmer this week.

Both sides agree that Richard Mattox was watching the Discovery Channel at Alaska’s only maximum-security prison in July 2007 when another Spring Creek Correctional Center inmate punched him in the face.

The blow broke five bones in his face, according to Mattox’s lawyer. Surgeons needed more than six metal plates and 200 metal screws to repair the damage.

Before the encounter, Mattox testified Tuesday, he was threatened by his African-American roommate -- Mattox is white -- and no longer felt safe in his housing unit...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- A Turkish rental car company is interested enough in buying the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s beleaguered ferry Susitna it shelled out $20,000 to take the vessel for a test run. But that was months ago and there's been no official progress since.

Meanwhile, the borough is under a deadline next Thursday to pay back more than $12 million in federal grants spent on the Susitna.

The borough Assembly on Tuesday night unanimously approved the receipt of the money sent by wire transfer from Intercity Rental Car Corporation “for an exclusive inspection and demonstration sea trial” last fall, according to a borough memo. At the meeting in the Palmer borough building, no one testified at a public hearing before the vote...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A plume of nitrous oxide coming from the smokestacks at the new Matanuska Electric Association power plant at Eklutna generated a low-hanging column of yellow smoke over the area Monday.

The yellow-tinged exhaust had people “understandably concerned” but is temporary and not harmful, Matanuska Electric spokeswoman Julie Estey said in an email. “It is not dangerous and is significantly better for folks than unscrubbed diesel exhaust,” she said.

MEA officials say the smoke could return, off and on, for the next four to six weeks.

The smoke drew a flurry of calls to Alaska Dispatch News and MEA, as well as comments on social media. Some people reported seeing the smoke late last week too...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Spawned by the growth of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, four different transportation providers roll through the region -- more than any other place in Alaska. The Mat-Su's unique status as the only area with four separate transit providers has triggered a state mandate to consolidate or risk losing crucial federal grant money.

Pink Valley Mover buses ferry commuters between the Valley and Anchorage. Mat-Su Community Transit shuttles -- MASCOT for short -- get people from place to place within the crowded core area around Palmer and Wasilla...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Cottonwood Creek is Wasilla’s urban waterway, bisecting the Valley’s largest city.

It burbles past the Alaska Club, the police station, Fairview Loop Road’s horse farms and subdivisions.

Coho and sockeye salmon as well as rainbow trout swim in the creek. People canoe on it. Moose feed in the shallows just off the highway. Near the bustling Fred Meyer, waterfowl frequent an ice-free spot known as the duck pond.

But bacteria -- fecal coliform bacteria -- lurk in those waters, at levels exceeding state standards. The bacteria come not just from human waste but from horses and dogs too.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation knows that because they launched an investigation into the source of the creek’s fecal coliform...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A fire in a Willow sled dog mushing neighborhood Friday destroyed the home of Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race finisher Jaimee High and her husband, Justin.

The good news: The young couple wasn’t hurt and their 24 dogs survived, as did three of their six chickens, Justin High said Friday afternoon.

The bad: The snug 300-square-foot cabin he built the past few years out of pocket wasn’t insured, High said. And they lost everything inside -- wedding photos, tools, and Iditarod memorabilia ranging from bib and finisher’s belt buckle to trinkets from Nome.

“Everything that we’ve put into this place in the last two years since we bought the property, built the house by hand,” he said.

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Zaz Hollander

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