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Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Forty acres of hayfields that belong to the Alaska State Fair are now preserved for farming in a nod to the agriculture that founded the fair nearly 80 years ago.

The Alaska Farmland Trust Corp. and state fair board on Monday closed on a deal that places a conservation easement on the fair-owned land across South Inner Springer Loop from the Palmer fairgrounds.

The property sits next to the former Hamilton Dairy Farm, operated since the 1950s. Members of the Hamilton family still lease the parcel and grow hay on it. Under the agreement, the fair retains the right to use it for parking, officials say...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Tales of musher harassment in Willow surfaced this week prior to passage of a new Matanuska-Susitna Borough ordinance to regulate sled dogs and kennels.

Stories circulated of trees dropped on trails or dog teams, threatening messages at the post office and dog-spooking rifle shots fired into the air.

Numerous people on Friday said it’s all coming from one person -- a relative newcomer who moved into an area popular with dog teams off West Sharen Drive five or six years ago.

The person has not been charged with anything criminal, according to Alaska State Troopers; because of this, Alaska Dispatch News is not naming him...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has become the first place in Alaska, maybe anywhere, to enact an ordinance just for sled dog mushers.

The borough Assembly on Wednesday night unanimously adopted a new ordinance that adds mushing-friendly provisions to the animal care code, including eased noise restrictions for barking sled dogs, but also requires proper feeding and other care.

The Valley, with its large lots tucked into trees, is home to dozens of professional distance and sprint mushers as well as countless recreational sled dog kennels. Twenty-three of the 73 mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race hail from the Valley, particularly Willow, Knik and Big Lake...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- A Palmer Superior Court jury on Tuesday found the City of Houston was not acting in retaliation when officials fired former police captain Charley McAnally in 2011.

McAnally ​ a few months later filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination against three city officials: Mayor Virgie Thompson, city council member Jim Johansen and treasurer Carolyn Grabowski.

During the two-week trial, McAnally claimed the officials turned against him after he accused Thompson and Grabowski of embezzlement. No criminal charges have ever been filed against the two.

The Houston officials said McAnally’s firing was justified by several job performance problems including challenging a man to a fight while on duty...

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- A fast-moving fire Tuesday morning destroyed a residence off Bogard Road near Wasilla and left a married couple and their two dogs homeless, authorities say.

The fire spread to the frost-killed grass surrounding the home and prompted the state’s Department of Forestry to send out a warning to residents in Southcentral Alaska of high fire danger due to dry conditions and a lack of snow.

“Treat it like it’s spring,” said Norm McDonald, Palmer-based state fire manager.

What sparked the fire, reported just after 7 a.m. at the home on East Pike Avenue, remained unclear Tuesday evening, said Clint Vardeman, Matanuska-Susitna Borough deputy emergency services director...

Zaz Hollander,Tegan Hanlon

WASILLA -- An Anchorage road construction company that bought land north of Willow in 2010 got it for a reduced cost because of the farm-only protections on about 213 acres.

Now the company, Colaska Inc., wants permission from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly to buy the development rights on the land next to the Alaska Railroad just east of the Parks Highway, at a cost the borough estimates at $1.6 million.

The company wants to extract gravel or fill from the land, taking it out of farm production for good, borough officials say...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Hatcher Pass is eerily brown right now.

The bubble of warm air parked over Southcentral Alaska has left the early-winter recreation destination high in the Talkeetna Mountains bare-sloped and brutally lacking in white.

Avid skier and Anchorage attorney Gavin Kentch summed up the situation when “desperate anchorage skier” asked about conditions there on a popular outdoors web forum recently.

"Google 'Hatcher Pass webcam,'" Kentch suggested Wednesday on Alaska Outdoor Reports. “But only if you want to be disappointed, and cry sad tears into your waxbench.”...

Zaz Hollander

In an indictment handed up Thursday by a Palmer grand jury, Benjamin “Ben” Wilson, the 31-year-old Palmer man charged with murder after the death of 28-year-old Leticia Faller in the Butte Sunday night, now also faces charges of kidnapping another man prior to shooting Faller.

Alaska State Troopers say Wilson was initially arrested on charges of first- and second-degree murder for shooting Faller in the head in front of the Green Store along the Old Glenn Highway before 10 p.m. Sunday. She later died of her injuries after being flown to an Anchorage hospital...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is wading back into the process of regulating the wireless towers sprouting throughout the Valley to serve a still-growing population.

A proposed set of rules now circulating would guide tall tower construction around the borough, including in dense neighborhoods where residents sounded alarms when towers began popping up unannounced during a yearlong deregulation several years ago.

The draft “tall towers” ordinance developed this summer and fall by the borough’s planning commission would require communications companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T to meet with neighbors within 1,200 feet of a site before they can even file for a permit...

Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Leticia Faller, the 28-year-old Palmer woman killed by a gunshot wound to the head in Butte Sunday, received threatening messages before the shooting, court documents show.

And on Sunday, Faller gave her sister a letter signing over medical and school responsibilities for her 7-year-old daughter “in the event something has happened to me!” according to a sworn affidavit filed with charging documents at the Palmer courthouse Monday afternoon...

Zaz Hollander