Zaz Hollander

PALMER -- Former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has opened a law office in downtown Palmer, the city he and his wife now call home. Announcements mailed out this week by the Law Offices of Sean Parnell on South Bailey Street describe the practice as specializing in business law, contracts and real estate as well as municipal law and local government issues. Parnell, who opened an Anchorage-based consulting business with his former rural affairs advisor in April, served in both houses of the Alaska Legislature and then as lieutenant governor to former Gov. Sarah Palin. He became governor in 2009 but lost a re-election bid to Gov. Bill Walker last year. Parnell has also served as government relations director for oil company ConocoPhillips. He said in an interview Thursday that he and his...Zaz Hollander
The Alaska Department of Corrections is embarking on a review of the supervised early release of up to 1,200 minimum-security prisoners around Alaska starting next year. The move comes amid tough budget times as the state analyzes which inmates “need to be in hard beds and which could be placed in a responsible manner” in either halfway houses or on electronic ankle monitoring, said Remond Henderson, the state’s deputy corrections commissioner. There are about 5,000 people incarcerated in Alaska right now, Henderson said. The review doesn’t include all minimum-security prisoners; the state is not considering sex offenders, arsonists and other inmates ineligible for supervised release, or those currently enrolled in programs they need to finish. A DOC team will evaluate the 1,200 inmates...Zaz Hollander
SETTLERS BAY -- The U.S. Postal Service has canceled the Knik post office contract and there's no immediate plans to reopen the facility that serves the booming Knik-Fairview community. Displaced customers of the Knik post office that closed suddenly three weeks ago still don’t know when or even if it will reopen. They have to drive to the Wasilla post office -- miles out of the way for many, more than 30 minutes for some -- to pick up their mail. The U.S. Postal Service shuttered the facility operated under private contract on Sept. 18 after receiving what an investigator described as “an allegation regarding the possible delay of U.S. mail.” The Postal Service canceled the contract with operator Chuck Spinelli on Sept. 30, according to Spinelli and a statement from the Postal Service...Zaz Hollander
Alaska State Troopers have released a preliminary identification of the victim of a fiery plane crash near Houston High School Thursday afternoon. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an email troopers believe the pilot was Big Lake resident Joe Mielke, 23. "Family and friends on scene identified the pilot and sole occupant as (Mielke)," Peters wrote. "The (state medical examiner's office) will have to do a positive ID." Clint Johnson, the NTSB's chief Alaska investigator, said crash investigator Millicent Hoidal was en route to the scene by 2:30 p.m. In an evening update, Johnson said Hoidal would interview any possible witnesses, but the federal safety agency was focusing on recovering the wreckage to reopen the road. “They could be out there all night,” Johnson said. Ken Barkley,...Chris Klint,Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- Voters in Palmer, the heart of the farming stronghold that is the Matanuska Valley, apparently don’t condone the commercial cultivation of one potential crop: cannabis. There were still 129 outstanding Palmer ballots to be counted Friday, but unofficial results from Tuesday's town vote put the marijuana business ban at 318 in favor and 266 opposed. Other cities around Alaska treated marijuana as a potential revenue source in local elections Tuesday: Fairbanks and Bethel voters approved marijuana taxes of 5 and 15 percent, respectively. Houston’s voters apparently rejected a similar ban on commercial marijuana, though a few dozen early votes remained to be counted. Both the Palmer and Houston initiatives would ban marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities and...Zaz Hollander
PALMER -- Palmer residents apparently voted to ban commercial marijuana operations, according to early municipal election results, despite residents having voted in favor of legalizing pot when the issue came to a statewide vote last fall. The other big race in Tuesday's elections here, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor, was too close to call even as a dramatic night ended with results from Talkeetna delayed by a mechanical glitch and hand-delivered by municipal clerks -- and more than 2,000 outstanding ballots yet to be counted. Palmer residents who voted Tuesday came in 318 to 266 in favor of the marijuana business ban, according to unofficial results posted on the city's website. But that tally doesn’t include 129 early, questioned, special needs and absentee ballots to be counted...Zaz Hollander
WASILLA -- Wasilla’s Grape Tap just resolved a licensing problem that threatened to shutter the only wine bar in this city known more for strip malls and Sarah Palin than oenophiles. The bureaucratic hurdles faced by Grape Tap owners Kristin and Casey Cook stem from a problematic type of alcohol license that frustrates even the top official at Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Cooks knew they had to get a new beer and wine license when they bought the restaurant in May, Kristin Cook said. And they knew that meant gathering signatures from nearby residents. The license includes a requirement to get signatures from 50 percent of the adults in a 1-mile radius. What they didn’t know is how many signatures that would be, Cook said. So she asked the state for a number. Someone at...Zaz Hollander
BIG LAKE -- A drive to make a city out of Big Lake is revealing a deep split between residents seeking more local control and those leery of any more government at all. Once a recreation destination more dominated by weekend cabins than full-time homes, Big Lake is becoming a booming residential community. Projections indicate Big Lake’s population could swell to more than 6,000 within 10 years -- the size that Palmer is now, city supporters say. The town is also grappling with a state proposal to route a four-lane highway through the middle of downtown from Port MacKenzie on Knik Arm to the Parks Highway. A group of residents successfully petitioned the Alaska Local Boundary Commission for the chance to put the question to a vote: Should Big Lake become a second-class city? And are...Zaz Hollander
Drivers headed to Palmer this weekend will encounter a detour on the Glenn Highway as crews clean up and repair damage from a Sept. 4 fire that consumed a tanker that flipped while carrying more than 6,000 gallons of gasoline. The northbound offramp to Palmer from the Glenn will be closed starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, according to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Drivers can use either the Old Glenn Highway exit off the Glenn or the Trunk Road exit off the Parks Highway to get around the closure. A remediation contractor working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation will be removing contaminated soils and restoring the roadway to its original condition, the borough says. Crews hope to reopen the ramp early next week.Zaz Hollander
BIG LAKE -- A fire at an unoccupied Big Lake home Thursday morning drew dozens of firefighters. It was briefly feared that one person was inside the house as flames engulfed the structure. The fire destroyed the large wood home on West Lois Lane near Big Lake’s airport. The first reports came in just before 7 a.m., according to West Lakes Fire Department Battalion Chief James Keel. By mid-morning, all that was left was the concrete foundation where the garage used to be, a few large sections of wall and piles of steaming debris that fire crews were dousing with water. One of the homeowners was known to be at work, but for about 30 minutes it wasn’t clear whether the other person was still inside until they were located in Wasilla, Keel said. Crews arrived to find fire on the first floor...Chris Klint,Zaz Hollander