Mat-Su moves to settle ferry grant rather than sue: The Mat-Su Borough Assembly hopes to reach a settlement with the Federal Transit Administration over the $12.3 million the agency says the borough owes for grant funds spent on the never-used ferry Susitna. The unanimous decision Thursday afternoon by the Assembly means the borough will not immediately pursue legal action, which had been raised as a possibility. Borough officials say they will, however, need to get a Sept. 5 deadline extended to pay back the money. Borough Manager John Moosey told the group that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx agreed to meet with him back in Washington, D.C., during a private meeting with U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in Wasilla last week. Assembly member Vern Halter suggested the borough should honor the obligation, adding, "I'm not saying what the settlement should be, but I hope we can come up with something that benefits the Mat-Su Borough." The Susitna is berthed in Ward Cove instead of providing passenger service in Cook Inlet between Anchorage and the Mat-Su as planned; borough officials say, among other things, Anchorage leaders pulled out of an agreement to permit ferry landings in the Ship Creek area. The borough still hopes to sell the ferry or give it to a government entity for free -- apparently a Mat-Su tribal council has expressed interest -- in hopes of offsetting or relieving the grant obligation. Assembly member Steve Colligan, one of the borough officials who met with the FTA last year, said the borough actually requested the grant demand letter a year ago to give the federal agency the "latitude to forgive" the funding, which they didn't have at the time: "The demand letter is the piece that allows us to move forward."
Ballot measure hearings scheduled for September: The state has scheduled numerous public hearings to discuss the three ballot measures on which Alaskans will vote in the November general election. The hearings will discuss an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana, another that would raise Alaska's minimum wage, and one that would require the state Legislature to approve an open pit mine in the Bristol Bay region. The hearings are scheduled to take place in eight communities statewide and will be available via teleconference and online. The hearings are required by a law passed by the state Legislature in 2010. The election is set for Nov. 4.
Alaska's monster veggies require more than just lots of sunlight: Alaska's long hours of summer sunlight are a key ingredient to the 49th state's freakishly large vegetables (which yield Guinness World Records), but they're by no means the only important consideration. That's what Palmer grower -- and holder of five world records -- Scott Robb tells NPR's food blog, The Salt. "Let's face it: You're not going to win the Kentucky Derby with a mule or a Shetland pony. If you don't have the right genetic material, you're never going to achieve that ultimate goal." It also takes a lot of careful planning and working ahead. But not every competitor comes from such meticulous origins, NPR found. One second-place ribbon came for a tomato plucked from an amateur grower's garden. But, as NPR notes, both casual and serious growers have to contend with a pest unusual outside Alaska before they can make it to the fair -- the state's common, and voracious, moose.
Coast Guard tests new satellite system in Alaska's Arctic: As part of the Arctic Shield 2014 operation, the U.S. Coast Guard is testing a next-generation satellite system from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the waters off Alaska, according to a report in Seapower Magazine. The new satellite system increases bandwidth available for communication with a single satellite providing four times that of all eight satellites from the existing system. The new system, dubbed MUOS constellation, "is designed to provide smartphone-like communications to mobile forces at rates 10 times faster than the legacy system," a Lockheed-Martin scientist traveling with the Healy told Seapower.
A Southeast wolf howl -- from very, very close: Alaska writer Hank Lentfer set out with noted Alaska anthropologist and public radio show host Richard Nelson to record some sounds of the natural world around Southeast Alaska, as he recounts in a blog post for Orion Magazine. He captured the sounds of some songbirds, a small stream, even a porpoise breaching. "It was a great morning of recording by any measure—but nothing like the sounds that had filled Nels's ears." That's because Nelson had attracted the attention of a wolf, who wandered up, lay down nearby, and let out a howl. Most folks would've been too excited to make a decent recording -- or a recording at all, Letfer suggests -- but Nelson, who frequently makes field recordings for his show "Encounters", captured the close-up audio and let Lentfer share the remarkably crisp sounds with readers.