Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

City fluoridation of public water resumes

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JUNEAU - The Juneau Water Utility Division has completed repairs to fluoridation equipment and will begin fluoridation of the areawide water system today, reported Juneau Water Utility Superintendent Grant Ritter.

Ritter said normal levels in the Juneau system are between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams per liter. Fluoride levels will be brought up to the correct dosage over several days, he added. The fluoridation system has not been operating since November because of pump failure.

Questions and concerns may be directed to the utility at 780-6888, Ritter said.

City hires new personnel director

JUNEAU - City Manager Rod Swope announced that Mila Cosgrove has been selected as the city's new personnel director.

The personnel director manages the comprehensive citywide personnel program of 700-plus employees and directs the activities of the personnel division. Cosgrove, who is currently the director of the Alaska division of personnel, will start her new job May 2, Swope said.

"Mila has over 20 years of experience in the human resources field and a strong background in management and supervision, a good understanding of personnel matters and procedures and considerable experience in labor relations and contract negotiations," Swope said.

Cosgrove was one of three finalists selected from a pool of 15 applicants for the Personnel Director position, Swope said. She replaces Joan Wilkerson, who left the city Jan 31.

Time Magazine will refund 450 Alaskans

ANCHORAGE - The publisher of Time Magazine has agreed to pay about $4.3 million to consumers in Alaska and 22 other states, based on a settlement announced Tuesday by the Alaska Attorney General's Office.

Assistant Attorney General Cathy Stone, working in the Consumer Protection Division, said consumer complaints led to investigations in 23 states. The settlement will end the investigations. In addition to consumer refunds, the company agreed to pay $4.5 million to the states to cover legal expenses.

About 108,000 consumers will received request forms for refunds in the mail. Stone said 450 of them will be in Alaska. National reports show that more than 20,000 people in California will be eligible for refunds.

Stone said states began to investigate the company's practices when they started receiving complaints of automatic renewals. Customers were not given adequate notice that when their limited-term subscriptions ran out, they would have to notify the company or continue subscribing.

Investigations also revealed that Time mailed consumers deceptive solicitations that appeared more like bills.

"People were misled into thinking they were invoices from Time," she said.

In announcing the settlement, Attorney General David Mrquez said Time denied the allegations. But he called their practices misleading. "Preventing individuals or companies from engaging in unfair conduct is at the heart of Alaska's consumer protection laws."

Railroad asks to sell bonds to fix tracks

JUNEAU - The Alaska Railroad Corp. would sell revenue bonds "to get a safer railroad faster" under a bill that was advanced to the Senate Floor.

Railroad President and CEO Pat Gamble told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the railroad has been working for 10 years to cover deferred maintenance needs that have been building since the 1950s.

He said work started in 1996 to rehabilitate a substandard track but, until recently, funding hinged on Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, pushing through a federal appropriation every year.

Gamble said the new federal transportation bill assures the railroad of an annual appropriation. About 30 to 50 percent of the annual Federal Transit Administration funds would be used to repay the debt, he said.

Under the legislation, the corporation may issue up to $165 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds. Gamble said the money would allow the railroad to accelerate the pace of the work.

Projects include welding the track at the joints for "a smoother, safer ride," installing concrete ties at the curves, replacing wood railroad ties on a rotating basis, adding granite ballast, upgrading bridges and improving collision avoidance.

Fines could double along fatal road

JUNEAU - Twenty-eight people in as many years died in accidents in the first six miles of the Knik/Goose Bay Road just before it meets the Parks Highway.

The deadly stretch of pavement is one of several likely candidates to be designated a "traffic safety corridor" - meaning they would have increased enforcement and double the normal fines - should legislation moving through the Alaska Legislature pass.

State transportation officials say about half a dozen states have achieved success with similar programs. Deputy Commissioner John MacKinnon told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that contrary to conventional wisdom, improving roads doesn't necessarily reduce fatalities. Instead it might encourage people to drive faster and does nothing to change risky behavior.

"A lot of research has shown that it's the high-risk drivers - the drivers that aren't driving safely - that respond to only one message and that message is increased enforcement and, adding to that message, we propose double traffic fines in those areas," he said.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities proposes designating at least 10 high accident routes around the state - sections of road that could be a little as five miles and as many as 50 miles long - as "traffic safety corridors."

The road segments, which have not been decided yet, would be posted with signs warning drivers of double fines and stepped-up enforcement.

Plan to save historic theater is in jeopardy

ANCHORAGE - A plan to buy and restore a historic Anchorage theater is in jeopardy after the city asked for a second appraisal and the owner balked.

Robert Gottstein, owner of the 4th Avenue Theatre, said he thinks the deal is off.

"I don't think (the city has) met the terms" of a written purchase agreement, which states that "the price of the property shall be $4 million or the fair market value, established by an appraisal, whichever is less."

Also this week, a poll shows passage is unlikely for Proposition 6, which would authorize issuance of a $2 million bond toward the theater's purchase..

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