State Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

City approves JAMHI demolition bid

The Juneau Assembly unanimously approved a $417,991 bid Monday to demolish the JAMHI building and Colonial Apartments downtown and build a parking lot on the site.

The Downtown Business Association's board of directors had objected to the demolition on Front and Sixth streets, but withdrew its objections before Monday's meeting after hearing about long-term plans for the site, Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said.

While the short-term plans call for a paved parking lot, the city eventually hopes to add street-level retail and office space with parking above, City Manager Rod Swope said.

The buildings will be demolished this summer by North Pacific Erectors, Inc. of Juneau. Johnson said the Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee will discuss who gets the new parking spaces.

Bill would allow for kids-only fisheries

JUNEAU - Young people could have a fishing hole to themselves under a bill that passed the House on Monday.

House Bill 98 would let the Board of Fisheries establish restricted seasons and areas for youths under age 16. The board already can create fisheries just for senior citizens.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ralph Samuels, an Anchorage Republican, said the legislation would not create any kids-only fisheries. Such proposals would have to go through the Board of Fisheries hearing process.

Samuels said he expects the rule to be used mostly in urban areas. The bill passed 36-0. It goes to the Senate for consideration.

Union files grievance over Habitat changes

ANCHORAGE - The union representing Fish and Game Department Habitat Division biologists is trying to block their layoff or transfer to the Department of Natural Resources.

The Alaska State Employees Association, the largest union representing state workers, has filed a grievance over Gov. Frank Murkowski's executive order mandating the staff changes.

"We see contract violations," said Jim Duncan, business manager for the union.

Some 22 Habitat employees will lose their jobs May 1 unless the Legislature overturns the executive order. Remaining employees will shift to DNR or other sections of Fish and Game. Their authority to issue permits protecting fish and wildlife habitat will go to DNR, the main state agency that encourages and regulates natural resource development such as oil and gas, mining and logging.

Murkowski has accused Habitat Division staff of delaying projects by holding up permits or demanding unnecessary studies. Division supervisors rebutted those claims.

The grievance filed with the state Personnel Division contends Habitat biologists and other staff have been unfairly targeted, Duncan said. If the administration and the union cannot agree, the matter will go to arbitration, he said.

Murkowski spokesmen would not comment on the grievance.

Wildlife viewing fee bill debated in House

JUNEAU - A bill to charge tourists $15 for a wildlife viewing pass moved from the House Resources Committee to the chamber's Finance Committee with limited support.

Resources Committee members voted 6-2 to move out the bill but only two lawmakers - Anchorage Republican Rep. Cheryll Heinze and Willow Republican Rep. Bev Masek - recommended it be approved.

Gov. Frank Murkowski introduced the measure as a way to raise $7 million annually in new revenue. The pass would be a required purchase for nonresidents who take an organized tour or ride the Alaska Railroad or marine highway. Visitors who buy hunting or fishing licenses would not have to buy a pass. The administration projects about a third of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Alaska will pay the one-time fee.

During debate Friday, Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula proposed an amendment to change the date the fee takes effect from July 1 to Jan. 1. Kerttula said instituting the fee in July would force tour operators who already have sold tours for this summer to pay the fees themselves.

"I'm afraid it's those small Alaska businesses we'll be affecting the most this year," she said.

Heinze, however, said tour operators would be able to make the adjustment.

Lawmakers rejected Kerttula's amendment 4-4. A Senate version of the wildlife pass bill has yet to have a committee hearing.

Woman injured in crash with three bison

ANCHORAGE - A California woman was injured when her rental car struck three bison on the Alaska Highway near Delta Junction, Alaska State Troopers said Monday.

Doumanian Ashotovna, 26, was heading east in a 2002 Hyundai just before midnight Saturday when she hit bison congregated at mile 1409 of the highway, about 13 miles east of Delta Junction.

A passenger was sleeping in the back of the car and wasn't hurt, troopers said.

Wassman said Ashotovna was medevaced to an Anchorage hospital with chest injuries. Her condition was not immediately available, but troopers said her injuries were not life-threatening.

Wasilla man dies in snowmachine crash

ANCHORAGE - A Wasilla man died after he drove a snowmachine off a cliff in Hatcher Pass.

Moesey Polushkin, 34, died at the scene Sunday evening, Alaska State Troopers said.

Polushkin was trying out a friend's new snowmachine when he took it over a ledge of the cliff, said troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson. Polushkin was not wearing a helmet.

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