Alaska Digest

staff and Wire reports

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2004

City to clean downtown streets this morning

JUNEAU - The city will clean streets starting at 6 a.m. today.

The following streets will be cleaned: Ninth Street from Capital Avenue to Glacier Avenue; A Street from Ninth Street to 12th Street; Sixth Street from Main to Nelson; and East Street from Basin Road to Fourth Street.

The city will post yellow "No Parking" signs in areas to be cleaned. Residents who see these signs should move their vehicles. City officials say they will not relocate vehicles but try to work around those left in a posted area. If there are too many vehicles, an area will not be cleaned.

Bartlett hospital to offer mammograms

JUNEAU - Bartlett Regional Hospital is offering mammograms again after equipment failed last month.

Service resumed on May 4 after the hospital got new processing equipment.

Anyone interested in mammography services must have a doctor's order prior to scheduling an appointment.

To make an appointment, call the hospital's Diagnostic Imaging Department at 796-8801.

Rural Alaska may get delay on fuel regulations

FAIRBANKS - Rural Alaska may have more time to comply with new federal rules requiring low-sulfur diesel in vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency-issued regulations require low-sulfur diesel be used in highway vehicles by 2006 and non-highway vehicles, such as loaders and bulldozers, by 2010.

But in more remote villages, low-sulfur diesel probably won't be required in highway vehicles until 2010.

"With the on-highway areas of the state that have year-round fuel distribution, we didn't ask for any special consideration for Alaska," said Clint Farr, a specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. "But with rural Alaska, what we wanted to do is establish simplicity."

The nationwide rules will apply to communities in Alaska on the road and ferry system, Farr said.

The EPA is expected to finish the Alaska rules in a separate action later this year, Farr said. He said it is still not certain whether Alaska will get the delayed timeline for rural areas.

"The most I can tell you now is that it looks like we will," he said.

Many rural communities have only one or a few diesel storage tanks, and they get their fuel by barge shipments once or twice a year. Most of the fuel goes into home heating furnaces and power generators, which will not be required to burn the low-sulfur fuel.

The low-sulfur fuel will reduce air pollution, but the EPA expects the new rules will add about 7 cents to the cost of a gallon.

Despite boost, schools say deficits still loom

ANCHORAGE - Some Alaska school districts say they still face budget deficits despite the state Legislature's appropriation of $82 million this past session.

The funding boost for the 2004-05 school year will allow districts to keep from increasing class sizes, laying off teachers and cutting sports programs, school officials said. But education leaders say the appropriation doesn't make up for years of flat funding for education from the state.

Districts still will face multimillion-dollar deficits in the 2005-06 school year, largely because of increased costs of operation and mandated increased contributions to employees' retirement plans.

"When you're in a hole, you stop digging," said Rich Kronberg, president of Alaska's National Education Association. "This year, the Legislature stopped digging. Unfortunately they didn't backfill the gigantic hole that's been dug for the last 15 years."

The $82 million increase goes directly into the foundation formula, the pot of money allocated to districts based on enrollment. That raises the foundation formula's total funds to $775 million.

It's the largest single-year increase in education funding since statehood, said Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage.

"And they immediately start the next whine," Bunde said of advocates for more funding. "It's sort of like, what have you done for me lately? Use what you've got first, then come back and put your hand out, it would seem to me. And their job is to advocate for more money. If we've given them everything they asked for, they'd still be asking for more. That's just the nature of the beast."

Bunde said some districts squander funds on administration.

He said he'd also like to see local governments take a stronger hand in financially supporting schools, pointing out that about one-third of Alaska's districts collect no local funds.

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