Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2003

State vulnerable to drop in federal funds

ANCHORAGE - The amount of federal money pouring into Alaska's economy has soared over the past 20 years, reaching $7.6 billion in 2002, ranking the state first in the nation for per-capita federal spending.

But a new report suggests that as much as $2 billion of that money could be vulnerable to cuts when Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, steps down from that post after next year.

The 177-page report by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage estimates that one in three Alaska jobs - about 96,000 altogether - depend on current federal spending.

The report traces the flows of federal money and identifies patterns and changes in federal spending from 1983 through 2002. It shows significant increases in spending corresponding with Stevens' taking over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for annually allocating more than a half-trillion dollars in federal funds.

Before Stevens became chairman in 1997, per-capita federal spending levels in Alaska had ranged between 20 percent and 50 percent over the national average. By 1999, per-capita spending levels in Alaska had increased to more than 70 percent above the national average, the report said.

Stevens has doggedly used his position to benefit Alaska and frequently is criticized by other lawmakers and good-government groups as a pork-barrel spender.

Winter storm prompts Shishmaref evacuations

ANCHORAGE - Shishmaref residents this weekend tallied the damage from a storm that hammered the northwest Arctic Coast, prompting the evacuation of five people in the tiny island village.

Every fall, vicious storms pound the Inupiat village, teetering five miles from the mainland on a sandy barrier island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait.

But this time, even lifelong residents say they were surprised by the force of the blast that hit Friday, the second big storm to hit this fall.

"Everybody's getting kind of edgy, you know, nervous," said Tony Weyiouanna Sr., the village's transportation planner. "Especially after this storm. ... Some people say it got as high as the storm we had in 1974."

The storm peaked Friday night, Weyiouanna said. Eight-foot waves chewed at the shoreline, eating away great chunks of ground. Winds gusts from the northwest - the direction that wreaks the most damage on the island's vulnerable coastline - reached more than 50 mph.

School offers prizes for perfect attendance

FAIRBANKS - Attendance really matters at Lathrop High School, which is offering students a chance to win posters, gift cards, electronics equipment and other prizes for showing up in every class.

Principal Mario Gatto is hoping the idea helps reduce the Fairbanks school's dismal absence rate. Last year the school's daily attendance average was about 87 percent.

"When you think about that, it means 13 percent of the kids are gone every day," Gatto said.

High-school attendance across the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District averages about 90 percent, according to district officials. Gatto hopes to bring Lathrop's up to 92 percent.

Under the new reward system, students who are absent less than two class periods a quarter are eligible for a prize drawing.

Rising zinc prices boost Red Dog mine

ANCHORAGE - Higher zinc prices are boosting profits at the Red Dog mine near Kotzebue.

Red Dog posted a $5.9 million operating profit, according to a third-quarter financial report by Teck Cominco Ltd., the Canadian company that runs the zinc mine. During the same three-month period last year, the company reported a $6.3 million operating loss.

Red Dog, the world's largest zinc mine, lost about $750,000 overall in the first nine months of this year, compared to a nearly $11 million operating loss during that period in 2002.

At 42 cents per pound, the price of zinc is on the rise. During 2002, zinc hovered at 35 cents a pound. According to Teck Cominco, every penny in the price per pound of zinc means nearly a $10 million loss or gain for the mine, which employs about 500 people.

Software joins cops on the beat

ANCHORAGE - Six police departments and two other law enforcement agencies in Alaska are about to begin using a software program that can link law enforcement databases statewide.

Seward Police Chief Thomas Clemons, president of the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, said the new software, called Coplink, will help investigators solve crimes faster.

Detectives from Barrow to Juneau already share information, but it can take hours or days to run down a lead over the phone.

Coplink will allow investigators to sift through thousands of law enforcement records around the state with just a few keystrokes, said Bob Griffin, chief executive officer Knowledge Computing Corporation, which produces the software.



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