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1/6/15 - State to investigate allegations of sexual assault, misconduct in Alaska National Guard

Jan 5, 2015

Special investigator to be hired to look into claims of misconduct in Alaska National Guard

Attorney General Craig Richards is in the process of hiring a special investigator to look into the handling of sexual assault complaints within the Alaska National Guard. Grace Jang, a spokeswoman for Governor Bill Walker, says Richards is vetting five candidates who have strong criminal investigation backgrounds. She says the person selected will be more of a fact-finder and recommend whether a special prosecutor is needed. Jang says the special investigator will be charged with looking into allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and cover-up, as well as whether  the response of law enforcement was appropriate and procedures were followed.

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New Congress opens with Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in new leadership role

A new Congress, and the Republican takover of the U.S. Senate begins today. That means former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan will be sworn in as Alaska’s eighth U.S. senator since statehood.

Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, becomes chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’ll immediately be in the national spotlight because the Republican leadership has decided the first bill it will take up is the Keystone XL pipeline. Murkowski has scheduled a hearing on the bill in her committee on Wednesday and, as chairman, she’ll manage the debate on the Senate floor.

On the other side of the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives is to be sworn in today. Alaska Congressman Don Young will not be there due to the unexpected death of his younger brother. Young will be sworn in next week. He'll will miss the vote for Speaker of the House. A spokesman says Young would vote for Republican John Boehner in what could be a close vote. Boehner is expected to retain the gavel but some of the more conservative Republicans have turned against him, primarily for not fighting harder against President Obama on immigration.

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Planning for a Juneau Access Road continues

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

Work continues on the Juneau Access Project, despite Gov. Bill Walker’s spending freeze. But the work doesn’t involve buying steel or moving dirt.

The Juneau Access Road is one of six projects Walker put on hold during his first month in office.

It would extend the capital city’s highway system about 50 miles north to a new ferry terminal on Lynn Canal. From there, shuttle ships would complete the link to Haines and Skagway.

In his announcement, Walker told state agencies they could complete what’s already paid or contracted for. But he says no additional money could be committed or spent.

Juneau Access Project Manager Gary Hogins says the Department of Transportation’s current work is preparing an environmental review needed for federal funding and approval. “We just finished going through the public involvement process,” says Hogins. “And what we do next is review the comments, respond to comments and evaluate and select a final alternative.”

Hogins says that will take about a year and $600,000. He says no other work is planned – for now. “We would have expected to go into design and construction. But that’s been put on hold,” says Hogins.

Emily Ferry, with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), says Gov. Walker has made a very smart decision to put the brakes on the Juneau Road extension. SEACC says the Alaska Marine Highway System offers a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative.

“DOT’s own study shows the extraordinary cost of constructing and maintaining the road far exceeds the minimal benefits of making weekend getaways a little bit cheaper for Juneauites,” says Ferry.

The agency says the road would do a lot more than that. It also says the project would ultimately save money by shortening ferry routes.

Alaska Committee board chair Wayne Jensen says he disappointed in the Governor’s decision, but he, and other road supporters, are not giving up.

“I don’t know that that’s the end of the project,” says Jensen. “I think it’s a bump, probably for all those other projects too. I think they’ll probably all come back at some point in time.”

He supports building the road to increase access to the capital city. He remains optimistic.

“The stuff that’s committed is continuing and I think that’s a good sign,” says Jensen. “They’ve got contracts committed and processes in play. And I expect those will continue until some point in time when either there’s a further delay or the projects are reinstated.”

Walker says low oil prices mean the state cannot afford the road -- and the other five projects -- right now. The state faces an approximately $3 billion budget gap for the current fiscal year and the same for the next one.

Other projects put on hold are the Ambler Road, the Susitna-Watana Dam, the Kodiak Launch Complex, the Knik Arm Crossing and the Alaska Standalone Pipeline Project.

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