The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

News Briefs


January 3, 2018

Craig Richards

New super search

The board of education for Valdez City Schools is holding an executive session this Sunday to meet with consultants hired by the district to select candidates for a new superintendent.

Executive sessions are closed to the public. While district business can be discussed, no binding decisions or votes can be made behind closed doors.

The meeting is set at 2 p.m. according to the district's website.

The current superintendent, Jim Nygaard is retiring after a 40-year career in education. He has served in Valdez for four years.

Nygaard came to Valdez as an interim superintendent – and later signed on to lead the district forward through 2018.

Under Nygaard's tenure, district enrollment increased – including the expansion of the district's homeschool program – and he was widely seen as a uniting force in Valdez education.

Small earthquake

(AP) A magnitude 4.1 earthquake hit central Alaska.

The Alaska Earthquake Center says the earthquake struck at 2:43 a.m. Saturday and its epicenter was 4 miles (6 kilometers) southwest of the community of Healy, which has just over 1,000 residents.

The earthquake had a depth of 4 miles (6 kilometers).

The center says residents in Cantwell and Fairbanks also felt the quake but there have been no reports of damage.

PFD board

Governor Bill Walker announced last week that he has appointed Craig Richards to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Board of Trustees.

The governor-appointed board is composed of six trustees who manage the corporation's policies. The board includes four public members, the Commissioner of Revenue, and an additional cabinet member of the governor's choosing.

Richards is currently vice president and general counsel for Bering Straits Native Corporation. He served as attorney general from 2014 to 2016. He also played a key role in developing the Permanent Fund Protection Act.

Richards was most recently held by Larry Cash, FAIA, the founder and CEO of RIM Architects, who will continue working with the Administration but is shifting to focus on increasing Alaska's trade relationships in Asian markets.

Richards is familiar to many in Valdez, as the former law partner of Walker; Walker was the city's attorney before he was elected governor, and Richards often sat in for Walker at city council meetings when Walker was unable to attend.

"Craig is an asset to the Board because of his extensive knowledge of public finance and Permanent Fund policy," Walker said.


Alaska's total employment was down by an estimated 0.9 percent in November compared to November 2016, a loss of about 2,800 jobs. Although employment losses continue, they have moderated noticeably in the second half of 2017.

Oil and gas jobs were down by 7.8 percent and construction by 4.8 percent. Health care was the only industry to add jobs. Transportation, warehousing, and utilities remained at the same level as last year, as did local government. Federal jobs were down 0.7 percent and state government 2.4 percent.

Alaska's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent, where it has been since August. The comparable national rate for November was 4.1 percent.

Alaska's not-seasonally adjusted rate was 7.1 percent, up four-tenths of a percentage point from October, an expected increase as winter sets in. Unemployment rates went up in 24 of 29 boroughs and census areas. The largest increases were again in Skagway and the Denali Borough, where the remainder of tourism-related activity wound down.

Unemployment rates fell in the North Slope Borough, Northwest Arctic Borough, Sitka, and the Aleutians West Census Area. The Kodiak Island Borough's rate was flat.

Bail changed

(AP) Alaska is starting the new year with a change in the way the state handles criminal bail.

The Juneau Empire reports people charged with a crime will no longer have to pay money to get out of jail before their trial.

Starting Jan. 1, the state will judge each individual under a point-based system that considers how likely they are to show up to court appearances or commit a new crime.

Nancy Meade, general counsel of the Alaska Court System to the assembled attorneys, says the change means more people will be out of jail with supervision.

It also means the state won't have to pay for their jail time.

The individuals who qualify will also be allowed to work.

Mine pollution

(AP) The federal government says it will look into a transboundary mining issue affecting Alaska and Canada.

CoastAlaska news reports the U.S. State Department says in a letter to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott that it acknowledges Alaska residents' concerns over pollution coming from British Columbia mines.

The department says in a letter released Dec. 28 that it will work with Canadian officials to protect the salmon-rich, cross-boundary watersheds.

Before this, the department had said it would not get involved with the issue.

Senior Transboundary Mines Adviser Barbara Blake says the department is looking into what gaps and limitations of cooperation exist between the two countries.

The department is expected to present its findings at an International Joint Commission meeting in April.

Drugs in jail

(AP) State prison facilities are making improvements aimed at reducing the amount of drugs being smuggled in behind bars, Alaska Department of Corrections officials said.

From inmate overdoses at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to heroin distribution conspiracy charges at the Goose Creek Correctional Center, episodes like these from earlier this year have prompted state officials to look for ways to improve, KTUU-TV reported .

"We know that far more drugs are getting through than we're catching," department commissioner Dean Williams said. "That's a nationwide problem. We're on the lookout for it."

The department has advanced its information gathering methods aimed at uncovering the smuggling, though how it did so can't be discussed, Williams said.

Superintendent Jim Nygaard

"We really have intelligence gathering capabilities that we didn't have before," Williams said. "And while we don't talk about the method and means by which we're doing that right now - because we don't want to advance the bad guys' understanding of what we're doing - we're much more sophisticated."

While authorities are regularly finding drugs hidden in body cavities, food, and mail, Williams said one particular drug is proving challenging for corrections officials to catch. The small size of the addiction treatment drug Suboxone makes it easy to be concealed.

Williams said the department needs to tackled this issue one step at time and be strategic about it.

The department is also planning to offer more and better drug treatment options for inmates.


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