Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:45

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With VA problems clear, Sullivan summons officials for solutions

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Senator Dan Sullivan held a field hearing in Eagle River yesterday focused on healthcare for veterans in Alaska. It was an effort, he told the modest crowd, to bring D.C. to Alaska.

GOP candidate Rand Paul drums up support in Alaska

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul spoke in Anchorage and Fairbanks Tuesday, kicking off a swing through western states for the Kentucky conservative.

YWCA races to close the gender pay gap in Alaska

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The YWCA Alaska is one year into their initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in the state by 2025.

Final Sitka landslide victim recovered

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Search crews have recovered the final victim of the August 18 Sitka landslide. The body of 62-year-old William Stortz was found Tuesday afternoon

Speaking at Assembly, officials say: ‘Thank you, Sitka’

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

At the first meeting of the Sitka Assembly since last week’s landslides, city officials spoke emotionally about the loss of three local men — and said they had been overwhelmed by the response of city staff, volunteers, and ordinary citizens.

Bethel preschool re-opens after a monumental cleanup effort

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel M.E. preschool is 95 percent back to normal after a week of cleaning up after vandals ransacked the school, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Juneau protest looks to give BC mines a classic Alaska ‘boot’

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Xtratuf boots are ubiquitous in Southeast Alaska and often associated with fishing. On Wednesday, about a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia.

Hoonah hyrdo project cuts energy bills for local businesses

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s newest hydro power project has been generating electricity since the beginning of August, but it only recently had its ribbon cutting ceremony. The city of Hoonah is cutting diesel consumption by about a third which could help the local economy.

Voices From Nome’s Dream Theater

Kristin Leffler, KNOM – Nome

Back in 1944, an Alaska Native 15-year-old girl named Alberta Schenck stood up against the segregated seating policy at Nome’s Dream Theater. Her case, paired with Elizabeth Peratrovich’s, was instrumental in the passing of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska. That was 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act passed.

Categories: Alaska News

GOP candidate Rand Paul drums up support in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:37

Official portrait of United States Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Photo: Office of United States Senator Rand Paul

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul spoke in Anchorage and Fairbanks on Tuesday, kicking off a swing through western states for the Kentucky conservative. Paul received an enthusiastic reception.

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The ballroom of the Westmark hotel was packed to hear what Rand Paul had to say. The senator from Kentucky is one of almost a score of Republicans vying to be their party’s contender for the presidency. Paul sounded traditional conservative themes of smaller government and tax cuts. But he tried to set himself apart from fellow Republicans when it came to government waste. He told the audience, he would hold the Pentagon accountable just as much as civilian bureaucrats.

“Can you have $500 hammers and $600 wrenches and say, ‘we’ve got plenty of money?’… I’m all for auditing the Fed and the Pentagon.”

Rand Paul also tried to distance himself from his competition in his resistance to foreign wars, particularly in the Middle East, and his objections to the National Security Agency’s combing through private cell phone and internet traffic.

Paul drew perhaps the loudest round of applause Tuesday in Fairbanks when he vowed to shut down all Federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

“And if you disagree and you say, ‘what about women’s health?’ There are 9,000 community health centers. There are community health centers that have doubled and tripled in size.  And they’re available across America, and they do not do what Planned Parenthood does.”

Rand Paul’s stump speeches in Fairbanks and Anchorage follows a trail his father Ron Paul, blazed four years ago in his own search for the White House. How effective the younger Paul’s message is with the party base and independent voters won’t be known until early state nominations in Iowa and New Hampshire play out.

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA is One Year Closer to Closing the Wage Gap for Women

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:36

Advertising for the YWCA’s equal pay initiative, which just finished its first year. (Courtesy of YWCA Alaska.)

The YWCA Alaska is one year into their initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025. Women in Alaska only make about 68 cents for every dollar made by a man. According to calculations based on U.S. Census data, this causes the state’s economy loses $1.2 billion every year. Women are making less, so they are spending less. YWCA CEO Hilary Morgan says one of the first steps to eliminating the gap is gathering data that shows it’s real.

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“Women make less money in every single industry in Alaska. Every single one. And this is again, Department of Labor stats,” she says. “And now we just need to figure out why.”

One example is nurses. Eighty-nine percent of the state’s nurses are women, but they make 5% less than male nurses.

Morgan says the YWCA is taking an apolitical, multi-pronged approach to ending the gap. Seventy-four businesses and individuals spanning from BP Alaska to the governor have endorsed the initiative. It involves working with employers to make gender-balanced work places. Morgan says one tool is a survey that helps employers analyze the impacts of their official and unofficial policies.

Some of the surveys “have come back and they say ‘Well, we do this but we don’t have a policy about it.’ So right away then they know if they don’t have a policy about it, it’s a word of mouth thing. So the woman who is not comfortable or confident enough to go ask for it is not going to get it.”

They’re also educating women and girls about career options, salary negotiations, and the nuances of hiring that may be leading to the wage gap. For example, studies show that some male hiring managers who have wives that don’t work are less likely to hire women.

“You can see how they got there. It’s like ‘My wife doesn’t work, I’m the breadwinner, so I don’t want to take a job away from someone who is actually going to be a breadwinner and give it to a woman.’ You can understand the rationale, but if you go in for a job interview and you’re being interviewed by a man, you’re never going to know why you didn’t get that job.”

The Pew Research Center says women are the primary or only breadwinners in 40% of U.S. households.

Morgan says during the first year of the program, the YWCA surveyed Alaskans and found they support closing the pay gap. She says this is the first initiative in the country that sets a specific date for achieving the goal. They are still 32 cents away from equal pay.

Morgan recently announced she is running for state Senate Seat N.

Categories: Alaska News

Hoonah hyrdo project cuts energy bills for local businesses

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:31

Alaska’s newest hydro power project has been generating electricity since the beginning of August, but it only recently had its ribbon cutting ceremony. The city of Hoonah is cutting diesel consumption by about a third which could help the local economy.

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Water flows down the tube and spins a turbine that creates electricity. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

At the Gartina Falls hydro project, curious locals and lawmakers gathered to see how Hoonah will cut its diesel use by 30 percent. For years, diesel was the only option to power the village.

Paul Berkshire, the engineer, points to a structure near the falls that looks like a dilapidated log cabin.

“This is the original attempt to build hydropower here. As near as I can tell, somewhere around 1926,” he said.

Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work but a $10.5 million grant–mostly from the state–made it possible to get the new project up and running. It’s already saved 3,600 gallons of diesel and is expected to save up to 100,000 in a year.

The remnants of an old hydro energy project. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Basically if you can get anything to spin, you can produce electricity from it.”

On one side of the falls is a stagnant pool that creates pressure. The water flows down a long tube and turns a turbine, similar to a water wheel, and electricity is generated.

The developer is the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative, which supplies energy to small Southeast communities: Angoon, Klukwan, Kake, the Chilkat Valley and Hoonah.

Jodi Mitchell, the  cooperative’s CEO, says when she started working there in 1993, the price of diesel was about 79 cents a gallon.

“Over my career at IPEC, we’ve seen prices go as high as $4.25 a gallon and that’s a wholesale bulk rate that we pay,” says Mitchell.

It’s now close to $3 a gallon but most residents don’t pay for it all in their monthly energy bill. A state program called power cost equalization tries to subsidize rural rates down to urban rates.

“The businesses in the community don’t qualify for that. Because the power cost equalization only pays for residential accounts … and that leads to a whole host of problems,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell says you can see this reflected in the price for milk or a loaf of bread in Alaska’s remote communities and the high costs of energy could deter economic growth.

Ken Skaflestad, the mayor of Hoonah, says the community has become comfortable with diesel.

“We know a lot about it. We’re very experienced in it,” he says.

The project was supported by the City of Hoonah, Sealaska Corp., Huna Totem Corp. and the Hoonah Indian Association. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The village of 750 has investor interest from outside. There’s a new microbrewery in town and a cruise ship dock under construction could bring in more tourists.

“For people who would love the lifestyle here but don’t dare take the risk due to the high cost of electricity, they now know they have support, that they have people behind them that know of their struggle and respond to it,” Skaflestad says.

Jodi Mitchell says for local businesses paying for electricity, the 30 percent could be huge. She hopes with the state’s budget crunch, projects like this will continue to be prioritized and funded.

“I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish here in Hoonah, and I’d hate to see that stop,” Mitchell says.

She says it might take longer for Gartina Falls to offset the price of electricity for Hoonah residents. A sister hydro project is planned for Water Supply Creek.

Categories: Alaska News

Voices From Nome’s Dream Theater

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:30

As educators gear up for the school year, there is one Alaskan civil rights activist from Nome that they may want to include in their history lesson plans.

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Back in 1944, a 15-year-old Alaska Native girl named Alberta Schenck stood up against the segregated seating policy at Nome’s Dream Theater. Her case, paired with Elizabeth Peratrovich’s, was eventually instrumental in the passing of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska. That was 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and nearly 20 years before the passing of the Civil Rights Act.

“Students are very well-versed about Rosa Parks, which is wonderful,” says Nome resident and longtime educator Barb Amarok. “But learning about people from their own community, region and state helps them to realize they’re capable of doing positive things for others. It gives them the message that who they are and where they come from is very important.”

The Dream Theater on Nome’s Front Street back in 1944. Photo courtesy of the Carrie McLain Museum.

While pursuing her doctoral degree in Indigenous Studies at University Alaska, Fairbanks in 2008, Amarok decided to focus her research on the Dream Theater after reading about an incident of discrimination her own family had experienced there. As part of her research, she interviewed five local elders. From Shirley Temple series to 25-cent movie tickets, the elders listed off plenty of fond memories of the Dream Theater, but the conversation turned more somber when they described the segregated seating sections.

“There were three blocks of seats, the middle block was for white people, the one on the east side was for breeds, quarter breeds and half breeds, and the block on the west side was for three-quarter and full blood natives,” said Gary Longley during his interview with Amarok. Longley was also Alberta’s first cousin. “And then they had the balcony…well, that’s where the real old natives sat.”

Amarok also conducted a phone interview with Alberta Schenck the year before she passed away to hear the full story of what happened.  Alberta described two related instances of discrimination. The first was when she went with a date, sat in the white section and was asked to move. When she didn’t, she was forcefully ushered out of the theater. Alberta later returned to the theater where the ticket seller prohibited her from entering.

“Daddy said, ‘If she touches you, you hit her’ and I did,” Alberta said. “And that’s when the police came and got me. I was 15 years old and I got mad. I was mad as a hornet at the time.”

The day after her father bailed her out of jail Alberta wired a message to Governor Ernest Gruening. With the help of a lawyer named O.D. Cochran, Alberta’s case was used in support of anti-discrimination legislation in Alaska.

“Alberta’s letter to the territorial legislature had a lot to do with the Anti-discrimination law of 1945,” Amarok said.

While Amarok was working on this project seven years ago, she promised elders that eventually their voices and Alberta’s story would be brought to classrooms in Alaska and beyond. Through a collaboration with KNOM Radio, a 30-minute version of Alberta’s stories will be paired with a lesson plan for educators. Amarok says Alberta’s story includes lessons and sentiments that need to be heard today.

“We can still come to follow ways of thinking that are not best for the community,” Amarok said. “We need to be able to take a step back and really question whether or not certain practices are for the best and work for social justice.”

That’s what Alberta did and it’s what Amarok hopes her story will inspire in students.

To hear the full Story49 episode about Alberta Schenck and the Dream Theater and access the lesson plan, you can visit knom.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau protest looks to give BC mines a classic Alaska ‘boot’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:29

Xtratuf boots are ubiquitous in Southeast Alaska and often associated with fishing. On Wednesday, about a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia.

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About a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia. Photo: Lisa Phu/KTOO.

“This day and this gathering is truly about celebrating clean water and healthy fisheries and the things that make Southeast what it is,” says Edie Leghorn of Sitka. She’s an organizer with Inside Passage Waterkeeper, a group…

“…focusing on clean water in Southeast Alaska. She’s standing on the steps of the Capitol with about 40 other people.

“This day is also about standing united as Alaskans, to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the Alaskan people who have responded with a resounding ‘not on our watch’ to the threat of mines in our Southeast Alaskan salmon streams.”

The rally participants are carrying signs that say “Get Extra Tuff on BC Mines” and “No More Mount Polleys.” It’s been about a year since the Mount Polley Mine disaster in British Columbia, which spilled millions of gallons of mine waste into creeks and lakes. They don’t want the same thing to happen at other B.C. mines near the border.

Among the people and signs are pairs of Xtratuf boots. Caitlyn Cardinell, also with Inside Passage Waterkeeper, says they represent the livelihood of people in Southeast.

“We use and rely on these boots … for our work that we do outside with commercial fishing, forestry, research. They are pretty much a staple in every Southeast Alaskan’s footwear.”

Cardinell says she brought about 200 pounds of boots from Wrangell to Juneau. Boots also came from other communities like Petersburg, Sitka and Kake.

“What we found for this project of collecting salmon stories and boots from Alaskans throughout the region is that Alaska is united on this issue.”

Malena Marvin is executive director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. She met with Bill Bennett, B.C.’s top mine official, who’s traveling in Juneau and Ketchikan to discuss concerns about transboundary mines.

“We really hope to send him and everyone the messages that this is everybody. We don’t see unity on issues in Alaska. Certainly there are so many different types of people and controversies around many issues, but on this people are united. We want to protect our salmon, our jobs, our way of life.”

The rally participants want to see an international solution through the Boundary Waters Treaty, which was signed by Canada and the United States in 1909.

The boots are being donated to Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.

Categories: Alaska News

With VA problems clear, Sullivan summons officials for solutions

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 16:46

Sen. Dan Sullivan held a field hearing in Eagle River on Tuesday focused on health care for veterans in Alaska. It was an effort, he told the modest crowd, to bring a bit of D.C. to Alaska.

Officials, politicians, and veterans themselves agree on what is causing massive problems accessing healthcare recently. Now, they are pivoting towards a search for solutions.
The Veterans Administration has been in the news a lot the last few weeks. That’s for two big reasons: first, the August recess is a time for congressional leaders and cabinet members to visit the communities they craft policy on behalf of.

Senator Dan Sullivan seated at a desk on stage during Tuesday’s Armed Services Committee Field Hearing in Eagle River.

Secondly, since passage of the Choice Act a year ago, there have been some hiccups, to put in mildly.

“Nothing less than an unmitigated failure for our veterans,” was how Sullivan framed the implementation of the Choice Act in Alaska during his opening remarks, attributing it to the “one-size-fits-all design” of the program.

Sullivan sits on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and has been upset by calls from constituents over severe disruptions that happened after the national VA ran out of money earlier this year.

Nationwide, the Choice Program actually worked too well: the number of medical appointments skyrocketed. But, then, so did the costs for that care. The result in Alaska has been canceled operations, enormous medical bills, and just a lot confusion.

There have been several listening sessions across the state this month, but a field hearing is different: this was the Armed Services Committee officially convening for testimony.

“We don’t need rhetoric,” Sullivan said, “what we need are answers.”

The consensus among everyone who spoke was that the VA was doing great in Alaska until the funding cuts exposed holes in the the rapidly enacted Choice Program.

“(It) wasn’t ready for prime-time,” said Verdie Bowen, director of the State’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which overnight went from having some of shortest wait-times in the country to a confusing mess as a result of protocols established under Choice.

“We had several veterans that were scheduled for colonoscopies, went through the prep, went to to the hospital, only to discover that the appointment had been canceled,” Bowen said, “because there was no funding for the appointment.”

In the whole debacle, a lot of fingers have been pointed at TriWest, the intermediary company that, under the Choice Act, has a contract handling referrals and appointments, which have slowed to a halt, particularly in southcentral Alaska.

TriWest president David McIntyre explained they are scrambling to keep up with an unanticipated explosion in demand from the hastily drafted legislation.

“What got implemented was also in the hands of Congress, and at the time the VA,” McIntyre said. “We all were given 30 days to implement a new law, to go from blank sheet of paper to full execution.”

McIntyre told Sullivan the company has already quadrupled its staff from 400 to 1,600, and is in the process of training another 900 employees to try meeting demand. They’re also making sure that local calls for care are routed through Washington state, so personnel are more familiar with Alaska’s unique access issues.

The role of the Congress was also brought up by Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin, third-in-command at the VA. Shulkin is new to the job: in fact, the hearing in Alaska marked his 49th day on the job. He’s also new to the VA: his background is with large private research hospitals, and he expects finding internal fixes and efficiencies to improve the VA system.

Still, similar to other leaders from the VA he believes the nation is dealing with a structural problem as it tries to get an ever-growing and aging population of veterans connected with care.

“We have to do a better job at VA of defining what our needs are, and letting Congress know what we need to be able to take care of the veterans of this country who have served out country,” Shulkin said at a small press conference ahead of the field hearing. “But it may be that with better projections that we actually do need more resources.”

Shulkin says the VA is preparing a proposal for November 1st that could re-establish the Alaska VA as the primary scheduler for appointments, grant more flexibility in choosing local care options, and consolidate funds for payment. Measures, Shulkin, that don’t stand a chance without support in Congress.

Categories: Alaska News

Speaking at Assembly, officials say: ‘Thank you, Sitka’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 16:28

At the first meeting of the Sitka Assembly since last week’s landslides, city officials spoke emotionally about the loss of three local men — and said they had been overwhelmed by the response of city staff, volunteers, and ordinary citizens.

Sitka Police Lt. Lance Ewers speaks to volunteers and friends and family of the missing men at Grace Harbor Church on August 19, the day after Sitka was hit by a series of landslides. (Rachel Waldholz, KCAW)

The meeting began with a moment of silence to honor the three men who died in the August 18 landslide. It was announced by assembly member Aaron Swanson.

“I ask that we take a moment of silence to honor the men we lost in last week’s landslide: Elmer Diaz, Ulises Diaz, and William Stortz.”

The assembly, city staff and members of the public stood and observed a full minute of silence. It was followed soon after by emotional testimony from Fire Chief Dave Miller.

“For the last week or more, the people of Sitka have been flat amazing,” Miller said. “They have gone far and above what I would ever have thought any community could ever have done.”

Miller spoke about the hundreds of people who volunteered to help with the search, or dropped off food; and he spoke of the thousands of dollars raised so far for the families of the three men and for those who were evacuated from their homes around the landslide.

“A disaster like this hopefully happens in a community once in a bajillion years, and hopefully I never see another one like this ever,” Miller said. “But I’ve, in my mind I’ve tried to write a letter to the editor, and what it would say. And I’ve been doing this since last Tuesday. I could never get past just, ‘Thanks.’ The list would be too far, and too long. The paper would double in size in one night with all the names and organizations, and everybody that donated time and effort and equipment and everything to make this work.”

While he couldn’t possibly thank everyone, Miller said, he gave special praise to Deputy Fire Chief Al Stevens, who has been running the day to day response and recovery effort. And he ticked off a host of local, state and federal agencies that have responded, including the Coast Guard, State Troopers, Forest Service and National Park Service. Of the Sitka Fire Department itself, Miller said, “I work with the greatest people in the world.”

But above all, he thanked regular Sitkans. “We may not see eye to eye on everything,” he said. “But when it comes right down to it, this community rocks.”

Speaking after Miller, City Administrator Mark Gorman stood to address the Assembly and audience.

“In working with the Tlingit people I learned that when you address people whom you hold in high regard, you stand,” Gorman said. “And tonight I hold this community in the highest regard.”

“We recovered William tonight,” Gorman said. William Stortz’s remains were recovered just before the meeting, at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. “We recovered the Diaz boys last week. Many remarkable moments over the past several days. One of the more powerful ones was last week when Mr. Diaz, in all his courage and all his dignity, crossed the still-settling slide area to comfort the Stortz family across the way, after he had lost his first son. His second son had yet to be discovered.”

The next day, Gorman said, he watched as the Stortz family did the same thing, walking over to comfort the Diaz family.

“The strength, the courage, the humility of this community has been remarkable,” he said. “This is a community that stands tall and comes together.”

Categories: Alaska News

State sets POW wolf harvest quota at 9

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 16:15

A wolf harvest quota has been set for Game Management Unit 2, which is Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands. According to a joint news release from the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, biologists have set the state harvest at nine wolves.

Nine wolves is half of the maximum allowable harvest, based on a population estimate, announced in June, that showed the number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands was 89. That’s a steep drop from the previous year’s estimate of 221.

That drop prompted calls to cancel all wolf hunting and trapping in the area. Six conservation groups sent requests to state and federal officials, asking them to help preserve the remaining animals.

Prince of Wales Island. Screen shot, Google Maps.

David Person is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, who now lives in Vermont. His work in Alaska focused on wolves, and he has helped conservation groups in their work to protect the Prince of Wales Island population.

Person said a legal harvest of nine wolves means an actual take of up to 15, when poaching is taken into account. He said there isn’t a hard and fast number that biologists can point to as a threshold for viability, but Person believes the wolf population for Game Management Unit 2 is too low, partly because of genetics.

“Because it is an island population, it’s mostly isolated,” he said. “So, when you eliminate entire packs, it’s like eliminating an entire salmon run in a stream. You potentially lose the entire genetic stock. So, if you reduce that population, keep bottlenecking it down to very low levels, you end up with very few breeders left and you end up with potential genetic inbreeding and genetic depression.”

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Southeast Region Supervisor Ryan Scott has said that while state biologists agree that the wolf decline in GMU2 is something to keep an eye on, the department isn’t concerned yet about the viability of that population.

But Person said there are examples in other parts of the world where wolf populations dropped, and were not able to rebound. He said state and federal officials have no idea what the viable population is for POW wolves.

“The reality of that, then, is you should be very conservative,” he said. “And a population – I think their latest estimate for the fall last year was 89 wolves, minus 29 reported killed, so that means 60, minus some that were probably not reported and killed, so the population could be 50 or below.”

Person believes many hunters and trappers would not have a problem with a closed season this year, if it helps keep wolves in the ecosystem over the long term.

“Unless you are someone who said, ‘Boy, I would just rather see wolves disappear from this ecosystem,’ well, if there are hunters and trappers that have that viewpoint, well, they’re just wrong. If there are hunters and trappers out who have a conservation bent, which I think is most of them, then they should want a viable population of wolves, as well as a harvestable population of wolves,” he said.

Larry Edwards runs the Sitka Greenpeace office, which is one of the groups that asked for a closed wolf season this year. He said he’s shocked that the department is allowing any harvest. Like Person, he pointed out that more wolves have been taken since last year’s estimate, so it’s unknown how many are left.

“One thing that we do know, from a conversation I had with one of the folks at Fish and Game, is that during their field season this spring, they found only one active den with one pup. That isn’t a good indication, either,” he said. “I think that we’re really in a crisis situation with the wolves on Prince of Wales and I’m totally shocked that Fish and Game would have an open season on them.”

Edwards adds that such a low harvest quota is difficult to manage, because hunters and trappers have two weeks to report their kill, and the quota could be surpassed before anyone knows it.

He said if the federal Office of Subsistence Management also allows a wolf hunt this season, that will add even more pressure to POW wolves.

The Federal Subsistence Board has scheduled a public hearing in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, to get input regarding a subsistence wolf harvest.

“That will give them five days to make a decision, hopefully before their season starts on Sept. 1st, which is quite a while before the Fish and Game season starts in December,” he said.

Edwards said there are some steps conservation groups can take, such as requesting an emergency Endangered Species Act listing.

The Federal Subsistence Board public hearing starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at the POW Vocational and Technical Education Center in Klawock.

Below is the conservation groups’ request to close the wolf season this year.

Request to FSB for no GMU2 wolf season in 2015__23Jul15

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel preschool re-opens after monumental cleanup effort

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 15:42

The M.E. Preschool is open after a week of extensive cleaning. Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.

The Bethel M.E. preschool is 95-percent back to normal after a week of cleaning up after vandals.

Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Dan Walker says students were back on Monday.

“While it was a very negative event, it was quite heartwarming to see the outpouring of support. It really renewed our faith for the community as a whole coming together when there is something ugly like this that happened. So, we’re quite pleased with that, and we’re really happy we could get back up and running in a week. That was a really monumental effort,” said Walker.

Vandals trashed preschool classrooms and smashed windows in 13 of the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s vehicles earlier this month. Crews had to remove chemicals that were left when fire extinguishers were emptied. After extensive cleaning, preschool staff came in Thursday and worked through Saturday to get classrooms ready. New computers and smart boards will arrive soon.

Walker says the current estimates of damages hovers around $125,000, but it may grow to $150,000. Insurance will cover some, but the district may be on the line for $75,000 to $100,000, says Walker.

Police identified five juveniles ages 10 and 13, and forwarded charges to the department of juvenile justice. Walker says the district will consider adding more security cameras on top of those that helped them find suspects.

“We certainly are going to be looking at adding additional lighting, and taking a look at the campus in general where the district office is located with the schools around it. We’ll be looking at areas that might be vulnerable to vandalism,” said Walker.

The local teacher and staff association is making a donation to teachers to replace supplies destroyed by the vandalism. Walker says there have been offers from around the state and even the lower 48 to send supplies.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan prosecutor position to remain vacant

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 15:07

The Alaska Legislature has cut funding for every branch of state government, including the Department of Law, which oversees District Attorney offices throughout the state. This means Ketchikan’s D.A.s are taking on a larger workload as they wait to have a vacant position filled.

Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West sits behind his desk loaded with case files on the third floor of the Ketchikan Courthouse.

One of Ketchikan’s District Attorneys, Joseph Kovac, left Ketchikan’s state prosecuting team at the end of June. His position remains unfilled while the state grapples with a huge budget deficit. This means a 50 percent increase in workload for each of the two remaining attorneys in the office.

“We cover Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla, that southern part here.”

That’s District Attorney Stephen West. He’s worked in Ketchikan’s D.A. office for nearly 30 years, and he says most of that time, they’ve had three attorney positions to cover the area, which includes four separate courts. West says he isn’t sure if or when they’ll get that third person back.

West says they’ve worked with only two people before, but when that happened, West said they’d had a lighter case load. Another time, West says they were down to only one person.

“There was a period of time that I was here all by myself around 1990 for probably about eight or nine months … I worked weekends and stuff.”

Now with two people, West says he takes cases out of Craig, assistant D.A. Ben Hoffmeister takes all the misdemeanors, and they split the felonies. Even then, scheduling gets messy.

“Ben was in trial earlier this month doing a felony case that lasted most of the week. I had to do a misdemeanor trial, so we were both in trial but we also had to cover courts and a couple of other courts, so we had to be in two or three places at the same time.”

This increased workload doesn’t just mean more hours. It means more cases are settled out of court that could have been either taken to trial or prosecuted for more jail time or higher fines.

Alaska Department of Law Criminal Division Director John Skidmore says the problem with settling more cases for less time or for lesser penalties is a fear for public safety.

“Having lived in many communities throughout Alaska and been a prosecutor in those communities, I’ve always wanted to make the community a better or safer place. For those reasons it’s very difficult to turn down or walk away from a case that you think is righteous because you have sufficient evidence to support that this particular person broke the law.”

Skidmore says state funding for the Department of Law has steadily declined over the last few years, and took a significant cut of 11% after the last legislative session. That department directly funds the D.A.’s office and their personnel. With about 85% of the office’s budget going toward salaries, the cuts resulted in lost jobs.

“Specifically for the criminal division, we ended up having to reduce our personnel by 11 positions. Within the Department of Law or within the criminal division, our service that we provide is primarily prosecution.”

Skidmore says Ketchikan didn’t technically lose a job, but it may take longer to fill that vacant position, because that empty spot was budgeted under what is called a “vacancy factor.” This means the Legislature and Law Department expected someone to be leaving, and allocated less money for salaries because of that.

“The position down in Ketchikan is not a position that was deleted from the budget. It is a position that is currently vacant due to vacancy factor. Do I anticipate on filling that position? The answer is yes. Can I tell you the exact timing of that as of today? No, I cannot.”

Categories: Alaska News

State ferries to increase cancellation fees

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 11:50

A picture of the state ferry Fairweather by Issac Taylor is posted at the Petersburg terminal in 2013. Ticket-holders will soon pay more to cancel tickets. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Alaska Marine Highway System will soon charge more for canceling reservations.

The fee increase begins Oct. 1, the same day the winter ferry schedule begins. That schedule, which reflects state budget cuts, was made public today.

The new fees range from 5 to 40 percent of a ticket’s value, depending on the time until travel begins. Those booking more than a month in advance and canceling within a day face no fees.

Current policy charges a 15 percent fee for cancellations made within two weeks of sailing.

A ferry press release says no-shows and canceled tickets cost the system money. The closer a cancellation to sailing, the harder it is to resell that ticket.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Sitka landslide victim recovered

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-26 08:52

Sitka building official William Stortz. (KCAW file photo)

Search crews have recovered the final victim of the Aug. 18 Sitka landslide.

The body of 62-year-old William Stortz was found Tuesday afternoon.

Heavy equipment operators had been working at several locations identified by search dogs. A road was built up to the observation area at the south end of the slide, and a plywood boardwalk installed to improve the mobility of search crews on the ground. Searchers were under pressure to take advantage of two days of good weather before more rain arrives Thursday.

Now that all the victims have been found, city officials estimate at least another 30 days of work to clear Kramer Avenue.

Municipal administrator Mark Gorman was a longtime friend of William Stortz, who served as Sitka’s building official since 2011. In a press release, Gorman writes “William was hard-working, intelligent and a very kind man. Our family knew him and he was well-respected throughout Sitka.”

Stortz died in the Aug. 18 slide along with brothers Elmer and Ulises Diaz, who were painting a new house in the Kramer subdivision.

Catholic services for the Diaz brothers have been scheduled for 6 p.m. this Friday at Grace Harbor Church, which served as the unofficial headquarters of the recovery operation. A memorial for William Stortz will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Odess Theater on the Sitka Fine Arts Campus.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, August 25, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 17:46

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Walker hopes to reframe the president’s perspective

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

President Obama’s visit to Alaska is now less than a week away, and Gov. Bill Walker today told reporters his agenda for the presidential visit.

Gov. Walker continues to fight land into trust for Alaska tribes

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Walker is continuing the state’s appeal of a case that clears a path for Alaska tribes to put land into trust. Lawyers for the state filed an opening brief late Monday to appeal a ruling that overturns the so-called “Alaska exemption.”

Anchorage law firm intervenes on behalf of state in anti-Medicaid lawsuit

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

An Anchorage law firm is helping the state fight the Legislative Council’s lawsuit aimed at stopping Medicaid expansion.

Vets vent about poor VA care during listening sessions in Fairbanks, Kenai

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska military veterans testified yesterday at listening sessions in Kenai and Fairbanks about problems accessing federally funded health care benefits.

Comrades fondly remember Iraq War veteran ‘Eskimo Joe’

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Earlier this month, a Juneau man died at Lemon Creek Correctional Center 12 hours after being booked on non-criminal charges.

El Nino, ‘The Blob’ prime Alaska for another warm winter

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaskans can expect warmer, drier days this coming winter. That, according to the National Weather Service, is drawing on new tools and techniques to peer into the future.

Quitting meth: two teens tell their story

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Last spring, for our series “The Blind Spot” we spoke with two young women we’re calling Madison and Kylie — those aren’t their real names since one of them is a minor. They were both battling addictions to methanphedimine.

Categories: Alaska News

Comrades fondly remember Iraq War veteran ‘Eskimo Joe’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 17:32

Earlier this month, 49-year-old Joseph Murphy died at Juneau’s prison 12 hours after being booked on noncriminal charges.

Among other things, Murphy was an Iraq War veteran. His squad commander says it changed him forever. I spoke to some of the men Murphy served with.

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Joseph Murphy (from left, first man kneeling) served in the Iraq War. The squad was led by Ed Irizarry (standing to the left above Murphy). Mike Mercer (far right) was a gunner with Murphy. (Photo courtesy Ed Irizarry)

Mike Mercer joined the Alaska Army National Guard in the summer of 2001.

“That’s where I met Murphy,” he says.

Mercer and Spc. Joseph Murphy both lived in Juneau.

“Murphy taught me how to march. Murphy taught me all the really basic stuff – how to shine my boots, how to stand at the position of attention, the position of parade rest,” Mercer says.

One weekend each month, they saw each other for training. Then in 2005, Mercer and Murphy and many others in the Alaska National Guard were sent to war for one year.

“When we went to Iraq, we all got different little nicknames and Murphy got Eskimo Joe,” Mercer says.

Murphy’s wife of many years could not be reached for comment. According to a paid obituary in the Juneau Empire, Murphy was born in Anchorage, but grew up in Emmonak.

Mercer and Murphy were both gunners, each conducting patrols from a gun turret of a Humvee.

“Murph just worked harder than everybody else it seemed like, just because he was always giving as much as he could give. He definitely took care of the guy to his left and to his right. If somebody needed more water, if somebody needed somebody to talk to, if somebody needed some help with anything, Murph was really supportive of people,” Mercer says.

Ed Irizarry says Murphy put his life in jeopardy looking out for others. Murphy was part of the squad Irizarry led in Iraq. During patrols, “we encountered other vehicles that were blocking roads that were suspicious. Could be a car bomb,” Irizarry says.

Irizarry recalls times when, “I was going to walk up to it and Murphy, you know, ‘No, I’ll go do it sergeant.’ He takes off running and he comes back and he says, ‘All clear.’ So what do you tell a man that has just went out there and could give his life for you? What do you tell that guy? A thank you doesn’t seem to be enough.”

Irizarry was deeply sad when he heard Murphy died, “Joe was living with a lot of demons as the rest of us are.”

He mentions a specific car bombing in Iraq, but doesn’t give details.

“He had to witness something a human should never have to see. And I think that damaged him. You take a 40-year-old man who’s never seen anything like that in his life. And he’s got such a big heart, family oriented, do anything for anyone, happy-go-lucky, and then he sees that hell. That changes a man,” Irizarry says.

Irizarry lives in Ketchikan and retired from the military after 22 years, including time in four combat zones.

He says Murphy experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and sought help. More than 40 percent of National Guard members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Murphy’s obituary says he also battled depression and struggled with substance abuse. But Irizarry wants Murphy to be remembered as the funny, kind man he was.

“You could crack a joke on him or tease him about something and he would laugh so hard at himself and just never got upset. He’d just kind of shake his head, ‘OK, you got me.’ So he was just like a young kid and you couldn’t help but fall in love with him,” Irizarry says.

Mike Mercer also experienced symptoms of PTSD, although he’s never been clinically diagnosed. Before Iraq, Mercer says he was a people person. When he returned to Juneau in 2006, he was apprehensive of large groups. He had bad dreams. He couldn’t watch July Fourth fireworks and had trouble driving close to other cars.

“All of us have had problems here and there. Some stuff fades, some stuff doesn’t,” Mercer says.

The last time Mercer saw Murphy was about five years ago at Fred Meyer.

“It doesn’t matter how long we go without seeing each other. Could’ve been another 10 years before I saw Murph, we’d still embrace each other as if we’d just seen other yesterday,” he says.

When you serve in war together, Mercer says, you’re brothers.

“It’s just a bond. You can’t break that. Time ain’t going to break it. I guess even the death of one of your brothers can’t break that either. Murph will always be my brother,” Mercer says.

Murphy was in the emergency room of Bartlett Regional Hospital the night of Aug. 13. Juneau Police transferred him to Lemon Creek Correctional Center on a 12-hour protective hold. A police spokesman says alcohol was a factor. Murphy died in a holding cell the next morning of an apparent heart attack.

The obituary says Murphy will be buried in Emmonak.

Categories: Alaska News

El Nino, ‘The Blob’ prime Alaska for another warm winter

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 17:31

“The Blob” is a mass of unusually warm seawater off the Pacific coast. (Graphic courtesy of American Geophysical Union)

Alaskans can expect warmer, drier days this coming winter. That, according to the National Weather Service, is drawing on new tools and techniques to peer into the future.

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Rick Thoman is the Alaska region’s Climate Science and Services Manager at the National Weather Service. He says over the last three years advances in modeling are giving meteorologists more confidence to say what the future looks like. Based on those techniques, he says Alaska will see a significantly warmer winter this year.

“We’ve got a very strong El Nino in progress. We also have very warm sea surface temperatures continuing in the Gulf of Alaska. We’ve got less sea ice than the long-term normal. All of those things really add up to give us a leg up on warmer than average temperatures.”

And what may be good news for those who shovel their own driveways, Thoman does not see much snow in the late winter, after New Year.

“There is a tilt toward drier than average winters during these moderate and strong El Nino events.”

Thoman adds it only takes one or two significant weather events to dump enough snow for mushers and skiers.

With the warmer temperatures expect more days of freezing rain. Thoman says the conditions that turns roads into ice-rinks have been increasing over the last five year. But he says that increase seems to be part of a cycle. In the 1920s and 1960s there were also significant periods of freezing rain.

With increasingly robust tools and techniques, Thoman predicts within a few years, forecasters should be able to say how stormy a season is likely to be.

Categories: Alaska News

Life Beyond Addiction: The Story of Two Young Women Making It, Together

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 17:30

Kylie and Madison show off their matching necklaces which read “You are my anchor.” (Hillman/KSKA)

Last spring, for our series “The Blind Spot” we spoke with a young couple we’re calling Madison and Kylie. Those aren’t their real names since one of them is a minor. They were both battling addictions to methanphedimines. To escape, they moved to Wasilla to get away from their friends and families who were still using. Being around them makes staying sober a thousand times harder, they said.

Since then, Madison and Kylie have lost their housing in the Valley and have moved back to Anchorage. They came into KSKA to talk about how they’re doing now. Initially they were staying with Kylie’s dad, who was still using meth…

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Transcript:

Kylie: And we did see some of our old friends, but it wasn’t as bad I thought it would be.
Madison: We basically ignored them though… Even though it’s not good being around them. It was actually really hard for us being with her dad because we knew what they were doing in the back room and so we’re just out there, in the living room.
K: We were just alone all the time. We didn’t really see him even though we were living with him.
Anne: How did you keep resisting [using drugs]?
M: By looking at all the people who were in the house.
K: And how far we’ve seen them fall.
M: Like how crappy they were compared to how awesome we were basically.
A: Did you start job searching? Apartment searching?
M: We didn’t want to start job searching at that point until we had a stable place to live because we knew we weren’t going to stay with her dad for very long and we didn’t really want to. It’s really hard to get a job when you don’t have a stable place to live because it just is not.
A: So how did you end up finding a stable place to stay?
K: We actually ended up moving back in with my cousins, which we had stayed on and off with them when we were trying to get sober before we actually did stay sober.
A: How does it feel being around someone about your own age who is clean?
K: I really like being around my cousin all the time. It’s like a good environment. He helps us a lot more than most people do. He’s there for us more than most people are.
M: He really wants us to do good.
K: It’s really nice having that as an influence.
M: He’s like a parent.
K: It’s really nice having him around.
M: He has a car and he’s always like OK. And he checks in on us if he’s at work and we’re supposed to be at work. He calls just to make sure we’re awake and whatnot. He’s very motherly. And I say motherly because he’s so gay, also. Not fatherly but motherly.
A: Is it nice to live with someone else who is gay, too?

Kylie and Madison joke about their shoes. (Hillman/KSKA)

K: Yeah, it make it’s a lot easier.
M: Yeah, because you can just relate on a different level, even though he’s a gay guy.
K: There’s like jokes you can make with him that you can’t make with other people. They’d be like, ‘How do you not get offended at that because you’re making fun of gay people?’ It’s okay with us because we know we’re all joking and not being serious.
A: You have a stable place to live. You have positive influences in your life. Are you working?
K: I work in the 5th Avenue Mall. I like the environment with everybody. I like being able to help people and feel like I’m actually helping somebody with their day, even if it’s something small like selling shoes to them.
M: Well, I actually recently lost my job because I was late one time. But I’m trying to get a job just anywhere. I don’t even care where. I just want a job. Actually, I want a job at the Teen Center, which is where I worked before I went to Wasilla.
A: What about school?
K: We’re kind of like in between schools right now. I’m hoping to maybe go to S.A.V.E.
A: How are you two doing? Last time we talked you talked about how you get annoyed with each other when you’re on drugs but you’re better when you’re off.
K: We still fight.
M: She’s still annoying some times.
K: So are you… We’re actually planning our wedding in two months. She doesn’t do very much of the planning.
M: Well that’s what my best friend is for. They’re planning away and I’m like ‘thank god!’
K: She tried telling me she was going to wear jeans to the wedding. And I told her I would turn around in the aisle.
M: I said black skinny jeans, that’s classy, right?
A: So why marriage? I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times before. You guys are real young.
K: Yeah, a lot of people have given us their two cents on why we shouldn’t get married.
M: We’ve been together for like a really long time.
A: Like a year.
K: A year and a half. But we’ve been through a lot more than most people would in like 20, 30 years of marriage. We’ve put each other through a lot more, too. We know we can get through it all.
M: We’ve actually come really far.
K: Than how we used to be. And talking things out.
M: I feel like we’ve come to a whole different level of ourselves.
K: I really like what we do. I really like the way we are now. Like drinking and all the things most kids our age do is not entertaining at all to us anymore. Like the most entertaining thing we tried to do is we tried to go geocaching. And we’ll like go home and eat a lot of candy and watch horror movies and stuff.
M: We do old people stuff. We do stuff that like older people do and people think they’re boring.
K: I don’t know, I think it’s really fun.

You can listen to their previous interview here.

Categories: Alaska News

Vets vent about poor VA care during listening sessions in Fairbanks, Kenai

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 16:45

Alaska military veterans testified yesterday at listening sessions in Kenai and Fairbanks about problems accessing federally funded health care benefits. Interior veterans shared concerns specific to the Veterans Choice Act, as well as more general issues about working with the Veterans Administration.

Alaska U.S. Senator and Veteran’s Affairs Committee member Dan Sullivan organized the in state listening sessions in light of what he describes as Alaska specific problems with Veterans Choice Act passed last year.

“The Choice Act, ironically, is in many ways based on the model of Alaska — meaning, to allow veterans to access health care outside the VA system: Native health centers, other centers, and to provide flexibility. The irony is, that when it was implemented, it started to cut off funding for those very programs in Alaska,” Sen. Sullivan says.

Alaska Native Veteran’s Association President Benno Cleveland (foreground) speaks at VA listening session. Credit Dan Bross / KUAC

Sullivan and a team of Veterans Administration officials, heard from numerous Interior vets, many of whom, like Marine and Army vet William Fisher lamented general problems with the VA healthcare system, like basic inability to even reach the agency. Fisher says he spent the last week trying to get through.

“I was on the phone for approximately one to one-and-a-half hours each time,” he says. “I purposely chose to call in the morning once, lunch time, and in the evening — different times. They’re always swamped. When you get through, half the time you get hung up on. The other half the time the people you talk to can’t give you a straight answer.”

Fisher says the situation has left him with unpaid medical bills.

“I have a bill now that’s about a year old. I still get these nasty letters. Now they say in the next seven days, if I don’t respond, it’s going to a collections agency.”

Others like John Taylor of Salcha, pointed to issues specifically related to the new Choice Act Program.

“The main difference is, if you want to speak to a doctor, if you want to have a blood test, if you have to have a procedure like a colonoscopy — you have to have it approved by Choice first. If you don’t get it approved or the approval doesn’t go through, they will cancel you.”

Alaska Native Veteran’s Association President Benno Cleveland addressed a basic communication gap between Alaska veterans and the VA.

“We have many — a tremendous amount — of veterans who are out in the villages. Not only do we have Native veterans out there we have other vets out there from all walks of life and all walks of cultures. And we speak English, but we don’t speak your English. Our English is a little different and has different meanings. So when we tap into the VA and everything else, it’s frustrating not only on the veterans, but it’s also frustrating on the VA.”

Cleveland suggested funding training some Alaska veterans to help others navigate the system. Recently appointed VA health undersecretary David Shulkin assured the veterans their concerns are being heard.

“We’re not committed to the old way of the VA doing things. I am committed to fixing this to make sure that this works for you and for veterans around the country.”

The Alaska listening sessions were held in anticipation of a formal Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee field hearing on the Choice Act happening Tuesday in Eagle River.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Hopes to Reframe POTUS Perspective

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 16:39

Gov. Bill Walker (File photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

President Obama’s visit to Alaska is now less than a week away, and he’s not the only one with an agenda for his stay in the 49th state.

“It’s an exciting time for Alaska. We don’t have a lot of presidents who stop here unless they’re low of fuel,” Gov. Bill Walker said today, at a press conference outlining his goals for the presential visit.

For the White House, climate change is the theme of the visit. The president plans to spotlight Alaska’s melting and erosion as signs that climate change is real, and to bolster support for his carbon-reducing energy policies.

Walker hopes to draw the president’s eye to a few other matters.

“We have an opportunity with this trip to tell our own story,” Walker said.

The governor wants Obama to see Alaska’s need for more oil development — to refill the pipeline and fund state government. Walker says Obama’s decision to let Shell drill in the Chukchi Sea suggests the president does not intend to use evidence of Alaska’s warming as a reason to block future oil development.

“I don’t think so. If I he had taken a different position on offshore I’d be more concerned about that,” Walker said. “The fact that he’s said yes to offshore — so I’m not as concerned he’s going to say that.”

When Obama tours Alaska towns struggling with climate change, Walker says he hopes the president sees how expensive it is for the state to mitigate the damage.

“I’ll be talking to him about, you know, we can’t be limited from access to our resources, from the financial standpoint, and be expected to relocate villages at the same time,” Walker said. “So that’ll be the discussion we have.”

Walker says the White House has assured him the president doesn’t plan any surprise announcements during the trip, and he intends to ask about that again this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage law firm intervenes on behalf of state in anti-Medicaid lawsuit

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-25 14:01

An Anchorage law firm is helping the state fight the Legislative Council’s lawsuit aimed at stopping Medicaid expansion. Ray Brown, an attorney with the Anchorage based law firm Dillon & Findley reached out to Governor Bill Walker’s office late last week. Brown says he was upset when he learned the Legislative Council was paying at least $450,000 to a Washington, D.C.,-based law firm to argue the case.

“I was greatly offended by it and I talked to my partners and we agreed that given the current budgetary crisis in Alaska, the state could ill afford to hire a private law firm to go up against this national firm. And we agreed to do it pro bono, we’ve litigated against large national law firms on numerous occasions.”

Attorney’s for the Legislative Council filed the lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court yesterday. They’re asking a judge to stop the state from starting to offer Medicaid benefits to up to 40,000 new Alaskans as planned on September 1st.

The new group of new beneficiaries are mostly childless adults living in poverty. Brown says his law firm feels very strongly that providing health insurance to Alaskans is the right thing to do.

“If you’re going to be a law firm working pro bono it should be for a good cause and I can’t think of anyone better than providing Medicaid to those who are in the most need in this state. So we feel very strongly about it and we’re willing to dedicate our efforts in that regard to whatever extent it takes.”

Brown says his firm will have as many as five lawyers working with a team of state attorneys on the case.

The Legislative Council’s lawsuit contends the expansion population is an optional group that cannot be covered unless approved by the Legislature. In court filings, the Council argues the state could face “irreparable fiscal injury” if Medicaid expansion starts next week.

The first court hearing in the case has been scheduled for the afternoon of August 27th.

Categories: Alaska News

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