Alaska News

DEC Commissioner to Rule in 2015 on Groundwater Sulfolane-Cleanup Level

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-30 17:21

It appears the dispute over how much to clean up contaminated groundwater in the North Pole area will continue into the new year. Officials with the state’s environmental regulatory agency are still reviewing studies to help them decide on a safe cleanup level for the chemical that leaked from a North Pole refinery into the area’s groundwater.

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Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation suggested last fall that DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig may issue a decision on a cleanup level for groundwater contaminated with the industrial solvent sulfolane around the end of the year.

But DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell says that’s unlikely to happen.

The cleanup plan announced Monday requires Flint Hills Resources-Alaska, and potential future owners of its North Pole refinery, to continue remediating and removing contaminants from the facility. (Credit KUAC file photo)

Sulfolane leaked for years from the North Pole Refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills closed the refinery last summer, citing increasing costs, including those related to the sulfolane cleanup. A portion of the facility is now used as a fuel terminal.

“Currently, there is no estimate for when DEC will issue a final cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said.

It’s a complex issue, made even more so because there’s no accepted standard for how much sulfolane a human can be exposed to before it poses a threat to health.

O’Connell says DEC officials are continuing their analysis of data as part of the review of a DEC staff recommendation for a stringent cleanup level of 14 parts-per-billion. Hartig agreed to the review in April in response to a request by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills owns the North Pole refinery that leaked sulfolane into the groundwater, apparently before it bought the facility in 2004.

Flint Hills officials suggested a year ago that DEC should instead set a less-stringent cleanup level that would allow 25 times more sulfolane than the agency’s recommendation.

O’Connell says much of the data that DEC is weighing on the subject was presented during a two-day session in September by a panel of experts the DEC asked to look into the issue. The experts with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, focused on studies on reference doses for sulfolane. That refers to the maximum amount of a toxic substance that can be ingested before it poses a risk to human health.

“Those discussions were in regards to the reference dose, which is one factor of a number of factors that go into calculating a cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said

O’Connell says a report on the two days of discussions has been posted to the TERA website.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Seek Public’s Help In Locating Missing Wisconsin Man

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-30 17:20

Alaska State Troopers are seeking the public’s help in a search for a 72-year-old Wisconsin man who disappeared in August.

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Troopers say Roger Yaeger of Eagle River, Wisconsin, traveled to Alaska over the summer to view wildlife. Family members last heard from Yaeger Aug. 8 when he visited a relative in Wasilla.

Troopers traced Yaeger’s subsequent travel to Fairbanks, where he turned in his rental car a day or two after his Wasilla visit.

Troopers were contacted a few weeks ago by relatives who said Yaeger didn’t return emails for an extended period of time. According to troopers, Yaeger had told relatives he was going to travel around Alaska and would update them around Christmas.

Troopers say there is no record of Yaeger flying in Alaska or leaving the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Marine Highway Prices To Rise Next Summer

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-30 17:19

It will cost passengers more to ride the state ferry starting in the summer. That’s when fares for most Alaska Marine Highway will increase by 4.5 percent.

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According to the Department of Transportation, tickets booked after the first of the year for travel after May first will reflect the new rates. Tickets booked before the New Year will fall under the current rates.

The new fare structure is spurred by the recommendations of a recent rate analysis. The Marine Transportation Advisory Board saw the preliminary recommendations of that report during a recent meeting in Ketchikan. DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the department was planning to raise fares even before the recommendation.

“The department knew its rates were out of balance and by increasing most fares by four-and-a-half percent that was consistent with a lot of other recommendations that were coming through the department as a way to help increase revenues to offset operating costs. So the department would likely move ahead with this rate increase regardless,” Woodrow said. ”So by announcing it now, we’re giving the general public the most amount of time possible to prepare for that increase.”

The analysis was conducted by Northern Economics. It recommends the Marine Highway System set rates so that they to cover between 39 to 65 percent of operating expenses. Revenues currently cover less than one-third of the operating budget, according to the department.

Woodrow says the complete rate study will be released to the legislature in February. More changes in operating costs may come after that.

“The rate increase that was just announced was one of the first preliminary recommendations from that report,” Woodrow said. “The study is not complete yet so we’ve not released the first report. We’ll do that when we release the full report to the legislature this upcoming session.”

The analysis suggests that rates more than 25 percent above average not change. Woodrow says that means about 30 fares within the system will remain unchanged, including the route between Skagway and Haines, the highest per mile rate in Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Prepares to Offer Grizzly License Plates

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-30 17:18

Alaska is bringing back the bear to license plates.

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Alaskans next spring will be able to choose license plates of blue and gold that reflect state flag colors or a new version of plates last offered in 1976 that feature a grizzly bear.

Outgoing state Rep. Peggy Wilson sponsored a measure last session to bring back the grizzly plates. House Bill 293 passed unanimously in the final days of the 2014 session.

The old grizzly plates had red lettering, beige mountains and a brown bear on its hind legs on a white background.

The new plates feature a darker bear on a fading blue background with a silhouette of the Alaska Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Continues To Fill Out Cabinet With Administration, Education Commissioners

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-30 13:15

Gov. Bill Walker has made his final decision on his administration and education commissioner.

Walker has named Sheldon Fisher head of Administration, a department with a wide range of government responsibilities including overseeing the Division of Motor Vehicles as well as the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Fisher has been an executive at McKinley Capital Management since 2011. Before that, he led the sales and marketing team at Alaska Communications. Fisher also made a failed bid at public office in 2010, when he launched a primary challenge against Republican Congressman Don Young. Young took 70 percent of the vote. For the past month, former DMV director Amy Erickson has served as the acting administration commissioner.

Walker, in concert with the Board of Education, has also reappointed Mike Hanley as a commissioner. Hanley was originally named education commissioner in 2011, by then-Gov. Sean Parnell. Hanley — along with environmental conservation commissioner Larry Hartig, transportation commissioner Pat Kemp, and public safety commission Gary Folger — is one of four department heads from the previous administration who Walker has decided to keep on his cabinet. Before being named education commissioner, Hanley spent 20 years in the Anchorage School District, with six of those as a principal.

All of Walker’s commissioner appointments must be approved by the Legislature this spring.

Categories: Alaska News

$41,000 Raised for Victims of Christmas Day Crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:40

An Anchor Point girl is in stable condition after losing both of her legs in a traffic accident on Christmas Day.

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That’s according to a post by her aunt, Emily Haakenson, on a GoFundMe account she started to raise money for the girl’s medical treatment.

11-year old Angelica Haakenson and her pregnant mother, 29-year old Mathany Christine Satterwhite, were driving on Sterling Highway on Thursday when their truck broke down.

Angelica Haakenson – Photo Courtesy of gofundme.com/angelicahaakenson

The Peninsula Clarion reported Nathan Sargeant was helping family jump the truck when Anchor Point resident Larry Pyatt, slid into them with his vehicle.

Both Sargeant and Pyatt suffered minor injuries and Satterwhite was thrown into a ditch. Haakenson was pinned between two of the vehicles, resulting in multiple spinal fractures and severe trauma to her legs.

The mother and daughter were flown to Anchorage for emergency treatment. Satterwhite and her unborn child survived. Both of Haakenson’s legs were amputated above the knee.

Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $41,000 from about 600 donors, including local residents, peninsula businesses, and area emergency services.

Angelica Haakenson is a sixth-grader at Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point.

Categories: Alaska News

One Dead, One Injured in Koyuk House Fire

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:39

Winter in Koyuk. Photo: KNOM file.

A Sunday house fire in Koyuk has claimed the life of one woman and seriously injured one other person.

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Alaska State Troopers received the call around 2 p.m. Sunday. Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen said in an email that “the call was a fire and that a person was found dead.”

The fire was extinguished by the time Troopers arrived on the scene, but not before the smoke and flames took the life of 82-year-old elder Ethel Adams. Another man in the home, 41-year-old Dale Adams, was seriously burned in the fire.

Dale’s sister Beda Prentice said people ice fishing nearby heard an explosion before seeing the thick black smoke.

“They heard a couple big pop noises, big noises from our home, and we’re assuming the kerosene heater blew up,” she said.

Beda thinks her brother Dale was burned trying to turn the heater off—and save the woman who raised them both as her own children—from the growing flames. “I know my brother was trying turn it out,” she said the heater, “because he has burns on his hands and arms and around his face.”

Beda said her brother was medevaced to Anchorage Sunday night. He got out of surgery Monday afternoon. He remains in the intensive care unit at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

One other person was in the home during the fire—a young boy—and Troopers say he escaped the flames unharmed and is now staying with relatives in Koyuk.

Family members have been notified of the blaze and are in Anchorage with Dale Adams; the remains of Ethel Adams will be sent to the state medical examiner to determine the exact cause of death.

The source of the fire is still under investigation, Troopers say. A deputy fire marshal traveled to Koyuk Monday to determine the cause of the fire.

The family of Ethel Adams is collecting donations to assist both in the burial of Ethel and the road to recovery for Dale.

Monetary donations to the family can be made at Credit Union 1 account 657799, type S76. When prompted, enter the letters PRE, the first three letters in the name of account holder Beda Prentice.

Airline miles can be donated to Alaska Airlines mileage account number 48355086 under the name of Beda Prentice.

Questions for other donations for the family can be addressed to Beda Patience at 907.963.2214.

The house fire comes just one week after the Koyuk Covenant Church suffered a fire of its own—when flames from the building’s wood stove caused smoke damage throughout the sanctuary and burned a hole in the floor beneath the stove.

No one was injured during the Dec. 21 church fire, but the blaze left the building unusable until funds could be raised for more extensive repairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman Killed in Anchorage Pedestrian Crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:37

Anchorage police say a woman died when she was struck by a vehicle as she walked on a rural municipal street.

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Police say 59-year-old Delores Greene was struck on O’Malley Road near its upper end in the city’s Hillside area.

The accident occurred just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday near O’Malley Road’s intersection with Main Tree Drive.

Police say Greene may have been crossing O’Malley when she was struck by a sedan driving west. The driver stopped and cooperated with police.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Overturns State Regulation Deeming Kodiak’s Bison Feral

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:35

Friday the Alaska Supreme Court overturned an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulation from 2007 that declared domesticated livestock, specifically Kodiak’s bison herds, were feral if they stayed outside of their designated state grazing lease areas for too long. As feral animals, they would be fair game, and could be hunted like any other wild animal, subject to Fish and Game regulations.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pat Pitney Prepares To Address State’s Budget Issues

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:34

Alaska’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget has a big job ahead of her. Governor Walker announced on Friday that he wants to put a hold on six large projects until they can be thoroughly reviewed. The projects are the small diameter gas pipeline, the Kodiak rocket launch complex, the Knik Arm bridge, the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, the Juneau access road and the Ambler road.

OMB’s new director Pat Pitney says she wants Alaskans to be involved in the conversation on how to trim the state budget as the price of oil falls. Pitney is a former vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

She says budget cuts are necessary, but the Walker administration wants to be strategic about where they happen.

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Categories: Alaska News

Avalanche Survivor Returns to Rainbow Ridge, Recovers Bodies of Companions

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:33

The survivor of the Dec. 6 avalanche at Rainbow Ridge returned to the site in the Eastern Alaska Range last week to recover the bodies of his friend and dog. Michael Hopper says he had to go, because Alaska State Troopers had ruled out a recovery mission until the danger of avalanche in the area subsided. That could’ve taken months.

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Michael Hopper says he and a companion set out a week ago intending to scout out the area where his friend, Erik Peterson, and his dog, Rowdy, were buried, to determine whether a recovery mission was even possible.

Both Hopper and his companion, Dan Perpich, are experienced backcountry skiiers. He says they knew it was risky to return to the site. He says they proceeded cautiously during the 2-and-a-half-hour trek to Rainbow Ridge from the Richardson Highway, about 10 miles north of Isabel Pass.

Michael Hopper says his dog, Rowdy, almost always accompanied him when he went backcountry skiing – like this 2010 outing in the Eastern Alaska Range near Black Rapids.
Credit Mike Hopper

“It was still unnerving, I have to admit,” he said.

Hopper says once they got back to the debris field where his friends were buried and surveyed the area, they decided a recovery was do-able. They mapped-out a safe route away from avalanche-prone areas, and started digging.

Hopper said Perpich was the ideal companion for the mission, because he’s a veteran who’s been through courses at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center out of the Black Rapids Training Site.

“He’s received plenty of training in avalanche awareness and also in rescue and recovery of all sorts,” he said. “So he was a pretty handy guy to have along.”

Hopper and Perpich worked two full days of work to remove the bodies and bring them out.

Hopper says it was a relief for both him and Peterson’s family to recover the bodies, because he’d been nagged by the thought of leaving his friends behind until the danger of avalanche subsided. That could’ve taken weeks, even months.

“We felt it was important, I think, to his family, to know their son was off the mountain. There was a sense of rightness about that,” he said. “And it was also good for me to find my dog as well.”

Hopper says he also found comfort in how he found his dog.

“Probably the only light in this dark mission was when we found Rowdy, he was curled up right up against Erik’s back. And he had his right paw on Erik’s shoulder. And it looked very, very much just like he’d just curled up right up against Erik and went to sleep.”

Hopper speaks quietly, and stops to clear his throat every couple of minutes. He says that’s because he re-injured his lungs during the recovery mission after damaging them when he was buried in the avalanche. He managed to dig himself out that time, but not before breathing in a lot of snow and accumulating fluid in his lungs.

“I’m under strict orders now not to play outside for a month,” he said.

Hooper told Alaska State Troopers last Tuesday that he’d recovered Peterson’s body. He turned it over to the Troopers, who in turn transported it to the state Medical Examiner’s office.

Hooper says the Peterson’s remains will be returned to his family in Rhode Island for interment.

Categories: Alaska News

As Federal Case Proceeds, State Drops Charges Against Dutch Harbor Asia Owners

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:32

State prosecutors have dropped their case against two Unalaskans accused of running a major drug operation out of their home and business. Now, it’s up to a federal court to determine the outcome.

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Tam Nguyen and Thu McConnell were arrested in May after police tied an alleged heroin sale back to their convenience store.

Police seized Dutch Harbor Asia on May 24. (Courtesy of Patrick Cyr)

When officers searched the Dutch Harbor Asia shop and the couple’s home on Biorka Drive, they found one of the biggest caches of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine they had ever seen in Unalaska. The street value was more than $500,000.

A grand jury indicted Nguyen and McConnell on multiple felony counts this summer. That paved the way for a trial in state court.

But last week, assistant district attorney Laura Dulic signed an order dismissing all charges against the defendants ”without prejudice.”

Dulic did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to a press release from the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, the decision came after talking with federal prosecutors.

Nguyen has also been indicted in U.S. District Court. And federal sentences are tough when it comes to distributing drugs and possessing firearms.

But those charges are based on evidence collected by Unalaska police. And defense attorneys have been fighting to get most of that thrown out of both state and federal court.

The attorneys argue that Unalaska police didn’t have probable cause to conduct searches back in May — when they traced an alleged drug sale to Dutch Harbor Asia.

It all started when officers asked a criminal informant to help them buy drugs in the community. The informant reached out to a man named Eric Roach, who allegedly paid a visit to Dutch Harbor Asia.

After that, Roach allegedly gave two packets of heroin to the police informant. And officers swooped in. They seized the store and detained Tam Nguyen while they waited for a magistrate to approve their first warrant.

In a motion filed in state court in August, David Mallet argued that “the police did not exert any of the standard control over any suspected drug buy between Roach and the defendant [Tam Nguyen].”

Mallet alleged that the police did not search Eric Roach to see if he was carrying drugs before he went into the store. Mallet said there’s no recording of the alleged sale — and no concrete proof that his client sold drugs.

Without that, Mallet argues that there’s no justification for a search warrant. The attorney defending Nguyen in federal court has made similar arguments.

The Unalaska police department is not commenting on the case until it’s resolved, according to deputy chief Mike Holman.

A federal judge is scheduled to consider Tam Nguyen’s request to dismiss evidence in January. In the meantime, Nguyen will stay in jail.

But his partner doesn’t have to. Now that the state’s case is closed, Thu McConnell has been released from custody.

Categories: Alaska News

Spay and Neuter Clinics Improve Village Safety

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:31

Kongiganak residents brought dogs to a free spay and neuter clinic. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

A team of veterinarians brought spaying, neutering, and vaccinations to two YK Delta villages last week. Alaska Native Rural Veterinary, a Fairbanks-based nonprofit visited Tuntutuliak and Kongiganak for the free clinic.

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Veterinarian Paula Gibson is in Kongiginak to spay, neuter, vaccinate, and deworm as many dogs as she can in a marathon day. She lives in Missouri, but grew up in Adak. She’s volunteering with Alaska Native Rural Veterinary. This December morning, her mobile surgical unit is set up in a wide hallway of the community’s washateria with a window overlooking the ocean.

In recent years, rural western Alaskan villages have struggled with loose dog populations. It’s not uncommon for some villages to pay young people a bounty of $10 or $20 dollars per dog when things get out of control.

Environmental health experts say overpopulation creates the potential for hungry and aggressive dogs and can lead to bites and in some cases maulings. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation office of environmental health cites 703 animal bites in the YK Delta between 2007 and 2013.

In the lobby with about 10 others was Leann Miller and her small, gold-coated Scarlett, age two.

“I don’t know how she feels, maybe she’s excited and scared and nervous at the same time,” said Miller.

The community of over 400 located near the mouth of the Kuskokwim a few miles from the coast doesn’t get visits from vets. Residents would need to fly to Bethel for procedures like spays and neuters, which is cost prohibitive for many. The result can be a overpopulation of stray and loose dogs, raising the risk for dog bites, contact with rabies, and a more hungry dogs getting into garbage.

Jonathon Otto, a VPSO, brought his German wire-haired pointer hunting dog, Nuka, to be neutered.
Sergeant Otto says spaying and neutering is a better alternative to how village dog populations are usually controlled.

“They call me and we find someone to do the dog control, they round them up, take them to the dump, and take care of them,” said Otto.

Joe Joseph is President of the Kongiganak tribal council, which hosted the clinic in their building. He says the village’s dog control efforts are only a temporary fix.

“Neutering dogs, fixing them up, it’s going to help us a lot, I’m glad they’re doing that. For the safety of our kids, for the safety of our elders, I’m glad they’re doing that,” said Joseph.

It’s not only dogs they take care of. Hannah Jimmy held a gray cat, thought to be one of three in town.

“We call him kitty and sometimes Bobby,” said Jimmy.

After Gibson was finished with Bobby, there will be no Bobby Juniors. By late morning, the line was long for pet owners, and Gibson was eager to have as many animals as she could come across her table.

Gibson, who also works with Christian Veterinary Mission, says every dog counts.

“It may sound like we’re not doing enough when you look at the actual numbers of animals. But when you break it down into the number of puppies a dog can have or a male dog can father, we’re at least stopping that much, so it’s a start and there’s quite a bit more to do,” said Gibson.

Angie Fitch of Fairbanks is the director for Alaska Native Rural Veterinary.

“One female could have 16 to 20 puppies a year,” said Fitch.

After the team sterilized 38 dogs during the visit, the two communities can expect fewer puppy litters and fewer problem dogs.

Sponsors of the clinic include Grant Aviation, Delta Western, and the YKHC Office of Environmental health. The group hopes to visit 20 villages a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 29, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-29 16:30

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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$41,000 Raised for Victims of Christmas Day Crash

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

An Anchor Point girl is in stable condition after losing both of her legs in a traffic accident on Christmas Day.

One Dead, One Injured in Koyuk House Fire

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A Sunday house fire in Koyuk has claimed the life of one woman and seriously injured one other person.

Woman Killed in Anchorage Pedestrian Crash

The Associated Press

Anchorage police say a woman died when she was struck by a vehicle as she walked on a rural municipal street.

Court Overturns State Regulation Deeming Kodiak’s Bison Feral

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

Friday the Alaska Supreme Court overturned an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulation from 2007 that declared domesticated livestock, specifically Kodiak’s bison herds, were feral if they stayed outside of their designated state grazing lease areas for too long. As feral animals, they would be fair game, and could be hunted like any other wild animal, subject to Fish and Game regulations.

Pat Pitney Prepares To Address State’s Budget Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget has a big job ahead of her. Governor Walker announced on Friday that he wants to put a hold on six large projects until they can be thoroughly reviewed. The projects are the small diameter gas pipeline, the Kodiak rocket launch complex, the Knik Arm bridge, the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, the Juneau access road and the Ambler road.

OMB’s new director Pat Pitney says she wants Alaskans to be involved in the conversation on how to trim the state budget as the price of oil falls. Pitney is a former vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

She says budget cuts are necessary, but the Walker administration wants to be strategic about where they happen.

Avalanche Survivor Returns to Rainbow Ridge, Recovers Bodies of Companions

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The survivor of the Dec. 6 avalanche at Rainbow Ridge returned to the site last week to recover the bodies of his friend and dog. Michael Hopper says he had to go, because Alaska State Troopers had ruled out a recovery mission until the danger of avalanche in the area subsided.

As Federal Case Proceeds, State Drops Charges Against Dutch Harbor Asia Owners

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

State prosecutors have dropped their case against two Unalaskans accused of running a major drug operation out of their home and business. Now, it’s up to a federal court to determine the outcome.

Spay and Neuter Clinics Improve Village Safety

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A team of veterinarians brought spaying, neutering, and vaccinations to two YK Delta villages last week. Alaska Native Rural Veterinary, a Fairbanks-based nonprofit visited Tuntutuliak and Kongiganak for the free clinic.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 26, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 16:18

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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Legislators Urge Governor Walker To Rein In Budget

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Bill Walker this week urging measures to rein in budget items. Incoming Senate President Kevin Meyer, a Republican from Anchorage and House Speaker Republican Mike Chenault of Nikiski signed the letter, along with the chairs of the finance committees for both chambers. The letter lays out suggestions such as a hiring freeze for all state departments, limiting agency travel and requesting department budgets for the first six months of 2015.

$1 Million Loan to Buy Sitka Hospital ‘Breathing Room’

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka Community Hospital will get a $1-million infusion of cash from the Sitka assembly, in order to meet short-term expenses.

A long-term solution for the hospital’s cash woes is still on the horizon.

Fire Marshals say PATC Fire Cause ‘Undetermined’

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A report from the State Fire Marshals’ office has ruled the cause of a fire that burned the new Phillip Ayagnirvik Treatment Center, or PATC, in Bethel as ‘undetermined’. The building is owned by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and was fully insured.

Incoming DNR Commissioner Prepares For New Position

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Mark Myers is preparing to become Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources on January 16th. He is currently Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Myers has also worked for the oil industry as a petroleum geologist and for the federal government- leading the United States Geological Survey.

And he was the director of the division of oil and gas when Frank Murkowski was Governor. Myers says he made a difficult decision to resign from that job.

AK: Exploding History

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

It’s been more than 70 years since Unalaska came under attack during World War II, but you don’t have to look hard to find the remnants. The community is littered with old gunnery installations, battered Quonset huts and bunkers – some of which are being preserved for posterity.

But there’s history, and then there’s hazard, and the shells and bombs that keep washing up on Unalaska’s shores fall somewhere in between.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Urge Governor Walker To Rein In Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 16:00

Alaska lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Bill Walker this week urging measures to rein in budget items.

Incoming Senate President Kevin Meyer, a Republican from Anchorage and House Speaker Republican Mike Chenault of Nikiski signed the letter, along with the chairs of the finance committees for both chambers. The letter lays out suggestions such as a hiring freeze for all state departments, limiting agency travel and requesting department budgets for the first six months of 2015.

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Senator Meyer says lawmakers only have 90 days to do their work and they’ve not seen the Governor’s plans.

“We’ve heard all kinds of things during the campaign that he wants to add to education and add to the Medicaid expansion but yet he wants to make 15, 16% across the board reductions, and I don’t know that those are accurate in today’s environment so we just want to see what his expectations are. It’s more of a courtesy thing, just that the sooner we can get this information, the better,” he said.

Meyer says ideas like a hiring freeze may not be possible in all departments, such as public safety or corrections but the desire is to get clarity from the Walker administration about what could be coming.

“A statement to that effect would help us send the message out to the general pubic that we have a major budget deficit that we’re serious about addressing and we want to incorporate everyone’s thoughts and ideas on it and especially the governor’s,” Meyer said.

Other ideas are to look at capital appropriations that are more than five years old to see if that money could be re-appropriated to other, more pressing needs. Meyer says Office of Management and Budget figures show between three and four billion dollars in capital projects that are encumbered but not yet spent.

As others have acknowledged, Meyer says Alaska has seen large fluctuations in oil prices in the past and as recently as the late 90s and early 2000s, there were deficits to be dealt with.

“In the past the problem, in recent years was production, the price was high, but now we have a problem with both price and production,” Meyer said.

He says lawmakers hope the gas pipeline project will stay on track so production can add to state revenue in a decade.

“Our gas looks good because it can replace coal in China and nuclear in Japan, but oil is always going to be around and countries like the Middle East and Russia will make sure that they’re around and as economies rebound in Europe and China, the demand is going to grow so I do see the prices will go back up but when is anybody’s guess,” Meyer said.

Governor Walker sent a letter today asking all commissioners to identify potential cuts to their departments by January 10th.

A statement from Walker’s office says in part that Walker shares the concern about a need for action, and that he and his team have been in nearly daily budget meetings for several weeks.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

$1 Million Loan to Buy Sitka Hospital ‘Breathing Room’

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 15:59

Sitka Community Hospital will get a $1-million infusion of cash from the Sitka assembly, in order to meet short-term expenses.

A long-term solution for the hospital’s cash woes is still on the horizon.

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There was no public opposition at all during the assembly’s last regular meeting of 2014 to increasing Sitka Community Hospital’s line of credit.

Assembly member Matt Hunter said there really was only one choice.

Hospital staffers participate in the Alaska Day Parade. (SCH photo)

“If we don’t pay this, the hospital cannot exist. They need the money. They’re not going to be able to keep the doors open or make payroll if they don’t get $1-million soon. And let’s say for some reason we decided not to do it. We still have to pay $1-million, and we have no chance of raising additional revenues. We’re going to drop services and jobs. This is a no-brainer to extend this.”

During public testimony, the hospital’s director of outpatient services, Kay Turner, and board chair Celeste Tydingco, read a prepared statement describing the long decades of service provided by the hospital. “We’ve been there when you needed us,” they said. “Now we need you.”

Marilyn Coruzzi is a physician. The crisis didn’t add up for her.

“We’re working 10-12 hour days and being encouraged to work even harder. Accounts receivable is this phenomenal number. We really don’t understand how we got where we are.”

Physical therapist Bridget Hitchcock said she trusted new CEO Jeff Comer, who took the post in October.

“I feel like Jeff has the skills to help us figure out a new plan. Whether that’s collaboration with SEARHC, figuring out what we do well — I don’t know what it’s going to look like. But I’m committed to this process, and I’m committed to and supporting the leadership in this process. And that includes you guys.”

Jeff Comer appeared via teleconference. He told the assembly that the hospital had deferred $650,000 in obligations last week. The expenses include health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, and payments to vendors. He said the $1-million would create “breathing room” to work toward a long-term solution, which he anticipated to be 6-9 months out.

The city’s chief administrative officer, Jay Sweeney, has been working mornings at the hospital to help assess finances there. His conclusion wasn’t any brighter.

“By January 10, $960,000 of the $1-million will be expended, assuming no revenues come in.”

But revenues are expected to come in. Municipal administrator Mark Gorman said the hospital should have a plan in place within the next 4 weeks to control the damage, and to prevent a repeat of this request in the near future.

The assembly voted unanimously to support the $1-million loan. Before he signed off, Comer said “It’s going to be a rough couple of months for us.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Marshals say PATC Fire Cause ‘Undetermined’

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 15:58

A report from the State Fire Marshals’ office has ruled the cause of a fire that burned the new alcohol treatment center in Bethel as ‘undetermined’. The building is owned by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and was fully insured.

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The report, completed December 10th, according to state fire officials, was released to KYUK today (12/24). The new Phillip Ayagnirvik Treatment Center, or PATC, a 16-bed alcohol treatment facility, was under construction and 90-percent framed.

In the report, investigators say the fire started in the southwest corner of the building near a locked utility locker but they could not determine the ignition source. They rule out all possible mechanical and electrical causes. The summary does not explicitly rule out arson. The case is closed now, but could reopen if further information is received.

Dan Winkelman is the CEO of YKHC. His only comment was that, “YKHC offers a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent fire at PATC …”.

Investigators asked local crews about vandalism and were told that there had been no recent problems, but there were problems with spray-painting several months ago.

The report says four young people who had just left the Teen Center were the first witnesses as they walked toward the power plant. Investigators interviewed the teens for their report and collected photos and video from their phones.

One of the teens said they saw a light at the building but realized it was a fire once they got closer. One teen climbed a ladder and said he saw electric wires burning, sparking and a shelf on fire.

The first photo was taken at 8:15 p.m. The teens said they called 9-1-1 at 8:20 p.m. and started recording video at 8:26. The Bethel Fire Department was dispatched to the blaze, at 8:19 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27th.

The report says the building is a total loss. The estimated value of the structure and contents was more than $12,500,00.00 dollars. The full report is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

Incoming DNR Commissioner Prepares For New Position

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 15:57

Mark Myers is preparing to become Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources on January 16th. He is currently Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Myers has also worked for the oil industry as a petroleum geologist and for the federal government- leading the United States Geological Survey.

And he was the director of the division of oil and gas when Frank Murkowski was Governor. Myers says he made a difficult decision to resign from that job.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Exploding History

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-26 15:56

It’s been more than 70 years since Unalaska came under attack during World War II, but you don’t have to look hard to find the remnants. The community is littered with old gunnery installations, battered Quonset huts and bunkers – some of which are being preserved for posterity.

But there’s history, and then there’s hazard, and the shells and bombs that keep washing up on Unalaska’s shores fall somewhere in between.

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Out on a quiet beach at the edge of the island, Unalaska’s shooting range is where local gun owners go for target practice.

But the team of Army and Air Force munitions experts that have converged on the range aren’t here to practice anything.

They’ve flown in just to examine a mysterious shell that may date back to World War II.

“Let’s go ahead and take a couple minutes and try to get a quick ID,” Air Force Sgt. Luke Mefford said.

He’s the head of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Photo by Unalaska Fire Chief Abner Hoage.

The EOD team has come out to Unalaska, Adak and other Aleutian communities over the years to identify and safely destroy leftover munitions from the war.

Usually, these items get picked up beachcombers or fishermen. Even though they’ve have been swimming in salt water for decades, that doesn’t mean these they’re inert.

Army Sgt. Joe Potocki explains:

Potocki: “Some old explosives use, like, nitroglycerin which is highly sensitive. Being so old, not in the state it’s supposed to be in? You mess around with it, it could definitely go off.”

Rosenthal: “That’s scary!”

Potocki: “It is. That’s why we’re around – it’s why we’ve got a job.”

The job that brought them to Unalaska this time was an effort at historical preservation – gone wrong.

The Ounalashka Corporation runs the World War II museum. Their manager, Dave Gregory, says he was out at lunch one day when an employee of a local fish plant dropped off a donation.

“It was about – oh, what – 20 inches long, six inches at the base. And then it kind of tapered down. Kind of a greenish, dirty color I guess,” Gregory said.

Gregory is no stranger to ordnance. He says the museum does like to collect small pieces, to put in its displays. They add some color.

This shell was different, though. It was heavier and bigger than anything Gregory had seen, it didn’t seem like a good thing to keep around. So he called his friends at public safety. They took custody of the shell, and contacted the EOD team for disposal.

In Unalaska, the team is coping with miserable weather. They take turns snapping photos on the windy, snowy beach. One by one, they dart into a running fire truck for warmth while they consult munitions manuals.

Finally, Sgt. Mefford walks up. They have an ID.

“It’s an artillery round, more than likely fired from a naval ship out in the water somewhere,” Mefford said. “Either for target practice, depending on the exact time period, it may have been used against enemy actions.”

Mefford says he can’t share any more information than that, because the rest is classified.

“I can’t really give you specifics on it, just due to our disclosure rules on it,” he said.

The team wastes no time setting up the blast site.

“Are we gonna have enough antenna to get up on top of this, Scotty?,” Mefford asked.

“Yeah we should, because those caps,” Scott Rice, from the U.S. Air Force, said.

They pack the shell in a hole, and cover it with about 6 pounds of C4, a plastic explosive. They poke in some blasting caps, which are tuned into a remote control.

Once it’s set up, we’re directed to take cover several hundred yards away, behind two gravel berms. We’re waiting for the remote control to warm up, when the team asks me if I want to be the one to set off the explosives.

Rosenthal: “Can I?”

Rice: “Yeah, absolutely! It’ll be ready to go in about 30 seconds.”

Mefford: “We’re not doing it yet. We’re gonna let him set his camera up and then give him the go-ahead.”

While we wait for fire chief Abner Hoage to set up his video camera, I get some basic instructions.

Rice: “Alright, so when we get ready to fire this thing, under this cover is one fire button. You just get ready to press and hold one of them, and then press and hold the other. There will be a two second delay and the shot will go off.”

Potocki: “Do you want to tell her what she has to yell?”

Rice: “Ha, oh yeah. Before you set that off, you have to yell fire in the hole three times as loud as you can. Once forward, once off to your left, once off to your right.”

Air Force Sgt. Scott Rice and I trade. He takes my microphone and recorder, and I take his remote detonator.

Without further ado:

Rosenthal: “FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE.”

Rice: “Hold it up nice and high! There you go.”

BLAST

Rosenthal: “Oh whoa! That is a giant plume of smoke. Whoa. That’s a rush.”

Bits of shrapnel rain through the air – some of them even flying past the berms, carried by the high winds.

Once the dust settles, the team tells me they like to let visitors detonate the explosives when they’re working in the field.

Rosenthal: “Well, thanks for letting me do that, it was really fun.”

Rice: “Alright, we’re good to go. We can go and check it out.”

All that’s left of the shell, is a 4-foot round hole. They measure it and pack up their equipment pretty fast.

Rice: “Alright well, that’s fun.”

Mefford: “That’s Jenga.”

JBER Pilot: “I know the aftermath isn’t as exciting. There’s a hole in the ground!”

The team heads back to the Unalaska fire house for a quick debrief. I ask if any of them thought about the history of the shell before they blew it up, and they say they did.

Mefford: “It’s just neat to come across something your granddad or great-uncle or whatever might have shot 70 years ago.”

Christopher McDonald, US Army: “Probably looked a lot better, though.”

Mefford: “Yeah, probably shinier back then.”

The EOD team is pretty sure that ordnance will keep washing up in Unalaska for a while.

That’s why, when it it’s time for the team to fly back to their base in Anchorage, saying “see you later” seems like a more appropriate than saying, “goodbye.”

Categories: Alaska News

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