Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Earthquakes

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-27 07:00

Even by Alaska standards, there has been a lot of seismic activity recently. Alaska is located in the Ring of Fire, so it’s not unusual for there to be frequent earthquakes and volcanoes kicking up occasionally, but starting in April, there has been some unusual seismic activity in the Brooks Range. An area near Noatak has, since April, seen a spike in earthquakes after a 30-year quiet period.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Michael West, State seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center
  • John Power, scientist in charge of the Alaska Volcano Observatory

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday June 27 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 28  at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday June 28 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Flooding Closes Portion of Denali Park Road

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:28

The National Park Service has closed the Denali Park Road past Eielson Visitors Center at Mile 66 due to flooding and significant rockfall.

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The Park Service says torrential rain fell in the park overnight and the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located at the end of the road, has been evacuated due to flooding. National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says all guests are accounted for and are currently at another lodge on higher ground. She says those guests, along with other visitors and employees trapped in the park’s interior cannot be transported by bus or airplane due to high water on the road and the airstrip.

The park is making contingency plans to evacuate guests by helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Includes $6 Million For New Icebreaker

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:27

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate has $6 million for a new Coast Guard icebreaker. That would make three years in a row of small appropriations for the ship, projected to cost nearly a billion dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission to get Congress and the Administration to make Arctic issues a bigger priority.

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Categories: Alaska News

How will Sealaska Solve its Money Problems?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:26

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are uncertain.

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Sealaska recently told its about 22,000 shareholders about its financial problems.

The corporation’s annual report showed operational losses of about $57 million last year. Revenues from investments and other sources brought that down around $35 million, but it’s still a lot of money.

Outgoing CEO Chris McNeil Jr. says Sealaska is doing fine. It has a three-point plan to bounce back.

“One, of course, is achieving our land entitlement before Congress. The second is making one or more highly profitable acquisitions in 2015. And then also, it would have to significantly increase its federal contracting with higher margins.”

The first is controversial federal legislation turning 70,000 to 80,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberland over to the corporation.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

It’s stalled in Congress. But if it’s passed, it will allow Sealaska to reinvigorate its shrunken logging subsidiary, once the corporation’s economic powerhouse.

Rick Harris is executive vice president of the corporation.

“We will be effectively running out of timber by the end of this year or sometime early in 2015,” Harris says.

Some of the targeted timberlands have high-value, old-growth forest. Others have, or will have, second- or young- growth trees big enough to fell and sell.

Harris says Sealaska is developing markets for those smaller trees, which already make up a fifth of timber sales.

“We’re working with the customer, we’re working with them to identify the supply we have, both for mature timber and second growth. And then helping build a plan, with our customers, so we will be able to supply their needs and that they have the mills that are capable of handling the type of wood that we can deliver,” Harris says.

Carlton Smith is one of four business-oriented shareholders running for the board as a slate.

“The board has struggled with replacing timber income. And we’ve had 20 years to plan for this,” Smith says.

He says Sealaska would do better getting involved in Alaska’s oil and gas industry and helping shareholders find employment there.

One way, he says, is to join other Native corporations campaigning against repealing the state’s oil and gas tax structure.

“We need to make a commitment to the future of Sealaska’s involvement in Alaska commerce. And that takes place in Anchorage,” Smith says.

Smith wants the corporation to open an office in the state’s largest city.

Karen Taug, another member of the shareholders slate, says it’s time to close or at least move Sealaska’s office in Bellevue, Wash. That’s the home of several subsidiaries, as well as the CEO’s main office.

“They could very well pay rent somewhere else at a much cheaper rate, rather than in a high-rent area of Bellevue. Q: Does it seem to you that that was created so Chris McNeil could live and work down south? A: Yes,” Taug says.

Corporate officials won’t give many details of the second part of their recovery plan, to buy one or several new, profitable business. That’s because it’s still being developed.

But McNeil says they’re considering areas that could employ shareholders in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve taken another look and will continue to look in the fisheries sectors,” McNeil says.

Other areas include organic foods and expanded mariculture.

Sealaska’s already backing small, tribally-owned oyster farms. VP Harris says it creates businesses that take a realistic approach to village employment.

“Jobs that are the kind of thing people that want to do. And it’s consistent with the way they live their lives, instead of us coming and saying you have to change the way you live in order to have a job. We’re saying, let’s create jobs that meet your needs,” Harris says.

Shellfish farming is part of Sealaska’s Haa Aani division, which focuses on job development within Southeast.

But Smith and some other critics say that’s not where to look if you’re trying to boost corporate profits.

“I don’t know how a company that’s not making money by itself can be generating economic development elsewhere. And even though it theoretically does touch the lives of our shareholders, it certainly would not be the No. 1 priority at the moment,” Smith says.

Corporate officials say Sealaska needs to try to get more leverage out of government contracting.

But contracting is part of the corporation’s problems. About $26 million was lost when that subsidiary badly underestimated two federal construction projects in Hawaii.

The independent slate’s Ross Soboleff also wants to lower costs by reducing pay and bonuses for board members and top managers.

“My personal opinion about the board compensation now is it’s high. And when the top levels of your company tighten their belts and cut their own expenses, it sets a very important precedent and the tone of the company,” Soboleff says.

Soboleff, Taug and Smith are three of 13 candidates running for Sealaska’s board. Their slate also has a fourth member, Margaret Nelson.

Three board incumbents are seeking re-election: Sidney Edenshaw, Ed Thomas and Rosita Worl.

Other candidates running independently are Myrna Gardner, Mick Beasley, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe.

CEO McNeil will officially retire at the annual meeting. Treasurer and chief investment officer Anthony Mallott will take his place.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Highlights ‘Severe Shortcomings’ In State’s Housing Stock

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:25

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nenana Bridge Will Provide Access To Agricultural Land

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:24

A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.

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The bridge from the city of Nenena will stretch across the river in two concrete spans totaling over 450 feet, providing a road link to tens of thousands of acres of prime growing land.

City of Nenana Mayor Jason Mayrand traces the access project back to the 1980’s, when Alaska was looking to make it big in farming. “Originally it was intended to correspond with the project in Delta and down by Eielson with the farm developments, but it never really came to fruition here,” he said.

Failure of the Delta Agriculture Project chilled state interest in farming at Nenana, but Mayrand says local support has remained, and changes in the food industry have elevated the area’s potential. “There’s a lot of interest in disease free and organic products,” he said. “And this area being disease free, obviously, since it’s never had any agricultural products on it, bodes well for organic growth.”

The Nenana agriculture project got back on track with Alaska voters approval of $6.5 million for the bridge, as part of a 2012 statewide bond package. Mayrand says work has already been done on the far side of the river in anticipation of the bridge opening up access.

“Right now we’ve got about 12 or 14 miles of road constructed West. We’ve been working on it over the last several years. I think the road goes all the way into the agricultural development property. We’re working with the state of Alaska to get it up for auction so it can be sold,” Mayrand said.

There are 130,000 acres of state classified agriculture lands across the river from Nenana. Alaska Department of Natural Resources the Division of Agriculture Specialist, Daniel Proulx points to soil survey work that shows the land to be some of the best in Alaska for farming.

“The land would be good for whatever we can grow in Alaska. It has, by most accounts, better soil than the Delta area, has a longer growing season. So grasses, vegetables, root crops; pretty much anything you can grow in interior Alaska will do well out there,” he said.

Proulx says there’s always been interest in the land, and with the bridge in the works, and the state anticipating selling parcels, inquiries have heightened.

“Matter of fact, I had a call yesterday, somebody wanting to know ‘what size tracts are you going to sell’. We’re going to have a variety. We’re going to have some of the smaller 40-acres near the right of ways, near the roads, and behind it have bigger, up to 3,000 acre tracts for cattle producers for feed lots and for hay and barley operations.”

Proulx says decisions on land sales will follow appraisals and public input. The area across the river also has other resource development potential. It includes parcels owned by the University of Alaska, the Tanana Valley State Forest, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and Doyon, where the Regional Native Corporation is exploring for oil and gas. The plan calls for contractor HC to have the bridge ready for use by late winter 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Eaglet Rescued in the Aleutians, Recuperating in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:23

A lost baby eagle from Unalaska is making a new start in Anchorage, where it’s slated to get a second chance at life in the wild.

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Listen now:

Bald eagles are everywhere in Unalaska – but it’s not often you see a fuzzy little eaglet sitting on the side of the road. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday, when a police officer found an eaglet on Captains Bay Road. It’s in an industrial part of town, and the eaglet was in the way of passing cars.

Public Safety Director Jamie Sunderland says they couldn’t find any nests nearby.

“Rather than leave it to its own demise, the officer took it in a little kennel and made a number of phone calls trying to reach different federal and state agencies who sometimes deal with eagles,” Sunderland says.

It’s usually against the law to interfere with an eagle at all. But a Good Samaritan clause lets people help an injured bird, as long as they can get it to a licensed care center quickly.

Unalaska police got in touch with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage. Bird TLC treats hundreds of birds, many of them eagles, from around the state each year.

The eaglet flew out that same evening — on a PenAir flight, for free. Since then, the bird has been recuperating at Bird TLC. Heather Merewood is executive director there.

“Your eaglet is doing very well. He’s eating very well. He’s — well, he or she, we can’t quite tell yet — we kind of made a little nest for him out of half of a kennel and some blankets and some branches and leaves and things like that.”

Merewood says they usually treat eaglets that have been injured in a fall from a nest. But she says Unalaska’s eaglet seems to be healthy. It’s only a few weeks old, and still needs help with its food.

“He’s of the age where he’d be completely reliant on his parents to defend himself, and he’s just learning the world, and he doesn’t know to be afraid of humans yet.”

But they’re trying to keep the eaglet from getting too used to life in captivity. In fact, Merewood says they’re hoping to get the baby adopted by a family of wild eagles.

“If we can find a nest that just has one other baby in it that’s around three weeks as well, then there’s a good chance.”

It’s something Bird TLC has done successfully in the past. Once they find a suitable, accessible nest in the Anchorage area, all they have to do is put the eaglet inside with the other baby.

“The great thing is birds can’t count,” Merewood laughs. “So they will adopt and will take care of him.”

If they can’t find a home for the eaglet in the wild, Merewood says they’ll raise it at their center. The bird will be a fully-fledged juvenile in about a month, and will start flying soon after that. If the eaglet sticks around, Merewood says they’ll probably name it. For now, they’re calling it by its intake number — or sometimes “Baby” for short.

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Photo courtesy Bird TLC in Anchorage

Categories: Alaska News

Behind the Scenes of Alaska’s Film Industry

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:22

Carolyn Robinson, owner of the Anchorage production company Sprocketheads, has worked in some form on most major production in Alaska (Photo by Joaquin Palomino)

A group of about two dozen people read an excerpt from the 2012 blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty at Anchorage’s BP Energy Center. It’s not a meet-up for war movie enthusiasts, but part of a professional training for film technicians and stagehands taught by University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Maya Salganek.

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“Just looking at the scene, does anything come to mind that would be a safety concern?” Salganek asks the small crowd.

“Bombs,” one of the attendees says.

“Right, you have a big boom going off,” Salganek responds.

The training is just one of many signs that Alaska’s film industry is growing. Feature-length movies, documentaries, and TV shows have flocked to the 49th state in recent years, supporting a multi-million dollar industry.

A big reason productions come to Alaska is to capture its breathtaking scenery. “We have the glaciers, the wildlife, the mountains, the coastline,” says Kelly Mazzei, executive director of the Alaska Film Office, a division of the Department of Resources tasked with attracting productions to the last frontier. “We pretty much have everything anyone would want in a movie except maybe cactus in a desert.”

Filmmakers aren’t venturing to Alaska strictly for its natural splendor. In 2008 the state rolled out a tax program to attract movie and TV productions. To encourage filming, the state reimburses certain production costs with tax-credits. So, for example, if Paramount hires an Alaska based lighting crew for $100 dollars, the state could give the company $50 back in tax credits.

In the last fiscal year, $13 million in credits were issued; many going to reality TV shows, an industry with a seemingly insatiable appetite for all things Alaska. Over the past three years, Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch received about $2 million to film in Alaska.  While that’s a lot of money to give to a TV show, supporters of the incentive program argue that it pays dividends.

“When I think of reality shows, I think of all the people and all of the services that they’re hiring around Alaska, the businesses in the dead of winter that wouldn’t have any economic stimulus [otherwise],” says Carolyn Robinson, owner of the Anchorage based film production company Sprocketheads.  “That’s why I’m a fan of reality shows.”

Not everyone, though, agrees the tax breaks are a good investment. Critics of the program, including a handful of state legislators, say the $300 million earmarked specifically to attract film and television productions would be better spent on education, infrastructure, and job training. “Everybody likes to be close to the spotlight,” said David Boyle, executive director of the government watchdog group Alaska Policy Forum. “But when you take away the glamour and look at the numbers, things don’t add up.”

For example, last year out of state workers made close to four times more money working in Alaska’s film industry than in state residents. The tax credit system was recently tweaked to encourage filmmakers to hire Alaska residents, but there’s a catch. The state doesn’t have a big enough workforce to fill all of the production jobs. Which is why the University of Alaska is training people to work in the industry.

For some it’s a blessing. Cedar Cussins, an Anchorage based lighting technician, has wanted to work in the film industry her entire life, but never thought the goal was attainable. “When I grew up the idea of being able to stay in Alaska and make movies was a pipe dream,” she says. Now, though, she can pursue her passion and stay in her home state.

Some politicians are trying to repeal or scale back the tax incentive program, but they’ve had little luck. The program is up for review in 2016. In the meantime, you can expect the amount of Alaska based films and reality TV shows to continue to grow.

Categories: Alaska News

Online Program Hopes To Revive Eyak Language

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:21

The Eyak Language is being revived through an online learning program that was launched this week. The program is the first of its kind for the language since the death of the last Native-born Eyak speaker five years ago.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 26, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-26 17:14

Individual news 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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Flooding Closes Portion of Denali Park Road

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The National Park Service has closed the Denali Park Road past Eielson Visitors Center at Mile 66 due to flooding and significant rockfall.

The Park Service says torrential rain fell in the park overnight and the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located at the end of the road, has been evacuated due to flooding. National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says all guests are accounted for and are currently at another lodge on higher ground. She says those guests, along with other visitors and employees trapped in the park’s interior cannot be transported by bus or airplane due to high water on the road and the airstrip.

The park is making contingency plans to evacuate guests by helicopter.

Senate Bill Includes $6 Million For New Icebreaker

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate has $6 million for a new Coast Guard icebreaker. That would make three years in a row of small appropriations for the ship, projected to cost nearly a billion dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission to get Congress and the Administration to make Arctic issues a bigger priority.

How will Sealaska Solve its Money Problems?

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are uncertain.

Housing Tops Juneau’s Economic Concerns

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on Tuesday released a report that highlights “severe shortcomings” in the state’s housing stock when it comes to things like cost, energy efficiency and overcrowding.

Nenana Bridge Will Provide Access To Agricultural Land

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A bridge being built across the Nenana River will open up access to long sought after state agricultural lands.

Eaglet Rescued in the Aleutians, Recuperating in Anchorage

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A lost baby eagle from Unalaska is making a new start in Anchorage. The eaglet will get a second chance at life in the wild.

Behind the Scenes of Alaska’s Film Industry

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

Over the past few years Hollywood has taken a keen interest in Alaska.  Big budget films are being shot here, and it seems like new Alaskan reality TV programs pop up every week.  The bustling industry isn’t growing on its own. The state spends a lot of money courting out of state productions. While it’s a boon for the economy, some think the resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Online Program Hopes To Revive Eyak Language

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Eyak Language is being revived through an online learning program that was launched this week. The program is the first of its kind for the language since the death of the last Native-born Eyak speaker five years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

City of Bethel Investigation Reveals Improper Contracts and Perks

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:50

The Bethel City Council has released a redacted version of its investigation into city contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues.

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The investigation led to the firing of Bethel’s city manager in May and reveals improperly awarded contracts, special agreements, and violations of the city’s previous nepotism rule. It chronicles mismanagement by former city manager, Lee Foley. Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka says the case was clean cut.

Redacted page in the investigation report.

“We just have to have a city manager who follows the Bethel Municipal Code,” Klejka said.

The Council hired attorney Michael Gatti in February to conduct the investigation for $40,000. The result was a 46-page report and the council fired Foley in May. KYUK and six other news organizations made a public records request for the document that same month. The report was released Monday.

The investigation outlines problems with contracts, including special agreements with the former finance director, Bobby Sutton who was being flown up from Kentucky to do budget work.

Foley apparently made an agreement with Sutton, without seeking competitive bids, kept an account for his personal expenses, and provided him with numerous other perks. KYUK was not able to reach Sutton on Tuesday.

The investigation also describes several improper agreements with a local business, Faulkner Walsh Constructors. The demolition of the old police station was not opened to competitive bidding, but instead done by Faulkner Walsh to pay off debts owed to the city.

“There was code that told him exactly how to do it so there would be documentation, so taxpayers would get their best purchases with the money we’re using for the city,” Klejka said. “That was consistently not followed. Special deals were given to whoever was most convenient for him to pass it out to. In fact it’s not even always clear why he chose what he did choose, because the documentation just isn’t there.”

Attorneys also found informal agreements with Faulkner Walsh to level the teen center for $19,000, which ended up costing double that and another for vehicle removal.

In addition, attorneys say Foley backdated a lease for the company at the airport sandpit where he had been trespassing several months at the rate of $450 a month. Owner Harry Faulkner declined to speak with KYUK.

Besides Foley’s mismanagement of agreements and contracts, investigators faulted the city for some problems, such as a bad billing system and incomplete record keeping for leases.

In an analysis of nepotism, the report highlights former City Manager Lee Foley’s son Bo, who works in the I.T. department. He is apparently the only union employee for whom the city pays full masters degree tuition. He also flew first class on city travel due to his height of about 6 feet 8 inches. The report found several situations that could be in violation of the previous nepotism ordinance, but many details are blacked out. It clears Council Member Heather Pike for her long-term relationship with a city employee.

In a memo listing 29 past and present related employees included in the investigation, Lee Foley made an argument that hiring family members was quite common at the city. None had a waiver from the manager.

KYUK could not reach Foley by phone Tuesday.

It also reveals inconsistency in credit card usage by city employees for personal business.

“We believe the majority of the credit card purchases were probably reimbursed, the big things would be…basically if they don’t pay it back immediately, within the same month, you’re giving them an interest free loan,” Klejka said.

The report includes four pages of bullet pointed recommendations, including several redacted lines. Klejka says a person to deal with all of the many personnel concerns is at the top of the city’s list.

“Probably something we didn’t expect. We found out that we really needed to tighten up our human resources department,” Klejka said. ”Several years ago we eliminated that position, that’s clearly been a mistake, that’s left a lot of holes in the city, a lot things that needed to be shored up a lot. So that’s what we really discovered.”

The city is currently recruiting for that position. The council recently made its nepotism rules more explicit and tightened up its policies for credit card usage, tuition reimbursement, leave cash out, and city leases. Several sections of the report are blacked out, including what appears to be the portion about allegation of harassment. The investigation has been sent to the District Attorney’s office for review.

The full report is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Considers State’s Petition To Delist Humpback

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:49

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will look into whether to take the Central North Pacific humpback whale off the Endangered Species list.

The State of Alaska submitted a petition to remove the whale from the list at the end of February. NOAA announced today it has enough information to warrant further research. This is the second petition NOAA has received to take endangered protections away from the humpback whale.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pavlof Volcano Downgraded To Lowest Alert Level

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:48

Pavlof Volcano’s latest eruption appears to be subsiding.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has downgraded Pavlof to the lowest alert level. Volcanologist Tina Neal says the volcano isn’t producing new lava flows and it hasn’t released much ash since early this month.

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Lava fountains out of Pavlof Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay
early June 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Stacy)

“Based on that, and the fact that we’re not seeing ongoing strong seismicity, we think the eruption is over,” Neal said. “One thing we do caution, though, is that Pavlof is the type of volcano that sometimes goes through periods of pause in a longer eruptive interval. So we wouldn’t be too surprised if it turned back on sometime soon.”

Neal says that could happen without much advance notice.

“The system is very hot and open,” Neal said. “It’s been erupting now, on and off, for a couple of years. So we would not expect necessarily to see a lot of earthquakes giving us warning.”

Right now, Pavlof is still restless. Neal says it’s undergoing small earthquakes and letting off steam and puffs of ash as it cools down. She says the AVO will be on the lookout for a temperature spike, which could foretell another eruption.

The AVO has five volcanoes on alert in the Aleutians right now. Neal says none of them were affected by the major undersea earthquake that happened Monday near Adak.

Categories: Alaska News

Questions Remain Despite Successful Missile Defense Test

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:47

A physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling the Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System, less than proven, despite Sunday’s successful test over the Pacific Ocean.

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The Missile Defense Agency will be placing 14 more interceptors like this at the Fort Greely missile base by 2017. The will bring the total number of interceptors at the base to 40. Photo from the Missile Defense Agency.

The Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System test employed a second generation kill vehicle that had missed its target in two previous tests in 2010. Dr. Laura Grego, who covers defense issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Sunday’s intercept of a dummy enemy missile should be looked at in context.

“You know, I think a lot of people put a lot of work into making this test happen, and they should feel great that it was a success, but it actually doesn’t tell you a whole lot about how capable the system is. And one reason for that is it hasn’t been tested very frequently,” Grego said. “Right now we know it’s one for three, which isn’t great for something that you’d want to count on to defend against nuclear weapons and something that has to work the first time.”

Alaska’s Ft. Greely is the primary staging site for the Ground Based Midcourse Interceptor system. The 26 missiles housed there include a mix of first and second generation kill vehicle technology, that Grego says together have a less than 50 percent success rate in tests, a track record she considers only part of the story.

“Both versions have had upgrades and patches. According to an LA Times investigation, almost all of the interceptors have differences from each other. It’s not clear that knowing that one works will tell you much about how well another one works,” she said.

Grego blames the ground based missile defense system’s less than stellar performance on its rushed deployment, dating back to the Bush Administration.
“That’s why we instituted fly before you buy. This was an experiment in getting rid of fly before you buy and this is the result: not very good,” Grego said.
The Missile Defense Agency had no one to available to answer questions this week, but a spokesman for Ground Based Midcourse Defense contractor Boeing, Terrence Williams says the company is confident in the technology.

“The significance of this test is that it is the first intercept using an enhanced version of the EKV, also called the Exo Atmospheric Kill Vehicle, and we remain confident in the system’s ability to defeat adversaries both now and in the future,” he said.

Williams could not comment on whether or not all system missiles will be upgraded with the latest kill vehicle. The Obama Administration said in March that it would not move forward with the addition of 14 new interceptors at Ft. Greely unless Sunday’s test was successful. There’s been no word since the test on the over $1 billion interceptor build up and other planned system upgrades, but members of Alaska‘s Congressional Delegation heralded the success.

Categories: Alaska News

National Parks Prohibiting UAVs

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:46

A new National Park Service policy prohibits the use of unmanned aircraft. It’s intended to give the agency time to assess the risks and benefits of allowing UAV’s in Parks.

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On June 20th, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a memorandum directing park superintendents to ban the use of unmanned aircraft in national parks. A spokesman for the parks service, Jeffrey Olson, says the unmanned aerial vehicles being used in national parks are primarily owned by hobbyists for recreation.

Quadcopters similar to this one were the most common type of UAV used in national parks.
(Credit Greg Walker / University of Alaska Fairbanks)

“They usually have a video camera that is carried aloft and they shoot video and stills and a lot of times they go home and they make a little video out of it and put a music soundtrack on it and share it with friends or even put it on YouTube,” Olson said.

Denali National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says a recent post on YouTube shows some of the problems that arise with UAVs in national parks.

“They were in the Savage River parking lot and they flew up and provided an overview of the area and then at one point the aircraft zoomed down, flew right over the nest enclosure that we have for the mew gulls that nest on the gravel bar and flew under the Savage River bridge,” Fister said. “So that’s an instance where certainly there was high potential for wildlife disturbance and potentially disturbance to visitors who are also utilizing that parking lot.”

Parks spokeswoman for the state, Morgan Warthin, says Alaska has limited experience with UAVs, but there is concern about the effects they could have on the park’s environment.

“Our primary goal is always to ensure that we can protect park resources and ensure visitor safety while providing all visitors with a rich experience, and at this point we have some serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, in particular in the lower 48,” she said.

Jeffrey Olson agrees. He says increasing availability and affordability of the technology led the parks service to reevaluate their policy. He calls the new policy a “timeout” that gives the Parks Service time to research the effects of UAVs and develop nationwide regulations.

“We don’t have all the answers, and that’s why this is temporary. We like to have people in National parks and we like to have people enjoying themselves in national parks and if there are places where this is going to be an appropriate activity we want to find that out,” Olson said.

The maximum penalty for violating the policy will be six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The policy won’t go into effect for 60 days. Research and development of nationwide regulation could take 18 months or more.

Categories: Alaska News

STD infections rise in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:45

The state’s Department of Health is reporting an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska. In 2013, Gonorrhea and syphilis infections were up more than 50 percent from 2012. Alaska was ranked first in the nation for Chlamydia infections in 2013. And in just the first five months of this year, 23 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed and reported. That’s one less than last year’s total.

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Susan Jones with the state’s Section of Epidemiology says it’s hard to know exactly why more cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia are being reported. With thousands of people testing positive, they can’t ask everyone about their sexual behaviors.

“Could it be that individuals are seeking service and getting detected earlier? That could be part of it,” Jones says. “Could it be that providers are aware that they should screen for gonorrhea and they are doing more screening? That could be part of it.”

But Jones says they do ask people who test positive for syphilis and HIV about their risk factors. She says some of the increase is due to people meeting their sexual partners online or through phone apps.

“If you’re a person practicing these high risk behaviors, of having sex with people that you don’t know, be careful.”

Jones says one of the key ways to stop the spread of STDs is for infected people to inform their partners and help them get treated. She says the state can help track them down.

“You know back in the day, it used to be phone calls and knocking on the door. Today it’s phone apps and social media.”

The state offers free treatment for people who are infected, though funding for that program runs out at the end of this month.

Categories: Alaska News

State Scores Well On Long-Term Care Report Card

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:44

Alaska ranked 5th in the nation in a recent state scorecard on long-term services for older adults, the disabled, and family caregivers. However, local experts say gaps in the system can cause big problems.

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Categories: Alaska News

Salmon Signs Appear And Disappear In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:43

Salmon signs began appearing along Bethel roadsides in June. (Photo By Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Brightly colored wooden fish signs have been posted along Bethel roads this summer. The signs, with conservation messages, come in a year of king salmon closures never seen before on the Kuskokwim River. But just as quickly as the signs went up, they’ve been disappearing.

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Reyne Athanas’ white Subaru is loaded full of colorful salmon-shaped signs as she heads towards Bethel’s boat harbor. Kids painted one side during a recent Saturday market. On the back are messages that she hopes will build awareness about conserving Kuskowkwim King salmon.

“Well, we’re at Watson’s corner and we’re heading toward the boat harbor and we’re passing some fish right now that say, ‘save today, more tomorrow’. Just meaning that if you conserve a little bit now and let there be some escapement, eat some of the other fish that we have like whitefish that are in the river we’ll have more fish in the future for my grandson.

As we pull up to the boat harbor, Athanas’s grandson, Landon, and her son, Ryan Burke jump out to help her put up the signs.

After 2013 showed the weakest King salmon run on record, and not having made escapement in two of the past four years, managers of the Kuskokwim River fishery are not allowing directed king salmon fishing. They’ve been trying to get enough Kings to spawning grounds before opening the fishery to nets targeting salmon. Many in Bethel, like Athanas, and her son support the conservation measures.

Burke says the message of the guerilla public art project is important.

“I’m helping my mom out as a volunteer to put up these signs to let people know we should conserve our fish for future generations cause I think if we overfish em and they’re all gone and they won’t come back there’s not gonna be any more fish for people, especially Kings. From what I’ve been told we’re running low on Kings and we’ve got to conserve them or they’re gonna be gone forever.”

The mother-son-grandson team nail the wooden fish onto small posts and pound them into the sandy bank, placing rocks at the base of the signs to keep them from blowing over. When they’re done, the four signs they’ve pounded in read: “Let’s Save Kusko Kings.”

Just then a truck pulls up from Bethel’s Tribe, ONC.

“My name is Roberta Chavez and I’m the partners fisheries biologist for ONC. We were just talking about who was putting up these fish signs cause ONC is really supporting the conservation measures of the Chinook Salmon so we’re happy that these fish signs are going up.”

But not everybody likes the signs.

Critics of the closures say that Alaska Natives subsistence fishers who depend most on the fish are unfairly burdened with the brunt of conservation measures and believe that managers should do more to crack down on commercial bycatch. During a recent tribal fish forum of the Yupiit Nation, a consortium of federally recognized tribes pushing for more tribal sovereignty, Ed Johnstone, a leader with Quinalt Indian Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission said the signs are divisive.

“I see the signs out her that are along the road that say, you know, that King salmon are important and let ‘em grow. I’m gonna say that’s not really a good thing. It pits people against each other. It starts the talk about, ‘oh well, if you just don’t catch any King salmon then things are gonna be good. That’s not true. We don’t know what the problem is, as I hear it. We don’t know whether it’s the upriver habitat and the spawning grounds or the marine survival rate in the ocean.”

Whether it’s people who agree with Johnstone or simply vandals, many of the signs have gone missing in the past couple of weeks. Some have been strategically removed to reverse the message — like one along the highway that used to read ‘Eat More Chicken’ and then read ‘Eat More’. Another said Extinction Is Forever’, but the only remaining sign now says just ‘Forever’. And the ones that Athanis put up with her son and grandson near the boat harbor went down four or five days after they put them up.

Athanis says she’s done putting signs along the roads and instead plans to make them into a more permanent art installation in a more protected location.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:34

Individual news 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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City of Bethel Investigation Reveals Improper Contracts and Perks

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council has released a redacted version of its investigation into city contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues.  The investigation led to the firing of Bethel’s city manager in May.

NOAA Considers State’s Petition To Delist Humpback

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will look into whether to take the Central North Pacific humpback whale off the Endangered Species list.

The State of Alaska submitted a petition to remove the whale from the list at the end of February. NOAA announced today it has enough information to warrant further research. This is the second petition NOAA has received to take endangered protections away from the humpback whale.

Pavlof Volcano Downgraded To Lowest Alert Level

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has downgraded Pavlof to the lowest alert level. Volcanologist Tina Neal says the volcano isn’t producing new lava flows. And it hasn’t released much ash since early this month.

Questions Remain Despite Successful Missile Defense Test

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling the Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System, less than proven, despite Sunday’s successful test over the Pacific Ocean.

National Parks Prohibiting UAVs

Aaron Berner, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new National Park Service policy prohibits the use of unmanned aircraft. It’s intended to give the agency time to assess the risks and benefits of allowing UAV’s in Parks.

Alaska’s STD Rates Increase

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The state’s Department of Health is reporting an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska. In 2013, Gonorrhea and syphilis infections were up more than 50 percent from 2012. Alaska was ranked first in the nation for Chlamydia infections in 2013. And in just the first five months of this year, 23 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed and reported. That’s one less than last year’s total.

State Scores Well On Long-Term Care Report Card

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Alaska ranked 5th in the nation in a recent state scorecard on long-term services for older adults, the disabled, and family caregivers. However, local experts say gaps in the system can cause big problems.

Salmon Signs Appear And Disappear In Bethel

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Brightly colored wooden fish signs have been posted along Bethel roads this summer. The signs, with conservation messages, come in a year of king salmon closures never seen before on the Kuskokwim River. But just as quickly as the signs went up, they’ve been disappearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Clean-Up Continues for Norton Sound Hospital Fuel Spill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 12:10

Clean-up efforts continue beneath Norton Sound Regional Hospital after a spill of hundreds of gallons of heating fuel.

Tom DeRuyter is the State On-Scene Coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. In a status update Tuesday, he said, “They’re removing the contaminated soil as much as possible right now. But it is right next to the building and next to the pilings, so we do not want to destabilize the structural supports on the building.”

(Photo via KNOM)

A report from the DEC says 600 cubic feet of soil has been removed so far.

Last week, anywhere from 800 to 1,200 gallons of fuel leaked from the hospital tank farm after a fill valve failed, causing a fuel tank to overflow. The hospital estimates the spill covers 2,500 square feet of land.

“When the discovered the overfill, they shut off the power,” DeRuyter said, “and that effectively controlled the source and stopped the release.”

The Norton Sound Hospital did not respond to requests for comment. But a report from the DEC says those inside the hospital could smell a “diesel odor” during the spill. As of Monday, “indoor air monitoring [has shown] no evidence of diesel vapors inside the” building.

“Fortunately,” DeRuyter said, “the hospital is built on pilings, so there’s plenty of air movement underneath the building, and that mitigates the problems that can be associated with indoor air quality.”

Hospital staff laid absorbent pads and boom to soak up pooled fuel following the spill. The DEC report says, whether or not groundwater has been contaminated is unknown, and there have been not reports of wildlife being affected by the spill.

Air monitoring and excavation of the site is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News
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