Alaska News

State Celebrates First Dr. Walter Soboleff Day

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 16:42

Today is the first Dr. Walter Soboleff Day in Alaska, and dozens of the late Tlingit leader’s friends and relatives marked the occasion with a parade through downtown Juneau.

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Walter Soboleff passed away in 2011 at the age of 102. (Sealaska Photo)

Soboleff’s oldest son, Sasha, says humility and inclusiveness are his dad’s lasting legacy. The Presbyterian minister accepted people of all races at his church in Juneau at a time when the town was segregated.

“This man worked well over a hundred years to do things for not only the people of Alaska, but for those who strove to better themselves to do what they need to do. And what was key to his heart and key to his spirit was the service to his God and Jesus Christ,” Sasha said.

Soboleff would have been 106-years-old today. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 102.

He was involved in the Alaska Native civil rights movement of the 1940s, and later in life helped launch efforts to revitalize Native languages, as well as traditional art and spiritual practices.

“He is one of those that started off by writing down Tlingit values, so that people can have a starting point on what it meant, what our values meant,” Ed Thomas, former president of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, said.

Thomas says those values include honoring your ancestors and elders and having a sense of humor.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Legislature unanimously passed a bill making Nov. 14 Dr. Walter Soboleff Day. Gov. Sean Parnell signed it into law in July.

 

Categories: Alaska News

State OKs Wishbone Hill Coal Permits

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 16:29

The federal Office of Surface Mining has contacted the state regarding the status of coal mining permits for the Wishbone Hill site near Palmer. Last month, the state gave Usibelli Coal the go-ahead to begin mining, after years of delays and legal hurdles. But OSM has criticized the state Department of Natural Resources for it’s handling of the many extensions and renewals of the permit since 1991.  

In October, Usibelli Coal got the news: the state approved renewal of the Wishbone Hill mining permits, which allows Usibelli to operate the mine.

This month, [Nov. 4] in a letter to the state’s coal mining regulatory program director, Russell Kirkham, the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement,  OSM for short, upholds the state’s decision, but not for the reasons that DNR had expected.

 The state’s final decision on the renewal of the permits for a five year term is not in question, according to OSM’s Robert C. Postle, who authored the letter. But Postle pointed out the state’s allowance of extensions and it’s failure to pull the permits because of inactivity at the mine site, are not within the provisions of the coal mining regulatory program.

 Kirkham says he can’t discuss the letter or it’s contents, because the matter is under appeal.

 The Trustees For Alaska legal firm is appealing Wishbone Hill’s October permit approval. Since Usibelli began work on the mine in 2010, Trustee attorneys have thrown legal challenges against operations at Wishbone Hill, based on the premise that the mining permits are invalid. Trustee attorney Vicki Clarke says until now, OSM had agreed with those who are challenging the permits

“The final decision was very recent, and it is a complete 180 (degree) from the original decision, and in our opinion, isn’t consistent with the law.”

The federal government regulates coal mining in the US, under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The federal act allows individual states to develop coal regulatory programs consistent with federal law. Alaska has developed its own program under the Alaska Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1983.

According to Postle’s letter, both the federal and the state regulatory programs require mining to commence within three years of the issuance of a permit. If not, the permit becomes invalid. Reasonable extensions are allowed. But, Postle says here’s the rub. Wishbone Hill’s two permits were granted in 1991, but since then, the mining operation changed owners twice, and DNR granted an extension only once in the 18 years between 1991 and 2010, when Usibelli began operations.

Postle says, in his letter, the state erred, not because it now allows Usibelli to mine, but because DNR never officially terminated the permits due to the earlier owner’s inaction at the mine site. He  says, permits do not just terminate by themselves – official action must be taken by authorities.

Postle says Usibelli is not at fault, because the permits it was operating under in 2010 were never invalidated by the state, so in effect, Usibelli was not operating without a permit. Lorali Simon is Usibelli Coal’s spokesperson.

“We have maintained the legitimacy of these permits since day one. Usibelli acquired the leases and the permits to the Wishbone Hill project in 1997, and we have actively maintained them with a desire to further develop the Wishbone Hill coal mine.”

But a number of conservation groups in the Matanuska Valley and the Chickaloon Tribal government have been fighting the mine. Lisa Wade represents the the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council. Wade says the OSM’s decision only highlights the fact that the state failed to pay attention.

“If the state isn’t managing its permit this closely, if they are not following their own rules at this stage, then, if operations are to start, would they follow their own rules in ensuring the health and the safety of the community, which has changed dramatically since 1991, when the permits were first issued.”

Wade says suburban homes now are in close proximity to the mine site, as is an elementary school run by the tribe. And she adds, the tribe has been requesting tribal government to government consultation with OSM since 2011, to no avail.

“Because we are pressing for a review of this file. Of the entire case, because right now, this project, if it goes forward, has the possibility of damaging ecosystems, and our entire community.”

And Trustee Vicki Clarke hints at a looming lawsuit.

“Ultimately, the court needs to make a determination whether the application of the law is legal. And so, the appeal will be before DNR, and then, we’ll see what ends up happening after that.”

But Postle says that neither federal nor Alaska coal regulations expressly state whether permit termination occurs automatically at the end of three years, or or whether administrative action is required. So, he concludes, the federal government cannot require Alaska to invalidate a permit simply because a permit holder misses the three year deadline.  The permit will not terminate automatically, rather, it remains valid until the regulating authority takes action to terminate it.

“Courts do not favor automatic forfeitures where it is not mandated by “clear and unequivocal” language, he said.

Postle further states that Alaska’s coal regulatory program managers need to be explicit and timely in issuing notice of termination to permit-holders who do not meet the three year deadline. He says mining permits cannot be kept alive by default, and recommends that the state work with his office on a plan to address the state’s shortcomings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Students call for action, public comment on U-Med Access Road

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 16:26

Students at the University of Alaska – Anchorage are trying to motivate their classmates and the community to get informed about a controversial proposed infrastructure project — the U-Med District Northern Access Road. They say the public still has a chance to shape the project’s future.

The planned-but-not-yet-permitted U-Med District Road would cut through what is now woods and wetlands to connect Bragaw Street to Elmore right between the UAA and APU campuses. The legislature set aside $20 million for the project in 2013. UAA Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Bill Spindle said they are still negotiating what the university would get in exchange for the land to build the road.

“You know, if we can do value, instead of money, you know, an extra roundabout, an extra cross over, that’s a benefit to us,” he said.

The proposed preferred route for the U-Med District Northern Access Road.

Spindle said the plans for the road and even the exact route are not set in stone. And that’s the major point that students from the Environmental Planning and Problem-Solving class want to get across: the U-Med District Road is not a done deal.

Senior Jennifer Howell says the class is hosting an educational forum because they want students and community members to have the tools to participate in the upcoming Army Corps of Engineers public comment period.

“Cause it’s a little bit more than saying, ‘Oh, I think this is a good idea or a bad idea.’ The requirement is they are substantive comments, and that’s been a learning process as students in the classroom.”

Howell explains the Corps is involved because the proposed project involves filling in wetlands. She says the class isn’t taking a position on the topic, but they want people to be aware of the process.

“We don’t really know what the Corps of Engineers is going to say, and that’s why it’s really cool that there is a public process still and it’s really important for us as students in the UAA community to actually get involved in that. It’s not a done deal. And we have a voice. If we don’t use the voice, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. But we do have a voice and it’s important that we get involved.”

Howell said most students don’t know about the project, so the class is inviting speakers from the UAA administration, like Spindle, to talk about why the road is necessary and to answer questions.

“Well, this road for us is all about safety,” Spindle said.

Spindle explained the road will reduce traffic problems on UAA Drive, move cars to the outskirts of campus, and the roundabouts would slow traffic. The University’s 2013 master plan shows potential roads extending from them toward potential future projects built in the area that is now used for outdoor recreation. But Spindle downplays those plans.

“You can look on the master plan, you can go all they way back and see all kinds of things that we’ve dreamed about putting there. But the reality is right today that we don’t see any of them. But that doesn’t mean we won’t at some point because that is land for university and that’s the intent of the state. But again, we’re very sensitive to the needs of the community, the conservation qualities of that area, and we will always take that into account.”

The student-led meeting will take place at the UAA Library on Tuesday at 5:30 pm. The Corps public comment period will begin once the Department of Transportation submits the permit applications.

Categories: Alaska News

Healthcare.gov Miscalculates Subsidies In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 16:03

November 15th marks the start of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, when individuals can sign up for coverage on healthcare.gov. But even before it opens for business, there are signs the website isn’t working correctly for Alaskans. 

Most Alaskans who buy individual insurance on healthcare.gov receive a subsidy to help pay for it. But right now, the website is underestimating subsidy amounts for Alaskans. Enroll Alaska noticed the problem as the company tested the site. Joshua Weinstein is president of Northrim Benefits Group, which oversees Enroll Alaska. He says the company will advise customers on their choices, but won’t sign them up until they know it’s working:

“I’m just concerned that if we enroll people with the wrong subsidy amount, how would that get rectified later? So our strategy is to just hold off a little bit… until we know the subsidy calculations are fixed.”

When healthcare.gov launched in October last year, the website wasn’t functional. Over the last several months, the Obama Administration has emphasized the new version of healthcare.gov will be much improved, but not perfect. Susan Johnson is regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She addressed the subsidy glitch at anews conference in Anchorage:

“I was on a phone call with D.C. this morning, they’re working on that, it’s high on their list. I’ll be talking to them again this afternoon and we’ll hope to get that fixed as quickly as we can.”

Johnson couldn’t provide a timeline for when it will be fixed. But in the meantime, the United Way of Anchorage and the Alaska Primary Care Association are preparing to help Alaskans across the state sign up for health insurance. Both groups received navigator grants from the federal government. Sue Brogan, with the United Way, says the organization will hold a lot more public events this time around:

“What we learned last year is that Alaskans sought more of a human touch to find their way through the process. That individuals could make decisions, but what they needed first was a better understanding of the ACA, the ins and outs of health insurance and their coverage options.”

For the first enrollment period, navigators- who help people enroll- were based in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks. This time, navigators with the Alaska Primary Care Association will be in Barrow, Bethel, Girdwood, Fairbanks, Juneau, King Cove, Sitka, Skagway, Soldotna, St. Paul, Talkeetna, Unalaska and Willow. The United Way also has three navigators in Anchorage.

And if Enroll Alaska’s experience holds, they will be busy. Joshua Weinstein says he’s been impressed with the level of interest the company has seen:

“At least for the first week, every available appointment is taken. We have five or six licensed agents who are working strictly on the individual market. And then some of our group agents and consultants are also stepping in to fulfill the need.”

The open enrollment period ends February 15. You have to sign up by December 15 for coverage that starts January 1.

During the last open enrollment period, about 16,000 Alaskans signed up for Affordable Care Act insurance.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Stakeholder To Sell Holdings In Alaska Rig

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 15:47

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has announced plans to sell its ownership stake in a Cook Inlet rig, which will be transported to South Africa for offshore exploration, pending final approval.

The authority, set up by the Alaska Legislature to provide financing for businesses that expand the state economy, said Friday it and other owners have been unable to secure a long-term charter for the jack-up drilling rig, the Endeavor-Spirit of Independence.

The rig arrived from Singapore in 2012. Initial plans called for keeping it in Homer for a few days, but it wound up staying more than seven months because of delays and repairs.

The Endeavor is owned by Kenai Offshore Ventures, LLC, involving AIDEA and partners. The partnership plans to purchase AIDEA’s shares.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Strait School District Superintendent Placed On Administrative Leave

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 15:21

There’s been a shake-up in leadership at the Bering Strait School District. The BSSD Board of Education has placed superintendent Brett Agenbroad on administrative leave, and appointed Bobby Bolen as acting superintendent until a permanent hire is made.

The decision was announced during last week’s board meeting in Anchorage. Agenbroad was with the district for about a year and a half, and will be on leave until his contract ends next June 2015. BSSD employees were notified earlier this week. Board members did not provide comment on why this decision was made.

Acting superintendent Bobby Bolen has been with the Bering Strait District for about 10 years. He has worked in the district office, in Savoonga as assistant principal, and most recently as principal in St. Michael. Board chair Aurora Johnson says he was selected for the interim position because of his experience with and knowledge of the district.

Craig Sherwood, who was the assistant principal in Stebbins, will take over Bolen’s post as interim principal in St. Michael. Both Bolen and Johnson say their priority is making sure students aren’t adversely affected by the changes in leadership. The search for a permanent superintendent will begin in January.

Board chair Johnson also affirmed that a few new members were elected to the board in the recent election. Moving forward, she says the board shares Bolen’s goal of adjusting BSSD’s curriculum to match rising state standards.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Questions Differing National Guard Investigation Results

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 15:18

Two different Pentagon agencies investigated the Alaska National Guard for allegedly mishandling sexual assault complaints.

They came to opposite conclusions, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to know why.

The Alaska Republican sent a letter today to the inspector general of the Defense Department asking for a review of the investigations of the Army Inspector General. The Army IG concluded the Alaska allegations couldn’t be substantiated. A letter summing up those findings, sent to Murkowski in May, said the Alaska Guard’s method of gauging morale and attitudes about leadership — called “climate sensing sessions” – did not reveal concerns about sexual assault and harassment reporting. The report itself was heavily redacted.

Then, in September, a report by another agency – the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations – was released. It reported significant distrust of leadership, favoritism, ethical misconduct and injustice.

Murkowski called it highly irregular that two professional investigations would come to such different conclusions. Calling for greater transparency, she asked for an unredacted version of the first report. She also asked the IG to ensure that the Guard whistle blowers don’t face retaliation.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: The Stampede

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 15:06

This time we’re heading to an unofficial community near Denali National Park boundary called The Stampede. Molly McKinley lives in The Stampede.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Tlingit Dance

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 14:53

Heather Powell, Education Director at the Sitka Native Education Program, poses with some young dancers after the Naa Kahídi Dancers’ 20th anniversary performance at the Sheet’ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi. “We are giving them an opportunity to have a sense of pride, a sense of community,” said Powell.

Dancing can be a celebration, an expression of joy or sorrow, or a way to tell a story. For one man in Sitka, it’s a way to teach people about his Native culture and values, and to carry on his tradition. With elders in the community growing older or already gone, he says it’s his responsibility to learn and pass along the teachings to the younger generation so they grow up proud to be Tlingit.

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Chuck Miller is teaching 2nd and 3rd graders how to perform traditional Haida-style men’s and women’s dances.

Miller is the youth program coordinator at the Sitka Native Education Program. It’s an after-school program where kids and teens learn Native dance, song, and language. Students are called Gajaa Héen Dancers. Miller attended the program when he was a kid and says dancing makes him feel connected to his culture.

“When I dance, it feels like my ancestors are running through my veins,” said Miller. “When you put your robe on, it’s like you’re putting on your teachers. You’re putting on your ancestors. You feel them on you. You’re embracing them. It’s like you’re walking into a warm hug.”

Miller grew up in Sitka and became a Gajaa Héen Dancer when he was just 3 years old. As a child, he was surrounded by elders and mentors who taught him the traditional Tlingit ways of doing things. He says that when Alaska became a part of the United States, the Tlingit culture suffered.

“That’s just the way history happened to us,” said Miller. “A lot of the people went through boarding schools, and it wasn’t okay to speak Tlingit language. They beat it out of you. Or the families back at home would say, ‘we’re stepping into the white man’s world. You can’t speak your Tlingit language anymore. We want you to adapt to the culture that’s prominent here.’”

Chuck Miller (front row, fourth from right) has been a part of the Sitka Native Education Program since he was 3-years-old. Miller says the Tlingit people believe in reincarnation and he remembers his grandma saying, “You carry my uncle’s name. You gotta have big shoulders to carry that name. You think you have big enough shoulders?” (Photo courtesy of the Sitka Native Education Program)

So, in 1974, Isabella Brady started the Sitka Native Education Program. She, along with other cultural leaders in the community, wanted to instill a sense of cultural pride in the younger generation, so they would grow up to hold and pass on the Tlingit teachings.

“The vision of the elders was, ‘Our culture is going to die,’” said Miller. “We need to do something now. We need to get these young people together.”

Miller remembers the words of the elders. “They would have elders come and talk to us and they would always say to everyone one of us, ‘and you folks will be the leaders one day.’ It’s true. It’s coming around.”

Heather Powell is the education director of the Sitka Native Education Program. She also attended the program growing up and says being a Gajaa Héen Dancer should not be taken lightly.

“For us, it’s a very very big responsibility to carry those songs,” said Powell. “To dance those dances, with respect, with knowledge, and with knowing where they come from, who do they belong to. Giving those pieces of our history that tie us to those songs, to those places, to those names.”

Chuck Miller, Youth Program Coordinator at the Sitka Native Education Program, teaches 2nd and 3rd graders a traditional Haida-style dance. The program is for kids from ages 3 to 18 from all different backgrounds who want to learn about the Tlingit culture.

Both Miller and Powell have embraced the leadership role. Powell says that Tlingit songs and dance teach students about Native traditional values and how to live by them.

Oleana Valley is 15 years old and a Gajaa Héen Dancer. “I just love it,” she said. “I’m just so passionate about it. It’s just like, one of my favorite things to do. It makes me super happy.”

Valley says it helps her forget her everyday worries and that the songs they sing are personal. “Stuff that we sing in songs is more about telling stories. They’re really deep, so it’s kind of like a privilege for people to hear songs like that. It’s like reading someone’s journal.”

Chuck Miller started the Naa Kahídi Dancers in 1994 to help tourists understand the Tlingit culture. “I wanted to show everyone that we are still here and this is who we are,” he said. This year, the dance group, made up of dancers of all ages and backgrounds, celebrated its 20th anniversary.

With so many elders getting older, Miller says it’s more important than ever to learn as much as they can before the elders are gone. He calls himself an elder-in-training. “Now, more and more of them are leaving,” he said, “it’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s like an encyclopedia is getting burned right in front of us and it’s the last copy.”

Miller continues to learn and teach as much as he can, so that the Tlingit culture will continue to grow stronger and carry on long after he’s gone.

Categories: Alaska News

The Anchorage International Film Festival

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 12:00

In the dead of winter, film makers from far distant lands come to Alaska because we have a festival. It’s been around for 13 years, and it shows more motion pictures in a week than it is possible for any one human being to see.  A look ahead at the program for this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival is just ahead on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Jim Parker, Director of Film Programs, Anchorage International Film Festival
  • Laura Moscatello, Festival Director
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Norton Sound 450 Race Ready to Run in 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 10:37

First-place finisher Pete Kaiser arrives at the finish line in Nome at the end of the 2012 Norton Sound 450. (Photo: David Dodman, KNOM)

The Norton Sound 450, a regional sled dog race along the western coast of Alaska, will run in 2015, race officials say, committing to a race that was canceled last year and severely shortened the year before.

The mid-distance race—officially dubbed the Paul Johnson Memorial Norton Sound 450—was first run in 2012 but significantly shortened in 2013 due to severe weather, and was canceled outright this past season due to funding, local training conditions and schedule timing.

But an announcement from race organizers, and confirmed by race organizer Middy Johnson, declares the race’s return in full: mushers will run from Unalakleet to Kaltag and back before tracing the Iditarod trail through Norton Sound coastal communities from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, and White Mountain and ultimately finishing in Nome.

The race, set to start Wednesday, Feb. 11, is run in honor of Iditarod veteran and long-time Norton Sound Sled Dog Club member Paul Johnson, who died of cancer in October of 2011.

(Map via Norton Sound 450 website)

Few other details were available as to which mushers might run the race, but the purse has been set at $30,000, significantly more than the 2013 purse of $10,000 that was split between the eight finishing mushers but still a decrease from $50,000 purse offered to the top 15 mushers in 2012.

Race officials say the Norton Sound 450 will also qualify mushers for the Iditarod.

Despite drastic changes to the course due to weather in the race’s short history, it’s already attracted mushing heavyweights, like four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, as well as Iditarod finishers like DeeDee Jonrowe, Aaron Burmeister, and Ray Redington Jr. But the race has also been a chance for western Alaska mushers to shine: Bethel’s Pete Kaiser has won both of the Norton Sound 450 races, and locals like St. Michael’s Alex Otten, Unalakleet’s Mary Helwig, and Aniak’s Richie Diehl have all run the race in the past.

The Norton Sound Sled Dog Club has been supporting mushing in Unalakleet and around the Norton Sound region since 1971. In 1973 the club started the Norton Sound Portage 200 from Unalakleet to Kaltag and back.

Categories: Alaska News

As Final Ballot Count Looms, Potential Electees Plan Next Move

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-14 08:00

Alaska Edition Host Lori Townsend, left, is joined by APRN Juneau correspondent Alexandra Gutierrez, right, and APRN Washington DC correspondent Liz Ruskin, not pictured. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Division of Elections will continue counting ballots today – Friday – 8 business days after the November 4th election. As Alaskans wait for final counts in especially the Governor and U.S. Senate race, the presumptive winners, Bill Walker and Dan Sullivan, are planning their way forward. However, it’s important to note that as of today, Friday—neither Governor Sean Parnell or Senator Mark Begich have yet conceded, that of course could change later today based on ballot counting that will take place later today.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN Juneau correspondent
  • Liz Ruskin, APRN Washington DC correspondent

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, November 14 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 15 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, November 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 15 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

What Was Alaska’s Senate Race Money Spent On?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 17:50

More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, which comes to about $230 per vote cast, and the campaigns aren’t done reporting their spending totals.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rare Conference Brings Russian, American Officials To Table on Arctic Oil

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 17:43

Subsistence hunters from Chukotka, as well as officials from government agencies and environmentalists met in Anchorage for discussions on oil spill response in the Bering Strait. Photo: A. Kochnev, Walrus Haulout Keepers

Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.

It took Nikolai Kalianto a week to fly to Anchorage from the Russian Far East, where he serves as member of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters for a meeting on oil spills.

“In the summer the most important species are whale and walrus,” said Kalianto, himself a hunter, through a translator. “And the main concern of hunters are pollution in the environment and the potential effect of oil spills on marine mammals and the ecosystem’s productivity.”

Communities on the Chukotkan Peninsula have a lot with common with their counterparts across the Bering Strait, places like Diomede, Savoonga, and Wales. They hunt the same animals for subsistence, and there is rising concern about a lack of preparation for industrial accidents as exploration and Arctic shipping increase.

Eduard Zdor directs Chukotka Marine mammal Hunters, and says he’s hoping this conference can give communities more tools for accessing information that relates to oil spills.

“In terms of the oil spill response preparedness,” Zdor explained  in Russian through the same translator, “there’s no support. This is actually a big problem and a big issue, the communities don’t get any information about industrial activity, and it’s something that’s a big part of our work: to make sure the government and companies do provide information about planned industrial activities.”

The meeting was organized by the World Wildlife Fund, which has had an interest in Arctic environmental conservation for two decades.

“Because the sea ice is changing the Bering Strait is going to experience more human activity,” said WWF’s Arctic Program Director Margaret Williams in the back of a conference room at a downtown hotel.

Though WWF is a non-governmental organization, and is currently able to maneuver around diplomatic roadblocks in order to bring together experts. “So WWF has been working with partners in Alaska and Russia to identify ways we can plan for that increased human activity, reduce risk, prevent accidents and protect the incredible biological productivity and diversity of this region.”

The United States has limited capacity for spill response in the Arctic. But Russia has less, even as they are ramping up Arctic oil and gas development faster than the U.S. And according to Alexey Knizhnikov, who tracks the extraction industry for WWF from Moscow, sanctions have halted one of the biggest benefits that international oil projects have brought to Russia in the past.

“U.S. oil companies halted activities in Russia,” Knizhnikov said in during a coffee break between presentations. “For us, for environmentalists it’s bad because many Western companies brought better standards for environmental safety.”

The worsening political climate has also halted cooperation between federal agencies on both sides, who are now barred from even engaging in dialogue. So, while the U.S. Coast Guard used to work with their Russian counterparts, this week officials were only allowed to attend the meeting as observers.

Williams, with WWF, is hoping the conference can put technical experts and regional players in contact so they can begin coordinating spill prevention and response measures.

To some extent that is already taking shape on the ground, explained Gay Sheffield, a biologist with UAF’s marine advisory program with an office in Nome. She sees coastal communities working more frequently with health officials to report the growing number of irregular wildlife incidents in recent years.

“In the Bering Strait Region in the last three years, for all the environmental anomalies that have been happening—sick seals, sick birds, unusual wildlife, and oiled wildlife—in all cases those were communicated and discovered by coast community members actively engaged in subsistence activities,” Sheffield explained.  “So when it comes to engaging and observing the environment and knowing what’s normal and not, our community members have been the first responders.

The conference wraps up Friday with one-on-one discussions. And though they live just a few hours west of Nome, the Chukotkans will be flying east for the next several days.

Categories: Alaska News

Horizon Lines to Sell Alaska Operations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 17:01

Horizon Lines has operated from the Unalaska Marine Center for more than 20 years. (Annie Ngo/KUCB)

After years of financial trouble, Horizon Lines has announced plans to sell off its routes in Alaska and Hawaii.

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Horizon started moving cargo in Alaska 50 years ago. Back then, the company was still known as Sea-Land. And they hadn’t gone through the string of mergers and sales that have become common in the shipping industry.

As it’s changed hands, Horizon has been stacking up debt — now more than half a billion dollars’ worth. Chief financial officer Michael Avara says they tried refinancing and restructing, but it just wasn’t sustainable.

That’s why Horizon has decided to shut down their operations in Puerto Rico and sell the rest.

In Hawaii, a shipping line called the Pasha Group has offered $142 million to pick up Horizon’s service. And for $69.2 million, Matson will get the Alaska operations and all of Horizon’s stock.

Avara says they’re in a good position to take it on.

“Matson is a large, profitable company with roots tracing back 150 years or so to Hawaii,” Avara says. “They have an excellent balance sheet and I think they’ll be a very good steward of the Alaska service.”

Until now, Matson’s mostly been focused on shipping in Hawaii and the South Pacific. They wanted to expand north. But spokesperson Jeff Hull says there wasn’t room — until Horizon fell on hard times.

The company was part of a long investigation into price fixing in the cargo industry. In 2011, Horizon pleaded guilty to inflating their rates and agreed to pay a $15 million fine.

The Justice Department also asked Matson to produce records, but they were never charged with a crime.

Even though Horizon’s been on shaky footing, they’ve still been a major player in domestic shipping under the Jones Act. The law says that operators have to be American-owned, using domestically-built vessels and American crews, in order to move cargo between U.S. ports.

Horizon has more than a dozen vessels that meet those standards — including three in Alaska. They provide regular service between Tacoma, Anchorage, Kodiak and Unalaska.

“And basically they are carrying our fresh produce, our groceries, household goods,” says Peggy McLaughlin, Unalaska’s ports director.

Horizon has been using the same municipal dock in Unalaska for more than 20 years. For most of that time, they operated under a special contract. But since it lapsed in December, Horizon has been paying tariffs to the city government to move cargo.

For reasons beside revenue, McLaughlin says the route is important.

“We hope that Matson recognizes that that domestic line haul service is really critical to Unalaska and our supply chain — and that the service level remains at least status quo,” McLaughlin says.

While there could be some personnel changes in Alaska, Jeff Hull says Matson will leave the actual shipping services intact.

In Unalaska, that means Matson will try to step into a partnership with Maersk, the international shipping giant.

Maersk exports seafood using Horizon as its local agent, with laborers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Matson already has a contract with the union at other ports on the West Coast, according to Hull.

The one thing that could change is Horizon’s fleet. At almost 40 years old, the vessels are showing their age. And Hull says it might take some work to bring them up to speed with new air emissions regulations.

It wouldn’t happen until after the deal between Matson and Horizon is approved by federal trade regulators. The companies are expecting to hear back next year.

Categories: Alaska News

LNG Trucking Plan Might Not Hit Targeted Consumer Price Point

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 17:01

The latest numbers show a state plan to truck North Slope natural gas to Fairbanks may not hit a targeted consumer price point. Officials updated the public on the project Wednesday, and they‘re optimistic they can bring down the price.

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Categories: Alaska News

Warm Weather Breaks Up Kuskokwim River

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 17:00

A rare November Breakup on the Kuskokwim River near Napaimute. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Leary)

The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the river.

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Celina Van Breukelen is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service and the River Forecast Center in Anchorage. She says they’ve had reports of the ice moving at Napaimute and Aniak.

“There seems to be some sort of a localized breakup at some locations on the river. We don’t expect it to have a flood impact. We don’t think that the ice is thick enough or that the water levels are high enough to really create a flood event, more of just some local breaking up that’s happening,” said Van Breukelen.

The situation has thousands of residents in a transportation standstill as they wait for the Kuskokwim to freeze into a safe road for travel. Van Breukelen says the forecast calls for temperatures to begin dropping below freezing at night and that should slow down melting.

“That should help slow that process down a lot. Not expecting to see a lot of precip that’s going to add a lot of precip that’s into the river and there should not be a whole lot of snow to melt, so not expecting to see much more input into the river over the next few days,” said Van Breukelen.

Mark Leary, who lives in Napaimute, says this is the third time he’s seen a November breakup – besides this year, it’s happened in 2002 and 2010. He says it’s different than a spring one, especially how it sounds.

“It’s real hard and it sounds like rocks moving. There’s no needle ice like in the springtime to soften some of the sound. Rocks tumbling down a hillside, rocks gritting, rocks grinding. The difference now as opposed to a spring breakup, the night is long you know. You don’t know what’s happening during the night, you know it’s like 14 hours of darkness and you don’t know what’s going on – you can hear it but you don’t know and it’s a little bit scary,” said Leary.

Leary says although the National Weather Service is not calling for flooding now, if ice jams form near villages and re-freeze, it could mean trouble this spring.

“That’s what happened at Crooked Creek in 2010, it broke up in November right around Thanksgiving and then it jammed a few miles below their village and refroze and boy, that jam was hard as a rock. So the next spring, 2011 that jam couldn’t melt as fast as the regular ice. And that’s what caused the new jam in the spring of 2011 that hit Crooked Creek really hard,” said Leary.

A pilot flew the Kuskokwim River today to assess the extent of the breakup and reports an ice jam below Aniak. National Weather Service officials say some local surges of water are expected as the ice runs. They say people should move belongings and equipment away from the river, but they do not expect high enough water to impact homes or roads. Alaska State Troopers are warning people not to travel on the river.

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA Presents 25th Annual Women of Achievement Awards

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 16:58

Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to 10 Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 13, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 16:57

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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What Was Alaska’s Senate Race Money Spent On?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, which comes to about $230 per vote cast, and the campaigns aren’t done reporting their spending totals.

U.S., Russian Focus On Bering Sea Issues

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway in Anchorage this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska  to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.

Tremors and Ash Seen at Pavlof Volcano

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.

Horizon Lines to Sell Alaska Operations

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After years of financial difficulties, Horizon Lines is breaking up. The shipping company has announced to plans to shut down or sell its domestic routes — including service to Alaska.

LNG Trucking Plan May Not Hit Targeted Consumer Price Point

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The latest numbers show a state plan to truck North Slope natural gas to Fairbanks may not hit a targeted consumer price point. Officials updated the public on the project Wednesday, and they‘re optimistic they can bring down the price.

Girdwood Animal Cruelty Investigation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood.  Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.

Warm Weather Breaks Up Kuskokwim River

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the River.

YWCA Presents 25th Annual Women of Achievement Awards

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to ten Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Girdwood Animal Cruelty Investigation

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-13 14:35

Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood. Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.

Anchorage Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Laura Atwood (confirms that) *says* the animal control office received a tip by email that the dogs were being neglected.

“The dogs were brought here to Anchorage Animal Care and Control Wednesday evening. They are in our care, they are being seen by a veterinarian today, and they are being cared for by our kennel staff. ”

Officers accompanied by Alaska State Troopers visited the home Wednesday afternoon. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says the matter is under investigation, and that Troopers will have no further comment until the investigation is complete. No charges have been filed.

Atwood says that when officers reached the home, there was no owner present. 

“To the best of my knowledge, the owner was not present when the dog was taken.”

She would not say how the dead dog died.

Atwood says Anchorage Animal Care and Control is ready to help if there is any suspicion of cruelty or neglect of domestic animals.

 

Categories: Alaska News

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