Alaska News

Alaska senators vote in favor of highway bill

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-31 10:21

Congress has averted a crisis in U.S. Highway funding.

The Senate passed a House bill on Thursday to keep the highway program afloat until at least Halloween.

Both Alaska senators voted for the bill.

It also includes an unrelated emergency measure for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress agreed to let the VA move up to $3.3 billion dollars from the new Veterans Choice program, which funds private health care for vets, to cover other account shortfalls.

Without the flexibility, the VA said it would have had to begin shutting down its own hospitals and clinics. Sen. Lisa Murkowski blamed the need for the emergency measure on the VA’s “poor organizational abilities.”

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s exploratory drilling commences in the Chukchi Sea

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-31 10:12

The Polar Pioneer drill rig arrives in Dutch Harbor. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska)

Arctic drilling is under way.

Shell Oil confirmed Thursday night that its Polar Pioneer rig sent a drill bit spinning into the floor of the Chukchi Sea about 5 p.m. Alaska time.

It came at the end of one of the most eventful days in the company’s eight-year effort to find oil in the Arctic Ocean.

More than 2,000 miles away, just a few minutes before the drill bit hit the sea floor, the company’s icebreaker Fennica managed to free itself from a blockade of protesters in Portland, Oregon.

Protesters had suspended themselves from a bridge across the Willamette River.

Others had taken to kayaks to block the exit of the Fennica.

Thursday morning, the Fennica approached the bridge, then turned around after a 15-minute standoff.

Shell’s Fennica vessel. Photo: John Ryan/KUCB.

A federal judge in Anchorage slapped Greenpeace with a $2,500 fine for every hour its activists blocked the Fennica.

By late afternoon, local police and the U.S. Coast Guard had disbanded the protesters. The Fennica set sail past the bridge and headed for Alaska.

Greenpeace called delaying the icebreaker for 36 hours a victory.

Activists say climate change and the risk of an oil spill make drilling in the Arctic Ocean a dangerous mistake.

Shell has begun drilling a 40-foot-deep cellar for housing a blowout preventer.

It can only begin drilling into oil-bearing layers beneath the sea floor after the Fennica arrives at the drill site in the Chukchi Sea.

Interior Department officials say they expect to approve the deeper drilling quickly once the Fennica has returned to the Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Anchorage mayors tackle two recessions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-31 08:00

This week, we’ll be talking with two Anchorage mayors about two recessions. With us are Tom Fink, who took over the reigns of Anchorage in 1987, not long after a collapse in the price of oil, and by Ethan Berkowitz, who’s been in office just about a month now.

HOST: Zachariah Hughes


  • Tom Fink, former Anchorage mayor
  • Ethan Berkowitz, Anchorage mayor

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, July 31, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 31, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:45

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

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Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters With $2,500/Hr. Fine

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

A federal judge has found Greenpeace in contempt for blocking the path of an Arctic drilling vessel trying to make its way from Portland, Ore. to Alaska.

‘Shell No’ Protesters Turn Back the Fennica

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

“Shell No” is the theme of a protest happening right now as Shell’s Fennica icebreaker tries to head north after undergoing repairs in Oregon.

A Tale of 2 Murkowski Bills – One Partisan, One Not

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski passed two major bills out of the Senate Energy Committee today, each containing priorities she’s been working on since she became chairman of that panel.

Instrument Data ‘Another Piece of the Puzzle’ in Fatal Plane Crash

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the July 17 plane crash that occurred 18 miles west of Juneau.

Under Alaska Management, the Mosquito River is Open for Business

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Federal Government has backed down in a long running legal dispute with the State of Alaska over ownership of an eastern interior river.

Bethel Advances The Possibility of A City-Run Liquor Store

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council last night took one step towards a possible return to local option status. By a 4 to 3 vote, they introduced an ordinance, which, if passed by council next month would let voters decide in October whether to allow local alcohol sales solely through a city-run liquor store.

Ketchikan Borough To Vote on Tobacco Tax

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough has completed drafting an ordinance that would impose a $3-per-pack tobacco tax within borough boundaries. The ordinance also would tax other tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – at 75 percent of their wholesale price.

BC tribal protest stops mine exploration, for now

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Developers of a mine on a Taku River tributary have stopped work after an on-site protest by a British Columbia tribal government. The Taku enters the ocean near Juneau.

Wrangell Opens A New Cultural Center, Carving Shed

Katarina Sostaric, KTSK – Wrangell

The Wrangell Cooperative Association cut the ribbon on its cultural center and carving shed Saturday, completing the second phase of the tribe’s three-part Native cultural revival plan. The center will serve as a place for recreating eight sacred totem poles and for teaching Native arts.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Shell No’ Protesters Turn Back the Fennica

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:37

“Shell No” is the theme of a protest happening right now as Shell’s Fennica icebreaker tries to head north after undergoing repairs in Oregon.

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At about 6:30 this morning Shell’s icebreaker tried to leave drydock on the Willamette River. It turned back at the St. John’s Bridge, where hanging protesters and kayakers are trying to block its exit. Mereditch Cocks is a local organizer with a conservation group called Portland Rising Tide.

“Kayaks are attempting to blockade the Willamette River. I think there are probably 80 or 90 people out on the river in boats. And of course there are still 13 climbers that are hanging from the St. John’s Bridge, and they have been up there for 36 hours blockading Fennica. Let me hold my phone out for you — people are chanting and arrests are being attempted, but I don’t believe any have been made yet on the water.”

Protesters are using the Twitter handle #ShellNo to spread news about the movement.

Cocks has been hanging around the bridge since Tuesday. She says when they got wind early this morning that the Fennica was going to leave drydock, they tried to get as many people on the water as possible.

“The Fennica approached the climbers. There were probably a few dozen boats on the water…. and at that point it actually retreated back to dock,” she says.

At about 3:00 this afternoon Cocks says law enforcement was amping up its presence, which makes her think the Fennica may make a second attempt to head north in the coming hours.

“It just started to get pretty serious in the past hour or so when we really saw the first meaningful efforts to extract the climbers off the bridge.”

Cocks says the morale among protesters is strong. And many have pledged to get back on scene as soon as possible if they’re arrested.

Greenpeace is being fined $2,500 per hour the hanging protesters impede Shell’s Fennica vessel.

Categories: Alaska News

Tale of 2 Murkowski Bills: Bipartisan and Not

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:36

Sens. Cantwell and Murkowski speak to reporters.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski passed two major bills out of the Senate Energy Committee today, each containing priorities she’s been working on since she became chairman of that panel. One bill would lift the crude oil export ban and give states like Alaska a share of federal off-shore oil revenues. It passed on a party-line vote. The other is a national energy policy focused on efficiency, job training and modernizing the electric grid. It passed the committee overwhelmingly. Each bill reflects elements of the senator’s legislative style.

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Murkowski and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Energy panel, held a joint victory press conference after the committee approved the broad national energy bill. Cantwell says when she was first on the Committee, they couldn’t even pass a bill to prevent electric blackouts, even though the West Coast had already endured massive blackouts.

“And people kept saying, ‘Oh no we have to wait for a big energy package,'” Cantwell recalled. “No we don’t! The transformation in energy is happening much more rapidly. We should get what we can get done now.”

That kind of thinking — approve the essentials now, deal with controversies later – was the guiding principal Murkowski employed on the national policy bill. The bill is replete with unsexy stuff, like legislative housekeeping, to repeal out-of-date energy laws. Murkowski claims her favorite part of the bill is that it eliminates the need for the Energy Department to produce scores of useless annual reports. Murkowski says, sure, they could have aimed for more pointed legislation.

“But you know what? We haven’t updated our energy policies in eight-plus years,” she said. “And it’s just so past

The Senate Energy panel considered stacks of amendments. (Photo: Senate staff, via Twitter.)


Both senators say the nation’s energy infrastructure has to be ready to take advantage of new technologies – like new sources of generation and storage. To reach common ground, though, they had to convince other committee members to dial back on home-state priorities if they were controversial. Cantwell says it helped that Murkowski invited every member to present any bill they wanted to the committee. They held dozens of hearings on issues that never made it into the final package.

“People just took some of those regional issues that they desperately wanted to get, and said ‘yeah, I know if I put this in here, I might be able to win the vote, but then it’s never going to go anywhere,'” Cantwell said.

Of course, the lack of local priorities leaves the senators with few headline issues to go home and campaign on. Murkowski says pushing their individual agendas would not have been successful.

“If we hadn’t moved this out today, we would have been delivering 100 percent of nothing to our constituents,” Murkowski said.

The bill still faces an uncertain future on the Senate floor. The other bill the committee passed, though, is certainly more controversial. It’s got a long name: The OffShore Production and Energizing National Security Act, or for short, OPENS. It would encourage more off-shore drilling, and provide revenue-sharing for Alaska and other states. It would also allow Shell and other companies with leases in the Arctic an extra 10 years to develop them, beyond their lease deadlines.

Ending the crude export ban is part of this bill, too. Oil market analyst Jamie Webster, a senior director of research at the firm IHS, favors lifting the ban, and he says he’s been watching Murkowski take on the issue.

“A lot of us kind of nerdy types have been talking about oil exports for a while, but she was the first big political figure to come out and say ‘this needs to happen,'” Webster says.

Murkowski says the ban is outdated and harms the economy. Others, though, say it amounts to exporting refinery jobs and they worry it will raise fuel prices. Murkowski launched her effort to repeal the ban at the start of 2014, with a speech at a Washington think tank. Webster says she was pragmatic and realized it would take time to bring others along.

“She could have started to kind of push it right then, but instead very much took the stance of saying it would be the year of the report, which it actually ended up being,” Webster said.

Whether her patience will be rewarded remains to be seen. Several reports concluded that lifting the ban won’t boost prices at the pump, but no Democrats voted for the OPENS bill in the energy committee, some of them citing price concerns.

Categories: Alaska News

Instrument data ‘another piece of the puzzle’ in fatal plane crash

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:35

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the fatal plane crash that occurred 18 miles west of Juneau on July 17.

Wings of Alaska flight 202 crashed into a mountain about 15 minutes after departing Juneau on its way to Hoonah, killing the pilot Fariah Peterson. All four passengers survived.

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Chris Shaver is the NTSB investigator in charge. He says there were no reported problems at takeoff.

“In the only communication that the pilot had with air traffic control, which would’ve been at takeoff, she didn’t relay any issues,” Shaver says.

The plane is certified to fly under visual flight rules, which means it has to stay out of the clouds and maintain a visual reference with the ground for navigation. Shaver says weather conditions at the Juneau and Hoonah airports at the time fit visual flight rules. To determine what conditions were like in between, he says he’s pulled images from seven weather cameras.

Shaver says the plane’s electronic system had a feature that gives visual and audio warnings if the aircraft is approaching terrain. The plane split in two when it hit a large spruce tree at an elevation of about 1,300 feet above sea level.

“Where the separation happened probably played some factor in the survivability of the passengers,” Shaver says.

The engine is being sent to Anchorage for further inspection and the plane’s visual display units are being sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. A chip inside the display units will hopefully offer flight data, like air speed and altitude.

“We hope that we’ll get data all the way up until 1 to 2 seconds before the accident,” Shaver says. “It’s not going to answer the question of why did something happen, but it’s going to give us a much clearer picture of what exactly happened, at least, with the flight path of the airplane. So it’s another piece of the puzzle.”

Shaver says the final report determining probable cause of the Wings of Alaska crash won’t come out for another 12 to 18 months.

Categories: Alaska News

Under Alaska Management, Mosquito Fork is Open for Business

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:34

The federal government has backed down in a long running legal dispute with the State of Alaska over ownership of an eastern interior river. State ownership the Mosquito Fork of the Forty Mile River will open it up to new activity, including mining.

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The Mosquito Fork runs for about 80 miles before joining the main stem of Forty Mile near the Taylor Highway and historic gold mining community of Chicken. It’s within a National Wild and Scenic River Corridor, but this week the Bureau of Land Management dropped claims to the waterway.  Alaska Department of Natural Resources Chief of Operation for the Division of Mining Land and Water, Wyn Menefee says the move ends a drawn out legal battle.

“We were on our way to doing the full arguments in court, and BLM, at the last minute, after a lot of preparation time for the court case gave a recordable disclaimer of interest, which is something they could’ve done at the very beginning, before we ever went to litigation.

As a condition of statehood, Alaska was granted navigable waters, a determination the BLM has challenged on numerous waterways including the Mosquito Fork, despite what Menefee describes as solid evidence.

“We floated the river, we showed it’s navigable — clearly, now — we had evidence of commerce and trade on the river.”

BLM Alaska spokeswoman Leslie Elis Waters would not comment on why the BLM gave up fighting for the Mosquito Fork, saying the decision came down from the U.S. Justice Department, adding that that the BLM intends to cooperate with the state.

The Mosquito Fork is in a popular hunting, recreation, and placer gold mining area, where the BLM has contested some state issued mining claims. Menefee says confirmation of state ownership will open up the river to new activity, including small scale mining.

Menafee hopes that the BLM’s decision drop the fight over the Mosquito Fork signals a sea change in the larger battle over ownership of numerous other Alaska rivers.

Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Opens A New Cultural Center, Carving Shed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:30

The Wrangell Cooperative Association cut the ribbon on its cultural center and carving shed Saturday, completing the second phase of the tribe’s three-part Native cultural revival plan. The center will serve as a place for recreating eight sacred totem poles and for teaching Native arts.

Dancers started the dedication of the Wrangell Cooperative Association Cultural Center with a performance in front of the new building’s gleaming cedar façade. A crowd gathered in the street for the grand opening of what is also known as the carving facility.

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Dancers kick off the grand opening of the Wrangell Cooperative Association Cultural Center on Saturday, July 25, 2015. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

Wrangell Tribal Council Vice President Richard Oliver said it is a place for local artists, carvers and entrepreneurs to develop their skills and trade.

“Our mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of our tribe,” Oliver said. “And it is also to help build a strong, unified and self-reliant membership.”

It is the second part of a three-phase plan to revive the Wrangell tribe’s assets. The first part was completed when the Chief Shakes Tribal House was rebuilt in 2013. The next step for the association is to carve replicas of eight totem poles that used to stand near the tribal house on Shakes Island. The cultural center is where carvers will work on that project.

Virginia Oliver introduced Tlingit elder Marge Byrd.

Photo: Katarina Sostaric/KSTK

“Cedar Rope Mother is going to help us bless the building right now. She is the one that had been holding the culture here in Wrangell for us,” Oliver said. “And she was holding on with a cedar rope, holding us all together so we could come here today so that you could be a witness to this.”

Together, they led a cedar bough ceremony to purify the new building. A long line of tribal members and spectators slowly circled the outside of the building, singing and brushing the walls with fragrant cedar boughs. When everyone circled the building, Byrd, Cedar Rope Mother, spoke.

“It’s like we always hear. We’ve been here for a long time. And we’ll always be here, as long as you hear our drum,” Byrd said. “We’re here, and we’re going forward. We have our new facility. We have our new Shakes house, and some other things going on ahead to keep our culture alive for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.”

Oliver explained cedar is a cleansing and purifying medicine of the Tlingit people. She said it is wonderful to see these ceremonies being revived in Wrangell.

“It’s powerful to me. I’m so glad that this is finally happening,” Oliver said. “And now we’re looking forward to the re-carving of our totem poles and putting up those totem poles and putting the other ones to rest.”

Sealaska board member Richard Rinehart Jr., who is from Wrangell, said he wanted to convey the regional Native corporation’s appreciation for the cultural revival that has taken place in the local Native community.

Tlingit elder Marge Byrd thanks project manager Todd White.

“It’s obvious, and everybody can see it,” Rinehart Jr. said. “Where for a number of years things seemed silent. Our old ANB hall had fallen into disrepair. Our totem poles were falling down. The totem poles are still down, but thanks to Rasmuson and a number of the other contributors, these things are all coming back to life.”

The Rasumson Foundation supports Alaskan nonprofits, and it helped fund construction of the cultural center and the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Rinehart Jr. also mentioned the role this cultural revival plays in the effort to push landless legislation through Congress to make the Wrangell tribe a federally recognized Native village.

Construction of the carving facility was completed last fall, led by Project Manager Todd White. It has already housed a major carving project and Native arts classes. Artists also use the building to sell their goods to tourists.

Tribal Administrator Aaron Angerman said it has been more than 10 years since they started planning the cultural restoration.

“It’s great to see that we’re this far and knowing that we’re going to be carving these totems very soon. And we made it this far from next to nothing,” Angerman said. “And I’m really confident these things will pay dividends to members of this community for decades and decades to come.”

After a series of speeches, it was time to cut the big blue ribbon tied across the front doors.
Kris Norosz of the Rasmuson Foundation held the ribbon down so Marge Byrd could cut it, and they welcomed everyone inside.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Borough To Vote on Tobacco Tax

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 17:09

Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough has completed drafting an ordinance that would impose a $3-per-pack tobacco tax within borough boundaries. The ordinance also would tax other tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – at 75 percent of their wholesale price.

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The Borough Assembly voted on July 6 to move forward with the idea, but it wasn’t endorsed by all Assembly members. In fact, the same motion failed in an earlier vote, when some supporting Assembly members were absent and not able to participate in the decision.

It was brought back for reconsideration, and in a 4-3 vote, the Assembly directed borough management to draft the ordinance.

It will be in front of the Assembly for the first of two votes at its next meeting, and likely will result in another split. Assembly Members opposed to the measure were unequivocal.

During the June 6 meeting, Assembly Member Jim Van Horn called in from Juneau, where his wife was finishing radiation treatment for lung cancer. Van Horn said he is a lung-cancer survivor himself, and lost his first wife to lung cancer.

“This insidious thing called cancer is caused by smoking, but at the same time, I feel that $3 a pack is too excessive,” he told the Assembly

Those opposing the tobacco tax say it’s a revenue grab, and Assembly Member Glen Thompson said that people on the right and left tend to like “sin” taxes.

“Conservatives like to legislate morality and liberals tend to like to control the economy, so this has something that both sides really like,” he said. “But the poor guy in the middle is the one paying the tax.”

Thompson suggested increasing a general tax, such as the sales tax, if the borough needs more revenue, rather than targeting tobacco users.

But those who support the tobacco tax say it’s a deterrent for youth who might be tempted to pick up the habit.

Assembly Member Allen Bailey said, “There’s has been more than enough statistics provided that has indicated that youth begin their cigarette smoking early age. And if they begin below the age of 18 or 16, the likelihood of them continuing their smoking habit throughout their live, is not only a cost to them, a cost to their family, and – as exemplified by one of the Assembly members here – it costs the lives of others.”

It’s estimated that the proposed tobacco tax would generate about $1.2 million a year in new revenue. The draft ordinance calls for directing up to 15 percent of that toward smoking-cessation programs. The rest would be divided between the borough and the City of Ketchikan, based on population.

The ordinance also calls for an annual report, showing how the proceeds of the tax have been used, and its effectiveness on reducing tobacco use in the community.

The next Assembly meeting is Monday, Aug. 3.

Categories: Alaska News

Fed Judge Slaps Greenpeace Protesters With $2,500/Hr. Fine

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 16:06

A federal judge has found Greenpeace in contempt for blocking the path of an Arctic drilling vessel trying to make its way from Portland, Ore. to Alaska.

Thirteen climbers suspended beneath a bridge on the Willamette River forced a Shell Oil icebreaker to return to its dock Thursday morning.

Thirteen Greenpeace protesters are suspended from the St. John’s Bridge over the Willamette River in an attempt to impede Shell’s icebreaker vessel from returning north. Photo: Liz Arnold, shared with permission.

At Shell’s request, Judge Sharon Gleason in Anchorage then fined Greenpeace $2,500 for every hour its dangling protesters block the icebreaker’s path.

The fine doubles on Friday and goes up to ten thousand dollars an hour over the weekend.

The icebreaker Fennica has been in a Portland shipyard since Saturday for repairs.

The Fennica got a three-foot gash as it left the deepwater port of Unalaska for its Arctic Ocean drilling site four weeks ago.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the company respects the right to protest its operations as long as protests are safe and legal. She says the Portland protest is neither.

Thursday afternoon, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said, for now, the protesters are staying in place. She said Greenpeace respects the courts, but it also respects the science that says Arctic oil needs to stay in the ground.”

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Silver Salmon Run Underway

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 10:26

Coho salmon are picking up at the Bethel Test Fishery. (Graphic courtesy ADF&G)

Silver salmon are running up the Kuskokwim River and managers say the coho at the Bethel Test Fishery will soon be more abundant than chums.

They say it’s too soon to predict the run strength, but they note that the very early data indicate the run is shaping up to be average. But the fishing effort on the silvers may be above average.

At a meeting Wednesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group managers asked fishermen for their best prognostication of how intensely people will hit silvers this year. LaMont Albertson of Aniak gave his report.

“It depends on the weather, it depends on whether they’ll feel they will be successful if they spend $7.46 on a gallon of gas to go fishing. We have to bear in mind we had a bumper crop last year of silvers up here. If you don’t consider last year, and you consider the years before, I think people are getting a lot more silvers that they’ve done before. We were really depended on silvers last year, and people harvested. I certainly took advantage and harvested a good number,” said Albertson.

Following a big survey in July, the rough numbers from state biologists show that middle river communities plan to catch about twice as many silver salmon as they typically do. That comes after a summer of unprecedented king and chum restrictions.

Kuskokwim Management Biologist Aaron Poetter said after the meeting that his team is not anticipating any drastic changes now to the subsistence rules, which is basically open with six inch nets indefinitely. The big question is when to make the call on a commercial opening, which would be the first of the summer for the Kuskokwim.

“We’ve consistently had commercial opportunities in the coho time-frame. [We may be] looking at an average to slightly more subsistence needs and an average to slightly better run. If we project it as such and assess it in the same fashion there’s really no reason we shouldn’t have a commercial opportunity. It may not be a three times a week like we do on in the bay districts, but we’ll look and see what we can provide,” said Poetter.

The silver run is quickly advancing. Historically, 50% of the silver run has gone past Bethel by August 8th. The last few days at the Bethel Test Fishery have been the biggest of the year.

“It really comes down to can we provide commercial opportunity? Commercial is a very important aspect of the fishery, especially in the lower river with a lot of participants. That income, while it may not be much compared to other salmon fisheries statewide, it’s still very important economic stimulus within this region,” said Poetter.

The group also heard early results of a feasibility study for using sonar technology to count fish in the lower Kuskokwim. Teams identified two sites. One is located at the confluence of Church Slough and the Kuskokwim and another downriver of Akiak. Test fishing goes alongside the sonar so they can identify species. Next year they hope to operate a full-scale sonar site for testing purposes.

Categories: Alaska News

Halibut Donated to Diomede, Gambell, Savoonga, and Wales

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 10:23

For four communities affected by this spring’s poor walrus harvest, help is on its way in the form of 10,000 pounds of halibut.

Nearly 200 boxes of the fish were delivered to Nome on July 29, according to Kawerak senior planner Donna James. She said the delivery is being sorted and will soon be distributed to Diomede, Gambell, Savoonga, and Wales.

The U.S. Coast Guard delivered 200 boxes of halibut to Nome. The fish will soon be shipped to communities affected by the low walrus harvest. (Photo: Donna James)

The halibut comes as a donation from SeaShare, a Washington state nonprofit that supplies seafood to hunger-relief efforts.

All four communities declared states of economic disaster after a spring harvest that Vera Metcalf called significantly worse than usual. Metcalf is director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission and worked with the communities to declare their disasters. She said the Commission reached out to the state of Alaska and the Governor’s Office for help, through Rep. Neal Foster and Sen. Donny Olson.

“Their staffs were really good about following up with our concerns, making sure the communities were aware that the State of Alaska and Walker’s administration were aware of the situation,” Metcalf said. “And this halibut came around and it was available and it’s free and the communities wanted access to that.”

The U.S. Coast Guard brought the frozen halibut to Nome free of charge, and James said Kawerak is working with Bering Air, Erickson Helicopters, and Ravn Alaska to organize free freight delivery to the four communities.

Although the donation is good news, Metcalf said it’s only a temporary solution as climate change makes hunting more difficult.

“In the event that another disaster is declared — What do we do? And how do we move forward? We need to come up with a long-term plan,” she said.

For now, Metcalf said the donation will be a big help, even if it doesn’t entirely solve the food shortages.

“I know it won’t fill the nutritional value that a walrus or other marine mammals provide, but it’s there and it’ll be put to good use,” she said.

The halibut will ship out as soon Kawerak can coordinate delivery with the different airlines. Kawerak will then distribute the fish equally to households in each community.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds ask cruise ships, boats to stay farther away from seals

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 10:20

Harbor seals rest on ice near South Sawyer Glacier in 2007. New federal guidelines suggest, but don’t require, vessels to stay about 500 yards away from the marine mammals to lessen disturbances. (Photo courtesy NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center)

Federal officials are asking cruise ships, tour boats and kayaks to stay far away from harbor seals in Alaska’s glacial fjords.

The marine mammals rest, sleep and birth their pups on floating ice. NOAA Fisheries says new research shows the marine mammals are much more likely to dive into the water when vessels approach the current legal limit.

NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle says that stresses the animals and lowers their chance for survival.

“They expend far more energy when they are flushed off the ice floes and that uses up their energy reserves and that’s very important if you’re an animal that lives in that icy environment,” she says.

The federal Marine Mammals Protection Act requires ships to stay about 100 yards away. New guidelines, which are voluntary, call for about 500 yards, if it’s safe to do so.

They also ask ships to be as quiet as possible, avoid causing wakes and make no abrupt course changes. They suggest vessels schedule tours for the early morning or evening, when fewer seals haul out.

“At this point, because they’re voluntary, we will be monitoring the vessel and seal interactions to see if these new voluntary approach guidelines provide sufficient protection for the seals,” she says.

NOAA Fisheries says its research shows about three-quarters of seals on ice dive into the water before an approaching ship reaches the current legal distance. Other studies found different numbers, but they still document significant disturbances.

The most popular fjords, in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, see multiple visits a day.

Speegle says the new guidelines, if followed, should help protect young seals.

“We certainly want to do all that we can to ensure that pups are not separated from their mothers during the nursing stage,” she says.

Calls to several companies offering fjord tours were not immediately returned.

Categories: Alaska News

Activists rappel off Oregon bridge to stop Shell icebreaker

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 10:17

More than a dozen activists rappelled off the St. Johns Bridge in an effort to stop a Shell Oil Arctic icebreaker from leaving Portland.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard says the protesters dangling off the bridge early Wednesday have enough water and food to last for days.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC icebreaker Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs Saturday. The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull

Leonard says delaying the icebreaker will give President Obama more time to reconsider giving Shell the last permit it needs to drill.

Opponents of Arctic drilling worry the area’s remoteness and rugged conditions will hamper cleanup efforts in the event of a spill, risking devastation to a fragile marine ecosystem.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Fairbanks cuts $20 million from budget

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-30 10:16

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has announced it will cut $20 million from its budget this upcoming year.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that some of the cuts come from 150 eliminated positions, reduced campus services and widespread consolidation. The detailed budget plans were released Wednesday.

UAF academic programs plan to slash 68.5 full-time positions, as well as 17 teaching assistants and adjunct faculty jobs. UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says students will likely see more crowded classrooms and fewer duplicate offerings of required introductory courses.

The cuts come as the greater University of Alaska system faces declining state funding.

This is the third year UAF has dealt with major budget gaps, which now total more than $42 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 17:53

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

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Alaska Senators No Fans of Iran Deal

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Obama administration faced a tough crowd this morning as it defended its nuclear agreement with Iran in Congress. Both of Alaska’s senators are among the chorus of lawmakers who say the deal is bad for the U.S.

Psychiatric Facility For Vets Opens In Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The state’s first and only facility offering acute and long-term psychiatric care for the military held it’s official opening ceremony in Anchorage on Tuesday.

Conservationists Declare Victory in Court’s Tongass Road Ruling

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.

Jim Johnsen Named New University of Alaska President

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Tuesday appointed Jim Johnsen as the next university president.

Wrangell Doc Found Guilty of Sharing Child Porn

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Former Wrangell doctor Greg Salard has been found guilty of distributing and receiving child pornography. After closing arguments in the trial in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, the twelve person jury returned with a verdict after only an hour and a half of deliberations.

Saxman Regains Rural Status

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Organized Village of Saxman is now officially rural again. The Federal Subsistence Board voted during a work session Tuesday in Anchorage to return communities to the status they held before 2007.

Dalton Highway Gets A Post-Flood Facelift

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A contractor is expected to begin work soon building up a portion of the Dalton Highway severely damaged  earlier this year by overflow ice and flooding from the Sag River.

Report: Alaska Falls Short on Curbing LBGT Discrimination In The Workplace

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

The University of California, Los Angeles, published a report last week on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Love, Adoption and Raising 3 Kids With FASD

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservationists Declare Victory in Court’s Tongass Road Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 17:37

Aerial view of Tongass National Forest (Photo by Alan Wu/Flickr Creative Commons)

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.

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Malena Marvin, Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, says this decision underscores management that’s already happening.

“The Forest Service is already not planning sales in roadless areas and proceeding in the same direction as the rest of the country in preserving these areas for future generations. So we’re really seeing the final legal decision just guaranteeing that direction.”

“Roadless areas” are habitat for endangered species, subsistence hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, and sacred sites.

In 2001, the Department of Agriculture created the “Roadless Rule,” limiting road construction and logging on nearly 50 million acres of wilderness. But the Tongass National Forest was exempted two years later when George W. Bush was in office. “Economic hardship” for timber-dependent Southeast communities was given as the reason.

Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen says a coalition of conservation groups and Alaska Native tribes challenged that ruling.

“And argued that the agency hadn’t adequately explained its rationale for reversing course and deciding to exempt the Tongass from the protection.”

Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association believes the Forest Service has “monopoly supply” over the timber industry in the region.

“They won’t allow enough timber sales to keep our industry alive and we’re dying… It’s hindering all kinds of development for no good reason other than pacifying environmental groups but we hope to get it overturned eventually.”

The state can petition the Supreme Court to exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Alaska Falls Short on Curbing LBGT Discrimination In The Workplace

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 17:33

“WOG2009-12″ by heb@Wikimedia Commons (mail) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Last Wednesday, the University of California, Los Angeles, published a report on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Alaska is home to more than 19,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults, according to a Gallup poll.

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The report, published by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 17 out of Alaska’s 25 largest employers have corporate policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. At least 11 of them list gender identity as a protected class. Some of these employers include Providence Health and Services, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

The report also cites a 2012 web survey on LGBT discrimination in Anchorage.

According to the Anchorage survey, 44 percent of the respondents had experienced harassment and nearly a fifth had been turned down for a job or promotion. The survey found that transgender people are more at risk for housing and employment discrimination.

The report found that straight male workers’ income was 30 percent higher than gay male workers.

Christy Mallory co-authored the report, and says it took about a month to compile.

The report predicts that if non-discrimination laws were expanded, approximately six complaints of sexual orientation or gender identity employment discrimination would be filed annually in Alaska.

“So, six complaints is pretty low,” Mallory said, “that’s mostly because there’s a smaller population in Alaska than many other states.”

Mallory says their reports focus on the 28 states that don’t offer LGBT legal protection in the workplace.

In a 2011 poll, nearly 80 percent of Alaskans said Congress should pass a law to prohibit LGBT employment discrimination.

In 2002, Gov. Tony Knowles issued an administrative order protecting state employees from employment discrimination and harassment. There are no restrictions on the private sector.

Neither the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights or the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission processes discrimination claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Williams Institute says that this discrimination does take place, citing legislative testimony.

Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl is drafting a city ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the private sector, including public accommodations and housing. He says he decided to work on the ordinance after local residents discussed the issue with him.

“The recent recognition of marriage equality in all 50 states is a wonderful step forward,” Kiehl said,” but some of these folks were particularly worried that a person could get married on Saturday and show off the photos and be fired on Monday.”

Kiehl thinks broader discrimination protection would be better for everyone involved.

“Those items being included would help us to make Juneau both a welcoming and prosperous community, as folks can live and work here based on their contributions.”

Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, requiring the state commission to handle those complaints. Similar bills have failed twice before.

Categories: Alaska News

On Love, Adoption and Raising 3 Kids With FASD

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 17:32

Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.

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When you walk into the Lohrey household, kids seem to materialize out of thin air.

“We have five of our own and one foster, so six kids right now,” says the mom, Diane Lohrey.

The Lohrey family. From left to right: Elena, Kylie, John, Kristyanna, Diane (holding a foster child) and Emilyanne. Elena, Kylie and Kristyanna have all been diagnosed with FASD. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Two are biological, three are adopted and the foster child is through the state Office of Children’s Services.

“And they just called us a few minutes ago to see if we would take an 8-year-old boy, but we have no room right now,” Lohrey says.

They’ve already converted their garage into a comfortable bedroom. At least a dozen foster children have passed through the four-bedroom house since 2005, staying anywhere from one night to 18 months.

The Lohreys’ first adoption was Elena from Russia in 2004.

“Within two days, I knew something was wrong,” she says.

Elena was 21 months old. Lohrey says she was different than the other Russian infants getting adopted.

“She would stare at things. She didn’t know how to play with toys. She would play with a little piece of lint more than she would a toy,” Lohrey explains.

Years later, the Lohreys adopted biological sisters Kylie and Kristyanna from Juneau through OCS.

They receive a stipend from the state for the two girls, who are now ages 5 and 6, and any foster children that pass through. Lohrey is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is a highway engineer.

Elena Lohrey, 12, looks at pictures from an FASD Family Camp her family attended in Arizona earlier this summer. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

All three adopted kids were diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at the FASD clinic in Juneau. Medical professionals at the clinic require some kind of evidence that the biological mother drank during pregnancy in order to do the diagnosis.

That was hard for Lohrey. She pleaded with Kylie and Kristyanna’s biological mom, “‘Go to OCS and write down that you drank or that you drank before you knew you were pregnant. That is the greatest gift you can give these children,’ and she did it,” says Lohrey, crying.

Emilyanne, 21, is one of Lohrey’s biological children. She says the diagnosis opens the doors for getting help, “and for, like, other people to understand, they’re not just bad kids. There’s a logical explanation for why they are the way they are, and how to give more ideas how to help them and not discard them like trash.”

FASD is an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of disabilities, minor to severe. Lohrey says each of her three adopted kids falls in different areas. Issues include short attention spans, disorganization and being overly trusting. One of her kids has a tendency to lie and steal.

Elena, who’s also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, doesn’t communicate her own needs.

“She won’t voluntarily say, ‘I need something,’ or ‘I need help,’ or ‘I’m lost.’ So one of the things they told us is that she might need long-term care, that she might not be able to live on her own. And that was like – that hurt,” Lohrey says.

The Lohreys converted the garage into a bedroom that Kristyanna, 6, and Kylie, 5, share. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

It’s tough to accept that your child has a lifetime disability for which there’s no cure, Lohrey says. In most cases, you can’t tell by looking that someone has an FASD.

“A lot of times, you’re out in the community and your kids are doing something stupid and you’re embarrassed and some people will say really rude things to you, like ‘You need to control your child,’ and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing the best I can. You have no idea.’ And sometimes I would love to wear a shirt that says, ‘My child has FASD. Don’t judge us,’” Lohrey says.

The Lohreys did not set out to adopt three kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

“And there are days when I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I had never adopted.’ I think that’s with your typical family, too. I think there are days where parents say, ‘I wish I didn’t have any kids.’ I think that’s normal,” Lohrey says.

She admits she may say it more than other parents, but there are times when she can’t imagine not adopting.

“Each little child that you adopt, each little child that you foster, hopefully you’re giving them something that will make this world a better place and better understanding and teach more empathy,” Lohrey says.

Lohrey sometimes blames the biological parents, but she knows that’s pointless. She says you can’t change the past. You can only focus on the here and now, and the future.

Categories: Alaska News