Alaska News

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Deadly 2013 Soldotna Crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-22 08:27

A plane crash in Soldotna last summer resulted in the deaths of 10 people. The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary findings on the crash this week.

On July 7, 2013, a single-engine de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter crashed shortly after takeoff at the Soldotna Airport, killing all nine passengers and the pilot. It was owned and operated by Rediske Air, an air charter company based in Nikiski.

Ten people were killed when an airplane crashed just after takeoff in Soldotna.

It was on its way to the Bear Mountain Lodge, about 90 miles southwest of Soldotna. Along with the two families, it was carrying luggage, food, bedding, and other supplies for the lodge.

The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, has been investigating the crash. Clint Johnson is the chief of the NTSB’s Alaska Regional Office.

“How we approach these accidents is basically with various groups- groups meaning operations, airworthiness, survivability,” Johnson said. “When each one of those groups is finished with those reports, and the reports reach 51 percent, our policy is to open that public docket.”

He says the more than 400 pages of documents released do not include speculation on the cause of the crash.

“We’re not at a point where we’re drawing any conclusions at this point,” Johnson said. “That will be addressed in detail when the probable cause is released. Probable cause will probably be following in the next three to four months or so.”

The findings include a weight and balance study with six possible scenarios. It’s noted that the precise weight and balance of the airplane during the flight can’t be accurately determined with the limited data available.

But, the scenarios were constructed using the data that is known and quote “logical, documented assumptions.”

Johnson says the NTSB used known facts and evidence like a cell phone video taken by one of the passengers to put together the scenarios.

The victims of the crash were two families from Greenville, South Carolina. They were Chris and Stacey McManus and their two children and Milton and Kimberly Antonakos and their three children. The pilot was longtime aviator Walter Rediske.

Rediske Air declined to comment for this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Parnell Inks Support for King Cove Road

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-22 08:23

Parnell signs the resolution alongisde King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. (Courtesy: State of Alaska)

Gov. Sean Parnell was in King Cove Friday to sign a resolution urging the federal government to allow an access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The road would connect King Cove to Cold Bay’s all-weather airport for medevacs. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell nixed the plan last year, saying it would damage protected wilderness.

Now, Parnell and the state legislature are the latest to ask Jewell to reverse that decision. Rep. Bob Herron proposed House Joint Resolution 30 earlier this year. On Friday, Gov. Parnell signed it into law in King Cove’s school gym.

Parnell said in a press release, “I do not think [Secretary Jewell] realizes what she has done: She has put people in peril. My respect for her leads me to believe that she simply doesn’t understand. I do believe she is capable of changing her mind.”

King Cove Corporation spokeswoman Della Trumble called the resolution “symbolic of Alaska’s deep concern for the safety of the Aleut people of King Cove” in a separate release Friday.

Trumble represents village and tribal groups who sued the federal government for the right to build the road earlier this year. The state of Alaska has signed on to join them in that suit. The state is also filing its own suit, asking the government for a right-of-way through the Izembek refuge.

Categories: Alaska News

Denali Rangers Investigate Illegal Moose Killing

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-22 08:20

National Park Service officials say charges are pending in connection with two hunters who illegally shot a moose at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Rangers investigated the shooting after it was reported last week as taking place in an area where sport hunting is prohibited.

Officials say the two hunters are men from the Matanuska Valley, who said they did not know they were in the park.

Officials say the man had a map, a regulation book and a global positioning system unit.

Sport hunting is allowed only in the Denali National Preserve at the western corners of the park.

Categories: Alaska News

Regents Nix Tuition Hike For University of Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-22 08:15

The University of Alaska Board of Regents gave thumbs down to a proposal to boost tuition by 4 percent.

UA President Pat Gamble proposed the increase for the 2015-16 academic year, saying the move would raise about $4 million as the system navigates tight budgets.

The university faced a $26 million budget gap this year amid rising fixed costs and lower legislative funding.

Seven of the 11 regents voted against the proposal on Friday.

Some said more needed to be done to cut costs within the UA system, while others worried about the long-term impact of frequent tuition increases.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Weighs Gravel Mine Application

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 17:21

A plan to vacate agricultural rights on a parcel of Matanuska Susitna Borough land is running into opposition. At a Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday night, [sept 16 ]residents spoke out against an ordinance aimed at approving a gravel mine on farmland.

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 The ordinance would allow Colaska, Inc, doing business as QAP, to purchase the development rights on 213 acres of agricultural rights only land the company purchased from the Matanuska Susitna Borough in 2010. Colaska, Inc, wants to extract gravel from the land. But the agricultural rights stand in the way of that plan. The ordinance came up for a public hearing Tuesday , September 16,  at the Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting. Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who opposes Colaska’s application, says several people spoke against the move at the meeting.

“The agricultural land is so limited, and we have a lot of land in the Mat Su Borough, we’re huge.  And there’s lots of other areas where this could be done, where they wouldn’t have to use valuable agricultural land.  Someone argued that the land isn’t currently being farmed and hasn’t been farmed in a while, but it is evident when you look at it that it has been farmed in the past.  There are windbreaks that are built into the land and so the potential is there for it still to be farmed.  And  the concern of a lot of people who came and testified was , once you turn it into a gravel pit, it will never be farmed again. “

 Beck says if the ordinance is approved,

“Yeah, it opens the floodgates.  there are people in line who have brought property on the same gamble, that they may be able to do away with those restrictions.  And I don’t want to start that precedent. “

 Glenda Smith, with the Borough’s land use office, says Borough code uses soil quality to determine if land is classified for agricultural use. If the soil qualifies, the land in question is slated for farming, unless there is a compelling health or safety issue pending. Smith says Colaska knew the land it bought was classed as agricultural.

Borough staff, as well as Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss, have come out against Colaska’s gravel plan. DeVilbiss says he’s put the Assembly on notice that he’ll veto the ordinance, should it pass.

But Assemblyman Vern Halter urged the panel to take another look.  During his comments at the meeting, Halter said:

 ”I’d invite the Farm Bureau to come up and take a look at that piece of property. It hasn’t really been farmed or agged for many years.. it’s  not a farm right now.  Basically, those windrows are going up, but you k now how fast those willows and birch grow, that’s pretty much the condition of it right now. Just on first sight, don’t make such bold suggestions. Go look at it.”

Halter says he’ll decide on the issue after he hears the rest of the public comments.

Tuesday night’s public hearing was continued, however, until the November 19 meeting, at the request of the applicant. The public will be able to weigh in on the ordinance again at at that time.   QAP did not return calls for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:41

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

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Mott, who serves as the assistant adjutant general for the Connecticut National Guard, was recommended to Gov. Sean Parnell by the National Guard Bureau.

The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations looked into allegations of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard and found that victims do not trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the command.

Parnell released the report earlier this month and also called for and received the resignation of Alaska’s adjutant general.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:40

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:39

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

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In their petition they suggest reducing the 2014 overall Chinook salmon by-catch hard cap in the Bering Sea-Aleutian Island Pollock fishery by 40,000 fish.

Natasha Singh is an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She says together, the tribes along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers making the request total nearly 100. And they want the Secretary and the Council to make the Pollock fishery conserve the way that families along the rivers have.

“There’s not food in the freezers for our families, yet you see significant profit from the fleets in the ocean who are taking kings as bycatch and we know that they have the technology where they could increase avoidance of the bycatch we are pleading that for the sake of the people and the families in the river who depend on the king salmon to eat, to provide and subsist, they reduce the bycatch,” said Singh.

The petition calls for the bycatch hard cap in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery to be slashed from 60-thousand to 20-thousand and the performance standard, which is a lower threshold to avoid penalties, to be cut from 47,591 to 15-thousand. That’s just for the remainder of the 2014 season. Historically Pollack bycatch spikes have occurred late in the season in the fall.

But that all appears to be moot. Federal officials say the Pollack fishery has reached 99 percent of their available quota and the B season is expected to close soon, perhaps in week or so, which would make an emergency closure redundant. They add that the total bycatch is expected to be under the 15,000, the lower cap requested by tribes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages off shore fisheries, including bycatch, asked in June for an in-depth analysis of ways to reduce the incidental catch of kings in Pollack nets.

Scientists say there are likely many factors that could be impacting the wild Western Alaska King salmon stocks, from food supplies and climate change to ocean acidity. The state of Alaska has committed funding toward a long-term study to try to figure out what’s gone wrong. But bycatch is one consideration.

Myron Naneng is President of AVCP. He says after a summer of sacrifice, tribes are eager to see a commitment to conservation from the trawl fleet.

“The State of Alaska already implements openings and closures on the river system whenever they feel the returns of salmon are low. So we want that same requirement to be carried through with the trawl fleet in the Bering Sea,” said Naneng.

Attorneys for tribes say if the Pollock fishery bycatch stays under the 15,000 mark, it demonstrates what the tribes claimed in their petition, that the Pollock fishery can stay under a Chinook bycatch of 15,000 and still catch the allowable limit of Pollack.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:38

Flint Hills Resources-Alaska closed its refinery in North Pole in May, citing rising costs associated with cleaning up sulfolane contamination in area groundwater and other economic factors.
(Credit KUAC file photo)

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

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DEC asked scientists with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, to take a second look at the reference doses used by the state agency in setting a stringent cleanup level for sulfolane, an industrial solvent that leaked from the refinery over several years.

The TERA panelists reviewed scientific literature on reference doses used by DEC to come up with the 14-parts-per-billion cleanup standard that the agency says Flint Hills must attain before DEC will declare the water safe to drink.

“It’s a very important step in the process,” says DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell.

O’Connell says the agency will now use the TERA panel’s work to help it determine whether the 14-parts-per billion cleanup standard is warranted.

“Once TERA submits a written report, which will be in about two months, the DEC will take their recommendations under advisement,” he said. “And then we will go forward and calculate a cleanup level based on the reference dose that they have coalesced around.”

Flint Hills Resources officials told DEC late last year that they believe the 14-parts-per billion standard is overly stringent. They say the level should set at about 25 times that level – around 363 parts-per-billion.

Flint Hills asked DEC to reconsider the cleanup level; in April, Commissioner Larry Hartig agreed.

In February, Flint Hills officials cited the stringent cleanup level as one of the reasons they can’t operate the refinery profitably. They closed it in May, and now operate a fuel terminal in one part of the facility.

Flint Hills and the former refinery operator, along with the state, have all filed lawsuits against each other in efforts to assign blame and liability for the cleanup.

O’Connell says DEC will send its final recommendation on a cleanup level to agency Hartig by the end of the year. Hartig will issue a ruling thereafter.

Categories: Alaska News

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:37

A students works in the Thorne Bay greenhouse. (Courtesy Megan Fitzpatrick)

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

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The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

It will be called the Thorne Bay Café.

The Southeast Island School District hired Susan Powell, a restaurant manager from Oregon, to take charge of the café. She listed some of the entree possibilities:

“Carnitas tacos, ‘cause we have the great tortillas from Coffman Cove. Maybe a taco salad, you know, some Mexican things. A barbeque pork sandwich. A Philly cheese steak or chicken cheese steak. A couple different kinds of soup every day ‘cause we’re going into winter”

She’s still working on the menu. But she plans to use produce from four school greenhouses. And she’ll get bread and tortillas from a small bakery run by the Coffman Cove school.

“I think the main goal is to support the schools and promote their products and to have student involvement,” Powell said.

Megan Fitzpatrick is Thorne Bay’s 7th through 12th grade teacher. She said this restaurant is one more fruit to spring from the labor and success of the student-run greenhouse. The school district starting operating the hydroponic greenhouse in Thorne Bay in February.

“We decided to split the class and run [the greenhouse] like a company. We broke the 20 kids into five or six different departments,” Fitzpatrick said.

The departments included construction, business, horticulture, and purchasing and ordering. Fitzpatrick says the students were evaluated on their “youth employ-ability” skills, like work ethic and showing up on time.

“[We were ] pushing it home that we’re running a business here and it takes the whole group to keep the business running,” Fitzpatrick said.

They grew mostly lettuce – butter lettuce, red leaf, romaine. And they sold it to the school lunch program and local grocery stores. The greenhouse was so successful that the school district is planning to build three more in Naukati, Kasaan and Coffman Cove.

So what happened to the Thorne Bay operation after the school year ended?

“There were a few kids that were really into it,” Fitzpatrick said. “They worked all summer long. They independently kept the greenhouse running.”

The idea to revitalize a vacant restaurant and connect it with the greenhouse came from the students and from Superintendent Lauren Burch.

“I think the restaurant might’ve originally come from Mr. Burch but then the kids sort of morphed it so that they can grow the products for it and have a place to sell their products,” Fitzpatrick said.

The restaurant used to be in Coffman Cove. Thorne Bay City Administrator Wayne Benner says Thorne Bay bought it and moved it in 2012.

“The goal was try to generate some economic development,” Benner said. “Try to get some jobs going in the city of Thorne Bay.”

Since then, two operators have leased the restaurant. But both cancelled their leases after less than a year. The city put out a request for proposals again. And the school district was the only bidder.

“The City Council approved going into negotiations with the school district,” Benner said.

The school district doesn’t want to lease the restaurant, but buy it. The council has to do one more reading of the plan to sell, and then they’ll negotiate an agreement.

Fitzpatrick says the students like the idea of a café, not just because it’ll expand their greenhouse business.

“They wanted to have café where they go and do homework after school,” she said. “A place to kind of hang out but also get a snack and some food.”

Along with the café, the students also want to set up a little shop near the restaurant to sell their goods.

Another new development — four schools are getting into the chicken business. So the café will have local eggs.

Restaurant manager Susan Powell says she’s looking around at other local food options, like a Coffman Cove oyster farm. The ingredients Powell can’t find on-island will come from national food distributors.

She plans to set up a Facebook page where people can check on the day’s menu.

Powell thinks if all goes well, Thorne Bay Café could be open in mid-November.

Categories: Alaska News

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:36

Elder Lucy Jacob enjoys lunch with her friends in the cafeteria at the Senior Center. (Photo by Charles/KYUK)

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

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As lunchtime nears, elders gather at the Chief Eddie Hoffman Senior Center in downtown Bethel. Seniors mill around the common area talking, smiling, resting, getting help with paperwork, and playing card games, as they’ve done since the center opened in the mid-80’s.

Just before noon, an elder offers a prayer before lunch.

As the seniors line up for their meal, elder Luther Oscar says he loves the time he gets to socialize with his friends.

“I started coming to the senior center to enjoy the fellowship, also to enjoy a meal with other elders over at the dining hall,” says Oscar.

The meal is bittersweet, as it’s one of the last the seniors will have together in the building. Bethel’s Tribe, Orutsararmiut Native Council, manages the senior center program. This summer they announced that they could no longer afford to stay there.

The senior center serves lunch for elders, delivers food to homebound seniors, and drives a bus to bring them to places like the post office and the grocery store.

Elder, Lucy Jacobs has been a regular at the center for many years. She says her worst fear about the center closing is loneliness.

“I’m afraid I’ll be lonely again, I don’t want the senior center closed. Some of us are always lonely in our homes while our families are gone. When all of us are here together, we are happy, we even get to enjoy games,” says Jacobs.

The center has been housed in a city building off Atsaq Street through a memorandum of understanding that allowed ONC to use the city building free of charge, if they paid the bills. But ONC officials say the cost to run the program totaled over $600,000 last year and that’s just too much

Zach Brink is the Executive Director of ONC.

“The expenses needed to take care of the building are getting too high now that it’s getting too old. We are closing the Eddie Hoffman Senior Center on September 30th, but along the way we are looking at options for a new site,” says Brink.

Brink says they plan to use part of the Lulu Herron Congregate Home, an apartment building for seniors, as a makeshift senior center until a more permanent location can be found.

It is unclear what the city will do with the old site, other than close it off for the winter. Elder Catherine Peters says it’s important for seniors to have a place to socialize and she hopes they’ll find a new home soon.

“We can laugh with them, talk with them, cry with them if we have to. And I hope the younger generation think about, they’re going to get old too and they’ll need a place to stay, comfortable. Everything takes time, everything takes money, don’t wait too long. Get it started,” says Peters.

Brink was uncertain on what level of services ONC can provide seniors in the temporary location.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Chignik

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:35

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Removal of Federal Building trees elicits fierce opposition

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:27

The proposal to remove two trees from the front of the historic Federal Building in downtown Anchorage elicited fiery comments from a handful of community members during a public meeting on Thursday.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/19-Fed-Bldg-Trees.wav

The General Services Administration, which oversees the building, planned to cut down the spruce trees this summer. GSA spokesperson Stephanie Kenitzer says the trees were damaging the building and they needed to repaint the exterior.

“As a homeowner I’ve been told multiple times to not have a tree touching the side of my house. It’s difficult on the siding, it’s hard on the paint. It’s the same kind of philosophy,” she explained.

The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.

But they were stopped from cutting them down by public outcry from community members like arborist Nickel LaFleur.

“Because it’s history. Because our trees are legacies,” she said. “We don’t have that many trees here in Anchorage, and these trees are quite historic.”

Photos show they were planted next to the building at least 56 years ago. Some time around then, a bristlecone pine joined the line up. It’s anecdotally thought to be a gift from Anchorage’s sister city in Japan, though documentation is scarce. GSA never planned to cut down the bristlecone pine.

After the public complained, the agency decided to just trim the trees and repaint — for now. Kenitzer said it’s not a long-term solution.

“The trees will grow again. That’s what trees do. Sunshine, water, they’ll grow again. And we may be addressing this problem again down the road. So it’s really in the best interest of the long term preservation of the building.”

She said an arborist’s report on the situation also claimed that the trees’ roots will hurt the foundation of the building, so they should be removed completely.

LaFleur doesn’t buy the argument, especially since the trees are separated from the building itself by a wide window well.

“The root ball will never hurt the building,” she explained. “If the building is leaking, then roots have a way of heading toward water. But you can’t blame the trees for the problems. Just fix the leaks in the buildings and leave the trees.”

The arborist who completed the initial report on the trees asked GSA to keep his name confidential for fear of damage to his business. Some of the community members have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see the report and other information about the plan to remove the trees.

GSA will make a final decision in 30 days.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 19, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 16:20

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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Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

The Associated Press

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

AK: Mushrooms

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Heidi Drygas is a lawyer by day, and a food blogger by night. She features mostly Alaska-grown ingredients in her recipes, and her resume boasts everything from moose chili to devil’s club salad. But, there’s one thing she’s been too afraid to forage, until now.

300 Villages: Chignik

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

USDA Rural Development Seeks Loan Applicants

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-19 11:18

The USDA’s Rural Development arm is is offering grants and loans for rural community projects throughout Alaska. The agency recently hosted a working session in Anchorage in an outreach effort to encourage community economic development ideas. 

 Jim Nordlund, the state’s USDA Rural Development director, gathered his statewide managers and program directors together in Anchorage earlier this month [Sept 5] to galvanize the outreach his agency is promoting in pursuit of community economic growth in the five regions the agency serves within Alaska.

 During the training session, Nordlund brought his staff together to hear panels of professional economic developers so they could listen to, and learn from, the experts.He said he’d like his staff to “be more knowledgeable and proactive in pursuing projects in rural AK that can result in a better quality of life and more jobs.”

“A lot of people are very surprised to know the level of activity that we have in the state. In the past five years, we have done one and a half billion dollars worth of investments, in loans and grants, in the area of electric and telecom, business, housing and community facilities, as well as sewer and water projects in rural Alaska.”

 And, Nordlund says, USDA Rural Development has plenty of money to lend. He said the department has a $200 billion loan portfolio nationwide. All of Alaska is not considered rural, however. Anchorage, for instance, has too great a population. Rural communities are defined by the numbers of houses, and businesses or the size of their power and telecommunications utilities. But, Nordlund says, most of state is considered rural, and that means it faces hurdles in creating jobs. And, he says, federal programs, such as the loan programs his agency offers, are available to help small communities get local businesses started.

“Remember, most of what we do, and you will see that reflected across the federal government now, is that there is getting to be fewer and fewer grants. But we do have really attractive loan programs, and because loans get paid back to the federal treasury, Congress is much more accepting of our loan programs. So we have plenty of loan money available, either for community facilities or businesses, as well as utilities. “

 One challenge – the loan opportunities often are not tapped by the entities that could be using them. Nordlund says one goal of his department is to support projects that improve quality of life. He points out that twenty years ago, most rural Alaska villages didn’t have running water and flush toilets, now most do, in part because of USDA funding and partnerships with other entities, such as the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the state’s department of environmentalconservation, and the Indian Health Service

“We’ve all been partners in providing better sanitation conditions in rural Alaska, and I think that obviously improves the quality of life.”

Nordlund stressed the benefits of collaboration between entities to achieve successful results.

Presenters, such as Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, and Annie Fritze, the Economic Development director for the Bristol bay Native Association, spoke about their role in promoting development from idea to reality. Holst advised looking to local products and attractions — such as commercial fishing and tourism — to devise money-producing ideas.

Annie Fritze says one idea in her community is the recycling of cardboard boxes, that normally would be dumped in the landfill, to make pellets for fuel. Fritze says that idea is on the drawing board now, but a USDA rural grant could help pay for a pellet making machine.

Bill Popp, executive director of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, says small business can be an economic stimulator, although they face an uphill challenge in rural areas. Popp said economic development and community development are two different things, but both need the other to succeed. He said Alaska’s small workforce and long distance from the Lower 48 is a big drawback to both local enterpreneurs, and to companies seeking to locate in the state:

“First thing that a company looks at , depending on it’s purpose, it looks at the market opportunities in Alaska. They are going to be looking at an available workforce. …….. We have some challenges on those points. We don’t have a large population, there’s only 730,000 of us, we don’t have a large available workforce, we have relatively low unemployment, especially in the Southcentral region, and that makes it challenging for new businesses trying to invest in Southcentral, in trying to find the workforce that they need.”

Popp said transportation costs to and from Alaska is one of the major blocks to the development of state manufacturing.

USDA Rural Development works to strengthen the relationship between the community and it’s economy, Nordlund said

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to fight ISIL

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-18 17:02

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIL, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

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Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the measure in the House yesterday, saying it was a tough choice but the only way to stop the atrocities and prevent the group from attacking on U.S. soil.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also voted for it, as part of a short-term spending bill to keep the government operating. She said before the vote she was greatly reluctant and knows Americans are weary of war.

“We don’t willingly want to do this,” she said, “but I think Americans are looking at this and saying, ‘By doing nothing are we putting ourselves at greater risk from these barbaric acts?’”

The bill expires December 11, so Murkowski says Congress will have to face the question again after the election. For now, she says it boils down to selecting among bad options.

“And so I look at what we have in front of us and I see no good options,” she said. “But I’m very fearful of the no-option strategy.”

The issue cuts across normal party and ideological lines. The sole Democrat in the Alaska delegation, Sen. Mark Begich, voted against the bill. In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote, Begich criticized Obama’s plan to arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight extremists, saying it could backfire because alliances often shift.

“Do not arm, with U.S. dollars and weapons, the rebels of today that might not be the rebels of tomorrow,” Begich said.

He says the U.S. should continue air strikes, but he says the Arab countries who are also threatened by ISIL need to provide the ground troops.

“What is the long-term plan here for sustainability in the Middle East to get rid of these terrorist organizations that every single one of those countries know is bad for them – they know it – but they do not step up to the plate enough?” he said.

Begich was one of only 22 senators to vote no. His Republican challenger, Dan Sullivan, said in a written statement he would have voted for the measure because ISIL is a threat to the U.S.

Categories: Alaska News

One-Man PAC To Target Four House Races

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-18 17:01

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

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Keithley is launching a $200,000 independent expenditure campaign to install his vision of a more fiscally responsible Legislature in Juneau. He’s hired a campaign manager, he’s done polling, and after collecting candidate surveys, he’s decided to get involved in four races. Keithley is supporting two Democratic challengers — Laurie Hummel against the incumbent Republican Gabrielle LeDoux in Muldoon, and Matt Moore against House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt in East Anchorage. In West Anchorage, he’s backing a Republican, Anand Dubey, against Democrat Matt Claman in a race for an open seat. And in Mountain View, he’s spending on behalf of Libertarian Cean Stevens, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr.

“These are districts where we think we can move the needle,” Keithley says, from the kitchen of his unfussy Anchorage condo.

So, why is he doing all this? For the past two years, Keithley’s been a regular at the state Capitol, preaching a gospel of budget caps. But while he thought his message of limiting state spending to $5 billion was resonating, the last state budget tapped $6 billion from the general fund and the one before took out over $7 billion.

“We went backward over the next two years. Rather than saving, we had the two highest deficits in Alaska’s history.”

To make up the difference, the Legislature and governor had to tap the state’s budget reserves, basically a $15 billion piggy bank the state can dip into when there’s shortfalls. Keithley thinks that instead of draining the reserves, Alaska should let the funds grow and then use the interest to counteract declining revenue from oil production — a plan crafted by retired University of Alaska economics professor Scott Goldsmith, which generated a lot of buzz in the Capitol when it was introduced.

Keithley says he thought there was buy-in for that plan from the Republican majorities when they listed “sustainable budgets” as a priority going into the legislative session two years ago. Based on the spending they did, Keithley doesn’t think they’re justified in using those terms now when running for reelection.

“They’re just saying words. After what happened in 2012, and after the Senate Majority coming out and making the statement it did, and after seeing the two largest deficits in Alaska history, they know what words constituents want to hear. They know what words resonate at voting time, and they’re just saying those words. They’re not living up to the words.”

Keithley has a few objectives with his independent expenditure campaign. Obviously, he’d like his chosen candidates to be successful. But he also wants to get people talking about the state budget. And he believes his spending could have an effect in other races.

On top of targeting four House districts, he also plans to send issue mailers in the Senate district represented by Republican Cathy Giessel and the open Senate district in West Anchorage where Democrat Clare Ross and Republican Mia Costello are squaring off. That means candidates Keithley considered targeting but didn’t find vulnerable enough – like Rep. Mike Hawker, who shares a district with Giessel and has been criticized for the expensive renovations of the Anchorage legislative information office – might still have to address fiscal issues in their campaign.

Keithley has been a vocal critic of incumbent Sean Parnell’s limited use of the line item veto during the past legislative cycle, except didn’t think $200,000 directed at that contest was enough to make a serious difference. By targeting high-turnout districts and doing web and radio advertising that could have a broader reach, he thinks there may be a ripple effect.

“The mailers certainly are going to identify, and the web advertising is going to say, ‘This is both the governor and the legislature that has been doing this.’ It’s both Alaska’s chief executive and its board of directors that is sending the state down this path. So, it may have some carryover effect in the governor’s race, and that’s certainly not going to bother me.”

Needless to say, the independent expenditure effort has ruffled feathers.

Keithley, who isn’t registered with a party but describes his views as libertarian, says he’s lost friends over it. Republicans have accused him of simply trying to elect Democrats. He’s been described as arrogant and dogmatic. People have questioned his attachment to the state – he’s been an Alaska resident since 2007 and uses a cell phone with a Georgia area code – and asked him who he thinks he is to be the arbiter of fiscal responsibility. He says people also wonder why he is putting $200,000 into political spending instead of toward philanthropy.

Keithley, who wouldn’t disclose his net worth but says he’s financially secure after a career as an oil and gas attorney, says he does give money to other causes. And he thinks his political spending may have more of an impact than giving to a specific charity.

“It creates a better world for that philanthropy and for that small segment, but it doesn’t improve the economy of the state or it doesn’t hand off a better world – a better state fiscal world – to the next generation.”

Keithley says he’s also prepared to be negatively compared to political spenders like the Koch brothers and George Soros, who are viewed as election-influencing boogeymen by the left and right respectively. Though, he sees himself more like billionaire Ross Perot, who self-financed a 1992 presidential run centered on reducing the national debt.

“You know, Ross Perot may have lost that election, but he changed the discussion. He changed the dynamic.”

Keithley even considered pulling a Ross Perot and running for governor. But after some self-reflection, he realized he “just wasn’t a good candidate” and did not have a shot at victory. So, he figured he may as well put money behind people who did have a chance. After all, he thought that was the fiscally responsible approach.

Categories: Alaska News

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-18 17:00

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

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Categories: Alaska News

Board of Education to Consider Regulations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

The state board of education will consider regulations surrounding how students can test-out of courses they have mastered.

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Lawmakers this year passed legislation allowing secondary school students to test-out of and receive credit for courses offered in math, language arts, science, social studies and world languages.

The proposed regulations would require districts to provide testing at least twice a year and develop standards regarding the degree of mastery needed.

In public comments, Ron Fuhrer, president of NEA-Alaska, said the regulations, if implemented properly, would allow students to take more advanced classes.

But he said if the testing requirements are too lax, it won’t prepare students for long-term success. He also said he didn’t want new testing days added to the school calendar.

The board meets this week in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News
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