Alaska News

Indie Alaska: I Am The Gingerbread Village Builder

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-16 10:15

850 pounds of icing, 40 houses of gingerbread and chocolate – Joe Hickel has been creating Marina’s Village in the lobby of The Hotel Captain Cook for 35 years. Last year’s creation took six days to build and features a new country scene.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School Board puts money into savings, Rilke Schule facility

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-16 08:35

The Anchorage School Board decided how to spend their unexpected fund balance during a lengthy Monday night meeting. Most will be saved to make up for next year’s anticipated deficit. Some charter schools will also get some help.

The board is putting aside $17 million to soften the anticipated budget deficit for the 2015-2016 school year. ASD CFO Mark Foster said during a work session that this will mean the district should not have to lay off any teachers or instruction support staff next year. Superintendent Ed Graff told the board the money will help teacher and student morale so they can focus on the classroom.

“We are trying to make sure that we do what’s right by not having to go through this churning of staff and employees and decision-making unnecessarily.”

The board also narrowly voted in favor of advancing $2 million to the German-immersion charter school for building a new facility. Some board members questioned the merits of using a large chunk of money to help a small percentage of ASD students. Others wondered about the school’s financial transparency and the apparent opposition within the school community to the building project.

Senator Bettye Davis voted against giving Rilke Schule the money in this fiscal climate, though she does support the school.

“At this point I can’t see me even making a loan just to give this particular charter just to build a building when they can’t agree if they need it or not.”

The board set aside another $1 million for a charter school facility fund that will sunset in 2016.

That left nearly $4 million to use during the second semester of this year. The district will spend more money toward hiring teacher’s assistants, paying substitute teachers more, and providing summer school. They will also try to recruit more special ed teachers. Graff says these measures will help with classroom crowding.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Submits Skeletal Capital Budget

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 19:55

By law, Alaska’s governor is required submit a budget by December 15. Having been in office for only two weeks, Gov. Bill Walker opted to submit his predecessor’s $5.2 billion operating budget on Monday, without endorsement. But he did make some changes to former Gov. Sean Parnell’s capital budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The capital budget Gov. Sean Parnell was working on was already slim. At $200 million in state spending, it was a fraction of the $1 billion and $2 billion appropriations Parnell authorized early in his administration, when oil prices were high and the state treasury was flush.

With oil prices now crashing, Gov. Bill Walker has halved Parnell’s proposal to $106 million in unrestricted general fund spending — the money that legislators can appropriate with no strings attached.

“This is ground zero on the capital budget,” says Pat Pitney, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The capital budget submitted on Monday is largely made up of items that come with federal grant money. Only a few items — a couple of water treatment plants, a sewage project, a school project in Kivalina that the state is legally mandated to complete because of a lawsuit over rural education disparities — have no federal funding attached.

“This is an unendorsed budget,” says Pitney. “We haven’t had time to evaluate all of the projects. We did know we want to keep the transportation funds and those projects that rely heavily on matched funding.”

According to the new capital budget, the state will seek $1.2 billion in federal grants, mostly for airport and road improvements.

Not everything with matching federal funds survived the new budget. A half-million dollars for maintenance on shooting ranges was slashed, even though it was mostly federally funded. Walker’s budget also cuts funding for megaprojects like the Susitna-Watana dam and a 200-mile road to the Ambler mining district — megaprojects that have received considerable design and development money in the past. A line for the Knik Arm crossing was also zeroed out, even though Parnell’s budget only included federal funding for the proposed billion-dollar bridge. Pitney says that’s because in the long run, it is a “major, major commitment.”

“It’s one of the large projects the transition has to take a harder look at,” says Pitney.

The Walker administration will review that project, and others, between now and the legislative session to see if they should be put back in. The governor has until February 18 to make changes to his budget.

But Pitney’s not expecting a lot of projects to get added. She says that any extra items should neutralize the revenue spent on them in some way.

“Are there things now that if you invest in can either return revenue or reduce costs in the future?” Pitney asks.

Spending on a pipeline to get the state’s natural gas reserves to market could fall into that category.

After the governor’s budget is submitted, it gets sent to the Legislature, where lawmakers can add in their own budget priorities. Last year, Parnell’s original budget proposal included $430 million in state spending, but the final budget grew to nearly $600 million.

Pitney says there isn’t a hard cap for legislators to keep in mind when it comes to infrastructure spending this year.

Rep. Steve Thompson, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, is also undecided on a target spending number. But the Fairbanks Republican expects appropriations to be substantially reduced from previous years, with critical projects for health and safety getting the most consideration.

“I don’t think people are going to be wanting to flex their muscles too much with the financial situation the state is in,” says Thompson.

Thompson adds that he wasn’t surprised to see the capital budget stripped mostly to projects with matching funds.

“I didn’t think there was going to be anything other than possibly federal grant match money,” says Thompson. “I’ve been warning people that’s what it was starting to look like prior to this coming out.”

Thompson adds that operating expenditures, now budgeted at $5.2 billion, pose an even greater challenge to lawmakers.

With North Slope crude now below $60 per barrel, lawmakers may have to draw nearly $7 billion in savings to pay for the budget that passed this year, along with the new one they will be drafting. If no changes are made to the spending plan submitted Monday, the Department of Revenue expects the state to run a $3.2 billion deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 15, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 17:39

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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Gov. Walker Submits Capital Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

By law, Alaska’s governor is required submit a budget by December 15. Having been in office for only two weeks, Gov. Bill Walker elected to submit his predecessor’s operating budget Monday, without endorsement. But he did make some changes to former Gov. Sean Parnell’s capital budget.

Sullivan Delighted with U.S. Senate Committee Assignments

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday announced their committee assignments for the next two years. Alaska’s Dan Sullivan will come in with the lowest seniority of the 100 senators, primarily because he’s never held elected office before. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt him on the committee score.

Ballot Measure to Combat Corruption Has A Year To Gather 30,000 Signatures

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

While election season may have just ended, there’s already a push to gather signatures for a new ballot measure in 2016.

UA President Announces Retirement Date

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble will step down at the end of the school year. Vice President of University relations, Carla Beam says Gamble announced his plan to retire on June 1st 2015, to UA Regents, during an executive session Friday.

EPA To Use North Pole Air Data

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks area continues to struggle with fine particulate pollution from wood smoke and other sources. Wintertime air inversions trap emissions at ground level, dropping air quality below federal Clean Air Act standards. Much of the North Star Borough is classified a federal non-attainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency, based on air quality monitoring in Fairbanks. But, the EPA plans to begin using monitoring data from North Pole, where pollution is typically much worse.

Bethel Winter House Reopens with New Rules

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

After a bumpy start, Bethel Winter House has opened its doors, once again, with new rules. That’s after a newly hired volunteer coordinator quit and organizers shut the homeless shelter down for three nights.

Akeela House Celebrates 40 Years of Successful Sobriety Treatments

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Akeela House in Anchorage turned 40 this year. It’s one of Anchorage’s oldest substance use treatment facilities. Now it has programs in communities and prisons across the state.

Friends, Family Mourn Avalanche Victim; Expert Advises Recovery Operation Delay

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Memorial services were held over the weekend for Erik Petersen, the Delta Junction man killed in an avalanche in the Alaska Range.

An avalanche expert who’s surveyed the area of the eastern Alaska Range where the deadly slide came down says the snow pack on mountainsides near Rainbow Ridge remains unstable. That’s delayed efforts to recover Petersen’s body.

Climate Change And Alaska Natives: Health

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Alaskans have heard a lot about the effects climate change has had on land in the state. But new studies suggest it’s also having a big impact on the health of residents.

Categories: Alaska News

UA President Announces Retirement Date

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 17:04

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble will step down at the end school year. Vice President of University relations, Carla Beam says Gamble announced his plan to retire June 1st 2015, to UA Regents, during an executive session Friday.

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Categories: Alaska News

EPA To Use North Pole Air Data

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 17:03

The Fairbanks area continues to struggle with fine particulate pollution from wood smoke and other sources. Wintertime air inversions trap emissions at ground level, dropping air quality below federal Clean Air Act standards. Much of the North Star Borough is classified a federal non-attainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency, based on air quality monitoring in Fairbanks, but the EPA plans to begin using monitoring data from North Pole, where pollution is typically much worse.

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Categories: Alaska News

Friends, Family Mourn Avalanche Victim; Expert Advises Recovery Operation Delay

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 17:01

Memorial services were held over the weekend for the Delta Junction man killed in a avalanche in the Alaska Range.  Friends and family gathered to remember 35-year-old Erik Petersen, who was skiing with friend Michael Hopper when the slide came down Dec. 6th.

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Hopper survived the slide, and he and his wife Annie hosted a memorial service for Petersen at their lodge at Black Rapids Saturday.  Another service for Petersen was held in Anchorage yesterday.

Meanwhile, an avalanche expert who’s surveyed the area of the eastern Alaska Range where the deadly slide came down says the snowpack on mountainsides near Rainbow Ridge remains unstable. That will delay any operation to recover Petersen’s body.

Sarah Carter with the Alaska Avalanche Information Center Carter says a 600-by-150-foot expanse of snow engulfed skiers Erik Peterson and Mike Hopper, and his dog, carrying them all about a third of a mile down the mountain.

“As it moved downslope, it was funneled into a steep creek drainage,” she said. “And so it piled up quite a bit deeper, down in the steep creek.

Carter surveyed the slide area around Rainbow Ridge from the air and on the ground in the days after the December 6th incident, to better gauge the scale of the avalanche that slammed into the two backcountry skiers.

“It did release quite high on the slope. They triggered it from lower down” she said. “They were maybe a third of the way up the slope, or so, and the avalanche fracture line, where it actually detached from the mountainside, was way up near the ridge, almost 500, 600 feet above them.”

Carter says this season’s unusual weather has made the area’s snowpack unstable and susceptible to avalanches. The first significant snowfall came in early December, and that formed into a crust or, as she calls it, a “wind slab” on top of an unusually unstable base layer. All of which came crashing down on the skiers.

“And that’s ultimately what was triggered by Erik and Michael,” she said.

Carter says those dangerous conditions still exist in the eastern Alaska Range.

“It takes time for the snowpack to change,” she said. “And this particular set-up could last weeks, or months.”

She says that makes it unwise to attempt a body recovery operation now.

Carter is the education-outreach coordinator for the Alaska Avalanche Information Center. And she’s also the forecaster for the Valdez Avalanche Center. She says she believes climate change is a major factor in the unusual weather of recent years, and that it contributes to greater avalanche potential.

“A lot warmer weather. More moisture. That does affect avalanches, and creates larges avalanche events. And having a few of those within just a few years kind of gives us a heads-up that maybe we might be dealing with this more and more.”

That can make it hard for those who traverse the back country to predict and prepare for the conditions they’ll encounter. Carter says that’s compounded by a lack of real-time data for snow and weather conditions on the Alaska Range, compared to the extensive state and federal data-collection sources for the area south of Anchorage, around Alyeska ski resort.

“There’s not a forecast center that is responsible for the Alaska Range,” she said. “So it is a data-sparse area.”

Carter says aside from the sometimes-sporadic information from a few weather stations along the Alaska Range, outdoor recreationalists and others don’t have a lot of data about conditions there.

She says the Alaska Avalanche Information Center website has a page for those who want to share their observations about conditions in the area.

She says that’s essential information, and she encourages anyone who’s out and about along the Alaska Range to post their observations.

“Even if it was just a photo, or a brief couple of sentences saying where they were and what they saw. If they saw avalanche activity, that’s bulls-eye information that other users can utilize and say ‘Well, maybe that might not a great place to head to right now.’ ”

Carter says center official hopes to expand that and other information resources in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate Change And Alaska Natives: Health

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 17:00

Alaskans have heard a lot about the effects climate change has had on land in the state, but new studies suggest it’s also having a big impact on the health of residents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Delighted with U.S. Senate Committee Assignments

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 16:17

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate today announced their committee assignments for the next two years. Alaska’s Dan Sullivan will come in with the lowest seniority of the 100 senators, primarily because he’s never held elected office before. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt him on the committee score.

Sullivan will serve on Armed Services, Veterans Affairs, Commerce, and Environment & Public Works, and he says he can hardly pick a favorite.

“Well look, I’m pleased with all of them,” he said. “These were actually the four committees that I requested.”

It’s through committees that senators can shape legislation, and their assignments define their sphere of influence. The Commerce Committee is of particular interest to Alaska because it oversees fisheries, as well as the Coast Guard and civil aviation. Alaska’s Ted Stevens chaired the panel near the end of his career. Sullivan says Environment and Public Works Committee doesn’t get as much attention.

“But over the course of the last several months I said that was a committee I’d be very interested in, just because of the oversight role it has with regard to certain federal agencies, particularly the EPA,” he said.

Sullivan, like other Republicans, made fighting the EPA a pillar of his campaign.

It should be an interesting time for the EPW committee. Its incoming chairman, Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, believes man-made global warming is a hoax. The committee is also responsible for writing the multi-year transportation bill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski becomes the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources in the new Congress. She’ll also keep her other three assignments: Appropriations, Indian Affairs and the so-called HELP Committee — Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Murkowski says Sullivan’s committee list is a good counterpart to hers.

“Between what he has been assigned and I have retained, I think we cover everything across the state. I think it’s a great, great pairing,” she said.

Sullivan will be sworn in Jan. 6. Until then, Mark Begich remains in office, and he’s in the Capitol longer than expected while the Senate tries to wrap up for the year.

Categories: Alaska News

Ballot Measure to Combat Corruption Has A Year To Gather 30,000 Signatures

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 15:57

While election season may have just ended, there is already a push to gather signatures for a new ballot measure in 2016.

A small group of supporters behind an effort to criminalize what they see as corruption in Alaska politics gathered at the Division of Elections Friday, for a training on how to collect the 28,545 signatures they will need from across the state.

“This initiative will make it a crime for legislators to vote to appropriate money or deliver economic benefits to themselves, their employers, their families,” said Ray Metalf, director of the push to bring the issue to voters. ”When they’re conflicted they need to recuse themselves from voting.”

Such laws exist in other states, but Metcalf says without them Alaska is continually near the top of the list when it comes to corruption. In the absence of more explicit measures making it officially illegal to wheel-and-deal, Metcalf sees actions that are felonies elsewhere, but par for the course here. Like, he believes, the recent Senate Bill 21 oil tax vote in the legislature.

“You had two employees of ConcoPhillips voting to give their employer a billion dollar tax break,” Metcalf explained. “That would not be permissible under this law.”

Presently, the initiative has broad party support from the Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, and even some Tea-Party members. According to Metcalf, the Republican Party has not endorsed the measure.

Supporters have a year to gather all the signatures needed. Once submitted, a comprehensive certification process begins within the Division of Elections as they check line by line and signature by signature, that enough Alaskans support the idea to send it to the Lieutenant Governor for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Winter House Reopens with New Rules

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 14:36

A Bethel Winter House volunteer welcomes guests at Bethel Covenant Church Friday night.

After a bumpy start, Bethel Winter House has opened its doors once again, with new rules. The all-volunteer shelter’s board, organized under a Lion’s Club, met Thursday to sort out problems that closed it last week.

Organizers said clients were breaking rules and sneaking in alcohol. One volunteer claimed police did not show up or showed up too late when called.

Bethel’s Police Chief, Andre Achee attended the meeting and said his department was short staffed but did respond to all calls for service. A handful of shelter guests also attended the meeting. They said there were indeed problems with people sneaking in alcohol and also with guests mixing hand sanitizer and other products containing alcohol into water bottles.

The shelter reopened Friday with the new procedure of checking guests’ backpacks and coats at the front door for alcohol and other prohibited intoxicants . Eva Malvich is the Bethel Winter House Lion’s Club President.

“We monitor who we take in and if the people who come in don’t want to comply with the rules then we’ll ask them to leave,” said Malvich.

One woman left the shelter rather than go through the new check-in procedure Friday night. Another shelter guest said he was grateful for the new rules. He added that he spent the nights the shelter was closed roaming the streets seeking warmth at the hospital emergency room when he got too cold. Temperatures dipped into the single digits last week and snow fell overnight Friday.

Volunteers formed Bethel’s only homeless shelter after six deaths by exposure in 2012. In 2013 they provided a safe place for more than 80 regular guests to be out of the elements and there was only one death that year.  The winter shelter opened December 1st and has been serving 15 to 20 guests nightly. Organizers say they hope the new rules curb the problems and that safety is their top priority.

Categories: Alaska News

One Kuskokwim Traveler’s Body Recovered, Search for Others Continues

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-12-15 11:45

Search and rescue crews used chainsaws to cut the ice open during their search. (Photo courtesy of BSAR)

UPDATED STORY: The body of an Akiak man has been recovered from the frozen Kuskokwim River near Kwethluk.

Bethel Search and Rescue searchers Sunday found the body of Ralph ‘Jimmy’ Demantle, one of three people who disappeared while traveling by four-wheeler from Bethel to Akiak. Searchers continue to search for another man and a woman.

The missing travellers were reported to troopers at around 5:00 p.m. Friday. They were last seen in the Kwethluk area Thursday night. Bethel Search and Rescue says the three were traveling at night in snowy weather.

On Saturday BSAR and State Trooper Air Assets began a search. BSAR says in an online post that from the air Saturday, searchers saw an open hole above Kwethluk with a single set of ATV tracks leading into it.

Earl Samuelson is a pilot with the Alaska State Troopers.

“There was a lone trail, four-wheeler, went off by itself. They appear to be … to have gone into that water hole. From there we contacted Bethel Search and Rescue, Kwethluk Search and Rescue to do a survey of that. A couple hours later they had pulled a four-wheeler from that water hole,” said Samuelson.

Mike Riley with BSAR confirmed that crews will continue searching for the bodies of the other two travelers today (11/15). The families of the missing have been notified of the situation. The names of the other two travelers have not yet been released as of Monday morning at 9 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Considers $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:16

It’s been a big week for Alaska in Congress. Lawmakers removed the Alaska exemption in the Violence Against Women Act, a significant gain for advocates of tribal authority.

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The Senate is still considering a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government through next fall.

Among its Alaska items are $50 million for the missile defense system housed at Fort Greely and $3 million for the Kodiak spaceport. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she pleased the bill properly reimburses tribal health care providers for contract supports costs. It also has $10 million for sanitation in rural Alaska and another $10 million for the Denali Commission. It does not buy any new icebreakers, but it has $25 million for sonar mapping of the U.S. coastline, with emphasis on the Bering Straits and the Arctic.

The bill, though, zeroes out the Secure Rural Schools program. It paid $12 million last year to Alaska school districts, primarily in Southeast.

The Senate has to pass the bill in the coming days to avoid a government shutdown. It has until Wednesday night.


Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Lands Bill Passes Congress

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:15

A bill transferring about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska has passed Congress.

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The measure is attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is on its way to the President’s desk after a Senate vote.

The legislation completes the Southeast regional Native corporation’s land selections, promised by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

Sealaska could have chosen other lands earlier. But this bill gives it access to more valuable timber stands, economic development locations and heritage sites.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who authored the measure, says it will help more than Sealaska.

“You also have the aspect of the economic benefit that is conveyed when these lands, that were in federal hands, are now transferred for an opportunity for increased recreation, tourism and also for economic interests such as timber harvests,” she says.

Critics have called the bill a giveaway that will damage fish and wildlife habitat. It’s been strongly opposed by environmentalists, sportsmen’s groups and communities near potential logging sites.

“Sealaska Inc. and Southeast Alaska’s other ANCSA corporations have already picked over those areas, taking the best timbered areas,” says the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community in a statement posted online. “Now, Sealaska wants to cast off the rest, for more of the best elsewhere.”

The corporation has come close to shutting down its timber division in recent years, as it’s run through forests on earlier land selections.

“This is a monumental step to achieve our strategic plan of growth and profitability while maintaining important cultural priorities,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott, ina press release.

Murkowski, interviewed after the vote, says she hopes the bill will help turn around the industry.

“I hope it’s not too little too late. It has been a long, long time in coming. If you haven’t had an opportunity to visit with anyone in Southeast lately, it’s pretty skimpy down there,” she says.

Rep. Don Young sponsored the bill’s original version. Sen. Mark Begich co-sponsored Murkowski’s legislation.

Categories: Alaska News

SAGA to Cease AmeriCorps Program, Hopes Another Org Will Save It

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:14

SAGA AmeriCorps volunteer Maia Wolf (second from right) poses with other AmeriCorps members last year. (Photo courtesy Maia Wolf)

Nineteen AmeriCorps volunteers throughout the state were told this week their positions, including stipends and benefits, could end on Monday.

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As a second year AmeriCorps member, Maia Wolf volunteers at Discovery Southeast, a nature education nonprofit. She got the news the same way fellow AmeriCorps volunteers in Juneau, Anchorage, Homer, Seward and Cordova did – in a teleconference Tuesday.

The volunteers thought they had secure positions through July. Wolf says they’re frustrated.

“It’s financially difficult for a lot of people. We’re coming out of college. We don’t have a lot of savings and so not having something lined up and having so little time to look for a new position is difficult,” Wolf says.

The volunteers affected are specifically AmeriCorps members with Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA. The Juneau nonprofit is ceasing operation of its AmeriCorps program due to financial troubles, and hopes another program in the state can take it over. SAGA has been bringing AmeriCorps volunteers to Alaska for 20 years to work on service projects on public lands and volunteer with schools and nonprofits.

Discovery Southeast Executive Director Shawn Eisele says the organization plans to support Wolf for the full length of her contract, regardless of what happens to the AmeriCorps program.AWARE hopes to do the same for its AmeriCorps volunteer.

Saralyn Tabachnick is the executive director of Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. She says the AmeriCorps volunteer at AWARE serves as a children’s advocate and fills a real need.

“She works with kids who are living in shelter, acclimates them to shelter, spends time with them, safety plans with them, facilitates groups for them, helps them feel like the unique people that they are,” Tabachnick says.

She says if SAGA’s AmeriCorps program doesn’t get picked up by another organization, AWARE will try to raise funds to keep its volunteer on as long as possible.

Faith Lee is the coordinator of Sitka AmeriCorps, the program that might take on SAGA’s volunteers. If it’s financially viable, Lee says Sitka AmeriCorps could ensure SAGA members had support to complete their terms.

“We would take on all of the reporting, filing, payroll, health insurance,” Lee says.

The Sitka School District runs the community’s AmeriCorps program. Lee says the administration is figuring out what the budget implication of doubling the number of AmeriCorps members will be to the district.

SAGA receives $250,000 in federal funds as well as community contributions to run its 11-month AmeriCorps program.

Lee hopes Sitka AmeriCorps can help out.

“I felt really bad that 19 young adults were maybe not going to have an advocate and that’s something that I really take to heart because I want them to have a great experience. I want them to leave a footprint and make an impact and feel good about their service. And hopefully continue to volunteer for the rest of their lives,” Lee says.

Sitka’s 6-year-old AmeriCorps program and SAGA’s have had a great relationship in the past, Lee says.

“They actually mentored us and shared everything when we first took on AmeriCorps. They were wonderful. Without them, we would’ve really struggled. SAGA has contributed to our state for many years. If I can help in any way, I’m more than happy to put that extra time in,” she says.

SAGA board member George McGuan says faced with a $350,000 debt and no way of repaying it, the board is seeking legal counsel to figure out what to do next.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Regents Approve Tobacco Ban

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:13

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has approved a policy banning smoking and other tobacco use on its campuses statewide.

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The language passed by regents during a meeting in Anchorage Thursday says, “The University is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for its students, employees, and visitors, by prohibiting tobacco use and smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes and similar products, within its campuses and facilities.”

No funding is attached to the policy which will be up to campus communities to implement.

Tobacco use will be allowed inside private vehicles.

The ban takes effect December first 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Butler to Return as Alaska’s Top Doctor

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:12

Jay Butler is returning to his job as the state’s top doctor.

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Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson says in a release that Butler will be both the state’s chief medical officer and director of the Division of Health.

Davidson also announced Jon Sherwood will be deputy commissioner for Medicaid and Health Care Policy.

Both appointments are effective immediately but subject to legislative approval.

Butler was previously the chief medical officer from 2007-09. He left to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before he returned to the state position, he was senior director of the Division of Community Health Services at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage.

Sherwood is a 25-year veteran of the state health department.

Categories: Alaska News

Study: Climate Change Hurting Salmon Habitat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:11

Nature Conservancy scientist Colin Shanley talks about research on climate change impacts to Southeast salmon habitat. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Scientists know climate change is altering rain and snowfall patterns in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. A new study details how that could affect salmon and suggests what can be done.

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“Global climate change may become one of the most pressing challenges to Pacific Salmon conservation and management for Southeast Alaska in the 21st Century.”

That’s the opening statement in a report released earlier this year by The Nature Conservancy scientists Colin Shanley and David Albert.

Standing next to a fast-running Juneau creek, Shanley says the research began by examining about a half-century of Southeast stream-gauge measurements.

“By doing that we can figure out how historical patterns of temperature and precipitation affected our current stream discharges and things important to salmon,” he says.

The researchers looked at how warming temperatures and changing rain and snow patterns have, and will, affect the sources of streams.

A new report says salmon, including sockeye, shown here, could have habitat disrupted by new rainfall and snow patterns caused by climate change. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“Those watersheds that are generally fed by deep snowpack in the mountains might see fluctuations in their snowpack. And that in turn affects how much water is in the river throughout the rest of the next summer,” Shanley says.

One threat is flooding during the spawning and incubation period. The study projects that will happen more often during key times.

“When the salmon run up the river in the fall, they’re laying their eggs in the gravel and leaving them there, hoping that they’ll hatch. And some of these high-water events, where you get rain on snow, are going to cause more flooding events, or that’s what we predict. So certain streams are more susceptible to scour and loss of salmon eggs,” Shanley says.

In other places, streams may have less water and flow slower.

That’s already happened in parts of central and southern Southeast, killing fish.

“For the salmon streams that are really reliant on a more consistent rain to maintain adequate flows, you’re seeing water temperatures exceed what salmon can really tolerate,” he says.

Shanley says some of those scenarios can be addressed.

The study recommends restoring or improving damaged streams and rivers. That includes more of the restoration work already being done, including adding trees and stumps.

“The wood in the water slows down the water, so that can help with higher water. … That’ll get cooler and then they (salmon) can hide from predators and direct sunlight,” he says.

Shanley says fixing culverts and reconnecting diverted streams to wetlands would also help. That’s also been done, but he says more is needed.

He adds other change will come without human assistance.

“What we imagine happening is kind of a shifting in productivity of streams in Southeast Alaska. Because there is a great variety of streams in terms of mountainous headwaters and glaciated headwaters and low-elevation floodplains that were really set up to be pretty resilient,” he says.

Changes in watersheds could affect other plants and animals, as well as community drinking water supplies. That’s been predicted for a while.

But Shanley says it’s not all bad.

“This is not a doom-and-gloom outlook. This is really just us just getting smarter about how climate change may play out and how it might affect resources that are valuable to us,” he says.

The two-year study was published in the Public Library of Science-One, an international, peer-reviewed, online publication. It cost about $90,000, with grants from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is an international conservation organization. Other regional projects include Tongass National Forest restoration projects and small business development.

Categories: Alaska News

10 Years On, Selendang Ayu Spill’s Legacy Still Evolving

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:10

The Selendang Ayu split in two halves off Unalaska’s coastline in early December 2004. (Credit: Lauren Adams/KUCB)

This week marks 10 years since the bulk carrier Selendang Ayu ran aground off Unalaska Island. The ship lost power and broke in half against the shore, spilling oil and its soybean cargo, and leaving six crew members dead.

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It was the biggest shipping disaster in the Aleutians’ recent history – and its impacts are still evolving today.

Name a maritime disaster in the Aleutian Islands, and Dan Magone has probably helped clean it up. He’s been salvaging shipwrecks since long before a real spill response system was in place.

That had changed, thanks to the Exxon Valdez, by December 2004, when the Selendang Ayu lost power north of Unalaska. But even then, Magone says:

Dan Magone: “We were very ill-equipped to deal with a ship of that size.”

There was no automatic tracking to give early warning that the 738-foot vessel was in trouble — and no heavy-duty tugboats nearby to rescue it. Tow lines from local tugs kept snapping, and the Selendang’s anchors didn’t hold.

An oil sheen is visible at the wreck of the Selendang Ayu December 2004. (Lauren Adams/KUCB Archive Footage)

Magone got on scene just as the vessel went aground, and the Coast Guard started airlifting the crew to safety. With a squall moving in, Magone went back to Unalaska.

Magone: “We landed at the airport, and I got out of the helicopter as my son was driving by in a welding truck. He pulls off to the side of the road, comes over and gives me a great big hug, which was totally out of character. But what I didn’t know was the Coast Guard helicopter crashed not long after we left.”

Six Selendang crew members were lost at sea – but the Coast Guardsmen survived that crash. Retired Coast Guard Capt. Ron Morris, the federal on-scene coordinator for the disaster, remembers meeting them in town.

Ron Morris: “They still smelled like the jet fuel, whatever they use in the helicopters. I mean, they reeked of the disaster, essentially.”

Meanwhile, the ocean was ripping the Selendang Ayu in half. The spill that followed poured 336,000 gallons of oil and 66,000 tons of soybeans into the water and onto shore.

Magone was ready to start responding, though the weather meant his expectations weren’t high — now, he thinks they’re lucky if they cleaned 10 percent of the spill.

Still, Ron Morris says locals were angry at first that the complex, multi-agency planning process and lack of nearby equipment delayed the response.

Morris: “It’s just that you’re so far away from everything there. You’re working on the other side of the island, which is remote as well — and those resources just aren’t around the corner.”

Once it began, the project would last two years. It was the biggest, longest job Dan Magone ever took on. And hundreds of locals got involved. Brenda Tellman was hired to scour the beaches for oil, rock by rock, living at the site for weeks on end.

Brenda Tellman: “Some beaches were really messy and really stinky, but I think even if you got what we got off, it was better than leaving it there. … We ended up using some seashells, that worked pretty good — better than the [oil] scrapers itself.”

Others worked to keep Unalaska’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry safe from any oil that turned up close to town. The big fisheries were unharmed — but the state did close a small tanner crab harvest near the spill.

A worker holds up a handful of grass, oil and soybeans found on a beach near the wreck. (Lauren Adams/KUCB Archive Footage)

Some fishermen found work at the wreck to make up for lost revenue. Roger Rowland was one of those. When he talks about the Selendang now, he’s quick to bring up other local spills – some of them deadly, like the Kuroshima in 1997. He says yes, the Selendang was dramatic – but it’s just one in a long list:

Roger Rowland: “And if you throw in near misses, you can easily call one a year — just right here in our local waters. It’s not as out of the box as we might like to think it is. It’s just barely outside the box.”

Still, that was enough to spark some big changes to spill planning in the region. The Selendang led to Unalaska’s emergency towing system, which has come in handy in the past several years. And it resulted in better vessel monitoring – a vital tool in a high-traffic area where weather and human error will always cause problems.

But one thing some say might have saved the Selendang hasn’t happened — the dedicated heavy-duty tug. Retired Capt. Ron Morris says it’s a missing piece at either end of the Aleutian chain, where thousands of ships cross over as they transit the Pacific Ocean:

Morris: “You know, if you had a towing vessel [in the west at] Adak, and there at Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, so that you could take care of vessels on the Great Circle Route in those two choke points, you’d have a much better opportunity to conduct a save on a drifting vessel.”

That unfilled need has been especially significant for Dan Magone. A year ago, he merged his decades-old salvage company with Resolve Marine. The international corporation saw an in after the Selendang for one of their tugs, the Resolve Pioneer.

Magone: “Resolve thought, well, if we could hook up with Magone and use his facility and do what he’s been doing to try and make income any way we can so that we can have a vessel out there until it’s needed — so that’s what evolved there.”

But it’s not ideal for the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment, a study funded by the settlement from the Selendang that’s just now wrapping up. They plan to ask the federal government and other sources for millions of dollars to finance an even bigger tug – and a whole new response system.

Finding that funding will be a big challenge. It predates the Selendang, and still hasn’t been solved, 10 years down the road.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Maps

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-12-12 17:09

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

If you want to find a rare book or unusual map in Juneau, there’s only one place to go – Dee Longenbaugh’s shop. Longenbaugh is the owner of The Observatory: a rare book shop, used bookstore, and treasure trove all in one. You can find everything from local cookbooks about how to prepare halibut to maps of the Great White North.

Kayla Desroches stopped by the Observatory on a recent afternoon and has this profile.

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When I arrive, Dee Longenbaugh sits at her computer. Piles of old papers peek out from under her desk. I avoid stepping on them; I don’t want to trample documents that look a hundred years old.

But Longenbaugh says that age doesn’t determine the worth of a rare book or a map. For her, it’s not so much about what year the map came from. It’s more a question of what the map reveals.

“Why are these old ones so very different? If you’re curious, you want to find out why,” she said. “What did they believe at that time? And it’s the only thing I know that shows the world as our ancestors knew it or thought they knew it.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

While her priciest map is $15,000, Longenbaugh stocks inexpensive maps so that anyone can buy them.

“You can have excellent taste and little money and we all know the opposite can be very true. But I also get people hooked on maps,” Longenbaugh said. “Maybe you’re young, don’t have much money, OK, well here’s a little map for you. And say, five or ten years go by, well you now you’ve got money, oh yeah, and you love those maps.”

Although Longenbaugh is a business owner, her store began as a passion project when her children had gotten older. She collected around 343 old books about Alaska on trips to San Francisco and New York – enough to set up her bookstore in 1977. So she rented an old house in Sitka’s downtown area.

“…And my sweet older son built me a very nice bookcase which I still have and I put the books on display and ran a little ad in the paper and people started coming and it was just kind of fun,” she said.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

Longenbaugh says that it was the first used bookstore in Southeast.

In 1989, she and the Observatory moved to Santa Fe for a time. But she says she had a longing for Alaska. She flew back to the state to visit with her daughters, who live in Juneau, and stayed.

Longenbaugh originally settled in the Juneau Empire offices. She’s since ended up on the corner of third and Franklin where there’s a bread shop in the basement. Sometimes the baker’s music vibrates up through the floors.

Although it’s a little quiet during the off-season, Longenbaugh loves meeting the world travelers during the summer months. Some antique owners keep their rarities behind lock and key, but she believes in inviting guests to see and touch her maps.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

She says one way to tell an old map is genuine is to feel for the Gutenberg Press plate mark – the raised ridge along the side of the paper. She pulls a circa 1763 map of Alaska and Asia from a drawer, and spreads it across a table in back. The paper is made out of linen and is thick and pliable.

“A reproduction’s going to be smooth of course. If it’s real, you feel that plate mark? And you look it over on the other side. There it is – even stronger. That would not come through of course on a reproduction,” she said.

Longenbaugh also has a group of loyal customers in the community who come for the books. Mary Ellen Frank and her husband have been visiting her shop for 20 years.

Frank crafts figurines and then creates clothing for them that reflects traditional Native dress from around Alaska. Her work has been featured in museum collections and exhibitions.

She says she’s browsed The Observatory for research and that Longenbaugh goes above and beyond.

“When Dee travels, and she’s travels worldwide, she keeps her eyes open for things for you,” Frank said. “Or if she goes into a museum there that is of particular interest to you, she’ll let you know about that, get photographs for you. Really share.”

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

And Frank can guess why Longenbaugh is so popular in town.

“When you drop by her shop, if there’s somebody else there, in to time at all you’re all involved in the conversation,” Frank said. “She’s just one of those really engaging, charismatic people.”

Longenbaugh has a personal attachment to her maps. She says her favorite is a 1570 depiction of Alaska and Asia recreated in the 1600s. She says that Alaska is almost unrecognizable until you spot the Strait of Anian, the former name for the Bering Strait. However, her favorite maps are usually her newest and she moves around with them.

“I take ‘em home and sometimes I bring ‘em back because I get another one that I like even better,” Longenbaugh said.

While certainly at the traditional retirement age, Dee is all about her business. She says it gives her the chance to meet interesting people, examine books and maps, and keep on learning. She doesn’t plan to give that up anytime soon.

Categories: Alaska News