Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 23, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 16:48

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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McGuire Introduces Bill To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Republican Senator Lesil McGuire of Anchorage has introduced the first large-scale bill regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska.  The measure includes fine points that lawmakers, police, and the public need to adapt November’s Ballot Measure 2 into a legal framework.

Anchorage Assembly Addresses Potential Army Downsizing                             

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A pending military draw down could take more than 11,000 troops off of bases in Alaska.

Walker Names Transportation Commissioner

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

There’s a new boss at the state agency overseeing, roads, airports and ferries. Gov. Bill Walker on Friday named Marc Luiken as his commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Walker Outlines Plans For Budget Cuts

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar shortfall, Gov. Bill Walker is proposing 5 percent cuts to agency funding. He described his fiscal plan in his State of the Budget address on Thursday night – a speech that hasn’t been given since 2006.

Murkowski, Sullivan Agree Climate is Changing but Split on Naming Cause

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate spent the week voting on a raft of amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Democrats took the opportunity to force votes on climate change.

XS Platinum Agent Doesn’t Appear at Arraignment

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

An arraignment was held Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for the five XS Platinum Inc corporate officials indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and making false statements to federal officials.

ARCTREX Tests Arctic Oil Spill Tracking Techniques

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Offshore oil and gas exploration has become increasingly prominent over the past several years. But questions remain about how effective response efforts would be if there’s an oil spill. Last summer, scientists began tackling one piece of the puzzle – tracking how spilled oil would move and spread in the Arctic Ocean.

AK: Rescue Training

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

In 2014, Alaska’s Air National Guard rescued more than 90 people. They picked up individuals from downed aircrafts, snow machines that fell through ice, and lost hikers in the wilderness. The search and rescue squadrons also deploy abroad providing rescue capabilities for the Air Force in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Djibouti in East Africa. Many of their skills are honed during training missions around the state.

300 Villages: Lower Kalskag

This week, we’re heading to Lower Kalskag – a community of about 250 people on the Kuskokwim River. Janet Evan is the city clerk in Lower Kalskag.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish Commissioner Names New Habitat Director

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 16:43

A biologist from the U.S. Geological Survey has been appointed to lead the state’s Habitat division.

Tony DeGange is currently the chief of the ecosystem and geography offices at the Alaska Science Center. DeGange says he was recruited by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten about the job, and that he supports the division’s conservation mission.

“As more and more people live on the earth and there’s a lot more development, we have a responsibility to take care of our natural resources, and when we do development to try to do it in a way that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife,” says DeGange.

DeGange has worked for USGS for more than 30 years, and has previously collaborated with Fish and Game on salmon habitat projects. He has also represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

DeGange takes over the position at a time when the division is reconsidering its habitat management process. Management plans for the state’s sanctuaries and reserves — like the McNeil River bear refuge and Minto Flats — were being rewritten under the previous director, Randy Bates. The policies were targeted by a petition campaign that described the changes as a “rollback,” and Bates was removed from the position earlier this January.

The process is currently on hold. DeGange says he will now have to figure out what to do with those plans.

“The criticisms were that the state wasn’t following a highly transparent and public process,” says DeGange. “One of the first things that Sam Cotten has charged me with is coming up with a recommendation on how to move forward.”

DeGange says those recommendations will likely come next month.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Names Transportation Commissioner

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 16:24

There’s a new boss at the state agency overseeing, roads, airports and ferries.

Gov. Bill Walker on Friday named Marc Luiken as his commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Luiken served in the same post from 2010 to 2012 under Gov. Sean Parnell. He’s a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who also worked on oil production with ConocoPhillips.

Walker says he liked Luiken’s approach the last time he was commissioner.

“He has somewhat of a shared vision I have, as far as what can be done in the Department of Transportation,” Walker said. “I think there’s some more efficiencies we can do, do things differently than they’ve been done over the past.”

Walker removed acting Commissioner Pat Kemp, a Parnell administration holdover, from the post January 12th.

Kemp and two other officials were told to resign after they released a report Walker said criticized his freeze of transportation megaprojects, including the Juneau Access Road.

Kemp said it was an informational report, not a challenge.

Categories: Alaska News

ARCTREX Tests Arctic Oil Spill Tracking Techniques

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 16:17

Offshore oil and gas exploration has become increasingly prominent over the past several years. But, questions remain about how effective response efforts would be if there’s an oil spill. Last fall, scientists began tackling one piece of the puzzle — tracking how spilled oil would move and spread in the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic Tracer Release Experiment – or ARCTREX – is a step toward understanding how oil – or other contaminants – would spread in the ocean.

Dye release off the stern of the Norseman II. (Photo via ART Lab/UAF)

The team couldn’t release oil into the water, so they used a red-colored dye instead.

“It’s a non-toxic, kind of like a food dye that you use for cupcakes,” Peter Winsor, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said.

He says the goal of the experiment wasn’t necessarily to mimic crude oil, but instead to better understand how the ocean could disperse any number of substances underwater.

“The dye will disperse by the ocean currents and we think that the dye is a good representative of something we can map over time to really learn how to map something that is spilled into ocean in great detail,” Winsor said. “It’s not a perfect representation of crude oil; it might be a fairly good representation of crude oil that has subject to dispersants.”

The team released dye on the surface of the ocean in two different locations in September, when the edge of the Arctic sea ice is still far to the north. The first batch of dye was deployed at the Berger lease patch, about 60 miles off Alaska’s northwest coast in the Chukchi Sea. Winsor says this release proved the crew could successfully track the dye and relay the data in near-real time to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – where it could be mapped online.

“That particular dye release was very exciting because it stayed in the upper ocean – the top 50 meters,” Winsor said. “It never spread any deeper, and fairly rapidly was stretched, strained and deformed over time as we mapped it back and forth with our research vessel and some of our autonomous underwater robots.”

The crew tracked the dye for about four days before moving onto the next location, a little closer to Wainwright. The second release was much closer to the coast and near a large front — where there’s a big difference in temperature and salinity across a very short distance…and Winsor says the dye there tracked much differently.

“In this case, the dye left the surface of the ocean within 1 hour and 40 minutes and basically started to sink and follow that water mass down through the water column towards the sea floor,” Winsor said. “So, that was interesting from an oil spill management perspective, because after 1 hours and 40 minutes, you wouldn’t see a trace of it anymore at the sea surface.”

The Rutgers dye release team – Eli Hunter, Jack McSweeney, and Bob Chant. (Photo via ART Lab/UAF)

“So, if you do an overflight with an airplane or an autonomous flying vehicle, you wouldn’t be able to see it anymore.”

The team used three methods to track the dye: a pump system on the ship to get measurements at the surface; a small vehicle towed behind the ship to gather data further below; and with autonomous underwater vehicles, which are about 5 feet long and weigh 110 pounds. Winsor describes them as large, yellow bananas with wings – and they use an unconventional propulsion method.

“They suck in a little bit of seawater, which means they get heavy compared to the surrounding water and sink slowly through the water column. But, because of the wings they translate that to forward moving…or propelling themselves forward,” Winsor said. “So, they slowly glide from the sea surface to the sea floor, and then they pump out the same amount of water, and now they’re slowly drifting up to surface and the wings propel them forwards.”

“We’re able to run them for several weeks to several months on just a single load of batteries.”

Winsor says that efficiency coupled with the ability to program them via satellite means they could prove to be a valuable tool in tracking spills, even without a support vessel in the area.

Though this is a good first step, Winsor says the data is specific to this type of area and wouldn’t be a good representation of a place with deeper water like the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is a very different ocean; it’s 40-50 meters deep – only a shallow Arctic shelf sea that’s very dominated by wind and hydrographic properties and water coming up through the Bering Strait,” he said.

Winsor says he plans to take a team out to the same areas next year and release dye at the bottom of the sea to simulate what could happen if an Arctic oil well blows out.

Categories: Alaska News

Leaner Times In Store For Alaska’s Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 16:06

Governor Bill Walker’s State of the Budget speech made clear that leaner times are ahead for Alaska. His address was a somber departure from the optimistic state of the state address. He noted almost right away that managing the state’s finances into better standing will not be easy.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Bill Popp, executive director, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation
  • Alyssa Shanks-Rodriquez, economist, State Department of Labor and Workforce Development

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski to Deliver GOP Weekly Address

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 15:20

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski will deliver the next Republican weekly national speech on Saturday. It’s the party’s response to the president’s weekly radio address.

Murkowski is in the spotlight these days because she’s managing the floor debate for the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. Her office says she plans to focus on the energy potential of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The tradition of the president’s weekly radio address dates back to Franklin Roosevelt. President Obama airs his as a YouTube video.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Sullivan Agree Climate is Changing but Split on Naming Cause

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 15:02

The U.S. Senate spent the week voting on a raft of amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Democrats took the opportunity to force votes on climate change. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is leading the Republican push for Keystone, acknowledged  it put some senators in a bind.

“Some may suggest these are … hard votes to take,” she said on the Senate floor. “Nobody ever said voting should be easy here in the United States Senate.”

Both Alaska senators voted for an amendment saying climate change is real and not a hoax. The vote was nearly unanimous: 98 to 1.  The rub came on amendments declaring a cause. Murkowski voted for an amendment saying “human activity contributes to climate change.” Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, voted against it. Sullivan believes “the verdict is still out on the human contribution to climate change” and that there’s no scientific consensus, Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson said in an email.

The amendment fell one vote shy of the 60 needed for passage.

Both Alaska senators voted no on a slightly different amendment. It declared that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change. That was one adverb too far for Murkowski.

“I would suggest to colleagues that that inclusion of that word is sufficient to merit a ‘no’ vote at this time,” Murkowski said ahead of the vote.

The amendment failed. Murkowski said later the word “significantly” was unclear, because it could mean 5% or 90 percent.

“Why would we even get into a matter of degrees? Let’s just acknowledge that human activity causes impact,” she said.

In the end, though, the only climate amendment to pass was the one recognizing that change is real. Debate on the Keystone bill continues next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Independent Generation of Electricity

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 12:00

It’s power politics of an electrifying kind.  What should the rules be for selling independently generated power to utilities, who have borrowed money and invested heavily to assure reliability for their customers?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Three Defendants Facing Criminal Charges for Mining Violations No-Shows in Court

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 09:51

(Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service)

An arraignment was held Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for the five XS Platinum Inc. corporate officials indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and making false statements to federal officials.

Two individuals appeared in court, but Kevin Feldis, a first assistant US Attorney, and Chief of the criminal division, says three company officials did not.

“Although their registered agent in Delaware was served and accepted service of the summons ordering them to appear, they did not appear in court. The United States in response filed a motion seeking an order that they appear in court and if they don’t appear, we may be seeking sanctions or other penalties,” said Feldis.

The judge has a range of penalties, including charges of hundreds or thousand of dollars per day. The three men are Canadian and Australian, and are not currently in the country.

XS Platinum owned and operated the Platinum Creek mine from 2008 to 2012. The company and its leadership are accused of polluting the Salmon River with mine discharge, which was documented on aerial surveys flown by Togiak Refuge staff in 2011. Located near Goodnews Bay, the area has a history of platinum mining throughout last century.

The indictment says the company used wastewater ponds that leaked into the river and dug a ditch to direct wastewater into nearby Squirrel Creek. The company never bought a clarifier, used to recycle water, despite telling regulators it would do so.

This is the first federal criminal case involving environmental crimes in Alaska. Feldis says there is a strong federal component, as the mine was on Bureau of Land Management land and affected a waterway.

“The indictment alleges that the conduct that occurred, the types of discharges, and the nature of those, are are violations of federal law,” said Feldis.

Two of the accused, Robert Pate and James Staehli, both residents of Washington state, were in court and entered not guilty pleas. A trial date is set for March 9th.

KDLG’s Dave Bendinger contributed to this story. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner first reported this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Body of Second Missing Kuskokwim Traveler Recovered

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 09:47

Bethel Search and Rescue reports they’ve found a body of a man that went missing in December near Kwethluk. The body is believed to be that of 26-year-old George Evan of Akiak. Evan was one of three people that went missing while traveling on a four-wheeler during a storm on December 12th.

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

Searchers say they found Evan’s remains Wednesday afternoon. They say his body was found about 46-feet underwater on the riverbed and under the ice about a quarter mile down Kuskokwak Slough from where another body was recovered last month.

The body of 51-year-old Ralph ‘Jimmy’ Demantle was found on December 15thnear an open hole where the 4-wheeler was recovered just after the group went missing. The third traveler, 27-year-old Sally Stone is still missing.

Evan’s remains were located by using a remote operated vehicle owned and operated by Tom Crossmon of Deluth, Missouri who volunteered for the recovery.

Charles Enoch contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Ash from Russian Volcano Diverts Nightly Flight into Nome

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 09:15

The Shiveluch volcano as seen from the International Space Station in July 2007. (Photo: NASA via public domain)

Ash from a Russian volcano diverted the nightly flight into Nome Thursday.

The Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institution tracked “powerful explosions” last week and into this week from the Shiveluch volcano, considered one of the most active volcanos on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, that sent plumes of ash up 32,800 feet in the air.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Nome said Thursday that the ash cloud went to the mid level and lower level of the jet stream, sending it east toward Alaska. The plume then combined with a high pressure mid-level system over the Bering Sea, suspending the ash cloud over the central and eastern Norton Sound by Thursday.

“As it came across on the mid-level and upper-level jet stream, the ash kind of got sucked in with those winds,” said Christopher Clarke with the National Weather Service in Nome. “It went almost clear over the Chukotsk Peninsula, and was directed down around the backside of the high, and it’s come right over the top of Nome [as of Thursday night].”

Alaska Airlines confirmed the flight overflew Nome due to the volcanic ash in the area.

The Shiveluch volcano’s approximate location. (Image: Google Maps)

Halley Knigge, a spokesperson with Alaska Airlines, said the nightly flight made it from Anchorage to Kotzebue without incident. The plane left Kotzebue at 7:03 p.m. and “observed a haze in the area” around Nome. Following the airline’s policy of “never flying through areas of known ash,” the crew diverted the plane to Anchorage (the flight’s ultimate destination) and landed at 8:33 p.m. Knigge said the airline expects the ash cloud to dissipate, and to resume regular flights, by Friday morning.

It was unknown Thursday if smaller planes, which typically fly lower than larger commercial jets, were affected by the ash cloud.

Forecasters say the plume is moving down the Norton Sound coast and could move over the Yukon Delta before likely dissipating within the next day or so.

Volcano watchers with Russia’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, who are continuing to monitor the Shiveluch volcano, reported Friday that “explosive … eruption of the volcano continues” with “ash explosions up to 32,800 feet [that] could occur at any time.” The volcanologists and other observers caution that “ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft.”

You can see webcam videos of the volcano and its eruptions atthe Volcano Discovery website.

Categories: Alaska News

Case Dismissed Against Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-23 09:12

Kathleen Adair says she feels relieved with the court’s decision to dismiss the case against her. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The State of Alaska dropped its case against a Juneau woman who was cited for springing legal traps and freeing a bald eagle.

At Kathleen Adair’s arraignment Thursday, the district attorney asked the judge to dismiss the case and encouraged Adair to continue freeing eagles.

District Attorney James Scott says Kathleen Adair did violate the law when she triggered the traps on her way out of the Davies Creek trail. But he says he used his prosecutorial discretion.

“There is space between the technical violation of a law and whether or not a case should be brought, and sometimes cases fall within that space, and I think Ms. Adair’s case is a perfect example,” Scott says.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited Adair on Jan. 10 for intentionally hindering lawful traps on Dec. 24. Adair says she sprang a total of three traps out of concern for the safety of dogs and hikers. She also freed an eagle that was caught in two traps. Despite her efforts to save the eagle, it was euthanized later that day.

Scott reminds the public that tampering with lawfully set traps is treated like a criminal offense. Anyone caught doing it could face jail time.

District Attorney James Scott (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

But, as Scott said in the courtroom, he considers what Adair did for the eagle admirable.

“If she finds herself in the same situation I hope she does the same thing again. However, before she takes it upon herself to trip traps generally, I really encourage her to meet with and talk to the other folks with an interest in this to keep us from having to go to court at all. That’s really my goal here,” Scott says.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office had a valid case and stands by the decision to charge Adair.

“If the law is violated we have the duty for both the victim in this case, as we would with any case, to bring charges forward on an individual. It was clearly violated so we felt like the charges were appropriate,” Frenzel says.

He stresses Adair was not given the citation for freeing the eagle or springing a trap in the immediate area; she was cited for tampering with another trap twice over a span of four days. Frenzel says the complainant, called “J.F.” in official paperwork, had said even more of his lawful traps were sprung during that time period.

“To say who, if maybe something else set off other traps, who knows? We know what she had advised us of and what he had advised us of, and was there more? I don’t know,” he says.

Adair says she feels relieved with the court’s decision. She says in hindsight, she may have acted differently.

“I probably would’ve left the eagle there. I mean, it saved the eagle from some suffering but they ended up having to put the eagle down anyway and all of this hassle just – I don’t know whether it was worth it or not,” Adair says.

Then again, “It’s hard to say if I would or not. When the eagle is staring at you the way that one was, it’s really hard to say what you’d really do,” she says.

Adair says she might pursue the official steps to limit trapping on Davies Creek Trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Outlines Plans For Budget Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 22:42

(Skip Gray/KTOO Public Media)

With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, Gov. Bill Walker is proposing 5 percent cuts to agency funding. He described his fiscal plan in his State of the Budget address on Thursday night — a speech that has not been given since 2006. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

There was no mention of Alaskan Brewery beer or Mat-Su carrots — no applause lines or jokes. Compared to Wednesday’s State of the State speech delivered, Gov. Bill Walker’s State of the Budget address was a sober event.

“Alaska’s state government funding has two drivers: oil price and oil production,” said Walker. “Unfortunately, neither is going in our favor right now.”

For half an hour, Walker described the budget he planned to submit. He has until February 18 to turn in his own budget, and he’s been using former Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan as a placeholder in the meantime.

Walker said cuts would be spread across the board. He intends to shrink agency expenditures that are not dictated by formulas by 5 percent from the draft he was given by Parnell. Walker said that amount would be doubled for his own office. By the end of his term, agency budgets could be reduced by as much as 25 percent.

Walker also said that even the sacred cows of the Alaska budget would not be off limits.

“In my endorsed budget, the K-12 formula funding remains intact, but I’ve eliminated the one-time funding added last year,” said Walker. “This equates to a 2.5 percent funding reduction.”

Walker noted that the school funding formula would be reviewed over the next year, and that education would be forward funded at 90 percent instead of in its entirety.

Community revenue sharing — the money the state provides to municipalities to bolster their own budgets — was described as vulnerable and at risk of being phased out, though Walker plans to keep the program mostly intact this year.

“Municipalities will receive $57 million dollars in revenue sharing. That is $3 million less than last year,” said Walker.

While cuts were the general rule, Walker mentioned a few additions to his budget. He bumped his capital request up to $150 million in state spending to include some projects that are currently under construction, but not yet complete. And he again asked for the Legislature’s support in seeking $450 million in Medicaid funding from the federal government.

“Investing in the health of Alaskans is sound, prudent fiscal policy,” said Walker. “We all want Alaskans to be as productive as possible, but people cannot work, hunt or fish unless they are healthy.”

Walker said that with a leaner budget, the state should be able to deal with a shortfall so long as oil prices bounce back next year. But if they do not, Walker suggested that the state may have to look at finding new forms of revenue next year, which could mean taxes or repeals of credits and subsidies.

“If prices stay low next legislative session, we will need to discuss more traditional revenue options,” said Walker.

At the end of his speech, Walker’s staff distributed a slim budget handout to legislators. With his official operating and capital budgets still outstanding, the packet gave agency spending totals with itemizing how the money was being used.

It showed that the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Law face the deepest cuts, while the Departments of Natural Resources and Public Safety as well as the university system survive mostly intact.

The budget summary also showed that even after all the reductions Walker described, Alaska was still facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion. And while every agency but one was seeing its funding cut, Walker’s budget was still technically larger than the one than Parnell handed to him because Walker does not plan to use bonds to cover a $257 million appropriation to the state’s pension fund.

After skimming the freshly released budget documents, legislators responded mostly favorably to Walker’s State of the Budget address.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who co-chairs the finance committee, said she was encouraged by Walker’s direction.

“I think the governor took a courageous first step in putting things on the table that are going to be hard to talk about,” said MacKinnon.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, said he was “lockstep” with the governor in trying to address the state’s shortfall, but was disappointed to hear that education cuts were possible.

“We’ll certainly look at that, and talk to our local school districts, and just see what kind of impact that will have to our schools,” said Meyer.

In addressing Walker’s budget speech, House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson noted that the state may have to consider taxes as well as cuts to address the deficit.

“We’re going to have to realize that even with this reduction and probably another reduction next year that we’re still going to run out of money here in a very short time,” said Thompson. “I think we need to start the discussion about reducing the budget. We’re doing our side of the job, but that’s not going to complete the job. We’re going to have to look at other revenues.”

Meanwhile, Democrats responded positively toward the speech, but acknowledged the way education and labor spending were treated gives them pause.

“We applaud that he wants to stay focused on the long game,” said Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, of Anchorage. “That’s what we have to do, and one of the problems with the legislative process is we get bogged down and we have to plan for tomorrow, and not overreact today.”

While lawmakers do not yet have Walker’s budget before them, the Legislature finance committees are already meeting to do work on the document.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan to Chair Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 19:24

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of  the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, wetlands, the Endangered Species Act, invasive species and National Wildlife Refuges. (It is not responsible for writing the update to the Magnuson Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law. That’s a function of the Commerce Committee.) The Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to be lively this Congress. Its new chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., calls the scientific consensus that humans are a major cause of climate change a hoax. The committee’s top Democrat is Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate’s most forceful voices calling for action on climate change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 22, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:38

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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Walker Names National Guard Special Investigator

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has named a retired judge as his special investigator into the Alaska National Guard.

Sen. Sullivan Starts Committee Work

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of a subcommittee. It’s the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and wildlife refuges.

Just this week, the Senate got started with committee work. All four of Dan Sullivan’s committees met Wednesday, with three colliding in a scheduling pile-up that’s typical in Congress.

Bill Streur Hired As Medicaid Budget, Expansion Consultant

Annie Feidt APRN – Anchorage

The Senate Finance Committee approved hiring former health commissioner Bill Streur Thursday, as a consultant on the Medicaid budget and Medicaid expansion. Expanding the program is a priority of Governor Bill Walker. But many Republican lawmakers aren’t in favor of the idea.

Healthcare.gov Navigators See Steady Enrollment As Deadline Approaches

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Nearly 17 thousand Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during this open enrollment period. That’s already a substantial increase from last year. And Affordable Care Act navigators expect the next three weeks will be even busier as the February 15th enrollment deadline approaches.

Juneau Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle Due In Court Today

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau woman who faced a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for hindering lawful trapping had the case against her dismissed today. Kathleeen Adair freed a bald eagle caught in a trap near a hiking trail last month. She sprung other traps nearby and was then cited by wildlife troopers.

Faced With Marijuana Money Puzzle, Legislators Curious About A State-Run Bank

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When Alaskans voted for an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana, they approved a system where the drug can be bought and sold by retailers operating in the open. But with federal regulations prohibiting bank deposits of drug money, the marijuana sellers can end up holding large amounts of cash.

Mat-Su Borough Establishes Marijuana Advisory Committee

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The  Matanuska-Susitna Borough passed a resolution  this week establishing a Borough Marijuana Advisory Committee.

Experiment Looks for Slow Earthquakes Under Unalaska

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Earthquakes are an almost hourly occurrence in the Aleutian Islands. Most are too tiny to feel, and even the bigger ones are usually over in seconds.

But there’s another type of earthquake that runs deeper than those daily events- a slow earthquake. It’s what scientists are now looking for underneath the Aleutians.

Scientists, Fishermen Test Strategies To Reduce Trawl Bycatch

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Reducing bycatch has been a hot topic in the pollock trawl industry. Scientists are working with the commercial fishermen to find a solution to the problem. And, at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium this week in Anchorage, they say they are making progress.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Names National Guard Special Investigator

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:07

Gov. Bill Walker has named a retired judge as his federal investigator into the Alaska National Guard.

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Patricia Collins, a former Superior Court judge for Juneau, will conduct the investigation into the Alaska National Guard. Her hiring was announced at a Thursday press conference, where Attorney General Craig Richards laid out the parameters of her assignment.

Retired Judge Patricia Collins. (Photo courtesy Governor’s Office)

“She is going to look at each allegation that has been made about either inappropriate sexual conduct in the Guard, to Guard members by other Guard members, or by Guard members to non-guard members,” Richards said.

The contract with the state requires Collins look at how law enforcement and the executive branch has handled sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard since September of 2010. Around that time, members of the National Guard approached the Parnell administration with criminal allegations and concerns about their leadership. While a number of federal investigations since that time found nothing amiss, a 2014 probe by the National Guard Bureau found that the Alaska force struggled with favoritism and fraud, and that there was a level of mistrust around sexual assault reporting.

That federal report was released shortly before the election, and became a major campaign issue for now-Gov. Bill Walker.

At the press conference, Walker emphasized that Collins would be given the tools needed to complete the investigation, including the authority to review full National Guard records.

“Our assurance is she would have access to that data,” Walker said.

Attorney General Richards says that Collins will complete two reports into the National Guard, the first of which is due in April. That report that will not be released to the public, as it will contain details on all the players involved.

“The confidentiality of victims in any police investigation is a top priority,” Richards said. “That’s not going to change here.”

In May, a public version of the report will be released that will describe the findings without identifying information.

Collins will also advise whether it’s proper to move forward with prosecutions or further police investigations.

Collins will be paid $160 an hour for the work, with the contract currently capped at $50,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan Starts Committee Work

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:06

Sen. Dan Sullivan has been named chairman of a subcommittee. It’s the subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, part of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  Its jurisdiction includes oversight of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and wildlife refuges.

Just this week, the Senate got started with committee work. All four of Dan Sullivan’s committees met Wednesday, with three colliding in a scheduling pile-up that’s typical in Congress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bill Streur Hired As Medicaid Budget, Expansion Consultant

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:05

The Senate Finance Committee approved hiring former-health commissioner Bill Streur today as a consultant on the Medicaid budget and Medicaid expansion. Expanding the program as part of the Affordable Care Act is a priority of Governor Bill Walker, but many Republican lawmakers say the state can’t afford any new spending.

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Senator Pete Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, made the case for hiring Streur. He said he would keep an open mind on Medicaid expansion but was against the idea.

“That’s not the path we’re on, we’re not headed for a Medicaid expansion,” Kelly said. ”Actually, right now, if you had to ask me for a vote, I’d vote no, but my mind is completely open.”

Streur was commissioner under former Governor Sean Parnell, who was resisted expanding Medicaid, saying he didn’t want to accept federal dollars that would increase the national debt.

Senator Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel, made sure the committee wasn’t hiring Streur to advocate against expansion.

Hoffman: “I wanted it on the record that the purpose of hiring Mr. Streur and his contract is not specifically find ways to give us justification not to expand Medicare.”

Kelly: “That’s correct.”

Hoffman: “Or Medicaid.”

Kelly said Streur may have ideas that would convince lawmakers that Medicaid expansion could save the state money. As health commissioner, Streur explored options for expanding Medicaid.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Hiker Who Freed Trapped Eagle Due In Court

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:03

Kathleen Adair encountered an eagle stuck in two traps Dec. 24. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Adair)

A bald eagle was lying on the ground, each leg shut inside traps. When Juneau resident Kathleen Adair came across it scouting a trail for a group hike, the eagle was alive and looking at her. She spent an hour freeing it.

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But there’s more to the story. Two and a half weeks later, Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited her for the hindrance of lawful trapping. She now faces a potential $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

On Dec. 24, Kathleen Adair was on Davies Creek Trail when she saw the eagle in her path. She’s familiar with the Juneau Raptor Center and knew the bird rescue nonprofit would be concerned, so she took photos of what she saw and recorded the GPS coordinates.

Kathleen Adair (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“I wanted to go back and tell the Raptor Center where it was. I knew that would be the best thing to do, but I also knew that it would be getting dark soon. It was 2 miles from the road and it was all the way at the end of the road, so I knew that they wouldn’t be able to get out there that day to it,” Adair says.

So she took the matter into her own hands. Before untangling the eagle from what she describes as two large long spring traps, she noticed a smaller trap on the other side of the trail. Out of concern for the three dogs with her, she sprang it. She then tied the dogs up so she could deal with the eagle.

Adair says the eagle’s legs were wrapped up in the trap chains. Before she did anything, she covered the eagle’s head to keep it docile, something she’s learned from her time around raptors. She says it took an hour to get the eagle out of two traps.

“I knew at the time that the eagle didn’t have a very good chance. I knew if I left it there all night, it would have had a worse chance of surviving,” Adair says. “But even as it was, I could tell one of the legs was just dangling, just completely broken and I knew they wouldn’t be able to fix that, but I was hoping they could at least fix the other and keep it as an educational bird.”

She placed the eagle in a large pack and hiked it out. When she got to what she estimates to be a half mile from the highway, she spotted another large trap near the trail. She sprung that one as well, worried for the hikers that would be on the trail in the coming days.

Adair is no stranger to the outdoors. She spent the early part of her life in Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. She moved to Juneau when she was 9 and has lived here for almost 30 years. She grew up fishing and hunting and shot a bear at age 16. She raises rabbits for food. As an avid outdoors person, she often sees traps, but had never tampered with any before this. She saw one earlier that day, but it had been hanging from a tree and off the trail.

“I’m not against trapping per se. I am concerned about the traps when they’re on the trail in such a way as these were,” Adair says.

As soon as she drove into cell phone range, Adair called the Raptor Center. She brought the eagle to a volunteer’s house and sent photos. She was told the Raptor Center would call U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to report the incident. At that point, she thought her involvement was done.

A beaver carcass hung on a nearby tree. About a foot above the carcass, Adair says she saw a covering made of branches. This may have been meant to visually block the bait from birds flying above. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Adair)

The eagle was immediately brought to a vet in Juneau where it was later euthanized.

Three days later, Adair led nine people on an 8-hour hike on Davies Creek Trail to the Thiel Glacier. It was dark as the group was finishing. Adair again saw a large trap near the trail head and sprung it. She says she was concerned for the hikers’ safety. Adair knows it’s illegal to mess with lawfully set traps. She wasn’t sure about this one because it was so close to the trail.

State and municipal codes say it’s illegal to trap within a half mile of any road and within a quarter mile of a designated list of trails. Davies Creek Trail is not on that list, but it is in the popular book, “90 Short Walks Around Juneau.” Adair says there was another group on the trail that same day.

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office received a complaint from a trapper on Dec. 30 regarding someone tampering with several of his traps. On Jan. 10, Adair was cited. The paperwork only identifies the trapper as “J.F.”

Frenzel says he doesn’t know how many traps had been tampered with. To his knowledge, no photos are part of the investigation. Since the complaint, he says no troopers have gone to the site to look at the traps.

“We got out and do routine checks of trap lines throughout the Juneau area so we had already been on this trap line once before and there was really no reason to go back in since there was nothing to investigate at that point,” he says.

At the start of the Trooper investigation, Frenzel says he didn’t know about a trapped eagle. He says that information got to him sometime after Jan. 1 via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“What we expect from the public is if they come upon an eagle in a trap, to notify us as soon as possible. That way we can go out there and see what’s going on,” Frenzel says.

He says hindering lawful traps is illegal, but freeing an eagle from traps isn’t.

“If a trap’s already sprung on a animal, you cannot hinder it because that trap can no longer be caught, so whatever you do to that trap, you’re really not hindering at that point. That would not be something we would cite for, if a person came in and was freeing an eagle from a trap the eagle was in,” Frenzel says.

There is no regulation against accidentally trapping bald eagles. Frenzel says in the eight years he’s been in Juneau, he hasn’t heard of any other cases of trapped eagles and troopers haven’t cited anyone for hindering traps.

Jesse Ross is a trapper in Juneau and a member of the Alaska Trappers Association. He says he sympathizes with Adair. He’s seen wounded animals in nature and he’s accidentally trapped animals he wasn’t targeting.

“It’s unfortunate. You feel bad that you caught something that is now wasted and hopefully you learn, say, ‘Hey, maybe what could I have done different?’ That’s what I tell myself when I see that,” Ross says.

But he says Adair broke the law.

Ross says trappers follow a code of ethics and go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of trapping nontarget animals, but he says they’re guidelines. Trapping is ultimately about good judgment.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do,” Ross says.

Adair is being arraigned in court this afternoon at 1 p.m. As of last night, she didn’t have a lawyer.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Establishes Marijuana Advisory Committee

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-22 17:01

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough passed a resolution this week establishing a Borough Marijuana Advisory Committee.

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Ronda Marcie is a valley paralegal who is a member of the Hemp Industries Association. Marcie spoke up at a public forum in Palmer this month in favor of a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Sykes that would create a Borough marijuana advisory committee

“Any time the government asks for comments from people before they move and act on things is a better situation than insisting people do things when they don’t really understand why.”

The committee would consist of seventeen members, drawn from various community sectors: health, law enforcement, education, business and the like. Three seats are open for citizens at large.

Committee members would be appointed by the Borough mayor, with approval by the Borough Assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

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