Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 12, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-12 17:12

Individual news 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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Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.   The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

Subsistence Users Criticize Miners And Regulators At Nome Meeting

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Subsistence users in Nome are criticizing gold miners and regulators for failing to take into account the negative impacts mining is having on other resources in the area. Officials from different agencies took public comment on the issue at a community meeting yesterday.

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups.  Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

Categories: Alaska News

Large crowd greets Celebration paddlers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-12 15:50

(Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Dozens of paddlers from Yakutat to Metlakatla and places in between landed their canoes on a Juneau beach on their way to the Southeast Native cultural festival Celebration 2014.

More than 500 people waded into the water or watched from the shore as the paddlers ended their journey Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of others lined a nearby causeway or cheered from parks and bridges along the route.

We spoke with some of the paddlers and recorded some of the songs and filed this audio post card.

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Celebration continues through Saturday night. You can watch many of the events on 360North TV or online at 360north.org.

Categories: Alaska News

State Hires Ferry Security Officer With Questionable Past

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:19

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position, but the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

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Jason Joel was hired in May as the security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is the incident commander for the state ferry system in the case of a major security event. He has supervision over vessel and facility security officers. He works with the Coast Guard, Custom and Immigration and national, state and local law enforcement agencies.

In the last 26 years, Joel worked as a police officer in several departments in Florida and Alaska. He held many of those jobs less than a year. In at least three cases he agreed to resign in exchange for the departments keeping any details of his work and conduct confidential from the public and future employers.

Joel started at the Haines Police Department in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant after three years. A few months later he was demoted. Police Chief at the time, Gary Lowe, wouldn’t give a reason for the demotion.

Joel’s personnel file with the Haines Borough is confidential. The borough will only confirm it struck a deal with Joel in exchange for his resignation.

Several Haines residents confirmed to KHNS News they witnessed or experienced instances of Joel verbally harassing women, although none wanted their name used in this report. A former police dispatcher documented several instances of harassment from Joel while on the job. She said she reported the incident to the chief.

Several months after Joel left Haines, the Alaska Police Standards Council confirmed it was investigating him. In 2012 the council said it was moving ahead with a process to revoke his police certification. At that point, Joel voluntarily surrendered his certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state.

It’s not clear if the state asked about Joel’s certification during a background check.

“For the most part we really can’t get into the hiring process – that stuff is kept confidential,” Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said. “Really what we can comment on is that he met qualifications for the position and that he’s accepted it and started working for the marine highway system.”

Woodrow says police certification isn’t a qualification for the job.

“He doesn’t need an APSC certification to perform the duties of a security officer for the marine highway system,” he said.

Woodrow also says the state can’t reveal how many applicants it had for the security officer job.

Aside from his work history, public records also show Joel filed for bankruptcy twice in 15 years. The first bankruptcy was in Florida in 1999 and few details are available.  But his 2012 bankruptcy case details nearly $80,000 in debt, not including a mortgage. Joel owes one Haines business, Lutak Lumber, more than $8,000. Owner Chip Lende says he doesn’t extend that line of credit to just anyone, but Joel held a prominent position in the community.

“When an individual when I think has been bestowed public trust because of the position they’ve been hired for we don’t expect them to abuse that when they come into the store looking for credit because we thinking they’re an honorable, trustworthy person because they’ve been hired under that pretense,” Lende said. “So when that trust is abused I think it’s a double slap in the face not just to the vendor but to the community because we’ve extended that credit based on that perceived relationship with the community for that person.”

Because the state’s hiring process is confidential, the public has no way of knowing exactly what the state knew about Joel before he became a state employee.

Joel did not respond to requests for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:18

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

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Missile Defense Agency director James Syring told senators they don’t need to worry about a repeat of last year’s botched test, when an interceptor launched from California missed because the head failed to separate from the booster.

“The failure last July I won’t go into details in this forum, but it was very simple. I’m confident that we’ve corrected that,” he said.

The Missile Defense Agency is asking Congress for $7.5 billion for next year. Syring says one crucial element is a new detection system called LRDR – long-range discrimination radar, which is likely to be based in Alaska. Syring told a Senate Committee he wants to have the billion-dollar radar operating within six years.

“The importance of the radar is that it provides us that needed discrimination capability against the threat from North Korea,” he said. “As they continue to progress and add decoys and counter-measures, and I’ll stop there in terms of classification, we must have a discrimination ability of a radar to counter that.”

Syring says he hopes to announce a location in a few months, but the agency has already told potential contractors to assume the radar will be installed at Clear Air Force Station, near Fairbanks. The budget also calls for 14 more interceptors at Fort Greely, bringing the total there to 40 by mid-2017. One part of Alaska the Missile Defense Agency is giving up on is Kodiak. The agency used to launch rockets from there to serve as targets but stopped in 2010 in favor a Kwajelein atoll in the Pacific. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked if the Kodiak Launch Facility might be part of a future test. Syring said no, because the testing has to be more realistic now, and the geometry of a launch from Kodiak makes it a poor stand-in for North Korea.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Case To Remove Pebble Initiative From Ballot

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

(Alexandra Gutierrez/Alaska Public Media)

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

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Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar presented the State’s case before the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“The mineral deposits and fisheries in the Bristol Bay fisheries reserve impact all Alaskans,” argued Bakalar. “They don’t just belong to or impact the people living in that region.”

The Alaska Miners Association and Council of Alaska Producers are behind the lawsuit. Their goal is to remove the Bristol Bay Forever initiative from the November ballot. The measure would add another layer of scrutiny to the proposed Pebble Mine beyond the permitting process by requiring legislative approval of large-scale mining operations in the region. (The Legislature is already obligated to sign off on oil and gas operations in the Bristol Bay area.)

The miners’ attorney, Matt Singer, held that the initiative circumvents the Legislature’s authority to delegate land management decisions to state agencies. He also argued that because the initiative only focuses on Bristol Bay instead of mining operations throughout the state, it is unconstitutional.

“We don’t regulate land and environmental decisions by balkanizing those decisions — by regionalizing those decisions — unless we’re seeking to solve a problem that cannot be addressed by a general law,” said Singer.

Justice Craig Stowers pressed Singer on that point.

“My question is, if we have statewide interest in the minerals and fisheries in this world-class watershed, in this world-class fishery, isn’t that enough in establishing general applicability — or general interest, statewide interest — putting aside the purpose statement of the initiative?” asked Stowers.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the State certified the initiative in 2012, and has stretched on for about a year and half. The Fairbanks Superior Court sided with the State on the matter in February, and the Supreme Court justices would have to reverse that ruling for the measure to be removed from the ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Confirms Delay Of HAARP Demolition

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility. Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:16

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot.

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Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

“Judge Estelle filed 16 untrue affidavits, under oath, from September 2011 through February, 2013, swearing that he had completed or issued decisions in all matters that had been pending before him, for more than six months, when in fact, he had not completed those decisions,” DiPietro said. “Judge Estelle continued to receive his salary on time, and that’s contrary to a state law that prohibits a judge from being paid on time if the judge has undecided matters outstanding for longer than six months.”

The Judicial Council concluded that by filing untrue affidavits, Judge Estelle failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

Judge Estelle was appointed in 2003. He has been approved in two previous retention elections, in 2006 and in 2010.

In April of this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges against Judge Estelle, and, after a hearing, issued its findings and recommendations against his retention.

DiPietro says that only state judicial District Three voters will have an opportunity to vote for or against Judge Estelle. District Three encompasses Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:15

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

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The report shows basic health care – like a primary care doctor’s visit is generally accessible, even to low income, uninsured patients. Community health centers like the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center provide services on a sliding fee scale.

The report was prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services. Commissioner Bill Streur says there are 200 locations across the state that offer basic health care to low income Alaskans:

“The range of preventative services, the range of primary care services and the options for those folks are pretty significant,” Streur said.

But Streur acknowledges many low-income and uninsured Alaskans have more complicated medical needs. When that’s the case, they may find help through a patchwork system of charity care. Those options include hospital emergency rooms and Project Access, which connects uninsured residents to specialists willing to wave their fees. Streur says his department is trying to figure out how many uninsured Alaskans need regular access to specialty care:

“The majority are people with a chronic condition that require specialty care and there’s no service available to them,” Streur said.

The report also identifies outpatient mental health care as an area that may not be available to the uninsured. The department doesn’t make recommendations for addressing the overall gap in access. Streur says that will be the job of the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group that started meeting this spring:

“What could we do under Medicaid, what could we do under other initiatives to be able to fill this gap?” Streur asked.

Alaskans who fall into the gap generally are childless adults who have incomes under $15,000 a year. They aren’t eligible for subsidies to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act because the law assumed they would qualify for Medicaid instead.

Categories: Alaska News

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:14

Local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

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Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shishmaref Environmental Program. He said a gasoline-like odor from the sheen can be smelt throughout the community.

“You can smell the odor from the Native Store to the other store, which is three-quarters of the village’s length as far as houses,” said Kuzuguk.

Last Thursday June 5, 2014 Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The next day a team from the DEC, the Coast Guard, and Spill Response Coordinator Emerald Alaska arrived on the island to investigate.

Paul Lhotka is an Environmental Program Specialist with the DEC and said the sheen “looked to us to be some type of weathered petroleum product, such as a gasoline or a diesel.”

Contaminated nearshore sea ice. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

Lhotka said no source has been identified and no volume estimation of the product has been calculated. However, a situation report estimates the sheen covers a 1,200 foot area of near-shore ice.

Closeup of absorbent pad collecting product. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Eric Vogel with the Incident Management Division at Sector Anchorage said this ice is hindering clean-up efforts. Local responders are maintaining an absorbency boom and pads along the coast of the affected area to soak up and confine the substance. But with the ice in break up, responders cannot venture more than five feet offshore by foot or skiff to absorb the product.

“Responders are unable to work out on the ice,” Vogel explained, “so most of the recovery operations are from shore—the absorbent boom and pads that are anchored to the shore with rebar and passively collecting this emulsified oil.”

DEC’s Lhotka said the ice is thawing at a rapid rate and should be melted in a few days. Both Lhotka and Kuzuguk said “no known wildlife impacts” have resulted from the sheen.

Samples of the oily substance are being shipped to the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. They are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm.

The Coast Guard personnel are returning to Shishmaref this Friday June 13, 2014 to continue their investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:13

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

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John Davies spent his first summer in Fairbanks on the upper Chena River, using satellite dishes to record radio emissions from the sun. On August 11, it rained 3-and-a-half inches.

“It was just raining like crazy. The water was coming up,” Davies said.

John Davies. (Photo courtesy John Davies)

At 11 a.m. his partner called from the research site a quarter mile away, stranded by flood water. John jumped in the only available vehicle – a front end loader – to go rescue him.

“The water was over the tires. It was 6 feet deep,” Davies said. “Fortunately the bunkhouse was high and dry but there was water everywhere around us.”

The Great Flood of ‘67 nailed Fairbanks the next day, flooding the power plant, wiping out the hospital and displacing 8,000 people. The bridges washed out and the two grad students were stuck there for weeks. Luckily they had a generator, an electric oven and all the ingredients for cake. The next day was the caretaker’s birthday.

“Then we made a raft out of oil drums and poled across this flooded area and delivered this birthday cake to her,” Davies said.

Then came the first winter.

“Fifty-below seemed like I was on the other side of the moon,” John’s wife, Linda Schandelmeier, said, laughing. “It just seemed like a completely different thing.”

She moved up the same year from a homestead in Anchorage. She says the ice fog was way worse than it is today, thanks to lower temperatures and dirtier car engines.

“You’d be at an intersection and you could barely see that the lights were red,” she said. “When they turn green you just had to go on a wing and a prayer. I guess I’ll turn left but I hope nobody else is out there. You really couldn’t tell.”

John had summit fever. In 1970, he attempted a first ascent of Mt. Kimball in the Alaska Range, skiing 40 miles in on the Canwell Glacier. But when they reached the final steep, icy pitch, they ran out of ice screws. They were climbing back down, roped together, when one member of his group vanished.

“It was a fairly narrow crevasse and the sound doesn’t travel very far,” John said. “We were concerned that he was unconscious.”

His friend was uninjured when they pulled him 50 feet up and over the lip of the crevasse, but it was the last peak John tried to bag. Fieldwork was an adventure too, especially before GPS and satellite phones. Linda spent one summer living in a wall tent near Bristol Bay studying cormorants. Once a month someone from Bethel would fly out to check in on her.

“We essentially had no communication,” John said. “They wouldn’t let you do that now. Are you kidding? What if you got hurt? The nearest village was 25 miles away.”

John spent many summers installing seismic stations in the Aleutians, cruising around islands in a fishing boat and climbing craggy hillsides.

“I mean, you first look at it and you think it’s a God-forsaken patch of grass out there in the middle of the ocean, and it’s just cold and windy, and it is a lot of the time,” John said. “But it’s also just an enormously beautiful place, and very, very rich in sea life.”

One time he hitched a ride with a fishing boat from Sand Point to Nagai Island. When the cannery called to say they desperately needed product, John ended up spraying shrimp with a fire hose all day rather than setting up seismometers.

“And fished for about 10 or 12 hours and we caught over 100,000 pounds of shrimp – that is a lot of freakin’ shrimp,” John said. “The guy who was sort of the chef fried up some of the shrimp for us. These were almost like prawns, they were really, really good.”

In 1993 he headed for the next summit: the state Legislature. Alaska’s oil revenues were cut in half that decade, as oil prices and production dropped. John, a House Democrat, proposed a state income tax to balance the budget.

“It was a crazy tax, but it had the advantage of being deductible from your federal income taxes,” John said. “It would actually save people in Alaska about $100 million over the course of a year.”

It passed the House but was crucified in the Republican-controlled Senate. Then his opponent used it to beat him in the next election.

“They ran an ad with a woman in her kitchen saying she just didn’t understand why that John Davies wanted to take $3,000 away from her,” he said.

In the past five decades, John has learned a lot about the physics, the resources and the people that make Alaska tick. Now he’d like to see the state invest in renewable energy for the future. Having lived here in the 60s, it’s not that hard for him to imagine life in Alaska without oil.

Categories: Alaska News

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:12

Vicki Soboleff talking to the group of parents and kids. (Photo by Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau)

Celebration begins this evening at 6 o’clock with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

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It’s a Thursday evening and some 50 kids and teenagers dance their way through the Tlingit-Haida Community Center near Salmon Creek. Group founder and leader Vicki Soboleff walks up and down the line giving instructions. Soboleff says she and the group have come a long way since the first practice in 1995.

“There were 12 children here and there was a group of their parents and maybe grandparents and aunts and uncles. All those children were looking at me and I was terrified. We didn’t start off singing Tlingit songs. We actually started off singing ‘This Old Man.’ I was just trying to get them to sing and plus I was nervous.”

At this practice they sing numerous Alaska Native songs and Soboleff says they’re instruments for learning.

“Knowledge of your Native culture and involvement in Native song and dance and language really helps you with your sense of self and belonging. To your tribe, your clan. I believe it’s really important for Native children to know who they are, where they came from, what their tribal clan is.”

One of Soboleff’s early dancers is now a teacher. Barbara Dude joined the group when she was seven and now, at 26, she’s an assistant group leader. She helps 15-year-old Allison Ford with her Tlingit introduction—just like Soboleff helped her. Among other things, Dude says she gained language skills, self-esteem, and public speaking skills. But the most important lessons were about something more. She says the group’s goal to help engender identity worked.

“When I started the group when I was seven I didn’t know that I was Tlingit. The group has helped me gain a sense of pride in who I am and now I am able to share that with my children who have known they were Tlingit since they were born.”

Dude is excited for Celebration, especially the grand entrance.

“We all dance in together and ahead of us are dancers from another group, and behind us are dancers from another group and we’re dancing across stage and each person gets their chance to go across stage and dance their hardest. They feel it because everyone around them is feeling it with them.”

Dude tears up and apologizes for becoming emotional.

“How powerful it is to watch them be immersed in the culture and the language. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

The All Nations Children’s Dance Group is true to its name and is open to children of all races and ages until high school graduation. Then Soboleff and Dude hope they’ll join an adult group or stick around to help children learn language, song, dance, and especially, cultural identity and pride.

The Grand Entrance procession begins tonight at 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall. You can watch it on 360 North or 360North.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: June 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 16:58

Individual news 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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Former Haines Police Officer Hired As Security Officer For The Alaska Marine Highway

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position. But the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

Air Force Confirms Delay In HAARP Demolition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility.  Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

State Defends Decision To Certify Citizens Initiative Slowing Pebble Mine

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took Wednesday when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot. Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Despite precarious ice conditions, local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

Celebration begins Wednesday evening with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall in Juneau. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Fire Service Holding Meeting On 100 Mile Creek Fire

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 11:56

The Alaska Fire Service will host a meeting tonight in Delta Junction to answer questions about the 100 Mile Creek Fire burning 20 miles southwest of that town.

Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

The fire resulted from a control burn at the Donnelly Training Area earlier this spring.  It’s has since grown to more than 21,000 acres. The Alaska Fire Service reports only 5 percent of the fire’s perimeter is contained.

Cloud cover and cooler weather has helped to moderate the blaze. Fire managers plan to take advantage of the weather to prevent the fire from moving north and east. Two-hundred-ninety-one personnel will continue to protect structures, build a direct line.

There is a flight restriction in place over the fire for commercial and private pilots. A command post for the blaze has been established at the Delta Fairgrounds.

Categories: Alaska News

State Ferry Columbia’s Return To Service Is Delayed

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 11:50

The state ferry Columbia will not be returning to service in Southeast Alaska this week as expected.

A problem with one of the newly-installed engines on the 418-foot ship means the Columbia will remain in Bellingham awaiting a replacement part.

Columbia in dry dock. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation)

“When it was leaving the shipyard in Portland and transiting toward Bellingham, they experienced an unexpected mechanical issue with the port engine and for that we have to wait for a part to be shipped in actually from Finland to deal with the repair of the damage done to the engine before it can return to service,” Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow explains. “So that will delay it a few days for that. We’ve also had to revise the schedule for the LeConte, the Malaspina and the Fairweather moving out for the next week.”

The Columbia was in a Portland shipyard for nearly nine months having its engines, propellers and lifeboats replaced. Woodrow says a faulty part caused problems after the ship sailed from Portland.

“There was a part that didn’t work properly after it was installed in the brand new engine,” Woodrow said. “They were able to catch it in time before it made major damage to the whole engine but because the part is built and made in Finland, we have to wait I think it takes four days or longer for it to actually get to the U.S.”

Woodrow describes the problematic part as a gear-driven pump. That will be replaced in Bellingham before the Columbia returns to service.

The new scheduled return date is now Wednesday, June 18. The ship was originally scheduled to be back in service in April but more time was needed to complete the engine replacement.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Seek Decision On Status Of Southeast Wolves

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 11:24

(Map from the University of Alaska Southeast)

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. seeking a decision on the status of wolf populations in Southeast Alaska.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Boat Company have sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hoping for a quicker decision on whether the Alexander Archipelago wolf should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

(Photo from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is already far overdue in making its 12-month finding for the Alexander Archipelago wolf,” Larry Edwards, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka,
said. “That should have been made within 12 months of the time that we filed the petition in August of 2011.”

“So we’re far past that and it’s time to prod some best action on making that final decision.”

The federal agency issued a decision, what’s called a 90-day finding, back in March. That decision means Fish and Wildlife will do further review of wolf populations and determine if listing is warranted. That review is dependent on funding for the federal agency and could take several years.

The petitioners argue that the region’s wolf numbers are declining in Southeast and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. Edwards says the timing of the agency’s decision is important because of expected decisions on U.S. Forest Service timber sales planned on Prince of Wales Island, Mitkof Island near Petersburg along with Etolin Island, Wrangell Island and a sale planned near Ketchikan.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska said the agency had no comment on the litigation.

The state of Alaska says wolves are not at risk in the region and state officials were disappointed with this year’s decision to perform a population review.

Back in March, Tongass National Forest supervisor Forrest Cole said his federal agency would work collaboratively with the Fish and Wildlife Service on their review. Cole noted there are no reliable estimates of wolf numbers in Southeast but said government agencies would work to develop a reliable method for estimating those numbers.

Categories: Alaska News

Low Value Placed on Togiak Sac Roe Herring Fishery

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 11:03

The estimated value of this year’s Togiak Herring catch is about half last years, largely because of the price.

Last year the fleet was offered $100 a ton and was later awarded an adjustment beyond that.

This year, the offer has not been disclosed, but the Fish and Game Department is using an estimate of $50 a ton. The fishery fell a little short of quota and processors shut down completely a couple of days before the opening was over.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Man Threatens To Shoot Pedestrians Forcing Road Closure

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 10:59

After receiving a phone call from a man threatening to shoot a pedestrian, Ketchikan police closed off a section of Schoenbar Road and evacuated the Recreation Center early Tuesday morning while trying to negotiate the man’s surrender.

Deputy Chief of Police Josh Dossett says no one was injured during the Tuesday morning incident. He says 30-year-old Mathew Martinez called police at approximately 4 a.m. with the threat.

Dosset describes what happened in front of the Schoenbar Road home:

“Officers responded to the area where we thought he was. We were able to see the male outside his residence. At the time he didn’t have a firearm. He was arguing with another male. Plain-clothes officers tried to approach him. He ran back in the residence. Officers backed away. He then came in and out of the residence a couple of times with firearms. We blocked off Schoenbar above and below the residence. We evacuated people from both the Recreation Center and those at the TSAS (Tongass School of Arts and Sciences) and Ketchikan Charter School, possibly. At that point, he finally came out the residence with his wife. He did not have a weapon. One of my sergeants who’s a negotiator made contact with him with a cover team. He began talking to him for several minutes. Was able to approach the subject, get close enough that he could get ahold of him, at which time the cover team also contacted him. He was taken into custody without an incident, uninjured. Officers served a search warrant on the residents and recovered four firearms – four rifles.”

Dossett says during the phone call, Martinez told police he would shoot anyone who walked by the house, and when police responded, he would return fire.

“Technically it’s called ‘suicide by cop.’ Force us to shoot him and kill him,” Dossett said.

Dossett says Martinez appeared overwhelmed by things happening in his life. Though uninjured, Martinez was taken to the hospital for evaluation and then transported to the Ketchikan Correctional Center.

Martinez is being charged with 3rd degree assault, making terrorist threats, weapons misconduct, and violations of conditions of release. He was to be arraigned Tuesday. His arraignment was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Set for Man Charged in Deadly Fight

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 10:55

A grand jury has indicted Anthony Pouesi on a manslaughter charge in the death of another person at the Harbor View Bar last month.

Twenty-eight-year-old Pouesi was arraigned Monday in Unalaska District Court. He’s charged with causing the death of another man, 44-year-old Marlo Adams, according to court documents.

Pouesi is alleged to have punched Adams once during an argument outside the Harbor View Bar on May 22. Adams then fell and hit his head on the ground, causing injuries that later proved fatal.

The grand jury that indicted Pouesi on the manslaughter charge heard testimony from police and witnesses, according to court documents.

Manslaughter is a class A felony. Pouesi is also facing a misdemeanor charge for allegedly misidentifying himself to police after the incident.

His felony trial is set to take place the week of July 14 in Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

As Pollock Season Begins, Bycatch Debate Looms

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 10:53

F/V Auriga prepares for the start of B season. (Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska)

As the Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened on Tuesday, pollock fishermen were looking forward to a strong B season. They were also wading through a tide of criticism from rural users, who believe the industry’s catching too much salmon.

Brent Paine represents more than 70 pollock trawlers for United Catcher Boats.

“I think a lot of the cooperatives are going to start early — like right now or this week — because of their concern for Chinook salmon bycatch,” Paine said. “That tends to increase in the later part of the B season.”

On top of that, many vessels will be using excluder nets to let salmon escape. And Paine says they’ll all participate in the rolling hotspot closure program — avoiding areas where other trawlers have run into high concentrations of salmon.

But those tactics aren’t enough to relieve tension between commercial and subsistence fishermen. It came to a head last week, when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council met in Nome.

“It was probably one of the toughest meetings I’ve attended in 20 years,” Paine said.

The council heard hours of testimony from western Alaskans. Many of them are facing closures and restrictions on fishing this summer because of poor salmon returns. And many were upset that commercial fishermen haven’t been asked to cut back on bycatch in the same way.

Ben Stevens is a Koyukon Athabascan. As KNOM reported, Stevens traveled almost 500 miles from the Upper Yukon to speak at the council meeting.

“I would like to demand of you some courage to help us stem this tide,” Steven said. “Because it’s happening to us. The fact of the matter is the fish are going away and we need help. You guys are it.”

The North Pacific council agreed to take a closer look at a few options for reducing bycatch. They may expand the incentive-based program for avoiding salmon in the trawl fleet, and they may adjust the hard cap on salmon taken as bycatch.

The council isn’t expected to revisit the issue until late in the year — after the pollock B season ends in October.

KNOM’s Matthew Smith contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Gets $4 Million For Veterinary Medicine Facility

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 10:48

The University of Alaska Board of Regents agreed last week to fund a $4 million design project to re-purpose an already existing building on the UAF campus by September, 2015 when the first students begin studies in a new veterinary medicine program. But, the new program is on a list of recommended budget cuts.

Last December, UAF signed an agreement with Colorado State University to establish a professional veterinary medicine program. Chancellor Brian Rogers says the industry calls for up to 20 new vets in Alaska each year, but that the new program will only train half as many.

“We know for the last several years, when students came to us, interested in veterinarian medicine, our advice to them was to move out of state, establish residency in a state with a vet school, at least then you’ll have a one in ten chance of getting in,” Rogers said.

The program is only partially funded by money from the state.  It was on list of high priority items the legislature signed off on in 2013.  But this year, it did not receive a second round of state funding.  Chancellor Rogers says he plans to ask again next year.

“I don’t expect to get it, but we will internally reallocate in order to cover what the legislature didn’t fund,” he said.

In May, UAF’s Planning and Budget Committee added the vet program to a list of possible budget reductions. According to the report, cutting the program could save up to $400,000, but the committee notes in the report that eliminating the program means UAF will lose tuition revenue. The report also says the program could make UAF more competitive. Chancellor Rogers told the Board of Regents the program has an instructional focus, but faculty at CSU and UAF are already cooperating on research.

“CSU does some wonderful animal based research, much of which ends up in human health as well and the collaboration we’re already seeing, as their faculty get to know our faculty, we’re seeing opportunities for joint research proposals to NIH and our focus is on the instructional program and I didn’t expect to see the research benefits, but we’re already beginning to see them,” Rogers said.

Veterinary medicine classes are slated to begin in the fall of 2015. The Planning and Budget Committee is currently taking feedback on the report outlining recommended funding reductions.

Categories: Alaska News
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