Alaska News

Nome Health Groups Hold Vaccination Drive Amid Iditarod Festivities

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-03-17 17:13

Health groups took advantage of Iditarod visitors last week by holding a vaccination drive at the Nome Recreation Center.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘Let The Games Begin!’ Gala Opening Ceremony Celebrates Diverse Cultures

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

Members of Team Greenland spill out onto the Carlson Center floor during Sunday’s Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony.Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks.

The 2014 Arctic Winter Games officially got underway Sunday, with a gala opening ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd at the Carlson Center. A full slate of competition – and a weeklong array of cultural events – begins today.

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The ceremony took on the feel of a rock concert, complete with laser show, as athletes from the nine regions competing in the games stepped onto the stage after being introduced by Alaska Native brothers Philip and Steve Blanchette, while a throbbing electronic beat blasted out at high volume.

“Team Greenland!”

As the athletes made their way onto the floor, many of them, like young people everywhere, began dancing to the beat…

“Team Alberta North!

It seemed the crowd was cheering more loudly with every team that was introduced…

“Team Northwest Territories!”

Some contingents were big, like the Northwest Territory’s, with 347 participants. Some were smaller, like …

“Team Nunavik-Quebec!”

Each contingent was escorted by athletes carrying its flag, followed by the rest waving smaller banners…

“Team Nunavut!”

Some of the flags depicted symbols of the indigenous peoples of the region. Others were national flags, like the Russian tricolor carried by …

“Team Yamal!”

One of the contingents comes from a region that encompasses the northern reaches of several Scandanavian nations …

“Team Sapmi!”

The packed house at the Carlson gave it up for the athletes from our next-door neighbor …

“Team Yukon!”

But of course they saved the best for last, and the crowd was ready when it was time to introduce the home team …

“Team Alaska!”

The music was mainly techno and urban, but some featured indigenous drums and instrumentals, in keeping with the games theme that blends Native and Western cultures. Like this one…

(one drum beats)

It’s entitled “Bubblegum,” by Pamyua, a Yupik group from Unalakleet…

(another drum beat)

Listen closely, and you’ll hear the seal-call…

Respect and regard for all the nationalities and cultures was a common theme for ceremony, like the games themselves.

The North Pole High School choir sang the national anthem or equivalent of each of the contingents participating in the game.

The unifying theme also was reflected in many of the remarks given during the ceremony. Like those by the Rev. Anna Frank, an Athabascan from Minto and now-retired Episcopalian clergywoman in her invocation.

“Creator, you made us in your image. Look with compassion on the whole human race. You gave us this land for our heritage. Bless this land.”

And this, from Sen. Lisa Murkowski:

“You are stepping forward. You’re representing your country, in your event. And these are the moments you look back at with great pride. And know that we share that pride with you!”

Gov. Sean Parnell also echoed the theme of unity.

“As you compete, remember a couple of things. One, when you eat, this first day or two, you’re going to be eating like teams. By the end of the week, you’re going to be eating together.”

The final unifying words were left to Wendell Schiffler, the Fairbanksan who’s vice president of the games’ International Committee and major force in bringing them back to the golden heart city. Said what all the athletes and everyone else in attendance were waiting for …

“Now – let the games begin!”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 17, 2014

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

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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Legislature Rejects Measure Extending Benefits To Military Same-Sex Partners

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Three years ago, the United States Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allowed gay men and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Their husbands and wives are also entitled to the same federal benefits they would get if they were straight. But in Alaska, these spouses are not recognized because of a ban on gay marriage that was added to the State Constitution. Today, the Alaska House wrestled with that tension when it took up legislation extending a small perk to military families. A measure adding same-sex partners into the bill was rejected.

Austerman: Talks Under Way On Pension Issue

The Associated Press

A co-chair of the House Finance Committee says he and fellow majority members are discussing possible options for addressing the state’s pension obligation.

Representative Alan Austerman, a Republican from Kodiak, says “everything” is on the table, including possible contribution increases by municipalities, a proposal from Governor Sean Parnell and extending the time horizon for payments.

Austerman could not say when a firm proposal might be put forth. The session is scheduled to end April 20.

Parnell proposed taking $3 billion from savings and putting it toward addressing the state’s nearly $12 billion pension shortfall. Response to the idea has been mixed. Some lawmakers support a big cash infusion to help lower annual payments while others are wary of taking so much from savings.

Austerman says the Senate is having its own conversations.

State House Condemns Statement By EPA Chief

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State House unanimously condemned language used by the chief of the Environmental Protections Agency to describe gifts she received in the state.

In the process of describing the strictness of ethics guidelines, Gina McCarthy said she received a jar of moose meat in Alaska that could “gag a maggot.” She also acknowledged throwing away a pin she was given in North Pole, and used an expletive to describe the action.

In the “Sense of the House” they passed on Monday state representatives express concern that those comments indicate an anti-Alaska bias.

McCarthy apologized to Alaska’s congressional delegation last week. Members said they were disappointed by the comments but accept the apology.

IRS Gives a Little on Air Taxi Tax

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The IRS has given a sliver of ground in how it has applied tax rules to air taxi flights. Senator Mark Begich is calling it a win for small air carriers, but Joy Journeay of the Alaska Air Carriers Association says the concession is less than it appears.

State Files Suit Against Feds Over ANWR

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit last week against the federal government for rejecting Gov. Sean Parnell’s application to explore the geology of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Interior Department says the window for such oil and gas exploration in the refuge closed in 1987. The 1980 law that created the refuge left it to a future Congress to decide whether to allow petroleum development on the coastal plain, and Congress has repeatedly rejected the idea. Parnell argues the law still allows exploratory activity. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Guide Critically Injured In Avalanche Near Haines

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A heliskiing guide remains in critical condition as of Monday afternoon after being buried in an avalanche near Haines over the weekend. It’s the third heliskiing accident in as many years to injure or kill extreme mountain skiers in the area.

UAA Students Illuminating Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Students at University of Alaska Anchorage are organizing a panel discussion this week to highlight the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. The conversation is part of the national “No More” campaign that uses a blue circle with a white dot in the middle as a symbol to increase awareness of the issue.

2014 Iditarod Trail Awards Banquet Takes Place In Nome

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

The 2014 Iditarod Trail Awards Banquet was held last night at the Nome Recreation Center. Hobo Jim entertained the crowd as they ate prime rib and cake. And emcee of the evening – John Handeland – presented the awards earned by those who raced, and survived Iditarod 42.

Nome Health Groups Hold Vaccination Drive Amid Iditarod Festivities

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Health groups took advantage of Iditarod visitors last week by holding a vaccination drive at the Nome Recreation Center.

‘Let The Games Begin!’ Gala Opening Ceremony Celebrates Diverse Cultures

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 2014 Arctic Winter Games officially got underway Sunday, with a gala opening ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd at  the Carlson Center.  A full slate of competition – and a weeklong array of cultural events – begins today.

Categories: Alaska News

GCI Nears 3G Data Service In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-03-17 09:26

Bethel was expected to have 3G service in December of the last year. The date was then moved to February, and now scheduled for mid to late April.

GCI tells KYUK that all of the permits are complete to build the 80-foot tower near Ptarmigan road. The company completed some additional environmental and historical federal paperwork and will start construction soon.

David Morris is a spokesperson for GCI. He says other towers are ready to go. But you need a complete system to allow phones to work all around town.

“If you don’t have it designed right you will go off air and have to reboot your phone and everything else like that,” Morris said. “So what we’re trying to get is so you can travel from one area of Bethel to another and it will be a seamless communication experience.”

Once the tower is up, there will be a little more testing before launching the data service.

“There’s probably going to be a bit more grooming to take place, but the essential thing is to get the tower in place,” said Morris.

Ten nearby villages are set to receive upgrades to 3G this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Heritage Foundations Awards $177,000 In Scholarships

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-03-17 09:24

Two hundred and three students from the region will receive $177,000 in scholarships from the Calista Heritage Foundation. All recipients are Calista shareholders or descendants.

Forty-one of the 56 villages in the Calista region are represented in the 2014 spring scholarships. The top majors are business, nursing, biology/health, education and engineering. Six percent of the students study at the graduate level.

To date, $3.5 million have been distributed through the scholarships.

Categories: Alaska News

State Sues Feds Over Arctic Refuge Exploration

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2014-03-16 15:44

The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit last week against the federal government for rejecting Gov. Sean Parnell’s application to explore the geology of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Interior Department says the window for such oil and gas exploration in the refuge closed in 1987. The1980 law that created the refuge left it to a future Congress to decide whether to allow petroleum development on the coastal plain, and Congress has repeatedly rejected the idea. Parnell argues the law still allows exploratory activity. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Long-Awaited Snow A Welcome Sight To Oosik Classic Organizers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 18:45

Photo from the Oosik Classic Ski Race Facebook page.

Organizers of the Oosik Classic Ski Race bill it as a “fun and funky” race and tour, followed by a night on the town of Talkeetna. Until recent snows, however, it wasn’t clear just how fun the race was going to be.

This weekend, hundreds of cross-country skiers will flock to Talkeetna for the annual Oosik Classic Ski Race and Tour. The race will happen late in what has been an unusual winter. Record winter highs have been recorded throughout Alaska, and the Upper Susitna Valley saw two prolonged melting periods before mid-March. The lack of snow had event organizers, including Trail Meister Bill Barstow, concerned.

“The race probably would have been severely constrained,” Barstow said. “It wouldn’t have been very Oosik-y.”

Bill Barstow says the race was probably not in danger of being canceled outright, as happened with a cross-country event in Homer, but there were concerns that the skiing would not be ideal.

That all changed recently with well over a foot of snow falling in the last week. Some of that has since melted as well, but race organizers believe that it will still leave a good trail.

“We’re really lucky, because we haven’t gotten that much snow, but I still think we’re going to be able to make it happen,” Barstow said. “We put in a lot of work on some nice, interesting trails that we were thinking we weren’t going to be able to use, but [more snow] brought it all back into the picture. Now…we make it pretty and hope things are going to keep cooperating.”

When registration closed on Tuesday, 678 skiers were signed up.  That’s more than three-quarters of the year-round population of Talkeetna. Arthur Mannix of the Denali Nordic Ski Club says that the Oosik is a different type of skiing experience, which contributes to its popularity.

“Part of the appeal of it for a lot of skiers is that it’s based out of a funky little town, and the trail itself is…cross-country, through the woods, over hill and dale,” Mannix said. “It really makes you ski. It makes you ski with the country.”

In addition to the somewhat rustic trail, the Oosik has developed a feel and a culture all its own, as might be expected from an event named after part of a male walrus’s anatomy.

Advertisements for the event state, “Some race. Some wear costumes.  Everyone has fun.”

Costumes aren’t the only unique factor, however. In addition to the official aid stations where skiers can recharge with a quick snack, area residents have begun a tradition of setting up “unofficial” aid stations, which often serve beer, bacon, and other consumables that might not normally be considered serious skiing cuisine. Arthur Mannix says that Talkeetna’s unique culture probably has something to do with it.

“I guess it’s part of what makes our little town unique,” Mannix said. “People come up with these spontaneous ideas, and they’re creative and outside of the box. I guess what’s really cool is that this event has provided a venue for people to express themselves in a lot of different ways.”

Talkeetna will begin to fill up as the weekend approaches, and the nearly 700 skiers will take off this Saturday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Ahtna Goes to Congress For Role in Game Management

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:16

Alaska tribes and rural hunters have long complained that the dual federal-state game management system is hard to live by and doesn’t give subsistence users their due. Today, Ahtna Inc., the smallest of Alaska’s Regional Native Corporations, presented a proposal for co-management of game to a U.S. House panel.

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Unlike most of rural Alaska, the eight villages of the Ahtna Region are on the road system. Ahtna President Michelle Anderson told a congressional panel today that every season, local hunters have to contend with more and more hunters who drive in from elsewhere. She said it’s not just a matter of food but also cultural erosion.

“It’s a shame that this last season for instance, you know, many of our hunters who have always gotten a moose couldn’t compete with everyone else,” Anderson testified at the House Indian and  Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee. “A lot of our elders have empty freezers this winter. That means, too, that our children are not being raised on our traditional foods.”

Questions about how to divvy fish and game to favor subsistence users have plagued the state since the 1970s. Anderson says Ahtna has spent millions to protect their members’ hunting rights and to control trespass on corporate land. They say they need co-management, a real seat at the table, with state and federal managers.

“To be honest, we would be taken more seriously,”Anderson said. “Right now we’re just a voice complaining about these people coming on to our lands.”

The proposal would authorize Ahtna and area tribes to jointly manage wildlife on Native corporation lands. It would also establish co-management on what Ahtna says is its traditional hunting grounds. That territory includes state and federal land, stretching from Cantwell to beyond McCarthy. In state Board of Game terms, it’s mostly regions 11 and 13, though the governor would have to “opt in” for co-management to affect state land.

Tara Sweeney, co-chair of Alaska Federation of Natives, testified the proposal will help preserve the subsistence rights of non-Natives living in rural Alaska, too. Sweeney acknowledges not everyone will see it that way.

“The issue of food security for Alaska Natives has always been a controversial issue, and we’re here to stand behind the people of the Ahtna Region,’” she said. “It’s going to impact a very small portion of the state.”

She and Anderson were the only witnesses at the House Indian Affairs Subcommittee today. The head of the Alaska state office in Washington, Kip Knudson, says the state will submit a response by March 24, but the proposal is very complex.

“The bill is covering issues that have been fought about and debated for 40 years, so we’ll have to cover quite a bit of ground in our comments, I suspect,” he said.

The subcommittee chairman, Alaska Congressman Don Young, said at the end of the hearing he intends to pursue this, and he sees rough waters ahead.

“Thank you, and I will tell you, this is something I believe in or I wouldn’t do it, and it’s at great jeopardy that I do this. But if I don’t do this, why am I here?”

Young says he’s listening to all sides and aims to leave a legacy of increased opportunities for subsistence, as well as sport hunting and participation in what he called “the great Alaska experience.”

MORE INFORMATION:

Map of area Ahtna proposes for co-management with federal and possibly state game managers.

Draft Bill

 

Categories: Alaska News

VPSOs Prepare For Possibility Of Being Armed

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:13

The effort to allow VPSOs to carry guns cleared a major hurdle this week when the Alaska House unanimously passed the bill that does just that.

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The decision is in the hands of legislators in Juneau now, and while the bill passed the 38-0, the issue on the ground is more nuanced. Several Y-K Delta VPSOs were in Bethel for training last week and spoke to KYUK about the prospect of being armed.

Jacob Tobeluck is from Nunapitchak and is an eight-year veteran of the VPSOs. He said he initially had mixed feelings about being armed, and that’s because many of the people he meets in his job are people he’s known for years.

Tobeluck and Otto. Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel.

“In the back of your head, you think, if you carry a firearm, how is this person going to react, this person you’ve dealt with for so many years. Going to a call where guns involved and having someone else point a firearm at you, for a lack of better words, it freaks you out and you realize how quick things can go bad,” said Tobeluck.

Sergeant Jonathan Otto has been a VPSO in Kongiganak for 20 years. He says conversations with community members have largely been in favor of arming. And that’s critical, because communities will have some say in whether their VPSO is armed.

“I’ve been told by some people it’s about time you guys are getting armed, all the young people are getting aggressive, we should be able to go home to our own families instead of just being killed,” said Otto.

Two officers have been killed in the line of duty, the most recent being Manokotak’s Thomas Madole. That’s what spurred the most recent legislative push. That law would require some level of training standards. Otto says part of that training came very early for most VPSOs.

“Most of the people in the rural villages have been taught to hunt with a long rifle, most of them have been told about not pointing a gun to anybody, we’ve been told since we were kids when our dads taught us how to use a gun,” said Otto.

Tobeluck says it is ultimately is a matter of officer safety. He says guns are part of the lifestyle in his community. Having a VPSO armed just makes sense.

“I don’t care if it’s shack, they’ll find a gun. You’ll see kids walking around holding guns, going out hunting. It’s a common thing in the villages. For a VPSO to carry a sidearm I don’t think it will be anything new. A trooper comes out with a sidearm, a kid looks at his sidearm and walks away. It’s going to be nothing new,” said Tobeluck.

The bill to allow arming VPSOs now goes to the Alaska Senate. If passed, the bill would go to the governor’s desk for signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 14, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:12

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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Ahtna Proposes New Game Management Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska tribes and rural hunters have long complained that the dual federal-state game management system is hard to live by and doesn’t give subsistence users their due. Today, Ahtna Inc., the smallest of Alaska’s Regional Native Corporations, presented a proposal for co-management of game to a U.S. House panel. It’s a pilot project and it’s sure to be controversial.

VPSOs Prepare For Possibility Of Being Armed

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The effort to allow VPSOs to carry guns cleared a major hurdle this week when the Alaska house unanimously passed the bill that does just that. The decision is in the hands of legislators in Juneau now, and while the bill passed 38-0, the issue on the ground is more nuanced. Several Y-K Delta VPSOs were in Bethel for training last week and spoke to KYUK’s Ben Matheson about the prospect of being armed.

Senate Education Moves Governor’s Education Bill

The Associated Press

The Alaska Senate Education Committee moved Governor Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill Friday after rejecting amendments offered by the committee’s lone Democrat.

Legislature Rejects Pay Raises For Top Officials

The Associated Press

The legislature has rejected proposed pay increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and main department heads.

Geoduck Dive Fishery Opens; Market Found

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Southeast Alaska divers were out fishing for geoducks on Thursday, for the first time in about two months. Processors found a market for the clams outside of China, which still has not lifted its ban on West Coast shellfish.

Juneau School Board Unmoved By Travel Ban Task Force, Public Testimony

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School Board will not reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel, at least for the rest of the school year.

AK: Machine Shop

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Manufacturing – like everything else – is becoming more computerized. But instead of replacing craftsmanship, digital technology is opening up possibilities for students to create things in ways that simply weren’t practical a decade ago.

Three kids at Sitka High School are building a tool — really just a customized piece of metal — to do an unsung, but important, job in the community. And their collaboration points toward a future where we’ll make stuff differently.

300 Villages: Hoonah

This week we’re heading to Hoonah, a small community on Chichagof Island in Southeast. Chris Erikson runs a guiding business in Hoonah.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Education Moves Governor’s Education Bill

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:12

The Alaska Senate Education Committee moved Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill Friday after rejecting amendments offered by the committee’s lone Democrat.

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Sen. Berta Gardner, a Democrat from Anchorage, offered two amendments to Senate Bill 139 in attempt to prevent the forcing of a charter school upon a local school district by the state school board. Her third amendment attempted to raise the per-pupil allocation rate by $404 in the first year and tie it the inflation rate for the following years.

All three amendments failed by a four to one vote along party lines.

Gardner raised objections over the bill saying it does not improve the quality of pre-school programs nor support affective, highly effective teachers.

The bill moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Rejects Pay Raises For Top Officials

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:11

The legislature has rejected proposed pay increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and main department heads.

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The House voted 38-0 Friday to reject the recommendations of the State Officers Compensation Commission. SB125 passed the Senate 19-0 last month.

The commission proposed the increases as a way for those positions to catch up with pay increases for other executive-branch employees.

But some legislators said, in light of budget constraints, the increases were not appropriate.

Governor Sean Parnell had already said he would decline a pay increase for himself.

Categories: Alaska News

Geoduck Dive Fishery Opens; Market Found

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:10

Southeast Alaska divers were out fishing for geoducks Thursday, for the first time in about two months.

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Phil Doherty of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association says they decided to move forward with fishing after meeting last week with some processors. He says those processors found markets other than China for the clams.

“We did our PSP sampling on Sunday. We sent the geoducks up to DEC lab on Monday, got the PSP results on Tuesday and of the six areas that we sampled, three of them passed PSP levels, so we were able to fish,” he said.

Geoducks for sale. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

PSP, or paralytic shellfish poisoning, is caused by eating shellfish contaminated with certain kinds of algae that produce toxins. It can be deadly, so all commercially harvested shellfish is tested before it can be sold.

SARDFA suspended testing, and therefore fishing, soon after China banned imports of West Coast shellfish in December. Chinese officials claimed they found high toxin and arsenic levels in geoducks from Washington State and from dive areas around Ketchikan. But West Coast officials say they’ve not been given any details or proof from China. That’s led to questions about whether the ban is politically motivated.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had planned a March 3rd diplomatic trip to China, with a goal of solving – or at least obtaining more information about – that country’s ban on West Coast shellfish. But that trip didn’t happen.

With a little pressure from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, though, NOAA agreed to reschedule the trip, and is sending a delegation to China on March 21.

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting with Food and Drug Administration Director Margaret Hamburg, Murkowski stressed the importance of resolving the issue, and asked that the FDA get involved.

“This is an issue that might be very narrow in its scope, but has great impact, in certainly a portion of my state, impacting some family owned businesses that are taking a real hit right now,” she said.

Hamburg responded that her office has been providing information and support to NOAA, and to Chinese officials.

“We are not going to be formally part of the delegation, but we’ll be in contact with them, working with them, and supporting them,” she said. “And we also do have an office in China to provide additional support.”

Doherty says he and state officials will participate in a teleconference with NOAA and Washington State officials and fishermen before the China trip, to provide any information that the delegation needs. He hopes another teleconference will take place soon after that trip. The outcome could determine when and how much divers fish in the near future.

China is the largest market for geoduck clams, but not the only one.

“There are markets over in Vietnam and Hong Kong and Malaysia, and there are some markets in the United States that these geoducks will go to,” he said. “Our processors have done a good job trying to put something together so the fishermen can go out and earn at least a little bit of money here.”

It could be too little, though. Doherty says the price paid in the smaller markets might not make the work worthwhile.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau School Board Unmoved By Travel Ban Task Force, Public Testimony

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:09

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School student Connor Norman, his mother Michelle Norman, and school budget committee member Jennifer Lindley all testified during Tuesday night’s school board meeting urging the board to reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board will not reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel, at least for the rest of the school year.

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Floyd Dryden Middle School teacher Jeannette Sleppy is a member of the community task forcecreated to come up with alternatives to the travel ban. Sleppy was one of several who spoke out in unanimous opposition of the ban during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting at Juneau-Douglas High School.

“Our superintendent was quoted recently stating, ‘Building trust comes down to doing what the community is asking you to do through the elected board and following through with that.’ I urge you, the board, to build trust with us, this community, and continue to allow our middle school athletes the opportunities that competitive travel offers and has offered the middle school students of this community for many years.”

The school board adopted the middle school sports travel ban last September. It takes effect in July.

Sleppy said the task force conducted an online survey and received 263 responses. Only 9 percent of those responses support the ban on middle school sports travel she said.

In its final report, the task force recommends permitting out-of-town travel under certain conditions. These include making travel available to all team members and limiting each team to only one trip per school year.

Tom Rutecki is a member of the school district’s Activities Advisory Committee. He says the group did not put forward a recommendation to the task force, ”but we do agree that travel should be allowed for middle school activities and athletics.”

Rutecki says before any policy on travel is developed, the board needs to establish a philosophy on middle school sports. He says the Activities Advisory Committee has started working on one.

“We basically are trying to get away from a competitive philosophy of teams that win to a developmental approach. We want to recommend establishing grade level teams. Go away from the skill-based teams and divide them into teams where fundamental, social and physical skills are developed.”

Following public testimony in favor of permitting middle school travel and the presentation by the task force, school board President Sally Saddler asked the body if they wanted to reconsider the ban:

“Can I get a show of hands of board members who want to see this on the agenda next month?”

When no hands went up, the packed audience broke out in a murmur.

School board member Barbara Thurston said the task force’s recommendations didn’t bring the board any closer to resolving the issues and the board wasn’t ready to reconsider the ban.

“The conclusion I get from this is that the ideal situation at the middle schools is that it involve both an intramural and a competitive component. And we have one school that has a competitive program but not an intramural program, and one that has intramurals and not competitive. And if the proposal and the resources allowed for both at both schools, I think that’s where we could go, but it really sounds like we have to choose, that neither school can afford to do both,” Thurston said.

Juneau resident Jon Kurland led the task force. He said the school board’s reaction is disappointing.

“I feel bad for Juneau kids who are in elementary school or middle school who aren’t going to have those opportunities in the future,” Kurland said.

While Kurland didn’t get the outcome he was hoping for, he says the group will likely not pursue the issue.

“I don’t think so. I think this committee has done its work,” he said.

Saddler said the school board will not look into the middle school travel ban again this school year unless the Activities Advisory Committee comes forward with a philosophy.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Machine Shop

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:08

Sitka senior Thor Becker tests out a special drill bit to raise the gym’s basketball hoops. Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

Manufacturing – like everything else – is becoming more computerized, but instead of replacing craftsmanship, digital technology is opening up possibilities for students to create things in ways that simply weren’t practical five or ten years ago.

Three kids at Sitka High School are building a tool – really just a customized piece of metal – to do an unsung, but important, job in the community. And their collaboration points toward a future where we’ll make stuff differently.

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Mark Partido operates a metal lathe in the school’s metal shop. Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

This is a story about hardware. But, on the outside chance you’re not into hardware, there is also some impressive footwork.

KCAW – “So, where are we at?”
Mark – “We’re at an inch and 15-thousanths. I just need to cut 15-thousanths, and we’ll flip it over and do the other side.”

This is Mark Partido, a junior, in the school’s metal shop. The room is dim and cavernous. Kids are welding, and grinding metal. There is a constant racket. In the middle of it all, Partido stands balanced on his right foot, and slides his left foot out of his sneaker, and lifts it to his waist to operate the levers and control handles of a huge metal lathe with his toes .

Mark Partido was born with arthrogryposis, which limits the use of his lower arms and hands, so he operates the lathe with his toes. Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

I wasn’t expecting to meet Mark. Someday, someone will do a story just about him and the birth defect, arthrogryposis, that has severely limited his use of his lower arms and hands.

All I can think of is possibly the dumbest question ever asked.

KCAW – “Tell me about running this machine with your feet. Was that a challenge?”
Mark – “A little bit. This is one of my favorite machines to work on. Some of the knobs are a little tough, but you get used to it.”

Mark is shaping a small cylinder of metal into what will eventually become a drill bit – but it’s not for drilling holes. The bit will power a winch to raise and lower the baskets at Sitka’s community gym. The original part has been lost for years.

Robert Miller casts molten aluminum in the shop’s kiln. Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

“My name’s Robert Miller. I’m a senior.”

Robert Miller goes by RJ. He made the part Mark is machining, by casting molten aluminum in this kiln in a corner of the shop.

“We’re just trying a bunch of methods, making a bunch of different types of them out of different materials,” Miller said. “I did aluminum casting yesterday. Today I think we’re going to do brass. We’ve done steel, but none of them are finished yet.”

Mark and RJ are experimenting with different metals, but that is as far as the guesswork goes. They also don’t have blueprints. Instead, the pair are meticulously copying a red plastic prototype made across the hall on a $13,000 machine called a 3D printer.

Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

If the metal shop is the brawn – the hands and feet – of this project, the brain is Sitka’s state-of-art Design and Fabrication Lab.

Senior Thor Becker shows me how it works.

“It’s got to be three-dimensional because what it does is take a nozzle that melted plastic comes out of and prints layer-by-layer,” Becker said. “It starts slowly building up, and it has support material that on the bigger one dissolves away, and on the smaller one just rips away.”

The 3D printer is about the size of a mini-fridge. Most of the design work in Sitka’s wood and metal shops starts here, among the rows of computer screens.

Thor uses a 3D printer in Sitka’s state-of-art Design and Fabrication Lab. Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

Raising the baskets is important if you want to do anything else in a gym besides play basketball – like volleyball, for example. But for Sitka’s non-profit Hames Center, the $800 replacement part was just too expensive.

Thor offered to help.

“I took a small bit of just regular ceramics clay down there and wedged it into the hole to get an impression of what was in there, what devices needed to be turned,” he said.

He then measured his clay mold, drew the part on the computer, and then clicked on the print button. Thor and RJ and Mark have been fine-tuning it ever since.

Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

Only one thing left to do.

“Hopefully by the end of the day the metal shop should have the drill bit lathed out and looking nice, and then probably tomorrow I can drive down there and see if it will work,” Thor said.

And it really works.

“My name is Cindy Edwards. I’m the director of the Hames Center, and I’m watching this incredible kid – he’s a master, and he’s done this magical thing – as I watch the basket lifting to the ceiling as he runs that drill. This is amazing! Wow!”

Photo by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka.

This used to take four people, working in 15 minute shifts, about an hour.

KCAW – “But it’s a gym. It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Edwards – “But this job has been so tedious, that people fall and melt down crying if they have to put the hoop up. And he’s just hitting a button!”

Thor poses for a picture with Edwards, but he’s not ready to officially present her with the bit. He’s going to back to the Fab Lab and print another prototype that he thinks will work even better.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hoonah

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 16:07

This week we’re heading to Hoonah, a small community on Chichagof Island in Southeast. Chris Erikson runs a guiding business in Hoonah.

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“My name is Chris Erickson. I live in Hoonah, Alaska. I run a guiding and outfitting business during the spring and the fall seasons for brown bear and back bear and, then during the summer season I am a charter captain on my 45-foot boat, The Icy Lady.

To access Hoonah, the most common method is to fly into Juneau, and then either come over on the ferry or take one of the small airlines about a 20 minute flight over here or a three mile ride on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Hoonah, we’re on the northern end of Chichagof Island about 40- miles west of Juneau. Just a beautiful little community right at the mouth of Port Frederick. We’re kind of uniquely situated because we’re an easily accessible community from the main road system or the main towns.

We have very good fishing and deer hunting and, of course, lots of bears. Anywhere in Southeast Alaska you’re going to have lots of bears.

We’re very close to Glacier Bay. It’s about an hour and a half, a two hour trip by boat from Hoonah to the entrance of Glacier Bay to Bartlett Cove. And of course you can also fly with the smaller airlines. They offer daily flights into there as well.

About the last ten years the cruise ships have established a presence here through the Icy Straight point and so there’s a bit of tourism going on. But by far, I would say commercial fishing is probably our largest private employer.

If you’re looking for nightlife, Hoonah is not the place to go. Most people who live in Hoonah or come to Hoonah come here because we do have very good fresh and salt water fishing outdoor opportunities, kayaking, climbing, hiking, and, of course, hunting. Deer hunting, bear hunting that sort of thing. People that live here, live here because that rural lifestyle is what they prefer. We don’t have all the social activities of all the malls and the shopping and all the conveniences that come with it. So for a lot of people it is difficult. But for those of us, that’s not the sort of thing that we cater to, this is the place to be.

For most Alaskans I think Alaska more than a geographic place. I think it also occupies a huge part of their heart and maybe it’s a state of mind as well.”

Categories: Alaska News

25 Years After Exxon Valdez: What Would Effective Regulation Look Like?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-14 12:00

Exxon Valdez tanker aground. Off-loading of remaining oil in progress. Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill nearly all damaged wildlife populations have been declared “recovered,” but the spill’s impact left lasting marks on people. With another major spill taking place just four years ago, it’s time to talk about loss of trust, and how to restore it.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Californian Pulls Name From Board Consideration

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 19:28

A Californian that Gov. Sean Parnell had tapped to serve on a high-profile state board has withdrawn his name from consideration. The decision came before a legislative hearing where the nominee was expected to be questioned on his residency status, his tax records, and his ties to the oil industry.

Dennis Mandell announced he no longer wanted a seat on the State Assessment Review Board with a simple e-mail to the Governor’s Office: “Due to the political nature of this appointment I withdraw my name thank you.”

Mandell is a registered California voter, and legislators from both parties made public statements this week that appointing someone who resides in another state to an Alaska board could violate the law.

At a press availability Thursday, Gov. Sean Parnell said he did not ask Mandell to pull his name, but that confirmation would have been difficult.

“You know, he’s an incredibly professional and qualified individual. Everybody who met with him thought that,” said Parnell. “But the politics of naming an out-of-state certainly played into this.”

Parnell stood by his decision to appoint a non-resident, arguing that the statute limiting appointments to quasi-judicial boards only to Alaskans is unconstitutional.

The State Assessment Review Board is in charge of resolving disputes over the value of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and the number they decide on is used to settle property tax questions. For every billion dollars the board says the pipeline is worth, oil companies pay out $20 million to the municipalities along the pipeline’s route.

When asked if making and acting on a judgment on the residency law encroached on the judiciary’s authority, Parnell was operating within his powers.

“I will always stand on the Constitution,” said Parnell. “I will always act to interpret it in a way that I can faithfully execute this job.”

Democrats in the Legislature have been especially opposed to Mandell’s nomination. On top of the residency issue, they raised concerns about Mandell’s career in the oil industry and about his tax records. On Thursday morning, Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, released information that the State of California has suspended Mandell’s business license since 2009 for failure to pay corporate income taxes.

Josephson says his office learned about the suspension through a “simple Google search,” and that he feels the Parnell administration did not fully vet Mandell.

“Someone at Boards and Commissions have looked into — could have done a Google search! – and looked into this and said, ‘Boy, Mr. Mandell, we love you, be we are a little concern we’re going to have some pushback on the California factor, and now we see you haven’t paid your corporate income tax, when this very job is about imposing actually a property and equipment tax,” said Josephson in an interview. “That should have been a red flag.”

A Parnell spokesperson says the governor was unaware of the tax issue. Mandell did not respond to an e-mail on the subject.

Parnell’s other appointee to the State Assessment Review Board is an Alaska resident and is still going through the confirmation process. Bernie Washington, of Anchorage, answered questions at the first of two confirmation hearings on Thursday. Washington has served as the chief financial officer of Alaska Public Media, the parent company of KSKA, KAKM and the Alaska Public Radio Network, since 2010.

The Legislature will vote on Parnell’s nominees on April 11.

Categories: Alaska News

While FDA Mulls Genetically Modified Salmon, Supermarkets Back Away

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 17:44

The head of the Federal Drug Administration told a U.S. Senate committee today her agency is still working on its review of an application to produce a genetically modified salmon.

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Director Margaret Hamburg gave no indication when the FDA would issue a decision.

Actually we got … 33 or 35, 000 comments, so this is topic that people care a lot about. We’re going through those comments, taking them very seriously. And we will be moving forward in a science-driven way.

AquaBounty Technologies says its fish would be farmed inland and would be incapable of breeding. Opponents, though, say the fish would threaten natural salmon runs and cause confusion in the marketplace. Ahead of the FDA decision, Friends of the Earth is pressing supermarket chains to agree not to carry the product. Last week, it added Safeway and Kroger to its yellow-light list of retailers, those that say they have no plans to carry genetically modified salmon. Target and Trader Joe’s made the environmental group’s green-light list with policy pledges not to carry the product.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Seeking Local Advice On Environmental Protocols

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 17:44

Members of the federal agency that oversees marine mammals held a teleconference in Nome on Wednesday to solicit region-specific advice on emergency response. It’s part of a process to draft environmental protocols for the Arctic that incorporate local expertise.

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Categories: Alaska News

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