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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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

Report Finds Mixed Blame In Raid On 40 Mile Miners

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

Governor Sean Parnell has released a report on last summer’s law enforcement sweep of placer mines in the 40 Mile area. It finds mixed blame for the heavy handed law enforcement that upset miners.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tanana Chiefs Conference President Steps Down

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

Longtime Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac stepped down Thursday, after 8 years at the helm of the consortium that represents 42 Interior Alaska native villages.

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Categories: Alaska News

Health Food, Water Offered Through Petersburg School District Grant

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

Students’ physical well-being is paramount to how well they perform in school. The Petersburg School District is hoping to improve that through a four-year, $600,000 grant which started this school year. An update on the grant was given to the district’s school board at their last meeting.

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So far, the Healthy Living Grant has helped wellness projects in all of the schools. That includes ten modern water fountains being installed that feature a place to fill water bottles.

Ginger Evens is the Health Living Grant Coordinator.

“The kids are loving it,” Evens says. “You can see them going and filling up their water bottles. The water is much colder, it’s filtered.”

Petersburg is one of nine districts in the state to receive the grant through the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obesity, Prevention and Control Program. Evens says drinking water was one of the main components of the grant.

“We had water. We had accessible water but the kids were not going to all the water fountains because they didn’t like the way it tasted, what it looked when they put it in their water bottles so this is very exciting that this is happening,” Evens says.

The hope is that if students are drinking from their water bottles, they’re not consuming other sugary drinks.

The healthy living grant is also helping to fund breakfasts for high schoolers and fifth graders. For the older students, it’s called the Second Chance Breakfast Program. Before this year, breakfasts were not available for the teenagers. Now, about 35 students a day eat at the school in the morning.

“Kids who have free and reduced lunch can use that for the second chance breakfast or they can purchase it and the kids really seem to be enjoying it,” Evens says.

Carlee Wells, Foods Service Program Director, agrees.

“It’s amazing, it’s 35 people that are eating something and they’re all complete meals, nutritious meals for the most part and so that’s awesome,” Wells says.

Wells also gave an update to the school board on how the grant is helping. She says it’s funding a new pilot program for the fifth graders through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. She says before the program they were feeding 80 meals per week. Now that’s jumped to 150.

“So we’re looking, you know, seeing if that increases our participations, feeds our kids, and how that impacts those students,” Wells says.

The middle school students have had a breakfast program in place that allows them to eat at school if they want but school board member, Sarah Holmgrain, says it’s the high schoolers who might need that meal the most.

“I’m willing to bet a lot of them go out the door not eating breakfasts whereas in middle school, parents still tend to make sure they get a breakfast or they are eating at school so this is great,” Holmgrain says, “I’m really happy to hear that this has been done.”

The healthy living grant also supports the esteem-building Girls on the Run program in the grade school as well as after-school snacks for all students.

Another new health related program the school district is implementing will allow parents to keep tabs on the finer details of the school’s menu. It’s a new computer software program.

“What this is going to allow us to do is we’re going to be able to have all of our calorie counts and all of our nutritional data for every parent who wants to know,” Wells says. “So, this is going to be amazing, super amazing.”

She says part of the grant is proving to the state that the district is meeting their nutritional requirements…which, she adds, Petersburg has no problem doing.

Categories: Alaska News

J. Torres Encourages Young Comic Creators

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

J. Torres speaking in Unalaska on March 3. Photo by Luc Sevilla.

A lot of elements go into a simple comic book. There’s artwork, there’s editing — and most importantly, for the Filipino and Canadian comic writer J. Torres, there’s the script.

The award-winning author visited Unalaska’s schools and gave a presentation at the library last week, as part of a statewide tour.

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Archie, Batman, Teen Titans: J. Torres has worked on some of the most famous comic book series out there.

But Torres told kids and parents that the big-name books are no sweat, compared to the challenge of dreaming up his own comics. That’s because he need artists to help bring his stories to life:

Torres: “If I put, ‘Panel one: Batman flies through a window,’ I’m done! The artist doesn’t have to get me to describe who Batman is and what he looks like, right? But if I say, ‘Rufus is standing on the doorstep of his grandmother’s house,’ the artist is going to say, ‘Who the heck is Rufus?’ So I have to describe Rufus and what the grandmother’s house looks like.”

Rufus is the hero of “Bigfoot Boy,” a comic Torres wrote for younger readers. Rufus is an average kid who find a magical amulet. When he puts it on, he can transform into a Sasquatch.

Torres says “Bigfoot Boy” is his favorite comic, and he wanted to do share it in Unalaska.

Torres was in town on the Alaska Spirit of Reading tour, which brings authors to the state every year. After Unalaska, he’d be off to Sitka and Juneau to visit schools and hold public readings.

Torres: “Usually, when an author does a reading, he or she stands here and reads from the book.”

But comic books are visual. And besides, Torres doesn’t draw them. He writes them — the stories, the dialogue, everything down to the sound effects in each panel.

So he decided to do things a little differently. He invited the children in the audience to read the words he wrote, which were projected on a screen.

Torres: “Almost like doing a play. So okay, who’s going to play Rufus for me? You! Okay, come on up, Ethan.”

In the first chapter, Rufus — played by volunteer Ethan Iszler — gets sent to stay with his grandmother. His parents drop him off in the unfamiliar neighborhood as birds chirp in the background:

Children: “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet!”

Mom: ”Northwood is a cool place. You’ll see, Rufus. Just listen to your grandmother, okay?”

Rufus: “Yes, mom.”

The kids responsible for sound effects had their hands full. In one panel, Rufus sat in his grandmother’s living room while she took a nap — and a string of Z’s ran across the screen:

Children: ”Zzzzzz.”

Torres: “No! Snoring!”

Children: [snoring sounds]

They got the hang of it as Rufus wandered through the woods. A Bigfoot approached in the shadows:

Children: ”Bump! Skkkkkk.”

[laughter]

Torres: “Can we get a round of applause for our readers?”

[applause]

After the reading, Mary Heimes, a fourth grade teacher, wanted to know:

Heimes: ”What advice do you have for some budding elementary school comic book writers?”

Torres: “Write, draw — all the time, as much as you can. Practice makes perfect. It’s like anything else. You want to be a good ice skater, go ice skate. You want to be a good piano player, play piano.”

Even if you live on an island in the Bering Sea, anything’s possible. Torres says that he works with artists and editors from all over the world, even though he lives in a comfy suburb of Toronto.

Torres: “So that’s the beauty of working in comics — and also books and illustration — in this day and age. You don’t have to leave your house if you don’t want to! You can do it from anywhere in the world, including Alaska.”

The important thing is to immerse yourself in what you love, Torres says. That’s why he read lots of comics as a kid, and still does now.

And that may be why there was a run on comic books at the end of Torres’ talk. Library assistant Robi Harris was mobbed by kids wanting to check out the latest installment of “Bigfoot Boy.”

That included junior high student:

Ethan: “Ethan Iszler.”

Harris: “I know, I know.”

Ethan: ”Okay. Am I here that often?”

Harris: “You’re here enough.”

Ethan: “I’m only here to get, to — “

Harris: “There’s nothing wrong with coming in the door! We like to see you!”

Ethan: “Oh, thank you. Thank you.”

There’s a good reason why Ethan’s there so often. He says he’s writing his own comic book series. For now, it’s just stick figures, but it’s a start.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly Approves Muldoon Park

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 17:26

Photos © Jerrianne Lowther: Chester Creek in natural creekbed east of Muldoon Road.

The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday to designate land at the center of a controversy in East Anchorage for a park.

The Assembly voted 9-2 to designate the land near the intersection of Muldoon and Debarr streets for use as a park.

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East Anchorage Assembly member Adam Trombley, wrote the ordinance approved by the Assembly. He says the park is a win for the community he represents.

Photo © Jerrianne Lowther: Realigned creek near Grass Creek Village & Begich Middle School west of Muldoon.

“Well I mean, my gosh, look at the area. I mean you have very high density housing – very tight. You do have some parks intermixed in there but not a lot of open green spaces,” Trombley said. “I think that’s going to enhance the property value. People are gonna want to move there because hey look – there’s a huge park there’s a huge park there. I’m from a young family. I’m gonna wanna move near the area because there’s a huge park. That’s gonna help redevelop the area according to the east district plan.”

Trombley is fighting for re-election against candidates Pete Petersen, a former state representative, and Mao Tosi, a former NFL player and community activist who manages the Northway Mall.

The municipality purchased the nearly 30 acres of land in 2006 for $5 million from the federal government, which had seized it in a drug case.

Chester Creek runs through the property, and East Anchorage residents have been pushing for a park there for several years.

Mayor Dan Sullivan has fought to keep the land near the street for commercial purposes and could veto the Assembly’s decision. Sullivan has seven days, until March 18 to veto the decision. However, the assembly could override his veto with 8 votes.

Some Assembly members said the body should have waited until the East Anchorage district was finished in August before making a decision.

Assembly members Chris Birch and Amy Demboski were the only no votes on changing the designation of the land for a park.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 13, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 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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State Assessment Review Board Candidate Withdraws

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A Californian who had been tapped by Governor Sean Parnell to serve on a high-profile state board withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday evening.

Despite Revisions, Opposition To Permitting Bill Still Vocal

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After nearly a year of waiting for a rewrite of HB77, members of the public had plenty to say about the changes. They got their first chance to speak to them at a Senate Resources Committee hearing yesterday. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that most of the testimony on the Parnell administration’s permitting bill was as negative as it was brief.

FDA Reviewing Application To Produce Genetically Modified Salmon

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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.

Feds Seeking Local Advice On Environmental Protocols

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

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.

Report Finds Mixed Blame In Raid On 40 Mile Miners

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Sean Parnell has released a report on last summer’s law enforcement sweep of placer mines in the 40 Mile area. It finds mixed blame for the heavy handed law enforcement that upset miners.

Tanana Chiefs Conference President Steps Down

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Longtime Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac stepped down Thursday, after 8 years at the helm of the consortium that represents 42 Interior Alaska native villages.

Anchorage Set To Host 2014 National Nordic Skiing National Championships

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The 2014 U.S. Nordic skiing National Championships and SuperTour Finals are set to start in just over a week in Anchorage.

Health Food, Water Offered Through Petersburg School District Grant

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Students’ physical well-being is paramount to how well they perform in school. The Petersburg School District is hoping to improve that through a four-year, $600,000 grant which started this school year. An update on the grant was given to the district’s school board at their last meeting.

J. Torres Encourages Young Comic Creators

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A lot of elements go into a simple comic book. There’s artwork, there’s editing — and most importantly, for the Filipino and Canadian comic writer J. Torres, there’s the script.

The award-winning author visited Unalaska’s schools and gave a presentation at the library last week, as part of a statewide tour.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Set To Host 2014 National Nordic Skiing National Championships

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 14:02

Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.

The 2014 U.S. National Championships and SuperTour Finals for cross-country skiing are set to start in just over a week in Anchorage.

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Originally, the races were slated to take place on the trails in Kincaid Park. But since snow has been hard to come by in Anchorage this winter, Race Director James Southam says Thursday officials decided to move the races to alternate locations.

“All the distance races are gonna be at the hillside ski trails; racing around the Spencer Loop and the Besh Loop,” Southam said. “And then the sprint race is gonna be held at the APU ski trails over by the Alaska Pacific University campus.”

Southam expects up to 150 skiers from around North America to participate. He says it’s a unique opportunity for Alaskans to see some of the best skiers in the nation competing in person.

“It’s gonna be the first time, and really the only time all season, that our World Cup athletes like Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, and Sadie Bjornsen will be competing in the U.S., much less Alaska,” Southam said.

Races start on Saturday, March 22 and run through Friday, March 28.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard, Unalaska Police Investigate Fatal Accident At Sea

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 12:58

The Coast Guard and Unalaska police are investigating a fatal accident that took place aboard a 376-foot factory trawler this week.

Police chief Jamie Sunderland says crew members on the Alaska Ocean were doing some repair jobs at about 9 p.m. on Tuesday night.

“It looks like an acetylene tank was leaking inside of a cabinet, which was ignited by some nearby welding,” Sunderland said.

The resulting explosion blew a door off its hinges. It struck one of the crew members – 48-year-old Franz Dalquen of Arizona.

“He was pronounced dead just a few minutes later – about a half hour later – by the medic on the vessel.” Sunderland said.

Sunderland says the Alaska Ocean was about 125 miles outside Unalaska at the time of the accident. The vessel made it back to port Wednesday night, where they were met by Unalaska police.

Sunderland says the police have already ruled out foul play. But the medical examiner in Anchorage will still perform an autopsy.

The Alaska Ocean is owned by Glacier Fish Company of Seattle.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Calls Off Search For Missing Bering Sea Fisherman

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-13 12:49

The Coast Guard has called off its search for a fisherman who fell overboard from his vessel in the Bering Sea on Wednesday.

The Coast Guard isn’t releasing the man’s name, but friends, family and local news reports say he is Eric Eder. Eder was fishing aboard the F/V Seeker. The Coast Guard says it’s an 87-foot trawler based in Newport, Oregon.

Eder fell from the Seeker Wednesday morning, 10 miles northwest of Unimak Island. Another vessel in the area, the F/V Seafreeze Alaska, alerted the Coast Guard. Several nearby boats were already looking for Eder by the time a Jayhawk helicopter crew got to the scene.

The F/V Seeker pictured in 2006. Photo courtesy from marinetraffic.com.

The Jayhawk searched for a few hours, only pausing to refuel in Cold Bay. Around 4:30 p.m., they turned the scene over to the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, which came from a patrol near Unalaska.

The Alex Haley searched until about 10 p.m. Wednesday. That’s when petty officer Grant DeVuyst says the Coast Guard suspended its search.

“That’s always a difficult decision to make for a search and rescue team,” DeVuyst said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the missing.”

DeVuyst says the Jayhawk, the cutter and the good Samaritan vessels had searched for about 10 hours total. He says they’re ready to keep looking if they get any new information about Eder’s whereabouts.

DeVuyst says they’ve been in touch with the mariner’s family to let them know the Coast Guard’s active search is over for now. DeVuyst says in cases like this, the mariner is legally considered missing by the Coast Guard.

It’s not clear yet how Eder fell from the Seeker. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage will conduct an investigation.

There was a gale warning in effect for the Unimak Island area on Wednesday, with about 10-foot seas, winds up to 40 miles per hour, snow and freezing spray.

Categories: Alaska News

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