Alaska News

Unalaska Residents Weigh In on Aleutian Climate Trends

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:12

Study facilitator Chris Beck looks over audience members’ votes on what kind of seasonality changes they’re seeing in Unalaska. (Photo by Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Scientists know that the climate in the Aleutian Islands is changing. But they’re making observations from a distance — while on the ground, the story is sometimes very different.

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That’s what a team of researchers found earlier this month in Unalaska, when they talked to locals about the climate change they’re seeing in their own back yards.

About 40 people packed into Unalaska’s Museum of the Aleutians to answer a simple question:

Chris Beck: We’re wondering, if — particularly for those of you who’ve been here for a while, or you’ve heard through other folks — you’ve been seeing changes or have heard of changes in the local environment that seem to go beyond the normal range.

Beck is a facilitator for the Aleutian and Bering Climate Vulnerability Assessment. It’s being done by the government groups and nonprofits who make up the Aleutian-Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative, or ABSI-LCC.

Beck got a few clear messages from his audience — that yes, the weather’s getting warmer and wetter, and some fishing seasons are moving around. But when he asked more detailed questions, like about wind patterns or new kinds of bugs, people’s observations were all a little different:

Frank Kelty: You know, we’ve had white Thanksgiving for the past couple of years. But traditionally, we used to play softball and it’d be snowing on Memorial Day. And we haven’t seen that type of event.
Bobbie Lekanoff: Last year, if you walked out front here, you would have seen about 40 whales. This year, not a whale.
Suzi Golodoff: We seem to be seeing more algae blooms, more red tide, much more frequently.
Jeff Dickrell: I’ve seen jellyfish, but I’ve never seen the abundance of them. And I know people on the research vessels that are going out for pollock trawls and pulling up nothing but jellyfish.
Lekanoff: Everything everybody’s saying is showing how variable it is.

In fact, the main thing the audience agreed on was that they couldn’t agree for sure on what was changing, or why. And that impressed University of Washington meteorologist Nick Bond, who’s part of the ABSI research team.

“Those questions were designed to get at some of the data we only have in anecdotal form,” he says. “Especially people noticing types of spiders they hadn’t seen before, let’s say. I thought that was fascinating.”

People were also quick to recognize that climate change may not be the only factor affecting things like fisheries and wildlife. Karen Pletnikoff, of the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, is the chair of the ABSI steering committee.

“Knowing that we have all these different variables, and understanding what people’s priorities are and what their perspective is, helps us frame those questions in a better way,” she says, “so we can get the information that people really need to be able to make management changes or protect themselves from the impacts.”

For the Unalaska audience, the most visible changes were in air temperature and precipitation. They were most concerned about the health of their fisheries — commercial and subsistence. And they were worried about increased vessel traffic, as melting sea ice opens up new shipping routes in the Arctic.

But residents weren’t exactly panicking about all the unknowns surrounding climate change. Nick Bond, the meteorologist, says that’s a good thing.

“In some of the public lectures that I give about climate change in the Pacific Northwest, where I’m based, people will [go], ‘What’s the answer? Just tell me what’s going to happen.’ And when I tell them I can’t, then they go, ‘Well, get out of here,’” he says. “But here, the audience, I think, appreciated the uncertainties, and that we can’t say … anything like that with a great deal of specificity.”

Bond says folks in the Aleutians are more “tuned in” to their environment. They’re seeing climate changes firsthand — and they can tell how tough those changes are to quantify.

“Here, it’s just kind of in your face all the time — this morning, rain was blowing into my face, anyway,” Bond says. “And so I think there’s that appreciation for the importance of it, and everybody is so reliant on it. It’s a little bit different if you live in Phoenix, and you go from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car and office, and you’re kind of removed from it. So I think that connection is partly why people can appreciate what’s happening.”

Bond and the research team are planning a Q&A like they did in Unalaska for the Pribilof Islands, too. The anecdotes that all the region’s residents have to offer will help the ABSI group tailor their report to the people it affects the most — those who live and work in the changing place. The draft of their vulnerability assessment is due out in February.

People can get in touch with the research team and offer their own input at www.absilcc.org. To see more of Unalaskans’ responses to the ABSI team’s questions, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

Book Chronicles Young Man’s Commercial Fishing Experiences

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:11

Being a deckhand can be tough, especially if you work for a boat owner who acts like a tyrant. In his new book Dead Reckoning, blank based author Dave Atcheson has written about his experience as a young man with no commercial fishing knowledge, trying to learn the business. His first job was really tough.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Pilot Point

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:09

This week we’re heading to Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:09

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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Profile: Rep. Young, Still Punching, Seeks Another Term

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It’s an even numbered year, so that means Alaska Congressman Don Young is running for re-election, as he has every two years since taking the oath of office in 1973. APRN’s Liz Ruskin has this profile of the most senior Republican in the House and the only Congressman most Alaskans have ever known.

Fire Briefly Flares Up At Offshore Gas Platform

The Associated Press

The Coast Guard says a contained fire flared up this morning at an offshore natural gas platform in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, but it was quickly tamped down by responders.

Unalaska Residents Weigh In on Aleutian Climate Trends

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Scientists know that the climate in the Aleutian Islands is changing. But they’re making observations from a distance – while on the ground, the story is sometimes very different. That’s what a team of researchers found last month in Unalaska, when they talked to locals about the climate change they’re seeing in their own back yards.

Book Chronicles Young Man’s Commercial Fishing Experiences

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Being a deckhand can be tough, especially if you work for a boat owner who acts like a tyrant. In his new book Dead Reckoning, blank based author Dave Atcheson has written about his experience as a young man with no commercial fishing knowledge, trying to learn the business. His first job was really tough.

AK: Wild Sound

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska writers and naturalists Richard Nelson and Hank Lentfer are nearing the end of a two-year project recording the Voices of Glacier Bay.

The project is a collaboration between Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the University of Alaska Southeast and Cornell University, which houses the world’s largest collection of natural sounds.

Nelson and Lentfer hope to change how we experience the world through a dimension beyond what we can see.

Lentfer and Nelson want us to listen. And Listen closely.

300 Villages: Pilot Point

This week we’re heading to Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula.

Categories: Alaska News

Infectious Disease

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 12:00

What do Alaskans need to know about the first case of Ebola in America and the risk to children from Enterovirus 68? Neither disease is in Alaska, but public health officials are preparing just in case.

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Dr. Michael Cooper, infectious disease program manager, State Division of Public Health
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: October 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 08:00

An Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a tribal adoption case goes against the tribe’s position; what are the broader implications for ICWA cases? Governor Sean Parnell defends his response to the National Guard sexual assault issue. Alaska voters will decide on a number of ballot propositions on November 4, including: marijuana legalization, increasing the minimum wage, and an initiative that would effectively prohibit the Pebble Mine.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Alexandra Gutierrez, Alaska Public Radio Network
  • Casey Grove, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, October 3 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 4 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 4 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell On Defense Over National Guard Response

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 21:00

Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell released a brutal federal report on misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Sexual assault reports were mishandled, and alleged perpetrators were promoted. Military aircraft were used for personal reasons. Two state officials have already resigned as a result of the abuses.

Now, the governor is playing defense, too. With only a few weeks left before Election Day, Parnell is rejecting claims that he did not respond to the problems quickly enough.

At 9:15 a.m., Gov. Sean Parnell announced he was holding a press conference to take questions about the Alaska National Guard alongside Brigadier General Jon Mott, who had come in from Connecticut to help with the reform effort. Less than two hours later, Parnell stood at the podium alone, and with First Lady Sandy Parnell in the audience instead. He explained the catalyst for the appearance was a headline in Thursday’s Alaska Dispatch News.

“‘Parnell Took Years To Act On National Guard Misconduct.’ I believe that statement was false and misleading,” said Parnell.

Parnell directed his remarks to Guard members, even though none were in the room and the brigadier general wasn’t there because of federal rules preventing him from holding press conferences. Parnell asked guardsmen to “question” news coverage that is critical of his response to their concerns, and reiterated that he checked in with recently ousted Adjutant General Thomas Katkus after each complaint his office received.

“Every time I heard an allegation, every time I got an allegation of misconduct — or my office did — we investigated that with Guard leadership,” said Parnell.

Over the course of a half hour, Parnell provided little new information and instead mostly defended his course of action. He did offer that there will be further leadership changes within the National Guard, but would only say he knew of three instances of this and would not name names. Parnell also told reporters that he did not anticipate any changes to his own staff.

“To my knowledge, everybody in my office acted in good faith. They acted reasonably. They did it timely. And I have [seen] nothing to the contrary at this point,” said Parnell. “I do have complete faith and confidence in my staff.”

Parnell called for an investigation into the force this spring, but Alaska National Guard chaplains first approached his office with concerns in 2010. In the following years, the chaplains remained in touch with the Parnell administration and urged him to take action. In e-mails sent in 2012, one chaplain called attention to the promotion of officers who were complicit in sexual assault and engaged in fraud. Many of the allegations in the e-mails were found to have merit, according to a recent report by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations. Parnell says the reason for the lag time between these complaints and the federal probe was that he trusted Katkus that the appropriate processes were being followed.

“I think I was misled on a number of occasions about how well the system was working,” said Parnell. “There’s not question I was. I mean the report demonstrates that.”

When asked by reporters why he trusted the very leadership that was the subject of complaints, Parnell says there are some things he wishes he could have done differently. But he takes umbrage at news coverage that suggests he did not do enough.

“I took full responsibility — and I take full responsibility — for not discovering what I discovered in February and it taking that length of time to get there,” said Parnell. “But I will not take responsibility for a headline that says Parnell failed to act.”

A half hour after Parnell cut the press conference short to catch a flight, a group of a dozen protestors gathered outside his Anchorage office. They were with Alaska Women for Political Action, and they waved signs that said “Stop the Violence” and “Hold Parnell Accountable.”

Barbara McDaniel, who leads the Alaska chapter of the National Organization of Women, doesn’t think Parnell’s response went far enough. She believes Parnell has not released enough information on how his office handled National Guard complaints.

“’Trust me’ — When someone says that to you, you need to watch out,” says McDaniel. “I’m a big fan of trust but verify.”

McDaniel says she’s disappointed that the governor has turned down multiple records requests into how the Office of the Governor responded to complaints made about the Guard, including a request that was made by APRN. She’d like to see some of those documents come out before the November election, in order to just how effectively Parnell’s office handled National Guard concerns. But she’s not optimistic that will happen.

“Well, if I was running for office, I would definitely want to slow it down and have everything come out after I possibly won,” said McDaniel.

Parnell and his policy director, Randy Ruaro, have said they are taking a “broad view” in applying a privacy privilege and rejecting requests for state e-mails that may concern sexual assault victims.

Categories: Alaska News

Education issue fuels candidates for Senate Seat K

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:29

Political newcomer Clare Ross is running against Representative Mia Costello for Hollis French’s old Senate seat, District K in southwest Anchorage. French decided to run for Lt. Governor instead. Now the two women are competing for the opening and are both making the same promise — that they’ll improve education in the state. 

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/02-Senate-K-pkg.wav

On a recent sunny evening, Clare Ross walks through a neighborhood off of Jewel Lake, knocking on doors.

“Hi! My name’s Clare Ross. I’m running for State Senate,” she tells the teenage boy who opens the door. “Can I talk to your folks?”

“Mom!” he shouts up the stairs.

Raquel Divina hustled to the door, her toddler in tow. Ross asks her what’s important to her during this election.

“I think for me, it’s the schools,” she says. “Mainly since I have all my kids — three out of four of my kids go to school.”

Ross says it’s a comment she’s heard all throughout her months knocking on doors, and it’s one of the main focuses of her campaign.

“If we don’t invest in our schools and our kids are falling behind, they’re not going to do well in college or in their careers. And on the other side of that, people aren’t going to want to stay and invest in a community where there are not good schools. So I’m worried that we’re going to lose families, and people are going to go look for opportunities elsewhere if our schools get too bad.”

Thirty-six-year old Ross has never held public office before. She moved to Alaska straight out of college and worked in tourism and biochemistry before taking a position at the Anchorage Public Library.

Ross says while she was there, she worked to improve education both through early literacy programs and by launching Teen Underground. Her support for increasing the Base Student Allocation and forward funding schools earned her a Seal of Approval from the advocacy group Great Alaska Schools.

Ross says the Legislature needs to follow the state’s constitution and adequately fund education. She thinks other things, like the road in Juneau or the Susitna Dam, can wait.

“There are a lot of projects that don’t need to be done this year. They can be pushed back a couple years until our funding looks better. When hopefully the gas pipeline gets going or some of these oil developments get going. And that’s when we should be spending money on these projects.”

Ross’s opponent, Republican Representative Mia Costello, has lived in District K almost her entire life. Before being elected to the House in 2010, the 46-year-old worked as a teacher and a public relations executive.

Costello agrees with her opponent — education needs to take precedence. She negotiated and voted for increasing the BSA in 2014 when serving on the House Finance Committee.

“As a former high school teacher, I’ve been really an important voice to educate other legislators about the challenges of teaching.”

Costello taught for six years and won an award for developing a program where high schoolers ran a mock legislative budget debate.

But unlike Ross, Costello won’t commit to raising the BSA next year. She says it would be irresponsible since she doesn’t know what the state’s revenues will be.

“Our budgets are not sustainable. And so last session we actually reduced the operating budget. And it’s like turning an airplane around,” she says as an airplane buzzes overhead. “And I’m a pilot, I can tell you that turning that plane around will take a little while, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Walking between houses near Sand Lake, Costello says that when she goes door knocking, her constituents don’t just ask her about education.

“For the most part, you know, people have questions about roads and pot holes along their street and things like that. They feel that it’s government’s job to take care of those things, and it is. We have a lot of responsibility to take care of those things.”

As the geese finish flying overhead, Costello heads toward another door.

“Hi!… Hi there,” she says calling to a father and son. “I’m Mia Costello and I’m running for Senate in your neighborhood.”

Both candidates expect to be knocking on hundreds more doors in the final weeks leading up to the November 4th election.

Categories: Alaska News

Hilcorp Drilling Platform Catches Fire In Cook Inlet

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:12

Four people were safely evacuated from a drilling platform in Cook Inlet that caught fire Thursday morning.

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(Photo courtesy Nikiski Fire Department)

The fire on the Baker platform, located about 8 miles offshore of Nikiski and owned by Hilcorp, was reported shortly after 8 a.m. Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson says the platform was in production mode, but shut down quickly.

The Baker platform had solely gas production and it was only from one well, which was shut in, as well as any access to the pipeline system,” Nelson said. “There will be an internal and external investigation once the fire is out and it’s been determined safe for folks to be on that platform again.”

The platform holds 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but none had been spilled, according to the Unified Command that was established to respond to the incident.

Aerial photos show the living quarters of the platform fully engulfed in flames, which had been largely contained by early afternoon.

The four personnel working the platform were evacuated by helicopter.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established a no-fly safety zone at 5,000 feet and a two-mile maritime safety zone around the scene.

Categories: Alaska News

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:11

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture.

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The state says the decision in Tununak v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“Baby Dawn,” not her real name, was four months old in 2008 when the state took custody of her. She was put in foster care with a non-Native family in Anchorage. Because Baby Dawn is Yup’ik, the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, applies. ICWA was enacted to reduce the high number of Native children being placed in non-Native homes. It gives preference to Native families in custody cases. But after the mother’s parental rights were terminated, the foster parents’ petition for adoption of Baby Dawn was approved in 2012. The baby’s grandmother had testified she wanted custody, but didn’t file an adoption petition, which would have required the help of an attorney.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Jacklyn Schafer says the case revolved around the way the grandmother asked to adopt.

“The question in this adoption appeal then became did the grandmother formally seek to adopt the child. Even though she didn’t file an adoption petition, or intervene in the adoption case, or attend the adoption hearing,” says Schafer. “She did testify in the related child in need of aid case placement hearing that she wanted custody.”

Schafer says the Alaska Supreme Court was bound by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against granting custody of Baby Veronica to her Cherokee father. He had mistakenly terminated his parental rights and was seeking to have that overturned. The ruling against him was decided in part because he had not filed a petition to adopt his biological daughter.

The Baby Veronica case was decided by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision. One of the dissenting justices said the ruling violated ICWA’s text and purpose.

Alaska Federation of Natives co-chair Ana Hoffman, of Bethel, says the Alaska court ruling that removes Baby Dawn from her Native family and community also contradicts ICWA.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted to prevent that exact thing from happening,” says Hoffman. “It was to ensure the unification of Native families and Native children and to all Native families to provide the nurturing homes for the Native children that are in care.”

Schafer says the requirement to file an adoption petition means everybody interested in adopting a child will lay their cards on the table at a placement hearing rather than an adoption hearing that would come later in the process. That, she says, will put children into permanent homes more quickly.

“When the child has a permanent placement option that wants to adopt, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to be saying it’s not good enough to have people come forward that far along in the case and say ‘Sure, I want to adopt and see where this goes and I’m interested,’” says Schafer. “That isn’t enough when you have a formal adoption petition on the table and that child could achieve permanency. The U.S. Supreme Court is saying we need to see a formal request to adopt.”

Hoffman says the court has added a costly step to an already complicated process. Schafer says the court directed the court system, tribes, agencies and attorneys to work to make the process of filing an adoption petition easier.

“After the decision,” says Schafer, “the court really emphasized there needs to be more rules to make it easier to file for adoption.”

Hoffman says as it is now, various families can be considered for placement. But she says the addition and complications of getting legal assistance and initiating an adoption case will be insurmountable hurdles for some families. As a result, she says there will be fewer options for the best placement for a child, and more children will be leaving their home communities, with, she says, serious consequences.

“What it would mean for these communities is loss of access, continuation of culture and a loss of the sense of community that should be there,” says Hoffman.

Attorneys for the Native Village of Tununak may ask the court to reconsider its decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

The Nunalleq archeological dig near Quinhagak in August, 2014. (Photo by Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel)

An archaeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer.

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The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

The project, called Nunalleq, meaning ‘old village’, is located five miles outside Quinhagak. Dr. Rick Knecht is an ararchaeologist with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland who manages the dig. He says permafrost at the ancient Yup’ik village of Araliq, preserved artifacts up to 700-years-old made of wood and leather that normally would have disintegrated.

Knecht says that most sites in the Lower 48 provide just ‘stones and bones’, but at the Araliq site they get, “Things like utensils that people used in their daily lives. We get bentwood bowls and scoops. We get ul’us with the handles still on them. We get grass baskets for example, complete grass baskets and woven mats. We’re getting things like weapons and kayak parts, masks and artwork, things that you normally just see in museums. And these all date from between about 1400 and 1600 AD.”

And hundreds of hair samples Knecht says, likely clippings from haircuts were also preserved at the site. Some of those clippings contributed to the study of indigenous Alaskans that was featured in the journal, Science, this summer.

“We contributed about 33 hair samples to the study and I think that’s more than any of the sites were able to produce. Just because of the extraordinary preservation here,” Knecht said.

Dr. Rick Knecht at the Nunalleq dig site. (Photo courtesy of the University of Aberdeen)

There were 169 samples analyzed in the study. The study, led by a group of Danish researchers revealed that the modern Inuit people, including those in Alaska are descended from the Thule, who developed around 700-hundred years ago, replacing an earlier population, the Paleo-Eskimos. The genetic evidence shows there was very little interbreeding, and that the Thule are the ancestors of the Yup’ik and Inupiat people living on Alaska’s west coast today.

“We don’t know the origins of that, of what we call the Thule population or the Neo-Eskimos. But we do know that both in the archaeological evidence, both the artifacts and the genetics look very much alike, surprisingly so, on the two ends of the Arctic, which is the largest indigenous territory of any group in the world,” Knecht said.

Knecht says the donation of the hair clippings from the Araliq site was the sole contribution for the study from Alaska.

Warren Jones is the President of the village corporation in Quinhagak, Qanirtuuq Inc. He says they agreed to work with the archaeologists because they want to learn more about the people who they believe may be their ancestors.

“The archaeologists know what they’re doing. And everything they dig out is going to be brought back to us. So it will be back here for our future, children, generations. Now our future kids, grandkids they’ll be able to see what our ancestors lived, how they lived, what they used, the tools they made. All the little stories are coming alive,” said Jones.

Warren Jones talking to Quinhagak elder Paul Beebe. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cleveland)

Jones says the corporation is interested in comparing the DNA of the ancient people of Araliq with the modern residents of Quinhagak.

“We might get to see who was related to the people of Araliq, that’s pretty cool,” said Jones.

Jones says the corporation in Quinhagak eventually wants to develop ecotourism around the archaeological site, but rapid erosion at the site has made getting artifacts out a priority.

Knecht says it requires a certain level of trust for Native people to allow genetic material to be released for studies, and the over the past five years of the project researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Native people in Quinhagak have built that trust.

The project is funded by Qanirtuuq Inc. and through a $1.8 million grant from the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council.

KYUK reporters visited the Nunalleq archeological site in August. KYUK’s Shane Iverson and Charles Enoch contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 2, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

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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Gov. Parnell Defends Against Claims That Response To National Guard Was Too Slow

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell released a brutal federal report on misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Sexual assault reports were mishandled, and alleged perpetrators were promoted. Military aircraft were used for personal reasons. Two state officials have already resigned as a result of the abuses. Now, the governor is playing defense, too. With only a month left before Election Day, Parnell is rejecting claims that he did not respond to the problems quickly enough.

Fairbanks 4 Member Granted Parole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man imprisoned for murder has been granted parole. The Alaska Parole Board approved Eugene Vent’s request despite continued claims by him and other members of the so called “Fairbanks Four”, that they are innocent.

Hilcorp Drilling Platform Catches Fire In Cook Inlet

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Four people were safely evacuated from a drilling platform in Cook Inlet that caught fire this morning. The Coast Guard says the fire appeared to be out by 1 p.m. but has since flared up again.

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture. The state says the decision in Tununuk v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

An archeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer. The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast, and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

Congressional Candidates Talk Fish in Kodiak

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

Alaska’s congressional candidates descended on Kodiak Wednesday night for a debate that pinned candidates running for both the House and Senate against their opponents on a number of fisheries-related issues.

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A new fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

Categories: Alaska News

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:08

The Fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

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Immediately to the right of the entrance is a food court where healthy snacks will be sold. Straight ahead is the main attraction.

“The main question when I got here is, ‘Is there water in the pool?’ Yes there is water in the pool?” Raunica Ray, the Director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Regional Aquatic Health & Safety Center, said.

In a town with not much indoor recreation to speak of and where the temperature is below freezing much of the year, the center is an exciting prospect. It’s been in the works for decades. Most people don’t call it by its big, unwieldy name, they just call it “The Pool.”

Actually, there are two pools. The biggest one being, a regulation size pool with six lanes separated by blue and white floats. The larger pool can be used for water sports, both competitive and fun. The smaller pool connected to it is more bout fun; A yellow tube slide leads into the smaller pool. It has sensors that signal kids when the slide is clear and it’s safe to slide. The smaller, more shallow pool has a handicap entry and can also be used for therapy. And a Jacuzzi with state of the art jets for maximum therapy.

The pools and the Jacuzzi are filled with well over 100,000 gallons of water that has to be cleaned. The pool looks like it’s constantly overflowing but it’s really draining into small holes just off the edges. Ray explains where the water goes.

“This right here takes it into the surge tank, goes through the surge tank and then refilters throughout the system. Before it goes back into the system, it goes through an ultraviolet light, which kills everything inside of the water,” Ray said. “After going through that ultraviolet light, then its chlorinated and filtered back into the pool.”

A state of the art cleaning system, says Ray. Going into the next room, she explains the large machines that are constantly humming.

“These right here are sand filtration systems for the main pool,” Ray said. “So we have a set of three of ‘em so that way at all times, water is continuously circulating and we have backup pumps as well.”

All of this seems like it would take a lot of power to run, and it does. But Ray explains a windmill outside provides well over half of the power needed to run the center, while the rest comes from the grid. In the next room, is an emergency generator, in case of a power outage. There are also rooms for yoga, dance classes and a workout room.

Bev Hoffman, of Bethel, has been working to make the Center a reality for years, and she says it’s nice to see a longtime dream come true.

“I kept thinking that it will become a reality but for 30 years it was a dream until 2007, the community started to get behind it,” Hoffman said.

In the early days Hoffman and other community members held bake sales and other fundraisers. More recently, funding the project was made possible through several grants and donations. Around $23 million came from the state. The Rasmuson Foundation and The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Diabetes Prevention Program both contributed funds for workout equipment.

Managers say they’re still putting the finishing touches on The Center, and it’s on track for a grand opening in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks 4 Member Granted Parole

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 15:18

A second member of the Fairbanks 4 has been granted parole. The Alaska Parole Board approved Eugene Vent’s request despite his continued claims he’s innocent.

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Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough District 5 Race

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 13:49

Two political newcomers are vying for the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s District 5 seat, since incumbent Darcie Salmon has decided to retire. Borough elections are set for October 7, and the heat is building up in this, the only contested race, which pits two long time community leaders, Bill Kendig and Dan Mayfield, against each other to represent the Borough’s fast growing industrial area.  

The  Borough’s District 5 stretches through back roads from Big Lake to Port MacKenzie, then down Knik Goose Bay Road to the outskirts of downtown Wasilla. The two candidates come from opposite ends of the district, but they are similar in outlook as to what’s needed in the Borough.  Bill Kendig says it’s time he stepped up

“I’m knocking on as many doors as I can. I’ve got some disabilities, I’ve got a bad ankle, but I’m four-wheeling door to door and we are making phone calls.”

  Kendig, who has spent close to three decades living along Knik Goose Bay road, known locally as KGB. He has raised two children while watching his neighborhood grow from a few sparse homes to one of the most traffic-heavy areas within the Borough.   He says traffic congestion makes transportation planning one of the Borough’s most challenging tasks. He says a state plan for KGB is unacceptable

“They’re going to make it a divided highway. The problem is, there is not enough access, there is not enough left hand turns. Now, when they designed that, probably in the summer when it was nice and shiny and dry. What happens in November, December and January, when you’ve got to go a mile and make an U turn on a dark and icy road, just to get to the other side of the road. I’d like to get involved with DOT and their design, and come up with a better design.”

Kendig asks voters to give their opinion on the KGB upgrade on his website.    Perhaps Kendig’s home spun campaign logo: the slogan “KEN ya DIG it!” splashed over a silhouette of a giant backhoe, says it best. He is definitely pro-development:

“It’s coming. It’s not a matter or whether it is going to be here, or whether it’s not going to be here. The development’s coming, the people are coming and it is a matter of when, and are we going to be ready for it.”

Kendig is a small business owner with a background in real estate and scrap metals buying, was on the Knik-Fairview Community Council for fifteen years, and now sits on the Borough’s planning commission.  Kendig also helped to start the Knik Sled Dog Recreation District, the only park in the US dedicated to dog mushing.  But, he says the Borough’s future is linked to it’s development projects.

 ”We have an opportunity in front of us in that port. It’s something that has been worked on for a long time. It’s birth was when Darcie Salmon was mayor, and Ted Stevens kicked in fifty million dollars to start developing it. It was a good idea then, it’s a good idea now. It’s our future. “

Big Lake candidate James “Dan” Mayfield couldn’t agree more.  Mayfield strongly supports Port MacKenzie development, and says the integration of the Port and the new Alaska Railroad spur linking it to Houston could be a big revenue booster for the Borough.. although he admits that at present, that’s not happening. 

“You know, we need to get the port and the railroad going in producing revenues. I think we need to move that forward in a more aggressive time period, so that we can produce revenues. Government is not generally a revenue – generating operation, but we have invested in some infrastrucutures, the port and the railroad for sure, that should be returning revenue to the taxpayers.”

 Mayfield has a long history of service to the Big Lake community, and is founder of Big Lake Trails, Inc, a non profit which improves ATV trails linking Big Lake to Willow and Knik. He’s Vice President of the Big Lake Community Council and a member of the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce.

“My goal is to make the political process work for the average citizen. Local government, more than any other level of government is about people and making the community vision come alive for them. And I just want to help make that a reality in the Borough.”

 Mayfield has raised three children and has retired from the insurance business, where he specialized in property and casualty claims.  He says new Borough growth is bound to cause traffic snarls in some areas, and he points specifically to KGB road.

 ”KGB definitely has some safety concerns. It’s one of the three main safety corridors in the state. I am in favor of the four lane divided option for KGB. You know, safety is one of the concerns of government. I think we have to go with the safest option.”

 District five is the seat of the BIG PROJECTS…Goose Bay Prison, Knik Arm Bridge, Port MacKenzie and its railroad spur. And the Borough has invested money in all of them, often overlooking criticism that Borough spending and Borough income are not in sync.

 ”When we plan projects, we need to make sure we understand all the intricacies of that, and how it’s going to return revenue to the Borough, and relieve our tax burden,”  Mayfield says.

 Other than opposing views on a KGB upgrade, there’s not a lot separating Kendig and Mayfield. At a recent Wasilla luncheon forum, Kendig gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” to a question about bringing cruise ships into Port MacKenzie. Mayfield answered not so fast,” it is an industrial port now, and the prospect needs more review.”  

Categories: Alaska News

Congressional Candidates Talk Fish in Kodiak

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 10:45

Alaska’s congressional candidates descended on Kodiak Wednesday night for a debate that pinned candidates running for both the House and Senate against their opponents on a number of fisheries-related issues.

First to take the stage at the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium were the candidates for U.S. Senate.

Incumbent Senator Mark Begich squared off with Republican candidate Dan Sullivan, answering questions from a media panel, audience members and each other. One topic brought up was Russia’s recent ban on seafood imports from the U.S., and its potential impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry. When asked how he might handle an international issue like this, Sullivan cited his work with the Bush administration as useful experience.

“I served as an assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration. Part of my responsibilities were working to open markets for American goods throughout the world. So I have deep experience, not only working with the state department, where most of this would take place in terms of how we deal with these kind of issues, but also in terms of dealing with sanctions. And the big problem right now with Russia is with sanctions,” Sullivan. “So to me it’s very important to make sure that we go to the state department, we go to the Obama administration and make sure that when we place sanctions on countries, or threaten sanctions, that in many ways we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot by having retaliation that hurts our markets.”

Begich addressed the state’s aging commercial fisheries fleet and how to promote better access for the next generation of young fishermen. He said the cost of entering the industry is very expensive and more needs to be done to help with those costs.

“One thing we should do and consider and I know the state of Alaska has looked at it and we should participate where we can is having a cost-effective loan program so people can afford to borrow if they want to get into the business. Second, there’s been conversation which I think I’m very intrigued about – the Magnuson Stevens Act offers it, it’s never been used – how you do community shares. Community shares are an opportunity where you can engage maybe at a lower cost – engage that first time, as I like to call it, first time home owner,” Begich said. “You know, first time fishermen. To get their feet wet, literally, and be able to do some fishing and understand the business. But you have to have a certain amount of shares available. This concept that now the council is discussing, I’m very intrigued about.”

During the second half of the debates, the candidates for U.S. House took the stage to try their hand at fisheries issues. Incumbent Republican Congressman Don Young was asked whether or not he felt current regulations and environmental cleanup operations in place were sufficient to handle possible environmental damage caused by increased shipping traffic and oil exploration in the Arctic.

“You know again I grew up in Cordova and our issue when I was first going out fishing farmed fish was flooding the market and the price had crashed and people weren’t able to distinguish – and they still have trouble distinguishing between farmed salmon from Norway or Canada or from fresh Alaskan salmon,” Young said. “That’s wrong. They have an inferior product. We have a superior product and it should be labeled as such. Now with regard to Pollock, right now Russians are importing their Pollock calling it Alaskan Pollock. It’s twice frozen; it’s an inferior product; it should be labeled. Now you’re also talking about cooked seafood, I understand that, I support labeling, I support pushing the FDA to strongly label things that say where they’re from. Not just the country but also the region.”

Dunbar was asked his opinion on seafood labeling, and he was quick to express his support of country of origin labeling and an overall strengthening of all seafood labels.

“They’re not sufficient. This is one of our problems. I’m, with Mr. Larsen from Washington State, a congressman, bipartisan, we’re setting up an Arctic Commission,” Dunbar said. “We’ve worked to try to get the Coast Guard established in the Arctic and I’m trying to get new ice breakers. When I say I’m trying, it’s about $1.4 billion to build one. And I don’t see the appetite for that much money. In fact it hasn’t even been asked for. So I’m trying to get them to lease the vessels, maintain the vessels by the leaser and have an ice breaker available with oil recovery equipment.”

All four candidates will be on the November 4 general election ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

With Little Opposition, Minimum Wage Campaign Seeks Mandate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-01 17:45

This past legislative session, a bill that would have raised the minimum wage was among the most divisive items under consideration. Now, a citizen’s initiative to do the exact same thing is about the least controversial question on this year’s ballot.

There’s no spirited dissent to the proposition, and polls show the measure passing by a margin of two to one. So why is that? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how the minimum wage campaign found itself running without organized opposition.

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Rep. Andy Josephson vividly remembers testimony on the minimum wage bill. As a member of the House Labor and Commerce committee, he sat through the failed legislation’s only hearing.

“There was a packed room. There was a lot of media. There were no people testifying, with one exception that I recall, against the bill.”

The one person who testified against raising the minimum wage was a bar owner from Nikiski, who argued it would burden her business.

“There was no organized opposition from the business community, from the Chamber [of Commerce], from the seafood industry, or really anywhere else,” says Josephson.

In what might seem like a funny twist, Josephson ended up voting against the bill when it made a rushed appearance on the House floor, even though he’s now advocating for the wage increase. Actually, the whole story of the minimum wage bill is one of strange bedfellows and accusations of political gamesmanship.

The legislation was introduced by House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski. An initiative to raise the minimum wage to $9.75 over two years and then peg it to inflation had already been certified to appear on the ballot, and the language of the bill was identical.

Initiative sponsors had two theories about this. The first worry was that legislators wanted to pass a minimum wage bill so they could go back and weaken it. If law is made by ballot initiative, legislators can’t touch it for two years, but they can fiddle with it if they pass it themselves.

Josephson points out that’s exactly what happened a decade ago.

“I believe that the intent was what it was in 2003, and that was to pass a bill and then at some later time – as soon as January 2015 — to entertain a bill that would undo, essentially, and amend the existing bill,” says Josephson.

The second theory was that Republicans didn’t want the minimum wage question on the ballot because of the potential to draw out liberal-leaning voters. In a recent interview with member station KTNA, Rep. Wes Keller of Wasilla said that he voted the minimum wage bill as a Republican in part because he was making a “political” calculation based on the “huge ramifications” on who show up in November.”

Speaker Mike Chenault didn’t respond to interview requests about the bill’s origins or whether he supports the proposed initiative. But at the time, Chenault charged it was the Democrats and organized labor playing games in trying to draw out a more sympathetic electorate.

Regardless of the motives, the April fight over the bill has left the usual opponents of a minimum wage increase in a bit of a bind when it comes to the initiative.

Denny Dewitt directs the National Federation of Independent Business’s Alaska chapter. They oppose a further increase to the minimum wage on the grounds that it could reduce employment opportunities, particularly for teenagers. Even though NFIB has been consistent on that position, DeWitt remembers the political overtones of the debate, and he says responding to it was a bit of a conundrum for his lobbying group.

“The question on what we did on that bill really effectively came down to: Do you want it on the ballot or not?” says DeWitt.

In the end, NFIB did not take a position on the minimum wage bill, even though they’re speaking against the initiative now. Same goes for the state Chambers of Commerce, and the industrial seafood processors.
At most, the groups are raising their concerns at public forums. DeWitt says he’s served as the voice of the opposition at state-sponsored hearings because the Lieutenant Governor, Mead Treadwell, asked him to for the sake of balance. The Alaska NFIB chapter has no plans to put money into fighting the measure

“We don’t have the resources to do that,” says DeWitt. “We’re not a huge, well-heeled lobbying activity like some are, so we do what we can.”

The National Federation of Independent Business website boasts that it’s ranked as the top business lobby in the country by Fortune Magazine, and the group has received backing from billionaires Charles and David Koch.
The interplay between the bill and the initiative also has the Alaska Republican Party and some of its candidates straddling positions.

Back during the legislative session, the party put an action alert on their Facebook groups, encouraging confused members to call their senators and ask them to pass the minimum wage bill. (One user commented, “Why do we want to pay them more? Could someone explain that to me?”) Now, Party Chair Peter Goldberg says there’s no official position on the minimum wage initiative.

Dan Sullivan, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, also recently announced he was going to support the minimum wage initiative, after having come out against an increase in the primary. In an e-mailed statement, he stressed it was a personal stance, and that he still opposes any increase at the federal level.
So, initiative sponsors are looking at silence, lukewarm protests, or half-endorsements from groups who might normally fight against them.

This was clear at a recent Anchorage hearing, where multiple pastors spoke in favor of the initiative and supporters waved signs outside the meeting at the Dena’ina Center.

On the anti-side, Denny DeWitt testified over the phone from the airport, a seafood lobbyist came out against it, and a representative from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce offered his disapproval while noting that he didn’t want to look like a villain. And that was it.

Ari Gardner is the campaign director for Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage. He says there have been times when he’s been invited to forums to speak on the initiative that he’s had to help the organizers find someone, anyone to do the counterpoint.

“It’s a good problem to have that we don’t have a solidified opposition,” says Gardner. “But I think we still have a lot of work to do.”

Gardner says this point, the goal isn’t just to win – it’s to secure a mandate. Even though the few polls that have been done on the measure show it clearing 60 percent of the vote, Gardner wants to guarantee as wide a margin as possible to discourage lawmakers from tampering with the minimum wage or the inflation indexing component in the future.

“It’s important that people don’t take for granted that this is going to pass,” says Gardner.

So, he says they’re still planning on running hard, even if there’s no one really running against them.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Grants Boost Services at Aleutian-Pribilof Clinics

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-01 17:44

Community health centers in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands will get at least $600,000 in federal grant money for new services this year. The grants are aimed in part at helping new patients who enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act.

But there aren’t many of those in the Aleutian Islands. Instead, providers will use the money for the patients they already have.

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Jennifer Harrison oversees clinics from Whittier to Adak as executive director of Eastern Aleutian Tribes. She estimates they only had about 11 patients sign up for new health plans on the federal marketplace.

“They’re probably people that were under the self-pay category and that have gotten insurance now. That would be my guess,” Harrison says. “Because we’ve kind of already been seeing everybody in all the communities, so I don’t think it’s necessarily bringing in a new person through the door. It’s just helping that person pay for the services.”

So Harrison’s organization will use their $196,000-dollar grant to contract with a traveling optometrist and physical therapist. They’ll also set up a fund to pay to send people to residential drug and alcohol treatment centers, which right now, Harrison says isn’t happening:

“It’s really this weird gap in services throughout the state — it’s not something the Indian Health Service really supports in a big way, and it’s been really hard for people to get substance abuse treatment,” Harrison says. “Because often, they don’t have a job because of the substance abuse, so then they don’t have the insurance, so there’s nobody to help pay for it.”

Most of Eastern Aleutian Tribes’ patients are insured by the Indian Health Service. Harrison says they can make referrals for detox programs, but until now, they haven’t been able to cover the programs’ costs.

The federal grants will also pay for a mid-level provider on the Pribilof island of St. George for the first time. The Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association is getting a $190,000 grant to help out the clinic there.

Like at Eastern Aleutian Tribes, APIA health administrator Jessica Mata-Rukovishnikoff also says the money will mainly serve current patients — increasing “access to a higher level of service.” But she does say most of St. George’s hundred or so residents enrolled in federal health plans. APIA got another grant to make that happen.

As enrollments go, Unalaska is the outlier in the region — the town’s clinic didn’t have any patients sign up for federal health care. Most of Iliuliuk Family & Health Services’ clients use commercial insurance, or pay out of pocket. Clinic director Eileen Conlon-Scott says those patients haven’t been able to afford to enroll in federal health plans.

“Well, if we could get them on the insurance rolls, our revenues would go up,” Scott says. “But understandably, they don’t have $500 a month to pay in insurance.”

So she says her clinic will use their federal grant like everyone else. They’re getting between $200,000 and $400,000 to pay for new medical equipment and new visiting specialists. It’ll mean more care for the people they’re already treating — and for now, it’ll be at the same price as before.

For the full list of grant recipients in Alaska, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

No Confirmed Cases Of Unusual Respiratory Illness In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-01 17:43

The manager of Alaska’s infectious disease program says it wouldn’t be surprising if an unusual respiratory illness that has affected children in the Lower 48 is detected soon in Alaska.

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So far, Dr. Michael Cooper said Alaska has not had any confirmed cases of enterovirus 68.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable.

The state health department says infection occurs through close contact with someone who is infected or by touching one’s mouth, eyes or nose after touching a contaminated surface. The department says there are no specific anti-viral medications for the illness.

To guard against respiratory illnesses, the department recommends good hygiene and getting a flu shot in early fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Agency Expresses Concern With Dam Studies

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-01 17:42

A federal fisheries agency has raised concerns about the accuracy of some studies being conducted for a massive proposed dam in Southcentral Alaska.

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In a letter to the project manager for the Susitna-Watana dam, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, James Balsiger, said new study requests can’t be developed given the current problems with the data.

Among other things, he questioned the accuracy of the identification of fish species.

Project spokeswoman Emily Ford said overall, the Alaska Energy Authority, which is pursuing the project, is confident in the information it is gathering.

She said the comments raised by agencies and others will be discussed during an upcoming round of technical meetings, at which the authority also will discuss its plans for next year.

Categories: Alaska News

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