Alaska News

Yukon Quest Officials Consider Alternate Route

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:25

Open water on both the Yukon and Tahkini Rivers in Canada has Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Officials considering alternative routing for this year’s race, which starts in Whitehorse, Yukon and finishes 1000 miles later in Fairbanks.

With three weeks before dog teams leave the Canadian city, rumors are circulating about where the start line might be placed. The race organization is keeping quiet until a more comprehensive trail report becomes available next week. According to a press release Monday, trail crews are out working on both sides of the Canada-United States border.

There are currently 26 teams signed up for the 32nd annual race, which starts Feb. 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham Aims To Reimpose Raw Fish Tax

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:17

Driftnet vessels in the Dillingham Harbor waiting on another push of sockeye.
(Photo by Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham)

Dillingham will try again on the fish tax. The City Council voted last week to send an annexation petition forward to the Alaska Local Boundary Commission to annex the Nushagak River Commercial Fishing District. The annexation was adopted by a local vote in 2012 but overturned by a court ruling.

The city hopes to reimpose a 2.5 percent raw fish tax on the district, which is the only commercial fishing district in Bristol Bay that does not currently collect a tax for local use.

Critics say Dillingham needs to find a way to share the tax with other Nushagak drainage communities, or focus on forming a borough.

The city’s annexation petition will now be sent to the LBC for review. The city hopes it ends up in Juneau for a legislative review in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta ‘Subsidizes’ Landfill – and Wonders Where’s the Missing 400 Tons of Trash?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:13

Delta’s landfill got nearly a third less trash – and revenue – in 2014 than city officials were expecting. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

City of Delta Junction officials are worried about the rising cost of operating the city’s landfill. And they’re  wondering what happened to the 400 tons of trash they were expecting to be dumped there.

How do you lose 400 tons of trash? That’s a question Delta Mayor Pete Hallgren is trying to answer after finding out the city got one-third less tonnage of solid waste dumped into the city landfill last year than expected.

“The amount of garbage that’s come in has dropped – fairly dramatically,” he said. “Which means we’re taking in less revenue now than we were four years ago.”

Hallgren says landfill use has been slowly declining over the past four years. But he says the dropoff of tipping fees last year is putting pressure on the city budget.

“Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to at least recognize the fact that the landfill is just not paying its way right now,” he said.

The City Council intended the landfill to be self-supporting after it was built in 2005. But Hallgren says the city has been “subsidizing” the operation over the past few years with money coming out of a $300,000 state grant. But he says that can’t continue, because the remaining money is needed to expand the facility.

“It’s looking like we are out over a $100,000 out of that grant,” he said. “And we’re going to have to use the grant to build a new cell. We don’t need it quite yet, but you’ve got to build them before you need them. So, the grant is not going to be available.”

Delta Sanitation management and owners declined to talk about the company’s problems, despite several phone calls and a visit to their office earlier this month. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Last month the city council hiked landfill tipping fees by 28 percent, from $125 to $160 per ton. It was almost enough to close the revenue gap. Hallgren says closing the landfill is not an option.

Meanwhile, the question remains: where’s the missing 400 tons of trash?

The mayor, and others, says some is getting dumped at Fairbanks North Star Borough transfer sites in Salcha.

“Let’s face it – Delta people go to Fairbanks. And there’s transfer stations on the way to Fairbanks from Delta.”

Data from the borough’s hauling contractor shows trash dumped at Salcha and other borough  transfer sites increased last year, but there’s no way to determine how much of that came from people from outside the borough.

City officials also are concerned at least some of the missing trash has been burned or buried in unregulated dumps, though there’s been no report of that around Delta.

But one area resident did report tons of trash being stored on the property of the local trash-hauling company.

“You could very definitely smell rotting garbage,” said Stacy Petersen, who lives down the road from Delta Sanitation in a mainly residential area.

Petersen says she’d been complaining to the company for storing trash in big rolloff-type dumpsters on its property for weeks. One day last fall she and her husband, Jamie, came across an overwhelming stench wafting from the property while they were out walking their dogs.

“The smell was so bad we could only go halfway and then we turned around and came back,” she said.“That’s when I told Jamie I said ‘That’s it. I’ve had enough.’”

Petersen took her complaints to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, which launched an investigation. Delta Sanitation officials told the agency they’d run into financial problems and had to store trash on their property until they could catch up on payments to the city so they could start using the landfill again. The city had started turning away Delta Sanitation trash trucks early last year after the company racked up thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

In October, the agency ordered Delta Sanitation to fix its finances and pay the city.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered Delta Sanitation to remove the trash and take it to the landfill.

Company officials declined to talk to KUAC. But last month they did haul seven tons to the landfill.

City officials admit they still can’t account for what happened to the other 393 tons of trash.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Outlines Priorities For Legislative Session

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 17:15

The Alaska Legislature gavels in Tuesday afternoon for the 29th session. Lawmakers – along with all Alaskans will get a better sense of Governor Bill Walker’s agenda for the next 90 days in two speeches this week – the State of the State and the State of the budget.

Walker took some time today to talk about his priorities. He says he has a few guiding principles as he crafts a budget this year.

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Categories: Alaska News

How Will The Keystone XL Pipeline Affect The Future Of Alaska’s Crude?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 17:14

The fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline is likely to heat up in Congress this week. Senate Bill 1 would permit the pipeline to cross the Canadian border into Montana, moving Alberta tar sands oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as the new chairman of the Energy Committee, is leading the Republican charge. But, some Alaskans say she’s pulling for the wrong project.

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Mike Wenstrup, chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party, says Murkowski should be working to advance Alaska’s energy projects, not Canada’s. In an op-ed published in the Alaska dispatch News this weekend, he alleges she’s following orders from pro-Keystone lobbyists. For Wenstrup, it’s a direct line between the dots.

“The low oil prices the sands development in Alberta isn’t viable without Keystone,” Wenstrup said. “Alberta sands, tar sands, compete with Alaska oil fields for capital. Promoting Keystone will help our competitors in Canada, at the expense of our fields.”

Murkowski, on the Senate floor last week, said she’s been hearing from constituents who wonder if Keystone would be bad for Alaska.

“I’ve been asked, they say ‘Well we understand Keystone is in the national interest. We get that. But, is it really in Alaska’s best interest?’ And folks back home are a little worried right now,” she said.

Murkowski says Keystone helps Alaska. For one thing, she says, the pipeline is expected to pick up some Bakken shale oil, from Montana and North Dakota, as it heads down to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  Without the pipeline, Murkowski says, some of that oil moves by rail to West Coast refineries, which is where Alaska’s oil goes.

“This ANS crude, Alaska North Slope crude, as we call it, now finds itself in competition with the shale plays out in the Bakken,” Murkowski said.

Keystone will redirect that oil south, leaving more refinery space for Alaska crude, Murkowski says.

We put the question to two oil economists. Both said Keystone would do no harm to Alaska oil prices or investment in Alaska fields. Kenneth Medlock is the senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

“In reality, the amount of oil you’re talking about moving out of the KeystoneXL pipeline down to the Gulf Coast is not enough to really do significant harm to the economic viability of ANS,” Medlock said.

Medlock says the Keystone output and Alaska oil differ in weight and composition, and in an efficient system wouldn’t likely go to the same refineries. Medlock says the oil from Keystone will displace oil at the Gulf Coast refineries, but it will be heavy barrels from Venezuela and Mexico that are displaced, not those from the North Slope. He says the same of investment dollars. If Keystone makes Alberta projects more attractive, it’s at the expense of Venezuela and Mexico, he says.

“When you take a step back and look at it from a broader, global perspective and understand the efficient flow of crude oil and understand the differences in grades of crude oil, I think it actually makes a lot of sense for Alaska to support Keystone, believe it or not,” Medlock said.

As Medlock sees it, when everybody’s oil moves efficiently to the most appropriate refinery, everybody benefits.

Ed Hirs, who teaches energy economics at University of Houston, also says Keystone XL isn’t a threat to Alaska’s development, citing similar reasons. Heavy Canadian crude is already flowing down pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries, Hirs says, and just last week that capacity shot up when a new line opened.

“Keystone’s just one more avenue for doing that,” Hirs said. “This is not going to depress the price.”

The existing low prices do inhibit investment, but Hirs says the harm is much greater in North Dakota and Alberta than in Alaska, where production is relatively cheap.

“We’re seeing hundreds of rigs being laid down in the shale plays right now across the United States,” Hirs said. “And this will only portend well for Alaskan development because of the size of the conventional reservoirs in Alaska that could be accessed.”

Senator Murkowski says Alaskans should also want to see Keystone built as a test.

“It’s a test of whether or not we as a nation can still review, can license, can permit and build a large-scale energy infrastructure project,” Murkowski said.

If we can’t build this one, she says, what hope do we have for Alaska’s next big project.

Categories: Alaska News

Environmental Groups Support EPA’s Proposal on Chemical Dispersant Use

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 17:13

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last week to review the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill response. An environmental group based in Homer was part of the first push to change the existing dispersant rules.

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In some ways, this review began as a result of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“British Petroleum sprayed almost two million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico and we recognize we really don’t understand the toxicity of this product; we don’t know what’s in it,” says Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inletkeeper, a member organization of the Earthjustice coalition. “So, we got together with other groups across the nation and we petitioned EPA to finally release this rule.”

Deepwater Horizon Spill – (Photo via nature.com)

Mathy Stanislaus is the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

“I am responsible for, among other things, overseeing the emergency planning and response program for EPA,” Stanislaus said.

He says there is already a rule in place. But the BP spill caused a wave of community concern and feedback that EPA is now addressing. The proposed changes would take a more in-depth look at dispersants and their short and long-term impacts in different environments.

“Looking at different kinds of conditions – How do these agents react to cold conditions versus warmer conditions? How should we look at different kinds of species? So, it’s a far broader set of considerations than are currently in the rule and what we incorporated during Deepwater Horizon,” says Stanislaus.

The revisions would also take a more aggressive approach to monitoring dispersants. Stanislaus says there would be parameters in place to decide whether or not to use them. Then, he says the rule would push for minimizing use to decrease impacts to the shoreline and wildlife.

“So we monitor those impacts and if it were to exceed the level that we have established, then we would stop using dispersants,” says Stanislaus. “So, we bring those kind of monitoring requirements as part of the basic structure of the rule.”

The revisions include more research on the toxicity of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents. There would also be new criteria for listing products as appropriate for oil spill response based on effectiveness and toxicity. EPA states that dispersant manufactures will use a peer reviewed laboratory method for testing the products.

“To make sure that it is a rigorous scientific analysis of the agents for EPA to be able to evaluate and list it, pursuant to this rule,” says Stanislaus.

But the wildlife and environment aren’t the only concerns addressed in the proposal. There would be additional human health and safety information requirements, which Shavelson says, is very important.

“There were an untold number of illnesses in the gulf from the BP oil spill and the use of dispersants and we don’t have a good handle on that,” says Shavelson. “So, we really want to understand what that means if we’re going to use dispersants in and around Alaskan communities.”

He says he’d like to see some of the studies move outside the lab to get the most accurate and diverse set of data possible. Especially in extremely biodiverse cold water environments like Alaskan waters, he says it’s hard to be sure exactly what will happen.

“I think we need to talk to our scientists and get a better understanding on where you could have a controlled experiment where you’re not going to have undue impacts but you’re going to understand how dispersants behave,” says Shavelson.

EPA is accepting public comments on the proposal 90 days following publication in the federal register.

Categories: Alaska News

Lonnie Dupre Returns Safely From Historic Denali Climb

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 17:12

Climber Lonnie Dupre has returned to Talkeetna after becoming the first soloist to ever summit Denali in the month of January.

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Lonnie Dupre’s historic climb began on December 18th, and he summited Denali on January 11th just after 2:00 pm. This was Dupre’s fourth attempt at the unprecedented feat of being the first person to climb the mountain solo in January. Veteran climber Willi Prittie says January is a tough month for climbing in Alaska, when the longest periods of daylight stretch just past six hours.

(Photo credit: John Walter Whittier)

“You’ve got to be really on top of your self-care, your logistical stuff, and take advantage of every little bit of daylight that you have, and it isn’t any too much in something like January,” Prittie said.

Like most climbs on North America’s tallest peak, the weather factored into Lonnie Dupre’s expedition. He says one big difference between this year and his prior attempts was the amount of snow.

“The hardest thing, hands down, on this trip for me was the deep snow,” Dupre said. ”We had very deep snow right out of base camp and all the way up to the top of the mountain, almost. And dragging a, in the begging, a 194 pound sled through that deep snow–it doesn’t slide. It just plows.”

Dupre was helped through the snow by his homemade skis, which are eight feet long and four inches wide. He says the snow was due to warm weather and low-pressure in the Alaska Range. Lonnie Dupre says that warmth can actually be a problem.

“I would much, much, much prefer thirty-or-forty-below zero day in and day out, because you’re drier, you can operate better, and usually when it’s that cold you don’t have the winds with that,” Dupre said.

One time that the winds did play a major role in the climb was when Lonnie Dupre was between 10,000 and 11,000 feet of elevation. He says the wind picked up and started blowing lots of snow. He stashed much of his gear and went ahead to establish his camp. Then the weather really moved in and caught Dupre with meager supplies.

Lonnie building his snow shelter at 14.2K with Denali’s summit ridge in the background. Photo courtesy of Lonnie Dupre.

“Just a day and a half’s worth of food and twenty-two ounces of fuel, which is about three days worth of fuel,” he said. “I had to stretch the food and the fuel for five and a half days, so I was a scrawny, cranky, kind of scared individual.”

Lonnie Dupre says he was scared because he knew there was no way for help to arrive if conditions didn’t improve. He says one or two more days might have seen him succumb to lack of food or warmth. Eventually, Mother Nature relented, and Dupre was on his way again.

As he reached the higher section of Denali, Lonnie Dupre says the forecast called for a window of two days with weather good enough to perhaps try to reach the summit. In the dark hours of the morning on January 11th, he made his run. Right around 2:00 p.m., Dupre saw what he had spent four years trying to reach, the official marker for the highest point in North America.

“I saw that, and I just broke down a little bit, because it’s been four years of hard work,” Dupre said. “And I spent ten minutes, no longer, on the top. I gave a good look around, twice. Then, I started high-tailing out of there.”

The wind was picking up yet again, but Lonnie Dupre was able to get back to his camp and his gear before it got too rough. Then, it was a race against weather moving in from the south. Dupre made it to base camp at 7,200 feet on December 14th, but high winds prevented his pick-up by airplane. The next day, though, Talkeetna Air Taxi pilot Paul Roderick says the weather, which was not forecast to be favorable, opened up.

“I thought we might have a little window to work with…but not this good,” Roderick said. ”It was actually generally improving. It was still windy, but actually [at base camp] it was calm and twenty degrees. It was just perfect conditions. It couldn’t have been better.”

Lonnie Dupre, after cold, snow, storms, and wind, had achieved his goal and returned safely to the lowlands. He was greeted by sponsors, friends, and members of Talkeetna’s climbing community.

With a successful trip behind him, Lonnie Dupre says he will likely come back to Talkeetna, but probably for slightly less strenuous activities than climbing to the top of the continent by himself during the coldest, darkest period of the year. For now, he’s just happy to be back.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 19, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 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. Walker Outlines Priorities For Legislative Session

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Legislature gavels in tomorrow afternoon for the 29th session. Lawmakers – along with all Alaskans will get a better sense of Governor Bill Walker’s agenda for the next 90 days in two speeches this week – the State of the State and the State of the budget.

Walker took some time today to talk about his priorities. He says he has a few guiding principles as he crafts a budget this year.

With Focus On Budget, Social Issues May Be Left Behind

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers have a lot to accomplish this session. There’s the multi-billion dollar deficit the state faces. There’s also work to be done on Alaska’s marijuana laws, after voters decided to legalize and regulate the drug in November. The full agenda means other controversial subjects- like abortion- may take a backseat.

How Will The Keystone XL Pipeline Affect The Future Of Alaska’s Crude?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline is likely to heat up in Congress this week. Senate Bill 1 would permit the pipeline to cross the Canadian border into Montana, moving Alberta tar sands oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as the new chairman of the Energy Committee, is leading the Republican charge. But, some Alaskans say she’s pulling for the wrong project.

Environmental Groups Support EPA’s Proposal on Chemical Dispersant Use

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal last week to review the use of chemical dispersants in oil spill response. An environmental group based in Homer was part of the first push to change the existing dispersant rules.

Lonnie Dupre Returns Safely From Historic Denali Climb

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Climber Lonnie Dupre has returned to Talkeetna after becoming the first soloist to ever summit Denali in the month of January.

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser Wins Kuskokwim 300

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser is king of the Kuskowkim.  Kaiser and his team crossed the finish line of the Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel at 5:31 Sunday morning with a team of nine dogs in the 36th running of the race. Kaiser is the first local musher in 29 years to win the Kusko 300.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser Wins Kuskokwim 300

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-01-19 15:57

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser is the 2015 Kuskokwim 300 champion. Kaiser and his team crossed the finish line in Bethel at 5:31 Sunday morning with a team of nine dogs in the 36th running of the race.

Kaiser is the first local musher in 29 years to win the race.

Rohn Buser had a seven-minute edge on Kaiser as they left the final four-hour layover at Tuluksak Sunday morning after midnight. Kaiser passed Buser on the way to Bethel.

Pete Kaiser at the 2015 Kuskokwim 300 finish with his lead dogs, Palmer and Rosie. – Photo by Chris Pike

A crowd chanted for Kaiser at the finish line, where he met many friends and fans. “It’s kind of crazy, it’s like a dream come true. I don’t really know what to say” said Kaiser.

Fan’s led a chant for Kaiser as he came into the finish, saying, “It’s all about that Pete!” as he raced into Bethel. When he arrived a fan handed him a bottle of champagne which the normally reserved musher shook and showered himself and the crowd.

Kaiser began mushing as a kid in Bethel. He grew up watching the Kuskokwim 300. Among those cheering Kaiser at the finish were his parents, who also live in Bethel. He hugged his girlfriend Bethany, who met him with their two-year-old boy Ari.

The race was shorter this year by about 30 miles and the trail limited to the Kuskokwim River from Bethel to Aniak and back. Racers made required stops at checkpoints to rest and care for dogs. The shorter distance plus ice made the race the fastest ever and made for a pre-dawn finish.

Defending champion Rohn Buser led nearly the entire race until Kaiser passed him after the Tuluksak checkpoint with about 45 miles left.  Kaiser had been steadily gaining on Buser for the later two thirds of the race.

The Kaiser family, (left to right) Janet Kaiser, Bethany Hoffman, Pete Kaiser holding Ari, Ron Kaiser. – Photo by Chris Pike

Any hope Buser might have held to regain the lead was lost when he took a wrong turn into Church Slough about 12 miles from the finish as the race neared Bethel. It’s unclear exactly what the consequences will be for diverting from the main race trail. Race manager Zach Fansler told KYUK that the race committee will be meeting later Sunday to sift through facts and make a ruling.

At the finish Kaiser told reporters he knew about the navigational error because someone texted him. He said the wrong turn was easy to make. Buser ended up taking a local truck trail that veered off to the left of the main channel of the river. Buser’s final time into the checkpoint was 5:44 a.m.

“I missed the one you can’t miss,” said Buser.

The younger Buser led the race up until the Kwethluk checkpoint. His father Martin Buser, according to GPS, made the same wrong turn.

The last local musher to win the K300 title was Bethel’s Myron Angstman in 1986.

“It’s pretty cool, it’s a community event,” said Kaiser. “It’s taken a long time for that to come around and it’s cool it finally happened.”

Buser shot out to an early lead with a fast team through the first half day of racing, while Kaiser and his team sat back and raced in the middle of the pack. His leaders, Palmer and Rosie, picked up the pace as the course continued upriver. He had the fastest run times going into Aniak and back to Kalskag. He and Jeff King systematically chipped away at Buser’s lead until Kaiser passed Buser in the early morning hours of Sunday outside of Tuluksak.

Pete Kaiser was met by a crowd of fans at the K300 finish line in Bethel at 5:31 a.m. Sunday morning. Photo by Chris Pike

“This team is so locked into a speed right now. Whether they’re fresh or tired, they get locked into that consistent speed,” said Kaiser.

Jeff King arrived at 5:58 a.m. in third place. Tony Browning was fourth into Bethel at 6:31 a.m., and Ken Anderson fifth at 6:35 a.m.

Kaiser called the K300 trail “totally doable”. The Yukon Kuskokwim Delta had received little snow and been plagued with temperatures that bounced up above freezing then back down again all season. The hometown favorite trained in Nenana due to lack of snow and warm temperatures in the YK Delta. Village crews used a bulldozer and other heavy equipment to clear the race trail through a giant ice jumble that formed during a November breakup just below Kalskag. Racers battled rain and icy conditions on the way up to Aniak. Snow fell just as the race got going, with about an inch and a half blanketing the icy trail, improving conditions on the way back to Bethel.

Kaiser’s time was the fastest ever, but before the race, organizer Myron Angstman said this year’s time will be an asterisked time due to a shorter trail. This year’s trail did not include the Whitefish Lake loop.

Kaiser was victorious in his seventh Kuskokwim 300. He’s a three-time Best in the West winner, including 2014. He is the first musher to win all three Kuskokwim 300 weekend races; the Kuskokwim 300, the Bogus Creek 150, and the Akiak Dash. His team this year includes several three-year-olds with a year of racing under their belts.

This year’s Kuskowim 300 race was the richest ever, totaling $123,300. Kaiser earns $25,000 for his first place performance.

Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

With Focus On Budget, Social Issues May Be Left Behind

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2015-01-18 19:02

When the Legislature gavels in on Tuesday, there are a few things it must deal with. There’s the multi-billion dollar deficit the state faces. There’s also work to be done on Alaska’s marijuana laws, after voters decided to legalize and regulate the drug in November. This full agenda means other controversial subjects may take a backseat. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that lawmakers expect bills on social issues, like abortion, to get less attention than last cycle.

When Republicans took control of both chambers of the Legislature two years ago, social conservatives viewed it as a win. Legislation restricting Medicaid payments for abortion, a long-standing priority for them, finally got hearings and was even signed into law before being enjoined by the courts.

But even though the composition of the Legislature is mostly the same, advocates for anti-abortion measures — like waiting periods and clinic regulations — aren’t expecting to get as much traction, due to the attention on the state’s budget.

Jim Minnery is the president of Alaska Family Action.

“It’s just one more session with just one more reason to put our issues on the backburner,” says Minnery. “We’re sort of the ugly stepchild in the room when it comes to issues down in Juneau. I mean even our allies sometimes have a hard time charging the hill.”

Beyond a climate where lawmakers are more focused on fiscal issues, leadership of some of the committees that traditionally address abortion bills has changed in a way that is less friendly to such legislation.

One of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans, Lesil McGuire, has taken over the Judiciary committee. She takes the reins from Sen. John Coghill, a socially conservative Republican from North Pole, who sponsored the Medicaid abortion bill and shepherded it through the Senate.

With the Health committees, both the House chair — Homer Republican Paul Seaton — and the Senate Chair — Sitka Republican Bert Stedman — have voted against legislation restricting abortion access.

Over the past 20 years, all but one bill concerning abortion has been sent to Judiciary, to Health and Social Services, or both. The one exception was legislation to create a “Choose Life” license plate.

Senate President Kevin Meyer says that trend will likely continue if an abortion bill is introduced this session.

“That seems like the appropriate places,” says Meyer.

Minnery sees that as an obstacle to abortion legislation moving forward.

“Certainly I can’t say we were pleased with Seaton and Stedman being given those chairs, because they’ve shown a repeated resistance to advancing our legislation,” says Minnery.

Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest is also looking at the committee chairs, but from the opposite policy perspective.

“We’re tracking who these committee chairs are,” says Jennifer Allen, a policy director with the group. “We haven’t seen them in action yet, so we don’t know what that’s going to look like. But again, we will simply keep talking to them about why they should be setting aside any anti-abortion bills and addressing the real issues that affect Alaska women’s health.”

House Health Chair Paul Seaton says would like to hold hearings on all bills assigned to his committee, no matter the subject matter. But he says that the Legislature’s biggest fight over abortion — how the term “medically necessary” should be defined for the purposes of Medicaid reimbursement — has already played out.

“On that issue particularly, there’s already been a bill on that. There’s already been regulations which are being challenged in court,” says Seaton. “So I think that’s already probably progressed as far as that’s going to be.”

But the way Medicaid treats abortion could get attention from the Legislature in another way, because of the nebulous status of that law. Last year, a judge issued an injunction against the law, which allows Medicaid reimbursements only in cases where a woman’s life or “physical health” is seriously at risk, after Planned Parenthood challenged its constitutionality.

Medicaid expansion is a top priority of Gov. Bill Walker, who campaigned heavily on the issue. The socially conservative lobby, led by Jim Minnery, is opposing the proposal on the grounds that it could expand abortion coverage.

So far, none of the early bills that have been filed address abortion, though there is legislation supported by social conservatives that would change the makeup of the state’s judicial council. Sen. John Coghill is working on bills to regulate abortion, but says that dealing with the state’s fiscal problems will come first.

Senate President Kevin Meyer agrees.

“Well, they won’t be a priority but that’s not to say that they won’t get through the process, get on the floor, and still get passed this year,” says Meyer.

If an abortion restriction bill makes it through the Legislature, it may put Walker in a difficult situation. Walker personally opposes abortion, and sought support from Alaska Family Action earlier in his political career when he was registered as a Republican. When he abandoned his party affiliation and merged his ticket with Democrat Byron Mallott, Walker said he would not advance an anti-abortion agenda and, at one point, stated he would veto anti-abortion bills before later rescinding that statement.

Minnery says Alaska Family Action hopes to “rekindle its relationship” with Walker.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough Mulls Marijuana Regulation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 16:41

 There’s no shortage of ideas as to how to deal with legal pot in the Valley.  

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly is considering drafting an ordinance establishing  marijuana regulations. To that end, the mayors of the three cities within the Borough and the Mat Su Borough mayor collectively called for public input on the proposed legislation. With many of the legal aspects of the state’s new marijuana law still to be defined, Palmer mayor DeLena Johnson cautioned:

“This is something we have to take control of before it gets away from us at a higher level”

The four mayors and Borough attorney listened for about two and a half hours, and may have been surprised at what they heard. Unlike the passionate pre-election arguments for or against legalization, those who spoke Thursday were focused on taking full advantage of marijuana -related business opportunities. Wasilla’s Sarah Williams:

“First thing that I’d like to address is that the committee or state allow for the co-existence of the cultivation, production and dispensary facilites under one roof. The reason for this is the control from seed to sale, for consumer protection.”.  Williams made a pitch for  product contaminant testing .

David Holt praised the Valley’s potential pot crop:

“We have an opportunity to make this safer, because it already exists. We have a thriving marijuana industry right now. The Valley is actually world – renowned for its marijuana.”]

Houston Lodge owner Ellie Locks wants limited entry:

“We need to make residency of Alaska and the different cities and boroughs very important before we release any permits.”]

But Justin Rowland took a laissez faire attitude:

“Why would we put a lottery on something and allow only so many permits, and only allow so many people to do it, when the whole point is to bring in as much tax revenue as possible, correct? So, please do not limit this. Please do not allow only so many permits. Let the consumers make the market and set the price.” 

  Questions were raised about insurance requirements and fair taxation for fledgling businesses, and many at the forum were adamant about keeping out – of- staters away from a potentially lucrative industry. Many exploring the possibility of pot- related businesses wanted an exclusive Alaska resident-only clause for future growers and dispensaries.  Businesswoman Holly Lee:

“Say, in Colorado, there was a lot of California cannabis brought in, and I want to see Alaskans be able to provide the hemp and the cannabis for our own state and our own industry.”

Conrad Daly with the Alaska Cannabis Growers Association wanted a distinction for rules governing “commercial” and “hobby” growers.  Bruce Shulte, with Coalition For Responsible Cannabis Legislation focused on hemp

“With regard to hemp, I think this part of the state is set up to capitalize on that commercial market. It is a different product, and my understanding is that a bill that will be brought forth in front of the legislature will address hemp as a separate activity, and I’m hoping it will pass, because I think that would be a great opportunity for some of the farmers in the Valley.”

 

This week, Senator Johnny Ellis (D Anchorage ) pre – filed a bill that would make hemp an agricultural product in Alaska.

The Borough Assembly takes up the proposed legislation along with a resolution creating a marijuana advisory committee at its meeting next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Prefile 23 More Bills

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:59

Lawmakers submitted 23 early bills today, after having prefiled more than 60 pieces of legislation last week.

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A bill from Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, could delay the sale of marijuana concentrates and food products that contain them to the end of 2016. The bill contains intent language noting the difficulty of regulating these substances in states that have already legalized marijuana.

Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, has filed a voter ID bill that would require Alaskans to display a driver’s license or other photo ID when going to their polling station. Lynn has introduced two similar bills in the past, but neither have made it to the House floor for a vote.

The Legislature gavels in for business on Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:58

A new film produced by the University’s Museum of the North in Fairbanks, seeks to reveal the secrets of the undersea migration life of bowhead whales. The animated film is called A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale. The film features English, Inupiaq and St Lawrence Island Yupik narration.

Roger Topp heads up digital media at the museum. He wrote and directed the film. He told APRN’s Lori Tow nsend the project started four years ago and was inspired by the linear passage of time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim 300 Mushers Ready to Race on Ice

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:57

Musher Lance Mackey files paperwork with K300 Race Manager, Zack Fansler Thursday. – (Photo by Dean Swope)

Twenty-five mushers are set to race from Bethel to Aniak and back in the 36th running of the Kuskokwim 300. After a couple winter warmups, and little snow, this year’s trail follows the truck road on the river almost exclusively to Aniak and back, cutting out the loop near Whitefish Lake.

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That trail is expected to be icy and fast. Nenana musher Aaron Burmeister isn’t phased by a slick trail.

“One year it could be deep snow an a white out and a blizzard, the next year open water or glare ice. Right now from what I’m seeing, these are favorable conditions. I’ve been here seven times, this is one years of better conditions I’ve seen,” Burmeister said.

Crews from several Kuskokwim villages worked together to clear a large jumbled section of ice resulting from a November break up. Vehicle traffic has further improved the ice. In any case, defending champion Rohn Buser says after running in little snow around Big Lake, his team is ready for a hard trail.

“We’ve been training on that pretty much all year. Maybe not quite as icy, it will probably a little harder footing, but we’ve had pretty firm, pretty hard packed trails, so we’re used to running on that,” Buser said.

The race mileage was estimated at 260 to 270 miles at the musher’s meeting Thursday. Eight of the top 10 mushers from 2014 return, including 9-time champing Jeff King.

“I’m not sure my team is the fastest, in fact I’m quite sure it’s not, but there won’t be anyone with more depth of conditioning. I’ve got a big team, a physical team. They’re not little peewee ice dogs, man, these are musk ox, but they’re fast musk ox,” King said.

Veteran Yukon Quest and Iditarod musher Brent Sass is in Bethel for his first K300.

“I’m excited to see new county I don’t have a lot of concerns. I have to be aware that I don’t lose the trail, but it sounds like the trail is marked well. I’m going to rely on my dogs to stay on the trail, I’m just really excited to be here. I wanted to run this race for a long time and the opportunity arose and we’re here. We’re ready to race,” Sass said.

Fan favorites DeeDee Jonrowe and Lance Mackey are back for the Kusko, along with six YK Delta mushers. First on the trail will be Ken Anderson, departing alongside Brent Sass. Mushers will be limited to 12 dogs, down from 14 in past years.

Six teams are registered for the Bogus Creek 150. The Akiak Dash is Saturday.

The K300 is not allowing spectator vehicles on the ice at the start due to the condition of the ice. They urge travelers to be extra cautious this weekend sharing the truck trail with dog teams.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Starring

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:55

Members of Unalaska’s Holy Ascension Cathedral congregation spin traditional stars for Russian Christmas, or Slaaviq, which took place last week. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different than elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town has evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths.

So the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik has more on how their Slaaviq has become a community celebration.

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In Unalaska’s historic downtown, Christmastime means almost every building is strung with lights – all but the Orthodox Church, which sits at the back of the neighborhood. Its green onion domes date back 200 years, standing out in a skyline of cargo cranes and seafood plants.

Outside the church, you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas – until early January, when a rare sound rings out across the island.

In the sanctuary, about 15 worshippers are singing a set of Russian and English carols. They’re grouped around a pair of spinning wooden stars, each a few feet across and strung with lights, bells and tinsel. This starring ceremony will repeat dozens of times in the next few nights, in kitchens and living rooms across town.

The congregation and other Unalaskans gather for a starring at Unalaska’s senior center. At far right, Father Evon Bereskin joins in the caroling. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

But the biggest, newest part of the holiday came earlier in the day. At least 100 people packed into the local senior center for a community Slaaviq potluck. The meal only dates back about 15 years, designed to give the elders a starring in the daytime.

“The meaning of the celebration of the nativity of Christ, the starring, is that we’re going out to proclaim the birth of Christ,” says Father Evon Bereskin, the Orthodox priest for Unalaska and several nearby villages.

“The stars that we’re spinning are the stars which the wise men followed,” he says. “So we’re spinning and singing and following the star, which leads us to Christ.”

From here, Bereskin says they’ll spend three days starring in people’s homes. These days, that can include longtime Unalaskans who aren’t actually part of the congregation.

But the list for the second night is all church-goers. The group that will bring the star to them is bigger than the one at the church. They meet at Father Bereskin’s apartment for coffee and brownies, then try to figure out who is next – and spread the word via text message.

Vince Tutiakoff, choir leader: Okay, listen up. We’re gonna go to Monty’s, Shirley’s, Vicki’s, Jenny’s…

Lifelong Unalaskan Sharon Svarny Livingston is one of the starring group. She says this part has changed a lot since she was little, when the town looked more like the villages that celebrate Slaaviq in the rest of Alaska.

“In all those other places, you walk with the star all over the whole town, you know? So that creates a different feeling. Here you’ve gotta drive,” Svarny Livingston says. “And if you’re working and you don’t get off until late, you’ve gotta try to find the star, which can be really difficult sometimes.

“It’s easier now with cell phones,” she adds, laughing.

The congregation after a starring ceremony in Father Bereskin’s kitchen. This white star is thought to be more than a century old. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

The congregation’s also had to condense some over the years. With many parents now raising their kids to celebrate two Christmases – American and Russian – Svarny Livingston says they’ve had to work harder to pass on the traditions.

“We kind of went through a period where we really had to teach the young kids the songs and stuff,” she says. “We all started to go in one group and we just kind of stayed that way. That’s what’s really changed.”

The single star they’re using now is thought to be their oldest – made about a century ago in the Native village of Kashega, which was abandoned during World War II.

Marie Schliebe, left, calls a friend to let them listen in on a home starring. At right, Sharon Svarny Livingston looks over her packet of Russian carol lyrics. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

Tonight, that star – as big as a small child – gets a ride in one of the SUVs caravanning up the road to the first houses on the list. Then, it crowds into Vicki Williams’ living room with its entourage of carolers singing in Russian.

The starring always ends the same way: with a blessing of long life.

Choir (singing): Many years to all, many years to all, to the people in this house. (In Russian and English) Merry Christmas, merry Christmas!

Williams: Thank you!

Vicki Williams wears a big smile, standing in the middle of the crowd and thanking all her friends for coming as they file out.

“I feel like I’m having my house blessed when they come here, you know, with the cross and the star and stuff,” she says, as she bids a “see you later” to a pair of young fishermen on their way out the door.

Around her, the room has emptied out as quickly as it filled. The starring group is heading back to their cars. They’ve got lots more houses to get to before the night is over.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Sleetmute

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:54

This week, we’re heading to Sleetmute, a small community east of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. Gladys Fredericks is the Tribal Council President in Sleetmute.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 16, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:53

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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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases; Alaska’s Appeal On Hold

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear four same-sex marriage cases and will rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by early summer.

Legislators Prefile 23 More Bills

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Pot, privacy, and Arctic policy are all issues the Alaska Legislature may take up this session.

As Work Continues On Spending Plan, Walker To Revive State Of The Budget Address

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It’s been almost a decade since a governor has delivered a State of the Budget address. With Alaska now in deficit-spending mode, Gov. Bill Walker plans to bring the speech back.

Mat-Su Borough Ponders Legal Pot

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An entrepreneurial spirit drove a public forum on a future Matanuska-Susitna Borough marijuana law Thursday night. There’s no shortage of ideas as to how to deal with legal pot in the Valley.

A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new film produced by the University’s Museum of the North in Fairbanks, seeks to reveal the secrets of the undersea migration life of whales. The animated film is called A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale. The film features English, Inupiaq and St Lawrence Island Yupik narration.

Kuskokwim 300 Mushers Ready to Race on Ice

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Twenty-five mushers are set to begin racing tonight from Bethel to Aniak and back in the 36th running of the Kuskokwim 300.

AK: Starring

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different than elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town has evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths.

So the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too.

300 Villages: Sleetmute

This week, we’re heading to Sleetmute, a small community east of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. Gladys Fredericks is the Tribal Council President in Sleetmute.

Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court agrees to hear same-sex marriage cases; Alaska’s appeal on hold

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 14:59

The U.S. Supreme Court Building. Photo by Kjetil Ree, via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear four same-sex marriage cases and will rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by early summer. A federal court decision made same-sex marriage legal in Alaska in October. The Parnell administration started the appeals process for that decision. The Walker administration had been debating whether or not to continue with the appeal. But Cori Mills with the Department of Law says the Supreme Court’s decision to make a final ruling on same-sex marriage bans preempted the Walker administration. Attorney General Craig Richards issued a statement saying he will ask the 9th Circuit to put a hold on Alaska’s appeal until after the Supreme Court makes a final ruling.

Mills says same-sex couples in Alaska can continue to marry as the case proceeds through the court system. The Supreme Court denied the state’s request for a stay on same-sex marriages last fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Implementing Marijuana Regulation in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 12:00

Voters approved the legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old in the November election. (Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)

With a simple vote of the people, Alaska became a leader among states legalizing marijuana, but now it has to figure out how to do it. Is Alaska up to that leadership challenge? Some people would say it has been in the leadership on this particular issue for years.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Bruce Schulte, Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation
  • 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, January 20, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Prepare For 29th Legislative Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 09:00

As the 29th legislative session looms closer, legislators are busy prefiling legislation they hope will become law over the course of the session. From the legalization of pot, to the proposed LNG pipeline, to the state’s uncertain budgetary future, legislators have a lot to address this session.

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HOST: Zachariah Hughes

GUESTS:

  • Ellen Lockyer, KSKA 91.1FM
  • Alexandra Gutierrez, Alaska Public Radio Network

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 16 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 17 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 17 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

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