Alaska News

Bill Aims To Create Arctic Port on Bering Sea Coast

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:36

A U.S. House subcommittee today considered a bill aimed at creating a deepwater dock at Point Spencer, a narrow curlicue of land on the Bering Strait, just south of the Arctic Circle. Alaska Congressman Don Young says his bill would divide the 2,000 acre spit among the Coast Guard, the state and the Bering Strait Native Corp., creating a partnership to build a port.

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“I want to move this legislation. I think it’s badly needed for Alaska and the nation,” Young said. “And of course it will help Bering Straits out. There’s no doubt about that.”

Gail Schubert, CEO of the regional Native corporation, says the land transfer bill will protect cultural artifacts now vulnerable to looting.  She also says developing Point Spencer will give residents the hope of employment.

“We believe it could become a critically important economic engine in our region, as the Arctic opens to commerce,” Schubert said.

Kip Knudson, Gov. Sean Parnell’s representative in Washington, agrees the project is badly needed.

“There are no deep-water ports between Point Barrow and Unalaska,” he said. “That’s a stretch of coastline longer than from Tacoma to Long Beach. We need to redress that shortage.”

But Knudson says the state objects to some of the bill’s details, particularly how it divides the land. Knudson says, for example, that while the bill would give the state an airstrip, it doesn’t provide enough adjacent land to operate it as an airport.

“Our due diligence that we’ve invested in to date is telling us that a fragmented ownership of the land is going to hinder efficient development and potentially slow down funding sources,” he said.

Congressman Young says he’s open to changes and hopes to move the bill forward this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Extra-Tropical System To Bring Rain, Some Wind to Coastal AK

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:35

First of all, this is not a tropical storm. It is an extra-tropical system.

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Michael Lawson is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He says this system started out as a typhoon in the western Pacific, near Japan.

(Click on the image to find up-to-date weather reports)

“It is the remnants of a tropical system, but at this time it doesn’t keep any of its tropical characteristics anymore,” says Lawson. “It’s made the transition to a colder core system as it comes up here.”

It was still south of the western Aleutians Wednesday afternoon. Lawson says in gaining latitude and interacting with the Jetstream, it’s gotten a colder core. But it’s still expected to bring some noticeable weather to the Aleutians, Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Valdez, Cordova area.

“It is going to be interacting with a system in the Bering Sea here in the next couple of days and swinging a pretty potent front up into the northern gulf, which is where our rainfall and winds are going to come from,” says Lawson.

He says over the next few days, it will continue to move eastward. It’s expected to be south of Dutch Harbor and Unalaska Thursday afternoon.

“And that’s really when it’s going to start interacting with the upper level low pressure that’s currently over the Bering Sea,” says Lawson. “And it will really start to develop as it moves northward and that looks like it’s going to happen overnight Thursday into Friday.”

Lawson says the area around Unalaska, Cold Bay, and the Shumagin Islands may have some elevated winds. The heavy rains will likely fall on the Kenai Peninsula. But, the real brunt of the blustery weather should happen over the water.

“The main winds are going to be along Turnagain Arm and there will be a bit along the north Gulf Coast,” says Lawson. “But, for the most part this should be over the water and not affecting places like Cordova or Valdez.”

This extra-tropical system is expected to cover such a large area that, Lawson says, the Panhandle will likely be the only coastal area that doesn’t feel its effects.

Residents of the Kenai Peninsula who live near the Kenai River watershed are still advised to keep an eye on rising water levels and secure any loose objects near the water.

The Office of Emergency Management advises keeping weather radios handy and making sure they have batteries.

Weather forecasts and updates will be posted regularly online.

Categories: Alaska News

ADEC Estimates 1,640 Gallons of Diesel Spilled by NOAA Ship

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:34

An oily sheen in Women’s Bay has been traced to the NOAA research ship Rainier docked at Nyman Peninsula on the Kodiak Coast Guard base.

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According to NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations spokesman David Hall in Silver Spring, Maryland, the spill volume was originally pegged at 400 gallons.

“We regret the incident and are working closely with the Coast Guard to minimize any environmental impacts and thank them for their assistance with the response,” Hall said. “We’re investigating the cause of the incident and are taking appropriate steps to ensure it does not happen again.”

NOAA Ship Rainier. (NOAA Photo)

However Jade Gamble of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in Soldotna says the spill was actually 1,640 gallons.

She said the spill was traced to a rupture in the bulkhead between a fuel tank and the grey water tank – which was not being used because the Rainier is connected to shore facilities. As the grey water tank filled with diesel an evacuation pump would occasionally kick on, discharging the fuel directly into Women’s Bay.

Gamble says tracing the problem took all day yesterday. Absorbent boom and a fuel skimmer are working to clean the spill, with a second skimmer being brought in to help. The spill was initially responded to by the Coast Guard, Gamble said, but responsibility will be turned over to NOAA, who is expected to hire a commercial clean up company to mop up the contamination.

The spill was first reported Monday to the Coast Guard, and again at noon Tuesday. Comments from locals on the Friends of Kodiak Facebook group reported the smell of diesel fuel coming from the direction of the base for several days.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA, Flint Hills Reach Settlement Over Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:33

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with Flint Hills Resources.

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The settlement, which includes an $80,000 dollar civil penalty – is over Flint Hills alleged mishandling of hazardous waste during groundwater cleanup actions at their North Pole petroleum refinery.

The EPA alleges that hazardous waste generated during the cleanup wasn’t labeled or stored properly, which caused two preventable dumpster fires.

Categories: Alaska News

Transportation Grant For Alaska Railroad’s Seward Dock

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:32

 The city of Seward will benefit from a two point five million dollar federal grant that was announced on Tuesday. The US Department of Transportation awarded the funds through it’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grant program.

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 Ron Long, assistant city manager for Seward, says the city is a co applicant with the Alaska Railroad for the funds. Long says the money will be used to complete a master plan for the railroad’s freight dock expansion in Seward.

“We feel very good about it. We feel that some of the statements that were made in favor of it were justified. It’s an important part of our economy and we are excited to see it move forward.”

Long says it took about three years to secure the grant. The railroad owns and operates the dock. Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad, says the grant enables the railroad to determine what needs to be done to move forward with the expansion.

“This is for the West dock, which primarily serves passenger ships and it’s going to require major rehab or replacement in the next ten years. And since it is nearing the end of its useful life, this is going to require some extensive planning activities that are included in this application.”

 

Sullivan says planning is the first step, and future construction will depend on future funding.

The railroad owns 300 acres in Seward, and the dock is located on that land. The railroad does not pay any revenue to the city, but the city benefits from job opportunities for local residents.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Receives Grant For FASD Prevention Work

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:31

(CDC map)

As part of a national effort to curb risky drinking habits and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention awarded grants to six universities across the country – including the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – or FASD – spans a wide range of physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.

This isn’t the first grant the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services has received for FASD-related work. For the past several years, they have been training health professionals in FASD prevention and treatment.

The new $1.1 million grant will be distributed over four years and will go toward establishing a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Practice and Implementation Center.

UAA’s Dr. Diane King says the grant will allow the center to help develop new strategies for the identification and treatment of FASDs.

“We’ll be working with experts in Oregon and Washington as well as Alaska, and national professional organizations to really start to implement and help health care providers adopt more routine screening for alcohol misuse, counseling and intervention for women of child-bearing age,” King said.

King says UAA’s history in FASD training and research likely played a part in why the university received the grant. But, she also says Alaska has a lot of momentum surrounding the issue.

There’s a lot of concern about FASDs, it’s pervasive here,” King said. ”There’s a lot of women who are still drinking while they’re pregnant that somehow the educational messages are insufficient and so really working together with healthcare providers is a way of doing that. And there’s a lot of interest and support in Alaska for taking that approach.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services estimates about 163 children born in Alaska each year are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. Studies estimate the lifetime cost of FASD could be upwards $2 million per person.

King says the center’s training efforts have been slowly catching on, and healthcare providers play a vital role in the prevention and diagnosis of FASDs.

“I think the opportunity for them to make an impact is huge in this way, and research shows that it’s effective if a provider is routinely screening and providing an effective, brief advice or intervention that we do see reductions, meaningful reductions in drinking,” King said.

The University of California, San Diego, University of Missouri, University of Nevada, Baylor University and University of Wisconsin-Madison also received grant funds from the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Categories: Alaska News

Can The Tongass Support Sustainable Logging?

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:30

The Tongass National Forest could resume allowing logging in roadless areas under a court ruling. But it won’t happen immediately — or at all. (U.S. Forest Service Image)

A regional committee tasked with advising the National Forest Service on how to manage logging in the Tongass began three days of meetings in Juneau Wednesday.

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The committee’s work is part of a yearslong process to rewrite the federal rules for what can and cannot be done in the Tongass National Forest.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack laid out a goal of phasing out old growth logging in favor of young growth in 10 to 15 years. He said the transition supports ecologic, social and economic sustainability in the forest.

The Tongass Advisory Committee’s recommendations are due in May. They’ll inform a rewrite of the Forest Service’s land use plans for the Tongass that’s expected in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau School District Receives Praise, Criticism For How It Handled Hazing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:29

Rep. Cathy Munoz and Education Commissioner Mike Hanley thank the school board and administration for taking hazing seriously. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Members of the public criticized how the Juneau School District handled a hazing incident in May that involved seven seniors paddling six incoming freshmen. During Tuesday’s school board meeting, they said the perceived punishment of the offenders wasn’t harsh enough.

Meanwhile, a state education official commended the district for trying to change the culture of hazing.

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Education Commissioner Mike Hanley has heard about hazing in Juneau schools for years. He thanked the district for tackling the problem.

“I think the first step that you’ve taken is really a great one, to say this isn’t acceptable. That’s the message. I don’t want to know who the children are that are involved. I don’t want to know what the punishments are. I don’t have an idea that vengeance, that we need an eye for an eye. That’s not it. We just need it to stop,” Hanley said.

He thinks the district’s actions have sent this message, but added the administration and board can’t carry it alone.

“Coaches are the next ones that have more influence on our children and our athletes than any of us do. And they have that ability to continue to carry this message and own the responsibility we have to change the culture,” Hanley said.

When the Juneau School District concluded its investigation into the paddling at the end of August, it held a press conference and identified the number of students who committed the violation and the number of victims, but did not release names or specific punishment due tostudents’ privacy rights. Superintendent Mark Miller noted that four of the seven paddlers were athletes.

A couple days later, the Juneau Empire reported the names of the athletes and their punishment. The Empire wrote that penalties included “a one-week suspension from school, a one-game suspension and 40 hours of community service.” Miller did not confirm or deny this.

During public comment at the school board meeting, parent Graham Storey said he was furious when he read about the punishment and said it was a horrible message to send to students.

“The perception is that our students can engage in bullying and hazing with minimal consequence. Athletes who bully should not be athletes in this district. They should not have the privilege to participate when they engage in these actions,” Storey said.

Lynn Van Kirk said she’s friends with a parent of one of the hazing victims.

“He’s afraid to do anything. He’s afraid to go out with his friends to the football games, any types of activities. He did not go to the dance at Juneau-Douglas, because he was scared,” Van Kirk said.

Jim Bradley is a parent of a victim and said the punishment of one-week school suspension and one-game suspension was not enough.

“I think the efforts were a good step forward but I think when the consequences were handed down, it was a step backwards,” Bradley said.

Student representative from Thunder Mountain High School Dunya Herman said the students have heard a similar version of the punishment and some think the senior hazers who are athletes should be suspended from sports for the whole season. Dunya doesn’t agree with that.

“Sports are good for students. Student athletes are better students, so I think that they need to stay in their sport, but the punishment should’ve been greater to make a statement, at least, to the community that hazing is not OK,” Dunya said.

Superintendent Miller said the district followed its rules and policies when coming up with the disciplinary action. He did reveal that the punishment included out-of-school suspension and community service.

“I think we kind of hit a middle ground. I’m sure there are people on both sides of this that believe that either we did too much or we didn’t do enough and I’ve heard from both of those populations. I understand that. I just feel that at this point, we did what we thought was right and we’re moving on,” Miller said.

In the next few weeks, Miller said the district will have a meeting with all the coaches about the hazing/bullying policy and the proper way to talk about it to the public and media. He noted a possibility of longer term training.

He says the district also plans to implement an anti-hazing/anti-bullying restorative justice program throughout the district.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Officials Confirm Alaska Mumps Case

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-10 17:28

Alaska health officials have confirmed the first case of mumps in the state since 1995.

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The disease was confirmed in a 50-year-old Alaska woman who apparently contracted mumps in Japan.

Fewer than 500 people in the nation contract mumps annually.

Mumps is a communicable virus but preventable by vaccine. Complications can cause meningitis, encephalitis and deafness.

The woman on July 11 told doctors she had headache, jaw pain and trismus, a symptom that can mean jaw muscle spasms or locking.

The woman while in Japan stayed in a home where a girl had been diagnosed with mumps.

The Alaska Section of Epidemiology says the woman’s symptoms began to subside about a week after she reported them.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Walrus Decline May Have Halved Population

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:36

Pacific walrus populations in Alaska’s Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea area halved between 1981 and 1999. New research indicates that the decline may have slowed down in the years before 2000.  According to Rebecca Taylor, a research statistician with the US Geological Survey, researchers relied on data about the demographic composition of the walrus population from 1976 to 2000 to make that determination.

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“While our study encompassed data that went from 1975 through 2006, those age composition data went from …. there was a period in the early 80s starting with 1981 and then there was another period in the late 90s, and so it is that ’81 to ’99 time period where we have the most informative data and therefore are most confident about the population trend. “

Taylor says further study is necessary to determine the most recent status of the walrus population. She says researchers used only data for female walrus.

“Because walruses are polygamous, so you don’t need that many males to get the job done. So it’s typical with a polygamous species to track females only, so we did that with this analysis.”

She says the information USGS has indicates that in the 1980s, the female walrus population was aging, making up about 85 percent of the adults, thus producing fewer juveniles.

“So that suggests that reproduction and calf survival were probably quite low at that point, so that is what we believe initiated the population decline. “

A decade later, she says, the walrus population began to get younger, so the decline lessened as the younger walrus population grew. Taylor says her study only looked at demographic and population growth rates to quantify trends, not to find a cause. But, she says, other research indicates hunting is likely to have had a bearing on the decline.

 ”It was thought that the walrus population probably was depressed by hunting in the 1950s, and that regulations put in place in the 1960s probably allowed that population to increase quite a bit. And so, by sometime between the mid 70s to the early 80s it’s thought that the walrus population was probably quite high compared to what the environment could support, and that probably initiated the decline. “

An increase in hunting during the 1980s served to exacerbate the decline, she says. She says changes in sea ice conditions could also affect Pacific walrus populations. It is difficult to estimate populations of walrus, because the animals spend a good bit of their time foraging underwater.

 ”There is concern about whether or not harvest levels are sustainable. And there is concern about loss of sea ice, because the walrus like to follow the marginal sea ice, eat clams and other invertebrates off the ocean floor, and then come up and rest on chunks of floating ice. Because they are ice -dependent, there is concern about how changes in sea ice might affect them.”

 Taylor’s research is being done to help the US Fish and Wildlife Service make a determination to list the Pacific walrus as threatened by 2017. Andrea Medeiros , a spokesperson for  USFWS,  says the research was prompted in response to a court order stemming from a lawsuit filed by the Center For Biological Diversity.

 Taylor says it is difficult to know what is going on with the walrus population now, if we don’t know what was going on in the past. The research is the first rigourous estimate of Pacific walrus survival rates, she says.

 ”It’s giving us important demographic information. It is providing some baseline scientific data.”

Taylor’s study is published on-line in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Categories: Alaska News

State Presents Election Translation Plan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:28

Voters at the Lower Kuskokwim School District choosing primary election ballots on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014.

The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in.

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The state is offering the changes after a federal judge issued a decision in a voting rights lawsuit last week. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ordered the state to better help voters who speak Yup’ik and Gwich’in understand their ballots.

Elizabeth Bakalar is the lead attorney for the state on the case. She says that the state is focused on three areas:

“That voters need better information ahead of the election that language assistance is available, that outreach workers need to be better prepared to provide language assistance voters especially prior to election day and to better address certain dialectical differences. So those are the three areas which the interim remedies we’re proposing are meant to target and certainly any long term remedies would probably target those areas as well.”

Bakalar explains, the state is preparing different versions of ballot language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers to reflect different dialects. She says they’re looking for feedback from speakers.

“Send copies of the different the Central Yup’ik ballot to the tribal councils from the Bethel Census area to the Dillingham and Wade Hampton Census areas and prepare different versions of ballot measure language to send to tribal councils and outreach workers and get input form the plaintiffs on potential dialect differences on the dialect differences in the ballot measures.”

Oscar Alexie teaches Central Yup’ik at the UAF Kuskokwim campus in Bethel and has also worked on Yup’ik translations of ballot materials for the state.

He says that most bureaucratic language used to explain ballot measures and other choices on ballots, simply does not exist in Yup’ik. In addition there are several regional dialects of Yup’ik, which lack the specificity needed, making ballot translation next to impossible.

Alexie says the best situation would be to have translators from each community reading the ballot to Yup’ik speaking voters, because Yup’ik was only recently codified in the last generation or so, so most people will understand best, if they hear the translations, rather than read them.

“We translated the materials where it could be read to voters. And hopefully it would have people at the polling places that can read in an understandable voice, not make it sound like they’re reading but talking to someone in the Yup’ik language and follow along and understand it.”

state already provides that service and will be doing more to promote it’s availability under their plan. Alexie says he worries about The possible negative impacts of the lawsuit on language translation in the state. He makes his point by comparing the division of elections and their translators to a dog team. He says you can expect a lot from a dog, they’re hard workers and they like to pull but they can only do so much, especially in the short period of time leading up to the November election.

“Growing up I remember my brother in-law saying … nuf-tut, they break – a dog if you ran it beyond its limitations and not giving it some rest between they’ll be a point where the dog breaks and will never pull again.”

The state of Alaska and their translators will be moving quickly, they want to have the changes made in time for the November election. The plaintiffs, Alaska native speakers from Southwestern and interior Alaska, being represented attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund, have until Wednesday to respond. Then Judge Gleason will issue an order telling the state what they need to do.

Judge Gleason has not yet ruled on whether the state intentionally violated voter’s rights on the basis race or color.

Categories: Alaska News

Man In Custody After Hours-Long Standoff

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:28

A long standoff between police and an armed man in Fairbanks ended with the suspect being taken into custody alive this afternoon.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Secured Following Unrelated Incidents

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:27

A handful of Fairbanks schools have been on high security alert in the last two days due to two separate incidents.

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An armed standoff early Tuesday disrupted the morning commute for residents of west Fairbanks.  The incident also rerouted more than 20 school buses. Karen Gaborik is the School District Interim Superintendent.  She says at least 140 kids were late to morning classes.

“That’s a fair number of students coming late to school,” she says. “We also had staff who got stuck in traffic as well.”

Gaborik says other staff were assigned to cover classes for teachers who weren’t able to arrive on time. She also placed two elementary schools in close proximity to the stand-off in “secured building mode.”

“That means the exterior doors are locked and we won’t have any outside activity, so now recess. It’s a monitored access to the building,” says Gaborik.

It was the second time in as many days that Gaborik had to partially close down activity at schools in the district.  On Monday, a threatening message sent through twitter raised concerns among administrators and law enforcement.

“A community member let the principal at West Valley High school know there had been a vague threat on Twitter so he called the Alaska State Troopers,” she explains. “And because there was a threat, West Valley went into ‘Sit tight mode,’ which is a more secure situation so kids stay in classes.”

Ultimately, five schools were placed “sit tight mode.” Gaborik, who attended both elementary and high school in Fairbanks, acknowledges that situations like those over the last few days have become more common among public schools, but she says personnel practice procedures to handle them regularly.

“I think it gives us the opportunity to have a predictable response to a situation,” says Gaborik.

“We can use the phrase with principals ‘I need you to secure the building’ and principals know what that means and staff knows what that means and we’ve continued to work with parents and students around what those things mean.”

Classes and after school activities at schools affected by both incidents have since returned to a normal schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Schools At Forefront Of FASD Prevention Effort

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:26

Today is National FASD Awareness day. FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a type of developmental disability caused by being prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alaska and some of its schools are at the forefront of understanding and preventing it.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Could Face Fines For Wastewater Plant Delays

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:25

The city of Unalaska is falling behind on construction of a new wastewater treatment plant – and they could face up to $200,000 in federal fines as a result.

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The city’s supposed to have the plant’s chlorination and dechlorination system online by the end of the year. In mid-November, the city is supposed to make a formal request to Alaska regulators to start operating that system.

All those deadlines were set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which sued the city for improper sewage discharge in 2011. As part of their settlement, Unalaska agreed to build a new wastewater plant, in line with national standards.

City manager Chris Hladick says the chlorine system’s an important part of the upgrade: “The chlorine kills the E. Coli, you take the chlorine out, and it goes out in the ocean.”

But the city isn’t going to have the equipment ready on time. At this point, Hladick says it could take more than 100 days past the deadline before the city is ready to get permission to run its new chlorine system.

That will push the entire project forward — and according to the city’s settlement with the EPA, the agency has the option to fine the city for every day they’re late.

Hladick hopes they might avoid the fines if they can get back on track to meet their final deadline, getting the whole plant up and running by the end of 2015.

The contractor that’s building the wastewater plant is blaming the current delays on shoddy preparatory work done at the site last year by Advanced Blasting of Wasilla. That pushed the construction schedule forward — and costs from it are stacking up.

If the EPA decides to fine the city, Hladick says they may seek payment from Advanced Blasting to cover the costs.

Categories: Alaska News

Thermal Imaging Cameras Donated To Villages For Use In Search And Rescue

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:24

Photo taken with a FLIR thermal imaging camera. (Photo credit: Bernard Rose via Flickr Creative Commons)

Sixteen handheld thermal imaging cameras will soon be in the hands of search-and-rescue teams in the Norton Sound region, thanks to a donation from Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Alaska State Troopers will be distributing these bi-ocular cameras to 15 member communities and Shishmaref within the next few weeks.

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Dan Harrelson, Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) for White Mountain and chairman of NSEDC’s board of directors, said these cameras should significantly improve SAR operations—hopefully, saving many lives. Harrelson said previously, only one thermal imaging camera, based out of Nome, was shared among all 16 communities.

“When you need a piece of equipment, you need it right now. And usually when we have searches it’s in inclement weather when we’re probably not able to get airplanes. So to have to wait for a unit to come from Nome could be eight hours—it could be three days before you could get the unit,” said Harrelson. “You know, time is of the essence—it’s critical when you’re doing searches for people.”

And, Harrelson pointed out, if the camera did arrive with enough time to be used in a search, VPSOs had to learn to operate the new piece of equipment in the middle of a rescue. Now, with a camera in each village, he’s hopeful SAR teams will be able to practice using them.

Harrelson hasn’t used one of the cameras yet himself, but said they’ll work sort of like night-vision goggles.

“Any source that gives off any heat will show up like a greenish-yellow spot on the thermal imaging unit,” said Harrelson. “The closer you are to the unit—up to about 400 yards, I believe—you can actually make out the figure of a person if they’re standing there or laying in the snow.”

The cameras are water-resistant and can operate down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is necessary since many SAR operations are conducted in extreme weather conditions.

“Our searches feel like they come at the most miserable times of the year, where visibility is very limited,” said Harrelson. “You know, when people are traveling from one village to the other, they go out hunting and they fail to make their destination or they fail to come back home. So a lot of out searches are in the wintertime.”

Harrelson anticipates the cameras will make an appearance during annual VPSO training, this year in Anchorage in November. That’ll be an opportunity for officers outside Norton Sound to check out the new tools.

“Our coordinator indicated that maybe we’ll take one of these units down and do some hands-on training while we’re in Anchorage. It’ll also let the other VPSOs know, from the different regions throughout the state, that this equipment’s available and maybe it’s something they can pursue for their own region as well,” said Harrelson.

NSEDC’s donation is worth about $150,000 for the 16 cameras. Harrelson said the cameras should arrive in villages within the next couple of weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Yupiit Nation Members Talk Tribal Sovereignty

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:23

Terms like tribal sovereignty, Native Rights, and co-management, are all open to interpretation. One of the most vocal groups in the Y-K Delta, Yupiit Nation, recently met to hash out their vision of future governance in the region. Members have a spectrum of views about what tribal sovereignty really means.

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A few dozen people gathered in the Akiachak School Gym last month for two days of Yupiit Nation discussions at their annual meeting. A similar set of topics comes up at every meeting: subsistence, co-management, local law enforcement; the most basic idea of governance and what role local tribes, who are members of Yupiit Nation, want to play. Ivan M. Ivan is the Tribal President in Akiak.

Yupiit Nation member meet in Akiachak in August. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“We’re not trying to become a government that runs villages. The villages have their power. By themselves to control their own destiny but collectively together I believe they can help each other,” said Ivan.

There is however a long-standing discussion about forming a regional tribal government. Yupiit Nation Chief, Mike Williams, said after the meeting that vision includes a legislative, executive, and judicial branch. He says the current governmental structure holds tribes back.

“There’s 56 individual federally recognized tribes in our area and the respect is there. But if 56 unite together I think we can begin to deal with these issues that are not good and help us manage our way of live as we have for thousands of years,” said Williams.

Williams calls Yupiit Nation a consortium of federally recognized tribes. Formed in 1978 with 19 tribes, Williams says there are now 12 tribes with active members. The core of the group, however, is centered in Akiak, Akiachak, Tuluksak, and Kwethluk.

Critics say the outspoken group doesn’t represent the majority of Y-K Delta tribal members. Still, the group pushes for a shift of the power to tribes in rural Alaska.

Phillip Peter Senior is Akiachak’s Native Community President. He says his ancestors controlled their own destiny and today there are too many laws and regulations. Still, he wants tribes to be partners with existing governments.

“The vision is to help ourselves. And work with our federal and state governments We’re not trying to take away the power from the government and state. All we want to do is work with them,” said Peter.

Moses Owen from Akiak takes a harder line for the Yupiit Nation.

“You know it’s getting tougher for us to survive, with the laws, the regulations, we have have to get back to where we were before. No laws, no rules, just our way of life, we want to practice that,” said Owen.

Yupiit Nation Chief Mike Williams says the group held off on elections, which were scheduled for their meeting on August 22nd and 23rd. He says they’ll likely take place at an upcoming meeting.

And Yupiit Nation isn’t the only group talking about building new tribal government structures. For example, the Y-K Delta Regional Committee, a group facilitated by Calista, the regional Native Corporation, is also drafting a constitution for a possible future tribal government.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 17:05

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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Board of Regents Rescinds President Gamble’s Retention Bonus At His Request

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted Monday to rescind President Pat Gamble’s $320,000 dollar retention bonus by a 9-1 vote.

New Research Sheds Light On Late-20th Century Walrus Decline

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Pacific walrus populations  in Alaska’s Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea area declined by half between 1981 and 1999.  New research indicates the decline may have slowed down in the years before 2000.

State Presents Election Translation Plan

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The state of Alaska is proposing several changes in how they deliver voting information to Alaska Natives whose first language is Yup’ik or Gwich’in.

Man In Custody After Hours-Long Standoff

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A long standoff between police and an armed man in Fairbanks ended with the suspect being taken into custody alive this afternoon.

Fairbanks Schools Secured Following Unrelated Incidents

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A handful of Fairbanks schools have been on high security alert in the last two days due to two separate incidents.

Alaska Schools At Forefront Of FASD Prevention Effort

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Today is National FASD Awareness day. FASD, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a type of developmental disability caused by being prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alaska and some of its schools are at the forefront of understanding and preventing it.

Unalaska Could Face Fines For Wastewater Plant Delays

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The city of Unalaska is falling behind on construction of a new wastewater treatment plant – and they could face up to $200,000 in federal fines as a result.

Thermal Imaging Cameras Donated To Villages For Use In Search And Rescue

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

Sixteen handheld thermal imaging cameras will soon be in the hands of search-and-rescue teams in the Norton Sound region, thanks to a donation from Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Alaska State Troopers will be distributing these bi-ocular cameras to 15 member communities and Shishmaref within the next few weeks.

Yupiit Nation Members Talk Tribal Sovereignty

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Terms like tribal sovereignty, Native Rights, and co-management, are all open to interpretation.  One of the most vocal groups in the Y-K Delta, Yupiit Nation, recently met to hash out their vision of future governance in the region. Members have a spectrum of views about what tribal sovereignty really means.

Categories: Alaska News

Glenn Highway Project Aimed At Easing Eagle River Commute

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 16:30

State transportation officials have announced a new project that could improve the commute from Eagle River to Anchorage.

According to Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the state department of transportation, construction starts this week on a

project to widen the Glenn Highway between Hiland Road and Artillery Road in Eagle River. The stretch of highway includes the infamous

“brakelight hill” and the Eagle River bridge.

 ”This project is exciting because it will build a whole new section of highway, extending the three lane section for an additional three miles. That will help the steep grade at Eagle River, which is known as brakelight hill. It will also actually build a whole new bridge over Eagle River. So there will be pretty minimal impacts to traffic this winter,” McCarthy says.

The existing bridge will handle highway traffic during construction of the expansion project. McCarthy says bridge work is better done in winter, because water levels are lower. McCarthy says tree clearing for the extra lanes will be the first step.  The 42. 5 million dollar project is being paid for with state money.

 

 

 

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“This is all state money, which is why we were able to turn the project around in a just a little over a year. A lot of times federal aid projects take a little bit longer, sometimes you know, five to seven years. So this is exciting for DOT and I think you will be seeing more of this as money allows.”

The project is the first phase of a long range improvement plan to increase Glenn Highway traffic capacity. About 52 thousand vehicles use the Glenn Highway every day, and the stretch between Anchorage and the suburban community of Eagle River is often congested  at peak commute hours. DOT officials say driver frustration contributes to vehicle crashes.

McCarthy says the highway improvement project should be finished by spring of next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

‘The Sand Lake Boys’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-09 11:39

Today we hear a story from Mike Byers, a writer for the website “Growing Up Anchorage.” The site focuses on tales from the early days of Alaska’s largest city. Mike’s story is titled “The Sand Lake Boys.”

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Categories: Alaska News

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