Alaska News

Aleutian Risk Assessment Unveils Spill Prevention Plan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-08 16:02

The Selendang Ayu broke apart a decade ago just off Unalaska Island. (Courtesy: USCG)

For years, shipping safety advocates have called for better protections against oil spills in the Aleutian chain. Now, the plan for a new response system is finally finished. The Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment’s draft report recommends some familiar solutions in new places – all at a cost of almost $14 million a year.

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The Risk Assessment started in response to a major disaster just off Unalaska’s shores. Ten years ago, the bulk carrier Selendang Ayu ran aground near the island, killing six people and spilling fuel into the Bering Sea.

It was the worst shipping accident in the region’s history – and the Risk Assessment was designed to make sure it couldn’t happen again.

Since 2009, researchers and stakeholders have been studying everything from tugboat locations to shipping routes to weather conditions – all while marine traffic in the Aleutians continued to increase.

“I certainly wish it hadn’t taken as long as it has,” says Tim Robertson, a lead author of the new report. “There’s been frustration, I think, from all levels, that — why aren’t we doing more, and studying less?”

But he says they wanted to make sure they had all their bases covered before they came out with their recommendation: create a nonprofit organization to manage better monitoring systems, spill response plans and salvage tools in the Aleutian Islands.

“We think there should be one organization that essentially provides all of these services,” Robertson says.

The nonprofit would hire contractors to run equipment like a dedicated rescue tugboat or a heavy-duty helicopter. And it would manage the cost of the whole system. It comes out to about $13.6 million a year.

Robertson says about half of that cost would come from the users themselves: the operators of big vessels heading through places like Unimak Pass, the busiest channel through the Aleutians. In 2012, for example, operators would have had to pay about $13,000 for each ship they sent across.

The Risk Assessment report says that would be lower if they could charge every ship that used that route. But a little less than half of those vessels are only passing through on their way to and from foreign ports – and there’s no way to make them chip in for a domestic response system.

So Robertson says it should fall to the federal government to cover that part of the cost – about $15 million.

“We think it’s probably most feasible if there was a one-time appropriation, instead of trying to get ongoing operational funding,” he says.

Their first purchase would be an emergency towing vessel, which would be permanently stationed in the Aleutians to head off shipping mishaps. The idea’s been on the table for years – but now, researchers are saying it should go in Adak. It’s a town of about 300 people in the western Aleutians.

That recommendation came as a big surprise to Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt. She’s been involved with the Risk Assessment from the beginning.

“When we started first looking at this, we were focused on the marine traffic that is compressed into a part of the region,” Marquardt says, “primarily because they’re either coming or going from our port, or they’re all transiting directly through Unimak Pass.”

The pass is right next to Unalaska, along the popular Great Circle Shipping route. As that track curves around the globe, it leads vessels through the Aleutians a second time – near Adak.

And that’s where they can run into trouble. There are more crossings to choose from in the area, and Adak city manager Layton Lockett says some are too sensitive for commercial traffic – like Buldir Pass. Lockett says it’s an important spot for fishing and seabird habitat.

“If something were to, say, happen in Buldir Pass, through no fault of anyone but the vessel, it could have profound impacts in a number of different industries that we’re all reliant upon, just because someone decided to take the scenic tour,” he says.

To address that, the Risk Assessment wants to close down some offshore zones to shipping traffic. And it calls for expanding the vessel tracking systems that are already in place.

But Lockett says that hosting the dedicated tug in Adak would give him the greatest peace of mind. The Risk Assessment report says if something went wrong in that area, there probably wouldn’t be tugboat close by to assist.

In Unalaska, there are tugboats working near the port year-round. But Mayor Shirley Marquardt isn’t convinced that’s enough. She says Unalaska started out as the Risk Assessment’s priority — they had several residents advising the study over the years.

Now, Marquardt’s afraid they’re getting left behind.

“It just seemed like the focus just kind of shifted — to, we’re no longer trying to prevent this happening in the first place, as to, ‘Well, gee, response out far West might difficult,’” she says. “I was really cognizant of that, this whole way through, all these years doing this, that we don’t shift. If that’s an important issue, then it needs to be addressed on its own.”

It’s concerns like that that researchers are hoping to hear before they go any further with their work. They’ve started taking public comment on their draft report. And they’re planning to visit Unalaska soon to present it in person — and explain how it’ll come together to cover the entire Aleutian chain.

UPDATE: The Unalaska meeting set for this weekend has been canceled and will be rescheduled.

The public can read the Risk Assessment report and comment online through the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Does Vigor Still Need Local Tax, Utility Breaks?

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-08 16:01

As Ketchikan’s shipyard continues to grow and attract contracts, questions arose last week about whether the community should continue to offer tax and utility breaks for the property.

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Ketchikan’s shipyard is owned by the Alaska Industrial Energy Development and Export Authority, but it’s operated by Vigor, a Pacific Northwest company that owns shipyards in several states.

Ketchikan’s shipyard is seen in 2012. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld)

Vigor bought the operating rights a few years ago, and the Vigor Alaska operation is very likely about to get a lucrative contract to build two new ferries for the State of Alaska.

With that in mind, does the shipyard still need financial support from the community? That’s the question asked at two recent events, a Ketchikan Borough Assembly meeting and the regular Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Here’s Borough Assembly Member Agnes Moran, who said the community should look into developing an exit strategy.

“We now have a very large company running that shipyard that essentially has a monopoly on the West Coast,” she said. “It recently bought a shipyard, it recently bought an ironworks. You’re looking at a subsidy of a million and a half dollars every year, coupled with the fact that the city’s looking at bonding for infrastructure projects.”

The “subsidies” Moran referenced are through local property tax breaks from the city and borough, and a deal on electricity through the city-owned Ketchikan Public Utilities.

Assembly Member Bill Rotecki agreed with Moran that the discussion should take place.

“If the local municipalities and their taxpayers are subsidizing them substantially, it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. “It should be looked at and evaluated. I agree with that wholeheartedly.”

During the Chamber of Commerce lunch, candidates for Borough Assembly were there for a candidate forum. An audience member asked what they thought about maintaining or eliminating Vigor’s tax and utility breaks.

Borough mayor candidate David Landis said a conversation needs to happen.

“Obviously, the shipyard is a cornerstone of the business in this community and it’s vital to keep it here,” he said. “That being said, you don’t want to give everything away.”

Incumbent Assembly Member Mike Painter, who is running for re-election, agrees that the issue needs to be revisited. Incumbent Glen Thompson, also seeking re-election, said local subsidies should go away when the shipyard is self-sustaining.

“I think we’re very close. The Alaska Class Ferry demonstrates the ability of the system, there’s now about 150 people working there on a year-round basis,” he said. “I think last year, there was about $2.5 million of profit. The city and borough subsidized about a million and a half of that, but even if you take that subsidy away they still would have made a profit. Is that enough to sustain a business going forward? That’s question is where we are. We need to answer that.”

Assembly candidate John Harrington suggested that the state exempt the shipyard from paying property taxes, which the state does for an AIDEA property further north.

Lewis Armey Jr. is running for borough mayor. He was generally critical of the shipyard, but didn’t have an answer to that specific question.

Vigor Alaska’s Director of Shipyard Development Doug Ward attended the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. After the event, he said he felt the candidate’s answers were reasonable, and he’s willing to have the discussion.

Ward said the issue of self-sufficiency is always on his mind.

“We’re still operating a complex manufacturing activity in a region and in a state that lacks the basic industries that goes along with supporting these kinds of complex projects,” he said. “I think the question gets to how much employment do we want to create through shipyard investment.”

Ward said the employment projections are 300 to 350 workers once all the facility infrastructure is in place. They’re about halfway there as far as employees go, and the last big piece of infrastructure needed is a large, dedicated ship repair hall.

He noted that the agreements with the city and borough include a profit-sharing component.

“We’d like nothing more than to increase our profitability to the point where AIDEA can begin spinning off our payments to AIDEA back to the community through revenue sharing,” he said. “We’d love to make that happen.”

Ward said it’s a complicated issue, and one that he’s sure the community will be talking about a lot over the next year.

Categories: Alaska News

US Trained Alaskans As ‘Stay Behind Agents’

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-08 14:05

WASHINGTON (AP) – Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show.

Invasion of Alaska? Yes. It seemed like a real possibility in 1950.

This March 26, 1947, file photo shows Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover calling the communist party of the United States a “Fifth Column” whose “goal is the overthrow of our government” during testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington. Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show. Hoover teamed up on a highly classified project, code-named “Washtub,” with the newly created Air Force Office of Special Investigations, headed by Hoover protege and former FBI official Joseph F. Carroll. (AP Photo/File)

“The military believes that it would be an airborne invasion involving bombing and the dropping of paratroopers,” one FBI memo said. The most likely targets were thought to be Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward.

So FBI director J. Edgar Hoover teamed up on a highly classified project, code-named “Washtub,” with the newly created Air Force Office of Special Investigations, headed by Hoover protege and former FBI official Joseph F. Carroll.

The secret plan was to have citizen-agents in key locations in Alaska ready to hide from the invaders of what was then only a U.S. territory. The citizen-agents would find their way to survival caches of food, cold-weather gear, message-coding material and radios. In hiding they would transmit word of enemy movements.

This was not civil defense of the sort that became common later in the Cold War as Americans built their own bomb shelters. This was an extraordinary enlistment of civilians as intelligence operatives on U.S. soil.

This account of the “Washtub” project is based on hundreds of pages of formerly secret documents. The heavily censored records were provided to The Associated Press by the Government Attic, a website that publishes government documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Russians never invaded, of course.

So the covert cadre of “stay-behind agents,” as they were known, was never activated to collect and report wartime information from backwoods bunkers. It was an assignment that federal officials acknowledged (to each other, if not to the new agents) was highly dangerous, given that the Soviet Union’s military doctrine called for the elimination of local resistance in occupied territory.

To compensate for expected casualties, a reserve pool of agents was to be held outside of Alaska and inserted by air later as short-term replacements. This assignment was seen as an easier sell to potential recruits because “some agents might not be too enthusiastic about being left behind in enemy-occupied areas for an indefinite period of time,” one planning document noted dryly.

“Washtub” was not, however, a washout.

It operated from 1951-59, according to Deborah Kidwell, official historian of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or OSI.

“While war with the Soviet Union did not come to Alaska, OSI trained 89 SBA (stay-behind agents), and the survival caches served peacetime purposes for many years to come,” she wrote in an OSI magazine last year.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to dismiss “Washtub” as a harebrained scheme born of paranoia. In fact it reflected genuine worry about Soviet intentions and a sense of U.S. vulnerability in a turbulent post-World War II period.

As the plan was being shaped in 1950, Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea, triggering a war on the peninsula that some in the Pentagon saw as a deliberate move by Moscow to distract Washington before invading Europe. The previous summer the Soviets stunned the world by exploding their first atomic bomb. Also in 1949, the U.S. locked arms with Western Europe to form the NATO alliance, and Mao Zedong’s revolutionaries declared victory in China, adding to American fear that communism was on the march.

“Washtub” was known inside the government by several other codenames, including Corpuscle, Stigmatic and Catboat, according to an official Air Force history of the OSI, which called it one of OSI’s “most extensive and long-running Cold War projects.” The FBI had its own code word for the project: STAGE.

“Washtub” had two phases.

The first and more urgent was the stay-behind agent program. The second was a parallel effort to create a standby pool of civilian operatives in Alaska trained to clandestinely arrange for the evacuation of downed military air crews in danger of being captured by Soviet forces. This “evasion and escape” plan was coordinated with the CIA.

Among those listed as a stay-behind agent was Dyton Abb Gilliland of Cooper Landing, a community on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. A well-known bush pilot, Gilliland died in a plane crash on Montague Island in Prince William Sound in May 1955 at age 45. FBI records say he spent 12 days in Washington D.C., in June-July 1951 undergoing a range of specialized training, including in the use of parachutes.

The agents also got extensive training in coding and decoding messages, but this apparently did not always go well. Learning these techniques was “an almost impossible task for backwoodsmen to master in 15 hours of training,” one document said. Details in the document were blacked out.

Many agent names in the OSI and FBI documents also were removed before being declassified.

None of the indigenous population was included. The program founders believed that agents from the “Eskimo, Indian and Aleut groups in the Territory should be avoided in view of their propensities to drink to excess and their fundamental indifference to constituted governments and political philosophies. It is pointed out that their prime concern is with survival and their allegiance would easily shift to any power in control.”

Recruiters pitched patriotism and were to offer retainer fees of up to $3,000 a year (nearly $30,000 in 2014 dollars). That sum was to be doubled “after an invasion has commenced,” according to one planning document. The records do not say how much was actually paid during the course of the program.

At least some recruits were fingerprinted and all were secretly screened by the FBI for signs of disloyalty.

The FBI linked one candidate, a resident of Stony River, to a list of names in a 1943 bureau file on “Communist Party activities, Alaska” that tracked U.S. subscribers to a magazine called “Soviet Russia Today.”

Another candidate was flagged – falsely, it turned out – as a likely communist sympathizer based on an FBI informant’s tip about membership in the “Tom Paine Club, Communist Party, Spokane, Washington.”

One was described in a May 1952 OSI memo to the FBI office in Anchorage as the postmaster in Kiana, Alaska; another was manager of a hotel in Valdez. One agent candidate worked for a tin-mining company at Lost River on the Seward Peninsula, one of the higher-priority areas for placing “Washtub” stay-behind agents.

The peninsula is named after Secretary of State William H. Seward, the primary negotiator in the 1867 purchase of the Alaska territory for $7.2 million from czarist Russia.

The FBI tapped its local contacts, including federal judges, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, an Anchorage physician and others for names of reliable Alaskans to be approached.

“Washtub’ was crafted in painstaking detail. But just as the first trained agents were to be put in place in September 1951, Hoover pulled out, leaving it in OSI’s hands, even though one month earlier his top lieutenants had advised him the FBI was “in these programs neck deep,” with an “obvious and inescapable” duty to proceed.

Hoover worried that when the shooting in Alaska started the FBI would be “left holding the bag.”

“If a crisis arose we would be in the midst of another `Pearl Harbor’ and get part of the blame,” Hoover wrote in the margin of a Sept. 6, 1951, memo from an aide, to whom Hoover added one final order: “Get out at once.”

Three years later, Hoover was pulled back in, briefly.

In October 1954, an envelope and a typewritten letter containing a coded message were turned over to the FBI by a woman in Anchorage. It had been misaddressed by the anonymous sender in Fairbanks. Espionage was suspected, triggering flurries of FBI internal memos. Hoover was informed that bureau code breakers were urgently trying to decipher the message.

They never broke the code but eventually declared the crisis over. The mystery message, they determined, was not from an enemy spy. It was a “practice message” sent errantly by one of the “Washtub” agents.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Charged In Fatal Anchorage Shooting

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-08 10:30

Two people were arrested and charged in a fatal shooting in East Anchorage last week.

A man who was wanted for questioning turns out not to have been involved, but charged with first degree homicide is Jerel Williams, 26, with second degree homicide Samantha Herbert, 23.

The two were picked up in Wasilla over the weekend after abandoning their van. Charging documents indicate they’re drug dealers.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Could Face Fines For Wastewater Plant Delays

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-08 10:29

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.

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

Alaska News Nightly: September 5, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 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 and on Twitter @aprn

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Tour Bus Rollover on the Parks Highway Results in One Fatality

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

A tour bus rollover near Mile 173 of the Parks Highway has resulted in at least one fatality.  Alaska State Troopers say the report of the rollover came in just after 8:00 a.m. Friday.

Kiana Teacher Arrested on Missouri Child Sex Abuse Charges

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A Missouri man who spent the last four years teaching throughout Western Alaska has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter—and is alleged to have subjected his other adopted children to “years of physical abuse and neglect.”

Huge Increase For Insurance Rates In Alaska

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans who buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace will have to pay a lot more next year. The state Division of Insurance says consumers can expect an increase of more than 30% on average for coverage.

Snow Falls In Near Tok

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

This week’s cooling trend brought snow to the Alaska Range.

Mayor Calls For Federal Review of Fairbanks Four Case

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The mayor of the city of Fairbanks is calling for federal review of long questioned murder convictions of 4 Native men. The mayor joins numerous leaders and groups pressing for review of the Fairbanks Four case.

Reaction to Alaska Voting Rights Ruling

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit are reacting to news that a Federal Court Judge has ruled in their favor. Wednesday a judge ruled that the State of Alaska violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translations into Native languages.

Foundation Swoops in to Save Sacred Alaskan Artifacts at Auction

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

As early as the 1700s, European visitors and explorers in Alaska wrongly took objects that were sacred and important to the indigenous people. Several of these items were set to be auctioned off in Paris last December, despite protest from tribal groups. It was a done deal, until an anonymous buyer stepped in.

AK: Military Training

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

In a forested area outside of Fairbanks, the U.S. Army operates a remote facility where military servicemen and women train in a cold, mountainous environment. It’s called the Northern Warfare Training Center. And in August, they hosted an elite unit of Army Rangers.

300 Villages: Edna Bay

This week we’re heading to Edna Bay, a tiny community on its own large island near Prince of Wales Island. Myla Poelstra is the treasurer for Edna Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Tour Bus Rollover on the Parks Highway Results in One Fatality

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:52

A tour bus rollover near Mile 173 of the Parks Highway has resulted in at least one fatality. Alaska State Troopers say the report of the rollover came in just after 8:00 am on Friday. 

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The bus belongs to Princess Tours, and trooper spokeswoman Megan peters says that three people were on board, including the driver.

EMS and troopers responded to the scene from Cantwell, Trapper Creek, and Talkeetna.

Troopers say that the driver, Brian Lanning of Trapper Creek, initially reported that both passengers had suffered “significant injuries.”  Just before 9:30, one of the passengers was declared deceased.  The other passenger is listed as having life-threatening injuries. Lanning sustained injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.

Neither passenger’s identity has been released by the Alaska State Troopers.

Julie Benson, a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, says that all three people on board the bus are Princess employees.

Categories: Alaska News

Kiana Teacher Arrested on Missouri Child Sex Abuse Charges

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:51

The Kiana School on November 14, 2011. Photo: Justin Rummel via Flickr Creative Commons.

A Missouri man who spent the last four years teaching throughout western Alaska has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter—and is alleged to have subjected his six other adopted children to “years of physical abuse and neglect.”

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On Friday, Aug. 29, Alaska State Troopers arrested 42-year-old Owen M. Miller in Kiana, where he had been teaching language arts to middle and high school students in the community of more than 350 people just east of Kotzebue.

Miller faces an extraditable warrant from the State of Missouri on five felony counts of child sex abuse, stemming from allegations from one and testimony from at least two more of his adopted children.

“We were contacted by the Missouri authorities,” said Kotzebue Trooper Nathan Sheets. “They provided us a copy of his arrest warrant and said they had been told he was in Kiana working as a teacher.”

State teaching records show Miller has been teaching in Alaska since 2010, first in the Yupiit School District along the lower Kuskokwim River for three years. Miller said he worked at the Akiak and Tuluksak school sites (both communities of fewer than 400 people)  before moving on to the Kiana School in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District since fall 2013.

In an interview at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center Thursday, Sept. 4, Miller said he was a teacher before he came to western Alaska, and said he moved to the state in 2010 “to pursue a lifelong dream” of living in rural Alaska. Missouri court records, however, list a Wasilla apartment as his home address dating back to November 2003.

Though he claimed to have moved to Alaska “with his family,” he said he and his wife soon divorced and she moved to Wasilla.

“I planned a new life in Alaska,” Miller said.

But Missouri court documents allege Miller and his wife left a dark past behind them. Citing as witnesses a Missouri sheriff’s deputy, two Missouri State Highway patrol officers, a Wasilla police officer, Miller’s seven adopted children, and others, the Missouri court’s statement of probable cause alleges Miller and his wife were responsible for years of “sexual and physical abuse” of the couple’s adopted children, abuse the sheriff’s deputy claims occurred “in many jurisdictions throughout Missouri and Alaska.”

Miller faces five felony charges, including statutory rape, sodomy, two counts of child molestation, and incest. All charges have been filed in Missouri; no criminal charges have been filed in Alaska. Miller’s wife has not been charged with any crimes.

A sworn statement from the Andrew County Sheriff’s Department in Savannah, Missouri, alleges Miller and his wife routinely locked their adopted kids in attics, basements, and outdoors, leaving them without food for days. At other times, with their siblings padlocked inside their rooms, the children had to crawl through holes in the wall to steal food from a freezer and heat it up on a wall furnace.

In August of last year, the Missouri court documents describe one of Miller’s adopted daughters reaching out to a Wasilla police officer to disclose more than a decade of physical and sexual abuse. The documents describe “a marriage ceremony in Savannah” in August 2002, but exactly who was married is unclear. After the ceremony, the adopted daughter—who at the time court documents say was under 12 years old—alleges Miller sexually abused her, beginning more than ten years of such abuse, with Miller said to have routinely plied the victim with alcohol.

Miller’s wife told the same Wasilla police officer in August 2013 that she knew of the physical abuse but denied any sexual abuse.

“I didn’t do what I’ve been charged with,” Miller said from jail in Nome Thursday. “I don’t know what to say beyond that.” He denied the charges, refusing to talk about his children, and said he had had trouble contacting family members and a lawyer in jail. Miller said he had not even seen a full list of charges a week after his arrest.

Susan Morgan, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said Alaska adoption officials were unable to comment on whether or not Miller’s children were adopted in Alaska due to the state’s confidentiality laws. Miller said his children were all adopted in Missouri.

Prosecutor Steve Stevenson in Andrew County, Missouri, said the initial reports regarding the abuse came to his office in October and November of last year. Stevenson said Miller has other offenses in other Missouri counties. “There were several problems in other places,” he said.

Stevenson credited the state’s “longer statute of limitations for sexual offenses” with making the warrant for Miller possible. “In cases of physical abuse only, we don’t have as long to prosecute someone on late-arriving information.”

Miller has no criminal history in Missouri or Alaska. Sondra Meredith, who administers teacher certificates for the Alaska Department of Education, said that means he had no trouble passing the mandatory background check for his teaching certificate in Alaska.

“In the case of Mr. Miller, there is no indication that any of those checks resulted in any of those red flags in our office,” she said Thursday, going so far as to run another background check that day. “Basically he came through with a clean background check.”

Annmarie O’Brien, superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District where Miller most recently worked, said there was no record of any concerns of child welfare during Miller’s time with the school.

“The staff has expressed surprise, but there haven’t been any concerns [expressed] of Mr. Miller while he was working in Kiana,” O’Brien said.

Norma Holmgaard, the superintendent of the Yupiit School District, refused to release any information on Miller’s three years with the district.

James Seitz, executive director of Alaska’s Professional Teaching Practices Commission—the body that enforces the code of ethics on the state’s teachers—said Miller had never been sanctioned by the teaching commission. Seitz added that privacy concerns prevented him from disclosing if complaints had ever been filed against Miller during his time teaching in Alaska.

Miller is currently awaiting extradition to Missouri in Nome’s correctional center, pending $250,000 bail.

Kenny Ragland with The Savanna Reporter contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Huge Increase For Insurance Rates In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:50

Alaskans who buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace will see a significant rate hike for next year. The state Division of Insurance says consumers can expect to pay an increase of more than 30 percent on average for coverage.

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Two insurers offer individual plans on the marketplace – Premera Alaska and Moda. Premera’s plans will increase the most – an average of 37 percent. Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says even that increase is not enough to pay for customers’ claims.

“We do have a pretty clear influx of folks with some very significant medical costs that in the past was spread across the insured market, including employers,” Earling said.

Earling says the way the individual market is structured under the Affordable Care Act is not sustainable in a small population state like Alaska.

“Before the ACA took effect in January, people could access coverage through a state high risk pool or through a state high risk pool,” Earling said. “Many of those folks are now purchasing coverage on the individual market and we believe Premera probably picked up a disproportionate share of those folks with really significant medical needs.”

Premera is working with the state on a solution that would spread the risk of those high cost customers across the insurance market. The state is analyzing the plan and hasn’t yet taken a position on it.

Premera serves 7,000 customers in the state who bought marketplace plans. Earling says the company expects to lose four million dollars insuring those customers this year. He says a small number of enrollees account for a huge amount of claims.

“We’ve seen since January first through June 30th, seven million dollars in medical claims from only 33 members out of those 7,000,” Earling said. “So that’s about 1/3 of all of our medical claims costs for those 7,000 members are coming from 33 individuals.”

Earling says Premera would have to increase rates by more that 70% next year to break even. That’s the rate increase the company first proposed when it approached the state Division of Insurance, according to director Lori Wing-Heier. After looking at the company’s data, she agreed with their financial assessment. But Wing-Heier says through discussions they were able to compromise on a lower rate increase:

“And we felt that they could sustain another year of significant loss,” Wing-Heier said. “They’re indicating they’ll lose 5 million dollars in 2015 in addition to what they lost in 2014. But they are financially strong and they’re willing to take that loss to see what the data looks like when we go through rate filling next year.”

Moda, the other company offering individual plans on the marketplace, will increase rates by an average of 27 percent. Rates increase for both companies will vary depending on age and geographic region. Wing-Heier says state statute prohibits her from releasing the specific rates until they go into effect on January 1st.  She says she hopes in a year or two, the rates will stabilize.

“We are being asked through a federal program to price a product that some people cannot afford,” Wing-Heier said. “And we’re doing the best we can to keep the cost of that product down.”

The federal government points out that many Alaskans will be able to use subsidies, and that will help lessen the impact of the rate increases. In Alaska, almost 90 percent of consumers who bought plans on in 2014 qualified for financial help to purchase the plans.

Categories: Alaska News

Snow Falls In Near Tok

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:49

This week’s cooling trend brought snow to the Alaska Range.

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“I went cross country skiing; decided to break out the skis and go down the trail,” John Ruysniak, owner of the Log Cabin Wilderness Lodge on the Tok Cutoff, said.

He says more than 9 inches of snow was on the ground there Wednesday, enough to ski, build a snowman and block the road into the lodge.

“We had about 20 trees that had bowed down to the ground and so we had guests that wanted to leave, so we had to go down with a chainsaw ahead of them and clear out the trees before they could get out,” Ruysniak said.

Ruysniak says the trees are still fully leafed out, and the snow is one of the earliest he’s experienced in the Tok area.

“September snow is common, but September 3rd is real early,” Ruysniak said. ”We’ve seen it on Labor Day before, but it’s been probably since around 2000 or maybe 1998 that we had a big dump like this — ’92 is another year.”

“It’s not very normal that my garden get snowed on before it gets its first frost. My neighbor has been in this area 38 years and she doesn’t remember ever going in August without a frost.”

Ruysniak says that’s allowed his garden to keep going, adding he was able harvest some lettuce from under the snow, which had started melting some yesterday. The rest could go this weekend, with rain forecast for the eastern Alaska Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Mayor Calls For Federal Review of Fairbanks Four Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:48

The mayor of the city of Fairbanks is calling for federal review of long questioned murder convictions of 4 Native men. The mayor joins numerous leaders and groups pressing for review of the Fairbanks Four case.

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Categories: Alaska News

Reaction to Alaska Voting Rights Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:47

Plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit are reacting to news that a Federal Court Judge has ruled in their favor. Wednesday a judge ruled that the State of Alaska violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translations into Native languages.

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Judge Sharon Gleason found the State of Alaska violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translations of voting materials to voters whose primary language is Gwich’in or Yup’ik.

Benjaman Nukusuk is the Tribal Chief for the Native Village of Hooper Bay, a plaintiff in the case.

“I was very pleased because the elders of the Y-K Delta want to know what they’re voting on and who they’re voting for and why and our elders by nature are very articulate and precise in what that want, especially when it comes to things that matter for our people and the things of our Y-K Delta.”

Judge Gleason issued the partial decision after presiding over a two-week trial in June and July. Native American Rights Fund Attorneys argued the state’s voting materials in Yup’ik and Gwich’in were inaccurately translated and poorly distributed. NARF Attorney Natalie Landreth says the law the state was supposed to be following passed in 1975.

“We’re obviously extremely pleased and relieved but the reality is that the case, the decision and the changes that it’s supposed to bring are 40 years overdue.

JudgeGleason gave the state until Friday to indicate what changes they can make before the November 4th general election. Landreth says she hopes the state will deliver comprehensive translations.

“There’s a hundred-page voter information pamphlet that goes out every election in English and the reality is that Yup’ik speaking voters are entitled to all of that information before they go vote and so what we want to see is some plan to make sure that Yup’ik speaking voters will learn about the candidates, the ballot measures, the bond measures, the judges, everything on there.”

The Department of Law has said it will work with the Division of Elections to draft a proposal. Judge Gleason has not yet ruled on whether the state intentionally violated voter’s rights on the basis race or color.

Categories: Alaska News

Foundation Swoops in to Save Sacred Alaskan Artifacts at Auction

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:46

Archivist and collection manager for Sealaska Heritage Institute Zachary Jones holds up the wood panel, which arrived last week. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

As early as the late 1700s, European visitors and explorers in Alaska wrongly took objects that were sacred and important to the indigenous people. Several of these items were set to be auctioned off in Paris last December, despite protest from tribal groups around the U.S. It was a done deal, until an anonymous buyer stepped in.

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Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl flips through a printed catalog of items that were up for bid at a Paris auction house last December. She points to several Native items taken from Southeast Alaska a long time ago.

“That one. This is probably from the northern area. This is another Northwest Coast piece, another Northwest Coast piece, something that should be here at home,” says Worl. “This makes me sad when I see them.”

Sealaska Heritage and other tribal communities around the country had written letters to protest that Paris auction and another, which featured sacred Native objects. The U.S. Embassy in Paris got involved but nothing could legally stop the auctions.

“So we thought it was a done deal and then all of a sudden, a couple days later we got a call from the Annenberg Foundation,” says Chuck Smythe, culture and history director at Sealaska Heritage.

A carved wooden panel painted with a Chilkat design would be returning home to Southeast Alaska.

“They had purchased this item unbeknownst to us, so it came as a huge surprise,” Smythe says.

Little is known about the panel, which is 20 inches tall, 18 inches wide with wood nails and detailed carving. It was likely part of a Tlingit bentwood box that could’ve belonged to a shaman or used by a clan to keep ceremonial objects and regalia. Sealaska Heritage officials think the panel could date back to the early 1800s, a time when many outsiders wrongly took Native objects.

The Annenberg Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Los Angeles,anonymously purchased 27 Native objects from two Paris auction houses last December, the majority of which will be returned to the Hopi and San Carlos Apache tribes in Arizona. Besides the wood panel to Sealaska Heritage, another object was repatriated to the Chugach Alaska Corporation. The two Alaska items were purchased for several thousand dollars each, according to the foundation.

Carol Laumen was one of the foundation’s bidders during the auctions. She says this isn’t normal practice for the foundation, but there was a great interest to repatriate the items.

“These artifacts were in some cases over a hundred years old and it was suspect in some cases how the artifacts actually ended up in private hands, so to return them to the rightful owner was the right thing to do,” Laumen says.

Since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act took effect in 1990, Worl says Sealaska Heritage has been active in bringing sacred items back to Southeast Alaska.

“The objects that we are trying to get back are what we call at.óow. That means they’re owned or purchased property. They belong to clans. They represent our ties to our ancestors and spirits of our ancestors are associated with our at.óow and we know that our ancestors want to come back home,” Worl says.

Sealaska Heritage has repatriated dozens of objects from museums on behalf of individual clans. But thousands more remain in museums and private collections.

Worl remembers being part of a group visiting the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum for the first time.

“The curators thought they were doing a wonderful thing in letting us see their collection. There was about 10 of us and when we saw our at.óow, I saw 10 Tlingits just crying over those objects,” Worl says.

A large part of repatriation is educating people on the cultural significance of objects to indigenous people, Worl says. She recognizes that people pay a lot of money for these items and wants to figure out a financial incentive for collectors.

“For example, a tax credit. Could the government provide a tax credit to a collector for donating it back to a tribe?” Worl says.

In some cases where objects are repatriated from museums, Worl says tribes have given back.

“Cape Fox — they repatriated a totem pole from the Harvard Peabody Museum and in return, they carved a totem pole and left a totem pole there,” Worl says.

She’s thankful to the Annenberg Foundation for bringing the wood panel back to Southeast. It arrived at Sealalaska Heritage August 29.

“We couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that an organization would do this on our behalf,” Worl says.

Sealaska Heritage doesn’t know the panel’s origins but hopes to find out and return it.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: US Army Rangers Train In Alaska’s Rugged Interior

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:45

In a forested area outside of Fairbanks, the U.S. Army operates a remote facility where it trains military servicemen and women in cold, mountainous environments. It’s called the Northern Warfare Training Center. And in August, they hosted an elite unit of Army Rangers.

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A U.S. Army Ranger ascends a rock face at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids. Soldiers from the 75th Army Ranger Regiment visited the facility for two weeks of training.

Staff Sergeant Michael O’Brien looks on as Private First Class John Carrmill readies his rope system to ascend a 50-foot rock face next to a waterfall. He goes over his equipment under O’Brien’s watchful eye.

“I’m going to put this around my foot, tie a prussick knot in the rope, clip into my locking carabiner and lock in,” Carrmill says.

“What’s the difference between this rope and this rope? Which is for your waist and which is for your foot?” O’Brien asks. “This one’s for my waist, this one’s for my foot,” Carrmill nails it his first try.

Two NWTC instructors look on as a U.S. Army Ranger readies himself to ascend the rock face.

Between the waterfall and a steady drizzle of rain, the rock is slick.

Carrmill has been a U.S. Army Ranger for about a month. He says coming to the middle of cold, wet Alaska for training is exactly the kind of thing he signed up for.

“I love it so far,” Carrmill says.

When it’s Carrmill’s turn to head up, he’ll have to shift his weight between two loops of cord to shimmy up the climbing rope. It’s a new skill for him.

O’Brien keeps quizzing him. “What’s the distance you want to keep between these two prussicks?” About a fist’s width, Carrmill replies. “What are you going to do when you get 8-10 feet off the ground?” Carrmill says he’s going to tie a safety knot, a figure-eight. “Go ahead and ascent,” O’Brien tells him.

The Rangers here are an elite unit of Army special operations forces. Alongside other Army special ops groups, like Delta Force and the green berets, they’ve had boots on the ground in nearly every major U.S. war. They were some of the first to head in to Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of their exploits have been immortalized in Hollywood movies like “Black Hawk Down.”

For two weeks in August, the Georgia-based Rangers are testing themselves against the rigors of the Alaskan Interior. This facility at Black Rapids is called the Northern Warfare Training Center. It offers crash courses in alpine and glacier travel, cold-weather survival and high-altitude operations.

A U.S. Army Ranger backs off the rock wall after rappelling down. Approximately 150 Rangers came to the Northern Warfare Training Center in the Interior for two weeks of training.

Lt. Col. Mark Adams, who oversees the facility, says the year-round training they provide gives soldiers hands-on experience in an Arctic climate that can’t easily be simulated elsewhere.

“We offer some very extreme temperatures up here,” Adams says. “Every place has some unique differences about it, but this place is one that offers some extreme conditions.”

And even though the center is an Army facility, it’s at the disposal of all Department of Defense personnel and affiliates. They’ve trained up Navy SEALS, groups from the FBI, and more.

The center also doubles as a kind of testing lab for Army gear. Earlier this summer they tried out mosquito nets for troops to use on deployment in malaria-prone areas. Mosquitoes, Adams says, are in copious supply in this neck of the woods. Later on this winter, they’ll be testing different gloves for the Army.

But their primary mission is training.

Back on the rock, private first class Carrmill has just finished his ascent and successful rappel down the slick rock face. Once back on the ground, he yells, “OFF THE ROPE!” to those still above.

When I ask him about how it went, he shrugs and says it was fun. Carrmill was actually faster than a lot of the guys once he got off the ground. I ask him about it and all he says is, “Yeah, once you get used to doing it, it’s fun.”

Carrmill, like a lot of the guys here, is a man of few words. One of the Army PR guys chocks it up to Ranger culture — be quiet, and let your actions do the talking.

Across a small creek, another group of Rangers is doing a basic climbing and rappelling exercise. One Rangers yells up to his buddy about a foothold that’s just within his reach.

Staff Sergeant Joel Rockhill has already been up the wall and back again. Since becoming a Ranger nine years ago, he’s been to airborne school — jumping out of planes and stuff — but scaling a rain-slicked 50-foot rock wall still gets his adrenaline going.

Two U.S. Army Rangers scale a rock face at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids. It’s the first time the Rangers have been to NWTC for training since the War on Terror began in 2001.

“I mean it was… I’m scared of heights, not going to lie,” he laughs. “It can be pretty difficult.”

Rockhill says coming to Alaska for cold-weather warfare training is a change of pace for the group. In his time with the Rangers, he’s been deployed nine times, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercises like this.

“It’s a unique training opportunity. We haven’t really gotten to do a lot of this stuff because of the wars. But coming out here and doing this, getting exposed to the different environments than Iraq and Afghanistan, and really kind of starting to prep for the future, it’s really good.”

With fewer deployments on the horizon as national military focus shifts away from the Middle East, trainings like this one, Rockhill says, help keep the Rangers a close-knit group.

“Obviously we get new guys a lot, and different guys move to different squads and stuff like that, but you build that cohesiveness through training and different situations that happen on deployment,” Rockhill says. “A lot of these guys, these peers of mine, we stay pretty close knit… we hang out on the weekends and such.”

Getting to travel to Alaska together and rough it in the mountains, Rockhill says, isn’t a bad way to spend two weeks with your friends.

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla’s VA Clinic Operating Without Doctors

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:45

The Veterans Affairs clinic in Wasilla is without doctors, after the three physicians working under contract over the summer decided not to renew those.

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A nurse practitioner, who transferred from Anchorage last week, now has to carry the 1,000-patient caseload.

The clinic is supposed to have two full-time doctors but has been down one since 2012. KTVA reports the last full-time doctor left in May.

Cynthia Joe, chief of staff for the Alaska VA Health Care System, said the VA is offering what it is allowed to offer for salaries. That level is capped at $195,000. She said there are also incentives and cost-of-living allowances.

There are no applicants.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Top Secret Cold War History

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:00

Those stories grandpa told of being a secret government spy after the Second World War may be true. Secret documents now made public reveal that Alaskan bush pilots and other civilians were recruited by intelligence agencies to be spies in the event of a Russian invasion. We’ll hear more about Alaska’s secret Cold War history on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Katie Ringsmuth, History Curator, Anchorage Museum
  • Aaron Leggett, Special Exhibits Curator, Anchorage Museum
  • Callers Statewide


  • 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, September 9, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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


Categories: Alaska News

General Katkus Resigns As Report Details Guard’s Failure In Addressing Sexual Assault

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:10

An investigation released Thursday details a long list of failures in how the Alaska National Guard handles reports of sexual assault and other matters.

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In response to the findings, Governor Sean Parnell asked for the resignation of National Guard Major General Thomas Katkus, effective immediately.

Find the full report here

“This culture of mistrust and failed leadership in the Guard, it ends now,” Parnell said.

Governor Parnell requested that the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations look into allegations in February, after receiving complaints about how guard leadership addressed reports of sexual assault. At a press conference in Anchorage this afternoon, Parnell summarized the findings of the 230-page report.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell addresses the National Guard Bureau’s report on sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“Alaska Guard members lack trust and confidence in the Alaska national Guard’s leadership to handle sexual assault cases, or to administer justice for other misconduct in a fair, evenhanded manner without reprisal,” Parnell said.

The Guard Bureau looked at 37 cases of sexual assault. The Bureau found that many of the cases were reviewed by people who weren’t trained to conduct sexual assault investigations. Some victims also told the Guard Bureau they were ostracized and abused by fellow guard members after reporting sexual assault.

Confidentiality was also a problem. One victim of sexual assault reported to the Bureau that she had overheard a fellow service member discussing the details of her own assault while at work.

Parnell first heard of issues in the Guard in 2010 and he has been criticized for not acting sooner to correct the problem. Parnell says when he looked into concerns in the past, he heard from Guard members and leadership that the cases were being handled properly. He says the complaints persisted and that led him to call for this outside investigation.

“I’m extremely frustrated and I’m angry it’s taken so long to get to the bottom of these issues,” Parnell said. “The Alaska Guard members deserve better.”

“The victims who have been hurt and those who have brought complaints forward deserve better. In hindsight is clearly shouldn’t have taken this long.”

The report details several other problems in the Alaska Guard including sexual harassment, discrimination based on race, and fraud committed by guard members and leadership.

The report makes dozens of recommendations for changes and describes a plan to make those changes. Parnell says he will establish a project team to implement the recommendations.

Categories: Alaska News

Dems Ask Maryland to Investigate Sullivan Tax Breaks

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:09

Maryland tax authorities said this week they’ll investigate whether Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan improperly benefited from tax breaks intended for Maryland residents for a house he owned in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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As it turns out, Sullivan’s history of voting in Alaska elections may cost him, even though it helps counter charges that he’s a newcomer.

Questions about the length of his residency in Alaska that have dogged him since the start of his campaign. Rival Republican Mead Treadwell said he had mayonnaise with longer tenure in his fridge. And months ago, the superPAC supporting Sen. Mark Begich, Put Alaska First, zeroed in on a house Sullivan bought in Bethesda, Maryland in 2006, when he worked for the State Department.

“Documents show that while Sullivan pocketed a Maryland tax credit for residents living there, he was voting in Alaska, claiming to be one of us,” one of their ads said.

The head of the Alaska Democratic Party wrote Maryland authorities last week to question whether Sullivan was eligible for that tax break, known as the Homestead exemption. Party Chair Mike Wenstrup insists the purpose of the letter is fact-finding, not to get Sullivan in trouble with tax collectors.

“If he’s saying ‘I’m a resident of Maryland’ to people in Maryland and also saying ‘I am a resident of Alaska’ to the people of Alaska, you know, he’s not being truthful,” Wenstrup says.

The director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, Robert E. Young, said this week he hadn’t yet received the letter, but he will launch a review of the case.

“We have an obligation, a legal obligation, to investigate every claim that someone is improperly receiving a Homestead credit,” he said.

Maryland legislators passed a law in 2007 to crack down on abuses of the tax break. Young says he gets thousands of complaints a year, many from citizen watchdogs and some against members of Congress. Just last month, his office told Walt Havenstein, the Republican nominee for governor of New Hampshire, he must pay back $9,000 in Homestead credits he took for a condo he owned in Bethesda, starting in 2007, when he was working in the Beltway for defense contractors.

Democrats in New Hampshire are drawing attention to it. Wenstrup, the Alaska Democratic Party chair, says news of that case prompted him to request a review of Sullivan’s file.

A spokesman for the Sullivan campaign declined requests for an interview for this story. On his campaign website, Sullivan says he never applied for Maryland’s Homestead credit, which he says was automatically provided back then for owner-occupied homes.

Young, the Maryland taxman, says it wasn’t automatic but based on a document Sullivan and his wife signed in 2006, swearing the Bethesda house was their principal residence and they planned to live there most of the next year. (The statement references a different tax break for residents, known as the recordation tax, but Young says it’s what his office and county authorities relied on to grant the Homestead credit.) All told, their Bethesda residency claim saved the Sullivans some $5,000 over the two and a half years they lived there.

Young says he looks at a number of factors in deciding whether a homeowner is eligible for the Homestead credit. Among them: The address provided on the homeowners’ tax return, where their cars are registered and where they obtained their drivers licenses. Physical presence is required, but Young says so is “legal presence.” If a person votes in another state, he says that’s evidence he can’t overlook.

“What’s my legal presence? And my legal presence is where I vote,” he said. “And as I say, voting is important.”

According to the state’s voter list, Sullivan voted by mail in Alaska’s general election in 2008, during the period he was claiming Maryland’s homestead credit.

Sullivan’s campaign website says he and his wife considered their time outside Alaska as a temporary duty assignment.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Coal Dumping Case Referred Back To Lower Court

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:08

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower  court decision in a Clean Water Act case. According to attorneys for the  Sierra Club, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting in Anchorage in August, has ruled that Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad Corporation are in violation of the Act by dumping coal from their Seward Coal Export Facility into Resurrection Bay.

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Wednesday’s ruling reverses an earlier court decision in which the lower federal district court said that the facility’s stormwater permit protected tAurora and the railroad from liability for the pollution. This latest decision finds that the terms of the permit prohibit dumping coal into the Bay. The Ninth Circuit has sent the case back to federal district court.

 Vicki Clark, an attorney with the Trustees For Alaska, represented the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 

“Well the judge would get the case back and then decide if there is a discharge of pollutants that’s occurring to the waters of the United States, then a permit would have to be obtained. So that will be the question before the district court. The court was clear that the terms of the stormwater permit that they have do not cover them, and so they cannot be shielded from having to get a proper permit under the Clean Water Act for these discharges.”

Tim Sullivan, with Alaska Railroad External Affairs, said in an email Wednesday:

 ”The Alaska Railroad Corporation  is reviewing the September 3 ruling from a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Seward coal terminal…… That panel reversed a decision of U.S. District Court Judge Burgess finding that the Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) under which the Seward Coal Loading Facility has been operating shields ARRC and Alaska Energy Services  from liability. 

Despite this ruling, ARRC and AES have not been found liable for any violations of the Clean Water Act. Notably, this ruling represents a small portion of a much larger lawsuit, all of which was dismissed by the U.S. District Court and most of which was not appealed by the plaintiffs.

Categories: Alaska News

Archaeological Dig Near Quinhagak Provides a Look Into Ancient Yup’ik Culture

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:07

Students from Scotland excavating at the Araliq site. (Photo by Charles, KYUK – Bethel)

At the site of an ancient village near Quinhagak, archaeologists race against erosion to uncover Yup’ik artifacts. What they find not only provides a look into the daily lives of Yup’ik ancestors, but also sheds light on a brutal period in the region’s history.

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A cold breeze from the Bering Sea sweeps clouds across a tundra hill, upon which sits the ancient village of Araliq. Students and archaeologists are carefully scraping away layers of soil when something catches the attention of the crew.

An ivory handled ul’uaq with a blade made of slate found by Anna Sloan. (Photo by Charles, KYUK – Bethel)

The abandoned village of Araliq is about 5 miles south of Quinhagak, home of Warren Jones, President of Qanirtuuq Incorporated, the tribal corporation. There was a sense of urgency in 2009, Jones explains, when people first noticed erosion along the shoreline was exposing artifacts. Afraid that the site and its treasures would be lost for good, Jones contacted the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. 5 years later, he says the artifacts are bringing elders stories to life.

“It’s like the elders are saying, in their own way, ‘we told you so.’ Now all the little stories are coming alive,” says Jones.

Today there’s a show and tell of some items excavated from the site at a community building. Quinhagak elder John ‘Aatassuk’ Fox says this about a miniature carving of a human-like face.

“That was made by a shaman. It’s not that way for no reason,” says Fox.

Other elders agree that it might be the case. On display are many variations of household items, tools and jewelry. One item that stands out is a labret, a piece of carved wood or stone that Yup’ik people once wore by inserting them into piercings – men wore two, one along each jawbone while women wore one over their chin.

Other discoveries point to a violent end for the village. Weapons were also found at the site along with a layer of ash, and skeletal remains of humans who seemed to have died in an attack. Rick Knecht is the lead archaeologist on the project. He says the site holds evidence of the warring period known in Yup’ik folklore as ‘the bow and arrow wars.’

“There is a piece of armor that’s derived from Asian samurai armor where there’s these overlapping plates, except its made of antler sewn together. And here’s some more evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars,’ this is one of the burned arrow points that we found in the ruins of the house. It was fired at somebody in anger. Roof sods and stuff absolutely riddled with those kinds of points. Seventy-five percent of the all the arrow points in that house were found in that upper layer,” says Knecht.

Archeologist say it’s the first tangible evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars’ or ‘anguyagpallratni,’ as the period is called in Yup’ik. Stories say Araliq residents were massacred in a ferocious attack by the old village of Qinaq, and the village was burned and renamed Araliq. Which means ‘lots of ash’ due to the amount of ash, or ‘araq’ in Yup’ik, which was present on site after the attack. While it’s clear that Araliq’s residents experienced war, archaeologists also discovered signs of everyday life. Ann Riordan was there on behalf of the Calista Elders Council. One of the biggest things that struck her is how similar, yet different, some of the artifacts are to modern tools and crafts used by Yup’ik people today.

“There was an ul’uaq with a little indentation in it, but if you hold it, your thumb just fits in it beautifully. I’ve never seen one like it and it’s made out of stone and wood,” says Riordan.

With climate change causing erosion across much of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, Riordan says other communities could carry out similar projects, but the clock is ticking.

“There’s just never been anything this big in our area, and there’s lots and lots of old sites, many other old sites that are being washed away. Many more communities can have this experience,” says Riordan.

Back at the dig site, University of Oregon graduate student Anna Sloan uncovers what instantly has everyone at the dig site smitten.

It’s an ul’uaq, a woman’s cutting knife, with an ivory handle, beautifully carved in the likeness of a mythical sea monster known as the ‘Palrayak.’ It will travel to Scotland for study and preservation before being returned. Tribal leaders say they will eventually display it either in Bethel or Quinhagak for future generations.

Categories: Alaska News
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