Alaska News

Jim Johnsen named new University of Alaska president

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 10:24

Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is the incoming University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has named a new university president after a months-long search for the right candidate.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports the university announced Tuesday that Jim Johnsen would replace retiring University of Alaska President Pat Gamble. Johnsen, who serves as senior vice president of Alaska Communications, will take over as president on Sept. 1.

Johnsen was selected as the sole candidate for the university’s top position in June. The board spent a month meeting with various groups across the state as they accepted public comment on Johnsen.

Earlier this month, Johnsen said he would focus on strengthening existing programs at the university.

UA said in a release that Johnsen’s five-year contract will earn him an annual salary of $325,000.

Categories: Alaska News

6.3 Earthquake Shakes Much of Alaska Tuesday Evening

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 10:22

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake shook much of Alaska Tuesday night. It was felt from the Alaska Peninsula to Fairbanks.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake site, the quake occurred just after 6:35 p.m.

Some of the most intense shaking was felt on the Kenai Peninsula…about a half hour into the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.

It was still rocking almost a minute later.

“Just guessing here- it was probably felt by a majority of Alaskans, so that makes it notable,” says Michael West, a state seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center. “It occurred fairly deep in the earth, about 75 miles below the surface and because of that, it was felt over a very wide area. On the flip side, because it was deep, that means that nobody was right next to the earthquake. That is, even if you were right on top of it, you were still 75 miles away.”

As a result, the shaking wasn’t nearly as strong as it would have been had it been shallower.

The epicenter was 44 miles south-southwest of Redoubt Volcano on the west side of Cook Inlet. It was almost due west of Anchor Point, near Pedro and Chinitna Bays.

West says it’s not directly related to the recent magnitude 6.9 quake in the Aleutians. That one was shallow and has had vigorous aftershocks. This quake has had few aftershocks and none were very significant.

He says this is a fairly normal type of quake for Alaska, though it was larger than usual, which makes it notable.

“From a plate tectonics perspective, the Pacific plate, that is the area of earth that is the Pacific Ocean is converging on Alaska,” says West. “The two are moving together a couple of inches per year. In this competition between the mainland of Alaska and the Pacific plate, Alaska wins and the Pacific plate is being thrust down into the earth in a process that we refer to as subduction.”

The stress caused by that thrusting manifests itself as an earthquake.

One aspect of this particular quake that had social media abuzz was its length. It was felt for more than 45 seconds in some places, which puts it at the upper end for many common seismic events.

West says the actual rupture in the earth was over and done with in just a few seconds. But the resulting seismic waves bounce around and reverberate.

“An analogy we’ve used this evening is like a crowd in a stadium, echoes that bounce around and around and around. And the seismic waves do the same thing. Typically, the further away you are, the longer you may feel that shaking,” says West.

West says his office received reports of dishes falling off of shelves and lots of shaking, but hadn’t heard any reports of injuries or serious damage.

So, while it was an evening surprise for much of the state, its effects luckily weren’t severe.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman Dead after Shooting Herself at Spring Creek Correctional Center

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 10:17

Spring Creek Correctional Center. (Department of Corrections photo)

A woman is dead after shooting herself in front of a Kenai Peninsula correctional facility on Monday.

The woman has been identified as 31-year old Amanda Bee of North Pole.

She died Monday just after 9 p.m. at Providence Medical Center in Seward.

Alaska State Troopers from Crown Point on the Kenai Peninsula were dispatched at about 5 p.m. Monday in response to a woman with a gun outside the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward.

“The woman pulled up around the first traffic blockade and onto an area right next to the parking lot. She called 911 essentially saying, if you don’t release the convicted killers, I’m going to kill myself,” says Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

Peters says less than 10 minutes after the call went through, Bee shot herself in the head. Troopers say there were several correctional officers who witnessed the incident. The officers and correctional facility nurses reportedly initiated CPR immediately.

“Unfortunately, they were not able to revive her. Our Troopers were not even able to make it on scene yet before it unfolded,” says Peters.

She was transported to Providence Seward Medical Center. She was still breathing at the time of transport and died later that evening at the hospital.

Next of kin has been notified. The State Medical Examiner was notified and requested an autopsy. An investigation is underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Port commission discusses Nome’s role in the future of Arctic shipping

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 10:00

Nome’s role in the future of Arctic shipping was the main topic of discussion at the most recent meeting of the Nome Port Commission. With the summer shipping season in full swing, harbormaster Lucas Stotts said the port had a busy July, emphasizing that, “both docks are completely jam-packed full until August 2.”

And vessel traffic is only expected to rise. A report published by the US Army Corps of Engineers in March of this year tentatively selected Nome as the site of a proposed deep-draft port, the first Arctic port of its kind in the country. The project is estimated to cost nearly $211 million in total, with the city on the hook for a possible $113 million.

Construction of the Port of Nome’s Middle Dock continues to progress. (Photo by Matthew Smith, KNOM)

City officials say much depends on the Port’s capacity to attract funding partners who have a vested interest in Arctic development. But securing those potential partners is easier said than done. With ongoing plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, petroleum giant Shell Oil would have been an attractive partner for Nome, though the company took its business elsewhere this summer.

“It struck me right in the face that Shell Oil is doing logistics out of Kotzebue and not Nome,” said Commissioner Charlie Lean.

Lean was disappointed that Shell passed over Nome in its planning for this year’s drilling season. He cited Nome’s transportation infrastructure and longer shipping season as major selling points for the port and urged the city to market itself more aggressively in the future.

Port project manager Joy Baker said, despite this year’s disappointment, the door with Shell isn’t shut completely. “We’re still on their radar,” Baker stressed, “but they’re going to run their small crew changes out of Kotzebue… taking advantage of the closer airport to their working location.”

Meanwhile, the Port of Nome is focusing its energy on expanding local services, with construction of the Middle Dock already underway. The project will add another 200-foot dock, allowing the port to accommodate two to three additional mid-sized vessels.

Baker updated the commission at the recent meeting, explaining that, “things are going real well, real smooth, mother nature’s been very cooperative.” She said progress overall is rapid, adding the look of the dock “changes every day, considerably.”

Baker also introduced plans for a possible boatlift at the mouth of the Snake River. Because Nome does not currently have the capacity to remove larger vessels from the water, they’re forced to travel south to ice-free harbors such as Juneau or Seattle for the winter. Baker debuted two concept drawings for a possible lift, with initial bids ranging from $4.3 to $4.5 million. While she emphasized that the concept is still abstract, she said it’s never too early to think about Nome’s future.

“I think it’s another piece of infrastructure that is on the horizon for Nome,” suggested Baker, “I just don’t know when that magical time is to build it.”

When it comes to future planning, outgoing commissioner Iura Leahu commended Baker for keeping her “eye to the future.” In his final comments, Leahu thanked his fellow commissioners for their continuing work and expressed his hope of seeing those efforts pay off down the road. “I think that there is a future here for the city of Nome,” Leahu insisted, “and I think we might be able see a port here that is going to make a difference in this region.”

Much of this hope rests on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to move forward with a deep-draft Arctic port in Nome. After reviewing all inter-agency and public comments on the “tentatively selected” plan, a final decision is anticipated by December 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Cathay Pacific flight makes emergency landing at Shemya air station

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-29 07:56

A Cathay Pacific flight en route from Hong Kong to Los Angeles Wednesday morning has made an emergency landing at an Aleutian Islands military airport.

Airlines officials say smoke detected in the aircraft caused the Boeing 777 to divert to the Eareckson Air Station on the island of Shemya.

Officials say the aircraft is now safely on the ground and all passengers and crew are safe.

Messages to Eareckson have not been returned as of Wednesday morning.

The airline says preliminary information shows that 276 passengers and 18 crew were on-board the airline’s Flight 884. The flight was operated jointly with American Airlines and South America’s LAN Airlines.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Plea… Not Guilty

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:57

Troopers stop traffic on the Parks Highway Monday morning as the Sockeye Fire spreads. (Photo by John Norris – Alaska Public Media)

Defendants in the Sockeye wildfire case were no-shows in state court in Palmer Tuesday morning. The state is seeking a conviction against Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt, who are charged with eight misdemeanor counts ranging from illegal burning to reckless endangerment as a result of the fire that consumed more than 50 homes in the Willow area. Imig and DeWill waived arraignment late Monday. Their attorneys filed not guilty pleas for both.

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No victims of the fire appeared in court Tueaday, although Sherese Miller, a paralegal with the Palmer District Attorney’s office, says the state is trying to locate them.

“Anyone affected by the fire, I need them to be contacting the District Attorney’s office. So that they can give us their information. We are obviously reaching out, but it is very hard. We have been reaching out by sending letters. We are through about thirty of them. But this takes immense research, because a lot of the properties were just rec properties. There were no buildings on them.”

Miller says restitution for victims can be ordered by the court up to ninety days after the end of the trial. The next proceeding is a pre-trial hearing set for Imig and DeWitt on August 21 in Palmer.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 28, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:54

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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Sockeye Fire Defendants Plead Not Guilty

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Defendants in the Sockeye wildfire case were no-shows in state court in Palmer on Tuesday morning.  The state is seeking a conviction against Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt, who are charged with eight misdemeanor counts ranging from illegal burning to reckless endangerment as a result of the fire that consumed more than 50 homes in the Willow area.

Matanuska River Erosion Continues to Threaten Homes

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The dramatic surge of the Matanuska River during the past few days has pushed families from some homes and is continuing to threaten others. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, although a few remaining homeowners are in a wait and see mode, one venerable homesteading couple says, they won’t budge.

Without Troopers, Girdwood Looks For New Law Enforcement

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

At the end of the year, Alaska State Troopers say they will close their post in Girdwood. The town’s quest to court a new source of law enforcement is off to a rocky start.

Anchorage’s Homeless Community Endures 6th Death in 2 Weeks

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Another member of Anchorage’s homeless community died early Tuesday morning. It’s the sixth such death in the last two weeks.

Murkowski Fends Off Thorny Add-Ons To Energy Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s big energy policy bill, if it passes, would be the first since 2007.  Several national energy bills have washed up on the rocks since then. Murkowski’s strategy is to keep controversies out of the package, and it was tested at a Senate Energy Committee meeting this morning.

Wet Weather Gives Firefighters The Edge

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The statewide wildfire response that’s been operating at peak for more than a month is ramping down. Wet weather over areas of the interior has calmed many fires.

As Subsistence Foods Become More Scarce, Kivalina Welcomes A New Store

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

It’s been a festive day in the northwest Arctic community of Kivalina today as residents celebrate the grand opening of a new store. It’s an end to eight months of struggle with limited supplies after Kivalina’s store burned to the ground December 5th.

Teachers’ Field Trip: Lessons from the Mendenhall Glacier

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

“Teacher training” usually means spending time in a library with textbooks and PowerPoints. But for 13 Alaska educators earlier this month, it meant hopping on a helicopter, donning crampons and toting an ice axe on top of the Mendenhall Glacier as part of Discovery Southeast’s Teacher Expedition.

Watzituya: Naknek’s One-Stop Shop for Nets, Coffee, Counseling

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Each of the hundreds of vessels in the Bristol Bay fleet burns through several nets catching sockeye each summer. Many rely on net hanging shops to assemble their sturdy gillnets.

Categories: Alaska News

Matanuska River Erosion Continues To Threaten Sutton Homes

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:37

The dramatic surge of the Matanuska River during the past few days has pushed families from some homes and is continuing to threaten others. Although a few remaining homeowners are in a wait and see mode, one venerable homesteading couple says, they won’t budge.  Meanwhile, down the road, water pushes up against the back deck of a little yellow house.  The woman inside won’t talk to a reporter, but she is obviously planning to move her things into a trailer waiting at the front door.

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Flooding and erosion threaten private property near Sutton. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Department of Transportation trucks are scattered along the Glenn Highway North of Sutton, while surveyors pull equipment out to the roadside and inspectors walk the right of way. Late Monday, DOT agreed to send in emergency crews to the area, to start immediate work to protect the Glenn from the spreading waters of the Matanuska River.

Flooding on the Matanuska River. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Three homes have been abandoned, one has tumbled in, and the waters have reached the back porches of three others.

Mike Pearson lives in a barn style green house close to the highway. But the blue grey water is puddling up in his back yard. I wade across to where he stands looking toward the river.

“You’re not evacuating, I take it?”

“No, not yet. But my four neighbors have just been devastated.”

An old stamp is a testament to previous erosion control work on the property. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Pearson says he’s hanging tough for a while, at least.  He looks at the water rushing through trees on the property, and points to where the river bank used to be.

“You can see how the pressure is pushing the water up. That’s the river water behind us, right here. Look how far down the river is there. So you can see the amount of pressure that is being pushed into this.”

“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”

“Not this bad. I’ve seen a little water, seen the river come up, but nothing this high.”

Pearson has lived on his property for 35 years. He says the braided river is looking for a natural place to go, and glacial melt is feeding the waters.

Val Musial’s home is among those whose home is threatened by a surging Matanuska River. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Pearson says when he moved in, his house was about a mile from the river, and that erosion has slowly eaten the land away. He blames both Mother Nature and the dykes that the Matanuska Susitna Borough built in the river years ago to try to control its flow. He says he’s still got twenty feet of ground left, and that give him time to think about it.

Further up the highway, Ed Musial ,92, and wife Val,  88, are calmly eating breakfast when I knock on the door. Their well kept home looks high and dry from the road, but on closer inspection, there is very little dry ground between their back door and the edge of the bank.

They have lived in the area since the nineteen fifties, and in the home they built in 1982 since then.  They invite me in.  “I’ve still got three feet of land, so I’m not going anywhere,” Val says.

“Tell me, what your plan is, are you going to stay here?”  I ask.

“We plan to die here,we built this house.” Val answers.

“We are not going no place.”  Ed adds.

“We are going to die here.”  Val asserts.

“How much land do think is between that door and the cliff?”

“Three feet.” Val says again.

“So you still have three feet of land? Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No. This house ain’t going nowhere.” Ed is confident the house will stand.

Ed Musial used to work construction. He says his concrete block basement is so heavy the river won’t budge it. He shows me the immaculately kept basement, blue cinder block walls and a furnace room that’s tidier than most people’s living rooms.  But the Musials, too, say dykes put in by the Borough in the nineteen eighties could have caused the current problem. Val says the river’s rampage is nothing new.

“It’s been happening for years,” she says.

“Since ’86.” Ed adds.

“Ever since they blew out those dykes, the river has been coming in and coming in and coming in. The last couple of days, those people down there (at mile 64) really got it. But we have been fighting this river since ’86.”

“You don’t have a whole lot to fight from. I mean, I can see the river through the back door,” I say.

“Well, we used to, we used to.”  Val says.

“How far was it?”

” I used to have a fifty foot close line in the back yard, and then we had a one lane road back there, and then there was an embankment, and then the yellow creek, the salmon spawning stream, then there was woods and the river was way the hell over there.”

Val says, they will hang on to the three feet of land between their house and the river. Neighbors have offered them shelter. They have daughter in Eagle River. But they plan to tough it out.

Borough officials announced today that those affected by the river erosion still have time to file for a federal buyout program that could pay them for their property.

Categories: Alaska News

Wet Weather Gives Wildland Firefighters An Edge

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:33

The statewide wildfire response that’s been operating at peak for more than a month is ramping down. Wet weather over areas of the interior has calmed many fires.

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Heavy rain showers have pelted the interior over the last few days, a weather pattern that’s replaced the hot dry conditions that allowed numerous lightning caused blazes to grow earlier in the month.  Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says the shift in conditions in many areas has dampened fire activity enough to allow downsizing the suppression operations.

At the end of June, much of Alaska was afflicted by wildfire. Credit: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s map of active wildfires.

Mowry says the peak force of over 3,000 firefighters has been cut in half, adding that Alaska based crews are being prioritized for work. While many areas have received enough rain to stop fires, Mowry says that’s not the case everywhere.

There are still 285 wildfires that are considered active in the state, with 19 of those staffed. Mowry cautions that even wildfires, where activity has slowed substantially will continue to get attention.

Mowry says some of that work involves rehabilitating fire line, in some cases turning it into trails or access points.

Categories: Alaska News

Watzituya: Naknek’s One-Stop Shop for Nets, Coffee, Counseling

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:28

Marcia Dale at Watzituya has been providing nets and moral support to Bristol Bay fishermen for over 30 years.

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Watzituya net shop is many things… including a quiet respite for one weary fisherman, who was napping on bean bags owner Marcia Dale had brought out.

“I’ll tell ya, I drop ’em down and I try to take a nap sometimes. Even 20 minutes helps, after a million hours of hanging.”

Marcia Dale expertly hangs nets at Watzituya.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Dale hung nets for about 100 fishermen this summer. And she rarely relents from her work.

“I can get in a really good rhythm… It’s almost meditating.”

Watzituya was started over 30 years ago in the back of a friend’s net locker. Dale carved out windows to let in the sun and a view of boats on the Naknek River. Eventually the Leader Creek cannery was built up around her.

Now, when fishermen go to Watzituya, they know to bring their own web… and their manners.

Dale likes lots of spices. She does not like washing other people’s dishes: “Everyone has their own mug – we buy them at garage sales, because I don’t wash cups.”
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

“Let’s see, I can’t use any bad words on here… If they need too much babysitting, if they whine, if they’re not grateful, if they’re disrespectful, or bring us crappy lines. Because I can’t hang a line that I think is gonna come apart in the water, and sometimes they don’t wanna spend money on a good line…. And they have to have a sense of humor, or they’re out.”

As for the good ones, Dale says they’ve become like her extended family.

“We just all help each other out, and when I hang a net for them, it’s like I’m fishing it myself… so I take pride in my work.”

Dale used to be a salmon fisherman in Seattle’s Puget Sound. When she got to Bristol Bay she switched to net-hanging full-time…

“Because I can’t ever sit still. And I get a lot of good ideas and I gotta jump up and do ’em and when you’re stuck on a 4-by-4 or 6-by-6 space, you don’t have a lot of room to play.”

Watzituya sits above the Naknek River, tucked behind Leader Creek cannery and Fuzzy’s bunkhouse.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

And play she does. Dale’s snarky signs and sculptures adorn the ceiling and walls of Watzituya. Also taking up space are dozens of individualized mugs that customers grab when they sit down to talk, about —

“Everything! Every kinda woe or problem… the saddest one is of course boat breakdowns… or fish prices, when they just had a lot of boat repairs and they’re trying to balance it out and figure out if they can afford it. And just the fear of not being able to pay your bills.. and the fact that you just worked really really really hard, and you’re at the mercy of the salmon, you’re sleep deprived, and not making as much money as you hoped.”

For Dale, a little counseling is just part of her job as a net hanger. She doesn’t mind making time to listen to customers. They’re minutes well-spent in Bristol Bay.

“I love it here. It’s a whole ‘nother world, whole ‘nother set of friends and family… and you don’t have to comb your hair.”

Quaffed or unquaffed, Marcia Dale will be back next April to tie knots and keep fishermen afloat.

Marcia Dale, owner, net-hanger, and part-time counselor at Watzituya net shop in Naknek.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Categories: Alaska News

Without Troopers, Girdwood Looks For New Law Enforcement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 17:00

Losing Girdwood’s Troopers means the town is looking for other means of law enforcement. Alaska Public Media file photo.

At the end of the year, Alaska State Troopers says it will close their post in Girdwood. The town’s quest to court a new source of law enforcement is off to a rocky start.


The town of Girdwood is involved in what some might see as a really unfortunate game of hot potato — Girdwood is the potato, and the two parties hoping not to get stuck with it are the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers.

Due to statewide budget cuts, Troopers notified the town of 2,600 year-round residents that they’d no longer be able to provide law enforcement starting next year.

“You know, we’re losing five trooper positions on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s essentially resource-related,” Trooper director Col. James Cockrell says. Troopers statewide are feeling the squeeze of fiscal belt-tightening at the state level.

But furthermore, “(Girdwood is) in the municipality of Anchorage. You know, I certainly feel the muni of Anc. has an obligation to provide them police services there.”

Losing a Trooper post is really bad news for Girdwood because, well, Trooper patrols were free. Like Colonel Cockrell says, though, Girdwood technically falls within the municipality of Anchorage. But the town has to pay for Anchorage Police Department patrols.

Sam Daniel is on the Girdwood Board of Supervisors — which is sort of like a town council — they’ve taken on this issue. But they’re finding that APD doesn’t police the same way the Troopers do.

“If we were to keep the state Troopers model in Girdwood — the state troopers model allows for one officer and one car to be on duty. APD, as I understand it, both the municipality and the union require that each officer have their own car, and that there be a minimum of two officers on shift.”

If you look at Trooper incident logs for Girdwood the past few years, you mostly see a lot of speeding tickets, a couple of reckless driving citations, a handful of DUIs — crime stats portray it as a pretty safe place, which is why the Girdwood board is asking for just one Anchorage police officer on the weekends — Friday through Sunday.

So far the answer is no. Paying for police service is not an ‘a la carte’ type of purchase.

At a work session yesterday in Anchorage City Hall, Girdwood community leaders discuss possible ways to cope Trooper withdrawl with the Berkowitz administration. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.

Here’s how city manager Mike Abbott put to to the Girdwood board at a working session on Monday:

“The police department doesn’t feel like they can provide that sort of level of service that you described, both from a staffing point of view as well as from how they’re organized and how they’re trained… and the way they operate, that doesn’t fit with how they provide police force in Anchorage. At this point, their recommendation is they not be tasked with that assignment,” Abbot says. “But they’re not the final decision makers on that.”

If Girdwood was to buy into full APD coverage, it would mean an added tax through a voter-approved mill rate. The price tag is considerable.

“It’s maybe a 30 percent increase to the property tax payers,” Daniel says. If you own the average single-family home in Girdwood (about $350,000), the 2.9 mill rate adds about $1,000 to your yearly tax bill.

The earliest Girdwood could even vote on such a tax would be next April. If they can’t extend Trooper coverage in the meantime, it means APD will cover Girdwood, but on a very sparse, emergency-only, kind of basis.

“And it would be for major crimes – such as an officer down, or a shooting, or something like that,” Daniel says.

For now, Girdwood is exploring a number of different options. There’s talk of a neighborhood watch. They’ve even cast a line to Whittier about contract policing. A lot of their leads are dead ends, but the town is still trying.

In Anchorage, the city is lending resources in pitching Girdwood’s case to the governor to keep Troopers on the job.

Categories: Alaska News

As Subsistence Foods Become Scarce, Kivalina Celebrates A New Store

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 16:21

It’s been a festive day in the northwest Arctic community of Kivalina today as residents celebrate the grand opening of a new store. It’s an end to eight months of struggle with limited supplies after Kivalina’s store burned to the ground December 5th.

Kivalina’s new store, owned by ANICA, celebrated its opener with hot dogs and hamburgers for all. Photo: Janet Mitchell.

Janet Mitchell is Kivalina’s city administrator. She says the village doesn’t have firefighting equipment so men cut a hole in the ice of the local lagoon and pumped water on the fire, mainly to keep it from spreading to nearby teacher housing. Mitchell says a temporary store was established but it was a very small space.

“They ran out of things very quick and that posed a difficulty for young babies or young families, families that need formula.”

Mitchell says eggs cost more than $8 a dozen and pilot bread was $7 because supplies were so limited. Mitchell says the temporary store was in a storage structure built in the early 1900s and mainly sold staples of eggs, flour and rice. Mitchell says Seattle-based Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association, or ANICA, owns the store. The new store is two or three times bigger than the old structure, she says, and today company officials flew in for the grand opening, serving hamburgers and hot dogs to the community.

Kivalina’s population of 468 has a high percentage of young people. Janet Mitchell says close to half are 18 or under and many of the young people don’t care for traditional foods. Subsistence resources are also harder to get in a changing climate. Mitchell says the ice went out in early June and with it went the subsistence mainstay, ugruk, or bearded seal.

Hot dogs, hamburgers and other foods are popular with Kivalina’s younger residents. Photo: Janet Mitchell.

“It’s our winter food. That we didn’t have an opportunity to hunt the bearded seal. So it’s going to be a very, very lean year in terms of Native foods.”

Mitchell says her large extended family normally harvests between 15 and 20 large adult seals. This year they got one small seal. She says less than 20 have been harvested by the entire community and they haven’t seen many caribou either. She says even older Kivalina residents who normally rely heavily on subsistence hunting will have to include more western food in their diet.

“The store is going to be very important to have if we don’t have the capability of hunting the foods we normally do, we’re gonna need the foods from the store.”

Although she prefers Native food, Mitchell says she buys supplies at places like Costco when she can get to Anchorage.

“But we have families that number up to 20 in one household so that can be quite a challenge to keep them fed, especially when they don’t hunt.”

Mitchell says her community continues to fight development to protect subsistence food but the store will be increasingly important in the future.

Kivalina welcomes the opening of a new store. Photo: Janet Mitchell.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Fends Off Thorny Add-Ons to Energy Bill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 14:59

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s big energy policy bill, if it passes, would be the first since 2007.  Several national energy bills have washed up on the rocks since then. Murkowski’s strategy is to keep controversies out of the package, and it was tested at a Senate Energy Committee meeting this morning.

Going into it, Murkowski, who chairs the panel, faced a stack of 94 proposed amendments to the bill. Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, all but pleaded with the other senators not to stuff the bill with features that might become poison pills. Murkowski warned that she’d vote against even amendments she favors if she thought they’d sink the bill.

“I would hope that members would instead choose to offer and withdraw some of these amendments to help preserve this bipartisan work product,” she said.

The practice of “offer and withdraw” allows a senator to go on record and make a speech about an amendment without weighing down the bill. And that was, largely, the order of the day. The committee cleared 25 amendments in Part 1 of the mark-up process. One of the amendments that did get a vote was Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s push for energy efficiency standards for power and gas utilities.

“If we are really serious about telling ourselves and the country that we are serious about reducing the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere, this is a way to do it,” he said.

Franken, of Minnesota, says more than 20 states have already adopted these kinds of efficiency standards and they’ve been very successful.

Murkowski told him those laws should remain at the state level.

“We talk about the states being the laboratories. That’s the way it should be,” she said. “I am concerned, though, that if we have a new federal mandate … you upend the good work that comes out of the states.”

Franken appeared frustrated. He says if the states are the laboratories for Congress on this, the lab results are in already.

“Why don’t we take yes for an answer?” he said. “Why don’t we take ‘It works’ for an answer?”

His amendment failed, along party lines. Sponsors withdrew other amendments relating to rural community subsidies, alternative energy and permits for cross-border pipelines.  At the end of the day, no controversial amendment were attached to the bill but several senators said they’d raise theirs again on the Senate floor, assuming the bill passes the committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal laws have banks turning away marijuana businesses

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:09

Federal laws tying marijuana money with money laundering has banks turning away marijuana businesses.

The Alaska Journal reports while marijuana businesses will be able to get licenses and make sales starting May 2016 in Alaska, the cash involved is still taboo for banks.

A designation at the same level of heroin in the Controlled Substances Act means bankers don’t want to take the risk of handling money from pot businesses.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Association vice-president Brandon Emmett is an industry representative on Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board.

He says legislation is being considered to handle the issue. In the meantime, some Colorado banks are forgoing federal insurance protection to sidestep potential money laundering violations.

Categories: Alaska News

Wreckage of crashed Alaska sightseeing plane recovered

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:08

The wreckage of a sightseeing plane that crashed near Ketchikan last month, killing all nine people onboard, has been recovered.

Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, says the wreckage was removed from the steep, rugged terrain over the weekend, loaded onto a barge and transported to a locked hangar at Ketchikan on Monday. The next step is for the investigation team to reconvene there.

The plane was carrying eight cruise ship passengers on a shore excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan when it crashed June 25. The pilot also died.

Authorities had been waiting for a heavy-lift helicopter to become available to remove the wreckage.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman fatally shoots herself outside Seward prison

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:07

A woman is dead after corrections officers say they saw her shoot herself in the head when the prison didn’t meet her demands for inmates to be released.

KTUU-TV reports that Alaska State Troopers were called just before 5 p.m. Monday to the Spring Creek Correctional Center when a 31-year-old woman with a gun approached the prison.

Troopers say the woman said she would kill herself if the convicted killers were not released. She then shot herself in the head. She was still breathing when she was taken to Seward Hospital and was pronounced dead at 9 p.m.

An autopsy will be performed by the State Medical Examiner’s Office.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage’s homeless community endures 6th death in two weeks

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-28 12:48

Another member of Anchorage’s homeless community died early Tuesday morning. It’s the sixth such death in the last two weeks.

Lisa Sauder is the executive director of Beans Cafe. She says the organization was notified this [Tuesday] morning that a client had passed away overnight.

“She was found unresponsive on the sidewalk on 3rd Avenue, near Beans Cafe,” Sauder said. “It’s a devastating loss for our staff and volunteers and clients to lose six people in this short of a time frame.”

Emergency personnel responded to a cardiac arrest call around 3 a.m. Tuesday at 3rd and Karluk, near Beans Cafe.

The deceased has not been publicly identified yet, but Sauder says she was well known among Beans Cafe staff and other clients and volunteers of the shelter.

“We worked with her extensively. And, you know, it’s very sad to lose someone no matter what the circumstances,” Sauder said. “This, for many reasons, was particularly tragic for us and our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family.”

Sauder says it’s alarming to lose such a large number of people in the homeless community in such a short span of time, especially during the summer.

“I think it should cause a lot of concern among the entire community, because ultimately this is a community issue and Beans Cafe cannot address it alone,” Sauder said. “We really need the entire community to help us and help us, and to bring forth solutions and assistance.”

Sauder says, in light of the homeless deaths, she has met with the mayor’s office to form a plan to address the problem.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 27, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-27 17:39

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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Elections Director Resigns Abruptly at Lt. Gov’s Request

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A veteran election official resigned abruptly on Friday at Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s request. The Walker-Mallott administration was Gail Fenumiai’s third as head of the state Division of Elections.

Berkowitz Transition Report Draws on Community, Corporate Solutions Alike

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Ethan Berkowitz took over as mayor of Anchorage almost a month ago, and on Monday, his administration released an ambitious report on its aims for the next three years.

Erosion Along the Matanuska Continues to Imperil Homes

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Erosion along the Matanuska River is worsening near Sutton. State and Borough workers are responding as another home is at risk.

Dead Fish, Wildlife In Aleutians May Be Victims Of Toxic Algae Outbreak

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Scientists have been receiving reports of dead and dying whales, birds and small fish in the Aleutian Islands.  They think it might be from toxic algae proliferating, due to unusually warm ocean temperatures.

Forgiving Without Forgetting: A Tlingit Village Up in Smoke

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

In 1962, the Douglas Indian Village was set ablaze to make way for a new harbor. This month marks 53 years since the city displaced households of Tlingit T’aaku Kwáan families. Little to no restitution has ever been offered.

Denali Wolf Hunt Nears Opening, Despite Low Population Numbers

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wolf hunting season is scheduled to open next month in and around Denali National Park, despite record low wolf numbers. This spring, Park biologists counted fewer than 50 Denali wolves, heightening a long running battle over the popularly viewed animals.

Groups Seek Halt to POW Wolf Hunting, Logging

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.

Categories: Alaska News

7 Homes Imperiled By Erosion on the Matanuska River

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-27 17:34

The state Department of Transportation is taking emergency action to start work on protecting the Glenn Highway from Matanuska River waters North of Sutton. State Representative Jim Colver says he viewed the damage from river erosion Monday, and has requested emergency help from DOT.

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“Unfortunately, the whole force of the main stem of the river is movinig over to that bank. It’s cutting through woods and going in an area it has never been before, and it is advancing to the road very quickly. The idea is to take action before the road is gone.”

The Matanuska River has been steadily carving a channel on the north bank near Sutton, resulting in extensive erosion which is affecting homes along the riverbank. Colver says the river water is coming dangerously close to the Glenn Highway, and is slapping against the highway right of way already.

The erosion is affecting seven area homes.

Categories: Alaska News

Denali Wolf Hunt Nears Opening Despite Low Population Numbers

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-27 17:31


Wolf hunting season is scheduled to open next month in and around Denali National Park, despite record low wolf numbers. This spring, Park biologists counted fewer than 50 Denali wolves, heightening a long running battle over the popularly viewed animals.

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Spotting a wild wolf in Denali National Park is a coveted sight many visitors haven’t enjoyed in recent years as the park’s wolf population has dwindled. Some of that’s attributed to hunting and trapping take just outside the park’s north east boundary where the animals commonly range. Anchorage biologist Rick Steiner and other conservationists contends harvest restrictions are the only tool wildlife managers have to boost Park wolf numbers.

Steiner and others have asked the Park Service and the state to cancel wolf hunting seasons set to begin August 10th. Steiner says seven or fewer Denali wolves are taken annually, mostly outside the park.

State Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton issued an emergency closure of spring wolf hunting in May on state lands northeast of the park. Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale says ties that specifically to overlapping hunting seasons.

Dale says there was concern about bear hunters also taking wolves, upping the normally low Denali area harvest. Dale attributes the Denali wolf decline primarily to natural causes.

The Board of Game has turned down repeated emergency petitions requesting re-instatement of a wolf protection zone along the Park’s northeastern edge, maintaining there’s no biological emergency. Meanwhile, Steiner and other conservationists also continue to eye a more permanent solution.

Steiner says Denali wolf advocates met with Governor Bill Walker last month, and the solution seemed to resonate, adding that the Park Service is also on board.

Categories: Alaska News