Alaska News

‘No Means No’ – UAS Includes Sexual Assault Ed In Freshmen Orientation

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-29 17:41

Experts often refer to the first several weeks of college for new students as the “red zone” – a time when they’re more likely to be sexually assaulted.

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The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with sexual assault laws or violations.

This year, the federal government updated guidelines requiring colleges to proactively combat sexual assault by talking to students about consent.

Many people have heard the message, “ ‘No’ means no.”

Lori Klein says there are also situations when yes does not mean yes.

Like, “when someone is intoxicated, high, incapacitated or incompetent, you do not have consent no matter what they tell you,” Klein says.

Klein is the student conduct administrator at University of Alaska Southeast. She’s talking to more than a hundred new students during one of their first days on campus.

Klein says consent must be “active, sober, enthusiastic, informed, mutual, honest and verbal.”

“Whether you’re asking someone out for a cup of coffee or you’re asking them to have sex, you need consent that is all of these things.”

Another important message – saying yes to one thing does not mean yes to anything else.

“Consent for holding hands is not consent for a kiss,” Klein says. “Consent for sex once is not consent for sex twice.”

Freshman Nate Hietala says he appreciated Klein’s frank talk about sexual consent.

“It gave all the major points of what consent is rather than somebody just saying, ‘Yes,’ which is what a lot of people think it is. They gave the point that if they’re intoxicated or high or in some other way impaired, such as depression, that it wouldn’t be true consent.”

Hietala hesitates when asked if he already knew that.

“Not really. It was just kind of like, yes is consent,” she says. “But it’s something that I probably would’ve felt if I had been in that situation, but it’s not something I’d really thought about before.”

As a result of updated federal mandates, this is the first time UAS has given a talk on consent at orientation to the entire incoming class.

Faculty and staff were also required to attend training where they learned how to recognize signs of trauma related to sexual assault, how to talk to a student about it and what to do to help.

Senior Barb Dagata went through the sessions. Along with being a student, she also works at UAS. She says she now feels empowered with information she wishes she had before.

“I’ve had some friends who’ve had roommates get involved with bad relationships or just bad situations. And it was hard for me to give any advice to my friend on what she should do with her roommate. And I always felt at a loss for how involved should I be. And after going through the training, I kind of look back and I wish I would’ve said something. I wish I would’ve come to campus and said, ‘Hey, this girl needs some help.’ ”

UAS had one report of sexual assault during the 2012 calendar year. There was another in 2013 and so far, this year, two reports.

“I think that we can say with surety that those numbers are less than the numbers of sexual assaults that actually occur.”

Mandy Cole is direct services manager of AWARE, Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. The organization helped provide training to UAS staff this summer.

Cole says for many reasons sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

“And those reasons include fear of what the perpetrator may do if you report. It may include fear of what friends and family will think, fear of the impacts on your academic career,” she says.

During orientation, all incoming students learned about the options available for anybody who’s been sexually assaulted, including medical attention and who to talk to if you want to report the crime.

“For some people, making an official report is important. For others, getting counseling is important. For others, they would rather just talk in a peer group.”

Cole says not all intervention has to end in a report; what’s important is that students are equipped with the information and feel safe reaching out.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Spell Helps Growers Salvage Harvest After Cool, Soggy Summer

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-29 17:40

Gardeners and farmers around the Interior have pretty much shut down for the winter after a cool, rainy, and for many, disappointing growing season. Some growers salvaged a decent yield by diversifying their crops – and taking advantage of a late-season warm spell to do some last-minute harvesting.

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Better days: Onions harvested back in 2011 at Rosie Creek Farm await processing. A cool, soggy summer and insect pests reduced the yield of this year’s harvest of onions and other crops. Credit: wecangrowit.blogspot.com

Most years, there’s frost on the pumpkins right about now at the Rosie Creek Farm near Fairbanks. But not so this year. Farm co-owner Mike Emers says there’s definitely frost – but, he adds, “There are no pumpkins this year.”

Emers says pumpkins were among the crops that didn’t do so well this year at Rosie Creek, due to a quirky growing season that challenged both farmers and gardeners with too much rain and cool temperatures. Sometime, very cool.

“Not only was it cooler than normal, and wetter than normal, but we also had unexpected frost events during that time,” he said. “So it would rain, it would clear off, and we had what would be called a killing frost around the 10th or 11th of June.”

Emers says he managed to revive much his winter squash and beans, which usually are his most abundant crops, yielding about 4,000 pounds of squash and a thousand pounds of beans annually.

But a second killer frost in July ended his cultivation of the crops this year. Emers even lost half of his potato crop, which usually does OK in cool, rainy weather but this year were flooded out.

“My numbers aren’t in yet on harvest,” he said, “but I know without the squash and beans, (and) losing half of my potatoes, we’re down. A conservative estimate would be 30 to 40 percent on overall crop yield on the farm, from a normal year.”

But like most farmers, Emers always hedges his bets by planting a variety of vegetables that’ll grow well under different conditions. So he managed to salvage a pretty good yield on other crops, including onions, despite an attack of cutworms, and salad greens, some of which he’s still harvesting, and garlic, which he and one of his workers were processing last week.

“The garlic did fairly well,” he said, “because they like it when it’s moist in the springtime.”

Many other growers around the Interior reported similar results, says Steve Seefeldt. He’s the Cooperative Extension Service’s Fairbanks-area agricultural and horticultural agent.

“Some crops really benefited by the rain, the weather we had this year,” Seefeldt said. “My peas were great this year. Everybody talked about the kale and cabbage. Carrots were terrific. Broccoli did fairly well. The parsley was amazing.”

Other growers, like farmers in the Delta Junction area that cultivate grain and livestock feed, pulled-off respectable harvests due to a relatively warm September. Phil Kaspari, who runs Delta’s Cooperative Extension office, says the warm spell enabled many farmers to get in a second cutting and baling of hay after a growing season that two weeks ago looked like a total bust.

“People have been going as fast as they can through these last couple of weeks of this beautiful weather,” he said. “And, a lot of work has been accomplished, and hopefully we get a little more weather yet that’s favorable for baling. Because there is quite a little bit of second cutting crop still out there yet.”

Kaspari says that’ll help hold down the cost of hay this year. But he says it’ll still probably be somewhere around $400 a ton, at least partly because of some farmers trying to recoup some losses they suffered last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Film/Photo Regs in Wilderness Areas Come Under Fire

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-29 17:39

As conservationists celebrate 50 years since the passage of the Wilderness Act, a U.S. Forest Service proposal to make certain wilderness area regulations permanent has brought forth accusations that the agency is infringing on First Amendment rights. Nearly a third of the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is designated wilderness.

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Aerial view of Tongass National Forest (Photo by Alan Wu/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Forest Service has extended the public comment period on the regulations and chief Tim Tidwell issued a statement saying the regulations do not apply to news gathering activities. Two public media organizations in the Lower 48 disagree and are attempting to organize national opposition.

Forest Service officials say the regulations are based on the Wilderness Act of 1964. Regulations requiring commercial photographers and filmmakers to apply and pay for special use permits have been in effect for four years. Because the regulations expire next month, the Forest Service is proposing making them permanent.

Breaking news situations are exempt from the permitting requirement, however they have to meet the Forest Service’s definition of breaking news. That aside, permits are required and might come with a cost. The Forest Service’s acting wilderness director Liz Close, clarified the regulations to The Oregonian, saying that reporting in support of “wilderness characteristics” would be permitted. The qualification of such reporting is left up to forest supervisors.

And that is particularly troublesome for news people: A government entity determining which stories are worthwhile and don’t require a paid permit, or charging for access on stories that don’t support their mission.

That became the issue for Idaho Public Television a few years ago, shortly after the regulations were implemented. General Manager Ron Pisaneschi says for years their filmmakers were allowed to go into wilderness areas without permits or pre-approval. Filmmakers showed up to document conservation workers in 2010, and were told they needed a permit. They applied and were then told they would have to pay for the permit.

The decision was eventually reversed, but Pisaneschi says it forced the cancellation of the production. In that case, Pisaneschi says the Forest Service official determined it was a commercial use because the filmmakers were not volunteering their time.

“We are licensed as a non-commercial television station by the FCC, the IRS says we are a non-profit entity,” Pisaneschi says. “To make matters even more non-commercial in nature, we are a state agency, we are a state entity, but none of those seem to be sufficient as the guidelines are written currently.”

Pisaneschi says the regulations define news too narrowly, define commercial use too broadly and are open to interpretation.

“It may be fine if the forest is on fire at that given moment, that seems to be an acceptable thing to film,” Pisaneschi says. “But if you’re going to do a long-form documentary about the impact of drought on forest health, that’s not considered breaking news and you would need to get a permit for that.”
Forest Service officials in Alaska did not respond to requests for comment, so it’s unknown how many applications for permits in the state have been submitted and if any have been denied.

Idaho Public Television and Oregon Public Broadcasting have been fighting the regulations for some time now. OPB President and CEO Steve Bass sent out an email Wednesday to public television general managers across the nation – including KTOO’s General Manager Bill Legere – asking them to join the effort.

Bass wrote that the rules are a barrier for public media and create a system where print journalists have unrestricted access to Forest Service wilderness lands, but multimedia journalists must be permitted.

Conservationist and commercial wildlife photographer Adam Andis says the regulations seem less strict than he would have interpreted from the Wilderness Act.

“As a professional photographer I would rather see a stricter limitation that makes it harder for me to take pictures in those areas than to see those wilderness areas lost,” he says.

Andis is on the boards of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association. He says he’s never been required to get a permit for his commercial photography. He said that he’s filmed a documentary in a wilderness area; a Forest Service official agreed to waive the permit fee because it promoted “wilderness character.”

“It’s not necessarily that they’re trying to make value calls on who gets the right to be there and who doesn’t,” Andis says. “Their job is to make sure that there isn’t this mass of people all using this resource in an unsustainable way, so they have to figure out some way to put limits on it.”
Ultimately, there are a few key things that Andis, the conservationist, and Pisaneschi, the public television manager, agree on. Both think that the Forest Service should be more nuanced in their approach to permitting–two people with a camera and backpack will have far less impact on a wilderness area than a full Hollywood crew. Both also agree that allowing the untamed wilderness to be documented and shared promotes the goals of the Wilderness Act.

The biggest difference between the two is that Andis wants the wilderness protected at any cost, even if it means restricting press access, and Pisaneschi sees documenting the wilderness as one of the best ways to protect it.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Rules in Favor of State on Merged Campaigns

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:21

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A judge sided with the state of Alaska Friday in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid.

The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair.

Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2nd order that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join campaigns with independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor in the November election.

The new ticket is deemed a stronger challenge to Republican incumbent Governor Sean Parnell.

After Friday’s ruling, Strait and his attorney, Ken Jacobus, said they haven’t decided whether they’ll appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Small-scale Hydro Project Proposed for Talkeetna River

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:17



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The proposal for a massive hydroelectric project on the Susitna river is moving forward. The project has generated a lot of opposition in Talkeetna, the closest community to the dam site. Now a private company is proposing a second, smaller hydro project on the Talkeetna river.

The company is Northwest Power Service, Incorporated.  Brent Smith is heading up the Alaska operation, and says that this is the first time that NPSI is proposing building a dam, though it has considerable experience in hydropower.

“Most all of the projects that Northwest Power Service has been involved with in the past is to retrofit existing, federally owned dams in the Lower 48, where we go in and there’s already an existing dam that does not have power generation on it,” he said. “So, what we do is go through a licensing process to retrofit that dam and put power on it.”

The dam that NPSI is proposing would generate 75 megawatts of power, far less than that proposed by Susitna-Watana.  It would also have a much smaller footprint than the Susitna project, with a height of 370 feet.

Brent Smith says he believes that there is room in Alaska for the diversification of the power grid.  He adds that the location of the Talkeetna dam proposal has a lot to do with proximity to the electrical intertie between Anchorage and Fairbanks.  The site is not set in stone, however.

“I’m not going to say, today, that it’s in Talkeetna. I don’t know that, for sure,” Smith said. “What we want to do is take a look at that opportunity, but I am in favor of more of a diversified generation out there, not just one or two very large projects.”

Brent Smith says that he sees the Talkeetna proposal as a way to start a larger conversation about other power sources.  He is a proponent of methods that reduce reliance on fossil fuels.  In Smith’s eyes, the conversation that is part of any hydro project’s public process could help reveal the best option for the Railbelt.

“My hopes would be that we could spend a fair amount of the time, or the majority of the time, talking about, ‘Is there an opportunity for renewables in the State of Alaska, or are we just going to default to natural gas and diesel?’”

Mike Wood is the chair of the Susitna River Coalition, a Talkeetna-based group that opposes the construction of the Susitna-Watana hydro project.  He says that just because hydropower does not use fossil fuel to generate electricity does not necessarily mean it’s sustainable at large scales.

“Overall, this state truly needs to define what good, sustainable hydro is at any level, and the conversation needs to be had, beginning with our state legislature,” Wood said.

Wood says that the proposal put forth by Brent Smith and NPSI, while smaller than Susitna-Watana, still relies on the method of damming a river in order to spin turbines.

“If he wants to start the conversation…about smaller hydro, I would say personally, I believe he could have started it with a more progressive type of hydropower creator.”

Part of the Susitna River Coalition’s reason for opposing the damming of the Susitna River has to do with fish and other environmental concerns.  Mike Wood says there are other methods to consider for smaller hydro than, as he puts it, blocking up the river with concrete.

“It’s lake taps; it’s in higher places where anadromous fish haven’t been going.  It isn’t ruining a world class salmon river…Trading resources is not what we want to do, here.”

In the end, Mike Wood says the Talkeetna dam proposal will not divert the Susitna River Coalition’s efforts in opposing the Susitna-Watana Project.

The proposal for the Talkeetna dam is in the very early phases.

On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent back NPSI’s permit request, citing a lack of technical details for the proposed structure.  Brent Smith says that he is planning on speaking with local community councils, and is open to the prospect of public meetings to discuss non-fossil fuel energy, whether it be in the form of a dam or some other means of generating electricity.



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Categories: Alaska News

Seismologist Says It’s Time to Talk About Earthquake Early Warning

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:15

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Thursday’s 6.2 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska struck without warning. Because that’s what earthquakes do here in Alaska. But state seismologist Michael West says it’s time for Alaskans to discuss the possibility of an earthquake early warning system.

“You can think about it as throwing a rock in a pond and the waves ripple out at some speed, but it’s not instantaneous,” he says. “If you can detect those ripples before they get to you, like with sensors very close to the source, you can very easily have seconds, in some cases, maybe a minute or two of forewarning. “

The warning time would vary, depending on the location and type of earthquake. West says for a quake like the one Anchorage felt yesterday, the warning would likely only be a few seconds.

“If the 1964 earthquake, or something comparable were to occur going forward, an earthquake early warning could easily be able to provide tens of seconds before the strongest shaking.

So what can you do in tens of second? It’s probably not enough time to evacuate a building, but West says it could be enough for an automated shut down of a natural gas pipeline.

“Stoplights,” he says. “Turn all the stop lights red to bring all traffic to a halt, in advance.”

It could, he says, alert a surgeon just picking up a scalpel.

Japan’s early warning system stopped bullet trains and forced open elevator doors during the massive 2011 earthquake. Switzerland and Mexico also have warning systems. California is building one, but West says there’s nothing in development for Alaska.  To get such a system, he says the state would need more seismic stations.

“The reason for that is very simple: The closer you have a sensor to the start of the earthquake, the epicenter, the more quickly you can detect it,” he says.

It would also require fast data communication lines and a way to deliver useful messages to residents without inducing panic.  West says the cost would likely run to the tens of millions.

“Let me be honest. Some of this is expensive, and we need to decide whether or not that’s a priority for us or not. I think that’s a very logical, very reasonable discussion to have,” he said. “My concern is we’re not really talking about it very much.”

West was in Washington, DC this week to rally support for permanent seismic monitors in northern and western Alaska. They’re important for the Alaska Earthquake Center’s ongoing data collection, but West says they’d also be a good first step toward an early warning system.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Housing Conference Gets Underway Monday

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:14

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Two of the country’s foremost experts in the fight against chronic homelessness highlight the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference, which gets underway Monday in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Biologists Trying to Rescue Orphaned Cubs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:10



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State Fish and Game biologists are in Galena trying to capture 3 orphaned bear cubs.  The state initiated the effort after the cubs mother was reported killed by a local resident. The state is also working to find the animals a new home.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 26, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:07

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Judge Rules in Favor of State on Merged Campaigns

The Associated Press
A judge sided with the state of Alaska Friday in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race.

Parnell Asks Military Official To Resign

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Anchorage
Weeks after firing the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, Gov. Sean Parnell has asked an official at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to resign.

Small-scale Hydro Project Proposed for Talkeetna River

Phillip Manning, KTNA-Talkeetna
The proposal for a massive hydroelectric project on the Susitna river is moving forward. The project has generated a lot of opposition in Talkeetna, the closest community to the dam site. Now a private company is proposing a second, smaller hydro project on the Talkeetna river.

Seismologist Says It’s Time to Talk About Earthquake Early Warning

Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
Thursday’s 6.2 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska struck without warning. Because that’s what earthquakes do here in Alaska. But state seismologist Michael West says now is the time for Alaskans to discuss the possibility of building an earthquake early warning system.

Housing Conference Gets Underway Monday

Casey Kelly, KTOO-Juneau
Two of the country’s foremost experts in the fight against chronic homelessness highlight the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference, which gets underway Monday in Juneau.

Biologists Trying to Rescue Orphaned Cubs

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
State Fish and Game biologists are in Galena trying to capture three orphaned bear cubs.  The state initiated the effort after the cubs mother was reported killed by a local resident.  The state is also working to find the animals a new home.

AK: Learning to Dance

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA-Anchorage
Greg Nothstine didn’t learn traditional Inupiaq dance as a kid growing up in Nome. He was in his 30′s when he started studying the dance traditions of his family elders, who lived in Wales, Alaska. Now his Anchorage dance group is part of a renaissance in Alaska Native traditional dancing.

300 Villages: Coffman Cove

Ashley Snyder, KSKA – Anchorage
This week, we’re heading to Coffman Cove, on the east side of Prince of Wales Island. Heather Hedges works for the city of Coffman Cove.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Coffman Cove

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 12:56

This week, we’re heading to Coffman Cove, in Southeast Alaska. Heather Hedges is the tourism coordinator for the city of Coffman Cove.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Alaska Native Dancing Tradition

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 12:11

Greg Nothstine is second from left. (Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

Over the past several decades, there’s been a renaissance in Alaska Native traditional dancing. KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus recently visited with one of the founders of an Inupiaq dance group in Anchorage, who told her about his personal journey toward tradition

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“Hey, I forgot your name. Allison. Allison! Good to see you again.”

Greg Nothstine hesitates to say he’s a dance group leader, but he is a founder of Kingikimiut, which means “people of the high bluff,” after the original name of Wales, a village in northwest Alaska.

King Island is about 45 miles from Wales. Nothstine says long before he thought about forming a dance group, the late Paul Tiulana, of the King Island dance group, would call on him to dance at performances in Anchorage:

“He would look at me and say, ‘Ungwunm. This is a Wales song. You got to claim it. Come out here.’ He said, ‘Anytime you recognize a song from your village,’ – course I didn’t know it was from my village at the time – ‘you’re supposed to come up and claim it. You supposed to dance. That’s protocol. If you don’t claim it, you’ll lose it.’”

Nothstine is named after his grandfather, which in the Inupiaq view means his grandfather’s soul is supporting him, almost as a reincarnation. The family didn’t know where his grandfather was buried, though, until Nothstine was in his early 30s. He says a visit to the grave inspired him. He asked Tiulana if he could practice with the King Island dancers:

“He just smiled at me and he said ‘when I was a boy, we used to travel to your Mom’s village of Wales. And I was maybe two-three years old and I used to get in the bow of the kayak and that was a real fun time for us kids. We’d go to your Mom’s village. We’d go to the Qargi. The women were graceful. The men were real powerful singers and drummers. Wow, that was a real wonderful time. Hey, I bet, you know what, if you go ask those elders who are still alive back in your Mom’s village, maybe they still remember some songs,’” Nothstine said.

More than half the residents of Wales died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, though, so it wasn’t clear how many Wales elders would knew traditional songs. But Nothstine and his mother and a friend traveled there with a borrowed video camera. Enough elders did know songs. The group used the videos to learn, and the group grew. Nothstine vividly remembers their first performance, at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in Fairbanks some twenty years ago.

(Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

“I was really singing my heart out. My aunt was sitting next to me. And I must have miscued. It’s real easy, youo miscue and you keep singing the other stanza. And she looks to me. She grabs my shoulder and my arm and says real loud, ‘Not. Like. That!’ It’s right in front of everybody. And I’m trying to drum at the same time,” Nothstine said.

He says the group finished their performance as gracefully as they could:

“You have a couple of those experiences, and some people will say ‘never again, never again, never again.’ But we said ‘Okay, well, that’s the price of admission for reclaiming your songs.’ You just have to wade through some of these unknown areas and pitfalls and just keep going,” he said.

Nothstine says Kingikimiiut now regularly performs at different events – they’ll soon perform at an elder’s birthday party. He says he’d like to see dance groups become an even bigger part of community life:

“There were songs that were used to be sung when married couples got married, when someone was successful at a hunt, or built a new boat, or a baby was born, or some significant aspect of life that happened that happened to a whole bunch of people that they wanted to keep in memory, we don’t do that as much anymore,” he said.

(Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

Heidi Senungatuk was a professional violinist with the Anchorage Symphony and other orchestras, and always wanted to learn more about the music of her father’s people, who are from Wales. She’s now a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology. Senungetuk says dance group members enjoy the music, dancing, and sense of community – and are making a statement.

“People are trying to say, ‘We are here. We’re still here. And it’s okay to be who we are,’ rather than what so many people have experienced in Alaska, which is ‘you’re not good enough as a Native person’ or the whole colonial thought, which is, ‘get out of the way, we need your land,’” Senungatuk said.

At the rehearsal, Nothstine told the 30-some participants it was the last practice before his daughter Raven left for college at Dartmouth. He and his mother and his two children danced the seal hunting dance together, a family favorite.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire at Nome Multiplex Injures 2, Displaces at Least 20

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 09:04

Fire tore through a Nome eight-unit multiplex Thursday night, displacing more than 20 people and gutting the building with flames that refused to subside after more than an hour of active firefighting.

Nome emergency dispatchers say they received calls starting at 7:07 p.m. reporting “black smoke and fire” coming from the apartment at the corner of East 3rd Avenue and Moore Way.

Flames licked the southwest face of the L-shaped multiplex as smoke billowed from the second- and first-story windows. Within minutes the vinyl siding of the southwest face boiled away; a deep black gash belched cinders and smoke on the building’s side.

Brian Volk, a teacher at Nome’s NACTEC technical school, lives in the building with his girlfriend and three children. He said he saw the smoke “around 7:15” and came outside to “group of people already watching.”

Firefighters with the Nome Volunteer Fire Department arrived on scene at 7:10 with five fire trucks, dispatchers said; EMTs with the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department arrived at 7:16 with two ambulances and within minutes transported two people to Norton Sound Regional Hospital for “minor smoke inhalation,” EMTs on the scene said.

Fire crews did an immediate sweep, evacuating the building with no further injuries as persistent flames leapt toward the roof. Power cables connected to the building crackled in the heat of the fire; dispatchers cut power to the building around 7:25 as crews used a bolt cutter to sever two power lines running from the building.

Firefighters on one truck’s turntable ladder attempted to vent the flames using a chainsaw where the roof met the wall as fire crews with hoses continued to douse the blaze from the building’s western face.

More volunteer firefighters arrived, brining reserve oxygen tanks as fire crews began to enter the building just after 8:03 p.m., but efforts to knock the fire down forced them out again; a half hour later, flames were still visible on the roof.

Just minutes before 9 p.m., flames were no longer visible and firefighters were able to venture inside once again, tossing smoldering debris out of the building’s windows.

The Bering Straits Native Corporation owns the building. Vice President Jerald Brown said at the scene said the building houses families and BSNC employees.

Brian Stockman, manager at the BSNC-owned hotel the Aurora Inn (located mere yards away from the scene of the blaze) said the inn was offering rooms to all who were displaced. As of 9:30 p.m. Stockman said the hotel had opened  10 rooms to house “about 20 to 25 people, including children.”

Though formal donations have not yet been organized, Stockman said donations of clothes and other items for children were welcome. He said the hotel was providing food, diapers, and clothes.

Bethanna Bennett with the Alaska Red Cross in Anchorage said late Thursday night that volunteers were on the scene in Nome, but information on their efforts was unavailable Thursday.

Photos and video: David Dodman, KNOM.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Asks Military Official To Resign

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 19:10

Weeks after firing the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, Gov. Sean Parnell has asked another official at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to resign.

Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre submitted his resignation on Thursday, and will leave the department on October 2. His resignation letter lists his “tremendous accomplishments” at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, singling out disaster response efforts and the development of a veterans cemetery near Fairbanks. But the letter makes no mention of the Alaska National Guard, which was recently the subject of a scathing federal report.

As deputy commissioner, Pierre communicated with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about the handling of sexual assault reports. In 2013, Pierre directed the chaplains not to speak with legislators about National Guard matters without first going through the chain of command. In an April interview with APRN, Parnell defended Pierre’s actions, and called the directive “standard operating policy” that “you don’t speak for the business, you don’t speak for the department without first coordinating it with your supervisor.”

On September 4, Parnell released the results of an investigation by the federal National Guard Bureau finding that the Alaska reserve forces mishandled sexual assault cases. The report also described instances of fraud and found the Alaska National Guard was experiencing a crisis of confidence with its leadership. That day, Parnell asked the Adjutant General, Thomas Katkus, to resign.

Sharon Leighow, a spokesperson for Parnell, confirmed that the governor also asked Pierre to step down, but did not give an explanation for his removal and did not mention the Guard in her statement.

“There won’t be any further comment on Mr. Pierre from our office,” Leighow wrote in an e-mail.

Michael O’Hare, a deputy director for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, will take over the position on an acting basis.

Pierre did not return calls for comment. In his resignation letter, Pierre states he is “looking forward to new challenges and new adventures in the private sector.”

Pierre’s dismissal comes one day after Parnell met with a reform task force led by Brig. Gen. Jon Mott of the Connecticut National Guard to develop a plan for implementing the National Guard Bureau’s recommendations.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire burns condo in Anchorage, doesn’t spread

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:53

The burned unit on Lunar Drive.

A fire severely damaged an Anchorage condo near Tudor and Baxter on Thursday afternoon, but fire crews contained it before it spread to other units and structures.

The Fire Department received a 9-1-1 call just before 2 pm saying the three story condo on Lunar Drive was engulfed in flames. Senior Fire Captain Mike Davidson said when the nine fire units arrived on scene, the sole occupant of the home was outside.

“The important thing was the occupant himself had a functioning smoke detector, there were people outside who alerted him. He was able to immediately leave the house and not go back in. That’s the biggest thing we tell people is they need to get out, they need to not go back in. Because when they do go back in it often doesn’t work out well for them.”

Davidson said the fire was contained within 20 minutes, but the condo was heavily damaged.

A Fire Department press release said two firefighters sustained minor injuries and were transported to the hospital. The fire is currently under investigation and the cause is unknown.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismologist: Quake’s Depth Helped Minimize Damage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:44

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska at 9:51 this morning. Michael West directs the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the epicenter was about 60 miles Northwest of Anchorage and 60 miles underground.

Listen now:

“That’s pretty deep for Alaska and the reason for that is that’s where the Pacific plate dives under North America in a process we call subduction but because of that we are well accustomed to seeing a line of progressively deeper earthquakes as we move north from the coast. So in that sense, this earthquake is not a surprise at all.”

No major damage has been reported.

But the shaking caught the attention of residents across a large swath of the state, from Fairbanks down to Homer. In Anchorage, residents posted pictures on Facebook and Twitter of messy aisles in Fred Meyer, with shampoo bottles scattered across the floor, and tiles missing from ceilings in midtown buildings.

West says it’s difficult to gauge the length of the earthquake. The Earthquake Center took reports from residents saying it lasted anywhere from several seconds up to a full minute. He says the deep basin of Cook Inlet may explain the difference:

“The analogy we use is it shakes like a bowl of Jello so certainly our hypothesis right now is that this earthquake set the basin shaking and that because of that people close to Cook Inlet may have felt this for a much much longer time than other places. And that’s kind of exciting because we see this in data sometimes, but we don’t often have on site reports from people confirming that kind of observation.

West says events like this one are a reminder of what earthquakes are capable of in Alaska. He says a strong earthquake like this one that was more shallow and centered closer to a city would be capable of causing widespread damage and even death. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011 killed 185 people. West says he worries Alaskans have been lulled into thinking that big earthquakes are no big deal.

“So it’s quite easy to think, oh there’s another magnitude six or seven that didn’t do anything and that is not in any way a predictor that magnitude six or seven earthquakes don’t hurt us, it just means we’ve been lucky yet again.”

West is in Washington, D.C., right now to make the case for long term funding for an expanded seismic network across Alaska to monitor earthquakes.

Categories: Alaska News

Quake Shakes Anchorage-ites and Visitors Alike

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:43

No major damage or injuries were reported in Anchorage after this morning’s quake, but community members said they were still shaken.

Listen now:

Ken Baitsholts was walking on the Chester Creek Trail during the windless morning when the trees began moving and a flock of geese suddenly flew off. He says he followed suit and started running.

“Because I was frightened. I had no idea exactly what it was. I just thought I would get out of that clump of trees where I was. Cause a whole, like, flurry of leaves started to fall. It was very peculiar.”

Up the road at New Sagaya’s Market, Erin Wade Hemphill was working at the coffee shop. She said the quake was obvious.

“We saw the signs shaking and then the aisles started moving. And we kind of all three of us were just standing around like ‘umm…’ And when things started falling and flying off the shelves, we decided to get out of the building because there’s a lot of stuff that can come down on us here. Usually you tell everyone don’t go outside, but we made the decision to go outside,” she said.

Some guests at the downtown Marriott fled the building as well. Valet Corey Roybal was outside when it happened and people started evacuating the building. He said he tried to calm down the out-of-town guests.

“It just sort of alarmed a lot of people. You get people asking if we knew if there were aftershocks coming. We just told them, ‘They’re earthquakes. You just don’t know. Nothing like that.’”

Karen Gaborik from Fairbanks said she’s felt plenty of quakes before, but being in Anchorage made it different. “When you’re in a larger city, and near the coast, and on silt, it’s a little more concerning.”

Gaborik was in the basement of the Dena’ina Center at the time, and she said she stayed put but wasn’t sure it was the safest place to be.

Up on the surface, Bill Speir was driving and because of that, he was one of the few who said he couldn’t feel a thing.

“Unless it’s severe, like in the 1964 earthquake, where it was actually tossing cars around, no, there’s no apparent indicators that there’s an earthquake going on.”

Speir said he only knew the quake was happening because he heard about it on the radio.

But ten stories up in a glass-walled corner office of the ConocoPhillips Building, Elizabeth Lopez took cover under her desk.

“I mean, the building rolled back and forth. We swayed to the left and right and other jolt came in, and I started grabbing my cell phone and my bag.”

Lopez is a floor warden and followed up with her officemates to make sure they were safe. She said it’s important to be prepared.

“Be ready to be sure you have your correct footwear, and coverage, and then you follow what the exercise we’re supposed to do — duck, hide, and cover. And that’s the best way. And do not ever leave the building unless somebody tells you it’s safe to leave the building.”

Others reported lampposts swaying, figurines breaking, and dogs crouching to the ground near their owners.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Defend Merged Gubernatorial Ticket

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:41

The state says a lawsuit challenging the mechanism that allowed two Alaska gubernatorial candidates to merge their campaigns would derail the November election and potentially disenfranchise voters if it succeeds.

Download Audio:

The state’s position is detailed in court documents filed this week ahead of oral arguments set for Friday in the lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and elections director Gail Fenumiai.

The lawsuit filed last week by an Alaska Republican Party district chair, Steve Strait, challenges an emergency ruling that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join campaigns with independent gubernatorial candidate bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.

Strait maintains that Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 decision.

The combined ticket is seen as a stronger challenge to Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell than a three-way race.

 

Categories: Alaska News

JBER F-22s Scramble To Intercept Russian Jets Near Alaska Air Space

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:40

U.S. and Canadian air forces have scrambled jets twice over the past week to intercept Russian aircraft that have buzzed the Alaskan and Canadian coastlines twice in the past week.

Listen now: 

A U.S. F-15 out of Elmendorf Air Force Base (before it was re-named Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson) escorts a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber out of Alaska airspace in 2006. Credit Wikipedia.org

The latest round in the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Russia aircraft played out a week ago over the waters off Alaska’s northern coast. Late Wednesday, the Air Force scrambled two F-22s from the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to intercept six Russian military aircraft that were flying within 55 nautical miles of the Alaska coastline.

The two Mig-31 jet fighters, along with two long-range bombers and two refueling tankers, didn’t enter U.S. airspace, only the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone.

A few hours later, another pair of the long-range bombers Russian bombers flew within 40 nautical miles of Canada northern land mass on Thursday. The pair of turned back after being intercepted over the Beaufort Sea by two Canadian F-18s.

Both times, the Tupolev bombers didn’t enter either U.S. or Canadian airspace during what Moscow has long referred to as “training flights.” The aircraft only entered the Air Defense Identification Zones, or ADIZ, which extends about 200 miles north off the coast of both the United States and Canada.

“Russian long-range aviation flights have, for instance, have entered our ADIZs, but not our sovereign airspace. These flights are perfectly legal, and we do not consider them threatening or provocative. When we intercept and identify their aircraft, both sides have exercised professional airmanship in all cases.”

Nahom talked about U.S. and Russian aircraft encounters during a visit in May by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He left the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson last summer to take a new position back in Washington, D.C.

Based on Nahom’s comments, the Wednesday’s interdiction played out as it usually does, the Russian bomber pilots execute a turn away from the mainland after the U.S. warplanes show up.

“They seem to be pretty constant. Over the past few years you average 10-12 of such flights inside of our ADIZs per year. We have F-22s that sit alert here at JBER and when someone starts approaching the ADIZs we do scramble out to meet ‘em and make sure they don’t go any further in approach to U.S. airspace.”

The Toronto Globe and Mail says U.S. and Canadian warplanes have intercepted about 50 Russian aircraft over the past five years.

But the Christian Science Monitor reports that a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman said Friday that the flights are part of an increase in such activity near the Alaska air defense identification zone.

The Globe and Mail, the Monitor and several other news media noted that U.S. officials believe the two incidents were linked to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visits last week to the United States and Canada.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Landslide Destroys Restoration Projects Near Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:39

High rainfall this month is being blamed for a major landslide near Sitka. The U.S. Forest Service reports that a 100-acre slide came down in the Starrigavan Valley, about ten miles from town. Although there was no structural damage in the event, hundreds of thousands of dollars of watershed restoration projects in the valley have been wiped out. The slide, and water damage to an ATV trail in the valley and other hiking trails elsewhere in Sitka — all add up to a tough month for the agency.

Listen now:

The main area of the slide encompasses an area of roughly 100 acres. (USFS photo)

The scale of the Starrigavan slide has unfolded slowly. A Fish & Game biologist was in the area — apparently the morning after the slide — on Friday, September 19, and noticed that Starrigavan Creek had been diverted onto the old logging road that is now being used as an all-terrain vehicle trail.

Marty Becker is the watershed program coordinator for the Sitka Ranger District. He and other staff went to check on the problem Monday morning.

“It wasn’t until we actually climbed through the front of the slide that we saw the magnitude of it.”

Read the USFS Preliminary report on the Starrigavan Landslide here.

A bridge, three fish ponds, and two new culverts were buried by debris. (USFS photo)

There was not one slide, but three. Two smaller slides across the both the north and south forks of Starrigavan Creek…

“And then one main slide that came down off the north-facing slope. Came down and ran about a third of a mile down the main channel, and ended up at the log stringer bridge, which hung up the main slide.”

Becker estimates the area of main slide to be in the neighborhood of 100 acres, starting in the old growth timber high on the valley slope and running down through the second growth to the valley floor.

Becker says the Sitka district hasn’t seen a cluster of slides like this since the mid-1990s, in Nakwasina Sound and the Katlian area, which he says are more dynamic systems. The Starrigavan slide, Becker says, is “pretty extraordinary.”

“Boy those freaky events keep us on our toes…”

The log stringer bridge in the Starrigavan Valley is a lost cause. At the other end of town, USFS recreation manager Mike Mullin is on the Herring Cove Trail, next to a footbridge that his crew is working hard to save.

“These guys will get a gap opened up under it and get a lot of that material flushed through, and we might end up jacking the bridge by a couple of feet. I’m hoping once we uncover the rocks and debris that there’s not some big chunks out of it. So I’m hoping it can be saved.”

Hikers on the Herring Cove Trail footbridge. Flood waters pushed rocks under most of the span, turning it into a dam. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

This is the second time this year that the trail has sustained major water damage. All the repairs from last January’s flooding have been washed out, two minor slides have cut the trail, and this footbridge over the stream — while it hasn’t moved — is more or less sitting on dry land. Heavy rains over two consecutive weekends in September pushed rocks under the bridge and turned it into a dam.

It doesn’t look like it will survive another high rainfall event. Mullin says the Forest Service is basically between a rock and a hard place.

“The couple of events we’ve had this summer have been a little out of the ordinary for sure, but yeah, we’re not even in the rainy season, and we lose our seasonal crew in a couple of weeks. And obviously Forest Service budgets for maintaining trails are on the decline. So we’ve got a lot of things working against us.”

Mullin says the agency will likely have to consider realigning the trail away from the alluvial fan at the base of Bear Mountain Falls, into a less dynamic area.

Both the Herring Cove trail and the Starrigavan Valley were probably affected by what Marty Becker calls a “micro-burst.” Meteorological data for Sitka doesn’t indicate rainfall amounts too extraordinary for this time of year, but the rain came hard and fast. What was officially recorded as three-and-a-half inches of rain at the Sitka airport on the day the Herring Cove Trail was damaged, Becker says filled rain gauges in some parts of town to nearly seven inches.

In the Starrigavan Valley, the mitigation strategy is uncertain. Three of the Forest Service’s coho-rearing ponds were lost in the slide; a fourth was almost completely filled with sediment. Two fish culverts have been blown out, and a half-mile of stream, several forest test plots, and 300 meters of the ATV trail are just gone.
The Forest Service has invested several hundred thousand dollars in restoration work in this valley. Becker is not sure to what extent the agency will attempt to undo some of the damage.

“Yeah, that’s the big question. We’re going to be sitting down the next couple of days assessing what we know right now. Getting some aerial reconnaissance to see if there are more slides that we haven’t seen, and then getting out there in the next week or so after we let things stabilize — it’s pretty dangerous, things still shifting around — to get a full inventory of what’s been damaged, where the main problem areas are, and then to see what we can actually do.”

The last slide of this magnitude around Sitka happened at Redoubt Lake in May of 2013, and two people staying at the Forest Service cabin there managed to escapemoments before the mountainside came down. Becker says both slides are comparable in size, but he says the resource damage here is greater, because the Redoubt slide was stopped by the lake, and in Starrigavan it just “ran right down the valley.”

Categories: Alaska News

College Student Wants To Make Voting Easier For Cellphone-Using Peers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:38

Alaskans 18 to 24 are the age group least likely to vote. About a third of them aren’t registered – and of those who are, fewer than half actually come out on Election Day. But a college freshman from Juneau would like to change that by making the whole process a little more convenient for those in school. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports on a new voter registration site for cell phone users.

Listen now:

Stephen Mell is in his first weeks at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His list of priorities is pretty typical for a freshman.

“Number one is definitely Spanish class. Next one, I dunno, is probably getting enough sleep, which I never seem to manage, and then the rest of my classes,” says Mell. “And somewhere over there is the rest of the world, but it’s pretty small.”

Even though what’s going on in the rest of the world — and back in Alaska — isn’t a top concern in his daily life, Mell still cares enough to vote. To do that, he’s got a few options. He could fly back …

“Uh, no. That would be very expensive,” Mell laughs.

He could scan his vote and e-mail it to the Division of Elections, or submit an absentee ballot via fax machine …

“I might be able to figure it out, but it would be stressful.”

Or he can request an absentee ballot by mail.

“I don’t have any envelopes except the ones my mom mailed to me with my grandmother’s address on them so I can send letters to her.”

That whole process feels like a chore to Mell, and like something that could end up discouraging students away at college from voting. Mell thinks more students would vote if they could just register or request absentee ballots from their cell phones. So, he built a mobile website that will let them to do exactly that.

“The entire idea was to make it as easy as possible,” says Mell.

And it is. Testing out the site from a smart phone, registering to vote takes about five minutes. You go to Vote-AK.us, fill out your vitals, swipe your signature on the screen, and that’s pretty much it. With the push of a button, your form gets submitted to the state for processing.

“It’s not officially endorsed by the Division of Elections, but it’s been working, and they haven’t had any problems with it so far,” says Mell. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai confirms the division is accepting forms submitted through the site.

Vote-AK.us isn’t fancy. Mell says developing it took about 20 hours. He chose to build a mobile site instead of an app partially because it was easier for him to program. Plus, a slick design and bells and whistles might actually make it less user friendly and require people to spend more time registering.

Mell also acknowledges that some people might be a little wary about trusting what’s essentially a student side project, but he says he doesn’t get access to any sensitive information.

“I see the name of the person who registered, but I do not get their Social Security number,” says Mell. “That is discarded immediately. It is never stored to a hard drive.”

Every time someone signs up, Mell gets an alert. So far, only 10 people — mostly his friends — have used the site to register. But he’s hoping the idea will take off, and that more people will use it once they learn about it.

“Maybe someday I won’t be able to put up with having that many notifications,” says Mell.

The final day to register to vote is October 5.

Categories: Alaska News

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