Alaska News

Seward & 36th improvement plans still under consideration

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 06:00

The intersection of 36th and the new Seward Highway in Anchorage is getting a make-over. The state’s Department of Transportation says it’s to make the area safer and less congested.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/10-36th-and-Seward.mp3

Everyday about 65,000 cars pass through the intersection of 36th Avenue and the new Seward Highway, most of them are headed north or south. DOT reports that the intersection is the most congested in the state, meaning the most likely to cause delays, and there are about 50 reported accidents there each year.

Since 2012 the department has been working on a plan to fix the problem. Project manager Sean Holland says they’ve narrowed it down to two options for redoing the roads and running the highway above 36th. He says the major issue is that the distance between Tudor and Benson is only about a mile.

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Half SPUI.”

“There’s not enough room in there for traffic to weave for entering and exiting traffic from the highway to make a safe and efficient movement.”

That means both potential options will have new types of intersections underneath the highway. Holland says they could be confusing for drivers at first, but mostly locals use it.

“We’re thinking that all of these alternatives are a little bit unconventional, [but] that people will learn them pretty quickly. It will take hopefully one or two times. You know, I think if you take the wrong turn the first time, then the second time you’ll be able to pick it up,” he said.

One major difference between the two plans is that one has left exits and the other has right ones. Neither plan allows drivers to get on the highway at 36th and go north. Holland says it couldn’t be safely done. Vehicles will have to take different routes, like LaTouche or Denali.

“It’s probably going to put some more pressure on those intersections,” he explains. However, “our models show that with the increased efficiency that we’re going to find at Seward and 36th, that those other intersections, we’re going to find, will operate at an acceptable level.”

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Hybrid SPUI.”

At the moment the project is only half funded. DOT has $36 million from the state legislature. They’ll need between $50 and $70 million to complete it. Holland says the department would like to start the 2-year construction project in 2016, but it will depend on funding.

They’re accepting public comments during an open house on June 16 at the Loussac Library. They’re looking for input on issues like how the plans will impact bicyclists and pedestrians.

You can find out more about the project here.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Calls On Begich To Sign Pledge Discouraging Outside Influence

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:42

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is calling on incumbent Mark Begich to sign a pledge to discourage outside groups from running political ads in the race. The pledge would impose a financial penalty on a campaign that benefits from Outside spending. Begich campaign isn’t buying it.

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Categories: Alaska News

HAARP Demolition Reportedly ‘Put On Hold’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:41

The Gakona High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program may have been saved in the nick of time.

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According to Alan LeMaster, who runs a lodge at Gakona Junction, five room reservations made by U.S. Air Force officials for this week have been canceled, he says, because demolition of the research facility has been “put on hold.”

LeMaster told APRN that leaders of the demolition project told him that a “cease and desist” order has been issued for the scheduled demolition.

APRN has not had official confirmation of the order to halt the HAARP demolition, but Carl Grusnick, a public information office with the Air Force Research Lab in New Mexico, says that it is not unusual for large projects to be put on hold temporarily because of delays in negotiations with contractors. Grusnick says the Air Force has completed it’s research at HAARP, which has been slated for closure as of June 10.

And Charles Gulick, with the USAF press office, emailed Tuesday that at this time, he has no word on the order to cease and desist, but that he will have more information in the future.

Meanwhile, Matt Felling a spokesperson with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office, says an announcement will be made on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Gubernatorial Challengers Criticize Parnell For Missing Debates

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:41

Since April, gubernatorial challengers Byron Mallott and Bill Walker have gone after incumbent Sean Parnell for skipping debates. They hit that point again on Monday, at a candidate forum hosted by the National Congress of American Indians.

Independent candidate Bill Walker didn’t even finish his opening statement before taking a swipe at the governor.

“You know who’s not on the panel with us — Gov. Parnell has chosen not to show,” said Walker. “I think that’s a shame that he chooses not to participate in these processes. Remember that on election day.”

Democrat Byron Mallott went after Parnell, too.

“Bill and I have spent many months on the campaign trail thus far, and it’s almost like we’re the only two candidates,” said Mallott.

Their displeasure with Parnell’s absence was one of a few areas where the competing candidates agreed on Monday. For example, they also told attendees at the National Congress of American Indians that the state needs to make a disaster declaration in response to the high energy prices in rural areas.

Because of the similarities in their platforms, the candidates were asked if they feared splitting the vote in a way that could benefit Parnell. Walker again pivoted back to Parnell’s debate attendance.

“The other guy doesn’t seem to show up, doesn’t seem to pay attention or want to engage with the public,” said Walker. “He’ll come in third, so we’ll be fine.”

Since Walker and Mallott announced their candidacies last year, Parnell has joined them in two candidate forums and skipped four.

His campaign manager, Jerry Gallagher says Parnell will be participating in a “large number” of debates after the primary.

“We don’t obviously want to take anything for granted and we want to respect process, and we’ll do that and then move on to the general,” said Gallagher in a phone interview.

As the incumbent governor, Parnell is expected to easily win the Republican nomination. Two of his three challengers — Gerald Heikes and Brad Snowden — have run for governor before and received less than 1 percent of the vote or were disqualified, respectively. Russ Millette is the best known candidate running against Parnell in the primary. Millette was elected chair of the Alaska Republican Party by a group of libertarian-minded activists, but was quickly ousted by the party’s establishment wing.

Gallagher says there are currently no specific plans to debate those primary candidates, but adds that Parnell will consider campaign events on a case-by-case basis.

The next debate Parnell plans to attend is in August, with at least five more events scheduled after the primary.

Categories: Alaska News

BP uses drones for first time on land for commercial purposes

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:40

Pilot launches unmanned aircraft on North Slope. Photo courtesy of BP.

For the first time in Alaska, and the United States, a company is flying drones over land for commercial purposes. BP is using Unmanned Aerial Systems to inspect roads, gravel pads, and pipelines on the North Slope. It’s the first time the Federal Aviation Administration has approved drones for this type of use.

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Curt Smith, Technology Director for BP, said the four-and-a-half foot long aircraft use cameras and laser systems to map areas and collect data they can’t get from conventional methods.

“So we can’t drive over there [to the pipelines] because it’s tundra, whereas the Puma can fly over it without any damage or without harassing animals because it’s silent and invisible. Because unless you’re staring at it, you wouldn’t notice it’s there.”

Smith said the planes can fly low enough and slow enough to capture high quality data about the thickness of the roads and gravel pads to make sure they are protecting the tundra.

Pilots from AeroVironment control the 9-foot wide Puma AE aircraft. They launch them by hand and have to stay in visual range for safety reasons.

Smith said the project is good for BP because they’re getting better quality data than they would otherwise and saving money, but they’re also breaking new ground for many companies.

“I think the big thing is it’s the trailblazer,” Smith said. “The FAA, AeroVironment, and BP have worked out do how you get the permission. And being first is always difficult because you hit the stumbling blocks, and you say, ‘What am I going to do with that?’ And then you figure it out and you go on. But once that’s figured out, you should be able to leverage that for the next time, right?”

A spokesperson from the FAA says filmmakers are already applying to use the unmanned craft in controlled, low-risk situations like movie sets.

The FAA is required by Congress to allow the use of drones in the Arctic for commercial purposes.

Pilot launches unmanned aircraft on North Slope. Photo courtesy of BP.

Categories: Alaska News

Land Trust For Alaska Tribes Is A Popular Concept

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:39

NCAI president Brian Cladoosby. (Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

At a wide ranging press conference during day three of the NCAI gathering in Anchorage today, BIA Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn said the concept of taking land into trust for Alaska tribes is a popular one.

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“Even though we don’t have a rule in place that allows it, we have applications,” Washburn said.

NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, middle, BIA undersecretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, middle, and NCAI executive director Jacqueline Pata, left. (Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

A recent DC district court decision affirmed the Interior department’s authority to take Alaska tribal lands into trust if tribes request it and the Secretary of Interior approves the request. Washburn said although the decision is being appealed, the court was clear in the assertion. He said the issue is also supported by two other entities.

“One from the secretarial commission on trust reform, which was set up at the department of Interior and it’s a blue ribbon panel of outside independent experts, who said we think this would be a good idea,” Washburn said. ”We also heard from the Indian Law and Order Commission which set a whole chapter on Alaska because they were looking at issues for Indian Law and Order all over the country but the issues in Alaska are very serious and so they set aside chapter two.”

Trust status for Native lands would allow more tribal authority and jurisdiction over certain criminal behavior on those trust lands. The Indian Law and Order Commission sees it as a way to better address the high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska Native communities.
Washburn said there have been applications from Interior and Southeast Alaska tribes.

Categories: Alaska News

National Archives departure impacts broad community

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:39

The National Archives in Anchorage is closing its doors to researchers in less than two weeks, despite impassioned pleas by historians and researchers. But they aren’t the only ones who use the stacks of historical records. http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/10-NARA-closing.mp3

The National Archives building in downtown Anchorage

Playwright Peter Porco sits in the white-walled research room of the National Archives in Anchorage. He’s searching through stacks of old papers from Adak in the 1940s.

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“I mean here’s another one, hand-written,” he says as he holds up an old work memo. “I’m gonna take a picture of this because I just think it’s so neat… oh wow! A cigarette burn.” He’s quickly distracted by the pale green paper with a memo about chow passes. “We got a cigarette burn in a piece of paper! I mean that’s so silly… but now you really get a picture of this guy sitting at a desk…”

Porco is looking for information for his series of plays on life in the Aleutians during World War II. He says the archives do more than just store history, they inspire creativity. “I’m trying to get as a clear a picture of what it’s like to live and be there at that time.”

The National Archives and Records Administration officials say they’re closing the facility’s doors because of low numbers of visitors — only 352 per year on average since 2009. More than half of the reference requests are written. Closing the facility and transferring about 75 percent of the holdings to Seattle will save NARA about $500,000 per year.

At the request of the state’s Congressional delegation, the other 25 percent of the records will go to the state archives in Juneau. Among them are most of the territorial court records that are held at NARA. They include everything from civil and criminal court dockets to coroner’s inquests.

Kip Knudsen with the governor’s office says they looked into many options for keeping all of the records in Alaska, like moving them to the archives in Juneau. “I have a feeling that’s probably outside our budget desires, but we looked at all options. The federal employees were not really very enthusiastic about all of them, quite frankly, and they were even a little bit resistant to leaving the territorial court records.”

Knudsen says the governor’s office even did a survey of all of the state agencies to see how they would be impacted by the Archives closing. He says it will be an inconvenience, but it’s not devastating.

Other organizations in the state, like the Alaska Federation of Natives, say moving the Archives is more than just an inconvenience. The Archives include everything from village census records from before statehood to histories of fur seal hunts in the Pribilof Islands.

“Well it’s going to create a huge void and vacuum in the native community,” says Nicole Borromeo, AFN’s general counsel. “I’ve personally been down to the archives, doing research, and the information there is just phenomenal. It’s a living history. And to have that removed from our community is going to leave an impact.”

Borromeo says her organization is still working with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to try to get more records to stay.

NARA plans to eventually make all of the records available online. But the agency does not have any money set aside to digitize Alaska’s history. They are accepting recommendations for what should be prioritized until the end of the month. State Historian Jo Antonson says she prefers the records stay in Alaska, but digitization could work if Alaskans participate in the process.

“It’s so important for Alaskans to speak up, speak out, about what records they need to have access to,” she says. “And after the list is compiled we need to keep vigilant to make sure that plans become action to make things digitized and become available.”

NARA is considering having citizen archivists, like Peter Porco, help with the process.

Back in the research room he leans over the table with his digital camera and portable scanner, capturing what he can. But he says it doesn’t work for everything.

“This is a 1941-43 blueprint or something,” he says referring to his find from earlier in the day. “It filled the entire table plus and no, there’s no way you’re going to digitize that.”

He has until June 20th to try.

Categories: Alaska News

AIDEA Briefs Federal Commission On Ambler Road

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:38

The state says it will cost as much as $400 million to build a controversial proposed mining road to Ambler. But some opponents of the road think that figure is too low.

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A conference call about federal polices on Alaska lands became part of the ongoing debate about a proposed mining road to Ambler, with the total cost of the road officially projected to be as high as $400 million—a number that’s interesting as much for what it leaves in as out.

On Friday, the Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas–CAFCA– met in Anchorage for one of it’s three meetings each year. The Ambler Road project was discussed due to plans which call for a portion of the road to pass through the Gates of the Arctic National ark.

Mark Davis, a deputy director with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA—which is handling the project for the state—gave an overall cost prediction for the project.

“I gave you the potential estimates of this road,” Davis told the CACFA members, “which would be first brought in as a pioneer road and then maybe expanded, so between $190 million and $300 million.”

That’s optimistic. And other AIDEA representatives are quick clarify that is a very rough estimate, one which will likely be revised once the EIS study is completed. Maryelen Tuttle works for Dowl HKM, the company contracted to manage the road project, and says a more conservative range is $200-$400. And that’s just for construction—it doesn’t include all the preliminary studies or permitting, which has so far cost the state just under $13 million, and could be as high as $60 million by the time ground is broken.

“The idea that the road costs $100-$300 million dollars is totally, totally fallacious,” Ron Yarnell, a wilderness lodge owner near the road’s proposed route, told board members.

“The bridges on this road are huge. I mean, the bridges on this job alone are gonna be $100-$200 million dollars,” Yarnell continued.

Yarnell also questions AIDEA’s claim that the industrial road will be closed down and remediated once operations have stopped in the mining district the road would service. It was a point picked up by Jill Yordy, a researcher with the Northern Center in Fairbanks, too.

“Today it was mentioned that the road could possibly be reclaimed, and yet I’ve heard no mention about the cost of reclaiming the road. And who would pay for those—who’s shoulders would that financial burden fall on?” Yordy asked. “If it is going to be AIDEA or the private entity that pays for and maintains the road then those costs should be included in the road proposal and considered from the beginning.”

In his response to the public’s testimony, Davis explained that costs for road reclamation will be figured during the EIS process. After the meeting Tuttle clarified that the eventual financing model will use tolls to collect repayment from the road’s private users. Reclamation, as well as maintenance and preliminary costs, will be built into how much the tolls charge.

Investigations into feasibility and design options for the Ambler Road have a phased funding structure, meaning appropriations happen year-to-year depending on which phase development is in. So far the project has spent just under $13 million, though the cost for preliminary work could get up to $60 million before ground is broken.

Categories: Alaska News

Utah Official Advocates For Land Transfer In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:37

Alaska is not alone in its conflicts with the federal government over land management. Leaders in some Lower 48 western states want Alaska to join an effort to gain control of federal lands within their borders.

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“All of the states need to dialogue with one another and to expand the conversation so that we have a coalition of states that have a voice in Washington,” says Kathleen Clarke, director of Utah’s Public Land Policy Coordination office.

Clarke, a former National Director of the Bureau of Land Management, was in Fairbanks Friday at the invitation of Alaska’s Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas. Clarke says Alaska has a lot in common with Utah and other western states.

“What we perceive to be overreach of federal government, and the challenge of getting some balance in that management that respects local citizens, tradition, culture, economics and all of those things that contribute to a good quality of life,” she said.

Clarke provided the state commission with an update on an American Lands Council initiative supported by Utah and several other states, aimed at getting some BLM property turned over to them.

“If we work together and transfer title and ownership, it would free the federal government of a whole lot of burden and expense, as well as allowing the western states to, for example, contribute to the issue of national energy security, so I think there’s a lot of positive that could come,” she said.

Clarke said the effort does not target national parks, refuges or other wilderness areas. Clarke and fellow land transfer advocate Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder cited economic studies that show states making money by managing BLM lands for resource development.

Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas Chair, Alaska State Representative Wes Keller says the commission regularly hears about federal overreach from Alaskans, and emphasized the broader issue is not unique. “We have a tendency, I think, in Alaska to think we’re the only one, but other western states are experiencing the same thing, so I see it as just a sharing of information and getting together with other states,” he said.

Keller was clear that the state of Alaska isn’t formally supporting land transfer at this point, and the commission is just gathering information.

Categories: Alaska News

Wells Fargo Donates Land To Eklutna

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:36

Wells Fargo is donating sacred land to the village of Eklutna.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sitka wood carver Tommy Joseph comes to the Anchorage Museum

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 17:35

Last week Tommy Joseph, a Tlnigit wood carver from Sitka, came to the Anchorage Museum to refurbish a totem pole he carved 15 years ago. “We’re just cleaning the surface, and then I’m going to refresh the paint, put new paint on it, and treat the wood,” Joseph said to a crowd of about a half dozen that came to the museum last Friday.

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The totem pole was recently donated to the Anchorage Museum by Alaska grocery store owners Larry and Wilma Carr. At roughly 10-feet in length, the red, black and green carving has a crow adorning the bottom half. A man with his arms crossed is carved onto the top. It’s one of a handful of totem poles on display at the Anchorage Museum, but Joseph’s work is exhibited all over the world.  “I’ve got them in California, Washington, Ohio, Chicago, Iowa, Pennsylvania, London, Germany, New Zealand,” he said.

In a way Joseph is a cultural ambassador for the Tlingit, and he’s excited to bring his carving to Anchorage. “It’s all about educating and sharing our culture with people,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to go to places I probably wouldn’t have gone before and tell their story but the way we do in a totem pole.”

Joseph will be working on the totem pole through the week. Once restored it will be displayed inside the museum. In Anchorage, I’m Joaquin Palomino.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Almost All Alaska Vets Seen Within 30 Days At Anchorage VA

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-10 10:36

Ninty-nine percent of veterans seeking medical appointments from the Anchorage VA are seen within 30 days.

That’s according to a Veterans Affairs audit released Monday. The audit found an established patient could schedule a primary care appointment within two days, on average. The average wait time was less than three days to see a specialist, and less than a day for mental healthcare. New patient wait times were closer to 30 days.

The auditors interviewed staff at hundreds of VA hospitals and clinics across the country. Nationwide, 13 percent of schedulers reported they were told to falsify appointment schedules to make wait times appear shorter. Sen. Mark Begich says the Anchorage numbers reflect great improvement. Sen. Lisa Murkowski calls them encouraging but warns they represent a snapshot in time and require commitment to maintain.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Fight Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:37

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty plans to fight a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

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The Department of Law, in a statement, says the attorney general’s office has a duty “to uphold and defend the Alaska Constitution, which it intends to do.” The department says the state’s position will be more fully laid out in future court filings.

Alaska voters, in 1998, approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Five same-sex couples – four married outside Alaska and one unmarried couple – sued in federal court last month, seeking to strike down the ban on gay marriage. They say the ban violates their right to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

Categories: Alaska News

As Festival Season Kicks Off, So Does Campaign Season

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:36

Volunteers for Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan march in the Colony Days parade on June 7, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.

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The Colony Days parade lasted two whole hours this year.

In between the floats from sports teams, churches, and the local utility, there was a lot of this:

PARADE MARSHALL: All right. Dan Sullivan for Lt. Governor. Here’s Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, hello, and his wife Lynnette.

It was a literal parade of political candidates, where it felt like just about every other participant was asking for your vote. Sullivan had a volunteer wearing a green wig and propped up on stilts for his float. Members of Palmer Rep. Shelley Hughes’ entourage formed a kickline. Her opponent, Democrat Peter LaFrance, had a guy dressed as a yeti.

Out of 86 floats, 20 were manned by political candidates or organizations. Because it’s good advertising, political floats are each charged $100, while all other entries go free. All the major candidates for governor participated, and so did most of the U.S. Senate candidates. But events like these are especially important for first-timers running for office, like Cathy Tilton.

“It’s important to show up at the parades to get your name out there and to meet with the constituents and talk to them and make sure they know you’re in the race,” says Tilton.

Tilton is a Republican running for an open House seat in the Chugiak area. She’s been to Colony Days before, and she says the difference between an election year and an off year is pretty obvious.

“During a non-election year, the parade is not as full of floats and people,” says Tilton. “I’ve heard there’s 85 this year, and I think there’s been years where there’s been maybe 30? So, it’s a little more robust this year we can say.”

This isn’t the only event Tilton will go to before the August 19th primary. There are Fourth of July events, and the state fair, and plenty more. That’s a lot of marching to do, and a lot of fried food to consume.

“Well, it’s all going to depend on how many doors I walk to how many funnel cakes I’m allowed to have,” Tilto jokes.

Tilton’s not the only one to see a difference between parades in odd years and even years.

“From when we were younger till now, there’s a lot more political [campaigning] now,” says spectator Stacie Queripel. “It’s become very political.”

Queripel grew up in Palmer, and she’s been attending Colony Days for years. She has some misgivings about all the campaigning. She says the parade now feels more like political event than a community celebration.

“The kids don’t really get into it as much anymore,” says Queripel. “You don’t see the 4H groups in it as much anymore, and it’s kind of sad.”

About a block away from Queripel, Jim Daggett of Wasilla is hanging out by the orchestra. He’s got a “Sean Parnell for Governor” sign that he picked up during the parade, and he doesn’t have a problem with all the candidate appearances.

“They gotta shake hands and kiss babies, right?” Daggett laughs.

Daggett says it’s nice to see everyone out in person. It gives him a sense of whether the candidates are taking the campaign seriously and if they have popular support – something you can’t really tell from a campaign ad.

Rose LeCuche, also of Wasilla, is standing next to him, and she agrees. Appearances like these aren’t driving her decision on election day, but it gives her a sense of who’s running and what a candidate is like.

“It’s a time for them to actually look people right in the eye, and to shake their hands,” says LeCuche. “You can’t completely judge a person’s character by what you see for a few seconds, but you sure can get an impression.”

And between the signs they wave and all the bags of candy they hand out, the candidates marching are hoping it’s a good one.

Categories: Alaska News

New Effort To Repeal SB21 Kicks Off Around State

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:35

A grassroots effort to repeal Senate Bill 21 kicked off last week. Meetings of the “Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway” campaign took place from Anchorage to Unalaska, where organizers are struggling to convince residents that oil taxes matters in their community.

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Categories: Alaska News

Justice Department To Work With Tribes To Enhance Voting Access

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:34

The National Congress of American Indians is holding their mid-year conference in Anchorage this week. Titled-Claiming our Rights and Strengthening our Governance, the conference started yesterday and runs through Wednesday.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

U.S Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Tony West adhered to the theme as he said DOJ would work with tribes to enhance access to voting.

“And so the Attorney General announced today that we would engage in consultation with tribal leaders to come up with legislative proposals that would hopefully at the end of the day would result in polling places in local Native communities, on reservations, in Native villages as well as ensuring that election materials, ballot materials are being presented and offered in those Native languages,” West said.

State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says remote precincts have a polling place in the most populated part of the precinct and other areas are designated ‘permanent absentee voting areas’. Voters in these areas can apply to have an absentee ballot mailed to them.

West said there are no legislative efforts being crafted yet, because tribal governments need to weigh in on what an equitable plan would look like.

West made it clear that Justice Department officials strongly support tribal government sovereignty and will work to help clarify jurisdiction issues in Alaska, particularly as it relates to domestic violence and sexual assault.

“In US Attorneys’ office, we’re making sure there are funds and resources available to try to deal with sex trafficking, to try to deal with violence against women,” West said. “We strongly support the repeal of section 910 of Violence Against Women Act which took Alaska Native villages outside of this ability of tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction and pursue, in certain instances, domestic violence perpetrators.”

Speaking earlier to a large group at the Dena’ina Convention center, West said DOJ filed a “statement of interest” last week in case called Toyukuk vs. Treadwell. Plaintiff Mike Toyukuk of the village of Manokotak, is suing the state over a failure to provide oral language assistance for citizens who speak Yu’pik as their first language.

“Because, if remote geography, or the inability to speak English, do not free any of us from the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship, then they should not impede the exercise of rights to which we are all entitled,” West said.

Categories: Alaska News

State Challenged On Native Translations Of Election Materials

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:33

Before the District Court’s ruling on Wednesday directing the state to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters with limited English skills, another effort to reach the same goal was in the works.

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U.S. Senator Mark Begich was working to turn back to what he calls protections that were in place until a year ago. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it’s unconstitutional to require nine states with a history of discrimination, including Alaska, to get federal pre-clearance on election changes. Begich recently introduced the Native Voting Rights bill in Congress.

“This will do a couple of things that I think are pretty important in ensuring ballots are translated into all written Native languages, and the state can’t close down polling booths and deciding where election booths should go without the Justice Department participating and reviewing those,” Begich said. “And also consultation between DOJ and tribes.”

Native American Rights Attorney Natalie Landreth says the Native Voters Rights bill would reinstate federal scrutiny of some election changes:

”Not as to all election changes,” Landreth said. :Only for specific kinds of things that are inherently suspect such as taking away early voting, removing the only polling place in a village, combining polling places in villages that are separated, that kind of a thing.”

“So you wouldn’t have preclearance for all voting changes, just for that small subset of them.”

Landreth says the legislation is needed because Alaska has a duel system for elections – one for urban areas and a less accessible, less convenient one for rural Alaska.

“Those of us who live in cities were unaware of some of the existing voting barriers in rural Alaska. Most of rural Alaska does not have early voting. A lot of villages have no polling places. There are more than 70 that have no polling places at all,” Landreth said. “A lot of places, the majority, where Native languages are spoken are not receiving adequate language assistance so voters understand what they are voting for. There are some serious, serious problems.”

In the 1960s, Alaska was tagged for pre-clearance because it provided English-only election materials and ballots to voters. The state has argued translations into Native languages were useless because the languages were spoken, not written, and few Natives read their language.

Lt. Gov. Mean Treadwell, a Republican candidate for Begich’s Senate seat, says the state sided with Alabama in the Supreme Court case because Alaskan elections are fair and pre-clearance is an unnecessary waste of time.

“We entered the Shelby county case to try and bring decision-making home,” Treadwell said. “Federal overreach on our elections had gotten so absurd that I could not even put an email address on a voter registration form without getting DOJ permission.”

Treadwell says he’s kept every polling place open that was there when he was elected. And he’s taken steps to have more.

“But getting good people to work on elections, we’re very interested in seeing that expanded,” Treadwell said. “We’ve done a number of things, from working to pay people more, to offering training for people who want to be election workers, to sending people out to villages to actually run elections when we can’t find people in a community.”

Treadwell says he’s open to a dialogue about how to improve elections.

“Elections are a sacred right and I don’t want this to become a political football,” Treadwell said. “It’s very, very good that we do everything we can to expand access to elections.”

Begich’s Native Voting Rights Act also would allow people to register using tribal identification cards, which are based on documentation and genealogies maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Other Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller, did not respond to email requests for comments on the Native Voting Rights bill in time for this broadcast.

Categories: Alaska News

First Sport Fishing Restriction For Any Targeted King Salmon Fishing in The Kuskokwim

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:32

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting sport fishers from targeting king salmon on the Qanirtuuq River.

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It’s the first time sport fishers have been restricted from catching kings there, but many locals are doubtful that guide companies will comply.

“Division of Sport Fish closed the entire Kuskokwim drainage and the Kuskokwim bay drainage to sport fishing for king salmon effectively Thursday May 1, and that precludes any catch and release. If they accidentally catch a king salmon while their fishing for another species, that king salmon may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Division Area Biologist John Cythlook said.

He said this restriction was the result of an emergency order issued around the end of April.  Like rivers all over Alaska, King escapement has been dwindling in recent years on the Qanirtuuq River.

The emergency order states that only one un-baited, artificial lures may be used in the Kuskokwim-Goodnews area.

There are four guide companies operating on the Qanirtuuq River. They provide guided fishing trips among other wilderness services. There is a history of friction between subsistence fishers there and the guiding operations.

At a meeting held in Quinhagak on May 30, local fisher Willard Church said he’s doubtful that the guide companies stop targeting king salmon as they try to cater to their clients.

“If I came up from New York for a float trip for the very first time with a group of twelve, I’d want my King. Especially if I could get it up there,” Church said.

Of the four guiding outfits operating on the Qanirtuuq River three are currently advertising king salmon as a species anglers can expect to catch. Alaska West, which has the largest operation on the Qanirtuuq according to local residents, has this on their website regarding king salmon, “At Alaska West we have honed and refined our fly angling skills and collective knowledge to a point where we consistently hook and land these behemoth masses that more resemble chrome plated sea lions than fish.”

Brian Burke, a sales representative for Alaska West declined to be interviewed but said that their website is up to date.

Owner of another sport fishing guide company called Reel Action, Paul Jacob, said his company will be complying with the restrictions. He says he makes that clear to all his potential customers. But Jacob’s says sport fisher’s must purchase stamps from Fish and Game, and that revnue goes towards things like salmon research.  He says taking down the king salmon advertising on his website would be counter productive.

“I don’t believe that there is a good reason to do that, because it throws fear into the general public about coming to Alaska, and the research that is done to figure out why these salmon are crashing. It’s not just the Kuskokwim it’s all across all of Alaska, and when you scare people away by having them not come up to Alaska you take away the funding that it takes to figure out why the salmon are not doing well in the ocean,” Jacob said.

Meanwhile, Paul Hansen owns another guide operation called Alaska Rainbow Adventures. Hansen says he’ll be moving king salmon anglers to the Alagnak River near King Salmon where sport fishing for king salmon are allowed through king salmon stamps.

While the guide companies around the area appear to comply to recent restrictions, in Quinhagak many aren’t convinced, like John T. Roberts.  Roberts lives in the village and once worked as a sport guide.

Department of Fish and Game says wildlife troopers will be making unannounced visits to sport fishing sites to ensure these restrictions are not violated.

For more information in the emergency order, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:32

Individual news 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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State To Fight Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The Associated Press

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty plans to fight a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

As Festival Season Kicks Off, So Does Campaign Season

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.

New Effort To Repeal SB21 Kicks Off Around State

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A grassroots effort to repeal Senate Bill 21 kicked off last week. Meetings of the “Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway” campaign took place from Anchorage to Unalaska, where organizers are struggling to convince residents that oil taxes matters in their community.

Justice Department To Work With Tribes To Enhance Voting Access

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The National Congress of American Indians is holding their mid-year conference in Anchorage this week. Titled-Claiming our Rights and Strengthening our Governance, the conference started yesterday and runs through Wednesday.

State Challenged On Native Translations Of Election Materials

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

That case will go to trial later this month. A federal judge has said the constitutional right to vote requires the state of Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English proficiency. A Congressional effort to reach the same goal is also in the works.

First Sport Fishing Restriction For Any Targeted King Salmon Fishing in The Kuskokwim

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting sport fishers from targeting king salmon on the Qanirtuq River.

Graduation Marks 10th Anniversary Of Dental Health Aide Therapist Program

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A group of six dental health aide therapists graduated from training Friday in Anchorage. The ceremony also marked the 10th anniversary of the innovative program that places mid-level dental practitioners in under-served rural communities across Alaska. 81 villages in the state now have therapists.

Anchorage Museum Becomes Smithsonian Affiliate

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

This week the Anchorage Museum reached a new level of recognition when it became a Smithsonian Affiliate, making it the only institution in Alaska that’s part of the Smithsonian’s network of 160-museums.

Categories: Alaska News

Graduation Marks 10th Anniversary Of Dental Health Aide Therapist Program

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:31

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

A group of six dental health aide therapists graduated from training Friday in Anchorage. The ceremony also marked the 10th anniversary of the innovative program that places mid-level dental practitioners in under-served rural communities across Alaska. 81 villages in the state now have therapists.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis Sullivan spoke at the graduation. Sullivan says the American Dental Association has strongly opposed the program from the beginning. But he says dental health aide therapists help expand the reach of dentists.

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Categories: Alaska News
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