Alaska News

Seward Coal Dumping Case Referred Back To Lower Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA aims to close gender pay gap by 2025

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:06

Women in Alaska earn significantly less than men, and the YWCA is setting out to change that. Their new initiative aims to close the wage gap by 2025. One of the solutions may be simple–encourage more women to join the trades.

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Deborah Kelly walks through the maze of buildings at ML&P in Anchorage, where she works.

Lineman Deborah Kelly stands in front of an ML&P truck.

“So this is the line shop. The barn,” she says as she walks into a cavernous garage. “We got all of our bucket trucks and some tree trimmers that work here as well.”

Kelly is a lineman, which means she fixes high voltage power and telephone lines. She opens a truck to show some of the gear she uses.

“So this what we actually use to climb the poles,” she explains as she pulls out a contraption that looks like an ancient leg brace attached to leather chaps.

“And there’s a small spike that is angled out and actually goes into the wood. And you just walk up the pole like you’re walking on the ground. Only different.”

“Seriously?” I ask, filled with doubt.

“Yeah, it’s great,” she smiles.

Kelly says she didn’t plan on working on power and phone lines, but when she tried it out during her apprenticeship with the IBEW, she instantly fell in love.

There was just one problem — she’s a woman.

“Well, I definitely had to prove to everybody why I was there and that I deserved to be in the trade. Because most guys have never worked with a woman and a lot of them have never even heard of a woman in the trade. I’m only the second one in the history of Alaska.”

The line trade is not the only industry where women are grossly under represented. State Department of Labor data shows few women work in natural resource development and construction as well, some of the highest paying jobs in the state. And state economists say that contributes to the overall gender pay gap.

The size of the pay gap depends on which data you look at. State estimates show that a woman only makes 67 cents for every dollar a man makes. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says women make 73 cents for every dollar.

YWCA of Alaska CEO Hilary Morgan says the gap is closing too slowly — only 5 cents in 20 years. ”If we continue to do nothing at this rate, women and men will make equal pay in the year 2142, which is really not acceptable.”

Her organization is trying to close it by 2025 instead. But how? Morgan says she’s not exactly sure.

“When Kennedy said he was going to the moon he didn’t know how he was going to get there either, but he was going to get there,” she quips.

Morgan says the first step is changing societal norms — people need to stop accepting the pay gap as normal. The YWCA is partnering with other organizations and industries in Alaska to try to educate people on the discrepancy and to develop solutions. They’re also developing a tool to help businesses and organizations measure if they treat women differently.

“Many of them, their intent is not to pay their female employees less than their male employees. I think that just happens over time because people aren’t really looking at the issue.”

Back at ML&P, Kelly walks through the halls, joking with some of her colleagues.

“And, uh, don’t talk to this guy…”

A man puts on a jokingly serious face. “Trouble,” mutters at Kelly.

“Yeah, trouble,” she laughs. “Just pretend he wasn’t here.”

Kelly says she had to fight to get the same training as the men during her apprenticeship because her crew doubted her abilities and wanted to protect her because she’s small. She says she confronted sheer pig-headedness, too. The men didn’t understand what she was doing there.

But Kelly says the challenges were worth it.

“It’s the best job in the world. And skepticism and a few bad apples are not worth giving that up over.”

Kelly says she hopes to see other women doing what she does, and the sooner the better.

Categories: Alaska News

California Company Pitches LNG Project At Port MacKenzie

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:05

A California energy company is exploring establishing a liquified natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie to supply gas to interior Alaska and the railbelt. WesPac representatives outlined the plan to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly last week.

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WesPac, with offices in Fresno and Oakland California, and in Reno, Nevada, plans to spend about $600 million on LNG infrastructure at Port MacKenzie, according to company Vice President Brad Barnds [BARNS], who made the pitch to the Borough Assembly in late August.

“Our objectives in Alaska are to build, own and operate new, scalable midstream LNG facilities in Cook Inlet, to establish and LNG alternative for Fairbanks and the Interior markets. To create new markets for natural gas in rural and coastal Alaska by displacing high cost diesel. We believe that we also by putting in a new facility at Port MacKenzie we’ll be in a position to offer peaking gas to the greater Railbelt communities, by putting gas into the pipeline system to meet peak day requirements. ”

Barnds says the company is working on an agreement with at least one Cook Inlet producer to supply the gas. He highlighted the projects’ 11 megawatt power plant and the gas pipelines that would accompany the LNG processing facility.

He said WesPac became interested in Cook Inlet gas some years ago, when it seemed like the Inlet’s natural gas supplies were running low. Since a resurgence of natural gas development in the Inlet, WesPac wants to jump on board the rush to get cheap fuel to Alaska’s Interior villages.

“The integration would be the proven reserves plus the energy facility plus the rail and marine infrastructure necessary to move LNG by railcar, or truck or vessel to rural Alaska. The site that we’re intending is one hundred acres at Port MacKenzie. The facility itself would be on par with the current facility contemplated for the North Slope to Fairbanks on the order of two hundred fifty thousand gallons of LNG per day. We’d connect to the existing Enstar pipeline, which is approximately fifteen miles away.”

Barnds said WesPac is working with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and with the Department of Natural Resources on the proposed project, although he said it would be privately financed. He said the project could provide 350 jobs during the construction phase, and about 30 permanent ones.

WesPac is in the process of information gathering and will be ready to make a firm proposal in about three months.

Karston Rodvik, spokesman for AIDEA, says WesPac representatives have met with the state agency although there is no firm plan on the table yet.

“Well, we are certainly aware of the WesPac idea, but I am not aware yet of any formal business proposal that has come to us. If one does come through the door, it will of course go through the same kind of rigorous due diligence process that any proposed or potential project goes through when we look at it. ”

AIDEA is a billion dollar public corporation of the state, which is self – funded and does not depend on legislative appropriations. It returns an annual dividend to the state which goes into the state’s General Fund.

WesPac specializes in gas storage, pipelines and fuel depots. The company operates facilities on the East Coast, and is working with TOTE Ocean Marine on designing a LNG bunkering operation in the US, using container vessels to deliver LNG from Florida to Puerto Rico.

Barnds told the Borough Assembly on August 26 that

“We have actually obtained five expressions of interest form various producers in the Cook Inlet who have made commitments to us or indications to us that they have a lot of natural gas that can be produced to meet our supply requirements. We are actually in active detailed discussions with one particular producer to actually acquire those reserves. ”

He did not name which of the Cook Inlet producers are interested in WedPac’s Port MacKenzie project.

Categories: Alaska News

California Company Exploring Port MacKenzie’s LNG Possibilities

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:05

A California energy company is exploring establishing a liquified natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie to supply gas to interior Alaska and the Railbelt. WesPac representatives outlined the plan to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly last week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Interior Earthquake Monitor Ramps Up

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

Seismologists are ramping up efforts to monitor the region where a major Interior earthquake occurred. The area was already targeted for research.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 4, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:03

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

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

An investigation released today details a long list of failures in how the Alaska National Guard handles reports of sexual assault and other matters. In response to the findings, Governor Sean Parnell asked for the resignation of National Guard Major General Thomas Katkus, effective immediately.

Dems Ask Maryland to Investigate Sullivan Tax Breaks

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

Seward Coal Dumping Case Referred Back To Lower Court

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

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

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

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

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

YWCA aims to close gender pay gap by 2025

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Women in Alaska earn significantly less than men, and the YWCA is setting out to change that. Their new initiative aims to close the wage gap by 2025. One of the solutions may be simple – encourage more women to join the trades.

California Company Exploring Port MacKenzie’s LNG Possibilities

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A California energy company is exploring establishing a liquified natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie to supply gas to interior Alaska and the Railbelt.  WesPac representatives outlined the plan to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly last week.

Interior Earthquake Monitor Ramps Up

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Seismologists are ramping up efforts to monitor the region where a major Interior earthquake occurred. The area was already targeted for research.

LKSD Moves Forward On Student-Based Health Center

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is moving forward on a school-based health center for students in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

LKSD Moves Forward On Student-Based Health Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:03

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is moving forward on a school-based health center for students in Bethel.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Shot by Officer Arrested in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 10:55

Screenshot of a witness video of the incident that led to police shooting Aaron Moses.

A man shot in Bethel last month during an altercation with police was arrested Wednesday by Alaska State Troopers after being released from the hospital in Anchorage.

“Aaron Moses was arrested by Alaska State Troopers in Anchorage at about 2:50,” Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, said. ”He was arrested after he was released from a medical facility. Moses has been charged with Assault II, Assault III and Criminal Mischief III. A Grand Jury did indict Moses for the charges on Thursday which is August 28th.”

On August 15th, Troopers were contacted by the Bethel Police Department, requesting investigative support for an officer involved shooting that happened in a neighborhood.

An affidavit from an investigator details a struggle in which officers say Moses swung a baseball bat at the two police officers, hitting one twice. Police were not able to disarm Moses verbally or with tasers and one officer ultimately shot Moses in the chest. He was medevaced to Anchorage and hospitalized until Wednesday.

Peters says the Bethel Police Department requested help from The Alaska Bureau of Investigation.

“Nothing will come of it until a point to where it’s reviewed by OSPA, which is the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals. We would take our investigation and we would give it to OSPA to review and OSPA would then review it to see if the officers acted within the scope of the law. And if they didn’t then they would potentially be charged.”

Peters says the investigation is ongoing. Moses is being held at the Anchorage jail and is scheduled for an arraignment in Anchorage Superior court Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Invasive Elodea Found In Valley

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 09:16

Elodea, the waterway clogging invasive plant, has been identified for the first time in a Matanuska-Susitna Borough lake.

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According to Brianne Blackburn, with the state Plant Materials Center in Palmer, the aquatic plant has been found in remote Alexander Lake, which is accessible only by floatplane or by boat. Blackburn says a team has been sent to the lake to determine the extent of the infestation.

Elodea. (Photo from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

“It’s a pretty good sized lake and its a relatively shallow lake, which means it has potentially a lot of available habitat for elodea, which is not necessarily a good thing, but we want to confirm where it is in a waterbody to identify how well established elodea is,” Blackburn said. ”We want to get that done in the next couple of weeks so we can have that information over the winter to start looking at what we can do to manage it in that system.”

Blackburn says the discovery of elodea in Alexander Lake brings to 18 the number of Alaska waterways now infected with the plant.

Infestations have previously been discovered in Fairbanks, Cordova, Anchorage, and the Kenai Peninsula. In Cordova, the plant is found in eight waterbodies. Blackburn says boats easily transfer the pest from lake to lake. Fragments of the plant can hitchhike on boats, trailers or float planes to start new infestations. She says simple precautions can help to stem the plant’s spread – such as wiping down plane floats and boat trailers.

Alexander Lake. (Google Maps)

“And really the steps we have and the information we are putting out is really best management practices for people,” Blackburn said. ”The majority of people using our lakes and streams and trails really want to protect those resources and see the benefit of taking those few extra steps.”

“It sometimes is not the most convenient activity to do after moving between waterbodies, but if people are aware of what they are looking for and those steps that they can take really is a good way to mitigate that risk between waterbodies.”

Elodea is a popular aquarium plant, and dumping of aquariums into waterbodies has been identified as one way that the plant spreads. It overtakes native plants and fills the water column with thick vegetative mats that can degrade fish habitat, foul boat propellers and floatplane rudders.

Efforts are underway to stop Elodea’s spread and control infestations throughout Alaska. Eradication efforts through herbicide treatment to three Kenai Peninsula lakes began in the spring of 2014. Multiple agencies in Fairbanks are exploring the feasibility of mechanical control in the Chena Slough, while other groups in Anchorage, Mat-Su, and Cordova are mapping out comprehensive management plans and surveying high-risk waterbodies.

Categories: Alaska News

“Partial Ruling” Against State In Alaska Native Language Ballot Case

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 17:00

A federal district court judge has sided with plaintiffs who say the state is not doing enough to help non-English-speaking voters.

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A “partial decision” Wednesday in a case against the state division of elections is aimed at  protecting  the voting rights of Alaska Natives.

In Toyukuk v. Treadwell, plaintiffs argued that translation of state of Alaska ballot language from English into Yupik is not adequate to ensure voters’ understanding of the ballot.

Four tribal councils filed the suit against the state division of elections last year, alleging the state violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by not providing language assistance to Yup’ik and Gwich’in speaking voters in three census areas.

State attorneys argued that because the languages are historically unwritten the Voting Rights Act requires only oral language assistance in these languages. The division of elections said it provides translators and bilingual poll workers.

In a hearing Wednesday before a federal judge in Anchorage, Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth argued for the plaintiffs.

“But the federal court held this morning that [the state was] not providing even oral language assistance,” Landreth said. “Because they don’t ask or pay their outreach workers in the villages or bilingual poll workers to translate any of the information in the official election pamphlet. That was part of her holding today.”

Landreth says, plaintiffs want written information translated.  Under the current system, Yup’ik speaking voters do not get a written election pamphlet in advance of the election.

“If you’re a Yup’ik speaking voter, the translated information you receive consists of three things: here’s the day of the election, here’s the time of the election, here’s where it will be. And then there will be language assistance available at the polling place,” Landreth said. “There’s no advance information about the candidates, no advance information about bond measures, nothing about constitutional questions, nothing about ballot measures.”

“To such a degree that the plaintiffs and other witnesses testified that the first time they find out about ballot measures is often when they go to vote on election day.”

Federal district court judge Sharon Gleason sided with plaintiffs. In a partial decision Wednesday, which addresses only the Voting Rights Act claims, Gleason said the division of elections has violated the Act by not providing substantially equivalent language assistance in Yup’ik and Gwich’in in the three census areas.

The court has given the state until Friday, Sept. 5 to provide a proposal for additional language assistance measures that could be implemented in time for the November election.  Alaska assistant attorney general Corey Mills says time is running out.

“And the court also recognized the difficulty that the division of elections has in providing this type of assistance,” Landreth said. “So the state and the division of elections and the department of law are looking at that and what that proposal will entail.”

The court did acknowledge the state’s efforts so far in providing ballot translations for Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers, saying the state has been working diligently this year in providing language assistance.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Natives Wait… And Wait, For Health Law Exemption

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:59

Most Americans are supposed to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But up to 50,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians in Alaska are excused from the requirement. They have to apply for that lifetime exemption though. And the federal government is mishandling many of those applications. 

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The form Alaska Natives and American Indians need to fill out to get an exemption from the individual mandate.

Evelyn Burdick thought it would be easy to apply for her American Indian exemption. As a member of the Cherokee Nation, the Anchorage resident sees a doctor at the Alaska Native Medical Center. Burdick likes the care she gets there and has no plans to sign up for private insurance under Obamacare. So she sent an exemption application to the federal government almost as soon as it was available, on January 9th:

“I have yet to receive any correspondence from them back whatsoever. Not even to let me know they’ve received my application.”

Burdick is not alone. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has helped hundreds of Alaska Natives and American Indians in the state who have had problems with their exemption applications. The exemption is a simple six digit number applicants need for their tax forms to avoid paying a penalty ($95 dollars or 1% of income, whichever is greater) for not having health insurance. Monique Martin, with ANTHC, has been working with the federal government to resolve the problems:

“Every time we call it’s a bear with us sort of request but we’ve been bearing with them since February when we first started reporting issues and we are anxious for a resolution to this issue.”

The Federal government has fumbled the applications in several different ways. Martin works closely with three other people at ANTHC who all applied for the exemption for themselves. Martin’s exemption number came back with no problems. But her three colleagues were not so lucky:

“One of our coworkers received her letter twice, with two different exemption numbers for her and her kids. One received the wrong exemption… and another one is still waiting to hear on her application. So we’ve seen all the errors come to us, so we have real world examples that we can show the federal government.”

No one from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was willing to do an interview for this story. In an e-mail, a spokesperson with the agency wrote that they are working to improve the process daily and committed to providing consumers with their exemption numbers in time for tax filing season. Martin says she’s cautiously optimistic that can happen:

“We are the squeaky wheel in Alaska and we’re really pushing the federal government to resolve this issue and to get this addressed for people so they aren’t negatively impacted.”

Martin worries about how the federal government will handle the rush of exemption applications as tax time approaches. She expects many Alaska Natives and American Indians haven’t even thought about sending in the application yet. Evelyn Burdick, who was proactive and applied early in the process, says the nine month long wait for a response has been frustrating:

“I don’t want to be penalized for not having the healthcare.gov insurance. I’m trying to follow the rules and regulations that healthcare.gov set up and they’re not making it any easier.”

Late last month, Monique Martin was able to get Burdick’s exemption number for her from a contact at the federal government. Burdick is happy to have the number, but she still wants to see it in writing. She says she has no idea when it will arrive in her mailbox, but at this rate she’s not expecting it any time soon.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:58

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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Court’s Says State Needs To Provide Assistance To Yup’ik, Gwich’in Speaking Voters

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A federal district court judge has sided with plaintiffs who say the state is not doing enough to help non-English-speaking voters. A “partial decision” Wednesday in a case against the state division of elections is aimed at protecting  the voting rights of Alaska Natives.

Alaska Natives Wait… And Wait, For Health Law Exemption

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most Americans are supposed to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But up to 50,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians in Alaska will are excused from the requirement. They have to apply for that lifetime exemption though. And the federal government is mishandling many of those applications.

Politifact Rates Begich Ad “Pants on Fire”

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The fallout continues after U.S. Sen. Mark Begich aired a campaign ad blaming his opponent for a sentencing error that freed a sex offender now charged in a double homicide. The independent website Politifact gave the ad a rating of “Pants on Fire” – its lowest score.

Initiative Revives Air Regulation Debate

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Sides are lining out their positions is the long running battle over who should be in charge of cleaning up Fairbanks air. A twice-passed citizen initiative, which bans the North Star Borough from regulating wood and coal burning stoves and boilers, is up for renewal in next month’s municipal election.

Only Arkansas Has Slower Internet Than Alaska

Sarah Yu, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s internet speeds are up 33 percent from last year, but we’re only up one spot ahead of Arkansas for the slowest internet in the nation, according to a pending study. For the first quarter of 2014, Alaska had the slowest internet in the U.S. That’s according to Akamai Technologies, an internet content delivery company based in Massachusetts.

New UAS Dorm Provides Housing for About 100 Freshmen

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Classes for the fall semester started Tuesday at University of Alaska Southeast. More than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students are currently enrolled at the university’s Juneau campus.About a hundred freshmen have settled into campus life at UAS’s new residence hall. The $14.3 million facility opened at the end of August.

Not My Town! ‘Grizzly Trade’ Ambles Through Places, Personalities of Southeast

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

It’s got a Vietnam vet with a big heart and anger management problems, a small-town newspaper reporter, and a hippie radio station.

Throw in some meth-fuelled wildlife crime and a few cruise ships and you have the makings of an adventure mystery set in Southeast Alaska.

Dale Brandenburger is a former biologist with the state who has a new novel called Grizzly Trade.

Categories: Alaska News

Politifact Rates Begich Ad “Pants on Fire”

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:58

The fallout continues after U.S. Sen. Mark Begich aired a campaign ad blaming his opponent for a sentencing error that freed a sex offender now charged in a 2013 double homicide. The independent website Politifact gave the ad a rating of “Pants on Fire” – its lowest score.

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The website, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, sided with Republican Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general. Sullivan says the mistake leading to the sex offender’s short sentence occurred before he was appointed to be the state’s top lawyer.

The Begich campaign pulled the ad after the victims’ family complained, and Sullivan also took down his rebuttal ad.

A Begich spokesman alleged Sullivan is responsible because a prosecutor working under him signed a plea deal in 2010 for an inappropriately short sentence.

A later Department of Law review of the case said the state lawyers, the judge and the Corrections Department all failed to see the suspect had a prior felony from 2007, which would have increased the presumptive sentence in 2010 to at least eight years. Instead, the man was freed and, in 2013, accused of killing an elderly couple in Anchorage and sexually assaulting a toddler.

Politifact called it highly unlikely that Sullivan was personally involved in the plea agreement. It also concluded he was not responsible because the sentence was based on an inaccurate state record created before Sullivan became attorney general.

Though the ad is no longer on air, national pundits and Republican political operatives continue to draw attention to it, calling it a blunder that could damage Begich’s re-election bid.

Categories: Alaska News

Initiative Revives Air Regulation Debate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:57

Wood stove pipe on a Fairbanks home.
(Credit Dan Bross / KUAC)

Sides are lining out their positions is the long running battle over who should be in charge of cleaning up Fairbanks air. A twice passed citizen initiative, which bans the North Star Borough from regulating wood and coal burning stoves and boilers, is up for renewal in next month’s municipal election.

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Categories: Alaska News

Only Arkansas Has Slower Internet Than Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:56

Alaska’s internet is the second slowest in the country. (Photo by Sarah Yu/KTOO)

Alaska’s internet speeds are up 33 percent from last year, but we’re only up one spot ahead of Arkansas for the slowest internet in the country, according to a pending study.

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For the first quarter of 2014, Alaska had the slowest internet in the U.S. That’s according to a report by Akamai Technologies, an internet content delivery company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alaska’s internet is about half as fast as the top three states: Virginia, Delaware and Massachusetts. Akamai’s studies and rankings are based off of actual content, such as websites and videos, delivered to users from their servers.

David Belson wrote the study. He’s senior director of industry and data intelligence at Akamai.

“The speeds that we do see, even in the slower states, are still pretty good,” says Belson.

The United States ranked 12th globally in internet speeds, with an average of 10 Mbps. Libya has the slowest internet speed worldwide, with an average of 0.5 Mbps.

Economy, population density and geography play a large part in how fast local internet is.

“If you can bring high speed connectivity to a city and you can hit a large percentage of the population there, that’s a good thing. But if you have to be running it along, you know, roads and over hills and across rivers, that all gets really expensive,” he says.

GCI and Alaska Communications are Alaska’s largest internet providers. They had to run fiber optic cable underwater more than 1,000 miles from Anchorage to the lower 48.

“We’re more similar to an international carrier that’s connecting continents, rather than a lower 48 provider that is connecting on land,” says ACS spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship.

She says Alaska’s large landmass and low population contributes to slower speeds. Communities off the road get internet via satellite, which is slower than cables and fiber.

David Morris, a GCI vice president, says sometimes large organizations such as the State of Alaska, hospitals or schools will pay to build infrastructure for faster internet to offer vital community services.

For example, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. used USDA Rural Development grant funding to upgrade 65 rural communities in southwest Alaska from satellite internet to GCI’s land-based network. That meant paying for a combination of line-of-sight microwave dish relays and fiber optic cables.

The health care provider needed faster internet to keep up with changes in a federal health insurance privacy law that limited certain health care communications, but allowed for specific types of live video conferencing.

“You’ve got the village health clinic that is connected to a regional hospital and then in turn those hospitals are connected in to Anchorage, as well as to lower 48 hospitals,” Morris says.

Once the infrastructure was there, the internet provider could offer faster internet to locals.

GCI itself has spent $150 million dollars to improve internet in rural communities, in addition to having a $44 million grant and $44 million loan in Federal Broadband Stimulus Funding.

ACS just announced it will offer 30 and 50 Mbps home internet for Anchorage residents. And GCI is in the process of making 1 Gbps internet connections available in Anchorage.

Akamai Technologies’ next Internet study is due out this month.

Categories: Alaska News

New UAS Dorm Provides Housing for About 100 Freshmen

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:55

UAS’s new $14.3 million residence hall opened August 27. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Classes for the fall semester started Tuesday at University of Alaska Southeast. More than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students are currently enrolled at the university’s Juneau campus.

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About a hundred freshmen have settled into campus life at UAS’s new residence hall. The $14.3 million facility opened at the end of August.

UAS student Matt Magnusson is helping his friend move into the new freshman residence hall.

“We just went upstairs and they’re so nice. There’s an actual refrigerator and freezer and there’s just so much more room and everything’s so clean,” Magnusson says.

His friend Delaney Jones drove two days from Delta Junction. She didn’t want to go to University of Alaska Fairbanks because it was too close to home.

On the fifth floor of the new dorm, Jones marvels at her new Juneau home.

Delaney Jones is from Delta Junction. She’s in UAS’s pre-radiology program. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“I have my bed and it has drawers underneath, which is really convenient because the closets are not as big as I thought they would be. And then I have such a nice view of Auke Lake and, like, the rest of the campus,” Jones says.

UAS’s new residence hall can house up to 120 students in suites that feature a shared kitchen area and bathroom. Construction started May of 2013 and finishing touches were completed just before students moved in at the end of August.

Two floors below, Samantha Ferguson walks into her dorm room for the first time. The 18-year-old from central Indiana flew to Juneau by herself and traveled light – she’s moving to college with only one suitcase.

“It’s got clothes. I had to bring travel size hygiene because my suitcase had to be 50 pounds or less. And I’ve got blankets and here I’ve got a couple of shoes and I actually have food and laundry stuff in there,” Ferguson says.

She’s studying marine biology and figured being in Juneau would be a perfect fit. She says it took her a year of working at a McDonald’s in Indiana to afford moving to Alaska.

The view of Auke Lake from freshman Delaney Jones’ fifth floor dorm room. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“I saved more than half of every paycheck. I worked part-time when I was in high school and then during the summer I went to a full-time and got a raise. So, I definitely saved up a lot of money,” Ferguson says.

While other students arrived at college with a carload of belongings, Samantha Ferguson moved with only one suitcase. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

She also took out loans and got a housing scholarship, so she doesn’t have to worry about the $5,000 it costs to live in the new freshmen dorm for nine months.

Upperclassmen living on campus are housed in Banfield Hall or in one of seven apartment buildings and pay up to $6,800 for two semesters.

Director of Campus Life Eric Scott says cost is part of the incentive of living on campus.

“In terms of being in the Juneau community, we’re very competitive,” Scott says.

It’s been about 20 years since the campus opened a new dormitory. UAS can now house about 380 students, but only about 60 percent of the beds are filled. About half living on campus are from Southeast. A quarter comes from elsewhere in Alaska, with another quarter from 23 other states. One international student from Japan calls the UAS campus home.

Scott hopes the number of students living on campus will grow.

“We were close to capacity every year prior to opening this new residence hall. And so now we have the ability to add some more students on campus. We’re hoping that some of those folks who have gone off campus for a variety of reasons will come back and join us now that we have this brand new residence hall and a really great program to surround it,” Scott says.

The university has staff members living in the new residence hall. Scott says there are several common areas for studying and meeting in groups, “so that students can spend time outside of their rooms but still in the residence hall. One of the other great things – up on our fourth floor, we have a conference/classroom where folks can meet, folks can host classes. And that’s really the way that we’re moving, is bringing the academic programs back into the residence halls.”

As students steadily move into the new freshman residence hall, they unpack suitcases and boxes of belongings, quickly filling up the empty rooms and bare walls.

Categories: Alaska News

Not My Town! ‘Grizzly Trade’ Ambles Through Places, Personalities of Southeast

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:54

It’s got a Vietnam vet with a big heart and anger management problems, a small-town newspaper reporter, and a hippie radio station.

Throw in some meth-fuelled wildlife crime and a few cruise ships and you have the makings of an adventure mystery set in Southeast Alaska.

Dale Brandenburger is a former biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game who’s combined decades of journaling and a knack for storytelling into a new novel called Grizzly Trade.

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Author Dale Brandenburger will read from his novel Grizzly Trade 5 PM Wed Sep 3 at Old Harbor Books in Sitka.

To speak to Dale Brandenburger, first you’ve got to find him. For the past six weeks he’s been working on a research cruise for the Sitka Sound Science Center.

‘Grizzly Trade’ is Brandenburger’s second novel, but the first to see print.

We finally established a scratchy connection via satellite phone as the boat he’s working on, the Sitka-based Surveyor, motored out of Rodman Bay.

“You know a lot of things you read about Alaska, it’s always man-versus-nature struggling. And I don’t really see people striving so much to survive, as thriving up here. I wanted to include Alaskans’ sense of humor and have some fun with the book. Hopefully, it’s a fun read.”

And Grizzly Trade, despite it’s dime-novel cast of cops, reporters, petty criminals, and other ne’er do-wells, is a fun read. The protagonist is a Vietnam veteran named Red who grows frustrated when law enforcement is unable to stop the poaching of brown bears, whose paws and gall bladders are then trafficked on the Asian aphrodisiac market.

Red’s decision to track the poachers leads him through a series of episodes — most of which are based on events that actually happened and many remember — like a cruise ship spill involving dry cleaning and photo chemicals.

Brandenburger worked for ADF&G for 28 years, both in Juneau and in Sitka, and was a diligent journal-writer. He’s seen a lot. Maybe too much, according to his wife.

“Two of the incidents in the book, she was like, No one would believe that! They were true incidents as well. And I had to cut them from the book, otherwise my credibility would have been shot, I think.”

Although the character of Red is based on a friend of his in Ketchikan — a “big guy with a red beard and anger-management problems” — most everyone else is an amalgam of folks he has met over the course of his career. There is a newspaper reporter, however, from a town north of Sitka whom Brandenburger says may see a bit of himself. And that hippie radio station? That could be anywhere.

Brandenburger set his story in the fictional town of Alkoot, rather than pin all this strangeness on a specific locale.

“Yeah, it gives you a little more freedom than trying to write a bunch of facts about Alaska. And it makes for more of a page-turner, I think, for certain readers.”

Brandenburger has written one previous unpublished novel, which he says was good experience for this book, plus changed his approach to writing. He’s decided to not be quite so serious, and to follow the lead of authors like…

“Carl Hiaasen, who’s written a lot of satirical-type stuff about environmental issues in Florida. David James Duncan who wrote The Brothers K and The River Why. And I was a fan of John D. MacDonald, too — and author who hasn’t been around for a while but has written some great stuff.”

Brandenburger says he has mined his journals of the last thirty years for material forGrizzly Trade. So much happens, readers may wonder if there’s anything left for the little town of Alkoot.

Brandenburger says he’s already well into his next story.

“It’s in the same town ten years later and they’re trying to put in a hydroelectric dam, and there’s also a reality TV show that comes to town. So that’s going to be fun as well. I’m having a good time writing it.”

Hydroelectric dam and reality television? Now, that really could be anywhere.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker, Mallott form Unity Ticket to oppose Parnell

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-02 17:55

Bill Walker (rt) addresses a press conference about his decision to join Byron Mallott (lft) on a Unity Ticket.

The Bill Walker and Byron Mallott campaigns have joined forces to defeat Governor Sean Parnell in November. They’re calling their combined campaign the Alaska First Unity ticket. The pair announced their decision at a packed press conference Monday afternoon. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell approved the ballot change late in the afternoon.

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Walker agreed to drop his Republican affiliation to run for governor with Democrat Byron Mallott as his running mate. Walker previously ran as an Independent. Both Hollis French and Craig Fleener, who were candidates for lieutenant governor, will step aside.

Mallott said it was not an easy choice to make, but he didn’t think either of them could beat Parnell on his own. Mallott said he does not feel like he’s abandoning the people who voted for him in the primary.

“It’s hard in political life to ask for this because of recent — of a long history. But we’re trying to change that! And I ask you to trust me. Look at my record. Look at what I say. At the actions I take. I cannot do anything more,” Mallott told the crowd.

The pair’s main message is that they are working together to build Alaska and to go against partisan politics. ”Our vision for Alaska was part of the problem in the campaign,” Mallott said. “They overlapped so much that there was little differentiation between us.”

Walker said he is still socially conservative, but they are not running the campaign on social issues. Instead they have agreed to focus on improving the economy and the education system. He said one way to do that is to actually decide which mega-projects the State wants to complete, like the Alaska LNG Project.

“We need to stop doing some of the crazy studies we do. We spend billions of dollars on studies and we don’t actually do something. We just study the studies of the studies. We need to decide to what we can do, what we’re going to do, and we can do it and stop studying everything else.”

Walker said he does not have other specific ideas for budget cuts. He assured the group that Mallott would be an active part of the decision making process and would have a place in the governor’s office if they win, not next door.

Luke Miller with the Parnell campaign said they are not surprised by the move. ”They’re both — the way we see it — two peas in a pod. They’ve both supported these liberal Obama policies in Alaska, whether it’s expanding Obamacare, raising taxes, or growing government.”

Miller says the Parnell campaign is still waiting to hear specifics from the new Unity Ticket on their actual policy proposals.

Department of Law statement: “Nothing in Alaska Law prohibits the changes to the ballot requested by Bill Walker and Byron Mallott. The Constitution and statutes are silent on this particular issue, but constitutional principles of equal protection and ballot access favor allowing approval of these changes, and we think a court would likely agree. The Lieutenant Governor is following past and current guidance of the Attorney General’s Office in adopting an emergency regulation to ensure that an appropriate procedure is in place for replacing a non-party lieutenant governor candidate who has withdrawn.”

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Campaigns Removes Controversial ‘Crime Scene’ Ad

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-09-02 17:54

The campaign of Sen. Mark Begich has taken down a controversial TV ad entitled “crime scene” that began airing Friday. The ad featured a retired Anchorage police officer who says Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan let sex offenders off with light sentences.

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“One of them got out of prison, and is now charged with breaking into that apartment, murdering a senior couple and sexually assaulting their 2-year-old granddaughter.”

It essentially blames Sullivan for the 2013 crime, because he was attorney general when the suspect cut a plea deal for a prior crime that resulted in a short sentence. Sullivan immediately responded with a rebuttal ad, calling the Begich ad shameful and unfounded.

“The failure that led to Active’s release occurred before I even became Attorney General,” Sullivan said.

The double murder case hasn’t yet gone to trial, but the Department of Law previously acknowledged the suspect would probably still be in prison if it were not for a mistake when he was sentenced for a prior crime. The department found a state prosecutor in 2010 relied on an inaccurate report of the suspect’s criminal history, resulting in a deal and a four-year sentence. Because the suspect had a prior felony, the sentence, by state law, should have been at least double that.

Sullivan’s campaign says he bears no responsibility for the erroneous report.

The Begich campaign counters by circulating an image of the 2010 plea deal that resulted in the short sentence. Sullivan was AG then, and his name is on the bottom of the document.

Both campaigns took down their ads after a request by the victims’ family.

Categories: Alaska News
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