Alaska News

Consultant hired to help recommend Medicaid reforms

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 09:13

The state health department has hired a consultant to help recommend next steps as the administration plans to implement Medicaid expansion and looks to make further changes to the existing Medicaid program.

The contract calls for a report in January recommending alternative Medicaid expansion models and options to help contain costs within the Medicaid program. A report due next spring would address a timeline and costs for carrying out the recommendations.

The department says it plans to build on reform efforts already underway. As it stands, Alaska’s Medicaid program is widely seen as unsustainable.

Gov. Bill Walker last week announced his plans to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion after lawmakers earlier this year tabled his proposal to expand and make changes to the program.

Categories: Alaska News

Public testimony critical of large capital projects in Municipality of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 09:08

An open house held by the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, or AMATS, turned out public testimony that was almost unanimously against several large capital projects in the Municipality.

As AMATS staff and local officials develop an interim plan to stay within federal compliance standards they took comments from area residents on transportation projects. Members of the public spoke about several road improvement projects and bike lanes, but focused overwhelmingly on criticisms of the proposed Knik Arm Bridge and Bragaw Extension into the U-Med District.

Advocacy groups like Citizens for Responsible Development and community council members from the neighborhoods in the areas around proposed projects mobilized in advance of the hearing, holding a short rally ahead of time outside Anchorage City Hall.

AMATS is pursuing a short-term update to it’s transportation strategy in advance of a major rewrite in the year ahead, when it drafts a new comprehensive plan with an outlook for 2040.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge sides with Jewell in dispute over exploration plan

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 08:38

A federal judge has sided with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell over whether Jewell must approve exploration plans meeting certain requirements for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The state last year sued the Interior Department for refusing to consider an exploration plan for the refuge’s coastal plain, calling it a violation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Federal officials said the exploration authorization expired in the 1980s.

In an order Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason wrote that Congress authorized the Interior secretary to approve limited-duration exploratory activity on the coastal plain and ordered a report generated from the activities by 1987.

Gleason said the law is ambiguous as to whether the secretary must approve additional exploration after that but found Jewell’s interpretation of the law was reasonable.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski balks at proposed funding source for highway bill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 08:36

The deadline for renewing the nation’s highway programs is nine days away. Leaders in the Senate this week negotiated a bill that would fund highways for the next six years. But it would require selling off $9 billion of crude oil that’s stashed in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, objected to the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday. Murkowski says the nation’s crude stockpile, housed in Louisiana and Texas, ensures the country always has the energy it needs.

“It is certainly not the petty cash drawer for Congress,” Murkowski said. “We’ve got a responsibility here. A decision to sell substantial volumes of oil will increase our vulnerability to future supply disruptions.”

The top Democrat on the energy committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, also objects to the reserve sell-off.

Analysts say the proposal counts on the price of crude skyrocketing to $89 a barrel. The bill does not increase or inflation-proof the federal per-gallon gasoline tax, which used to be how Congress paid for highway construction and maintenance.

Democrats blocked the bill’s advancement yesterday, saying they needed time to read the legislation.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Withholds Key Permit from Transboundary Mine

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 06:28

British Columbia officials are delaying permits for an open-pit mine near a river that flows into the ocean south of Ketchikan. They say Pacific Booker Minerals has not proved it can keep toxic water out of nearby waterways. The developer says it has.

The proposed Morrison project, owned by Vancouver-based Pacific Booker Minerals, is about 200 miles east of Ketchikan. The mine site is in the watershed of the Skeena River, which doesn’t flow through Alaska. But it enters the ocean about 50 miles south of the border.

The proposed Morrison Mine is near Lake Morrison, in the Skeens River watershed. British Columbia says its environmental permit is not ready for consideration. (Image courtesy Pacific Booker Minerals)

Juneau mine critic Chris Zimmer works with Rivers Without Borders, an international organization. He says Alaskans catch fish out of the Skeena.

“If we see crashes in salmon populations in rivers like that it could affect Alaska fishing,” he says.

“So even the rivers that don’t flow right through Southeast Alaska are still pretty important to our own fisheries here,” he says.

Pacific Booker turned down an interview request and answered only half the questions submitted in writing. But its website, and documents filed with the province, provide insight.

The Morrison deposit was discovered by another company in the 1960s. Pacific Booker conducted exploratory drilling and began collecting information for its environmental permit about a dozen years ago.

The company says it has identified deposits of copper, gold and molybdenum. The proposed open pit project, next to a lake, is within a dozen or so miles of two similar mines, which are closed.

Pacific Booker Minerals says it’s provided the information needed for British Columbia to issue permits required for construction to begin.

“PBM is committed to constructing and operating the Morrison mine in compliance with industry best practices, using proven technology and in full compliance with all permit requirements,” wrote Director Erik Tornquist in a June press release.

B.C.’s mines and environment agencies disagree.

Other British Columbia mines and mine projects being watched by Alaska critics include the KSM, Red Chris and Galore Creek. (Map courtesy Seabridge Gold)

“We haven’t said no. We haven’t said yes,” says B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

“We’ve said, ‘You’re heading in the right direction, but you have a lot more work you need to do before we can think about granting a permit’.”

Bennett says the company has not proved the project design is foolproof. The province needs more information showing its tailings storage ponds won’t leach polluted water into a nearby lake.

Earlier this month, his agency and B.C.’s environment ministry told Pacific Booker to take another three years gathering that and other information.

“We are the regulator. We tell the companies what they must do in order to earn their permits,” he says. “And if the company can’t afford to hire the experts, the scientists who provide the information, they do. And if they cannot afford to do that, then obviously, you don’t hear from then again.”

But they will. Pacific Booker quickly issued a press release saying it’s consulting with professional advisors “on the best method to address the issues raised.”

That could be legal action. The company sued the province after a 2012 permit application was rejected. That case went before British Columbia’s Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor and sent the issue back to the government.

Bennett says his agency will scrutinize permit applications for this, and other, mines that could affect Alaska fishermen.

Critics on both sides of the border doubt that will happen.

“How rigorous is that process going to be? Or could this mine somehow slip through and the concerns raised by B.C. over the past couple years not get addressed?” asks Rivers Without Borders’ Zimmer.

He points to similar mines he thinks are unsafe that won permits, such as the Red Chris in the Stikine River watershed.

Pacific Booker plans to use an earth-and-rock dam to contain tailings, waste rock from processing ore. That’s the same type of dam that collapsed last year at central B.C.’s Mount Polley.

“The B.C. permitting process is mine-by-mine. But right now, there’s no way really to answer the question, what happens if B.C. does put in a couple dozen of these mines over the next decade? What’s the overall long-term effects of that?”

The provincial government supports increased mine development and has added staff to speed the permitting process.

B.C. regulations require agreements with affected tribal groups, called First Nations in Canada.

Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam, in a recent letter to the mines minister, says “we have no working relationship or dialog” with Pacific Booker.

Leaders of the Gitxsan and Gitanyow First Nations sent a letter saying, “… this mine proposal poses a significant risk to our salmon fisheries and hence to our way of life.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Processors Reach A Truce In Seafood Ecolabel Dispute

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-22 06:17

The Marine Stewardship Council’s logo. Photo accessed via Wikipedia.

The Alaska salmon processors at odds over who can use the the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue sustainability logo have finally reached an agreement.

The Alaska Salmon Processors Association, or ASPA, has agreed over to hand over the MSC certification to the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, or PSPA. That’s expected to happen in October.

Alaska’s salmon buyers need to be in the client group to use the MSC’s label. Despite criticisms of the costly certification, MSC has proven necessary to sell salmon in some markets, especially Europe.

PSPA President Glenn Reed says he thinks most of the processors who dropped MSC in 2012 and sought to rejoin this year will be part of the new group.

“We’re anticipating that it’s going to be most of those that have expressed interest over the last month, and if so, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 different companies.”

The list of processors that originally wanted to rejoin the MSC this spring includes Trident, Ocean Beauty, Icicle, Peter Pan and a handful of others.

ASPA members who maintained the certificate when the others left are also expected to be part of the new group. They’re led by Silver Bay Seafoods, and Copper River is also a member.

Earlier this month, PSPA attempted to break the gridlock between the processors in the existing group and those wishing to join by applying for its own MSC certificate. PSPA says it’ll drop that effort.

Reed says that by taking over the existing client group, all interested processors are ensured access to MSC markets next summer, rather than risking that the proposed second client isn’t certified in time.

“For example, if our application to process were to receive objections from someone, the time that is required, even in a fishery that is already certified, to stand up a second group, might put us in a position that by next summer we wouldn’t have an active certificate, so there was risk associated with that. The benefit to us in going with the existing certificate and trying to get everybody in, I think the initial benefit is that there’s certainty that we’ll all have the opportunity to use the MSC program for sales next year.”

Adding MSC’s blue label to salmon packaging doesn’t come cheap for processors who wish to do so. Reed says he doesn’t know how PSPA will divvy up that cost.

“Our goal is to have an equal cost sharing basis, either equal in some sort of unit of measure, I think in the past, if you go back far enough, they had somewhere between two or three categories, if you processed this many pounds, you were at this level, or a range of tonnage you were at a different level. I think that there’s also some consideration of just doing it by weight. There may be other considerations, but the cost sharing basis will be the same for all members that choose to join.”

ASPA Executive Director Rob Zuanich says ASPA is not asking PSPA to reimburse it for prior costs associated with the certificate, but that the new group will be responsible for new costs going forward.

“No cost, just the new client group will now be responsible for maintaining the annual surveillance audits on the current certificate and hopefully in 2018 we’ll continue the certificate.”

Zuanich says ASPA agreed to transfer the certificate so that the processing industry could move beyond what had become a divisive issue.

“I think with the announcement by PSPA to start a new group and a new assessment, we thought it was just in the best interest of the industry to consolidate activities and put this matter behind us.”

The current certificate applies to most, but not all of Alaska’s salmon fisheries. Prince William Sound is excluded. Reed says that’ll stand for now, but could change in the future.

“The decision whether or not to try and reopen the discussion on Prince William Sound may be something that is available to us now, it may be something that will have to wait until the certificate runs its course, those are some discussions we need to have and will be at least partially driven by the rules under which the certificate is written.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker intervened earlier this summer, saying the gridlock was threatening the profitability of Alaska salmon during an abundant year… At one point the two groups attempted arbitration to resolve the issue.

Commerce Commissioner Chris Hladick says the state wasn’t involved in this final solution but is glad the issue is resolved.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 21, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 17:40

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 Says Decision on JBER Cuts Not Final Without An Arctic Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The general nominated to be the Army’s Chief of Staff suggested this morning that the plan to cut 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson isn’t final yet. It’s hard to say whether the Army really plans to reconsider, or whether the general merely agreed to follow a procedure to reach a pre-determined end.

Government Attorneys Seek Dismissal In Guards Records Case

Associated Press

The U.S. attorney’s office is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by four National Guard members who allege investigative and other records pertaining to them were improperly leaked to reporters and state officials.

Bush Carriers Keep A Close Eye on Aviation Safety

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Two fatal light plane crashes in Southeast Alaska in recent weeks have highlighted  safety concerns for commuter airlines.  Hageland Aviation, part of Ravn Air Group, has established an innovative control system that monitors all flights in an effort to ensure safe travel.

City Puts Its Chips On Providing Housing For Those Most In Need

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage is struggling with how to address serious and expensive problems stemming from chronic homelessness. Today, the new mayor’s administration announced a dramatic plan to more than double the city’s capacity for housing the most severely affected population living on the streets.

Explosion Shakes Aleutians’ Cleveland Volcano

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

An explosion shook Cleveland Volcano in the east-central Aleutian Islands at 8:17 a.m. local time Tuesday. It’s the volcano’s first explosion since November.

Fairbanks Police Launch Website to Crowdsource Tips On Cold Cases

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The city of Fairbanks has launched a new web page to share and generate information about unsolved murder cases.

UAF Removes Mississippi Flag

Associated Press

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has removed a Mississippi flag from a five-state display, citing the ongoing national discussion about Confederate imagery.

State Funding Advances St. Mary’s Wind Farm Plan

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is moving ahead with its plans to build a wind farm for St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, after receiving the necessary funding through the Fiscal Year 2016 state capital budget.

Marine Debris Barge to Skip Southeast

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is moving ahead with its plans to build a wind farm for St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, after receiving the necessary funding through the Fiscal Year 2016 state capital budget.

No Second King Opening for Southeast Trollers

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

After just eight days in early July, the summer king salmon season for Southeast trollers is over. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced Friday that there will be no second king opening in August. It will be only the third summer in 15 years without an August opening.

King Salmon Sees a Unique, And Invasive, Visitor From Afar

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

An invasive species of dove was spotted in King Salmon last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Bush Carriers Keep A Close Eye on Aviation Safety

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 17:38

Alaska’s airways are notoriously perilous for aviators. In this photo, NTSB investigator Brice Banning examines the wreckage of the sightseeing plane that crashed June 25, 2015, in Misty Fjords south of Ketchikan. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.

Three fatal light plane crashes in Alaska in recent weeks have highlighted safety concerns for commuter airlines.  Hageland Aviation, part of Ravn Air Group, has established an innovative control system that monitors all flights in an effort to ensure safe travel.

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Although Alaska’s bush pilots are legendary, and stories about them abound with accounts of tight landings and flying in extreme weather,  bush carriers are always and increasingly focused on safety. One of the state’s largest commuter air lines, Hageland Aviation, has devised a unique control system that analyzes risks to ensure flight safety. It may come as a surprise that flights in the Yukon Kuskokwim region are directed from the other side of the state.

When Hageland flight operations agent Randy Hames, gives a Bethel pilot the go ahead for take off,  Randy is no where near Bethel. She’s in a control room at the Palmer airport.

And no Hageland plane will be released for flight without the go ahead from Palmer controls.

Greg Tanner, Hageland’s operations control manager, says having flight decisions made from the center removes it from the business department and takes the burden of decision off the pilot’s shoulders.

“Pressure from customers that they are looking at face to face. This has removed that pressure completely from the pilots, because it is not their decision alone. They are still an integral part of the decision, but it’s not on their shoulders anymore, you know, when a customer is saying ‘ come on, I have to get home, it’s my son’s birthday, for crying out loud.'”

In the last year and a half, Hageland has worked to tighten it’s operations and maintenance programs based on decades of information, to create a unique tracking and control system, devised by Hageland to cover its average 950 flights a week. All of the flights are being directed from the Palmer control center .

“We’ve got our own company database, which was designed by Bob Hjdukovich and IT people over twenty years ago, and has been developed into what we have now to serve our operations.”

Tanner says commuter airlines, like Hageland, with planes carrying 9 seats or less, are allowed to created their own operations programs under FAA guidelines. He speaks as he shows guests around Hageland’s Palmer facility.

“We go over their aircraft status, and how many hours they may have flown yesterday and we look at the weather where they want to go. We are looking at the notices to airmen that the FAA puts out for those airport’s destinations, and we determine a risk assessment with the pilot regarding what level of risk we are going to assign to their
flight. ”

Flight risks are categorized according to hazards, with weather, runway conditions and human factors all figured in. A level three risk requires consultation with the chief pilot or operations director before the plane can be released. Flight releases are only good for 30 minutes. If the plane is not airborne by then, the risk has to be re-assessed.

Hageland has achieved a high standard for plane maintenance as well, through a computer system developed in -house. Mike Harris is Hageland’s  maintenance director.

“We went down to Seattle for Alaska Airlines and we visited with their maintenance control for a couple of days. That’s where we got the ideas, from Alaska Airlines. We did our own software in-house. The IT department generated this software for us. So we have our own software that we maintain, manage. We have control over it.”

The computer program has a live status page to keep track on the immediate maintenance needs of each of the 58 planes Hageland operates.

Hageland has maintenance centers in Fairbanks, Bethel and Palmer. Hageland put it’s current operations and maintenance program into play in March of last year. Greg Tanner.

“So we’re the only company that I am aware of that has this level of scrutiny over every flight. “Hageland had a fatal crash near St Mary’s in November of 2013, resulting in four deaths. Another crash of a training flight last year took two lives.

Hageland Aviation, along with Corvus Aviation and Frontier Flying Service, does business under the Ravn Alaska name.

Categories: Alaska News

City Puts Its Chips On Providing Housing For Those Most In Need

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 17:37

Anchorage is struggling with how to address serious and expensive problems stemming from chronic homelessness. Today, the new mayor’s administration announced a dramatic plan to more than double the city’s capacity for housing the most severely affected population living on the streets. The sudden move isn’t without controversy.

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Melinda Freemon is the director for the Department of Health and Social Services, and she says the addition of 56 housing units fits within Anchorage’s Comprehensive Plan for addressing homelessness.

“DHSS is supportive of this model because it is considered the nationwide best practice: permanent supportive housing actually does end chronic homelessness for high users of safety centers across the nation,” Freemon says.

The plan also funds “intensive case management,” the official term for the comprehensive help clients receive to regain control over their lives.

“They provide assistance with accessing medical care for the tenants, they provide them with shopping opportunities, employment opportunities,” Freemon says. “They would facilitate substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and all of the services that go along with helping people retain their housing.”

Providing shelter and help is not cheap, but advocates and city officials are quick to point out the cost of treating symptoms instead of the causes of homelessness is even more expensive. the municipality has spent millions of dollars on studies proving how costly it is just managing the most high-cost users of emergency services.

That’s partly why news from the mayor’s office was such a surprise: the Administration is chipping in just $200,000, but the funding is essential for accessing a much larger pool of grant funds $3.5 million ($3,595,717 to be exact) for a multi-year budget paying for the treatment. Originally that money was dropped into the city’s budget by the Sullivan Administration for a controversial pilot program that would have sent 10 people for a short-term course of aversion therapy in Seattle. Now, the funds are helping renovate the Safe Harbor facility by 4th Avenue and Sitka Street to accomodate long-term tenants.

“All the units needed upgrading–so just new flooring, new paint on the wall, but in order to make it serve a special needs population or a highly disabled population, like many people who are long-term homeless, we’ve had to make some safety improvements.”

Corrine O’Neill is a housing director at RurAL CAP, which is administering the project. The statewide nonprofit bought the Safety Harbor facility last winter [November 2014], but had struggled to find funds to keep it up and running.

“And Rural CAP felt it was really important to save this housing and that it would exacerbate the homeless problem in Anchorage if we didn’t save these assets. But we also inherited some of the same struggles they had in terms of operational costs.”

Long-term residents are expected to start moving in by September. The funding will also make vouchers available for subsidized housing spread across different parts of the city. The project will end up similar to Karluk Manor, a wet-housing facility that’s just a few blocks away–a factor that’s hardly insignificant for critics of the plan.

Christopher Constant is president of the Fairview Community Council, and says the neighborhood wasn’t consulted ahead of the decision to support more long-term supportive housing–an issue with a contentious history in the area.

“We take on more as a community than any other neighborhood in this town–between Mountain View and Fairview, ya know, we are the city’s social service epicenter,” Constant says.

Constant says it’s not only unfair to residents, but it makes for bad treatment policy, keeping those people in the middle of treatment within the same geography and social circles they may be struggling to get away from.

A spokesman for the Berkowitz administration says the president of Mountain View Community Council was contacted about the plan, along with the chair and vice-chair of the Anchorage Assembly.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Police Launch Website to Crowdsource Tips on Cold Cases

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 16:24

On May 17, 2015, John Kavairlook, Jr. was shot and killed in the parking lot in front of Walgreens after an altercation at the Rock N Rodeo Bar. He is one of the cases Fairbanks police are seeking help with using a new website. Photo: City of Fairbanks.

The city of Fairbanks has launched a new web page to share and generate information about unsolved murder cases.  Local police are tracking cases ranging from months to decades old.

The new section of the city of Fairbanks web site covers 14 cases dating back to 1983, when the city began keeping reliable records. Detective Peyton Meredith updated the city council on the cases, including the murder of John Kavairlook Jr. outside a local bar in May.

“This is not a cold case. This is an unsolved case that we’re currently working on. It’s one of those ‘slow but steady wins the race’ cases, but we’re getting there. It’s only been a couple of months,” Meredith says.

Detective Meredith also pointed to the a few other cases he says city police have made progress on, including the 2004 killing of Edward Sikvayuguk in a camp off Trainor Gate Road.

“Edward Sikvayuguk? I know who killed him,” Meredith says. “To be bluntly honest right now, that case needs to be resubmitted to the district attorney’s office. Period.”

Meredith described the 2003 murder of Fela Avery, who was found shot dead off the Old Richardson Highway, as the most solvable of the cold cases.

“It’s going to take some time. It takes a little bit of effort. We know where the suspect is; there’s a lot of evidence in that case… it’s just kind of missing that one little piece to put it all together.”

Three city police detectives are responsible investigating unsolved cases as well as all other violent crimes in the city, a work load that often leave little time for the older cases.   Meredith described what motivates the detectives.

“Finding justice for these families – and not only the victims, but their brothers and sisters we stay in contact with.”

Detective Meredith only provided cursory details about the active cases.  City spokeswoman Amber Courtney stressed that police can only share case information with the public that does not endanger detective’s ability to investigate.

Categories: Alaska News

No second king opening for Southeast trollers

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 16:12

After just eight days in early July, the summer king salmon season for Southeast trollers is over. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced Friday that there will be no second king opening in August. It will be only the third summer in 15 years without an August opening.

A forest of trolling poles in Sitka’s ANB harbor, July 2015. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The announcement ends a season that has been the subject of unusual controversy between Alaska its neighbors to the south, all of whom fish under the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty. Alaska argued that the preseason forecast vastly underestimated the amount of kings returning this year and asked for the right to catch more fish. But the state gave in under pressure from Washington, Oregon, and the federal government and agreed to abide by the lower estimate.

In the end, however, the fleet caught more fish — and faster — than would be expected under that lower number.

Given the preseason forecast, managers would have expected the fleet to catch about 7,000 to 9,000 kings per day, said Fish & Game biologist Pattie Skannes. But the fleet actually caught about 20,000 fish per day in July, for a total of more than 150,000 Chinook.

That maxes out this year’s harvest limit.

“It’s higher than what we anticipated,” Skannes said. “We went into the opening expecting that abundance would be down from last year, certainly…And obviously once people got out and fished, they found the abundance was actually quite good. So, the total harvest is a surprise. It’s higher than what we expected.”

But Dale Kelley, of the Alaska Trollers Association, said this result is actually precisely what the state and trollers predicted.

“I’m not at all surprised that we took that many fish in eight days,” Kelley said. “We’ve been saying and saying and saying again that there’s a massive abundance of fish out there, and that the quota was inappropriately low.”

The Department usually tries to reserve about 30-percent of the catch for August. Kelley said the lack of a second opening will affect fishermen and processors who usually deliver to fresh markets in August — or anyone who missed out in July.

“Heaven forbid you’re somebody that had a mechanical breakdown or a family emergency during the first opening because there’s not any other opportunity for kings until October,” Kelley said. “And kings are big money for us.”

Many trollers are now targeting coho or chum salmon, which bring in significantly less per pound.
Altogether, Fish & Game estimates that about 730 boats fished the July king opening, down from more than 800 boats last year. The price this year is relatively low. At less than $3 per pound, it’s almost a dollar below the five-year average. That may be because there is still inventory left over from last year’s monster summer run.

All numbers so far are preliminary. Fish & Game is still receiving fish tickets, and won’t have final numbers for about another week.

Categories: Alaska News

Explosion Shakes Aleutians’ Cleveland Volcano

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 16:05

An explosion shook Cleveland Volcano in the east-central Aleutian Islands at 8:17 local time Tuesday morning.

It’s the volcano’s first explosion since November.

Kristi Wallace with the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage called it “a small, discrete, short-duration event.”

Crater of Cleveland Volcano in July 2014. Pavel Izbekov, Alaska Volcano Observatory / University of Alaska Fairbanks photo.

“We aren’t certain whether or not a significant ash cloud was produced, likely not, mostly because it was short duration,” she said.

Clouds blocked the satellite view of the volcano Tuesday morning, and scientists haven’t received any reports from local pilots yet.

Grant Aviation said its flights in the area have been grounded because of fog.

The National Weather Service has put out an alert on the possibility of an ash cloud heading to the north and east, likely below 20,000 feet altitude.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has raised the alert level for the volcano from yellow to orange, meaning an eruption is underway with only minor ash emissions.

“This is pretty common for this volcano,” Wallace said. “Typically, you have one explosion and maybe nothing for months. Sometimes we have maybe a couple over a week-long period. So we’ll just wait and see.”

Since its last major eruption in 2001, Cleveland Volcano has been active occasionally, with small lava flows and ash clouds generally staying below 20,000 feet. Eruptions in 2001 sent ash clouds, which can threaten airplanes that encounter them, as high as 39,000 feet above sea level.

Cleveland Volcano is on uninhabited Chuginadak Island, about 45 miles west of the village of Nikolski, 150 miles southwest of Unalaska and 940 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The volcanic cone towers 5,676 feet above the Bering Sea.

Categories: Alaska News

General Says Decision on JBER Cuts Not Final Without Arctic Plan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 15:30

Gen. Mark Milley is nominated for Army Chief of Staff. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The general nominated to be the Army’s Chief of Staff suggested this morning that the plan to cut 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson isn’t final yet. But it’s hard to say whether the Army really plans to reconsider, or whether the general merely agreed to follow a procedure to ultimately reach a pre-determined end.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan appeared to make some headway at the confirmation hearing of Gen. Mark Milley, the four-star likely to become the top uniformed officer of the Army. Since the JBER cuts were announced this month, both Alaska senators have argued it makes no sense to cut an Arctic-trained brigade when Russia is adding troops in the region. Sullivan says the Army should hold off until the Pentagon develops a real operation plan for the Arctic, not just the 13-page “Arctic Strategy” it produced in 2013.

“It mentions climate change five times and Russia in a footnote,” Sullivan said. “This is a joke of a strategy.”

Milley says the full Arctic “operation plan” is almost done, and he agreed with Sullivan the cuts shouldn’t come before the plan. Milley says, actually, that’s the sequence the Army is following, though he also deployed the past tense as he spoke of a “decision.”

“The forces in Alaska don’t get reduced, according to the decision I think I heard … until the end of ‘16 and ’17. So an ‘O plan’ first, reduction of forces of second.  If still required,” Milley said.

Milley confirmed that even if the cuts go through as stated the Army would shrink the4/25th brigade combat team, leaving one-third of it in Alaska so that some day the full unit might be reconstituted.

“So it’s designed to go to a battalion task force, with the intent of reversing it, if funding is made available,” he said.

Milley calls Russia the No. 1 threat to the United States, due to its nuclear strength and recent aggression. The need to focus more on the Arctic resonates with Sen. John McCain, who chaired Milley’s confirmation hearing  in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We’ve got a very full agenda, but the Arctic is another that we have to be concerned (about),” McCain said. “Particularly given Russian behavior. Even Sweden, which is traditionally, as we know, a very neutral nation has become extremely concerned about Russian activity in their territorial waters.”

The Army is cutting its Brigade Combat Teams from 45 to 30. Milley says that’s an adequate number, but he cautioned brigades can’t ramp up overnight and it takes years to build a new team.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines climbers likely first women to summit Cathedral Peaks

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 12:00

Haines residents Jenn Walsh and Jessica Kayser Forster are likely the first women to summit the 6,400-foot Mount Emmerich in the Chilkat Valley, also known as Cathedral Peaks.

They made the trek in early July with Chris Downer and Kevin Forster. Local climbers say fewer than ten ascents of Emmerich have happened since the first one in 1976, and Forster and Walsh are thought to be the only women to complete the climb.

Jenn Walsh and Jessica Kayser Forster summit Mt. Emmerich. (Credit: Kevin Forster)

“I think it was about 2 o’clock in the morning or 1 o’clock in the morning and Kevin looked at Jess and me. And Kevin said, ‘You guys this is it. If we are going to turn around and get back to our tents or off the snowfield before the sun hits the snow, then we need to turn around now,’” Jenn Walsh remembers.

That moment in the climb where Kevin Forster asked his companions if they wanted to turn around happened because of unexpected conditions. The group had made their base camp in the Cathedral Cirque – a glacier bench at about 3,700 ft. Right away, they noticed something different.

“It was really surprising how little snow and ice there was,” said  Jessica Forster.

(Courtesy Kevin and Jessica Forster)

Forster had been to the cirque two times before.

“There [was] about 20 to 30 feet less snow,” she said. “So you have this mountain up there that’s being exposed for the first time because it’s been covered in snow and ice for so long. Which brought about a lot of objective hazards now.”

Less snowpack meant more technical snow and rock climbing than they expected. They also were a group of four, which slows climbing down. Kevin Forster had summited Emmerich before, and his trip up from the base camp and back down took nine hours total. They could tell that that was not going to happen this time. The group was less than halfway up when they had to make a decision.

“We were like you know, we’re way behind schedule,” Jessica Forester said. “There’s no way that we can get up there and come back down in time and not be in the heat of the day. And so we were like, well the other option is we know it’s gonna be calm and 80, so it might be safe to climb through the night and spend the day on the summit. So the other option is we just keep climbing through the night and spend the day on the summit. And we decided to do that.”

Forster and Walsh say they climbed during the night because colder weather makes for safer conditions. Trying to climb at that elevation when it’s sunny and 80 degrees would be dangerous because the heat makes the surfaces less stable.

On the ridge leading to the summit. (Courtesy Kevin and Jessica Forster)

It took 14 hours to climb up from their base camp to the summit along the south ridge of the peak.

“To be with your friends right there and know you just did something that took everything is amazing,” Walsh said. “And I feel like we’ve done some big things together before but maybe I just haven’t felt that kind of emotion and it just opened up gates and I think we all felt it. That was my moment.”

Their view was a sea of mountains, which they had hours to take in, since they couldn’t descend during the hot daytime hours.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because usually you get to the top of a mountain and you just turn around and go back down, you don’t spend much time on summits. But in this instance we peaked out at 7 o’clock in the morning and we spent 10 hours on the summit,” Forester said.

They made little tents out of trekking poles and extra layers to shield themselves from the sun. Ten hours later, the group started the climb down. It took 11 hours to get back to the camp.

Kevin Forster, Jessica Kayser Forster, Chris Downer and Jenn Walsh. (Courtesy)

Forster and Walsh say the most physically exhausting part of the trip wasn’t the summit. It was hiking out of the cirque. The group had arranged for a plane to drop food into their base camp. And leaving, they had to carry leftover supplies out on their backs. The lack of snow also made that part of the trek more difficult. It took 13 hours.

“This was so incredibly difficult,” Walsh said. “I kind of like activities that involve some suffering but this was incredible. It was a lot of work but it was really a lot of staying mentally focused. I think coming back down, I thought to myself I might not be strong enough for this.”

Walsh and Forster are probably the first women to summit the Cathedrals, but since some ascents are not officially recorded, it’s hard to know for sure. Jack Tackle was one of the climbers to make the first ascent of Emmerich in 1976. He and Haines climbing enthusiast John Svenson say they don’t know of any other women to who have summited Emmerich. The American Alpine Club also did not know of any other female climbers who have reported summiting the Cathedrals.

Forester and Walsh give credit to Kevin Forester and Chris Downer, but they say they wouldn’t have done it without each other.

“There’s so much more when there’s another woman with you,” Forester said. “And I can’t really explain it but it just makes you stronger. I don’t know why. Sometimes you rely on guys to do things for you but all of sudden when there another woman is there I feel like I can do anything. Which doesn’t make any sense, but it’s pretty cool.”

Forster says the scene from the adventure that stays with her the most is when they were hiking back along the glacier after the summit climb. It was one in the morning and the moon was bright in the sky. The whole horizon was lit up bright pink and red. They walked in silence between jagged mountain peaks, and the whole Chilkat Valley was beneath their feet.

Categories: Alaska News

Port Heiden Rekindles A Culture of Reindeer Herding

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 10:00

The reindeer were brought from Stebbins/St. Michaels in several plane-loads. Photo taken July 6. Credit: Native Village of Port Heiden

Twenty-nine reindeer have arrived in Port Heiden, where the village of 100 people is re-establishing a long-dormant tradition of reindeer herding. In a few years they hope to begin harvesting the deer as a sustainable food source for the community. Now, an expert herder and his two teenage apprentices are taking on the challenges of starting a herd from scratch.

Learning to herd reindeer is a full-time job for teenagers Jake Carlson and Lillionna Kosbruk.

“Yeah, every day, eight hours, besides weekends.”

“Sometimes we have to herd them in a certain area of the pen, I dunno – it’s a lot of running.:

They’re learning their new trade from Fred Goodhope Jr., a traditional herder who was hired by the village of Port Heiden to help them get started.

“Yeah this is Fred, I’m the reindeer herder. I’m from Shishmaref, Alaska. I been reindeer herding since I was ten years old, and I’m a third-generation reindeer herder.”

Apprentice Jake Carlson sits with a reindeer as it reaches its new home. Photo taken July 7. Photo: Native Village of Port Heiden.

The Port Heiden reindeer came as air cargo from Stebbins/St. Michaels. At the end of that 480-mile journey, they were delivered into Goodhope’s practiced hands.

His first challenge was to nurse them back to health.

“Some of ‘em came in kinda lame, kinda hurt… lot of them were dehydrated, you could tell they’d been without nourishing food because they were in a holding pen.”

The reindeer have plenty of room to graze in their new pen. But Goodhope says it won’t be long until they outgrow

“It’s gonna be a problem later on, with overgrazing… by then we’re gonna have them going in and out of the gate.”

Apprentice Lillionna Kosbruk, 16, sits with a reindeer as it is transported to the pen. Photo taken July 6. Photo: Native Village of Port Heiden.

Then there’s the danger of bears and wolves getting into the pen.

But more than predators or overgrazing, what worries Goodhope the most is caribou.

“Actually, the worst enemy to a reindeer is a caribou.”

Goodhope says if the reindeer meet a herd of their wilder cousins while grazing outside the pen, they’ll mingle and even interbreed. And then when the caribou move on, the reindeer will up and follow them.

He lost one of his own herds that way years ago up on the Seward Peninsula.

“Last time I seen my reindeer was 1997. It was a sad thing, to learn that they walked away.”

Goodhope and his apprentices are hoping to avoid that fate in Port Heiden. They plan to keep their reindeer under control with the help of herder dogs.

“They have a little litter of dogs that they’re gonna train as pups… and then once you train the pups, they’ll be able to acclimate them with the reindeer.”

Goodhope only has a few months to pass on his herding knowledge before he heads back north for fall hunting.

The reindeer grazing in their new home, a football-field-sized pen built in the village. Photo taken July 6. Photo: Native Village of Port Heiden.

Kosbruk and Carlson should be able to handle things by then. And they’ll start teaching the age-old practice of husbandry to others in the village.

“Yes, I was gonna be involved in teaching the kids about the reindeer and involving them as much as we can.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals… and I can say that I’ve worked with reindeer. I dunno, it just seems like a cool thing.”

In another month, school will start back up. The two teenagers will have to take reindeer duty on nights and weekends, perhaps like their great-great-grandparents did years ago. They both say they’re in it for the long haul.

Categories: Alaska News

State funding allows progression of St. Mary’s wind farm plans

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 09:12

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is moving ahead with its plans to build a wind farm for St. Mary’s and Pitkas Point, after receiving the necessary funding through Fiscal Year 2016 state capital budget.

A $4.3 million appropriation of state money remained in the trimmed-down capital budget throughout the legislative session, even as other projects were cut.

AVEC President and CEO Meera Kohler says the money was never in serious jeopardy because it is actually a re-appropriation of money previously set aside for another project.

While waiting for the money to be delivered, Kohler and AVEC managers are hammering out some important details about the design of the wind farm.

“We haven’t decided exactly what wind turbines we are going to use,” Kohler said. “The plan is to use the Northwind 100-B, but we are also contemplating a larger machine. But we will have to make that decision by December of this year.”

The St. Mary’s wind farm has a proposed capacity of 400 kilowatts of electricity from four separate turbines. But even if the plans change to use larger turbines to create more electricity, Kohler is confident that any excess electricity won’t go to waste.

“There’s plenty of demand for electricity as heat to absorb the excess production, as long as we can do it for equal or less than what we budgeted for the smaller turbines, in terms of cost,” Kohler said. “So producing additional wind power is never really a significant deterrent”

A separate plan aims to connect the electrical grids of St. Mary’s and nearby Mountain Village, which would broaden the customer base benefitting from wind power.

St. Mary’s will still have to operate diesel generators to supplement the power coming from the wind farm, but Kohler predicts that AVEC members in that area will see lower utility bills as a result of the project.

AVEC estimates that wind power saves 25 to 35 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to diesel power.

Kohler expects the wind farm to be operational by the end of next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Searchers find body of missing boater near Napaskiak

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 09:08

Searchers found the body of 28-year-old Benjamin Beaver Junior of Bethel after his boat hit a sandbar and sank.

State troopers say the man was traveling by boat Friday from Napaskiak to Atmautluak on the Johnson River when it hit the sandbar. His body was found Monday night around 11 p.m. and pulled from the river.

On the night of the accident, troopers say a juvenile passenger made it to shore and was taken back to Napaskiak with no injuries. Searchers soon found the submerged boat.

Beaver’s body will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Fairbanks removes Mississippi flag

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 09:01

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has removed a Mississippi flag from a 5-state display, citing the ongoing national discussion about Confederate imagery.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that Chancellor Brian Rogers ordered the flag removed Monday morning.

UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says there were no complaints about the flag in the Circle of Flags display in the school’s lower campus, but the chancellor decided to remove the Confederate imagery.

This is the second Mississippi flag to be removed from display in Alaska. Last week, Mississippi’s flag, which features a Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner, was taken down from a main street in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Government attorneys seek dismissal in Guard records case

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-21 09:00

The U.S. attorney’s office is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by four National Guard members alleging that investigative and other records pertaining to them were improperly leaked to reporters and state officials.

In a filing Monday, government attorneys say the men haven’t established and cannot establish any disclosure of information by the U.S. Army and Alaska National Guard in violation of the federal privacy act.

Shannon Tallant, John Nieves, Jarrett Carson and Joseph Lawendowski were part of the Guard’s recruiting team. Their names appeared in news stories based on leaked investigative reports.

Their attorney has said they were singled out as part of a “smear campaign.”

A National Guard Bureau probe into allegations of wrongdoing within the Guard last year noted a “high level of misconduct” within the recruiting and retention command.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 20, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-20 17:56

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.

Download Audio

 

NTSB Investigates ‘Man, Machine, Environment’ in Friday’s Plane Crash Near Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Wreckage of a plane that went down Friday afternoon 18 miles west of Juneau was being picked up Sunday for further investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Trapper Creek Man Dies When Plane Strikes Tree

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers say a Trapper Creek man died Sunday after his plane struck a tree while flying over his daughter’s wedding reception.

Shell Ship ‘Fennica’ Heads to Oregon for Repairs

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

A key ship in Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet left Alaska on Sunday. The icebreaker is headed south to Oregon for repairs after a 3-foot gash was discovered in its hull.

Rain Helps Slow A Vigorous Fire Season In the Interior

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Areas of the Interior have received rain in recent days, helping to slow wildfires that have charred more than 4.7 million acres.

Legislative Committee Won’t Take Up Medicaid Expansion Wednesday

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Legislature’s committee with gatekeeping authority over expediting the governor’s Medicaid plans meets Wednesday, but does not intend to take up the welfare program’s expansion.

Fire Destroys Oyster Company Boat, Dock, Equipment in Little Jakolof Bay

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A fire destroyed a sailboat, part of a dock, and equipment owned by the Jakolof Bay Oyster Company last night.

Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Against ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative

David Bedinger, KDLG – Dillingham

In a ruling issued Friday, Alaska’s Supreme Court upheld the overturning of the ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative.

Senate Ed Bill Bolsters the Role of Alaska Tribes

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

An education bill that passed the U.S. Senate last week includes several provisions that boost the role of Alaska Native tribes. The bill, called “Every Child Achieves” re-writes the law known as “No Child Left Behind,” a key piece of the domestic legacy of President George W. Bush.

State Lifts Spending Freeze on Susitna-Watana Hydro Project

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

After a spending freeze by the governor and multiple attempts by the legislative minority to place it back into the state’s general fund, the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project team will now be allowed to spend the more than $6 million it has left from previous years.

Need for Food Assistance Rises as Alaskans Struggle To Make Ends Meet

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Every week in 2014, nearly 6,300 households received free food from food pantries and other programs in Alaska. Most of them had at, some point, to chose between food or transportation, rent, medical care, or heat. And data from the United Way shows that the need is rising statewide.

Ketchikan Pastor Goes Barefoot to Raise Money For Those Who Need Shoes

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A Ketchikan minister is going barefoot for a month, in hopes of raising awareness of the need for shoes among the world’s poor.

Categories: Alaska News

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