Alaska News

EPA, Alaska DEC Crews Cleaning Up Richardson Highway Diesel Spill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 14:48

Excavator preparing a test hole on east side of the highway, December 15, 2014 (Photo/Engles-ADEC)

The Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are working to clean up a diesel spill northeast of Valdez.

The spill occurred Dec. 9 at Mile 48 of the Richardson Highway, when icy conditions caused a tanker truck operated by Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc. to slide off the road – spilling 4,400 gallons of low-sulfur diesel into a currently-dry roadside creek bed.

Spill response began immediately, but the company had to cease its cleanup efforts just before Christmas, citing a lack of resources. EPA and Alaska DEC crews resumed the work Tuesday.

Excavated area at incident site, January 6, 2014 (Photo/Engles-ADEC)

Steven Russell, an environmental program manager with the Alaska DEC, says the cleanup efforts are going well so far, but below zero temperatures are slowing things down.

“Twenty-below, things don’t move quite as quick as they do if it’s 30 above,” Russell said. ”But, we anticipate that the cleanup effort will continue and will be successful.”

Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc. removed about 650 cubic yards, or about 25 semi-truck trailers-full of contaminated dirt. And the DEC anticipates the removal of about another 350 cubic yards.

Russell says cleanup and restoration work is expected to be complete in about 10 days.

“We need to get that dry creek bed back as close to the conditions that it was at before this event, because we do not want to lose stability on the roadway in the springtime when that area has significant water movement through it,” he said.

Russell estimates the cleanup will cost around $2.5 million, including federal funds and money already spent by Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc.

He says the DEC doesn’t anticipate any impact to fish in the area, but will continue to monitor the site over the next several months.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Charged With Selling Meth In Ongoing Trooper, Nome Police Investigation

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 13:31

First heroin, now meth—as two more Nome residents are behind bars after allegedly selling methamphetamine.

Court records and affidavits from Alaska State Troopers charge 29-year-old Chad Jacobson and 28-year-old Joan Miller with selling methamphetamine to a
confidential informant in November of last year [2014].

Both were arrested last week. Troopers say the arrests are related to the yearlong investigation by the Troopers WAANT–the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team–and Nome Police that resulted in two heroin-related arrests last month.

In November, investigators say Miller—who they identify as Jacobson’s girlfriend—delivered 2 grams of meth to a police informant in a controlled purchase. Field and lab tests identified the substance as methamphetamine.

In an affidavit filed with the Nome court, investigators claim Jacobson set up that sale—and only sent his girlfriend at the last minute. Just days later, Troopers set up another purchase, for another 2 grams of meth. This time, Troopers say, it was Jacobson who made the sale—delivering two “dime-sized bags … containing a white crystal substance” that later tested positive for methamphetamine.

Both Miller and Jacobson were formally charged in Nome court on Friday—for one count each of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third
degree, a felony drug charge that carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Messages to the attorneys handling the cases were not returned Tuesday. Miller’s bail was set at $5,000, while bail for Jacobson was set at $15,000. Both remain in custody at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Tuluksak Man Arrested For Alleged Arson

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 11:56

A Tuluksak man is under arrest after he allegedly set fire to a home in Kwethluk.

The incident happened Tuesday. Troopers say 21-year-old Ferdinand Andrew had been upset with the occupants of the house and splashed gasoline on the
exterior door and lit it on fire.

The residents and neighbors were able to put the fire out with minimal damage. There were no injuries.

A plastic container with gasoline inside was found at the scene. When troopers contacted Andrew he was wearing clothing that matched the description given by witnesses.

Andrew is charged with Arson in the 2nd degree and violating conditions of release.

He was transported to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center where he awaits arraignment.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Sexual Abuse Allegation In Chuathbaluk

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 11:53

Alaska State Troopers in Aniak recently received a report that a 4-year-old girl in Chuathbaluk was possibly sexually abused.

The report was made on December 26th and troopers say the abuse allegedly took place sometime in December at a Chuathbaluk home.

State Troopers say the investigation is ongoing and the Bethel Office of Children’s Services was notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg’s New Superintendent Resigns

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 11:41

Petersburg’s school board will be searching for a new superintendent again this year. The superintendent of the school district has resigned after six months on the job.

Lisa Stroh was hired as superintendent July 1 after visiting Petersburg as a finalist for the position. She worked through the fall but left town just before the Christmas break after asking the school board for administrative leave. The leave request was for December 16 to January 5 and the board granted it. Then on December 31, Stroh sent the board a letter of resignation stating she wanted to resign for family medical reasons.

School Board President, Jean Ellis, reads from Stroh’s letter, “I would like to thank the many wonderful people of Petersburg for making my time here so enjoyable.”

Stroh stated that she wanted the resignation effective June 30, however, the school board is proposing ending her contract now.

“Her contract runs through June 30, 2015 but she will not be serving as superintendent effective immediately,” Ellis says.

Ellis says the board will consider a proposed settlement and release agreement at a special meeting Thursday night. She wanted to wait until the meeting to release more details about Stroh’s contract. How the district’s budget might be affected will also be detailed at the meeting. Stroh’s salary was $122,750.

Ellis says all in all the school district is in good position for a transition into new leadership.

“We have an amazing school district, very strong, and I’m thinking that things will move very smoothly,” says Ellis.

Part of that transition includes long time grade school principal, Erica Kludt-Painter. She’s been filling in as superintendent during Stroh’s administrative leave and with board approval, she would continue in the role through the end of the school year.

Kludt-Painter agreed that the transition should be smooth even though it’s taking place within the school year.

“For a mid-year transition, the change is hard, and it’s a lot of people to think about, especially the immediate effects, more specifically in this building, in the elementary building just because this is where the most change is actually happening,” Kludt-Painter says. “So, I guess I just want to assure people that we’re going into it with a positive attitude and it’s going to be great. We’re going to do this well.”

What it means for the grade school is that second grade teacher, Teri Toland, would step into Acting Principal. Kludt-Painter says Toland has her administrative credentials and is capable of taking over the job. She actually interned under Kludt-Painter as part of her administrative training.

“She’s wonderful, she’s amazing, she’s organized, she’s fabulous,” Kludt-Painter says. “I feel confident and comfortable with the thought of her walking in here and doing this. She knows everybody, she knows the kids, kids know her, families know her.”

Kludt-Painter says she might consider herself for superintendent beyond the interim period but for right now she’s just looking at it as temporary move.

“I guess I don’t want to speculate too far out in the future just because there’s a lot on everybody’s plate right now, so for me I think I just have to look at the present and look at the remainder of the school year and see how it goes,” Kludt-Painter says.

Stroh is originally from Montana. She worked in education for three decades there and in Alaska. She came to Petersburg from Valdez where she broke her two-year contract after a year, citing conflicts with school board members there.

Ellis says the search process for a new superintendent would begin immediately with the plan of hiring someone permanently July 1.

The school board will hold a special meeting this Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the high school library to address the resignation and the transition. The meeting is open to the public.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel’s Warm Temperatures Break Records

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 11:38

Bethel Bethel Boat Harbor November 13th, 2014. – (Photo by Dean Swope)

Bethel broke the record for highest-average temperature in 2014. It’s included in a broad swath of Western and Southwestern Alaska which have had above normal temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

Rich Thoman, a climatologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks states, “In that area there’s about seven or eight places that have weather inclement observations that go back 70 years or more and at those places it was the warmest in that entire period of record – 70 to 90 or 100 years even. 2014 was warmer than any other calendar year,” said Thoman.

Those that broke records for the year include Cold Bay, King Salmon, Homer, McGrath, Nome, Kotzebue and Bethel.

The higher temperatures have made travel around the Kuskokwim Delta difficult, where frozen rivers become winter highways. The river took longer than normal to freeze up, and when it did there were dangerous open holes that can swallow snow machines, four-wheelers and people. Village travel has been limited all season as a result.

Thomen says says the record warm 2014 is continuing a trend of very warm years seen over the last decade or so. Five years since 2000 have been amongst the warmest ever in Bethel.

“The lowest temperature in Bethel was 16 below and this is the first year that Bethel did not make it down to minus 20,” said Thoman.

It also took a long time to get down below zero, says Thoman.

“This winter, the winter of 2014-2015, Bethel did not have its first sub zero temperature until the 21st of December. Bethel has never gone that late into the season until the temperature go below zero,” said Thoman.

Thoman says the average temperature for Bethel for the entire year of 2014 was 34.9 degrees.

“Now to put that in context, the average temperature for a year in Bethel is about 29 degrees. That doesn’t sound like it’s a big departure but over 365 days, that’s very large. Bethel’s never had a warmer year,” said Thoman.

Weather observations in Bethel started in 1923, according to the National Weather Service.

“Now to put that in context, the average temperature for a year in Bethel is about 29 degrees. That doesn’t sound like it’s a big departure but over 365 days, that’s very large. Bethel’s never had a warmer year,” said Thoman.

Weather observations in Bethel started in 1923, according to the National Weather Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Canadian Archipelago Likely To Become Important Polar Bear Conservation Region

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-07 10:10

A new study released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests polar bears are in the midst of a generations-long migration to areas that still have year-round sea ice.

Lily Peacock is a research wildlife biologist for USGS and the lead author of the study. She says, historically, polar bears are highly nomadic and move unpredictably. But, over the last few generations, the bears’ movement patterns have been changing.

“Instead of sort of random movements of bears across the Arctic that we found in sort of the more ancient historical picture, we found directional movement towards the Canadian Archipelago,” Peacock said.

(USGS photo)

The Canadian Archipelago is home to one of four clusters of genetically-similar polar bear populations. During the study, Peacock’s team analyzed nearly 3,000 genetic samples of bears ranging from Alaska’s North Slope, to the Russian Arctic, to Canada’s Hudson Bay, dating back as far as 1972, and as recently as 2011.

Peacock says this suggests polar bears are subtly shifting north.

“Our hypothesis is that they’re doing so because changes of in their habitat,” she said. “Especially because it’s been hypothesized and modeled that that’s where ice is going to be persistent and it’s likely that the ice might become better habitat in the Canadian Archipelago; it’s considered poorer habitat right now, but the multi-year ice might become annual ice and become more productive.”

Peacock says this shift isn’t a product of bears marching en masse from Northern Russia all the way to Northern Canada – it’s more of a genetic migration, made over the course of several generations.

“That means an individual home range shifting northward; that animal mating with another animal that might be at the southern part of her range, but then that offspring might go to the northern part of her grandmother’s range and mate with someone else,” Peacock said. “So it’s sort of this shift of genes of genes northward.”

But, according to Peacock, declining sea ice could put a damper on the process and potentially threaten worldwide populations by cutting off the bears’ migration routes.

“And what can happen when populations of animals become isolated is that their more easy, they can blink out if something happens; if they have a bad winter or bad spring and that stresses the population and it gets smaller and smaller, but the migration corridor has been cut off and you can’t repopulate,” she said.

Though scientific modeling can’t predict exactly what the future holds for polar bears, Peacock says the results of the study say the Canadian Archipelago may become a very important habitat for polar bears over the next several generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Purges Gasline Board, Rejects Confidentiality Agreement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 22:35

Gov. Bill Walker has dismissed half of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors.

In a statement issued late Tuesday night, Walker announced that he was removing three members of a seven-person board tasked with representing Alaska’s interests as the state pursues a natural gas megaproject in partnership with the energy industry. Drue Pearce, Al Bolea, and Richard Rabinow were all appointed upon the board’s creation in 2013 by former Gov. Sean Parnell. Pearce heads an oil spill response company in Anchorage, and previously served as the federal coordinator for an Alaska Natural Gas project and as president of the Alaska State Senate. Bolea is a retired BP executive who once chaired the Alyeska Pipeline Services Company board. Rabinow is a a former president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. Rabinow’s appointment was opposed by a bloc of Democrats because of his status as a Texas resident, and legislation explicitly permitting out-of-state board appointments was passed to allow him to serve.

The announcement did not provide a reason for the dismissals, except for to say the changes were part of a “paradigm shift in the way the state will conduct business with Alaska’s gas.” Walker plans to replace the three members within a month. Walker is currently in Washington, DC, for Sen. Dan Sullivan’s swearing-in ceremony, and was unavailable to answer questions about the changes to the board.

In addition to the board dismissals, Walker also announced that the two cabinet members — Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas and acting Commerce Commissioner Fred Parady — who represent the administration on the board have been directed not to participate in any closed-door meetings related to the board’s functions.

Walker spokesperson Grace Jang says the governor hopes to promote transparency on future natural gas projects by rejecting confidentiality agreements.

“This is a very big deal because the governor campaigned on this,” says Jang. “This is actually one of the big reasons that he even ran — to change the way that business is done in terms of Alaska’s natural resources, and making sure Alaskans have a voice and have a seat at the table. This is the first step in that process, and it’s not a secret. I think people saw this coming.”

Jang adds that the announcement was made at 9pm on Tuesday because the board removals were finalized late in the day.

The state is currently in talks with Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada to develop an 800-mile pipeline to get North Slope natural gas to market. The project is expected to cost at least $45 billion. In 2014, the Legislature passed and Parnell signed a bill that would allow legislators to review specific terms of negotiations so long as they sign non-disclosure agreements. The producers involved say the confidentiality rules are needed to prevent competitors from learning proprietary information about the project.

The remaining members of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors are scheduled to meet on Thursday in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 6, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 17:41

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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Alaska’s New U.S. Senator Takes the Oath

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was sworn in today, in the U.S. Senate Chamber, by Vice President Joe Biden. Sullivan is celebrating the milestone in a series of receptions and dinners in Washington this week, attended by scores of Alaskan supporters and family members. APRN’s Liz Ruskin attended one, and reports on Sullivan’s first day in the Senate.

Ousted Military Affairs Official Returns As Senate Media Strategist

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A recently ousted military affairs official has been hired by the Alaska Senate Majority to guide their media strategy.

Muñoz To Reintroduce Bill Adding Sexual Orientation To Anti-Discrimination Law

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Republican from Juneau, will reintroduce a bill this legislative session to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.

Aleut Enterprise To Pay Over $1 Million In Adak Fuel Spill Settlement

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A fuel spill on the remote island of Adak will cost Aleut Enterprise more than $1 million in court settlements and damages. The price tag became final this month, after the company reached a deal with state prosecutors.

Pick. Click. Give. Donations Up, Number Of Donors Taper

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Annual giving in the Pick. Click. Give. program has grown robustly since its 2009 launch, though the total number of donors appears to be tapering off.

This year, program officials have brought back the Double Your Dividend sweepstakes to attract donors, and organizations will be charged a new 7 percent administrative fee.

Draft Juneau Economic Plan Released

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A draft economic plan for the City and Borough of Juneau identifies eight key initiatives to guide the capital city’s financial future over the next decade.

Most of those initiatives and the specific goals discussed in the plan have been city priorities for years.

Illegal Dumping On State Land Draws Prosecution, Fines

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

State Fish and Game officials are cracking down on illegal dumping on state game refuges. Heavy fines, and possible jail time is in store for offenders.  Recent incidents at Goose Bay State Game Refuge near Wasilla have resulted in at least one prosecution, and Alaska Wildlife Troopers are on the look-out for further arrests.

Alaska Centenarians In National Photo Project

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A New York photographer wants to create portraits of a 100-year-old man and a 100-year-old woman from each of the 50 states. He’s calling the project “To Live 10,000 years,” and he recently checked a couple hundred of those years off his list during a trip to Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

Ousted Military Affairs Official Returns As Senate Media Strategist

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 17:18

A recently ousted military affairs official has been hired by the Alaska Senate Majority to guide their media strategy. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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McHugh Pierre was asked in September to step down as deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, as part of then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s attempts to reform the Alaska National Guard. His resignation came shortly after the release of a federal report that concluded the Guard suffered from leadership failures and a toxic command climate. The next month, Pierre established a public relations firm, Quantum Communications. Pierre has now been brought on to help the Senate’s Republican majority caucus in their communications with the press.

Senate President Kevin Meyer made the hire, and he considers it essential.

“It’s only 90 days, but we need all the help we can to get our message out to the general public and to our constituents,” said Meyer in a phone interview.

Last month, Meyer joined other legislative leaders in calling upon Gov. Bill Walker to enact a staffing freeze in response to a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. Because his caucus’ press office had a vacancy, Meyer does not see that order conflicting with Pierre’s hire. He added Pierre will not be on payroll as a state worker, but instead will be awarded a four-month contract paid out of the Senate Majority’s funds.

Meyer said this was done in an effort to be frugal. The contract has not yet been signed, but Meyer said it will not exceed $35,000. Anything over that amount requires a vote of the 14-member Legislative Council.

“My expectation would be it would be closer to $30,000,” said Meyer.

Meyer said he interviewed other candidates for the position before reaching out to Pierre. He added that he asked his colleagues if they took issue with the hire. Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who will co-chair the finance committee, noted that Pierre was married to her chief of staff, but did not find that to be a problem. Meyer said MacKinnon’s office was not involved with the hire, nor was his own wife, who is a special assistant in military affairs commissioner’s office.

“Absolutely not,” said Meyer. “My wife is so not political that she didn’t even know about it until I mentioned it to her last night.”

Though Pierre started his off as a television reporter, he’s spent the bulk of his career in state government. He managed public affairs for former Gov. Frank Murkowski, and did similar work for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He also served as a spokesperson for the Alaska Republican Party.

When Pierre stepped down from his deputy commissioner post in September, his letter listed his accomplishments and expressed an enthusiasm for “new adventures in the private sector.” But it didn’t make any reference to problems in the Alaska National Guard, which reached a crisis level during the Parnell administration.

Parnell did not provide a reason for Pierre’s dismissal, except to say it was connected to his National Guard reform effort. Records released in response to a lawsuit by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News contain a June e-mail from Parnell to his top aides, ordering that Pierre “have absolutely nothing to do with cases where Guard members are under investigation or subject to review – especially as they relate to two people he is personally connected to” after Pierre reportedly involved himself in a former classmate’s disciplinary matter. Separately, chaplains, who had confronted the governor and legislators about the mishandling of sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard, have complained that Pierre directed them to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Sen. Kevin Meyer said he considered Pierre’s resignation when deciding to award him the contract, but that he could not find concrete information that Pierre acted inappropriately.

“I’ve asked around to try to figure out what he’s been accused of or what he’s guilty of, and nobody knows,” said Meyer. “So I don’t how much of that was political hype, and how much of that is reality. But certainly if we find out that if he was involved in any way that’s illegal, then yeah, we would terminate his contract immediately.”

Meyer added he was not aware of Parnell’s e-mail on Pierre.

In a phone interview, Pierre said he did not do anything wrong.

“I was asked to resign because the governor was ready to have someone new in that position. You serve at the governor’s pleasure, and it was clear that he didn’t want the senior leadership to stay,” said Pierre. “I never did anything wrong. I don’t believe the organization did any wrong. I think the organization did everything it could to support its members.”

Pierre will work directly out of Meyer’s office. The other members of the press shop will handle day-to-day operations, while Pierre will focus on the broader communications strategy.

“We’ll be coordinating the message plan,” said Pierre. “The voters sent the right people to Juneau, and I want to make sure they’re effective in communicating to the voters what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it.”

Going into the legislative session, a number of lawmakers say reforming the Alaska National Guard is a priority. The federal report by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations found that Alaska guardsmen were reluctant to report cases of sexual assault because of a lack of trust in the system, and that the Alaska force has problems with favoritism and fraud. Senate Judiciary Chair Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, has expressed interest in holding National Guard hearings, and Gov. Bill Walker is currently screening candidates for a special investigator position.

Pierre said he will not handle communications strategy related to the Alaska National Guard.

Categories: Alaska News

Muñoz To Reintroduce Bill Adding Sexual Orientation To Anti-Discrimination Law

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:57

Rep. Cathy Muñoz (R- Juneau) will reintroduce a bill this legislative session to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.

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Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz (left). Former Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula (right).

Former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, introduced the same bill in 2011 and then again in 2013.

Muñoz cosponsored the bill in 2013. She says she hopes the bill will hold more weight this time with her majority Republican colleagues.

“We’ll see how it goes, but I definitely think it’s appropriate and it’s needed,” Muñoz says. “I’m willing to put my energy into making it happen.”

Kerttula first introduced the bill a year before Anchorage residents voted against adding sexual orientation to the municipality’s anti-discrimination laws.

The 2015 legislative session begins Jan. 20. Lawmakers’ pre-filed bills will be released over the next two weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Pick. Click. Give. Donations Up, Number Of Donors Taper

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:55

Annual giving in the Pick. Click. Give. program has grown robustly since its 2009 launch, though the total number of donors appears to be tapering off.

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This year, program officials have brought back the Double Your Dividend sweepstakes to attract donors, and organizations will be charged a new 7 percent administrative fee.

There’s been double-digit percentage growth in the amount given to Alaska nonprofits through Pick. Click. Give. since its launch.

The program makes it easy for Alaskans to give part of their Permanent Fund Dividends to charities. Almost 27,000 people donated about $2.8 million in 2014.

However, the growth in the number of people giving is down.

“So we sometimes wonder if people are thinking back to the dividend that they just received a couple of months earlier,” says Pick. Click. Give. program manager Heather Beaty of the Alaska Community Foundation.

The payout in 2013 was about half of last year’s, the third biggest in the history of dividends.

“We have speculated that having a lower PFD amount may have affected the rate of participation,” Beaty says.

Tim Blust is a bookkeeper with Discovery Southeast, a Juneau nonprofit with an outdoor education mission. Last year, he goosed his organization’s books a little with a personal donation through Pick. Click. Give.

In the fall, he got a coy phone message from Beaty.

“My 12-year-old son immediately said, ‘Dad, you must have won.’ And I said, “Won what?”

His son was right. Blust was one of 10 winners of the Double Your Dividend drawing that Pick. Click. Give. donors entered.

The sweepstakes launched last March, the final month of the dividend sign-up period. It was meant to counter low giving caused by technical problems in what’s usually a busy January.

It’s hard to suss out exactly what effect the sweepstakes had.

But, Beaty says, “We did see Pick. Click. Give. participation go up quite a bit while we were promoting the sweepstakes. So we decided to go ahead and implement it again this year hoping that it continues to encourage more Alaskans to make donations through Pick. Click. Give.”

One change this year affecting participating organizations is a new 7 percent administrative fee. The fee is meant to replace temporary grant funding, largely from the Rasmuson Foundation, used to get the program going. Organizations will continue to pay a separate $250 filing fee.

Last year, the legislature unanimously created the new fee while also relaxing some requirements.

The sentiment among several local nonprofit officials was that it’s too bad to lose the revenue, but worth the convenience.

Rasmuson President and CEO Diane Kaplan said in a recent blog post that the new fee is a sign of the program’s sustainability and maturity.

Dividends are expected to grow again in 2015. The value of the dividend is based on a rolling, 5-year average of Permanent Fund investment gains and losses.

Full disclosure: KTOO participates in Pick. Click. Give.

Categories: Alaska News

Draft Juneau Economic Plan Released

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:54

Downtown Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Lena LeRay)

Does this list sound familiar?

  • Enhance Essential Infrastructure
  • Build the Senior Economy
  • Attract and Prepare the Next Generation Workforce
  • Recognize and Expand Juneau’s Position as a Research Center
  • Build on Our Strengths
  • Protect and Enhance Juneau’s Role as Capital City
  • Revitalize Downtown
  • Promote Housing Affordability and Availability

Those are the eight broad initiatives discussed in the draft Juneau Economic Plan, developed by the McDowell Group and Sheinberg Associates for the Juneau Assembly. The plan is intended to guide the capital city’s financial future for the next decade. Most of the initiatives and specific goals discussed in the plan have been city priorities for years.

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“We are in pretty good shape as community economically,” says Jim Calvin with the McDowell Group.

“(We have) relatively high per capita and household incomes, and strong visitor industry, strong mining industry. We have a lot of great assets to build on,” Calvin says. “So I think we’re coming at this from a position of strength as a community, which is certainly better than venturing into economic development when you’re in recession or otherwise struggling.”

Each initiative discussed in the plan includes specific goals or objectives for city officials to work on. Some of those are long-discussed city priorities as well: A second bridge to Douglas Island, expanding the availability of childcare and increasing the number of starter homes to name a few.

Calvin says these issues have long been barriers to economic growth in Juneau.

“Housing is a case in point,” he says. “It’s really a fundamental, underlying foundation for Juneau’s economy, and we at the moment have a housing market that’s acting as a constraint on economic development.”

The draft economic plan was released Wednesday on the web. Calvin will present details to the Juneau Assembly on Monday.

The specifics shouldn’t come as a shock to the Assembly members, who’ve been receiving periodic updates on the project for almost a year. Mayor Merrill Sanford says the next step is to adopt the plan and implement its recommendations.

“There’s a lot of good goals and a lot of good objectives,” Sanford says. “We’re going to have to prioritize them and figure out which ones we need to do first.”

Sanford thinks the $100,000 the city spent on the plan was worth it.

“It just puts everything into perspective and says, ‘Assembly members, here are the things, some of the things that you’ve been working on diligently, trying to get accomplished.’ It backs those up and supports them. And then it’s given us a couple of other avenues to go down to get to an end result,” Sanford says.

The mayor says the Assembly hopes to adopt the plan by the end of February.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Centenarians In National Photo Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:52

Photographer Danny Goldfield shows centenarian Henry Neligan some apps on his smartphone while talking at the Ketchikan Indian Community cafeteria.

A New York photographer wants to create portraits of a 100-year-old man and a 100-year-old woman from each of the 50 states. He’s calling the project “To Live 10,000 years,” and he recently checked a couple hundred of those years off his list during a trip to Ketchikan.

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Danny Goldfield thought that Alaska would be the most difficult state to find centenarians, especially a man. But, it turned out to be pretty easy. Goldfield knew someone from Alaska, and one connection is all you really need in a state where everyone is closely connected.

So, he sent an email, his friend made a call, and there you have it.

“It was kind of amazing that the first day of the project, that I had a lead, at least, for what was going to be the hardest subject to find: A man in Alaska who is over 100,” he said.

Henry Neligan. Photo by Danny Goldfield

That 100-year-old man is Henry Neligan, an Alaska Native who also is a veteran of the World War II-era Alaska Territorial Guard.

Neligan eats lunch almost every day at the Ketchikan Indian Community cafeteria. Goldfield joined him there for soup, salad and sandwiches, as well as conversation and, of course, photographs.

Conversation is part of the process. Goldfield said he’s naturally curious about people, and enjoys talking with each of his subjects.

“I don’t really have much of an agenda or questions that I need answered,” he said. “I’m just happy to be with them and wait and hear what they have to offer, what they have to stay and let their stream of consciousness inform the conversation. It’s the same way with the photography. I don’t have any expectations of what kind of images I’m going to get. I just wait and let things happen and try to make it as natural as possible. In a perfect situation, I’m almost invisible.”

Goldfield said he started this project in part because his own parents are getting older. That made him think about aging in the United States, so he decided to focus his lens on the growing community of older Americans.

It’s early days still for Goldfield’s project, which he expects will take about two years to complete. Before coming to Ketchikan, he photographed centenarians in Maryland, Connecticut and New Hampshire, and after Alaska, Goldfield planned some more West Coast stops.

This has been a learning experience for Goldfield. He said that before starting this project, he had a pretty bleak view of what it was like to be an older American. Now, though, he has a different picture of that world.

“There’s a lot of people out there looking out for the elders in our communities and it’s really been actually more encouraging than discouraging, which is nice, right?” he said.

Goldfield acknowledged that his project probably leads him to seniors who are well cared for.

Margaret McCombs. Photo by Danny Goldfield.

Another lesson learned is that the senior community is a woman’s world.

“You know, 80 percent of centenarians are women, most older adults are women,” he said. “It’ll be a daughter, inevitably, that’s caring for an elder in a family. A lot of people working in different organizations are women. So, sometimes you hear that ‘the politics of gender. It’s a man’s world.’ Well, I have found a world that is definitely a woman’s world and it’s the world of older adults.”

Speaking of women, Goldfield was able to find an Alaska woman in Ketchikan to photograph, as well: 107-year-old Margaret McCombs, who lives at the Ketchikan Pioneers Home.

Goldfield’s photographs of 100-year-old men and women can be seen online at tolive10000years.com. Goldfield also shares his images through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Alaska News

MEA Eklutna Plant In Testing Phase

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:35

 Yellow smoke emitted Monday by the new Matanuska Electric Association power plant in Eklutna is worrying some nearby residents.

According to MEA spokeswoman Julie Estey, the smoke is temporary and non- harmful. Estey says the smoke is a byproduct of installation and tests of the emission control system at the new power plant, which is expected to be completely on -line by the end of March.

“Our commissioning process at our new power plant had some yellow – tinged exhaust being emitted yesterday, and that was simply us fine -tuning our emissions control devices. They are called SCR devices, and the basically scrub the exhaust as it comes out of the stacks.”

The exhaust from the engines is part of the commissioning process. Tests are going on to fine- tune the devices that scrub nitrous oxide from the plant’s exhaust. The plant is designed to operate completely on natural gas, with diesel capability as backup.

“What that requires is a certain level of ammonia, aqueous ammonia, being injected into that system, and as the technicians were fine – tuning that amount aqueous ammonia to inject the chemical reaction was tingeing the exhaust yellow. And that was operating on diesel, now typically, our engines will run on natural gas, but we do want to test the full spectrum and range of their performance and so we were making sure that we could get that tuning done on diesel as well.”

Estey says the smoke was held in place by a temperature inversion, and that the smoke could return, off and on, during the commissioning phase, which will last for the next four to six weeks.

“All ten engines have now been run, and they are going through a battery of tests. Our goal is by January 15 to have four engines up and running completely and sending full output onto the grid.”

 

MEA plans to have all ten engines at the plant operating by the end of March.

The new,  $324 million, Eklutna Generation Station started operations this month to provide power for MEA’s roughly 66,000 customers in Eagle River and the Matanuska Valley.

MEA has an interim contract with Chugach Electric to purchase power for the plant until the end of March. MEA and Cook Inlet energy producer Hilcorp signed an agreement in 2013 to provide natural gas for the Eklutna plant through March of 2018. The gas will be delivered through an existing Enstar pipeline.

Categories: Alaska News

Illegal Dumping On State Land Draws Prosecution, Fines

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:27

Even in the grainy, black and white surveillance camera photo, the three young men are obviously in their twenties, and are ready to dump an old washer and dryer out of their small truck in the Goose Bay State Game Refuge parking lot.  The three were caught on camera breaking the law.   Joe Meehan, statewide coordinator for the refuge program, says the three then used the appliances for target practice, further polluting state property.

“And that’s just repeating this whole cycle of dumping garbage and lead contamination. We’re going to keep on top of it. We’re not going to tolerate it. The users of the Refuge don’t want it to continue and we are going to try to stop it as best we can by continuing to clean up and by catching and prosecuting people when we can catch them. “

Meehan says when the trio are located, possible fines of up to 10 thousand dollars and up to a year of jail time await them, under Fish and Game law.

“Yeah, it’s been a long time problem. It’s been going on out there at Goose Bay for decades. It kind of became the culture of use for people to drag their old refrigerators, tvs, computers, couches, furniture, stolen vehicles, junk vehicles, bring them out there and target practice with them and then just leave all their garbage behind.”

Since 2010, the state has spent one hundred thousand dollars cleaning up Goose Bay. With the help of the Alaska National Guard, about 107 Tons of debris has been removed including about 75 vehicles, 40 car batteries and other hazardous materials. Recent cleanup efforts have aimed to mitigate lead deposits that remain in the refuge from years of target shooting.

“We ran into the same problem in the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. That people just get accustomed to doing it. It’s where they go to dispose of their garbage, it’s where they go to target shoot. And if we can clean it up, fix it up and attract people to go in there and use this for legitimate activities, like hunting and fishing and bird watching and photography, eventually, you’ll displace that illegal activity.  I’d like to think that we are changing people’s types of use and that they are not doing that illegal behavior, but unfortunately a lot of times I think we are just displacing it and sending it elsewhere.”

This week, a twenty year old Wasilla man, Ian Beall, was fined one thousand dollars for dumping two truck loads of roofing material at Goose Bay State Game Refuge. He must also serve 20 hours of community service.  Beall was easily traced through evidence gathered by refuge officials, and he pleaded guilty in December. 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s New U.S. Senator Takes the Oath

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 16:17

Sen. Dan Sullivan, with his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, thanks Vice President Joe Biden after a ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol.

“I was talking to Julie, I said, ‘All right, send this to all our Alaska supporters.’ (It’s a) long way to go, pretty expensive airline ticket, (I thought) maybe 20 or 30 Alaskans would come. And I think at last count we had well over 200 Alaskans!” Sullivan said, to hoots and applause.

Alaskan guests included Gov. Bill Walker, and state legislators Click Bishop, Lynn Gattis and Bill Stoltze. Alaska Political consultants Art and April Hackney mingled with D.C. strategists like Carl Forti and Mike Dubke. Former Attorney General Gregg Renkes attended, as did developer Bob Penney and Washington lobbyists with long ties to the Alaska delegation, including Duncan Smith and David Russell. Sullivan’s parents came, along with his brother Frank Sullivan, CEO of RPM International, the paint company founded by the family. Sullivan said he had too many relatives in the room to name them all.

“I’ve got a million cousins and nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters, and sisters-in-laws and brothers-in-laws,” he said, adding that the Alaskans would surely bump into a Sullivan relative or two in the Capitol corridors, or in the dinners and receptions to come.

After the official swearing in, the new senator went back to the Capitol for another swearing-in, also with Vice President Biden, but this one for the cameras in the ornate Old Senate Chamber. It was one senator at a time, with each family gathered ‘round. The procession ran long as Biden kissed every baby, congratulated the elderly, and signed family Bibles. When the freshman Senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner, came up, Biden called Gardner’s grandma on a cell phone. (She said she couldn’t talk because she was watching TV to see her grandson get sworn in as a U.S. Senator.) Sullivan, when it was his turn, approached with his teenage daughters.

“This is Megan, this is Isabella, this Laurel,” Sullivan said, by way of introduction. “This is the Vice President of the United States.

Alaskans mingled with Sullivan relatives at a reception in the Russell Senate Office Building.

“Oh My God,” Biden said, conveying his admiration as the girls pulled off a perfectly formal how-do-you-do.

Biden joked to Sullivan that, with such beauties at home, he better have a good fence.

“Oh, I got concertina wire,” said the senator.

Earlier, in the real Senate chamber, as senators filtered in. Sullivan found his desk and shook hands with new Republican colleagues. He spoke briefly to Sen. John McCain, and had a longer chat with Sen. Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, which Sullivan will serve on. Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigned for Sullivan in Alaska, came by to say hello. Outside, in the corridor, Sullivan wasn’t letting it go to his head.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “There’s an element there where you’ve seen some of these important figures for a good part of a your life and you’re very honored to be able to serve with them.”

As a freshman with the lowest seniority, Sullivan’s desk in the Senate is not in the chamber’s power spot. It’s on an outer edge, third row in, next to Iowa’s new senator, Joni Ernst. Still, it’s the United States Senate, so it’s one of the most powerful seats in the country, and therefore the world.

Categories: Alaska News

Aleut Enterprises To Pay Over $1 Million In Adak Fuel Spill Settlement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 12:09

Aleut Enterprise will pay more than $1 million to settle criminal charges and cover damages from a fuel spill on Adak.

The spill took place back in January 2010. A tanker was unloading fuel at a facility operated by Adak Petroleum – a subsidiary of Aleut Enterprise, which is owned by the Aleut Corporation.

The receiving tank and a secondary containment system overflowed, spilling 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel into nearby Helmet Creek. From there, it flowed into Sweeper Cove – and into Adak’s small boat harbor.

The spill took almost a year to clean up. Just about 5,000 gallons of fuel were recovered. After an investigation by state and federal authorities, Alaska’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals filed a criminal case in 2013.

Prosecutor Carole Holley says that Aleut Enterprise has been fully cooperative. That’s why the state agreed to drop criminal charges and pursue a $500,000 civil penalty instead – the maximum allowable under state law.

“Our goal is to make sure that the environment is protected, that we conserve our resources, and that companies really take their obligations and their responsibilities to the state seriously,” Holley said. “And Aleut [Enterprise] did so, in this case.”

In addition to their civil penalty, Aleut Enterprise will pay another $200,000 to improve their environmental compliance programs around the state. Besides Adak, the company also has a fuel facility in Cold Bay.

Aleut Enterprise has already agreed to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to cover environmental assessments and monitoring at the spill site.

Holley says state prosecutors have also reached a settlement with the former fuel facility manager in Adak. Michael Baker was present the day of the spill.

He’s pleaded guilty to violating his company’s oil discharge plans and failing to test overflow detection equipment. Baker will pay a $2,000 fine and serve 40 hours of community service.

Holley says that Baker will do that work at an environmental organization near his new home in Florida.

Neither Baker nor Aleut Enterprise could be reached for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Hospital Cuts Ties With Former CEO, Moves Toward Transition

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 09:54

The hospital classroom fills for the board’s noon meeting. Staffers urged transparency as the board moves forward. “A lot of what’s happened has been a mystery to us,” said one. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka Community Hospital has an interim CEO. The hospital board named Chief Nursing Officer Raine Clarke to the post at a special meeting on Monday (1-5-15). The term of Clarke’s service is not known at the moment. What is known, however, is that former CEO Jeff Comer will not be receiving anything more than his paycheck for his work through last Friday, as Sitka’s embattled hospital struggles to balance its books and find direction.

Raine Clarke is at the top of the duty roster to serve as CEO when the regular hospital CEO is absent — regardless of whether it’s a planned absence. This is by-the-book hospital policy.

Municipal attorney Robin Koutchak nevertheless urged the hospital board to give Clarke the nod formally, even if it was on a very short-term basis. The hospital board also liked the idea of rotating other members of the hospital administration into the CEO role, as has been standard practice.

Jeff Comer speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in November 2013, prior to disclosures about the hospital’s financial straits. (KCAW Photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Koutchak said that right now a team really couldn’t serve as CEO .

“My caution is: You really need somebody in charge of the ship.”

So the board settled on Clarke, and there was some comfort in following established procedures to arrive at that decision.

This is board chair Celeste Tydingco.

“We’ve already got policies in place. This isn’t a huge emergency right now. We do have things that we’ve already established that are working. But let’s meet real soon. Let’s get a plan together very, very quickly and make a good plan, and not just a knee-jerk plan.”

To help, the city of Sitka is providing the support of municipal administrator Mark Gorman, chief administrative officer Jay Sweeney, and municipal attorney Robin Koutchak. Member Lori Hart thought that between the hospital board, hospital staff, and municipal staff, some kind of transition plan could be developed in about three weeks.

The transition will not involve Jeff Comer, who became CEO of Sitka Community Hospital in October, and handed in his resignation around New Year’s. Comer vacated his hospital-owned apartment on Sunday, January 4, turned in his keys, rental car, and laptop, and departed Sitka for Phoenix, Arizona, according to Koutchak.

Sitka’s attorney wanted to clear up any misconception about whether Comer would entitled to a severance package worth two months of his $185,000 salary.

She read from an email Comer sent to board members the day before the meeting.

“He says: Per Section 7a of my Employment Agreement the Board must pay me for 60 days. That’s not what that section says in his contract. So if you all could look at his contract, and go to that section. 7a states that he is to give 60 days notice. It doesn’t say we’re to pay him. It says he’s to give us 60 days notice.”

In his email, Comer agrees to remain available to work telephonically from Arizona to support the hospital during the transition. Koutchak felt that didn’t fulfill his employment contract. Furthermore, there’s the alleged assault.

Comer failed to appear for a scheduled meeting with the assembly on January 2, saying — through a statement — that he had been attacked and beaten on a local trail that afternoon, and feared for his safety.

Koutchak felt it was best to move on.

“He gave us his resignation letter dated December 30, and then on Friday he really, really let everyone know by way of the assembly meeting that he was gone, and Sunday he was on a plane. So I think we’re really safe in saying Friday was his last day. Pay him up through Friday, let it go.”

But members Hans von Rekowski and Ann Wilkinson were unsure. Von Rekowski expressed concern about contracts and other work that Comer had in progress, and which might be difficult for someone else to pick up. Wilkinson wondered if the board should postpone accepting Comer’s resignation until they were satisfied that he had left things in order.

Koutchak thought that was unrealistic.

“Ann, I think he’s gone. Elvis has left the building!” (Laughter…)

During public testimony, the hospital board felt some heat — both real and figurative — from the 60 staff and members of the public packed into the hospital’s classroom space. There was sentiment that the board was too dependent on the services of the headhunting firm B.E. Smith in hiring Comer, when a simple Google search would have shown that Comer had jumped often between jobs.

Physician Richard Wien was clearly disappointed in Comer. He urged the board toward accountability and action.

“Real, material damage has been caused to this hospital. How is that so? Well just a couple of examples: I hear nurses are applying to SEARHC. Do you know how hard nurses are to get? I heard that the two mid-levels (physicians) who were coming here were not going to come here or sign contracts because they heard of the financial issues related to this hospital. And it goes on and on and on. When a professional has a job to do, they roll their sleeves up and do it!”

Wien recommended putting a physician on the board. That idea was seconded by member of the public Owen Kindig, who wanted the board to look beyond traditional models of hospital governance. “This is a watershed moment for Sitka,” he said.

There was also a sense of community in the room, and a willingness to work toward a solution. Members of the hospital finance department said that an audit would show that the numbers may not be as bad as Comer had indicated. The mood compelled assembly member Ben Miyasato to step forward and remind hospital staffers that they will come out the other side. “You will weather this,” he said.

Note: Sitka police are soliciting the public’s help regarding the alleged assault of Jeff Comer, which reportedly occurred last Friday at about 1 PM near the bridge on the lower part of Herring Cove Trail. Anyone with helpful information about Comer’s assailants — reportedly a man and a woman — are asked to call police at 747-3245.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Aniak Infant Death

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-06 09:48

An infant was found dead Sunday morning in the village of Aniak, reportedly after sleeping on the couch with her mother.

An Alaska State trooper report said officers, volunteer fire and EMS crews responded to a home after a report that the infant wasn’t breathing. They tried resuscitate the girl but were unsuccessful. The 5-month-old was transported to a clinic where she was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Troopers said it appears the mother fell asleep with the child on the couch around 2:30 am. A relative stopped by the house after 7 and woke the mother, who discovered her child was not breathing.

Last month in Emmonak a one-year-old girl died in similar circumstances. A trooper report said that baby stopped breathing after sleeping on the couch with her father, who had been drinking that night.

Experts say bed sharing, especially on sofas or couches, raises the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, often by the larger person accidentally suffocating the child during the night.

Categories: Alaska News

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