Alaska News

Shell Rigs Leave Dutch for Chukchi, To Wait

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 16:06

MSV Fennica (Photo: Shell)

Shell is still moving its ships and equipment into the Arctic, even as one of its icebreakers prepares to head back south for repairs. The unexpected crack in the hull of the ship called the Fennica has added a measure of uncertainty to the start of the short Arctic drilling season.

This week both of Shell’s Arctic drill rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer, left Dutch Harbor to begin the thousand-mile trip to the Chukchi Sea. Shell Spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the plan, for now, is to get there and wait.

“The rigs, with their associated support vessels, will connect to several anchors that were recently staged over Shell’s Chukchi prospect,” she said.

Shell is waiting for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to decide on the last permits the company needs, the applications to drill. Now that the Fennica is out of the picture for an unknown period, the wait is a bit more fraught. The ship is one of Shell’s ice handlers. It also carries the capping stack, a key piece of response equipment if there’s a blowout. Baldino says federal regulators will decide how much work Shell can do in the absence of the icebreaker.

“It’s our view that drilling can proceed, so in other words we would begin a top hole,” she said, referring to a partial well that stops above the petroleum layer.” But of course we’re going to comply with our permits, and work within the framework of our permits.”

Ten environmental groups have written a joint letter to the Interior Department, saying Shell shouldn’t be allowed to conduct any exploration in the Chukchi without the Fennica.

“All of the plans that Shell submitted and the government approved are premised on the availability of two primary icebreakers to protect the fleet,” said Michael LeVine, Juneau-based Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “The Fennica is one of them, and the government can’t grant approval to Shell to operate without both icebreakers in the Chukchi Sea.”

LeVine also says the accident that damaged the Fennica shows Shell is taking unnecessary risks. But as Shell describes it, the short trip on July 3 from Dutch Harbor to the location where the damage occurred does not sound inherently risky. The company says the Fennica was in charted waters with a marine pilot on board when the hull struck something that just wasn’t on the chart.

LeVine, though, claims the leased ship was traveling in shallower waters than it had to.

“The choice may have been made by a contractor or a pilot but ultimately those contractors are working for Shell, and it’s Shell that bears responsibility for making sure that all of its operations are safe and responsible,” he said.

The last time Shell drilled off Alaska’s shores, in 2012, one of its rigs ran aground, capping a series of other mishaps. LeVine notes that federal investigators faulted Shell then for failing to see and mitigate risk, and for not properly overseeing the actions of its contractors.

Greg Julian, press secretary for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, says it’s not clear yet when the agency will decide on the applications to drill or how the missing icebreaker affects the plan.

“We’re still evaluating what might be possible for Shell to do until the Fennica can return and at this point it’s not yet determined,” he said.

He said BSEE Alaska Region Director Mark Fesmire flew to Dutch Harbor last week to inspect the capping stack aboard the Fennica and found it is undamaged.









Categories: Alaska News

Bust a move: International duo brings breakdancing to Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 14:01

A visiting breakdance duo has been teaching Juneau residents some new moves. They’re featured in a documentary that’s playing in town over the weekend about hip hop culture and social change in Uganda.

About 12 people ranging from toddlers and teens to adults are learning the fundamentals of breakdance at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

“Breakdancing is one of the elements of hip-hop. It’s the way you use your body,” says Fahad Kiryowa, the dance teacher who lives just outside Kampala in Uganda.

Breakdancing is often characterized as being low to the ground. There’s spins and flips. It’s a full body workout.

Fahad Kiryowa shows a class how to master the basic moves of breakdance. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

But Kiryowa is taking it slow with his new students.

He’s here in Alaska teaching with Eric Egesa.

Juneau-born Rachelle Sloss convinced the pair to come up to her hometown. She’s lived in Kampala for several years and became fast friends with the two through Breakdance Project Uganda.

“By the end of my first week there, I was totally sold on this place with so many great dancers and this great community,” she says.

The dancers just attended a youth leadership camp in Colorado.

“And the camp funded their international flights. Then they were here and we thought, ‘Let’s go to Alaska,’” she says.

Egesa started dancing when he was a kid. He says it took some effort to convince his parents that breaking was a good thing.

“Anything football or any sports, back in Uganda when children join anything, they just go into drugs,” he says.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The director of Breakdance Project Uganda came to visit Egesa’s house to talk with his parents. It’s a nonprofit that offers free dance lessons and mentorship to at-risk youth.

Egesa’s parents said yes.

Kiryowa says breaking entered his life at the right time.

“I couldn’t listen to my parents. I was chilling with the gangs because that’s what I see people doing,” he says. “So I was just like that. Stealing, that was one of the things I always did.”

But he didn’t want to go down that path.

“When I started doing breakdance, they said if you love this you have to quit the other one.  It was at first hard for me, but when I got into dance I loved it. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m stopping this.’”

After a while, people started to notice a change in him.

“My mom was like ‘Wow. Are you still on drugs?’ I was like, ‘No.’ I changed my life, dance changed my life,” he says.

When he’s home in Uganda, Kiryowa says people see him as a leader. The dancers are looking forward to sharing their stories of Alaska back home.

Categories: Alaska News

Aniak Fire Base Battles Stubborn Fires

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 12:09

Incident Commander Keith Dunn oversees several middle Kuskokwim fires. (Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Nearly a million acres have burned in southwest Alaska this year. 85 fires are still ablaze in the region. The middle Kuskokwim base of Aniak is the nerve center for a fleet of helicopters and other aircraft, shuttling supplies and crews working to stop fires before they reach communities and cabins. As the season progresses, teams are settling into Aniak for the summer.

At the Aniak Airport, pallets are stacked high with worn-down pulaskis, the wildland firefighter’s combination axe and digging tool ready to be flown out and refurbished. Helicopters buzz overhead to resupply crews working at one of the massive wildfires in the Southwest Alaska region. In a tent, walls are plastered with maps and tables covered with walkie talkies. That’s where Incident Commander Keith Dunn oversees the middle Kuksokwim operation.

“Stuff’s burning where it shouldn’t be burning because of the dry conditions. This is an above average season,” said Dunn.

He’s coordinating efforts for 150,000 acres that have burned, including the North Aniak, Whitefish Lake, Mission Creek, and Ophir Creek fires that started with lightening storms last month. He says fire managers haven’t seen a season like this in a decade. 300 fires are still burning, across the state. It comes on the heels of a dry and unseasonably warm winter during which the Kuskokwim River partially broke up.

On this day, six crews are based out of Aniak, totaling more than 100 firefighters. They stop briefly to eat and sleep at the school while they pass through. In the field, they camp at their wilderness sites.

The local prep work has been done: Aniak has pumps and a firebreak in place, along with communities like Lower and Upper Kalskag, Chuathbaluk and Crooked Creek. Dunn says they have the people now to attack the western side of the Aniak fire.

“We’re still hitting that hard trying to tuck that in. Our main threat to the west is all the structures along the river and Kalskag, we’re really focusing on that, making sure we’re getting it tucked in on that end,” said Dunn.

They don’t want fires to reignite and threaten villages. When the state lit up with hundreds of wildfires, managers were forced to triage protection of the vast region. They couldn’t actually fight the fires in remote spots unless they directly threatened communities. That changed once they got a break from dry weather.

“I see us going for a little while longer, the moisture definitely has helped us here. We have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of hot stuff out there with a lot of real estate to cover. We’re going to keep setting priorities and bumping around with our crews,” said Dunn.

From its pad in the fireweed, a helicopter dangling a 100-foot cable prepares to ferry a load back from the Whitefish Lake fire. Air support supervisor Terry Anderson has been in the business for decades.

“The helicopter is going to lift up and go to a fire with that long line attached to the belly of the ship. We have sling loads: cargo nets full of backhaul. That’s equipment that’s already been used, garbage, old hoses they didn’t use,” said Anderson.

The helicopter base is close to the stacks of hoses, pumps, gas cans, and MRE meals that stand at the ready.

“We can only fight fires if we can get firefighters into them by helicopters, so we do that. Then we support them with fixed wing, prop planes like the Caravans,” said Anderson.

The choppers also drop water on fires. The clock’s always running. On-site maintenance teams work overnight to keep the helicopters at top performance.

The exact damage toll of the fires is still being determined. One family lost a fish camp and their traditional grave site across the river. Six miles below Aniak at Crow Village, David Phillips recalled coming back from a camping trip and getting pushed back from his home by the overpowering smoke.

“It was just smokey and close to the house. It was kind of scary. The thought of losing my house was scary, we didn’t know what was going to happen there,” said Phillips.

The Native Village of Napaimute loaded a pump and hose on boat, along with some young help to cut a fire break and save the house. The fire got within 100 yards. In June, the region scrambled to send out two planeloads of people with respiratory problems, the very young and old to stay out of the thick smoke.

Bob Colliver has been through emergencies over the years. He’s lived in Aniak since 1960 and was the first mayor.

“Everyone who’s anybody knows that if it’s an emergency, they have to tighten their belts, hook up their brain and get with it. And they do it. There’s something inbuilt in a human being such that they automatically do the right thing in a real emergency,” said Colliver.

While the Kuskokwim Rriver and Aniak Slough protect two sides of the community, Mayor Bill Wilson knows that fire can come from any direction.

“As a pilot, I’ve noticed many, lots of times we come in and there’s a strong south wind. It could happen, it’s a very possible thing to see the very same thing we saw across the river come in our back door. So we want to be prepared for that,” said Wilson.

After 2015’s big scare, Aniak doesn’t want to be caught off guard with the next big fire. There’s now a five-foot buffer protecting the town. Aniak is partnering with fire officials to mark off and make a much bigger line. They plan to clear a thirty-foot buffer and then thin out another 30 feet. That will buy them precious time for the next time wildfires sweep through the Kuskokwim.

Categories: Alaska News

Mississippi flag to be removed from Juneau street display

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 12:03

After a month long dispute, the Mississippi flag on Egan Drive is coming down. Former Assemblyman Marc Wheeler received a permit earlier this morning to remove the flag this weekend.

Wheeler says he spoke with Friends of the Flags organizer Judy Ripley and longtime volunteer Jim Carroll, who said the group decided to allow the flag change.

Wheeler says he’s very happy about the decision.

“I just feel really grateful to the Friends of the Flags and really proud of my community,” Wheeler said. “It’s great to be standing with cities like Jackson, Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Grenada, Mississippi , the communities around the country that are refusing to fly this flag.”

The Department of Transportation issued the permit as it has authority over the right of way along Egan Drive where the flags are posted.

Wheeler says he will also try to fix the California state flag, which was blown off earlier this summer.

The Mississippi flag will be replaced with the Magnolia flag, the state’s first official flag.

Categories: Alaska News

Variability of Alaska’s salmon runs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 12:00

Sockeye salmon. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game photo)

Salmon runs in Alaska have been defying expectations this season, in both good and bad ways. Why has it been so difficult to meet escapement for some runs while seeing bounty in others? From closures on the Kuskokwim to a puny run on the Yukon, salmon fishing in Alaska is changing and the reasons why remain elusive.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish & Game
  • Stephanie Schmidt, fisheries management biologist – Yukon, Alaska Department of Fish & Game
  • Scott Kent, fisheries biologist, Kotzebue & Norton Sound


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

BlueCrest progressing on big plans for Cosmo

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 11:47

A relative newcomer to Cook Inlet’s oil and gas scene is charging ahead with big development plans, which could equate to oil production at 17,000 barrels a day, and the creation of more than 400 jobs.

In the Cosmopolitan Unit off Anchor Point, it appears that the sixth time’s the charm. BlueCrest Energy is full-speed ahead with an ambitious development plan on its enticing prospects at the site.

Larry Burgess, health, safety and environmental manager for the relatively new independent on the Cook Inlet oil and gas scene, said at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce presentation Wednesday that first oil is expected by second quarter of next year.

“Probably sometimes in April of next year, which is very aggressive since there are no buildings on the site or anything right now other than some gravel and some piles that we’re driving right now,” Burgess said.

BlueCrest is the sixth producer to attempt to make good on the Cosmo Unit’s promise, following Penzoil, which discovered the field in the 1960s, ARCO Alaska, which became Phillips, and then ConocoPhillips, Pioneer Natural Resources Alaska and Apache Corporation. BlueCrest and a partner acquired two leases from Pioneer, and BlueCrest picked up three more from Apache in 2013.

And that partner?

“Now, I’m going to mention the partner, but I don’t want anybody to throw anything at me,” Burgess said. “That partner was Buccaneer.”

Following its financial troubles, Buccaneer sold its 25 percent share in the project, making BlueCrest the 100 percent owner. But before its financial implosion and withdrawal from Cook Inlet, Buccaneer drilled a delineation well at the Cosmo Unit that proved quite promising.

“That single well that they drilled through the heart of the formation discovered several different pay zones of which was not known about before,” Burgess said.

The small, privately held, Fort Worth, Texas-based company formed in 2006, and once it became full owner of the Cosmopolitan leases it quickly established an Anchorage office and got to work devising a plan to develop oil reserves found at Cosmo, while also exploring possibilities for the shallower natural gas finds sitting on top of the oil.

“We’ve so far spent well over $100 million, we’re at about $112 million right now on the Cosmo project, with much more to go,” Burgess said.

A 38-acre gravel pad has been constructed about six miles north of Anchor Point, at Mile 151 of the Sterling Highway. BlueCrest would like to drill at least one more delineation well to determine the extent of the reservoir next summer with a jack-up rig. Meanwhile, an onshore drilling rig is under construction in Houston, Texas, and will likely arrive via barge by September or October.

“We’ll drill down and then out, and we’re going to drill out about 2.5 miles offshore, at a total vertical depth of around 7,500 feet,” Burgess said. “Total well length can be up to 25,000 feet, which requires a fairly significantly sized rig onshore to drill. And these are not easy wells to drill, either. They’re about $30 million apiece.”

The potential production at maximum is estimated at 17,000 barrels of oil per day, with the drilling phase lasting five years. The plan is to truck the oil from Anchor Point to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski, at least for the first couple of years while other options are considered. At peak production, that could mean a truck leaving Anchor Point every 45 minutes to an hour.

The construction phase is ramping up now and is expected to employ 200 people through at least next March or April. The drilling phase will see 80 shift workers onsite at any one time — so, 160 jobs there. The operations phase, with the expected life of the field stretching 30 years to about 2046, will employ as many as 70 people.

“So there will be some good employment during the rest of that timeframe and some good short-term employment for local,” Burgess said.

A preliminary project design to extract natural gas has been developed but isn’t being actively pursued by BlueCrest at this point. Still, the plan would be to drill for the gas from two offshore, monopod platforms because the gas zones are too shallow to drill from shore. BlueCrest estimates being able to produce 60 to 70 million cubic feet of gas per day.

But what to do with the gas is the challenge. BlueCrest is discussing a partnership with WesPac Midstream LLC, which is exploring an LNG project to supply communities in Interior Alaska that currently only have diesel fuel.

Transporting the gas is the biggest hurdle. The natural gas distribution system can’t currently accommodate the volume of gas BlueCrest could produce.

“Right now they can accept around 30 million cubic feet a day from us, but Enstar is not the only owner of the pipeline distribution system and there are some constraints to go over that that we would have to overcome,” Burgess said. “BlueCrest would be responsible for putting in compression, probably.”

For now, BlueCrest is plenty busy focusing primarily on Cosmo’s oil.

Categories: Alaska News

Barefoot pastor raising awareness, money for shoes

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 11:41

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

While only part way through his month-long project, Peter Epler has gotten a feel – so to speak – for what many people deal with all the time.

Epler’s bare feet are a little weird in downtown Ketchikan. Most people here and in developed countries around the world don’t think twice about wearing shoes, beyond which pair matches which outfit.

Peter Epler, a pastor at Ketchikan Church of the Nazarene, is going barefoot for a month to raise awareness of the need for shoes in third-world countries. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Some places, though, there’s a shortage of affordable shoes, which can be a health and safety hazard.

“(People) walk through dirt roads, sewer systems, manure, sharp rocks,” he said. “Kids get cuts on their feet and infections because of what they walk through, so they can lose their feet or die from the infection. So, shoes tend to save lives in third-world countries.”

Epler is a pastor at Ketchikan’s Church of the Nazarene. That church and other Nazarene churches in Alaska are working together to raise money for an international charity that provides special shoes for kids in developing countries.

The group is called Because International, and the shoes they provide are made to last five years.

“They grow five sizes in five years, so roughly kindergarten through fifth grade,” he said. “And they’re working on a second pair that will take them up to ninth grade.”

And will they actually last five years?

“Yeah, they’ll last five years,” he said. “The rubber on the bottom is made from the rubber you make street tires from. And then they used high-quality leather and industrial snaps. So, these things are very sturdy. It’s multiple iterations. This is the final product they put out. They’ve been working on it for years.”

Many churches involved in the campaign are raising money through their congregations. Epler is taking it a little further in hopes of involving more community members. So, to raise awareness, he’s pledged to go without shoes for a month.

Peter Epler holds a pair of shoes developed to “grow” with a young person’s foot for about five years. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

About a week into it, Epler has had some new-to-him tactile experiences.

“I’ve got a blog that I’m kind of keeping track of my own experiences: Things I’ve stepped in that you take for granted with shoes,” he said. “I’ve stepped in unidentifiable wet substances on a hot, sunny day, I’ve stepped in dog poop. I’ve stepped in gum. That was not my favorite. There was a sticky, warm quality to it that was distasteful.”

The point of going barefoot is to attract attention, and hopefully engage people in conversation. Then Epler can talk about the campaign and hand out cards with information about how to donate.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes, not so much.

“Most people give me the once-over stare, like ‘Who’s the crazy guy without the shoes?’” he said.

That was the case as Epler and I walked through downtown Ketchikan. He received a lot of furtive glances.

“Yeah, the glances go from head to toe and they kind of linger, and they look away,” he said. “I tend to wait until someone leans a little in for the conversation before I’m like, ‘Here’s the card and information.’ Because I don’t want to creep people out. It’s enough that I’m the barefoot guy.”

Epler said the campaign is, indeed, raising money, although it’s difficult to say how much in total. People in his church have given about $600, but the cards he’s handing out direct people to not only the church’s web page, but also to Because International’s main site. He said that’s a way to reach more people.

“Some folks might not be religious and might not feel comfortable donating through a church and that’s fine,” he said. “They can still go to and donate. “

Epler isn’t the only one going barefoot for the cause. He said a few other people in his church, adults and kids, are spreading the word, too.

“I think kids are the key to this,” he said. “They can relate very much to other kids and they have this unashamed ability to buy into an idea and advertise it quite well, because they’re bolder. They can do a lot of good. Kids can make a lot of difference. And because this project is for kids, I think getting kids involved is the best way to go.”

With several weeks left in the campaign, Epler predicts his feet will become sturdier. And, so far, it’s not been a bad experience.

“I’m feeling more connected to the world around me, which I didn’t expect: sticky things, smooth things, soft things, temperature changes, from going inside to outside. These are things I was completely unaware of before,” he said.

So, Epler’s barefoot campaign is raising a different kind of awareness for himself, along with helping the public learn more about a global need.

Here are links to the Ketchikan Church of the Nazarene campaignEpler’s blog, and Because International.

Categories: Alaska News

Confederate flag controversy prompts deeper look at racism in Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 11:35

Nearly 200 people have signed a letter asking for the removal of the Mississippi flag downtown because it features an image of the Confederate flag.

After dust settles from the controversy, the people spearheading the removal of the flag are unsure what’s next in combating racism in the state’s capital.

Latarsha McQueen, secretary of Juneau’s Black Awareness Association speaks about her decision to support removing the flag. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

“What do we do from here? Because I don’t think anyone has the answer,” Secretary of Juneau’s Black Awareness Association Latarsha McQueen says. “Once we’re able to be honest with ourselves and with each other, then we can move forward and do something about it, but I don’t know where we go from here.”

McQueen is among the nearly 200 people to sign a letter asking for the removal of the Mississippi flag in downtown Juneau.

The flag, which features Confederate imagery in its upper left corner, is a part of an all-states flags display organized each year by a volunteer group called Friends of the Flags.

Controversy surrounding the flag began a month ago, after the massacre of church parishioners at a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

McQueen, who grew up less than two hours from the church, says she’s dealt with racism her entire life and has become desensitized to it.

Recently McQueen, former Juneau Assemblyman Marc Wheeler and the local Rev. Phil Campbell discussed their decision to call for the flag’s removal.

Former Assemblyman Marc Wheeler discusses views on the Confederate flag. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

For Wheeler, it’s imperative to understand the flag’s significance, especially in relation to violence against blacks.

“Somebody told a story about seeing that flag around the head of a person that was hanged. So if you can’t imagine that, what that must be like, maybe you shouldn’t talk about it,” Wheeler says.

Prompted by the events in Charleston, they believe removing the flag is a step forward.

But local writer Ishmael Hope says that while he supports the flag’s removal, it sidesteps the larger problem — racism in Juneau is nothing new.

For Hope, the flag controversy looks at an overt example of racism, without addressing deeper issues.

“When you have terrorism in Black churches, it doesn’t ignite a civil rights movement, it starts a national conversation about a flag,” Hope says.

The Rev. Phil Campbell, of Northern Light United Church, talks about the importance of acknowledging one’s privilege, as a step toward ending racism. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

Juneau’s largest minority populations are Alaska Natives and Filipinos.

Hope, who’s Iñupiaq and Tlingit, says more open discussions about racism and privilege is a part of the solution.

Campbell, a supporter of the Black Awareness Association and member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, says that it’s never too late to start the discussion.

“I don’t think there’s ever a wrong time to do the right thing, so now is the moment we have,” Campbell says.

Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford says he will let the issue play out on its own.

“I went off to war when I was young, and fought for our flag and fought for our country. All of those flags are a part of our country, whether it be good or bad,” Sanford says.

In an email sent to a supporter of removing the flag, Friends of the Flags organizer Judy Ripley says while she understood the horrific attacks in Charleston, the mission of the group is to display the official states’ flags.

Ripley encouraged the woman to write the governor of Mississippi.

Categories: Alaska News

Next state budget proposal will include revenue package

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 11:05

(Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The head of the governor’s budget team urged local leaders on Thursday to get involved in the discussion of the state’s precarious fiscal future.

“This is not a problem on the margin, this is a real structural issue for Alaska,” said Pat Pitney, director of the governor’s Office of Management and Budget. “So let people know to learn more about it. There will have to be changes.”

She was addressing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

She says the governor intends to submit a budget in December that will include a revenue package. Options under consideration include various taxes and using some portion of Permanent Fund investment earnings to fund state government.

“But it really, it takes that legislative process to go through it, so tell your legislators here, ‘Yes, it’s time to do something,’ and tell them what it is you want them to do,” she said.

Without major fiscal changes, the administration anticipates consecutive years of multibillion dollar revenue deficits due to low oil prices, a decline in oil production and an increasing demand for state services.

Categories: Alaska News

It’s Official: Obama to Visit Anchorage Aug. 31

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 10:56

Photo: White House

The White House announced today that President Obama will visit Alaska at the end of next month. On Aug. 31 Obama will visit Anchorage to address a climate-change conference the State Department is putting on called GLACIER. According to the White House, the conference will convene foreign ministers from Arctic and non-Arctic nations, along with scientists, policymakers and Arctic stakeholders. The aim is to discuss how the Arctic is changing, what it means for the rest of the world and how to address the challenges.

This will be Obama’s first trip to Alaska, other than a refueling stop at JBER in 2009 that included a speech to the troops. Secretary of State John Kerry told Sen. Lisa Murkowski months ago that he planned to accompany the president, but his travel plans were not included in the White House announcement today. Anchorage was the only location mentioned in the official statement. White House spokesperson Hallie Ruvin says more details will follow in the coming weeks.

Rumors are spreading throughout the state that the president plans to visit one or more communities in Western or Southwestern Alaska. Dillingham mayor Alice Ruby told KDLG this week that Washington staffers told her they were evaluating her city for a possible presidential visit.

Categories: Alaska News

Boy drowns in Ninilchik Harbor

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 10:37

A 4-year-old boy fell Wednesday into Ninilchik Harbor and drowned.

Alaska State Troopers say the child was playing unsupervised in the harbor early Wednesday afternoon and entered the water.

His parents were unloading gear from a fishing boat and started looking for him when they realized he was not with his siblings.

Emergency responders attempted resuscitation for about 45 minutes at the harbor.

He was taken to Central Peninsula Hospital and declared dead just before 5 p.m.

Ninilchik is 38 miles southwest of Kenai.

Categories: Alaska News

Plane lands safely in Seattle after engine catches fire

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 10:36

A Delta Air Lines flight heading from Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta had to make an emergency stop at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after one of its engines caught fire.

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

Airport spokesman Perry Cooper says Flight 2469 landed at 2:24 a.m. Thursday, but the fire was out before the Boeing 767 touched down.

Cooper says the pilots were able to get the problem resolved in the air. Cooper says they reported a fire in the No. 2 engine but said they shut the engine down and put out the blaze with the cold air.

Fire crews stood by when the plane landed, but they were not needed. The passengers were taken to a gate and had their trips rescheduled.

Delta could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Fatal plane crash wreckage awaits removal

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 09:59

A June 25th deadly plane crash in Ketchikan remains under investigation; something the National Transportation Safety Board says could take as long as a year and a half. However, just cleaning up the wreckage is also taking a while, begging the question, who’s responsible for it?

NTSB investigator Brice Banning examines the wreckage of the sightseeing plane that crashed June 25th in Misty Fjords south of Ketchikan. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s not their problem. The Alaska State Troopers says it’s out of their hands. And while the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad secured the plane to the mountainside, they’re saying it’s no longer up to them.

The DeHavilland DHC-3 that crashed near Misty Fjords National Monument, killing nine, still clings to the side of a rather rocky p lace.

Chris John is with the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He says the squad’s job was to try and rescue anyone who may have survived and make sure the area was safe for NTSB investigators.

“As far as this accident, we are probably done with our involvement. We do sometimes go back out when parts of the wreck are recovered. Our role is usually to make sure it’s a safe situation… it’s pretty rugged up there.”

The investigation is ongoing, but the NTSB says it has nothing to do with plane removal.

So how is this remedied? Just left large piece of twisted metal stuck on a mountainside?

As it turns out, Temsco Helicopters, which originally found the crash site and helped with the rescue mission, has volunteered to help fly the wreck out. Except there’s one problem: the only helicopter big enough to retrieve the aircraft is up north, fighting fires.

This leaves some of the volunteer rescue squad’s ropes and straps, securing the plane, up on the mountain with the mound of metal.  Eric Lunde, another Ketchikan Rescue Squad volunteer, says the weathered equipment will have to be replaced. Lunde says either the Troopers will help refund the  lost items, they will have to ask for grants or, most likely,  KVRS  will have to ask for donations to make sure they’re ready for future missions.

“The state troopers, the state will reimburse us, although the state’s budget isn’t looking very good. In the past, that’s how that’s worked. But a lot of the stuff, we seek grants where we can. Lots of personal donations. Lots of just our membership donates money, sometimes enough. Sometimes we need something; sometimes some of our members will just go buy it.”

While Temsco officials say they still plan on extracting the plane, they won’t guarantee anything until the large helicopter returns from the blazes up North.

Categories: Alaska News

State Lifts Spending Freeze on Susitna-Watana Hydro Project

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 09:48

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 over six million dollars it has left from previous years.

Last week, a memorandum from the state’s Office of Management and Budget lifted the spending freeze on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project instituted by Governor Bill Walker in December. Walker’s order had halted new spending on six projects, including the proposed 735-foot-high dam on the Susitna River.

At the time of the administrative order, the Alaska Energy Authority, the state corporation in charge of Susitna-Watana, said it had around $30 million remaining from previous appropriations. Of that, $6.6 million was unencumbered. The rest was already committed to studies for the proposed megaproject.

Emily Ford, spokeswoman for AEA, says, now that the funds have been freed up, the pre-licensing study process will continue through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We’re just going to be picking up where we left off as part of this Initial Study Report Process. We essentially pushed a big pause button in the middle of that effort by filing for a license abeyance with FERC. So next, what we’ll do is lift that abeyance and resume with the FERC schedule.”

The money that AEA is once-again allowed to spend on Susitna-Watana represents just over three percent of total allocation to the current project proposal to date. Emily Ford says that means there are not currently plans for the type of large-scale research that took place in the Susitna Valley over the last two years.

“The focus and the goal is to preserve the investment that the state’s already made in the project by either wrapping up studies that are near completion or synthesizing data that was collected in the field and making sure that it’s in a usable format.”

After that, it will be up to the legislature and the governor to determine whether additional funds go to Susitna-Watana. AEA estimates the project’s cost at over $5.5 billion, and Emily Ford says that the agency plans to act based on the funding that the state’s fiscal reality allows.

On Thursday, the Talkeetna-based Susitna River Coalition, a group opposed to Susitna-Watana, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Governor Walker’s decision. The Coalition cites criticism by federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, of studies conducted as part of the early phases of the project. Coalition board member Becky Long believes the decision runs contrary to Governor Walker’s stated policy goals, and that Susitna-Watana, if built, would be costly beyond the price tag for construction.

“We have to look at future litigation costs, future mitigation costs, and, in general, the governor has been talking up a lot about fiscal responsibility and fish-first policies. And we think this goes against those policies.”

Becky Long says the Susitna River Coalition is concerned that AEA may not be able to finish the studies already underway without cutting corners, which could lead to litigation.

Now that the fiscal picture has, at least temporarily, cleared, AEA plans to establish a new schedule with federal regulators. That schedule will include public meetings on the Initial Study Report completed last year. AEA’s Emily Ford says those meetings will likely occur in late fall of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

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

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 08:52

A collared dove in the U.K. Photo by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, U.K. Accessed via the Wikimedia Creative Commons.

An invasive species of dove was spotted in King Salmon Tuesday afternoon. It’s the farthest west the Eurasian collared dove has been found in the U.S.

Matthew McFarland was working outside of the inn he co-owns when he heard a whistling from the porch behind him.

“And I heard that noise, that distinctive noise that doves make. So I said ‘Oh, it’s just a dove!’ But then I thought to myself, ‘well, we don’t have doves here,’” McFarland says.

McFarland thought he must be mistaken. But his cousin, who was working nearby, heard it too.

“He poked his head around the corner out and asked if we have doves here. I said, no, we don’t have doves here at all! And he said well that was a dove! So we went around the house and it had flown up and landed on one of the power lines.”

McFarland quickly took a few photos. It was a gray dove, with a big black band across the back of its neck and a straight edge on the bottom of its tail.

He was pretty sure he knew what kind of dove this was – he’d seen them when he lived in Arizona – but he called for backup just in case.

“Yeah, so we got a call from him, and our office is only about 200 meters from that site…. So several of us went out and confirmed the sighting.”

That’s Stuart Fety, a biological technician with Fish and Wildlife in King Salmon.

“It was in fact a Eurasion collared dove, surprisingly enough.”

Fety says this particular species has a long history of moving in where it shouldn’t. It’s native to Europe and Asia, but first became established in the U.S. in 1982.

“…when they escaped from a pet shop in Florida when it was burgled,” Fety says. “And they were first seen in Alaska in 2009 along the Denali Highway… and they’ve kinda rapidly expanded their range.”

Until now, the furthest west the dove had been seen was in Homer, a few weeks ago.

So how can these doves thrive in habitats ranging from Florida to Alaska? Fety says they’re just really good at finding a niche wherever humans live.

“They’re well-adapted to utilizing food put out by people in their feeders and just utilizing resources around urban or developed areas.”

Fety says Fish & Wildlife isn’t too worried about the dove.  Unlike some invasive species, like, say, Chena Slough elodea, or Adak Island rats, he says the Eurasian collared dove doesn’t really threaten native wildlife, and he was planning on leaving it alone.

But McFarland says an ecologist friend told him differently… her recommendation has also been to shoot it, cause it’s invasive. And I was told there’s no season or limit on exotic invasives.

As many a Lower 48 hunter will attest, doves are quite a tasty prey. And whether this dove is a lone wanderer, or a forerunner for a whole new population, birdwatchers in Bristol Bay can keep an eye, an ear, and maybe a shotgun out for this unique visitor.

Categories: Alaska News

White House “Pre-Advance” Team Visits Dillingham

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-17 08:27

A government team will tour Dillingham facilities ahead of a possible Presidential visit later this year.

About a dozen people loaded off a jet bearing an American flag at the Dillingham airport Thursday evening.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

A team from the White House will be in Dillingham this Thursday and Friday to check out the town ahead of a possible visit by President Obama later this year.

Alice Ruby is Mayor of Dillingham:

“We were contacted by some Washington staffers to tell us that it’s possible the President would make a trip to Alaska sometime in the late summer or fall, and that it’s also possible that he might visit some rural communities, and Dillingham had made the list of those communities,” said Ruby. “So a pre-advance team would visit and look at different facilities and meetings and so on.”

Mayor Ruby says the team will visit various facilities, including the airport, the hospital, the school and the campus.

Ruby says she thinks Dillingham may be one of several Alaskan communities receiving such a visit this summer.

A White House spokesperson said they have no official details to share at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, July 16, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-16 17:45

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

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Walker Announces Plan to Expand Medicaid Unilaterally

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After promising to expand the state’s Medicaid program on the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Walker has announced he will sidestep the Legislature to make that happen.

North Slope Mayor Under Investigation for Corruption

Associated Press

The North Slope Borough Assembly has voted to investigate allegations of ethics violations made against Mayor Charlotte Brower.

Dirt Bike Dermatoloy: For Army Medic, Specialty is Adaptability

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Last week the Army announced it’ll be removing more than 2,600 positions from the 4th Brigade Combat Team’s 25th Infantry Division stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Accidental Overdose Suspected In Wainwright Soldier’s Death

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A 23-year-old Alaska-based soldier passed away this week while on leave out of state.

Anchorage Sees Three Indigent Deaths Overnight

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Police Department is investigating an overnight spike in homeless deaths.

Canned Salmon: A New Face on an Old Product

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Despite new ways of marketing and selling salmon, canned fish remains a major product from Alaska’s fisheries.

Alaska Shoppers Greet H&M With Gusto

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

Hundreds waited in line Thursday for global fashion retailer H&M to open its new store in Anchorage. Even as the state feels the squeeze of low oil prices, Alaska shoppers are still keen to lay down their dollars on national brands.

Bethel Democrat to Lead PNWER Arctic Caucus

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Representative Bob Herron, a Democrat from Bethel was elected the chairman of the Arctic Caucus during the 25th summer summit of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER.

K-9 in Training to Combat Juneau’s Heroin Problem

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau Police have a new tool to sniff out a steady flow of heroin and other narcotics entering the city. It’s been about 25 years since the department had a K-9 on staff.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Announces Plan To Expand Medicaid Unilaterally

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-16 17:40

After promising to expand the state’s Medicaid program on the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Walker has announced he will sidestep the Legislature to make that happen.

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Gov. Bill Walker announces his decision to expand Medicaid unilaterally at a press conference at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on Thursday, July 16, 2015. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

WALKER: Today, Alaska becomes the thirtieth state to accept the benefits of Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion had been blocked by key Republican leaders. The Legislature is expected to let the decision stand — even if some don’t like it.

The Thursday announcement felt more like a victory rally than a press conference.

“I think today deserves a high-five, Governor,” said Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor, before doing just that in front of a standing-room crowd.

At least 200 people had gathered at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium office for the event, and the only place where you could find an empty chair was at a reserved table that had more seats than Anchorage has media outlets.

Standing in front of his whole Cabinet, Walker said he wasn’t going to wait any longer for the Legislature to act on Medicaid expansion. His administration had pushed hard for the policy during the regular session, and attempted to get the Legislature to take it up during their first special session — only to see them gavel out and gavel back in with the item removed.

Walker said lawmakers had their chance.

“This is the final option for me. I’ve tried everything else,” said Walker. “And one thing people have to learn about me [is] I never give up.”

Walker explained that the state would accept $150 million in federal funding so single people who are near the poverty line can enroll in the state’s Medicaid program. These are people who are too poor to be eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but not covered in other ways.

His health commissioner, Valerie Davidson, said the decision would have a major impact on about 20,000 Alaskans.

“We have so many hard-working Alaskans who simply don’t have access to health care,” Davidson said at the press conference. “They are missing work. It is affecting businesses. They can’t take care of their children. They can’t hunt. They can’t fish. They can’t chop wood. They can’t pack water, and they can’t report to work when they’re not healthy enough to do so.”

Expanding Medicaid isn’t as simple as just telling the federal government Alaska wants the money. The governor does need to consult lawmakers, but the process is more a formality than anything else.

What happens now is that Walker asks the Legislative Budget and Audit committee to consider the appropriation request. They then have 45 days to make a non-binding recommendation on it.

“I personally support Medicaid expansion,” says Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker, who chairs that committee. “But even if I wanted to stop it in this committee, there is nothing I can do.”

In fact, Hawker says he’s even open to expediting the process, if the governor wants the funds to be accepted before September 1. But even though he supports the policy and is willing to work with the governor on it, Hawker says circumventing the Legislature will bother some.

“I’m not sure the governor’s unilateral decision to undertake expansion is, at the end of the day, the best way to go about this,” says Hawker.

North Pole Republican John Coghill is the Senate’s majority leader, and an opponent of expansion. He does not think it’s fiscally responsible to take money for the program when the federal government is running up a deficit. Coghill agrees that it will affect the governor’s relationship with the Legislature.

“It’ll put us on guard, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t think we’ll start playing payback or anything like that,” says Coghill. “I think it’s just it gives us a little more understanding of how he’s going to make policy calls. That makes it tougher when he comes to us and has to ask for budget items.”

But even though Coghill does not like the policy, he does not expect that the Legislature will take drastic measure to block it. The only real way to stop the governor is to call a third special session. And Coghill says there isn’t enough opposition to the policy for that to happen, especially since the Republican majorities are, themselves, divided on it.

“There probably is support enough for Medicaid expansion,” says Coghill. “If you take both Houses together, you probably get a majority of people.”

For his part, Walker says while it’s the Legislature’s call, a special session to block Medicaid probably would not be productive. And based on the number of high fives and hugs the governor gave at the press conference, he’s not expecting them to try.

Categories: Alaska News

Dirt-Bike Dermatology: For Army Medics, Real Specialty is Adaptability

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-16 17:38

Last week the Army announced it’ll be removing more than 2,631 positions from the 4th Brigade Combat Team’s 25th Infantry Division stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It’s part of the military’s nation-wide force reduction. Amid the cuts, the rarely mentioned role of military medicine is also changing.

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Major Kim Edhegart is trained as a subspecialist in immunodermatology, but his work within the Army includes mending broken bones and jumping out of airplanes. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Categories: Alaska News

Accidental Overdose Suspected Cause of Wainwright Soldier’s Death

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-16 17:37

A 23-year-old Alaska-based soldier passed away Tuesday while on leave out of state.

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Specialist Norman Eugene Theill Jr. of Fort Wainwright’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Public Affairs.

Specialist Norman Eugene Thiell Jr. of the Army’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Batallion at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks was visiting family in Florida during his leave.

The case is being investigated as an accidental overdose, although the Lake County Sheriff’s Department has not said which substances may have played a roll.

Army officials declined to comment on whether Thiell had undergone counseling or treatment while serving in Alaska the last two years, citing privacy considerations.

This is the second death of a soldier based at Fort Wainwright in less than a week. On July 10th, three-time combat veteran Sergeant Stanley Daniels Jr. was killed in a motorcycle accident in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News