Alaska News

‘Never Alone’ – Using Video Games For Cultural Learning

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 16:22

See an interactive version of this story here.

In a high school in Barrow, students sit in a dark room watching a screen.

A young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox are running across the screen, jumping from ice floe to ice floe.

Listen now:

“A bear!” a student calls out as a polar bear emerges from the water growling.

Students holler and laugh as the characters run across the screen.

“Just keep running, don’t look back,” another student urges.

They’re watching a demo of Never Alone, a game its creators hope will set a new standard in videogame development.

Until recently, no videogames on the market have told the story of an indigenous people from their perspective. But a group of Alaska Natives have partnered with a game developer to change that.

Photo by Upper One Games.

Like in movies, Native characters in video games tend toward stereotype. And few are heroes. But this game’s different.

It’s based on a traditional story known as Kunuuksaayuka and the experiences of Alaska elders, storytellers and youth.

The story follows a young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox as they go on an adventure to save her village from a blizzard that never ends.

Game developer Sean Vesce has 20 years of experience in the industry working on big-budget action titles. He went to Barrow to watch the students play a demo of the game. He says that day was his most memorable experience from the project.

“It was such a special moment because they were literally sitting forward, you know yelling and screaming at the players to avoid enemies and to navigate around obstacles,” he says.

Vesce’s introduction to Alaska Native storytelling began two years earlier. It arrived in boxes of transcribed stories. He says they contained tales and creatures as interesting and imaginative as anything in the movies today.

“We were just blown away at the richness and the beauty and the depth of that storytelling tradition and we realized that none of that had really been ever explored in a videogame,” Vesce says.

Vesce says it was a perfect match for what they were envisioning for the gameplay.

The team also wove elements, characters and themes from other traditional stories to create a mosaic.

But it wasn’t enough to just read the stories. The team needed to really know the people the stories came from.

Vesce made a dozen trips to Alaska with his team to gather more stories and imagery that will be used in the game as unlockable content.

The development team made more than a dozen trips to Alaska to gather stories and imagery. Photo courtesy Upper One Games.

Amy Fredeen helped connect Vesce with the Native stories. Fredeen is Inupiaq and the cultural ambassador between the developers and the community. She says in Native culture everybody depends on each other and that was the most important part of both the game’s story and creating the game itself.

The team is calling this creative process “inclusive development.”

“The last thing we wanted was this game to be kind of a cultural appropriation. We didn’t want this to be an outsider’s view of what the Inupiaq culture was. We wanted it to come from the people themselves,” Fredeen says.

One connection Fredeen made was with Jana Harcharek, who works in the Barrow school district to promote and preserve Inupiaq culture. Harcharek says when the students learned that the developers wanted to hear from them, the kids began telling their own stories.

“The ideas just started coming out. They were like ‘well, are you going to be able to maybe do this, because I’m a whaler and I’m a hunter and I have this experience and it would be really cool if we could make this happen or that happen.’ There was a lot of excitement right from the start,” she says.

Harcharek has had her own doubts about videogames. She doesn’t allow her kids to play them. She says most are just too violent. But she was intrigued by Never Alone.

“We need to ground our children to who they are in whatever medium we can find to be able to do that,” Harcharek says, noting that she’s going to let her grandkids play this game.

Harcharek helped the development team meet members of the Barrow community.

“When I was privy to having a conversation with some of the folks that were interviewed there were expressions of things like ‘that is really cool. This game is going to be so awesome. That was—‘and they’ll just start shaking their heads in some cases because what a concept, putting traditional stories together with gaming. Whoever would have thought of that,” she says.

The idea for Never Alone came from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage. Two years ago, President and CEO Gloria O’Neill asked developers if games could be used to share traditional stories.

Gloria O’Neill, President and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, Alaska, was the driving force behind the idea of making a videogame. Photo courtesy Upper One Games.

“It was an incredibly inspiring set of conversations because she asked, ‘Can games be used to transmit cultural values, cultural wisdom, history and heritage. Can it be used to pass that wisdom from one generation to the next. Can it be used to share that with a wide audience?’ And up until that point I had been doing a lot of action oriented games like Tomb Raider and giant robot games and things that were purely entertainment, so the idea to use games for social impact was really intriguing,” Vesce says.

O’Neill says the tribal council was looking to invest its money in a way that would also benefit Native culture.

“We started thinking about the future because our board also said to us, ‘Never forget who we are and where we come from, but think about how we can connect with our young people in the future,’” she says.

Over time, O’Neill started to believe that the perfect way to do that is through videogames, something even people in the most remote parts of Alaska want to play.

“Not only we could make money with the right partners, but we had a medium in which we could share our culture with the world; that we could create this invitation of courageous learning with the world,” O’Neill says.

At the time, there were no indigenous gaming companies in the U.S. O’Neill says the tribal council wanted to fill that space.

They joined forces with E-Line Media to form Upper One Games. Never Alone is its first big title.

 

Everyone involved with the project saw it as an opportunity to right some wrongs in how Alaska Natives are portrayed in the media.

“I was initially a little nervous about seeing the traditional Inupiaq stories and my culture portrayed in a game, because you know, honestly, we haven’t seen a lot of great media out there that portrays Alaska Natives the way they should be portrayed,” Fredeen says.

O’Neill says it was “an opportunity to represent our culture in the most appropriate and authentic way, but we also saw an opportunity where we could set a new standard in the video gaming industry.”

Fredeen says the game sets the bar for other developers who may want to do games based on different cultures by showing them how to include the people from a culture in the development process.

The team thinks the game will appeal to a variety of gamers. O’Neill and Vesce both identify indie gamers and a group they call “cultural creatives” as the kind of players who want the story Never Alone will offer.

“Folks who really care about not only having a meaningful experience when engaging in a game, but also those who want to learn something as well,” O’Neill explains.

O’Neill says the team was at Harcharek’s house in April and her grandkids were playing a version of the game. She said the moms became interested and were soon on the floor playing the game with their children. That is just the kind of exchange they hope to see happen with the game she says.

“Just to have a product in the market that all Alaskans, especially those Alaskans who are of the Inupiaq community, can be proud of, that would be a success for us,” O’Neill says.

Never Alone is slated for release later this year.

 

Never Alone – Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.

Categories: Alaska News

Charges Filed Against Bethel Man Shot in Altercation with Police

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 09:16

The state has filed charges against the 31-year-old Bethel man who was shot after he wielded a baseball bat in a fight with Bethel Police.

Aaron Moses is facing 2nd degree and third degree assault charges, which amount to a class B and C felony, plus a felony charge for third-degree criminal mischief.

Court documents filed Friday reveals more details from the incident and the of names the officers involved.

A police affidavit says Byron Moses, the brother of Aaron Moses, told investigators that Aaron had come to his house looking for a gun, which he did not provide. Aaron Moses told investigators while in the hospital that he wanted to commit suicide at the time of the incident.

Byron Moses said that he saw Aaron’s demeanor change that morning and a fight began. Another man inside the house was able to stop that struggle. Aaron Moses then went outside, grabble a Louisville Slugger, and broke windows on Byron’s Jeep.

Bethel Police Officers Joseph Corbett and Sammie Hendrix responded to a call from Bryon, who said Aaron had broken a window with the bat. Corbett was the first officer to arrive, followed by Hendrix.

In a struggle in the street, the two officers tried to disarm Moses verbally and with tasers. Officer Hendrix told investigators that he was hit with the bat twice – once on the calf, once on the sole of his boot. He was on his back, on the ground when he fired his gun, striking Moses in the chest. Hendrix noted that Moses was swinging the bat and that Hendrix was “in fear”.

Police have not yet commented on the incident. The city has hired an Anchorage attorney to represent them in an allegation of police brutality and the shooting incident.

An arraignment date has not been set for Moses. Bail is set at 15-thousand dollars. Moses was recovering last week at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Talk of Closing Kodiak Launch Is Premature, Exec Says

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 08:59

This is an update to a previous story: “Experimental Rocket Explodes After Launch at Kodiak”

In the aftermath of yesterday morning’s rocket explosion at the Kodiak Launch Complex, calls for the facility’s closure have resumed. Never universally popular among Kodiak residents, the KLC has had only one launch in the past three years, yesterday’s, and that blew up, causing what appears to be significant damage to the launch tower and assembly buildings.

According to Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell, there are currently no other launches scheduled.

However, Campbell says it would be premature to conclude that yesterday’s explosion and ensuing damage would bring an end to the Kodiak Launch Complex.

In an email to KMXT, Campbell said a damage assessment and repair estimate will be made over the next week, and that the AAC’s legal counsel and the state’s risk management office will be looking into who is liable for the damages. The U.S. Army leased the Kodiak Launch Complex for $5 million to test its hypersonic glider. Campbell said it’s his intention that AAC “will remain a viable aerospace company for the state of Alaska.”

Formed by the state of Alaska, the AAC has depended heavily on state subsidies, but Campbell said the corporation has no intention to ask the state for capital improvement funds to repair the explosion damage to the Kodiak Launch Complex.

No official photos of the damage at the KLC or debris surrounding it on Narrow Cape have been released. However an aerial photo taken by Kodiak’s Eric Schwantes and posted to Facebook shows extensive superficial damage to both the launch tower and assembly buildings at the launch site. Hundreds of scraps of sheets metal siding can be seen strewn around the structures. The extent of structural damage is not yet known. No damage to the launch control buildings two miles away has been reported.

In an email to KMXT yesterday evening, Alaska Aerospace’s Senior Vice President Mark Greby said road closure restrictions have been moved back. KMXT had reported that yesterday, but the Alaska Department of Transportation later announced the road would be closed at the mouth of the Pasagshak River, before it goes up the bluff. That changed at 9 o’clock last night, when the closure was moved back to the gates of the Kodiak Launch Complex, allowing access to Surfer Beach. Fossil Beach remains inaccessible.

In what is likely to be a well attended and lively meeting, Campbell said the corporation’s board of directors will be meeting in Kodiak on Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Lower Kuskokwim Schools: New Leaders, New Changes

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 08:50

Students returned to classes recently across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Jacob Jensen says change is on the horizon for the district with the largest number of rural students in the state.

This year, the Lower Kuskokwim School District has new leadership at several schools. Superintendent, Jacob Jensen, says of the five schools in Bethel, three have had principal turnovers. Jensen.

“So we have three new principals. So the principal at Gladys Jung is the principal that’s been with LKSD for quite a long time at LKSD, I believe he’s on year 12, Chris Carmichael. The principal over at Immersion is a longtime LKSD employee, Mike Smith, who had retired and decided it did not suit him and came back. And then the new principal at BRHS has been a principal in Alaska for, I think nine years, her name is Elizabeth Balcerek,” said Jensen.

And the district is looking to reorganize behind the scenes. Right now, the district does a lot of what’s called site-based management, which means schools and principals have a lot of autonomy to do things like, set their own calendar, run their own lunch programs and hire their own staff. But Jenson says LKSD, for a number of reasons, is looking at more centralization.

“Possibly looking at things like having a centralized food service, as opposed to having each individual site kind of run their own, centralizing a lot of our technology has already happened. We’re looking at possibly maintenance, you know centralizing that. You know purchasing. We try to order the same types of vehicles and snow machines and four wheelers but we don’t really have any policies about that. So kinda looking at all those type of things,” said Jensen.

Jensen says LKSD is one of a handful of school districts in rural Alaska that still allows schools such autonomy. He says while local input and control are important for the district, officials may have to make serious budget changes in response to pressure from limited state and federal funds. He says the district can be more efficient with some centralized services.

Besides consolidating management of LKSD, Jensen says, district-wide accreditation is another major goal he hopes to accomplish this year.  Jensen says, also new this year, students will take fewer tests. That’s a result of the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind.

“As far as the waiver, it doesn’t do a whole lot different other than listeners should know that it was by this year all of our students had to be 100 percent proficient, which was an unrealistic goal. So the state got a waiver and now we’re working on what is called a growth model so we’re making sure that kids are growing each and every year,” said Jensen.

In addition, the state high school graduation exam is no longer being given due to a proposal by Governor Sean Parnell that was approved by the state legislature this past year.

“It made it difficult for some students that could not pass that high school graduation exam. It caused some difficulties for some students who wanted to get into the military and go on to post-secondary options. I thinking it was a good idea when they put it in place. It was a little bit difficult in implementation. So, what’s happening now is that kids just have to meet the qualifying criteria of the school district,” Jensen says.

Jensen says two other state tests have also been eliminated, the ‘Terra-Nova’ and the State of Alaska Standards Based Assessment test also known as the SBA, which is being replaced with the Alaska Measures of Progress Test, or AMP. Students will take the AMP online. Jensen also notes that all children in the district can now eat breakfast and lunch for free. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, and Jensen says he’s hopes the meals will help students excel.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District stretches about 100-thousand square miles and is about the same size as the state of Ohio. The district, made up by 28 schools with more than 4,000 students, has an operating budget of about $80 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Campaign Initiates Callouts in Alaska Native Languages

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 08:00

Well-funded U.S. Senate campaigns are reaching out to villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in what’s expected to be a hard fought and extremely expensive race. In a year with many firsts for campaigning in Alaska.

Senator Mark Begich speaks with Ivan M. Ivan and Mike Williams at the democrats field office in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheosn/KYUK.

Sen. Begich’s campaign has sent out automated phone calls with messages that include two Alaska Native language translations.

The Yup’ik version of a message, informs potential voters about early voting. That message went out before the primary. Another message is intended for Inupiaq speakers.

Max Croes is the Communications Director for incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign. He says this is something they plan on continuing.

“We sent calls in Yup’ik to the Y-K Delta reminding people that early voting was open and available, and so we absolutely hope to do more   calls in the future and that’s something that will be available for the general election as well,” says Croes.

Croes says as far as he knows, this is the first time something like this has been done in Alaska, a statement that was repeated by Yup’ik speakers contacted by KYUK.

Begich’s telephone messages were sent to the Y-K Delta, the Bering Strait region, and the North Slope.

The campaign for Republican challenger Dan Sullivan has not sent out messages in Alaska Native Languages to date. Campaign spokespersons Mike Anderson says they are exploring all options and adds that Sullivan plans to reach “every corner of Alaska.”

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Check Up On Nuc Site Rattled By Summer Quake

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:44

A team of scientists is descending on a former nuclear test site in the Aleutians on Monday to search for damage from a massive earthquake.

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Mark Kautsky oversees Amchitka for the Office of Legacy Management at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Kautsky says they weren’t supposed to visit the island for another two years. Then, a 7.9 quake struck pretty close to the old nuclear sites in June:

“Like 25 miles north of the island. It’s actually also 70 miles below the surface,” Kautsky says. “So we don’t expect that there was any deformation in the area under the island.”

And that means, probably no release of radioactive material. Since the last detonation at Amchitka in the early ‘70s, there haven’t been any leaks detected in the marine environment.

But this earthquake might have shifted things above ground. The island holds seven cells full of drilling mud from the nuclear tests — all contaminated with diesel fuel.

Categories: Alaska News

Experimental Rocket Explodes After Launch in Kodiak

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:43

A rocket carrying an experimental Army strike weapon exploded seconds after take off from the Kodiak Launch Complex at about 12:25 a.m. Monday morning. Witnesses report the rocket lifted off, but soon nosed down and either self-destructed or hit the ground and exploded.

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An Army rocket exploded at the Kodiak Launch Complex at about 12:25 a.m. Monday morning. Photo by Scott Wight.

The Narrow Cape area beyond the Kodiak Launch Complex will remain closed to the public until further notice after this morning’s rocket explosion, according to an announcement from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.

Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said the U.S. Army rocket self-destructed just four seconds into its flight, at about 12:25 a.m. Monday morning.

“Shortly after 4 a.m. EDT, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, as part of the Defense Department’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike technology development program, conducted a flight test of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska,” Schumann says.

“Due to an anomaly, the test was terminated near the launch pad shortly after lift-off to ensure public safety. There were no injuries to any personnel. Program officials are conducting an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the flight anomaly.”

It was the first launch at the KLC in three years.

Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell said he couldn’t verify where debris from the rocket came down, but Schumann said it was her understanding that the debris is limited to KLC property and did not fall into the water.

The three-stage solid-fuel rocket is based on refurbished Polaris intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Campbell said it did not appear, from a preliminary estimate, that there was any extensive damage to the Kodiak Launch Complex, but said AAC and Department of Defense personnel will be doing damage assessments all day.

Kodiak resident Stacy Studebaker, who owns a home in nearby Pasagshak, has long been a critic of the Kodiak Launch Complex. She said in an e-mail to KMXT that she wanted to know what kind of hazards any un-burnt rocket fuel posed and who will be conducting the clean up. Two popular recreation areas are adjacent to the KLC, Fossil Beach, which remains off-limits, and Surfer Beach.

In the nose-cone of the rocket was the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, which is a rocket-launched glider capable of flying at over 3,500 mph, or Mach 5. According to the Army’s description, the small craft is designed to be lofted nearly into space before separation and then glide through the atmosphere to its target at hypersonic speeds. If developed, it is expected to be able to hit any target on earth within an hour or less with conventional, non-nuclear explosives.

This was to be the second test of the glider. Its target was the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific. The first was successfully launched from Hawaii.
Scott Wight, a Kodiak photographer, was watching the launch from Cape Greville in Chiniak, about a dozen miles from the launch site. He said even at that distance the explosion was very loud. Another photographer at Cape Greville said the launch looked out of control and that she wasn’t surprised to find out it self-destructed. She said the resulting fire burned brightly for a short while.

The Kodiak Launch Complex is about 25-miles from the city of Kodiak.
This is a developing story, and we’ll have more information as it becomes available.

This is a developing story, and we’ll have more information as it becomes available.

Categories: Alaska News

Female Inmate Found Dead In Cell At Mat-Su Facility

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:42

A female inmate died Monday morning at the Mat Su Pre-Trial Facility in Palmer; 37-year-old Tisha Rochdi was found unresponsive in her cell around 6:30 this morning, according to the state Department of Corrections. Sherrie Daigle, is deputy director of administration for the corrections department.

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“The female inmate was actually in a dorm-type setting with 19 other female inmates,” Daigle says. “The other inmates did notice that she was unresponsive; they notified corrections officials immediately. Corrections staff responded and began CPR and notified emergency medical services and an ambulance responded.”

Rochdi was pronounced dead shortly past 7:00 this morning, after CPR efforts failed. The State Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

According to Alaska State Troopers, there is no sign of foul play.

Daigle says, in light of a hearing on prison deaths conducted earlier this summer, the corrections department has made changes in it’s death investigation policy and information about the death is made public online.

Rochdi was in prison on probation violation charge related to a felony DUI.

 

Categories: Alaska News

4 Injured In Brooks Range Plane Crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:41

A pilot and passengers were were hurt in a plane crash in the Brooks Range on Sunday. National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Region chief Clint Johnson says the single engine Navion, operated by Kirst Aviation of Fairbanks went down in Atigun Pass, near mile 244 of the Dalton Highway.

Listen now:

“Four individuals on board, injuries ranged from serious to critical, and they were medevaced last night.”

Johnson says the crash was witnessed, and first responded to by Trans-Alaska Pipeline workers. Alaska State Troopers report that the Alyeska crew was able to get the injured pilot and passengers out of the wreckage and to a nearby airstrip for evacuation to a hospital. Johnson would not speculate on a cause of the crash.

“Whenever the pilot’s health allows, we want to be able to talk to him to get it first hand what exactly took place. However his injuries are probably not going to allow us to do that for probably the next  couple of days.”

Johnson says the plane went down about 400 feet below the top of the 4,800-foot pass, close to the highway and pipeline. He says the pilot had filed a VFR flight plan to take the passengers from Fairbanks to Bettles, Deadhorse, Barter Island and back to Fairbanks.

“Preliminary information would indicate that they were cruise passengers. We don’t know exactly which cruise line they were from, but they were visitors, and we understand that they are from Canada,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the NTSB is working with the federal Aviation Administration in Fairbanks, and Troopers on the crash investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Dems’ Gubernatorial Nominee Makes Juneau Campaign Stop

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:40

About 60 people attended a rainy campaign rally on the steps of the Capitol building for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott on Sunday.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott leads a rally on the Capitol Steps. His running mate Hollis French is in the khakis to the left, and Tlingit elder Marie Olson is to the right. Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO.

Mallott’s stump speech was about 9 minutes long. He hit on themes of respect for organized labor and public employees, and serving Alaskans in all communities of all cultures.

Mallot pledged to “reach out, listen, consider, (and) heed the voice of every single Alaskan.”

His voice was hoarse from campaigning. He was sipping tea from a thermos after his address.

The nod to labor comes after trying to court the Alaska AFL-CIO’s endorsement at a convention in Fairbanks last week. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that the labor union opposes Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, but would not endorse a challenger–unless Mallott and independent Bill Walker merge their campaigns.

Polls indicate the three-way race favors Parnell, while a two-way race would be much closer.

On Sunday, Mallott maintained his commitment to run as a Democrat.

“Well, you know, polls in Alaska can be, can be unreliable….There hasn’t been a lot of polling. The general election is just beginning. We have a long way to go.”

Running mate Hollis French lumped Walker and Parnell together.

“This race is going to offer Alaskans a very simple, very simple test for who they want to be the next governor,” French said.

“You can have an oil company lobbyist, an oil and gas attorney, or the man who ran the Permanent Fund.”

Parnell used to lobby for ConocoPhillips. Walker is an Anchorage lawyer with an emphasis in oil and gas. Mallott was executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. from 1995 to 2000.

“And I think once the state realizes that’s their choices, everything is going to be fine,” French said.

The general election is Nov. 4.

 

Categories: Alaska News

On Ballot Or Not, Nees Continues Campaign For West Anchorage House Seat

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:39

In June, the Division of Elections rejected David Nees’ candidacy because his filing papers weren’t notarized. Now, the Anchorage Republican plans to run for State House anyway, even if it means a write-in campaign that could pit him against another member of his party.

Nees had originally wanted to participate in the party primary for House District 22. When he found out his candidacy had not been certified, he challenged the decision in court. A superior court judge denied his request for injunctive relief, but Nees is continuing his appeal in hopes of getting his name on the candidate list. With a final decision still outstanding and ballots scheduled to be printed in early September, Nees is preparing to run as a write-in.

“We’re still campaigning,” says Nees. “We just don’t know whether it’s going to be ‘write in David’ or if ‘David’ is going to be on the ballot. It’ll be confusing for voters because you’ll have two Republicans and a Democrat in that district.”

Nees – a former teacher who has previously run for Anchorage School Board – plans to go up against fellow Republican Liz Vazquez and Democrat Marty McGee in November. Vazquez is an attorney who once ran for State Senate. and recently edged out candidate Sherri Jackson in the Republican primary. McGee spent 17 years as Anchorage’s property tax assessor, and chaired the powerful State Assessment Review Board that determines the oil industry’s municipal property tax bill. He was controversially removed from the position early this year, because Gov. Sean Parnell believed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was being overvalued during his tenure. While McGee had previously been registered as a Republican, his firing became a rallying point for Democratic legislators and the party has responded enthusiastically to his candidacy.

District 22 covers the Sand Lake neighborhood of Anchorage. The area tilts conservative and is currently represented by Republican Mia Costello. But with Costello vacating the seat to make a bid for the State Senate, the District 22 House race is viewed as one of the more competitive contests this cycle.

Nees says one Republican group has discouraged him from running, out of concern that he could split the vote with Vazquez. Judy Eledge, president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club, is critical of Nees’ continued candidacy, and says Nees had a chance to run as a Republican candidate had he filed for office properly.

Nees says he’s not trying to “disrupt the Republican process” — he just thinks it’s better for voters to have more options.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” says Nees. “I think it’s very important that somebody go out and challenge the system.”

Nees says he plans to focus his candidacy on education and budget reform.

Democrat Marty McGee says he welcomes Nees to the race. Vazquez did not return a message left on her phone.

Categories: Alaska News

Emergency Housing Ministry Looks to Grow In Unalaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:38

Unalaska attracts thousands of transient workers every year, lured by the promise of a steady paycheck. But marine industry jobs can fall through — leaving people stuck with no shelter and no money to fly home.

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Community groups have stepped up to help. And now, one nonprofit is ready to expand its safety net for stranded workers.

Alexandria House is building an apartment and commercial space for rent in the old Elbow Room bar. Annie Ropeik/KUCB.

 

The apartment next door to the Unalaska Christian Fellowship is simple – just a couple of couches, some sleeping bags, and a whiteboard inscribed with Bible verse.

“This is home sweet home, with the bathroom and the laundry and the little kitchen area in this area here. The most people that I put in here is four,” John Honan says.

John Honan is the pastor at the church, and the head of Alexandria House. For the last 20 years, this nonprofit’s been finding spare beds — and even buying plane tickets home — for folks in need.

“You get to meet some amazing people that have been through horrific things,” Honan says. “So we’ll do what we can to help them on their way.”

Honan sees it happen every day – people fly in expecting to find work in the fishing industry. But it’s not always there — or, it doesn’t last.

When people get stuck, two local groups can offer help: USAFV, or Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence, serves mostly women and children. Alexandria House is geared more toward single men.

The women’s shelter gets grants from the city, among other sources. But Alexandria House is a ministry, and they’ve never had a steady source of funding – until now.

They’re planning to open an apartment and storefront in Unalaska’s historic downtown. The space used to be filled by the Elbow Room Bar. It was an infamous dive in its day.

Yeah, you can see that it was pretty bad, so it’s got to be repaired all the way around,” Honan says.

Alexandria House got this building as a donation five years ago. When they’re done renovating it, Honan says the space will be rented out. The money will go toward hotel reservations or airfare for stranded people.

It’s a big deal for Honan’s organization – but it wasn’t his original plan. He wanted to turn the building into a homeless shelter.

Neighbors like Suzi Golodoff weren’t happy. Her family’s lived next door to the old bar for decades – and she’s had her fill of strangers wandering her streets.

“So I’ve no objection to being, you know, a kind-hearted community. We should help each other, and we’re known for that in Unalaska. However, I think that we also need to respect the older people that have lived here all these generations – and this part of town is the old historic part of town,” Golodoff says.

That’s the argument she and her neighbors made in a petition to Unalaska’s planning commission back in 2009. The board ruled in their favor: Honan couldn’t use the building as a shelter.

So he changed tacks. When he came back with his current plan for a rental property, some neighbors were still opposed. But the zoning board couldn’t say no.

Planning director Erin Reinders says the neighborhood is zoned to fit an apartment. And given the housing shortage in Unalaska, it made sense to approve the ministry’s plan.

“A side benefit of that is that then it supports an organization that’s already identified … under emergency housing, to actually do that mission as well,” Reinders says.

Reinders says the best spot for a shelter would be way across town – on the Dutch Harbor side, home to the airport, stores and most of the industry jobs.

That’s where Jerrick Reyes lives, in a bunkhouse provided by his employer. Reyes moved to Unalaska almost a year ago, thinking he could find a high-paying job.

But there was no work — and nowhere for him to stay.

“When I came here, you know, I was, like, kind of scared,” Reyes says. “I just kept thinking about it, like, ‘What are we going to do?’ and stuff like that.”

He heard about Alexandria House, and reached out to John Honan. Soon, Reyes was living in the apartment next to the church. He had to follow some ground rules: No drinking. No drugs. And mandatory prayer meetings twice a day.

“I’m Catholic myself, but I still read the Bible [with Honan]. I know there’s, like, similarities between the two. So, I mean, I got along with it, and that was fine,” Reyes says.

Reyes stuck it out, and after a few weeks, he landed the job he’d hoped for.

And that’s how emergency housing should always work, says John Honan. He hopes the money from his new apartment will make it easier to get more people to that point.

Honan’s building should open this winter, but he’s not sure who the first tenants will be. He wants a couple or family to sign a long-term lease – which would mean long-term income for Alexandria House.

“We have no salaries, we’re not paying anyone – so 100 percent of the money, apart from, obviously, building maintenance or whatever, can go to making sure people are cared for every night,” Honan says.

Whoever moves in will have the right to invite guests to stay with them. And if they want to take in stranded folks for Alexandria House, Honan says that’ll be their decision.

And that means neighbors will be watching closely – and so will the rest of a town where getting stranded’s always going to be a possibility. John Honan’s project is a small step – but it’s still progress, as workers keep coming here in search of better chances.

Categories: Alaska News

New Book Casts Spotlight on Traditional Foods In Aleutians/Pribilofs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:36

Food has been a crucial part of the Unangan culture for centuries. But in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands, people are relying less on the land and sea and more on their local store. A new cookbook captures the legacy of subsistence foods in the region.

Listen now:

“Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands” is a new cookbook documenting traditional Alaskan subsistence foods.

From sweet Russian tea to fermented fur seal flipper, the traditional diet in the Aleutians and Pribilofs has always been pretty varied.

But a decade ago, Suanne Unger realized it might be starting to fade. She was in the villages of St. Paul and Atka, to interview people about their eating habits.

“There were comments like, ‘My grandmother passed away and she used to be the one that cooked traditional foods with us.’ Or ‘I don’t know how to prepare traditional foods. We were getting all sorts of feedback that indicated that some loss of traditional food production knowledge was taking place,” Unger says.

That raised a red flag with Unger. She’s a researcher for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and she says traditional foods cut the risk of diabetes. Plus gathering them is good exercise.

So Unger applied for a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and used the money to make a recipe book for the Aleutian and Pribilof islands.

“That is the easiest way to describe [it], because it has recipes, and I’m at fault for even sometimes calling it that,” Unger says. But really, it is a lot more than a cookbook.”

It’s called “Qaqamiiĝux̂.” That’s the Aleut word for subsistence, and it covers a lot more ground than just cooking.

Unger wove in dozens of interviews with elders about their best practices for hunting, their safety tips — and even detailed nutritional facts.

“Like the iron, for example that’s found in Steller sea lion meat or, you know, the protein found in reindeer.”

That way, readers can make comparisons to the store-bought products they’ve come to rely on. But Unger says those are probably here to stay.

Whether it’s commercial fishing or construction, a lot of residents in the region are part of the cash economy now. And they don’t have time for subsistence.

Julia Dushkin has seen that change firsthand in Unalaska.

“Well, it’s hard nowadays to go out hunting and everything. Like, sea lion for instance? That’s hard to get. And I love sea lion meat, versus seal and that other stuff,” Dushkin says.

Dushkin is standing in the middle of Unalaska’s annual culture camp. For one week, elders stop their daily routines and teach traditional skills.

“Don’t cut the skin, eh?” Larry Dirks jokes.

Larry Dirks is showing a 10-year-old how to fillet her first salmon. Olivia Betzen glides her knife through the meat — until it slips out of her slimy hands.

“Oops. Better use this one.”

Olivia reaches for a blade with a bumpy handle. And she makes the last few cuts:

Dirks: ”Yep, that should do it?”
Olivia: ”Got it.”
Dirks: ”Yep! We’re all done, eh?”

As Olivia carries her salmon up the beach, Larry Dirks starts washing his knives. He works for Unalaska’s Department of Public Safety now, but he learned how to fish and hunt back home in Atka.

“Filleting fish and all that takes years. Took me years to get good at it. But it’s a start, anyways, for these kids,” Dirks says.

It’s the kids that Suanne Unger wants to target next. Eventually, she hopes her subsistence book will make its way into the classroom.

“You know, my dream would be to take this and create some curriculum out of it and have it for teachers to pick up throughout our region. I don’t know if we’ll be able to manage to get something going soon. But that would be the direction I’d like to see this take,” Unger says.

Along with hands-on learning, it could help create a new generation of hungry students.

To learn more about traditional foods — or to purchase a copy of “Qaqamiiĝux̂” for $25 — you can visit the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association website.

Here’s one recipe the book author graciously shared:

Categories: Alaska News

Binders, Pencils, Erasers: Charity Readies Kids For School

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:35

On Monday the Homer food pantry inside the United Methodist Church was filled with families lining up for their chance to pick up fish fillets, beans, rice, and other necessities. But before they reach the food a few split off to get into another line leading into a separate room where the Omicron Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma is set up handing out backpacks full of the goodies every child needs for school.

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“Do you like your backpack?” “Yeah a lot. It has a peace sign on it. It’s kind of multi-color.” “Is that your favorite thing that you’ve gotten so far.” “Yeah.”

Eight year old Lana Prescott is going to the third grade this year. She’s standing in line with her eleven year old sister Makayla who is moving into the sixth grade.

“We’re just getting some of our school supplies. Mama saved some of our school supplies from last year like pencil boxes and glue sticks and stuff like that.”

The girls’ mother Crystal is on the other side of the room keeping a close eye. She says the past two years she’s gotten as many supplies as possible from the pantry.

“Even with one child the list that they give you at school is so long that even at the food pantry they can’t possibly provide you with all of the supplies but it’s still a great deal of help.”

Helping the parents is what most members of Delta Kappa Gamma say motivates them.

“Parents and the students themselves are thrilled to get a backpack and have most of their supplies in it.”

Milly Martin is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma. She says her children are grown and in their forties now but she remembers what it was like to get them ready for that first day.

“Whoa boy what do we need to have? What do we have to get? We did have to do that.”

But, she also remembers the lists back then were different.

It was not quite as complex as it appears to be today. It surprises me many times the things that the teachers do ask for that I know some people simply can’t afford.”

After a quick Google search I found the supply lists for West Homer Elementary, Homer Middle School and Homer High school. The supplies of course varied by grade, but there were similarities in each list. Of course kids need notebook paper, binders, pencils, and erasers. Plus kids need their arts and craft supplies and gym shoes, and then there are calculators and protractors for older kids…

“I’ve come here a couple of years in a row and they’ve always been a saving grace.”

When I spoke with West Homer Principal Ray Marshall about Delta Kappa Gamma’s work to help. He had nothing but high praise.

We have a large school supply list and sometimes it’s hard to put together and they do a great job removing barriers for children.

“Every teacher in our school will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on snacks on school supplies and on bolstering their professional education. This is a great helping hand for teachers”

The principal added the current supply list hasn’t changed since he started at West Homer and he doesn’t think it’s much different from others he’s seen throughout his career even while serving in other states.

Delta Kappa Gamma’s members say they help about 100 students in the Kachemak Bay Area get supplies every school year and there is always a need as the school year moves forward.

“If they didn’t give it out I wouldn’t be able to make it.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:31

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

Download Audio:

Scientists Check Up On Nuclear Site Rattled By Summer Quake

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A team of scientists is descending on a former nuclear test site in the Aleutians TODAY [Monday] to search for damage from a massive earthquake.

Experimental Rocket Explodes After Launch In Kodiak

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The Narrow Cape area beyond the Kodiak Launch Complex will remain closed to the public until further notice after this morning’s rocket explosion, according to an announcement from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.

Female Inmate Found Dead In Cell

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A female inmate died this morning at the Mat Su Pre-Trial Facility in Palmer;  37-year-old Tischa Rochdi was found unresponsive in her cell around 6:30 this morning.

4 Injured in Brooks Range Plane Crash

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A pilot and passengers were were hurt in a plane crash in the Brooks Range on Sunday. National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Region chief Clint Johnson says the single engine Navion, operated by Kirst Aviation of Fairbanks went down in Atigun Pass, near mile 244 of the Dalton Highway.

Dems’ Gubernatorial Nominee Makes A Campaign Stop in Juneau

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

About 60 people attended a rainy campaign rally on the steps of the Capitol building for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott on Sunday.

Nees To Run As A Write-In Candidate For State House

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

In June, the Division of Elections rejected David Nees’ candidacy because his filing papers weren’t notarized. Now, the Anchorage Republican plans to run for State House anyway, even if it means a write-in campaign that could pit him against another member of his party.

Emergency Housing Ministry Looks to Grow In Unalaska

Annie Ropiek, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska attracts thousands of transient workers every year, lured by the promise of a steady paycheck. But marine industry jobs can fall through — leaving people stuck with no shelter and no money to fly home.

Muskox Killed in Wales While Attacking Dog

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Nome has been experiencing a summer of “urban muskox,” where the uniquely shaggy arctic mammals have made their home close to town, threatening dogs—and, occasionally, people. Now the same thing has happened more than 100 miles west of Nome, in the community of Wales.

New Cookbook Highlights Traditional Foods In the Aleutians/Pribilofs

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Food has been a crucial part of the Unangan [oo-NUN-ghin] culture for centuries. But in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands, people are relying less on the land and sea and more on their local store.

Binders, Pencils, Erasers: Homer Charity Readies Kids For School

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

Many students across the state started school last week, including kids on the Kenai Peninsula. Before the big day, some kids in Homer still needed to check items off their supply lists and a group in town was there to help.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Muskox Killed in Wales While Attacking Dog

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 16:49

Another close encounter with a muskox—this time in the community of Wales—that saw an angry bull charge a tethered dog several times before ending with the muskox being killed.

Listen now:

A muskox was killed in Wales while attacking a dog. Photo: Helena Oxereok.

The attack comes amid a summer of similar threats to dogs—and people—in and around Nome, some of which have left dogs dead and resulted in destroyed muskox claimed “in defense of life or property,” or “DLP.”

Helena Oxereok was using a four wheeler to haul water with her sister’s boyfriend Saturday, Aug. 16, when she noticed the shaggy bull come from behind her house. Despite neighbors and family members yelling and revving their four wheelers to scare the animal off, she said the bull ignored them until it noticed her dog Sam.

“And then it started chasing my dog around its house, maybe six times my dog had to run away,” Oxereok said Thursday in a phone interview.

“At one point, it got to where my dog was being pushed but not really hurt, pushed by the muskox’s head, and I’m glad the chain didn’t get caught on his horns, otherwise he would have been in big trouble.”

Oxereok said her brother Randy grabbed his SKS rifle and shot several warning shots in the air, but the muskox was unphased.

“It didn’t even budge!” she said. “It just looked at my brother like nothing happened. Then it started chasing my dog, Sam, again.”

That’s when Oxereok said Randy shot the animal, first in the shoulder but later in the neck and head.

“The muskox was 20 … not even 20 feet from our doorstep,” she said.

Oxereok said her brother called the Alaska State Troopers to report the DLP kill. Alaska Department of Fish and Game assistant area biologist Letty Hughes confirmed the DLP take Friday. Oxerock said, in keeping with the requirements of DLP wildlife takes, they immediately butchered the animal and shared the meat with friends and family.

The muskox in Wales was killed “in defense of life or property.” Photo: Helena Oxereok.

She said her mom collected some tufts of the animal’s underfur—the highly-prized qiviut—and her dad has plans for the bull’s horns.

“My dad’s going to cut off the horns and use them as ulu handles,” she said, “because he’s been wanting to go look for muskox horns, for that purpose.”

The bull was the second muskox death in Wales in as many weeks. Fish and Game’s Hughes said the department investigated a dead muskox a few miles outside of the community last week but determined the animal had died after it had been gored by another muskox.

Oxereok said Wales, like Nome, has seen an overall increase in muskox living close to town this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Seafood Industry Asks For Retaliatory Ban on Russian Imports

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-22 16:40

After much debate within the industry, crabbers and processing companies are stepping up to get Russian seafood imports banned in the U.S. But fish is a global business, and some companies are refusing to support a ban until the European Union gets on board.

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It’s been two weeks since Russia banned imports of American food products into its country. Now, Alaska’s seafood industry is asking the U.S. government to strike back.

The scale of American seafood exports to Russia can vary from year to year. But in 2013, the market was valued at $83 million. Most of that is from sales of Alaskan salmon roe, followed by pollock. In Dutch Harbor, F/V Auriga prepares for the start of B season. (Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska)

Terry Shaff is the president of UniSea — one of 10 major processing companies that’s lobbying to get Russian seafood kicked out of the U.S.

“Well, what we would really like is to have Russia lift their embargo of all U.S. seafood products going into Russia. And it seems like we just can’t go and ask them to please do that. So one of the best ways to do it is to call for a ban – an embargo – on all Russian seafood product coming into the U.S.,” Shaff says.

They’re hoping Alaska’s congressional delegation and federal trade officials can make that happen.

Russell Smith oversees international fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He couldn’t say whether a ban is something they’d support:

“NOAA has focused more on trying to provide our fishermen, our processors with information about what is happening, and trying to help them find other outlets for their product,” Smith says.

But getting clear information has been difficult, ever since Russia stopped accepting food shipments from western nations at the beginning of the month.

The move was supposed to protest economic sanctions from the west, which have been piling up ever since Russian troops seized control of Crimea, in Ukraine.

Even though Alaska’s shore-based processing companies — and even the Bering Sea crab fleet — would support an embargo, the industry isn’t totally united.

Glenn Reid is the president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

“There’s a concern — and a desire to have support of interests in the E.U. and other places beyond our region. And absent that support, some people were less comfortable signing on. That’s a general consistency – whether it’s a group or an individual company,” Reid says.

Unless Russia changes course, the ban on western food imports will last until next August.

The scale of American seafood exports to Russia can vary from year to year. But in 2013, the market was valued at $83 million. Most of that is from sales of Alaskan salmon roe, followed by pollock.

Categories: Alaska News

Commerce Sec. Pritzker Visits Alaska – Talks Salmon, Infrastructure

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-22 16:39

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has spent the week in Alaska talking with staffers in the various federal agencies she’s in charge of, including the Census and the Bureau of Standards, the Economic Development Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Heiress to a hotel fortune that runs into the billons, Penny Pritzker has been a close friend to President Obama and his family since his law school days, and a major campaign supporter and fundraiser.  When Obama’s second term came around, the commerce position open, and economic recovery a priority, it’s no surprise he turned to his Stanford MBA friend with a 27-year record as a business startup specialist:

“He said to me there are a couple things I would like you to do – build a bridge with the business community, and then make sure the voice of the business community is heard in my administration and be part of my economic team,” Pritzker says. “And then finally be the chief commercial advocate for American business both domestically and around the world.

“And I have to tell you, you know, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress on all those fronts.”

Thursday morning found the Commerce Secretary in a closed-door huddle with business leaders at a downtown Anchorage Native corporation office. Asked what they talked about, she said there were the usual pleas for more infrastructure investment, and concerns about federal fishery policies, but she was also briefed on Alaska’s status as an international air cargo hub, and the importance of the visitor industry. And Transportation Security and Customs checks are areas where she might be able to apply some influence on another cabinet members.

“You’ve got about two million visitors a year now coming to Alaska. They’d like to see more more travelers, and more foreign travelers, And so they’re quite interested in how do we improve the experience of someone who’s arriving from a foreign country into the United States. And I expressed that the Secretary of Homeland Security and I are working very closely to try and improve that experience,” Pritzker says. “I think we can do national security and hospitality at the same time. And the Secretary of Homeland Security agrees, and the President has asked us to focus on that.”

Pritzker talked about Arctic trade, and wants to see the proposed Arctic deepwater port site outside of Nome. With the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration undersecretary Kathy Sullivan at her side, she met with staff at the National Weather Service and vowed to make sure the U.S. keeps up its weather satellite coverage.  She said she’s been impressed with their work.

“Satellites, we have algorithms, we have all kinds of technical information that we’re gathering as the National Weather Service, but we’re also working with our customers to make sure we’re filling in the gaps. And that, to me, is what we’re trying to do to be a weather-ready nation all over the country. But obviously in Alaska it really hits home. I mean I am very much struck by that,” Pritzker says.

Pritzker also vowed to put a priority on funding research into the cause of the decline of Chinook Salmon runs in many Alaska river systems, which Sullivan was quick to explain would be done in consultation with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“We’re working very hard, both in setting our research priorities and working hard with the Secretary’s support to go forward and get the funding that we need to try to step up our efforts and do the work that we require here. It’s not a simple solution. I think looking all across the causal chain to the best degree we can is what we’re trying very hard to do and around the Council table try to target those questions that are most pertinent to the decisions we need to make and provide the best possible information there, as a kind of triage mechanism.”

If that sounds like the NOAA scientist defending her boss, it’s no coincidence. Loyalty to Penny Pritzker is evident, and it’s consistent with her past as a Stanford MBA in an over-achieving family who has run businesses for 27 years and talks about workforce development and employee involvement as her passions. That’s something that deeply resonates with Sullivan, herself an over-achiever, the first woman to do a space walk.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Borough To Ask Ferry Debt Forgiveness

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-22 16:38

 The Matanuska Susitna Borough is appealing to top US officials to resolve the Borough’s 12 million dollar ferry debt.

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According to Borough manager John Moosey, the Borough Assembly on Thursday directed him to enter into negotiations with federal officials over the resolution of the debt the Borough owes the Federal Transit Administration. Moosey says that US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, was in Wasilla about a week ago, and met privately with Borough officials.  Moosey said Friday that “he opened the door for us to have that meeting in discussion with his staff in seeking a resolution to this matter”.

 The U.S. Navy built the 80 million dollar ferry as a prototype, and the Borough was given the ship free of charge, but with federal grant money restrictions attached. The Borough failed to initiate ferry passenger service across Knik Arm from Port MacKenzie to Anchorage, and now the FTA wants it’s money back.

Borough Assemblyman Jim Sykes says about four million dollars out of the 12 million in ferry grants was used to build a ferry terminal building at Port MacKenzie. He says the Borough may have to foot that bill.  Sykes says  it’s his hope that the FTA will see that the Borough has done everything it could to resolve the ferry problem.

“We made a good faith effort to make this project work, and it is simply beyond our authority to force other governments or other entities to do stuff that’s not under our authority. We can’t force Anchorage to build a place to land the craft. It is a project that involves several jurisdictions, and we really can do what we can do, but that’s not going to result in a completed project. So, I am hoping that the federal government will see that we have made a good faith effort. “

The Borough’s plan to use the ice breaking ferry for transportation across Knik Arm hit a snag when the city of Anchorage and the Borough could not agree on a site for an Anchorage dock for the ship.

 

Categories: Alaska News

ENSTAR Strike Finishes Second Week, No End In Sight

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-22 16:36

The ENSTAR strike has lasted two weeks, and there’s no end in sight. Local workers are picketing in front of ENSTAR offices around Anchorage and around the Kenai Peninsula. They’re having a dispute with the management over retirement benefits for both present and future workers. 

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Strikers picket in front of the ENSTAR operations center in midtown Anchorage. (Hillman/KSKA)

A couple dozen workers stand in front of the ENSTAR Operations Center in Anchorage holding signs and waving to passing cars. Some of trucks and cabs honk in support.

The strikers aren’t allowed to talk to the media and refer all questions to Local 367 Business Manager Greg Walker.

Walker says the 120 operating members are striking to protect their pensions. He explains that the company only wants to provide 401(k)s for new hires and current employees are worried that they’ll cut their pension plans next.

“The pension plan is well-funded. They’ve gotten great returns on the pension plan investments, so it’s not costing the company any money. Our position is that defined benefit plan provides a well-rounded future for anyone who retires with ENSTAR.”

The union and the company had come to a tentative agreement on the issue earlier this month, but the operating workers voted it down and decided to strike. The clerical workers did not.

Walker says the union has also filed charges against the natural gas company with the National Labor Relations Board. They allege the company hasn’t provided accurate information about the pension plan and they are discriminating against employees who filed actions against them under the National Labor Relations Act.

ENSTAR representatives declined to talk about the strike or the negotiations. The only comment on how the company is being affected comes from their automatic answering service.

“Our ENSTAR offices are temporarily closed to walk in customers,” the recorded voice says when you dial their main number.

That means you have to pay your bill online, by mail,  or over the phone.

Walker says the workers are in it the for the long-haul and haven’t given up hope that the strike will be effective.

“Members are strong as ever. The community support is incredible. And we’re going to continue to fight.”

But he says they would all rather be back at work. Temporary hires from Michigan are currently filling their slots. Walker says the union members have agreed to return to work in the case of an emergency. Two left the picket line to help contain a gas leak last week.

Categories: Alaska News
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