Alaska News

On A Mission In Australia, News of Army Cuts Trickles in Via Family, Social Media

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 16:11


The Army will be cutting thousands of positions from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, with the majority expected to come from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade. This week hundreds of troops from that unit are currently in Australia on a training mission. Many of the soldiers heard about the cuts  for the first time from family or on social media.

Members of the 4-25th Airborne Brigade of JBER load up on a C-130 during exercise Talisman Saber. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.

Specialist Jesse Reed hasn’t really been keeping up with the news. After 19 hours of flying from JBER, he jumped into a remote corner of eastern Australia near Shoalwater Bay as part of joint exercise Talisman Saber, a training mission. After spending the night in a field next to an airstrip — he learned about the cuts Thursday afternoon.

“Just got a text message from my friend leading me to a news article talking about the cuts for U.S. Army Alaska.”

Reed’s been at JBER for two-and-a-half years, and though disappointed, he says this isn’t the end of the world for him.

“Not out of a job tomorrow. Finish out my time here, do my re-enlistment, then go wherever I choose to go or the Army sends me.”

By the time all 2,631 positions are cut 2017 the brigade will be left with just under 1,000 personnel — too few for a full combat brigade. But according to Captain Chase Spears, a veteran of 4-25 assigned to US Army Alaska, the reduction won’t happen overnight.

Members of the 4-25th Airborne Brigade congregate under a rainbow during exercise Talisman Saber. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.

“No one is showing up and being told ‘hey your position has gone away.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

In a drawdown, the Army tries to eliminate positions through attrition — leaving slots unfilled after soldiers move on to new postings. But some soldiers will likely have to be let go through what are called “involuntary separations,” to hit target goals over the next two years. By then, according to a Pentagon press conference Thursday, the brigade will be reconfigured as a battallion-sized task force. They’ll still be the only Army unit that’s able to do airborne operations in the Arctic, along with partner missions in the Pacific like Talisman Saber. But not at the level they’re currently able to do.

Even with some unknowns, the cuts will hurt soldiers who have put down roots in Alaska and can’t easily head on to a new posting, like Sergeant First Class Frank Petitta, who heard the news in the gym. When Petitta moved from North Carolina with his family, they saw appreciating home values and a community filled with military retirees in Wasilla.

“I wanted my family and my kids to enjoy Alaska, and I think that’s best done off-post, and so we decided to buy a house.”

According to the Army’s studies on economic impacts, a cut this size means a drop of $358 million from Anchorage’s economy — $182 million in loss of sales, $176 million income loss, according to Lt. Col Alan Brown of U.S. Army Alaska. Part of that loss is salaries going away for soldiers like Petitta who are further along in their careers and more likely to own property.

A Royal Australian Air Force No. 3 Squadron F/A-18 Hornet departs for a sortie at RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015. Photo: Talisman Sabre Facebook page.

“The guys that have the equivalent rank of myself, that I would say the vast majority own houses—and I’m talking 70, 80 percent easy.”

One such guy is sitting a few feet away, Staff Sergeant Josh Schneiderman, who moved to Eagle River specifically for the good schools.

“We’re extremely worried, especially now. I mean, I’m very close to retirement and this drives a lot of things — because the ultimate goal for us was to move to Alaska and retire. And now with the close down it’s going to affect our decisions drastically.”

Now that worries from the last few months over whether or not cuts would come to JBER have been answered, Schneiderman says there’s a whole new set of concerns once he gets back to Alaska.

“I’m going to go home now and my wife’s probably going to inform me of the closure that everybody’s aware of. However — what am I supposed to tell her? That we’ll figure it out? I mean it’s hard, because you don’t know who’s going and you don’t know who’s staying.”

But before anything else, this airborne battalion from the 4-25th has one more day in Australia, a 19-hour plane ride, and another parachute jump back onto base.

Categories: Alaska News

Off Their Rockers At Juneau’s Senior Prom

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 15:47

The Juneau Pioneer Home hosted its annual “senior prom” last month. Residents, volunteers, and staff danced to live music by the Thunder Mountain Big Band.

Every year, the senior citizens living at the Juneau Pioneer Home throw a “senior prom.”

Cindy Athearn has worked and volunteered at the Juneau Pioneer Home for over 20 years. She enjoys seeing the whole community come together for the event. “Everybody gets involved – families, staff. It’s a wonderful, magical time,” she says.

Resident Ruth Dawson also enjoys the opportunity to connect with others. “It’s a way to get to know each other and just to get to get closer to each other.”

The event is a lot of fun, but there’s also a deeper purpose according to Juneau Pioneer Home Administrator Gina Del Rosario. “Each day, we strive to celebrate life, and this is one way of celebrating life within this community is to enliven it with special events like this one,” she said. “It fits very well with the mission of the Alaska Pioneer Home: ‘providing a home and a community celebrating life through its final breath’.”

Categories: Alaska News

Body of Ketchikan Woman Recovered from Tongass Narrows

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:50

Early Thursday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers recovered the body of a 34-year-old Ketchikan woman from the Tongass Narrows.

Troopers Spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the call came in at about 1 a.m.:

“Troopers were notified that there was a body found by a person in a boat. The body was found floating in the Tongass Narrows, about a quarter mile from the Coast Guard base.”

Ipsen says the victim has been identified as Angeline Tanya Dundas. Next of kin have been notified, and the body has been sent to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy.

“At this time, Troopers do not suspect foul play is involved, but they are waiting on an autopsy to confirm this, and to determine the cause of death.”

Results from the autopsy will take at least a couple of days.

Ipsen says Dundas was last seen alive just a few hours before her body was found.

“She’d not been reported missing before her body was discovered, and she was last seen alive about 10 p.m. (Wednesday) night.”

Troopers continue to investigate Dundas’ death. Ipsen asks that anyone with information contact Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Run Nears 20 Million Sockeye

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:46

Bristol Bay fishermen had their biggest haul of the season July 8, with about 1.7 million sockeye harvested, including 1 million from the Naknek-Kvichak district.

Fish are unloaded in Naknek, June 28, 2015.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

On Wednesday fishermen in Bristol Bay hauled in their biggest catch to date – landing about 1.7 million sockeye, including 1 million harvested out of the Naknek-Kvichak district. The total run to Bristol Bay now stands at about 20 million sockeye, which is still well below the forecast … but Port Moller’s test fishery says catches the last two days are near the highest of the season.

Eastside fishermen had strong catches Wednesday.

The million fish out of Naknek-Kvichak Wednesday brought the season total there to 3.3 million fish. The Naknek hit the lower end of its escapement goal yesterday, with 60,000 fish counted yesterday bringing the total to about 887,000, within the 800,000 to 2 million sockeye range. The Kvichak goal was adjusted to 2.35 million fish earlier this week, and yesterday’s count of 755,000 reds brought the season total to 2.3 million, nearing the goal.

In Ugashik, 374,000 sockeye caught Wednesday; season total for the district is 2 million, and that river is also nearing it’s escapement goal – 500,000 are needed; yesterday’s count brought the season total to 457,000. Yesterday’s Egegik catch was 308,000 fish; season total is 3.9 million, and the lower end of the escapement goal has already been met.

Westside catches and counts were a little slower yesterday.

The Togiak catch Wednesday was about 10,000 sockeye, bringing the season total to  57,000. This is typically the peak of the season there, but ADFG enacted restrictions there to limit fishing due to low counts and low catches so far.  No fish were counted at the Togiak tower yesterday.

In the Nushagak District, 94,000 reds caught yesterday, bringing the season total to about three million. The Nushagak, Wood and Igushik rivers have all met the lower end of their escapement goals.

More fish could be on the way.

The Port Moller Test Fishery posted its second best day of the season yesterday, with a replacement index of 80. The only day better was June 26, with an index of 82. Tuesday’s index was 76.  The Port Moller catches typically indicate how many fish are on their way back to Bristol Bay, and are several days out from the five Bristol Bay fishing districts.

Nushagak District Area Manager Tim Sands said he doesn’t know how many of the Port Moller fish are headed to his district, in part because genetics results aren’t in yet.

“I’m not the expert  on Port Moller, but it’s a surprise to me to see such a big bump. And of course, two days of missing data as well, so we don’t know what’s there.”

Sands said he hopes some are headed to his district.

“I’m optimistic that some of those fish will be heading to the Nushagak District, how much we don’t know, but it’s certainly better than a complete drop off out there.”

Categories: Alaska News

Homicide Suspected In Bodies Found On Denali Highway

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:43

The Alaska State Troopers have identified the bodies of two people found near the Denali Highway on Sunday after what they believe to be a double homicide.

Troopers say that sixty-one-year-old Richard A. Casler and 42-year-old Lynn M. Butler, both of Wasilla, died of gunshot wounds inside their trailer near mile seventy-nine of the highway from Paxson to Cantwell.

The investigation into Casler and Butler’s disappearance began last Friday night.  According to the Alaska State Troopers, both were reported missing from the area where they were camping.  Responding troopers found what they believed to be evidence of an altercation involving gunfire in the area of the trailer Casler and Butler were staying in. A ground and air search was conducted, and, on Sunday, noises were heard coming from what the dispatch report describes as a “dilapidated” trailer in the area around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Attempts were made to communicate with anyone who might be inside, but no one responded.  Troopers called in two special emergency reaction teams, then entered trailer and discovered Casler and Butler’s remains.  Trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says that the source of the noises heard on the scene has not been identified, and that an estimate of the time between the noises and troopers’ entry into the trailer is not currently available.

The Alaska State Troopers are still investigating the incident, and are asking anyone who spent the Fourth of July weekend in the area to call (907) 451-5100.

Categories: Alaska News

Canned Salmon: A New Face on an Old Product

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:11

Photo: Clark Fair via

Despite the new ways of marketing and selling salmon, canned fish remains a major product in Bristol Bay.

In 2013, 38 percent of the salmon coming out of the bay was put into cans. But they aren’t flying off the shelves. L.A. marketing professional Craig Caryl is working with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to change that.

“I think that canned salmon needs to be positioned with blueberries, literally, as a superfood,” Caryl said.

He’s not the only one who wants to see a resurgence in canned salmon.

“Brings tears to my eyes because it’s such a, it’s an old business but it’s such a staple business,” said Eric Weiss, who sells tin to canneries throughout Alaska, including some in Naknek. “And people need to eat more canned salmon.”

Weiss works for Crown Cork N Seal, which has worked on developing new, smaller, cans that he thinks are more appealing to consumers.

“We’ve actually introduced a new smaller size to the industry,” Weiss said. “It’s about the size of, the height of a quarter pound can and then the diameter of a half pound can.”

But Weiss says there are challenges in getting that new can sold – from inefficiencies for processors in filling more smaller cans, to convincing stores to sell them.

Caryl is trying to increase demand. His target audience? Millenial women, particularly pregnant women and new moms who might be interested in the health benefits of a can of fish, and also appreciate the sustainability of Alaska’s fisheries.

Caryl’s wife is an integral part of that effort.

“My wife has been developing these amazing salmon burgers, with like a caper lemon sauce that she mixes up. And the big test for us is, will our six year old son eat it? My six year old is pretty picky and he really digs these salmon burgers.”

Caryl hopes that a website with 30 or so recipes tested by his wife will hit home with the mommy bloggers who can spur purchases and eventually help salmon capture a little of the tuna market.

“It’s changing people’s perception about them and driving the consumer into the shop and forcing the shop to say ‘hey, you know, we gotta move this off the bottom shelf and put this four feet high so people can see it.'”

Categories: Alaska News

Inside A Juneau Prison’s Sex Offender Treatment Program

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 10:01

Since 2010, sex offenders in Alaska prisons have been able to opt in to an intensive treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, but it’s unclear if it reduces recidivism.

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A 2012 University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center publication identified a statewide benchmark; of about 240 sex offenders released from Alaska prisons in 2008, 2 percent were reconvicted on sex offenses within two years.

Here’s a look inside the treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Andrew Peabody has served about 27 years in prison for sexual assault. He said he’s scheduled to be released in February. Peabody said he used to feel numb and didn’t want to deal with what he’d done.

During an event at Lemon Creek Correctional Center earlier this year, Peabody said the sex offender treatment program is teaching him empathy “for my victim. You have to write a letter to that person realizing what you’ve become to that person, how you affected that person’s life.”

Licensed clinical counselor Malcolm Nichols joined Lemon Creek Correctional Center in 2010. He created and runs the sex offender treatment program. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The letters aren’t actually sent.

Licensed clinical counselor Malcolm Nichols created and runs the sex offender treatment program at the Juneau prison. Nichols has a history of working with high risk populations. Prior to Lemon Creek, he ran a sex offender treatment program in Columbus, Ohio.

The two-year program is a combination of structured group therapy and individual counseling. Some inmates are also prescribed medication for sexual urges. Nichols says the program is not supposed to be a cure. The goal is for inmates to learn to control and manage risk factors that could lead to sexual assaults.

Another assignment is writing a narrative describing the period of time leading up to their crime.

“It starts a year out from their sexual crime and then takes them nine months, six months, three months and then 24 hours before it happened and this can be very difficult and dramatic,” Nichols said.

It’s supposed to be self-revealing. Nichols doesn’t let inmates get away with denying or minimizing what they’ve done. These are tactics, he says, to avoid change. Nichols recounted what happened when one inmate described his offense during a recent group session.

“He was telling it from his own personal position but I always want them to also give the objective, what actually happened, which he didn’t. So when I confronted him, he sort of got extremely dysphoric and broke into some deep sobbing and the whole group [got quiet]. You could hear a pin drop,” Nichols said.

Inmates in the program helped build this exterior classroom for their group sessions. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Lemon Creek Correctional Center program treats 24 men at a time. Inmates enter the program when they’re within 3 years of being released. All have been convicted of at least one sex assault and have admitted to at least one. Nichols says some have a long history of committing many sexual assaults. One even claimed to have committed hundreds.

“Some of the high risk guys have a history of sex offending going way back into their adolescence or even childhood,” Nichols said.

Alaska leads the country for the rate of reported forcible rape, according to FBI crime statistics. There are about 770 sex offenders in the Alaska prison system, which Nichols says represents a fraction of total offenders.

He says it takes a lot of patience to work with sex offenders.

“I don’t see people as necessarily the sum of their parts. I think that people are capable of choice and that I have to not shame them or ostracize them or let them think that they’re not human or they’re not incapable of change,” Nichols said.

The work takes its toll. When Nichols leaves the office he tries to completely disengage with work. To avoid stress, he bikes and exercises regularly.

And there’s a lot at stake when inmates leave the treatment program and are released into the community.

“We all in this field live in dread of one of our guys getting out and committing some kind of horrendous sexual offense,” Nichols said. “And I’ve had some extremely dangerous inmates who, as they were leaving the program, I was keeping my fingers crossed.”

So far, of the 52 who’ve completed the program and been released, one is back in prison for a sexual offense.

Categories: Alaska News

Six-hour chum fishery to open in Juneau’s Amalga Harbor

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 09:35

Thursday is the opening of the purse seine season at Amalga Harbor in Juneau. Commercial fishermen will be able to catch chum, released from the DIPAC hatchery.

(Photo courtesy of Dave Harris/ADF&G)

The fleet is allowed to fish for profit because DIPAC has already made back the cost to hatch the salmon. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Dave Harris says he’s expecting a good turnout for the opening.

“My understanding is there’s about 30 boats anchored on the set right now,” he says. “And so I assume they’ll be at least that many. We’ve had 100 boats participate in these fisheries in the past.”

The opening is only six hours and starts at 9 a.m. Typically, in fisheries like this, seiners have about 15 hours to get their catch.

But Harris says it’s a high-use area for Juneau residents; hence, the short time frame.

“This will allow the commercial fleet the opportunity to take these fish and hopefully the impacts on other people’s enjoyment and whatnot will be minimized,” he says.

Hidden Falls Hatchery on Baranof Island isn’t allowing commercial fishing because of low returns.

Captain Sig Mathisen came all the way to Juneau from Petersburg on the Marathon to fish for Icicle Seafoods.

“Well, it would be lovely to go home with a load of fish. That’s for sure,” Mathisen says. “But we’re tempering our expectations because of what we’re seeing in the waters here.”

It’s estimated that the commercial fleets could earn anywhere from 45 to 55 cents a pound for the chum.

Categories: Alaska News

UA System presidential candidate promises to listen and share

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 08:23

The candidate to be the state university system’s next president is meeting with students, faculty and community members around the state this week.

Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is a candidate for University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

To see a schedule of UA system presidential candidate Jim Johnsen’s visits or to submit written feedback, go to the Board of Regents’ website,

Jim Johnsen has a professional background in organized labor, academia and, most recently, in corporate business as a senior manager for Alaska Communications and Doyon Limited, the Alaska Native corporation for the interior.

In June, the University of Alaska Board of Regents selected him as its single finalist to lead the system. The candidate is tall, energetic and quick with a smile.

If he gets the job, he says students and faculty can expect him to be present on campuses around the state, listening and sharing ideas for how to strengthen the university in tough fiscal times.

Here’s how Johnsen describes the job:

“In large part to be the voice of the university for the state, OK? To represent the university in the legislature, to represent the university with the governor, and the governor’s staff … so there’s an external side to things with big corporations, and other NGOs, Congress, etc. so that’s the outside piece.

The inside piece is to make sure the university is organized in a way that delivers the best and widest access to students using technology, etc., delivers high quality academic programs cost effectively. ”

He highlighted two areas he wants to work on, remedial education and Arctic research. He says over half of the university system’s students require remedial education, a major challenge.

His ambition for the university system as an Arctic research center is to be the best.

“Alaska right now has the number one research university in the world when it comes to Arctic research. We’ve gotta keep that, and we’ve gotta, in fact, grow that, because over the next 10, 20, 30 years, there’s going to be a lot of action in the north. And I think we want to position ourselves to continue to be leading in the study of and the understanding of that very, very important part of the world.”

Courtney Enright was the board’s student regent during the main selection process.
“What I really was looking for was someone who focused on students, or understood that students have an important role in the university. So somebody that had that understanding of that connection of students as the customer, effectively, for the university.”

Enright graduated in May and spoke from Louisiana, where she’s beginning a new job. She said Johnsen was an exemplary candidate. She suggested students keep an eye on tuition rates as one gauge of his performance.

“The president does submit formally the tuition recommendation every year to the Board of Regents. That’s one of the biggest measures students really look at. But, given the fiscal challenges of the university, it’s a little bit more uh, I think complicated these years than to just judge based on that number.”

The regents are expected to finalize their selection at the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Sec. Jewell Pledges More Soverignty to Tribal Youth Visiting DC

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 08:18

Some 30 Alaska Native teens are in Washington D.C. today for the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave the opening address this morning:

“We actually thought there would be 870 young people. There’s over a 1,000 here, so that’s amazing,” she said.

Jewell told them the Obama administration is committed to self-determination. That’s a break, Jewell said, with the past, when assimilation was the ideal.

“We now know better. We have learned from you and your elders … that you know best what to do for your people and it is our job to facilitate that self governance and self-determination.”

Jewell said some Native youth are battling problems no one should face. She acknowledged the efforts of Kotzebue teens to prevent suicide. She also said she heard it was 90 degrees in Tanana recently and said the administration is working on solutions for climate change. The secretary said climate disruption hits Indian country more than other places, because of the connection to the land.

“So my hope for you today is similar to this, to be proud of your traditions, your cultures… if you’re confident in who you are and what you have to offer, the world is going to respond to you,” Jewell said.

First Lady Michelle Obama is due to address the Native youth conference at lunch.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:39

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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Army to Cut 2,600 Soldiers from JBER

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Army plans to cut 2,600 troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and another 75 soldiers from Fort Wainwright. The cuts will slice two thirds of the personnel from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade.

Ocean Acidification Threatens Shellfish Hatcheries

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

New research paints an unsettling picture of the future of shellfish in coastal Alaska. The effects of ocean acidification are worsening and could mean the end of hatcheries in the next 25 years if costly mitigation efforts aren’t put in place.

Fire Crews Scramble to Protect A Village on the Koyukuk

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Fire crews are defending the Koyukuk River village of Hughes from a wildfire approaching from the east.

Nakeen Homepack: Processing Salmon With A Little TLC

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Many in Bristol Bay have dreamed of processing and selling their own catch… but the challenges are many. But some around the Bay are making it work. KDLG’s Hannah Colton caught up with one four-year old small processor, and she found that those challenges can be overcome with some grit and elbow grease, a little humor, and a lot of attention to detail.

POW Ferry Service Suspended

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System has cancelled this summer’s sailings between Petersburg and northern Prince of Wales Island. But they’ll happen next year.

Brother Francis Shelter Fields Complaints About Bullying

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Clients of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage are agitating for change. They are frustrated with the way they are being treated at the shelter and with some of the policies.

A Pilgrimage To Minidoka: ‘We Can See The Memories Slipping Away’

Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

Living witnesses to the forced relocation of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II are growing fewer every year. Many who were incarcerated are in their 80s and 90s now.

Categories: Alaska News

Army to Cut 2,600 Soldiers from JBER

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:38

The Army said today it plans to cut 2600 troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and another 75 soldiers from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. That would still leave JBER with more than 9,000 service members but it slices two-thirds of the personnel from the 4-25th, the only airborne brigade in the Pacific.

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Alaska’s U.S. senators got the news this morning from the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff. Sen. Lisa Murkowski vowed to fight it.

“This is a decision that was made by the Pentagon that needs to be reversed by this president, needs to be reversed by the secretary of Defense,” she said. “And we’re going to work to educate folks as to why it should be reversed.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation, at multiple hearings, has pressed Pentagon officials to acknowledge Alaska’s strategic location on the globe and the importance of having troops who are Arctic-ready. Murkowski says Army’s decision doesn’t just harm the local economy.

“This is bad from a national security perspective,” she said. “This president made that decision that he was going to reduce force strength. And I think it was done at a time when the world was not as volatile as it is now.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan says the decision hurts American credibility overseas and damages the Army’s ability to operate in the Arctic.

You cannot take troops anywhere – Marines, Army — and put them in the Arctic and say ‘Operate.’ You have to have a culture. You have to have years of training. We have that and we’re removing it,” Sullivan said. “ The only guy who’s going to be happy about this decision right now is Vladimir Putin and maybe Kim Jung Il — or Jung Un in North Korea.”

The reductions are part of the Army’s effort to reduce its force by 40,000. The Army also announced today it’s downsizing in Georgia and Hawaii.

Sullivan says the Army should cut fat from the budget, not personnel.

“There are other ways, and I’m going to start probing,” he pledged, “whether it’s bloated headquarters, whether it’s missions that seem to be redundant of other services, like the Army’s Pacific Pathways mission, which looks an awful lot like the Marine Corp’s mission.”

Sullivan says he’s put a hold on a Pentagon confirmation until he gets more information from the Army. If there’s a silver lining, Sullivan says it’s that part of the brigade will stay.

“The entire unit’s not being removed. There’s still going to be, you know, it’s going to be removed by two-thirds,” he said. “But there’s still going to be that capability to be able to build on if we get to what the Army sees as funding levels (where) it can rebuild what is a very strategic force.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said at a hearing this week the troop cuts have to come from somewhere. Dempsey blamed Congress and its budget cuts.

“I will tell you this, senator,” Dempsey said, after listening to Sullivan make the case for keeping the JBER unit. “We’re used to the Congress telling us ‘no’ on the reforms that we’re making, not because we’re trying to cut ourselves apart, but because we’ve got a trillion dollars … less in budget authority over 10 years. We’ve said from the beginning it’s a disaster.”

Murkowski says the Alaska personnel cuts won’t begin for another 18 months. She says she was told the Army hopes the reductions can come mostly from attrition, but the senator says that doesn’t seem realistic.

Categories: Alaska News

Nakeen Homepack: Processing Salmon With A Little TLC

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:35

Many fishermen in Bristol Bay dream of packing and selling their own fish, but challenges. One four-year-old startup in Naknek shows how those challenges can be overcome with some grit, humor, and attention to detail.

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After all the fish are filleted, Amanda Wlaysewski scrapes the last of the meat for salmon “burger.” A processing veteran, Wlaysewski worked at canneries for years to pay for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Photo: Hannah Colton/KDLG

Amanda Wlaysewski will admit: she’s a bit of a fish snob. When a salmon comes across her table at Nakeen Homepack, she makes sure it is coddled every step of the way.

“We’re always looking for ways to not touch that fish,” she says. “We changed our processing line so that instead of handing it across three times, everyone’s adjacent to eac hother, so instead of having to reach across the table, he just slides it across… those might seem a little fussy, but it makes a huge difference.”

Wlaysewski admits she might be a little over-sensitive. But she says, when you see thousands of fish go into fillets, you notice all the little bumps and bruises that can be prevented with a little TLC.

“Because that same exact fish that came off the boat and maybe wasn’t kept at temperature… could’ve been the same fish that comes through like the ones you saw today – all their scales, bright and shiny – perfect! They’re perfect.”

She’s referring to a load of subsistence salmon she picked up from the beach earlier that day.

“Do you have the weight on those? – about 295…”

In the calm before the storm of commercial fishing, Wlaysewski is breaking in a mostly new crew.

Sockeye fillets await vacuum sealing at Nakeen Homepack. Photo: Hannah Colton, KDLG

One of her experienced hands, Shoshana Wilhite, is helping train the five newcomers…

“Yeah! They’ve actually picked it up fast this year, so I’m impressed,” she says.

And we’ve been so slow but we’ve been getting some practice – we’ve gradually gotten more fish every day, so it’s been good.”

The nine-person crew can do about 500 pounds per hour, so it takes them about 40 minutes to get this delivery cut, vac-packed and into the freezer.

While they’re cleaning their equipment, a truck pulls up in front. It’s bringing another load of fish to cut, as well as a gift for Wlaysewski.

“This is a local lady here – she’s donating her dog for the summer so we have a beardog. We have bears and fox and when they catch a whiff of salmon, we’ll have ‘em all season…so I hadda have a new hire. — I guess his name is Gem. G-E-M, Gem. This’ll be his interview, Pam, see if I wanna hire him!”

Pam Riddle has been bringing her subsistence fish to Wlaysewski for four years now. Riddle does a lot of processing herself – canning, smoking, salting… but when she wants frozen fillets to ship out of state, she leaves it to Nakeen Homepack.

“I don’t have the facilities she does. And I send it to Washington for my daughter. And this makes it really easy – all I do is just bring her my fish. And Amanda’s good people, really good people.”

This is how Wlaysewski likes to do business – by word of mouth, with friendly fishermen that come back year after year.

And she said, when they’re giving fillets to relative or selling them at farmer’s markets, fishermen start to pay more attention to how they treat their fish, too.

“And then the next year when they come back they’re really tapped into that. They wanna know – oh how’s the fish looking? Oh, we bled all of these! Or oh, I went to this class this winter on processing or bleeding… and it’s really cool to see them put the education into it and understand the difference.”

Of course, as every processor big or small discovers, there are challenges to starting a business in Bristol Bay. Wla says it can be hard to get a mechanic during fishing season, it’s complicated to ship up supplies and expensive to buy them locally.

“It’s kind of a thing where looking back, if you knew what it was gonna be like you would be too intimidated – or I personally would be too intimidated to do it. So it’s best to not know what’s up ahead. Just go for it… and by the grace of God you make it to the end of the season, everybody gets paid, and all the fish are well taken care of, and you’re done.”

Wlaysewski says by the end of July, she’d be happy to never see another fish again. But the feeling washes off quickly, like slime from Xtratufs. And when May rolls around again, she can’t wait to get back to cut fish again.

Categories: Alaska News

POW Ferry Service Suspended

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:34

The Alaska Marine Highway System has cancelled this summer’s sailings between Petersburg and northern Prince of Wales Island. But they’ll happen next year.

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The state ferry system announced the new route last year. It was supposed to connect terminals at South Mitkof Island, about 25 road miles from Petersburg, and Coffman Cove, on northeast Prince of Wales.

Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the route was a funding decision, not based on passenger need.

“We used federal funds to construct both the Coffman Cove terminal and the South Mitkof terminal and there could be a potential to have to pay back those federal funds if we actually don’t use those terminals for ferry service,” he says.

The ferry docks were built last decade for routes that no longer exist. Together, they cost about $15 million.

Woodrow says the small ferry LeConte was scheduled for this summer’s monthly sailings. But it was docked for repairs in May and June.

“Now the Malaspina is actually being late coming out of the yard. And the Malaspina is not expected to be delivered until the end of July. And because of that, the LeConte now is picking up service where the Malaspina normally would sail,” Woodrow says.

Few people made reservations for the August and September sailings, so they were cancelled too.

Woodrow says the ferry system will try again next summer, but with a different approach.

It will hire the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which has a backup ship, to sail the route. The IFA, which is separate from the state system, used to run a ferry between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof Island.

“We’ve worked with the federal highway system and they say that would meet the needs to show that we are trying to use those terminals.”

The IFA sails a ship between Hollis, on eastern Prince of Wales Island, and Ketchikan year-round.

Woodrow says the state will pay about $200,000 for the Coffman-Mitkof service. The money is left over from a road and bridge project on the Kenai Peninsula.

IFA’s general manager could not be immediately reached for comment.

The ferry system posted August and September’s cancellations on its schedule changes web page. Woodrow says it did not announce the earlier dropped sailings.

“We usually make large announcements when there’s a lot of travelers affected. And when there’s only maybe one or two reservations, we just call those passengers and let them know what the change in the schedule is.”

A different ship, which is not part of the state ferry system or the IFA, is scheduled to begin sailing much the same route by the middle of this month.

The Rainforest Islander will link Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof Island four days a week. But it’s a much smaller landing craft and will not use the federally funded terminals.

Categories: Alaska News

Clients say bullying is a problem at Brother Francis Shelter, agency is following up

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:33

Clients of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage are agitating for change. They are frustrated with the way they are being treated at the shelter and with some of the policies. Catholic Social Services, which runs the shelter, is trying to work with them to improve the situation.

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Mats laid out at the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage. Photo from CSS video.

Celia Harrison started staying at Brother Francis back in March, when she felt like she could no longer safely stay in her housing in Soldotna. Since then, the former nurse has been writing about her experiences extensively on Facebook. Her posts include positive things, like small kindnesses, and detailed stories of staff being loud in the middle of the night or her belongings being soaked by flooding in the shower room.

“For a very long period of time, I would write at least one incident report every day about things that went on,” she said. “Things that the staff were doing and other problems.”

Harrison says her complaints made a difference: people are no longer allowed to bring food into the sleeping areas and mats are laid out to give people more space. But Harrison says one thing has not improved. She says some staff members at the Brother Francis Shelter bully the clients.

“I’ve even witnessed them setting people up to get a reaction so that they can use that reaction to throw people out. And it’s not all of the staff. It’s the bullies.”

Harrison lists incidents of individuals being accused of drinking when they haven’t and others being given special privileges. She is not alone in her concerns. Mari Burt and a half a dozen other individuals who use the facility started discussing the problems weeks ago. Burt says they tried to contact Catholic Social Services staff and received some follow up, but not enough.

CSS Executive Director Lisa Aquino says the organization takes every complaint seriously. They log them and try to respond to them as best they can.

“We never want our clients to feel bullied, period,” she states. “When we have heard complaints about bullying or about questioning actions that our staff take, we always follow up on that. We always address that if it’s with a specific staff person, our management addresses that with them. And we also talk about the larger issues as a group and as a staff.”

Aquino says in the past they have terminated staff members if they are not a good fit for the program. But the director says the staff is working with a very diverse population with different mental and physical health needs. In the shelter, they have to find a balance of respect and safety for the 240 people who sleep there every night.

“We face the challenge of trying to support all of our guests at the Brother Francis Shelter and treat them with dignity and respect, and to provide them with the individual care that they need as a person while at the same time thinking of the overall health and well-being of all of the clients at the shelter.”

To help do that, they train staff about the culture of poverty, mental health issues, trauma informed care, and de-escalating conflicts. But Aquino says with fiscal, legal, and social constraints, they can’t monitor all areas at all times.

Mari Burt says she has sent Aquino an email on Wednesday requesting a community dialogue at the shelter about the guests’s experiences with bullying. If it does not happen, they’ll hold a public protest. Burt and Harrison have already contact the mayor’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

A Pilgrimage To Minidoka: ‘We Can See The Memories Slipping Away’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:32

Living witnesses to the forced relocation of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II are growing fewer every year. Many who were incarcerated are in their 80s and 90s now.

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Living witnesses to the forced relocation of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II are growing fewer every year. Many who were incarcerated are in their 80s and 90s now. Photo: Francis Stewart, U.S. Dept. of Interior

In the wake of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt signed an executive order to summarily round up Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans living along the West Coast.

Their descendants — and historians — want to preserve the memory and lessons from the unjust internment.

The Minidoka Relocation Center near Twin Falls, Idaho, was one of ten main camps built to confine civilians of Japanese ancestry during the war. It held people from coastal Oregon, Washington and Alaska, most of whom were U.S. citizens.

Baggage, belonging to incarcerees arriving from an assembly center at Puyallup, Washington, is sorted and trucked to barracks at the Minidoka internment camp in 1942.

At its peak, Minidoka held nearly 10,000 people.

‘It’s not something anyone ever talked about for a while’

The former internment camp is now managed by the National Park Service. It’s also the destination for an annual pilgrimage.

Sam Kito Jr. was five years old when his family was crammed into one room in a barrack block guarded by soldiers amidst the dusty sagebrush of southern Idaho.

On Saturday, he pointed out features inside a former barrack. ”The potbellied stove was in the corner. Then we had a triple bunk on this side,” he said. “And then a double-bunk on this side.”

Kito, 77, hails from southeast Alaska. He said it was his daughter’s idea to join the organized pilgrimage to the site. Hope Kito, 32, is a nurse in Bellingham.

“It was something I always heard about growing up, but it is not something anyone ever talked about for a while,” she said. “I don’t think the magnitude of it was ever expressed. So it was worth coming with him.”

”You can’t rewrite history. You live history the way the cards that were dealt to you and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“When you get new people or younger people involved, what happens is your mind starts thinking about what should have been better for your parents and your generations,” Sam Kito said. “Well, that’s great. But you can’t rewrite history. You live history the way the cards that were dealt to you and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

‘We’re afraid of losing those stories’

A view of the Minidoka internment camp’s flimsy, tar-papered housing barracks.

Mary Tanaka Abo, 75, was also held at the camp when she was a child. In the midst of war hysteria, her family was “evacuated” — to use the parlance of the day — from Juneau, Alaska.

“Being here made me ashamed of being Japanese when I was young,” she said.

Abo came on the pilgrimage with her daughter and two grandchildren. This was the second trip back for the retired teacher, now living in Bremerton, Washington.

“Just being around people is always good,” Abo said as she fought back a lump in her throat.

”We’re losing the Issei, the first generation, and Nisei, the second generation of Japanese-Americans. We’re afraid of losing those stories.”
Nearly 200 pilgrims journeyed to the site on the final weekend in June. Co-organizer Bif Brigman said this was the 11th edition of the Minidoka Pilgrimage. He said the idea from its genesis carries on today.

“We’re losing the Issei, the first generation, and Nisei, the second generation of Japanese-Americans. We’re afraid of losing those stories,” Brigman said. “That is one of the things that pushes us to do it annually, to keep doing it.”

Brigman said the number of first hand witnesses decreases with every passing year.

“We can see that those memories, those stories are slipping away,” Brigman said.

Preserving memories of a dark chapter in American history

Minidoka National Historic Site Superintendent Judy Geniac also feels the urgency to capture more voices of witnesses before they go silent.

“It would be incredible for us to figure out a way to have young people interviewing, whether it is their great-grandfather or it is their next door neighbor,” she said. “We know that people from the camp went all over the United States after they left the camp.”

Earlier this June, the National Park Service awarded more than $368,000 to the Seattle-based nonprofit Densho, which collects Japanese-American oral histories. The latest grant was directed at enhancing an online encyclopedia about this dark chapter in American history and to help Densho do outreach to connect the Japanese-American incarceration story to contemporary examples of injustice.

Densho curates an online video repository featuring more than 800 interviews about the community’s life before, during and after World War II.

Meanwhile, the physical remains of the Minidoka camp — which nearly disappeared — are being resurrected. A guard tower, barracks, mess hall and fire station have been rebuilt or restored in recent years. Geniac said a visitor center is in the works as are plans to recreate the central baseball field.

Find the original story from Northwest News Network here.

Categories: Alaska News

UA Pres. Candidate Suggests Streamlining Academic Offerings

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 16:46

A man vying for the University of Alaska’s top leadership role says he is expecting academic programs to become stronger but fewer in the next decade.

The Juneau Empire reports Jim Johnsen is the university’s first choice to replace retiring President Pat Gamble in one of the state’s highest-paying government jobs.

State data shows Gamble made $330,000 in 2014.

Johnsen started his tour of the state in Juneau and spoke with a small group of lawmakers, leaders and community members Thursday night.

He said consolidating programs among the three campuses will strengthen what the university offers and save money by avoiding redundancies.

Johnsen is among four finalists out of 24 applicants for the job.

The Board of Regents is expected to make a decision by the week of July 28.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Crews Scramble to Protect Village on the Koyukuk

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 13:27

Fire crews are defending the Koyukuk River village of Hughes from a wildfire approaching from the east.

The Rock Fire is about 34,000 acres in size, and showed moderate fire behavior yesterday. At last report, the fire was about 2 miles away from Hughes, and on the same side of the Koyukuk River as the village.

Crews conducted a burnout just to the east of Hughes to create a fire break.

Public Information Officer Kale Casey at Alaska Fire Service Headquarters on Fort Wainwright says that managers and crews have had plenty of time to prepare for this situation.

Casey says that the burnout operation was successful at eliminating most of the unburned fuels between Hughes and the edge of the Rock Fire, and the threat of the fire entering the village has been significantly reduced.

The Hughes Fire is barely inside the western border of the Tanana Fire Management Zone, though the use of aircraft based at Tanana or Fairbanks has been limited recently by smoky skies.

Casey says that at this point in the fire season, the use of aircraft to assist with firefighting operations is dependent on smoke conditions.

A helicopter based at Bettles has been doing water drops on the fire and transporting crews. Any large aircraft needed to fight the fire would likely come from Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks.

Over 100 people are assigned to the Hughes fires.

Hughes is located about 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks. According to 2010 census data, the population is 78 people.

Categories: Alaska News

Ocean Acidification May Drive Shellfish Hatcheries Out of Business by 2040

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 08:39

New research paints an unsettling picture of the future of shellfish in coastal Alaska. The effects of ocean acidification are worsening and could mean the end of hatcheries in the next 25 years if costly mitigation efforts aren’t put in place.

Two-thousand forty – that’s the year put forward by researchers in the ongoing study.

“It is dire,” says Wiley Evans, a research associate at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environment Lab in Seattle and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center. He led the project, based at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery on the Kenai Peninsula. Right now, the hatchery has only a 5-month window where ocean conditions are right for production.

“It was very, very alarming. Not knowing much about ocean chemistry, I know a lot more now than when we started, that’s for sure,” says Jeff Hetrick, owner of Alutiiq Pride shellfish hatchery, which is situated at the head of Resurrection Bay in Seward.

“Right now we have blue and red king crab, roughly 6 million

Beach clams. Alaska Public Media stock photo.

sea cucumbers, 2 million cockles, 7 million little neck clams, 100,000 butter clams, roughly 300,000 purple-hinge rock scallops, abalone as well, and we have oysters and geoducks, too.”

It’s currently the only full-time commercial shellfish hatchery in the state, with on-site personnel, which made it a logical choice for data collection.

Jeremy Mathis is a NOAA oceanographer who helped choose the site.

“We had the opportunity last year to install a state-of-the-art system that could monitor the water chemistry of the seawater that they were pumping in to the hatchery on a continuous basis and it would report out to us in what we call real-time,” Mathis says.

Ocean acidification is the name for certain changes in the ocean’s chemistry due to higher levels of carbon dioxide. When seawater absorbs CO2, there’s an increase in hydrogen ions, leading to more acidic water, and lower levels of carbonate ions.

Carbonate ions are crucial for organisms like clams and mussels to develop hard shells. And, without shells, they aren’t protected and can’t survive.

Mathis says Resurrection Bay is in a particularly vulnerable position because of certain environmental factors.

“It gets a lot of freshwater input from not only the streams and little freshwater runoffs that come through there but also quite a bit of meltwater from glaciers. And that unique water chemistry can actually exacerbate or worsen the ocean acidification effect.”

Cold water, which is quicker to absorb CO2, combined with the presence CO2-rich glacial melt put Alaska as a whole at particular risk. Evans says those factors are natural and it’s a delicate balance. But as for the levels we’re seeing here now-

“It’s not natural and it’s a large problem,” Wiley says.

Humans and their carbon footprint have added serious amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere very quickly.

“And that little bit of additional carbon dioxide can just push the system past thresholds to where you can’t produce shellfish perhaps anymore without very serious mitigation strategies,” he adds.

That’s what worries Hetrick when he thinks about the future and the 5-month production window at his hatchery that’s on track to close completely in 25 years.

“We don’t really know what the full costs are going to be. There’s going to be some. There’s going to be capital costs and there’s going to be some operational costs. It’s just going to be another thing we’re going to have to do to produce shellfish.”

Figuring out exactly what to do next is tricky but Mathis says, Alaska has to put in the effort, immediately.

“Unfortunately, Alaska is the canary in the coal mine for ocean acidification. We’re seeing changes in water chemistry faster in Alaska than really any other place around the world. So, it’s our job now in the next few years to figure out what the magnitude and impact of those changes are going to be.”

And he says, find a way to protect our fisheries before it’s too late.

Categories: Alaska News

IG Finds Service to Veterans Lacking at VA clinic in Mat-Su

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 06:54

The Inspector General for Veterans Affairs has verified a host of problems at the VA’s Mat-Su outpatient clinic.

The clinic opened in 2009, but since 2012 the VA has had trouble retaining physicians or other practitioners to fill the two provider slots at the clinic. The report released yesterday says the lack of providers left some patients unable to get timely appointments, resulting in poor quality of care.

Forty patients assigned to the Mat-Su clinic died in the year ending in mid-2014. The inspector general found eight of those patients did not receive adequate access to care.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who requested the report, called its findings “devastating and disappointing.”

The report says the situation has improved more recently. Since 2013, more than 1,000 VA patients have been seen at the Southcentral Foundation clinic in Wasilla, at VA expense.

Categories: Alaska News