Alaska News

Arctic Ambitions: ‘Doing Business In The Arctic’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-26 18:47

Thursday, the World Trade Center Alaska will host the third Arctic Ambitions gathering in Girdwood. The theme for this year’s two-day event is ‘Doing business in the Arctic.’ Greg Wolf is the World Trade Center Alaska executive director. He says this year’s event is larger and the first day will feature speakers from other arctic nations and industries.

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Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Moves Election to November

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-26 02:32

Chris Birch crafted the ordinance that will change elections from April to November. The Ordinance passed 9-2, with Assembly Member Bill Starr the only ‘no’ vote and Assembly Member Patrick Flynn abstaining due to a conflict of interest.

The Anchorage Assembly has voted to move municipal elections from Spring to Fall. Proponents argued it would increase voter turnout, which has been low. Critics say local issues will be lost amongst state and national ones.
Assembly member Chris Birch crafted the ordinance changing the election to November to coincide with state and national ones, saying it will keep special interest groups from influencing elections, be more efficient and increase voter turnout.

“I know there’s been some concern voiced at the election polls. I think it’s a good thing. I mean I think if we had 40-thousand people turn out last April and I would think if we had 100-thousand people turn out for an election, that’s good for the community.”

Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones warned the Assembly that changing the election from April to November could have unintended consequences. She thought the issue deserved more consideration but the Assembly approved the change 6-4.

In 1988 the election moved from October to April. The rational was the same as moving it to the fall, higher voter turnout. Since the early 90s voter turnout has averaged around 29 percent. During public testimony people expressed concern that voters would only check a box for the president and leave the rest of their ballot blank. Others said it would be impossible to find enough poll workers to run multiple elections at the same time. Barbara Jones who runs the Clerk’s office agreed. She said the body needed to slow down.

“The Assembly needs to make sure that it’s taking the time to study this issue, to understand the issue, to avoid any unintended consequences. And I would recommend taking some time to look at it. The Clerk’s office hasn’t even been able to express an opinion because it’s during election season and we are trying to plan the April 1st 2014 election. We would like to request that the Assembly take what we believe is prudent action to delay this item until after the election.”

But that didn’t happen. The ordinance moving elections to November passed six to four with Assembly members Tim Steele, Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman the ‘no’ votes and Patrick Flynn absent. The change won’t go into effect until 2017.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Okays CH2M Hill to Lead Troubled Port Project

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-26 02:21

Tegan Hanlon, with the Anchorage Daily News, interviews CH2M Hill Vice President Stacey Jones outside Assembly chamber Tuesday evening.

The Anchorage Assembly approved awarding the engineering firm CH2M Hill a 30-million dollar contract to get the Port of Anchorage Project back on track at Tuesday’s meeting. But assembly members had some questions.
Stacey Jones, a vice president with the Colorado-based engineering firm CH2M Hill stood before thee Assembly to insure them they were making the right choice.

“Our team has been carefully selected to include individuals with local experience, relevant port and maritime facilities expertise and an understanding of local permitting and conditions.”

CH2M Hill will provide project and construction management the the Port intermodal Expansion Project.
The project was started back in 2003 under Mayor George Wuersch and Port Director Bill Sheffield. The Design was approved in 2006 Under Mayor Mark Begich. The municipality has been investigating problems with the port project since they arose 2009. That’s when the ‘open-cell sheet pile’ design crumpled and separated during construction. The Sullivan administration has led the push to get the Municipality reimbursed for it’s losses. The U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration managed the previous project. CH2M Hill purchased the now defunct Veco Corporation, which was involved in the work that had problems and is now party to a lawsuit by the city. Assembly member Adam Trombley asked Jones about that:

“Is it typical of CH2M Hill to do business or to enter into new contracts with an entity public or private that you’re currently in litigation with on the exact same project that you just bid on?”

Jones said it wasn’t typical but did happen from time time and nobody from Veco who worked on the former project would work on the new one.
The contract with CH2M Hill is for 30 million dollars over five years with the option for two extensions at 12 more million dollars each. Design and and engineering work is anticipated to take 18-months to two years with construction likely beginning again in 2016. The municipality has spent upwards of 300 million public dollars on the project so far and are requesting 100 million more from the legislature this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:38

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.

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Pebble Mine Opponents Urge EPA To Kill Project

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

About 30 opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine met in Washington today with White House and high-ranking EPA staff. They came armed with a new EPA study that found a mine of Pebble’s size would pose a significant risk to Bristol Bay and its valuable salmon fisheries. Now they’re asking the Environment agency to take the next step and kill the project. They didn’t get a definite answer.

Quinhagak Man Arrested For Murder of 25-year-old Woman

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Troopers have made an arrest in the death of a woman in Quinhagak.  Troopers had been silent in the three weeks since Lisa’s Johnson’s body was found covered in brush.

Glacier Bay Land Slide Excites Scientists

Margaret Friednauer, KHNS – Haines

A massive landslide in Glacier Bay National Park more than a week ago is exciting scientists around the world for the way it was the detected, the images of the slide and the sheer magnitude of it. It’s also near a similar slide that occurred in 2012 on Mount Lituya.

House Democrats Confirm Kito To Downtown Juneau Seat

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Sam Kito III is now at work as the newest member of the Alaska Legislature.

He replaces Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who resigned her House seat last month for a Stanford University fellowship.

Bill Limiting Medicaid Abortion Payout Back In Discussion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After being shelved for nearly a year, a bill meant to limit Medicaid payouts for abortion is back – and it’s missing a component that made it more agreeable to the Legislature’s social moderates.

Peter Tony Pleads Guilty To 3 Counts Of Child Sexual Abuse

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony has pleaded guilty to three counts of child sexual abuse in a plea deal.  In the agreement with prosecutors, the 70-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing a 4-year-old in 2012 his wife had in day care at their home. Those charges carry sentences from 5 to 99 years each.

Political Solution Sought For China Geoduck Ban

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and members of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association talked last week about the possibility of a political solution to China’s ban on Alaska and Washington State geoducks.

Pro-Union Delta Western Workers Press On

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week, a handful of Delta Western fuel supply employees in Unalaska kicked off an effort to unionize by going on strike. As KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, they’re pressing ahead — even after a visit from the company president.

Former Alaskan Appearing On ABC’s ‘Mind Games’

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new ABC television show called Mind Games premieres tonight and one of the weekly series actors is a former Anchorage resident and East High School graduate. Cedric Sanders says his role is an accountant named Latrell.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Mine Opponents Urge EPA To Kill Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:20

About 30 opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine met in Washington today with White House and high-ranking EPA staff. They came armed with a new EPA study that found a mine of Pebble’s size would pose a significant risk to Bristol Bay and its valuable salmon fisheries. Now they’re asking the Environment agency to take the next step and kill the project. They didn’t get a definite answer.

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Katherine Carscallen came representing 1,800 commercial fishermen. She is part of the delegation that urged the EPA to use a section in the Clean Water Act to block the mine’s construction.

“We’re thanking them for the time they’ve taken to study this issue an now we really need to see an action that will give our industry certainty into the future,” Carscallen said.

Executives at Pebble Partnership say it’s far too soon for the EPA to take any kind of action. They haven’t even applied for permits yet. The say last month’s watershed assessment is flawed, in part because it’s based on a hypothetical project. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young also say the EPA shouldn’t butt in now, before the state has a chance to review permit applications.

But Alannah Hurley, from Dillingham, says it’s not too early at all. She says the mine has been a threat hanging over her community for a decade, her entire adulthood. Hurley is in Washington to represent United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

“To spend a ginormous portion of my life worrying about the future of our watershed is horrible,” Hurley said. “It’s stressful; it’s terrifying to think that everything that makes you who you are could be taken away.”

The group was hoping to meet with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, but she couldn’t attend. Heather Kendall Miller, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said an EPA official assured them the agency would soon announce its next step, which she took to mean within weeks. But no one from the Administration indicated what that action would be.

Categories: Alaska News

Family Planning Services Axed From Abortion Bill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:20

After being shelved for nearly a year, a bill meant to limit Medicaid payouts for abortion is back – and it’s missing a component that made it more agreeable to the Legislature’s social moderates.

Last April, something unusual happened. Sen. Berta Gardner, a member of the tiny Democratic minority caucus, offered an amendment to a bill, and Republicans adopted it.

Some even spoke out in favor of it:

SEN. LESIL MCGUIRE: I think this is exactly the right amendment for the right bill, because I think it allays some of the criticisms about the bill – number one – and I think – number two – it strikes that balance that many of the people in this body are trying to reach.

The amendment was to expand women’s health services, and the bill had to do with abortions covered by state money through Alaska’s Medicaid program.

The legislation does that by defining what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion, and requiring doctors to check off what ailment a woman suffers from a list of specific physical conditions. That list doesn’t include a mental health exception, because bill sponsors believe women and doctors could use that option to cover elective procedures.

In all, the idea behind the modified bill was to bring the number of abortions in the state in two ways: by limiting funds for abortions that bill supporters think are elective, and by increasing access to things like birth control and STD testing.

While the Senate passed the bill, the House version was put on ice. That is, until now. The House Finance Committee took the bill up again on Tuesday, and the family planning language was a point of contention. Especially for bill sponsors like Sen. John Cohill, a Repulican from North Pole.

COGHILL: I prefer not to have the amendment in there.

And Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican:

LEDOUX: That could be something that could be considered in budgetary talks, but I don’t believe that it is appropriate as an amendment to a bill that which is simply trying to define what the term “medically necessary abortion” is.

Before debate on the bill began in earnest, the House Finance Committee voted eight to three to strip the language, mostly on caucus lines. Republican Lindsey Holmes joined Democrats Les Gara and David Guttenberg in voting to keep the family planning section.

During a break from the hearing, Gara expressed his disappointment to reporters.

“The science and the evidence is that family planning can reduce the number of abortions,” said Gara. “By stripping that language out of the bill, they now have a bill that will increase the number of abortions.”

Democrats still plan on trying to reinsert the family planning component of the bill. The issue of family planning was discussed at length after its removal, and Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze suggested he would allow members to introduce an amendment on that subject as a matter of process.

But through the course of the hearing, LeDoux reiterated that she was hostile to the amendment.

“If it’s the will of the Legislature – if it’s the will of the Finance Committee – to increase funding for Medicaid, to increase funding for family planning services, then let’s talk about this in the Health and Human Services budget. There’s no need to ‘Christmas tree’ this particular bill, which is a simple bill, with discussion of family planning services.”

If the family planning language isn’t attached to this bill, it may be a struggle to get it in during the normal budget process. While the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the costs of the Women’s Health Program, the state would need to spend $1.4 million over the next two years to access those funds.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who is in charge of the Senate’s version of the operating budget, doesn’t believe there’s much will to add that in.

“I prefer that that’s not in there. To put it in as a budget item, I don’t see that happening,” said Kelly.

Under current Alaska law, only pregnant women and people with disabilities can access family planning services. The family planning amendment would expand access to low-income men and women who are seeking to prevent pregnancy. A report from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that would prevent 1090 unintended pregnancies and 360 abortions.
Last year, 1,450 abortions were performed in Alaska, and 547 were covered by Medicaid.

Earlier this month, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services made a similar attempt to define the term “medically necessary” in the context of abortion payments. Their regulations cover nearly the same conditions listed in the bill, but they also allow for a mental health exception. A judge prevented the regulations from going into effect after Planned Parent sued the state, arguing that the regulations violate a 2001 Alaska Supreme Court decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak Man Arrested For Murder of 25-year-old Woman

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:19

Harold Smith, 26, was arrested in Quinhagak Monday and charged with the first degree murder of 25-year-old Lisa Johnson.

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Johnson’s body was found off a trail near the end of the new runway in Quinhagak on February 3.

A weeks-long investigation by state troopers determined that Johnson was killed in another location, allegedly during an altercation with Smith. “Smith then moved Johnson’s body to the location it was found and attempted to conceal it with brush,” said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

Smith is being held without bail at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center pending an arraignment Tuesday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Glacier Bay Land Slide Excites Scientists

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:18

Photo courtesy of Drake Olson.

A massive landslide in Glacier Bay National Park more than a week ago is exciting scientists around the world for the way it was the detected, the images of the slide and the sheer magnitude of it. It’s also near a similar slide that occurred in 2012 on Mount Lituya.

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Scientists from NASA, the US Geological Survey, and elsewhere are calling the slide at Mount La Perouse the biggest in the world in the last four years and possibly the largest ever recorded in Alaska

A group of scientists first detected the slide after it happened on Feb. 16.

Colin Stark is a Research Professor with the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. Stark and his colleagues developed a technique, funded by the National Science Foundation, to identify massive landslides using global seismic information. Stark said when the La Perouse landslide showed up among their data, they knew something unusual had taken place.

“Last Sunday I was watching the catalogue generated every day, and I spotted an event that we detected but that wasn’t detected by the USGS or by an agency in Germany or the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. And when that happens it’s kind of a big, red flag,” Stark said.
It sort of says ‘Ooh, this could be an anomalous event.’”

Stark and his colleagues try to identify long period waves in their analysis. Short period waves are the kinds that normally occur in earthquakes. But longer waves can show a slower surface movement that might indicate a landslide.

Stark enlisted help from NASA to get an earth observation satellite to pass over the area. He also put the word out to other scientists, hoping as the news spread, access to satellite imagery would also grow.

Word eventually reached Haines pilot Drake Olson who had located the Lituya slide. He heard the approximated location of this slide to be around Bradley Glacier. He was hesitant to go on a landslide goose chase, but he took the skies and on the southern end of the Fairweather range, he spotted the obvious change in landscape.

“There was a cloud layer in Glacier Bay and I was going ‘You know, I got a lot of work to do, I shouldn’t be going off to do this. This is like a needle in a haystack,’” Olson said. “I was generally perusing everything and looked out and there it was. It stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Scientists estimate the break away from the mountain had started at just under 9,000 feet. Olson landed near the terminus at about 3,700 feet. The debris field is estimated to be almost five miles long with an estimated 68 million metric tons of debris. For comparison, the Lituya slide released less than a third of that.

Olson skiied the area to take photos. At least until he noticed the mountain and debris was still emitted small movements and sounds.

“I put my skis on, I did a quick analysis of the snowpack. And then I hiked all around on the thing. When I got up to the ice fall, wouldn’t you know the thing had a pretty good release,” Olson said. “A big thundering rumble and I hightailed it out of there.”

Stark says its unlikely Olson was in danger. Most of the activity took place at the mountain, when it broke away. The debris field is so large because it was moving across ice and spread out, he said.

“He had nothing to work about at that point. Most of that was sliding over ice. Only the very initial part of the slide was very, very steep,” Stark said. “And that’s what makes the seismic forces we detect, not the sliding over ice.”

Stark said most massive slide events like these happen in Alaska than anywhere else in the world. And more happened then even scientists realize, he said. That’s because most go undetected and unseen. But the new technique used to find this slide will hopefully help notify scientists when other massive landslides occur. Stark said he can even use the analysis to go back through data to identify slides that have occurred in years previous. Doing that, he’s already identified massive slide that he says took place in 1997 near Mount McKinnely.

As for the cause of these slide events, Stark said that’s harder to determine. He says most slides like Lituya and La Perouse happen on south facing slopes, and often in the summer. That gives him a small clue into possible underlying causes.

“One thing I’m hesitant about disseminating too much, but a lot of the events in Alaska have been south facing warm summer events,” Stark said. “So there’s a hint, but only a hint that there may be some sort of rock permafrost thawing related, slowing, steadily losing permafrost ice and that’s affecting the stability of the slopes.”

Seismologists with the Alaska Earthquake Center said once they heard about the landslide they were able to go back and look for long period waves and found the event in their data. It was the equivalent of a 2.5 magnitude earthquake, they said.

Categories: Alaska News

House Democrats Confirm Kito To Downtown Juneau Seat

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:17

Sam Kito III is now at work as the newest member of the Alaska Legislature.

He replaces Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who resigned her House seat last month for a Stanford University fellowship.

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Sam Kito III looks on while House Minority Leader Chris Tuck announces Kito’s confirmation. Photo courtesy of Gavel Alaska.

House Democrats Tuesday morning confirmed Sam Kito III to the legislative seat vacated last month by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula.

Minority Leader Chris Tuck said Democrats were unanimous in their decision.

Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday appointed Kito to the seat.

The governor asked Democrats to take their vote on the House floor.  But the minority met Monday night in closed caucus then Tuck announced the decision Tuesday on Gavel Alaska, statewide television coverage of the legislature.

With pen in hand, Tuck said party confirmations have been announced by letter for the past 25 years.

And with that right now I’d like to sign a letter to both the governor and to the Speaker of the House announcing Sam’s replacing Beth Kerttula in the House Democratic 32 seat,” Tuck said.

Kito will fill in for Rep. Harriet Drummond on the Education as well as Community and Regional Affairs committees.  Drummond is absent from the capitol for a family medical emergency.  Tuck said Kito will continue on Community and Regional Affairs when Drummond returns.

He inherits Kerttula’s longtime staff members, Ken Alper and Hannah McCarty.   Alper was one of nine Juneau Democrats to apply for the seat.  Tongass Democrats nominated Kito, Jesse Kiehl and Catherine Reardon.

Kerttula left the job on Jan. 24 for a Stanford University fellowship.  It took a  month to fill the seat, but Tuck said the small House Minority did not lose any strength while down a member.

House District 32 encompasses downtown Juneau and Douglas, Petersburg, Gustavus, Skagway, and Tenakee Springs.

Categories: Alaska News

Peter Tony Pleads Guilty To 3 Counts Of Child Sexual Abuse

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:16

Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony has pleaded guilty to three counts of child sexual abuse in a plea deal.

In the agreement with prosecutors, the 70-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing a minor in 2012 when he abused a 4-year-old his wife had in day care at their home. Those charges carry sentences anywhere from 5 to 99 years each.

He also pleaded guilty to molesting a 12-year old girl in 1998. She told a police investigator that she would wake up to find Tony touching her. That was the year he lost his foster care license. He could serve up to 10 years for that charge.

Tony was originally charged with 10 felony counts of sexually abusing minors. In Monday’s court appearance, Tony also pleaded guilty to aggravating factors like abusing the same victims multiple times and being more than 10-years older than victims. Those factors could increase his sentence.

Authorities believe he has more victims reaching as far back as the 1970s.  He and his late wife Marilyn ran a licensed foster care facility from 1984 until he lost the license in 1998.

Tony told police that there were several victims whose names he could not remember.  The police affidavit noted that Tony said touching kids was an addiction.

His former stepdaughter Kimberley Bruesch has stated that Tony molested her and her two sisters. Those sisters later committed suicide.

Peter Tony’s sentencing is set for later in June.

Categories: Alaska News

Political Solution Sought For China Geoduck Ban

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:15

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and members of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association talked last week about the possibility of a political solution to China’s ban on Alaska and Washington State geoducks.

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Geoducks for sale. Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Senator Murkowski stopped in Ketchikan after her trip to Juneau to address the Alaska State Legislature. She met with various groups, including some dive fishermen who are worried about China’s ongoing ban on geoduck clams.

“I liked how one gentleman put it,” she said during a press availability later that day. “He said, ‘Some are saying it’s an issue that relates to science. Some have suggested there’s more politics. It’s probably political science.’”

Phil Doherty is the executive director at SARDFA. He said he told the senator that scientific reasons behind China’s embargo are not clear to his group, or to divers in Washington State.

“We haven’t gotten all the information from China on their testing protocol, or whether any of our clams that were subsampled over there were hot,” he said. “But certainly the PSP testing protocol that we do here in Alaska is very much more than adequate.”

PSP, or paralytic shellfish poisoning, is caused by eating shellfish contaminated with certain kinds of algae that produce toxins. It can be deadly, so all commercially harvested shellfish is tested before it can be sold.

The ban has been in place since mid-December, when Chinese officials claimed they found high toxin and arsenic levels in geoducks from Washington State and from dive areas around Ketchikan. Doherty said the ban is a serious issue for local divers.

“We’ve closed our fisheries down completely,” he said. “We haven’t fished for the better part of six now, going on seven weeks, because of the volatile market in China and the inability of our geoducks to reach the market. This is our No. 1 concern right now.”

Doherty said his group generally tests the geoduck fishing grounds weekly. If an area comes back “hot,” or above safe levels for PSP, divers won’t harvest there, fishing instead in tested safe areas.

However, the association has suspended testing, and hasn’t fished for weeks. Doherty said the economic impact could be significant.

“We’re less than halfway through our guideline harvest level. If this thing drags on much longer, it could be 300,000-400,000 pounds of geoducks that may go unharvested,” he said. “The price before the closure was close to $10 a pound, so you’re looking at an ex-vessel value of between $3-4 million that may not get harvested.”

Doherty noted that Canadian geoducks are not included in the ban, although Canada’s sampling protocols are similar to Alaska’s. He said that adds to the evidence that the move might have been political.

A group of U.S. officials are going to China on March 3 in hopes of resolving the geoduck issue. Murkowski says she’s going to pay attention to the outcome of that visit.

Categories: Alaska News

Pro-Union Delta Western Workers Press On

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:14

Last week, a handful of Delta Western fuel supply employees in Unalaska kicked off an effort to unionize by going on strike. They’re pressing ahead — even after a visit from the company president.

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Photo by Pipa Escalante, KUCB – Unalaska.

After a visit from the company’s president, a handful of Delta Western fuel supply employees are pressing ahead with an effort to unionize.

It’s the same group that staged a walkout on February 16 to protest alleged mistreatment by managers. They want to join the Inlandboatmen’s Union — the marine division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Kirk Payne is the president of Delta Western. He flew in from Anchorage this week to visit the Unalaska office. In an interview with KUCB, Payne said he had spoken with employees about alleged mistreatment.

“Well, we certainly asked them if there was harassment,” Payne says. “You know, if they had concerns. If there are, certainly we’ll address those.”

Payne says Delta Western tries to provide a safe workplace.

“First of all, we do not tolerate harassment, discrimination of any kind,” Payne said. “We have an 800 number that they call either anonymously or un-anonymously. And they’re always welcome to call me.”

But as of Wednesday, Payne said he hadn’t heard any complaints ”of significance” while he was in Unalaska: “Nothing that would warrant what the activities were on Sunday.”

During the walkout on Sunday, the pro-union workers alleged that Delta Western managers had used 401(k) retirement plans as a bargaining chip in violation of federal labor laws.

Payne, the company’s president, provided KUCB with access to a letter that was circulated among Delta Western staff in Unalaska. The letter is signed by Payne and Brian Bogen, the president of Delta Western parent company North Star Petroleum.

The executives urge workers not to unionize, and emphasize the benefits they currently have. They also outline the way benefits could change if workers joined a union. One scenario: The company that administers Delta Western’s 401(k) retirement plan may not work with unionized employees.

That constitutes a threat, says Jon Brier. He’s an organizer with the ILWU and IBU, and he’s been working with Delta Western’s pro-union contingent. They submitted a letter to Delta Western requesting recognition of their union membership shortly after the walkout. But Brier says the company hasn’t responded to the letter.

For now, Brier says the workers have no plans to file a petition for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board. If they did, that could lead to a formal unionization vote among eligible Delta Western employees in Unalaska.

An information officer for the NLRB in Seattle confirms that they’ve received a formal unfair labor practices complaint from the Inlandboatmen’s Union. In the complaint, the union alleges that Delta Western violated federal labor law over the last six months. The workers say the company harassed known union supporters by changing their work assignments.

Payne says Delta Western will cooperate fully with the NLRB as they investigate the workers’ claims.

None of Delta Western’s fuel supply shops in the state of Alaska are represented by unions.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Alaskan Appearing On ABC’s ‘Mind Games’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 18:13

A new ABC television show called Mind Games premieres tonight and one of the weekly series actors is a former Anchorage resident and East High School graduate. Cedric Sanders says his role is an accountant named Latrell.

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Categories: Alaska News

BLM Plans Summer Work At The Red Devil Creek

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 12:13

The BLM has a plan for realigning a portion of Red Devil Creek this summer to stop mercury, arsenic, and antimony from eroding away into the river.

The work will be done under a provision known as early action. This is being done to quickly address erosion issues, instead of waiting years for the full site cleanup. Mike McCrum is the Red Devil Project Manager.

“What we want to do is make some modifications to Red Devil Creek to prevent tailings from migrating through the creek and into the Kuskokwim River,” said McCrum.

Crews would excavate sediments around the main processing area and regrade another tailings areas. That includes adding a sediment trap to catch any small tailings that begin to go downstream. The project is estimated to cost about 2 million dollars.

BLM staff will be in the YK Delta this week to present the plan and meet with residents. The first meeting is in Akiak and a meeting in Bethel is set for Wednesday at 6:00 at the cultural center. They will be upriver in the first week in March. McCrum says they are looking for comments and feedback.

“What were looking for is not just we like it or we don’t like it, but sometimes people know things about the site or the area that we don’t know or we haven’t considered,” said McCrum.

McCrum adds that the BLM does have long terms plans in the works.

“It’s not the final action it’s not the we’re doing this ahead of schedule because we think this is something that warrants early action, a sort of preemptive action if you will,” said McCrum.

The Red Devil mercury mine operated from 1933 to 1971. By the ’80s it was considered abandoned and the government began the long process of cleaning up. Studies have found buildup of metals in fish nearby. The State has issued a warning to residents not to collect subsistence foods nearby. They also warned for pregnant women and young children to avoid large-sized pike and lush, those are predators that can accumulate mercury over many years.

The study on the remediation work is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Pushes International Ban on Arctic Fishing

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-25 12:10

The United States is gathering support for an international moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

The Globe and Mail reports that Denmark and Canada are prepared to back the ban at a meeting of Arctic states in Greenland this week. The other nations — Russia and Norway — are not currently on board.

The proposal on the table is to close down fishing beyond each nation’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The region would remain closed until scientists were able to conduct a comprehensive stock assessment of Arctic fish species.

In 2009, the United States outlawed commercial fishing within its exclusive waters off the northern coast of Alaska.

Scientists and environmentalists have been pushing for an international measure in recent years, as warming climates melt off more ice and expose potential fishing grounds in the Arctic Ocean.

Categories: Alaska News

Adult Learning Center Helps Dropouts Earn Diplomas

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-24 19:03

The graduates couldn’t have been prouder. One by one, they walked on stage to shake hands with a receiving line of teachers, picked up their high school diplomas, and in keeping with tradition, tossed their mortarboards in the air to cheers from the audience.

 Family, friends and spouses crowded into the small theater, bringing with them squirming children, flowers, candy necklaces and balloons to honor their own graduate— graduates like Adriana Diaz-Cid who has waited almost twenty years to finish high school

 ”I come when my little kids, they were three years old when they came here the first time. Right now they are 21 years old. I feel really happy, really excited. Yeah, it’s my time now. “

 

 She is not atypical. Estimates are that about 9 percent of adults over the age of 25 in Alaska do not have a high school diploma.

 ” They are the forgotten people. That’s what keeps us involved in it. If we don’t serve, they are lost “

 Dr. Elizabeth Kane sits behind her desk in a crowded office at the Adult Learning Center in Anchorage.  Today she’s handling the phones, because the secretary is out.

Kane says most of the school’s students are US born.

“…and they just had to leave school for one reason or another. Mostly because of tragedy in the family. I find that a lot of it is, the mother died. We have many people, like the mother died, and she was the only single parent. Or maybe they just had to help out.. the father died, and they had to help out. “

 Some of the dropouts never get back to school.   And years, or decades go by.   The school has one mission.. to help adults get high school diplomas.

“We are the only high school that someone of any age can come back and finish up. We are globally , too. “

 The Anchorage School District cannot graduate anyone over age 21. Many of the Center’s students are immigrants who have learned English as a second language but still need a US high school diploma to get work here, despite having achieved higher education in their home countries.  The school has students from nine different African nations, Viet Nam, the Phillipines, Mexico and  Central American countries.

 Kane has taught in many economically disadvantaged areas of the globe : Jamaica for one, and in Mississippi and in rural Alaska in Norvik and Kotzebue.  Her Irish accent belies her country of origin:

“My family is come from a long line of teachers. I think we were brought up with the idea that education was probably the most important liberating factor for any group of people. And I felt like if people are educated and well educated, they are free. And I think that to give people freedom is to give them a good education. “

 She is continuing that tradition in Anchorage.

The Center is located in a crowded mini mall in mid town. Because the students in general are adult working people, they can choose their own time to study in the school. Courses are geared to independent study at home as well. And the Center survives on the tuition they pay, which is not very much.

 ”We make a payment plan and students try to give us twenty dollars a week, or one hundred dollars a month if they can afford it. And it’s a struggle for many students, it’s a big struggle for people especially when they have several children, and they are trying to keep their shelter and keep their food on the table. And we understand that. And we try to help people. Because definitely they are on a very low income, or no income. “

 Kane says she gets no financial aid from either the city or the state, but some help comes from a surprising source.

 ”We do get help from the Mexican government for the Mexican students or students of Mexican descent. “

 The Adult Learning Center used to be part of UAA, but the university cut it loose in 2004. Kane says the staff chose to keep the school going on their own, and formed a non profit. Despite it’s financial struggles, the school has graduated about 1400 students in its nine years. And that benefits the entire community.

 ”Every person who gets educated is supporting the whole community. Because they are now paying taxes, they are off welfare. They are giving a great asset to the community.”

 And for many of the forgotten people, that has been a blessing.

“It was great, you know. Here I finally got the monkey off my back, finally. I’ve been waiting for a long time..”

 Victor Senethep, in his graduation robes, posed with his pals as iphone shutters snap for one more photo before the start of  the graduation after – party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Opponents Of New Oil Tax Law Offer Their Alternatives

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-24 18:39

With the deadline for filing new legislation arriving Monday, opponents of the new oil tax system have offered their own alternatives.

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Sen. Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, filed his legislation on Friday, and it keeps the overall structure of the new system intact. The tax ceiling would remain at 35 percent, but credits for oil produced would be smaller.

A trio of Democrats – all from Anchorage – suggest a different approach. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, Sen. Hollis French, and Rep. Les Gara would like to reinstate a modified version of “ACES” — a system that taxes profits on a sliding scale and offers credits for work done in Alaska.

Gara believes that the tax change made last year was not necessary, given that North Slope oil production has been consistently profitable for producers.

“Why are you giving away billions of dollars in Alaska revenue, cutting school funding, cutting construction jobs, harming the economy, just to benefit fields that are making among the highest rates of return anywhere in the world?” said Gara at a press conference.

The package they filed Monday resembles a bill they introduced last session, which never got a hearing.

Parnell’s oil tax legislation passed last year by a slim margin in the State Senate. Proponents of the new system argue that it’s encouraged investment on the North Slope since its passage.

Voters will have the final say on whether the system should remain law. A referendum on oil taxes is scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Measure Calls For Tongass Timber Transfer

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-24 18:38

Legislation urging the state to take over some Tongass National Forest lands is bringing questions and opposition. Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman’s resolution calls for the governor to seek transfer of Tongass timberlands.

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Aide Christie Jamieson spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

She said the state could still select more than 5 million acres of federal land under the Alaska Statehood Act. But she said it can’t be logged.

“The state should be entitled to select some of its remaining land from the Tongass National Forest without being limited to recreation and community expansion,” she said.

The measure encourages Gov. Sean Parnell to pursue the land transfer. As an alternative, it suggests the state negotiate to directly purchase timberlands.

Judiciary committee members questioned how it would work. Chairman John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, was among them.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look far and wide and see if any state has been successful in negotiating land transfers from these types of lands,” he said.

The resolution supports a larger push for increased harvests recommended by the governor’s Timber Task Force. That includes a proposal from the pro-development Southeast Conference that would free up more Tongass forests for logging.

The committee heard from fishermen and environmentalists opposed to the resolution.

One was Joseph Sebastian of Kupreanof, near Petersburg.

“It’s a feel-good piece of nonsense that is likely to go nowhere. But I really think all our time would be better served finding more real problems to deal with,” he said.

Stedman’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 is expected to be heard in the Judiciary Committee again within the next week or two.

The Sitka senator was asked to appear in person and answer a list of questions from committee members.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Trooper Arrested For Sexual Abuse Of Minor

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-24 18:37

A former Alaska State Trooper has been arrested for sexual abuse of a minor. Troopers say Warren Tanner of North Pole was picked up Friday following a report received the previous day that the 75-year-old had been abusing a 14 year old girl, over several years. Tanner was taken into custody with the assistance of U.S. Marshals and jailed in Fairbanks. Tanner commanded the Fairbanks Trooper detachment for 2 years, before retiring in 1999. He served as a provost Marshall on Ft. Wainwright in the 1970’s before becoming a Trooper.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Daily News Launches Project Examining Effects Of Alcohol On Alaskans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-24 18:36

The Anchorage Daily News is undertaking a year-long examination of the affects of alcohol on Alaskan lives. Kyle Hopkins is reporting the series with photojournalist Marc Lester. On Sunday, the reporters introduced four mothers who have kids with fetal alcohol disorders. Hopkins says they wanted to tell the stories of the birth mothers and their kids.

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Categories: Alaska News

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