Alaska News

U.S. House Bill Seen as Aviation Boon, Housing Bane

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-11 08:18

The U.S. House this week narrowly passed a transportation and housing spending bill that Alaska Congressman Don Young says includes programs important to Alaska aviation.

The bill de-funds a controversial FAA hiring test. Among its critics are graduates of UAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative, who say the test hurts their chances of getting FAA jobs.

Young says he also helped defeat an amendment to de-fund Essential Air Service. That $260 million program subsidizes airlines for transportation to 44 Alaska communities, and to scores of Lower 48 towns. Airlines serving Alaska are slated to receive $15.5 million through the program this year.

The White House says the spending bill short-changes homeless programs and transit. The administration says some 60 Alaska families would lose Housing Choice vouchers if the bill becomes law.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Strike Budget Deal

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 22:51

The Alaska House and Senate have reached a deal on the state’s operating budget.

For weeks, the two bodies have been at an impasse over whether to fund cost-of-living raises for public employees. House Democrats argued that the state should not go back on its contract with state workers, while Senate Republicans held that it was inappropriate to grant them a pay increase when the state faces a multi-billion-dollar deficit. The House’s Republican majority acted as a go-between.

The stalemate finally ended on Wednesday night, when a conference committee between the two bodies agreed to pay for the contracts this year, but placed limits on future increases. Their bill instructs the governor to keep salaries flat when bargaining with the public employee unions, and has a clause that allows contract negotiations to be reopened if oil goes above $95 per barrel or drops below $45 per barrel.

The committee directed Gov. Bill Walker to cut $30 million in agency operations at his own discretion as a way of offsetting the cost-of-living increases.

The compromise also adds $16 million in formula funding for schools, as well as some additional money for early education , the ferry system, senior benefits, and the Office of Children’s Services.

As the result of the deal, Democrats in the House Minority have agreed to support a withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for the $5 billion operating budget. A three-quarter vote is needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The House and Senate have floor sessions scheduled for Thursday morning, and a spokesperson for the House Majority say a vote on the budget is anticipated.

Categories: Alaska News

Key Provision Of Erin’s Law Restored

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:42

After holding the bill for three weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a new version of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act — known nationally as “Erin’s Law.” APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that some controversial riders were removed on Wednesday.

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When lawmakers last saw the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, it was in a mutant form. In a push by Mat-Su Republicans, the sexual abuse prevention bill had grown from three pages to 12, and it had picked up sections that banned schools from contracting with Planned Parenthood and that let students opt out of standardized testing. Most troublesome to the bill’s sponsors: It gutted the original legislation by making the establishment of sexual abuse prevention programs optional.

The substitute offered by the Senate Finance Committee kept the length of the last iteration. But as Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche explained, the content hewed much closer to the original bill.

<<”A lot of the changes in here are related to the initial bill, like the task force. Some of it added extra space, but it doesn’t change the effectiveness of the Erin and Bree Law sections.”>>

The new version requires adults who volunteer with children for at least four hours a week to be mandatory reporters, and it creates a task force to create age-appropriate curricula for different grades. The bill gives that task force until 2017 to develop the program before it becomes compulsory for schools. Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, gave the reason for the task force.

“There is no intention by myself or anyone I’ve been speaking with to delay anything, but only try to perfect — or at least improve — the outcomes of safety for kids in our schools,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate Finance Committee also stripped many of the additions that were not germane to the original bill. Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy was responsible for some of those riders, with the idea of turning the Alaska Safe Children’s Act into an omnibus “parental rights” bill. He asked MacKinnon if his changes had been removed.

DUNLEAVY: Just a quick clarification — the section on parental rights is totally out of this, correct?
MACKINNON: Sen. Dunleavy, that is not correct. It depends on perspective.

MacKinnon went on to say the “controversial” components had been taken out.

When the committee took testimony on the bill later in the day, most members of the public expressed support for the committee’s actions. A box of tissues sat next to the microphone, and person after person came up and told their own stories of abuse.

Butch Moore spoke of his daughter Bree Moore, the namesake of the dating violence section of the bill. Bree was murdered last year, and her boyfriend was charged. Butch Moore said it’s hard for him to argue about different kinds of parental rights when his daughter is dead.

“Our parental rights have been taken away and stripped away from us,” said Moore. “Our parental rights have been violated more than anyone’s.”

At a press conference, Gov. Bill Walker also applauded the changes, adding that it bodes well for the Legislature concluding its special session and reaching a deal on the budget in the coming days.

Categories: Alaska News

State Consolidates Two Divisions in Dept. of Labor

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:41

Gov. Bill Walker will take a modest step toward streamlining state government by combining two divisions within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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Walker at a press conference Wednesday announced the Employment Security Division would be combined with the Division of Business Partnerships.

The combined agency will be the Division of Employment and Training Services.

The projected savings of the consolidation is $600,000. Walker says that won’t balance the budget but it’s a start.

He credits Heidi Drygas Labor Commission for coming up with the plan and says other consolidations are likely.

Drygas also is declaring Alaska a “zone of underemployment” that will allow an employment preference for Alaskans on state public works contracts.

The declaration requires that Alaska residents be given a 90 percent employment preference.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawyers Say Walker Can Act On Medicaid Without the Legislature

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:40

Governor Bill Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, according to two legal opinions written last month. One opinion, from the legislature’s legal services department, says the state’s health department can “cooperate with the federal government” and accept money for things like Medicaid.

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The opinion also points out it is probably unconstitutional for lawmakers to include a line in the budget blocking Governor Walker from receiving Medicaid expansion funds. That’s because a section of the state constitution says “bills for appropriation shall be confined to appropriations.”

The memo was written in response to a question from House minority leader Chris Tuck. In a separate opinion, the state law department makes a similar argument.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Governor says Walker will evaluate whether to expand Medicaid on his own after the legislative session.

Categories: Alaska News

State Budget Cuts Squeeze Wildland Firefighters

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:38

Firefighting efforts are winding down on two wildfires in Southwest Alaska. The 14,800-acre Whitefish Lake Fire was contained as of Monday. At just over 25,000 acres, the Bogus Creek Fire was the largest yet this year, and demobilized Tuesday.

The state’s firefighting assets that responded to these fires were based out of McGrath, the station that covers the nearly 90 million acres of Southwest Alaska. Next month McGrath will lose the majority of its firefighting staff due to state budget cuts.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nikiski Seeks More Law Enforcement as Petty Crime Booms

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:36

More property crime and the potential for hundreds of new residents in the coming years has the unincorporated area of Nikiski looking for more law enforcement. The area is underserved by the Alaska State Troopers and community members want action.

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One of the things that makes Nikiski so attractive to the people who live there is the same thing that makes it attractive for petty criminals. Quiet, secluded neighborhoods. No cops, and the space to be more or less left alone to do as you please. But that’s not really working for everyone anymore. It really hasn’t been working for awhile.

“So it seems to be the same conversation we had back in 2004. And here we are again.”

That’s Ann Krogseng. She runs a construction business with her husband. She says the property crime has gotten so bad that when some gas was siphoned from one of their tanks recently, they didn’t even bother calling it in. And she doesn’t think the multi-billion dollar Alaska LNG Project coming to town will help.

“And we are on the cusp of having a dramatic economic change in our community. And we can either be prepared if it does come or not be prepared. We’ll either be proactive or we’ll be reactive.”

Krogseng was one of more than 100 residents who came to a recent meeting to find out more about a proposed law enforcement service area. Since Nikiski isn’t a city, the services it gets through the Kenai Peninsula Borough like fire response and recreation, are all approved on local ballots and paid for through local taxes. Having that local control is a big selling point, as people aren’t real satisfied with Alaska State Troopers ability to respond to calls from their post in Soldotna, 30 minutes away. But a dedicated police force isn’t the answer for everyone. Local militia members, like Ray Southwell, think they should be able to take care of themselves.

“I’m in the process of developing the Deacons for Defense and have called upon militia members in our community to join our efforts to expose the drug dealers and disrupt their money-making schemes that destroys communities.”

Most residents do point to drug use as the main culprit behind all the property theft. It’s those layers of related crimes that make people think a permanent police presence is the best answer. But it will be up the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to decide if the question of creating a new law enforcement service area will go on the ballot this fall. If it does, the final decision will be up to the residents of Nikiski.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 17:35

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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Key Provisions of Erin’s Law Restored

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After holding the bill for three weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a new version of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act — known nationally as “Erin’s Law.” Some controversial riders have been removed.

Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon the Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities.

State Consolidates Two Divisions in Dept. of Labor

Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker will take a modest step toward streamlining state government by combining two divisions within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Lawyers Say Walker Can Act On Medicaid Without the Legislature

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, according to two legal opinions written last month.

 

Fairbanks Man Likely Contracted Measles in Mongolia

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years.

State Budget Cuts Squeeze Wildland Firefighters

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Firefighting efforts are winding down on two wildfires in Southwest Alaska. The 14,800-acre Whitefish Lake Fire was contained as of Monday. At just over 25,000 acres, the Bogus Creek Fire was the largest yet this year, and demobilized Tuesday.

New Marijuana Restrictions Regulate Secondhand Smoke

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Marijuana is now subject to the same rules limiting secondhand smoke from cigarettes in Alaska’s largest city.

Nikiski Seeks More Law Enforcement as Petty Crime Booms

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

More property crime and the potential for hundreds of new residents in the coming years has the unincorporated area of Nikiski looking for more law enforcement.

Study Investigates Water Contamination in North Pole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A federal agency will conduct a study to determine the danger of drinking groundwater contaminated by the industrial solvent sulfolane in the North Pole area.

With Seconds to Spare, Coast Guard Rescues Crew of Kupreanof

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Four people are safe after their fishing tender sank off Cape Fairweather early Wednesday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

With seconds to spare, Coast Guard rescues crew of Kupreanof

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 16:43

Four people are safe after their fishing tender sank off Cape Fairweather early Wednesday morning.

A helicopter from Air Station Sitka hoisted the crew of the 80-foot tender, just as the vessel rolled and sank in six-foot seas near Lituya Bay.

The 80-foot tender Kupreanof slips beneath the waves just seconds after the last crew member was hoisted aboard an Air Station Sitka helicopter. (USCG image)

The Kupreanof was en route from Petersburg to Bristol Bay to tender salmon when it ran into trouble at about 3:45 AM in an area known as the Fairweather grounds, about 110 miles northwest of Sitka.

Chris Stoeckler was the pilot of the Air Station Sitka rescue helicopter. He says the Kupreanof was already partially submerged by the time he arrived. The rear deck — or port quarter — was already awash. The four members of the Kupreanof’s crew were in the bow wearing their survival suits. Their liferaft was deployed at the stern.

Stoeckler says he instructed the crew to abandon ship.

“One guy jumped onto the raft. The others had to swim out. We put Jason down into the water. He helped three people get into the raft.”

That’s Jason Yelvington, the helicopter crew’s rescue swimmer. Stoeckler says the four hoists took about 20 minutes, which is all the time the Kupreanof had left.

“The last basket hoist, the boat sank, and took the raft with it.”

Rescue swimmer Yelvington says in  a situation like this, where sinking is imminent, he prefers to do his work in the water rather than on the distressed boat.

“Whether it sinks or not, there are a lot of hazards, for them to hit their head, cause a bigger injury trying to move around. I’ve got fins on usually, taking them off to move around on the boat and help them — it’s usually just a lot easier of an evolution for us if everyone’s in the raft in one area that I can get to, and swim them from there.”

Yelvington says there was a lot of diesel fuel in the water, and breathing the fumes made the work harder. He appreciated the fact that the crew members of the Kupreanof were all functioning well under trying circumstances. He says it’s often not until everyone’s safely aboard the helicopter that they’re hit by what’s just happened.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for conversation, so I think they go through a lot of the interior stuff that happens on the way back, and get a chance to calm down. That could be helpful to someone, to reflect on what just happened.”

A good Samaritan vessel — a ship, according co-pilot Ben Neal — also responded to the Kupreanof’s mayday, but notified the Coast Guard that it would have been difficult to recover survivors from the water, had that been necessary. Nevertheless, the good Samaritan would have been useful if something had gone wrong.

But Neal says a lot went right — thanks to the advance preparation of the Kupreanof crew before they set out across the Gulf.

“Before they ever got underway, they had done a drill where they got their Gumby suits out and inspected their equipment. That was probably critical in how prepared they were today. They really did have things well organized. They were pretty calm. And they called for help at the right time.”

All the survivors — and rescue swimmer Yelvington — were checked out by emergency medical personnel once they returned to Sitka. Other than their exposure to diesel fumes, all were released without injury.

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment is investigating the cause of the Kupreanof’s flooding. Neal says the vessel had been out of service for roughly 20 years prior to making this voyage.

Categories: Alaska News

Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 16:39

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee today heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.
“In Bethel (and) the surrounding villages, there’s, on average, one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” he said.
Godfrey says a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey says, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.
“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares, our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes,” he said. “But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”
Godfrey spent part of his childhood in Bethel, when his father, Glenn Godfrey, was assigned to the State Trooper post there. He says he recalls 3rd and 4th grade friends casually discussing abuse and which kids had been victimized.

Godfrey’s testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.
“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified?” she asked. “One of almost every three children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck. In what world aren’t we horrified? Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey — I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”
Heitkamp and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed a bill through the Senate last week to establish a national commission on Native children. It’s awaiting action in the House.
Godfrey says the single biggest help would be money for rural sexual assault response teams. As he sees it, they’d fly to a community right after a report, to both help the victim and gather evidence. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.
Murkowski says leaving that decision to each school district isn’t a good solution.
“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem, and they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools,” Murkowski said.
She says the rate of violence in Indian Country and in Native villages  is not a new problem, and she’s seen hearings like this one every few years.

“We just say these statistics over and over and over again,” Murkowski said, lamenting the lack of services to victims, and the lack of prosecutions.

Categories: Alaska News

Net Restrictions on the Yukon Aim to Preserve Kings

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 16:23

Summer chum and Chinook salmon have begun their runs along the Yukon River.

Wildlife managers and fishermen met via teleconference yesterday to discuss river conditions and the salmon’s progress upstream. Community members reported summer chum as far upriver as Huslia and Ruby, with Chinook salmon fast on their heels.

However, the much-coveted kings may not be a welcome sight to fishermen this year. Stephanie Schmidt is Fish and Game’s the summer season fishery manager along the Yukon. She says Chinook numbers continue to be low – mandating fishery closures once the salmon enter each upriver community.

“2015 is going to be another challenging year for us. We’re expecting a Chinook salmon run similar to last year. Which was an OK run last year. We met escapement goals. But only because of the very conservative management goals that had to be taken and all of the efforts that fishermen took to conserve Chinook salmon.”

Several fishermen voiced frustration at the closures – not because they’ll miss out on the long-restricted kings, but because gear restrictions (such as on nets larger than 4 inch-wide mesh) will hinder their ability to capture the more abundant chum.

Jack from Huslia explains that the arrival of Chinook salmon typically coincides with the peak summer chum run in his community.

“When you close it – that’s when the best fish go by for us. That’s when we lose our half-dried fish and our dried fish.”

Because Chinook salmon can be caught in gill nets just as easily as chum, all nets wider than 4 inches will be off-limits once the kings arrive. Schmidt says fishermen will still be allowed to use nets that are 4 inches or smaller for sheefish and smaller species throughout the salmon closure.

One fisherman, Martha from Ruby, says that is small consolation in communities where purchasing additional nets may be cost prohibitive.

“We have to eat along this river; everybody has to eat. They can’t live out of the store. I can’t afford to get another net that’s smaller.”

Schmidt thanked fisherman for their continued efforts to conserve king salmon – and says she knows it hasn’t come without sacrifice. She also shared some positive news from ADF&G researchers monitoring Chinook in Pilot Station.

“Those researchers have been reporting just phenomenal catches of juvenile Chinook salmon. More so than last year. And I just offer that as a little bit of hope, you know. Hopefully we are creating more baby Chinook salmon that grow up to be big Chinook salmon and come back.”

The meeting concluded with an atypical concern: Fishermen wanted to know what would happen to state-managed fisheries on the Yukon (and farther North) if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement on the state budget before July 1st, instigating a partial government shutdown.

John Linderman is regional supervisor for the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim region of commercial fisheries. He believes it unlikely that the budget impasse will reach that stage in Juneau. However, he says wildlife managers have considered it – and there is enough money to keep fisheries functional until at least August of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Man Likely Contracted Measles in Mongolia

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 15:56

A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says a man who flew from Mongolia to Fairbanks on May 31 to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks tested positive for the virus. He was at the university and numerous other locations around the city, including several stores, before he knew he had measles. The man was contagious through June 7 in Fairbanks.

State of Alaska Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin suspects the man contracted measles in Mongolia, where there’s a large ongoing outbreak of the disease that causes a telltale rash, fever, runny nose, red eyes, and in rare cases can lead to deadly pneumonia or encephalitis.

“The big question is what should people in Fairbanks be doing.”

Dr. McLaughlin says that depends on a few things. He says people born before 1957 are likely immune to measles because they were exposed to the actual virus prior to widespread immunization. He says many born after that date were likely immunized as children, protection that lasts a lifetime, but otherwise…

“If you are un-vaccinated, under-vaccinated or you’re not sure, our recommendation is to go to your health care provider and make sure you get vaccinated.”

McLaughlin says measles spreads easily through the air, and respiratory secretions, even up to two hours after an infected person has been in a room.

“Measles is one of the most contagious pathogens known. About 90 percent of people who are exposed to measles, who have not been vaccinated, or have not had the infection in the past, will get infected.”

McLaughlin says symptoms typically take a week to 3 weeks to appear after exposure. He adds that the virus can spread from an infected person 4 days before the rash starts, and 4 days after it ends. McLaughlin urges watching for symptoms and calling a health care provider if you suspect you have measles.

“Then your health care provider will give you instructions about what to do. What he or she will likely say is I want you to come to the clinic, drive to the clinic, and we will send a nurse out to escort you into the clinic, and we’ll avoid the waiting room, because we don’t want other people to be exposed.”

The state reports that the man who traveled to Fairbanks with measles was on a flight from Seattle that stopped in Seattle, but not Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska confirms first measles case in more than decade

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 10:43

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says the state’s first measles case in more than a decade has been confirmed in Fairbanks.

The department said Tuesday an adult who recently traveled to central Asia tested positive for the measles virus. The individual developed a rash several days after arriving in Fairbanks on May 31.

Alaska Section of Epidemiology Chief Dr. Joe McLaughlin says Fairbanks residents should make sure they are up-to-date with their measles vaccinations.

The patient might have been infectious while in several locations in Fairbanks from May 31 through June 7.

The patient was on a flight to Fairbanks that originated in Seattle and did not transit in Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man dies after accidental shooting

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 10:29

A 22-year-old Ketchikan man died Sunday night from what Alaska State Troopers say appears to be an accidental shooting.

According to troopers, Samson Mullenax was at a gravel pit off Brown Mountain Road with about a half-dozen people. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the gravel pit is frequently used as a shooting range.

“It looks like somebody was handling one of the small-caliber handguns that they had and it was discharged,” she said. “And unfortunately, it did strike Mr. Mullenax.”

Peters said friends immediately took Mullenax to Ketchikan Medical Center.

“They tried to do a couple different life-saving measures on him, but it just wasn’t enough,” she said. “He was declared deceased when he was at the hospital.”

Next of kin have been notified. Peters said the investigation is ongoing, even though the shooting is most likely an accident.

“From the information that we have, it doesn’t appear to be anything sinister, however it is still something that we have to look into and make sure that we have all the information,” she said.

Peters said Mullenax and the person who was handling the gun that discharged will be screened for drugs and alcohol, although there’s no indication at this point that either was involved. She said that’s a standard procedure.

The body has been sent to the state Medical Examiner for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Talkeetna River Dam Project could have preliminary license revoked

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 10:27

A required progress report on the proposed Talkeetna River Dam is overdue, according to the federal agency that licenses large energy projects.

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission notified Glacial Energy, LLC that the first six-month progress report on the proposed project is past due. In its letter, FERC says that failure to file the required reports is grounds for cancellation of the permit, and that the cancellation of the Talkeetna dam project’s permit is “probable.”

The Talkeetna River dam proposal is separate from the much larger Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, which is also undergoing a licensing process with FERC.

Categories: Alaska News

Navy holds community forum in Kodiak

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 10:24

Navy representatives held a community forum in Kodiak yesterday to address concerns about its training in the Gulf of Alaska, which they say begins Monday. They say many people believe this month’s training will include bombs, sonar, and exercises that will disturb commercial fishing, but say much of that is misinformation.

Chief of Plans for Alaskan Command, Captain Raymond Hesser, says while Environmental Impact Study documents approve the use of various pieces of weaponry, the Navy won’t actually be testing all of it during Northern Edge 15. He says this year won’t stand apart from past trainings in that way.

“So, ten days of the air-sea integration, that does not include any bombs or missiles, and it typically doesn’t. Okay. So those airplanes will be flying out just to coordinate and get used to operating in a maritime environment with Navy ships. And that’s the training objective,” Hesser says.

Hesser says the Navy’s exercises will not disrupt commercial fishing.

“Mitigations are establishing operating areas where exercise planners know to avoid fishing activity and other activity that we know would be of particular concern for a Navy ship doing its multi-mission stuff,” says Hesser. “So, again, I’ll tell ya, I can’t tell you exactly where the operating boxes are, but I will tell you that they’re not on the shelf.”

Fisheries biologist, Andrea Balla-Holden, says they will use sonar and that it’ll have a minimal affect on fish. She presented a graphic that outlines the range of fish hearing.

“There is no overlap in the frequency of the sonar used by the navy with the salmon, with the halibut, cod, snappers, and a variety of other great species, I didn’t put it all up there. And that’s just to try to indicate and to show you and convey that they don’t actually hear all of the sonar,” says Balla-Holden.

The graphic does show that herring can hear the sonar, but Balla-Holden says most fish cannot. She also says the sonar will have no affect on fish physically, while explosives could. While there will be no missiles or bombs, she says the explosions from naval gunfire will take place from the surface to five feet below it and its impact depends on different elements.

“The effects, which can include injury if you are close to the source, would be only occurring if you are very close to the source, but it is not a guarantee, it is not an absolute because it depends on the other factors. Smaller fish can be more affected than larger fish,” says Balla-Holden.

She says the explosions weaken as they continue down below the surface. The speakers at the community forum emphasized the training won’t be nearly as damaging as imagined.

And Hesser says they could have acted earlier to prevent misinformation.

“We never actually had questions about the exercise in the past and so we’ve never actually gone out before the exercise and done the public engagements like we’re doing right now,” says Hesser. “I think it’s a product of kind of the campaign that went against the exercise recently and a product of not doing the exercise for four years.”

Hesser says they’re doing their best to clarify matters now. They spoke in Cordova before visiting Kodiak for a second public forum and Hesser says the Navy will carry out its exercises between June 15 and 26.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim community King harvest permit program underway

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 10:23

A small community king salmon permit system is underway. (Photo by Shane Iverson / KYUK)

A community permit system for a limited Kuskokwim king salmon harvest begins on Wednesday. 32 communities are eligible for the permit and so far 16 communities are signed up and a few still pending for the 7,000-fish king salmon permit fishery.

Neil Lalonde is the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge manager and in season manager.

“We’re upfront, we tell them we know this won’t meet your subsistence needs. However it does provide an early opportunity. Every village we talked to would like an early opportunity to to put some fish on the racks. It allows people to fish for a small amount of fish for traditional use and the nutritional ties that people have to fish,” said LaLonde.

Designated fishermen will go out this month to catch a specific number of king salmon to share with their community. The allocations are based on a 20-year harvest history.

Managers expect about 15,000 king salmon could be harvested this year: the 7,000 in the community permit system and 8,000 caught incidentally in other nets. Lalonde says it’s a conservative approach.

“This seven-thousand direct opportunity was built into knowing we potentially could have a worse run than last year, even with the numbers we anticipate, if we have a run similar to 2013 we will still meet the mid to upper end of the escapement range,” said LaLonde.

This years forecast is better than 2014’s but still below average. Managers will not reallocate the fish that are not caught. Several villages are outside of the refuge boundary but still plan to take part. LaLonde says the designated fisherman can travel to waters on the refuge.

“The other option is the villages above and below the refuge can partner with communities within the refuge boundary and they can designate fishers from other communities,” said LaLonde.

Of the seven thousand king salmon allocated, two thousand will go to to the largest community, Bethel. Greg Roczicka is Natural Resources Director for ONC, Bethel’s tribe, and is quickly organizing the Bethel plan. It includes 52 designated fishermen each fishing for three fish camps making up the approximately 150 Bethel area fish camps. He says the fish camps are at the core of traditional use here.

“Even more so, there is the intent of the substance law, title 8 of ANILCA and the state law. It’s to preserve the cultural integrity and patterns of use that are directly associate with the fish camp. The fish camp incorporates all of those values. That’s why it is what it is; it’s the passing down of knowledge, it’s family interaction, and it’s the an integral part of a subsistence way of life,” said Roczicka.

Each camp will get about 12 fish as each fisherman catches about 36 total. The Bethel permits will alternate on odd and even days to not target a specific part of the run. Roczicka says it’s not limited to tribal members. ONC is also distributing fish from the Bethel test fishery and maintaining a list of people. For those not associated with a fish camp, Roczicka says there will be a few fish available.

“We’re open to them calling us up and letting us know and we can bring them a couple of fish under this program as well. we have a list to that effect already, with the Bethel Test Fishery. We have about 200 names from last year and it’s expanded by about 100 more this year,” said Roczicka.

There will be additional officers on the river in the coming days are there are specific reporting requirements. Fishermen will be using 6-inch mesh gill nets instead of larger mesh nets to allow the larger female kings to go up river and spawn. Last year a much smaller permit system was in place. Four communities harvested just 82 fish.

Categories: Alaska News

New Restrictions on Marijuana Treat Second Hand Smoke Like Cigarettes

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-10 01:18

 

In Alaska’s largest city, marijuana is now subject to the same rules limiting second-hand smoke from cigarettes. The move is a setback for legalization advocates in Anchorage, and leaves many regulatory questions unanswered.

A 9-to-1 vote by the Assembly modified rules already on the books related to cigarette smoke, adding marijuana within pertinent lines of code. Anchorage already passed a measure banning public consumption, and the new vote extends restrictions to more buildings and businesses.

“I think this becomes a conundrum for people who are living in multi-unit apartment buildings,” said Assembly Member Paul Honeman, who believes the rule-change shores up common-sense courtesies. Single homes, or multi-unit buildings where no one is bothered by marijuana smoke are unlikely to be affected, Honeman added.

A person lighting up too close to an entry-way or a inside a hotel room where smoking is banned can now be written a $100 ticket. Since the February 24th change in marijuana’s legal status, Assembly members say they’ve gotten more complaints from constituents about smoke seeping through apartments, creating annoyances and serious problems for some tenants.

“(A) gentleman told me he had cancer, he was living on social security and disability, which was limiting his available options to rent. And then secondly, he was having some medical problems that were being worsened,” Honeman said. “Clearly if your smoke is getting from your apartment to a neighboring apartment, this ordinance may apply to that.”

The other major driver behind the measure is a tenant dispute involving an existing marijuana business.

Pot Luck Events, a marijuana-friendly events company exists in a bit of a legal gray zone as the state develops regulations for private clubs, and some have criticized the company for jumping the gun.

Much public testimony on the matter came from Pot Luck supporters, who say the space at 420 W. 3rd Avenue fills a need for a safe place to consume marijuana.

It is, however, located underneath a church, and right next door to Beacon Hill, a daycare center for foster children.

The frequent cannabis odor creates problems for many of the families served by Beacon, many of whom are coping with addiction, according to employee Cindy Adamson.

“They are trying to clean up their life and get it put back together,” Adamson said, explaining the smell of marijuana can act as a trigger, jeapordizing people’s treatment plans.

Adamson said the Pot Luck owners have been good neighbors, but the shared building is a bad fit for the different tenant groups involved.

It’s not clear if Pot Luck will have to close down shop because of the new measure. The second-hand smoke language bans smoking lighted tobacco or marijuana, but whether that applies to consumption methods like vaping or dabing–which don’t involve a flame–remains to be seen. The municipality expects smoking marijuana indoors to eventually be handled by a conditional use permit the state sets up down the line.

While the Anchorage measure is broad, it’s passage is understandable, according Bruce Schulte of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation.

“The real take-away from tonight,” Schulte said after the vote,  “is folks really do need to sit back and wait until the state finishes the mandated regulatory process in November, and then create business models.”

The biggest losers, Schulte added, are the business owners who now have 90 days to update their no-smoking signs to include marijuana alongside cigarettes.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 17:36

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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Budget Negotiators Agree on Per-Pupil School Funding

Associated Press

House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to fully fund the per-student funding formula for the coming year, as work continues to  reach an overall budget deal.

Coal Lawsuit Results In Little Change

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Sierra Club is claiming a victory for environmentalists opposed to Seward coal shipments.

Coastal Communities Protest Naval Activity in the Gulf of Alaska

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Several coastal communities, including Kodiak, Cordova, and Homer, have held both land-based and fishing boat flotilla protests over the last few weeks to voice their concerns about planned Navy and joint military training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Rep. Don Young Marries on 82nd Birthday

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Alaska Congressman Don Young tied the knot today, on his 82nd birthday. Young married 76-year-old Anne Walton, a flight nurse from Fairbanks, this afternoon.

NOAA Survey Ships Depart for Arctic

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially launched its Arctic survey season in Alaska yesterday. Two research ships – the Ranier and the Fairweather – will set out from Kodiak to chart the underwater and shoreline topography of the Arctic Ocean.

Wood Bison Get Acquainted With Their New Habitat

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

The first load of wood bison bulls has been successfully released into the wild in the Innoko River valley.

Deciphering the Journey of Bristol Bay Smolt

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Every year, millions of sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, headed for spawning grounds in area rivers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counting projects on several rivers throughout the region to give managers a sense of how many fish enter rivers to spawn, but less is known about what happens to outbound juvenile fish each spring. Research teams on three rivers that flow into Bristol Bay have been studying those baby fish, called smolt, for the past few years.

Budget Woes Hurt Small Spuds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The legislative deadlock over next year’s state budget is no small potatoes.  In fact, the Alaska Plant Materials Center in Palmer may soon have to look for alternative funding sources to keep it’s seed potato program going.

Kinetic Energy, A Ball and An Unlikely Path to Art

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

An Eagle River man started with a pile of  junk, a roll of wire, and an obsession, and ten years later, ended up with art.

Odess: ‘Sitka Opened Her Arms To Me’

Vanessa Walker, KCAW – Sitka

Big-ticket philanthropy usually goes like this: Charitable organization makes a pitch; donor writes a check. There might be some reports to write, and maybe the donor is invited to a nice lunch. Or at least this is the way it’s supposed to work. Carol Odess , a major benefactor of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, is an outlier,

Categories: Alaska News

Wood Bison Get Acquainted With Their New Habitat

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 17:36

The first load of wood bison bulls has been successfully released into the wild in the Innoko River valley.

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Late last month, 12 bulls traveled by barge in special air-conditioned containers from Nenana to the unloading site, several miles upriver from the village of Shageluk, where a group of cows and calves has been roaming since April.

Wood Bison Restoration Project Manager Tom Seaton with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game picked a release site where a group of bison cows had been browsing only a few days before. Workers cleared an alleyway through the riverside brush for the bison to move through, and then the bulls were free to disembark.

What happened next, according to Seaton, was not at all similar to the first release of bison in April, when the cows and calves stampeded out of their holding pen.

“They made about a 90-degree turn and walked off the barge onto the bank, and up that alleyway. They did it real nice and slow, they’d stop and look back every now and then. And we got to the very last one offloading from the barge, and for whatever reason he decided that he really didn’t want to come out. So we opened all of the doors and tried to give him a little stimulus to come out and he just said no. So we all went away and made everything as quiet as we could, and in about 20 minutes he just eased out on his own and did the same thing – walked down the alleyway and into the meadow.”

Aerial surveillance shortly after the release showed that a small group of bulls immediately honed in on the scent of the cows, while another chose to swim across the Innoko River in the opposite direction from the cows. Since then, satellite tracking collars show that at least a few bulls have reunited with the cows and calves, and there is no evidence that any bulls have died in the transition to the wild.

Another group of 18 bulls is scheduled to make a similar journey by barge beginning next week.

A small group of wood bison remains in captivity at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, where the now-wild wood bison were raised.

Until this spring, wood bison had not roamed the wilds of Alaska for more than 100 years.

Categories: Alaska News

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