Alaska News

Arctic Man Turns 30

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:21

People are gathered at Summit Lake for the annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic. It’s the 30th running of the extreme sporting event that’s also Alaska’s biggest tailgate party.

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Arctic Man Founder and organizer Howie Thies of Fairbanks is ready for a big turnout for this year’s event in the Hoodoo Mountains off the Richardson Highway.

“Because it’s the 30th anniversary and we had snow compared to come of the other places in the state,” Thies said.

Arctic Man is an Alaskan rite of spring, a far cry from the humble beginning Theis recounts.

“We started out as a bar room bet and 19 show up 20-30 people, and I’ll have anywhere from 10,000-15,000 people watching this even from all over the U.S.,” he said.

Arctic Man’s main event involves skiers and snowboarders racing up and down mountains. On the way up, they’re towed at high speed by partners on snow machines. Theis predicts intense competition again this year.

“The Olympian who’s won it, Marco Sullivan who has won it four times in a row, is coming back to claim his honors,” Theis said. “Jimmy Scott, a local, young kid from Fairbanks grew up here and started racing this race when he was 16 years old, he’s coming back to claim the snowboard division, he beat a couple Olympians.”

“Yeah, I’ve got some new blood, coming from Australia, coming from Czechoslovakia, I’ve got them coming from everywhere.”

Other Arctic man events include drag and snow cross races, plus endless terrain for recreation. People have died in avalanches, falls and other mishaps during Arctic Man over the years, and Theis urges caution.

“Be safe, watch what you’re doing,” he said. “If you’re gonna drink alcohol, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t drive any motorized vehicle if you’ve been drinking.”

DUI and other arrests are a part of Arctic Man, and State Troopers maintain a large presence at the event, but Theis downplays the rowdy side of things.

“It’s a party atmosphere, to say the least,” he said. “But we’re catering more to bring your kids, bring your family, have a good time.”

Arctic Man main event, the ski and snowboard races are scheduled  for Friday but could run into the weekend depending on weather and snow conditions.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:19

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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Kivalina School Nixed From State Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee slashed more than 40 million in state dollars from the capital budget. A rural school project the state is legally obligated to complete was among the reductions.

Media Awaits Release Of National Guard Emails

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The State of Alaska still has not released all documents and emails related to the Alaska National Guard scandal. Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News sued the state for the documents last October after the Parnell administration took four months to deny public record requests.

Lawmakers Discuss Medicaid Expansion, Meaning Of ‘Payment Reform’

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The state House Finance Committee has spent several hours this week considering the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill- HB 148. A lot of that time has been focused on finding a better way to pay for health care services. It’s called “payment reform” and it’s a big topic of discussion in the health care world right now.

With New Purchase, Shell May Be Less Keen on Arctic

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Royal Dutch Shell announced this week a plan to purchase a major British LNG company, and statements by top executives suggest Shell may now be less committed to its future in the Alaskan Arctic.

Citizen Group Seeks Water Rights in Proposed Mining Area

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The public comment period closes Thursday on a water-rights petition from a citizen group fighting a proposed coal mine in the Chuitna watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Some Alaska Ferry Trips On The Chopping Block

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

More than 9,000 people are booked for Alaska Marine Highway sailings that will likely be cut due to budget reductions.

Bill To Eliminate Time Change Stalls In House Committee

The Associated Press

A bill to move Alaska off of daylight saving time likely won’t get a vote in the House this session.

Juneau Schools Replace Controversial Texts With Book By First Nations Writer

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

After removing controversial texts from fourth grade classrooms, the Juneau School District has chosen a book to replace them.

Tlingit Language To Be Officially Recognized In Federal Maps Database

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

For the first time, a Tlingit name for a peak in Juneau will be included in the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS. This makes it possible for that name to be printed on federal maps and publications. Getting the indigenous name officially recognized actually began as an attempt to give the point a Western moniker.

Arctic Man Turns 30

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

People are gathered at Summit Lake for the annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic. It’s the 30th running of the extreme sporting event that’s also Alaska’s biggest tailgate party.

Categories: Alaska News

With New Purchase, Shell May Be Less Keen on Arctic

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 15:29

Royal Dutch Shell announced this week a plan to purchase a major British LNG company, and statements by top executives suggest Shell may now be less committed to its future in the Alaskan Arctic.

Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden  said at a conference yesterday the combined company would sell off assets over the next three years to raise $30 billion and to focus more on its core business.

“We plan to undertake a portfolio review to assess which assets should stay in the enlarged group, and which positions would be better owned by others,” he said at a conference Shell called to explain the $70 billion deal.

If the deal to buy BG Group goes through, the conglomerate would be the third largest gas-producing company in the world. Business analysts say Shell’s move indicates it sees a brighter business future for natural gas versus oil, and that Shell finds it cheaper to buy reserves rather than explore and develop new ones.

Van Beurden says the purchase of BG will accelerate its plan to pare down to three pillars: Mature cash-producing businesses, integrated gas – meaning LNG and gas-to-liquids projects — and deepwater assets.

“It was of course always the intention over time to build a much more streamlined, much more focused company. This gives you the opportunity to do that straight away,” he said.

Shell, on its website, classifies the Arctic as a future opportunity, not included in any of those three pillars. In the company’s slideshow at the conference yesterday, the Arctic is only mentioned – along with heavy oil, Nigeria and Iraq — as a “longer term option,” the category slated for review and reduction. Van Beurden declined to say which assets might be sold, citing commercial tactics, but he did call for a course correction.

“So yes, you will see some changes in the priorities that we have communicated or implied in recent times as well,” he said.

Shell CFO Simon Henry says the combined company would spend less on conventional exploration. In January, Shell announced that it was committing $1 billion from that budget to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer. A Shell spokeswoman in Alaska says that plan is still proceeding.  Two Arctic-bound drilling rigs are crossing the Pacific now, one on a ship that was boarded by Greenpeace protestors.

Henry, the CFO, told the British newspaper The Independent that if Shell is able to drill in the Arctic this year, a small number of wells would reveal the potential.  He said the company won’t walk away if they find good value. Shell has so far spent more than $5 billion on its off-shore Alaska program.

 

Categories: Alaska News

With AG Confirmation Pending, Same-Sex Marriage Ban Brief Causes Rift With Democrats

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 18:19

Last week, Alaska Attorney General designee Craigs Richards joined 15 other states in asking the Supreme Court to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage. This comes just as legislators are deciding whether to support his confirmation in a vote later this month. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the action has left some Democratic lawmakers in an uncomfortable spot.

“State of Alaska signs brief in support of doomed ban on marriage equality. That was the press release the Alaska Democratic Party sent on Friday, which went on to describe the attorney general’s move as “embarrassing.”

Fast forward to a House Minority press availability on Tuesday.

“I do support his action of upholding the Constitution of the State of Alaska — his oath of obligation,” House Minority Leader Chris Tuck told reporters.

The Anchorage Democrat explained that it was Attorney General designee Craig Richards’ “duty” to protect the state constitution, “no matter what his beliefs are” on a provision that bans same-sex marriage.

The statement was a major shift in rhetoric from Democratic leadership, given that the caucus has regularly pushed for anti-discrimination bills and the issue is important to their base. Asked three follow-up questions on the amicus brief, Tuck struggled to explain his support for the attorney general’s authority without getting into the policy the attorney general was defending.

“We want to have a separation of powers from the executive branch, for the legislative branch, and the judiciary branch,” said Tuck at the availability. “We don’t want to politicize the judiciary branch in any way.”

The attorney general, who is in fact part of the executive branch, is not removed from politics. Richards serves at the pleasure of the governor, and the Legislature must confirm him by the session’s end.

And that’s where the rub comes for Democrats like Tuck, who have been fairly supportive of his nomination.

This is what puts us in an awkward position, because many of us are very upset with the amicus brief. But at the same time, we want to support the governor and we want to have a person in there that he can rely on.”

Democratic lawmakers have been friendly toward independent Gov. Bill Walker since he took office. Most of the opposition to Walker’s policies and appointments has come from the right. The nomination of Craig Richards — Walker’s former law partner — to the post of attorney general has attracted special attention from Republicans, who have raised questions about his work on lawsuits against the oil industry.

But since Richards filed the amicus brief last week, some Democrats have expressed reservations about him. Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage says he would like to have Richards further explain why the state should try to protect language banning same-sex marriage.

“I like him personally. I don’t doubt his intellectual bonafides,” said Josephson. “But there is a lot of pushback on this issue.”

Some Democrats are concerned about the process as well as the policy.

The issue of same-sex marriage attracted considerable attention during Walker’s run for office. During the campaign, Walker criticized incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell for appealing a court decision favoring same-sex marriage. He argued that “pursuing expensive litigation that has little chance of victory is an unwise use of our dwindling resources.”

On Friday, Walker made a point to say he was not involved in the attorney general’s decision to join the brief — and even disagreed with it as a matter of policy. But Walker also said he “fully respect[ed]” the attorney general’s power to pursue that course of action.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, says it’s highly unusual for an attorney general to get that level of autonomy, if that is the case.

“As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never seen an attorney general just unilaterally go out and start setting policy,” says Wielechowski. “If he went ahead and did it, that to me doesn’t seem appropriate. Many people would say it’s insubordination in fact.”

Wielechowski says he and another Democrat in the House have asked Richards to show them precedent for the action. Wielechowski says if the precedent does not exist, that could affect views on Richards’ confirmation.

“When people voted for the governor, they voted with an understanding that he was not going to get involved in these sorts of issues,” says Wielechowski. “I didn’t want, quite frankly, an unelected bureaucrat making these decisions.”

As the day progressed, one Democrat — Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks — who had initially suggested support for the attorney general’s action clarified that he does support marriage equality and misunderstood the nuances of that attorney general’s role as it relates to the court challenge.

And as for Tuck, well, — with all of the heartburn from Democrats over support of the same-sex marriage, the minority leader waffled some and clarified that there were “mixed feelings” in his caucus on the action. He wonders if it was done to shore up Republican support for Richards’ confirmation.

“I believe it’s a political calculation for the executive branch,” says Tuck. “What we have is a maneuver to file the amicus brief, and it may be motivated to win some of the conservatives in the Legislature for confirmation. At this point, I don’t know where that plays out, but I will tell you that we do have some very upset members.”

A spokesperson for the Senate’s Republican majority says the action is unlikely to be a determining factor for her members. Socially conservative members of that caucus say they plan to consider Richards’ record as a whole. Majority Leader John Coghill says he appreciates Richards’ support for the Constitution in this case, but that the attorney general designee still faces an “uphill battle” with him.

On the subject of the marriage ban action, the governor’s office offered a written statement in response: “The confirmation decision is up to the legislature and we are not going to speculate on what any individual legislator might be thinking.”

The Department of Law did not respond to an inquiry on this matter.

Richards needs support from a majority of the Legislature’s members to be confirmed.

Categories: Alaska News

With One-Cent Spill Levy, Alaska House Passes First Tax Bill In Years

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:54

Since the Murkowski administration, the Alaska House of Representatives has not passed a taxation bill where the levy goes beyond the oil industry. That changed on Wednesday, when the House narrowly passed a surcharge on refined fuel. The tax amounts to one cent per gallon.

The surcharge would replenish the state’s diminished spill prevention and response fund. Right now, the fund is covered exclusively through a nickel-per-barrel fee tied to oil production. As that production has declined, so has the size of the fund. The penny-a-gallon tax on gasoline, vessel fuel, and home heating oil would supplement that fund.Aviation fuel would be exempted.

Juneau Republican Cathy Muñoz sponsored the bill. During her floor speech, she noted that the majority of the spills caused in the state involve crude oil and not oil production, and that the surcharge would recharge the fund while spreading the cost among its users. Muñoz added that the fund has been in danger for years, and delaying action on it could cause the spill prevention program to disappear.

“I will be looking at a $7 million shortfall in the division,” said Muñoz, laying out a delay scenario. “We will begin dismantling our core spill prevention and response. And that is a situation that we do not want to be in as a state.”

The bill attracted a mix of opposition from legislators reluctant to instate a new tax, even at a penny. North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson slammed the bill, saying it posed a special burden to Interior residents who heat their homes with refined fuel.

“It is a big deal. You’re making our constituents pay for something that is not our fault,” said Wilson. “You’re make a slush fund because of it, and we’re supposed to just accept that.”

As the state faces a multi-billion revenue shortfall, the debate also served as a preview of what other taxation discussions could look like.

Rep. Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, defended the bill, noting that it amounted to a $10 tax for a person who filled up a 20-gallon tank once a week. He added that people pay property taxes that fund schools, even when they do not have children enrolled.

“We hear, ‘Why should I have to pay for it? It’s not my fault.’ Well, sometimes we have to take responsibility and take care of things,” said Thompson. “This is health and safety and environmental protection that we have to make sure happens in our state, or we’re going to have a major problem that we aren’t able to take care of.”

The bill passed 21-19, with no clear partisan or regional logic to the vote. Five members of the Democratic minority joined a bloc of Republicans to pass the legislation, while some of the Legislature’s most liberal members joined its most anti-tax conservatives in opposition.

While Republican leadership has said it does not plan to advance a broader tax bill this session, two others have been introduced. Homer Republican Paul Seaton proposed an income tax earlier this month in the House, which would max out at 6 percent for the very highest bracket. On Tuesday, Fairbanks Republican Click Bishop offered an education head tax, which would vary between $100 to $500 per person based on income level.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Issues Disaster Declaration For Dalton Highway Flooding

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:18

Governor Bill Walker has declared a disaster in response to flooding that’s making the far northern end of the Dalton Highway impassable. The road is used to supply the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It’s been closed south of Deadhorse since Sunday because an expanding area of overflow from the Sag River and recent blizzard conditions that have hampered Department of Transportation crews. The disaster declaration will amp up efforts to open the road.

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Categories: Alaska News

Ethan Berkowitz, Amy Demboski Heading For Mayoral Runoff Election

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:17

Ethan Berkowitz, standing with his family, won the largest percentage of votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demoski are headed to a runoff for Anchorage mayor on May 5.

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Unofficial results show Ethan Berkowitz leading the mayoral race with 37 percent of the vote. But because Berkowitz didn’t take 45 percent, he’ll be in a run off with Amy Demboski, who, with about a quarter of the total votes, was the second place candidate. Berkowitz says he’ll run the next part of the race the same way as the first – hard and fast.

“Our strategy has always been to try to develop practical solutions to the issues we face today and get ready for the opportunities Anchorage faces tomorrow,” Berkowitz said.

Amy Demboski surrounded by supporters, including one holding a sign with the middle cut-out, a reference to attacks last week against her campaign posters. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Assembly member Demboski beat Andrew Halcro by about three percent. Halcro officially conceded the race just after 11pm on election night. Demboski was competing for a share of conservative votes against both Halcro and Dan Coffey. She says it’s helpful to now have a narrowed field.

“Well now I know who my opponent is directly so there will definitely be compare/contrast opportunities,” Demboski said.

The biggest surprise for election watchers was the low return for Coffey, who has been campaigning since 2013 and outspent every other candidate by a wide margin. Coffey received just 14 percent of the vote.

The school board races were decisive. Incumbent Kathleen Plunkett had twice the number of votes as Derrick Slaughter to retain Seat E. Incumbent Tam Agosti-Gisler beat David Nees for Seat F. And Elisa Snelling overtook Starr Marsett to secure the seat being vacated by Natasha Von Imhof.

All but one of the bond proposals passed. The capital improvements bond for upgrades to the Chester Creek sports complex failed.

The contentious school bond secured 53 percent of the vote. As the legislative statute currently stands, about 60% of the $59 million dollar bond will be reimbursed by the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Subsistence Hunters No Longer Need Federal Duck Stamps

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:14

It took a few years and an act of Congress, but today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rural subsistence hunters don’t need to purchase federal duck stamps.

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Myron Naneng, head of the Association of Village Council Presidents, says many thought this was included in the Migratory Bird Treaty in the 1990s, which allowed spring and summer subsistence hunts.

“We assumed that Alaska Natives would have duck stamp exemptions with the acceptance of the treaty, but at that time a solicitor who lived here in Anchorage said that’s not included,” Naneng said.

For years, it was unclear whether village hunters had to buy the $15 annual duck stamps. Changing the law was a big priority for Alaska Native advocates, and for Alaska Congressman Don Young. Young heralded the announcement of the new federal enforcement rules with a video-taped statement and his own duck call.

Young called it a major victory for rural Alaska.

“Remember we had this problem before of who had a stamp, who didn’t have a stamp,” Young said. “This solves the problem, so I’m real pleased with Fish and Wildlife, and I’m pleased with being able to pass this through the Congress.”

The new rule exempts rural hunters who are permanent residents of subsistence harvest areas from buying the stamp, though they must still comply with other state and federal hunting laws. A new federal law raises the duck stamp fee to $25.

Categories: Alaska News

Rie Muñoz Leaves A Legacy Of Delight, Joy And Laughter

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:13

Rie Muñoz with her dog Muncie in the Mendenhall Wetlands, Juneau in 2008. (Photo by Mark Kelley)

Beloved artist Rie Muñoz passed away Monday night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau after a stroke. She was 93. Muñoz was active until the end, a prolific artist and traveler who drew inspiration from everyday Alaskans.

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Rie Muñoz was born in southern California in 1921 as Marie Mounier. Her parents were from Holland and she spent a lot of her childhood there, where Rie was a common nickname.

Daughter-in-law Cathy Muñoz says, as a teenager, Rie and her two brothers were separated from their parents for 4 years. They were on a boat to the United States and their parents were supposed to meet up with them one week later, but World War II broke out.

“It was her brothers and her that went on to California and on their own, they took care of themselves, they got odd jobs, they got a place to stay. After she graduated from high school, then she was reunited with her parents,” Cathy Muñoz says.

Rie Muñoz moved to Juneau in 1950, traveling by steamship up the Inside Passage. In 1951, she and newlywed husband Juan Muñoz Sr. went to teach on King Island, located in the Bering Sea, near Nome. “King Island Christmas” is based on her time there. Muñoz illustrated the children’s book and the late Jean Rogers wrote it.

Rie Muñoz teaching in King Island in 1951. (Photo courtesy Juan Muñoz)

After their time on King Island, Muñoz and her husband later divorced and she raised their son, Juan.

“When he was young, they were often on the road in the summertime. They would load up her van with artwork and they would travel to remote communities and they did what was called a series of clothespin art shows, where they would come into a community and string a line and then hang her paintings for sale,” Cathy Muñoz says.

That built up Rie Muñoz’s following and reputation as an artist. After holding a number of jobs like teacher, journalist and curator at the Alaska State Museum, Muñoz started making a living as an artist in 1972.

Kes Woodward is an artist, art historian and teacher. He met Muñoz in 1977 when he moved to Juneau to be the state museum curator.

He said Muñoz considered her work expressionistic. She was known for her watercolors of Alaska scenes, such as fishermen at work, children at play and life in remote villages. Woodward says Muñoz was the mostly widely traveled Alaskan artist and her art focused on Alaskan people.

“She depicted them enjoying themselves. For her, Alaska is a place that is joyous. It’s a place full of delight and joy and laughter, and I think that’s her real legacy is that she captured that better than anybody else, better than anybody ever has,” Woodward says.

Muñoz described her process in 1985.

“The subjects that I like to paint are people, people doing things. Now that doesn’t mean somebody in an office typing. But people doing things that appeal to me such as working outside in any sort of occupation mostly. And I go to many, many places to sketch and then come back with those sketches and do the paintings from those sketches,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz was speaking in a KTOO-TV series “Conversations.” At the time, she said she was painting up to 85 original works a year.

A Rie Muñoz weaving hangs in the office of daughter-in-law Rep. Cathy Muñoz. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“I think that art should be creative and honest. And by creative, I mean just that – you have to create something out of yourself. As far as the honesty is concerned, I think that an artist should paint exactly what he or she wants to paint and not ask him or herself, ‘What if I paint this, will this sell?’ It just doesn’t work that way,” Muñoz said.

Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries in Alaska, Seattle and elsewhere in North America. Her work is also in many homes.

“Well, I find my art in a lot of bathrooms and one reason I do is because I’ve done a number of nudes and, of course, they’re perfect in a bathroom,” she said.

Muñoz’s death was unexpected. She was at Easter Brunch on Sunday. On Friday night, she went to her granddaughter’s first solo art show. As her granddaughter was growing up, they used to spend hours together, sitting side by side, painting and sketching.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:12

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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Action On Same-Sex Marriage Leaves Democratic Lawmakers In Uncomfortable Spot As Attorney General Confirmation Looms

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last week, Alaska Attorney General designee Craig Richards joined 15 other states in asking the Supreme Court to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage. This comes just as legislators are deciding whether to support his confirmation in a vote later this month. The action has a left some Democratic lawmakers in an uncomfortable spot.

State House Passes Surcharge On Refined Fuel

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since the Murkowski administration, the Alaska House of Representatives has not passed a taxation bill where the levy goes beyond the oil industry. That changed on Wednesday, when the House narrowly passed a surcharge on refined fuel. The tax amounts to one cent per gallon.

Gov. Walker Issues Disaster Declaration For Dalton Highway Flooding

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker has declared a disaster in response to flooding that’s making the far northern end of the Dalton Highway impassable. The road is used to supply the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It’s been closed south of Deadhorse since Sunday because an expanding area of overflow from the Sag River and recent blizzard conditions that have hampered Department of Transportation crews. The disaster declaration will amp up efforts to open the road.

Ethan Berkowitz, Amy Demboski Heading For Mayoral Runoff Election

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski are headed to a runoff for Anchorage mayor on May 5.

Long After Civil War’s End, Rebel Raiders Fought On in Bering Sea

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A hundred and fifty years ago this week – tomorrow, actually – General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Textbooks typically say this event signaled the end of the Civil War. But a few historians make the case that the last shots of the war were actually fired from a Confederate ship off of Alaska’s coast, in the Bering Sea.

Rural Subsistence Hunters No Longer Need Federal Duck Stamps

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It took a few years and an act of Congress, but today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rural subsistence hunters don’t need to purchase federal duck stamps.

Rie Muñoz Leaves A Legacy Of Delight, Joy And Laughter

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Beloved artist Rie Muñoz passed away Monday night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau after a stroke. She was 93. Muñoz was active until the end, a prolific artist and traveler who drew inspiration from everyday Alaskans.

Categories: Alaska News

Long After Civil War’s End, Rebel Raiders Fought On in Bering Sea

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 15:49

Crewman’s drawing of CSS Shenandoah towing 200 prisoners in boats in Bering Sea

One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va. Textbooks typically say this event signaled the end of the Civil War. But a few historians make the case that the last shots of the war were actually fired from a Confederate ship off Alaska’s coast, in the Bering Sea.

She was the CSS Shenandoah, one of a handful of Confederate “commerce raiders,” commissioned to bruise the Union economy by ruining the U.S. shipping industry. The Shenandoah continued its destructive mission until the summer of 1865, nearly three months after Appomattox.

“Well, you can’t really call it ‘the last shots of the Civil War,’ because there was only one side that loosed a blank cartridge in capturing a whaling ship in the Bering Sea,” says Sam Craghead, of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, who has studied its strange story and its last acts of aggression near the Arctic Circle.

The Shenandoah was a 230-foot ship with both sails and a steam engine. She seized more than three dozen commercial vessels, often without firepower, though the crew burned many to the waterline and forced others

Model of Shenandoah, in front of her Confederate flag, the last lowered in surrender.

to transport prisoners.

“So they destroyed the enemy’s ships and that is perfectly legitimate, under naval warfare,” Craghead says.

It sounds brutal, but Craghead isn’t one to judge Captain James Waddell harshly.

“The Shenandoah captured 1053 sailors. Not a one was harmed,” he says. “They were all sent to a friendly port on a ship that he bonded.”

By 1865, U.S. cargo ships were scarce. All the raiding and burning scared off customers and drove insurance rates sky high. So the Shenandoah chased the Yankee whaling fleet in the Pacific. In the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, Waddell burned four whaling ships he found in the harbor. But first, he took their nautical charts, revealing the Arctic whaling grounds. By then it was early April.

“So they start steaming north, heading toward the Bering Sea,” Craghead says. “That was four days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. But if you have any idea where the Caroline Islands are — that’s out in the middle of nowhere. They might as well have been on the other side of moon, because they had no information.”

How long they remained uninformed would later be in dispute. In any case, in June the Confederate raiders were north of the Aleutian Chain, destroying one ship after another.

“All right, on the 25th, near St. Lawrence Island, they captured the whale ship Gen. Williams,” he says. “On the 26th near the same place the William C. Nigh, the Catherine and the Nimrod.”

At one point, Craghead says, the Shenandoah had 200 captives on board, and a string of a dozen small, open boats, taken from whaling ships.

“And they put those 200 men in those 12 whale boats and tied (the boats) end to end and then hooked them to the Shenandoah and pulled them along,” he says.

No need to feel too sorry for them, Craghead says, since these were hearty whalers used to traveling in these boats over long distances in icy seas.

The Shenandoah continued destroying ship after ship until June 28, 1865, when they hit the jackpot near the Bering Strait: A whaler had crashed into ice and was totaled. Other ships had gathered for an auction of its valuable whale oil and bone. The Shenandoah took them all.

“Besides the Brunswick, they burned the Congress, Covington, Favorite, Hillman, Issac Howland, Martha Second, Nassau and Waveryly,” Craghead says.

They left two whaling ships intact to carry prisoners. Craghead says one, called the James Murray, had its captain’s distraught widow and children on board.

“This captain had died during the voyage, and they preserved his body in a barrel of whiskey to take it back to New England,” Craghead says.

Finally, on August 2, 1865, after sailing south to ice-free waters, the Shenandoah came across a ship with a newspaper that said the South had surrendered, President Lincoln was dead, and the war was over. Only then did crew of the Shenandoah give up the mission.

Some historians, like U.S. authorities back in the day, accuse the men of the Shenandoah of piracy in the Bering Sea, because they must’ve known by then the war was over. Some say their prisoners told them. Capt. Wadell, though, claimed he had no proof. Yes, one ship they took in June had a newspaper that told of the surrender, but that paper also said the Confederate president had vowed to fight on. Craghead believes the captain. Regardless, Craghead says he wishes more people knew the tale.

“It’s a fascinating story! One that most people haven’t explored. We spend so much time with Grant and Lee and Jackson, that we don’t get into what happened in the Navy,” he says.

As for the captain and crew of the Shenandoah, they sailed on to England and escaped prosecution.

Categories: Alaska News

WAANT Makes Arrests for Alleged Bootlegging

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:42

Investigators from the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics team arrested two people in seperate incidents Monday. They say 23-year-old Olivia Guest was contacted as she attempted to fly to Chefornak with five bottles of alcohol in her luggage and purse. They say she became confrontational and pushed the investigator away from her luggage. Guest is being charged with alcohol importation and disorderly conduct.

They also arrested 40-year-old Theresa Sipary of Bethel. She is accused of attempting to import 13 bottles of liquor to Kipnuk. Both were taken to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.

Investigators also allege that 40-year-old Wilson Beaver of Bethel brought 22 bottles of whiskey to Tuntutuliak by snowmachine. They were in contact with the community earlier this month. The alcohol has a local value of $3,300, or $150 per bottle. Felony charges were forwarded to the district attorneys office.

Categories: Alaska News

Division of Forestry Stresses Being ‘Firewise’ This Season

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:35

2015 will likely be a year with higher than usual fire risk on the peninsula.

Paul Pellegrini is a fire prevention officer with the Division of Forestry for the Kenai/Kodiak region.

He says conditions this year are reminiscent of last year, before the Funny River fire, and 2005, the year of the Tracy Avenue fire out East End Road.

“What that means for us is that there wasn’t enough snow to compact the cured grasses and that’s a big difference. If the grasses are on the ground and compacted, they burn differently than if they’re standing up. And right now, they’re high and dry.”

Pellegrini says there’s lots of fuel for wildfires, but grasses are some of the most dangerous.

“I fought fire for the State of California and it was all about these really fast-moving grass fires. And [on] the Kenai that’s a recent phenomenon. It’s maybe 10 or 15 years old, where these grasses have pushed in where the forest used to be.”

The changing landscape is due in part to the mass beetle kill that in the 1970s and 1980s. According to the Division of Forestry’s website, since the mid 1970s, Spruce bark beetles have killed mature spruce trees on more than a million acres of land here. That’s about half of the Peninsula’s total forested land.

“Our forest has been falling on the ground. Some of it is still standing up and dead and some of it is alive. But that dead and downed component that we can’t see very well, it’s still laying on the ground and it’s got grass all around it because when that canopy went away, the sun hit our landscape and that’s where all this grass came from.”

Pellegrini says that makes it even more important for residents to be very careful managing fires, especially during hot, dry seasons.

“The majority of fires on the Kenai are human-caused. The majority of human-caused fires are started by debris burning- people having open burns usually on their property, in their backyard, let’s say, where they’re cleaning up branches and woody debris. Most of those fires that we lose- those debris fires- they escape because the folks didn’t follow the guidelines on their burn permit.”

Burn permits are required for open burning from April 1st through August 31st and are subject to burn suspensions and closures.

Pellegrini says regardless of whether or not people plan on burning, they should practice Firewise. That includes clearing dry and dead brush within 30 feet of a house, and not storing firewood and other flammable items underneath decks or patios, among other things.

And he says, always think twice and take precautions before setting any type of fire.

“It’s still risky. Every time you choose to light a fire, whether it’s for a burn barrel or an open burn or even a camp fire, there’s a chance that the wind changes or you didn’t anticipate an event that happens and some ember cast from your fire ignites nearby grasses and you’re going to have a wildfire.”

Information on burn permits and Firewise tips are available on the Division of Forestry’s website,forestry.alaska.gov/burn.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Woman Faces Manslaughter Charge in Heroin Death

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:29

A Bethel woman has been indicted on a charge of manslaughter for allegedly fatally injecting her father with heroin. 35-year-old Shannon Cooke faces the charges for an incident from September 29th, 2014.

The state says that 56-year-old Thomas Tungwenuk was found unresponsive in an Anchorage apartment. Police and medics responded and the man was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Daniel Shorey is an assistant district attorney in Anchorage.

“The manslaughter charge is for delivering heroin to her father, Thomas Tungwenuk. She is also charged with misconduct involving a controlled substance for the actual delivery of the heroin,” said Shorey.

The state medical examiner found that Tungwenuk had died of the acute combined effects of alcohol and heroin. Police received a report that Tungwenuk had injected himself and then was found by his daughter 30 to 45 minutes later, however the state alleges that Cooke injected him.

Cooke was arrested Friday by Bethel police. Bail was set at $20,000 with a third party custodian. If convicted, Cooke faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A pre-trial conference before Judge Jack Smith in Anchorage is scheduled for May 13th.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Prison Deals With Overcrowding By Housing Women In A Tent

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:30

A view inside the tent at Lemon Creek Correctional Center as seen from a security monitoring screen. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Alaska’s prison population is the third fastest growing in the country, and the prisons are over capacity. The crowding problem is especially evident at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center where half the female inmates live in a tent outside. Some of them actually like it, but it’s an indication of a problem one state senator is trying to fix.

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“It kind of looks like a greenhouse from the outside,” says 29-year-old Lemon Creek inmate Catherine Fredrick. She lives in the tent. “It has bunks all in one row and we actually house more than the dorm does.”

The 20 by 30 foot curved roof canvas tent sits on a raised wooden platform. You can see it as you enter the grounds of the Lemon Creek Correctional Center and it really does look like a greenhouse. When I first visited the prison, I had no idea women, up to 20 of them at a time, were living there.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, you know. Sometimes it gets cold in the winter, but they allow for us to have an extra blanket if it’s really cold out. And in the summer, it’s hot,” Fredrick says.

That’s when they can open a window or decide to walk outside to get fresh air. Inside the prison, it’s different.

“You don’t open your own doors, it’s always keys open the doors, moving gates, you hear the clanking, you hear the keys rattling, you hear the bells going,” Fredrick says.

There is one big con with the tent, though. No running water. Two porta-potties sit outside between the tent and the entrance to the prison.

“The outhouse gets full quick when we have too many people, so you have to use the broom with a plastic bag on the end to push the poop down, and that’s kind of disgusting but we take one for the team,” Fredrick says.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Ronald Taylor admits the living situation isn’t adequate, especially without running water. But given the prison overcrowding situation, he says he doesn’t have much choice.

Catherine Fredrick at a prison event in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center gymnasium. Fredrick lives in the tent. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“As long as the housing issues are what they are, then the tent is going to be used for that as an overflow,” Taylor says.

It’s been used that way for more than 15 years. Men have stayed there before, but lately it’s been for women. Since 2002, Taylor says the number of female inmates in the state has been growing at a faster rate than males.

He says the state’s primary prison for women, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River, recently had a daily count of 441. That’s almost 50 people over capacity.

Taylor says overcrowding issues throughout the state prison system will continue to affect the situation at Lemon Creek.

“When we’re able to really manage our population to where that’s no longer an issue and we can consistently stay down below our numbers in terms of the overflow, then I think that we’re not going to utilize the tent for that,” Taylor says.

A December report from the state’s legislative audit division called the tent a weakness for security reasons. But inmate Veronica Parks comes back to the living standards issue. She lives in the dorm now, but remembers how she used to bang on the prison door for an hour before being let inside to shower.

“We shouldn’t be holding girls in here that we can’t put inside the building,” Parks says.

State Sen. John Coghill has introduced a bill that he hopes will ease the prison overcrowding issue and get more Lemon Creek inmates inside the building.

His proposal would use electronic monitoring to keep nonviolent offenders and people awaiting trial out of prisons, while providing incentives for them to go to treatment programs. The bill would also cap the amount of time someone is in prison for a probation violation.

“We can’t afford another jail. Where would we build it and how would we build it when we don’t have the money?” Coghill says. “So that’s the pressure to keep us being creative, to give people avenues to succeed, hold them accountable and maybe jails isn’t the best way to do it.”

Coghill says he didn’t previously know about the tent at Lemon Creek, but he finds it troubling.

“Just because they’re in prison doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated with the best dignity we can treat them,” Coghill says.

But inmate Catherine Fredrick still says the tent is actually better than living inside the prison.

“Living in a tent is kind of like a privilege for the jail because you get the feeling of being outside, feeling of being home when you can open your window,” Fredrick says.

Of course, she says she’d rather be home with her 11-year-old son. But for now, she says home is where you make it.

Categories: Alaska News

Seaton Suggests Income Tax for Diversification of Revenue Sources

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:29

Peninsula Representative Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, filed a bill Friday to bring back an income tax to Alaska. Representative Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, co-sponsored the bill.

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Alaska’s budget is in dire straits. Belt-tightening is happening across the board to compensate for a sharp decline in oil revenue that’s left the state with an immense budget deficit.

Representative Paul Seaton says the hole is so large, cuts just don’t cut it anymore.

“You know, three and a half, four billion dollars of deficit and we know we cannot solve it by just making cuts. [You can] terminate the entire state employee force and we would not get halfway there. So, we need to look at diversifying our revenue sources,” says Seaton.

The state last had an income tax in the 1970s but the growing oil industry and the money it pumped into the economy prompted the state to get rid of it in 1980. Then, the state took a look at reinstating the tax 10 years ago. It was briefly considered and then put to the side. Seaton says his proposal now uses information from that past research.

“I was here during the Murkowski administration in which we looked really carefully and analyzed both a sales tax and an income tax. They both raised about the same amount of money but an income tax was much more efficient to collect; it cost less than half the amount that a sales tax did.”

The income tax he is proposing is based on federal tax rates and brackets. A person would pay to the state of Alaska the equivalent of 15% of their federal tax.

“I think everybody can quickly make their own example. All they have to do is look at last year’s tax form and take 15% of it and that would be what they would pay. If they sent $500 to the federal government, it would be $75 dollars. If they sent $5,000 in taxes, then it would be $750. Now, if you also have capital gains, which the vast majority of people do not have, then you would add 10% of the capital gains.”

Taxes is a buzzword in politics. Voters are often strongly for or against increasing or instating them. Seaton says since he introduced this bill last week, the majority of his constituents that have contacted him have been quite supportive.

He says he thinks that’s because Alaskans are feeling the pressure of the economic shortfall. And he says, it’s becoming clear that the ability to maintain services and programs in the state depends on its one major industry.

“Well, it becomes very volatile when you’re relying only on one source. And we may as well say only one source since I think it’s 92% of our general fund money is coming from taxes and royalties on oil.”

Seaton says this tax is in part bringing home a lesson from other states that have dealt with similar issues.

“It’s hard to maintain responsibility when nobody is paying any taxes. We’re the only state that has neither a state property tax or a state sales tax or a state income tax. So, there is no individual revenue that comes to the state from its residents and so it’s a lot easier to spend somebody else’s money.”

Finally, he says not only would this tax rely on contributions from residents, it applies to non-residents who earn money in-state as well.

“Right now it doesn’t matter if you’re in the tourist business or whether you’re in the fishing business and you’re up here in the summer or you work on the North Slope. All of that money goes outside and nothing is left for the state to help support the infrastructure. So, that brings them into the fold as well.”

Seaton says he doesn’t necessarily expect the bill to pass, but he hopes it will start a conversation about diversifying revenue sources for the state which he says could lead it down a more stable path in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Villages Seek Yukon, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Change

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:28

The Federal Office of Subsistence Management is holding a series of public hearings on requests for expanded federal control of salmon fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Faces Big Decision on Local Liquor Licenses

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:26

BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman speaks at a community meeting in Bethel. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Bethel residents are urging the city to protest a package store license that’s before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits LLC application was officially filed Monday morning.

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With a separate deadline of 90 days to act on BNC’s proposal, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board attended a community meeting in Bethel to bring people up to speed on the process. Director Cynthia Franklin, explained that the board by law must honor a hypothetical government’s protest of a license, unless it meets specific criteria.

“Is this protest arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable? When people ask me what it means- is the city council picking on this application? That’s basically what it means in everyday language. Everyone would know arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable if they saw it,” said Franklin.

The city hasn’t taken any action. Bethel is unique in that it’s wet but with no liquor stores or bars. Voters in 2009 went unrestricted and did away with local option laws limiting imports and prohibiting sales. The next year citizens rejected local sales in an advisory vote.

That 2010 vote weighed heavily with Deborah Sampson, one of dozens in the more than four hour meeting who testified against the idea of a liquor store.

“We overwhelmingly said we don’t want alcohol here. We don’t want it sold, we don’t want a distribution point, and I don’t think that status should change until we have another vote,” said Sampson.

And citizens could again go to the polls if the council chooses to sponsor a community vote. Mayor Rick Robb, who has spoken publicly in favor of local sales, says he will bring a proposal before council to have an advisory vote.

People from the villages around the lower Kuskokwim spoke up, mostly to oppose the store. The regional significance of Bethel as a hub was a theme throughout the night. Dan Winkelman, President and CEO of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, cited research about the the effects of easier access to alcohol.

“It is not whether prohibition works or doesn’t work as some have said. But rather as these studies have concluded, the issue is more precisely that as alcohol availability increases, so do alcohol related injuries and death,” said Winkelman.

A handful of the nearly 50 speakers made the case for local sales. BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman said the choice is not about whether to have liquor sales, but whether to have regulated sales or continue to support an underground bootlegging economy.

“It is time for the community to mature and no longer be crippled by paternalistic mentalities. We manage our lives in the most challenging of environments. We can handle a liquor store in Bethel and the area villages can handle it too. Let’s give ourselves a little credit. We are capable, sophisticated, adapting people,” said Hoffman.

The vast amounts of liquor being shipped in helped shape the perspective of Alan Evon from Kwethluk who worked at an air carrier.

“I used to offload 10,000 pounds of booze a day for Bethel and the bootleggers. We should stop the orders coming in, stop that artery of alcohol coming in, and just sell it at the liquor store,” said Evon.

A variation of what Evon describes would require a change in the local option status, and the idea that came up several times in the meeting. ABC Director Franklin says Bethel’s legal situation makes it difficult to regulate.

“As long as you’re in the wet status, you have no rules, so what I keep trying to let people know, when people stand up and say ‘we can’t let the alcohol come here,’ you’re fooling yourself. The alcohol is here. You’re wet. Wet, wet, wet. You’ve got a lot of alcohol here, and you have no rules that are enforceable,” said Franklin.

Franklin added that with Bethel’s current adjusted population of just under 6,000 people, the law would allow for two package stores, two bars, and four restaurants, plus a few specialty licenses.

The timing for the current licenses is in flux. Currently none of the scheduled ABC board meetings this spring and summer meet both 60 day and 90 day requirements. There is a possibility of more meetings. The board can hold a public hearing related to objections to the license, which can be filed in writing by individuals.

Categories: Alaska News

Co-op Herring Fishery Means Fewer Boats, Quiet Year In Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:25

Most years, the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka means boats filling the harbor, crew members filling the bars, seiners jostling for position within sight of town, and spotter planes in close formation overhead. But this year fishermen voted to abandon the competitive fishery in favor of a co-op. That meant a much smaller footprint, with fewer boats, crewmen, tenders, and spotter pilots. The reason? Low prices for roe, for starters. And a strong US dollar that makes all American exports more expensive.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Artist Rie Muñoz Dies At 93

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:24

Alaska artist Rie Muñoz has died. She was 93.

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Rie Muñoz. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)

A statement from her family says Muñoz was “active and independent until her last hours.”

She was known for her colorful watercolor paintings of Alaska scenes, such as fishermen at work, children at play and life in remote villages. Her paintings, prints and reproductions are in galleries throughout North America.

Born in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1921, Muñoz first came to Alaska in 1951, traveling by steamship up the Inside Passage. She fell in love with Juneau and decided to make it her home. She held several jobs, including journalist, teacher and museum curator, before devoting herself full-time to art in 1972.

She traveled extensively in Alaska, visiting every community on the road system and several off of it.

Her experience as a teacher on King Island inspired the children’s book “King Island Christmas” by her long-time friend Jean Rogers. Muñoz illustrated the book. Rogers passed away in 2013.

Rie Muñoz is survived by her son Juan, daughter-in-law Cathy, grandchildren Mercedes and Matthew, and her brother Piet Mounier, as well as a niece and two nephews.

A celebration of life will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 23 at Centennial Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

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