Alaska News

55 Left Without Care After Juneau Daycare Abruptly Closes

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-06 17:40

Infant and toddler care facility Spunky Sprouts Too in Juneau shut down abruptly at the close of business Wednesday after key staff members quit. Its preschool, Spunky Sprouts Learning Center, is closing at the end of the month.

Listen now:

Heather Carlton and 2-year-old son Theo were at home Thursday after Spunky Sprouts Too suddenly shut down. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Parents of 55 infants and toddlers have been scrambling to find childcare after Spunky Sprouts Too shut down.

Heather Carlton stayed home from work Thursday morning to figure out where her 2-year-old son Theo will now go to daycare.

She says she got a call early Wednesday from a Spunky Sprouts employee about the imminent closure.

“I was in a state of panic trying to figure out, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to find somebody to watch him on such short notice?’ You know, there’s already very limited options in Juneau anyways,” Carlton says.

Carlton also has a 4-year-old named Arlo who’s been going to Spunky Sprouts for a few years. She says she’s been happy with the care.

“He was very quickly potty trained. His reading skills – very satisfied with it. He’s moving along very well so I’m very sad about having to make any sort of change and possibly disrupt his education,” Carlton says.

Carlton found spots at another daycare for both kids, but other parents haven’t been as lucky.

Spunky Sprouts administrator Shamila Scalf says staff members started quitting in September. She says some worried they wouldn’t be paid. Scalf has worked at the center for three years and says, as long as she’s been there, Spunky Sprouts has always had budget issues.

This sign was found on the door of Spunky Sprouts Too located on 9315 Glacier Highway. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Administrators say they received instructions by email from owner Adam Hendren to distribute three letters to parents on Sept. 29 about downsizing and a change of facility.

Spunky Sprouts Too for infants and toddlers was located off Glacier Highway in the Mendenhall Valley. The preschool, Spunky Sprouts Leaning Center, is in Aldersgate United Methodist Church, also in the valley.

One letter says the infant program would end Oct. 31. The other letters say the toddler andpreschool program would move to the Church of the Nazarene.

So, according to the letters, three programs in two buildings were supposed to become two programs in one building.

Instead, the infant and toddler programs shut down Oct. 1 when the main administrator quit and other staff members followed. And, Scalf says, the preschool center is not moving as indicated in the letter – it’s closing at the end of the month.

But due to lack of staff, she’s already turning some children and parents away at the start of each day. Scalf is the only staff member remaining at Spunky Sprouts with a Child Development Associate credential. State regulation says there can be no more than 30 children under her supervision.

“I have 37 registered, paying their fee every month, and I have to send home at least seven. Whoever comes in, number 31, I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I cannot provide care for you because there’s nobody else,’ and it’s embarrassing,” Scalf says.

Childcare center Puddle JumpersDevelopmental Learning Center closed in August. After both Spunky Sprouts centers close, only six licensed full-day childcare centers are left in Juneau, according to the Association for the Education of Young Children. There are two part-day childcare centers. Their total capacity is 288 kids.

There are 15 licensed in-home childcare providers with capacity for 143 kids.

“We have the worst situation in the state for childcare right now,” says Joy Lyon, executive director of the Southeast chapter of AEYC.

“The number of parents searching for care is way, way off the charts in Juneau. There was only one space for every five children that needed care and now I think that’s dropped to one space for every six children needing care,” Lyon says.

She says her office has been flooded with calls, emails and visits from Spunky Sprouts parents, many in tears.

“We do regular updates of all the programs to find out what openings are available and there are very few openings,” she says.

Lyon says there’s a group working on starting a childcare program to serve the Spunky Sprouts families, a process that could take anywhere from one to three months.

Every first Tuesday of the month, AEYC hosts a networking opportunity for parents struggling to find childcare. The next event is Oct.7.

Spunky Sprouts Learning Centers owner Adam Hendren did not return calls for comment. His wife Jennifer started Spunky Sprouts. According to state records, the first business license for childcare in her name dates back to 2007.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Book Week: ‘Pup & Pokey’ and A Journey Into Kid Lit

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-06 17:39

Alaska author Seth Kantner publishes his first children’s book, “Pup & Pokey.”

Author Seth Kantner has published his first children’s book. Pup & Pokey tells the story of a wolf pup and a young porcupine that strike up an unusual friendship. Kantner chose first time illustrator Beth Hill to bring the characters to life. Hill worked out of her home in the village of Kokhanok on a tight deadline, producing oil paintings that took two weeks to dry for each illustration.

Kantner says he and Hill both had opportunities to study porcupines in the wild as they were working on the book:

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Seth Kantner’s latest book is Pup & Pokey. The children’s book is illustrated by Beth Hill. Kantner will signing books at the Orca book store in Cordova Tuesday evening and at the Homer bookstore on October 11th from 1-3pm.

Hear Kantner read a short excerpt from Pup & Pokey: listen now

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 6, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-06 17:38

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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HUD Grants Aimed at Alaska Native Housing Projects

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro announced Monday the award of millions of dollars in housing grants to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes nationwide. Castro made the announcement while in Anchorage.

Gwitch’in Translators Scramble to Ready Election Materials

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

After a U.S. district court order, the Alaska Division of Elections has until October 10 to provide outreach and poll workers in three remote regions of the state with election materials and voting information that has been translated from English into either Yupik or Gwich’in.

Gov. Parnell Rescinds Termination Order for 2 Guard Officials

The Associated Press

The acting top official of the Alaska National Guard fired two high-ranking officers last week but reversed the action a day later at the direction of Gov. Sean Parnell.

Conservation Group Sues to Block Controversial Southeast Timber Sale

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Forest Service awarded a contract this last week to log two-thirds of a controversial Southeast Alaska timber sale. Officials say it’s the first of several contracts for what’s called the Big Thorne timber sale.

Texas Police Chief Chosen To Lead In Fairbanks 

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Mayor the City of Fairbanks has chosen a man with extensive law enforcement experience in the south to lead the police department.

55 Left Without Care After Juneau Daycare Abruptly Closes

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Infant and toddler care facility Spunky Sprouts Too in Juneau shut down abruptly at the close of business Wednesday after key staff members quit. Its preschool, Spunky Sprouts Learning Center, is closing at the end of the month.

Alaska Book Week: ‘Pup & Pokey’ and A Journey Into Kid Lit

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Author Seth Kantner has published his first children’s book. Pup & Pokey tells the story of a wolf pup and a young porcupine that strike up an unusual friendship. Kantner chose first time illustrator Beth Hill to bring the characters to life. Hill worked out of her home in the village of Kokhanok on a tight deadline, producing oil paintings that took two weeks to dry for each illustration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough Election Propositions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 17:01

 The ballot propositions will appear areawide on the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s election ticket on October 7. Proposition 1, a reapportionment plan sponsored by Mat Su Assemblyman Steve Colligan, would align the Borough’s voting districts more closely with state division of elections voting precincts. The Borough Assembly approved an ordinance earlier this year that allows the reapportionment, pending voter approval. Assemblyman Steve Colligan

“To me it’s pretty simple. It really helps the public understand, clarifies where their voting precinct is, and it aligns those with the Assembly boundaries.”

 He says Prop 1 is an effort to avoid split precincts.  Colligan says the reapportionment changes Borough district boundaries to better fit the lines of state polling precincts. At present, state polling precincts include voters from two or more Borough voting districts.

“And the initiative before the voters is basically to align the Borough’s boundaries so they more closely match the state boundaries on people’s voter cards. Right now, in order to manage elections in polling places, the boundaries cut through precincts, two or sometimes three times, and the Borough clerk has had to come up with a colored ballot process and have people go point on a map where they live. “

Prop 1 eliminates fourteen polling locations, and allows only one split district near Willow to remain. According to Borough clerk Lonnie McKechnie, the proposition affects fewer than one thousand voters.   If prop one passes, three hundred and fourteen voters will be moved from Borough District 3 to District 5 in the biggest change afforded by the ballot proposition.  If passed, the ballot initiative goes into effect at next year’s Borough election.

Colligan, a mapmaker by profession, is running unopposed for the Borough ‘s District 4 seat.

Borough Proposition 2 increases the amount of assessed real property value a senior citizen or military veteran would be able to claim as a Borough tax deduction. At present, seniors, disabled veterans and widows or widowers of a person who qualified for an exemption can claim a 150 thousand dollar real property tax exemption on a permanent abode. Prop 2 adds an additional 68 thousand dollars to that for a total exemption of 218 thousand dollars.

Prop 2 would allow the increase in exemption along with any other exemption applicable to the property.

Critics of Prop 2 say, if passed, it will eat into Borough revenues.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Profile: Rep. Young, Still Punching, Seeks Another Term

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:14

Don Young doesn’t hold back. At 81, he still thunders his opposition to the federal government when he gets worked up about it.  A speech last month to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce had the ring of a call to arms. He said the feds have been increasing their chokehold on freedom since the enactment of Social Security in 1935.

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“Do you believe you’re in the Last Frontier when you see the Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service …. walking around with flak jackets and M16 rifles and 9mm Glocks on their hip?” Young asked. “They are supposed to be working for you! And yet they appear as the enemy.”

Young has been a Congressman for more than 41 years, spending much of each year in Washington D.C., and he’s not always the firebrand.  In an interview in his congressional office, where the walls are crowded with animal heads and hides, he says a lot of his work is helping individual Alaskans solve their difficulties with federal offices.

“It’s amazing what happens when you pick up the phone and say ‘why isn’t this occurring?’ and then all of a sudden it happens,” Young says. “Makes you feel very good.”

But in a hearing, when it’s Young’s turn to question an Interior Department or Forest Service official, it often becomes a browbeating.

“Who brought up this harebrained idea? Whose idea was it?” he bellowed one Interior Department witness earlier this year.

He may come across as a charging bear, but former Alaska Teamster leader Jerry Hood, says Young is more Teddy bear than grizzly.

“I think Don’s the kind of a guy that he probably cares more about the result than he does the way he gets there. May be people take offense to that from time to time. But he gets the job done,” says Hood, who has worked with Young since the 1970s, and worked for him, as his state director. Now, he’s managing Young’s campaign.

Of the events that have put Young in the national news, some of the most memorable involve props. Like the time Young stuck his hand in a leg-hold trap, or the time he waved an oosik in a committee hearing. Hood says people misinterpret Young in these moments and don’t realize that he’s drawing national attention to issues of great importance to Alaska.

“There was an episode with a beanie hat in committee,” Hood recalls.  ”He made the point that a propeller on a hat is not an energy policy. It was very accurate and it got people talking about the lack of a national energy policy in this country.”

Hood points out that some of the most powerful Democrats Young has worked with on committees, like Congressman George Miller of California and the late Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, have attested to Young’s willingness to work across the aisle, to hear people out and to seek opposing views, at least behind the scenes.

“He’ll tell you — and I agree because I’ve watched him work for all these years — if you ask any member of Congress whose the congressman from Alaska, they’re going to know his name,” Hood says. “They may not like him, but honest to God when it comes to the bottom line, they respect him because they know how effective he is.”

But Forrest Dunbar, the 30-year-old Democrat running against Young, recounts other episodes of Young’s that he says are an embarrassment: Last year, when Young used a derogatory term for Latinos. This June, when he caught on C-SPAN with his thumbs in his ears, making faces on the floor of the House. This July, when Young announced his disgust that a Maryland Congresswoman supported the EPA in a bill related to the Pebble mine.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to watch somebody from Maryland or any other state, start telling me or anybody in Alaska how we should be running our state!” Young shouted during a committee meeting.

Dunbar says that style doesn’t work now that Young is no longer a powerful chairman of a congressional committee, as he was for a dozen years, ending in 2007.

“He was effective once,” Dunbar says. “Now, not only is he not powerful, but he’s also counterproductive, because he still has that same style, so when he’s getting up there and yelling at people and he’s belittling people, they know that he’s speaking loudly and carrying a small stick, and that’s not effective.”

Dunbar also says Young has lost clout because of an ethics case that hung over his head for years. What began as a Justice Department investigation fizzled down this summer to a House Ethics Committee letter of reproval. It says Young  accepted improper gifts, including hunting trips, and misused campaign funds. To make it right, Young had to repay less than $60,000, half to his own campaign.

It was Republican-imposed term limits, though, that forced Young to step down as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, and then the Transportation Committee. He’s now chairman of the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, and Young says that’s more than Dunbar would be if he were elected.

“Can I be a chairman of a full committee? Probably not,” Young says. “It’s not an impossibility. But that does not make me ineffective. I’m very effective in what I do. I probably get more done than, very frankly, anybody else in the delegation.”

In fact, so far in this two-year Congress, three bills Young sponsored became law. In a Congress that passes very few bills, only one member has done better. The non-partisan website GovTrack gave Young high marks for bipartisanship last year, and says he was one of the best at getting bills through committee.

Young has, on occasion, apologized for things he’s said or done. At the Anchorage Chamber luncheon, he said those who say he’s obnoxious and a bit of a bully are right, but Young says he’s doing it for the good of the state.

“You don’t need somebody who is timid,” he told his constituents. “You don’t need somebody who’s slick. You don’t need somebody that’s going to do everything to make people happy. You need somebody who is going to fight for you and I’ve been able to do that.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Briefly Flares Up At Offshore Gas Platform

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:13

The Coast Guard says a contained fire flared up this morning at an offshore natural gas platform in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, but it was quickly tamped down by responders.

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Civilian spokesman Mike McNeil says no one has yet boarded the structure, called the Baker platform.

The fire broke out yesterday, destroying the crew’s living quarters and forcing four workers to evacuate before the blaze was contained. The platform is owned by Hilcorp Alaska LLC.

Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson says the fire remained contained later Friday.

There were no reports of injuries or a spill.

Aerial assessments took place today at the scene. Responders will board once it’s deemed safe.

Nelson says the cause of the fire is under investigation, but isn’t believed to be production-related.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Residents Weigh In on Aleutian Climate Trends

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:12

Study facilitator Chris Beck looks over audience members’ votes on what kind of seasonality changes they’re seeing in Unalaska. (Photo by Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Scientists know that the climate in the Aleutian Islands is changing. But they’re making observations from a distance — while on the ground, the story is sometimes very different.

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That’s what a team of researchers found earlier this month in Unalaska, when they talked to locals about the climate change they’re seeing in their own back yards.

About 40 people packed into Unalaska’s Museum of the Aleutians to answer a simple question:

Chris Beck: We’re wondering, if — particularly for those of you who’ve been here for a while, or you’ve heard through other folks — you’ve been seeing changes or have heard of changes in the local environment that seem to go beyond the normal range.

Beck is a facilitator for the Aleutian and Bering Climate Vulnerability Assessment. It’s being done by the government groups and nonprofits who make up the Aleutian-Bering Sea Islands Landscape Conservation Cooperative, or ABSI-LCC.

Beck got a few clear messages from his audience — that yes, the weather’s getting warmer and wetter, and some fishing seasons are moving around. But when he asked more detailed questions, like about wind patterns or new kinds of bugs, people’s observations were all a little different:

Frank Kelty: You know, we’ve had white Thanksgiving for the past couple of years. But traditionally, we used to play softball and it’d be snowing on Memorial Day. And we haven’t seen that type of event.
Bobbie Lekanoff: Last year, if you walked out front here, you would have seen about 40 whales. This year, not a whale.
Suzi Golodoff: We seem to be seeing more algae blooms, more red tide, much more frequently.
Jeff Dickrell: I’ve seen jellyfish, but I’ve never seen the abundance of them. And I know people on the research vessels that are going out for pollock trawls and pulling up nothing but jellyfish.
Lekanoff: Everything everybody’s saying is showing how variable it is.

In fact, the main thing the audience agreed on was that they couldn’t agree for sure on what was changing, or why. And that impressed University of Washington meteorologist Nick Bond, who’s part of the ABSI research team.

“Those questions were designed to get at some of the data we only have in anecdotal form,” he says. “Especially people noticing types of spiders they hadn’t seen before, let’s say. I thought that was fascinating.”

People were also quick to recognize that climate change may not be the only factor affecting things like fisheries and wildlife. Karen Pletnikoff, of the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, is the chair of the ABSI steering committee.

“Knowing that we have all these different variables, and understanding what people’s priorities are and what their perspective is, helps us frame those questions in a better way,” she says, “so we can get the information that people really need to be able to make management changes or protect themselves from the impacts.”

For the Unalaska audience, the most visible changes were in air temperature and precipitation. They were most concerned about the health of their fisheries — commercial and subsistence. And they were worried about increased vessel traffic, as melting sea ice opens up new shipping routes in the Arctic.

But residents weren’t exactly panicking about all the unknowns surrounding climate change. Nick Bond, the meteorologist, says that’s a good thing.

“In some of the public lectures that I give about climate change in the Pacific Northwest, where I’m based, people will [go], ‘What’s the answer? Just tell me what’s going to happen.’ And when I tell them I can’t, then they go, ‘Well, get out of here,’” he says. “But here, the audience, I think, appreciated the uncertainties, and that we can’t say … anything like that with a great deal of specificity.”

Bond says folks in the Aleutians are more “tuned in” to their environment. They’re seeing climate changes firsthand — and they can tell how tough those changes are to quantify.

“Here, it’s just kind of in your face all the time — this morning, rain was blowing into my face, anyway,” Bond says. “And so I think there’s that appreciation for the importance of it, and everybody is so reliant on it. It’s a little bit different if you live in Phoenix, and you go from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car and office, and you’re kind of removed from it. So I think that connection is partly why people can appreciate what’s happening.”

Bond and the research team are planning a Q&A like they did in Unalaska for the Pribilof Islands, too. The anecdotes that all the region’s residents have to offer will help the ABSI group tailor their report to the people it affects the most — those who live and work in the changing place. The draft of their vulnerability assessment is due out in February.

People can get in touch with the research team and offer their own input at www.absilcc.org. To see more of Unalaskans’ responses to the ABSI team’s questions, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

Book Chronicles Young Man’s Commercial Fishing Experiences

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:11

Being a deckhand can be tough, especially if you work for a boat owner who acts like a tyrant. In his new book Dead Reckoning, blank based author Dave Atcheson has written about his experience as a young man with no commercial fishing knowledge, trying to learn the business. His first job was really tough.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Pilot Point

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:09

This week we’re heading to Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 16:09

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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Profile: Rep. Young, Still Punching, Seeks Another Term

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It’s an even numbered year, so that means Alaska Congressman Don Young is running for re-election, as he has every two years since taking the oath of office in 1973. APRN’s Liz Ruskin has this profile of the most senior Republican in the House and the only Congressman most Alaskans have ever known.

Fire Briefly Flares Up At Offshore Gas Platform

The Associated Press

The Coast Guard says a contained fire flared up this morning at an offshore natural gas platform in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, but it was quickly tamped down by responders.

Unalaska Residents Weigh In on Aleutian Climate Trends

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Scientists know that the climate in the Aleutian Islands is changing. But they’re making observations from a distance – while on the ground, the story is sometimes very different. That’s what a team of researchers found last month in Unalaska, when they talked to locals about the climate change they’re seeing in their own back yards.

Book Chronicles Young Man’s Commercial Fishing Experiences

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Being a deckhand can be tough, especially if you work for a boat owner who acts like a tyrant. In his new book Dead Reckoning, blank based author Dave Atcheson has written about his experience as a young man with no commercial fishing knowledge, trying to learn the business. His first job was really tough.

AK: Wild Sound

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska writers and naturalists Richard Nelson and Hank Lentfer are nearing the end of a two-year project recording the Voices of Glacier Bay.

The project is a collaboration between Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, the University of Alaska Southeast and Cornell University, which houses the world’s largest collection of natural sounds.

Nelson and Lentfer hope to change how we experience the world through a dimension beyond what we can see.

Lentfer and Nelson want us to listen. And Listen closely.

300 Villages: Pilot Point

This week we’re heading to Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula.

Categories: Alaska News

Infectious Disease

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 12:00

What do Alaskans need to know about the first case of Ebola in America and the risk to children from Enterovirus 68? Neither disease is in Alaska, but public health officials are preparing just in case.

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Dr. Michael Cooper, infectious disease program manager, State Division of Public Health
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: October 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-03 08:00

An Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a tribal adoption case goes against the tribe’s position; what are the broader implications for ICWA cases? Governor Sean Parnell defends his response to the National Guard sexual assault issue. Alaska voters will decide on a number of ballot propositions on November 4, including: marijuana legalization, increasing the minimum wage, and an initiative that would effectively prohibit the Pebble Mine.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Alexandra Gutierrez, Alaska Public Radio Network
  • Casey Grove, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, October 3 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 4 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 4 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell On Defense Over National Guard Response

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 21:00

Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell released a brutal federal report on misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Sexual assault reports were mishandled, and alleged perpetrators were promoted. Military aircraft were used for personal reasons. Two state officials have already resigned as a result of the abuses.

Now, the governor is playing defense, too. With only a few weeks left before Election Day, Parnell is rejecting claims that he did not respond to the problems quickly enough.

At 9:15 a.m., Gov. Sean Parnell announced he was holding a press conference to take questions about the Alaska National Guard alongside Brigadier General Jon Mott, who had come in from Connecticut to help with the reform effort. Less than two hours later, Parnell stood at the podium alone, and with First Lady Sandy Parnell in the audience instead. He explained the catalyst for the appearance was a headline in Thursday’s Alaska Dispatch News.

“‘Parnell Took Years To Act On National Guard Misconduct.’ I believe that statement was false and misleading,” said Parnell.

Parnell directed his remarks to Guard members, even though none were in the room and the brigadier general wasn’t there because of federal rules preventing him from holding press conferences. Parnell asked guardsmen to “question” news coverage that is critical of his response to their concerns, and reiterated that he checked in with recently ousted Adjutant General Thomas Katkus after each complaint his office received.

“Every time I heard an allegation, every time I got an allegation of misconduct — or my office did — we investigated that with Guard leadership,” said Parnell.

Over the course of a half hour, Parnell provided little new information and instead mostly defended his course of action. He did offer that there will be further leadership changes within the National Guard, but would only say he knew of three instances of this and would not name names. Parnell also told reporters that he did not anticipate any changes to his own staff.

“To my knowledge, everybody in my office acted in good faith. They acted reasonably. They did it timely. And I have [seen] nothing to the contrary at this point,” said Parnell. “I do have complete faith and confidence in my staff.”

Parnell called for an investigation into the force this spring, but Alaska National Guard chaplains first approached his office with concerns in 2010. In the following years, the chaplains remained in touch with the Parnell administration and urged him to take action. In e-mails sent in 2012, one chaplain called attention to the promotion of officers who were complicit in sexual assault and engaged in fraud. Many of the allegations in the e-mails were found to have merit, according to a recent report by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations. Parnell says the reason for the lag time between these complaints and the federal probe was that he trusted Katkus that the appropriate processes were being followed.

“I think I was misled on a number of occasions about how well the system was working,” said Parnell. “There’s not question I was. I mean the report demonstrates that.”

When asked by reporters why he trusted the very leadership that was the subject of complaints, Parnell says there are some things he wishes he could have done differently. But he takes umbrage at news coverage that suggests he did not do enough.

“I took full responsibility — and I take full responsibility — for not discovering what I discovered in February and it taking that length of time to get there,” said Parnell. “But I will not take responsibility for a headline that says Parnell failed to act.”

A half hour after Parnell cut the press conference short to catch a flight, a group of a dozen protestors gathered outside his Anchorage office. They were with Alaska Women for Political Action, and they waved signs that said “Stop the Violence” and “Hold Parnell Accountable.”

Barbara McDaniel, who leads the Alaska chapter of the National Organization of Women, doesn’t think Parnell’s response went far enough. She believes Parnell has not released enough information on how his office handled National Guard complaints.

“’Trust me’ — When someone says that to you, you need to watch out,” says McDaniel. “I’m a big fan of trust but verify.”

McDaniel says she’s disappointed that the governor has turned down multiple records requests into how the Office of the Governor responded to complaints made about the Guard, including a request that was made by APRN. She’d like to see some of those documents come out before the November election, in order to just how effectively Parnell’s office handled National Guard concerns. But she’s not optimistic that will happen.

“Well, if I was running for office, I would definitely want to slow it down and have everything come out after I possibly won,” said McDaniel.

Parnell and his policy director, Randy Ruaro, have said they are taking a “broad view” in applying a privacy privilege and rejecting requests for state e-mails that may concern sexual assault victims.

Categories: Alaska News

Education issue fuels candidates for Senate Seat K

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:29

Political newcomer Clare Ross is running against Representative Mia Costello for Hollis French’s old Senate seat, District K in southwest Anchorage. French decided to run for Lt. Governor instead. Now the two women are competing for the opening and are both making the same promise — that they’ll improve education in the state. 

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On a recent sunny evening, Clare Ross walks through a neighborhood off of Jewel Lake, knocking on doors.

“Hi! My name’s Clare Ross. I’m running for State Senate,” she tells the teenage boy who opens the door. “Can I talk to your folks?”

“Mom!” he shouts up the stairs.

Raquel Divina hustled to the door, her toddler in tow. Ross asks her what’s important to her during this election.

“I think for me, it’s the schools,” she says. “Mainly since I have all my kids — three out of four of my kids go to school.”

Ross says it’s a comment she’s heard all throughout her months knocking on doors, and it’s one of the main focuses of her campaign.

“If we don’t invest in our schools and our kids are falling behind, they’re not going to do well in college or in their careers. And on the other side of that, people aren’t going to want to stay and invest in a community where there are not good schools. So I’m worried that we’re going to lose families, and people are going to go look for opportunities elsewhere if our schools get too bad.”

Thirty-six-year old Ross has never held public office before. She moved to Alaska straight out of college and worked in tourism and biochemistry before taking a position at the Anchorage Public Library.

Ross says while she was there, she worked to improve education both through early literacy programs and by launching Teen Underground. Her support for increasing the Base Student Allocation and forward funding schools earned her a Seal of Approval from the advocacy group Great Alaska Schools.

Ross says the Legislature needs to follow the state’s constitution and adequately fund education. She thinks other things, like the road in Juneau or the Susitna Dam, can wait.

“There are a lot of projects that don’t need to be done this year. They can be pushed back a couple years until our funding looks better. When hopefully the gas pipeline gets going or some of these oil developments get going. And that’s when we should be spending money on these projects.”

Ross’s opponent, Republican Representative Mia Costello, has lived in District K almost her entire life. Before being elected to the House in 2010, the 46-year-old worked as a teacher and a public relations executive.

Costello agrees with her opponent — education needs to take precedence. She negotiated and voted for increasing the BSA in 2014 when serving on the House Finance Committee.

“As a former high school teacher, I’ve been really an important voice to educate other legislators about the challenges of teaching.”

Costello taught for six years and won an award for developing a program where high schoolers ran a mock legislative budget debate.

But unlike Ross, Costello won’t commit to raising the BSA next year. She says it would be irresponsible since she doesn’t know what the state’s revenues will be.

“Our budgets are not sustainable. And so last session we actually reduced the operating budget. And it’s like turning an airplane around,” she says as an airplane buzzes overhead. “And I’m a pilot, I can tell you that turning that plane around will take a little while, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Walking between houses near Sand Lake, Costello says that when she goes door knocking, her constituents don’t just ask her about education.

“For the most part, you know, people have questions about roads and pot holes along their street and things like that. They feel that it’s government’s job to take care of those things, and it is. We have a lot of responsibility to take care of those things.”

As the geese finish flying overhead, Costello heads toward another door.

“Hi!… Hi there,” she says calling to a father and son. “I’m Mia Costello and I’m running for Senate in your neighborhood.”

Both candidates expect to be knocking on hundreds more doors in the final weeks leading up to the November 4th election.

Categories: Alaska News

Hilcorp Drilling Platform Catches Fire In Cook Inlet

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:12

Four people were safely evacuated from a drilling platform in Cook Inlet that caught fire Thursday morning.

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(Photo courtesy Nikiski Fire Department)

The fire on the Baker platform, located about 8 miles offshore of Nikiski and owned by Hilcorp, was reported shortly after 8 a.m. Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson says the platform was in production mode, but shut down quickly.

The Baker platform had solely gas production and it was only from one well, which was shut in, as well as any access to the pipeline system,” Nelson said. “There will be an internal and external investigation once the fire is out and it’s been determined safe for folks to be on that platform again.”

The platform holds 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but none had been spilled, according to the Unified Command that was established to respond to the incident.

Aerial photos show the living quarters of the platform fully engulfed in flames, which had been largely contained by early afternoon.

The four personnel working the platform were evacuated by helicopter.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established a no-fly safety zone at 5,000 feet and a two-mile maritime safety zone around the scene.

Categories: Alaska News

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:11

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture.

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The state says the decision in Tununak v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“Baby Dawn,” not her real name, was four months old in 2008 when the state took custody of her. She was put in foster care with a non-Native family in Anchorage. Because Baby Dawn is Yup’ik, the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, applies. ICWA was enacted to reduce the high number of Native children being placed in non-Native homes. It gives preference to Native families in custody cases. But after the mother’s parental rights were terminated, the foster parents’ petition for adoption of Baby Dawn was approved in 2012. The baby’s grandmother had testified she wanted custody, but didn’t file an adoption petition, which would have required the help of an attorney.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Jacklyn Schafer says the case revolved around the way the grandmother asked to adopt.

“The question in this adoption appeal then became did the grandmother formally seek to adopt the child. Even though she didn’t file an adoption petition, or intervene in the adoption case, or attend the adoption hearing,” says Schafer. “She did testify in the related child in need of aid case placement hearing that she wanted custody.”

Schafer says the Alaska Supreme Court was bound by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against granting custody of Baby Veronica to her Cherokee father. He had mistakenly terminated his parental rights and was seeking to have that overturned. The ruling against him was decided in part because he had not filed a petition to adopt his biological daughter.

The Baby Veronica case was decided by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision. One of the dissenting justices said the ruling violated ICWA’s text and purpose.

Alaska Federation of Natives co-chair Ana Hoffman, of Bethel, says the Alaska court ruling that removes Baby Dawn from her Native family and community also contradicts ICWA.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted to prevent that exact thing from happening,” says Hoffman. “It was to ensure the unification of Native families and Native children and to all Native families to provide the nurturing homes for the Native children that are in care.”

Schafer says the requirement to file an adoption petition means everybody interested in adopting a child will lay their cards on the table at a placement hearing rather than an adoption hearing that would come later in the process. That, she says, will put children into permanent homes more quickly.

“When the child has a permanent placement option that wants to adopt, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to be saying it’s not good enough to have people come forward that far along in the case and say ‘Sure, I want to adopt and see where this goes and I’m interested,’” says Schafer. “That isn’t enough when you have a formal adoption petition on the table and that child could achieve permanency. The U.S. Supreme Court is saying we need to see a formal request to adopt.”

Hoffman says the court has added a costly step to an already complicated process. Schafer says the court directed the court system, tribes, agencies and attorneys to work to make the process of filing an adoption petition easier.

“After the decision,” says Schafer, “the court really emphasized there needs to be more rules to make it easier to file for adoption.”

Hoffman says as it is now, various families can be considered for placement. But she says the addition and complications of getting legal assistance and initiating an adoption case will be insurmountable hurdles for some families. As a result, she says there will be fewer options for the best placement for a child, and more children will be leaving their home communities, with, she says, serious consequences.

“What it would mean for these communities is loss of access, continuation of culture and a loss of the sense of community that should be there,” says Hoffman.

Attorneys for the Native Village of Tununak may ask the court to reconsider its decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

The Nunalleq archeological dig near Quinhagak in August, 2014. (Photo by Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel)

An archaeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer.

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The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

The project, called Nunalleq, meaning ‘old village’, is located five miles outside Quinhagak. Dr. Rick Knecht is an ararchaeologist with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland who manages the dig. He says permafrost at the ancient Yup’ik village of Araliq, preserved artifacts up to 700-years-old made of wood and leather that normally would have disintegrated.

Knecht says that most sites in the Lower 48 provide just ‘stones and bones’, but at the Araliq site they get, “Things like utensils that people used in their daily lives. We get bentwood bowls and scoops. We get ul’us with the handles still on them. We get grass baskets for example, complete grass baskets and woven mats. We’re getting things like weapons and kayak parts, masks and artwork, things that you normally just see in museums. And these all date from between about 1400 and 1600 AD.”

And hundreds of hair samples Knecht says, likely clippings from haircuts were also preserved at the site. Some of those clippings contributed to the study of indigenous Alaskans that was featured in the journal, Science, this summer.

“We contributed about 33 hair samples to the study and I think that’s more than any of the sites were able to produce. Just because of the extraordinary preservation here,” Knecht said.

Dr. Rick Knecht at the Nunalleq dig site. (Photo courtesy of the University of Aberdeen)

There were 169 samples analyzed in the study. The study, led by a group of Danish researchers revealed that the modern Inuit people, including those in Alaska are descended from the Thule, who developed around 700-hundred years ago, replacing an earlier population, the Paleo-Eskimos. The genetic evidence shows there was very little interbreeding, and that the Thule are the ancestors of the Yup’ik and Inupiat people living on Alaska’s west coast today.

“We don’t know the origins of that, of what we call the Thule population or the Neo-Eskimos. But we do know that both in the archaeological evidence, both the artifacts and the genetics look very much alike, surprisingly so, on the two ends of the Arctic, which is the largest indigenous territory of any group in the world,” Knecht said.

Knecht says the donation of the hair clippings from the Araliq site was the sole contribution for the study from Alaska.

Warren Jones is the President of the village corporation in Quinhagak, Qanirtuuq Inc. He says they agreed to work with the archaeologists because they want to learn more about the people who they believe may be their ancestors.

“The archaeologists know what they’re doing. And everything they dig out is going to be brought back to us. So it will be back here for our future, children, generations. Now our future kids, grandkids they’ll be able to see what our ancestors lived, how they lived, what they used, the tools they made. All the little stories are coming alive,” said Jones.

Warren Jones talking to Quinhagak elder Paul Beebe. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cleveland)

Jones says the corporation is interested in comparing the DNA of the ancient people of Araliq with the modern residents of Quinhagak.

“We might get to see who was related to the people of Araliq, that’s pretty cool,” said Jones.

Jones says the corporation in Quinhagak eventually wants to develop ecotourism around the archaeological site, but rapid erosion at the site has made getting artifacts out a priority.

Knecht says it requires a certain level of trust for Native people to allow genetic material to be released for studies, and the over the past five years of the project researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Native people in Quinhagak have built that trust.

The project is funded by Qanirtuuq Inc. and through a $1.8 million grant from the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council.

KYUK reporters visited the Nunalleq archeological site in August. KYUK’s Shane Iverson and Charles Enoch contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 2, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

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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Gov. Parnell Defends Against Claims That Response To National Guard Was Too Slow

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell released a brutal federal report on misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Sexual assault reports were mishandled, and alleged perpetrators were promoted. Military aircraft were used for personal reasons. Two state officials have already resigned as a result of the abuses. Now, the governor is playing defense, too. With only a month left before Election Day, Parnell is rejecting claims that he did not respond to the problems quickly enough.

Fairbanks 4 Member Granted Parole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man imprisoned for murder has been granted parole. The Alaska Parole Board approved Eugene Vent’s request despite continued claims by him and other members of the so called “Fairbanks Four”, that they are innocent.

Hilcorp Drilling Platform Catches Fire In Cook Inlet

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Four people were safely evacuated from a drilling platform in Cook Inlet that caught fire this morning. The Coast Guard says the fire appeared to be out by 1 p.m. but has since flared up again.

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture. The state says the decision in Tununuk v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

An archeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer. The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast, and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

Congressional Candidates Talk Fish in Kodiak

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

Alaska’s congressional candidates descended on Kodiak Wednesday night for a debate that pinned candidates running for both the House and Senate against their opponents on a number of fisheries-related issues.

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A new fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

Categories: Alaska News

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 17:08

The Fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

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Immediately to the right of the entrance is a food court where healthy snacks will be sold. Straight ahead is the main attraction.

“The main question when I got here is, ‘Is there water in the pool?’ Yes there is water in the pool?” Raunica Ray, the Director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Regional Aquatic Health & Safety Center, said.

In a town with not much indoor recreation to speak of and where the temperature is below freezing much of the year, the center is an exciting prospect. It’s been in the works for decades. Most people don’t call it by its big, unwieldy name, they just call it “The Pool.”

Actually, there are two pools. The biggest one being, a regulation size pool with six lanes separated by blue and white floats. The larger pool can be used for water sports, both competitive and fun. The smaller pool connected to it is more bout fun; A yellow tube slide leads into the smaller pool. It has sensors that signal kids when the slide is clear and it’s safe to slide. The smaller, more shallow pool has a handicap entry and can also be used for therapy. And a Jacuzzi with state of the art jets for maximum therapy.

The pools and the Jacuzzi are filled with well over 100,000 gallons of water that has to be cleaned. The pool looks like it’s constantly overflowing but it’s really draining into small holes just off the edges. Ray explains where the water goes.

“This right here takes it into the surge tank, goes through the surge tank and then refilters throughout the system. Before it goes back into the system, it goes through an ultraviolet light, which kills everything inside of the water,” Ray said. “After going through that ultraviolet light, then its chlorinated and filtered back into the pool.”

A state of the art cleaning system, says Ray. Going into the next room, she explains the large machines that are constantly humming.

“These right here are sand filtration systems for the main pool,” Ray said. “So we have a set of three of ‘em so that way at all times, water is continuously circulating and we have backup pumps as well.”

All of this seems like it would take a lot of power to run, and it does. But Ray explains a windmill outside provides well over half of the power needed to run the center, while the rest comes from the grid. In the next room, is an emergency generator, in case of a power outage. There are also rooms for yoga, dance classes and a workout room.

Bev Hoffman, of Bethel, has been working to make the Center a reality for years, and she says it’s nice to see a longtime dream come true.

“I kept thinking that it will become a reality but for 30 years it was a dream until 2007, the community started to get behind it,” Hoffman said.

In the early days Hoffman and other community members held bake sales and other fundraisers. More recently, funding the project was made possible through several grants and donations. Around $23 million came from the state. The Rasmuson Foundation and The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Diabetes Prevention Program both contributed funds for workout equipment.

Managers say they’re still putting the finishing touches on The Center, and it’s on track for a grand opening in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks 4 Member Granted Parole

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-02 15:18

A second member of the Fairbanks 4 has been granted parole. The Alaska Parole Board approved Eugene Vent’s request despite his continued claims he’s innocent.

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Categories: Alaska News

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