Alaska News

Update: Tlingit-Haida OKs Same-Sex Marriages

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 17:19

Southeast Alaska’s largest tribal organization has authorized its courts to perform same-sex marriages. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced its new policy Monday.

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Tlingit-Haida’s seven-member governing board voted unanimously Friday to define legal marriage without a gender requirement.

Council President Richard Peterson says the council is exercising its governing authority to include all tribal members.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson addresses the tribal assembly in March 2014. Peterson just announced the council has OK’d same-sex tribal marriages. (Courtesy THCC)

“It’s something we can do to extend our sovereignty for all of our tribal citizens. It’s not just about the same-sex marriage and helping just one segment of our tribal citizens, but all of our tribal citizens,” he says.

Peterson says that, as far as he knows, Tlingit-Haida’s courtshave not conducted marriages in the past. He wants the new policy to encourage same- and opposite-sex marriages.

The tribal government will issue marriage licenses. But it’s unclear whether they’ll be recognized by the state.

Court rulings last fall forced Alaska to allow same-sex marriages, but many top officials remain opposed.

“It’s certainly not to do it to spite them or anything like that. I’m very hopeful that they’re going to recognize these marriages because the folks that we’re going to be marrying are Alaskans,” Peterson says.

Tlingit-Haida will require least one person in a couple to be a tribal member. The council lists nearly 30,000 Tlingit and Haida Indians in and outside Alaska within its rolls.

Peterson cites high suicide rates among Alaska Natives, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths, as another reason for the policy.

“If showing that we care about all of our tribal citizens equally can send a message where they feel included and belong and loved, and if that helps them to not want to turn toward suicide and other (harmful) things because the feel forsaken, then that’s what we should do,” he says.

Peterson says the council knows of about 20 other tribes amending or adopting rules to recognize marriage equality. Some others determined no changes were needed to allow same-sex unions.

Peterson says that’s a small percentage of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States

“We just recently had Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. And she so eloquently spoke at a time when we were still referred to ‘savages’ and we didn’t have the right to vote. So, now, here we are, and we have tribal citizens who don’t have rights. And we need to provide for that and advocate for that,” he says.

“What the tribal authorities are doing here is moving in the very same direction that the country is moving,” says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a New York City-based, nationwide advocacy organization.

The group lists tribal governments in the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Oklahoma where same-sex marriages were approved during the past half-dozen years.

They include Washington state’s Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Oregon’s Coquille Indian Tribeand the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma.

“Members of the tribes know what it’s like to experience discrimination. They know what it’s like to be shoved outside, to be looked down on. And I think what tribal authorities are saying is that, out of that history, we know it’s important that we not commit the same kinds of discrimination, that we not isolate people, that we not harm them,” Wolfson says.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s new marriage directive also covers tribal divorces.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 25, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 17:18

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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Air Force Officials Say F-35 Program Back On Track, Eielson Remains Preferred Location

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The F-35 aircraft, the new fighter the Air Force wants to keep at Eielson Air Force base, has been plagued by cost overruns and equipment failures. But Air Force brass told a U.S. Senate Committee this morning those problems are in the past.

NORAD Commander Visits Alaska

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Admiral Bill Gortney visited Alaska for the first time earlier this month since taking over the two organizations tasked with defending North America from attack. Gortney wears two hats: he’s head of both the North American Aerospace Defense Command – or NORAD – as well as the U.S. Northern Command. It’s one of the highest positions in the military chain of command, responsible for dealing with airborne threats — whether that’s missiles launched from a hostile country, or a rogue plane within American air space.

After a visit to Fort Wainwright and the missile fields in the Interior, Gortney came to Anchorage for an inspection of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Cargo Ship Detained In Unalaska For Environmental Investigation

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Coast Guard is holding a cargo ship in Unalaska over alleged environmental crimes.

Attorneys Wrap Up Arguments In Lawsuit Challenging Restrictions To Medicaid-Funded Abortions

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Attorneys for both sides wrapped up arguments Wednesday in a case that could reverse state prohibitions against some Medicaid-funded abortions. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood claim a state statute is too restrictive and violates a woman’s constitutional rights.

New Marijuana Bill Would Require Alaska Residency Of Sellers

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Two days after Gov. Bill Walker filed a bill to create a marijuana control board and a day after the drug became legal in the state, state senators are offering legislation setting terms for that board.

Early Education Programs Facing Budget Cuts

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers are targeting a number of early education programs for cuts.

As Legislature Eyes Budget Cuts, Public Media Funding Targeted

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Legislature is considering cutting in half, the amount of funding available for public broadcasting.

Rep. Nageak Taken From Capitol By Ambulance

The Associated Press

A Barrow state representative was taken by ambulance from the state Capitol today.

Commercial Fisheries Commission Chief Reacts To Being On Chopping Block

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is defending itself against a recent state report pointing out inefficiencies and legislation that could dissolve the agency.

Update: Tlingit-Haida OKs Same-Sex Marriages

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska’s largest tribal organization has authorized its courts to perform same-sex marriages. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced its new policy Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Cargo Ship Detained In Unalaska For Environmental Investigation

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 14:14

(Credit: smp/marinetraffic.com)

The Coast Guard is holding a cargo ship in Unalaska over alleged environmental crimes.

The Lindavia arrived in port from China a couple of weeks ago. Kevin Feldis, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, says the 600-foot ship was loading up with seafood to take back to Asia. But was detained before it could leave port.

“Right now the crew is still here in Dutch Harbor, and they will be staying there pending further steps in the investigation,” Feldis said Tuesday. He’s working the Coast Guard with the case, but couldn’t say more about the alleged violations, citing the open investigation.

Unalaska Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin says the Lindavia was chartered by Maersk Lines. This was its first visit to Unalaska, but McLaughlin says it’s since been released from Maersk’s service. She couldn’t say whether that was as a result of the Coast Guard investigation.

The Lindavia is currently at anchor in Dutch Harbor. Feldis says the ship’s owner, Germany-based Dauelsberg, may post a bond to let it leave port as the investigation continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Officials Say F-35 Program Back On Track, Eielson Remains Preferred Location

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 12:00

The Department of Defense’s first U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft soars over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, July 14, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)

The F-35 aircraft, the new fighter the Air Force wants to keep at Eielson Air Force base, has been plagued by cost overruns and equipment failures, but Air Force brass told a U.S. Senate Committee this morning those problems are in the past.

In recent years, many have called on the Pentagon to pull the plug on the expensive aircraft. But Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh says the F-35 program is back on track.

“This is no longer a power point slide. We have flown thousands of F-35 sorties now. They’re on the ramps in multiple bases. We’re starting training of our first operational pilots,” Welsh said. “So we are well into this program being a real thing. A year from now, a year and half from now we will declare initial operational capability for the F-35, and I see nothing that stands in the way.”

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James says she’s also confident in the F-35, although she warned that software could still pose problems. And she says if budget sequestration continues, the Air Force will have to buy fewer F-35s, which will drive up the cost of each aircraft, now estimated at $115 million apiece.

Eielson is the Air Force’s preferred location for the first F-35 squadrons. The final basing decision is expected in 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Pacific University Offers New Scholarship For Pell-Eligible Students

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 11:46

Alaska Pacific University is adding a new scholarship for low-income students who are eligible for the Pell Grant. The school also recently lowered tuition costs and hopes both measures will help attract new students.

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Carter Caywood is the director of admissions for Alaska Pacific University. He says if a student is either fully or partially Pell eligible, they qualify for APU’s promise tuition grant:

“APU will use a unique combination of other scholarship grants and discounts to help them basically fill their tuition costs,” Caywood said. “If they are fully Pell eligible, they pay nothing for tuition out of pocket. If they’re partially Pell eligible, they just have to make up the difference that the Pell grant doesn’t cover up to whatever the maximum Pell is for that year – APU will cover the rest.”

Ian McDermod has already gone through the application process. He says APU’s scholarship programs and lowered tuition costs have drawn in students like him from across the U.S.

McDermod is a freshman from New Hampshire, and is in APU’s outdoor studies program. He says he mostly applied to schools in the Northeast

“Initially, I didn’t think that I would be going to school so far away, but when I received all my applications back, all the schools that I got accepted back, and all of the money I had received, it came down to a few different colleges, and APU just seemed like the best option as far as affordability,” he said.

McDermod says affordability was a top priority for him.

“I know that there’s so many kids who just go into endless amounts of college debt,” he said. “I know some kinds have six-digit numbers as far as college debt goes, and I knew that was something I didn’t want to happen.”

Tuition runs about $19,500 per year at APU. And McDermod says he’s only had to pay about $7,000 out of pocket so far, much of that going toward room and board at the university – which isn’t included in the tuition price.

Carter Caywood says stories like McDermod’s are becoming more common, due in part to the school’s outreach efforts both online and through traditional methods like open houses and college fairs. But, for many potential students, he says it comes down to cost.

“You hear private education, you think very expensive, but if you look at a lot of these schools, especially along the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest, even the state schools, we’re exponentially more affordable even at full price,” Caywood said. “And that doesn’t consider the fact that almost every student that comes to APU who asks for one, gets a scholarship paid.”

Tuition at Whitman College, a private liberal arts school in Washington State, costs about $44,000 – more than double APU.

Caywood says currently about 60 percent of APU’s undergraduate students are from outside Alaska, but the school has recently bolstered its in-state recruitment efforts.

He says APU’s enrollment has been stagnant over the last few years, but he expects enrollment to jump next fall.

“There’s a number of different things that we’re doing, but it would be hard to disassociate the changes in our tuition and the new scholarship programs that we’ve rolled out from this bump in interest in APU,” Caywood said.

The first recipients of the APU Promise Grant will see reductions in their tuition starting next fall.

APU is hosting a FAFSA workshop and APU Promise Grant assistance Saturday from 11am until 2 pm.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Charged With Murder

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-25 09:29

Bethel Police have arrested 27-year-old Mark Charlie Junior in connection with the suspected homicide of 26-year-old LeeAnn Berlin. Joe Corbett is a Lieutenant for the Bethel Police Department.

“Mr. Charlie has been booked at the correction center and charged with Murder in the first degree and tampering with physical evidence,” said Corbett.

Officers responded Monday afternoon to the BNC apartments for a welfare check. They found Berlin who appeared to have been deceased an extended period of time, and Charlie Junior, whom they arrested.

Police interviewed Charlie and say he admitted to strangling Berlin four or five days before his arrest. He said he argued with Berlin Wednesday night. Police say alcohol was likely involved.

The woman’s body was taken to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation morgue and will go to the state medical examiners office for an autopsy. The investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

As Legislature Eyes Budget Cuts, Public Media Funding Targeted

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 18:52

The Legislature is considering halving the amount of funding available for public broadcasting.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican who chairs the Department of Administration finance subcommittee, introduced the cuts by saying the group was focused on essential needs.

“In this fiscal climate, the state should focus on mission critical services, reduce its footprint, and take this opportunity to get out of business that it doesn’t need to be in,” said Gattis at a Tuesday afternoon budget closeout. “This has truly been an opportunity to evaluate the wants versus the needs of state government.”

Between operations and infrastructure, public radio and television were granted $5 million in state funds in the last budget. With the proposal offered by the House Finance subcommittee, funding would be reduced to $2.5 million.

Tyson Gallagher, an aide for Gattis, explained that the cuts would be focused on outlets that have other broadcasting options in their service area. That includes commercial radio stations.

”With the advancements in technology and the development of other broadcast sources, there’s less of a need to maintain public service programming at comparable levels to prior years,” said Gallagher at the subcommittee hearing.

Last year, state grants contributed more than half a million dollars to Alaska Public Media’s $6 million budget, which includes the Southcentral station KSKA. KTOO, the Juneau public radio station, now gets 10 percent of its $2 million budget from state grants. KUAC, which is operated by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, receives nearly $250,000. Because of the station’s position within the university, it was targeted for cuts when the school was experiencing its own shortfall.

The changes will now be sent to the full House Finance Committee for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

After Filing Bill To Limit Per Diem, Anchorage Democrat Pledges Some Of Her Own

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 18:47

A week after filing a bill that would prohibit legislators from collecting per diem when not in the capital, Rep. Harriet Drummond has pledged to return some of her own daily allowance. The Democrat will fly home for Anchorage caucus this weekend.

“I think I should put my money where my mouth is,” said Drummond at a Tuesday press availability, before asking her aide to hand over her purse. “I’m getting paid $237 a day, and I’ll be gone for three days. And I’m going to write a check for $771 to Alaska’s Best Beginnings program.”

Which amounts to three days per diem, plus a little extra.

Drummond believes her check is needed because the state is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, and programs — like the early education one to which she will donate — are likely to face budget cuts. Drummond says legislators should have to share some of that burden.

“I’ll be sleeping in my own bed, and cooking in my own kitchen,” says Drummond. “Yet I’m being paid $237 for each of those days to be in Juneau.”

Right now, Legislators are paid out their per diem for food and lodging, in bulk, at the beginning of session. Drummond’s bill would require changes to the way allowance money is accounted. Her bill does not make exceptions for travel with a legislative purpose or for personal emergencies.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, sees a practical problem with the bill. He says even if people are traveling away from Juneau on work or personal business, there are still basic costs lawmakers have to cover.

“My rent doesn’t stop down here. My landlord doesn’t say don’t worry about paying that rent for the five days that you’re gone,” says Chenault.

Chenault adds that a per diem of $237 is a rate set by the federal government.

While he could not say if the per diem bill would advance, Chenault added that the public should expect cuts in other places.

“You’ll see cuts made in the Legislature’s budget, dealing with a number of issues that are out there,” says Chenault. “We’re trying to rein in the spending that we can at the legislative level, no different than what we’re asking the departments to do.”

So far, the per diem bill has not been scheduled for any committee hearings.

Categories: Alaska News

State Lags Behind Municipalities Adapting to New Marijuana Law

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:57

On the left, Bruce Schulte of the CRCL at a press conference with Dr. Tim Hinterberger of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

As of today it is no longer a crime to possess or transport less than an ounce of marijuana in the state of Alaska. However, the rule change is still a long way from the fully legal and regulated market that voters passed with Ballot Measure 2. And as state entities work to develop comprehensive new laws on a budding new commodity, municipalities are rushing to find shorter-term public safety solutions.

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Yesterday, Governor Bill Walker introduced legislation that would create a marijuana control board under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. The group will be in charge of designing regulations as the state’s permit structure takes shape in the year ahead. The board is similar to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which oversees liquor licenses for the state. And a comprehensive framework for legalizing marijuana is proceeding steadily through the legislature.

“We’re pretty happy with Senate Bill 30 the way it is right now,” said Bruce Schulte, a spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, which is offering policy recommendations to law-makers on transitioning to a legal marijuana market.

Legalization advocates are using money from supporters and the Marijauna Policy Project to fund a “Consume Responsibly” campaign, featuring bus ads in Anchorage the next two weeks bearing the slogan, “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.” The message puts the burden of restraint on consumers, asking for a “good neighbor” approach.

The ABC Board met this morning for an emergency session that extended bans on consuming alcohol in public to marijuana. That is a step that some municipalities like Anchorage have already taken themselves.

“We have to do something, I think, to make sure that the public is safe,” said Paul Honeman of the Anchorage Assembly, which voted in a ban on public consumption that comes with a $100 fine similar to a parking ticket.

At a special session convened Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously passed another public safety measure on a process that extracts the active ingredient in cannabis for concentrated, highly potent byproducts. The measure is intended to maintain sanction over particular rendering processes that have caused dozens of house explosions in Colorado since legalization. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew is working closely with the Assembly to develop reasonable enforcement policies, in part because he wants the Department to be ready for new developments before they become problems.

“Whether it’s the butane hash oil scenario or more advanced equipment, I can’t tell you that,” Mew told the Assembly. “But I do know we have actionable information about people who have ordered and received stuff that, I believe, would be illegal under the current ordinance.”

Critics say the measure is unnecessarily broad, and would be more effective with refined language. But the Assembly in Anchorage is taking the approach that it is better to do something than nothing, and that it can always repeal the rules once state measures are released later on.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Challenging Restrictions For Medicaid-Funded Abortions Continues In Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:23

State attorneys are about to finish questioning witnesses for the defense in a trial that could determine whether or not the state removes some restrictions for Medicaid – funded abortions for low income women.

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Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest filed suit against the state Department of Health and Social Services, alleging that the state’s statute restricting Medicaid abortions puts a burden on pregnant women of low economic status, because physical and mental health risks related to pregnancy are exacerbated by poverty.

State assistant Attorney General Margaret Payton-Walsh, says the state statute, passed last year, was enjoined before it went into effect. The law lists specific life threatening physical conditions as criteria for women seeking Medicaid paid abortions. Payton-Walsh says Medicaid puts restrictions on other types of medical treatments, too.

“We’ve offered as exhibits and evidence in this case to show that Medicaid applies these sorts of criteria in lots of different ways,” Payton-Walsh said. ”And there’s nothing particularly unusual about this setup where you have to meet a special set of circumstances in order for Medicaid to reimburse.”

Payton-Walsh says the statute only seeks limit Medicaid sponsored abortions to those that are “medically necessary.”

“We need to understand what makes an abortion medically necessary,” Payton-Walsh said. ”There needs to be a definition. This statute is designed to create that definition and to try to exclude what most people would think of as being elective abortion.”

Planned Parenthood chief counsel Laura Einstein argues that socio-economic factors are valid reasons for abortion.

“We’re talking about the most vulnerable population. These women are already on Medicaid, so already they are people who will be struggling economically and some of them in a much more destitute situation,” Einstein said. ”So when you start suggesting that they don’t have a medical reason to have abortion and then you couple that with the financial burden that falls on them in trying to pay for that service themselves, then we think that is a serious constitutional violation.”

Einstien says medicine is not a list of conditions, and that physicians need to take into account the totality of a patient’s circumstances.

“What we are hoping to achieve is that the judge strikes down the statute and the regulation that those are so limiting that they violate a women’s right to abortion, which is her right under the Alaska constitution,” Einstein said.

Closing statements are expected to be heard Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Alaska King Salmon Head North In Search Of Cooler Waters

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:16

Some king salmon reared in Southeast Alaska are traveling farther north as ocean temperatures rise.

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This news was delivered to the Alaska Board of Fisheries as their spring meeting opened in Sitka Monday afternoon.

The three-year meeting cycle of the Board of Fish is designed to take the board to different regions of the state, and a substantial portion of each ten-day meeting is devoted to education — of the board. Regional managers and biologists from the Department of Fish & Game deliver literally reams of data about salmon harvest levels, escapement, and economics.

St. Matthew Island sits just north of the 60th Parallel. Like Sitka’s St. Lazaria, St. Matthew is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge system.

Most of this information rolls in and out with the tide, and generates little comment from the board. But this fact caught their attention: The king salmon hatched in Southeast’s four top-producing river systems, the Alsek, Situk, Taku, and Stikine, are going very far afield.

This is ADF&G Sportfish coordinator Ed Jones.

“All four of these stocks are considered outside-rearing, or what we term the far-north migrators. This means that shortly after the juveniles enter the marine environment to rear, they essentially take a right and head out to the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.”

Again, these rivers are the four largest producers of king salmon in Southeast. Board member Orville Huntington wanted to know more.

“Do you guys know where it is they’re going?”

Huntington wanted to know if the Department used any sort of telemetry to track the fish.

It turns out telemetry isn’t needed. Jones knows exactly where the kings are going. The National Marine Fisheries Service has increased trawl surveys in the Western Gulf in recent years. The surveys are catching king salmon, some of which have tiny coded-wire tags embedded in their skulls. Those salmon were tagged in Southeast, says Jones.

“They’re typically found from Kodiak west, and what’s interesting to me is that in years of really warm water — which took place in 2005 – 2006 — most of our coded-wire tags were found in the Bering Sea. So that told me that the fish are being opportunistic, and moving with water temperatures. They’re going out to that part of the world, and moving as water temperatures dictate.”

Board member Sue Jeffrey asked Jones to elaborate on this idea.

Jeffrey – You’re saying that warm waters create different patterns. Are they moving to cooler waters then?
Jones – In 2005 – 2006, those very warm water years, they found a Taku coded-wire tag all the way up by St. Matthew Island, which is quite a bit north of the Bering Sea. So that’s what is going on: They have a preferred temperature that their feed is in, that they like to operate in, and they’re moving with it.

Although the Taku, Alsek, Situk, and Stikine produce most of Southeast’s king salmon, Jones said that there are seven smaller stocks that the department considers “inside rearing.” Once these fish enter the marine environment as juveniles, Jones said they remain in regional waters until maturity.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 24, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:15

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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Sec. Jewell On The Hot Seat In Murkowski’s Committee

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Lisa Murkowski confronted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The subject was the president’s proposed budget for the Interior Department. But Murkowski used the occasion to bash Jewell for recent department decisions blocking oil development on the North Slope.

As Pot Becomes Legal, Alaska Communities Rush For Short-Term Laws

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

As of Tuesday it is no longer a crime to possess or transport up to an ounce of marijuana in the state of Alaska. However, the rule change is still a long way from the fully legal and regulated market that voters passed with Ballot Measure 2. And as state entities work to develop comprehensive new laws on a new commodity, municipalities are rushing to find shorter-term public safety solutions.

Trial Challenging Restrictions For Medicaid-Funded Abortions Continues In Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

State attorneys are about to finish questioning witnesses for the defense in a trial that could determine whether or not the state removes some restrictions for Medicaid – funded abortions for low income women.

Diomede Enters More than One Month Without Flights

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

It’s now been a full month since regular helicopter service was halted to the remote Bering Strait community of Little Diomede. The aviation company flying to the island village says a combination of mechanical issues and weather is keeping flights from resuming—and residents say they’re getting by despite just one delivery of mail and cargo in the last month.

Bethel Reacts to Walker Administration’s firing of DA

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel Community members are reacting to the Walker Administration’s firing of District Attorney, June Stein. While working in the office Sunday, Stein received a letter, delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.” The state is not explaining why she’s being fired.

Community Members Want Action From Muni To Get More Detox Facilities

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

People packed the pews at the First Covenant Church in Anchorage on Monday evening to discuss the municipality’s lack of detox facilities. The city of 300,000 people has only 14 detox beds. Before 2000, there were 34.

Bill Changes Alaska Lawmakers’ Per Diem Rules

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A week after filing a bill that would prohibit legislators from collecting per diem when not in the capital, Rep. Harriet Drummond has pledged to return some of her own daily allowance.

With Troop Cuts Looming, Anchorage Officials Turn Out Crowd

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchroage

Several hundred people turned out last night to show support for the military in Alaska and speak against potential troop reductions.

Southeast Alaska King Salmon Head North In Search Of Cooler Waters

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Some king salmon reared in Southeast Alaska are traveling farther north as ocean temperatures rise. This news was delivered to the Alaska Board of Fisheries as their spring meeting opened in Sitka Monday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Reacts to Walker Administration’s firing of DA

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 16:53

Bethel Community members are reacting to the Walker Administration’s firing of District Attorney, June Stein. While working in the office Sunday, Stein received a letter, delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.” The state so far is not explaining why she’s being fired.

Stein did not want to be recorded but said in an interview her termination came as a surprise. It was no surprise to local attorney Jim Valcarce, who often argues cases in her court and says he’s been sounding the alarm about Stein to anyone who would listen, including the Governor.

“She was not effective, she catered to certain white segments of the population, in my opinion, and she failed to work with those that needed our support the most,” said Valcarce.

Valcarce, a 20-year Bethel attorney who served on Governor Walker’s transition team for public safety, said he saw a troubling trend in the Bethel court under Stein’s leadership.

“Young men in this area pleading out at arraignment to DV Assault 4’s. Their lives are ruined. Their never gonna work in any state jobs, they’re never gonna work in the good jobs in the village. And it sounds great when you say we’re being tough on crime, we’re putting away these wife beaters. You know, DV is so broad out here. That’s why we have the highest rate of domestic violence cause DV is anybody – if it was a former girlfriend, if you lived together, brothers, sisters,” said Valcarce.

Valcarce thinks most young, first time offenders shouldn’t end up in jail. He advocates for tribal courts, where the community is actively involved in resolving misdemeanors and low-level offences and what he calls ‘smart justice’.

Myron Angstman, another attorney who has worked in Bethel for 40 years, has a different opinion.

“She’s consistent, she works hard and she is competent,” said Angstman.

He says the position Stein filled is a difficult one, because of the huge caseload and the transience of attorneys willing to work in the bush and he worries about her departure.

It’s a tough position to fill. And you just don’t cut loose somebody who’s doing a decent job without a plan. And I have no knowledge of whether they have a plan. But I can tell you this without a question, I have misgivings about whether their plan will work if they have one because people who show up here don’t always work out here,” said Angstman.

Florina Altshiler was a prosecutor based in Anchorage for a couple of years and worked several trials in Bethel with Stein.

“The impression that I got was that she was very dedicated to the office, and to the Bethel community and to doing her job. She would literally wake up, work, and then go to sleep and repeat,” said Altshiler.

Altshiler is no longer with the Department of Law. She’s originally from New York City and works in New York State now.

In an interview Stein said about her firing, “I didn’t believe it would happen because I didn’t think a defense attorney would be able to get me fired,” referring to Valcarce.

Valcarce says he has been outspoken about his opposition to the way Stein had been running the office. He says he doesn’t know if his complaints had anything to do with her firing. The Governor’s office confirms Stein has been fired, but won’t comment further because it’s a personnel issue.

Stein is originally from New York City. She worked on the Kenai Peninsula, where she was also a controversial figure before taking her position in Bethel. She’s also worked in New Mexico.

KYUK Reporter Ben Matheson Contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Community members want action from muni to get more detox facilities

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 16:09

Community members lined up to speak about detox facilities at the First Covenant Church in Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

People packed the pews at the First Covenant Church in Anchorage on Monday evening to discuss the municipality’s lack of detox facilities. The city of 300,000 people has only 14 detox beds. Before 2000, there were 34. Community members presented their concerns to Assembly members and hoped for solutions.

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Detox facilities provide medical interventions for people withdrawing from large amounts of alcohol or drugs and help them manage the symptoms. The only detox facility serving Anchorage and the Valley is the Ernie Turner Center, which turns away 15 to 20 people every day. Waiting lists run an average of 10 days.

Heidi and Tomas Jensen researched the issue for Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together, or AFACT, then presented the data to the community.

“One thing we heard — if you can’t get people into treatment in that narrow window when they ask for help, then you’ve lost them,” Heidi Jensen told the crowd.

The Jensens said the problem isn’t new; the municipality and other organizations have issued 20 major reports on homelessness and alcoholism in the city since 1978. Most of them call for more detox beds.

Residents, like Ada Shavings, lined up to ask Assembly Members Bill Evans and Dick Traini for action.

“A lot of our friends, about 15 to 20 of them, have passed away just from waiting to get into treatment. A lot of them have died on the streets.”

Laura Eben said she wanted the Assembly Members to see the face of someone who needed detox, received it, and has now been sober for years.

“And I just ask for you to think about us who really need help when you think about getting more detox beds.”

Heather Smith was a pastor on the North Slope for nine years. She said people in her congregation wanted help finding detox facilities anywhere in the northwest, but she could only find spots for two of them.

“Those two people went through detox and rehab and are now leaders in their communities. Someone asked me as I was telling them this story, ‘What happened to the others?’ And I’ll tell you, many took their lives. Some died of alcohol poisoning, and I did their funerals.”

Assembly Member Evans said he’s heard all of these comments before, and he knows there is a problem. “There’s really nothing new under the sun as far as what is needed. The biggest problem as I see it is, as the presenters said, you need to transform the study into action, and basically action is not as easy as it seems.”

Evans said the assembly needs to take a nuanced approach to help people heal from addictions. Funding needs to go towards detox, treatment, housing, and support systems, but it’s unclear where the money will come from.

Assembly Member Traini said the action starts with more people speaking out, especially at assembly meetings and during the budget process.

Item 17 at the end of every assembly agenda allows people to speak about any topic they want, he told the audience. “I know I’m asking you to do a lot — I want you to stay ’til the end of the meeting… Come and talk to the entire Assembly until we’re tired of seeing you or get progress on this.”

“It’s time for action, not just talk,” Jensen said. “Untreated substance abuse in Anchorage results in unnecessary costs to the community, compromised public safety, and suffering for our families.”

Categories: Alaska News

Sec. Jewell on the Hot Seat in Murkowski’s Committee

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 15:29

Sen. Lisa Murkowski confronted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today  at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The subject was the president’s proposed budget for the Interior Department. But Murkowski used the occasion to bash Jewell for recent department decisions blocking oil development on the North Slope.

“Interior’s decisions are hurting Alaskans. You’re depriving us of jobs, revenue, security and prosperity,” Murkowski told her.

The senator says the Obama administration, by putting 22 million acres of Arctic land and waters off-limits in recent weeks, will starve the trans-Alaska pipeline of oil.  Jewell says that’s not her intent, and she suggests it’s not the government’s fault.

“Senator, I am fully committed to supporting the efforts in the North Slope of Alaska to keep the trans-Alaska pipeline full,” Jewell said. “As you know, I worked on that pipeline as a college student. As a petroleum engineer, I understand how fields peak, and Prudhoe Bay oil field and related oil fields have been passed their peak production for some time, I’m aware of that.”

The Interior secretary says her department is only protecting areas that have the highest ecological value, or those identified by subsistence whalers. Jewell says in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, 72 percent of the estimated recoverable oil is in areas open to leasing.

“And we have recently approved ConocoPhillips’ preferred proposal for drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve,” Jewell said.  ”Offshore, 90 percent of the estimated recoverable oil and gas will be available for leasing in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.”

Murkowski also brought up another sore point: the road that could connect King Cove to Cold Bay. Murkowski says if sick and injured people could get to Cold Bay’s larger airport, they could more safely reach a hospital, but Jewell, in late 2013, rejected a proposed 10-mile road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to connect the communities.

“Do you know when King Cove saw its most recent Medevac?” Murkowski asked.

“I’m not aware of their most recent Medevac,” Jewell admitted.

“It was Sunday. Sunday night,” the senator said. “Do you know how many Medevacs have been carried out so far in 2015?

Jewell didn’t know that either. The answer was five. And, Murkowski says, there’ve been 21 Medevacs, some by Coast Guard helicopter, from King Cove in the 14 months since Jewell rejected the single-lane gravel road.

Jewell says her trip to Kivalina last week reminded her that King Cove isn’t the only Alaska community with difficult access.

“There are many villages that struggle in the case of medical evacuations and I appreciate it’s part of our job to work on that, and I will continue to work with you on that,” Jewell said.

Murkowski says, of all the isolated communities, King Cove is the only one with an all-weather airport so close, and she’s dismayed the president’s budget includes no solutions for King Cove.

Jewell says Interior is considering alternative access through the refuge, maybe by air or water.

Categories: Alaska News

Diomede Enters More than One Month Without Flights

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 11:40

Diomede in November 2010. (Photo: KNOM file)

It’s been a full month since regular helicopter service was halted to remote Little Diomede in the Bering Strait. The aviation company flying to the island village blames a combination of mechanical issues and weather is keeping flights from resuming, but residents say they’re getting by despite just one delivery of mail and cargo in the last month.

Diomede Mayor Andrew Milligrock was busy in the community clinic Friday, saying that beyond some bare store shelves, the community is doing well by sharing what they have.

With no runway and the community clustered along the shore of a steep mountain jutting from the Bering Sea, Diomede has long relied on helicopter service to ferry mail, cargo, and people to and from the island. Oregon-based Erickson Aviation contracts with regional nonprofit Kawerak to provide what’s known as Essential Air Service, but the only helicopter flying from Nome to Diomede and back went to Anchorage in January for maintenance.

That’s left residents unsure when flights and deliveries would resume. But they’re not the only ones stuck when no helicopters are flying.

“Today’s day 31 of my six day trip to Diomede,” Father Ross Tozzi said Friday.

A priest based in Nome (and KNOM board president), Father Ross flew to Diomede for a funeral last month, landing on Jan. 21. Family members flying to the island for the funeral arrived the next day—the last day of regular flights. Calling from his cell phone on Little Diomede, he said the attitude on the island is one of “riding out the storm.”

“There’s a sense that we have the capability to endure. It would be nice if things were different, but when the chips are down we share.”

He chuckled. “When the chips aren’t down they share. And they help each other out.”

There has been some relief since the last regular flight took off in January: a single flight landed roughly 10 days ago, on Feb. 13, bringing mail and supplies but only part of the growing backlog. On that helicopter’s trip back to the Alaska mainland, an Erickson spokesperson said a caution light went off and the pilot had to make an unscheduled landing in the coastal village of Wales, about 26 miles east of Diomede. The helicopter, the same Bölkow BO-105 that had been down in Anchorage for weeks of maintenance, returned for further inspection.

Father Ross said the resupply replenished some essentials, but other needs could only be met with regular flights.

“The thing that’s more critical [are] things like prescriptions,” he said. “The pharmacies only want to issue a quantity as if you could go back to the pharmacy very easily, and get an additional supply. But for people in Diomede, some have run out of some of their prescription, and [are] awaiting the mail to bring them now for four weeks.”

Jeremy Zidek with state’s division of homeland security and emergency management says the department is in “close communication” with Diomede leaders—and while there haven’t been any requests for emergency aide, he says the state is standing by if asked to step in.

Erickson marketing director Susan Bladholm said the company is now flying two helicopters up to support Diomede. A smaller Bell 212 “twin huey” made it as far as McGrath last week before weather kept it on the ground.

“It departed from Anchorage to Nome on Thursday, and then arrived into McGrath,” Blandholm said Friday. “And then they identified a minor maintenance issue, and that was corrected, and then we ran into some weather issues. So at this point we’re just waiting on weather.”

Once the twin huey makes it to Nome, Blandolm said it will be in regular service until a larger helicopter, a Bell 412SP, can be readied as a full-time replacement. That craft is currently being configured for permanent service in Anchorage.

“[The Bell 412SP] is making its way up there as well, which is a larger, heavier, and frankly more reliable aircraft,” Blandholm said on Sunday, after continued poor weather and freezing rain kept the smaller 212 in McGrath.

On Monday Blandolm said Erickson watched for clearing weather through the afternoon, but “freezing fog did not burn off in time for a flight.” Blandholm said Tuesday’s weather forecast “is looking promising” for sending the 412 from Anchorage to Nome.

When weather clears Erickson says getting the helicopter to Nome to resume flights to Diomede should only take a few days.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski, Jewell Spar Over North Slope Oil And Gas Development

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 11:33

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell faced off in a Senate hearing Tuesday morning in Washington.

Murkowski repeated accusations that the Obama administration is shutting off development on the North Slope, starving the trans-Alaska pipeline of oil. And Murkowski says the process has already started in the western Lower 48.

“Interior’s decisions are hurting Alaskans. You’re depriving us of jobs, revenue security and prosperity,” Murkowski said. “But Alaskans aren’t alone in this. And I want my colleagues to understand, I think what we’re seeing in Alaska is a warning for those in the West. And the fact is almost every other Western state has multiple legitimate complaints against the Interior.”

Jewell suggests the low throughput of the pipeline is not solely the government’s doing.

“I am fully committed to supporting the efforts in the North Slope of Alaska to keep the trans-Alaska pipeline full,” Jewell said. “As you know I worked on that pipeline as a college student. As a petroleum engineer I understand how fields peak, and Produhoe Bay oil field and related oil fields have been passed their peak production for some time, I’m aware of that.”

Jewell says her department has left a lot available for development, particularly in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where Jewell says 72 percent of the estimated recoverable oil is in areas open to leasing.

“And we have recently approved Conoco-Phillips’ preferred proposal for drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve,” Jewell said. “Offshore, 90 percent of the estimated recoverable oil and gas will be available for leasing in the Beafort and Chukchi Seas.”

Jewell was defending her proposed budget before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Subsistence Board Seeks Change To Rural Determination Process

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 11:19

Nome in 2002. Photo: Mildred Pierce via Creative Commons.

What makes a community rural? That’s a question the Federal Subsistence Board has grappled with for years.

In past policy, the board weighed population size against factors like industrial development and infrastructure. But, ultimately, the definition of rural has been slippery in Alaska, where many communities exist outside the developed road system.

Now, the Federal Subsistence Board is trying something new. Rather than drawing a complete picture of what it means to be rural, the board wants to draw the empty space, by defining what it means to be non-rural.

The Subsistence Board’s Regional Advisory Council (RAC) for the Seward Peninsula met in Nome yesterday to discuss changes to the rural determination process — and to gather public comments. Jeff Brooks is a social scientist with the Office of Subsistence management. He described the proposed non-rural emphasis as a way to simplify the process at a local level.

“The burden of proof would not be on the community to prove that it’s rural,” said Brooks. “It would be on somebody else to prove that it’s non-rural.”

Under the proposed rule, communities that identify as rural wouldn’t have to explain why they’re rural — in fact, they wouldn’t have to explain anything at all. Only urban, or non-rural, communities would be defined for regulation purposes. And even then, the burden would be on policy makers not on community residents.

“I guess the general sense was, it’s easier to say which communities are non-rural than it is to say which communities are rural,” said Carl Johnson with the Office of Subsistence Management. He said while the board hasn’t yet developed its definition for non-rural, there will likely be less ambiguity when it comes to hub communities with larger populations — but remote .

That increased clarity may allow subsistence users in the region to breathe a little easier. After all, the distinction between rural and non-rural is no light matter — under Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) — it protects a community’s right to participate in subsistence hunts.

For Marie Katcheak, the term “rural” isn’t a matter of policy at all. It’s part of her identity.

“I hold my status as a rural person. That’s something that I never want to give up. And I shouldn’t have to give up,” she told the council.

Like many, Katcheak worries about the impact of increased development in communities that rely on a rural status — and a subsistence-based way of life. While the federal managers can do little to predict an outcome, or address those fears, Brooks says he understands that “rural” is more than just a policy buzzword.

“I understand, and many people in the room do, that rural status is more than just a label. It’s tied to your identity. And it is scary for towns that see potential growth in the future,” said Brooks.

The Federal Subsistence Board will continue to collect comments on the proposed change through April 1. The next Regional Advisory Council meetings will take place in Naknek on February 24, and in Bethel on February 25.

Comments can be submitted online, by searching docket number FWS-R7-SM-2014-0063, or by mail:
Office of Subsistence Management
1011 East Tudor Road, MS 121
Anchorage, AK 99503

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Police Investigate Suspected Homicide

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 11:14

State Troopers are investigating a suspected homicide in Kotlik. 28-year-old Jerald Fancyboy was found dead Saturday in a home.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says no arrests have been made. The troopers’ major crimes unit travelled to Kotlik to investigate, along with state troopers from St. Mary’s and elsewhere.

“They’re there to investigate the death and the circumstances surrounding the death. At this point we are investigating it as a homicide, it’s an ongoing investigation and we’ll see what the outcome ultimately is,” Peters said.

Peters is not sharing any other details at this stage.

“With our investigators there, they are trying to determine the cause and circumstances overall. A lot of times with investigations we will not put information out right away because it’s not confirmed yet. We might get one report that it was one thing and through investigation, interviews, and evidence, find out later it was nothing like that at all. Until we have information that is confirmed, we’re going to keep it close,” Peters said.

Fancyboy’s body was sent to the state medical examiners office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

With Troop Cuts Looming, Anchorage Officials Turn Out Crowd

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-24 00:27

Several hundred people turned out to show support for the military in Alaska and speak against potential troop reductions at an event Monday night.

Pentagon officials toured Anchorage for much of the day leading up to a concert packed with boosters at the Dena’ina Center downtown.

John McLaurin is the Deputy Director for managing force reductions nation-wide, and explained to the crowd that community support factors into decisions regarding cuts.

“Ya’ll were incredible,” McLaurin said at the beginning of the public listening session. “That assemblage outside before coming in here is something I’ve never seen before. You should be very proud of yourself because I am flat out impressed.”

The visit is part of the military’s draw-down of 120,000 troops by 2018. Alaska could lose 11,100 Army positions, bringing thousands more dependents and family members out of state, as well.

State and local officials are pushing hard to insulate Alaska from that. All three members of the congressional delegation testified. Senator Dan Sullivan even joked he was missing votes in Washington, D.C. to plead Alaska’s case in person. Senator Lisa Murkowski echoed the message officials in Anchorage have worked to coordinate with their counterparts in Fairbanks.

“We in Alaska are important to the Army,” Murkowski said over a video-feed. “The strength of our nation is our Army, and the strength of our Army resides right here in Alaska.”

The City administration and Anchorage Economic Development Corporation along with Visit Alaska have taken the lead bringing civic and business leaders together to stress the financial importance of the military to the state. But many members of the public like retired Colonel Peter Goldberg feel it is the lifestyle available in Alaska that causes so many service members to stay and maintain relations with the Armed Forces.

“Ask yourself if it is the kind of place that would encourage you to re-enlist,” Goldberg said during the three minutes of testimony he was allotted, going on to rattle off a list of activities, from hunting to scuba-diving, available in Alaska. “The recreation here is superb–this is a paradise.”

In spite of all the praise, Pentagon officials have hard choices to make in the months ahead as they visit all 30 of the communities that stand to be hit by base reductions. The criteria they use to make those decisions involve looking at strategic position, cost, and global mission, among other qualitative and quantitative metrics. Art Bell was the commander of American Legion Post 1 in Anchorage and is skeptical community input will carry much weight.

“My honest opinion is that this is a dog and pony show,” said Bell in between handing small flags to attendees on their way off the escalator. “The Department of Defense is here tonight because they’re required by law to be here and have public hearings. I don’t believe that’s going to influence the final decisions. I do believe we will lose troops in Alaska from both bases. But I do believe that’s a mistake.”

Though Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott addressed the audience, Governor Bill Walker was not on hand. Earlier in the day he met personally with the head of the Army in Washington DC, and will be in Fairbanks when officials hear from the public Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

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