Alaska News

New Fairbanks Nonprofit Would Make Mushing Accessible

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-13 18:00

Dog mushing is Alaska’s official state sport, but not everyone can just jump on a sled and go. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports on a new Fairbanks non-profit organization aimed at getting people with disabilities out mushing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Senate Considers Treaties to Go After Fish Piracy

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:46

The U.S. Senate is considering two international treaties that Sen. Lisa Murkowski says would help crack down on pirate fishing in the North Pacific. Murkowski today told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that illegal high seas fishing is an economic threat to the crab industry. The senator says it lowers the market price, costing legitimate harvesters more than half a billion dollars since the year 2000.

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“As recently as 2011, NOAA Law Enforcement seized 112 metric tons of illegally harvested Russian king crab that was being shipped to U.S. markets through the Port of Seattle,” she told the committee.

Murkowski says the illegal crab catch has also deprived Alaska of millions in landing fees. One of the treaties aims to require countries to better police their ports to keep pirate shipping vessels from unloading. The senator has a special interest in the Bering Sea crab fishery, made famous by the “Deadliest Catch” TV show. Murkowski says her son just finished a season working as a crab fisherman.

“He’s heading back home and he’s probably going to have some Bering Sea crab stories that I’m not sure his mother is really ready to hear yet, but I’m bracing myself,” she said.

Both treaties had broad support at today’s Senate hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Record Run Leads To Glut Of Pink Salmon

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:45

The record setting pink salmon catch in Alaska last year has left seafood processing companies with several year’s worth of inventory of canned product, although not all of the pink salmon winds up in a can. In fact, industry in recent years has been freezing and reprocessing around half of Alaska’s pink catch. Analysts say that move has helped weather the boom and bust cycles of salmon returns.

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“The 2013 pink harvest was the largest on record,” said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s division of Economic Development, testifying before the House fisheries committee this month. “It’s led to a glut of supply and it will probably, there will be downward pressure on prices because of it. And it’s really been a pretty tremendous impact.”

Fishing fleets caught 219 million pink salmon in Alaska last year. That helped fill up an estimated four million cases of tall pink cans and its left companies with almost five million cases in inventory.

“Even though the catch was big, we’re not having any real problems moving through it,” said Tom Sunderlund, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the companies that processes pinks in Alaska. He says the demand for Alaska salmon seems to keep growing. “That isn’t to say we don’t have a lot of inventory, we do. We’re in a heavy inventory position right now and that’s always a little worrisome when you’re holding more inventory than you want but it is selling well. That’s what I’ve heard from other processors as well. No one’s in any kind of panic mode. Nobody feels the need to start dropping prices or taking any kind of drastic action. So at this point even despite the heavy catch it looks like it’s going OK.”

Companies say a can of salmon has a shelf life about six years so processors don’t need to sell all of the 2013 catch right away. Andy Wink is a seafood analyst for the McDowell Group, a consulting firm that works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Given where sales have been the last several years, we’re looking at inventory of about 2.6 years, in terms of how much supply do we have and how much inventory do we have. So that would take us beyond 2015 even if we did not can another salmon for the next couple years.”

Wink says a chronic oversupply depressed prices in the early 2000s. “That made it very difficult obviously to sell new production, but through a lot of hard work, through lot of marketing and actually through just shifting a lot of that product out of the can, we were able to bring that inventory down and price has improved as a result. So I think we’ve probably in this area before but it has been some time.”

Pinks that don’t end up in cans are often headed and gutted, then frozen and shipped overseas for more processing. That’s become an increasing portion of the catch, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research’s Gunnar Knapp. “Processors have increasingly started freezing salmon and shipping it to the far east to countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand for reprocessing into value added products.”

That fish is processed into many different kinds of products, including pouched pink salmon and then sent back to the US or elsewhere around the globe. “I think that what is going to make things somewhat easier with this year than compared to other years is that not as large a share is going into cans. And so they’ve got a big inventory but it would have been a lot bigger if it was all going into cans,” Knapp says.

Analysts say that product diversification has helped drive down inventory and improve prices for Alaska’s pinks. Wholesale prices for cases of tall pink salmon cans topped 100 dollars in 2012 and 2013, more than double what they were a decade ago. There’s some expectation that those high prices will start dropping. But there’s also help on the way for the big inventory of cans.

The Department of Agriculture will be buying 20 million dollars of canned pink salmon for food assistance programs across the country. That’s an expanded purchase over past years and the decision was hailed by Alaska’s Senators in January.

Analyst with the McDowell Group, Wink says it will be a process to move through the big catch. “But I think there is the capacity for the market to absorb it. And again one other thing for canned salmon, especially with this buy by the federal government, the hope is we can introduce new people to the product. Because it’s really hard to double production, or triple it and then assume you’re gonna move that into the same number of consumers. When that happens you’ve gotta get new people buying the product.”

That’s where marketing comes in.

“Well it certainly presents a marketing challenge when you have such a huge catch and trying to maintain the value,” says Tyson Fick, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s communications director. “But it’s very much a good problem to have.”

Fick says ASMI will be spending an additional one point five million dollars to move pink salmon and notes companies don’t want to hold a big can inventory for too long. “And at the same time we don’t wanna be dumping product on the market and crashing the price because that’s not good for anybody either. So that’s where the marketing effort comes in is to try and maintain the value, while at the same time incentivizing product moving.”
That means recipe and coupon campaigns to bolster sales in traditional domestic markets for canned pinks, places like the southeastern United States. Fick says they also hope to market some of the Alaska product to canned food companies in the United Kingdom. “Looking to partner in the UK with places like John West and Princes, where the UK is a very big traditional canned salmon market, currently more focused on sockeyes but again this is an opportunity to come in at a little bit lower cost with our largest canned salmon export market.”

Fick says canned salmon’s biggest competitor is probably canned tuna fish and other proteins that customers reach for in the supermarket. Traditional customers are the baby boomer generation and their parents but ASMI also wants to promote canned fish to new potential customers in the younger generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Sport Fishermen Applaud Board Action

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:42

Sports fishermen in the Mat-Su Borough are thrilled with a change the Alaska Board of Fisheries made this week to the Cook Inlet drift-net fisheries.

KTNA’s Phillip Manning reports:

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Categories: Alaska News

Fabe Addresses Cost Of Delivering Justice

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:37

The State of the Judiciary address can sometimes be a lofty affair, where the head of the State Supreme Court sets out a vision for what justice in Alaska should look like. This year, Alaska Supreme Chief Justice Dana Fabe delved into more pragmatic concerns, like the effect of declining revenues on the state legal system.

It’s means working smart and doing more with less, so that we continue to operate in the manner the constitution requires of us even in the face of of budget constraints.”

Fabe highlighted the work of retired justices who fill in to help manage case loads and the money the state is saving by filing documents electronically. State lawmakers rapped their knuckles on their desks as a form of applause when Fabe noted the court system had found other ways to pay for a sobriety program and was returning a $40,000 legislative appropriation.

This was Fabe’s eighth address to the Alaska Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

5,000 Alaskans Sign Up On

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:30

More than five thousand Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on the federal marketplace. The new numbers released today include enrollments through the beginning of the month and show a 30% jump since the end of the December.

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Tyann Boling is CFO of Enroll Alaska. She says she’s seeing at least a small increase in enrollments, even in the last week. Still, Boling is not impressed:

“You know I think it’s a far cry from what we were hoping for for the state of Alaska.”

Boling hoped the state would sign up 20 thousand people for health insurance by the end of the year. She thinks the troubled roll out of made that difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. Boling also says there are still a lot of Alaskans who don’t know about the Affordable Care Act:

“That’s always been our greatest challenge. I think we’ve done okay with getting the message out about us in the Anchorage area and some of our lager communities. But truly the challenge is to get people to understand what it means to them, what the benefit is for them and just to have them call to get a consultation.”

The federal report on enrollment includes figures for Medicaid. Alaska Governor Sean Parnell decided not to expand Medicaid in the state. But has determined about 2,500 Alaskans are eligible for existing Medicaid coverage.

Ron Kreher directs the Division of Public Assistance. He says the number of Alaskans discovering they qualify for Medicaid is in line with what the department was anticipating. He’s pleased more low income Alaskans are going to get the healthcare they need:

“It matters a great deal. It means there’s roughly another 2,500 Alaskans that are going to receive healthcare service and access to healthcare that they many well not have had previously.”

Kreher says about 150,000 Alaskans are covered through Medicaid.

The open enrollment period for signing up for insurance on lasts through March 31st. It’s a deadline Alaskans should know well, since it’s also the date Permanent Fund Dividend Applications are due.



Categories: Alaska News

Construction Spending Expected To Increase

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:29

Spending on construction projects in Alaska is expected to increase this year according to the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. The 2014 construction spending forecast was put together by the ISER researchers for the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.

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The researchers believe that construction spending in both the public and private sector will top $9.2-billion dollars this year. That’s up 18-percent compared to last year’s spending level. The number of those employed in the construction industry is expected to remain stable this year at around 16.3-thousand. ISER notes that most of the growth in private construction spending will come from the oil and gas industry. The forecast is that the private sector will spend over $4.2-billion dollars this year on construction projects. That’s up 33-percent compared to 2013. According to the forecast…. ConocoPhillips is scheduled to do quite a bit of exploratory drilling this year including developing the large CD-5 satellite, while BP has announced an expanded capital program this year that includes well work-overs in the Prudhoe Bay field. The other major oil company, Exxon Mobile, is expected to continue the work developing the Point Thomson field. The forecast also outlines the exploratory and development work planned for this year by several smaller oil and gas companies including ENI, Pioneer, Brooks Range Petroleum, Repsol, and Linc Petroleum. The recent uptick in activity in Cook Inlet is expected to continue this year. The forecast notes that Hilcorp, which recently purchased the assets of Chevron and Unocal, plans to drill around 10-new well this year. Other companies expected to be active this year in Cook Inlet include Buccaneer, Furie and Cook Inlet Energy.

While construction spending by oil and gas companies is expected to be up this year, spending by mining companies is expected to be down with a forecasted total of $205-million dollars. The researchers with ISER suggest that the drop in the price of gold is one of the reasons for the drop in spending. The forecast notes that spending for drilling and other site work will be down at the Donlin Creek, Pebble and Livengood projects. The forecast anticipates that spending by seafood processing companies will be significant with about $60-million dollars in expected spending this year on 2 seafood processing plants in Naknek. Construction spending on hospitals and health-care infrastructure is expected to be similar to last year’s level with the largest planned project at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. That project will include a residential housing facility and a new parking garage.

Public spending on highways and roads is forecasted to be about $765-million dollars this year. That includes the Wood River Bridge to connect the North and South shores of Aleknagek. Public spending on airports, ports and harbors is forecasted to be about $425-million dollars. Spending on construction projects associated with education is forecasted at $477-million dollars this year. That includes the construction of a new school in Koliganak, which is expected to be largely completed this year. Construction will also get underway this year for the school in Quinhagak. The 2014 construction forecast also points out that the Coast Guard will be building a new hangar at Cold Bay along with new housing on Kodiak Island.

The construction industry in Alaska is a major player in the overall economy with well over 16-thousand official employees. However, the recently released forecast notes that there are an unknown number of “hidden” construction workers that work in other industries like oil and gas, mining, utilities and government. There are also an estimated 9-thousand self-employed construction workers in Alaska. The 2014 construction spending forecast for Alaska can be found on the website of the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Categories: Alaska News

The ‘Kiwi Musher’ is a Rookie, But He’s No Stranger to Mushing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 18:25

Not only is he the Kiwi Musher, but Curt Perano may also be the frostiest musher on this year’s Yukon Quest trail. Credit Julian Schroder / Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest has once again proven itself as one of the toughest races in the Far North. Of the 18 mushers who signed up for this year’s race, only eleven may finish. The race has claimed rookies, and seasoned veterans alike, but there are still a handful of teams plugging along toward the finish line outside of Whitehorse. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up with the “Kiwi Musher” and has this profile.

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The Yukon Quest trail can be a lonely, solitary route. And with the way this year’s field spread out early, it was even more so, but Rookie Curt Perano says that’s how he like to travel. “I like to just do my own thing and not be influenced by what other people do or say,” says Perano. “If do bump into other people, no problem, but I will probably try to adjust my schedule to break away.”

Perano hasn’t spent much time near other teams. He did break trail with Dave Dalton on a run between Eagle and Dawson City after high winds and falling snow drifted in the trail. “And you do that when the time is right, but I’m not one to travel in big groups.” Because he’s running his team alone, he does find ways to pass the time. “I just work. I get my ski pole out or something like that,” he says. “I find if I just stand there, my eyes are open, but I’m not seeing what’s in front of me, I’m just thinking very random stuff, so I know when I really need to focus, I’ll get my ski pole out and work with the dogs.”

He also plugs in his iPod every now and again. “It’s random. I like the heavier stuff, and rock… a bit of everything.”

He and wife Fleur moved to the United States in 2007 and then to Alaska two years ago, because he wanted to start running his dogs for much longer distances. He’s run two Iditarods. He’s planning a third run to Nome this year.

When he was back at the Circle checkpoint he said he chose the Quest this year for a change of pace. “It’s another trail to run with the dogs really,” he sasys. “I’ve never run up this part of the country so why not.”

And he’s not the only rookie on his team. He says he’s impressed with a three-year-old dog named Croc.
“This was his first race and I was a bit unsure, but he’s he’s happy and having fun and he hasn’t made a mistake yet and he’s done a great job, so that’s rewarding.”

But Croc and the rest of Perano’s team didn’t seem to come together until the back half of the race. Veterinarians were impressed when his team came into Carmacks, but he says that wasn’t the case early on. “I left the start line with something missing, and they were really lacking something for a long way into the race,” says Perano. “So, I really took a step back, so I could get them happy and working and they started to kick into gear maybe 70 miles before Dawson. I guess the last hundred or so, they’ve started to look nice and their attitudes are really good.”

He thinks they may have had to work through some illness. Regardless, he says he was eager for his team to gain some experience on what he had heard was a challenging trail. “I’m not a big one and it may work against me – but I’m not a big one for doing a lot of research on what’s around every corner before a race, because I kind of feel it’s there and you’re going to have to deal with it in one way or another, so I go into it not totally blind, but some of it. But I’ve learned a lot from it.”

Perano says his predominantly solo run has built his confidence. “I think the more you can expose yourself and your dogs to, the better you’re going to be, because they get the confidence that they can work through it and you get the confidence that you can drive them through it, and next time you face it, you know well ‘hey I got the dogs that can deal with that!’

And he says there will definitely be a next time. “Oh yeah definitely, it’s a good race!” he smiles.

With five teams in front and five teams behind him, Perano is likely to finish solo right in the middle of the pack.

Categories: Alaska News

Late Performer Leaves Seven Decades of Archive Treasures

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 16:54

When someone dies, it can take months to sort out legal and personal matters, but what if that life encompassed more than 70 years of international stage performances? Russ Reno is a long time family friend of the late performer Percy ‘Mike’ Madill.

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Reno points to stacks of boxes: ”This is a few of the three or four thousand photos and newspaper clippings and memorabilia that Mike left in my care.”

Russ Reno’s decades of friendship with the dancer, acrobat and long time Anchorage resident ended when Madill died last September, leaving boxes full of memories from his life as a dancer and singer. As Reno pecks at his keyboard and pulls up some of the hours of video he has, it’s clear that he truly admires Madill’s skill. He points to the tremendous back flip in the grainy, old video of a young Mike Madill on stage. Reno says Madill was a consummate performer:

” The thing about Mike that you can tell right away when he’s performing, is because of his classical background, he would go to point, everything was spot on.”

Madill started as a child performer and had a career that scanned decades, Reno says.

“From the early 1930s clear up till, recent, 2013. And I thought I knew him, I mean I’ve known him for, most my life, but I thought I knew him and I was just shocked how much I didn’t know about him.”

Reno runs a tourism business from a cramped office across the street from the Hilton Hotel in downtown Anchorage. He called Madill ‘uncle’ and says his favorite expression was, ‘you’re only as good as what you do tomorrow’, which may explain why Reno learned so much after the modest performer died. As he digs through memorabilia, Reno says Madill never bragged, but he could have:

“That was just amazing when he would talk about it, he would be so matter of fact about things, you know we’re looking through this pile here, this is an NBC original script. This one here I think is from the 1950s, here is Paramount studios, this is when he was in For Whom The Bell Tolls.”

Madill also could have dropped well known names. Reno holds up a yellowed piece of paper.

“We’ve got old telegrams from, that is Sammy Davis junior. Wishing him well on his first night at Radio City Music Hall. He and Gil Johnson were headlining Radio City.”

Mike Madill started in television on The Milton Burl and Patty Paige shows. Learning how to direct during his stint on the Milton Burl program and going on to direct himself, on the Patty Paige show. Madill had a twin sister he performed with in the early years. His legal name was Percy, hers Gertrude. Reno says they didn’t care for those, so on stage they went with Rusty and Rita:

“And they’re named the Sunshine Twins as they had used many times on stage. Rusty and Rita went on and toured, they even took an airplane flight with Amelia Earhart when she was coming through California.”

If you’re not retirement age you may not know the Lucky Strike Hit Parade, Nat King Cole or Eartha Kitt but you get the point- Mike Madill was well known and well traveled.

A vaudeville performer, Madill developed curriculum for Chico State University in California and taught dance to students like Morgan Freeman. For rehearsals he hired a young man for two bucks an hour named Liberace.

Reno’s task is daunting given the number of boxes of fragile documents, but he’s determined. He holds up paper that crackles with the brittleness of age to illustrate why mounting the articles and clippings to a sturdy backing is crucial to saving them for the future:

“It seems to work great, you can tell by the ones we haven’t done already. They’re curling up like crazy and you can see here that they’re just…if we don’t do them soon, they’re starting to crack and everything else so we’re trying our best to get them all preserved as quickly as possible.”

He says Mike Madill never stopped embracing new ideas.

“Mike also had two doctorates. He found time to go to school at the same time. He also had a third honorary doctorate degree from the President of Mexico.”

Madill signed up to fight in World War two after a heckler ridiculed his astounding, on stage acrobatics, saying he should put his talent to work defending the country. He was 17 but looked older. Embarrassed by the encounter, he forged his parent’s signature and went to war, resuming his dance career after his service ended in 1946. By his early 20s, he’d traveled to 30 different countries.

In Alaska, he taught dance at UAA and UAF. Reno says even after a severe injury in his seventies, he didn’t slow down.

“72 I think he was, when he broke his neck in six places doing a back flip on stage. As soon as he got out of his body cast he started working out, getting in his garden, taking walks, soon went back to work. That’s when he went to work on the North Slope, started cooking and then like a year later, he went to work for Holland America and Princess and started touring.”

Madill went back to college at 76 and became a probation officer for the State. Even though Russ Reno has cross referenced thousands of articles to verify Madill’s prolific performance life, incredibly, he’s still looking:

“The only thing I wish we had more of was them as the Sunshine Twins, that’s been the hardest thing to prove. If anybody knows out there knows, Aunt Polly’s Radio Hour, 1937, possibly that one also sponsored by Wonder Bread. Still not sure on that though. The verdict’s still out.”

Russ Reno misses his Uncle Mike Madill. He says Madill worked until a week before he died at 88, even though he liked to pretend he was 10 years younger. Reno says Madill’s sister Gertrude or ‘Rita’, was asked once at a UAF picnic if she was 55. Her response? “Mike may be 55 but I’m 65 and we’re twins.”


Categories: Alaska News

Fabe Addresses Cost of Delivering Justice

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-02-12 15:41

The State of the Judiciary address can sometimes be a lofty affair, where the head of the State Supreme Court sets out a vision for what justice in Alaska should look like. This year, Alaska Supreme Chief Justice Dana Fabe delved into more pragmatic concerns, like the effect of declining revenues on the state legal system.

“It means working smart and doing more with less, so we can continue to operate in the manner the Constitution requires of us even in the face of budget constraints,” said Fabe.

Fabe highlighted the work of retired justices who fill in to help manage case loads and the money the state is saving by filing documents electronically. State lawmakers rapped their knuckles on their desks as a form of applause when Fabe noted that court system had found other ways to pay for a sobriety program and was returning a $40,000 legislative appropriation.

Fabe also touched on the need to improve judicial services in rural areas, an issue she stressed during her State of the Judiciary speech last year.

This was Fabe’s eighth address to the Alaska Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Moves Ahead On Bill To Restore Veteran’s Benefits

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:24

Congress is working this week to protect military pensions from inflation. The U.S. House voted today (Tuesday) to restore a cut to the cost-of-living-allowance for retirees, and the Senate last night (Monday) voted to move forward with a bill to do the same. The Senate bill was sponsored by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and, on the procedural vote, it passed 94-0. Still, as APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports, the bill’s fate is uncertain.

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When Congress passed its budget blueprint in December, the most controversial element was a $6 billion savings in military pensions. The idea was to dip the Cost of Living Allowance for veterans of working age, then restore full inflation-proofing once a veteran reaches age 62. Even before word of it stirred outrage among veterans, lawmakers of both parties were pledging to roll back the cut. At least a dozen bills were filed. The only one Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to move forward was sponsored by Begich and three other Democrats.

On the Senate floor, Begich urged colleagues to just pass the bill, with no amendments.

“Very, very simple. You vote yes, you’re for our vets. You vote no, you’re against are vets. That’s it.”

Some Republicans, though, are insisting on an offset – $6 billion from somewhere else to avoid adding to the deficit. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is among them.

“The good news is everyone in the body wants to undo the damage done to our military retirees. That’s good news. The bad news is we’re doing it in a fashion that would break the budget agreement, and I just don’t think that should be our choice.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has previously backed a plan to pay for the COLA restoration by not allowing illegal immigrants to claim the child credit on their taxes. The House version extends a cut to Medicare for an extra year.

Begich says some Republicans are trying to sink the bill because of the senators sponsoring it: himself, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. All four are Democrats up for re election this year in some of the tightest races in the country. The leadership’s decision to bring this particular bill to the floor gives them a chance to save the day for veterans. The Senate fight continues this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Measure To Elect Attorney General Moves Ahead

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:15

Alaska is just one of seven states in the country that does not elect its attorney general. A constitutional amendment that’s moving through the Legislature would change that.

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During every Legislature of the past decade, someone has introduced a measure that would put the office of attorney general up to a vote. It’s been offered by Republicans. It’s been pushed by Democrats. And every time, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere.

That is, until now. Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, is carrying the measure this time, and he’s actually getting hearings on it. On Tuesday, he told the House State Affairs Committee that it’s an issue of accountability. If the attorney general is elected instead of appointed …

STOLTZE: It would certainly sanctify that that is the people’s lawyer. The attorney generals call themselves that, but really, in de facto, it is the governor’s lawyer.

The attorney general is one of the most powerful offices in Alaska state government. As head of the Department of Law, the attorney general defends the state in court and makes recommendations on what statutes, regulations, and even citizens initiatives are constitutional.

Stoltze can think of a recent example of the attorney general exerting considerable influence over state policy. Last month, the current attorney general signed off on an opinion that an initiative to ban commercial setnetting operations in the state’s urban waters would be unconstitutional.

“That bothers me a little bit – not the content of the initiative, but [that] an assistant attorney general has more power than the people of Alaska,” said Stoltze.

While some members of the state affairs committee expressed support for the measure, there were reservations. A couple of members of the committee wondered if electing an attorney general could lead to conflict between that office and the governor. Some would like to see it amended so that the attorney general is required to be the same party as the governor, and so that there’s a removal mechanism. One Democrat noted that potential for friction could be a risk as the state pursues a complex natural gas megaproject.

But mostly, members of the committee wondered if electing the attorney general would make the office overly political. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, couched her support for the measure with that caveat.

“I value the intelligence of the citizens of Alaska and would hope and pray that it wouldn’t become a beauty contest and a public speaking contest, which sometimes elections can be,” said Hughes.

Stoltze argued that putting the office of attorney general to a vote wouldn’t make the position more political. It would just change who’s playing politics.

“Anybody who has watched attorney generals in this State of Alaska knows they already are political by nature,” said Stoltze.

Now that it’s been heard by the state affairs committee, the measure advances to the judiciary committee. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the measure needs two-thirds approval from the Legislature and a majority vote of Alaska citizens.

Categories: Alaska News

Kikkan Randall Finishes Out Of Medals In Olympic Skate Sprint

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:12

Kikkan Randall talks with her husband Jeff Ellis after the race. Photo courtesy of

It was a disappointing day for Kikkan Randall and her fans. The Anchorage skier failed to medal in the Olympic skate sprint in Sochi- an event many thought she would win. Randall missed advancing to the semifinals by a tiny margin: seven-hundredths of a second. She was gracious with the heartbreaking result saying she was, “happy to be in the fight” and “gave it everything she had.”

Nathaniel Herz is covering the Olympics for and the Anchorage Daily News. He watched the race and talked with APRN’s Lori Townsend.

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Lori Townsend: What do you think happened today?

Nathaniel Herz: It was an interesting day here. It was not super warm but it was just warm enough overnight that it didn’t freeze up and it ended up being soft and sloppy day out on the course. Kikkan had a slower preliminary round of racing than she usually does. And then in her quarterfinal heat… she was facing two of the toughest competitors on the circuit. One was this woman Marit Bjoergen from Norway. And the other was a German woman named Denise Herman who’s leading the sprint standings. And the heat started and Kikkan ended up at the front heading up the hill. And I didn’t actually talk to Kikkan today, my colleagues did.

I talked to Kikkan’s coach (Erik Flora) and he said their plan was to have her lead into the corner after the downhill, because it was a tight corner, and had the potential to be a dangerous spot. So she led through that corner and then they sort of turned, after that corner there’s a straight stretch and then they turned back into the home stretch. On that first straight stretch, Kikkan had been leading and that let her opponents sit behind and build up momentum because they’re not in the wind. And they sort of came around her heading into the home stretch and basically just left her behind there.

The top two advance out of each of these heats. It was super close, I think there was the tactical move to be in the front and then it sounded like on the home stretch she didn’t quite have enough energy to be able to keep up when it really mattered. Her coach, Erik Flora said when it comes to fitness, it’s hard to tell, he thinks it will become more clear if she’s having more problems there during the rest of the races here in Russia. Certainly those are some preliminary explanations. But it’s not totally clear.

LT: Kikkan worked eight years toward this goal. How does she seem to be handling the disappointment?

NH: I have seen Kikkan after a lot of races. Some that have gone really well and some that have not gone well. Her last big sprint race before the Olympics was at the World Championships in Norway a couple of years ago.  A similar thing happened there. She was in a preliminary heat and she got tripped up by a Swedish woman. It was a split second and that was it, she was out. She was clearly disappointed and a few minutes later she comes to this area where you do interviews with the media and she was totally put together, she was composed, she was patient with us, answering our questions.

Today, I saw her talking with her husband right after her finish and she just looked a little shocked. One of my colleagues said they saw her in tears and clearly distraught, but then she went through the whole media rigmarole. I did talk to her briefly she said she had to give the same answers about ten times. Then she actually stuck around all the way through the end of the race even though she wasn’t competing because one of her teammates made it all the way through the final round and was actually kind of in medal contention, although she ended up getting caught in a crash. And yeah, Kikkan was out there smiling, talking to her teammates.

I think there’s no doubt that this is totally devastating but she’s a professional. One of the things her coach said [was that] she spent a huge amount of time preparing to win this race and also part of that was preparing if she didn’t win this race. And we talked yesterday and Kikkan said if I don’t win there are a lot of things in my career I can still look back on.

LT:  Kikkan’s Olympics aren’t over. What will she compete in next?

NH: Well, there are a couple other events in which the U.S. has a shot at a medal. This was the event where Kikkan was among the favorites. But the team sprint is another event where the Americans will be pretty strong. The coaches still have to pick that team sprint team. There may be a couple of Americans who finished ahead of Kikkan today. There was another American who came in 6th place (Sophie Caldwell). And so it depends who they pick for that team. But someone paired with Kikkan could be in medal contention.

And one of the last events is the relay where you have four women who each ski a leg of five kilometers and the American women, right now, they’re extremely deep and could really be in contention. Norway has a pretty strong lock on that gold medal and then silver and bronze are more up in the air. It’s not a sure thing by any means, but there’s the potential for those guys [the Americans] to be in contention for sure.

LT: Kikkan’s 31. The skate style sprint won’t be back (in the Olympics) for another eight years. Do you think this is it for her?

NH: I haven’t talked to Kikkan about that. I talked to her coach a little bit about that today and he was a little cagey. I think Kikkan talked with Beth Bragg with the Anchorage Daily News earlier and she may have mentioned something about racing on the circuit while starting a family, so what Erik Flora told me today is that she wants to keep racing in some form, what that’s going to look like, whether it’s going to be full time, 100% committed, maybe that will change.

She’s 31, seeing her race another eight years, that’s a lot of time traveling around Europe, but… she’s improved a lot in the other disciplines over the last four years and it’s not unreasonable to see her at the Olympics in four more years, she could be a good enough classic sprinter by then. So that remains to be seen.





Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Chamber Works To Keep Flint Hills Open

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:10

The Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce isn’t giving up on the Flint Hills refinery. Flint Hills announced last week that it plans to cease crude oil processing at the North Pole Plant, and turn the facility into a distribution depot for fuel shipped in from other facilities. Fairbanks chamber board chair Steve Lundgren says the organization will work with the state to try to find a new owner-operator for the refinery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tok Biomass Boiler Heats School, Funds Music Teacher

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:40
In late 2010 the Tok School fired up its new biomass boiler to heat the school.  By 2013 it was providing electricity as well and saving the school district about $350,000 per year. Now, those same scrubby trees will help grow fresh vegetables for the district’s students. Listen Now It all starts with a massive pile of wood chips made from trees cut to reduce wild fire risks near the community of Tok, which is surrounded by thick stands of spruce. The chips feed onto a thin conveyor belt that slowly dumps them into a giant boiler. “We put three pounds of wood into the boiler,” said Scott MacManus over the sound of running turbines and compressors. MacManus is the school district’s assistant superintendent, and one of the major forces behind this innovative project. He explains the efficient wood boiler produces steam for a turbine that powers the school. Then, the steam warms up glycol that heats the school. The combined heat and power system saves the school district enough money to employ a counselor and a music teacher. Tok’s 5th graders tinker with their instruments, testing the sounds as they blow into  the mouth pieces and bang on the drums. Music teacher Ruth Fastenau tries to pull  in their attention so they can play “Merrily We Roll Along.” High school senior Claire Burnham hoists her trombones and helps them out. “It’s amazing,” Burnham said about the music program. “We used to have one but it  ended my third grade year and so when we found out it was coming back, a lot of us were really excited to have music again.” Burnham will study music at UAF in the fall.  Meanwhile, back at the power plant, Macmanus said that even after the new facility heated the entire school, “We have all this extra heat. You see how we have the  doors open? We’re just blowing heat out into the air right now.” Initially the school district wanted to build a heat loop to provide warmth to other community buildings, but they couldn’t find funding for the project. So while they refine that idea, some of the heat is being pumped into a commercial greenhouse. “The floor is made of woodchips, as insulation. Better than foam, we can lay the beds right on it,” MacManus said as he walked into the plastic high tunnel greenhouse, fans and heaters whirring from the ceiling. “I’m not sure what the temperature is, maybe 70 degrees?” In front of MacManus, rows of old highway guardrails are filled with soil. As soon as there’s enough daylight, they’ll be planted with vegetables to feed the district’s students. “What did I say – spinach, kale, regular lettuce. Probably not too much head lettuce.  And then that’s what we’re gonna do right now because we’re wanting to get the  salad bar going this spring. So we’ll actually have food on the kids’ plates this spring.  So I’ll send you a picture of a plate full of lettuce. That would be awesome.” In the summer they’ll plant things like tomatoes and onions that can be processed into sauces and salsas and preserved for winter. Food services coordinator Danni Rutledge said there’s a practical reason for the school to grow vegetables. “The stuff might last longer because a lot of times by the time we finally get  something it’s already a week or two or a month old. So the preservation time will be longer,” she said. “And one of our goals is to have less preservatives in our food.” The school district is considering cooking and freezing hundreds of pounds of lasagna using the summer vegetables instead of buying it pre-made. Rutledge said they also want the kids to be able to connect to their foods, even  though it’s primarily a commercial enterprise. “We want to bring the kids out there. We want them to see the process of growing their own vegetables and processing  their own vegetables.” Part of the process is caring for the soil and adding nutrients, which takes us back to the biomass plant and a barrel of ash cleaned from the boiler. MacManus said they will use the ash as fertilizer in the greenhouse. Local gardeners already collect it. Sometimes, though, it’s not only ash at the bottom of the boiler. MacManus says they briefly had a problem with dirty wood. The silica-heavy pine needles melted in the boiler and left chunks of glass. Though they’ve had to work through some kinks in the system, he says for the most part the project has gone smoothly. “There’s nothing in here that’s not been tried and proven. We had a little bit of tweaking to do related to an artic environment.” The school plans to begin planting vegetable starts in mid-February.
Categories: Alaska News

Sass Still Planning for Iditarod

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:39

Brent Sass answers questions about his accident during a press conference in Whitehorse.Credit Mark Gillet / Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest Race Organization held a press conference with Brent Sass this morning (Tuesday). The musher discussed the accident that led to a serious concussion and took him out of this year’s race. The musher was emotional, but he’s confident about his future mushing career.

Listen Now

Brent Sass says he let his dog team down. “I’ve always had ambitious schedules and always wanted to run a race like this race and we were able to do it.”

But he stands by his decision to press the ‘help’ button on his GPS Spot tracker after he fell from his sled and smacked his head on some lake ice. “No race, no win, nothing is worth sacrificing the health and well-being of myself or my dogs or the credibility of the race and you have to think about that when you’re out there,” says Sass.

The 34-year says he’s recovering well, but he still has a raging headache and numbness in his hands.
He says the accident has forced him to reflect on what he can do differently. “I definitely feel like I wore myself out to the point where I was falling asleep on the back of the sled and could not help it and those are the things I have to change.”

Sass’s race strategy has him blowing through most checkpoints. During this year’s race, he didn’t stop at a single checkpoint unless it was mandatory. Even though he admits he was not well-rested, he says he does not support the addition of more mandatory down-time on the trail. “If we’re scheduled to have to stop at the checkpoints, I can’t run the race that I just ran,” he says. “The only reason that I was competing with Allen Moore and Hugh Neff is because I was on a completely different schedule and I was blowing through and Allen and I were leap-frogging the whole way. It’s amazing for me, it’s amazing for Allen and it’s amazing for the fans, the spectators and the sport. I don’t think by giving more mandatory rest, it helps anything. I think as mushers, we have to do better.”

Sass plans to wear a helmet when he’s mushing for the rest of his life if it’s comfortable and safe in subzero temperatures. He plans to run this year’s Iditarod. That race is a little over two-weeks away.

Categories: Alaska News

Raven Guitars, Icy Straits Lumber Win First Path To Prosperity Contest

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:38

The winners of the 2013 Path to Prosperity contest (L-R) Steve Helgeson, Kevin Skeek, Sue Tyler, and Wes Tyler. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

An acoustic guitar maker and a small saw mill are the winners of the inaugural Path to Prosperity contest.

The business plan competition for Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs was sponsored by Haa Aanì, the community development arm of Sealaska Corp., as well as the Nature Conservancy.

The winning entrepreneurs will receive up to $40,000 in seed money for consulting services to develop their businesses ideas.

Listen Now

Two of the 12 finalists for the Path to Prosperity contest were guitar makers.

“Got the news that I made the top 12 and I saw the list of people and I saw Tongass Guitars, and I remember thinking that was my second choice of the name,” recalled Kevin Skeek of Hoonah, co-owner of Raven Guitars. “And I was like, who is this guy!? How did this leak out!? Who do I have to!?”

Skeek eventually joined forces with Steve Helgeson, the other guitar maker in the contest. They chose Raven Guitars as the name for their business. Helgeson, who’s from Wrangell, says they bonded at a small business boot camp the finalists attended in October.

“It was obvious that we shared a passion for guitar building, and had a common vision about guitar construction, and design, and aesthetic,” Helgeson said. “We also shared a passion for natural resource sustainability, and social sustainability and community sustainability. So really, we just had so much in common that it was a no brainer.”

The company aims to use Southeast Alaska timber – mostly Sitka spruce, yellow and red cedar – to manufacture high quality acoustic guitars. They have a few prototypes, which Helgeson says sound quite nice.

“It’s a very bright and strident sound,” said Helgeson. “In my mind it’s similar to a mahogany guitar.”

The other Path to Prosperity winner also uses Southeast forest products. Wes Tyler and his wife Sue own Icy Straits Lumber and Milling in Hoonah. For years, they’ve been trying to expand their business into cabin construction and home building supplies. For the contest, Wes Tyler says the company rebranded that portion of its business as Alaska Legacy Homes and Products.

“Through that we’re going be able to open up our markets, develop log cabins or stick frame cabins with log features and things like that,” he said. “We’ll also be able to have packages of the different kinds of things that go into homes, like a siding package, or a paneling package, or trim package.”

Like the guys from Raven Guitars, Tyler says he prefers to work with wood from the Tongass National Forest.

“You can make anything you want to out of it and it’s the best around,” Tyler said.

Path to Prosperity sponsors Haa Aanì and the Nature Conservancy received 59 proposals for the 2013 contest. The twelve finalists were set up with consulting services, including the small business boot camp and help writing a business plan. The winners were selected based on the quality of their plan.

Haa Aanì President and CEO Russell Dick says the contest has three main goals.

“Jobs, conservation, sustainability,” Dick said. “That’s what it’s about – being able to create a platform for employment and lifestyle in rural communities, because rural communities drive the culture of our state in my mind and we want to be able to support that.”

So what’s next for the winners?

Helgeson says Raven Guitars will use the financial award for more training, as well as marketing, branding, and imaging. They hope to open a manufacturing shop in Wrangell within the year.

“We anticipate that in our first year we’re going to try to complete 44 guitars,” he said.

Within five years he hopes to have about 10 full time employees and be manufacturing 500 to 1,000 guitars per year.

Tyler says the plan for using Alaska Legacy Homes’ award is similar. He says they’re thankful for the consulting services offered through the contest.

“We’ve had experience where the rubber meets the road a whole bunch,” said Tyler. “But where it really counts in trying to figure out things in a business fashion, why that was extremely valuable.”

The Path to Prosperity is a four year project. The Nature Conservancy and Haa Aanì will accept proposals for this year’s contest starting in March. The 2013 winners were announced at the Juneau Economic Development Council’s third annual Innovation Summit.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senate Rejects Pay Raises For Governor, Commissioners

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 19:02

The Alaska State Senate has voted to reject pay raises for the governor and his commissioners.

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The decision was rooted in politics as well as policy. Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, carried the bill, and he said the salary recommendations from the State Officers Compensation Commission were appropriate. But:

MEYER: It’s just in these times of tight budgets and deficit spending, we cannot afford these recommendations at this time.

The state is facing a $2 billion shortfall, and the pay raises would cost over $200,000.

The bill was approved unanimously and now needs a vote from the House.

Gov. Sean Parnell has already said he would refuse to take a pay raise, but that he thought his cabinet deserved a salary hike.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts Shrink AVO’s Seismic Network

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 19:01

The ability to monitor several volcano’s in Alaska is being diminished due to funding constraints. The Alaska Volcano Observatory confirms that all of the monitoring instruments and stations at the Fourpeaked Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula have failed.

Listen Now

John Power is the Scientist in Charge for AVO.

“The cause is not completely known but the most likely thing is deferred maintenance. Maintenance that has not been performed. It’s beginning to catch up to us.”

Power confirms that AVO will continue to use satellite data, infrasound, and first hand reports from pilots to detect signs of eruptive activity. The Fourpeaked Volcano lies within the Katmai National Preserve and there have been no reported historical eruptions of the volcano. The announcement that the monitoring equipment on the Fourpeaked Volcano was not working comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that the same thing had occurred at the Aniakchak Volcano, also on the Alaska Peninsula. In total there are 5 volcano’s in Alaska that have monitoring equipment on them that are not currently working.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a joint program of the United States Geological Survey, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the State of Alaska’s Division of Geophysical Surveys. The Observatory was created in 1988.

Categories: Alaska News

Empire Reporter Fired Following Disagreement With Publisher

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:58

The Juneau Empire on Channel Drive. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

A former Juneau Empire reporter says she was fired when she refused to set up a meeting between the publisher and a legislator on a bill that affects newspapers.

Jennifer Canfield left her job as state capital reporter last week.

Listen Now

The last few years at the Empire have been marked by turnover and some uncertainty as its parent company struggled financially.

Municipalities buy space in newspapers to publish notices on certain information, like raising taxes, meetings, and foreclosures. House Bill 275 would give municipalities another option – publish the information electronically, to be accessed on a municipal website.

Rep. Mike Hawker is the main sponsor of the bill. He says it would empower municipalities to find the most cost effective way to operate.

“It’s information that we have determined that it is in the public necessity and good that it’s made available and, as time has progressed and moved forward, there are alternatives to the traditional newspaper route of publication that might actually even do a better and more efficient and effective job of informing a public.”

Juneau Empire publisher Ruston Burton disagrees.

“It’s a common legislative move that’s made in a lot of states, it’s been made before, trying to basically take public information and hide it behind a website that nobody goes to essentially.”

After state government reporter Jennifer Canfield pointed out the bill to Burton, he asked her to set up a meeting with Rep. Hawker. Burton said he intended Canfield be present at the meeting as well.

“In my mind, I’m thinking that as we’re sitting with him, she’s asking the questions – a reporter would be asking the questions about, you know, ‘Why are you wanting to push this bill? What’s the reason behind it? What instigated it to make you feel it was super important?’ It’s pretty simple. There’s somebody pushing a bill, we want to know why, and we’re going to tell the story about it.”

Reporter Canfield didn’t think it was so simple. She didn’t want to do it.

“There really needs to be a firewall between the business side and the editorial side and I think any journalist understands that implicitly,” says Canfield.
To Burton, it was just a meeting. He says the Empire has a financial stake if HB275 passes, but says his concern is not about the money. He says less than 1 percent of the paper’s total revenue comes from municipal notices.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time when I asked and I didn’t expect such a push back on it either. I don’t know that there’s anything unethical about saying, ‘Hey we’re going to go talk to this guy that’s trying to push a bill and I want to be there when you’re talking to him and you can report the news.’”

Canfield made it clear she didn’t want to set up the meeting.

“It was insisted that I do it, and eventually the conversation got to the point where I was told that if I didn’t do it, our working relationship could not continue. I again expressed my ethical concerns and I was fired.”

Canfield says she got notice of her termination the day after being asked to set up the meeting. She says being fired is a direct consequence of her saying no.

“In our conversation it was pretty clear that was the reason.”

Burton says the two events are unrelated.

“A decision had been made long before there was ever anybody asking for a meeting with Hawker,” says Burton.

Canfield is not the first reporter to abruptly lose their job at the Empire. In 2012, state government reporter Pat Forgey was dismissed from the paper; he went on to cover the capitol for the Alaska Dispatch. His replacement at the Empire, Andrew Miller, quit after just one day, claiming the work environment was “dysfunctional.”

At the time of the interview, Burton still hadn’t set up an interview with Hawker but says he plans to.

Editor’s note: Story updated to clarify that Canfield initially notified Burton about the bill.

Categories: Alaska News

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