Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 25, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:41

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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Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

Rep. Young Co-Sponsors Pot Bill to Let States Decide

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska Congressman Don Young has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana in states that have chosen to make it legal. The bill would also allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients and require the government to start issuing marijuana research licenses.

Alaska Joins Investigation Into Premera Cyber Attack

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is participating in a multi-state investigation into Premera following a cyber attack on the health insurance company early this year. The state’s insurance director says she has a lot of questions about why the attack occurred and why it took the company two months to announce it publicly. Identity theft experts say the fact that the breach includes social security numbers makes it especially troubling.

MDA: Fort Greely Missile System Ready for Iran ICBMs, Too

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground based Missile Defense system, with its 26 missiles at Fort Greely, is capable of defending the U.S. not only from North Korea, but from Iran, too.

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A plaintiff in the lawsuit that successfully challenged environmental work preceding a 2008 federal petroleum lease sale in the Chukchi Sea is opting out of the legal action.

Truck Rolls Over, Spills Fuel On Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A truck rollover on the southern end of the Dalton Highway resulted in a fuel spill. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports the tractor portion of the rig remained upright, and the driver survived the Tuesday crash without serious injury.

Discovery Southeast honors teacher Allie Smith

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A second grade teacher in Juneau is being honored for regularly exposing her students to nature. Outdoor education nonprofit Discovery Southeast is giving the first annual Discovery Award to Allie Smith.

Bethel Citizens Urge Council to Stop Liquor Stores

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council heard hours of passionate testimony Tuesday night urging them to  protest anticipated applications to sell liquor. Many in the capacity crowd asked the council to consider the consequences of local sales in a region that suffers disproportionate effects from alcohol abuse and related violence.

More Than Half Of Bering Strait Women Report Experiencing Violence In Their Lifetime

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

A study on violence reveals that 51 percent of women in the Nome Census area have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in their lifetimes.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Keeps Marijuana As A Controlled Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:36

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill later this week, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

The body voted 16 to 4 on Wednesday to adopt a version from the Finance committee that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version crafted by the Judiciary committee that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move. Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that it was contrary to the intent of the initiative.

“Are you regulating marijuana like alcohol when you treat it as a controlled substance?” asked Wielechowski. “No. Clearly not.”

But Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, defended the move.

“Marijuana remains a controlled substance at a federal level. [former Deputy] Attorney General [James] Cole in his memos directing states with guidance on how to implement strategies to protect their people in regulating the issue of marijuana has the item listed as a controlled substance,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate will take amendments and vote on the content of the bill on Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 17:00

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

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Right now, the state covers up to 70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds issued by municipalities. But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, legislators are wary of taking on additional obligations. The legislation sunsets the school debt program for five years, at which point the program would be brought back with a lower reimbursement level.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, carried the bill on the floor Wednesday.

“This is not about punishment. This is about trying to control our costs as a state,” MacKinnon said. “I believe that the people of Alaska know that the state cannot afford to make the payments. We certainly can’t afford to take on increased debt.”

While the bill passed 17 to 2, there was some opposition from Anchorage Democrats because of the timing of the bill. The legislation would retroactively sunset the program to January 1. But right now, Anchorage voters are already casting ballots on a $60 million school bond question.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that the Legislature was trying to rush the bill through because of Anchorage’s municipal election.

“They’re voting based on 22 years of 100 percent reimbursement, 35+ years of state reimbursing some percentage,” he said. “And so, people in my community are out and voting, and this is what they’re voting on. This is what the state’s told them. This causes all kinds of confusion in the election in Anchorage, and I think it’s unfair.”

Wielechowski added that the program would amount to a property tax increase of $30 for the average home in Anchorage.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner also expressed concern over the legislation, but ultimately voted for it.

“While our children certainly need safe and comfortable school building for learning to take place, I think at this time right now, I think we need to focus more on what happens inside the buildings than what’s happening on the outside of buildings,” Gardner said.

The bill will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:59

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

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The body voted 16-4 Wednesday to adopt a version that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move, arguing that it went against the will of the voters, which was to treat the drug like alcohol. But supporters of the adopted version noted that marijuana is still considered a controlled substance at the federal level.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:55

A new report says that as Artic ship traffic has increased, so has the number of Arctic ship mishaps. The annual Shipping and Safety Review by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, counts 55 ship casualties in the waters of the Arctic Circle last year, up from three a decade ago. Machinery damage or failure accounts for nearly half of those, with wrecking or stranding in second place. Only one Arctic ship, near northern Norway and Iceland, was considered a total loss. The report covers shipping losses for ships over 100 gross tons.

As Arctic ice diminishes, some are predicting the Arctic will become an important region for global shipping. In 2013, with little summer ice, 71 ships navigated some or all of the Northern Sea Route, across the north of Russia. Traffic slowed in 2014 with a rebound of ice. This winter, Arctic ice reached its peak Feb. 25. The extent of annual sea ice cover was the lowest since satellite records began.

Categories: Alaska News

Truck Rolls Over, Spills Fuel On Dalton Highway

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:54

A truck rollover on the southern end of the Dalton Highway resulted in a fuel spill. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports that tractor portion of the rig remained upright, and the driver survived the Tuesday crash without serious injury.

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DEC on-scene coordinator, Tom DeRuyter says responders have conducted preliminary work at the spill site north of the Yukon River crossing, near mile 59.

“They have removed the oil, or most of the oil, from the tanker, they up righted the tanker and got it removed from the highway,” he said.

DeRuyter reports that damaged portion of the tanker operated by Tena Trucking, was carrying 4,000 gallons of ultra low sulfur diesel, but it will take some work to determine how much fuel was released in the accident.

“The oil that was in the tanker and transferred to another truck is going up to Deadhorse,” DeRuyter said. “They’re going to meter that off, and then they’re going to meter whatever the residual was left in the tanker, and those 2 numbers minus, subtracted from what was originally put in the tanker, will give us a spill volume. I’m not expecting that for a couple of days.”

DeRuyter says contaminated snow, brush and underlying soil will have to be removed from the spill site. Driving conditions have been especially tricky along several section of the over 400 mile long Dalton Highway, with numerous travels advisories issued in recent days due to ice on the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Discovery Southeast honors teacher Allie Smith

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:53

Allie Smith talks to one of her second grade students during a nature walk Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Discovery Southeast is honoring a second grade teacher for regularly exposing her students to nature. The local outdoor education organization is giving the first annual Discovery Award to Allie Smith from Auke Bay Elementary School.

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At least once a month, Smith takes her second grade class outside to walk on the trail behind the school.

“You have eight minutes to do some observations,” Smith tells the class. “Go. Make sure you can see an adult the whole time.”

The students run around the trail carrying journals to take notes and draw pictures.

Each time Smith takes her students outside, she gives them a task. She’s sent them on a hunt to find various colors in nature. Recently, she posed the question – Is it winter or is it spring?

A student’s nature journal. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Today, Smith lets the students come up with their own questions. She gives them an example – What would blueberry bushes look like right now? Some students have decided to focus on that question.

“That part is called a bud,” Smith says, looking at a blueberry bush with a student. “It’s turning into green, right? So what would come out of that bud, what do you think?”

“A blueberry,” the student replies.

“OK. So draw what you see and then write down what you think,” Smith says.

After eight minutes she calls the students back into a group to see if they answered their own questions. She asks for volunteers to share.

“My question was, will we find any pussy willows?” a student says. “We found the bushes but we didn’t find any.”

Smith started teaching at Auke Bay 10 years ago and has always taken her students outside. She says nature can really hook students into learning.

“I think it’s really important for kids to get comfortable with being outside and I also want to help foster that inquisitive attitude towards learning and nature, and I think that being outside and seeing the natural world around us can really help kids formulate questions and hypothesize,” Smith says.

Smith says different students have different feelings about nature. She has one student who is scared to go outside. Others think it’s too much work. But she says these attitudes tend to change over the school year.

Allie Smith has an undergraduate degree in outdoor education. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“It kind of depends on what kids’ exposure prior to coming to second grade and coming to the trail has been,” Smith says. “I feel like the general trend that I’ve seen over the years is that the more kids come outside and do these activities, the more they notice and the more comfortable they feel.”

Shawn Eisele says that’s extremely important. Eisele is executive director of Discovery Southeast. One of its programs sends naturalists into 3rd through 5th grade classrooms for hands-on science lessons and field trips.

“There’s so many wild areas in Juneau that are right next to the schools and so it’s really easy to get kids out there. And, also, by going through the classrooms we get to reach all those kids who might not otherwise get outside,” Eisele says.

Discovery Southeast received several nominations for the inaugural Discovery Award, which is meant to honor educators. Smith will get the award at the organization’s annual fundraiser banquet Saturday night at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Discovery Southeast is also sending Smith on one of its three teacher expeditions, which are continuing education classes. She’s chosen to spend a week in the Juneau ice field.

Allie Smith’s second grade class goes on a nature walk at least once a month. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For the rest of the nature walk, Smith gets the class to be silent for a few moments, which as you may imagine is tough to accomplish with 22 second graders. They observe the sounds around them. They check the outdoor temperature and then play a version of hide and seek where some students are hawks.

Before becoming a traditional classroom teacher, Smith got her undergraduate degree in outdoor education at Northland College in Wisconsin. She’s always observed nature, but she says by bringing her students outside with her, she’s taking an even closer look.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Co-Sponsors Pot Bill to Let States Decide

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:49

Alaska Congressman Don Young has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana in states that have chosen to make it legal.

The bill would also allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients and require the government to start issuing marijuana research licenses.

Young said in a written statement that he considers both medical and recreational marijuana a matter of states’ rights.

The bill is known as the CARERS Act, an acronym of “Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States.” Its prime House sponsor is Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. It is the twin of a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. The legislation could give marijuana entrepreneurs an alternative to operating in an all-cash environment. In states that allow marijuana commerce, the bill would allow those businesses to use banks, without subjecting the banks to charges of money laundering.

Categories: Alaska News

MDA: Fort Greely Missile System Ready for Iran ICBMs, Too

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 16:33

The country’s ground-based missile defense system, with its 26 missiles at Fort Greely, is capable of defending the U.S. not only from North Korea, but from Iran, too, says Missile Defense Agency Director James Syring.

“The (Defense Intelligence Agency) assessment is Iran is capable of flight-testing an ICBM in 2015,” Syring told a Senate panel today, adding that the assessment did not include a statement on the likelihood of that occurring.

Sophisticated Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles are likely to include decoys and countermeasures along with the warhead. Syring says to better detect the target, his agency needs a new radar system. In response to questions from Sen. Dan Sullivan, Syring said he expects to choose an Alaska location for the Long-Range Discrimination Radar in the next few months.

“North Korea and Iran are continuing to progress, in terms of not just the numbers of ICBMs they may have but the complexity of what those threats may represent to us,” Syring said. “And that’s why the budget request this year is so important that we get the radar built.”

The agency has considered placing the radar on Shemya, near the end of the Aleutian Chain, or at Clear, off the Parks Highway, southwest of Fairbanks. Sullivan asked about the system’s electrical needs and whether Clear would next extra electrical generation. Syring said he couldn’t discuss it publicly due to competitive concerns among the contractors bidding on the project.

Fort Greely in the coming years is slated to receive 14 more defensive missiles, for a total of 40. Syring says it’s possible even more missiles could be based there.

“Extra capacity in Fort Greely does exist and that would be assessed on how we see the numbers, in terms of threats from North Korea progressing. And certainly that would be an option available to the secretary of defense, to use that capability,” he said.

That would have to be weighed against the value of placing another radar system on the East Coast to defend against an Iranian threat, he said.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Joins Investigation Into Premera Cyber Attack

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-25 14:01

Alaska is participating in an multi-state investigation into Premera following a cyber attack on the health insurer early this year. The state’s insurance director says she has a lot of questions about why the attack occurred and why it took the company two months to announce it publicly. 

Washington State’s Insurance Commissioner is taking the lead in the investigation into Premera. Six million customers were affected in Washington. In Alaska, the attack exposed the personal data of 700,000 current and former members of Premera dating back to 2002. The information exposed includes social security numbers, date of birth, addresses and some bank account numbers:

“There was an incredible amount of personal data that was released in this breach.”

Lori Wing-Heier directs the state’s Division of Insurance. She says even though Washington State is leading the investigation, Alaska will have just as much control over how it’s conducted. She is working with the state’s Department of Law to help determine the scope of the investigation into the breach:

“It occurred in May of 2014, it wasn’t noted until January 2015 and it wasn’t reported to regulators until March of 2015. So that is basically what the examination will focus on. We’ll be looking at what procedures they had in place and what happened during that time frame.”

Wing-Heier is especially concerned about the two month gap between when the company discovered the attack and when Premera made it public. The company says it needed to cleanse and secure it’s IT systems prior to making an announcement to prevent the attackers from engaging in more malicious activity. Wing-Heier isn’t satisfied with that explanation:

“We want a better answer. We want a better understanding of what happened.”

Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says he looks forward to working with state insurance regulators during their investigation. The company is also coordinating with the FBI. Earling says there is no evidence any of the personal data has been used by the thieves:

“So that is a difference than some major national retailers when they’ve had these sorts of experiences with a cyber attack, have experienced personal information being used in a fraudulent way right after the attack and that’s not been the experience in this case.”

The company has set up a website, Pemeraupdate.com to provide information about the attack and is offering free credit monitoring for two years to affected consumers. Eva Velasquez is President of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a California based non-profit. She says it’s important for current and former Premera customers to take advantage of the credit monitoring program:

“Now that this information is out there, just because it hasn’t been used today, doesn’t mean it won’t be used tomorrow.”

Velasquez says not all data breaches are created equal. Thieves stole credit card data in recent cyber attacks on big retailers like Target and Home Depot. That can be a hassle for consumers to cancel credit cards and open new ones, but the threat to broader personal information is limited. In contrast, Velasquez says social security numbers are a “treasure trove” for thieves and they can use them to commit all types of identify theft:

“Your payment card data information is not a personal identifier for you. It doesn’t follow you around for the rest of your life. Your social security number and your finger prints do. You can’t get rid of those things, now you just have to monitor those things.”

Velasquez recommends Premera customers continue to monitor their credit for the rest of their lives. And she says there are a lot of free or inexpensive services available. She says Alaskans should also be on alert for phishing scams related to the data breach. Premera says it will not e-mail or make unsolicited phone calls to customers regarding the incident.

Alaska is also participating in a multi state investigation of Anthem, another Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance company that experienced a data breach the same week as Premera. Lori Wing-Heier says the state has 34,000 customers affected by that breach.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 24, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:39

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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Demonstrators protest Shell’s Chukchi drilling plans at ‘Wilderness Week’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It’s the 26th anniversary of America’s second largest oil spill, when an Exxon tanker leaving Valdez Arm ran aground, leaking 11 million gallons of North Slope Crude into Prince William Sound. In Washington D.C., environmental activists marked the occasion with a demonstration in front of the White House. Their message was less about Exxon and tanker safety than it was about Shell, and its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

Bill to seize federal land in Alaska nears vote on state house floor

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A bill with the goal of seizing federal land is now one step away from a vote on the House floor.

House passes bill to constrain Walker’s gasline plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska House has fired its latest salvo at Gov. Bill Walker in an ongoing dispute over a gasline. The body passed a bill to keep him from pursuing an alternative to the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project on Monday, ignoring a veto threat from the governor.

DOT diverts $1.3M meant for Anchorage bike infrastructure to other projects

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than $1 million originally planned for Anchorage bike infrastructure in 2012 is now being allocated for use on other road projects instead.

Bairdi quota could increase again as busy season winds down

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Bering Sea crab fishermen are trying to get through as much Bairdi tanner quota as they can before the season ends next week. This year’s huge allocation put the fleet in a time crunch — and future seasons could bring more of the same. That’s thanks in part to a new preferred size for the species.

Investigating historical trauma endured by Native Americans, Alaska Natives

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

An Ojibwe woman and independent journalist recently visited Alaska for a series of stories on historical trauma and Native American mental health practices. Mary Annette Pember says the troubled lives of Native Americans reflect their troubled history.

Rural designation process could impact Saxman’s subsistence status

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council met in Saxman and Sitka last week to discuss and gather input on issues related to subsistence in the region, including a proposed change to the rural designation process.

That change could make a big difference to Saxman, which has been considered non-rural since 2007, for the purpose of federal subsistence rights.

Categories: Alaska News

Demonstrators protest Shell’s Chukchi drilling plans at ‘Wilderness Week’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:25

It’s the 26th anniversary of America’s second largest oil spill, when an Exxon tanker leaving Valdez Arm ran aground, leaking 11 million gallons of North Slope Crude into Prince William Sound. In Washington D.C., environmental activists marked the occasion with a demonstration in front of the White House. Their message was less about Exxon and tanker safety than it was about Shell, and its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

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“Hey Obama yes you can! Stop Shell Oil’s dirty plan,” the crowd chanted.

Dozens of people gathered at lunchtime outside the White House fence. They carried big photos of oiled animals and signs that say “oil kills” and “I heart Arctic.” No one wore a polar bear suit, but there was a girl cocooned in a giant sand piper costume. She says she’s Liszka Bessenyey, of Anchorage.

“I’m 15-years-old,” Bessenyey said. “I’m a freshman at Service High School.”

Many of the participants work at Washington-based environmental groups. Others, like the sand piper, were in the capital for “wilderness week” an annual series of meetings on Capitol Hill to advance environmental priorities. One speaker at the megaphone was Allison Warden, an Inupiaq performance artist with roots in Kaktovik.

“How much is a culture worth? Priceless!” Warden said. “My people will no longer be Inupiaq because we won’t be able to live off the land and off the water in the way that we’ve been. So, every single one of you listening here, it’s important for you to stand up.”

Inupiaq leaders, including North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, were just in Washington, arguing for Arctic development, including oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. But Warden says the people she talks to are worried that drilling off-shore will disrupt the whale migration, particularly if there’s a spill.

“It would permanently change our relationship to the ocean and to the animals,” Warden said. “They would be in a different state. And our culture that revolves around the whale would no longer be the same.”

Shell has said it wants to return to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer but it has several legal and logistical hurdles to clear. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected to announce within the week its record of decision on Lease Sale 193, which includes Shell’s leases in the Chukchi, following a lawsuit. Assuming the leases are reaffirmed, it’s not the final green light.

“Shell still needs to get an exploration plan approval and the permits that are associated with that,” Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage environmental lawyer – and incidentally, the father of the giant sand piper-costumed girl. He’s closely following Shell’s permitting process, on alert for flaws.

“The exploration plan should be a major hurdle, absolutely, because there are such fundamental challenges to drilling in the Arctic and that’s the place where those specific challenges need to be addressed in the permitting scheme,” he said.

Shell has repeatedly said it won’t resume its Arctic drilling program unless it’s sure it can do so safely and responsibly.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill to seize federal land in Alaska nears vote on state house floor

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:24

Rep. Mike Chenault. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A bill with the goal of seizing federal land is now one step away from a vote on the House floor.

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House Speaker Mike Chenault introduced the bill after President Barack Obama announced his intention to permanently ban drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’m not afraid of a fight, and I’m not afraid of doing what I think is right,” Chenault said.

The intent of the bill is to take the 5.5 million acres of land owed to Alaska from the Alaska Statehood Act, and then some. At a hearing in the House Finance committee on Monday, Anchorage Democrat Les Gara questioned whether such legislation would stand.

“This bill takes away 168 million acres, way more than what’s owed to us,” Gara said. “The legislative legal memo that’s been given to your office says the bill is ‘unconstitutional.’ I’ve still looked and not found a single provision of the federal Constitution that allows us to take land from the federal government.”

Gara pointed out that a similar bill that passed in Utah is estimated to cost the state $2 million in litigation, and that former-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer – a conservative Republican – vetoed such legislation because she did not believe it could be enforced.

The state adminstration is unsure whether Alaska would benefit if the legislation could be enforced. A memo from the Department of Natural Resources noted it could increase Alaska’s oil, gas, and mineral holdings. But another analysis also found that the cost of managing more acreage could be “significant,” and that the state could also receive contaminated lands as a result.

The bill moved out of House Finance committee with support from all but one Republican. The committee did remove a provision that would have included national parks, like Denali, in the seizure.

Categories: Alaska News

Bairdi quota could increase again as busy season winds down

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:23

Ryan Fry sets up crab pots outside the F/V Farrar Sea in Unalaska earlier this month. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Bering Sea crab fishermen are trying to get through as much Bairdi tanner quota as they can before the season ends next week.

This year’s huge allocation put the fleet in a time crunch — and future seasons could bring more of the same, thanks in part to a new preferred size for the species.

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Crab fishermen are legally allowed to keep any Bairdi tanner crab over 4.8 inches. But their quota is based on something else: the size of crab that they prefer to sell.

Last week, the state Board of Fisheries unanimously agreed to change the preferred size limit for Bairdi in the fishery’s Eastern district, near Bristol Bay. It’s now 5 inches, instead of 5.5.

Ruth Christiansen works for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the co-op that devised the change. She says the industry started making this switch a couple years back, when Bairdi reopened after years of off-and-on closures. The transition started with the harvesters asking the processors:

“If we retain this crab, will you accept it and can you sell it?” she says. “And the processors said yes. … To my knowledge, over the last two seasons, there hasn’t been a processing company that hasn’t accepted the five-inch crab.”

Now, it’ll be part of how fishery managers set the quota for Bairdi.

“It’s how the total allowable catch is set — what the harvest strategy assumes is the size of retention,” says Doug Pengilly, a crab research coordinator for the state Department of Fish & Game.

He says the new assumption could increase the quota by as much as 23 percent. That could mean a lot of Bairdi on the table going forward — and this year’s high quotas have already put fishermen to the test.

Frank Kelty is the natural resources analyst for the city of Unalaska. With Bairdi on the rise, he thinks busier seasons could be the new normal.

“We’re facing a crunch, because the closure date for the Bairdi fisheries is March 31,” Kelty says. “So if you have snow crab quotas that are large, you’ve got part of the crab fleet that’s got to do pot cod, and then you’ve got a Bairdi season, it’s really crunch time to get it.

“I think you’re going to see more effort in October and November and fishing into December on Bairdi, trying to get the majority of that product before the first of the year when snow crab and other fisheries are taking place,” he says.

This year, high quotas meant the over-60-foot pot boat fleet, which normally spends January on Pacific cod, stayed focused on crab. That’s pushed cod season almost two months past its normal end date — and it’s put some of Unalaska’s processors in a crunch of their own, as they try to juggle species that don’t often overlap.

Those processors are also worried that the size change for Bairdi could create overlap at the grocery store. Don Goodfellow, the plant manager for Alyeska Seafoods, says a five-inch Bairdi is too close in size to a big snow crab. He thinks it’ll make it harder for consumers to tell the difference between the species — and easier for vendors to cut prices on Bairdi.

Goodfellow and others voted to oppose the size change at Unalaska’s Fish & Game Advisory Committee. But the measure wasn’t controversial when it passed at the Board of Fisheries.

Frank Kelty thinks it’s good news. He says Bairdi is facing some market uncertainty right now, after years of instability — but he thinks higher quotas will help fix that.

“If we have some steady years where we have some decent quantities of product, I think that market niche for Bairdi will come back again,” he says.

The crab fleet got through all 8.4 million pounds of Eastern district Bairdi this year — but they might not finish their 6.6 million pounds of quota in the West. At the rate they’re going, Kelty anticipates the fleet will leave a million pounds of Bairdi in the water for the 2014-2015 season. He thinks the industry might lobby to push the end date forward in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Investigating historical trauma endured by Native Americans, Alaska Natives

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:22

An Ojibwe woman and independent journalist Mary Annette Pember recently visited Alaska for a series of stories on historical trauma and Native American mental health practices.

Pember says the troubled lives of Native Americans reflect their troubled history.

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In one of her articles, Mary Annette Pember tells the story of Oseira. In 1944, at the age of five, she was removed from her home in a Bristol Bay area village and sent to a Catholic boarding school in Interior Alaska. There Oseira says she and her sister joined dozens of other children in a strictly regimented life of hard work, harsh punishment and little schooling.

Pember says her interest in historical trauma has its roots in her own family history. Like Oseira, Pember’s mother was removed from her Wisconsin family as a child.

“My mother was a boarding school survivor,” Pember said. “She’s passed on now. But as I began this whole looking at historical trauma, I wanted to look at myself and my own family’s struggles with disease, health issues.”

Pember says the history of Native Americans is one of overwhelming trauma such as widespread death from war and disease, dislocation from their homelands, and removal of children from their families:

“That seems like it’s a common human response is that when I’m really hurting I want to stop the hurting. I’m going to do that, and I’m going to want to do it with what is most readily available and sometimes that’s with alcohol or drugs, or, you know, some other aberrant behavior,” Pember said. “We have a lot of that kind of stuff in our communities. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of pain. As humans I think it’s a pretty human response to want the pain to go away. And I think that’s what folks are doing.”

Dr. Dewey Ertz, of Rapid City, South Dakota visited Alaska last fall to speak at a conference on substance abuse hosted by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. He’s a member of the Cheyanne River Lakota, survivors of a notorious massacre.

“I descend from the people who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn, but we’re also the victims of Wounded Knee,” Ertz said.

During his 40 years as a psychologist, Ertz has treated trauma survivors and conducted research about trauma. He says people’s reactions vary depending on the type of trauma, and the individual, their support system and resilience. But he says many people find ways to numb overwhelming emotions:

“One very commonly is addictions or substances, including food. Another is anger, because anger is a secondary emotion and covers up other emotions very effectively. Another is bad relationships because if you’re in bad relationships you have somebody else to blame for everything,” Ertz said. “And the last one actually is sex, people are not numb during sex but that’s all that they’re thinking about.”

And, Ertz says, some people use more than one of those numbing techniques.

“And then you have gladiators, who say if one thing is good to numb with, I will use all four,” he said. “So they partner up with someone they can drink and use drugs with, have a bad relationship with and be angry at, and have sex with, and that produces lots of children.

Ertz says children learn these adverse maladaptive coping mechanisms from their parents, and later model them for their children. He says there’s also now a theory that trauma alters the way genes express themselves. He says the idea behind epigenetics is that in the right – or wrong – environment, a person may be predisposed to unhealthy psychological reactions.

Still, Ertz says healing is possible – therapy helps. And in an article published March 16, Pember describes the success of a Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation program headed by Rose Dominick that uses ancient Yup’ik traditions in healing. Pember says healing occurs when survivors of trauma are in a safe environment and can share their story:

“I think awareness is a big deal,” Pember said. “One of the things that Rose Dominick and her people talked about is laying it out on the table, on what you’re dealing with, whether it’s substance abuse, sexual abuse, really just talking about it and putting it out on the table really helps you gain perspective on it.”

Pember says that sharing helps people understand that they’re having a normal human reaction to repeated or prolonged stress, and they can learn to behave and respond differently.

“It’s not an excuse but understanding,” Pember said. “Understanding leads to healing: maybe there’s a way not to feel this way.”

You can see Mary Annette Pember’s work at websites for Indian Country Today, and Daily Yonder, or at mapember.com

Categories: Alaska News

Rural designation process could impact Saxman’s subsistence status

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-03-24 17:21

The Saxman Clan House.

The Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council met in Saxman and Sitka last week to discuss and gather input on issues related to subsistence in the region, including a proposed change to the rural designation process.

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That change could make a big difference to Saxman, which has been considered non-rural since 2007, for the purpose of federal subsistence rights.

Many Saxman residents packed a meeting held at that village’s community center. That was expected.

Somewhat less expected was the number of Saxman residents and their supporters who also spoke during the subsistence meeting in Sitka the very next day.

Sylvia Banie is the mayor of City of Saxman. She says that the loss of subsistence rights has negatively affected the people living in her village.

“We’ve noticed a downward drift of civic apathy,” she said. “However, today, a much more beautiful reality can be ours. It is vital and essential to restore the rural status of Saxman.”

In addition to Saxman’s city government, the community has an IRA council, the Organized Village of Saxman, and Lee Wallace is the tribal president. He says the issue is not subsistence, which he referred to as the “S-word;” the issue is the Alaska Native way of life.

“It’s the gathering, the fishing, the harvesting of our resources throughout the land, water and seas of our territories that we manage on,” he said. “It’s our way of life and it’s very important to us.”

Joseph Thomas is a Saxman elder and, like several other speakers, began his comments in Tlingit.

“Let me translate for you. My English name is Joseph Thomas, … I grew up in Kake,” he said, and when he first heard the word subsistence, he didn’t know what it meant.

But his forefathers told him it meant that it was going to become harder to gather food. Thomas says that has become the case for Saxman, but he hopes the Subsistence Board will reverse that decision.

Harvey Shields, another Saxman elder, thanked the Sitka Tribe for letting him speak on their land. He says gathering food is an important cultural tradition that should be handed down, just like songs and dances.

“We took that up from our parents and aunts and uncles, as we did with putting up our food, our hunting, our fishing, to be able to hand that down as well,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that, because of the situation that we’re in right at this time.”

That situation started about 15 years ago, when the Federal Subsistence Board initiated a review of rural designations. Then in 2006, the board published a proposed rule that would have kept Saxman rural, but the board eventually decided to vote against that published rule.

The board instead chose to lump Saxman together with its larger neighbor – Ketchikan. The Organized Village of Saxman immediately asked for reconsideration, which was denied. Last year, OVS filed a lawsuit in federal court over that decision.

If the Federal Subsistence Board changes the designation, that lawsuit could be dropped. And that change was encouraged during the Sitka hearing by more than just the Saxman visitors.

Former Sen. Albert Kookesh of Angoon and former Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines also spoke, representing Sealaska Corp.

Kookesh says Saxman isn’t just rural; it’s a traditional Native community, and all Southeast Natives should support Saxman’s subsistence rights.

Kookesh told a story about a landslide at Lituya Bay. He says the trees wondered what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. The trees realized that by holding on to each other by the roots, they could protect each other from a similar fate.

“We came to hold hands with Saxman, and we’re asking those of you who are on the committee to hold hands with Saxman, also, because they’re your neighbors, they’re our neighbors,” he said. “Everything we do impacts them. If we hold each other up, we’re going to be fine.”

Michael Baines, chair of the Sitka Tribal Council, read a resolution in support of Saxman regaining its subsistence rights. And John Duncan of Sitka wondered why the government had to get involved. For thousands of years, he says, the Native people of Southeast have gathered what they need to survive.

“It’s not our fault that people are moving in,” he said. “It shouldn’t be our fault that we should have to pay the price because people are moving in. That’s our way of life.”

The proposed subsistence management rule would allow the Federal Subsistence Board more flexibility when deciding which communities should be considered rural for subsistence purposes. The proposed rule was published in late January.

Read the whole rule, and learn how to submit written comments.

Thanks to Rachel Waldholz in Sitka, for recording the hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill To Constrain Walker’s Gasline Plan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-23 23:03

The Alaska House has fired its latest salvo at Gov. Bill Walker in an ongoing dispute over a gasline. The body passed a bill to keep him from pursuing an alternative to the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project on Monday, ignoring a veto threat from the governor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At the most basic level, the fight is about how to deal with the oil and gas industry. On one side, you have the House Majority, led by Speaker Mike Chenault, who emphasize partnership as a way to get a gasline built from the North Slope to tidewater. And on the other, you have the governor and the Democratic minority, who take a more oppositional tack with the producers.

Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, said as much on the House floor on Monday night, when advocating for the Speaker’s bill.

“We can send a very clear message to our partners that we are their partners, and we’re not their opponents — that we together can get this done,” said Johnson.

Johnson likened the bill to putting the “genie back in the bottle.” The legislation blocks Gov. Bill Walker from taking a smaller contingency project — known as the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, or ASAP — and scaling it up so it could be a direct substitute for the large-diameter Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project.

Republican leadership worry the proposal could jeopardize the work that is being on AKLNG. But Walker, along with Democrats in the House, think the plan could serve as a bargaining chip.

Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks said it would increase the state’s negotiating power, and put the state in a better position if negotiations with industry fall apart.

“By having a fall-back, quasi-competing project that’s in place, if AKLNG fails — if somebody pulls out, if it’s not economical — then we’ll have something real in place. Not something we know that is not enough volume,” said Guttenberg.

The bill ultimately passed 24 to 14, with Republicans Paul Seaton and Jim Colver joining the Democratic Minority. Colver, whose district includes the Richardson Highway, offered two unsuccessful amendments to route a gasline through that corridor. In an unusual move, Democrats offered no amendments. Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn and Ketchikan Independent Dan Ortiz were excused from the vote.

The governor has already announced he would veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, calling it “un-Alaskan” in a February press conference. Overriding a veto requires an affirmative vote from at least 40 of the Legislature’s 60 members. Leadership of the Senate’s 15-member majority has signaled support for the House bill.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT diverts $1.3M meant for Anchorage bike infrastructure to other projects

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-23 18:47

More than $1 million originally planned for Anchorage bike infrastructure in 2012 is now being allocated for use on other road projects instead.

Back in 2012 more than 125 people wrote to AMATS asking for more money to be put toward building things like bike lanes and putting up signs to make the city safer. AMATS is Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions — the federally funded group that’s responsible for transportation projects in the Muni. $1 million had already been set aside for design. Advocates convinced AMATS to add another $1.3 million.

The state’s Department of Transportation was supposed to obligate that $1.3 million for project design by September of 2014. They didn’t. DOT Project manager David Post says the department was running late in finding a project manager to do the design work. Once they found one, he says they thought the original $1 million was enough.

“And I think they’ve got plenty of money to keep them moving forward, certainly at the rate they’re progressing,” he said.

The money is enough to design 10 to 12 bike infrastructure projects. The bike plan includes nearly 300. They range in size from painting stripes on the side of the road to designate a bike lane all the way up to building new off-road bike trails. Some of the projects are already elements of larger transportation projects.

“So we went ahead and de-obligated that money, or let it go on to other projects,” said DOT spokesperson Jill Reese. “It’s really difficult to trace down what those projects are, but that’s really beside the point.”

The decision to move the money was made in September. It was included in a report to AMATS but never publicly highlighted or discussed. But minutes from the November 2014 AMATS Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) detail comments from DOT representatives that said the full $2.3 million had been obligated for bike plan implementation.

Bike Anchorage president Brian Litmans is a member of the BPAC. He discovered that the money had been removed from the bike project. He says the move is a major setback for implementing the bike plan because more design work would have made more projects ready for construction funding.

“DOT referred to it as –quote– ‘a little snafu'” during the March BPAC meeting, he said. “And I find that unfortunate, especially when we are lacking bicycle infrastructure in this city. We only have 10 miles of bike lanes and most other cities that have the number of bicyclists that we do have much more bicycle infrastructure and as a result their cities are much safer than ours.”

City transportation planning manager Craig Lyon says he did not know the money was moved until recently and that DOT has never previously mentioned that they did not need the $1.3 million for design work. He says he is trying to locate pots of money left over from completed projects to put toward the bike plan, but ultimately it is up to the AMATS policy committee to commit funds.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 23, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-23 17:37

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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Police Confident Remains Belong To Missing Kenai Family

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Police investigators in Kenai are confident they’ve found the remains of a family missing since last May.

Shell Oil Replaces Pete Slaiby

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil has replaced one of its top executives in charge of exploration off the coast of Alaska.

Sen. Sullivan: Alaska One Family, Obama Not Its Friend

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan returned to Juneau and today gave his first speech as a senator to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. The first-term Republican established an “us versus them” theme – a united Alaska up against the Obama administration.

Committee Takes Up Gas Line Board Appointments

The Associated Press

New appointees to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. expressed support for a major liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing with oil and gas companies.

State Senators Question Need For Water, Sewer Construction Dollars

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

State Senate Finance Committee members are going over proposed agency budgets one by one, looking for funds or programs they can cut. Thursday they questioned Department of Environmental Conservation officials, asking just how bad it would be to turn down federal dollars for water and sewer systems.

USFS Celebrates Big Thorne Decision As Environmental Groups Weight Options

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The U.S. Forest Service says a Friday court decision allowing a timber sale will help speed changes in Tongass National Forest logging. But opponents say it will damage other Southeast Alaska industries.

Potential Alaska State Park Cuts Rile Valdez Residents

Marcia Lynn, KCHU – Valdez

Proposed funding cuts for Alaska State Parks have caused a stir in Valdez where the one Park Ranger position could be eliminated.

After 3 Failed Attempts, Freeride Holds Haines Competition

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The fourth time was a charm for the Freeride World Tour in Haines. The big mountain ski and snowboard competition made three attempts to hold the event, but canceled each one because of weather. Today, conditions were finally right for about 30 athletes to take on the Haines mountains.

Cindy Abbott Claims 2015 Iditarod Red Lantern Award

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

After two prior attempts, this year’s Red Lantern, Cindy Abbott, completed her first Iditarod late last night.

Categories: Alaska News

Laurie Schmidt New VP For Shell Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-23 17:24

Shell Oil has replaced one of its top executives in charge of exploration off the coast of Alaska.

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As vice president of Shell’s Alaska venture, Pete Slaiby traveled the state to build support for Arctic drilling and defend the program against its critics.

He left Anchorage almost two months ago for a new job at Shell’s corporate headquarters.

That change wasn’t reported until last week, in the trade publication Petroleum News.

Spokesperson Megan Baldino says it was announced internally at Shell – and is not related to problems the company faced during its last Arctic drilling season.

“He led the venture for six years, extending well beyond the typical assignment,” Baldino said. “I don’t think anyone would argue that he leaves behind a legacy of leadership and working with communities and building partnerships. And that has positioned the venture for well into the future.”

Baldino says an agreement between Shell and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to share in drilling proceeds is still going forward – even after Slaiby’s departure.

For now, Shell is focused on securing legal permission to return to the Arctic this summer. And Laurie Schmidt is stepping in as the new vice president for Shell in Alaska.

Schmidt is an attorney who’s been with Shell for 25 years. She has experience in internal auditing, overseeing contracting for drilling projects, and in community relations – both in Russia and in Nigeria.

“So making sure that local people are trained and skilled to work on projects and can apply for and succeed in the jobs that are available anywhere where Shell works,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt has already been sent to Barrow and Unalaska to meet with stakeholders since she took over February 1.

Categories: Alaska News

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