Alaska News

300 Villages: Point Lay

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 16:07

This week, we’re headed to Point Lay on the Chukchi Sea. Dorothy Henry lives in Point Lay.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 16, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 16:06

Individual news 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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State Files Fairbanks 4 Response

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state has filed a response to petitions for post conviction relief for the Fairbanks four.  The four men, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of the 1997 beating death of John Hartman, but continue to profess their innocence.   Last fall the Alaska Innocence Project filed new information in the case that points to others being responsible for the killing. The state response indicates it so far is not convinced, but it has requested an evidentiary hearing.

Ravn Outlines Safety Improvements As NTSB Pushes For Investigation

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The National Transportation Safety Board took the unusual step last month of asking the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the Ravn family of companies. A report says Hageland failed to achieve safety outcomes, and launched flights without proper oversight.   The company’s CEO says the report does not reflect the changes Ravn has made in recent months.

Trial Program Aims To Increase Number Of Insured Alaska Natives

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A tribal health organization in Southeast Alaska is encouraging members to enroll for health insurance. Through a new program, some Alaska Natives will have an opportunity to get it at no cost.

Special Exhibit Offers Hands-On Glimpse Of University’s New Research Vessel

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new exhibit opens at the University of Alaska Museum of the North over the weekend. The year-long installation is called “Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliaq.”  It offers a first-hand look the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ state-of-the-art new research vessel, slated to sail in Arctic waters next year.

AK: Rusty Blackbirds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

That’s the call of the rusty blackbird, a ubiquitous species that has caught the attention of the Audubon Society.  The reason:  numbers of the birds are plummeting, and causes of the decline are not well understood. The rusty blackbirds breed in Alaska’s wetlands. And Audubon is asking Alaskans to help count the birds to get a handle on what’s happening to the species.

300 Villages: Point Lay

Jolene Almendarez, APRN Intern

This week, we’re headed to Point Lay on the Chukchi Sea. Dorothy Henry lives in Point Lay.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School District releases proposed budget amendments

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 15:54

The Anchorage School District released their suggestions for adjusting next year’s budget on Friday. Under the superintendent’s proposal, the district would cut 57 classroom teachers instead of 143. The proposal does not add back in more than 48 support staff positions that were cut in the initial budget.

Additionally, one-time funding from the legislature will provide money for three-year long initiatives, like early literacy coaches, science curriculum materials, and other programs. $15 million from the state legislature was also allotted specifically to support Anchorage’s eight charter schools over the next three years.

In a press release from the district, Superintendent Ed Graff said “It’s important that we look ahead and designate our resources on practices that are sustainable and not solely focus on the year in front of us. I believe this proposed budget adjustment package is a solid combination of prioritizing classroom teachers  and investing in high-value initiatives that are focused on improving student achievement  while remaining fiscally responsible.”

The budget proposal will be discussed during the ASD School Board meeting on Monday night at 6:30 pm in the ASD Education Center on Northern Lights.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: 2014 Rusty Blackbird Blitz

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 15:07

(Copyright Bill Benish. Taken on Feb. 28, 2009 in Bronx, New York City)

The Rusty Blackbird, is an ubiquitous species that has caught the attention of the Audubon Society. The reason – numbers of the species are plummeting, and causes of the decline are not well understood. The rusty’s breed in Alaska’s wetlands, and Audubon, along with other groups interested in the birds’ welfare, is asking Alaskans to help.

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Its call has been likened to the sound of a VHS tape rewind and it has been described unflatteringly as a “non-descript little black bird.”  But the little black bird with the intensely bright yellow eyes came under the gaze of East Coast ornithologist Dr. Russ Greenberg, who wondered why the once-abundant bird was disappearing.

Greenberg, who died last year, authored several studies on the rusty blackbird, and founded the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group almost a decade ago to rally people to the cause. Beth Peluso is with Audubon Alaska.

“And I think one of the things that is really interesting to me about this is that it highlights how our Alaska birds are tied in to other places,” Peluso said.

(Copyright Bonnie Ott. Taken in Maryland on March 9, 2012)

Audubon wants to recruit volunteers to help track the migratory pattern of the rusty blackbird all through the U.S. and Canada this spring.

“There may be something happening on the wintering grounds or along the migration routes that are affecting what’s happening with our birds here. So this project is really great because it is going to give us a snapshot all the way through, from wintering grounds all the way up through the migration to where they are nesting up here in Alaska.”

Joining the 2014 Rusty Blackbird Blitz is as easy as posting to Facebook, and you don’t have to be a serious birdwatcher to do it. Peluso says citizen scientist data is collected on a website: eBird.orgThe idea is to document arrivals of the rusty blackbird into Alaska.

“They are really tricky to survey,” Peluso said. “They don’t nest in colonies. They are kinda dispersed a little bit when they are nesting, so they are kind of hard to get a good count on.”

But the information gained may help to unravel a mystery: why is the Rusty Blackbird in the steepest decline of any bird in North America? Audubon says the birds’ numbers have dropped between 88 and 98 percent since the mid-1960s. And that has propelled the little bird to the top of the International Union For Conservation of Nature’s Red List – a list of threatened species.

So now here we are on the Potter Marsh boardwalk on the outskirts of Anchorage. Peluso, who’s hauling a spotting scope over her shoulder, says it’s one of the better viewing spots.

“I thought I’d try scanning the spruce trees. So you really have to be pretty quick, you have to be pretty quick on the uptake if they are flying by. you have to know.. yeah, and since they are migrating they are a little harder to find,” Peluso said. “They are not just sitting there singing, like they would if they were on their breeding territory. So it is a little tricky. ”

She says the Rustys are just starting to arrive in Alaska this week

“I’ve been checking eBird every couple of days to see the reports starting to show up all of a sudden,” Peluso said. “There were a couple down in Juneau, and a couple here and there. And now there are a whole bunch up in Anchorage. There’s a bunch up in Fairbanks. It’s really fun to see how fast it happens.”

Steve Matsuoka, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, joins us for the walk. He says Rusty Blackbirds breed in the boreal wetlands of Alaska and the Yukon. Climate change could be one culprit in their decline.

“There’s growing evidence based on chronologies of aerial photographs dating back to the 1950s that a lot of the lakes and ponds and water bodies in boreal Alaska at least are shrinking in size. And we think that that is due to a combination of evaporation.. things are simply warming up,” Matsuoka said.

The marshy areas provide lots of bugs the birds like to eat.

But little is known of their patterns: where they stopover and what predators threaten them. Matsuoka says habitat degradation in the South is a factor but there is still no smoking gun. Until Greenberg got interested a decade ago, no scientific study had been done on rusty blackbirds since the 1920s.

“Pretty much like anything that he looked at anywhere in North America, showed the same trend for the species,” Matsuoka said. “So which was this ninety percent decline that had occurred over at least the last 40 years and maybe dating back a century. ”

Matsuoka says reports from the mid 1800s indicate that the Rusty Blackbird once filled the sky with its migrations.

More recent studies show good survival rates in the birds’ early life cycle, leading to the theory that the harm is in wintering grounds in the Southern United States.  Other species are getting squeezed between drying wetlands up North, and disappearing habitat down South. The Lesser Yellowlegs, for instance, also breeds in boreal wetlands.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Awareness: State of the Art

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 12:00

The earth is restless in Alaska, with more earthquakes than all the other states combined – plus volcanoes and tidal waves. The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 was critically important scientifically, and that science has made remarkable advances in recent years.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Michael West, Alaska State Seismologist
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

F/V Arctic Hunter Removal Plan Nearly Done

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:10

It’s been more than six months since the F/V Arctic Hunter went aground outside Unalaska. Now, the boat’s insurance company is almost ready to drag it off the rocks.

Insurance adjustor Jim Ronning says they’re expecting to sign a deal with a contractor by the end of the week.

Photo by Jennifer Shockley.

That contractor will have to cut the Hunter into pieces and drag them out of the shallows, back to harbor.

Months ago, the plan was to float the boat off the rocks in one piece. But Ronning says winter storms did too much damage — now, the vessel’s little more than scrap metal.

The removal process will also involve clean-up. Ronning says he knows debris from the Hunter is washing up along some of Unalaska’s beaches, and that residents are concerned.

The Ounalashka Corporation owns the tidelands where debris has been spotted. Ronning says he’s been in touch with OC about cleaning it up. He says removing the wreck will create more debris, so he’d like to wait until it’s done, then do clean-up all at once.

The removal could come in the next several weeks, depending on weather. Either way, Ronning says they’ll know more about when clean-up will happen once they finalize their deal with the contractor.

Categories: Alaska News

Native Leader Facing Summer Jury Trial

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 10:09

An August 4th trial date has been set for a former Sealaska corporation executive accused of stealing money from a subsistence fund.

A ‘not guilty’ plea was entered on behalf of Robert ‘Bob’ Loescher, 66, who appeared in Juneau Superior Court on Wednesday in a wheelchair.

Former Sealaska CEO Bob Loescher arrives at the Dimond Court Building for his arraignment on theft charges on Wed. May 14, 2014. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

He was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on two counts of second degree felony theft. Each of the newer charges refer to the alleged taking of property that is valued between $500 and $25,000.

Loescher earlier appeared in court in Decemberafter he was charged with a single count of second degree theft. Loescher allegedly took $21,515 in funds managed by the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp. The funds were part of the Alaska Subsistence Defense Fund and Alaska Traditional Foods Security Council which were set up to protect Southeast Native subsistence rights.

Loescher was head of the groups when the money allegedly was taken.

A jury trial in the case is expected to last three days. Loescher worked for Native corporation Sealaska for over 22 years, rising to the position of chief executive officer before he left in 2001.

CBJ Assemblymembers Carlton Smith and Randy Wanamaker, and Bill Martin, former president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, attended the arraignment hearing on Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Inter-Tribal Fish Commissions to Meet in Bethel and St. Marys

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:49

Just weeks before the salmon run begins in earnest, discussions are underway to form two inter-tribal fish commissions, one each for the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers.

Myron Naneng is the President of the Association of Village Council Presidents, which is coordinating the formation of the groups.

“What we feel is the state of Alaska has not managed the fisheries for sustained yield because they’re catering more to the commercial fishing interests rather than their own citizen,” said Naneng.

Naneng envisions a co-management structure where tribal leaders work very closely with government biologists. That would involve integrating the knowledge and experience of people who live on the river.

“The information that’s provided by people who only live during the summer time and end up moving during the winter are given more credence than some information that’s provided by someone who lives here locally,” said Naneng.

There a number of existing groups that allow public involvement and input into management concerns, like the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. Naneng says that’s not a tribally recognized group and that managers should work directly with tribes.

“You need the people in the river system to work with you for the conservation of theses species, not a group of people that are appointed by the state or whatnot, saying we’re going to impose this. Because the authority remains with the state or federal agency. Yet the people in the village don’t feel they’re part of the solution, they may feel they’re part of the problem if they’re not involved,” said Naneng.

Naneng is expecting participation from villages located up and both rivers. A meeting is set for May 20th in St. Mary’s for the Yukon. Representatives will meet in Bethel for the Kuskokwim commission on May 28th at the ONC Community Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

Old Nome Hospital Sells for $450k

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:48

Nome’s old hospital has sold for $450,000, and the new owners now have an eBay listing asking for $2.5 million for the 55,000 square-foot facility.

“It’s casting a wide net,” said Jessa Youngblood, a Southern California-based communications assistant and marketer. “We have an eBay listing, we have a Craigslist listing. We posted in a lot of the major markets.”

(Image: Norton Sound G-O LLC.)

Youngblood is listing the hospital on eBay for Norton Sound G-O LLC,  a limited-liability company formed in January with just one goal: buying Nome’s old hospital. The company is comprised of two men: Jim Gribbens (who splits his time between Nome and California and referred Youngblood as a spokesperson), and Golovin resident and state Senator Donny Olson.

“He worked there for years and years, and Donny had a huge interest in making sure the hospital was preserved in some way, in making sure the property moves forward,” Youngblood said of Olson’s involvement. Phone calls to Olson’s legislative offices in Anchorage were not returned Wednesday.

When the building was functioning as a hospital owned by the Norton Sound Health Corporation, the city assessed its value at $16 million. As a non-profit, Norton Sound never had to pay taxes on that property. Now that it’s not a hospital, the city is assessing it as a warehouse, valuing it for property tax purposes at $1.4 million.

But Norton Sound sold the building on May 2 for far less: about $450,000, Youngblood said. City assessors confirmed the sale price. If the facility is sold at the current asking price on eBay, Gribbens and Olson would stand to make quite a profit.

“Right now the sale price that we have listed is $2.5 million, and that’s based on a simple square footage analysis,” Youngblood said. “We really wanted to put the price at a point where a developer would have room to make an investment in the property. So it’s currently listed at a price that is $45 a square foot for the building.”

As for investment, Youngblood said the property could take the shape of housing, office space, assisted living, or other projects. “We have 55,000 square feet, and its over several city lots, so its an opportunity to create several of these options at one location.”

What the Norton Sound Health Corporation will do with its $450,000 from the sale of the old hospital is unknown. A spokesperson for the hospital did not return calls Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Heroin, Meth Seized In Kodiak Arrests

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-16 09:42

Three Kodiak residents are behind bars and more heroin is off the streets after their arrest Monday afternoon.

Charged with robbery, theft, assault, kidnapping and drug misconduct are 39-year-old Jami Gibson, 38-year-old Phil Gibson and 27-year old Julian Valdez. The three were arrested after allegedly tying up three men living in a tent and beating one of them with a wooden rod.

Sergeant Eric Olsen is with the Alaska State troopers and said the unidentified victims, aged 17, 21 and 23, told troopers they were awakened early Monday morning by someone cutting open their tent. He said they were then tied together with a phone cord and the 21-year-old was beaten repeatedly with what was described as a large wooden dowel. At some point the men were able to escape their captors and seek medical treatment in the emergency room and the troopers were contacted to come investigate.

“At that point additional resources were obtained,” Olsen said. “Both the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Kodiak Police Department conducted a joint operation in which two search warrants were served at a residence here in Kodiak within the city limits area.”

The home belonged to the Gibsons, and during the search officers found about 15 grams of black and brown heroin, 1 gram of methamphetamine, prescription narcotics and drug paraphernalia. The drugs have an approximate street value of $14,000.

Jami and Phil Gibson were arrested and Olsen said further investigation led to the arrest of a third accomplice, Valdez, later Monday afternoon.

Olsen said the attack of the three men in the tent was provoked after one of the men reportedly stole a large sum of money from the Gibsons.

“This is not a random event. The citizens of Kodiak are not in danger of anything else like that,” Olsen said. “So at this point the case has been presented to the district attorneys office. We’re still conducting follow-up investigation.”

The three men that were arrested were held at the Kodiak jail until their arraignment Tuesday afternoon. Both Phil Gibson and Valdez were held on $250,000 bail as well as a court-appointed third part and Jami Gibson was held on $50,000 bail plus a court-appointed third party.

Olsen said these recent arrests reaffirm that Kodiak does indeed have a drug problem and it is most likely contributing to other crimes in town.

“The town of Kodiak, we have an epidemic of drug problems here in this town. It’s out of control and we’re doing the best we can to follow up on every action and report of narcotics that we receive,” Olsen said. “It’s a team effort by our agency as well as other local agencies here in Kodiak. And we’re doing the best we can. We realize there’s a problem and we’re doing everything we can to make sure the citizens of Kodiak are safe and that it’s not a continuing problem. But right now meth and heroin is our number one problem and it’s a catalyst for all kinds of different problems. And any help we can get from the public is truly appreciated.”

Olsen said folks can always report tips to Crime Stoppers anonymously. That phone number is 486-3113.

Categories: Alaska News

TSA Offering Travelers A Chance To Streamline Security Experience

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 17:43

Travelers heading to the Anchorage airport this summer to catch a flight could face one less hurdle before they make it out of town. The Transportation Security Administration is offering flyers the chance to be streamlined through security checkpoints.

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Categories: Alaska News

How Much Is The Pipeline Worth?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 17:43

This week the State Assessment Review board or SARB has been holding hearings in Anchorage over the dispute in how much the Trans Alaska Pipeline should be worth.

Municipalities and boroughs that the TAPS line runs through collect taxes on the line and those officials believe the value should be 13.7 billion. The pipeline owners who pay the taxes say it should be 2.7 billion. The Alaska Supreme Court recently reaffirmed a lower court decision that put the 2006 value of TAPS at nearly 10 billion.

The SARB board’s job is to look at all sides and decide what the tax value should be for this year. The decision will mean millions in tax dollars. Either in savings for the companies or in revenue for the municipalities.

Matt Buxton is a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. One of the three SARB members is Bernard Washington who is the Chief Financial Officer for Alaska Public Media, the parent company of APRN.

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Categories: Alaska News

Working Group Discusses Caribou Decline, Ambler Road

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 17:43

Caribou users in the Northwest Arctic Borough were told Wednesday that North America’s largest herd declined by more than a quarter in just two years. The group also questioned state officials on how a proposed road to the Northwest Arctic Borough would impact subsistence resources.

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Photo: Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

“The herd size right now, as of 2013, was 235,000 caribou, and that’s down about 27% since 2011—so, a real big decline in the last two years,” said Jim Dau, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

He spoke at the Unit 23 Working Group’s annual meeting in Kotzebue about what’s driving the herd’s sudden decline.

“Based on what we’ve seen we think winter events, especially during winter—these winter thaws with rain and ice, that probably started the herd down,” Dau explained. “When the herd started down we had increasing numbers of wolves and bears. Everybody from the villages [is] saying ‘lots of wolves, lots of wolves’—that’s what I see.”

Unit 23 is all the hunting grounds in the Northwest Arctic Borough. The working group came about years ago as a way to ease worsening relations between caribou users.

“The Unit 23 working group was formed in 2008 to try to address conflicts between local and non-local hunters that were coming to the region to hunt,” said Jan Caufield, who has moderated the group’s meetings since the beginning–a job she says has gotten a lot easier.

Now the group acts more like a lobby on issues facing caribou, such as the proposed Ambler road.

Flying over a caribou herd. Photo: Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

“One of the main interests of the working group in the proposed road project is just any impacts that it might have on the caribou herd, impacts it might have on how people access the area that might impact the number of hunters that come or the areas they can go,” Caufield said.

After a short break, two speakers from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA, presented on the status of a potential road to the Ambler Mining District.

“We wouldn’t build the road unless we had a financial model that worked,” said Mark Davis, a deputy director for AIDEA.

“So we are developing estimates. And this road is probably going to be in the range of $200-$300,000,000. What we do at AIDEA is we develop economic models–we will run models to make sure this can be paid back. AIDEA by statute has to make a return, and AIDEA–by statute–does not make grants.”

Mark Davis is a deputy director with AIDEA. The agency is getting permit applications together in the next few months. And throughout the meeting they were upfront that there will not be firm answers available on environmental impacts, jobs, cost of living reductions, or effects to subsistence before more data is gathered for reports.

Maryellen Tuttell was the other presenter with AIDEA. She works for Dowl HKM, a private company with a lot of experience building and consulting on roads in Alaska.

“We believe that it has been demonstrated in Alaska that you can build a road and still maintain a healthy populations of subsistence resources,” Tuttell said, responding to a question on potential costs to wildlife. “So that’s our goal, is to work with the communities and the agencies to design a road that has a minimal impact.”

AIDEA has a community meeting scheduled for June 2nd in Kobuk. The Unit 23 working group continues its meetings with state and federal agencies on Thursday, May 15th, in Borough Chambers.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 15, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 17:12

Individual news 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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Earmarks: Congress Mulls Return of Practice that Enriched Alaska

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Sen. Ted Stevens’ day, Alaska thrived on earmarks, the congressional practice of directing federal dollars to home-state projects. Lawmakers agreed in 2011 to end the tradition, in response to public outrage particularly over projects such as Alaska’s so-called “bridge to nowhere.”  But now, there’s serious talk in Washington of bringing back the earmark.

Sealaska Reports $35 Million Net Loss Last Year

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation had a $35 million net loss in 2013.

Oil Tax Referendum Groups Ramp Up Campaigns

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With three months to go before the primary election, groups with a stake in the oil tax referendum are ramping up their campaigns.

How Much Is The Pipeline Worth?

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

This week the State Assessment Review board or SARB has been holding hearings in Anchorage over the dispute in how much the Trans Alaska Pipeline should be worth.

Municipalities and boroughs that the TAPS line runs through collect taxes on the line and those officials believe the value should be 13.7 billion. The pipeline owners who pay the taxes say it should be 2.7 billion. The Alaska Supreme Court recently reaffirmed a lower court decision that put the 2006 value of TAPS  at nearly 10 billion.

The SARB board’s job is to look at all sides and decide what the tax value should be for this year. The decision will mean millions in tax dollars. Either in savings for the companies or in revenue for the municipalities.

Matt Buxton is a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. One of the three SARB members is Bernard Washington who is the Chief Financial Officer for Alaska Public Media, the parent company of APRN.

TSA Offering Travelers A Chance To Streamline Security Experience

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

Travelers heading to the Anchorage airport this summer to catch a flight could face one less hurdle before they make it out of town. The Transportation Security Administration is offering flyers the chance to be streamlined through security checkpoints.

Clearwater Lodge Burns Down

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction burned to the ground this morning. The rustic lodge was a popular gathering place for fishermen, birders and others who come to the Clearwater River.

Working Group Discusses Caribou Decline, Ambler Road

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Caribou users in the Northwest Arctic Borough were told Wednesday that North America’s largest herd declined by more than a quarter in just two years. The group also questioned state officials on how a proposed road to the Northwest Arctic Borough would impact subsistence resources.

Olympic Aspirations: Training At The Alaska Boxing Academy

Josh Edge, APRN – Juneau

Alaska isn’t exactly known as a hotspot for boxing talent. But an Olympic caliber coach is hoping to change that. He started the Alaska Boxing Academy two years ago and already has a few athletes who are dreaming big about competing nationally and internationally.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Referendum Groups Organize For Campaign’s Final Stretch

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 17:08

With three months to go before the primary election, groups with a stake in the oil tax referendum are ramping up their campaigns.

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Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway, which sponsored the ballot measure, recently opened up campaign headquarters in Anchorage.

They also hired a full-time campaign manager late last month. T.J. Presley says he plans to run a hyper-local campaign focused on canvassing and social media.

“I think politics is changing these days, and it’s kind of getting a little more advanced and more targeted,” says Presley. “So, I don’t know that blasting TV ads across every channel at every time is always the most targeted way to get things done.”

Presley says they’re following up with the 40,000 registered voters who signed their petition, and trying to identify voters who would likely support their effort.

Because the group has raised less than $200,000, it can’t compete on the airwaves and has not spent any money on television advertisements.

“We don’t have $10 million, so we’ve got to focus our resources where they’re going to be most effective.”

A few blocks down the street from the Vote Yes headquarters, a rival group has also set up shop.

Vote No on One, which wants to keep the new tax law in place, opened up their own campaign offices this month. But they’ve been running campaign commercials since last year. Willis Lyford, a spokesperson for the group, says their campaign has been in full swing a long time compared to the referendum sponsors.

“Better late than never, I guess,” says Lyford. “I mean we’ve really invested a lot of time in outreach across the state.”

According to filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Vote No on One has raised more than $8 million since they launched their campaign. Most of that money comes from Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and BP – who all have major oil operations on Alaska’s North Slope.

The tax law targeted for repeal was signed last year, and it caps the oil production tax at 35 percent. It was a major priority for Gov. Sean Parnell, and replaces a system that raised taxes on oil companies as the price per barrel went up. The law was pitched as a way to spur production on the aging North Slope oil fields, but critics say it means less tax revenue for the state.

According to a recent survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, 45 percent of people support the referendum while 34 percent want to keep the new tax law in place.

The vote on the referendum will be held on August 19.

Categories: Alaska News

Earmarks: Congress Mulls Return of Practice that Enriched Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 15:42

In Sen. Ted Stevens’ day, Alaska thrived on earmarks, the congressional practice of directing federal dollars to home-state projects. Lawmakers agreed in 2011 to end the tradition, in response to public outrage over projects such as Alaska’s so-called “bridge to nowhere.” To this day, nearly every account of alleged excess features as Exhibit A  the bridge that would’ve connected Ketchikan to its island airport.  But now, there’s serious talk in Washington of bringing back the earmark.

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“I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters at the Capitol last week. ”Keep in mind that’s what the country has done for more than 200 years.”

Democrats aren’t united on this. President Obama opposes earmarks. Reid says he doesn’t care.

“I disagree … with Obama on earmarks,” Reid said. “He’s wrong.”

Among Republicans, the issue is also divisive. GOP senators debated it during a policy meeting last week. Opponents say earmarks are wasteful, while advocates say they may be the grease needed to break Congressional deadlock. Alaska’s congressional delegation, though, is solidly pro-earmark,  with both senators on the Appropriations Committee, where most of the earmarking used to happen. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the stereotype is that earmarks fund obscure projects in the dark of night. More typically, she says, a city council passes a resolution supporting a project and asks for her help.

“And they come to us, and we put it on our Web site,” she said. “And then people say ‘well surely that’s something that you would advocate as their representative back here in Washington, D.C.’ But did you know that’s called an earmark?”

At least, it is if the lawmaker writes it into a bill. Now, Congress just sends money to the government agencies, and they decide what projects to spend it on. So lawmakers who want to press for a project routinely contact agency chiefs to make their case. Murkowski says it amounts to earmarking in secret: ”When you go through the back door, that’s, I believe, taking you back to the days of the deal done in the dark of the night in the smoke-filled room.”

There are other  ways around the ban. A New York congressman, for instance, didn’t direct any money to a ladder manufacturer in his district, but in a defense bill last week, he essentially orders the Army to brief Congress on the benefits of “carbon fiber ladders.”

Sen. Mark Begich says earmarking doesn’t bust the budget. It only directs money within a budget.

“You know, we’re closest to the people in a lot of ways and understanding the needs, and I think to have us as part of the process is important, and earmarks allow the opportunity to do that,” he said.

Alaska Congressman Don Young, in effect, made earmarking a household word by setting aside big money for the Ketchikan bridge a decade ago. He says the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and Congress should use it.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with my party,” he said in an interview late last year.  ”I frankly think they had their head in the sand, when they said ‘We can’t have earmarks. We have to balance the budget.’ We transferred that power to the president.”

But Speaker of the House John Boehner told Fox News this week, as long as he’s in charge, the ban stays.

“I started this effort in 2006, to get rid of earmarks,” the Ohio Republican said. “We are not going back to the nonsense that went on before then.”

So far, Washington’s inertia seems to be in Boehner’s favor on this one.

Categories: Alaska News

Olympic Aspirations: Training At The Alaska Boxing Academy

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 14:33

Nino Delgado spars with a partner at the Alaska Boxing Academy in April. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Alaska isn’t exactly known as a hotspot for boxing talent, but an Olympic caliber coach is hoping to change that. He started the Alaska Boxing Academy two years ago and already has a few athletes who are dreaming big about competing nationally and internationally.

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Arthur Tauilili practices punch combinations. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Arthur Tauilili hops lightly on the balls of his feet, jumping rope – warming up for today’s training session.

He’s in the Fairview Rec Center in Anchorage with about 20 other boxers who are mostly beginners. Once the warm-up is over, Arthur breaks off from the rest of the class with the more experienced boxers, and starts throwing punch combinations as he circles a punching bag.

Arthur is only 12-years-old, but he’s been boxing half of his life. His first fight was about two years ago.

“It felt like a video game,” he said. “Like, there was no one outside, it’s just me and him inside a little ring, and I forgot about everybody out there cheering, crying.”

“It’s a great experience for me.”

Getting to the level where he could fight took a lot of time, but Arthur says it was worth it.

Coach Michael Carey helps a young boxer with his gloves. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“When you first come here, you don’t spar yet, you just do basic stuff,” Arthur said. “It’s kinda boring when you start because all you do is jab and all that, but once you keep boxing it’ll get really fun.”

Arthur’s coach is David Carey, the founder of the Alaska Boxing Academy. He moves between the beginners and the

“Set….box! No playing patty cake, let’s go. Work the jab,” Carey said, moving between the experienced and new boxers, running them through drills and offering advice.

Carey was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that competed in the 2008 Games in Beijing. After boxing in the Olympics, his plan was to turn pro. But, those plans were altered when a bicep tear sidelined him for a year. While he was recovering, he spent some time training at a gym in Anchorage, where a young boxer introduced himself.

Nino Delgado wraps up his hands and wrists while preparing to spar. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“There was this kid that came in with his cousin, his name was Nino Delgado, and he came in with his cousin, Ricardo, and they said they wanted to box,” Carey said. “They had seen my newspaper clippings on the wall, they seen my pictures in Russia and on the Great Wall of China and stuff like that. They were like, ‘I want to go to the Olympics one day; I want to win the Golden Gloves; I want to train, I want to box.’”

“And I said, ‘OK, it’s not gonna be easy, but if you’re willing to listen to what I’m gonna have you do and go through all the training, I’ll train you.”

After training Nino for a couple months, they went to the Junior Golden Gloves Tournament in Tacoma, Washington. Nino won the tournament.

Rows of headgear and gloves are set out prior to practice. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

That was almost six years ago. And Nino – who is now 18-years-old – hopes to make the U.S. National Team next year. Even though he hasn’t been fighting for very long compared to many of his competitors, he believes he can earn a spot.

“We try to make up for inexperience with hard work,” Nino said.

If Nino makes the team, he’ll have a chance to go to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Nino’s success is something Carey wants to make more common. He would like to see amateur boxing draw more attention around the state.

Arthur Tauilili circles the heavy bag. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“What people really, in Alaska, what they need to realize is that we have talent up here,” Carey said. “Not just in hockey, not just in the winter sports, we have talent in mixed martial arts, boxing, football, basketball.”

“But for fighting, we have really good fighters up here.”

Nino has helped Carey prove that claim. And as Nino prepares to move onto the next level, Arthur says he has some lofty aspirations of his own.

“My dream is to go in the Olympics and then win and become a professional boxer,” he said.

Carey says with enough motivation and dedication, it could happen. And he believes there are more Alaskans like Arthur and Nino who can compete at the world’s highest levels.

Categories: Alaska News

Clearwater Lodge Burns Down

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 13:24

The Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction burned to the ground this morning. The rustic lodge was a popular gathering place for fishermen, birders and others who come to the Clearwater River.

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The fire was reported around 3 a.m. and all that was left at about 10:00 this morning was a pile of smoldering rubble.

There were no injuries. But Clearwater Lodge co-owner Patsy Ewing was clearly exhausted after a nearly sleepless night.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said.

Ewing was fielding questions from the local fire chief while entering phone numbers and other data into her cell phone, which was constantly buzzing in her pocket with texts and Facebook posts from friends and well-wishers.

“I’m still spinning but it’s … People contacting me has been amazing,” Ewing said. “I’ve felt a lot of care and concern. My phone is blowing up with people saying, y’know, ‘Are you OK? We’re so sorry.’ It’s just amazing.”

The lodge was a total loss. Rural Deltana Fire Chief Tim Castleberry  estimated damages totaling about a million dollars. He’s just begun investigating, so he can’t say what sparked the fire.

“We’re not sure,” Castleberry said. “It looks like it started in the basement, but once things cool down, we’ll be able to get (in) and look a little bit more.”

But it’s not just a dollar-and-cents loss. An important piece of Delta-area history also went up in smoke this morning.

The lodge was built back in the late 1950s by Al Remington, who along with a half-dozen others settled in the Clearwater area around then and developed it. Patsy and her husband Kevin bought it in 2001 from Remington’s grandson.

The lodge was known far and wide over the years as a headquarters for local snowmachine races. It’s even more widely known by folks from all over who come here for a meal and a cold one after a day fishing on the Clearwater.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Reports $35 Million Net Loss Last Year

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:11

Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation says it had a net loss of $35 million last year.

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Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

Sealaska’s 2013 annual report says three-quarters of the loss came from its construction subsidiary. It badly underestimated the cost of two building projects in Hawaii.

The report says the subsidiary’s managers are gone and bidding on such projects has stopped.

Sealaska says another $25 million was lost as the corporation adjusted its accounting practices. Earnings from investments, profitable ventures and resource revenues from other regional Native corporations shrunk the overall loss.

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil says the corporation remains healthy and is positioned to grow.

The corporation is headquartered in Juneau and has close to 22,000 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian shareholders. More than half live outside Southeast.

Shareholder and longtime critic Brad Fluetsch says actual, unadjusted losses are twice the $35 million figure.

The Juneau financial adviser says the losses are a sign of poor management.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Man In Custody After Slashing Police Car Tires

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:08

A Skagway man is in custody after allegedly on a vandalism spree and slashing the tires of most of the squad vehicles on the town’s police force and setting a police dispatcher’s car on fire.

Twenty-one-year old Casey Collom was arrested early Wednesday after a witness allegedly saw him slashing tires of the vehicles parked at the home of Skagway police chief Ray Leggett. The witness called 911, and then the dispatcher called the chief at home. According to court documents, the chief went outside to find tires slashed on his patrol vehicle, his personal vehicle and a third vehicle parked in his driveway.

The witness told police he saw Collom take a bike from another residence and peddle away. A short time later a police officer located Collom and after a struggle, arrested him. The officer writes in court documents that Collom had three steak knives and a box cutter on him. He also had with him two cans of beer and appeared intoxicated.

As police continued investigating, they discovered several other vehicles in the neighborhood with slashed tires, including three more police patrol vehicles parked at officers’ homes. Around the same time, the police dispatcher on duty discovered her personal vehicle was on fire and all four tires slashed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, police had discovered a total of 28 slashed tires they attributed to the spree.

Deb Potter was one of the residents who discovered the tires on her vehicle destroyed Wednesday morning. She had just woken up when she received a text message about the spree. Then she checked Facebook for scuttlebutt.

“After that I was lying in bed and thinking ‘Well, maybe I should go look at my car,’” Potter said. “That’s when I went outside and saw that two tires on the left hand side we slashed and then right around the corner my neighbor’s tires were slashed as well.”

Collom, a seasonal resident originally from Idaho, was arraigned in Skagway on Wednesday to face a total of 12 charges, including several for felony mischief. Lesser charges include theft and resisting arrest. Collom was also arrested in Skagway one week ago for drunken driving.

Chief Leggett said there were two squad cars not affected in the spree; one at home with another officer and the other on patrol. He said the department was able to have tires flown up from Juneau and all the patrol cars were operational again by the end of the day Wednesday.

But as for replacing the tires on personal vehicles, that task is not so easy. Normally, large items can be order from Juneau and sent via the ferry. But as Potter points out, with Skagway’s ferry dock still undergoing repairs from recently sinking, and is not scheduled to reopen until May 11.

“I know, right? What do I do?” Potter said. “It’s not like I can catch somebody getting on the ferry to come back up from Juneau to bring me tires.”

Potter said some residents are talking about placing a joint order for tires and having them shipped on the weekly barge, or traveling to Whitehorse to buy them.

Leggett said he wasn’t as upset about the incident seemingly targeted at his police force as he was impressed by the amount of people willing to help. He said several people volunteered their time and tools to help replace tires. And someone volunteered their car for the police dispatcher whose car was set on fire.

“We’re just grateful for the support of the community,” Leggett said.

Collom has been transported to Lemon Creek Correctional facility in Juneau and is being held on $3,000 cash bail.

Categories: Alaska News
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