Alaska News

Housing Conference Gets Underway Monday

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:14

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Two of the country’s foremost experts in the fight against chronic homelessness highlight the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference, which gets underway Monday in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Biologists Trying to Rescue Orphaned Cubs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:10





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State Fish and Game biologists are in Galena trying to capture 3 orphaned bear cubs.  The state initiated the effort after the cubs mother was reported killed by a local resident. The state is also working to find the animals a new home.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 26, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:07

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn

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Judge Rules in Favor of State on Merged Campaigns

The Associated Press
A judge sided with the state of Alaska Friday in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race.

Parnell Asks Military Official To Resign

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Anchorage
Weeks after firing the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, Gov. Sean Parnell has asked an official at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to resign.

Small-scale Hydro Project Proposed for Talkeetna River

Phillip Manning, KTNA-Talkeetna
The proposal for a massive hydroelectric project on the Susitna river is moving forward. The project has generated a lot of opposition in Talkeetna, the closest community to the dam site. Now a private company is proposing a second, smaller hydro project on the Talkeetna river.

Seismologist Says It’s Time to Talk About Earthquake Early Warning

Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
Thursday’s 6.2 earthquake in Southcentral Alaska struck without warning. Because that’s what earthquakes do here in Alaska. But state seismologist Michael West says now is the time for Alaskans to discuss the possibility of building an earthquake early warning system.

Housing Conference Gets Underway Monday

Casey Kelly, KTOO-Juneau
Two of the country’s foremost experts in the fight against chronic homelessness highlight the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness annual conference, which gets underway Monday in Juneau.

Biologists Trying to Rescue Orphaned Cubs

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
State Fish and Game biologists are in Galena trying to capture three orphaned bear cubs.  The state initiated the effort after the cubs mother was reported killed by a local resident.  The state is also working to find the animals a new home.

AK: Learning to Dance

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA-Anchorage
Greg Nothstine didn’t learn traditional Inupiaq dance as a kid growing up in Nome. He was in his 30′s when he started studying the dance traditions of his family elders, who lived in Wales, Alaska. Now his Anchorage dance group is part of a renaissance in Alaska Native traditional dancing.

300 Villages: Coffman Cove

Ashley Snyder, KSKA – Anchorage
This week, we’re heading to Coffman Cove, on the east side of Prince of Wales Island. Heather Hedges works for the city of Coffman Cove.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Coffman Cove

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 12:56

This week, we’re heading to Coffman Cove, in Southeast Alaska. Heather Hedges is the tourism coordinator for the city of Coffman Cove.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Alaska Native Dancing Tradition

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 12:11

Greg Nothstine is second from left. (Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

Over the past several decades, there’s been a renaissance in Alaska Native traditional dancing. KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus recently visited with one of the founders of an Inupiaq dance group in Anchorage, who told her about his personal journey toward tradition

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“Hey, I forgot your name. Allison. Allison! Good to see you again.”

Greg Nothstine hesitates to say he’s a dance group leader, but he is a founder of Kingikimiut, which means “people of the high bluff,” after the original name of Wales, a village in northwest Alaska.

King Island is about 45 miles from Wales. Nothstine says long before he thought about forming a dance group, the late Paul Tiulana, of the King Island dance group, would call on him to dance at performances in Anchorage:

“He would look at me and say, ‘Ungwunm. This is a Wales song. You got to claim it. Come out here.’ He said, ‘Anytime you recognize a song from your village,’ – course I didn’t know it was from my village at the time – ‘you’re supposed to come up and claim it. You supposed to dance. That’s protocol. If you don’t claim it, you’ll lose it.’”

Nothstine is named after his grandfather, which in the Inupiaq view means his grandfather’s soul is supporting him, almost as a reincarnation. The family didn’t know where his grandfather was buried, though, until Nothstine was in his early 30s. He says a visit to the grave inspired him. He asked Tiulana if he could practice with the King Island dancers:

“He just smiled at me and he said ‘when I was a boy, we used to travel to your Mom’s village of Wales. And I was maybe two-three years old and I used to get in the bow of the kayak and that was a real fun time for us kids. We’d go to your Mom’s village. We’d go to the Qargi. The women were graceful. The men were real powerful singers and drummers. Wow, that was a real wonderful time. Hey, I bet, you know what, if you go ask those elders who are still alive back in your Mom’s village, maybe they still remember some songs,’” Nothstine said.

More than half the residents of Wales died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, though, so it wasn’t clear how many Wales elders would knew traditional songs. But Nothstine and his mother and a friend traveled there with a borrowed video camera. Enough elders did know songs. The group used the videos to learn, and the group grew. Nothstine vividly remembers their first performance, at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in Fairbanks some twenty years ago.

(Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

“I was really singing my heart out. My aunt was sitting next to me. And I must have miscued. It’s real easy, youo miscue and you keep singing the other stanza. And she looks to me. She grabs my shoulder and my arm and says real loud, ‘Not. Like. That!’ It’s right in front of everybody. And I’m trying to drum at the same time,” Nothstine said.

He says the group finished their performance as gracefully as they could:

“You have a couple of those experiences, and some people will say ‘never again, never again, never again.’ But we said ‘Okay, well, that’s the price of admission for reclaiming your songs.’ You just have to wade through some of these unknown areas and pitfalls and just keep going,” he said.

Nothstine says Kingikimiiut now regularly performs at different events – they’ll soon perform at an elder’s birthday party. He says he’d like to see dance groups become an even bigger part of community life:

“There were songs that were used to be sung when married couples got married, when someone was successful at a hunt, or built a new boat, or a baby was born, or some significant aspect of life that happened that happened to a whole bunch of people that they wanted to keep in memory, we don’t do that as much anymore,” he said.

(Photo by Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage)

Heidi Senungatuk was a professional violinist with the Anchorage Symphony and other orchestras, and always wanted to learn more about the music of her father’s people, who are from Wales. She’s now a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology. Senungetuk says dance group members enjoy the music, dancing, and sense of community – and are making a statement.

“People are trying to say, ‘We are here. We’re still here. And it’s okay to be who we are,’ rather than what so many people have experienced in Alaska, which is ‘you’re not good enough as a Native person’ or the whole colonial thought, which is, ‘get out of the way, we need your land,’” Senungatuk said.

At the rehearsal, Nothstine told the 30-some participants it was the last practice before his daughter Raven left for college at Dartmouth. He and his mother and his two children danced the seal hunting dance together, a family favorite.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire at Nome Multiplex Injures 2, Displaces at Least 20

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-26 09:04

Fire tore through a Nome eight-unit multiplex Thursday night, displacing more than 20 people and gutting the building with flames that refused to subside after more than an hour of active firefighting.

Nome emergency dispatchers say they received calls starting at 7:07 p.m. reporting “black smoke and fire” coming from the apartment at the corner of East 3rd Avenue and Moore Way.

Flames licked the southwest face of the L-shaped multiplex as smoke billowed from the second- and first-story windows. Within minutes the vinyl siding of the southwest face boiled away; a deep black gash belched cinders and smoke on the building’s side.

Brian Volk, a teacher at Nome’s NACTEC technical school, lives in the building with his girlfriend and three children. He said he saw the smoke “around 7:15” and came outside to “group of people already watching.”

Firefighters with the Nome Volunteer Fire Department arrived on scene at 7:10 with five fire trucks, dispatchers said; EMTs with the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department arrived at 7:16 with two ambulances and within minutes transported two people to Norton Sound Regional Hospital for “minor smoke inhalation,” EMTs on the scene said.

Fire crews did an immediate sweep, evacuating the building with no further injuries as persistent flames leapt toward the roof. Power cables connected to the building crackled in the heat of the fire; dispatchers cut power to the building around 7:25 as crews used a bolt cutter to sever two power lines running from the building.

Firefighters on one truck’s turntable ladder attempted to vent the flames using a chainsaw where the roof met the wall as fire crews with hoses continued to douse the blaze from the building’s western face.

More volunteer firefighters arrived, brining reserve oxygen tanks as fire crews began to enter the building just after 8:03 p.m., but efforts to knock the fire down forced them out again; a half hour later, flames were still visible on the roof.

Just minutes before 9 p.m., flames were no longer visible and firefighters were able to venture inside once again, tossing smoldering debris out of the building’s windows.

The Bering Straits Native Corporation owns the building. Vice President Jerald Brown said at the scene said the building houses families and BSNC employees.

Brian Stockman, manager at the BSNC-owned hotel the Aurora Inn (located mere yards away from the scene of the blaze) said the inn was offering rooms to all who were displaced. As of 9:30 p.m. Stockman said the hotel had opened  10 rooms to house “about 20 to 25 people, including children.”

Though formal donations have not yet been organized, Stockman said donations of clothes and other items for children were welcome. He said the hotel was providing food, diapers, and clothes.

Bethanna Bennett with the Alaska Red Cross in Anchorage said late Thursday night that volunteers were on the scene in Nome, but information on their efforts was unavailable Thursday.

Photos and video: David Dodman, KNOM.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Asks Military Official To Resign

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 19:10

Weeks after firing the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, Gov. Sean Parnell has asked another official at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to resign.

Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre submitted his resignation on Thursday, and will leave the department on October 2. His resignation letter lists his “tremendous accomplishments” at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, singling out disaster response efforts and the development of a veterans cemetery near Fairbanks. But the letter makes no mention of the Alaska National Guard, which was recently the subject of a scathing federal report.

As deputy commissioner, Pierre communicated with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about the handling of sexual assault reports. In 2013, Pierre directed the chaplains not to speak with legislators about National Guard matters without first going through the chain of command. In an April interview with APRN, Parnell defended Pierre’s actions, and called the directive “standard operating policy” that “you don’t speak for the business, you don’t speak for the department without first coordinating it with your supervisor.”

On September 4, Parnell released the results of an investigation by the federal National Guard Bureau finding that the Alaska reserve forces mishandled sexual assault cases. The report also described instances of fraud and found the Alaska National Guard was experiencing a crisis of confidence with its leadership. That day, Parnell asked the Adjutant General, Thomas Katkus, to resign.

Sharon Leighow, a spokesperson for Parnell, confirmed that the governor also asked Pierre to step down, but did not give an explanation for his removal and did not mention the Guard in her statement.

“There won’t be any further comment on Mr. Pierre from our office,” Leighow wrote in an e-mail.

Michael O’Hare, a deputy director for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, will take over the position on an acting basis.

Pierre did not return calls for comment. In his resignation letter, Pierre states he is “looking forward to new challenges and new adventures in the private sector.”

Pierre’s dismissal comes one day after Parnell met with a reform task force led by Brig. Gen. Jon Mott of the Connecticut National Guard to develop a plan for implementing the National Guard Bureau’s recommendations.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire burns condo in Anchorage, doesn’t spread

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:53

The burned unit on Lunar Drive.

A fire severely damaged an Anchorage condo near Tudor and Baxter on Thursday afternoon, but fire crews contained it before it spread to other units and structures.

The Fire Department received a 9-1-1 call just before 2 pm saying the three story condo on Lunar Drive was engulfed in flames. Senior Fire Captain Mike Davidson said when the nine fire units arrived on scene, the sole occupant of the home was outside.

“The important thing was the occupant himself had a functioning smoke detector, there were people outside who alerted him. He was able to immediately leave the house and not go back in. That’s the biggest thing we tell people is they need to get out, they need to not go back in. Because when they do go back in it often doesn’t work out well for them.”

Davidson said the fire was contained within 20 minutes, but the condo was heavily damaged.

A Fire Department press release said two firefighters sustained minor injuries and were transported to the hospital. The fire is currently under investigation and the cause is unknown.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismologist: Quake’s Depth Helped Minimize Damage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:44

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska at 9:51 this morning. Michael West directs the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the epicenter was about 60 miles Northwest of Anchorage and 60 miles underground.

Listen now:

“That’s pretty deep for Alaska and the reason for that is that’s where the Pacific plate dives under North America in a process we call subduction but because of that we are well accustomed to seeing a line of progressively deeper earthquakes as we move north from the coast. So in that sense, this earthquake is not a surprise at all.”

No major damage has been reported.

But the shaking caught the attention of residents across a large swath of the state, from Fairbanks down to Homer. In Anchorage, residents posted pictures on Facebook and Twitter of messy aisles in Fred Meyer, with shampoo bottles scattered across the floor, and tiles missing from ceilings in midtown buildings.

West says it’s difficult to gauge the length of the earthquake. The Earthquake Center took reports from residents saying it lasted anywhere from several seconds up to a full minute. He says the deep basin of Cook Inlet may explain the difference:

“The analogy we use is it shakes like a bowl of Jello so certainly our hypothesis right now is that this earthquake set the basin shaking and that because of that people close to Cook Inlet may have felt this for a much much longer time than other places. And that’s kind of exciting because we see this in data sometimes, but we don’t often have on site reports from people confirming that kind of observation.

West says events like this one are a reminder of what earthquakes are capable of in Alaska. He says a strong earthquake like this one that was more shallow and centered closer to a city would be capable of causing widespread damage and even death. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011 killed 185 people. West says he worries Alaskans have been lulled into thinking that big earthquakes are no big deal.

“So it’s quite easy to think, oh there’s another magnitude six or seven that didn’t do anything and that is not in any way a predictor that magnitude six or seven earthquakes don’t hurt us, it just means we’ve been lucky yet again.”

West is in Washington, D.C., right now to make the case for long term funding for an expanded seismic network across Alaska to monitor earthquakes.

Categories: Alaska News

Quake Shakes Anchorage-ites and Visitors Alike

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:43

No major damage or injuries were reported in Anchorage after this morning’s quake, but community members said they were still shaken.

Listen now:

Ken Baitsholts was walking on the Chester Creek Trail during the windless morning when the trees began moving and a flock of geese suddenly flew off. He says he followed suit and started running.

“Because I was frightened. I had no idea exactly what it was. I just thought I would get out of that clump of trees where I was. Cause a whole, like, flurry of leaves started to fall. It was very peculiar.”

Up the road at New Sagaya’s Market, Erin Wade Hemphill was working at the coffee shop. She said the quake was obvious.

“We saw the signs shaking and then the aisles started moving. And we kind of all three of us were just standing around like ‘umm…’ And when things started falling and flying off the shelves, we decided to get out of the building because there’s a lot of stuff that can come down on us here. Usually you tell everyone don’t go outside, but we made the decision to go outside,” she said.

Some guests at the downtown Marriott fled the building as well. Valet Corey Roybal was outside when it happened and people started evacuating the building. He said he tried to calm down the out-of-town guests.

“It just sort of alarmed a lot of people. You get people asking if we knew if there were aftershocks coming. We just told them, ‘They’re earthquakes. You just don’t know. Nothing like that.’”

Karen Gaborik from Fairbanks said she’s felt plenty of quakes before, but being in Anchorage made it different. “When you’re in a larger city, and near the coast, and on silt, it’s a little more concerning.”

Gaborik was in the basement of the Dena’ina Center at the time, and she said she stayed put but wasn’t sure it was the safest place to be.

Up on the surface, Bill Speir was driving and because of that, he was one of the few who said he couldn’t feel a thing.

“Unless it’s severe, like in the 1964 earthquake, where it was actually tossing cars around, no, there’s no apparent indicators that there’s an earthquake going on.”

Speir said he only knew the quake was happening because he heard about it on the radio.

But ten stories up in a glass-walled corner office of the ConocoPhillips Building, Elizabeth Lopez took cover under her desk.

“I mean, the building rolled back and forth. We swayed to the left and right and other jolt came in, and I started grabbing my cell phone and my bag.”

Lopez is a floor warden and followed up with her officemates to make sure they were safe. She said it’s important to be prepared.

“Be ready to be sure you have your correct footwear, and coverage, and then you follow what the exercise we’re supposed to do — duck, hide, and cover. And that’s the best way. And do not ever leave the building unless somebody tells you it’s safe to leave the building.”

Others reported lampposts swaying, figurines breaking, and dogs crouching to the ground near their owners.

Categories: Alaska News

State To Defend Merged Gubernatorial Ticket

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:41

The state says a lawsuit challenging the mechanism that allowed two Alaska gubernatorial candidates to merge their campaigns would derail the November election and potentially disenfranchise voters if it succeeds.

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The state’s position is detailed in court documents filed this week ahead of oral arguments set for Friday in the lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and elections director Gail Fenumiai.

The lawsuit filed last week by an Alaska Republican Party district chair, Steve Strait, challenges an emergency ruling that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join campaigns with independent gubernatorial candidate bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.

Strait maintains that Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 decision.

The combined ticket is seen as a stronger challenge to Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell than a three-way race.


Categories: Alaska News

JBER F-22s Scramble To Intercept Russian Jets Near Alaska Air Space

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:40

U.S. and Canadian air forces have scrambled jets twice over the past week to intercept Russian aircraft that have buzzed the Alaskan and Canadian coastlines twice in the past week.

Listen now: 

A U.S. F-15 out of Elmendorf Air Force Base (before it was re-named Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson) escorts a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber out of Alaska airspace in 2006. Credit

The latest round in the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Russia aircraft played out a week ago over the waters off Alaska’s northern coast. Late Wednesday, the Air Force scrambled two F-22s from the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to intercept six Russian military aircraft that were flying within 55 nautical miles of the Alaska coastline.

The two Mig-31 jet fighters, along with two long-range bombers and two refueling tankers, didn’t enter U.S. airspace, only the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone.

A few hours later, another pair of the long-range bombers Russian bombers flew within 40 nautical miles of Canada northern land mass on Thursday. The pair of turned back after being intercepted over the Beaufort Sea by two Canadian F-18s.

Both times, the Tupolev bombers didn’t enter either U.S. or Canadian airspace during what Moscow has long referred to as “training flights.” The aircraft only entered the Air Defense Identification Zones, or ADIZ, which extends about 200 miles north off the coast of both the United States and Canada.

“Russian long-range aviation flights have, for instance, have entered our ADIZs, but not our sovereign airspace. These flights are perfectly legal, and we do not consider them threatening or provocative. When we intercept and identify their aircraft, both sides have exercised professional airmanship in all cases.”

Nahom talked about U.S. and Russian aircraft encounters during a visit in May by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He left the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson last summer to take a new position back in Washington, D.C.

Based on Nahom’s comments, the Wednesday’s interdiction played out as it usually does, the Russian bomber pilots execute a turn away from the mainland after the U.S. warplanes show up.

“They seem to be pretty constant. Over the past few years you average 10-12 of such flights inside of our ADIZs per year. We have F-22s that sit alert here at JBER and when someone starts approaching the ADIZs we do scramble out to meet ‘em and make sure they don’t go any further in approach to U.S. airspace.”

The Toronto Globe and Mail says U.S. and Canadian warplanes have intercepted about 50 Russian aircraft over the past five years.

But the Christian Science Monitor reports that a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman said Friday that the flights are part of an increase in such activity near the Alaska air defense identification zone.

The Globe and Mail, the Monitor and several other news media noted that U.S. officials believe the two incidents were linked to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visits last week to the United States and Canada.




Categories: Alaska News

Landslide Destroys Restoration Projects Near Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:39

High rainfall this month is being blamed for a major landslide near Sitka. The U.S. Forest Service reports that a 100-acre slide came down in the Starrigavan Valley, about ten miles from town. Although there was no structural damage in the event, hundreds of thousands of dollars of watershed restoration projects in the valley have been wiped out. The slide, and water damage to an ATV trail in the valley and other hiking trails elsewhere in Sitka — all add up to a tough month for the agency.

Listen now:

The main area of the slide encompasses an area of roughly 100 acres. (USFS photo)

The scale of the Starrigavan slide has unfolded slowly. A Fish & Game biologist was in the area — apparently the morning after the slide — on Friday, September 19, and noticed that Starrigavan Creek had been diverted onto the old logging road that is now being used as an all-terrain vehicle trail.

Marty Becker is the watershed program coordinator for the Sitka Ranger District. He and other staff went to check on the problem Monday morning.

“It wasn’t until we actually climbed through the front of the slide that we saw the magnitude of it.”

Read the USFS Preliminary report on the Starrigavan Landslide here.

A bridge, three fish ponds, and two new culverts were buried by debris. (USFS photo)

There was not one slide, but three. Two smaller slides across the both the north and south forks of Starrigavan Creek…

“And then one main slide that came down off the north-facing slope. Came down and ran about a third of a mile down the main channel, and ended up at the log stringer bridge, which hung up the main slide.”

Becker estimates the area of main slide to be in the neighborhood of 100 acres, starting in the old growth timber high on the valley slope and running down through the second growth to the valley floor.

Becker says the Sitka district hasn’t seen a cluster of slides like this since the mid-1990s, in Nakwasina Sound and the Katlian area, which he says are more dynamic systems. The Starrigavan slide, Becker says, is “pretty extraordinary.”

“Boy those freaky events keep us on our toes…”

The log stringer bridge in the Starrigavan Valley is a lost cause. At the other end of town, USFS recreation manager Mike Mullin is on the Herring Cove Trail, next to a footbridge that his crew is working hard to save.

“These guys will get a gap opened up under it and get a lot of that material flushed through, and we might end up jacking the bridge by a couple of feet. I’m hoping once we uncover the rocks and debris that there’s not some big chunks out of it. So I’m hoping it can be saved.”

Hikers on the Herring Cove Trail footbridge. Flood waters pushed rocks under most of the span, turning it into a dam. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

This is the second time this year that the trail has sustained major water damage. All the repairs from last January’s flooding have been washed out, two minor slides have cut the trail, and this footbridge over the stream — while it hasn’t moved — is more or less sitting on dry land. Heavy rains over two consecutive weekends in September pushed rocks under the bridge and turned it into a dam.

It doesn’t look like it will survive another high rainfall event. Mullin says the Forest Service is basically between a rock and a hard place.

“The couple of events we’ve had this summer have been a little out of the ordinary for sure, but yeah, we’re not even in the rainy season, and we lose our seasonal crew in a couple of weeks. And obviously Forest Service budgets for maintaining trails are on the decline. So we’ve got a lot of things working against us.”

Mullin says the agency will likely have to consider realigning the trail away from the alluvial fan at the base of Bear Mountain Falls, into a less dynamic area.

Both the Herring Cove trail and the Starrigavan Valley were probably affected by what Marty Becker calls a “micro-burst.” Meteorological data for Sitka doesn’t indicate rainfall amounts too extraordinary for this time of year, but the rain came hard and fast. What was officially recorded as three-and-a-half inches of rain at the Sitka airport on the day the Herring Cove Trail was damaged, Becker says filled rain gauges in some parts of town to nearly seven inches.

In the Starrigavan Valley, the mitigation strategy is uncertain. Three of the Forest Service’s coho-rearing ponds were lost in the slide; a fourth was almost completely filled with sediment. Two fish culverts have been blown out, and a half-mile of stream, several forest test plots, and 300 meters of the ATV trail are just gone.
The Forest Service has invested several hundred thousand dollars in restoration work in this valley. Becker is not sure to what extent the agency will attempt to undo some of the damage.

“Yeah, that’s the big question. We’re going to be sitting down the next couple of days assessing what we know right now. Getting some aerial reconnaissance to see if there are more slides that we haven’t seen, and then getting out there in the next week or so after we let things stabilize — it’s pretty dangerous, things still shifting around — to get a full inventory of what’s been damaged, where the main problem areas are, and then to see what we can actually do.”

The last slide of this magnitude around Sitka happened at Redoubt Lake in May of 2013, and two people staying at the Forest Service cabin there managed to escapemoments before the mountainside came down. Becker says both slides are comparable in size, but he says the resource damage here is greater, because the Redoubt slide was stopped by the lake, and in Starrigavan it just “ran right down the valley.”

Categories: Alaska News

College Student Wants To Make Voting Easier For Cellphone-Using Peers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:38

Alaskans 18 to 24 are the age group least likely to vote. About a third of them aren’t registered – and of those who are, fewer than half actually come out on Election Day. But a college freshman from Juneau would like to change that by making the whole process a little more convenient for those in school. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports on a new voter registration site for cell phone users.

Listen now:

Stephen Mell is in his first weeks at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His list of priorities is pretty typical for a freshman.

“Number one is definitely Spanish class. Next one, I dunno, is probably getting enough sleep, which I never seem to manage, and then the rest of my classes,” says Mell. “And somewhere over there is the rest of the world, but it’s pretty small.”

Even though what’s going on in the rest of the world — and back in Alaska — isn’t a top concern in his daily life, Mell still cares enough to vote. To do that, he’s got a few options. He could fly back …

“Uh, no. That would be very expensive,” Mell laughs.

He could scan his vote and e-mail it to the Division of Elections, or submit an absentee ballot via fax machine …

“I might be able to figure it out, but it would be stressful.”

Or he can request an absentee ballot by mail.

“I don’t have any envelopes except the ones my mom mailed to me with my grandmother’s address on them so I can send letters to her.”

That whole process feels like a chore to Mell, and like something that could end up discouraging students away at college from voting. Mell thinks more students would vote if they could just register or request absentee ballots from their cell phones. So, he built a mobile website that will let them to do exactly that.

“The entire idea was to make it as easy as possible,” says Mell.

And it is. Testing out the site from a smart phone, registering to vote takes about five minutes. You go to, fill out your vitals, swipe your signature on the screen, and that’s pretty much it. With the push of a button, your form gets submitted to the state for processing.

“It’s not officially endorsed by the Division of Elections, but it’s been working, and they haven’t had any problems with it so far,” says Mell. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai confirms the division is accepting forms submitted through the site. isn’t fancy. Mell says developing it took about 20 hours. He chose to build a mobile site instead of an app partially because it was easier for him to program. Plus, a slick design and bells and whistles might actually make it less user friendly and require people to spend more time registering.

Mell also acknowledges that some people might be a little wary about trusting what’s essentially a student side project, but he says he doesn’t get access to any sensitive information.

“I see the name of the person who registered, but I do not get their Social Security number,” says Mell. “That is discarded immediately. It is never stored to a hard drive.”

Every time someone signs up, Mell gets an alert. So far, only 10 people — mostly his friends — have used the site to register. But he’s hoping the idea will take off, and that more people will use it once they learn about it.

“Maybe someday I won’t be able to put up with having that many notifications,” says Mell.

The final day to register to vote is October 5.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Police Officer Takes On Criminal Justice Reform

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 17:37

Juneau Police Lt. Kris Sell has been appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to serve on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Sell is the only active police officer to serve on the commission, which was created by a bill that passed the legislature earlier this year. Its purpose is to evaluate sentencing laws and law enforcement practices, and to make recommendations for improving the system, which may include changes to criminal rehabilitation and restitution policies.

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Sell says she was asked to apply after Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Ronald Taylor recommended her for the appointment.

Sell says she’s never served on a commission like this before, but is looking forward to the challenge. She returned to Juneau earlier this week after the commission’s first meeting in Anchorage.

“We’re kind of spending this first month trying to get our arms around this issue as to how do we really do corrections better? How do we make the public safer and get the most impact out of our corrections dollars and really chart a course for the future?”

Alaska has the nation’s highest rate of criminals who reoffend. Senate Bill 64, the omnibus crime bill that created the commission, was aimed at lowering that rate and preventing the state from having to construct another prison in the near future. The bill was modeled after so-called Smart Justice policy reforms and initiatives that have shown up in states like Texas, Florida, California and Washington. Sell says she’s familiar with some of the reform models.

Kris Sell testifying in March on behalf of the Alaska Peace Officers Association. (Image courtesy Gavel Alaska)

“I’m still learning a lot of what’s out there and I’m not willing to say I’ve come to a lot of conclusions at this point,” Sell said. “I would say that I am the last person who would agree that someone who is dangerous should be out on the street”

Sell is married to former state prosecutor Patrick Gullufsen. When asked if she and her spouse discuss policy issues, Sell said yes, but that she consults with many people in her work. She’s also vice president of the Alaska Peace Officers Association.

“I have a lot of connections; there are also prosecutors that I work with almost every single day,” Sell said. “I’m sure we’ll discuss things but I will discuss things with other prosecutors as well. I can tell you that we don’t always see things the same way.”

Sell said of all the reform ideas she’s heard, one she’s not keen on is lessening punishment for drug crimes. While she definitely sees a need for increased rehabilitation services, she says drug sentencing should stay as it is. She even testified during the last legislative session against a bill introduced by Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, which would have significantly changed how certain drug crimes are prosecuted. Dyson’s intent with the bill was to keep non-violent offenders out of Alaska’s jails. Sell now works with Dyson on the commission.

“It came up when I was interviewed for this position that I did come out against Sen. (Fred) Dyson’s bill and testified against (lessening the consequences for certain drug crimes),” Sell said. “And Sen. Dyson is involved in this committee so this committee was not built to service one viewpoint.”

Sell says she hopes to bring the law enforcement perspective to a commission that will be discussing at times intangible ideas about how to reform the criminal justice system in Alaska. She says that while she appreciates and supports some creative solutions to criminal justice problems, the commission will need to consider the perspective of the law enforcement officers who are often first responders to violent or dangerous situations.

“Lofty academic ideas can sometimes be a disaster in the middle of the night in a dark alley or inside a home filled with terrified children and a traumatized spouse,” Sell said. “My job is to bring to some of these discussions that real world view.”

Others on the commission include retired and current state judges, commissioners from the Departments of Public Safety and Corrections, Attorney General Michael Geraghty and representatives from various social service organizations across the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-25 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 and on Twitter @aprn

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Seismologist: Quake’s Depth Helped Minimize Damage

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska at 9:51 this morning. Michael West directs the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the epicenter was about 60 miles Northwest of Anchorage and 60 miles underground.

Quake Shakes Anchorage-ites and Visitors Alike

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This morning in downtown Anchorage it was hard to find someone who didn’t have a story to tell about their earthquake experience.

US Chamber of Commerce Pledges ‘Full Weight’ To Sullivan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

A new Dittman Research poll shows Republican Dan Sullivan is six points ahead of Democrat Mark Begich in the U.S. Senate race. The research was funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It ran a pro-Sullivan ad in April and today officially announced it’s endorsement of Sullivan.

State To Defend Merged Gubernatorial Ticket

The Associated Press

The state says a lawsuit challenging the mechanism that allowed two Alaska gubernatorial candidates to merge their campaigns would derail the November election and potentially disenfranchise voters if it succeeds.

US Jets Scramble to Meet Russian Aircraft Near Alaska Airspace

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

U.S. and Canadian air forces have scrambled jets twice over the past week to intercept Russian aircraft that have buzzed the Alaskan and Canadian coastlines twice in the past week.

Landslide Destroys Restoration Projects Near Sitka

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

High rainfall this month is being blamed for a major lanslide near Sitka. The U.S. Forest Service reports that a 100-acre slide came down in the Starrigavan Valley, about ten miles from town. Although there was no structural damage in the event, hundreds of thousands of dollars of watershed restoration projects in the valley have been wiped out.

College Student Wants To Make Voting Easier For Cellphone-Using Peers

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans 18 to 24 are the age group least likely to vote. About a third of them aren’t registered – and of those who are, fewer than half actually come out on Election Day. But a college freshman from Juneau would like to change that by making the whole process a little more convenient for those in school.

Juneau Police Officer Takes on Justice Reform

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau Police Lt. Kris Sell has been appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to serve on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Sell is the only active police officer to serve on the commission, which was created by a bill that passed the legislature earlier this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Monofil Project On Hold, Again

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-24 18:38

Eklunta, Inc. wants to use land it owns within the bounds of the Municipality of Anchorage for what the Alaska Native corporation calls an “inert monofil.” or a non-toxic waste dump. In April of 2013, Eklutna had filed a two part application with the Muni’s community development department: a master plan for a rezone of 68 acres, and a conditional use permit for 17  acres, which would be used for the monofil.

But Maria Rentz, president of Chugiak’s Community Council, says the community is fighting the plan, because the land Ekluna wants for the project is adjacent to a park, and close to residences.

 Amost a year ago, the Anchorage planning commission voted down the master plan, and recommended that the Assembly reject the plan, as well.  But Eklutna appealed that decision,  triggering a long series of postponements that has kept an Assembly vote on the Planning commission’s resolution of rejection off the Anchorage Municipal Assembly agenda. Finally, it was scheduled for a public hearing next month, but, just as Tuesday night’s meeting began, Rentz got a message: 

“There is an official request, I’m looking at it, that was sent from Eklutna today, asking for a minimum sic month postponement.”

 The issue was to have come up for an opening vote on the public hearing, at the request of Assemblyman Dick Traini, who moved it forward, he says, because ” the issue of a monofil site affects not just one part of our community, but the entire municipality.”

Rentz says she got  early word of the change last week, late on Friday. But it came with more disturbing information:

“Eklutna will be asking for a postponement on the opening of the public hearing, because there has been substantial contamination found”   Rentz says she’s been told the contamination is from a “municipal source.”

 Rentz say, if there actually is pollution, the issue will drag on. She says she wants Eklutna’s plan killed, entirely, and to postpone it again and again, thereby postponing a final vote, is not fair to the community.

The item was pulled from Tuesday night’s Municipal Assembly meeting agenda  at the request of Assemblymembers Bill Starr, who represents Eagle River and Amy Demboski, who represents Chugiak.   Assemblymember Demboski said she’s concerned about the turn of events.

“I do have serious concens about how we got here today… Because this has been such a delicate issue in our community, and because the Community Council has been very engaged, and they have a very specific timeline, I think it would be more prudent to give the municipality thirty days to evaluate the new informatin , and then we can always come back in a month and potpone it, if need be. “

 But  Assemblyman  Starr held out for another six month postponement.  Starr said
“Some information was brought to light based on water sampling which involved a municipal landfill that we closed some time ago. It adjoins the 85 acres (of Eklutna’s project).”

Starr says the new information is so new, that it will take at least six months to get all parties together to evaluate it.

“Nothing wrong with how we got here, I think it’s where do we go from here. “

Starr’s move prevailed, with a nine to two vote. Maria Rentz says she’s disappointed


 ”This case has been dragging for two years, and now this significant postponement, of six month minimum, I think that significant postponement is very troublesome. I think if the site has been bound to be contaminated, I think that puts a whole different perspective on the entire project. “

So the public hearing is off, at least for another six months, while the source, and the type, of the contamination is determined.








Categories: Alaska News

Studies Predict Peril for Alaska’s Feathered Migrants

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-24 17:42

America’s birds are in trouble, according to two reports out earlier this month from the National Audubon Society and the Department of Interior.  Both documents suggest climate change could have dire effects for many of the birds that migrate to Alaska each year.

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The Boreal owl lives in boreal forests and muskegs across Alaska and the northern parts of he continent. According to a new report, it could lose all of its winter habitat by 2080.
Credit John Grahame Holmes/VIREO / National Audobon Society,

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s U.S. committee calls their report for the Department of the Interior a “collective call for action.” It came out alongside a second report from the National Audubon Society that looks at the effect of climate change on the ranges of nearly 600 bird species in North America.  Models used in that study show that more than half those birds could lose up to 50 percent of their habitat as a result of climate change by 2080.

“You know all models are wrong but some models are useful,” says Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska.

“If the models are good based on good data, then the trends that we’re seeing should reflect reality to a certain degree.”

Scientists at Audubon used 30 years worth of data collected by citizens from Christmas Bird Count Surveys and a survey of breeding birds in North America too look at various climate factors that impact bird survival. The models include temperature range, precipitation and seasonal changes as well as internationally recognized predicted scenarios for future greenhouse gases.

“There’s different things that could happen,” Warnock explains. “I’ve always loved the analogy that you’re flying on a plane and you see a rivet pop out and are you so worried, well maybe not, but eventually enough of those rivets pop out that’s going to be holding together something pretty critical on that airplane and that’s going to cause that airplane to crash and that’s of course what everybody worries about.  We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen if we lost the Boreal owl.”

According to the Audobon report, the Boreal owl could lose 100 percent of its winter habitat in the next 66 years.  The Bohemian Waxwing stands to lose all of its summer habitat.  Other well-known Alaskan birds that could be affected by a changing climate include those that rely on sea ice, like the spectacled Eider and long-distance migrant shorebirds, like the Bar-tailed godwit.

“They show us and tell us that even though we may have a lot of really fantastic wild habitat in Alaska, our bird populations can easily decrease because of things going on elsewhere in the flyway,” Warnock says.

But the Audubon report also leaves out information about Alaska.

Warnock says that’s because the state lacks a standardized monitoring program mostly due to logistics.

“We have a long history of Christmas bird counts in Alaska, but a lot of our state has no towns, it has no villages,” Warnock says, “and so doesn’t have Christmas bird counts.  The same with breeding bird surveys. They are based on roads and people go out and drive these roads, but Alaska has holes in coverage.”

Warnock says it’s not too late for Alaska’s birds and the larger ecosystem, but he agrees the reports are both “calls to action.”

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot Program Helps Bethel Farm Ship Produce to Cordova Schools

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-24 17:41

Meyers Farm in Bethel recently shipped about 500 pounds of vegetables to the Cordova School District. The order was made possible through a program that reimburses Alaska school districts that buy food grown in state.

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Freshly harvested Potatoes at Meyers Farm in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

The potato harvest is underway at Meyers Farm in Bethel. Farmer, Tim Meyers uses a machine to dig up the big, golden tubers, and now he’s dropping them into totes. He loads the totes equaling about 800 pounds of potatoes onto a tractor and drives them over to a machine he built to wash them.

The organic farm has been operating in Bethel since 2002. They sell hundreds of pounds of vegetables that they grow on the 15-acre farm at a stand along with organic produce that can’t be grown in Bethel,

that’s flown in from a Seattle supplier. Large orders have not taken off because of pricey shipping costs. But a state of Alaska program aimed at providing Alaska-grown produce to schoolchildren is changing that. Meyer just got his first big order of the year.

Meyers Farm sells vegetables at a small roadside shop in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

“Got a big order going to Cordova: 100 pounds of cabbage, 100 pounds of carrots, 100 pounds of onions, 50 pounds of beats and 50 pounds of cauliflower,” said Meyers.

The order is from the Cordova School District. And it’s happening because of a state program called Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools, a pilot program that reimburses districts for buying locally grown food and pays to ship it. Through the program, schools can purchase Alaskan fish, shellfish, livestock, poultry, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables as well as Native Produce and berries. Debi Kruse administers the grant program for the state.

“This is a 3-million dollar appropriation that the legislature has made. Each school district, the 54 school districts of the state are allocated a percentage of those 3-million dollars and then awarded a grant agreement for that amount of money. So it varies by size and region,” said Kruse.

 The program has a dual purpose, Kruse says.

“First of all, it’s to help school districts fund their food programs and it’s one way the state can contribute to the funding for healthy nutrition for students in the state. The other aspect of it I think is equally as important, it allows for the commerce side for producers to have somebody new to be able to sell to,” said Kruse.

The Cordova School District gets about $26,000. Sandie Ponte runs the meal program for the District. She says she orders about 20 percent of the food she serves students from around the state.

“I get a lot of lettuce from Chena hot springs. We get beef, chicken, pork and then we get all our fish here local – but we get halibut and salmon here from Cordova. And it’s just now starting to come in,” said Ponte.

Produce for sale at Meyers Farm stand in Bethel. Photo by Daysha Eaton/KYUK.

It’s about 500 air miles from Bethel to Cordova, but that beats the nearly 1,300 air miles to Seattle, where a lot of the produce used in the Cordova District cafeterias originates, says Pontie. She says something about using fresh, local foods feels good.

“I love it. I don’t know of any school district that doesn’t. It’s just been so nice to give our kids fresh Alaska-grown foods,” said Ponte.

Back at the farm stand, Meyers says he hopes the program spurs more orders from school districts and he’s prepared.

“We’ve got at lease 5-6-thousand pounds of cabbage in storage now. We’ve got about 4-5-thousand pounds of carrots, a couple thousand pounds of turnips, at least a thousand pounds of rutabagas; there should be a thousand or two of beets. And we’ll have 15-20-thousand pounds of potatoes that we’ll be able to keep and sell ‘til next year at this time,” said Meyers.

The Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools pilot program is in its third year. And Meyers says he hopes it continues because it took schools districts and farmers a while to form partnerships, and they’re just getting started.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg Considers Changes to Senior Sales Tax Exemption

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-24 17:40

If you’re 65 or older, you don’t have to pay Petersburg’s 6 percent sales tax.

Municipal Finance Director Jody Tow says that means local government is losing out on a lot of money.

“We’re estimating, conservatively, $270,000 in lost tax revenue for senior exemptions,” she says.

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Petersburg voters face seven ballot measures in the Oct. 7 municipal election. Four propose changes to the senior citizen sales tax exemption. (Photo illustration, CoastAlaska News)

The borough’s annual sales-tax take is about $3 million. So eliminating the exemption would boost revenues by about 10 percent.

Borough figures show seniors make up a little more than 15 percent of the population. Sue Flint, who chaired the committee examining the exemptions, says it could almost double by 2020.

“And that just leaves young families to bear the burden of running the fire department, the snowplows, the roads [and] the police. So mostly, we just wanted to see if there was a more fair way to do this,” she says.

Not everyone believes the senior population boom will come. Lee Corrao, who also served on sales tax committee, questions the prediction.

And even if it’s right, he says it’s way too early to make such changes.

“So the justification for doing this at this time seems at best premature and possibly ill-advised all together,” he says.

Four ballot measures before Petersburg voters in the Oct. 7 municipal election detail different ways to cut back on the exemption.

The one with the most impact calls for sunsetting, or phasing out, the tax break, starting in about five years. Those eligible would have to apply for and get an exemption card by the end of 2019. After that, no one could apply.

Borough Clerk Kathy O’Rear wants to make sure seniors know if they already have the exemption, they won’t lose it.

“This five-year period would give people time to adjust to it. And ones who are getting close to that age of 65, to still have opportunity to obtain that exemption,” she says.

Two other ballot measures would tighten the rules.

One would make seniors just passing through Petersburg ineligible. Another measure requires seniors to be in town at least 185 days a year.

Flint says that’s the same as for Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend.

“We really want it for our year-round residents, who support the community in many other ways,” she says.

Yet another ballot measure would continue the tax exemption, but limit how it could be used.

“We have estimated that senior citizen exemptions are 50 percent comprised of all fuel and groceries,” she says.

“Not all needs are groceries and oil,” says tax committee member Corrao.

“I believe the end result would be to drive people more to the internet, where the city can’t tax them. … Six percent is a big deal right now,” he says.

Petersburg is not alone in its search for new revenues.

Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Kathie Wasserman says communities want local control of the state-mandated property tax break for seniors.

“Residents, as they should, want services for the taxes that they do pay. So, with payroll going up and fuel going up, many municipalities feel they don’t have many options,” she says.

Wasserman says senior sales tax exemptions are not getting much scrutiny elsewhere, though Juneau is considering that option.

Categories: Alaska News