Alaska News

Borough Passes Lower Mill Rate, Okays 2015 Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 13:33

Efforts to maintain a congenial atmosphere during budget deliberations paid off on Thursday evening, as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly approved the Borough’s  2015 fiscal plan  with minimum debate.

Download Audio

There was a definite Kumbaya moment in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly chambers Thursday night when Deputy Mayor Ron Arvin read the motion.

“Mr. Mayor, I move to adopt, I move to set the mill rates at 9.662 area-wide and 0.52 non-area-wide. Ok, is there objection? Hearing none, that passes,” Arvin said.

The Mat-Su Borough Assembly stayed well under the Borough’s cap in setting the mill rate for next year’s budget. Mayor Larry DeVilbiss called the next question

“So, we have the final motion before us, as amended at least 24 time, or 25 or 26. Is there further discussion? Is there objection. Hearing none, it passes by unanimous consent. Congratulations,” DeVilbiss said.

Assembly members for the most part, called the current budget process the fastest in years.

“This first budget was an enlightening process, and since we finished it in such short time, it was more like lightning,” Assembly member Jim Sykes said.

It took two evenings of debate to get to the final question. The budget was amended 24 times, but the Assembly managed to lower the mill rate while retaining all employees.

“And the public was happy. That’s one thing I really noticed,” Assemblyman Jim Colver said. ”I don’t know how many budgets I participated in where it was usually clamoring for school money or, I think the level of service or EMS, fire, or roads, schools. The public seems pretty satisfied with the level of service, otherwise, they would have been here.”

The spending package is expected to top $400 million when the final accounting is complete.

The spending plan includes increases for Mat-Su’s school district, and for emergency response, and includes funding for services like Youth Court and a Sexual Assault Response Team. The Assembly funded outdoor recreation projects and programs from Meadow Lakes to Hatcher Pass, while providing money for flood plain mitigation program information and for a FEMA grant writer to apply for FEMA matching funds.

Mayor DeVilbiss has until May 20 to line up his vetoes.

“So I’m not going to absolutely tell you there won’t be any vetoes,” he said. “But, I have one question to the school district at this point, and if that’s alright, I don’t see a veto at this point.”

DeVilbiss would not say more than that Thursday night. A reconsideration vote is set for Friday at 5 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Wilderness in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 12:00

Whether you call it locking up land or protecting it, wilderness designation raises some profound cultural, biological and management
questions. As it turns 50 years old, is the Wilderness Act showing signs of age? Or has it barely reached maturity? Nowhere in the country is there more wilderness than Alaska.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • J. Michael Holloway, author, Dreaming Bears, a Gwich’in Indian Storyteller, a Southern Doctor, a Wild Corner of Alaska
  • Produced segments by Aviva Hirsch, Reid Magdanz and Nikki Navio
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 13, 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

Tacoma Climber Dies On Denali

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 11:17

Sylvia Montag approaches Karsten’s Ridge on Denali. (Photo via fox-challenge.de)

Just days into climbing season, a mountaineer has died in an an accident high on Denali. Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma, Washington, became separated from her climbing partner around May 5.

Download Audio

Sylvia Montag and her climbing partner, Mike Fuchs, a 34-year-old mountaineer from Berlin, Germany, were climbing near Denali Pass on May 3 at just over 18,000 feet when the weather forced them to turn away from the summit and set up camp to shelter from the high winds. After waiting out the weather for two days, Montag and Fuchs began their descent down the West Buttress of Denali.

During the expedition, Mike Fuchs updated a blog on the pair’s progress. The last entry in the blog is from the night of May 4. Mike Fuchs described winds over 60-miles-per-hour and temperatures lower than 10-degrees below zero. He noted that the pair was down to about three days of food.  That was probably enough to descend the mountain, but it likely ruled out any further summit attempts.

Click here to read Sylvia Montag and Mike Fuchs’ blog.

At 11:00 a.m. on Monday, May 5, the National Park Service says that Fuchs reported via satellite phone that he and Montag had become separated and both had limited supplies, but he did not request a rescue. Fuchs had taken shelter in a storage locker kept at high camp, around 17,200 feet.  On Tuesday, May 6th, Fuchs called the National Park Service again to request a helicopter rescue.  He said he still had not heard from Montag. Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says that the phone calls, as well as the blog, provided useful information for rescue personnel.

“That helped the rangers here establish a timeline, how they were acclimatizing, where they had spent certain nights,” Gualtieri said. “That information was helpful in figuring out where we’re at:  how much food they might have left, what kind of equipment, or even more than that, even what sort of apparel they were wearing, so if we had to do an aerial search, we’d know what we were looking for.”

High winds and poor visibility prevented the Park Service from launching its rescue helicopter on Tuesday. Because Montag and Fuchs were climbing very early in the season, mountaineering rangers were not yet in position to help on the ground, either.  On Wednesday morning, the weather cleared enough for the rescue helicopter to launch. Dave Weber is a mountaineering Ranger for the Park Service, and was on board the helicopter

“The information we were going on from her climbing partner is that the most likely last-known spot was in Denali Pass, around 18,200 feet,” Weber said. “That’s the beginning of the descent portion of the Autobahn area, that takes you down to 17,200 camp.”

“We searched the Denali Pass area and then moved down further into what a likely fall line would have been from the Autobahn.”

Montag’s remains were spotted between 800 and 1,000 feet below the normal trail used on the traverse known as the Autobahn.  The Park Service believes she fell while descending from the pass sometime on May 5.  The area where Montag fell is one of the more dangerous areas of the mountain.  Twelve people have died in similar accidents near the same spot in the last 70 years.

Montag and Fuchs were not roped together while descending through the dangerous terrain. While that is not necessarily an uncommon practice, Dave Weber says the Park Service generally advises against it.  Weber also says that descending through the area early in the season poses extra risks.

“Earlier in the season, we tend to have icier conditions up high, so the footing tends to be much more difficult,” Weber said. “It’s nearly impossible to self-arrest with your axe if you do start to slip or if you do fall.”

“Given that, we’re very adamant that people take great caution and use protection along that traverse.”

Before they are allowed to attempt Denali, climbers must check in with the ranger station in Talkeetna and receive a briefing that covers the risks and features of the mountain. Dave Weber says that Fuchs and Montag’s briefing did not give any indicators that they were unprepared for the climb.

“Looking at their resumés, they did seem to have the appropriate experience to be on a mountain like Denali, so that wasn’t one of the things that we were clued into like we are in some instances where people are under-experienced or there’s disparate experience between members of the party, where you have somebody that’s very experienced and someone that’s not,” Weber said. “They seemed to be a very well-suited pair for this.”

Mike Fuchs was rescued from high camp on Wednesday and flown first to base camp and later Talkeetna.

The atmosphere at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station was somewhat subdued on Friday.  The sense is that everyone their hopes that this first climbing tragedy of 2014 is also the last.

Categories: Alaska News

Apache Selling Gulf Of Mexico Offshore Interests

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 10:50

The oil and gas company exploring the west side of Cook Inlet is getting a cash infusion.

Apache is selling off some of its Gulf of Mexico offshore interests to a mining company – Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold – for $1.4 billion.

That includes an interest in two projects and eleven exploration lease tracts.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition May 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 07:25

Two state troopers killed in Tanana. The state Republican Party meets in Juneau. The Anchorage School District comes into extra money. Three motorcyclists killed on Glenn Highway. Anchorage water rates are perplexing – an explanation follows. Parnell cuts deal for pipeline taxes. Ammunition in short supply. Why? Sen. Fred Dyson has a bill that would remove from view court cases that do not lead to conviction.  National Climate Assessment of climate change has warnings for Alaska.

Download Audio

HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Paul Jenkins, Anchorage Daily Planet
  • Sean Doogan, Alaska  Dispatch
  • Steve MacDonald, Channel 2 News

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 9, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 10, at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 10, at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs Gasline Legislation

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:40

Surrounded by state legislators, cameras, and heavy machinery, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a measure that could serve as a starting point for a major natural gas project. He put his name on the bill Thursday, at a pipeline training center in Fairbanks.

PARNELL: So with my signature today, Alaska will be on its way to becoming an owner in an Alaska LNG project, and the project will officially get underway.

The proposed natural gas project is seen as a lifeline for the state, as North Slope oil production declines and state revenue dwindles. Its construction has also been attempted many times without success.

Download Audio

More than 40 years ago, trillions upon trillions of cubic feet of natural gas were discovered on the North Slope. And ever since, Alaska’s leaders have been trying to figure out a way to sell it.

“In 1968, when they discovered oil and gas at Prudhoe Bay, the whole play was you build a pipeline to take the oil to market, take the weekend off, turn the equipment around, and go build a gasline,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “Didn’t happen.”

In the 1970s alone, you had companies with names like Arctic Gas, El Paso, and Alaska Northwest all making plays to build a gas line. Congress was supportive, too. Permits were issued, federal regulations were met. There were a lot of people who wanted the project to work.

“So you had three legit proposals in the Seventies,” says Persily. “None, as we know now, worked out because of the economics.”

The demand for natural gas just wasn’t enough to justify tapping the supply. The price for natural gas was so low that there would be no way to cover the costs. And on top of that, natural gas on the North Slope had value insofar as it made oil recovery easier.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to make any money.’ So, no one wrote any big checks to order pipe or go ahead with it,” says Persily. “That’s the simple answer.”>>

Through the decades, there were other private attempts at a gasline.

And since the late 1990s, there have been three major legislative efforts to get a gasline built. Gov. Tony Knowles got behind the Stranded Gas Act, which would have let the state enter into negotiations with firms to build a line. No one bit. Gov. Frank Murkowski tried to get through his own version of that, but it didn’t even come to a vote because of concerns that it prevented future legislatures from making tax increases. Then there was Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which offered a half-billion dollars in subsidies to get a project kickstarted.

“Stranded Gas Act 1 didn’t work. Stranded Gas Act 2 didn’t work. AGIA didn’t work,” says Persily.

So, what’s different this time?

“Well, what’s different this time around is the state would be an investor,” says Persily. “So, when you think about a business, every dollar that the state invests as a partner the companies don’t have to invest.”

Parnell’s gasline bill sets the state up as a partial owner of the project. The major North Slope producers — that is, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips — each get a 25 percent share in the project. The state will also get a quarter, but it will be giving the pipeline-building company TransCanada a cut to effectively serve as the state’s bank. Instead implementing a traditional tax on the natural gas, the State will simply get a share of the gas itself.

Persily says the economics for selling the natural gas to Asia are different, too.

“It wasn’t until about 2008 that LNG prices in Japan looked to be high enough to cover the costs of an Alaska LNG project.”

The politicians behind the bill are quick to call it the real thing. At Thursday’s bill signing, more than one person said they believed this piece of legislation would truly get a gasline built.

But there are skeptics, too. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker puts the odds that the legislation will lead to a gasline at zero. He says it commits the state to a hundred-million-dollar studies without a guarantee that anything will be built.

For his part, Persily is cautiously optimistic.

“If the market grows like many people expect. If prices in Asia stay high. If the producers do their engineering and environmental permitting work and don’t find any surprise and don’t find any big problems. If the producers and TransCananada and the state pass the political test with the public and the Legislature,” says Persily, before pausing. “Yeah, we have a decent shot at this, we really do.”

Lawmakers hope so, too. They will revisit the deal in 2015, when they are presented with more enabling legislation to allow the project to go ahead.

Categories: Alaska News

Memo Underscores Confession In Fairbanks 4 Case

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

There’s new evidence challenging the long contested murder convictions of 4 Native men in Fairbanks. The information was provided to the court by the Alaska Innocence Project, in its effort to free the men known as “The Fairbanks 4”.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Former-Gov. Palin Defends ACES

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defended the oil tax structure she championed while in office, known as ACES. The system has been dismantled by state lawmakers and her successor Governor Sean Parnell.

Download Audio

Palin also took a swipe at Parnell on Anchorage radio station KWHL when asked about Parnell’s change in direction, pointing out that Parnell came from the oil industry.

Parnell was Palin’s lieutenant governor from 2006 to 2009.

Palin also had supportive words for a rival to Parnell in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. She didn’t endorse Walker, but said he has “his thumb on the pulse of… most Alaskans who care about the future of this state.”

Walker said today that he had not spoken with Palin and was surprised by her remarks.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Ferry Service Will Resume Sunday

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

State ferry service to Skagway resumes on Sunday.

Alaska Marine Highway ferries have not been running to Skagway since the ferry dock there sank on April 24th. The state was able to contract with a marine salvage and repair company out of Juneau for an emergency sole source contract, and the dock was re-floated a few days later.

Download Audio

Since then, the company has been inspecting and repairing damaged parts of the dock. The likely cause of the sinking is a water pipe under the dock that burst, flooding the hollow compartments that keep the dock afloat. Repairs have also been made to the passenger ramp that was partially submerged, the electrical systems and the vehicle ramp hydraulic system.

To date, the salvage and repair costs have run about a half million dollars, according to the state. Permanent repair work will be ongoing but not affect ferry service, according to a press release for the Marine Highway System.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Quakes Send Seismologists Into Rapid Response

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Aftershocks are continuing to rattle the western edge of the Brooks Range near communities like Noatak, and now seismologists are conducting a “rapid response” to capture these tremors. That’s after two earthquakes that came two weeks apart at magnitudes not recorded in the region in more than 30 years.

Download Audio

Michael West is a seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. He said, “Our objective right now is to get instrumentation in the ground quickly.”

Map of the May 3, 2014 quake located 52 miles north of Kotzebue. (Image courtesy of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.)

Saturday a 5.5 magnitude quake shook the Brooks Range after another 5.6 quake rocked the same area in April. West says the reason for installing the instruments after the fact is two-fold.

“First of all, aftershocks will continue at some lower rate,” West explained. “Being able to understand the aftershocks, tells us something about the original earthquakes and why they happened.”

The instruments are being stationed in communities closest to the quake—Kotzebue and Noatak. Seismologists installed one in Kotzebue yesterday and are installing another in Noatak today. While in Noatak, they will hold a public meeting to address community concerns.

Carol Westly is with the Environmental Department of the Native Village of Noatak and is helping to organize the session.

Westly said, “For many of us it’s the first. Many of us haven’t been in a real earthquake. So I guess the most important information we’re hoping to get from them is what to do or not to do in the event of a big earthquake.”

There have been no reported injuries or major structural damage from the quakes, Westly said, but residents are tallying over 30 aftershocks since the first earthquake in April.

After such ongoing seismic activity, Westly said, “What they want to put is a sensor, an earthquake sensor in Noatak. I think some of us will feel better knowing there’s one here.”

West from the Earthquake Center says the instruments will give seismologists a better idea of the location and depth of the two quakes.

Most seismic equipment is located hundreds of miles away— in the Alaska interior and southern coast. West says this distance distorts data from quakes occurring in Northwest Alaska and does not register seismic activity below magnitude three.

West calls this deficit a “liability” for the state.

“What all these little earthquakes do that happen in huge numbers—these magnitudes ones,” West explained. “They happen in tens of thousands every year in the state. Nobody feels them—but they allow us to map out fault zones. They allow us to pinpoint the areas where bigger earthquakes are more probable in the future.”

West says the instruments being installed in Kotzebue and Noatak are temporary stations until the Alaska Earthquake Information Center finds more long-term solutions.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Student Breaks Ground With Yup’ik Spell Checker

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

A student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has created software that can spell-check the Yup’ik language. Yup’ik language experts are excited about the possibilities even though the designer is not a fluent speaker.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 8, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 17:16

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.

Download Audio

Gov. Parnell Signs Gasline Legislation

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Surrounded by state legislators, cameras, and heavy machinery, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a measure that could serve as a starting point for a major natural gas project. He put his name on the bill Thursday, at a pipeline training center in Fairbanks.

Former-Gov. Palin Defends ACES

The Associated Press

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defended the oil tax structure she championed while in office, known as ACES. The system has been dismantled by state lawmakers and her successor Governor Sean Parnell.

Palin also took a swipe at Parnell on Anchorage radio station KWHL when asked about Parnell’s change in direction, pointing out that Parnell came from the oil industry.

Parnell was Palin’s lieutenant governor from 2006 to 2009.

Palin also had supportive words for a rival to Parnell in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. She didn’t endorse Walker, but said he has “his thumb on the pulse of…  most Alaskans who care about the future of this state.”

Walker said today that he had not spoken with Palin and was surprised by her remarks.

Memo Underscores Confession In Fairbanks 4 Case

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

There’s new evidence challenging the long contested murder convictions of 4 Native men in Fairbanks. The information was provided to the court by the Alaska Innocence Project, in its effort to free the men known as “The Fairbanks 4”.

UAA, Willamette University Partner To Offer New Law School Opportunity

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

There isn’t a law school in Alaska. But the University of Alaska Anchorage is launching a new program to make it easier for Alaskans to attend law school. It’s a partnership with Willamette University College of Law in Oregon.

Education Bill Boosts Juneau Community Charter School

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Community Charter School is getting a 56 percent increase to its budget through an upcoming change in state law.

New mandates in House Bill 278 give charter schools more parity with other public schools.

Skagway Ferry Service Will Resume Sunday

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

State ferry service to Skagway resumes on Sunday.

Alaska Marine Highway ferries have not been running to Skagway since the ferry dock there sank on April 24th. The state was able to contract with a marine salvage and repair company out of Juneau for an emergency sole source contract, and the dock was re-floated a few days later.

Since then, the company has been inspecting and repairing damaged parts of the dock. The likely cause of the sinking is a water pipe under the dock that burst, flooding the hollow compartments that keep the dock afloat. Repairs have also been made to the passenger ramp that was partially submerged, the electrical systems and the vehicle ramp hydraulic system.

To date, the salvage and repair costs have run about a half million dollars, according to the state. Permanent repair work will be ongoing but not affect ferry service, according to a press release for the Marine Highway System.

National Weather Service Issues El Niño Watch

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

There could be more warm and cloudy weather on Alaska’s coast and more wildfire danger in the Interior this summer if a temperature trend in the waters of the Pacific Ocean along the equator continues. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center today issued an El Niño Watch, saying the weather pattern is more likely than not to develop this summer.

Unusual Quakes Send Seismologists Into Rapid Response

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Aftershocks are continuing to rattle the western edge of the Brooks Range near communities like Noatak, and now seismologists are conducting a “rapid response” to capture these tremors. That’s after two earthquakes that came two weeks apart at magnitudes not recorded in the region in more than 30 years.

UAA Student Breaks Ground With Yup’ik Spell Checker

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has created software that can spell-check the Yup’ik language.  Yup’ik language experts are excited about the possibilities even though the designer is not a fluent speaker.

Categories: Alaska News

Sand Point Sees Progress In War On Drugs

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 15:28

A man allegedly carrying black tar heroin was arrested as he stepped off a plane in Sand Point last month. It’s the most recent development in the town’s fight against hard drugs.

Twenty-two-year-old Gage Carlson is facing two felony charges after his April arrest: one for transporting heroin with intent to sell it, and another for possession of Oxycodone.

Carlson has been in custody in Anchorage, pending another hearing in Sand Point District Court this week.

He was allegedly carrying seven grams of black tar heroin when he arrived in town. Police chief John Lucking says that would fetch anywhere from $14,000 to $28,000 on the street. They’re still investigating others who might be connected to Carlson’s case.

Lucking says it’s part of slow but steady progress in combating Sand Point’s drug problem. For one thing, he says police have seen an increase in tips about suspected drugs or drug dealers coming into town. That lets them make arrests before suspects even enter the airport.

He says they have Sand Point’s grassroots anti-drug group, Reclaim Alaska, to thank for the upsurge of community involvement.

Tiffany Jackson is the chair of that group, which is less than a year old. As far as she knows, none of their volunteers were involved in this latest investigation.

Jackson says the bust is a good sign. But it also shows that substance abuse is still an issue in town.

“But I’m hopeful that the community is making a turn toward being more healthy,” Jackson says. “There seems to be a positive response when we hear that less drugs are making it into the community and there’s less opportunity for people who have addictions to have access to them.”

Reclaim Alaska’s volunteers are also working on promoting healthy choices among local youth. They held two “Reclaim Days” at Sand Point’s school this past semester — teaching students about the dangers of drug abuse, and getting them involved in spreading the anti-drug message.

Now, the group is brainstorming ways to do more.

“It’d be nice if we could figure out some way to formalize the organization [and] get some support to move its mission forward,” Jackson says.

She hopes some of that support will come through grants. But she says Reclaim Alaska prides itself on what’s been done without any funding — especially considering what they’re up against. Sand Point is a remote community with a transient population, and a long-standing issue with heroin and meth. Jackson says for residents to organize is a big step forward.

“I think the reason it’s been successful so far is that it took community members in Sand Point saying, regardless of the money that’s available, ‘We’ve had enough. We need to take our community back. We need to make this a safe place for our families, for our children, for our future, for right now’ — and taking a stand,” she says.

That started even before Reclaim Alaska came together, when a group of Sand Point residents ran a suspected drug dealer out of town. They met the man at the airport last August and bought him a one-way ticket back to Anchorage.

Jackson says Reclaim Alaska formed in the wake of that incident, and she says they don’t condone vigilantism. But they are working with other communities, like Dillingham and Bristol Bay, to spread the idea that activism is possible — even without resources.

At home in Sand Point, Jackson says her ultimate goal is a totally drug-free community.

“I think that it would be difficult to truly achieve. But it’s something that we absolutely work towards,” she says. “The more people that are knowledgeable of what’s going on, of the resources that are available to make any sort of healthy change or choice in their life, the better.”

Reclaim Alaska has the support of police, local government and neighboring communities in that mission. Jackson says they’ll keep chipping away at it, one step at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

Education Bill Boosts Juneau Community Charter School

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 15:12

The Juneau Community Charter School wants to use part of the additional funding to improve its building. The school leases one and a half floors of commercial space downtown. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau Community Charter School is getting a 56 percent increase to its budget through an upcoming change in state law.

New mandates in House Bill 278 give charter schools more parity with other public schools.

Download Audio

The Juneau Community Charter School opened in 1997 with 40 students in first to fourth grade. Since then, the school has grown. It now has 110 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Prior to the Alaska Legislature passing House Bill 278, the projected budget for the Juneau Community Charter School was close to a million dollars. Now, the school is looking at a budget of more than one and a half million dollars.

HB278 increases state funding for charter schools of a certain size. Of the 27 charter schools in the state, this only affects two – Juneau Community Charter School and Homer’s Fireweed Academy in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Every Tuesday, the kindergarten and first grade students go on a nature hike. (Photo by Lisa Phu)

“In the past a school would’ve had to have been 150 students to get the same level of funding as many of the other schools in the state that are not charters,” says state deputy education commissioner Les Morse. “And now it allows that school to start off at 75 students and still get the funding equitable to other schools.”

Under HB278, in addition to state money, school districts will be mandated to support charter schools with local government funds. Some districts were already doing this; some weren’t.

“In the past, we’ve only passed on money that we received from the state for the Juneau Community Charter School,” says David Means, director of administrative services for the Juneau School District. “Under HB278, because we have a local match from the City and Borough of Juneau over and above our state money, we have to pass on a share of that money onto the Juneau Community Charter School as well.”

This accounts for about $300,000 of the charter school’s new money, which would otherwise go to other district schools.

“I think we want to try to keep our education dollars as equitable as possible among all of our students, whether they’re charter school students or students in one of our regular traditional schools,” Means says.

Matt Jones is a charter school parent and vice president of the committee that manages the school.

“At this point we’re now on the same footing as all the other neighborhood schools in the district. Whereas we’ve been operating for the last 15 years on significantly lower funding than most schools do, about 30 percent less than most schools,” he says.

Jones is also the treasurer of the committee. He says half the additional funding will likely go toward new staff – a facilitating teacher, a special education teacher, and a paraeducator or reading specialist.

Another big issue is the school building. The charter school leases one and a half floors of a commercial building. It’s located downtown, walking distance to libraries, museums and trails, but Jones says the space isn’t set up for students and classrooms.

There are 23 students in the combined class of kindergarten and first grade. The Juneau Community Charter School has a total of 110 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“There’s not a lot of space in the halls for students and for lockers and things like that. There’s no gymnasium. There’s basically no room outside the main classroom area that we rent and we’re spread out across a couple of floors in this building that has other tenants in it,” Jones says.

Instead of a cafeteria, the charter school serves lunch in a narrow hallway. The students go to the Capital Park playground because they don’t have their own. The school’s facade is discolored and chipping.

Jones says ultimately they’d like to move into a new space, potentially leasing from the school district. That would keep the money in the district instead of going to a private company. In the meantime, Jones says they’ll spend a little to improve the space they’re in now.

HB278 also requires school districts provide or pay for charter school students’ transportation and offer extra classroom space to charter schools first.

The bill provides a one time, $500 per student grant for new charter schools and limits what districts can charge for administrative services. It also establishes an appeal process for charters that don’t get approved by the local school board.

Deputy education commissioner Morse says HB278 is the biggest change to the charter school law since it was created in 1995.

“In some communities, certainly a charter would not have made sense and now with some of these structural changes, it could make sense and it could give new opportunities for kids and families,” Morse says.

The governor is expected to sign HB278 into law.

Categories: Alaska News

National Weather Service Issues El Niño Watch

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 11:58

(Graphic courtesy National Weather Service)

There could be more warm and cloudy weather on Alaska’s coast and more wildfire danger in the Interior this summer if a temperature trend in the waters of the Pacific Ocean along the equator continues.

Download Audio

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño Watch on Thursday, saying the weather pattern is more likely than not to develop this summer.

“At this point it does look quite likely that we’ll see that warmer water across the equatorial Pacific,” Rick Thoman, the Director of Climate Science and Services for Alaska, said. “That will influence where those big thunderstorms develop in the tropics over the summer, and that pushes lots of heat and moisture into the mid and high latitudes of the earth.”

The moisture transported to the north becomes clouds in Alaska.

El Niños were fairly common in the late 20th century but have only shown up twice since 1998. Thoman says because the jet stream is fairly weak in the summer, El Niño’s effects to the north can vary, but a general pattern can still be seen in records of past events that developed between spring and summer.

“When that’s happened in the past, that has correlated with active fire years,” Thoman said. ”It also does correlate to some extent with at least not cool summers, especially in coastal Alaska.”

The reason for the higher fire risk is thunderstorms.

“Because to get thunderstorms of course you need some moisture,” Thoman said. “Last year was a very warm summer across mainland Alaska, but there was unusually low thunderstorm activity and that was a result of the high pressure aloft and really a lack of low level moisture.”

“So to some extent we need that moisture to get thunderstorms across inland Alaska.”

The Climate Prediction Center says there is now a 65 percent likelihood of an El Niño developing this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Council Banishes 2 In Village Where Troopers Died

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-08 10:52

The tribal government in the village where two Alaska State Troopers were killed has voted to banish two men indirectly connected to the deaths.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the Tanana Tribal Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Arvin Kangas and William Walsh to leave permanently.

Kangas is the father of 20-year-old Nathanial “Satch” Kangas, who is charged with murder in the May 1 deaths of Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich.

Walsh is leader of the Athabascan Nation, a small group that rejects the authority of the Alaska state government.

Tanana Tribal Council chairman Curtis Sommer says the council is holding the older men accountable for rhetoric that “more or less brainwashed” Nathanial Kangas.

The council’s action must be reviewed by the tribal court.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic May Not Be That Busy, Report Says

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska (USCG photo)

As the ice goes out in the Arctic, many people predict more ships will be drawn through the Bering Straits to take advantage of a shortcut between Asia and Europe. But, a recent government report suggests less ice may not mean more ships.

Download Audio

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has made it her mission to remind Washington the Arctic is opening up. In speeches and at hearings with top officials, she aims to instill a sense of urgency about preparing for an increase in ship traffic and new economic opportunities.

“The time to development the infrastructure and support capacity to handle this growing amount of traffic is now. Actually, it was yesterday,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor last month.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office runs counter to her message. The report authors interviewed dozens of stakeholders, including executives at cargo companies, mining companies and cruise lines about their plans to send more ships into the Arctic.

“We came to the conclusion that it was going to be limited,” Lorelei St. James, team leader on the GAO report, said.

Two big caveats: The GAO report looked only at commercial activity in the American Arctic,
and only over the next decade, but St. James found that just because ships can traverse the Arctic for part of the year doesn’t mean they will.

“There’s just some fundamental geographic reasons that make it more difficult to operate in the U.S. Arctic,” St. James said.

While an over-the-top route can be 40 percent shorter than the traditional voyage between Asia and Europe, the GAO found container shipping companies aren’t interested. To them, speed is less important than reliability. The business is largely driven by the need for components to move steadily around the globe, from factories to assembly plants to markets. Nobody wants
inventory to pile up, so if ships are late, St. James says, a factory might have to halt production.

“They’re very concerned about on-time, and with the unpredictability of some of the weather patterns up there, it just made the shipping companies we talked to less, the U.S. Arctic less attractive to them,” St. James said.

Time is also a big factor for cruise lines in the Arctic, the GAO learned.

“We were told that even if there were deep water ports or ports that the cruises could stop at, that it just takes so long to go through the U.S. Arctic that there’s just a lack of demand from the mainstream for that type of cruise,” St. James said.

While the Arctic lacks deepwater ports and the U.S. has only two working ice breakers, better maritime infrastructure would not really boost shipping or tourism, St. James says, although miners told the GAO they could use a new dock.

“Right now the zinc that the Red Dog Mine has is lighter than copper, so the copper industry would need a deeper water port but officials told us that they were not prepared to pay for that type of … infrastructure,” St. James said.

Admiral Thomas Ostebo, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, says he agrees with the GAO report and the cautionary note it strikes on building maritime infrastructure.

“Based on what we know now … it’s too early to tell, what infrastructure we need where we would need it and how big it should be,” Ostebo said.

Get those answers wrong and you waste a lot of money. Ostebo says the perceived need for more icebreakers goes up and down, but the Coast Guard is in the very early stages of possibly acquiring a new one.  Meanwhile, though, Ostebo says the clearest need in  Arctic  waters is for things like better maps and charts, improved communication technology and new
environmental surveys.

“There is a future for the Arctic, and those things would be great investments in whatever future comes up,” Ostebo said.

Sen. Murkowski says she appreciates the GAO report’s emphasis on the need for mapping and charting, but maintains Arctic activity is on the rise, so now is the time to invest there.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Says Its Increased Arctic Presence Will Have ‘No Significant’ Environmental Impact

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Photo courtesy of the US Coast Guard: The Coast Guard Cutter Healy approaches the Russian-flagged tanker Renda while breaking ice around the vessel 97 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 10, 2012.

The U.S. Coast Guard has operated in the Arctic for more than a century, but as the maritime agency plans for an increased presence in the region, its taking stock of what its environmental impact will be in the Arctic in the years to come.

Download Audio

Mike Dombkowski is on the team drafting the Coast Guard’s new environmental assessment for Alaska’s District 17, which was released Tuesday. The document looks at what increased training and patrols in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas will mean for arctic ecosystems.

“What you might call day-to-day Coast Guard operations, doing patrols, search and rescue, aides to navigation, the other types of missions that we perform, here’s what we see ourselves doing and here’s what we think the environmental impact of those things are.”

The assessment looks at the Coast Guard’s plans for a broader arctic presence from mid-March through mid-November. Beyond summer training exercises in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas—exercises the service has already conducted for several years running—the increased arctic operations call for establishing safety zones around vessels exploring for oil, enforcing laws protecting endangered species and marine mammals, and “poaching prevention” of fish stocks and mineral deposits. The plan also calls for routine patrols of arctic waters with the nation’s two active icebreakers.

The assessment claims the impact will be minimal, and finds an increased Coast Guard presence will have “no significant adverse impacts” on water quality, arctic biology, cultural resources, and public safety.

It’s supported by a companion document, a biological evaluation endorsed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that affirms the Coast Guard’s increased arctic presence is “not likely to adversely affect” protected bird, fish, and marine mammal species.

Even if their arctic commitments increase, the bigger question for the Coast Guard may be one of resources.

Andrew Hartsig directs the arctic program at the Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit oceans advocacy group in Anchorage. He says an increased Coast Guard presence above the Arctic Circle is, on the whole, a good thing, but he questioned if the agency has what it needs to carry out its goals.

“The limiting factor is clearly funding, and until the Coast Guard gets more funding, specifically to engage in arctic work, they are going to be resource-limited in terms of the personnel and the assets they can bring to bear.”

Despite continued calls from residents and organizations in the arctic for plans and preparation for maritime disasters like an oil spill in arctic waters, Dombkowski said those are all questions for a different assessment to tackle.

“Oil spill response is such a huge, big enough thing that it really deserves its own document,” he said, “and that document and supporting stuff is being done right now.”

For now, the Coast Guard plans to tour its new environmental assessment statewide, with plans to visit Anchorage, Kotzebue, Nome, and Barrow next week for public meetings.

A delegation from the agency will be in Nome Monday, May 12 at the Northwest campus, delivering at the campus conference room from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Emergency Personnel Battle Unalaska Warehouse Fire

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

(Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska)

While the rest of the state is gearing up for wildfire season, Unalaska’s emergency responders spent Wednesday fighting an industrial fire inside a local longshore warehouse. The building appears to be a total loss.

Download Audio

Uber Sosa is a dock worker for Pacific Stevedoring. At 5 a.m. Wednesday, he was at home — in a dormitory right next door to the warehouse that his company leases from the Ounalashka Corporation.

Suddenly, Sosa says: “Someone woke me up. I was sleeping. It was the police, came knocking on everybody’s door, telling them to get out. So everybody had to get out, and we didn’t have time to get anything.”

The warehouse was on fire, and smoke was blowing through Sosa’s bunk. Sosa says he and about 20 other people made it out safely.

Meanwhile, more than 15 emergency personnel – along with volunteers from the Department of Transportation – started fighting the blaze.

They blocked off East Point Road around the warehouse and began pumping water inside.

After 11 hours, the building was still on fire – but also still standing. City workers used an excavator to peel back the charred aluminum siding and allow better access to the fire inside.

Steam and smoke were billowing out of the structure, but the fire stayed contained.

Fire Chief Abner Hoage says the warehouse was full of basic but highly flammable materials. There may have been tar-coated fishing nets:

“It was reported that there were about 20 pallets of wax-coated fiber board in there, as well as a whole bunch of empty pallets,” Hoage said. “And of course, that stuff burns really hot and really long.”

A little over a decade ago, a fire ripped through another structure in the same location as this warehouse. It contained the same kind of materials – pallets and fiber board. Hoage says that fire took three days to extinguish.

“So it could be a while getting everything completely out, to where it’s safe for us to go in and evaluate what happened,” Hoage said.

Hoage says that firefighters will stay on site as long as it takes. But at this point, it
doesn’t look like there’s anything left to salvage.

Hoage estimates between $1.5 and 2.5 million worth of damage has been done, including the value of the physical structure and the equipment stored in it.

That’s a big enough loss to trigger an investigation by the state fire marshal. They were expected to send representatives to Unalaska on Thursday to determine what caused the fire.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is also keeping an eye the fire.

Unalaska’s fire department used chemical foam to smother the flames Wednesday morning. Some of that foam leaked out of the building and onto the beach, about 100 yards away.

Fire Chief Hoage says they stopped using the foam and let the DEC know about the contamination.

“DEC sent a local rep out to take some pictures of the foam in the water and you can see a lot of that’s dissipated,” Hoage said. “And the Anchorage office has been notified.”

Managers for Pacific Stevedoring, which rents out the building, and the Ounalashka Corporation, which owns it, are cooperating with the investigation. But neither company could be reached for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Agencies Emphasize Fire Prevention Awareness

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

The sunshine and warmer weather are bringing more Alaskans out to enjoy parks and trails. But that increase in recreation can also mean more accidental fires. Four agencies joined forces at a media event Tuesday to get the word out about fire prevention.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News
ON THE AIR

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4