Alaska News

Senate plans technical session in Juneau Tuesday

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-11 11:37

The full Senate will not be required to attend the first floor session since lawmakers voted for a recess.

Senate President Kevin Meyer’s office says Tuesday’s floor session in Juneau will be a technical session, for which a quorum isn’t called for. Barring a budget deal, there’s no legislation to vote on.

The House Finance Committee plans to hold hearings on Medicaid, another issue on the special session call, next week in Anchorage.

Lawmakers last week voted for a recess in floor sessions until Tuesday, though House and Senate Finance committees have held budget hearings and behind-the-scenes talks have occurred.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, in an interview, cited concerns with the cost of bringing everyone back to Juneau to gavel in if there was no specific business to take up.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Shot by Bethel Police Sentenced for Assault

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-11 11:37

A man who was shot by Bethel police after chasing and striking an officer with a baseball bat was sentenced to three years in prison with two suspended. Aaron Moses was sentenced Friday in Bethel Superior Court. Because he’s been in custody since last summer, he will have time served credited to his sentence.

Aaron Moses was sentenced in Bethel court on May 8, 2015. Video still from witness video.

In a sentencing hearing focusing on Moses’ well-being, his brother, Byron Moses, spoke briefly about the mental health struggles of his sibling.

“Despite all of this I still love my brother. I just pray and hope he gets the help he needs. I’m not here to testify against him. I’m here telling him he needs help,” said Moses.

The court says that Moses had not been taking his medication last summer when he began fighting with his brother after asking for a gun because he was suicidal. He then went outside with a baseball bat and broke the windows on his brother’s truck.

He swung the bat at Bethel police as they unsuccessfully tried to subdue him. After officer Sammie Hendrix was knocked to the ground and struck, he shot Moses. A witness captured the incident on video.

Judge Dwayne McConnell also sentenced Moses to three years of probation with several conditions.

“One the conditions is that you have to take your medication, in my view that’s the most important one. If you don’t, like I told you, you’ll be back here in court. And I don’t want to see you in court, I just want to see you at the AC or the Sea Lion or someplace.”

Moses originally faced two assault charges and one for felony criminal mischief. With his guilty plea, it was reduced to one felony assault charge for causing injury with a weapon.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers say body of missing Wisconsin man found in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-11 11:30

The body of a 73-year-old Wisconsin man who was missing in Alaska for nine months has been found in a river.

Alaska State Troopers say an autopsy positively identified the body found May 2 as that of Roger Yaeger of Eagle River, Wisconsin.

Troopers say evidence suggests Yaeger shot and killed himself. They say there was no sign of foul play.

Yaeger traveled to Alaska last summer. Family members last heard from him in early August when he visited a relative in Wasilla. His travel was then traced to Fairbanks, where he returned his rental car a few days later.

According to troopers, family members suggested Yaeger was suicidal. He also was believed to have a gun.

Categories: Alaska News

Fishing vessel runs aground in Katmai National Park

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-11 11:29

The National Park Service says a fishing vessel abandoned after a fire last month has run aground at Katmai National Park.

The park service said Saturday the Northern Pride was found between Cape Chiniak and Kaguyak Point along the Shelikof Strait. The vessel has released an oil-like sheen. The park service says the sheen is unrecoverable.

The 82-foot wooden vessel’s crew abandoned ship on April 21. The Coast Guard rescued the three-member crew. The vessel capsized shortly after and was believed to have sunk.

The park service says marine mammals, migratory birds and cultural resources are at risk from the shipwreck. It says rapidly salvaging the boat and assessing the spill are high priorities.

The salvage team and park staff hope to visit the grounding this weekend if weather permits.

Categories: Alaska News

With Foster Care Cases Up, Lawmakers Consider Funding Triage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:45

The Walker administration is pushing for more funding for the Office of Children’s Services, in response to the growing number of foster children in the system.

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A line added to the governor’s new budget would accept $1 million in one-time federal funding that could be used to add more front-line social workers. OCS Director Christy Lawton described it as a life-or-death situation when questioned by Anchorage Democrat Les Gara at a House Finance committee hearing on Thursday.

GARA: Christy, did you say ‘die,’ or did I misunderstand that?

LAWTON: I did say, ‘die.’ Kids die from fatalities related to child abuse and neglect.

Since Gov. Bill Walker first introduced his budget, the number of foster children in Alaska has grown from 2,400 to 2,500. Meanwhile, the Office of Children’s Services is operating with 25 percent of its front-line positions vacant, and with each worker’s caseload at double the recommended average.

Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, expressed concern about the staffing problems at OCS. But he also had reservations that the state was growing the department with funding that might disappear.

“So, we’re adding 10 positions here, because we’re getting temporary funding for a year,” said Neuman. “Well, we don’t know if we’re going to get those bonus funds in future years.”

Budget Director Pat Pitney said the governor’s office was willing to fund the new positions with savings found elsewhere in the department.

“This is a million dollars of that $92 million savings that has already been extracted from this department in this one single year to do something for a small population of very in-need people,” said Pitney.

In addition to holding committee hearings, the Republican legislative leadership is continuing its negotiations with the Democratic minority and with Walker over the new budget.

While the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene its special session in Juneau on Tuesday, they plan to immediately gavel in and out without taking action because a budget deal has not been finalized.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Seek Audit Of State Crime Lab

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:44

Lawmakers have approved an audit of the state crime lab to see if it is properly managing evidence.

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Sen. Berta Gardner made the request of the Legislative Budget and Audit committee on Thursday. The Anchorage Democrat filed a bill to audit the processing of rape kits in the state earlier this year, after a report by the Legislature’s research department was unable to get information on the number of untested kits.

“All of the answers were, ‘Unknown. Unknown. Unknown,’” said Gardner.

The bill is still in committee, but Gardner said she started getting calls from current and former crime lab employees, alleging mismanagement. That pushed her to request an audit on the lab itself.

“There were claims, for example, that one whistleblower — that she’d worked as a lab technician for almost ten years but left her job because she was afraid of losing her national accreditation because of management’s failure to maintain a proper chain of custody with evidence and failure to adhere to standards for storage of evidence,” said Gardner.

The $90 million crime lab has been in operation since 2012.

At the same meeting, the committee also approved an audit of the cruise ship head tax and the way the revenue was being used, and an audit of the Department of Fish and Game’s advisory committee process.

Categories: Alaska News

Prenatal Pot Use on the Rise in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:43

About 1 in 14 Alaska women are using marijuana while pregnant and that ratio appears to be going up. That’s based on the state’s pregnancy risk monitoring survey which is a randomized mail and phone questionnaire hundreds of new moms complete a year.

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The survey offers a glimpse into the lives of Alaska women who consume pot while pregnant. For instance, we know that these women tend to be younger, under 24. Kathy Perham-Hester coordinates the survey.

“It would tend to be an Alaska Native woman versus women of other races. There’s a higher proportion of women who have had at least part of their prenatal care paid for by Medicaid. So they might be lower income.”

She says that data also points to where these women live.

“Proportionally more in the northern region of the state and the southeast region of the state.”

PRAMS, or the pregnancy risk assessment monitoring system, has been surveying women in Alaska since the 1990s. Forty other states also have similar programs. It’s funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest data is from 2002 to 2011. Over that span, the percentage of women who consumed pot during pregnancy more than doubled. But one question it didn’t include was “why?”

“You know, we did not ask any question like that. So no, I’d have to say I’m not aware of that.”

A young Juneau mother teases her baby: “You want to be interviewed?” she jokes.

We’re withholding her name because she fears she could lose her job this summer working in the tourism industry. She’s 26, married and the mother of a baby boy.

“Everybody comments on his alertness and how he just smiles and laughs. He’s only two months old but he’s very smart. I mean sure, everybody says that about their baby,” she laughs.

During her pregnancy, Juneau mom smoked pot about two times a week. She says she didn’t experience any nausea while she was expecting. But she did have painful cramps.

“So I would smoke to get rid of those cause you can’t really take any other medication for it, which worked for me because my cramps would diminish enough, I could go swimming or I could go on walk.”

She says she didn’t really start smoking pot until she was in college. And now smoking it recreationally is more conducive to her lifestyle.

“I enjoy marijuana a lot more than alcohol. Like don’t get me wrong, a cold beer on a great sunny day like today is amazing. Especially if you can be on top of a mountain. Nothing beats that. But I’m kind of done binge drinking and partying hard on the weekends.”

Instead, Juneau mom likes to do yoga…high. She’s interested in living a “healthy lifestyle” and doesn’t smoke tobacco. She pays for private health insurance and enjoys spending time outdoors. She says before getting pregnant, she used cannabis medically to soothe her fibromyalgia.

“Smoking marijuana like, really helped me get over that hump because I didn’t have to be on Xanax and Cymbalta all those crazy mind-altering drugs. So that’s kind of when I really started.”

But smoking pot prenatally, wasn’t a decision she says she came to lightly. She did her own online research. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services recently issued a fact sheet on marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, outlining some of the risks.

Dr. Jay Butler is the chief medical officer for the department.

“Well, there’s a lot that we don’t know about marijuana in terms of harms or possible benefits. But right now I think the data points to harms.”

He says THC, the active ingredient in marijuana can enter the bloodstream of a developing fetus or nursing infant.

“There are a number of epidemiological studies that suggest that exposure to marijuana early in life, particularly heavy use may affect brain development and intellect. Is it proof of causation? Not necessarily. But I think the data are strong enough that there’s reason to be concerned.”

But our young mother wasn’t convinced.

“So to me the data wasn’t really solid,” she said. “It didn’t provide enough evidence to really go with that.”

Juneau mom says before she made the decision to smoke pot while pregnant, she needed advice from one more person.

“I asked my mom. And she actually admitted that she did while she was pregnant with me and my siblings. So that kind of made it a little bit more OK after my own research I had done. I could talk to her about it and she told me her experience. And I was like, ‘well I came out normal,’ at least I think. So it can’t be terrible.”

If a medical expert feels like a child has been born drug-affected, an investigation could be launched by the Office of Children’s Services. Juneau mom thinks that’s why more women don’t talk about it…because they’re afraid.

“You hid when you smoked or you kept it private. So why would you ever want to speak about it to someone who might blow the whistle on you?”

Since she started breastfeeding, she says she’s stopped smoking pot regularly for now. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says, with changing attitudes toward marijuana, there are concerns the number of women smoking pot while pregnant could continue to go up.

Categories: Alaska News

Two New Wolf Kills Add to Denali Population Decline

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:42

The recent killing of two Denali National Park wolves, has increased calls for protection of the animals on state land adjacent to the park, where hunting and trapping are legal. The animals were shot in the Stampede area near Healy, the same region where other park wolves have been trapped and killed. The annual harvest is fairly low, but is garnering concern as the Park wolf population continues to decline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska WWII Vet Enjoys Bird’s Eye View of D.C. Flyover

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:40

(Photo: ww2flyover.org)

This is Victory in Europe day, the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end in Europe. In Washington, D.C. more than 50 vintage military aircraft flew over the national mall to the Capitol. In 15 formations, one every minute or so, came B-25 Mitchell bombers, P-47 Thunderbolts, even a B-29 Superfortress, believed to be the last of its breed still flying.  On the Capitol Grounds, tourists mixed with Congressional staffers and school groups.

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Donna Crum from Chicago said she was waiting for the B-17, to honor her father-in-law’s service.

“And so I’m shooting pictures to my husband to be able to show him on his phone,” she said. “And here they come!”

A deep rumble drew the crowd to its feet, every cell phone pointed skyward.

Overhead, in the second B-17, was Alaskan bush pilot Urban Rahoi, a homesteader, lodge owner and Fairbanks businessman. Rahoi answered his cell phone shortly after landing.

“Yeah, riding up in the front there, where the bomb sight and all that is, so I could see better,” he said.

Rahoi flew the B-17, the Flying Fortress, in the war, and he flew one again a year ago. Flies just like a Supercub, he claims. He wanted to be at the controls for the Washington flyover, but he wasn’t allowed. Somebody imposed an age limit of 80. Rahoi is 96.

“I got a big kick out of it because I flew yesterday  with them and the guy that flew it made a hell of a bad landing. Bounced pretty bad three times,” he said. “And the guy that flew it today he bounced and slammed it down pretty hard. They won’t let me fly it. I come in smooth.”

He laughed, but he wasn’t really joking. Rahoi says it was still a beautiful day.

“When we flew over the Capitol there by Reagan Airport up there, through all that towers and everything, you could see good,” he said. “There was lots of people on the ground. It was packed pretty heavy.”

Rahoi is planning to visit family while he’s in the Lower 48 but he can’t stay long. He’s planning a lot of dirt work this summer at his lodge near Tok and he has to start flying in his diesel.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:37

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

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With Foster Care Cases Up, Lawmakers Consider Funding Triage

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Walker administration is pushing for more funding for the Office of Children’s Services, in response to the growing number of foster children in the system.

Lawmakers Seek Audit of State Crime Lab

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers have approved an audit of the state crime lab to see if it is properly managing evidence.

Prenatal Pot Use On The Rise in Alaska

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

About one in 14 Alaska women are using marijuana while pregnant. That’s based on the state’s pregnancy risk monitoring survey which hundreds of new moms complete each year. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of women reporting marijuana use during pregnancy more than doubled. The women are more likely to be younger, Alaska Native and lower income.

2 New Wolf Kills Add to Denali Population Decline

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The recent killing of two Denali National Park wolves has increased calls for protection of the animals on state land adjacent to the park, where hunting and trapping are legal.

Hovercraft To Shuttle Cruise Tourists to Taku Glacier

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The start of the cruise ship season brings a new excursion from one of the oldest tour outfits in Southeast. Allen Marine Tours is set to run hovercraft trips to the Taku Glacier starting this week.

Alaska WWII Vet Enjoys Bird’s Eye View of D.C. Flyover

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

This is Victory in Europe day, the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end in Europe. In Washington, D.C. more than 50 vintage military aircraft flew over the national mall to the Capitol. One Alaska vet got a bird’s eye view.

49 Voices: Michelle Troll

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we hear from Michelle Troll who moved to Alaska to work at the Ketchikan Daily News more than 30 years ago and never, ever intended to stay.

AK: Samurai Musher

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Samurai Musher

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:24

(Photo via http://www.thesamuraimusher.com)

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

The finale of the musical play, “Samurai Musher” brought the audience to its feet to sing along with the cast.  The play told the story of Japanese musher Jujiro Wada, and although the curtain has come down on the play, Wada’s story is still unfolding.

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The thread that connects the generations may get tangled for a while, but it is never broken. Although it is said that most Americans cannot trace their family further back than their grandparents, sometimes, no matter how tenuous the connection, the previous generations will find you.  That’s what happened to Heather O’Hare when she got some unexpected news

Wada with dog team in Dawson, YT.

“My then boyfriend was actually teaching English in Japan, so I had already purchased a ticket. I walked into my room one day and my dad came up and said, remember when you said you wished you were Japanese?” O’Hare said. “Well, be careful what you wish for, because it just came true.”

As the audience filed out of the theater, O’Hare, from Modesto, California, tells how she found out that her great, great grandpa was not only a famous Arctic adventurer in his day, but that he was Japanese.

“And I didn’t believe it at first, but then, super-stoked afterwards,” she said.

O’Hare says neither she nor her family knew of their connection to Wada, until about 10 years ago, when a cousin, Rick Medeiros, did some research.

Jujiro Wada.

“Well I was told the story, and I got a hold of people in Japan and a hold of people in Alaska, the Yukon and a couple of other states, Louisiana,” Medeiros said.

Medeiros, from Lodi, California, and a great grandson of Wada, is considered something of the family historian.  He located the Japanese author of a book about Wada, which had been translated into English by a Yukon historian. That research revealed the family link that had been buried for almost a century.

Medeiros: “Most of the information I’ve received has been from Canada, the Yukon Territory.”

Ellen: “How do you feel about this play?”

Medeiros: “Well, we have been with them all week, and they are lovely people, and  they are very proud, so are we. He was an amazing musher, and also an amazing runner.”

Wada and a man believed to be Captain Norwood, captain ot the Balaena, the vessel that Wada worked aboard for three years.

Wada mushed marathon distances, and ran marathons too, for cash prizes – one scene in the play takes place in 1907 in Nome’s new arena.

The play, in brief vignettes, tells of the ups and downs of Wada’s life, from his first trip as a stowaway from Japan to San Francisco, and his rise to prominence in a pre-Territory Alaska as a dog driver renowned for his courage and skill.

Musher Wada’s exploits were followed in newspapers of the time.  He was even commissioned to blaze a trail from Seward to the Iditarod gold fields, and reporters went along to record his progress.

But at one point, just before World War I, he was falsely accused of being a Japanese spy, and faced discrimination as a result.

The accusations ruined his reputation in the new Alaska Territory. Wada went to work in Canada’s North, living on Hershel Island off the Yukon’s Beaufort Sea coast. It is said that he mushed dogs as far as Winnipeg. He married into an Inupiat family and had a daughter, Himeko. But eventually he went back to California, where he died in 1937.

Wada in his marathon days. He won indoor marathons, winning $500 in the 1907 Nome race.

Somewhere down the decades, Wada’s story was lost to Americans. But through the efforts of a Japanese society that memorializes his name, and Alaska and Yukon historians, Wada is finally getting his due in the land of the midnight sun.

O’Hare, Medeiros and several other family members from Japan and California were special guests at the Alaska performances of “Samurai Musher.” and traveled with the cast.  Fifteen year old Ginse Wada, another great, great grandson, carried a framed picture of Setsu, Jujiro Wada’s beloved mother, to the theater for the performance.  It took four years of planning to get them all together in Alaska, Medeiros said.

O’Hare says since her trip to Japan nine years ago, the distant relatives stay close.

The play was presented in Seward, Anchorage and Fairbanks during late April and May.  The musical was brought to Alaska by the efforts of the Jujiro Wada Memorial Society in Japan and the Asian Alaskan Cultural Center in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Welcomes Annual Tourism Gold Rush

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 12:10

Skagway’s modern gold rush – the cruise ship season – has begun. The town of around 1,000 people expects almost 800,000 cruise ship passengers this summer. And the first 2,000 of those passengers had the chance to explore town on Tuesday. The Celebrity Solstice sailed north from Vancouver, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Southeast Alaska residents are reveling in the warm, sunny May weather. But some cruise ship passengers are confused.

“I was gonna say I was expecting more snow, not realizing how temperate it really was,” one passenger said.

“And there’s no snow on the ground, we expected at least two foot of snow,” another said.

But the snow-less sidewalks aren’t a big deal. Not for Floridian Martin Levenson, at least. Alaska? He says, there’s nothing like it on earth.

“I visited all the other 49 other states and this is the last one,” Levenson said. “Save the best for last.”

This is Levenson’s 19th cruise, but he’s never been to Skagway before. David Freeman and Denise Gunn from Victoria, BC are repeat visitors to Skagway.

“We’ll probably go to the purple onion, is it? The Red Onion.”

This is their sixth time here.

“Skagway’s just beautiful, I really enjoy it. If Skagway wasn’t on the itinerary I probably wouldn’t do it.”

David and Denise head to the Red Onion on Broadway, and Eric Hauck from Alberta heads to the, “train ride, choo choo. Be a kid again.”

“It’s quite an interesting operation to see, moving so many people around,” Tyler Rose, the HR director at The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, said. “We haul over 400,000 passengers a year.”

The railroad takes passengers on scenic rides to destinations like Carcross and Fraser. It’s also the biggest summer employer in Skagway, with 175 people working the train, the gift shop, the ticket booth.

“It’s unreal, it really is. All the people coming in, it’s almost like a homecoming. Employees and friends you get to see, the shops open up. The ships start coming in. I know for the businesses the cash registers start to ring.”

“Caribou and a buffalo burger! Ok that’ll be $27.20.”

Bob Gibson is owner of the Barbeque Shack.

“We do caribou burgers, caribou and elk and buffalo burger,” Gibson said. “And my baby back ribs, the meat’ll just fall right off the bone.”

Bob just sold a couple burgers to Laura Everitt and her husband. They’re from England and it’s their first time in Alaska.

“We’ve traveled and we’ve done Juneau and Ketchikan,” she said. “And Skagway, and Skagway is so beautiful. It’s so pretty. The buildings are stunning.”

Laura says they wanted to come to Alaska because they watch TV shows that take place here. Like the Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

“We’ve seen it television, but it just does not do it justice,” she said. “It really doesn’t. It’s beautiful.”

Laura says they’re also enjoying learning about the history of Skagway, the gold rush days.

“Well, the celebration didn’t last long, three days later, everything took a turn for the worse. A man named JD Stewart strolled into town with $2,800 worth of gold dust in his poke,” Allison Graham said. “Jeff’s men were still riled up from the fourth. I guess they must’ve felt untouchable because the lured poor JD into Jeff’s parlor and right into a trap.”

She plays Belle Davenport in the Days of ’98 show, which she says is a mostly true story.

“It’s a vaudeville style show all about Soapy Smith and the events the led to his tragic demise at a shoot out down on the pier on July 8th, 1898,” Graham said.

Down the block from the Days of ’98 show, is a much different business – a jewelry store.

“Ooh, I have a really cool one I can show you too,” Jennifer Ozuzun said. “This is amethyst. Still in rock form.”

Jennifer and her jeweler husband, Murat, own The Local Jeweler shop.

“Are you feeling really excited about the start of the season? Uh, can you tell? (laughter) I’m really excited, I waited 7 months for this. And having your own, it’s our baby so it’s a big deal.”

Jennifer says she’s been back and forth between Skagway for 8 years. Her friend Letishia Moore, who works at the Milano jewelry store, says she feels drawn to Skagway. And apparently so do the cruise ships. According to the Skagway Visitors’ Bureau, there will be 402 port calls this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker plans event on Alaska’s fiscal situation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:26

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration plans to reach out to Alaskans for their thoughts on the right size of state government and future revenue options.

The administration is scheduled to begin the discussion June 5 to 7 in Fairbanks. It plans to bring together members of the transition team that provided ideas for the new administration last year and possibly others.

A Walker spokeswoman said the administration is working to provide an interactive component so Alaskans also can participate online.

Alaska relies heavily on oil revenues to fund state government and faces projected multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices.

Walker and lawmakers opted to focus on cutting spending before beginning discussions in earnest on additional revenues. Next month’s event will represent an early step in those discussions.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska lawmakers’ Capital City plans still unclear

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:25

Sen. Dennis Egan speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on May 7, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Alaska lawmakers are due back in Juneau on Tuesday, but who actually comes and how long they stay is unclear.

“It’s still up in the air,” says Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan.

He’s concerned his colleagues may not want to finish the special session in the capital city. Anchorage is already hosting some committee meetings this week.

A spokeswoman says Senate President Kevin Meyer intends to put out a memo Friday about the Senate’s meeting plans. Technical floor sessions, which don’t require a quorum and often last only a few seconds, are a possibility. Such sessions fulfill a constitutional obligation to keep the special session live.

House Speaker Mike Chenault said Thursday through a spokesman that he intends to hold floor sessions in Juneau, but is unsure about committee meetings.

“And they’re blaming it on construction at the Capitol building. Bull,” Egan says. “The City and Borough of Juneau has bent over backwards to provide space free of charge – free of charge – for the legislature to meet.”

Major earthquake renovations of the Capitol building have effectively put lawmakers and the governor out of their offices. But Egan says alternative space is ready.

Juneau Parks and Recreation has coordinated with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to free up its downtown arts and culture center for the legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

How events unfolded inside Juneau schools after threatening phone calls

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:08

Juneau Police officers made sure Juneau-Douglas High School was secure after a threatening call prompted heightened security at the school for the second time in eight days. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau schools have received five phone calls threatening school shootings in the past two weeks. In each instance, nothing was found, but the threats had to be addressed. Here’s how schools and police responded to the incidents.

Paula Casperson says there isn’t time to be scared, “You have to go straight into decision-making mode.”

Casperson is the principal of Juneau-Douglas High School, which has 650 students. The school has received two threatening phone calls — one on April 27 and another May 5.

“I don’t know that it’s any more or any less disconcerting to have it happen more than once. We’re taking it seriously every time and it’s important that none of us get lazy in our response times as a result,” Casperson says.

In both situations, Casperson decided to go into “stay-put” mode, which means locking the exterior doors, making sure all the students are out of the hallways and common areas and into more secure areas.

“We continue with our teaching and learning environment. A stay-put allows us to continue instruction whereas other safety protocols, say an evacuation or a lockdown, would severely disrupt our educational day,” Casperson says.

Within minutes of the high school receiving its first call, Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School received a similar one andalso went into stay-put.

Seventeen-year old senior Cassidy Legowski was in fourth period English. She said the teacher locked up the room, “We put the green sign in the window and we had no idea what was going on. We found out later though text messages and everything else that somebody had called.”

The green sign indicates everyone inside is safe and no suspect is present. Legowski says she wasn’t scared, but her classmates seemed edgy.

Of the five threatening calls to district schools, Glacier Valley Elementary is the only one that has gone into lockdown.

“You kind of have to look at the circumstances for your school,” says Principal Lucy Potter. “We felt like if the phone call was in fact true, our students were in danger. At that point, we had kids on the playground, we had kids coming back from field trips. They were in many different places.”

Potter says during a lockdown, teaching stops, lights are turned off, doors are locked and kids are moved from windows and doors. She says the suspicious call came in to the main school number and an office staff person picked it up.

Potter says everyone experiences the threat differently.

“When you receive the phone call, the way that you handle the situation or see the situation is going to be very different from a teacher who’s in their classroom with a student, and they hear over the intercom, ‘This is a lockdown. I repeat, this is a lockdown,’” she says.

The superintendent says the first two suspicious calls that were made on the same day came up on caller ID as Skype.

Juneau Police spokesman Lt. David Campbell says there is an active investigation into the calls. He says a detective is determining if there’s any pattern.

“We view each individual threat as real and we respond appropriately because what we can’t have happen is allow us to get complacent and say, ‘Oh there hasn’t been a threat the last five times, there’s not going to be a threat this time,’” Campbell says.

A JPD press release says the calls are not identical, but all came from a computer or electronic sounding voice. Other schools across the state in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai have also received threatening phone calls in the last two weeks. Campbell says Juneau Police are working with the Alaska State Troopers and the FBI in the investigation. He says he cannot comment on if there are any suspects.

Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Paula Casperson says it’s unfortunate that this is the climate schools need to work through, but it’s the reality. She says, for the past few years, the high school has gone into stay-put mode one or two times a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Police will investigate fire that killed Anchorage girl

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:04

Police say they are investigating the cause of a duplex fire that left a girl dead in south Anchorage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Anchorage police detective Sgt. Slawomir Markiewicz says the Wednesday morning fire is “suspicious” and that police are investigating with the Anchorage Fire Department.

Fire Department Senior Captain Tony Schwamm says a caller reported flames tearing through the brown, two-story structure around 2:40 in the morning.

He says the flames were at least 15 feet high by the time firefighters arrived.

They heard there was one person still in the building and found the child in a second-floor bedroom.

Schwamm says two other residents were rushed to an Anchorage hospital shortly after his arrival. He does not know their condition.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Alaska’s Water Issues

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 09:00

Today we’re discussing water. Specifically, the absence of adequate water and sewage systems  in rural communities across Western Alaska. Though there has been a lot of progress building facilities in the last 20 years, the job isn’t done, leaving many with limited access to potable water. It’s not merely an issue of convenience. There are elevated health risks, economic consequences, as well as questions of fairness in resource allocation. And amid diminishing state revenues along with accelerating climate change, the problems are rapidly worsening.

HOST: Zachariah Hughes

GUESTS:

  • Bill Griffith, Village Safe Water Program, State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Joaqlin Estus, news director, KNBA

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 8 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Among Those Fielding Threatening Calls

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:40

Fairbanks schools are among several in Alaska and the western Lower 48 that have received threatening phone calls. There’s been no actual violence, but the calls have prompted lock downs and law enforcement responses.

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Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Karen Gaborik says local schools have received a total of five calls, beginning on March 25th and 30th, and then again in the last two weeks, as recently as Tuesday. Gaborik describes caller as female sounding.

Gaborik says the threats have affected seven Fairbanks district schools, resulting in lockdowns or evacuations, as law enforcement responds to assess the situation at each school. Juneau, Anchorage and Kenai schools are among several others in Alaska that have received the threatening calls.  City of Fairbanks Deputy Police Chief Eric Jewkes says the caller has not asked for anything or targeted specific people, instead focusing on general violence.

Deputy Chief Jewkes says Fairbanks police are working with Alaska State Troopers, and the FBI on the case in trying to find out who’s behind the threat, but it’s been challenging.

Fairbanks schools have stopped taking anonymous calls from blocked phone numbers.  Jewkes emphasizes that law enforcement is taking the situation seriously and that although no actual threat to safety has been found, the calls are upsetting. Superintendent Gaborik says its all happening as schools push toward summer break.

Gaborik says the response to each threat has ranged from an hour to many hours depending on the school and where they are at in the day. She adds each situation involves a lot communication with school staff and parents, which takes additional time and resources.

Categories: Alaska News

Graduating 5th grade with a javelin toss

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:35

Fifth grader Jonah Doniere tosses a javelin during the Waldorf School Greek Pentathlon. Hillman/KSKA

As the school year wraps up, some fifth graders are preparing to move from protective elementary schools to more grown-up middle schools. For the area’s Waldorf school students, that transition includes spears and hand embroidered tunics at the tri-school Greek Pentathalon.

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A group of students stand evenly spaced, heavy black discs at their feet.

A teacher yells, “Lay of the land!” The students scan the area to make sure no one is near by.

“Present to the gods!” she commands. And each picks up a discus and looks to the sky, where Mount Olympus looms as the home of the classic Greek gods like Zeus and Hera.

“Find gravity and throw when ready!”

The students position their feet wide apart and twist their bodies before hurling the discs.

The crowd of 5th grade students and parents is eerily quiet for a sports event.

“Well, we’re supposed to be quite because this event, you’re not allowed to cheer for separate people,” explains Anchorage Waldorf fifth grader Ali Powell. “Because it makes people feel bad because sometimes parents aren’t here or friends aren’t here that they know.”

Teacher Kyle Van Derschrier plays the role of Zeus. HIllman/KSKA

Ali explains that the original Greek Pentathlon was held more than 2,500 years ago during times of truce, when Greek warriors would take a break from slaughtering each other to instead compete in sports. The five different events, discus, javelin, wrestling, long jump, and running, taught the Greeks useful skills for warfare.

Ali says this event is teaching her more about Greek history than she learned in class. “Yes this cool. It’s reenacting history, so. History is one of my favorite subjects.”

Winterberry Charter School music teacher Kyle Van Derschrier attends the event dressed as Zeus in a gold tunic with white powdered hair. He says the yearly event is also a rite of passage for the students as they move from learning about myths and legends in younger grades to history and fact in older years.

“They will be a lot different in sixth grade than they were in the fifth grade. We see a big difference between the fifth and sixth grade year.”

Further down the field at Goose Lake Park, fifth grader Jonah Doniere prepares to throw a javelin.

“Yeah, it’s sharp on both sides, so it’s very dangerous.”

Jonah Doniere prepares to toss his javelin and shows the tunic he designed and embroidered himself. Hillman/KSKA

On command, he glides his hand over the smooth red pole and grips it in the center. He looks around, colors flashing from the stitches of the tunic he embroidered himself. He tosses the pole. It arcs through the sky and sticks into the ground a few feet away. He’s ready for war. Or at least the sixth grade.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 7, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:34

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

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Russian Fish Called ‘Alaska Pollock': OK By FDA

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

If you’re in a supermarket and see a product labeled “Alaska Pollock,” it could well be Russian-caught pollock. And the FDA considers that perfectly legal. U.S. senators Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell of Washington are urging the Food and Drug Administration to change that practice.

‘Buffer Zones’ Devised to Keep Protesters From Shell’s Fleet

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Final approvals for Shell Oil’s exploration season in the Chukchi Sea are expected in the coming days. And while the company is struggling to secure a home port for its ships in Seattle, they’re still set to head north by June.

Afognak Native Corp. Loses $3.8M In Cyber-Swindle

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

An Alaska Native village corporation in Kodiak was the victim of a multimillion dollar cyber-swindle last month. According to a statement by the corporation’s attorney, Alutiiq LLC, an Afognak Native Corporation subsidiary, lost $3.8-million through an unauthorized transfer to a fraudulent account in Hong Kong.

Can Alaska Lawmakers Break The Gridlock?

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Legislature has been in special session for ten days, and has held only a handful of budget hearings. On the other issues lawmakers have been called back for — Medicaid expansion and a sexual abuse prevention program — there have been zero meetings. The special session has mainly been characterized by gridlock.

Right to Mush? Kennel Conflict Heads to Court in Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A disagreement between neighbors living several miles outside Nome city limits is set to go to trial. The dispute centers on what’s acceptable when it comes to noise—and smell—from a dog kennel.

Ninilchik Community Library Hires New Director

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

This spring, the Ninilchik community library brought its number of paid staff up to…one. It hired a new director at 15 hours per week. Like many small libraries around the state is has a minuscule budget and relies primarily on volunteers to keep it running.

Wasilla Scholar Garners Presidential Recognition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Wasilla high school student Ariel Hasse has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar. The seventeen year old has her sights set on a science career.

Graduating the 5th Grade With A Javelin Toss

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

As the school year wraps up, many fifth graders are preparing to move from protective elementary schools to more grown-up middle schools. For the area’s Waldorf school students, that transition includes spears and hand embroidered tunics.

Categories: Alaska News

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