Alaska News

Ballot Initiatives Could Boost Younger, Liberal Voter Turnout

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-01 17:58

When the Republican-led Legislature went into overtime last week, they knocked a set of citizen’s initiatives onto an already packed November ballot. In the process, they changed the playing field in a fight for a U.S. Senate seat that their party needs to pick up if they want to take control of Congress. But the shift might not be in their favor.

Caroline Tolbert has studied politics for decades. A professor at the University of Iowa, she’s written dozens of papers on elections and she’s given special attention to the role ballot measures play in them.

Among her big takeaways?

“Ballot measures do have an effect in increasing turnout,” says Tolbert.

And people tend to factor those issues in when they’re voting on candidates. If a measure is popular, voters are more likely to support a candidate who is seen as sympathetic to it.

Alaska voters are looking at three initiatives this November. There’s one to increase the minimum wage, one that would make it harder to build the proposed Pebble Mine, and another that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. There’s also a city-wide question in Anchorage that would repeal a controversial labor law.

Tolbert says that combined, these initiatives could boost turnout by as much as five percent.

“The conditions are ripe for these ballot measure to potentially increase turnout and potentially shape the races in 2014.”

With the caveat that Alaska is uniquely difficult to survey, all three initiatives have polled favorably. They’re especially likely to attract support from younger and often more liberal voters. February results from Public Policy Polling show that 88 percent of people who identify as very liberal support raising the minimum wage, while just 24 percent of people who say they’re very conservative like the hike.

The numbers are similar for marijuana.

Tolbert says this could amount to an advantage for Democrats.

“If there’s going to be a spillover effect from minimum wage, or legalization of marijuana, or an environmental type ballot measure, it should if anything it would have a positive effect on the Democrats running for office,” says Tolbert.

And that advantage could be a special boon to Democratic incumbent Mark Begich, who is fighting off three Republican challengers in the U.S. Senate race. That race is one of the most closely watched in the country, and it’s been listed as a toss-up by all the big political analysts.

None of the Senate campaigns, including Begich’s, would speak to how they see the initiatives affecting the race.

But the initiative campaigns acknowledge their ballot measures could shake things up.

“It has the potential to, without a doubt,” says Art Hackney, a political consultant working on the anti-Pebble Mine initiative. “A lot of that has to do with the candidates as they go forward to the election. I mean I said early on that if they moved them across to the general it would certainly have a big benefit for [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Byron Mallot and Mark Begich.”

That’s because those Democrats have come out against the development of Pebble Mine.

Even though Hackney sees Democrats benefiting, he says initiatives like his should still cross some political lines. He can see a person supporting the anti-Pebble initiative and voting for a Republican ticket. After all, he’s a prime example of that.

On top of his initiative work, Hackney has a portfolio of Republican clients.

“We are involved in a super PAC trying to help Dan Sullivan beat Mark Begich,” says Hackney. “Will we do that heart and soul? Absolutely. If there is some level that Mark Begich will try to trade upon the Pebble issue, so be it.”

Taylor Bickford is a spokesperson for the marijuana initiative, and he’s kind of in the same camp. Like Hackney, he’s mostly worked to get Republicans elected. He also thinks the ballot measure he represents has crossover appeal, especially to the state’s more libertarian leaning voters.

“If you were looking at it objectively, I think it would be safe to say that having the marijuana initiative on the ballot will have some impact on turnout,” says Bickford. “It’s just very, very hard to say how significant that’ll be.”

Of all the initiatives, the minimum wage measure seems to be the one that most obviously helps Democrats.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami has been a major backer of the effort. His union has put money into the initiative and helped gather signatures to get it on the ballot. He says his constituency will definitely be coming out to vote on it.

“We’re going to be very motivated and our membership will be very motivated to turn out,” says Beltrami.

Beltrami points out that the Alaska minimum wage initiative was in the works a year before national Democrats seized on it as a strategy. And originally, all of the initiatives were scheduled to be on the primary ballot, alongside a referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s law capping oil taxes.

But he says it became apparent the other party was afraid of it after a bloc of Republican state lawmakers tried and failed to pass their own minimum wage hike that would have taken the initiative off the ballot.

“You’d have to be blind not to see the implications that it has on the elections,” says Beltrami.

Now the question is just how big those implications will be.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 1, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-01 17:19

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

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NTSB Recommends Safety Review Of Ravn Alaska

The Associated Press

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending a comprehensive audit of safety programs and regulatory compliance of the company providing much of the commuter air service within Alaska.

The NTSB announced Thursday it’s recommending the “urgent” action by the Federal Aviation Administration for a review of HoTH Inc.

That company includes Hageland Aviation, Frontier Flying Service and Era Aviation doing business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect and Corvus Airlines.

The NTSB says it has investigated six accidents and one incident related to the company since 2012.

That includes fatal crashes November 29th near the Saint Marys airport and on April 8th about 22 miles southeast of Kwethluk.

Major General Thomas Katkus Responds To National Guard Sexual Assault Allegations

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell has been responding to allegations that sexual assault crimes within the state’s National Guard were reported to him four years before he requested a federal investigation. The Governor says as soon as he had specific information, he acted. Parnell’s commissioner of the Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Major General Thomas Katkus says the federal investigation should help improve the system.

Initiative-Packed November Ballot Expected To Influence Voter Turnout

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Republican-led Legislature went into overtime last week, they knocked a set of citizen’s initiatives onto an already packed November ballot. In the process, they changed the playing field in a fight for a U.S. Senate seat that their party needs to pick up if they want to take control of Congress. But, the shift might not be in their favor.

Flint Hills Begins Shutting Down Fairbanks Refinery

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Officials with Flint Hills Resources-Alaska began shutting down the company’s North Pole refinery on Thursday.

Project To Restore Herring, Starting In Sitka

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

Before statehood and the advent of scientific management, Southeast Alaska’s herring populations were harvested – and depleted – without much thought for the future. Many believe the herring population in Sitka Sound now is a fraction of what it was in those days, and wonder if herring stocks – like salmon – can be restored.

Peggy Wilson Ending Long Legislative Career

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

One of Southeast’s longest-serving lawmakers is retiring. Peggy Wilson says she will not seek re-election to her Wrangell-based House district.

Historical Photo Collection Being Made Available Online

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

In 1987 the American Museum of Natural History sent a team of anthropologists to the Pacific Northwest and Siberia. Six years later, they had confirmed the theory that humans migrated across the Bering land bridge. And they brought back thousands of photographs – many of which are now available online for the first time.

Categories: Alaska News

Policy Change Could Could Create “Indian Country” in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:35

The U.S. Department of Interior has proposed a rule change that would allow Alaska tribes to ask the federal government to take their lands into trust. The request isn’t always granted, but Wednesday’s announcement is a legal turn that could vastly expand the recognition and authority of tribal sovereignty in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sikuliaq Research Vessel Nears Completion

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:34

The National Science Foundation’s new Arctic research vessel Sikuliaq is nearing completion. The $200 million project has experienced delays, but final work is taking place at a Wisconsin shipyard.

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Categories: Alaska News

13,000 Alaskans Enrolled With Healthcare.gov

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:33

About 13,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed March 31st. The two insurers offering plans on the exchange in Alaska shared their enrollment figures today with APRN. Moda Health says it has about 7700 healthcare.gov enrollees in Alaska and the company is still processing some additional sign ups.

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Premera Alaska enrolled 5300 people on the exchange. Before the troubled launch of healthcare.gov, the company had hoped for more customers. But Premera spokesperson Melanie Coon is satisfied with the numbers:

“I think we readjusted our expectations. We’re very pleased with how enrollment went, based on the slow start to the exchange and… the last minute changes that were made where people could extend.”

Both companies are also reporting substantial enrollment off the federal exchange. 2000 Premera customers opted to enroll directly. And 700 people bypassed the federal website to sign up with Moda Health. The insurance plans are the same on and off the exchange. But subsidies are only available on the exchange.

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

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Ferry Dock Is Floating Again

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:32

Western Marine Construction began working early Tuesday to refloat the dock. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Stephens, Alaska DOT&PF)

The Skagway ferry dock is floating again after a contractor hired by the state brought the sunken dock to the surface. But it’s still not ready to host Alaska Marine Highway ferries.

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Western Marine Construction of Juneau began working at low tide Tuesday to pump water out of the chambers that float the dock.

State transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says all 24 chambers were flooded. He says it’s still not clear why.

Skagway city officials think a potable water pipe that runs from the ferry terminal to the dock and underneath may have burst, but Woodrow says the state is not yet ready to declare that as the official cause.

He says DOT engineers are inspecting the dock and divers will exam the structure underwater structure.

Early estimates indicate repairs may run around $400,000. Woodrow says passenger ramp, electrical system and vehicle ramp hydraulic system repairs are underway, and other work will likely need to be done.

Ferry service has been suspended to Skagway until at least May 9th.

Categories: Alaska News

Sexual Abuse Prevention Bill Falls Through The Cracks

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:31

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A bill requiring school districts to implement sexual abuse education seemed poised to become law during the recent Alaska Legislature. Gov. Sean Parnell supported Erin’s Law, the Senate passed it, and the House version had 21 co-sponsors.

But House Bill 233 got stuck in committee.

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House Finance Committee co-chair Bill Stoltze says he’s not sure why Erin’s Law didn’t get heard in his committee. He calls it “a casualty of a hectic session.”

“I guess I’ll call it falling through the cracks because it wasn’t one that I had any animus toward or any interest– I was dealing with so many crime bills and I don’t know how that one slipped through. I can’t even tell you much of the content of it because I didn’t really look at it,” Stoltze says.

HB 233 unanimously passed the House Education committee at the end of March and went on to House Finance. House Speaker Mike Chenault says he doesn’t recall why he referred it there since the bill had no fiscal note.

Chenault was the last of 21 representatives to sign on to co-sponsor the bill. He doesn’t know why it was held up.

“Sometimes it’s inner turmoil. Sometimes it’s just not the right time. Sometimes it’s somebody doesn’t like it. If it ever got to the floor, it probably would’ve passed,” Chenault says.

Of the roughly 380 bills introduced on the House side, Chenault says only 68 House Bills passed this year.

“People were concentrating on the big issues that affected the state versus other issues that didn’t quite get to the top of the pot,” he says.

Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr, who introduced Erin’s Law, says teaching kids to speak up when someone touches them inappropriately is a big issue for the state.

“This is a transformational legacy type of legislation where 10, 20 years down the line you’ve made a difference in the lives of thousands of Alaskans and we should’ve done it this year,” Tarr says.

She says she was shocked and embarrassed the bill died.

“We could’ve done the right thing and given kids a voice on a very important issue. That effort will be delayed by at least a year now. We’ll come back and we’ll be ready to work on it again next year. The sad news is there are kids that need the information now,” Tarr says.

Erin’s Law is named after 29-year-old Erin Merryn from Illinois, who was sexually abused as a child. Merryn travels around the country advocating for sexual abuse education in schools.

She spent a week in Alaska in March. She talked to lawmakers, testified on the bill, and participated in the governor’s annual Choose Respect rally.

Merryn wonders why the bill died, especially since it had support from both sides of the aisle. While the House version of the bill was sponsored by a Democrat, the Senate’s version was carried by Republican Senator Lesil McGuire.

“It’s a bipartisan issue. I’m not sitting here arguing abortion or death penalty. I’m arguing protecting kids. And the only ones who should be against this bill are the ones that have something to hide, the perpetrators themselves,” Merryn says.

Erin’s Law has passed in 12 states. Most recently, Merryn testified in Rhode Island, and will soon take her campaign to Canada, then to Australia.

But she says she’s not done in Alaska.

“I’m not going away. You can vote this down all you want. I’m going to continue to come back and pound on your doors and get others to support this bill until you pass it,” Merryn says.

The Alaska Legislature declared April Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to the resolution, one in four girls and one in six boys will report being victims of sexual assault. Speaking out against sexual assault is an important first step toward eliminating the crime.

Categories: Alaska News

Gubernatorial Candidates Answer Student Questions

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:30

2014 Gubernatorial candidates answer questions formulated by Anchorage middle schoolers on April 30, 2014. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Middle schoolers from across Anchorage had a chance to hear from Gubernatorial candidates on Wednesday about a variety of issues the state is facing.

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Over 100 students representing all of the Anchorage School District’s middle schools gathered in the lobby of the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theatre.

While they were waiting for the forum to begin, students and teachers munched on Moose’s Tooth Pizza while mingling with Gubernatorial candidates Byron Mallott, Bill Walker, and current Governor Sean Parnell.

Once the pizza was finished, everyone filed into the auditorium to hear the candidates respond to a number of questions generated by students and teachers, who worked together to research topics they thought Alaska’s next governor needs to address.

Governor Sean Parnell, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, speaks with students prior to the AARP-sponsored candidate forum on April 30, 2014. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“Our question is, do you think Alaskans should be required to show a photo ID to vote? Why or why not?” Robert King, an 8th grader at Clark Middle School, said.

When the candidates addressed the question during the forum, they answered with a unanimous “no” – primarily because it would limit Alaskan’s ability to vote…especially in rural communities.

Corin Kotzke is an 8th grader at Romig Middle School. He was particularly interested in the candidates’ responses to education-related questions.

“I would like to see another increase in the base student allocation and more stability for the jobs of teacher so teachers don’t have to be worrying about retirement and class sizes will be reduced so there can be more 1-on-1 working with teachers and students,” Kotzke said.

All of the candidates said they are in favor of improving Alaska’s education system.

Republican candidate Governor Sean Parnell says education funding has increased substantially since he has been in office.

Independent candidate Bill Walker says the best way to increase education funding is for the state to generate more revenue with more resource development.

And Democratic candidate Byron Mallott says education must be funded fully… and create certainty for students, teachers and administrators.

But Romig 8th grader Aaron Jenkins wasn’t satisfied with those answers. He wanted more specifics from the candidates

“I was hoping to hear some of the 7th period that they are proposing for high schools next year,” Jenkins said. “Yeah, they did talk about their plans to increase the budget for schools, but not their plans for the schools themselves – which I would have liked to hear.”

Other topics ranged from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in Alaska, to the growth of Alaska’s economy, and how to strike a balance between new construction and maintaining existing infrastructure.

Byron Mallott – the Democratic candidate – was happy with the forum’s turnout. And he says it’s important that adults work to get young people interested and involved in the political process.

“In many ways, Alaska is a vast land, but it’s a small community,” Mallott said. “And children influence every aspect of our lives; they should be our highest priority.”

The forum was organized by AARP Alaska and moderated by Andrew Halcro, of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and Jeannine English, the incoming AARP National President.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Set Up Denali Base Camp

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:29

Thursday marks the unofficial beginning of climbing season on Denali, when base camp gets set up for the thousand-plus climbers that will make an attempt to summit North America’s highest peak.

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For a few months each year, one of the busiest “airports” in Alaska isn’t technically an airport at all.  It’s Denali base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier.  The vast majority of climbers fly in from Talkeetna to the camp at just over 7,000 feet to start their trek.  On arrival, climbers are met by base camp manager Lisa Roderick.  She says her job on the mountain involves wearing multiple hats.  One of her regular tasks is calling the air services in town with current weather conditions in the Alaska Range.

“They love having a person up there that can tell them what the ever-changing conditions are doing.  As climbers fly in, I help unload the planes and just facilitate getting the planes moving and keeping things running smooth.  As the climbers are done climbing the mountain, I call there air service and get their flight out…”

Lisa Roderick doesn’t work for the National Park Service.  Instead, she works for the air services in Talkeetna whose job it is to ferry climbers back and forth to Denali.  She keeps cards for each climbing group that tells who they are, what air service they flew in with, and what languages they speak.  Many of those cards do not list “English,” so Lisa sometimes has to improvise her communication.

“There’s a lot of sign language with some of the climbers who don’t speak English.  It just works out, you point to an airplane and say, ‘Take your stuff over there.’  People want to get home so bad that they’re packed and ready and waiting for their plane ninety-percent of the time, so I don’t have to do too much.”

On Wednesday, Lisa Roderick was busy arranging gear and consulting her checklist.  Unlike climbers, whose supplies are centered around getting up and down the mountain, her gear involves communications equipment and long-term shelter, which comes with a lot of baggage.

“Basically, it’s just making sure I have all the equipment I need up there.  I have solar panels that charge four marine batteries, so [I] make sure I have all the equipment in tip-top shape.  I have a bunch of radios that I use up there–just putting everything into a big pile to be loaded into airplanes for tomorrow.”

While some climbers have begun their treks already, twelve as of Wednesday, most won’t arrive until mid-May or later.  The heart of climbing season in May and June is when base camp earns the nickname, “Kahiltna International Airport.”  For nearly all of those climbers, one of the first and last faces they see on their Denali expedition will be Lisa Roderick’s.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Arctic Sun: Fulfilling The Dream’ Chronicles Family’s Wilderness Adventures

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:28

A documentary showing statewide on 360 North this evening, chronicles the wilderness adventures of Jean Aspen and Tom Irons.

Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream is the story of Jean, her husband Tom and their son Luke as they spend a year in the Brooks Range, out of contact and building their own cabin. When she was in her 20s, Jean went into the arctic with her first husband, living off the land for four years.

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Categories: Alaska News

UAA Students Cope With Finals Week

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:27

It’s finals week at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and that means many students are crunching a very large amount of work into a very short amount of time. An Anchorage woman has found a creative way to help students beat the stress of the week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 30, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-30 17:07

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

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Proposed Rule Change Could Allow Alaska Tribal Land Trusts

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Department of Interior has proposed a rule change that would allow Alaska tribes to ask the federal government to take their lands into trust. The request isn’t always granted, but Wednesday’s announcement is a legal turn that could vastly expand the recognition and authority of tribal sovereignty in Alaska.

Sikuliaq Research Vessel Nears Completion

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Science Foundation’s new Arctic research vessel Sikuliaq is nearing completion. The $200 million project has experienced delays, but final work is taking place at a Wisconsin shipyard.

13,000 Alaskans Enrolled With Healthcare.gov

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

About 13,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed March 31. The two insurers offering plans on the exchange in Alaska shared their enrollment figures today with APRN. Moda Health says it has about 7,700 healthcare.gov enrollees in Alaska and the company is still processing some additional sign ups.

Skagway Ferry Dock Is Floating Again

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

The Skagway ferry dock is floating again after a contractor hired by the state brought the sunken dock to the surface. But it’s still not ready to host Alaska Marine Highway ferries.

Sexual Abuse Prevention Bill Falls Through The Cracks

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A bill requiring school districts to implement sexual abuse education seemed poised to become law during the recent Alaska legislative session. Governor Sean Parnell supported Erin’s Law, the Senate passed it, and the House version had 21 co-sponsors. But, House Bill 233 got stuck in Finance.

Gubernatorial Candidates Answer Student Questions

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Middle schoolers from across Anchorage had a chance to hear from Gubernatorial candidates on Wednesday about a variety of issues the state is facing.

Crews Set Up Denali Base Camp

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Thursday marks the unofficial beginning of climbing season on Denali, when base camp gets set up for the thousand-plus climbers that will make an attempt to summit North America’s highest peak.

‘Arctic Sun: Fulfilling The Dream’ Chronicles Family’s Wilderness Adventures

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A documentary showing statewide on 360 North this evening, chronicles the wilderness adventures of Jean Aspen and Tom Irons.

Arctic Son: Fulfilling the Dream is the story of Jean, her husband Tom and their son Luke as they spend a year in the Brooks Range, out of contact and building their own cabin. When she was in her 20s, Jean went into the arctic with her first husband, living off the land for four years.

UAA Students Cope With Finals Week

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

It’s finals week at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and that means many students are crunching a very large amount of work into a very short amount of time. An Anchorage woman has found a creative way to help students beat the stress of the week.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Parnell Says He Took Immediate Action On Sexual Assault Allegations

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:25

Governor Sean Parnell is defending his decision to wait four years to request a federal investigation into reports of a sexual assault problem in the Alaska National Guard. Anchorage Daily News columnist Shannyn Moore wrote Sunday that Parnell first learned about misconduct in the Guard in 2010, when he was approached by three guard chaplains. Parnell says he took those charges seriously, but lacked the details to prompt an investigation until February.

Governor Sean Parnell discusses his proposed FY15 budget. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

He says after the initial concerns were raised, he went to Major General Thomas Katkus to make sure the systems were in place to protect guard members. Then in February, Parnell says he was able to talk with a guard member who provided specifics.

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Based on what you’ve heard from victims and others, how big of a problem do you think sexual assault is in the National Guard?

I think one allegation is too much and I take every allegation seriously, because I am concerned about Alaskans who suffer from sexual assault and violence. It’s been a core part of who I am fighting for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. So, I take every assault allegation seriously. So, in 2010 when the chaplains first came to speak with me and they made allegations that sexual assault was occurring on Guard members I questioned them and asked for detail, and they could not provide it because they were under duty of confidentiality to the people they counseled, but immediately after that I took action and went right to the Guard, to the general, and asked him to talk to me about what he knew of sexual assaults occurring in the Guard. And he went through the cases that had been filed at that time; spoke about how any cases that involved allegations of criminal activity, as in sexual assault, are not only investigated but they are also referred to local law enforcement – like the Anchorage Police Department. And I made sure that for the safety of the victims and any future victims in the Guard that there was, and is, a reporting process that’s safe for anybody in the Guard to utilize; that there’s an investigation process that is complete and accurate and directed that appropriate penalties be assessed. Now, that’s outside the criminal context, but the criminal context goes directly to law enforcement. I had only those general allegations of sexual assault, but I still took action to make sure that there was a system in place that works for victims of sexual assault.

Those general allegations persisted but they were the same allegations about events that occurred years ago. And then on Feb. 26th, Senator Dyson, came to me and said he had specific detail. Before when he spoke to me he had general allegations and he asked me to call a guard member who would provide me with specific detail about how the system wasn’t working. I made that contact within 24 hours of Sen. Dyson’s [call], personally spoke with a Guard member. That Guard member provided me with two instances where, if the allegations were substantiated, that the system would have failed our Guard member. And at that point, I realized I needed to get an independent assessment of the entire reporting and investigation structure. So I called in the National Guard Bureau, they have a complex investigation review team – I did that within 24 hours and that team is on the ground now in Alaska, doing their work to make sure that victims are safe.

Some people will think why was it four years? In hindsight do you wish you would have come forward four years ago, what do you think could have been done differently?

At the time I took immediate action to make sure that every victim of a sexual assault had been referred to law enforcement. I made sure that anyone who had concerns  about what was happening in the Guard had a safe reporting structure, but without specific detail about how the system was otherwise failing, that’s all I could do, is what I believed. And still believe that. But, on the other hand, once I got specific information about how the structure was actually failing, in other words the who, what, where, when why – the same thing you reporters ask – even though I pressed for that earlier and nobody could or would provide me with that, the second I got that kind of information I took immediate action with the National Guard Bureau to get them in there and get an independent look at what was happening.

Talk more about the specifics? What exactly were you needing for you to have that ability to actually ask for an investigation?

So, 4 years ago I was told there is a problem with sexual assault in the Guard. That is the sum and substance of what I was given. When I went to Guard leadership to inquire about that they said that yes they had specific instances where sexual assaults had been reported, that those had been referred to law enforcement for investigation, like the Anchorage Police Department. And they also detailed the reporting structure for any kind of alleged malfeasance in the Guard that was in place. And I had detailed for me, here’s the list of cases that are pending; here’s the list of cases that have been resolved in the past. But when it came specifically to the sexual assaults, when that kind of criminal activity was brought forward, that went immediately, as I was told, to law enforcement, which I think is appropriate.

One of the problems with sexual assault cases is there often isn’t enough information and it’s very difficult for victims to come forward. Did you consider that when you decided not to pursue an investigation earlier? What would you say to a victim of sexual assault about the statement that you didn’t have enough specifics? Do you think that’s enough of an answer for someone?

What I did is an internal state investigation. Meaning, I went in, my office went in and we made leadership tell us exactly what they were doing to protect sexual assault victims. When I had an actual specific set of facts related to how the system had failed, or – in this case – was alleged to fail, I asked the National Guard Bureau, as an independent assessing body, to come in and look at what I had been told and also look at the entire system to make sure we protect our guard members.

The Choose Respect campaign has been a big focus for you. Are you concerned this will damage the momentum or image you’re hoping to get across to Alaskans about coming forward when these things happen?

Well, absolutely. Anyone who knows me would say I care deeply about victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. And I’m more concerned than anything that victims may not come forward.  Because I know from speaking with many across the state how difficult that already is, and I don’t want to make that more difficult. That’s why I launched the immediate investigation, even when I had the barest of details, and now that I have specific details, I’ve called in the National Guard Bureau to help because I think it’s beyond us at this point.

When do you expect the investigation to conclude, when will you have a report and will you commit to releasing that report publicly?

I already have. I have made that commitment. The review team from the National Guard Bureau let me know they would be on the ground, in Alaska in the month of May. They said that it would take several months after that to complete the report and make that available to me. I already committed to making that report public, with the exception of any confidential victim information that should not be put forward, because I do want to protect the privacy of the victims. So, that’s been my commitment and remains so.

You’re still standing behind General Katkus. Do you have confidence in him? Do you wish he would have come to you sooner?

General Katkus has been very forthright. When I started asking questions about sexual assault cases, he came forward right away, showed me the cases that had been transferred to law enforcement, showed me how they have tracked cases, detailed how they investigate cases. And he’s been very proactive about holding what the Guard calls “sensing sessions,” meaning going into guard units and informing people about how to report acts of sexual harassment, acts of sexual violence. So General Katkus has been very proactive in that regard, and that’s what I know at this point.

Do you think he could have done more within the Guard itself to make sure this behavior was not at all tolerated?

From what I know now, the answer is no. But again, I’ve asked the National Guard Bureau to come have that independent look to make sure our Guard members are safe. General Katkus has told me at every turn that’s his desire and mission, he understands it, gets it and he has the systems in place that demonstrate that. I have asked the National Guard Bureau to make sure that those systems truly work for victims because we care deeply, and I care deeply, about protecting Alaskans.

Did you talk to anyone beyond General Katkus about the chaplains’ concerns?

Yes, in fact, our office talked with numerous Guard members. All of which had the same general allegations. There was one victim who came forward and spoke with a member of my office. Her case was also being investigated by Anchorage Policed Department at that point in time, so the answer is yes, we spoke with a number of people.

Mike Nizich-yYour chief of staff- was using his personal e-mail account to correspond about this issue. Why was that?

I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels. However, I’ve asked Mr.  Nizich to check his personal e-mail for that and his recollection is that it’s one email. I’ve asked him to check for that and move it to the state account, which is protocol to follow. And that will be a part of the public record at that point.

McHugh Pierre was asking questions. Who asked him to have the chaplains sign confidentiality statements?

I don’t know that but I do have a copy of what he apparently asked to be signed. It’s a statement that was emailed to all Department of Military and Veterans Affairs employees. It says employees aren’t authorized to give statements on behalf of department without first coordinating the request with one’s supervisor, which is standard operating policy in any department or any business that you don’t speak for the business, you don’t speak for the department. without first coordinating it with your supervisor.

He also spoke with people on base about wanting to know how information was getting out. It almost feels a bit like a witch hunt. Does that concern you that oftentimes it takes people acting outside of the normal channels to get this information out and at the end of the day, that’s the main mission, is it not?

Well that’s true and that’s why I asked these questions. Again, there’s nothing that stops the employee, as long as they’re not speaking on behalf of the department. In other words they’re speaking as a person, as an Alaskan who’s concerned, that’s not what this statement addresses though.

But the chaplains weren’t’ saying they were speaking for the department, they were raising concerns about people who were alleging sexual assault.

And I don’t condone the activity you just described. I do, on the other hand, understand when supervisors are asking their employees not to represent the department in certain things. In this case, I don’t have all the facts, but I don’t condone trying to stop what you’re describing.

So you’re saying you wouldn’t condone McHugh Pierre asking them to be quiet?

No. But again, I don’t have evidence is that’s what he did. What I evidence is that he asked them not to speak on behalf of the department without coordinating that with a supervisor.

What have you taken away from this process? Do you think there are changes that need to be made? Are you frustrated by the process are there things that need to be done differently?

I am frustrated when Alaskans in the Guard don’t feel like they are protected; that’s entirely frustrating. And it’s frustrating to me when I don’t have enough information to take action beyond what I did. In other words, I took action, I made sure that the systems were in place to protect Guard members; and that the people were in place, like an independent investigator – a safe route for people to report, but until the end of February, until then I didn’t have verified facts that alerted me I needed to bring the National Guard Bureau in. So, I do get frustrated when Alaskans are reporting harm and are continuing to report harm, even though, from all appearances, the system is in place and the checks and balances are in place to assure their safety – including referrals to law enforcement agencies.  So if indeed we find there is wrongdoing, I ‘ll take steps to punish that and make it right, there’s no question about that.

Categories: Alaska News

Chamber comes out anti-Begich. That’s the U.S. Chamber

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:24

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the latest Outside group to launch campaign ads in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. The national business lobby has a 30-second video spot running this week that hits Sen. Mark Begich and supports one of his Republican challengers, former Attorney General Dan Sullivan.

Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro immediately issued a statement to say the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a separate organization.

“We just wanted to notify our members that these ads, which are identified as produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have no affiliation with the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce,” Halcro said.

Likewise, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce says it doesn’t endorse federal candidates. The Alaska Chamber, though, IS a member of the U.S. Chamber. President Rachael Petro says the U.S. group notified her of the ad but says the Alaska Chamber had no input.

“We just have no opinion on this topic and we have nothing to do with those ads,” Petro said.

The  ad includes footage of a sunrise or sunset that appears to be shot in Alaska, although, oddly, the speeded-up video shows a sun moving the wrong way through sky –from the right side of the frame to the left.

Sullivan’s older brother, Frank Sullivan, who runs the Ohio company that makes Rust-Oleum and other coatings, sits on the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber.

Watch the video here.

Categories: Alaska News

Prudhoe Bay Flowline Springs Leak, Sprays Oil

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:23

Source of spill, April 29, 2014 (Photo/Sartz-ADEC)

A flowline to a well operated by BP at Prudhoe Bay leaked on Monday. Before the spill was under control high winds resulted in a spray of natural gas, crude oil and water that covers an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields.

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According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, operators with BP were working at a well, when a flowline leaking.  Ashley Adamczak is an Environmental Program Specialist with DEC.  She says 30-mile-an-hour winds on the North Slope sprayed leaking natural gas, water and crude oil across an estimated 27 acres of snow-covered tundra.

“What has not been delineated at this time is the part that has been moderately or lightly misted,” Adamczak said.

The leak was isolated roughly two hours after it began. With temperatures still below freezing on the North Slope, Adamczak says the entire well pad has been shut down in order to protect other wells from freezing or leaking.

“There [are] millions of miles of pipe and thousands of wells on the North Slope, then spills do happen,” Adamczak said. “Fortunately, we don’t get a lot of these spills coming through, but I can’t say that this is the first time that a spill like this has occurred.”

It’s still unclear how many gallons of gas, oil and water have spread across the tundra. Adamczak says cleanup will be challenging.

“Due to the fact that a lot of it was spilled to tundra, they have to go out there with less aggressive means, so that they don’t actually make the response activities cause more of an impact than the spill did, so a lot of the cleanup will probably be done with hand tools and that’s a lot of area to address with hand tools at these temperatures,” Adamczak said.

DEC is working with the North Slope Borough, BP Exploration and the Environmental Protection agency to respond to the incident.  There’s no estimate on how long it will take, but Adamczak says the agencies hope to complete cleanup before migrating geese start to arrive on the North Slope.

Categories: Alaska News

Breakup Creating Havoc For Ice Dredgers

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:22

The early break-up of sea ice has left winter gold-dredging operations scrambling to haul equipment back to shore – and not everyone has fared well so far.

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Jesse Strickling is part of the Lazy Gator mining operation that got cut off from shore when the chunk of ice they were staged on detached Sunday.

Heavy equipment at the edge of the sea ice in Nome on Monday afternoon. (KNOM photo)

“It was pretty crazy. We’d been running our little tails off at the end of the season trying to get the last bit of gold we could,” Strickling said. “We went out there, got everything packed out, packed up and got ready to leave and turned around to go home and there was an open lead there. We all kind of freaked out for a couple minutes.”

At stake were trucks, all-terrain vehicles, and mining equipment worth about $100,000 all together—not counting tens of thousands of dollars in gold.

That evening, Alaska State Troopers followed up on reports of a stranded mining party.

“We were dispatched at approximately 5:30 for some people that were stuck on an ice flow,” Matt Johnson, the chief of Nome’s Search and Rescue operations, said. “And we traveled up the west beach about 8 miles with a Zodiac Raft and brought two individuals back to the shoreline.”

Strickling and others told rescuers they had things under control, though two crewmembers were exhausted from hours of work and accepted a ride back in to town. Johnson says rescue operations connected to mining operations have risen the last few years.

“We’ve definitely had to respond more this year than we have in the past for gold miners,” Johnson said. “In the past it’s been for people that have been out hunting and can’t get back to shore, and now we’re having to respond out for people that are leaving the shore and going out to sea.”

Spenser McClesky is in his second season dredging on the ice. He says last year there were just five crews, but this year that had jumped to 11 or 12, partly from economic pressure for operations to stay profitable year round. And partly from Discovery Channel’s Bering Sea Gold franchise.

“It’s really crazy that the ice is leaving this early and that we’re even having this issue,” McClesky said. “Usually the ice doesn’t leave for a couple weeks, everybody expected us to have a couple more weeks, but now it looks like the season is over.”

There is very little regulation of the expanding cottage industry on the ice. Officials at Nome’s port and city office say they are not responsible for offshore property or safety issues. Department of Public Safety spokesperson Megan Peters says Search and Rescue mobilizes to save lives, but not property.

Charlene Bringhurst works for the Department of Natural Resources handling mining permits and leases. She says that regulatory and reporting protocols with her agency, along with the Department of Natural Resources and Coast Guard are built around the summer season on open water. In the winter there is no state or federal agency with safety or environmental oversight present in Nome to monitor gold dredging on the ice. If operators do spill fuel or lose equipment in the water, they’re responsible for reporting it to DEC and DNR. But neither agency has boots on the ground until the summer.

The Lazy Gator crew made another attempt Monday night to get back the last of their equipment. They cut out a large section of ice beneath the trucks and towed them toward the solid ice-shelf attached to shore. They were six feet away when the float ran ashore. But they got lucky.

“We had to just wait it out. The tide came in and pushed it up onto the beach,” Strickling said. “It started pressure-ridging pretty good and we drove the trucks off. Really lucky though, we didn’t lose any equipment, there was no trash left behind, or it didn’t sink any trucks or anything like that.”

With the ice float buckling and breaking beneath them, the drivers gunned the trucks and got them to shore inside a 30 second window.

Categories: Alaska News

How Can We Improve Our Food Security?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:21

The reliability of the food supply is not something most communities devote much thought to. Agriculture, transportation, and grocery stores all work pretty well – even in relatively isolated parts of Alaska like Sitka. And depending on where you live, there can be abundant wild foods.

But a recent report called “The Sitka Community Food Assessment” reveals that our food system is vulnerable – especially to the unpredictable costs of fuel.

Lisa Sadleir-Hart coordinated the assessment about what Sitka – and communities like it – can do to become more food-secure.

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Categories: Alaska News

First Mega Cruise Ship Docks In Ketchikan

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:20

About 850,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to visit Ketchikan this season. And the first mega ship of the year – Holland Cruise Line’s Volendam – docked in the city yesterday. The cruise started in Japan and Ketchikan was the final stop before the cruise ends in Vancouver.

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The Volendam cruise ship docked in Ketchikan Monday. (KRBD photo)

An employee at the Ketchikan Visitor Center is explaining the city’s bus system to a tourist couple wearing rain gear. The center is filled with tourists from the Volendam who are taking shelter from rain and asking questions about Ketchikan.

Kerry is the visitor services coordinator here.

“I think we’re off to an okay start,” she said. “It’s always exciting, the first ship is always kind of exciting. There’s a lot of energy in the air.”

Bill and Terri Heaver from Williamsburg, Virginia, were heading out of the center and into town. They were on the cruise for their 50th anniversary. Terri said she was hoping to see eagles.

“I had no idea Alaska was so vast,” said Bill.

Outside of the visitors center, it’s cold and rainy. But that’s driving people into the shops lining downtown Ketchikan. A lot of those shops have been closed all winter, and are just opening for the season today.

Bill and Terri Heaver are tourists from Virginia. (KRBD photo)

“It’s really exciting because when the winter’s here it’s kind of like a ghost town downtown,” said one employee at the jewelry shop Alaska Bear Company. “So when the cruise ships come in it’s like the downtown is really alive.”

A tourist  named Corrine from Singapore said it was her second time in Ketchikan.

“[It's a] fantastic place, magnificent glaciers, scenery,” she said. She was on the cruise with her father.

While most tourists were positive about Alaska, some had criticism.

“I just want to say, Juneau, for being the capital of Alaska, needs to improve itself a lot,” said a tourist name Kel, who is from Calgary. “It left a really bad impression on people on the ship because it’s so run down, a lot of intoxicated people on the streets.”

The only complaint tourists seemed to have about Ketchikan was the rain. The next cruise ship docks in town May 4th. About 850,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to visit Ketchikan this season.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 29, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 17:09

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

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Gov. Parnell Says He Took Immediate Action On Sexual Assault Allegation

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell is defending his decision to wait four years to request a federal investigation into reports of a sexual assault problem in the Alaska National Guard. Anchorage Daily News columnist Shannyn Moore wrote Sunday that Parnell first learned about misconduct in the Guard in 2010, when he was approached by three guard chaplains. Parnell says he took those charges seriously, but lacked the details to prompt an investigation until February.

He says after the initial concerns were raised, he went to Major General Thomas Katkus to make sure the systems were in place to protect guard members. Then in February, Parnell says he was able to talk with a guard member who provided specifics.

Chamber Comes Out Anti-Begich – That’s The U.S. Chamber

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the latest Outside group to launch campaign ads in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. The national business lobby has a 30-second video spot running this week that hits Begich and supports one of his Republican challengers, former Attorney General Dan Sullivan.

Prudhoe Bay Flowline Springs Leak, Sprays Oil

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A flowline to a well operated by BP at Prudhoe Bay leaked on Monday. Before the spill was under control high winds resulted in a spray of natural gas, crude oil and water that covers an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields.

Breakup Creating Havoc For Ice Dredgers

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The early break-up of sea ice has left winter gold-dredging operations scrambling to haul equipment back to shore.

How Can We Improve Our Food Security?

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The reliability of the food supply is not something most communities devote much thought to. Agriculture, transportation, and grocery stores all work pretty well – even in relatively isolated parts of Alaska like Sitka. And depending on where you live, there can be abundant wild foods.

But a recent report called “The Sitka Community Food Assessment” reveals that our food system is vulnerable – especially to the unpredictable costs of fuel.

Lisa Sadleir-Hart coordinated the assessment about what Sitka – and communities like it – can do to become more food-secure.

First Mega Cruise Ship Docks In Ketchikan

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

About 850,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to visit Ketchikan this season. And the first mega ship of the year – Holland Cruise Line’s Volendam – docked in the city yesterday.  The cruise started in Japan and Ketchikan was the final stop before the cruise ends in Vancouver.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Outlines Emerging Arctic Research Issues

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-29 09:45

A report is out today from the National Academy of Sciences outlining emerging Arctic research issues.

The report says among other things that a refuge of Arctic sea ice is likely to remain in the summers into the foreseeable future, raising questions about shrinking rather than vanishing wildlife habitat.

The report groups the emerging issues in categories of evolving, hidden, connected, managed and undetermined Arctic.

One big question is, “How will rapid Arctic warming change the jet stream and affect weather patterns in lower latitudes.”

Categories: Alaska News
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