Alaska News

Diocese: Fairbanks Priest Held on Federal Child-Pornography Charges was Screened

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 17:09

A Fairbanks Catholic priest accused of trying to produce child pornography underwent a two-stage screening process as part of his hiring and ordination.

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57-year-old Clint Michael Landry was arrested Friday after a federal grand jury indicted him earlier last week on one count of attempted production of child pornography and one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to participate in the production of the porn.

According to the indictment, the latter charge stems from Landry’s alleged attempt to get a youth to, quote, “engage in sexually explicit conduct” on May 18th and 19th. The indictment states that Landry planned to transmit a live depiction of that conduct.

Ronnie Rosenberg is director of human resources for the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, and she’s also its legal coordinator. Rosenberg says officials with the diocese responded immediately when they learned about the alleged incidents.

“As soon as we thought that there may be a problem with computer usage, the computers were secured and we called the Alaska State Troopers. They in turn turned it over to the FBI,” she said.

The diocese placed also Landry on leave that week.

Rosenberg can’t go into detail about the case, but she says the diocese followed its policy in responding to the situation.

“We immediately report anything suspicious, any kind of suspicious activity of this nature, to law enforcement so that we don’t taint an investigation,” she said. “We let law enforcement take it from there.”

Landry served as priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral after he was ordained there in 2011. He came here in 2009 from New Orleans, where he taught school.

Rosenberg says the Fairbanks diocese screened Landry, as it does for all prospective employees. And then subjected him to additional screening that the diocese requires for those seeking the priesthood – and those who’ll be working with children and youths.

“Well, he would go through our standard clergy screening. And that was done prior to his coming here, while he was still a candidate in the seminary,” she said. “And then when he moved here, it was repeated.”

The indictment doesn’t identify the alleged victim. It states the person is under age 18 and identifies him or her using only the initials “C.J.”

Landry was arraigned Friday afternoon in Fairbanks via video teleconference with a federal judge and prosecutor in Anchorage.

Court documents say a bail hearing is set for Friday. A trial by jury is scheduled for Dec. 22 before U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline.

If convicted, Landry faces up to 30 years in prison on the porn-production count, and up to 10 years for the attempted coercion count. He also faces up to a quarter-million-dollar fine for each count, and the possibility of lifetime supervised release after serving time.

Court documents state Fairbanks attorney Bill Satterberg was retained as Landry’s counsel. Satterberg declined comment Monday, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon did not return a phone call.

Categories: Alaska News

City engineer: No Good News On Juneau’s Sewage Sludge Disposal

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 17:08

Michele Elfers listens as Wastewater Utility Superintendent Samantha Stoughtenger describes options for processing and disposing of biosolids at a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The way the City and Borough of Juneau disposes of its sewage sludge isn’t sustainable, and the long-term solution consultants are recommending will be expensive.

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“I don’t know that I have any good news for you in all this,” City Engineering Director Rorie Watt told the Assembly last night.

Hired consultants recommended in September that the city build a 7,100 square foot facility at the Juneau-Douglas Wastewater Treatment Plant off Thane Road. The new facility would dry sewage sludge, burn it as fuel in a furnace, then feed heat back into the drying process. The only waste would be an inert ash.

The consultants estimated such a facility would cost $28.7 million to build. Meanwhile, the city is bracing for another year of budget deficits.

Mayor Merrill Sanford pointed out that the city plans to request some $22 million in grant money from the state for the project, “Which is probably not necessarily feasible, or not necessarily … going to happen with the shortage of funds at the state level, too,” Sanford said.

The Juneau Assembly Finance Committee intends to hear from the city’s sustainability and planning commissions about the proposal, and examine options for paying for the new facility. The finance committee’s next meeting is Nov. 12.

For now, Waste Management is shipping the sewage sludge to a landfill it owns in Oregon under a tenuous 5-year contract.

“We, as efficiently as possible, want to drive towards moving forward to not loading shipping containers full of sludge for lots of obvious reasons,” Watt said. “We really need to move beyond our current solution.”

In a memo, “perilous” was the word Wastewater Utility Superintendent Samantha Stoughtenger and Engineering Project Manager Michele Elfers used to describe the status quo.

Waste Management was reluctant to be in the sewage sludge business after its last contractended in 2013. The stopgap worked out earlier this year left Waste Management with the option to walk away at any time without consequence.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Food Pantry Struggles to Open

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 17:07

The Bethel Food Pantry is having trouble getting enough food to open. They usually open in August or September but this year they won’t open until November.

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The Bethel Lion’s Club runs the Food Pantry. President Carol Ann Willard says there’s less help from the government at a time when more people need food.

(Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“Over the years we’ve seen a decrease in the food we get from Food Bank of Alaska, basically the government food. Also there’s more people, a lot of new people – every month it seems like there’s a lot a new people coming in and needing the food. So that’s just the economy and people without jobs. So the need has increased as well as the food supply has decreased,” said Willard.

Willard says as help from the government has dropped off, the Pantry has been seeking more local support. Last year the Bethel branch of Alaska USA Federal Credit Union donated several thousand dollars so the Pantry could purchase food and will donate again this year. In addition, Willard says food pantry officials are calling on local Grocery stores to help out.

“We’re trying to partner with the stores and other food service facilities in Bethel. We’re always looking for partnerships. That helps us out a bit. Those are more perishable items that we get so it’s kind of time sensitive,” said Willard.

Local groups are also doing food drives. She says they need canned items and non-perishable dry goods. Canned items cannot be dented. She says they also need volunteers:

“It takes volunteers to pull this of every third Saturday of the month as well as collecting food, storing the food – there’s different things that we can do. So anybody who would like to help volunteer and help that would be great,” said Willard.

The Bethel Food Pantry is set to open on November the 15th. They’ll be open on the third Saturday of the month after that.

Categories: Alaska News

Why Alaska Researchers Want To Use Drones To Find Hibernating Bears

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 17:05

Ptarmigan drone designed by UAF in Selfoss, Iceland. (Photo courtesy Steve Kibler)

For the first time, Alaska researchers plan to use drones with thermal cameras to detect hibernating polar bears and grizzly bears on the North Slope.

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The University of Alaska Fairbanks team is working without dedicated funding, but is seeking industry support for the project. For now, they’re relying on UAF resources like the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

Federal law requires oil and gas companies to remain one mile away from polar bear dens and a half mile away from grizzly bear dens from November to April. Otherwise, they risk disturbing their hibernation with noise and vibration from vehicles and other off-road operations. Keith Cunningham is a research assistant professor at UAF and has worked on drone data and applications for various organizations.

“On the North Slope right now, there are experts who are trained in chasing off bears that get too close to some of these oil production areas,” says Cunningham. “We call that bear hazing. There might be bean bags or fire crackers that are shot at the bear to scare it away.

Cunningham says the drones will use specialized cameras to detect the bears.

“These infrared cameras basically spot emitted thermal heat. A sleeping bear is actually burning calories and radiating heat. And you can pick that up with a camera.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been experimenting with artificial dens for several years. Part of the upcoming UAF research will involve constructing wooden dens and mimicking body heat using a device set to about 60 watts.

Weather stations outside the dens will measure conditions like wind speed, wind direction and temperature. Another device will measure snow depth and density. As they run trials, that data should tell the researchers how effective their drone is under different conditions.

The goal is to provide this technology and information to oil and gas companies active on the North Slope.

Cunningham says the team is interested in both polar bears and grizzly bears in the field.

“As we get closer to the foothills of the Brooks Range, we’re also interested in the denning activity of grizzly and brown bears because they’ll dig their dens about the same time as the polar bear. The polar bear is digging his den in the snow while the brown bear is going to dig his den in the dirt, like along a creek.”

They will set up their first artificial den on the North Slope in early November. In the first stage, the researchers will test drones only on artificial dens. In the second stage, they’ll test the drones on bears with radio collars that send location data to a satellite.

Cunningham and other researchers have experimented with thermal cameras before, but this is the first time they’ll use cameras and drones together to track bears. They’re examining camera options, and they’ve already decided on the drone they’ll use.

“The university actually builds its own unmanned aircraft systems,” says Cunningham. “And we have one that is designed specifically for research and development. And we call it the ptarmigan. The ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska. It’s got six propellers, it flies like a helicopter. It takes off vertically, and it lands vertically.”

UAF sent their first drones into Alaska airspace in May with permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. The drone can fly for about 20 minutes before it needs a battery replacement. Cunningham says drones will fly lower and more quietly than manned aircraft.

Wildlife biologist Anthony Crupi works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and studies brown bears in Southeast. He and his colleagues use a variety of methods to trace large animals, including GPS collars and manned aircraft. While thermal imaging makes sense in the treeless North Slope, Crupi says it’s not a good fit for finding bear dens in Southeast.

“They’re such a secretive species that they really stick to the forested environment and I think it would be difficult for us to do things like counts on brown bears in Southeast.”

Cunningham says that there is plenty of interest in the bear den project from industry funders. The bear den team hopes to use the drones in the field by 2016. If it’s a success, the researchers will conduct further experimentation to optimize the method.

Categories: Alaska News

UAS Chancellor Pugh to Retire in May

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:04

UAS Chancellor John Pugh. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh will retire in May. He announced his retirement Monday in an email to Southeast campus councils and the UAS Alumni Board of Directors.

Pugh has overseen several major changes at the Juneau campus during his tenure, including the construction of the Egan Classroom Wing, the recreation facility and the freshman residence hall. Pugh said two things he knows will be on the next chancellor’s list of priorities will be to increase recruitment and continue to improve graduation rates.

“We have not been where we would like to be,” Pugh said.

“We have had great improvements in our retention rates but we need to continue to work on our program completion rates–that part we are still lagging behind our peers and averages nationally–and we can do that.”

UAS, which also oversees campuses in Ketchikan and Sitka, currently has two years left to implement their seven year strategic plan. Pugh said leadership at the university has made great progress on the plan and it’s something the new chancellor will also get to be a part of.

“We really do have remarkable leadership right now at UAS and it’s good timing because I think they will carry on,” Pugh said. “Obviously anybody new comes in might have some different vision, but we’re in a seven year strategic plan and we’re committed to completing it. I think everybody here has been a part of that and pretty committed to it, so I think that will continue.”

Carla Beam, vice president of university relations, said that University of Alaska President Pat Gamble will travel to Juneau in the next few weeks to meet with faculty and community members.

“President Gamble does anticipate that this will be a collaborative process and we expect it to go very smoothly,” Beam said. “We’ve got quite a few months yet to look, but we will want to get community input and then map out the process as we know a little bit more.”

Pugh was first hired by UAS in 1987; he became chancellor in 1999. He has also served as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and dean of faculty. Before joining the university, Pugh served as commissioner of the state’s Department of Health and Social Services from 1983 until 1986.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Burns Bethel Alcohol Treatment Center Construction Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:00

(Photo by Dean Swope)

Officials are investigating a large fire in Bethel that started just after 8 o’clock Monday night, behind the Bethel post office. The Fire destroyed an alcohol treatment center under construction by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

No one was hurt in the fire and YKHC officials don’t know how it started.

A cloud of orange lit up the Southwest Alaska town’s horizon and could be seen across town.

Marlin Lake from Chevak stood outside in the rain nearby the fire looking on in disbelief.  The 21-year-old says he had just been released from the hospital when he stepped outside and noticed the fire.

(Photo by Dean Swope)

“When I first came out of the hospital I saw these big flames going up in the air. There was a couple explosions.” said Lake.

YKHC officials say the 12.5 million dollar alcohol treatment center had been under construction for about a year. The center was meant to be a 16-bed regional facility.

About a thousand yards away Jerry Fredericks with the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, AVEC, is assisting with traffic control and monitoring the town’s diesel power plant.

“We’re keeping an eye on it. Lucky it’s far enough away, but what a waste of a brand new building.”

Fredericks says he been monitoring the progress of the project.

“They had the roof on and it’s this foam panel building. They’re called Sips, they’re insulated panels and you can see how hot they burn,” said Fredericks.

(Photo by Dean Swope)

Up closer the building crackles and pops as rain and snow fall.

Dan Winkelman the President and CEO of YKHC was fielding phone calls. He said he was most concerned about safety.

“I just don’t want anyone to get hurt, any of the fire crews or anyone, contain the fire as best they can. I thank everyone for that but I just don’t want anyone to get hurt over this,” said Winkelman.

Winkelman, told KYUK in an email Monday night that he does not believe the building is a total loss. He says the foundation is good as well as some panels and other materials at the site. He says the building is insured and adjusters as well as state arson investigators are scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Massive Ground Game Underway in Senate Race

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 18:25

Between the candidate campaigns and Outside groups, nearly $52 million has been spent to try to influence your vote in the U.S. Senate race. Much of that is spent on advertising, for Sen. Mark Begich or Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. But in the end, every race is decided by who actually turns out to vote, so there’s a ground game underway.
If you just look at the number of groups on the ground, the Begich side seems to have the edge.
“I can tell you that we’ve got a bigger operation in the state of Alaska than we’ve ever had before. On Saturday we had about 130 -140 people out walking, knocking on doors,” said Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami. “We’re doing phone banks nightly. We’re walking during the week.”
The unions are big supporters of Begich, and Beltrami says they’re bringing in union members from out of state to pitch in.
“We actually have a campaign headquarters we had to rent because our offices weren’t big enough. So I had to rent a 7,000 square foot facility to house all the release staff and the volunteers we have doing all the work,” he said.
In addition to the union effort, a group called Alaska Salmon PAC is in the field with about 30 paid foot soldiers a day. They’re backed by $1.4 million from League of Conservation Voters. Plus, Working America is here. That’s a national AFL-CIO campaign aimed at non-union members. On a recent Sunday, they had several dozen paid canvassers working in Anchorage, including Rob Gruss. He carries an iPad that shows him which doors to target and who lives there.
He knocks on GeorgeAnne Sprinkle’s door, then stands back a few feet, to be better seen from the living room windows.
Gruss, from Ohio, has been doing work like this around the country for four years. At some doors, no one responds, even though it sounds like someone’s home. Sprinkle answered but she wasn’t happy about it.
“Oh sheesh you guys are Begichers?” she said, her voice rising with exasperation.
She says she’s had multiple visits from Begich supporters. Gruss knows that’s true because he’s knocked on her door before. And he’s unapologetic about saying he might be back.
“It’s extremely important. That’s how we win,” he said.
While voters may see the person on their doorstep as part of the barrage of political communication that’s burying them this election season, Gruss has a different take.
“What we’re doing I believe when we come to folks’ doors with somebody who really cares, like myself is we’re cutting through a lot of that red tape, a lot of that misinformation that’s Spewed on radio, spewed on television, spewed blatantly on the Internet,” he said.
Door-knockers give out literature and make their pitches, usually targeting voters deemed persuadable. They also collect information on iPads and clipboards – those who are noncommittal, or iffy about whether they’re going to vote are marked for future visits. Both sides are cagey about what data they collect and how they use them.
Kyle Kohli , Republican National Committee spokesman for Alaska didn’t want to reveal the Republican script, what his volunteers say at each door.
“We identify who we’re talking to. It’s data driven. We know who our supporters are. We know which voters we need to turn out in order to win on Election Day and that’s what we’re out here to execute,” he said.
The RNC, the Sullivan Campaign and the state Republican Party are running a joint field operation. They have 11 paid staff. Kohli says they had “hundreds” of doorknockers in the field this weekend, a large number in Anchorage and most of them volunteers.
Will Friar, a civil engineer, is a regular. He recently spent several minutes talking at the threshold of one south Anchorage house.
“He’s definitely a Sullivan supporter but he’s a little leery about whether he’s going to vote or not,” Friar said afterward in the driveway. “So we just chatted about the importance of the election. We have these cards we can get them to sign that says ‘yes, I will vote’ … and it just gets a little more commitment out of them.”
The Democrats have about 90 paid staffers, and Kohli, the RNC spokesman, acknowledges he’s outnumbered on that score but says that doesn’t mean much.
“That doesn’t translate to excitement. It doesn’t translate to votes,” he said. “We engineered our operation specifically so we’d have volunteers like Will out here, reaching out to their friends and neighbors … because we know that’s a far more effective strategy than having someone whose simply knocking on doors because their paid to.”
Independent of the RNC operation, Americans for Prosperity also has workers in the field for Sullivan. With nine staffers and several volunteers, they figure they’ve hit 15,000 doors in the past two months, in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
The Begich campaign, whose field operation is combined with the Democratic Party, says they’ve knocked on 20,000 doors just this past weekend, at least half in Southcentral Alaska.
By the way, there’s a way to keep these people away from your doorstep: Vote early. More than 6,500 Alaskans already have. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai says the campaigns buy an updated voter list every few days now, so they have the names of everyone who has already cast a ballot. Once you’ve voted, most campaigns will strike you from their list.

Categories: Alaska News

State Begins Releasing National Guard Documents

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:47

The Department of Law has let out a trickle of state documents concerning the National Guard, in response to a lawsuit filed by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News. Their search turned up over 10,000 records that require legal review, but the first batch is made up of just a handful of personal e-mails to and from Gov. Sean Parnell’s chief of staff. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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On November 7, 2010, the governor’s sexual assault response coordinator, Katie TePas, sat down with a National Guard chaplain about trouble in the force. Two hours later, she e-mailed her meeting notes from her personal account to the personal account of Chief of Staff Mike Nizich.

Much of the e-mail is redacted, because of executive privilege. But between the black boxes, TePas wrote that the chaplain, Lt. Col. Richard Koch, appeared to be “very credible.” Koch documented concerns with National Guard leadership, with specific complaints about then-Adjutant General Thomas Katkus, and wanted a guarantee that Katkus would not be informed of the complaints against him. Koch told TePas that he feared reprisal, and so did victims of sexual assault.

“Koch has had several contacts with victims of sexual assault who have not come forward due to fear of reprisal and actual reprisal. One of those victims is an officer,” TePas wrote in the e-mail.

The TePas e-mail was part of a set of five released by the Department of Law on Monday, one month after the Office of the Governor denied a request for state records sent to and from Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s personal account. The other four e-mails have already been shared with the press outside of official channels.

The thread is between Nizich and chaplain Koch, with Koch e-mailing Nizich with concerns about the Guard three times and with a two-week lag time before getting a brief response from Nizich acknowledging receipt of the e-mails. The correspondence discusses the sexual assault of young women, credit card fraud to the “tune of over $200,000,” and the trade of illegal drugs.

The thread is identical in format to the leaked e-mails, with time and date stamps missing for half of the messages.

The documents are accompanied by a certification that Nizich searched his non-State of Alaska e-mail account for responsive records, that all such documents have been turned over, and that no other e-mails were sent to or from his personal account “to the best of [his] knowledge and recollection.”

Nizich’s personal e-mails are only one part of the records request submitted by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News. The Department of Law also searched the state e-mail system for specific key words related to National Guard misconduct and turned up over 10,000 documents. The Department provided a 352-page log of those e-mails, including parties involved and subject line, and a team of attorneys is currently reviewing them to make sure they are germane to the request and do not fall under an exception to the public records law. Responsive e-mails are to be released on a rolling basis.

The records request lawsuit was filed October 8, after the Office of the Governor took four months to deny a records request from Alaska Public Media concerning their response to misconduct in the National Guard.

Categories: Alaska News

Group Launches Anti-Walker Ad Campaign

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:19

A new Republican group has launched an advertising campaign against independent Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker in the final days before next week’s election.

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The group, Citizens Against Walker, is spending $150,000 on a TV ad on one station, KTVA.

Randy Ruedrich, the former chair of the Alaska Republican Party, heads the group, whose treasurer is Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Michael Adams, who works with the Republican Governors Association.

Ruedrich said Monday morning he was unable to immediately comment.

Walker is the main challenger to Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, who is seeking a second full term.

Walker campaign spokeswoman, Lindsay Hobson, says the commercial attacks Walker on health care.

Walker has repeatedly stated he wants to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska. Parnell opposes Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 27, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:18

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

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State Begins Releasing National Guard Documents

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The Department of Law has started releasing state documents concerning the National Guard, in response to a lawsuit filed by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News. Their search turned up over 10,000 records that require legal review, but the first batch is made up of just a few personal e-mails to and from Gov. Sean Parnell’s chief of staff.

Anchorage School District, Military Take Steps Toward Lifting Recruiter Ban

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District and military recruiters met Monday to discuss the steps that need to be taken in order for recruiters to be allowed back on school campuses.

Ground Game Ramps Up In U.S. Senate Race

Liz Ruskin, APRN

Between the candidate campaigns and Outside groups, some $52 million has been spent to try to influence your vote in the U.S. Senate race. Much of that is spent on advertising, for Sen. Mark Begich or Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. But in the end, every race is decided by who actually turns out to vote.

Group Launches Anti-Walker Ad Campaign

The Associated Press

A new Republican group has launched an advertising campaign against independent Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker in the final days before next week’s election.

Shell Oil Asks Regulators For More Time On Beaufort, Chukchi Leases

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil has spent the better part of a decade – and more than $6 billion – trying to explore prospects in the Alaskan Arctic, but they have little to show for it.

Lego To Break Off Branding Agreement With Shell Oil

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil might be known for selling fuel, but their logo isn’t limited to gas stations. They’ve also appeared on Lego toy sets for the last 50 years under a unique marketing agreement. But that’s breaking down under pressure from environmentalists.

Alaska’s Marijuana Legalization, Regulation Ballot Measure Similar To Washington State

Gabriel Spitzer, KPLU – Seattle

Alaska isn’t the only state considering whether to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon also has the question on the ballot.

Some legalization advocates use Colorado’s pot law as an example. But, Alaska and Oregon’s ballot measures are more like Washington state’s law.

Alaska Federation of Natives Wraps Up Annual Convention

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage & Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Federation of Natives wrapped up their annual convention with the usual process of amending and voting on resolutions. The resolutions process was similar to past conventions except for the notable difference this year of candidate endorsements.

AVCP Settles in Software Copyright Lawsuit

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Y-K Delta’s regional non-profit, the Association of Village Council presidents settled a lawsuit last month with a company that claimed AVCP had infringed copyright rules and misused trade secrets by providing unauthorized access to proprietary software.

Proposed Lease Expansion Threatens Fairbanks-Area Ski Area

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A proposed lease expansion could put an end to a popular Fairbanks ski area. Most of the trails at Mt. Aurora Skiland could fall victim to a mineral exploration project.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Oil Asks Regulators For More Time On Beaufort, Chukchi Leases

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:18

Shell Oil has spent the better part of a decade – and more than $6 billion – trying to explore prospects in the Alaskan Arctic, but they have little to show for it.

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Now that the clock is ticking down on their oil leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea, Shell is asking regulators for more time. The company is seeking a five-year suspension from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, to keep its leases from expiring.

The request has been in process since July – but it wasn’t public until Monday, when the conservation group Oceana distributed a copy to the media.

Mike LeVine is a lawyer for Oceana. He says it’s not uncommon for oil companies to receive what’s called a suspension on their leases. But usually, it only happens once a site is in production. Beyond that:

“Shell cites conditions that it says were beyond its control to justify a suspension and that claim is at best disingenuous,” LeVine said.

In a 10-page letter to regulators, Shell Vice President Pete Slaiby points to court challenges and permitting problems that delayed exploration.

He also argues that the short ice-free season in the Arctic hindered his company – as did the need to work around indigenous whale hunters and reduce emissions at the request of stakeholders.

LeVine says Oceana and other conservation groups have asked regulators to suspend Shell’s leases before.

“If a suspension meant that no activities could happen for five years and the government would commit to putting in place a better plan for making better decisions for the U.S. Arctic Ocean, a suspension would be great,” LeVine said. “That does not appear to be what Shell is asking for.”

Shell holds leases on 38 prospects in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea that will expire starting in 2017. Slaiby writes that a five-year extension would “provide Shell assurance” to keep investing in them.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told Bloomberg News that the agency is evaluating Shell’s request.

Categories: Alaska News

Lego To Break Off Branding Agreement With Shell Oil

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:17

Shell Oil might be known for selling fuel, but their logo isn’t limited to gas stations. They’ve also appeared on Lego toy sets for the last 50 years under a unique marketing agreement. But that’s breaking down under pressure from environmentalists.

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If you’ve been around kids in the past year, chances are you’ve heard about “The Lego Movie.” And you’ve probably heard its catchy theme song. But there’s also a more downbeat version.

(Courtesy of Greenpeace)

It serves as the soundtrack to an anti-drilling video Greenpeace put out this summer. An Arctic landscape made out of Lego blocks gets drenched in a thick, black liquid. Polar bears and figures of indigenous hunters are covered up before a tagline appears: “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations.”

The video was viewed more than 6 million times. Lego’s CEO resisted for months. But finally, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp announced his company is going to stop renewing its contract with Shell.

In a statement this month, he said, ”We want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences.”

Hurting Lego was not the point of the campaign, according to Travis Nichols. He’s a spokesman for Greenpeace.

“Well, first of all, we love Lego,” Nichols says. “They’ve been such a great company, a really progressive company. They have sustainability reports. Very transparent. So it was very disappointing for us to learn that they have this partnership with Shell.”

But the partnership dates back to the 1960s. So why didn’t Greenpeace didn’t try to break it up until now?

It has to do with timing. Just this summer, Shell resubmitted exploration plans to get back to the Arctic in 2015. Nichols says it wasn’t clear that was in the cards, given how badly Shell’s last drilling expedition went.

“And at the same time, in the U.S., Lego started an Arctic, polar [toy] set,” Nichols says. “In particular, there was a big disconnect for us.”

This also wasn’t the first time that Greenpeace has attacked Arctic drilling by going after Shell’s brand.

The environmentalists lifted logos and layouts from Shell two years ago. They made a parody website, held fake Shell press conferences and bought billboard space near Shell headquarters in Houston.

As Shell weighs a return to its leases in the Chukchi Sea, Nichols says Greenpeace is gearing up for another fight.

“We’re hoping that this fall, we’re able to help our supporters tell the Obama administration that this isn’t something people want,” Nichols says.

Whether it’s with a petition or another marketing campaign, the goal is the same: break down support for oil exploration in the far north, brick by brick.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Marijuana Legalization, Regulation Ballot Measure Similar To Washington State

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:16

Alaska isn’t the only state considering whether to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon also has the question on the ballot. Some legalization advocates use Colorado’s pot law as an example. But, Alaska and Oregon’s ballot measures are more like Washington state’s law.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Federation of Natives Wraps Up Annual Convention

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:15

The Alaska Federation of Natives wrapped up their annual convention with the usual process of amending and voting on resolutions.

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The resolutions process was similar to past conventions except for the notable difference this year of candidate endorsements. AFN doesn’t usually endorse political candidates and delegates took an hour and a half behind locked doors to decide whether or not to approve a resolution seeking to endorse Mark Begich for U.S. Senate and Bill Walker for Governor.

After the lengthy session, the doors were unlocked and attendees streamed into the room to hear the decision. Greg Razo, an AFN board member and chair of the resolutions committee made the announcement.

“Consideration of resolution 14-46. A resolution entitled a resolution endorsing Mark Begich as candidate for the office of United States Senator for Alaska. As well as resolution 14-47, a resolution entitled, resolution endorsing Bill Walker and Byron Mallott for Governor and Lt Governor of the state of Alaska were discussed. I can report that both resolutions passed, “Razo said.

AFN’s theme this year was ‘Rise as One’. The annual convention concluded on Saturday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School District, Military Take Steps Toward Lifting Recruiter Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 16:29

The Anchorage School District and military recruiters met Monday to discuss the steps that need to be taken in order for recruiters to be allowed back on school campuses.

ASD Superintendent Ed Graff in a press conference after the meeting says the conversation revolved around student safety.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff speaks with reporters following a meeting with military recruiters. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“We talked about what our training expectations were for staff; some of the mandatory reporting that we do; the annual training about adult/student boundaries; discussed with all of them what their expectations were,” Graff said. “Asked specifically for them to provide the training that they do to us so we could review it. And, again, just wanted to ensure that we were in alignment around what those expectations were.”

Graff says Monday’s meeting is the first in what will be a series of conversations. It’s unclear when military recruiters will be allowed back in Anchorage schools, but Graff anticipates the timeline will be different for the Alaska National Guard than other branches of the military.

“I think that in light of the allegations that are out there, there are questions we still have to investigate and conversations that have to take place,” Graff said. “So I have a separate meeting that I’m gonna be holding with them.”

ASD invited all branches of the military to attend Monday’s meeting – one declined, citing concerns about media potentially being in attendance. The district declined to say which branch, but Graff has been in contact with them, and will follow up at a later date. No media outlets were invited to the meeting.

Recruiters were banned from Anchorage schools last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Drifting Barge Heading for Arctic Sea Ice

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 12:52

A Coast Guard aircraft conducted a flyover of the drifting barge this past weekend. (Courtesy: USCG Air Station Kodiak)

A small fuel barge is drifting toward Arctic sea ice, north of Prudhoe Bay – and the Coast Guard says it’ll probably be stuck there until next summer.

The 134-foot unmanned barge broke off from its tugboat in a storm last week. Since then, Coast Guard commander Shawn Decker says it has been drifting away from Alaska’s shoreline.

At this rate, he says it’s likely the barge will get trapped in sea ice to the north. In that case, the Coast Guard would have to wait to remove it until the ice thawed next June.

The Canadian company that owns the barge hasn’t been able to find a nearby vessel that’s free from winter ice and can help respond right now. But Decker says they might try to reach the vessel in the coming months to offload some of its cargo: about 950 gallons of diesel fuel.

If the barge does end up in ice, Decker says the Coast Guard will track it through the winter to make sure it doesn’t break loose or begin to leak fuel. But he’s not too worried – he says the vessel owner keeps similar barges in ice all winter, and is confident this one would stay put.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservative, Progressive Democrat, Republican Vie for House District 9

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:17

Republican Jim Colver, Democrat Mabel Wimmer and the Alaska Constitution Party’s Pam Goode are vying for the House 9 seat.

Colver, from Palmer, sits on the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly where he has served 9 years. He’s been Borough School Board president, and is a member of the Assembly’s committee on school issues. He’s served on the Borough fish and game commission, the road service advisory board and the planning commission.

“And I have experience trimming budgets, solving problems, paving roads.”

 Colver upset incumbent Eric Feige in the August primary for the Republican slot on the November ballot. He says the widespread communities along the Richardson Highway have in common a need for affordable energy. He supports converting power plants to gas to lower electricity rates,

“If Ahtna is successful in drilling their gas well near Glennallen, we need to get that gas into the Glennallen area and convert that power plant to gas. For the short term, we need to work on more weatherization, we need to make firewood available. There’s a lot of things that we need to do that we can do now.”

Mabel Wimmer says residents in her area worked hard to get a Copper Valley hydro project on line to reduce electric costs.

“I think we need to look into alternative energy.”

Wimmer, from tiny Mendeltna, says she’s a “progressive” Democrat. She owns a roadside lodge, and says she’s frugal to a T

“I own the lodge at Mendeltna. We are a zero waste lodge and my campaign is a zero waste campaign. Please don’t look for signs on the highway.”

 Pam Goode is the Alaska Constitution Party candidate for House 9.  Delta Junction resident Goode describes herself as a conservative. She once worked for NASA and spent 11 years sailing around the world. Goode says she lives in an un-organized area now because she’s standing for personal freedom, privacy and constitutional values.

“That’s what got me into the race, was to get more involved and to use my voice and to share that and to give voters a true constitutional choice.”

 House 9′s many small communities depend on small businesses for an economic base. Colver says those businesses are hampered by too many regulations, Wimmer advocates having communities decide which businesses fit their area best. Goode says more resource development would help. She supports coal extraction.

State budget concerns top this year’s election debate. Pam Goode says the three biggest :

“The three biggest draws on our operational budget is K through 12, education, Medicaid and PERS and TERS. And I think they put a temporary patch on PERS and TERS last session”   Goode says the whole health care system needs a new look.

“The people have to realize that medical care has to be paid for like all your other needs in life. I think you just need to reset and come up with a good system that encourages that type of thinking. And encourages people to save for their medical care, maybe an HSA, Health Savings Plan, and catastrophic insurance.”

Wimmer supports expanding Medicaid to help reduce health costs

“We need to work to bring in the Medicaid expansion, so that insurance rates can lower, so that people can have more Medicaid dollars avaialable. I think that we need to improve nutrition.”

Colver opposes Medicaid expansion:

“I don’t favor an expansion of Medicare. Because, once you take the federal free lunch, it’s not free forever. We have a budget problem in Alaska. We need to tighten our belt, not bring in more expenses. “

Colver says the state HSS budget for Medicare has tripled since 2006.

As of October 6, Colver had spent 75 thousand dollars on both his primary and general election races. Wimmer, practicing what she preaches, has spent nothing for her run, and received a single 100 dollar donation. Goode, has raised over 7 thousand dollars for her campaign, most of it from her own pocket, and spent just under 5 thousand dollars,

Categories: Alaska News

Lyman Hoffman Endorses Dan Sullivan for Senate

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:48

Senator Lyman Hoffman. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman officially endorsed Dan Sullivan for US Senate Friday. The former Attorney General and Natural Resources commissioner is seeking the seat of incumbent Mark Begich.

An announcement of Hoffman’s endorsement came late in the day. The two candidates debated Friday at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.

Hoffman was first elected to the legislature in 1991 and the Democrat has served continuously since 1995.

Categories: Alaska News

AVCP Settles in Software Copyright Lawsuit

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:46

The Association of Village Council Presidents settled a lawsuit last month with a company that claimed AVCP had infringed copyright rules and misused trade secrets by providing unauthorized access to proprietary software.

Since 2000, AVCP has contracted with an Oklahoma firm, Eaglesun Systems, for software used in federally funded tribal welfare programs like Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Bryan Nowlin, an attorney for Hall-Estill, a Tulsa, Oklahoma based law firm, litigated the case for Eaglesun Systems.

“The complaint alleged that screenshots had been sent to a new firm in order to develop a competing product. That’s what Eaglesun eventually learned about and felt it had to take action on, because if a competing product were developed that would be very harmful to Eaglesun’s business and to its ability to stay in business,” said Nowlin.

According to court documents, in 2010, AVCP hired a competitor to Eaglesun, a California software company called Front Range Solutions to write new software. Eaglesun says AVCP gave Front Range a login to access to the program as well the screenshots for their work in designing a new product.

Eaglesun in 2013 sued AVCP for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets. They say AVCP damaged Eaglesun’s business by at least 75-thousand dollars.

The complaint says an AVCP employee told Executive Vice President Mike Hoffman that the new software looked just like Eaglesun’s and that the new company “should at least change the colors.”

Attorneys for the two companies met in private mediation August 16th and agreed to settlement terms, which were not disclosed. The settlement was filed September 15th.

An attorney hired by AVCP did not respond to requests for comment. AVCP’s only comment was that to say the case has resolved amicably and the details are confidential.

Categories: Alaska News

AFN Endorses Begich After Hearing From Senate Candidates

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:40

Candidate for U.S. Senate Dan Sullivan and incumbent Mark Begich met on-stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage Friday. AFN delegates voted Saturday to endorse Begich for re-election. An endorsement of Bill Walker for governor and Byron Mallot for lieutenant governor was also announced.

From the start, delegates were overwhelmingly in support of Begich. Many waved Begich campaign signs from the audience and clapped and cheered every time the senator answered a question. For Sullivan, things got off to a rocky start during the lightning round, which required yes or no answers.

“Do you support the development of the Pebble Mine project?”

Begich said no. Sullivan responded, “I support the process for all economic development.” Before he could finish the sentence a moderator repeated that the answer has to be yes or no and the audience booed him.

Sullivan criticized Begich for being a Democrat because in 2010 the Alaska Democratic Party sued to ban a list of write-in candidates from voting booths. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was a write-in that year, and there were concerns that Alaska Natives whose first language is not English would have a difficult time without the list.

In the end, the Alaska Supreme Court allowed the list. Dan Sullivan was the state attorney general at the time defending it on behalf of the Division of Elections. What he–and Begich–didn’t mention was that the Alaska Republican Party joined forces with Democrats on that issue. Still, Begich tried to distance himself from the leadership of the Democratic Party.

“There’s a process that they elect a chairman, I’m not the chair never have been, just to make that very clear to you Dan,” Begich said.

“I understand what that case was about. The question was very simple: When the list of the write-in candidates were put forward is that electioneering close to the ballot box? That’s what that was. I wasn’t party to that lawsuit, so let me make sure that’s clear.”

Both candidates agreed that Alaska’s subsistence management system was “broken.” Their solutions, however, differed. Begich supports more federal involvement.

“I get requests now from many different parts of the community of Alaska asking for more federal control in the sense of managing the subsistence rights because they believe the state is not listening,” Begich said. “An example of that was when the commercial fishing was closed and subsistence was closed and when they reopened, commercial got the opening first and subsistence did not. I wrote a strong letter to the governor about this, that subsistence rights are a fundamental right.”

Sullivan told the audience that he understands the importance of subsistence. He talked about spending summers at fish camp with his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, who is the daughter of Mary Jane Fate, a once prominent figure in the Alaska Federation of Natives. He thinks that more state involvement is key to fixing subsistence, not less. At the end of his answer, he defended himself to delegates for his role in representing the State of Alaska in the Katie John case, a case that AFN was involved in for 19 years. AFN saw the state’s appeals of the case as an attack on subsistence rights.

“When I was attorney general I did participate in an element of the Katie John case,” Sullivan said.

“This has been a case going on for decades. It was no personal lawsuit against Katie John; I have the deepest respect for her like I do my mother-in-law. That case was about, when I was involved, the extent of state control over our rivers and as Alaska’s attorney general, I advocated for more state control, not control from the federal government and that’s the way most state officials have done that.”

After the forum, volunteers with signs reading “Follow me to Vote” appeared. The volunteers led people across the street to city hall, where ballots for all precincts across the state were available for early voting.

On Saturday, the final day of the convention, delegates voted in a new co-chair. Tara Sweeney, who was appointed to the position last year, lost to Jerry Isaac, a former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Sweeney is a senior vice president for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and also the co-chair of the Sullivan for Senate campaign. Some delegates said that they didn’t think an AFN co-chair should be allowed to campaign for any candidate. AFN co-chair Ana Hoffman has been actively involved in the Begich campaign. Hoffman is the president and CEO of Bethel Native Corp. Her term as co-chair will be up next year.

Sealaska Corp. put in all their votes for Sweeney. All the other Southeast groups gave their votes to Isaac. The Southeast region has one of the largest percentages of votes in AFN; most of those votes are held by Sealaska.

Delegates met in an executive session Saturday afternoon to debate two candidate endorsement resolutions. The Walker/Mallott campaign endorsement took less than 30 minutes to be approved.

It took another hour before delegates decided to endorse Begich. Some groups reportedly refused to vote for or against the resolution endorsing Begich, saying that they didn’t want to get involved in the back-and-forth that has been a part of this year’s convention. AFN doesn’t always endorse candidates during an election and the conversations surrounding this year’s senate endorsement have at times been tense.

Categories: Alaska News