Alaska News

Minecraft In The Classroom: When Learning Looks Like Gaming

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

Minecraft could help engage students in science, technology, engineering and math. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The popular video game Minecraft has made its way into Juneau high school classrooms.

A graduate education course at the University of Alaska Southeast showed teachers how to implement the game in their classes.

KTOO’s Lisa Phu went to a high school algebra class to hear what students have to say about Minecraft – not as a game but – as a learning tool.

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Solving a real problem inside a virtual world

Lori Sowa is assistant professor of engineering at the University of Alaska Southeast. She heard about Minecraft from her kids.

“My son, his first day of first grade, he came home and the first thing he asked me was, ‘Mom, what’s Minecraft?’” says Sowa.

Minecraft is a popular video game that allows you to build elaborate structures, gather resources and fly, among many other things. Some people call Minecraft virtual Legos.

UAS graduate student Colin Osterhout recreated the area of the “Monster Lobe” inside Minecraft. He’s also built Juneau and Douglas in the virtual world. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For Sowa and her teaching team at the University of Alaska Southeast, Minecraft is also a way to get kids to think critically, collaborate and solve problems, which is why they’ve made Minecraft part of a graduate education course. Development of the course was supported by apre-college grant from the Alaska Space Grant Program and a Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant from the Department of Education and Early Development.

The goal is to help teachers brush up on science, technology, engineering and math content but teaching Minecraft has also been part of it.

“Most of the students – you know, the teacher students – coming into this had probably heard of Minecraft but hadn’t actually played it, so we have spent some time working with the teachers to help get them up to speed on their gaming skills,” Sowa says.

The professors are teaching Minecraft through the context of a real life problem that’s taking place in Northwest Alaska about 40 miles north of Coldfoot. Sowa and her colleagues call it the “Monster Lobe.”

“It’s this mass of partially frozen soil and rock and woody debris and ice that’s moving down the hillside, but it’s moving very slowly. With warming temperatures it’s starting to move at a faster rate towards the Dalton Highway and the pipeline is right in that area,” Sowa says.

The challenge is for the teachers and their students to figure out how to protect the Haul Road and the pipeline from the Monster Lobe. And to do it inside Minecraft.

UAS graduate student Colin Osterhout is helping to teach the class. He created the Monster Lobe in Minecraft.

“On the screen right now is the topography of an area north of Fairbanks along the Haul Road. I added in all this texture along the landscape, so all this stuff is sliding down the mountain. So, like, one idea students might come up with is, ‘Well maybe we should put dams here, there, and there,’” Osterhout says.

Since everything in Minecraft is a one-by-one meter block, “you can really easily measure your distance from here to there, measure what your solution is going to cost in terms of amount of yardage, cubic yardage of material,” he says.

Without even realizing it, by brainstorming solutions the students start to think like engineers.

“Alaska in particular is suffering a shortage of engineers. A third of Alaska’s engineers don’t live in Alaska,” says UAS assistant professor of education Chip McMillan, who’s also teaching the graduate class.

The goal of trying to solve a complex problem like the Monster Lobe inside Minecraft isn’t necessarily about churning out engineers. McMillan says it’s about building qualities such as “grit, perseverance, this ability to stick with a problem and that’s something that I think we’re steadily losing.”

It’s also about meeting students where they are. McMillan’s research indicates that 85 percent of students in second to eighth grade are playing Minecraft.

“They’re preoccupied with this medium, so, you know, if your kids love baseball then you try to frame some physics problems in terms of baseball. You’re always trying to leverage what their natural interest is,” McMillan says.

Some teachers in McMillan’s class were leery about learning Minecraft. They now use it in the classroom. Parents have taken an interest in the class.

“The line is always the same: My kids are obsessed with this game and I hear you’re doing something,” he says.

In practice

During fourth period at Juneau-Douglas High School, Lexie Razor’s ninth grade Algebra 1 class is using the library computers. Minecraft is on the screens.

“Everybody should be in the building and you need to go to the different structures and start calculating the volume and the surface area,” Razor announces over the buzz of students settling down.

The class is part of CHOICE, an alternative learning program for students needing extra support in order to graduate.

15-year-old Mackenzie Biddinger and a classmate are working on finding surface area and volume of different shapes, but Mackenzie is more excited to talk about a different Minecraft project they recently did – building a 3D model of a plant cell.

She says the model included all the different parts of a cell.

“There’s the chloroplast and the mitochondria and what was the other one? Chlorophyll? The cell wall, the cell membrane, and the cell itself,” Mackenzie says.

Mackenzie enjoyed collaborating with other students for the project.

“You learn from each other and you learn other people’s strategies and stuff like that and it’s better to be social and I think it’s a lot more fun. It helps me a lot,” she says.

Mackenzie has Minecraft at home, but doesn’t find it appealing “to build random things out of pixilated blocks.”

But in class, she’s a fan.

“It’s better than doing actual, like, just writing on paper. I think this is a better way of learning than the usual way. It’s fun and you actually learn from it,” Mackenzie says.

For 15-year-old Evan Okpik, Minecraft is a way to stay engaged in academic work he often finds boring.

When asked what he’d be doing in class if he wasn’t on Minecraft, Okpik says, “Probably trying to sleep, listening to music. It’s what I do when I hate a class.”

Three months ago, teacher Lexie Razor didn’t know how to play Minecraft, let alone teach it in class. But after taking the UAS graduate education course, she’s happy to have another tool to use in the classroom.

“It just helps them to do things in ways that they’re interested in and so they may put forth more effort and understand it more because it’s something that they can relate to,” Razor says.

The students, she says, exhibit academic traits associated with science, technology, engineering and math – subjects collectively known as STEM.

For the last few minutes of class, Lexie Razor allows the class to play Minecraft in creative mode. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“They just think that they’re playing but when we were doing the project, listening to the groups and how they talked and how they were problem-solving and how they needed to fix the things that they built — that’s STEM and they don’t even realize that they’re doing it, but they’re practicing those things,” Razor says.

Razor plans to use Minecraft in her geometry class as well. She says it’s important to connect the game to the curriculum.

“I’m trying to come up with some kind of project where I’m going to give them a certain amount of volume and they have to build some structures or do something so that they can use Minecraft, ‘cause they’ve heard that I’ve been using it and they’re pretty jealous,” she says.

Toward the end of class, 12th grader Colin McClung walks over to the computer area.

“I was actually just sitting over there and I saw somebody playing Minecraft and I was like, ‘Is somebody slacking off in class?’ and I came over here and everybody had Minecraft open.”

McClung says he’s happy to see a teacher has realized that video games can be used as teaching tools and aren’t just a waste of time.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 7, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 17:15

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 and on Twitter @aprn.

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Arctic May Not Be That Busy, Report Says

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

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

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

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

Emergency Personnel Battle Unalaska Warehouse Fire

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

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

Honor Flag Lands In Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A commercial airliner delivered the United States Honor Flag to Fairbanks yesterday. The flag, which flew at Ground Zero in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and has since traveled around the country to honor fallen law enforcement officers and fire fighters, was brought to Fairbanks to pay tribute to Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich, who were killed in Tanana last week.

Troopers Maintaining Presence In Tanana

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska State Troopers are maintaining a presence in the village of Tanana. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says Troopers do not have a post in the village and the assignment of officers there is temporary.

Agencies Emphasize Fire Prevention Awareness

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

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

NAACP Demands Apology Over Sullivan Comments

The Associated Press & APRN Staff

The Anchorage NAACP and the Anchorage Central Labor Council have called on lieutenant governor candidate Dan Sullivan to apologize for comments likening required payment of union dues to slavery.

Sullivan, who currently serves as Anchorage mayor, made the comments during a candidate forum Monday.

The slavery comparison came up when Sullivan was asked about right-to-work legislation, in which employees are not required to join a union to get or keep a job.

Sullivan told The Associated Press today that there are many forms of slavery, and he was talking about “economic slavery.”

While he originally said he did not believe an apology was necessary, he later sent a statement saying that he apologized “if the use of the word offended anyone.”

Borough School Honors Redington, Sr.

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Ground was broken Tuesday for the first new school to be constructed in more than a decade in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The new Joe Redington, Sr. school is located near the original homestead of the father of the Iditarod.

Minecraft In The Classroom: When Learning Looks Like Gaming

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The popular video game Minecraft has made its way into Juneau high school classrooms.

A graduate education course at the University of Alaska Southeast showed teachers how to implement the game in their classes.

KTOO’s Lisa Phu went to a high school algebra class to hear what students have to say about Minecraft – not as a game but – as a learning tool.

Anchorage Schools Celebrate Bike To School Day

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Fifty schools participated in Bike to School Day in Anchorage on Wednesday. KSKA’s Anne Hillman talked to students from Lake Otis Elementary about why they hopped on their bikes instead of into vehicles, and what they learned along the way.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA, Willamette University Partner To Offer New Law School Opportunity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 15:55

There isn’t a law school in Alaska, but the University of Alaska Anchorage is launching a new program to make it easier for Alaskans to attend law school.

It’s a partnership with Willamette University College of Law in Oregon.

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Prospective law school students in Alaska face a lot of obstacles, including cost and having to attend school out of state.

(Photo courtesy Willamette University College of Law)

Deb Periman, the UAA Legal Studies Program Coordinator, says the goal is to create more options for Alaska students.

“This partnership is designed as a way for very high-achieving, very highly-motivated and focused students to reduce their education costs and be able to get that law degree and their undergraduate degree in six years rather than seven,” Periman said.

This approach is called a “3+3″ program, and it’s modeled after Willamette’s current partnership with Oregon State University.

Students will complete all the requirements for their undergraduate degree at UAA during their first three years – with the exception of a year’s worth of general elective credits.

For their fourth year of school, students will attend Willamette University College of Law before they receive their undergraduate degree, which Periman says is unusual.

“They’ll complete their first year of law school and what they’ll do then is transfer those law school credits back to UAA as upper-division elective credits,” Periman said. “So, essentially, they’ll be graduating with their baccalaureate degree after their first year of law school.”

Periman says the program will help ease some of the financial burden on students by eliminating the cost of the final year of undergraduate work, and it will increase graduates’ earning potential by getting them into the workforce a year earlier.

Curtis Bridgeman, the Dean of the Willamette University College of Law, says there are a number of similarities between Willamette and UAA, so the partnership is a natural one.

“We really focus on a student-centered education, and by that we mean the sort of education where the students aren’t just a number; we really try to get to know them early on; get to know their goals for their career and try to help make them connections that are gonna lead to good employment outcomes,” Bridgeman said.

One requirement of the program is after their first year of law school, students must return to Alaska to complete an externship or capstone project. The idea is to allow students to get first-hand experience with Alaska law and Alaska employers.

With over 150 Willamette law school graduates in Alaska, Periman says there should be plenty of externship opportunities.

“There’s a tremendously active alumni association here and an association that takes a lot of pride in giving new graduates a leg up,” Periman said.

Job prospects bode well for students who graduate from the program. For the class of 2013, Willamette ranks fifth in job placement among West Coast law schools.

Periman says the program will kick off this coming fall, and anticipates between 4-6 students being accepted each year.

Categories: Alaska News

Few Turnout For Borough Budget Hearing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 14:10

A Wasilla budget hearing last week drew almost nobody, while about 30 Willow residents came out on Friday to speak up about the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s proposed 2015 budget. Monday night in Palmer, a dozen people showed up for the final public hearing before the 409 million dollar spending plan goes to the Borough Assembly for deliberations.

Assemblyman Vern Halter said last week that ” 80 percent of Mat Su budget goes to pay for schools. ” But Deena Paramo, suprerintendent of the Matanuska Susitna Borough school district, says that statement is not accurate.

“Seventy five percent of those funds are in our operations are paid by the state. And then there’s another forty million on there that comes for the PERS and TERS pass through which is really the retirement system. And so, of that 269, the Borough contributes 53 million approximately, and so 53 million of a 400 million dollar budget is not 80 percent. “

 The school district had planned to ask the Assembly for funds to cover a 7 point 3 million dollar shortfall, but those circumstances have changed.

Luke Fulp, assistant superintendent, told the Assembly Monday that since the legislature adjourned, a number of adjustments have been made to the school district budget. Increases in the base student allocation, and the amount of money home schooled children receive from the state, added to a one time allocation approved by the legislature, have infused unexpected money into the school district’s budget, he said.

“So altogether we are looking at 10 point 5 million dollars of revenue from those different adjustments. However, within our originally projected budget, we had a three million dollar that we had assumed would continue in one time funding. So really a net increase in state revenue of 7 point 5 million dollars. “

 Fulp said the good news is offset by ongoing negotiations with four employee groups. “A lot is still unknown for us,” he said, adding that “Eighty percent of the school budget is tied up in employee salaries and benefits”. Fulp said there would be no staff reductions this year.

 John Moosey, Borough manager, told the Assembly last month that the Borough would loose about a million dollars in state revenue sharing for the next fiscal year, and that mean’s a tight budget. Moosey told his department heads to trim cost so that the coming budget closely resembles last years.

But on Monday, the Assembly got a pleasant surprise. According to Borough finance director Tammy Clayton, the reductions in the state’s revenue sharing scheme actually occurs over a number of years, so that this year, there will be more revenue available than previously thought.

“After it was introduced, one of the things that happened was, we were originally told that we would only get 80 percent of the projected state shared revenue. So that’s what went into the budget. We’re now going to receive what they originally projected, which is four point one million, so there will be an additional one million, two hundred and forty seven thousand that is not shown in this budget at this time. “

Clayton told the panel that the recently approved federal Farm Bill would be adding another three point two million dollars in PILT [payment in lieu of taxes ] funds to the Borough’s coffers in the next fiscal year.

But Assemblyman Jim Sykes said at an earlier public hearing that he is “concerned that taxpayer revenues are down, while state grants are increasing to comprise about 33 percent of the Borough’s budget. “We don’t have control of the grants”, Sykes said, and asked . .. “what are our critical needs now? ” Adding that revenue the Borough gets from the state are for multi year projects.

Sykes comments echoed those of Palmer resident Patty Rosnel, who points to the budget allocation for Port MacKenzie. “They are taking on additional debt, and not spending money on the people who are here.” she said after the Wasilla meeting. Rosnel hammered that point home Monday night in Palmer

“We see that development policies have not been working. And while the have not been working, we’ve been pouring money into them, and that money has not been going to the people of the Borough. That’s what we need, we need a shift from development back to operations. We need services, services for the people. “

 After Monday’s public hearing closed, Assemblymember Jim Colver moved the spending package onto the table. Budget deliberations begin on Wednesday.  

Categories: Alaska News

Borough School Honors Redington, Sr.

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:12


A spring downpour did nothing to dampen the spirit of the day. Matanuska Susitna Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss, wearing a hard hat, stood with other state and Borough officials and school district leaders to work gold painted shovels into the dirt for the ceremonial first dig at the construction site.

“This is the first major school project in ten years.  And this is a complex, it includes high school, middle and elementary school. So, it’s a big step out into the future where our growing center is. “

DeVilbiss says the school project is keeping up with the growth in the area. He says if Knik -Fairview incorporated, it would be the fifth largest city in the state.

The new Joe Reddington, Sr, junior/senior high school will house some 550 students as soon as the doors open in the fall of next year.  Catherine Esary,  spokeswoman for the Mat Su School District, says it will be a junior -senior high school to begin with, then convert to a high school.

“Actually, we have enough students out here to fill it. When we open it, it will be full, because we’ll be bringing kids from Wasilla middle and high school. We have twenty portables there now. So this will help decrease that crowding. And also, we have two elementary feeder schools already at Knik and Goose Bay. They house 400 and 450 students, so we already have 800 kids ready to come. You know, these are not built out into the future, these are just in time construction projects, which we thank our voters for.”

 The 65 million dollar project is being paid for out of a bond package that Borough voters approved in 2011.

Barbara Redington, Raymie Redington’s wife and daughter in law of Joe, says she’s proud the school is named after him

“It’s such a great honor for Joe, and for Vi [Redington].  What an honor for Joe, especially in the Knik area, where he homesteaded. He homesteaded here to Knik in 1948.”

The once remote Redington homestead now fronts on one of the busiest highways in the state.  Despite the congestion along Knik – Goose Bay Road, the school ‘s location about a mile off the highway is quiet and surrounded by forest.

Construction machinery droned in the background during the event. Bulldozers were still leveling the recently cleared 103 acres for the project.

Mike Brown with the Borough’s capital projects department, says the plan calls for a second school to be built on the site after the new building is complete. The two schools will address over crowding in Borough schools. I’m Ellen Lockyer


Categories: Alaska News

National Science Foundation To Deploy Seismic Sensors In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:03

Alaska is the place to be if you want to study earthquakes. In a year, it has as many earthquakes as all the other states combined. Scientific study of those quakes is beginning to ramp up significantly as the National Science Foundation deploys a new network of seismic sensors this summer.

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Alaska has dozens of seismometers that measure earthquakes, but they’re mostly clustered around Southcentral, Fairbanks and on the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula.

Over the next five years the state will be getting many more – close to 400 of them, funded by the National Science Foundation through the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, or IRIS. The instruments going in are state of the art, says IRIS spokeswoman Perle Dorr.

“They can detect movement of a magnitude six earthquake from anywhere around the world, they can detect movement of about the thickness of your hair,” Dorr said.

IRIS has the whole region mapped out in a grid. Every 43 miles there’s a dot, marking the target for one of these seismometers. Some of them mark equipment already in place, but for many of the dots, somebody has to get there and spend a couple of days auguring out a hole, if possible in bedrock, and cementing one of these instruments, looking much like a tin can, in there, then setting up the solar collector and communications array. All the while dealing with weather, mosquitoes and wildlife. Firearms training is required.

This will be the Transportable Array, spread all over the state, into Canada, and in the Bering Sea. Peter Haeussler of the U.S. Geological Survey says they will be seeing earthquakes they would not have seen before.

“And with this instrumentation that’ll be in places in Alaska where there has never been a seismometer before I think we’re gonna learn a lot about seismic activity in say Western Alaska, Northwestern Alaska or Northern Alaska that we had no idea even existed before,” Haeussler said.

The array has already been in and out of 1700 sites across the continent. When an earthquake happens it takes about a day for all the data to come in, but it is made available to researchers and the public at once on a website called “earthscope.”

“Every time there’s a large earthquake that’s recorded by the transportable array in North America we make animations of the waves moving through the array, and so for some like the Virginia earthquake in 2011, the stations were in the Midwest at the time and it was like watching ripples on a pond move through the seismometers,” Andy Frassetto, an IRIS hardware specialist, said.

The array gives geologists a much better picture of what’s going on under the surface. It will find faults nobody knew existed and Frassetto says it will be a big help in assessing earthquake risk.

“Being able to understand the rate and distribution of earthquakes is really key to assessing where strain is accumulating, which areas are actually releasing and transmitting stress, and it really allows you to have a complete picture of what the earth is doing,” Frassetto said.

Last week the Seismological Society of America had its annual national meeting in Anchorage, partly to talk about the array and partly because of the anniversary of the great Alaska earthquake – the event that convinced scientists the continents move and collide, causing volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Peter Haeussler says information provided by the array is certain to answer some basic scientific questions about the forces that built the Alaska Range, blew up Katmai and are shaking Cook Inlet.

“And so there’s this piece of crust that was kind of ripped off of somewhere like the British Columbia margin, came northward, started colliding into the southern Alaska margin somewhere around 25 million years ago, and sort of doing a “right punch” into Southern Alaska,” Haeussler said. “And in that process there has been more than one oceanic plate that’s been sort of diving down underneath the margin.”

“I have no doubt that after this array is installed that we’re gonna be much better able to image these slabs that are down there at depth, and what’s happened to them in this really 25 million year period since that collision began.”

In a sense, scientists now start waiting for a big earthquake. With this much instrumentation in place, it would be a scientific bonanza. But earthquakes operate in geologic time scales, and after 2018, it’s not clear how much more the National Science Foundation will put into the project. What happens to any given site next would largely be up to the organizations involved.

“And I think there would be hope that at the end of the period that the National Science Foundation is supporting this array that we be able to keep some of these instruments out there so we could have a much longer record of what’s happening in the earth’s crust here in Alaska,” Haeussler said.

Sometimes, as when the array came to Wyoming, even more instruments get added.  In that case, scientists got answers to basic questions about how the Rocky Mountains were formed.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s UAV Test Site Begins Operation

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

The University of Alaska’s status as a Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aerial vehicle test center is official. Events in Anchorage and Fairbanks marked the start of operations on Monday.

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Categories: Alaska News

GCI Turns 3G On In Bethel, Faces Lawsuit

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

The same week that GCI turned 3G on in Bethel, attorneys served the company with a lawsuit. It alleges that GCI over-promised and under-delivered on its wireless, smart phone and data-plans.

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GCI spokesperson David Morris confirms the company activated 3G service in Bethel on Wednesday, April 30th at around 5am. Morris says GCI customers in Bethel should now see data service on their phones.

The GCI cell tower in Bethel. (Photo courtesy GCI)

“You would have seen a dramatic increase in speed. 3G is generally data, faster emails and things like that. The texting doesn’t change. The voice really doesn’t change. Like I said, there might be a slight improvement but the biggest improvement is on the data side.”

3G is a system that delivers data somewhere between 10 and 20 times faster than the previous 2G network that was available in Bethel, says Morris.

GCI has been working on getting 3G service since it was awarded a federal grant from the FCC in late 2012. GCI was hoping to have service available by late 2013 but problems with towers delayed service until April 30th. The next phase of 3G rollout will be getting service to 9 villages surrounding Bethel.

“This Summer we will deploy in additional villages around the Bethel area. And that will be 3G services. And right now we’ve been notified that we are eligible to receive an approximately 44 million dollar grant to deploy 3G and 4G services in 48 additional rural communities over the next two or three years.”

These improvement come after years of what customers say is unsatisfactory service, saying it’s often unreliable or does not work at all. David Henderson, a Bethel attorney filed a lawsuit against GCI on April 22nd.

“They’ve failed to live up to what they promised in their contracts, which is reliable data plans and reliable cell service. And that’s violated unfair trade practices and laws in Alaska and basically committed fraud.”

The lawsuit on behalf of four plaintiffs seeks past damages and goes back two years. Henderson says GCI has been requiring people in Bethel to have data plans that work intermittently or not at all since they took over cell service in 2008.

“All the people in this community have been paying for something they have not been able to get. GCI knows that. If somebody calls up GCI and says I’m not getting any data. My data plan doesn’t work they’ll give them a credit. But people shouldn’t have to call up and ask for a credit when GCI is charging for something they knowingly can’t provide, and they’re advertising to people that they can provide it and they’re not telling people when they sign up for it that they can’t provide it and that’s the issue.”

The lawsuit asks that a minimum of $500 dollars be paid to each GCI cellular customer in the Y-K Delta region. Damages may be larger for smart phone customers who Henderson says were forced to pay for data. The lawsuit also calls for damages for those with basic cell services, on the grounds that calls are repeatedly dropped.

GCI has spent more than 50 million dollars in federal grant money and about 150 million dollars of their own capital to build the infrastructure for cellular and other telecommunications services for Bethel and 69 other rural Alaska communities.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel City Council Confirms Code And Policy Violations

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

The Bethel City Council met Monday night in executive session for three hours with the attorney they hired to conduct an investigation into nepotism, contracts, and personnel issues.

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City Manager Lee Foley was placed on administrative leave two weeks ago as a result of the investigation. His status did not change Monday, but the council came back on the record for a minute to confirm that there indeed has been improper behavior within the city.

Mayor Joe Klekjka made a statement when the council reconvened at 9:30 p.m.

“There were code and policy violations,” said Klejka.

Those were for actions related to procurement, nepotism, credit card usage, personnel policies, leave, and travel and training policies.

Klekja said the council will be taking remedial measures. He explained after adjournment that the Bethel city code is a living document.

“You’re always trying to improve, trying to have the best actions come out of it, and when you find new things to improve it you do those. Additionally, we’re going to need to put some checks and balances in place to make sure the violations that occurred don’t happen in the future,” said Klejka.

Klejka said the city may be looking to hire a human resources director or procurement officer.

The council authorized $40,000 to pay for the investigation. They specifically looked at contracts to demolish the old police station and those with former finance director Bobby Sutton, plus leases at the sandpit, among other personnel issues like intimidation of employees, among other thing.

The city is not releasing the report prepared by the law firm as they are considering it attorney-client privileged communication. Mayor Klejka said that council may be preparing a public document, but he was not certain Monday night.

Categories: Alaska News

Online Realtor Says Sitka Tops State In Livability

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

Sitka has won a spot on top of yet another list. The online realtor Movoto says Sitka is the most liveable community in Alaska. Just ahead of Anchorage and Juneau.

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Categories: Alaska News

Great Land Trust Planning To Buy Top Of Bodenburg Butte

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

The Great Land Trust plans to buy the top of Bodenburg Butte in Palmer.

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The Great Land Trust plans to buy the top of Bodenburg Butte in Palmer. Trust executive director Phil Shephard says fundraising for the project starts immediately. Shephard says when the purchase is made, the top of the Butte will be donated to the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

“The trail up Bodenburg Butte is the most popular trail in the Mat Su Valley. And this parcell came up. We haven’t purchased it yet. We have a purchase agreement, and we will be raising money. “

 The Borough has not allocated any funds to the purchase as yet, Shephard says. But the Borough will be the land’s caretaker after the purchase is made.   The 40 acres at the top of the Butte is owned by the Alaska Mental Health Lands Trust at present.

“Everyone was really surprised that Mental Health Trust owned the top of the Butte. And, you know, to be able to say ‘Yes, I helped to buy the Butte’ is a pretty rare thing, and so, we’re excited to know that people are excited to be able to help out. We need to bring dollars from the local community to the project.”

 Shephard says the Greatland Trust needs to raise 187,500 dollars for the purchase by the end of this summer. The area is one of the Mat Su’s most loved hiking destinations and a local landmark, noted for its views of Knik Glacier, the Palmer Hayflats and the Chugach Mountains.

A fundraiser for the Butte purchase is set for May 8 in Wasilla.





Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Woman Found Off Salmon Creek Trail Dies

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 18:02

A 61-year-old woman died after being found in the water off Salmon Creek Trail near Juneau Sunday afternoon. Her body is being sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

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Bartlett Regional Hospital employee Sandra Gelber was a physical therapist in the Rehabilitation Services Department.

Capital City Fire/Rescue responded at 4 p.m. to a 911 call about an unconscious woman, says Assistant Chief Ed Quinto.

Sandra Gelber was found in the water off Salmon Creek Trail about a mile from the gate. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“A couple hikers reported to dispatch that they were on Salmon Creek Trail, that they found a female in the water along one of the creeks along the trail. It was approximately about a mile up from the gate. She was in the water. They brought her up, started doing CPR and they called us,” Quinto says.

Quinto says Gelber was found approximately 100 yards past where the road is washed out, and about 40 feet off the trail downhill. He says she was unconscious and in critical condition.

It’s unknown how long she was in the water before she was found.

“It appears like she was either hiking or jogging up there. She was dressed in jogging clothes and we don’t know how she got into the water,” Quinto says.

An ambulance transported Gelber to Bartlett Regional Hospital. She was pronounced dead there around 4:30 p.m, according to the hospital.

Bartlett spokesman Jim Strader says Gelber arrived at work Sunday morning and was done with her shift at 3 p.m.

“We’re kind of in shell shock to be honest. She was very, very well loved by all of her coworkers and her patients as well,” Strader says.

Gelber joined Bartlett in 2009. Prior to that, she was at Sitka Community Hospital. A statement sent to hospital employees by interim CEO Jeff Egbert described Gelber as “an avid outdoors person” and “she died doing what she loved best; out on the trail, appreciating the beautiful place we call home.”

Gelber leaves behind husband Tim Riley and two college-aged children.

AEL&P closed Salmon Creek Trail at the end of January when an 80-foot section of the road was washed out. AEL&P put an orange safety barrier around the slide and reopened the trail last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 6, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 17:29

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 and on Twitter @aprn.

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National Science Foundation To Deploy Seismic Sensors In Alaska

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is the place to be if you want to study earthquakes. In a year, it has as many earthquakes as all the other states combined. Scientific study of those quakes is beginning to ramp up significantly as the National Science Foundation deploys a new network of seismic sensors this summer.

Alaska’s UAV Test Site Begins Operation

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska’s status as a Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aerial vehicle test center is official. Events in Anchorage and Fairbanks marked the start of operations on Monday.

Mallott Leaving Sealaska To Focus On Campaign

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Democrat Bryon Mallott will leave Sealaska’s board of directors next month to spend more time campaigning for governor. The move shakes up an already contentious board election.

Bethel City Council Confirms Code And Policy Violations

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council met Monday night in executive session for three hours with the attorney they hired to conduct an investigation into nepotism, contracts, and personnel issues.

GCI Turns 3G On In Bethel, Faces Lawsuit

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The same week that GCI turned 3G on in Bethel, attorneys served the company with a lawsuit. It alleges that GCI over-promised and under-delivered on its wireless, smart phone and data-plans.

Juneau Woman Found Off Salmon Creek Trail Dies

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A 61-year-old woman died after being found in the water off Salmon Creek Trail near Juneau Sunday afternoon. Her body is being sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Great Land Trust Planning To Buy Top Of Bodenburg Butte

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Great Land Trust plans to buy the top of Bodenburg Butte in Palmer.

Online Realtor Says Sitka Tops State In Livability

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka has won a spot on top of yet another list. The online realtor Movoto says Sitka is the most liveable community in Alaska. Just ahead of Anchorage and Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott Leaving Sealaska To Focus On Campaign

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-06 11:07

Bryon Mallott will leave Sealaska’s board of directors next month to spend more time campaigning for governor.

He’s served on the Juneau-based regional Native corporation’s governing body – or been its CEO – since 1972.

Mallott, a Democrat, is all but assured to challenge Republican Gov. Sean Parnell in the November general election.


Byron Mallott, Democratic candidate for governor, will leave Sealaska’s board next month to concentrate on his campaign. (KTOO News)

In a press release, he said he would complete his term, which ends at the corporation’s June 28th annual meeting. But he will not seek re-election to the board.

Sealaska Chairman and former state Sen. Albert Kookesh says the board supports Mallott’s decision.

“I think it was good step that he took to, one, allow him to concentrate on the governor’s race and, two, open it up for shareholders so he didn’t just hold onto his seat and have to give it up after that if he got elected,” he said.

Mallott could not be immediately reached for comment.

When Sealaska board incumbents leave, they often step down before the next election. The board then appoints a replacement, who can run as an incumbent.

Mallott’s decision leaves an open seat with no heir-apparent. That eases the way for other candidates. They include a recently-announced slate of shareholders with business experience outside the corporation.

“The people who are running on that slate have good intentions,” Kookesh said. “They want to run a clean race and I commend them for that. But we also have people who are independents who are running. And you have to commend them and recognize their want to be involved too.”

Sealaska will distribute ballots to its almost 22,000 shareholders on May 15th. They must be cast by June 26th.

In addition to Sealaska service, Mallott’s been Yakutat and Juneau mayor, Alaska Permanent Fund executive director and Alaska Federation of Natives president.

Categories: Alaska News

Weather Forces Alaska Airlines Flight To Land At JBER

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 18:30

An Alaska Airlines flight from Chicago to Anchorage took an unexpected detour to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Monday afternoon.

“As Flight 139 was preparing to land in Anchorage, a fog bank rolled in and the pilots elected to land at Elmendorf Air Force Base,” Nancy Trott, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines, said.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is an alternate airport for air traffic, if needed.

Passengers were transported to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport by bus.

The plane refueled at JBER and made the short flight back to the Anchorage airport on Monday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Villages Find Success With Wind-Diesel Energy Combination

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

It’s hard to use wind as a main power source because it fluctuates. But four small Alaskan villages have succeeded in creating an innovative wind-diesel system that works even in harsh, variable weather conditions.

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Categories: Alaska News

Oil Producers Get Break On Alaska Property Taxes

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Public documents show Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration worked out a deal with Alaska’s major oil producers that allows the companies to withhold tens of millions of dollars in property taxes.

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The Anchorage Daily News says the 2013 deal occurred after producers disagreed with the state board that set the value of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The deal was negotiated after an attorney for the oil pipeline owners complained in a June 2013 email that the State Assessment Review Board set the value for the pipeline too high, raising the tax bill for oil companies.

The deal to give oil companies at least a temporary break emerged in public view in April when some of the municipalities that receive property taxes on the pipeline appealed the state’s 2014 valuation.

Categories: Alaska News

State Hurrying To Update Rural Infrastructure Before Federal Dollars Diminish

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Federal money for rural infrastructure is drying up, and state agencies are overhauling projects while they still can. With Alaska’s brief construction season about to begin, state officials are hurrying to bring airfields, roads, and other Bush infrastructure up to standard before funds get scarce.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘Second Shake’ Rattles Noatak, Northwest Brooks Range

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Just two weeks after the strongest earthquake in the region in more than 30 years, residents of Noatak and others near the far western edge of the Brooks Range felt another series of powerful quakes over the weekend.

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Mike West is a state seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the 5.5 magnitude quake that struck at 12:57 a.m. Saturday May 3 came nearly two weeks to the day after an even stronger 5.6 quake on April 18.

“There were quite a number of earthquakes all through Saturday that were part of this aftershock sequence of this second earthquake,” West said.

Saturday’s quake was just that: an earthquake, not an aftershock from the April temblor.

“That’s a little weird for us because it doesn’t fit the aftershock paradigm,” West said. “It’s as large as the original earthquake … and was followed by its own series of aftershocks.”

Those aftershocks were similarly strong, with seven rated a magnitude four or stronger. West said the two strong quakes, both followed by powerful aftershocks, are likely caused by the same geological forces.

“It’s important to think of this as a sequence,” West emphasized. “Stress was building up through the normal movement of plate tectonics, and that needed to be relieved. The earthquake on April 18th, (Saturday)’s earthquake, all the aftershocks from both of those, are all sort of part of this process.”

Like April’s quake, the Saturday event was felt about 20 miles to the south in Noatak, at the giant Red Dog zinc mine, and even in Kotzebue. Despite the power of the “second shake,” West said there’s no danger beyond frayed nerves on the horizon. Nonetheless, he said the Earthquake Center is visiting Noatak and Kotzebue this week to install seismology equipment for better observation of the activity.

“We have plans right now to install probably two seismic stations in an around the source of the earthquake,” West said Sunday. “This is driven not so much by a concern of things to come, but we just want to be prepared, and frankly, better understand why these earthquakes occurred in the first place.”

The last time the region saw seismic activity on par with these two most recent quakes was back in 1981, when West said a 5.5 quake struck in roughly the same area about the same distance from Noatak.

Categories: Alaska News

Burst Water Pipe Likely Cause For Skagway Ferry Dock Sinking

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

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

State transportation officials agree that a burst water pipe likely caused the Skagway ferry dock to sink last month. Repairs continue in hopes of getting the dock operational and returning ferry service to the Southeast community within the next week.

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The state is making repairs and some modifications to the dock now that it’s floating again.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says it’s not yet known how much the salvage and repairs from the sinking will cost the state.

Woodrow says the state is hoping to resume ferry service to Skagway on May 11. A final decision on that timeline will be made later this week, he said.

Categories: Alaska News

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