Alaska News

NPFMC Looking to Reduce Salmon Bycatch

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 17:19

This morning an advisory panel of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council heard public testimony on proposed policy changes to salmon bycatch. The panel makes recommendations to the governing board of the council, which is meeting this week in Nome.

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Chinook runs are down. The pollack fishery bycatches tens of thousands of these salmon every year. And the North Pacific Fishery Marine Management Council is seeking ways to reduce those numbers.

The Council is meeting in Nome this week, and Tuesday the Scientific and Statistical Committee, which advises the Council, heard a presentation on salmon bycatch management.

Three years ago, the Council implemented a Chinook bycatch program. Diana Stram is a Fishery Analysis for the Council and said since 2011 the Council has been “struggling to either fold their Chum bycatch management…into the existing program” or to create a new program for Chum.

Explaining the issue Stram said, “We found that any measure that we layered on top of the same fishery for Chum tended to make the Chinook bycatch worse. And since the purpose was never to exacerbate a problem in an existing program by layering another measure, the Council took a step back and decided to consider them together.”

Stram said the Council is considering “whether to move forward with an analysis that would change how Chum salmon bycatch is managed” and whether to modify Chinook bycatch regulations.

When the floor opened to public testimony, the demand was to include the impact of bycatch on subsistence in that analysis.

Brandon Ahmasuk is the Subsistence Resource Director at Kawerak and a lifelong subsistence user. To support salmon bycatch reduction, Ahmasuk explained, “Subsistence users’ diet is composed 80-percent of fish. Now the subsistence user is being asked to lower their diet of fish to 20-percent or less. These are areas where supermarkets aren’t readily available. These people, they do live off the land.”

Ahmasuk said while the pollack fishery is allowed to waste tens of thousands of salmon, the subsistence user “bears the burden of conservation” when gear restrictions are imposed and rivers shut down because of low runs.

Rose Fosdick is the Vice President for Natural Resources at Kawerak. She said the low runs go beyond reducing the subsistence users ability to feed themselves and restricts their ability to continue their culture.

Fosdick explained, “the knowledge of biology, the knowledge of processing, the knowledge of respect for elders and for the environment is being lost without the opportunity to have fresh salmon to work with.”

The public asked the Committee to gather more scientific data on why runs are declining in the Norton Sound and to collect surveys on how bycatch affects subsistence users throughout rural Alaska.

As a mitigation measure for the low runs, Tim Smith with the Norton Sound Regional Aquaculture Association proposed activating a local hatchery. The Committee also suggested investigating an incentive-based system to reduce bycatch.

Categories: Alaska News

Shipwrecks Take Long Path To Cleanup

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 17:18

Photo by Jennifer Shockley.

An abandoned crab vessel will finally be pulled off the beach in Unalaska, more than seven months after it ran aground. But, the Arctic Hunter isn’t the only wreck that’s been waiting on a cleanup.

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When the Arctic Hunter hit the rocks, it was four a.m. the morning after Halloween. Hardly anyone was there to see it — except for a few cameras, from the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.”

A recent episode showed the Arctic Hunter’s accident:

Narrator: ”The distress calls echoes across the fleet. And the closest boat capable of a rescue–”

Elliott Neese: “Uh, we need to get a life sling ready to pull guys out of the water.”

Narrator: “–is Captain Elliott Neese, of the 107-foot Saga.”

Neese and his crew helped evacuate the stranded fishermen on TV. But we don’t see what happened to their vessel. Until recently, the answer was, “nothing.”

But at the end of May, a salvage company signed a contract to remove what’s left of the Arctic Hunter. Dan Magone is with Resolve Magone Marine Services.

Magone: “Just a matter of having the divers go down and torch holes in it to rig cables to it, so we can pull it out of there.”

Once they drag the wreck away, Magone says his crew will clean up boat debris that’s been washing up on Unalaska’s beaches. It’s been a big concern for locals.

But Magone says you can’t blame the whole mess on just one vessel.

Magone: “If there’s urethane foam and fiberglass, and you know, flotsam and jetsam, it’s not necessarily from the Arctic Hunter.”

It could be from the Chaos — another fishing boat that ran aground near Unalaska last fall, and is still sitting on the beach today.

Magone says he’s removed a lot of shipwrecks in southwest Alaska over the years.

Magone: ”You know, I’ve done virtually all of them out here. And I’ve not seen any of them get delayed as long as these two, considering that they both had adequate insurance.”

It turns out there are a lot of reasons for the delay. Insurance is one of them.

When a fishing vessel sinks or runs aground, the insurance company pays for the cleanup. And they also hire the crew that’s going to do it.

It can get complicated if there’s more than one insurance company involved, though. Magone says two insurers had to look over the Arctic Hunter case before they were ready to take bids from salvage crews.

There were also multiple insurers for the Chaos. Jack McFarland was hired to help them coordinate the salvage contract. He says they decided pretty early on to use Magone’s shop in Unalaska.

But after that, McFarland says things stalled out.

McFarland: “Obviously the salver was pretty busy on many other projects, and we eliminated the pollution immediately from the vessel.”

That’s mandated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. But once the oil and fuel is removed, the threat to the environment goes way down. If the responsible parties keep in touch with the state, they can take their time getting the rest of the wreck cleaned up.

Both vessels took a beating over the winter — the Arctic Hunter and the Chaos, which is the case Jack McFarland’s been working on.

McFarland: ”And in a way, it being broken apart might be a little easier at this stage than not, because the risk of assets initially was a concern. The approach is pretty rocky and dangerous. The weather would have to be very stable.”

It would have been a tough job no matter what, and that translates to higher costs. McFarland says that the insurance company probably did save some money by waiting to move the Chaos off the beach.

McFarland: “It wasn’t done on purpose. It just happened to be the way this one shook out.”

It hasn’t fully shaken out yet. There’s still no deal in place to get the Chaos cleaned up. But Dan Magone says that won’t matter to his salvage company.

When they start working on the Arctic Hunter wreck later this month, they’ll have to pick up all the debris they find to meet the state’s standards for clean beaches — regardless of which vessel it came from.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough School District Seeks Pre-K Funds

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 17:17

The Matanuska-Susitna School District’s pre-school program is in jeopardy. “Widening the Net” brings pre-kindergarten education into selected district schools, but school funding reductions may force the district to shut down the innovative program in the fall.

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School district officials vow to continue the program on a reduced basis, if a state grant does not come through in time.

The merits of pre-school education are obvious to teachers of young children.

Students who attend high quality pre-school are more likely to succeed not only in school but to graduate from high school,” Kelly McBride, one of the teachers who spoke up at a recent Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting, said.

But next day’s news headlines trumpeted how the Assembly shot down a move to give $350,000 in Borough funds to its school district to help continue its public pre-school program. Mat-Su School Superintendent Deena Paramo says keeping “Widening the Net” in the seven communities it has been serving now depends on whether or not the district wins a state grant.

“If we don’t receive those funds, then we won’t continue them,” Paramo said. “Because there is not a funding stream if those funds don’t come through.”

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbis says that the private sector can fill the need for pre-school. But many parents in the Borough can’t afford to pay for pre-K and having the school district provide it is a boon to hard working couples. The issue at hand is not about the merits of formal education programs for four year olds, but, “who is going to pay for them?” Paramo says, ultimately, the public will, one way or another.

“We want kids to have the best advantage they can have when they get to kindergarten. If they don’t have the skills needed, they are coming to the school district anyway,” Paramo said. “And the school district and all of those public funds will pay for that child in the end if they are behind or on grade level either for remediation or not. And so, to me, I look at it as, what is the biggest impact we can give in student learning for the most effective rate, and certainly, pre-school has a place in there.”

Paul Sugar, who heads the state department of education’s pre-K program, says there is $2 million in this year’s education budget to fund pre-K programs within school districts. Sugar says the state encourages district’s which apply for the funds to partner with private pre-schools.

“We were looking at ways to expand services to more folks, and if possible and to build partnerships so that we would see the strengths of other programs being infused in to school districts, and the strengths that the district offers being infused into the other works of the partners,” Sugar said.

Paramo says that Mat-Su’s school district partners with Palmer’s Head Start program.

Last year, the state money helped eight school districts in Alaska fund pre-K programs. Sugar says state money pays for between two and three hundred students enrolled in public pre-schools each year. This is the sixth year that state money has been available for such programs.

The Mat-Su program for the seven pre-K’s cost $650,000 this past school year, according to Lucy Hope, the district’s student support services director.

The Mat-Su’s pre-school program has just finished its second year. But that is time enough for the now kindergarteners and first graders to be monitored for their progress, according to Hope.

“We measure all of our kindergarteners at the beginning of kindergarten in their literacy skills, and then we measure actually, all children throughout the school year,” Hope said. “And we have seen not only the children who have attended Widening the Net come in with better skills in literacy, but their learning accelerate through the end of kindergarten at a greater rate than the rest of our kids.”

Paramo says that Mat-Su’s school board has asked her to find pre-school money outside of the base student allocation, and that she is examining all available sources to continue the program. Paramo says the school district’s pre-school plan has always been scalable to fit whatever money is available, even if it is a one-time grant.

“And some people think, well that’s kind of a waste of money, you’ll have it for a couple of years, but then you won’t, but we affected 150 kids positively, that we could have, and that’s why we built programs that are scalable,” Paramo said. “We try, and then, we may have to tell some families that we can’t do it.”

She says, unless more money is found, only Talkeetna’s pre-K will open in the fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Remembering The Internment Of 83 Alaska Natives During WWII

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 17:16

Martin Stepetin digs a hole for the Atka memorial plaque. Onlookers are those who also joined the Friends of Admiralty Island tour. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

More than 70 years have passed since the U.S. government forced the people of Atka from their homes to an internment camp on Killisnoo Island in Southeast Alaska.

To protect them from Japanese invasion during World War II, they were moved 1,600 miles from the Aleutian Islands to an old whaling and herring village across the water from Angoon on Admiralty Island.

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Bishop David leads the blessing of the graves. Parish council president Julia Erickson and Ann Stepetin are part of Juneau’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

They have not been forgotten. A group of Southeast Alaskans traveled to Killisnoo last weekend to memorialize the Aleut people of Atka.

While digging a hole for a memorial plaque, Martin Stepetin breaks down in tears. His wife, Ann, comforts him with a long embrace before he continues digging. He said he felt like he was digging a grave.

Stepetin is from St. Paul in the Pribolof Islands. His grandparents were evacuated in June 1942 and brought to an internment camp in Funter Bay, about 50 miles north of Killisnoo. His father was born there.

He has come to Killisnoo with about a hundred people on a Friends of Admiralty Island tour. Most are from Juneau, some are past and present Angoon residents.

Though Stepetin’s family wasn’t in Killisnoo, he feels a profound connection to the Atka people interned here.

“They’re Aleuts just like us and we’re related to them and they went through very similar hardships like we did and it changed our entire history,” Stepetin says.

Stepetin heard about the Funter Bay internment camp all his life growing up in St. Paul.

“The things that come to my mind are the stories of the babies that were born there and didn’t have the medical care to live and they were just babies and they died because they couldn’t be taken care of,” he says tearing up.

Besides Atka villagers, many others are buried in the Killisnoo cemetery. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Stepetin now lives in Juneau and visited Funter Bay for the first time three weeks ago. When he heard about the Friends of Admiralty trip to Killisnoo, he immediately joined.

“Coming here is the closest thing you can do to paying your respects. It’s the ultimate way for me to put closure on it,” Stepetin says.

K.J. Metcalf helped start Friends of Admiralty Island in 1997 to advocate for the island’s cultural, historic and wilderness preservation. He was the first U.S. Forest Service ranger when Admiralty Island was designated a National Monument in 1978. Metcalf and his wife lived in Angoon for 18 years.

Funter Bay was more isolated that Killisnoo. Metcalf says the Atka Aleuts interned in the old Killisnoo herring factory had Tlingit neighbors a few miles north.

“These people were not provided any assistance at all – no medical help, no clean water, no sanitary conditions,” Metcalf says. “And the people of Angoon were incredibly important in their survival because they brought goods over and they helped take care of them.”

Dan Johnson grew up in Angoon hearing stories from his grandparents about the people of Atka and their time at Killisnoo. He says the two communities became close.

“They interacted on a daily basis so our people always talk about remembering the people that were here, and how they worked and helped each other. It wasn’t just our people helping them. It worked back and forth,” Johnson says.

While Johnson says the situation in Killisnoo was deplorable, he was told of lighter times as well.

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“The happy moments, I guess, my grandparents used to talk about is that the people that were brought here loved their movies. Whenever they knew there was a new movie in town, they’d come rowing over to Angoon in their dories,” he says.

Few signs of the Killisnoo internment camp remain. The island now has a sport fishing lodge. It’s dotted with private homes, but on the south side is the cemetery where five wooden Russian Orthodox crosses mark the graves of Atka villagers.

The new memorial plaque sits atop a wooden post among the graves. It tells the story of the Atka people in Killisnoo.

When the plaque is in place, Joe Zuboff cries out a Tlingit chant. Zuboff is of the Deisheetan Clan (Raven/Beaver) of Angoon and is caretaker of the Raven House. His chant stems from the story of a crab apple tree during a big storm.

“The tide came really high and it washed this crab apple tree away and all we could do is watch this crab apple tree drift away,” Zuboff says. “And this is how we refer to our loved ones that we lose. There’s nothing we can do but watch them float into the other world.”

A history of the World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska by Charles Mobley indicates 83 people from Atka were brought to Killisnoo in 1942. Before returning to Atka three years later, 17 of them died.

Back at the cemetery, Russian Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey of the Alaska Diocese sprinkles holy water on the memorial plaque and the area around it. He leads a blessing of the graves.

The plaque in memory of the Atka people looks east. It’s Orthodox tradition for altars and memorial graves to face the rising sun.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 5, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 17:07

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

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Court Says Alaska Must Translate Election Materials Into Alaska Native Languages

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A federal judge says the constitutional right to vote requires the state of Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English proficiency.

What Do The EPA’s New Carbon Rules Mean For Alaska?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska utilities and policymakers are puzzling over President Obama’s proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants and what the rules would mean for Alaska. Around the country, the proposal is viewed as a push to get states to clean up their coal plants, but that may not be the easiest way for Alaska to meet its target.

Company Operating Red Dog Mine Opts For Fine Over Wastewater Pipeline

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The Canadian company that operates the Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska says it won’t build a pipeline to carry wastewater away from the mine site to the Chukchi Sea—opting instead to absorb an $8 million fine laid out in a 2008 lawsuit settlement.

NPFMC Meets in Nome; Bering Sea Pollock Remains Flat, Chinook Bycatch Is Up

Anna MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

After days of scientific subcommittees, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had its first round of meetings Wednesday in Nome. The Council heard reports from fisheries across the North Pacific.

NPFMC Looking to Reduce Salmon Bycatch

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

This morning an advisory panel of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council heard public testimony on proposed policy changes to salmon bycatch. The panel makes recommendations to the governing board of the council, which is meeting this week in Nome.

Shipwrecks Take Long Path To Cleanup

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

An abandoned crab vessel will finally be pulled off the beach in Unalaska, more than seven months after it ran aground. But, the Arctic Hunter isn’t the only wreck that’s been waiting on a cleanup.

Mat-Su School District Seeks Pre-K Funds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Matanuska-Susitna School District’s pre-school program is in jeopardy.  “Widening the Net” brings pre-kindergarten education into selected district schools, but school funding reductions may force the district to shut down the innovative program in the fall.

Remembering The Internment Of 83 Alaska Natives During WWII

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

More than seventy years have passed since the U.S. government forced the people of Atka from their homes to an internment camp on Killisnoo Island in Southeast Alaska.

To protect them from Japanese invasion during World War II, they were moved 1,600 miles from the Aleutian Islands to an old whaling and herring village across the water from Angoon on Admiralty Island.

They have not been forgotten. A group of Southeast Alaskans traveled to Killisnoo last weekend to memorialize the Aleut people of Atka.

Categories: Alaska News

One Dead After Boat Refrigeration Leaks Chemicals

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-06-05 10:44

A refrigeration leak aboard a fishing vessel in St. Herman Harbor left one fisherman hospitalized and another dead on Wednesday.

The Kodiak Police Department and fire and rescue personnel responded to a report of the Freon leak aboard the boat Alpine Cove. Freon is a caustic chemical used to keep refrigeration systems cold on boats and also in some air conditioning systems in cars.

A press release from the police department said five crewmembers were evacuated from the boat and officers provided immediate medical attention until EMS personnel arrived. Two crewmembers were ultimately transported to the hospital where 30-year-old Cody Cecil of Everett, Wash., was pronounced dead.

The other crewmember, 56-year-old Francis Rutten of Snohomish, Wash., is still being treated at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for exposure to Freon.

Nearby vessels were evacuated yesterday by harbormaster staff as a precaution to the chemical release.

A preliminary investigation revealed that repair work was being done to the Alpine Cove on Tuesday night, but it is unclear if that work is related to the Freon leak. The incident is still under investigation by the police department and the Marine Safety Detachment of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Categories: Alaska News

King Cove Road Advocates Sue Federal Officials

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:35

Tribes, local governments, and residents from the King Cove region are suing federal officials for denying them the right to build a road through a wildlife refuge.

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King Cove residents have been arguing for years that the road would be the easiest, safest way to get to emergency medevac flights at the all-weather airstrip in Cold Bay.

They didn’t stop arguing when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided not to allow a land swap in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in December. That had been the best hope for getting a road built.

“We’re at the point where we can’t let this go, and we’ve got to keep moving forward,” says Della Trumble.

She’s a spokeswoman for the King Cove Corporation and the Agdaagux Tribe. They are two of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed Wednesday in United States District Court in Anchorage.

The complaint alleges that the Interior Department’s decision to reject the road violates the Constitution and several federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

This isn’t the first legal action by advocates of the road. In April, the State of Alaska announced that it may sue the federal government for a right-of-way through the refuge based on historic use.

But Della Trumble says that’s a separate case.

“They are related in some ways, but they are not the same,” Trumble says. “Part of this lawsuit is basically that saying that the EIS that was submitted to the Secretary is inaccurate.”

Trumble is referring to the environmental impact statement, which was completed in 2013. The Interior Secretary used that document to make her final determination on the land swap.

Trumble argues that the EIS didn’t provide a full picture.

“The EIS technically falls heavily on the side of the US Fish and Wildlife in regard to the wilderness,” Trumble says. “It does not take into consideration the human factor and the health and safety issues that revolve around it, as directed by Congress.”

This spring, Trumble and several other King Cove officials traveledto Washington, DC. They wanted to lobby the Interior Secretary to reconsider her decision. In return, Secretary Jewell requested a report, explaining why a road is the only viable option to get from King Cove to Cold Bay during medical emergencies.

Trumble says the King Cove group turned it in almost two months ago.

“But we have not had any communication or response from [Jewell] to this point,” Trumble says.

That’s not acceptable, according to Robert Dillon. He’s a spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the road.

“They want the people of King Cove to go away and stop bothering them,” Dillon says. “And that’s the most important thing – is to keep reminding them that this issue remains alive and that the people of King Cove are not going to go away until their children and families are safe.”

A representative for the Interior Department declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

The defendants on the lawsuit include Interior Secretary Jewell, along with the assistant secretaries for Indian Affairs and Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Izembek refuge are also listed.

Categories: Alaska News

Exxon Mobil Developing Point Thomson Into Natural Gas Field

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:34

The first natural gas targeted development project on the North Slope is expected to come on line as early as next year. The Pt. Thompson Field is being developed by Exxon Mobil, 60 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pavlof Eruption Grounds Some PenAir, Grant Flights

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:33

Local flights were grounded on the Alaska Peninsula on Wednesday, as Pavlof Volcano continued to erupt.

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Ash plumes out of Pavlof Volcano on June 2. (Photo by Christopher Diaz)

All PenAir flights in and out of Cold Bay and Unalaska were canceled today, amid concerns about volcanic ash blowing in the way of planes.

Grant Aviation’s flights to and from Unalaska were also canceled. Staff there said bad weather made it hard to keep Pavlof’s ash plume in sight.

PenAir spokeswoman Missy Roberts says at least 200 people were impacted by their cancelations today. She’s not sure yet if they’ll be able to fly tomorrow. If they can, she says they’ll try to add extra flights for stranded passengers.

Pavlof began erupting on Saturday. Alaska Volcano Observatory geologist Game McGimsey says the volcano’s seismic activity reached a high point yesterday, when its alert status was elevated to a red color code. It’s since been notched back down to orange as the activity decreased.

But the volcano’s ash and steam plume is still going strong. McGimsey says it was around 20,000 feet in height today, spiking to 30,000 feet at times.

The volcano has spread a haze of fine ash over Cold Bay, but McGimsey says there haven’t been reports of ashfall there yet.

There was a report of ash in Sand Point — PenAir told the AVO they had to sweep off their runways and plane windshields before flying there today. McGimsey says it’s surprising for ash to have blown that way, but not impossible. There haven’t been any volcano-related flight cancelations in Sand Point so far.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Shakes Southeast Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:32

An earthquake shook some Southeast Alaska residents out of bed early Wednesday morning.

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The epicenter was roughly 100 miles northwest of Juneau. (Map courtesy USGS/Google Public Alerts)

The 5.8 preliminary magnitude quake with a depth of about 14 miles hit just before 4 a.m., according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.

The earthquake was about 49 miles west of Haines, and 60 miles west of Skagway.

Haines police report no calls when it struck, but in Skagway, police dispatcher Willeke Burnham say she received a couple.

Skagway PD is close to the water. Burnham says it felt like she was on a boat.

“The building shook quite a bit and then it felt like I was on the water. And it lasted pretty long too, maybe about a minute, minute and a half,” she says.

Small aftershocks were still being felt in Southeast Alaska two and a half hours after the initial quake, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.

There were no immediate reports of damage.

 

Categories: Alaska News

BLM Completes Land Transfer For Alaska Village

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:31

The Bureau of Land Management says it has completed a land transfer for an Alaska Native village.

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The BLM announced Wednesday that the signing of the final patent for more than 8,780 acres fulfills the land entitlement for Chuathbaluk under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The community of about 130 people is located 87 miles northeast of Bethel.

The land transfer was made to the Kuskokwim Corp., which was created in 1977 when 10 ANCSA village corporations merged. Chuathbaluk is among the 10 villages.

The BLM says the Kuskokwim Corp. received the first conveyance for Chuathbaluk in September 2005. Altogether, the corporation has received nearly 92,700 acres of land surrounding the village, which is located on the north bank of the Kuskokwim River.

Categories: Alaska News

Bergdahl’s Hometown Unprepared For Public Backlash

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:30

Almost immediately after the jubilant response to former Fort Richardson soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from the Taliban on Saturday, the story took a very different turn. First, there was criticism of the Obama administration for exchanging five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl. Then, some soldiers from his former unit started speaking out against the freed prisoner of war. Bergdahl’s hometown in Idaho was unprepared for the public backlash.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wolf Population Declining In Denali National Park

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:29

A survey of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve this spring turned out the fourth lowest count since biologists started keeping track of the animals nearly 30 years ago. Park Service officials say the numbers show a decline in the population, but they haven’t settled on an explanation.

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(Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

This year, biologists counted 51 wolves among thirteen packs in a 17,640 square kilometer area.  That’s approximately the same size as 94 football fields. Simple arithmetic shows this year’s is the lowest wolf population density ever recorded in the Park and Preserve.

“We do think there’s been a real decline in wolves over the last six or eight years,” Park Biology Program Manager Steve Arthur said. ”Not a super steep decline, and we’re at about the level that we were in the early 90’s, which was following a decline in wolves that was in response to a reduction in caribou abundance.”

There hasn’t been a recent decline in the caribou population. In fact, Arthur says caribou numbers are slowly increasing.  But he says they have moved to the north and east end of the Park.  The lowest numbers of wolves were recorded on the west side of the park, where there are fewer caribou.

But Arthur doesn’t have an explanation for why total population and population density estimates of wolves are so low.

“Whether this is a serious decline, I guess this is a matter of interpretation. Certainly the numbers are low, we wouldn’t want the numbers to get much lower than that,” he said. “The question is: what is driving that? We’re fairly uncertain as to what’s going on and that’s why we’re monitoring the situation.”

Biologists count wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve twice a year.  Counts in the fall will provide information about the number of wolf pups born this spring.

Categories: Alaska News

Over 4,250 Show For Anchorage’s Bike To Work Day

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:28

More than 4,250 bikers turned out for Bike to Work Day in Anchorage on Wednesday. That’s more than double the participants for last year’s snowy event, when low numbers were blamed on the cold, wet weather. In 2012, about 3,800 bikers took to the streets and trails.

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Lori Schanche is the non-motorized transportation coordinator for the municipality. She says the number of riders counted at each special Bike to Work station has increased, but the percentage of people wearing bike helmets is down slightly to 87%. It was at 92% last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Canadian Man Embarks On 6,700 Mile Horseback Trip

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:27

A Canadian man started a horseback trip from Deadhorse to Mexico on Tuesday. Rider Len Crow is embarking on the 6,700 mile journey to raise money for orphanages, including a facility in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his ride is scheduled to wrap up in 11 months.

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Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Assembly Cuts Library Funding

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 17:26

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to cut its share of funding for the city-owned Ketchikan Public Library. In 2010 city voters approved spending up to $5.2 million for the facility. Because Borough residents were not allowed to vote on the issue, who should pay for services has been sometimes controversial.

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The assembly eliminated the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax during budget discussions Monday (June 2). The money generated from that tax, more than $405,000, is deposited in the city’s general fund and helps support the Ketchikan Public Library.

Assembly member Glen Thompson proposed the amendment.

“Folks outside the city did not have any input on the library, did not have any control over any of its funding, and are now paying an additional half percent in sales taxes. This 0.7 mills winds up being a double dip and I think it’s inappropriate and I think we should delete the whole program.”

Asked if the Borough is under any legal obligation to provide the funds next fiscal year, Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen said no. He says an agreement between the city and borough is renewed on an annual basis, and that agreement expires at the end of the fiscal year.

Assembly member Bill Rotecki says he would like to see the City and Borough work together.

“But I think it could be done through more serious discussion than we’ve had in the past. Alternatively, and far more logically, since everyone in the borough uses the library, would be that it became a borough function. That to me would be the most logical thing to do.”
Assembly Member Alan Bailey says the city and borough have discussed the library in the past, in part during cooperative relations committee meetings. He says he has mixed feelings about the issue.

“I’m just envisioning that were going to cut this out and right behind this they’re going to raise the taxes again. I know that’s not our problem, but it is a problem to our community. At what point do they stop. What effect does this have specifically on the city and the library by withdrawing these funds? What effect does this have? I have concerns about that.”

The Assembly voted 5-2 in favor of cutting the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax, therefore eliminating the borough’s contribution to library funding. Thompson and Assembly members Mike Painter, Todd Phillips, Agnes Moran, and Jim Van Horn voted for the motion, Baily and Rotecki voted against.

Any remaining residual funds will go into the non-area-wide fund and can be used for projects such as sewer repair.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Bike to Work Day participation soars

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 15:40

Jeremy Beheler and Amber St.Amand join the city’s largest Bike to Work Day crowd to date. See more photos on Alaska Public’s Facebook page.

More than 4,250 bikers turned out for Bike to Work Day in Anchorage today. That’s more than double the participants for last year’s snowy event, when low numbers were blamed on the cold, wet weather. In 2012, about 3,800 bikers took to the streets and trails. Lori Schanche [Skanky] is the non-motorized transportation coordinator for the municipality. She says the number of riders counted at each special Bike to Work station has increased, but the percentage of people wearing bike helmets is down slightly to 87%. It was at 92% last year.

The Anchorage area also hit a record with the number of students participating in Bike to School Day in May. Three thousand students from 62 schools participated. It was the largest number of schools in any city in the nation.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Man Solves Mystery Of Governor’s Mansion Photo

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-04 10:57

The mystery of a picture found in the attic of the Alaska Governor’s Mansion has been solved, thanks to a Juneau resident.

Terry VanLeuven owns the original black and white picture of the late President John F. Kennedy shaking hands with a smartly dressed little boy.

Gov. Parnell and Terry VanLeuven with Kennedy picture. (Governor’s office photo)

Gov. Sean Parnell’s office last week asked the public if anyone could identify the child, thinking he was an Alaskan. During the 1960 presidential election, JFK made a campaign stop in Alaska.

When VanLeuven saw the picture in the Juneau Empire last week, he called the governor’s office and KTOO. He met with Parnell on Monday to tell him the story.

VanLeuven’s late wife took the picture when Kennedy was in Oregon, probably during a 1960 campaign stop. The boy in the picture is Brian Kennedy, who was 8-years-old at the time and the son of a Myrtle Point, Ore. logging family.

VanLeuven moved from Oregon to Alaska 33 years ago, and brought the picture with him. It still hangs in his home.

In 1986, he gave a framed copy to newly elected Gov. Steve Cowper. He had his 21-year-old daughter Tracy present it to Cowper at the annual Christmas open house at the governor’s mansion.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow says the picture will go to the Alaska State Museum and be included in the Cowper collection.

VanLeuven, who will be 76 in August, says he was really happy to hear that during his meeting Monday with Gov. Parnell.

 “Almost made me cry. I have no idea how that picture stayed with me 50 years in all the places I’ve been all over Alaska and some of the stuff I left behind, but I had that picture,” he says. “I guess that picture meant a lot to me or something, because I never lost it, you know.”

VanLeuven says the original picture was taken at the community building in Coquille, Ore.

Kennedy was the 35th U.S. president, elected in November 1960.  He was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage ranks among nation’s top bike commuting cities

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-03 22:14

Anchorage is celebrating it’s 10th annual Bike to Work Day on Wednesday — an event aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says that bike commuting in Anchorage is up 151 percent since 1990. It’s one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/02-Biking-in-ANC.mp3 http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Biking-try-2.mp4

Jackie Edwards pushes her teal bike up the hill on the Chester Creek Trail toward the bridge over Northern Lights.

“I am bike commuting from work,” she says, pausing to catch her breath. “To my house.”

It’s her first time trying it.

“I’m just trying to include a little bit more activity in my life. And I’ve always wanted to ride my bike but I didn’t have the guts. Within the last week or so, I just decided I wanted to give it a shot.”

She says as a beginner, it’s exhausting, but worth it.

“I get to see pockets of my community that I would never, ever see driving in my vehicle. So it’s great.”

Edwards is joining more than 1,800 regular bike commuters in Anchorage. It seems like a small number — it’s only 1.1 percent of all commuters in the city. But it’s almost twice the national average. And the number doesn’t account for folks who bike other places like to the grocery store or to volunteer positions, as Chris Black is doing.

“For me, I like it,” he says as he pauses at the same hill.  “It’s a really good alternative. You lose a few pounds and stuff like that.”

Black says he bikes because it’s healthy for him. Bill Popp from the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation says it’s also healthy for the local economy. Retail sales are up for bikes and bike parts. And Popp says making the community more bike friendly attracts young professionals and, to a degree, some businesses.

“When they’re thinking about making an investment in a city,” he explains they think, “what kind of cultural and environmental opportunity does that city represent to the workforce that they’re going to want to hire either by importing that workforce or hiring it locally and retaining it.”

But along with all of the positives are some negatives. Cyclist and driver Julie Saddoris says she’s been almost hit by cars a few times and sometimes drivers are just rude to her.

“Cyclists and cars interact on the road together, and there’s a lot of anxiety and frustration on both sides. And I think that improvements could be made to make the two coexist better on the road.”

So what’s the solution? She says one is increasing awareness. She’s proposing a “Share the Road” specialized license plate to the next state legislature.

But Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage Co-founder Brian Litmans says sometimes it’s easier than that. He says reports confirm that there’s safety in numbers.

“With more people out there bicycling, motorists become more aware and recognize there’s more bicyclists on the road. So I think we’re seeing that the behaviors are just starting to change,” he says. “More motorists are recognizing me at crosswalks and waving me through. And that makes it a much safer city to bike in.”

Litmans says the city also needs better marking and signage on bike lanes and bike routes, so people are more likely to see cyclists.

Back on the trail, Edwards, the first time bike commuter, says making use of the new perspective of being on a bike helps keep her safe, too.

“I think it’s interesting – I’m more aware. More aware, just paying attention to all of the traffic around me versus when I’m in my car.” She says she pays attention when she’s in her car, but when she’s on her bike paying attention prevents her from getting hit.

After her brief rest, she’s ready to finish her ride. She hops on her bike and is off.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-03 17:16

Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday morning in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.

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The lawsuit challenges the state over what some local officials say is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities, but not others, to fund a minimum level for local schools. The borough argues that because not everyone in Alaska is required to contribute to local education, the mandate is not fair.

The Borough filed the suit in early January. In February, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted to file an amicus brief in support of the Ketchikan Borough’s argument. Other plaintiffs in the case are Ketchikan residents John Harrington, David Spokely, Agnes Moran and her minor son, John Coss.

Louann Cutler of K&L Gates, LLC spoke on behalf of all plaintiffs. Cutler says under the constitution, the state is required to fund education. She acknowledged that the state is not required to ‘fully’ fund education, but reiterated that a statue requiring a local contribution from local sources, imposes an unfair tax on municipalities.

“It’s not just the municipalities; it’s the tax payer who are forced to make this payment to support the state obligation. It’s clearly a dedicated earmarked source of state funding, and that’s the problem with it. It’s not that the state has to fully fund education, it’s that it has to fund it in a way that doesn’t violate other constitutional provisions.”

Cutler says by forcing organized boroughs and cities to dedicate a certain amount to education funding, it is making them tax collectors.

A key case being used to support the Borough’s argument is State v. Alex. The Alaska Supreme Court decision in that case invalidated a state statute authorizing private aquaculture associations to collect fees from commercial salmon fisherman. This was found to be in violation of the dedicated funds clause.

Assistant Attorney General Kate Vogel presented the state’s argument. Vogel says the local contribution is constitutional because it not subject to the restrictions that apply to state money such as legislative approval or dedicated funds prohibition.

“This isn’t a specific funding source; it’s not a specific tax. It is simply an allocation of responsibility to a local government unit. It is no more a dedication that the portion of that same statute which talks about state aid.”

Vogel says if the local contribution was truly state money, the borough would receive 100 percent of its basic need and the money would be under the control of the state which could choose to use it for a purpose other than education. She says local contributions are currently going directly to the school system and municipalities are deciding how that money is spent.

Vogel reiterated that it is not a tax and municipalities could use other means, beside taxes, to fund the mandate.

“It’s not about the state imposing a state tax, which clearly it could do anywhere that it so chose. This is the state cooperating with the local communities and requiring that they themselves exercise their taxing authority or whatever other means that they use to come up with a certain amount. But certainly the state isn’t dictating a specific tax.”
Judge Carey responded.

“To my knowledge every municipality or borough that contributes does it through taxes. They’re not getting it through the bingo hall.”

Monday’s court appearance is the sole time oral arguments will be heard. The case is now in the hands of Judge Carey. It may be months before a decision is reached.

Categories: Alaska News
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