Alaska News

Parnell Proposes Slight Bump To Base Student Allocation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:49

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.
That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled.

For four years, the BSA has sat at $5,680. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. For the upcoming academic year, it would be raised to $5,765. The year after that, it would go to $5,823. Finally, during the 2016-2017 academic year, the BSA would be set at $5,881. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

In a statement, the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate said they appreciated the increase, but that they didn’t think at $200 boost over three years went far enough. This year alone, the Anchorage School District requires a $251-increase to the BSA to cover their shortfall. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District needs $300, while the Juneau School District needs $425.

At current student enrollment levels, the BSA increase would cost $11 million this year. In addition to the BSA increase, Parnell has already included $25 million to offset school energy costs in his budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

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he Alaska Department of Transportation says the driver did not have time to stop and struck a snow berm. The driver was not injured.

Valdez police called Alaska State Troopers at 8 a.m. Friday morning to report the highway through Thompson Pass was completely blocked by avalanches,

The Transportation Department says it has closed the highway from Mile 12 to Mile 69.

Crews have been unable to clear the road because of fears of unstable snow. The highway could be closed for 24 hours as crews wait for conditions to improve.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hollis

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

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Categories: Alaska News

Educators, Lawmakers Rally Around Repeal of High School Exit Exam

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:30

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package. But part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate.

Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

To make sure schools are doing their job of educating students and preparing them for college or the workforce, you need some sort of metric. But what if that metric isn’t actually measuring anything anymore?

On Wednesday, Gov. Sean Parnell said the exit exam every high schooler must pass to get their diploma is “obsolete” and unnecessary given that the state has new standards. Now, lawmakers like Charlie Huggins, a Republican senator from Wasilla, are questioning whether the test ever had any value.

“I don’t think it affected any change,” says Huggins.

That seems to be a popular opinion. A chorus of school board members, superintendents, and parents called in to a Friday hearing of the Senate Education Committee to support Senate Bill 111. They also voiced their complaints over the high school graduation qualifying exam. Among the most frequent : It takes time away from classroom learning; it’s expensive to administer; and it doesn’t really capture how much a student has learned.

The exit exam also has a real “human cost,” as Larry Talley put it. Talley came to the meeting in person to testify about the experience of having a special needs child who couldn’t pass the exam.

“He took the test six times. And five times of course was while he was in school, starting his sophomore year,” says Talley. “Again and again, he failed.”

Talley says his son maintained a 3.25 GPA and was accepted into a college that teaches students with learning disabilities. But he couldn’t attend until he passed the exit exam and got his diploma. That meant putting off college for a year, and getting removed from his parents’ health insurance because he was no longer a full-time student.

“The stress, the humiliation, the pain – it’s very hard to describe, but we went through that,” says Talley. “My family lived that.”

Not all of the testimony hammered the exit exam. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse with the Department of Education said that while the test may now be obsolete, it did have a point when it was first introduced.

“My belief is that for our student who are struggling the most and have been the least successful, maybe the exam brought higher instructional programs to them over time so that they were achieving at least at the basic level before they left.”

Even so, the Department of Education is supportive of retiring the test now.

“So the assessment played a role, but may not need to continue to play that role anymore,” says Morse.

The bills introduced by state legislators don’t offer a replacement for the exit exam. However, the governor has proposed using college placement or job skill assessment tests as a substitute for the exit exam as part of his omnibus education bill. The state would pay for the first test, and there would be no minimum score a student needs to beat to get a diploma.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 18:06

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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ASD Budget Cutting Process Begins as Legislature Mulls Increasing Education Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau & Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.

That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. For four years, the BSA has been $5,680 dollars. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

And that isn’t enough of an increase to please Anchorage School district officials, who presented the 2014-2015 budget to the Anchorage School Board last night. The district is facing cuts of $23 million this year.

Bill Could Eliminate High School Exit Exam

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With school districts working on their budgets and teacher layoffs looming, the potential change in the base student allocation is the most talked about portion of the governor’s education package.

The part of the bill that has the most political momentum is a section that would repeal the high school exit exam that students need to graduate. Separate pieces of the legislation that would do just that have already been introduced in both legislative chamber, and the first hearing of the policy was held Friday morning.

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million dollars in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

The Associated Press

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

AK: Spoken Word

David Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

For the fourth consecutive year, the group Brave New Alaskan Voices is assembling a squad of teen spoken word artists to compete in the International Spoken Word & Poetry festival. This year the competition will be held in Philadelphia, but first these Alaskan artists have to face each other for a chance to represent their state.

300 Villages: Hollis

This week we’re heading to Hollis, a small community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Bill Sharpes is the fire chief in Hollis on Prince of Wales Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Introduced To Repeal State Funds For U-Med/Northern Access Road

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 17:44

Two Anchorage Democrats introduced legislation Friday to repeal $20 million in state funds allocated to the planned U-Med/Northern Access Road.

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The road would slice through the center of the congested University district in Anchorage.

Representative Andy Josephson, of Anchorage, says this is the second time he has pushed this issue. The first time was on the day the Legislature adjourned last year.

“And nothing about my feelings or my constituents’ feelings have changed since then,” Josephson said.

Since the money was given out last year, though, some factors regarding the project have changed. One factor is an increased price tag going as high as $42 million. Josephson says the second is the state’s changing strategy for spending money.

“Under the guise, or the theme, of the governor’s is that we should finish what we’ve started,” Josephson said. ”This program, or this project, is essentially not started. It’s in its engineering phase, its development phase, but there is no road yet.”

Josephson says though some of the money has already been spent on planning, he believes most of the appropriated money is still available and could be returned to the state.

The Municipality of Anchorage remains in favor of the project.

In a statement issued by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, he says the project is a priority for the city. And he says it would help relieve traffic congestion in the U-Med District.

Sullivan also says the project has been taken through the proper planning processes. Lindsey Whitt, the spokesperson for the City of Anchorage, read the statement on behalf of Mayor Sullivan.

“The Department of Transportation with DOWL engineers went through the very public process, holding meetings with the community councils, public hearings, and received public comment,” Whitt said. “The project is supported by the university and the hospitals in the area. The project will greatly improve the safety for both motorists and pedestrians.”

Representative Josephson says all five of the community councils in the area unanimously oppose the road.

Senator Berta Gardner, of Anchorage, filed similar legislation in the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Cantwell Urges White House To Stop Alaska Pebble Mine Project, Protect Fishermen

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 14:09

People pray at Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle, before the start of a rally opposing a mining project in western Alaska. Fishermen in Washington say the project threatens salmon in Bristol Bay, where about 1,000 Washingtonians have permits to fish. Photo by Ed Ronco, KPLU – Seattle.

A U.S. senator from the Lower 48 is asking the White House to stop the Pebble Mine. Democrat Maria Cantwell, of Washington, says the proposed mine in Western Alaska threatens fishing jobs in her state.

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Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle feels less like a slice of this big city and more like a coastal community in Alaska. Fishing boats are moored to floating docks. They ask what you’re up to in the nearby restaurants – and actually wait for you to answer. And around here, you’re more likely to see someone in Grundens than Gucci. But the connections between Washington and the 49th state run much deeper.

“Well, I’ve been fishing in Bristol Bay for the last few years,” Billie Delaney, from Port Townsend, north of Seattle, said.

And she’s among some 1,000 Washington residents who earn at least part of their living in Bristol Bay. Today, she’s part of a rally at Fishermen’s Terminal. A couple hundred people have turned out to oppose the Pebble Mine – a proposed project that would sit not far from the bay and its productive salmon habitat.

“The commercial fishery there is a renewable resource we’ll have forever if we manage it correctly,” Delaney said. “The mine would last about 80 years and completely destroy the culture and economy of that area.”

Senator Maria Cantwell agrees. On a stage in front of the crowd, the Washington Democrat calls the Pebble Mine a, quote, “giant cauldron of toxic waste.”

“I say that because the science shows this material would take hundreds of thousands of years to get rid of if it reached the watershed,” Cantwell said. “One mistake and that cauldron starts to seep into our water, into the fish, killing these important jobs.”

An EPA assessment says the mine would pose a danger to salmon and destroy miles of spawning grounds. Cantwell sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to follow up on that EPA report, and use his authority to stop the project.

“Senator Cantwell’s request is unprecedented in the history of the EPA for a major resource project before it’s even had an opportunity to file for permits,” Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, which wants to build the mine, said.

He says the project isn’t being given due process, and that it hasn’t even filed for permits yet. As for that damning EPA report?

“The EPA’s document is not conclusive science, but rather a political report intended to harm our project’s ability to apply for permits and frankly receive an objective review under the laws of our country,” he said.

Heatwole says the permitting process will be rigorous, and that the mine will have to comply with thick volumes of regulation to operate. He also says Pebble would be an important economic booster in a part of Alaska where the work is sorely needed. He says the fishing industry isn’t enough.

“Not to cast aspersion to the industry – it is an important economic engine – but if it was a healthy economic engine it would provide greater economic opportunities,” Heatwole said. “Our premise is that we want to have a project that co-exists with that fishery so that we can provide year-round job opportunities where right now there are simply none.”

Robert Masonis, the vice president for western conservation at Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that opposes the mine, disagrees.

“That’s a very limited view of the economic benefits of the Bristol Bay fishery,” he said.

Masonis says year-round jobs are supported by the fishery, both in commercial fishing and sport fishing. He looks around at the 200 or so people who have gathered at the rally.

“It makes me hopeful,” Masonis said. “I think a lot of people are realizing just how special this place is, and how fragile it is. I think what we’re seeing is an outpouring of public support for the Obama administration to do the right thing and protect this area.”

Cantwell says the EPA’s report is new enough that it’s not surprising the Obama administration hasn’t acted. She’s hoping the people at this rally, and the letters she and others will send, change that.

Categories: Alaska News

Are Alaska’s Legislative Districts Getting Too Big?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:30

The final 2010 redistricting map for Southeast Alaska.

The chairman of the Alaska Redistricting Board says state residents need to have a conversation about the growing number of people who live in each legislative district.

In 2010, when the current Redistricting Board started working on new political boundaries, Alaska’s population was about 714,000. Divided by 40 House districts, that’s nearly 18,000 people for each member of the Alaska House of Representatives and about 35,500 for each member of the Senate.

Board Chair John Torgerson says the state’s population is expected to grow to at least 820,000 within the decade – even more if some industry or project, such as a major natural gas pipeline, brings people to the state.

“The districts are going to go from over 17,000 to over 20,000 in 2020,” said Torgerson.

His estimate is backed by the Alaska Department of Labor, which projects the state population could be nearly a million people by 2030.

In 2010, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have added six seats to the Alaska Legislature – four new House members and two new Senators – reducing the size of legislative districts.

“The question is certainly not mine to answer as to whether or not we should add more folks to the legislature, look at a unicameral legislature, make everybody Senators,” Torgerson said. “So you’d have 60 people, you would take that mass, divide it by 60, whatever it is. But we need to have that conversation.”

Last month, a Fairbanks Superior Court judge approved the Redistricting Board’s final plan, which was developed over three years and numerous court challenges. The only thing left to determine is whether the board or the plaintiffs in the case are the prevailing party for purposes of winning legal fees.

“The good news is it’s done,” said Torgerson.

Petersburg challenged the temporary redistricting plan used in 2012, which put the community with downtown Juneau and Douglas Island. Mayor Mark Jensen says the borough is satisfied with the final map, which pairs it with Sitka, Prince of Wales Island, and other smaller Southeast communities. He says those are a better socio-economic fit than the Capital City.

“We’re a little different, I think. We’re totally a fishing community with some government here too, state and federal,” said Jensen. “But a little bit different than Juneau being mainly a government type town.”

The final map, which takes effect for this year’s elections, puts downtown Juneau and Douglas in a district with Haines, Skagway, Tenakee Springs, and Gustavus.

Torgerson blamed the court system for delaying the plan by taking too long to issue opinions. He said the next redistricting process in 2020 should go more smoothly, after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that determined whether or not Alaska needed to get preclearance for Native voting districts.

“I personally think it will be substantially easier, just using the Alaska Constitution as the only guideline, and not having a lot of overlapping federal laws there,” Torgerson said.

He spoke Thursday to a lunch gathering of lawmakers and business leaders during the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative fly-in. The event was co-sponsored by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Thomas Considers Kerttula’s House Seat

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:27

Former Haines Representative Bill Thomas is considering a run for the House seat being vacated by Juneau’s Beth Kerttula. But he’s more likely to take on Juneau Senator Dennis Egan.

Republican Thomas served eight years in the House. He lost a close 2012 race to Sitka’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins after new boundaries put that city inside his district.

Rep. Bill Thomas answers a question as Rep. Beth Kerttula listens during a 2011 form at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

He hoped for a rematch, but an updated redistricting plan put Haines in with Juneau and a few smaller communities, not Sitka.

Thomas says he’s considering a run for Kerttula’s seat, which has been held by a Democrat for at least two decades. But he probably won’t do it.

“I think it would be an uphill battle, from what I’ve seen through the years, depending on who they put in there,” Thomas says.

District Democrats will nominate up to three replacements, with the governor making the choice. Thomas can’t apply for that, since he’s a Republican — and living outside the current district.

He can run for the seat later this year, when election boundaries change.

He says he’ll decide once he knows whether the new representative is a place-holder, or someone who would run as an incumbent.

“I’d rather right now wait to see what happens this next week or so with the appointment,” Thomas says.

Kerttula has held the seat for 15 years.

She says she hopes Thomas won’t run – because he’d lose.

“Bill Thomas is a friend, so I’m hoping he’ll think twice before he gets himself into this any further. But, the math alone means this will stay a Democratic seat – and a strong one,” Kerttula says.

Thomas says he’s more inclined to run against Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan, who’s up for re-election this year.

“I’ll be the first one to admit, my chances of beating Dennis Egan straight up are nil,” Thomas says.

Egan was appointed to the post in 2009 when Senator Kim Elton resigned for an Obama administration job. The Juneau Democrat was unopposed in his 2010 reelection bid.

Thomas points to Egan’s recent hospitalization and wonders whether the Juneau Democrat will be able to complete another four-year term.

“I just want to have a debate with him saying are you going to spend your four years? And if not, will you step down within a year or six months after the election?” Thomas asked.

“There’s no way in heck I would quit serving in another term,” Egan says.

He says he’s fully recovered from what he calls routine heart surgery about three years ago. He also says leg surgery last year was successful.

He says he’s also getting back to full speed after an infection he caught in the hospital attacked his foot.

“I’ve filed a letter of intent and I have money and I plan on running,” Egan says.

Kerttula, who’s been House Minority leader, is leaving for a one-year fellowship at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

She could return and run again for her House seat, or Egan’s. But she’s not making any plans.

“We’ll just see what the future brings. But I can’t really see that far ahead right now. But I know somebody’s going to be in this seat for a long, long time,” Kerttula says.

Kerttula and Egan’s current districts include Petersburg, Skagway, Gustavus and Tenakee.

For the next election, they’ll drop Petersburg and add Haines.

Juneau’s other representative is Republican Cathy Munoz. Her district is – and will be – all within the capital city’s boundaries.

Categories: Alaska News

Radiation from Fukushima

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 13:00

They’re having trouble sealing up the leaking nuclear power plants in Japan and they’re also having trouble disclosing what is going on there. Is this a reason to distrust Alaska seafood?

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

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Categories: Alaska News

ASD Budget Cutting Process Begins as Legislature Mulls Increasing Education Funding

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:49

(From left) Allison Haynes, Margaret Clark, and Laura Gordon, all West High School Students, testified before the Anchorage School Board on Thursday night about the proposed 2014-15 budget. All opposed the cuts. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Anchorage School District officials presented the 2014-15 budget to the Anchorage School Board Thursday evening.

The district faces cutting $23 million this year unless the legislature increases the per student funding.

Public testimony was passionate and officials discussed calculations for how much legislators would have to increase funding to stop cuts.

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Tina Bernoski, an English Language Learner Counselor at Bartlett High School said she couldn’t believe that the Board was considering cutting school counselors again. She says she worries about what will happen if some of the most vulnerable students in the district lose support and warned school board members that things could get bad.

“Many of my students do not speak English, do not have a parent that speaks English,” Bernoski said. “We are the case managers, the refugee liaisons, the immigration collectors and the parent to communicate with. I will tell you that dropout rates will increase and graduation rates will dramatically reduce.”

ASD officials rolled out the proposed 2014-2015 budget Tuesday. Under the plan, the district will cut more than 200 positions, more than half of them teaching positions. Administration and support positions will also be eliminated. In addition, high school schedules will now have seven periods, instead of six to save money.

Allison Haynes, a sophomore at West High School, says she’s concerned that the change will compromise her education.

“A seven-period day will not allow for the kind of time that is needed for intense, higher-level classes, or any class for that matter, to be taught effectively,” Haynes said. “I am currently in calculus, AP U.S. History and HG English. I see no way that my wonderful, dedicated teachers could possibly deliver the same quality of instruction in a 42 minute period.”

Officials say cost drivers include: group medical coverage, the Affordable Care Act, new state technology requirements for online testing and teacher evaluations, liability and self-insurance and natural gas prices.

Governor Sean Parnell is recommending a base student allocation increase of $200 over three years, an increase of about one percent per year. School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler says that’s not enough.

“We’ve been asked, what would we need in order to stop our budget gap this year, in terms of dollar increase to the base student allocation and that is estimated at about $250 increase. To catch up with inflation for the last three years and this year, it’s about $400.”

Agosti-Gisler says a long-term solution is needed in the form of an inflation-proof formula for funding Schools.

The next opportunity for the public to testify on the ASD budget will be Feb. 3. They’ll be one more chance on Feb. 20, when the board will take their final vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Temperatures Causing Issues Around State

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 12:46

The big thaw that has hit much of the state continues to make life complicated.

The Northern Lights 300 Sled Dog Race from Big Lake to Finger Lake has been cancelled, and the north part of Denali National Park has been put off limits for snowmachines due to wet conditions and lack of snow. Skiing has been off and on at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. Temperatures are well above freezing deep into the Interior past Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative Session Gavels In; And Rep. Kerttula Resigns

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-24 09:26

The Legislature opens the 2014 session and Gov. Parnell gives his State of the State address. Layoffs are coming to the Anchorage School District. Sen. Mark Begich opposes the proposed Pebble Mine. Analysts lay out the impact of budget shortfalls to the Legislature. Buccaneer his rough spots in preparing to drill in Cook Inlet. Shell’s earnings off 48 percent. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says the federal government failed to evaluate the potential consequences of the 2008 off-shore lease sale. The Anchorage labor law referendum seems head to the November ballot. Rep, Beth Kerttula steps down as House Minority Leader.

HOST: Michael Carey

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Categories: Alaska News

Court Says Chukchi Lease Sale Environmental Assessment Faulty

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:41

A federal appeals court has ruled that the environmental assessment behind a massive oil lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 was faulty.

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Categories: Alaska News

Document Highlights Rural Housing Shortage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:40

Affordable housing is getting harder to find in Nome and surrounding villages. The regional non-profit corporation – Kawerak – is drafting a document to present to the state legislature identifying housing as one of the major issues facing the communities in the area.

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Categories: Alaska News

Final Fine Particulate Public Hearing Draws Large Crowd

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:40

A final public hearing on proposed Department of Environmental Conservation fine particulate pollution regulations drew a large turn out earlier this week in Fairbanks. The regulations aimed at bringing wintertime air in Fairbanks in line with federal standards, continue to be controversial.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Science Released On How Human-Made Sounds Impact Marine Mammals

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:40

Humpback Whale: Endangered (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public comment on guidelines updating the effects of human-made sounds on marine mammals.

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Marine mammals rely on their sense of sound for survival. “They use it for feeding, locating mates, and just generally understanding what’s going on in the world around them,” says NOAA fisheries biologist Amy Scholik-Schlomer, who is also an acoustic specialist.

She says the guidelines update the levels at which human-made sounds affect marine mammals temporarily and permanently. NOAA calls these threshold shifts. A marine mammal experiencing a temporary threshold shift is like going to a rock concert. “Your hearing is temporarily affected but it fully recovers, while permanent threshold shift would be something that your hearing is affected but it doesn’t fully recover. You have some permanent loss. It doesn’t mean you’re deaf and it doesn’t mean that it affects your entire hearing range; it just means that you can’t hear quite as well as you could before,” Scholik-Schlomer explains.

Brad Smith is a marine mammal biologist with NOAA in Anchorage. He says acoustic impacts on marine mammals are pertinent to Alaska, especially to the oil and gas industry, “We have seismic geophysical surveys which introduce very, very loud sounds into the water in areas where we have endangered and threatened species and marine mammals in general, notably the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and, more recently, in Cook Inlet.”

The construction industry also needs to be aware of the sounds it creates.

“The Port of Anchorage, certainly the KABATA crossing, the bridge if its built, all those construction activities that involve pile driving or placing sheet pile, possibly others such as dredging, anything that creates in-water noise in areas where marine mammals exist may potentially generate enough noise to cause an animal to be harassed,” Smith says.
Activities involving operating a vessel, like running a loud outboard motor, don’t reach the same levels of in-water noise, he says.

Scholik-Schlomer says the new guidelines address the fact that different marine mammals hear noise differently. For example, humpback whales are considered low frequency cetaceans. Many human-made sounds heard underwater that come from construction activities or seismic surveys are also low frequency. “Humpback whales hear and use low frequency sounds so they would be more impacted by something like seismic, opposed to killer whales who actually hear better at higher frequencies where there isn’t as much anthropogenic sounds,” she says.

How sounds affect marine marines is still an emerging science and Scholik-Schlomer says there are gaps in research:

“All the large whale species, we actually have no direct information on how they hear because it’s difficult to do those types of studies, so we have to use the best available information we have and extrapolate from data from bottlenose dolphins or even sometimes from terrestrial species, like mice and rats, where we don’t have any other data.”
The public comment period on the updated acoustic guidelines ends Jan. 27. Due to requests from members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, the oil industry, and various conservation organizations, NOAA is considering an extension to the public comment period.

Categories: Alaska News

Residents Anxious as City Mulls Condemning Motel

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:15

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

About two-dozen residents of a motel that was seized by the Municipality of Anchorage recently, may soon be looking for a new place to live. They have not been evicted yet, but the city says that will likely happen because of unsanitary conditions.

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Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

When Sonya Savok got back to her apartment in room 305 of the Big Timber Motel after having a baby earlier this month she heard that city officials had paid a visit.

“Municipality first came when I was actually in the hospital giving birth to my 19-day-old,” Savok said. “And when they gave the notices for inspection I was at the hospital with my daughter’s two-week appointment.”

The visit worried her. She pays $800 a month for a one bedroom apartment that she shares with her brother and her three young girls, 4-year-old Ruby, 2-year-old Neveah and newborn Emerald. Savok has lived in the apartment since September. The officials returned this week, posted notices on doors and did an inspection. She says the apartment was the best she could find.

“There’s not heat or hot water. I’ve still been having to pay $800 a month,” Savok said. “You know I live here because there isn’t much people that’s willing to work with limited income so I settled for this place.”

Down a dank hallway covered in scraps of old carpet, 68-year-old Shirley Bates thought she’d finally found a place she could call home when she moved into room 707 at the back of the motel about nine months ago. But when inspectors with the city showed up and posted a notice on her door recently they crushed her hope.

“Two people knocked on the door and said that the Municipality of Anchorage had just taken over and that we had three or four days to move out,” Bates said. “Pounded on the doors, two gentlemen. And I said well I just paid rent. I don’t have any place to move. And they said, well that’s not our problem.”

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Bates has two artificial hips and uses a walker. She pays $675 a month for her small room. If the building is condemned, she’s worried she won’t find another place she can afford.

“The rents are like up to 11 and 12-hundred dollars at other hotels,” Bates said. “I can’t afford that. There’s no way.”

Beside its dingy appearance, building inspectors describe Dickonsonian conditions at the motel near strip clubs across from Merrill Field. Lindsey Whitt, a spokesperson for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office says inspectors looked at the building Tuesday and posted a list of violations:

“The lack of heat and hot water in the building; the concern that the fire sprinkler system pipes may freeze,” Whitt said. “The electric space heaters that they’re using to heat the area and the stoves that they’re boiling water with are primary heat sources for the units, that’s very dangerous; and then we found bedbugs in every single room and mice and vole infestation.”

A task force met Wednesday to discuss the property. Whitt says officials are reviewing whether to condemn the building. The owner of the Big Timber Motel, Terry Stahlman, owes about $34,000 in back taxes, Whitt says.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Officials say that there were no smoke detectors in the building, so the Municipality purchased and installed smoke detectors. No other upgrades are being made at this time. Whitt says the municipality is trying to figure out what’s next.

“We are working with social services and trying to make arrangements, calling around to see their availability and how we move people from this building if it gets much colder,” Whitt said.

As of Thursday afternoon, neither Bates nor Savok had heard from anyone with social services about other possible living options. Savok says she’s worried.

“I’m kinda worried, but you know I pray every day,” Savok said. “The Lord always have our side, our back. I believe everything will come through.”

Officials say they will make a decision on whether to condemn the building and evict residents in the coming weeks. There are 24 known tenants at the Big Timber Motel, nine of them children.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 23, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-23 18:09

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

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Parnell Offers ‘Choice’-Friendly School Reform Package

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

For most of Sean Parnell’s administration, oil taxes have gotten top billing in the Capitol. But with that legislative fight behind him, the Republican governor is changing his focus.

Legislators Not Sold On Governor’s Education Package

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Democrats may have clapped during Gov. Sean Parnell’s State of the State address when he suggested increasing the base student allocation but they weren’t happy with his larger education package.

Court Says Chukchi Lease Sale Environmental Assessment Faulty

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A federal appeals court has ruled that the environmental assessment behind a massive oil lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 was faulty.

Residents Anxious as City Mulls Condemning Motel

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

About two-dozen residents of a motel that was seized by the Municipality of Anchorage recently, may soon be looking for a new place to live. They have not been evicted yet, but the city says that will likely happen because of unsanitary conditions.

Document Highlights Rural Housing Shortage

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Affordable housing is getting harder to find in Nome and surrounding villages. The regional non-profit corporation – Kawerak – is drafting a document to present to the state legislature identifying housing as one of the major issues facing the communities in the area.

Final Fine Particulate Public Hearing Draws Large Crowd

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A final public hearing on proposed Department of Environmental Conservation fine particulate pollution regulations drew a large turn out earlier this week in Fairbanks. The regulations aimed at bringing wintertime air in Fairbanks in line with federal standards, continue to be controversial.

New Science Released On How Human-Made Sounds Impact Marine Mammals

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public comment on guidelines updating the effects of human-made sounds on marine mammals.

Categories: Alaska News

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