Alaska News

Heat Pumps Tap Ocean’s Thermal Energy

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-01 16:02

Engineering consultant Andy Baker says the thermal energy in the ocean is clean, efficient, unlimited. (Photo by Robert Woolsey. KCAW-Sitka)

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Using seawater to heat large buildings in Alaska is no longer a pipe dream.

Andy Baker, an engineer with YourCleanEnergy LLC, helped design an ocean-sourced heat pump system for the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward which will pay back the community’s investment in less than nine years — just in fuel savings.

Baker spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce about practical applications for a technology that has quickly moved from theory into reality.

There’s a big difference between talking about an innovative heating system that’s on the drawing board, and talking about one that’s now used in places like Seward, NOAA’s research lab in Auke Bay, and the Whistler Village and Convention Center in Vancouver.

Baker described how the thermal energy carried in the current along Alaska’s coastline originated on the equator. Resurrection Bay, which supplies the Seward SeaLife Center, has a staggering amount of energy available.

Baker tried to describe it in terms Alaskans might understand:

“Here’s the real ah-ha picture. This was taken by the CEO of the SeaLife Center in 2009. In November, the seawater temperature is 50 degrees, the outdoor air temperature is 22. You see the latent heat of that body of water. It’s just a big hot tub steaming off. This bay is two miles wide and 11 miles long. So we’ve calculated the volume of the bay, and we know it raises 15 degrees in temperature over each summer season. We calculated how much heat that was, and if you tried to heat that bay using the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, you would have to burn it for 50 days, 600,000 barrels a day, at 85-percent efficiency. So it’s 20 percent of TAPS, in just one bay.”

The disparity between ocean and air temperatures in the fall in Seward is because of the warm current. The difference isn’t quite as extreme in Sitka, but the result is the same: A basically limitless supply of seawater at a stable temperature that never freezes.

Baker says the taxpayer-owned SeaLife Center turned off its two oil-fired boilers in 2012 and began to realize savings of $10,000 a month in fuel, or $120,000 a year. This will pay back the original investment in a little under nine years.

Air-source heat pumps have been gaining ground in Sitka. Blatchley Middle School has heat pumps, the remodeled Harrigan Centennial Hall is slated to get them, and dozens of homeowners have installed residential versions.

Only the Sitka Sound Science Center has been actively pursuing seawater heat pumps, and has installed an upgraded seawater intake for its aquarium that can be adapted to heat pumps.

Baker says there’s a common misconception that heat pumps circulate corrosive seawater. Not true. The seawater raises the temperature of a coolant loop through a heat exchanger, and then is returned to the ocean.

And for corrosion-resistance, the heat exchanger — like the one in Seward — is made from titanium.

“And so this is really the star of the system,” Baker said “There’s no moving parts. That’s a $28,000 unit. It’s about 7-feet tall. There are 126 plates in it. In advance of it is an in-line filter that traps particles, so we don’t have clogging in the plate exchanger. And the Science Center here is looking at having a similar system — similar hardware, but on a smaller scale. And this is one of the most important investments. If you do this right and size it right, you’ll have plenty of heat coming into your system.”

Baker also discussed expanding a seawater system beyond a single building — into a neighborhood district. The concept is already in use in Scandanavia. It functions like any utility, electricity or drinking water, but it this case it would be a coolant loop. Residents could connect heat pumps to it, or not. And cities understand pipes.

“For the city it just means that they’re not in the heat business, they’re just pumping a loop of cold water around. That’s something you already do with your water system.”

Baker touched on some other advantages of seawater-sourced heat pumps: Unlike air-source, they don’t become inefficient as the air cools down. Just the opposite. The greater the difference between the air temperature and the water source, the better they perform. There’s also no pollution — especially when the electricity is coming from hydropower.

Baker said that liability — which can be mitigated in other forms of alternative energy like biomass — is off the table for seawater heat pumps. He cited other tangible benefits like more jobs for people to run and maintain neighborhood districts, and lower costs for residents and businesses in the winter. But he said not all benefits would be tangible.

“If you do a project like this, people will start to identify your town with that innovation. People respect that. They look for that leadership.”

Baker says that the Seward project benefited from two grants from the Alaska Energy Authority’s emerging technology fund. He described the Alaska Renewable Energy grant fund as “more problematic,” since it assigns communities like Sitka and Juneau lower fuel costs than elsewhere. Baker felt that if the AEA accurately reflected the cost of oil in its grant formula, Sitka would have had seawater heat pumps last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Welcomes New US Citizens

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-09-01 16:01





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Eighteen Ketchikan residents became U.S. citizens a few days ago. The ceremony took place in the courtroom of Ketchikan’s historic downtown federal building.

Categories: Alaska News

State Ferry Union Averts Strike

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:43

Alaska Marine Highway System captains and deck officers have avoided a strike that could have shut down ferry service across the state this weekend.

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The ferry LeConte docks in Skagway in 2009. (J Webber/Creative Commons)

Instead, the International Organization of Master, Mates and Pilots will return to the bargaining table with state officials. Earlier this month, the union rejected a tentative contract agreement that included no pay increase this year, a 1 percent raise next year and a 2 percent increase in 2016. MMP asked the state to reopen negotiations, or members would go on strike this Saturday.

Union representative Ron Bressette (briss-ette) says the proposed wage increase does not go far enough, and will force members to continue working overtime.

“They have to man the ships and they just don’t have adequate personnel to do that anymore. So one of the concerns is that they have to look at paying the deck officers enough and paying them an industry standard wage in order to recruit and retain new deck officers as well as keep the deck officers that they currently have.”

Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer says Alaska Marine Highway workers are already well compensated, and the state needs to shrink the agency’s growing budget.

“They’re in line with what has been accepted with the other bargaining units across the state. The wages are the same. The state is in a fiscal situation where we don’t have a lot of money to give.”

Both sides have signed an agreement to reopen negotiations as soon as possible with a federal mediator. If mediation fails, language in the agreement says either party could declare an impasse, setting up binding arbitration.

Masters, Mates and Pilots represents about 100 licensed captains and deck officers.

The largest union for state ferry workers agreed this week to a contract similar to the one rejected by MMP. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific represents about 650 Alaska Marine Highway employees. A third ferry workers’ union – the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association – has yet to vote on its tentative contract agreement.

Categories: Alaska News

Appeals Court To Rehear Tongass Exemption Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:41

The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit released an announcement today (Friday) that it would rehear the Tongass Roadless Rule exemption case.

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The Roadless Rule was established more than a decade ago, but the Tongass was granted an exemption. A lawsuit challenging that exemption was filed in 2009 by a coalition of conservation groups and the Organized Village of Kake. A U.S. District Court judge agreed with the petitioners, but the State of Alaska appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit.

In March, a three-judge panel of the appeals court issued an opinion that the Roadless Rule should not apply to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. But, Friday’s announcement states that the full 11-judge panel will review the case.

Categories: Alaska News

Comment Period on FEMA Disaster Declaration To Close

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:41

Sunday, Aug. 31, is the deadline for comments to FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on a policy carrying out a law that would allow tribes to request emergency and major disaster declarations.

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As it is now, only state governors can request a federal disaster declaration. Tribes had requested the change saying it would save time if they didn’t have to wait for state action when they’re often the only governmental entity in the area.

Ken Murphy, director of FEMA region ten, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, says requests for disaster declarations do have strings attached:

“hazard mitigation plan.”

FEMA in most cases only pays for 75 percent of the disaster and the government, in this case the tribal government, would be responsible for 25% of the cost. And then, some of the paperwork that’s required, such as having an emergency operations plan, or a hazard mitigation plan, are a part of the disaster declaration process.

Some tribes have already suggested that the criteria be changed to accommodate smaller tribes.

A summary of comments received as of August 8th is available at the FEMA website. The agency is accepting comments electronically at its website through Sunday.

Categories: Alaska News

Cold, Wet Front Drops 3 Inches of Snow On Deadhorse

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:40

A cold front is ushering in wet, chilly conditions across much of the state. The Alaska Department of Transportation reported three inches of snow in Deadhorse earlier this afternoon.

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National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Berg in Fairbanks is tracking the system sweeping in from the northwest.

Snow is expected in the northern Brooks Range and North Slope through today (Friday). It will remain rain to the south, but a seasonal wakeup call, the first widespread frost is expected across the interior as skies clear tonight and early tomorrow (Saturday).

For much of Southcentral Alaska, temperatures on Sunday morning are expected to be in the 30′s. In the northern Susitna valley, temps could dip into the 20′s.

Berg expects the cool down to continue into next week.

Decreasing daylight contributes to the cooling. Fairbanks is losing more than six minutes of light per day, and Anchorage is losing more than five minutes per day.

Categories: Alaska News

‘You’ve Got To Defend It’ – Denali Celebrates Wilderness Act 50th

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:39

Denali National Park is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act in the next weeks. A series of events marking the historic conservation legislation is planned.

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Denali Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says the park’s been hosting events throughout the summer about the Wilderness Act. She says tonight’s talk by Keim at the Murie Science and Learning Center talk will outline the history of the landmark environmental legislation – and the challenges that lie ahead.

Frank Keim treks through fall foliage last month during the Northern Alaska Environmental Center’s 18th annual Run for the Refuge. This year, Keim led the center’s annual celebration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit Northern Alaska Environmental Center

“He will be taking an in-depth look at the Wilderness Act,” Fister said, “exploring the intent of its founders and their aspirations for the future.”

Keim says he’ll talk about his personal connection to wild places, which he’s chronicled over the years through his writings and photos, and share some thoughts about why it’s essential to preserve those places.

“I do this with photos that I’ve taken over the last 40 years in these wildernesses, in these wild places that I’ve been in, that I’ve traveled in. By canoe, trekking, rafting, et cetera,” he said.

Keim has seen a lot of that backcountry since coming to Alaska in 1961, both as an explorer and guide. He graduated from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and taught there before heading out west to work as a schoolteacher for 21 years in the Yukon River delta.

He’s a writer, poet, photographer and longtime environmentalist. He helped commemorate the first Earth Day at UAF, and helped found the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. And he’s served on its board and in leadership positions with the Audubon Society.

Keim says he’s gained a deep appreciation for wild places after a lifetime of tramping about in them. And he’s come to understand the importance of preserving them.

In an interview at his home in the Goldstream Valley, Keim says protecting wild places is an ongoing challenge that wilderness advocates must be prepared to meet in the coming years.

“Just because you’ve got the wilderness doesn’t mean it’s going to stay forever,” he said. “You’ve got to defend it, you know, you’ve got to protect it.”

Keim says that’s why he looks forward to presentations like tonight’s, so he can pass along that message – especially to young people, to prepare them to take up the challenge and take over leadership of the environmental movement.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 29, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:38

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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State Ferry Union Averts Strike

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska Marine Highway System captains and deck officers have avoided a strike that could have shut down ferry service across the state this weekend.

Juneau Police Reach Community One Cup Of Coffee At A Time

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

With the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., police departments across the country are under a lot of scrutiny. Questions are being raised about use of force, police militarization and racial profiling.

Comment Period on FEMA Disaster Declaration To Close

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Sunday, Aug. 31, is the deadline for comments to FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on a policy carrying out a law that would allow tribes to request emergency and major disaster declarations.

Cold, Wet Front Drops 3 Inches of Snow On Deadhorse

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A cold front is ushering in wet, chilly conditions across much of the state. The Alaska Department of Transportation reported three inches of snow in Deadhorse earlier this afternoon.

‘You’ve Got To Defend It’ – Denali Celebrates Wilderness Act 50th

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Denali National Park is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act in the next weeks. A series of events marking the historic conservation legislation is planned.

NSF Earmarks $1.5M for Native Students Studying STEM Subjects

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

A $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a five-year pilot project to help American Indian and Alaska Native college students achieve advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.

AK: Haines Songwriter Dreams Big, Courts Her Inspiration’s Ear

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

It’s hard not to dream big among the tall mountains and wild sea in Southeast Alaska – especially in Haines where Christy Tengs serves dreamers and misfits alike in her family’s downtown institution, the Pioneer Bar and Bamboo Room. Even she has a dream – to meet the famous person who has inspired her and propelled her to become a star in her hometown.

300 Villages: Anvik

This week we’re heading to the Yukon River community of Anvik. William Koso is the mayor of Anvik.

Categories: Alaska News

NSF Earmarks $1.5M for Native Students Studying STEM Subjects

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 16:38

A $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a five-year pilot project to help American Indian and Alaska Native college students achieve advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM subjects.

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National Science Foundation program officer Sally O’Connor says the “Lighting the Pathway” project is aimed at full-time college students, undergraduate or graduate, majoring in science, math, computer science, or engineering. She says NSF wants to encourage Native Americans with an aptitude for STEM subjects to reach their full potential. “There is so much talent in the Native community,” says O’Connor, “and it’s mainly untapped. And hopefully this project will make a little dent into that and bring out the talent so that they can become leaders in our country.”

O’Connor says several factors contribute to the low number of Native Americans with advanced degrees and tenured faculty positions:  a lack of role models in STEM, and inadequate academic training, which she says is related to inadequate funding of schools on reservations and in rural areas. “I mean if we provide them with the same resources we give the best schools in the cities, those students would be well prepared,” said O’Connor. “But the sad fact is, that is not happening.”

Participants will receive a stipend of $2,500 dollars over two years, plus funding to travel to meetings and program events. Each student will be teamed up with a mentor, an expert in the field they’re studying, to set goals and get some training and support to achieve them. The project itself will be evaluated to find out what works and what doesn’t, to help in the design of future programs.

Herb Schroeder is Vice Provost and Founder of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP, at University of Alaska Anchorage. He says the mentoring is important to get students socially and academically prepared for college. But he says ANSEP starts at an earlier age. This year, it’s working with 868 kids in middle school. “In our mid school, 83% of the kids finish algebra 1 before they graduate from 8th grade. And the national average for that is 26%,” says Schroeder. “So, then they’re on track in their freshman and high school. They can immediately take math and science courses from university professors that count for university credit and high school credit. And that’s how we’re getting the students hyper prepared.”

Schroeder says students can also apply for scholarships through ANSEP. “The students, once they arrive at the university, are eligible for scholarship funds. It’s merit based scholarships that are five thousand dollars a year. Plus we connect the students with internships with all of our partner organizations so they can make up the difference that they need to go to school.

And for the students who go to graduate school, ANSEP kicks up the financial support. “Once they’re in graduate school, we offer stipends for students for masters and PhD students of $30,000 total over the course of their graduate studies,” says Schroeder. “Plus we pay their tuition and connect them with research projects so that they can complete their degree programs.”

To provide that level of support, ANSEP has 70 partners who help support the $7.5 million dollar program.  Still, Schroeder hopes ANSEP students will be able to take advantage of the national program. “I’ll certainly encourage my students to apply for some of that funding,” says Schroeder. “Every dollar helps.”

For more information, visit the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s webpage.

Categories: Alaska News

3 Officials Accused of Failing to Disclose Gifts

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:58

Three Kenai Peninsula residents have filed complaints with the Alaska Public Offices Commission against statewide public officials for failure to disclose gifts.

The three complaints were all filed August 25th with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC.

They were filed against Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Ed Fogels.

Homer resident Elaine Chalup filed the complaint against Fogels. It states that in 2013, he failed to report attending the Kenai River Classic and accepting numerous gifts from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA. The Classic is a fundraising event for fisheries education, research, and management.

Fogels says he did report the attendance and gifts, but not to APOC.

“I did disclose it internally, with our departmental ethics process, to our ethics officer. That was filed with the Department of Law. So, it was all in the open,” Fogels says. “I did not realize I was also supposed to file that with APOC, so that was my mistake.”

He says he’s already taken steps to rectify the problem.

“As soon as the complaint was originally filed on me, I called APOC to find out and verify and I found out that I had made a mistake. I went back right away and amended my APOC filing for 2013.”

According to the KRSA financial disclosure forms for that year, Fogels was given a gift estimated at $6. That’s the estimate for a pair of gloves. Other items KRSA gave out included a shirt, a baseball cap, a jacket, and a gear bag. In total, they are worth about $162. But, KRSA notes that promotional items with KRSA’s name on them do not count as gifts, so that reduces the gift amount to just the $6 pair of gloves.

Fogels’ disclosed gifts came to a much higher dollar value.

“My disclosure for 2013 was that the total value of the gifts were for $565 and the gift was for meals, and the fishing down there to participate in the event.”

Another Homer resident, Garland Blanchard, filed the complaint against Commissioner Campbell. According to the filing documents, Blanchard shares a PO Box with Chalup. The complaint states that in 2011, Campbell failed to report attending the Classic or accepting numerous gifts. KRSA discloses Campbell received a gift estimated at five dollars, which was the cost of the pair of gloves in that year. Campbell was unable to be reached for comment by deadline. Her office stated she is out of the office for a few days.

Kasilof resident Benjamin Clare filed the complaint against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. It states that Treadwell failed to report his daughter attended the Classic in 2013, failed to report the gifts she accepted, and failed to report the waived entry fee of $5,000.

According to Treadwell’s financial disclosure documents, he reported a gift in the $250-1000 range.

Treadwell was approached for comment. He declined to speak on tape, but said he would be requesting that the complaint be dismissed and said it is not valid and is groundless.

Treadwell, Campbell,and Fogels have until Sept. 11 to file their responses.

Categories: Alaska News


APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:54

Candidates for Alaska governor will be in Kodiak on August 28 to take part in a unique debate that focuses on a single topic:  Alaska’s seafood industry. Airing live on KSKA and statewide from 7:00  to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 28.

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“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” (Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Incumbent Governor Sean Parnell faces stiff competition from two opponents: Democratic candidate Byron Mallott and Independent candidate Bill Walker.

Since 1990 Kodiak has hosted fisheries debates for candidates vying both for Alaska governor and U.S. Congress.  The event has always attracted 100 percent participation by candidates.

“The fishing industry is Alaska’s biggest employer, and it produces over 60 percent of our nation’s wild caught seafood. Seafood also is Alaska’s top export by far,” said Trevor Brown, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event.  “The fisheries debate lets candidates share their knowledge and ideas about this vital industry to a statewide audience.”

The fisheries debate is set for Thursday, August 28th from 7-9 p.m. at the Kodiak High School auditorium. The lively format will include written questions from the audience and ‘lightening rounds’ where candidates compete to ring in first to answer questions. There is no admission charge to attend.

For a live webstream of the event, visit Kodiak Public Broadcasting’s website at

Sponsors for the governor candidates’ fisheries debate include: Alaska Groundfish Data Bank , Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Trident Seafoods, Kodiak Island Borough, City of Kodiak, Horizon Lines, Samson Tug & Barge, Alaskan Leader Fisheries, Groundfish Forum and Alaskan Quota & Permits in Petersburg.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Oil Files Exploration Plan for Chukchi Sea

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:45

Shell Oil took its first step toward returning to the Arctic on Thursday morning. The company filed a new plan to explore the Chukchi Sea with federal regulators in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Vetoes A Bill Curbing Record Access

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:44

Gov. Sean Parnell has vetoed a bill that would have scrubbed Courtview — the state’s online criminal records database — of any charge that did not result in a conviction.

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In a four-page letter to lawmakers, Parnell described Senate Bill 108 as legislation that “summarily sweeps” all cases that do not end in a guilty verdict “under the cloak of confidentiality in an unnecessarily broad manner without respect to likely adverse impacts on the public.”

During testimony on the bill, the case of serial killer Israel Keyes, who committed suicide before going to trial, was frequently cited as an instance where court records would have been sealed under the law. The bill was opposed by the Office of Victims Rights, and the Alaska Press Club also came out against it for transparency reasons.

The bill was introduced by Republican Fred Dyson, a retiring state senator from Eagle River. He viewed the legislation as a matter of justice and of privacy, arguing that people who are not found guilty in court should not have their records listed in a public database. In place of Senate Bill 108, the Alaska Court System has adopted a rule that would wipe the records of any person who was arrested but not charged with a crime, minors who had been wrongly prosecuted in adult court, and cases with an identity was mistaken or there is lack of probable cause.

This is the second bill this cycle that Parnell has vetoed. The first dealt with the management of a waterfowl refuge in Fairbanks, and was rejected because of a drafting error. Only one bill, which recognizes Alaska Native languages as official, remains to be signed.


Categories: Alaska News

Senate Candidates Stake Ground In Unconventional First Debate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:42

The prelude music to the first Senate debate of the season was a Bach cantata commonly played at weddings. It was the most harmonious moment of a night where the two candidates disagreed on nearly everything save the spelling of the Alaska state bird.

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The debate was held in Anchorage on Wednesday, and it was hosted by the conservative umbrella group United for Liberty. It began conventionally enough. The candidates were asked about fisheries management, and Democratic incumbent Mark Begich used the question to cast himself as a practical lawmaker focused on Alaska-specific policies.

“I chair the committee that deals with the fisheries and Coast Guard. We are now looking at electronic monitoring, [and at] more observers that need to be funded properly. We need to ensure new technologies and innovations are available to go after bycatch. And we just passed four treaties to go after these people who I consider pirates.”

Republican challenger and former natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan explained he wanted more management decisions made at the state level instead of by federal regulators.

Both hit on those respective messages through the night, with Begich emphasizing his experience as someone who knows how Congress operates with regard to Alaska and Sullivan presenting himself as a political outsider who wants to take Washington on.

Later, when Sullivan was asked about immigration, he again signaled distrust of Congress. Where Begich called for compromise, Sullivan critically compared immigration reform efforts to the Affordable Care Act process. He said he did not want another case of “legislative malpractice.”

“I think immigration reform should not be comprehensive — it should be piecemeal,” Sullivan explained.

And later, Sullivan said the Consumer Protection Bureau should be nullified because he believes it is unconstitutional.

Occasionally, avoidance of some questions created more tension than the direct answers. Sullivan dodged a question from Begich on whether he supported the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism surveillance law that was expanded while Sullivan worked for the George W. Bush administration. And during a lightning round where candidates were asked to write their answers on a whiteboard, Jeopardy-style, Begich refused to say how he voted on the oil tax referendum that narrowly failed last week. He instead wrote “private.”

“The public has spoken,” Begich said in an interview after the debate. “It is irrelevant to the issues that we are facing. That issue is not a congressional issue.”

Sullivan, who advocated for the new capped-tax system while directing the Department of Natural Resources, wrote that he voted to keep that regime.

On top of the non-answers, the lightning round resulted in some wrong ones, too. The candidates were asked a number of Alaska trivia questions, like what’s the size of the state relative to Texas. Begich couldn’t identify Lake Iliamna as the largest body of freshwater in the state, and Sullivan guessed that the Salty Dawg Saloon, a Homer landmark, was in Juneau.

United for Liberty took a straw poll after the debate, and results show Begich narrowly edging out a win with 90 votes to Sullivan’s 85. About a dozen said there wasn’t a clear victor.

But before the debate even started, it seems most of the 300-person audience had already made up their minds on who they were backing. Both candidates had healthy crowds there to support them, and they offered plenty of applause and occasional commentary. But one heckler, who came with anti-abortion protest signs, broke the decorum toward the end of the debate. When Begich gave his closing remarks and made a reference to women’s health care plans, one-time Anchorage School Board candidate Dustin Darden stood up and began shouting “What about the babies?” for one minute before debate organizers escorted him from the auditorium.

Debate schedules are still being finalized, but at least a dozen more events have been proposed between now and the November 4 general election.


Categories: Alaska News

New Study Sheds Light on Peopling of the Arctic

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:41

Archaeologists have been arguing for decades about how human beings got to the new world, and genetic research released today deepens the mystery. An article published in “Science” magazine shows that there must have been at least four pulses of migration from Siberia through Alaska since the last Ice Age, and the Yupik and Inupiat people now in Alaska actually replaced an earlier population.

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Based on the largest genetic sampling of bones found in the Arctic yet, a group of Danish researchers say the modern Native people of Arctic Canada and Alaska are only related in the very distant past to earlier waves that came across thousands of years ago.  In fact, says lead author Maanasa Ragavan, the earlier arctic population – known in Siberia as “Saqqaq,” and on this side as “Paleo-Eskimo” and “Dorset,” was here for thousands of years, and was also genetically distinct from the earlier migrations that resulted in the Athabascan and other American Indian populations.

“We propose that we remove the Paleo Eskimos from that particular migration wave, and basically grant them a separate migration pulse of their own, which is the Paleo Eskimos, including the Saqqaq and Pre-Dorset culture and the Dorset culture,” Ragavan says.

Dr. Eska Willerslev, who heads the genetic lab, is flatly amazed that the people along the arctic coast and those on the interior of the continent literally had nothing to do with one another, even though their geography overlapped.

“I was actually surprised that we don’t find any evidence of admixture between Native Americans and Paleo Eskimos,” Willerslev says. “I mean, given that in other studies when we see people meeting each other, they may be fighting each other but normally they actually also have sex with each other, and that doesn’t seem to have been the case here.”

The picture that emerges is of a people now vanished, who developed a stable culture that lived off the lean country of the Arctic for at least four thousand years. Archaeologist William Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institution theorizes that they could only have done that by being very conservative:

“When you have people that are so close to nature as the Paleo Eskimos had to be to survive, they had to be extremely careful about maintaining good relationships with the animals, and that meant not in a sense polluting your relationship by introducing new ideas, new rituals, new materials and so forth,” Fitzhugh explains.

Then about 700 years ago, a new wave out of Alaska and Siberia known as the “Thule” people simply replaced them. The genetic evidence shows there was very little interbreeding, and the Thule people, from whom the modern Inuit population is descended, replaced the conservative Dorset.

“Socially and economically, they just were no match for this onslaught from this Thule machine that moved in in very quick order.”

Fitzhugh says the Thule migration, equipped with sled dogs, bows and arrows, and a near military whaling discipline, only took about a hundred years to sweep all across the upper part of the continent, and that was the end of the Dorsets.

“They were in a sense sitting ducks. And either they were pushed out into the fringes of the arctic area where they couldn’t survive economically or else they may simply have been annihilated,” Fitzhugh says.

It was thought there was a remnant Dorset population in a remote part of Canada, but the genetics show that not to be the case. They are gone. Fitzhugh says archaeologists need to dig more in Alaska and Siberia to puzzle out these migrations.

The genetics indicate they are likely to have come from the same area – an environment somewhere in the Russian far east so severe as to have almost fossilized the culture:

“And it may be that this is a continuation of a Siberian Mesolithic, Neolithic tradition which has just somehow kept on going in the eastern arctic because of the isolation and the abundance of animals that kept them without annihilating them through some sort of huge climatic changes or other things. It’s really an amazing story of continuity and survival.”

Willerslev says from a scientific point of view they could really use more archaeological genetic data from lower latitudes but that can be hard to come by because it is often the wish of modern tribes that ancient remains not be disturbed.

Categories: Alaska News

Investigation Finds 7 High Schoolers Responsible for Hazing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:40

After concluding an investigation into an alleged hazing incident, the Juneau School District has identified seven high school seniors who participated in the paddling of six incoming freshmen. The incident took place shortly after school ended in May.

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The district announced this at a press conference Wednesday, but it’s not naming any of the students involved or what punishments they could face.

During a press conference Wednesday, superintendent Mark Miller says seven high school seniors paddled six incoming freshmen. Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO.

Jim Bradley is the father of one of the victims. He says his son, a basketball player, was hit with a paddle about seven times and came home with huge welts.

“I found out through other people that it happened because he didn’t want to have it made anything of. He wanted it to disappear and go away and just call it the tradition of entering high school,” Bradley says.

The concept of initiation isn’t new to Bradley. He went through hazing himself as a student.

“When I was initiated I was, you know, eggs on my head, shaving cream, go swim in the lake or something like that, but never physically or mentally abused like these kids were,” he says.

Bradley and his son are dealing with the situation differently. Bradley’s son, who he doesn’t want to name, didn’t participate in the district’s investigation. Bradley did. He wants justice for his son.

“He’s had to deal with it ever since then. He’s had to be scared. He’s had to walk around the school and see his friends and he’s had to hide this from his friends and family, you know, the fact that he got hit,” Bradley says.

Superintendent Mark Miller says what happened at the end of May is not an isolated case. The investigation found that paddling as a form of initiation has been going on for at least ten years; other types of initiation for much longer.

“Apparently some of these seniors were actually hazed in a similar manner when they were freshmen so this is a pattern, a recurring violence that we have seen over time. One of the things that actually came out is, apparently, one of the paddles was passed down from one student to another,” Miller says.

Hazing is considered one of the most severe violations of board policies and school rules. The district’s high school discipline plan calls for a minimum penalty of one to 10 days of suspension. The maximum penalty is permanent expulsion.

All forms of initiation by school or non-school sponsored groups are also prohibited.

The seven seniors involved in the paddling attend various high schools. Four are athletes, but Miller says the hazing wasn’t related to any particular sport.

Attorney John Sedor, who was hired by the district for the investigation, went through emails and old postings on social media sites to uncover how the victims were chosen, but Miller says it’s still unclear.

He says the victims likely weren’t surprised that they were picked.

“Students generally, I believe, knew something like this was coming because, again, it’s been going on for so long that it’s a pattern. Everybody knew,” Miller says.

When asked if the students were taken against their will, Miller says, “I don’t think anybody wants to be taken out to the woods and paddled, but it was a rather complex social interaction.”

Miller says details of the investigation and names of the students are confidential due to student privacy issues and attorney-client privilege. The district is addressing the problem through disciplinary action, education and restorative justice.

“We’re still exploring exactly what it looks like, but the implementation of an anti-bullying curriculum with an advisory is something that we talked about working with our counselors to make sure that the message gets through to everybody – This is not OK. This needs to stop and everybody knows it needs to stop,” Miller says.

Bradley says he’s glad the district is punishing the students who did the paddling and trying to change the culture of hazing. He doesn’t want it to happen to next year’s incoming freshmen.

“And I also want to make sure that my son doesn’t feel entitled to do this in three more years. I’m not going to allow him to turn around and do this to anybody either,” Bradley says.

Since the paddling, Bradley’s been thinking about it every day. Now that something’s being done about it, he hopefully won’t have to.

Categories: Alaska News

ENSTAR strike ends without a new contract

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:39

The ENSTAR operating employees strike is over, but the workers do not have a new contract. After two and a half weeks, they voted to return to work today.

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Greg Walker with Local 367 says not all of the employees wanted to go back, but he says they didn’t want the community to suffer.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in the state. I know that the developers, many of the people who have new construction and are looking for gas service to be put to those homes, are way behind schedule. And we don’t want the community to suffer in this strike.”

Walker says the union is trying new tactics to come to a contract agreement with Canadian-owned ENSTAR over retirement benefits. He says they will continue to picket, and the strike sent the company a strong message.

“Did we make any progress whatsoever? We’ll only know that answer down the road,” he said.

John Sims with ENSTAR said in a statement that the company accepted the employees’ unconditional offer to return to work, and all offices are open for regular business.

The operating employees old contract is still in full force while negotiations continue.

Categories: Alaska News

PWI School District Finds Success With A 4-Day Week

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:38

The Southeast Island School District on Prince of Wales Island encompasses nine small, rural schools. Students in Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Coffman Cove, Port Alexander, Hollis, Nakuti Bay, Port Protection, Whale Pass, and Hyder started school Monday. Last year, the district implemented a four-day school week in all but one school. It worked so well that every school is running on a Monday through Thursday schedule this year.

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Southeast Island School District schools are tiny. Most have just two teachers and between 10 and 20 students spanning grades K through 12. They’re separated from each other by miles of land, or even by water in Port Alexander’s case. With such remote, rural schools, you have to be adaptable. Here’s Superintendent Lauren Burch.

“You know we’re trying to meet the needs of our families,” Burch says. “I mean you can’t have a basketball team in a school with ten kids but you can have an archery program.”

The 4-day school week is just another way the district has adapted to meet the needs of the families. Burch says the idea actually came from parents. They heard about rural school districts in the Lower 48 having success with the Monday-Thursday model. There was some hesitation at first, including from Nick Higson. He’s principal for all of the Southeast Island School District schools except Thorne Bay.

“We have to sometimes force ourselves to embrace change. I run with philosophy of if it’s not broken, why try to fix it,” Higson says.

But the push to try it out grew stronger, and in 2012, Superintendent Burch attempted to get approval from the State Department of Education.

“They had many legitimate concerns about our educational program that we had to satisfy before we moved on so… You know it’s counterintuitive that a four-day school week would be successful,” Burch says.

The idea didn’t pan out for the 2012-2013 school year. But for the ‘13-‘14 year, the school district submitted a more detailed proposal to the state. And it was approved. The next step was to get approval from the advisory councils at each school, which are made up of mostly parents.

The main concern from them? Childcare on Fridays. So, the district administration decided to organize Friday activities.

“We do things like artist in residence, where we bring in an artist and they come in and do silk screening with kids,” Higson says. “Or we do swim lessons with our kids. We do a number of activities where kids get this neat enrichment opportunity on Fridays that they wouldn’t necessarily  get on a block scheduled day.”

Some families chose to spend that extra day off with subsistence activities.

“You know people do hunt and gather here a lot. Hunting, fishing, mushrooms, berries. They do appreciate that time to get out and have a three-day weekend,” Burch says.

“The kids, not 100 percent of them, but a very high number of them absolutely love it,” Higson says. “It allows them to spend more time with families doing subsistence activities. It allows them to  go to the DMV or the dentist or the doctor on a non-school day so they don’t miss instructional time.”

It also cuts down on days students miss to travel for sports.

The support for the 4-day week isn’t completely unanimous. Principal Higson surveyed students and parents and put their anonymous responses on the school district’s website. Most of the feedback is positive. But some kids commented that the teachers give more homework because of the extra day off or that they felt they learned more in the five-day week.

For Higson, he sees the impact of the four-day week in the test scores.

“And the test data that we got back at the end of the year is phenomenal.”

Scores either went up or stayed the same. Nothing went down. And what about the teachers? Here’s Superintendent Burch:

“The teachers have been I think unanimous in support of it. I wasn’t really sure how that would go either because they’re working harder, longer. But on those Fridays, about half are work days. You can do professional development, you’re workin together, you’re grading papers. And it’s created much more collaborative time for teachers to work together.”

The four-day school week hasn’t saved money for the district. With Friday activities and the slightly longer days Monday through Thursday, Burch says it actually ends being a bit more expensive. But the shorter week fits with people’s lifestyles in these communities, and that is what has made it stick.

Categories: Alaska News

New Tanana Rec Site Not Thwarted By Rain

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:37

It’s been one of the rainiest summer’s on record in Fairbanks, but that hasn’t hampered the debut of new recreation area.

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The Fairbanks North Star Borough’s opened the new Tanana Lakes Recreation site in June.  It offers a swim beach, picnic area and launches for motorized and paddle boats along the Tanana River in south Fairbanks.  Borough Project Coordinator Steve Taylor says despite this summer’s mostly cool wet weather, the area has been popular.

“On the days when the sun is shining, we’ve had —  just from our own expectations — pretty solid use down there.”

Taylor cites numerous days when the beach parking lot overflowed.  There are no admission or parking fees at Tanana Lakes, and Taylor points to the area’s location at the end of South Cushman Street, as another key to its popularity.

“It’s so close to town,” Taylor says. “It’s just a quick jaunt for folks to get down there, that I think that’s made it really appealing. And it’s just a beautiful area too, it really has a lot of [good] qualities that can attract people.”

Under development since 2008, more than $3 million of federal, state and local funds, plus private grants, have been invested in Tanana Lakes, transforming a part of south Fairbanks that was a common spot for crime and partying.

Taylor says having staff on site nearly round the clock this summer helped keep the area safe. He says staffing will continue through moose hunting season, during which the area is also expected to get a lot of use. Tanana Lakes is still under development. Taylor says immediate plans call for more basic infrastructure.

Taylor says the borough has received a 62 thousand dollar grant for trail work, and will pursue money for additional projects. Borough Parks and Recreation Department is holding public meetings to gather input on Tanana Lakes following the rec sites first summer .

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 28, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-08-28 17:34

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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Shell Oil Files Exploration Plan for Chukchi Sea

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell Oil took its first step toward returning to the Arctic on Thursday morning. The company filed a new plan to explore the Chukchi Sea with federal regulators in Anchorage.

Parnell Vetoes A Bill Curbing Record Access

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Gov. Sean Parnell has vetoed a bill that would have scrubbed Courtview — the state’s online criminal records database — of any charge that did not result in a conviction.

Alaska Mayors Group Rallies Against Pot

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Conference of Mayors has come out against a ballot initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Senate Candidates Stake Ground In Unconventional First Debate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Wednesday night the conservative umbrella group United for Liberty hosted the first Senate debate of the general election season. Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan squared off in an Anchorage auditorium and used the event to establish some of the themes of their campaigns.

New Study Sheds Light On How the Arctic Was Populated

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Archaeologists have been arguing for decades about how human beings got to the new world, and genetic research released today deepens the mystery. An article published in “Science” magazine shows that there must have been at least four pulses of migration from Siberia through Alaska since the last Ice Age, and the Yupik and Inupiat people now in Alaska actually replaced an earlier population.

Investigation Finds 7 Juneau High Schoolers Responsible For Hazing

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau School District investigation finds seven high school seniors responsible for the paddling of six incoming freshmen. The incident took place shortly after school ended in May.

ENSTAR Strike Ends Without A New Contract

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The ENSTAR operating employees strike is over, but the workers do not have a new contract. After two and a half weeks they returned to work today Thursday.

Prince Of Wales Island Finds Success With A 4-Day School Week

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Southeast Island School District on Prince of Wales Island encompasses nine small, rural schools. Last year, the district implemented a four-day school week in all but one school. It worked so well that every school is running on a Monday through Thursday schedule this year.

New Tanana Rec Site Not Thwarted By Rain

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

It’s been one of the rainiest summer’s on record in Fairbanks, but that hasn’t hampered the debut of new recreation area.

Categories: Alaska News