The Air Force is beginning a series of public meetings on its proposal to move an F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force base in North Pole to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage. Meetings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Anchorage and Palmer, and in Fairbanks and North Pole Wednesday and Thursday. Fairbanks is rallying to protect the local Air Force installation from downsizing.
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An explosion rocked a Fairbanks neighborhood over the weekend. Alaska State Troopers say the blast occurred on a makeshift shooting range on private property in the Chena Ridge area Saturday afternoon. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says no injuries were reported, but there was damage to area homes.
Troopers say at least a dozen residences were affected by the explosion, with at least half reporting structural damage, including blown out windows and soffit vents. Troopers are being assisted in the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
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Hugh Neff is leading the Yukon Quest. He left the Stepping Stone hospitality checkpoint at 9:47 this morning. Two Rivers musher Allen Moore followed at 11:25. Brent Sass, Jake Berkowitz and Scott Smith round out the top five.
Over the weekend, the trail was shortened by 50 miles to eliminate the climb over American Summit, which is too icy, according to Race Marshall Dough Grilliot.
Teams still have more than 600 miles to travel before they get there though. And as KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports, the competition will be stiff along the way.
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Arguments will be heard this week in federal District Court in Anchorage regarding wetlands permits for the Port MacKenzie rail spur. The environmental group Cook Inletkeeper has filed suit in an attempt to block the link between the port and Houston. The Matanuska Susitna Borough is behind the rail spur project, although the Federal Surface Transportation Board must approve it.
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The Northern fur seals that breed on the Pribilof Islands have been on the decline for decades, a smaller colony just 200 miles away is thriving. A new study of these colonies is challenging scientists’ assumptions about what marine animals need from their environment — and how they get it.
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An environmental research program with a long history of working in Alaska is breaking new ground by partnering with state universities to find out why an area in the Chukchi Sea is so biologically productive.
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There have been at least two suicides in Anchorage schools over the past three weeks and an attempted suicide by a student who had dropped out. Death from suicide is a loss that school counselors work hard to prevent. Heather Coulehan is a social and emotional learning specialist and Eric Viste is a coordinator within the special education department of ASD.
I sat down with them to ask how suicide prevention is being addressed within Anchorage schools. Viste says, when a suicide happens, everyone who will be affected needs to be identified.
- National Association of School Psychologists: Preventing Youth Suicide – Tips for Parents and Educators
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Coping with Suicide Loss
- Anchorage School District: STEP Center Lending Library
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U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is introducing her blueprint energy bill on Monday.
Senator Murkowski is the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee. She says she’s been working on a new energy bill for months. In fact, last summer she said a draft would be ready by the end of the year.
Monday, she’ll lay out the frame work for plan called Energy 20/20: A Vision for America’s Energy Future.
It’s unclear what the plan will say for issues like exporting liquefied natural gas, revenue-sharing for off-shore drilling in Alaska and other states, and how much money to invest in renewable and traditional energy sources.
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For the past couple of weeks, the legislature has been moving forward on the governor’s proposal to cut taxes on oil companies. Now, it’s scheduled to take up the issue of an in-state gas line. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has this legislative outlook for the week.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Sean Parnell put his support behind an in-state gas line that would move natural gas from the North Slope through the Interior and then down to Southcentral Alaska. Monday, a bill that would advance that project gets its first committee hearing.
The bill would give the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation more autonomy, sets out what pipeline information would be confidential, and establishes some financing mechanisms for the project. A similar bill passed in the House last year, but stalled in the Senate.
Also on Monday, a bill that would relax regulations on cruise ship discharge is scheduled for the House floor. On Tuesday, bills that would extend the Suicide Prevention Council for another six years and would create a fund for responding to invasive species will get their first committee hearings.
Later in the week, resolutions that express displeasure with President Barack Obama’s gun policy will be taken up by the judiciary committees in both chambers. The House Judiciary committee will also hear a version of the Stand Your Ground Law, which allows a person to react to a threat with deadly force without first trying to retreat. A number of states already have a similar policy in place, and the law received national attention after the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
The governor’s oil tax proposal continues to move through the Senate. A special committee on oil production plans to wrap up its hearings on the bill by the end of the week.
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About a million people visit Alaska by cruise ship every year, creating floating cities along the state’s coastline. A bill that would change just how the waste they produce is regulated is moving rapidly through the legislature, and is scheduled to appear on the House floor Monday.
So far, Gov. Sean Parnell’s bill to allow mixing zones for cruise ship waste instead of having the vessels meet water quality standards at the point of discharge has breezed through committee hearings. House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski, commented on the pace at a press availability on Friday.
“That’s pretty quick, considering what other bills I’ve seen move over there in the past few years.”
So, why so fast? The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has its own reasons for wanting the bill passed in the next couple of weeks. Right now, the general discharge permit for the cruise fleet is set to expire in April, and Commissioner Larry Hartig says the department needs to start the renewal process by February 15 at the very latest. If the bill were to pass after that date, ships would have to get permitted under current standards now and then all over again once a new regime is put in place. Hartig says the department is hoping to avoid that process.
“We could save a lot of public’s time and a lot of the public’s money if we could know what the rules of the game are early,” says Hartig.
The cruise industry also wants the bill passed sooner rather than later. John Binkley, who directs the Alaska Cruise Association, says that some ships would have a hard time complying with discharge standards under the current legal framework. He also says they might have to travel outside of state waters to discharge and could end up spending more money on fuel or eventually changing itineraries as a result.
But critics of the bill say the pace at which the bill is moving through isn’t giving the public enough time to comment. And a member of the state’s panel to study cruise ship pollution also questions whether the urgency is warranted. Scientist Michelle Ridgway notes that cruise ships still have three years before they have to meet stricter standards, and that the Department of Environmental Conservation already has the mechanisms in place to permit vessels under the existing law.
“They can issue a permit. It is routine,” says Ridgway. “They knew that deadline was coming and provide [the permit] to the ships by April. That still allows them flexibility until 2016 to meet water quality criteria at the point of discharge.”
The bill is also scheduled to be heard by the Senate finance committee this week.
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When it finally arrives in Unalaska next week, the Shin Onoe will be one of the biggest vessels to ever stay in port here. It’s 150 feet wide, with a 60 foot draft when it’s full of coal, soybeans, or iron.
Right now, it’s empty. It was traveling along the Great Circle shipping route to Prince William Sound early this week to pick up cargo when its turbocharger failed, just west of Attu island.
Ed Page has been tracking the vessel for the nonprofit Marine Exchange of Alaska.
“She has less power than she normally would, so she can’t make good time or good speed,” Page says. “She’s plodding along at about five knots through the Aleutians, through the Bering Sea.”
As of Friday afternoon, Page said the Shin Onoe was about 600 miles northwest of Unalaska. He’s been feeding this information to the Coast Guard.
Lt. Jim Fothergill is with the marine safety detachment in Unalaska. He says his office is monitoring the Shin Onoe, too. Beyond that, though, Fothergill says there’s not much for the Coast Guard to do, but wait.
“We’re just making sure that there are plenty of tugs available to handle them and we’ve identified an anchorage area,” Fothergill says. “And we’re watching the weather to see when we’re going to have a good window to bring them in.”
The National Weather Service is forecasting 30 knot winds for the Eastern Aleutians through Sunday. The weather is supposed to clear up on Monday, with the Shin Onoe set to arrive Monday afternoon.
Rick Entenmann is a marine pilot who’s been coordinating the local response. He says there was never any risk of a grounding, or a spill, in the Aleutians. But the Shin Onoe is traveling so slowly — at times, just one knot — that it’s hard to maintain its steering.
That’s going to make it tough to get the giant ship into Unalaska. Normally, a disabled cargo ship would need two tugs. But because of the Shin Onoe’s size, Entenmann has been looking for a third to help out.
He says another marine casualty has tied up some of the best resources in the state.
“Shell has everything wrapped up right now,” Entenmann says. “They have the Aiviq, which would have been a great fit for this particular job. The Coast Guard’s been looking, we’ve been wracking our brains out.”
They finally found the tug Ocean Ranger, which is heading up from southeast Alaska to assist the local tugs. Those vessels will have their hands full with other shipping traffic around town.
Fothergill, with the Coast Guard, says that shipping traffic is part of the reason why the Shin Onoe won’t tie up at Unlalaska’s new emergency mooring buoy, just installed this winter.
“Because the emergency buoy is more if it is an actual emergency,” Fothergill says. “Their ground tackle is sufficient, and we’re not really willing to tie up the emergency buoy with this bulker.”
Once the Shin Onoe gets to Unalaska, it’ll anchor in Summers Bay – well outside of town — for a few days while its turbocharger is replaced.
Vessels don’t usually anchor in Summers Bay in winter, since it’s partially exposed. But given the special circumstances, the Coast Guard’s made an exception.
Shell’s chief executives responded to questions about the January grounding of the Kulluk drill rig during the company’s annual results conference in London Thursday.
In a prepared presentation, Shell’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Voser, played down the company’s many mishaps in Alaska last year.
“Despite making some progress we have run into problems in the last few months. Our rigs will need more work if they are going to be ready for the 2013 drilling season. One, the Noble Discoverer needs a series of upgrades, and the other, the Kulluk, ran aground in a heavy storm on New Year’s Eve and has been damaged.”
Voser reiterated that the company considers the Kulluk grounding a marine shipping incident, completely separate from its drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. But he wouldn’t elaborate on whether the grounding could impact drilling plans for this summer.
“We need to wait for the investigations, which some external bodies are doing, but which we are also doing internally, assess the risks and the learnings and then lay out our plans for the years to come.”
Voser emphasized that the company is viewing the grounding as learning opportunity.
“I cannot say what the learning is at this stage. But let me also say, and I know this is always dangerous to say because it will generate the headlines, but I have not seen in the world any business, not just the energy business, but all businesses — they have risks at the end of the day. And you need to manage those risks, and we do it is as good as we can. We learn when it doesn’t work and we will manage these risks going forward. But I cannot say there will never be an incident — that just isn’t going to work.”
Following up on that statement, Tim Webb, the energy editor at The Times in London, asked Voser if Shell was moving the rig from Unalaska to Seattle in order to evade Alaska’s oil and gas property tax.
“Assuming you say that’s true, because I think that came from Shell, would you say that’s an example of Shell not managing risks correctly, or making a poor decision in terms of managing risk in Alaska?”
In response, Voser denied that the decision to move the rig had anything to do with taxes, saying that the $5-6 million they would have had to pay is nothing in the grand scheme of things.
“There was a statement made by a Shell person, but in a completely different context, in a completely different meeting. That was then taken out of that context and then someone made a story out it. Just to be very clear on this one.”
The original story was written by Dutch Harbor Fisherman reporter Jim Paulin. In it, he quoted an email from Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith that was sent before the grounding. Paulin says he stands by his reporting.
“And I don’t think Shell would be backing away from that comment had it not gone aground. I think they would have been sending lobbyists to Juneau to try to repeal that tax. And I think that would be, in my opinion, the motivation for making that comment that it influenced their decision to move it.”
If the company was moving the rig for tax purposes, the cost of the incident has definitely exceeded what they would have saved. Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said they anticipate spending at least $90 million on the incident in the first quarter of 2013.
“The $40 million I mentioned is the pure salvage cost to salvage operators. The $50 million is everything else — the Coast Guard, our own vessels etc.”
Henry added that those figures don’t include the cost of repairing the rig — he said that information won’t be available until there are more details about the extent of the damage.
The only information the Unified Command has released is that the rig is in sufficiently stable condition to remain anchored in Kiliuda Bay, on the south side of Kodiak Island.
The Alaska Republican Party’s Executive Committee has blocked incoming party chair. Russ Millette from taking his position. In a meeting last night, the committee voted to oust Millette, who was elected to the chairman’s position at the party’s annual state convention in April of last year. Millette says he’s weighing his options to fight the decision.
Kikkan Randall won the world cup skate sprint near Sochi, Russia today, on the same course that will serve as the Olympic venue next year. The Alaska Pacific University skier won all three heats. The U.S. Ski team noted there was new fog and heavy snow throughout the race. It was Randall’s third world cup win for the season. She is currently in first place in the sprint standings and third place overall. Randall’s teammate Holly Brooks, placed 16th.
Oral arguments are being heard Friday in US District Court in Anchorage for a lawsuit that challenges the decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service to authorize the first of at least three years of seismic exploration in Cook Inlet.
The lead plaintiff in the case, the Native Village of Chickaloon, is concerned that the air guns Apache Corporation plans to use to conduct the seismic tests will disturb the habitat of the remaining population of Beluga whales in Cook Inlet.
The sounds of waves crashing that we land lovers hear from the shore or on a boat is just a small sample of the dynamic soundscape under the surface. The team at Ocean Conservation Research has a sound library and you can hear what the whales sound like (a little like R2-D2), and what the air guns sound like, and also what they sound like from 1,500 miles away.
The plaintiff’s suit seeks to rescind NMFS’s decision to allow Apache Corporation to proceed with seismic testing using those air guns, which court documents say generate sound levels in excess of 200 decibels.
“Basically, what we’re asking the federal government to do is go back to the drawing board on this one,” said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups representing the Village, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Take back its authorization to do the surveys, take a look at the science again and we would say don’t issue another authorization unless there’s some way they can mitigate all the impacts,” Noblin said.
A call was made to Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker for their take on the proceedings, but, as Apache is an intervenor in the case, she declined to comment.
The plaintiff’s suit contends that the decision violates portions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and would effect and possibly endanger populations of Stellar sea lions, killer whales, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, fish and Cook Inlet Belugas.
For oral arguments, the Court is asking both sides to explain the legal impact of this case for future development in Cook Inlet, what the most important studies are regarding impacts to marine life and how important is the fact that in the first year of survey activities, there were no ‘takes’ as a result of the survey work.
Tlingit elder and original Sealaska Native Corporation board member Clarence Jackson passed away Thursday at the age of 78.
He’s being remembered for his contributions to the Native land claims movement, and for being an ambassador for Tlingit culture in both the business world and his personal life.
Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl says Jackson relished comforting people in times of need. He served as master of ceremonies at the memorial service for the late Reverend Dr. Walter Soboleff in 2011.
“He became like our ambassador from Sealaska, where he would attend all of the funerals, all the memorials,” Worl said. “He was there to comfort clans and the family of those who had lost someone.”
Jackson was born in Kake in 1934. He lived there most of his life, attending Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka, before moving back to the village, where he was a fisherman and operated a small store.
Worl says he was a great fisherman, who loved boats.
“We always say, it is as if the spirits of the animals know him and they give themselves to those kind of people who have those good spirits,” she said. “So, yes, he was a great fisherman.”
In the 1960s, Jackson was involved in the Alaska Native claims movement as a delegate to the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians. He served as Central Council president from 1972 through 1976.
Also in 1972, Jackson signed the articles of incorporation for Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for Southeast, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was the only board member to serve continuously from the time Sealaska was founded.
Current board chair Albert Kookesh first met Jackson when he joined the board in 1975. He says they quickly became friends.
“We’re both from villages right next to each other. He’s from Kake and I’m from Angoon,” said Kookesh. “He knew my father and he knew Walter Soboleff, my uncle. So I got immediately scooped up into his little circle.”
Kookesh says Jackson was a champion of village life and traditional culture on the board, something he attributed to being raised by his Tlingit speaking grandparents.
Kookesh says his ability to speak both Tlingit and English fluently made Jackson a valuable asset to the company.
“His Tlingit background, and his Tlingit stories, and his Tlingit upbringing gave him a really good sense of oration,” Kookesh said. “Very, very articulate. Not somebody who went to college, not somebody who went to law school, not somebody who went to graduate school. But somebody who went to the upper learnings of the Tlingit culture.”
When the corporation established the nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute in 1980, Jackson became one of its trustees and served as chair of the Council of Traditional Scholars.
Worl says the council was instrumental in identifying the core cultural values that guide the institute to this day.
“Clarence would remind us always, this is what makes us Native people, it’s our cultural values,” Worl said.
Jackson talked about the importance of preserving those values at Celebration 2012, the biennial cultural and educational event sponsored by the Heritage Institute.
“We’re strengthening our culture,” Jackson said. “We might hear a new song here and there this Celebration. But it’s a shoring up time to not be doing anything just for show. But to show the young people, this is the way it is.”
Jackson spent much of the past two months in Seattle receiving cancer treatment. He recently returned to Alaska, and died surrounded by friends and family on Thursday.
A service will be held at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall (former ANB Hall) in Juneau on Saturday at 5 p.m.
A video of Clarence Jackson from Celebration 2012:
This week, we’re visiting the Prince William Sound Community of Chenega. Sandra Angaiak is a tribal administrator assistant in Chenega.
If you’re in the habit of running East Anchorage trails in the winter in the dark, then you might have run by a compact, dark-haired doctor named Joanie Hope, jogging slowly with her headphones on, singing. She is the state’s only gynecologic oncologist. But she’s also in a rock band, that tours nationally to raise awareness for gynecological cancers. Their first Alaska concert is tomorrow. Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley has the story.
This story is a collaboration between the Anchorage Daily News and APRN.
Read Julia O’Malley’s print story and hear Marc Lester’s audio postcard:
The changing Arctic has become a resource frontier, and a military and economic one. But for much longer it has been a scientific one. We’ll take an international perspective on the Arctic with a leading polar scientist from Japan.
- Steve Heimel, APRN
- Dr. Mitsuo Fukuchi, Polar Marine Ecology Expert, Japan National Institute of Polar Research
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.