Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 24, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-24 17:04

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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Republican Lawmakers Looking To Avoid Constitutional Budget Reserve Vote

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Republican majorities in the House and Senate are now considering ways to avoid a vote on the constitutional budget reserve.


More National Guard Records Released

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After a five-month hiatus on document production, the Walker administration has released a batch of records related to the Alaska National Guard scandal.


The Blind Spot: Beyond No-Man’s Land

Zachariah Hughes & Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Though substance abuse among young people in Anchorage and statewide is troublingly high, some officials see reasons for optimism. All this week, as part of our series “The Blind Spot,” Alaska Public Media is exploring holes in the safety net for teens struggling with drugs and alcohol. And, as KSKA’s Zachariah Hughes reports, policy solutions are starting to address the problem.


Testing Refusals Hit Haines, Put Star Rating And Funding At Risk

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

A growing national movement to opt-out of standardized testing has hit the Haines School District. That put the district well below the federal mandate of 95 percent participation which could put thousands of dollars in grant funding at risk.


Southwest’s Healthy Sea Stars Could Shed Light on Wasting Disease

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A mysterious virus that’s been wiping out sea stars on the West Coast since 2013 has spread all the way to Southeast Alaska — but not to Southwest. A group of researchers found that last month in Unalaska and Kodiak. They hope the islands’ healthy sea stars will give new clues about how the virus works.


AK: Small Town Newspaper

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka Sentinel celebrated its 75th anniversary last year without much fanfare. As many newspapers in big cities have folded or turned into online only operations, the Sentinel steadily churns out five issues a week. The paper is owned and edited by Thad and Sandy Poulson, reporters who arrived in Sitka in 1969 and are determined to keep the press running.


49 Voices: Tom Irons of Homer

This week, we’re hearing from Tom Irons, who is retired and lives in Homer.


Categories: Alaska News

With Budget Negotiations Stalled, Republicans Consider Partially Funding Government

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-24 17:04

The Legislature has now gone five days past its statutory deadline, and still an agreement on the budget has not been reached.

Negotiations on whether lawmakers will tap the constitutional budget reserve — a $10 billion rainy day fund — have gone slowly. A three-quarter vote is needed to access the fund, and the House’s Democratic minority has made their support conditional on a few priorities, like increased education funding and Medicaid expansion.

The Republican majorities in the House and Senate are now considering ways to avoid that vote. House Speaker Mike Chenault says that the Legislature may be able to pay for government through October using revenue anticipation bonds or existing pots of money, like the power cost equalization fund. The Nikiski Republican adds that Gov. Bill Walker is supportive of that plan.

“That’s not an option the governor really wants to see is us leave without a CBR vote,” says Chenault. “If he would like to help and from his position to get a CBR vote, we would probably accept that.”

As of Friday afternoon, a deal was still out of reach. Gov. Walker, the House Speaker, the Senate President, and the House Minority Leader were all planning to meet in the same room for the first time since negotiations began. Even if they come to an agreement, Chenault cautions that an adjournment today is unlikely.

“You know, can we get that done in a day? Yeah, if everything went good,” says Chenault, noting that logistical delays could occurs.

The biggest hold up is a $47 million cut to school funding, made by the Senate. The Senate stands by that cut, while House Democrats would like to reverse it. House Speaker Mike Chenault says his caucus also believes that it goes too deep.

“So, if we have to be hung up on an issue down here, I think education is a worthwhile issue,” says Chenault.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are not on board with the plan to gavel out and circumvent a vote on the constitutional budget reserve.

“I don’t think we should take a vacation. I think we should have gotten this done in 90 days,” says Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat. “But since we couldn’t get it done in 90 days, we need to still try and work together to protect public education, to pass things that would save the state huge amounts of money, like the $600 million we would save with Medicaid expansion.”

If the vote to access the CBR does not happen, the legislature may have to hold a special session later in the fall to avoid a government shutdown when funds run out.

Categories: Alaska News

The Blind Spot: Juvenile Justice And Substance Abuse In Young Alaskans.

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:00

Juvenile crime in Anchorage is down, but crimes involving drugs and alcohol is not. Many who work in the juvenile justice system say we’re not catching young people who are getting into trouble soon enough. A new series examines what services are available, how youth are getting help and how they’re helping themselves.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Anne Hillman, reporter, KSKA 91.1FM
  • Zachariah Hughes, reporter, KSKA 91.1FM
  • 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, April 28, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Blind Spot: Beyond No-Man’s Land

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-24 09:34

At the low end, prevention measures costs the State of Alaska $9 per point of contact. Intensive substance abuse treatment costs $49,502 per person on average. Chart courtesy of the Division of Behavioral Health, DHSS.

In spite of the alarmingly high rates of substance abuse among teens in Anchorage, many officials say there reasons for optimism.

All this week, as part of our series “The Blind Spot,” we’ve been exploring holes in the safety net for teens struggling with drugs and alcohol. Now, we look towards solutions.

State officials and non-profit workers told us policy measures are dove-tailing with new evidence that perceptions about drinking are starkly different from realities on the ground.

Under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services, the state is currently trying to shift the paradigm on community health in Alaska, developing new tools to measure what’s working.

“Just doing a walk-around, and looking at your community,” explained Diane Casto, is a new way the Division of Behavior Health, which she heads, makes assessments

The division’s focus has zoomed out, examining health at the social rather than individual level. “What’s the density of alcohol outlets in your community?” Casto asks, “What are the policies and procedures and practices in your community related to alcohol and drug issues?”

Casto has been doing prevention-related work in Alaska since 1978, and has seen a full gamut of approaches. The trend is away from reactive intervention, and towards prevention.

“The more we work on the front-end, and prevent these issues from becoming catastrophic, the better we will be,” Casto said. A part of the Division’s interest is simple economics: when it comes to substance abuse, preventative measures are significantly less expensive than providing treatment, residential care, and continuing assistance. It is a “reap what you sow” approach.

It costs Casto’s Division about $9 per person to put on a promotional event like a health fair. That is a bargain compared to the $49,502 it costs to provide long-term care to an individual working through acute psychiatric care and recovery. That doesn’t mean every person who stops by a health fair will “just say no” for their whole life. Nor are the expenditures perfect analogues: DBH  measures prevention measures as points of contact, where as hospitalization could be days or weeks of intensive management. But on balance, Casto sees prevention as sounder policy.

The Alaska Wellness Coalition has a similar aim. The group is trying to prevent underage drinking by changing community-wide perceptions. The Center for Disease Control’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey says that three-quarters of youth reported not drinking in the past month. Coalition is using that data to show teens that drinking is actually not the norm.

“What this campaign intends to do is start the conversation,” said campaign coordinator Hope Finkelstein. “Even if people don’t believe that 78%of the kids don’t drink, that’s fine. That is okay, because people will start questioning.”

The Coalition finds youth around the state want to talk about alcohol but haven’t been able to.  A similar campaign was launched in Homer a few years ago, when data showed that people there didn’t drink nearly as much as was commonly thought. When the data were released people didn’t believe it. However, it got them talking about it.

There is also an effort to get kids in trouble better. Or, at the very least, to develop an improved system from the Minor Consuming Alcohol charges currently on the books. At the state level, Senate Bill 99 this session attempts to amend Title 4, the state’s alcohol code. The legislation did not advance far, but supporters like Cynthia Franklin, Director of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, believe its introduction sets the wheels in motion for meaningful reforms next session.

Professor Marny Rivera at University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center works on the issue, and wants the MCA citation to be replaced with a ticket–like the kinds issued for speeding or parking. Rivera has spent the last few years examining state statutes on alcohol, talking with experts, as well as prosecutors and employees within the Division of Juvenile Justice.

“What we realized is that MCA’s are almost like a gap, or a no-man’s land,” Rivera explained in her office, “DJJ doesn’t deal with these youth until they’ve already come to the attention of the criminal justice system three times.”

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, Rivera wants to help at-risk kids by increasing the number of times they get in trouble, and to ensure the sanctions are meaningful rather than arbitrary.

Police and lawyers know what a long, drawn-out process it can be to see an MCA go through the courts, Rivera said. And they have hearts: they know an MCA makes your name pop up in CourtView, which can jeopardize a young person’s future. Prosecutors across the state regularly decline trying MCA cases, explained the ABC Board’s Franklin, herself a former prosecutor. As a result, kids get slapped on the wrist without an official citation ever being issued. And that is exactly the kind of space where addictive behaviors have room to intensify.

“There’re very few cases where you actually see a habitual status offender or a third time Minor Consuming,” Rivera said. She believes that if underage drinking is a simpler offense it will become easier for officers to write those tickets. And the kids getting ticketed all the time will bring them to the attention of the justice system, and potentially be screened for treatment that could have significant impact.

But as the many experts told us, there is no silver bullet. Even if the MCA system is improved, some kids will still end up back where this series started: At the McLaughlin Youth Center.

Ross Blocker stands inside one of the aging treatment cottages on the McLaughlin campus, his fingers interwoven like a nest. Originally from southern Georgia, he’s been in charge of McLaughlin’s Transitional Services Unit for a decade. His goal is making sure kids leave the youth center with the skills they need to survive in the chaotic world.

“You just can’t do all that work then pat ‘em on the back, put ‘em out the door, and say ‘have a nice day,’” Blocker said. He and his team take the initial treatment plan developed for a new resident at McLaughlin, and draft yet another blue-print to address that kid’s risks and goals. Then, they figure out how to support those elements once the youth has left McLaughlin for the outside.

“Medical needs, mental health, counseling needs, substance abuse needs,” Blocker rattles off, “if they’ve gone through intensive substance abuse here, it just makes sense that they need some kind of support system there.”

Blocker’s treatment unit works with partners in Anchorage like the school district and the Mental Health Trust, and tries to check in on everyone who went through treatment so that they don’t leave 24-hour-a-day structure and enter a total vacuum. They try to give the youth the support they need to keep them out of the statistics.

Categories: Alaska News

Starting And Maintaining A Small Business

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-24 08:00

Today we’ll be talking to some Alaskans who make the business world their beat and we’ll find out how minorities can get some assistance in starting and maintaining a business.

HOST: Ellen Lockyer


  • Shauna Hegna, Chief Administrative Officer, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
  • Sam Dickey, director, Small Business Administration Alaska

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, April 24 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 25 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 25 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

US To Assume Arctic Council Chair Amid Dispute Over Russian Military Moves

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:08

The United States will take over Friday as chair of the Arctic Council, the international body of representatives from eight nations with territory in the region. U.S. delegates they’ll focus on the impact of climate change on the Arctic and its peoples. And despite divisions between some members, observers say they don’t believe council’s work will be disrupted.

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Fran Ulmer can speak from experience about the importance of the Arctic Council and its work on finding solutions to problems in the region.

“It’s been hugely helpful in getting the Arctic nations to work together on things like the two agreements that were just adopted over the past two years: the search-and-rescue agreement, and the responding-to-oil-spills agreement,” she said.

Fran Ulmer,U.S. Arctic Research Commission chairwoman
Credit U.S. Arctic Research Commission

Ulmer served as lieutenant governor and later as chancellor of the University of Alaska-Anchorage before appointed in 2010 to the national Commission on the BP Horizon Oil Spill and then in 2011 as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

She says it’s important to understand the significance of the United States assuming the Arctic Council chairmanship, because of the organization’s research on climate change and its impact on this region. And the growing importance of that work as Arctic nations ramp up development of oil and other resources here.

“To the extent that people are thinking long-term about where’s energy going to come from,” she said, “the Arctic is one of the places where it is highly likely that it will be a supply source – whether it’s from Russian waters or Canadian waters or U.S. waters or Norwegian waters.

The opportunity to exploit those resources is due in part to melting Arctic sea ice.

“Last week, we had the lowest winter sea-ice extent ever recorded in the Arctic,” Ulmer said.

And that in turn has opened up previously inaccessible offshore areas to oil and gas exploration and development.

“Thirty percent of the undiscovered gas in the world is in the Arctic region,” she said. “Thirteen percent of the undiscovered oil is projected to be in the Arctic region.”

Ulmer says Arctic Council member nations have worked together to develop plans and policies to deal with the tricky business of developing Arctic oil resources, while at the same time researching the impacts of burning those fossil fuels on the region’s climate and peoples. She says the council cooperates, because its members understand that they’re all in it together.

“If there’s a spill someplace in the Arctic, because of Arctic Ocean currents,” she said, “it’s going to affect wildlife, it’s going to affect fish, it’s going to affect shorelines  – not just in one country, but in other countries.”

But some observers believe international tensions are now creating divisions among Arctic Council members.

They note that Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation at the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting that convenes Friday morning in Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. But his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, won’tbe there, reportedly as a tit-for-tat response to snubs by the Canadians, who didn’t attend an Arctic Council meeting last year in Moscow to protest Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea.

“There’s no way to de-link completely the Arctic from geopolitics in the world,” said Lawson Brigham, a UAF distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy and a retired strategic planner for the Coast Guard.

Brigham says he doesn’t think the dispute will disrupt this weekend’s meeting. He says the Arctic Council specifically prohibited itself from involvement in military matters when it was formed in 1996. And he thinks it’s unlikely that Russian saber-rattling in the Arctic will lead to hostilities, because that would be bad for business.

“The notion that we’re headed to some kind of regional conflict in the Arctic – I don’t buy it,” Brigham said. “Because all of the countries, including our Russian friends, want to sell natural resources to the planet.”

But Matt Felling, an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says Russia’s military buildup in the region isn’t going unnoticed.

“We’ve seen them moving military aircraft. We’ve seen them boosting military muscle in the Arctic, …” he said.

Felling says Murkowski believes that shouldn’t deter the Arctic Council from its work. He says Russia’s involvement with the council is essential, because it’s the biggest Arctic nation with the biggest stake in developing the region’s resources.

Categories: Alaska News

US Senate Confirms Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:07

The U.S. Senate today voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general.

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Both Alaska senators voted against her, saying she has not shown she has the independence to stand up to the Obama White House.

As Sen. Lisa Murkowski put it, the A.G. should serve as a “firewall against executive overreach, not an apologist for the President’s prerogatives.”

Lynch was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 43.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Miners Dispute Claim That ‘Much’ Of Alaska’s Federal Lands Are Open To Mining

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:06

Alaska mining advocates are taking issue with something Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said last week, while defending federal resource management in Alaska.

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Here’s what Jewell said: “We are in no way preventing development of Alaska’s resources on public lands. We’re facilitating development in a number of areas. Much of the mining in Alaska is on public lands.”

The Alaska Miners Association has written a letter to Jewell disputing that “much” of Alaska’s mining is on federal lands. Alaska has six big mines. Two, Kensington and Greens Creek in Southeast, are on federal land. The others are on state and Native land. Deantha Crockett, executive director of the mining group, says Alaska has more than 400 placer mines, but only about 80 are on federal land.

“I think our concern is when you say “much” you’re talking about 18 percent of placer mines, and two out of six large-scale mines,” Crockett said. “I guess I don’t consider that to be ‘much.'”

Crockett says the lack of mining activity on federal land didn’t happen by accident. More than 60 percent of the state is federal land, but Crockett says too much is closed to mining.

“And the then the acreage that is administered by the federal government that isn’t closed to mineral entry, frankly, there are tremendous permitting delays and a whole bunch of bureaucracy that’s affecting these operation from moving forward,” Crockett said.

Crockett says the BLM is hampered by staff turn-over and budget constraints. She says the Alaska Miners Association is offering to help the Interior Department simplify the permitting process to speed it along.

An Interior Department official, counting both pending and active mining plans and notices, says there are 176 mining sites on federal land in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Jury Convicts Tanana Man In Evidence Tampering Case

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:05

A jury has convicted a 59-year-old Tanana man on evidence tampering charges after two Alaska State Troopers were shot to death.

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Arvin Kangas began to cry after the verdict was read Thursday. The jury was to resume deliberations on whether aggravating circumstances could increase the sentence.

Prosecutors claimed Kangas moved handguns belonging to the two troopers after his son allegedly shot and killed them last year.

The jury heard about one hour of combined audio and video footage taken before, during and after the shooting.

The footage comes from audio recorders worn by the officers and nearly 30 minutes of video taken by a neighbor.

Arvin Kangas’ son, Nathanial Kangas, faces trial in November for the deaths of Sgt. Scott Johnson and trooper Gabe Rich..

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Announces Academic Program Cuts, Changes

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:03

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a list of academic program cuts and changes in response to reduced state funding. The cost saving measures are the first of numerous expected as UAF tries to cover a more than $20 million budget hole.

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Categories: Alaska News

Cessna 185 Makes Emergency Landing In Nome

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:02

A team of responders transporting the damaged Cessna 185 after it landed at Nome’s City Field on Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Francesca Fenzi)

A privately-owned Cessna 185 airplane made an emergency landing at Nome’s City Field airport on Thursday afternoon.

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Update Thursday, 3:45 pm: The Nome Police Department received a distress call regarding a small aircraft “that possibly would not make the city landing strip” just before 1 o’clock on Thursday. The Nome Volunteer Ambulance and Fire Departments were dispatched along with law enforcement officers.

Nome Fire Chief Jim West, Jr. says the single-engine Cessna 185 departed Nome earlier on Thursday, and was on its way to White Mountain when the pilot noticed the plane’s landing gear was out of alignment on one side.

The pilot returned to Nome, and performed an emergency landing at City Field that further damaged the plane’s landing gear — but resulted in no injuries, according to emergency personnel.

Nome Police confirm that the pilot was the only individual on board, and was not injured.

Categories: Alaska News

PSP: With New Lab, STA Takes A Gamble On Shellfish Testing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:01

Jeff Feldpausch and Chris Whitehead stand in the soon-to-be biotoxin testing lab at STA’s Resource Protection Department, intended to test shellfish for commercial entities. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Despite the risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning — or PSP — Southeast Alaska has a robust dive fishery that includes geoduck clams. The entire industry hinges on weekly testing results from the Department of Environmental Conservation laboratory in Anchorage.

This scenario could change in the not-too-distant future. In part 1 of our 2-part series, KCAW’s Emily Kwong reported on efforts by Sitka Tribe of Alaska to monitor the waters of Southeast for PSP. In part 2 today, she tracks their plans to launch a commercial testing lab.

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If you’ve ever seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you may remember that scene with the golden eggs.

Willy Wonka: These are the geese that lay the golden eggs.

Veruca Salt: Are they chocolate eggs?

Willy Wonka: Golden chocolate eggs.

The green haired Oompa Loompas weigh the eggs on a scale to decide if they’re good or bad.

Wonka: If it’s a good egg, it’s shined up and shipped out over the world. But if it’s a bad egg, down the chute.

The same could be said for geoducks. These giant bivalves, with lolling necks like space worms, have a high market value, where they’re called xiàngbábàng (象拔蚌) or elephant trunk clams in China. Because these clams run the risk of carrying PSP toxins, divers cannot harvest an area before a few of it’s clams have been sent to the DEC and cleared for consumption.

“If you’re lucky you get the sample on a plane that day and it gets up to the lab in Anchorage,” said Larry Trani, a diver and member of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, or SARDFA. Harvest has to happen within a week, which means that by the time divers get a test result, they tend to do all their actual harvest in just one day. And that’s not a lot of time.

“Time is off the essence on this,” said Trani, “As far as making all the connections from Southeast Alaska to Hong Kong, or wherever they’re going.”

China imposed a five month ban on geoducks from Alaska in December of 2013 out of concerns for PSP toxins. (Photo courtesy of KRBD and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

Divers like Trani go down to the bottom of the ocean floor, breathing surface supplied air through a diving hookah, and walk the bottom, blasting the sand with a water gun and prying gooey ducks from their beds. It’s dangerous work, which Trani believes could benefit from the kind of lab Sitka Tribe wants to open.

“I can see that that would save time on the sampling and give us more days in which to conduct our diving,” said Trani. “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

That’s the appeal of a lab in Southeast, one Sitka Tribe hopes will persuade divers like Trani, shellfish growers, and harvesters to relocate some of their testing work to Sitka.

“It was two offices so we removed a wall and made this one large space…”

The man with the plan is shellfish biologist Chris Whitehead, who pitched the idea for a biotoxin lab to Sitka Tribe two years ago.

“I got really busy at writing grants and somehow they all got funded, said Whitehead. “Now it’s a matter of doing the work.”

That includes over half a million dollars from the Administration for Native Americans’ (ANA) Environmental Regulatory Enhancement Program to build the lab from scratch.

Jessica Gill is the tribe’s fish biologist and said, “When we get our first order, it’s going to be like Christmas!”

The most eagerly anticipated order is for the receptor binding assay, or RBA machine. The machine isn’t authorized to test gooey ducks for PSP yet, just mussels and soft shell clams, but Chris Whitehead believes that will change soon. And the exciting thing about the machine is that it eliminates the traditional testing method, practiced by labs throughout the country.

Whitehead explained, “They run whats called a mouse bioassay. So they inject this slurry of shellfish into a mouse…”

AmeriCorps volunteer Esther Kennedy is helping STA launch an early warning system for beaches in Southeast, so harvesters can know when it’s safe to dig and when to steer clear. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

And time how long it takes for the mouse to die. Based on that number, the lab can calculate the relative toxicity of the gooey duck for humans. With the RBA method, no mice need be harmed.

Jessica Gill, for her part, is relieved. She said, “I don’t think I could take the lab manager job thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to kill a bunch of rats today.’”

With staff to be trained and testing to launch, STA has secured 1.3 million dollars in grant money for the PSP project for the next three years. That includes $210,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indian General Assistance Program(IGAP) for fiscal year 2015, with plans to continue through 2017, $48,000 from theBureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), $527,000 from ANA to the build the new lab, and an additional $150,000 to support SEATT to conduct cellular toxin analysis, as detailed in Part 1 of our series.

Jeff Feldpausch, the Resource Protection Director, recognizes it’s a luxury that won’t last.

“We couldn’t keep this lab open on grants forever,” Feldpausch said. “It was going to have to be something that could stand on it’s own.”

And that means attracting commercial business. The goal is for the lab to become a source of unrestricted funds for the tribe.

But among SARDFA and other potential customers KCAW spoke with, the big question on their minds was this: Would the state of Alaska by okay with handing PSP testing over to a commercial entity?

Elaine Busse Floyd, the Environmental Health Director of the DEC, said, “Well I think that if they achieved FDA certification, that would be a terrific benefit to the Southeast Alaska community.”

Busse Floyd said that while it would nice to have a lab servicing Southeast, it’s never been done before and for good reason. The state does PSP testing for free.

“So it’s possible that the big influx of customers that you might think you were going to get because of being closer, you might not get because you’d be charging and we wouldn’t be,” Bussy Floyd said.

But the state may not always be there. Funding for PSP testing is safe this fiscal year, but that may change with future budget cuts.

The lab in Sitka would also have to earn certification from an alphabet soup of agencies, such as the FDA and the International Shellfish Sanitation Commission. Easier said than done, but STA’s Chris Whitehead has determination in spades.

“For a long time, there’s probably been a need to do something like this,” said Whitehead.
“I don’t know if I lucked out and just came in the right time to start it, but doors are opening for us to do this.”

Whithead hopes to win FDA certification by 2017 and to first test shellfish collected through subsistence, through the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins Group, or SEATT. It’s an ambitious plan trying to address a basic problem.

“It all started out I just wanted to go dig clams and I had no one to call to see if it was safe or not.’

And Whitehead hopes this little-lab-that-could can answer that call.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Bill Walker Adopted Into Tlingit Clan

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 17:00

Gov. Bill Walker dances during a ceremony at a Tlingit Haida Central Council function April 17 where he was adopted into the Kaagwaantaan Clan. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

Gov. Bill Walker was recently adopted into the Tlingit Kaagwaantaan Clan. The ceremony happened during the 80th Assembly of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, where Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was also given a lifetime achievement award.

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In a video of Gov. Bill Walker’s adoption ceremony into the Kaagwaantaan Clan, a Tlingit tribal member places a $5 bill on the governor’s forehead to symbolize a payment for the name.

Then the crowd chants the governor’s Kaagwaantaan name four times. He’s now a member of the Eagle’s Nest House within the Kaagwaantaan Clan, which means Wolf Clan. The clan is part of the Eagle moiety. Walker said being adopted by the clan was a complete surprise.

“It was exciting. Something I’d not been a part of before. It was all brand-spanking new to me and was such an honor. … My adopted name now is Gooch Waak,” Walker says.

Leona Santiago is a tribal delegate from the Kaagwaantaan Clan. She says she came up with the name in 2008 for an adopted family member. And now it’s the name given to the governor: Gooch Waak, which means “wolf eyes.”

She says tribal elders wanted to adopt Gov. Walker into the Kaagwaantaan because of the lieutenant governor’s Native roots.

“Because Byron Mallott is Raven and the Tlingit way, Eagle/Raven is a balance,” she says.

This 10,000-year-old tradition creates equal representation for Tlingit families. Few Alaskan leaders have been adopted into Native clans. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says it makes the relationship between him and the governor more whole.

“It was special to me. It is special for Tlingit people and I know it’s special for Alaska. The more we can bring those lives across this incredible state together, the stronger we are a state, so it was a good step,” Mallott says.

Recently, Gov. Walker introduced emergency regulations for the Indian Child Welfare Act. It would create lower barriers for extended family or tribal members to adopt Native kids. Essentially, less bureaucracy. Leona Santiago said the timing had nothing to do with adopting Gov. Walker into the Kaagwaantaan clan.

“No, that isn’t what we did. We did it to set the balance because Byron Mallott is a Raven,” Santiago says.

Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Tlngit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson at council assembly April 17. Mallott received a lifetime achievement award. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

In the video of the ceremony, Gov. Walker dances to a traditional Kaagwaantaan song. He says being governor, you have a lot of one-and-done moments.

“And that wasn’t. That was a life changing moment for me and I knew that,” Walker says.

Gooch Waak or Gov. Bill Walker says he will continue advocating on behalf of all Alaskans.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 23, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 16:59

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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US To Assume Arctic Council Chair Amid Dispute Over Russian Military Moves

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The United States will take over Friday as chair of the Arctic Council, the international body of representatives from eight nations with territory in the region. U.S. delegates say they’ll focus on the impact of climate change on the Arctic and its peoples. Observers say the council’s work won’t be disrupted by divisions among some of its members.


US Senate Confirms Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate today voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general. Both Alaska senators voted against her.


Alaska Miners Dispute Claim That ‘Much’ Of Alaska’s Federal Lands Are Open To Mining

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska mining advocates are taking issue with something Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said last week, while defending federal resource management in Alaska.


Jury Convicts Tanana Man In Evidence Tampering Case

The Associated Press

A jury has convicted a 59-year-old Tanana man on evidence tampering charges after two Alaska State Troopers were shot to death.


The Blind Spot: Quitting Meth Alone, Together

Anne Hillman & Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we’re exploring the Blind Spot, it’s a focus on the teens who are using substances but aren’t being caught by the system that’s set up to help them. In this story, KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with a couple relying on each other to get through their past methamphetamine addiction.


UAF Announces Academic Program Cuts, Changes

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a list of academic program cuts and changes in response to reduced state funding.  The cost saving measures are the first of numerous expected as UAF tries to cover a more than $20 million budget hole.


Cessna 185 Makes Emergency Landing In Nome

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

A privately-owned Cessna 185 airplane made an emergency landing at Nome’s City Field airport this afternoon.


PSP: With New Lab, STA Takes A Gamble On Shellfish Testing

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

Despite the risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning – or PSP – Southeast Alaska has a robust dive fishery that includes geoduck clams. The harvest depends on weekly testing results from the Department of Environmental Conservation laboratory in Anchorage.


This scenario could change in the not-too-distant future.


Gov. Bill Walker Adopted Into Tlingit Clan

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker was recently adopted into the Tlingit Kaagwaantaan Clan. The ceremony happened during the 80th Assembly of the Central Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, where Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was also given a lifetime achievement award.

Categories: Alaska News


APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 13:48

Iñupiaq artist Ross Schaeffer spent most of his life hunting, trapping, and fishing around Kotzebue, Alaska. Only in recent years has he transformed his lifestyle into creating artwork and carvings that blend traditional and modern techniques. Using age old materials such as woolly mammoth bone, Ross works on carvings inspired by his culture and natural environment, and encourages young folks to try artwork themselves.

Categories: Alaska News

The Blind Spot: The Sobering Decision To Quit/How To Quit Meth Alone

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-23 06:40

This week we’re exploring the Blind Spot, it’s a focus on the teens who are abusing substances but aren’t being caught by the system that’s set up to help them. In this story, KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with two young women who are relying on each other rather than an organization to end their methamphetamine addiction.

Two young women sit in an empty classroom, their hands entwined. A knit cap is pulled low over Madison’s shaggy hair, and a Batman belt holds up her baggy pants. Kylie wears a pastel hoodie over her thin body and tight jeans. One of them is still a minor, so their names have been changed here.

More than a year ago, before ever meeting, they had both dropped out of school. But recently they re-enrolled.

They met when Madison joined her friend for dinner at Kylie’s dad’s house. Madison remembers the meal going well. “They had meatloaf,” she recalled, before adding, “and I met her.”

By the time they met, Madison had already started using meth.

“I was downtown Anchorage, in the JC Penny stairwell,” Madison said, remembering her first hit. “Believe it or not, a lot of people do drugs in all those places. So if you ever see people standing in the stairwell: they’re probably doing drugs.”

But then, after meeting Kylie, Madison stopped. She knew Kylie had grown up in a house where her father and older siblings often used drugs. Madison didn’t want her to have to deal with a girlfriend who was using, too.

Don’t miss the rest of the stories in our series, The Blind Spot.

Then Madison relapsed. With Kylie’s dad. And that was when Kylie decided it was time for her to try it, too.

“I was closer to my family if I did it,” Kylie said. She had felt cut out from the family.

Younger siblings were allowed to stay around when drugs came out because they didn’t know what was going on. Kylie, however, was older, and kept away when meth was around. But when she started using, she could stay.

That started Madison and Kylie on a six-month bender with friends and family members. They estimate they used thousands of dollars worth of drugs, but paid almost nothing for them. The meth made them escape.

“It makes you feel cut off from your emotions,” Madison explained. You just kind of get lost in this different world.”

The two of them would forget to eat or sleep. For Kylie the whole thing started with wanting to try it one time.

“And six months later you’re like 100 pounds and nobody—your own family—doesn’t want to be around you,” Kylie recalled. “It’s awful.”

They didn’t even like each other. Madison is whiny when she’s high, according to Kylie. Although Kylie is annoying in her own ways. “She’s just everywhere and then she’s not everywhere. And she’s always writing letters. Always writing, writing,” Madison contends. “And then she never sends the letters anyway.”

But when Kylie is off drugs, she’s a completely different person, a person Madison loves.

“She laughs a lot and she’s really goal-orientated, too, when she’s sober. She wants to get things done,” Madison said. “She looks out for herself.”

On the days they didn’t use meth, that’s the person Madison would see. And she detected a similar change in herself. She’d always known using meth was a bad idea, but it was seeing those differences in the people around her made her realize she needed a change if she was ever going to reach the goals she set for herself.

So Madison set an ultimatum for Kylie: if they were ever adults with a family they never wanted their kids to have a mother who was as messed up as she herself had been.

“It sounds really harsh,” Madison chimed in.

“But it’s the truth,” Kylie added. “She said that we didn’t need to set goals for when we had kids, we needed to do it before, so we were ready to have kids.”

Madison wanted to show Kylie a better life than she’d had. But Madison is also the one who first prompted Kylie to try meth. So why does Kylie still trust her?

“Nobody’s ever told me that they supported me or they believed in me,” Kylie explained, “but she has.”

In order to get clean the young couple had to get away from everyone who was still using, so they went to live with friends in Wasilla.

“If you try to quit and you’re still around all those people that do drugs”—Kylie starts.

“–It makes it a thousand times harder,” Madison swoops in, finishing the sentence for her. It’s part of an increasingly normal relationship between the two of them, squabbling over housework, and supporting each other through intensely personal choices.

“You have to make the decision to leave and get better for yourself,” Madison says. Although knowing that does not make it easier. Madison has relapsed since trying to get off meth. But she knows that is part of the process. Both women say it’s hard, but that together they’re trying.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Wins Amendment to Let States Prosecute Mann Act

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-22 17:30

Sen. Dan Sullivan added an amendment to the human trafficking bill the U.S. Senate passed today. Sullivan says it addresses a problem he faced as Alaska’s Attorney General.

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“The key goal of this amendment is to enable the resources and cooperation between state and federal prosecutors to ensure all cases of human trafficking are pursued and victims have justice,” he said on the Senate floor.

In 2010, the U.S. Justice Department decided it would not pursue charges against Veco founder Bill Allen for allegedly having sex with underage girls. Sullivan says the feds also refused his request to let state prosecutors press charges under the federal Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport people across state lines for illicit sex.  The amendment Sullivan added to the Senate bill today says the U.S. Attorney General has to grant requests to cross-designate state prosecutors to handle Mann Act charges, or to explain why that would undermine the administration of justice.

Bill Allen, once a big contributor to primarily Republican candidates in Alaska, was the government’s key witness in the prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens on corruption charges. Allen served nearly two years behind bars for bribery and other crimes. He finished his probation last year. It’s unclear whether Allen could still face charges under the Mann Act.

Sullivan’s amendment was passed by voice vote. The human trafficking bill passed 99 to 0.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Advocating For Transfer Of Air Force Land To Galena

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-22 17:29

The Yukon River community of Galena could be relocated out of flood danger if a land transfer being pushed by Alaska Congressman Don Young goes through. The village, which is still recovering from a major flood 2 years ago, will likely approach moving with multiple steps over time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska’s Geothermal Hopes Stall Without City Backing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-22 17:27

Makushin Volcano.

A years-long effort to bring geothermal power to Unalaska may be on its last legs. The city government is draining its accounts for exploring Makushin Volcano, saying the project is too expensive and risky to pursue any further.

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The private trust that owns the resource disagrees, but they’re stymied without local support.

Unalaska has been trying for three decades to find an affordable way to build a geothermal power plant for the city at Makushin Volcano. But it’s never gotten off the ground.

“Right now, it’s just pretty much a dead project,” says city public utilities director Dan Winters.

Winters says the city is clearing out its geothermal savings. They’vetransferred an expiring federal grant to Akutan, and rolled their local match back into the city’s general fund. And soon, the state Legislature will likely take back the rest of the geothermal account — a $1.5 million grant that was never used.

Unalaska wasn’t always so disinterested in geothermal exploration. In the 1990s and 2000s, they partnered with the private trust that owns the resource to court developers in the Lower 48. They evenwent together to Iceland a decade ago to look at geothermal projects there.

Trustee Jack Wood wants to see that partnership revived.

“I guess all we’re looking for is being able to have a fair assessment of where the project is, not just to say the project’s a failure,” Wood says.

Once upon a time, he says all sides agreed that Makushin was a “world-class” geothermal resource. A test well drilled in the 1980srevealed a hot-water reservoir that could generate at least 12 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough heat around 10,000 homes.

Back then, the state of Alaska had control of Makushin. But they stepped back when oil prices crashed. Wood came on as a consultant for the private company that took over the lease. And in 1995, Wood and a group of investors bought the resource outright.

“We formed the Alaska limited liability company called KSLC or Kiiguusi Suuluta Land Company, and proceeded to undertake bringing in other companies to help develop the project,” Wood says.

Steam issues from the geothermal test well drilled at Makushin Volcano in the 1980s. (Courtesy: KSLC)

Connecting Makushin to Unalaska’s electrical grid would require new wells, a power plant, dock and substations, plus miles of utility lines to stretch across water and rough terrain.

All that infrastructure is a big driver of the project’s up-front cost — anywhere from $100 million to more than $300 million.

Jack Wood says the city of Unalaska wouldn’t be expected to pay more than a third of that. But he does need them to sign on as a distributor, selling power to the town’s 5,000 residents and shipping companies.

Chris Hladick was Unalaska’s city manager for 14 years. In that time, Hladick says that he and the resource owners could never agree on a financial structure that wouldn’t raise electric rates for consumers.

“If it pencils out, it pencils out,” Hladick says. “And if it doesn’t, you’ve got to be willing to say that it doesn’t.”

But it did have a major leg up compared to other renewable energy projects in small towns, where figuring out what to do with extra power can be a challenge. Unalaska’s seafood processors can use as much electricity as the whole town combined – so much that, for the most part, they make it themselves.

Art Aliment is the engineering director for UniSea, the city’s largest plant.

“If somebody knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna put together a geothermal power plant and we’re gonna sell power’ — if I can buy it cheaper to what I’m making it now, then that’s definitely something we’re gonna be interested in, and we’ll move forward with it,” Aliment says. “If it’s out there available.”

But he says geothermal developers have always wanted firm commitments from the processors that they’ll buy a certain amount of power over a certain number of years. The fishing business fluctuates, and Aliment says they can’t make any promises.

That meant the city government had to charge ahead to make Makushin viable. But over the years, local support and funding broke down.

By the time Chris Hladick left Unalaska to become the state’s new commerce commissioner in March, the city was letting go of its Makushin savings and setting its sights back on diesel – buying a fourth generator and new waste-heat recovery systems to make the powerhouse sustainable as fuel prices fell.

Jack Wood thinks that’s short-sighted — but not for the obvious environmental reasons. He says it’s about the money: long-term savings for residents and industry. That’s especially as Unalaska looks to become an Arctic support hub, with new businesses that’ll need power, too.

But Wood and his group can’t do much without a change in leadership. Right now, Unalaska is looking for a new, permanent city manager. Makushin trustee Ed Fisch says they’ll reach out to that person to resurrect the project.

“It’s going to take a cooperative effort to get this thing done,” Fisch says. “If there is a city administration and a city council that wants to work toward that end, they will find ready participants in us. And if that doesn’t come to pass, you know what? Our kids will end up owning a part of a volcano.”

For now, though, they’ll shop Makushin around to private companies alone — and wait for a chance to bring the city back on board.

KSLC has posted more documents and communications with the city of Unalaska from past attempts to develop Makushin here.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Face Felony Charges for Alleged $25,000 Theft from Nome Schools

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-22 17:26

The Nome court. (Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file)

Two Nome residents—a man and woman—are facing felony charges for theft and falsifying business records after allegedly stealing more than $25,000 from Nome Public Schools.

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Court records show 28-year-old Ashla Marie Weston and 24-year-old Joseph Grubb face felony charges for three separate thefts that court documents allege were committed from February through December of 2012. One of those thefts, court records claim, exceeds $25,000, enough to warrant a charge of felony theft in the first degree. The other two charges claim the value stolen was more than $500 but less than $25,000.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Jamgochian said Tuesday only that “the alleged victim is [Nome Public] Schools.” School officials could not provide a total dollar amount missing from the district due to the ongoing investigation.

A grand jury indictment filed in Nome court on April 16 remains sealed from public view unless and until presented at trial or made public through a court motion.

The alleged thefts first came to light under former Superintendent Mike Brawner, who left the district in March 2013. Brawner at once opened up the school’s financial records to investigators. Current superintendent Shawn Arnold said that coordination continues.

“As soon as the allegations were brought forward to [Brawner], he turned that over to law enforcement immediately,” Arnold said. “And from there on out, we have continued to cooperate with the investigations, which are still ongoing.”

Messages to investigators with the Nome Police Department for additional details were not returned.

The grand jury also handed down six additional felony counts against Weston for allegedly falsifying business records; in this case, purchase orders dated from January to December of 2012. Court documents say the “false entries in the business records” of the district were filed “with intent to defraud” Nome Public Schools.

School officials say Weston worked in the district’s business office for several years leading up to 2012, but it was unclear when she stopped working there. In June of that year—the time of the alleged $25,000 theft—Superintendent Arnold said the staff at the district office was especially lean, as most staffers had time off for the summer.

Arnold said Nome Schools has taken steps to safeguard against any possible future incidents.

“The process is secured now. We didn’t know of some of the gaps in accounting. This process, it wouldn’t be able to occur now with the checks and balances that are currently in place. These were put in place as soon as the allegations occurred. There’s a much more transparent accounting system where nothing like this should happen again.”

Neither Grubb nor Weston returned messages seeking comments on the indictment. The two have not been arrested, but they are both subject to a summons to appear before the Nome court on Friday, April 24, to formally hear the charges against them.

Categories: Alaska News