Alaska News

For $1B Radar, It’s Clear

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 14:38

The Missile Defense Agency today confirmed  Clear Air Station as its preferred location for a new type of radar system, called Long Range Discrimination Radar. The final decision will depend on  safety and environmental studies.

The selection of Clear helps solidify Alaska’s role as host to the ground-based mid-course missile defense system, designed primarily to shoot down warheads from North Korea. Clear is on the Parks Highway, 80 miles from Fairbanks. It is already home to an upgraded early warning radar system that will be part of the missile defense system.

Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance,  says LRDR improves the view of the target, giving interceptors a better chance.

“You want to see it, just like a baseball player playing outfield. You want to be able to watch that ball once it gets hit off the bat all the way into the mitt, to make the best chance of catching the ball,” says Ellison, whose organization accepts money from the defense industry. “Right now, we can’t see it all the way through. We have to close our eyes for a good part of it, and then we have to look up and find it.”

That’s the “long-range” part of the name. Ellison says the “discrimination” part is also vital to defeating an enemy missile.

“When it goes though space, there’s a lot of junk. There’s a lot of parts. There’s a lot of stuff in that, including countermeasures, including decoys and maybe a couple of warheads in there, he said.  “So this radar is able to pinpoint exactly what the actual vehicle is, the target vehicle that’s carrying the weapon.”

George Lewis, a visiting scholar at Cornell University and a long-time critic of missile defense, says the discrimination is crucial. Lewis says existing radar will likely spot a North Korean launch right away, or when it clears any cloud cover in a minute or so.

“We will see it quite early in flight. This radar would probably be the first one that can begin to make serious discrimination measurements, and the earlier you do that, the better off you are,” said Lewis.

Existing radar, Lewis says, has a range resolution of about 30 feet.

“That means that at about 30 feet apart — if there are two objects that are about 30 feet apart — that’s the distance at which it would being to be able to tell that there’s two objects, instead of one,” he said.

A typical warhead is about 6 feet long, so Lewis says the current system would see lots of stuff as a possible warhead. Lewis says LRDR’s range resolution would most likely be about 18 inches. Even with LRDR, Lewis says it won’t be easy to pick out the warheads from the debris, but he calls it a necessary component.

LRDR is estimated to cost about $1 billion. Much of that will be spent on hardware and technology, though the system would require construction on site. The Missile Defense Agency says it hopes to have the new radar system operational by 2020.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Jean Aspen of Homer

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 14:31

This week, we’re hearing from Jean Aspen, a writer of wilderness books and a nurse who lives in Homer.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Y-K’s Facebook Phenom Helps Kick Off Arctic Council Chairmanship

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 14:20

Photo: Facebook

A Tooksook Bay teenager who became a singing sensation on Facebook performed for ambassadors and Arctic VIPs at the State Department in Washington D.C. last night.

Byron Nicholai was introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry at a reception to mark the beginning of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The two-year rotating chairmanship gives each arctic country an opportunity to set priorities. The United States has selected ocean safety, security, improving living conditions and climate change. Kerry described the balance:

“We have to implement the framework that we’ve developed to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane in the Arctic, and at the same time we have to foster economic development that will raise living standards and help make renewable energy sources the choice for everybody.”

Alaska leaders have urged the State Department to focus beyond climate change and recognize the needs of Arctic people. That message came through in Kerry’s speech.

“As beautiful as it is, (the Arctic) is not just a picturesque landscape,” Kerry said. “It’s a home. It’s a lifestyle. It has a history, and those folks deserve as much respect for that as anybody else in any other habitat on the earth.”

Nicholai was the only performer at the reception in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department. He is 17, and has more than 16,000 followers on his Facebook page “I sing. You dance.”

See video of his performance.

Categories: Alaska News

State Takes Control of Nursing Facility, Citing Repeated Violations

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 13:34

It’s been a week since the State of Alaska took the rare step of assuming control of Prestige Nursing home in Anchorage. State inspectors found dozens of violations during a visit to the facility. And the state says the nursing home had plenty of prior warning that it needed to improve.

Over the past two years, state inspectors have spent a lot of time inside Prestige Care and Rehabilitation Center of Anchorage. The facility has logged four times the number of complaints as Providence Extended Care, a similarly sized nursing home in the city.

So for the nursing home’s annual recertification review earlier this month, state and federal inspectors decided to show up on a Sunday morning, unannounced. Margaret Brodie is the state’s director of health care services.

“We typically don’t go in on a Sunday but we did in this instance, because anything that was wrong would show on a Sunday,” she says.

The inspectors talked to administrative staff, they pored through patient records and interviewed every single one of Prestige’s 98 residents. The investigation took about a week. And the results were alarming. Brodie says inspectors found 50 violations, eight in the most severe category: immediate jeopardy.

“We were surprised at the number,” she says. “It was extremely high.”

At the end of the inspection the department decided to take the unusual step of assuming temporary management of the facility. The inspection report is not yet public. In the past, Prestige has been cited for things like inadequate nursing care, failing to provide medication to patients, and for numerous problems with call lights and call light response times. Given the volume of complaints against Prestige the health department has investigated over the past two years, Brodie says the company had plenty of warning to correct problems before they escalated to the point of state management.

“What’s happened with Prestige is we write up what their issues are, they put in a corrective action plan, and they work it for a while, and then they kind of stop and then they go right back to where they were,” she says. “And I think the reason for that is that they bring in outside help to correct all the deficiencies and then the outside help leaves.”

Prestige Care is a for-profit corporation based in Washington state. They own 36 nursing homes across the western U.S. and 42 other senior facilities, like assisted living and independent living homes. They bought the Anchorage facility in 2009, after the state took over management from RainDance Healthcare Group following an inspection that likewise revealed potentially dangerous conditions.

Buffy Howard oversees ten nursing homes for Prestige Care in the west. She wouldn’t address whether the company was concerned about the number of complaints the facility has received over the last two years.

“There’s not a way to say that there were more complaints than normal but it’s something we continue to look at in quality improvement,” she says. “Each state is different in the amount of citations that are average. Each building is different on what is a normal amount of ‘tags’ so I can’t really comment on the specifics on that.”

Prestige has already corrected five of the eight violations the recertification inspection uncovered in the ‘immediate jeopardy’ category. The company has until June 4 to correct the other three, which Howard describes as “overarching” administrative problems. She is confident Prestige will meet the deadline.

“We do take these findings very seriously and the safety and welfare of our residents is our priority; it’s always our number one,” she says. “This is a big deal and we understand, and we’ve heard the state and we’re working together, very closely together, to fix and improve.”

Margaret Brodie, with the state, says one thing inspectors found is that Prestige didn’t have enough staff to adequately care for patients. In response, she says the company has added another nurse at night. Overall, she’s pleased with the progress Prestige is making. So is Noel Rea, the interim administrator hired by the state to oversee the facility.

“Prestige has marshaled a lot of resources in here in terms of training and education and that’s been impressive. And I’ve seen a very clear and visible response to the survey and the decision to put in interim management,” he says.

Prestige will be subject to state and federal fines and is paying for Rea’s salary.

Brodie and her staff want to ensure the changes Prestige puts in place to get its full license back won’t evaporate when corporate leaders return to Washington. They’re focusing on making sure local staff are adequately trained to maintain high quality care.

Categories: Alaska News

The Legislative Special Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 12:00

Lawmakers have gaveled out of the Governor’s special session without acting on his requests of fully funding the state budget, expanding Medicaid and passing sexual abuse prevention legislation, known as Erin’s law for schools. Legislators have now called themselves into special session. What changes when lawmakers make the call?

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Governor Bill Walker
  • Representative Chris Tuck
  • Callers statewide

LINKS:

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

AK: A 12-Year-Old Ambassador

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 11:04

Jasmine Molina

Imagine you arrive in a world where it rains all year round, and daylight swings from 17 hours in summertime to a paltry 6 in winter. And you’re only seven years old. That’s the situation Jasmine Molina found herself when she first got to Sitka, over 5,000 miles from her native city of Manila in the Philippines.

Sitka’s Filipino population has grown substantially in the past five years, but there remains no formal system to help new students transition to school. That is, until Jasmine came to town.

“Hello – ang pangalan ko ay Jasmine Molina.”

There’s something about Jasmine that makes you want to talk to her.

“It’s a pretty big school compared to the Philippines,” she said, walking down the hallway.

Maybe it’s her big brown eyes or her silky black hair, which she quickly tucks behind her ear while dialing her locker combination.

But it’s probably her smile , which turns her face into a huge pair of parentheses.

“I just like want to go up to them and be like, “Hey, do you want to be my friend?” And they’ll be like, “Yeah.” And I’ll be like, “Cool,”’ Jasmine said. “Everyone says I’m weird. But weird is awesome. I think weird is awesome.”

Oh, and she’s got killer self-confidence. Again, not your typical middle schooler.

Janelle Farvor was Jasmine’s language arts teacher last year.

“She’s funny. Sensitive. And she’s generous,” Janelle said.

Janelle remembers the very first time she saw Jasmine. At the grocery store, with a bunch of other Filipino kids, talking.

“I thought, ‘What is this little girl doing?’   She’s talking so fast, and I just kinda observed a little bit and then I saw her pointing out things and showing things, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this little girl is explaining how this store works,’” Janelle said.

Janelle saw her again a few years later. She’d grown a bit taller, but was doing the same thing.

“I thought, I wonder if she’s an ambassador,” Janelle said. “These kids all look very new. They’re just wide-eyed and mouth agape, wondering what this is about, what this can is of. And there was Jasmine, explaining it all.”

And last year, when Janelle met her 6th grade class, Jasmine was in it – all grown-up. Jasmine’s dad is a fisherman and came to Sitka five years ago. Jasmine and her mom followed, a month later.

“I was really shy,” Jasmine said. “I didn’t really know anything about Sitka until my cousin showed me around the next day. There was a lot of tall people.”

And not only that, but it was several degrees colder than in Manila, where Jasmine grew up.

“I only had one jacket and it was really cold and there was a lot of snow on the ground,” Jasmine said.

As she got used to the cold, one thing that made a big difference to Jasmine was meeting other kids her age.

“On the first day I went to second grade they’re like, ‘Hey what’s your name?’ I’m like my name is Jasmine. I came from the Philippines.’ They’re like, ‘Cool.’ I wanted to do the same thing and make people comfortable where they are,” she said.

And it’s something Jasmine has been doing ever since. Greeting new families and showing their kids the ropes, from how to open a locker to getting around the building. It’s more than middle school survival tactics. Jasmine is helping her classmates succeed in a Western school.

“And for her to do it on her own volition, and to just see a need and to step up to fill a need, I think that says a lot about her character,” Janelle said.

At Blatchley Middle School, there are 29 Filipino students and in the whole district, 121, making up 9% of the Sitka student body. At the bottom, the school district doesn’t have a designated Tagalog speaker or support group to help students orient themselves. But for now, Jasmine fills that gap.

“I’ve had her – even I’ve brought her down to help me scold,” Janelle said. “They need to not be so chatty or whatever, I have her talk to them in Tagalog to hear a lecture in the mother tongue. There’s nothing like it.”

Now, it’s hard to imagine Jasmine yelling at anyone. And if you asked her if she’s an ambassador or a leader, she’d probably say no. She’s just being a friend. Antonete Partido remembers meeting Jasmine in dance class.

“When I first got here, she talked to me instead of just ignoring me.,” she said.

The two girls chatted in both English and Tagalog. Antonete lives with her grandmother, who adopted her. She hasn’t seen her parents for five years and describes her family as broken apart.

“I don’t really get to call them because I have school. My grandma has work. So we don’t really have time to call them,” Antonete said. “I don’t think other people know that my parents aren’t here because I don’t show my feelings to them.”

But Jasmine knows. And when we finish the interview, Jasmine takes Antonete aside and says, “you’re my one.” She says it again, “Don’t forget. You’re my one.” And with that, Jasmine turns on her heels and heads out the door to go to her next class.

This year, Jasmine Molina won a Spirit of Youth award, which recognizes teens making a difference in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Chemical tags in ear bones reveal Chinooks’ life histories

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 10:22

The otolith, or “ear bone,” is located just beneath a salmon’s brain.
Credit Brennan / UW

New research on the Nushagak River – one of the largest Chinook salmon runs in the world – used chemical tags in a fish’s ear bones to tell where it was born and raised. Sean Brennan is a post-doc at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences. He and his team hope the study research will help managers better understand how their fisheries work.

When you catch a salmon in the bay, how do you know where it came from? That’s long been a challenge put to fishery managers, who need that information to make decisions about catch and escapement.

A new study, published May 15 in Science Advances, hones in on habitats where chinook salmon are born and raised by tracking chemical tags in the fish’s otolith.

Sean Brennan, then a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, led the research in Bristol Bay’s Nushagak River, home to one of the world’s largest wild chinook salmon runs.

In June of 2011, Brennan spent several days on the docks of Peter Pan Seafoods in Dillingham, dissecting the heads of chinooks that were on their way to be processed. He collected 255 otoliths, or “ear bones,” using tweezers to pull out the thin white discs.

Sean Brennan doing research on the Nushagak River.
Credit UAF

Brennan wanted the otoliths because they contain a chemical souvenir of the fish’s travels: the element strontium. And as he puts it, “not all strontium is created equal.” Some of the strontium in earth is heavier, and some is lighter. Those different weights, called strontium isotopes, are found in the bedrock of Bristol Bay. Water flowing over these rocks picks up dissolved strontium, which makes its way into the bodies of fish.

Over a fish’s life, strontium isotopes are deposited onto the tiny ear bone in layers. “The different stretches of rivers the fish are in are essentially tagging the otolith at that particular time in that fish’s life,” explained Brennan. Co-authors Diego Fernandez and Thure Cerling at the University of Utah analyzed these chemical tags, reading the strontium layers like rings on a tree stump.

Using ear bone data from juvenile fish in the upper Nushagak, researchers put together a map of the strontium isotopes in different areas of the watershed. By comparing that map to the strontium in ear bones, Brennan and his team were able to reconstruct each fish’s life history.

One exciting result of the research, Brennan says, is that he can now identify seven distinct zones – seven strontium isotope groups – in the Nushagak watershed. “So when we catch chinook salmon in Nushagak Bay,” he explained, “we now have the ability to determine which of those seven groups produced that particular fish.”

This is a big deal to scientists like Brennan. Other tracing methods, like genetics, paint broader strokes; there’s just not enough genetic variation between chinook populations in Bristol Bay. But the strontium isotope method can tell the precise tributary where a fish hatched in the Nushagak, and how long it stayed there.

Brennan’s results indicate that 70 percent of Nushagak chinook stay in their natal streams until they make a beeline for open ocean. But 20 percent, he said, move earlier, spending an extended period of time in the lower main stem Nushagak before migrating to the ocean. It’s like a small group of teenaged salmon have a hangout spot that scientists didn’t know much about before.

“What’s interesting about that,” Brennan says, “is the common thought is that the lower Nushagak doesn’t produce that many fish.” The new research shows that, in fact, the lower Nushagak is home to a fifth of juvenile chinook for a significant time period before they leave the river.

Researchers found 7 distinct strontium isotope zones in the Nushagak watershed.

These results also indicate the life histories of Nushagak-born chinook are more varied than previously expected; some juveniles stay in their natal streams longer, while some move out earlier.

It’s this variety of behaviors and life histories that make the Nushagak chinook population so resilient to changes in the environment, says Christian Zimmerman, a USGS ecologist who advised and co-authored the study. “Say it’s a really cold winter – that might benefit fish that leave later,” he explained, “but a warm winter pays off for fish that leave sooner.” This new tracking tool is just another way to understand that resilience.

On a broader scale, Zimmerman says, the strontium isotope method could help fishery managers – in Alaska and beyond – better understand year-to-year changes in productivity. Knowing where a catch comes from, he says, gives you more power in determining how many fish you can sustainably harvest.

“One of the things we hear throughout Western Alaska is that when we see declines [in salmon returns], it’s a bit of a surprise,” Zimmerman said. Scientists hope this tool will take some of that surprise out of the equation, helping predict changes to the environment that may affect salmon runs.

“Our hope is to better understand how freshwater habitats relate to productivity, Zimmerman said. “So you wouldn’t suddenly find a year where commercial or subsistence fishing would have to be regulated, like it has on the Kuskokwim River. You would have some idea that it was happening beforehand.”

That may be a few years off, but Zimmerman says researchers intend to use isotope tracking on the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers soon.

For now, Brennan is working with Daniel Schindler at the University of Washington, where they will expand their research to include sockeye salmon on the Nushagak. They plan to collect three years of Chinook data and two years of sockeye by the end of the project.

But it doesn’t end with fish. Brennan says strontium isotopes could help track migratory mammals like caribou or seal as well. “Being able to link highly mobile species to the critical habitats that they use in the critical times of their life is a fundamental piece of information when you’re trying to come up with some sort of conservation strategy,” said Brennan. This tool provides a reliable way to do that.

Note: Other co-authors on the study were Matthew Wooller and Megan McPhee at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribes, Forest Service partner on climate change research

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:58

At the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society Conference in Juneau this week, a panel of five discussed climate change and traditional knowledge.

Jay Kazhe is a student at Eastern New Mexico University. He represented the Native “youth perspective” at the panel. (photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Rick Edwards is the research aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. He likened the observations of indigenous people to scientific models.

“If we focus on that part of this integrated body of spirituality, culture and knowledge, and if we focus on observation-based natural history parts of that, then indeed, that looks a lot like science to me,” he said.

In 2010, the Forest Service partnered with tribes nationwide to study the effects of climate change. Alaska Native tribes are also participating.

Ida Hildebrand is the tribal natural resource program director for the Chugach Regional Resource Commission, a nonprofit that oversees the stewardship of natural resources in the Chugach region. Hildebrand cautioned Native people to exercise sovereignty over their traditional knowledge.

“That is your tribal choice. You have that knowledge, you don’t have to share it. Or you can share parts of it and not all of it. There’s sacred knowledge. There’s common everyday knowledge. There’s all kinds of traditional knowledge,” she said.

The research is funded with federal money which means information gathered could become public record. The goal of the project is to preserve tribal culture in the face of changing climate.

Categories: Alaska News

Majority members outline concerns with budget option

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:55

Six members of the Alaska House majority have sent a letter to Speaker Mike Chenault expressing serious concerns with the potential use of the Permanent Fund earnings reserve to help balance the state budget.

This could create a new wrinkle in efforts to pass a funded budget.

Use of the earnings reserve has been seen as a possible alternative if agreement cannot be reached with minority Democrats to tap the constitutional budget reserve fund. There has been no apparent movement toward such an agreement in recent weeks.

The letter was signed by Reps. Bryce Edgmon, Louise Stutes, Neal Foster, Gabrielle LeDoux, Jim Colver and Paul Seaton. They said they would not intend to vote for use of the earnings reserve.

The letter was first reported by the Alaska Dispatch News.

Categories: Alaska News

Robert Mumford named to Board of Fish

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:55

Alaska Governor Bill Walker late Tuesday night appointed Robert Mumford to the seven-member Board of Fish. The governor was required by state statute to make the appointment by May 19th.

Mumford’s appointment cannot be formally approved by the Legislature until next year’s regular session.

Mumford is currently serving out a term on the Board of Game, which expires June 30.

According to a press release from the Governor’s office, he worked for 18 years in sport and commercial fishing enforcement.

Members to the Board of Fish set allocations and approve management plans for the state’s fisheries.

This is the Governor’s third attempt to fill the seat.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s popular walrus cam streams again after a decade

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:47

A popular webcam showing large male Pacific walruses lying on the beach is once again streaming on the Internet.

The high-definition stream from Alaska’s remote Round Island had been dormant for nearly a decade after private funding ran out.

But thanks to the philanthropic organization explore.org, the cam is again up and running.

Every summer, up to 15,000 walruses haul out on the island about 400 miles southwest of Anchorage in northern Bristol Bay.

There are four cameras pointed at two beaches on the remote island.

But like in 2005, the camera will be offline for a week in the fall so Alaska Natives can take part in a legal subsistence hunt of the walruses.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska wildfire responders keeping eye on dry conditions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:28

Interior Alaska and other parts of the state are experiencing conditions ripe for forest fires and natural resources officials are urging caution in outdoor activities heading into Memorial Day Weekend.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center says a fire along the Alaska Highway 50 miles northwest of the Canada border grew Thursday to 500 acres.

Spokesman Tim Mowry says trees may be green with leaves but grasses below remain brown and dry.

He says that grass can easily ignite. With low humidity and temperatures reaching the low 80s, conditions are perfect for sparking a wildfire.

Mowry says the same weather system is drying out southcentral Alaska and even making coastal rainforest on the Panhandle susceptible to forest fire.

Twenty-seven wildfires this year have burned five square miles.

Categories: Alaska News

Construction starts on Alaska Native Medical Center housing

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:27

Tribal, state, and private sector leaders Wednesday kicked off construction of housing at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

They say it will improve services for Alaska Native and American Indian people who travel to Anchorage from across the state for health care.

A state Senator who helped get the project financed says it will also save the state millions of dollars a year for decades to come.

The new six-story patient housing facility, with 202 private rooms, will be located behind and linked by sky-bridge to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, which serves some 150,000 patients a year.

More than half of those patients travel to Anchorage for health services. But many can be served as outpatients. They may need to be monitored or receive care for high-risk pregnancies, for instance, or for chemotherapy, or post-surgical follow-up.

Andy Teuber is board chair and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says the new facility will cut down on the cost of putting up patients in hotels, and make it easier for patients to receive services:

“This is one of many barriers that we look forward to breaking down and improving access for our patients across the state to health care here at ANMC,” Teuber said.

Teuber says Congress approved a land transfer from the Indian Health Service, and the Consortium worked with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and with legislators on financing.

“At a number of occasions we found that the enthusiasm around the project was sufficient to carry it through,” Teuber said.

That enthusiasm is due in part to the fact the state of Alaska will see an estimated jump of almost $9 million in Medicaid reimbursements, annually. Medicaid patients who stay at a tribal facility allow the state to receive 100 percent of the federal match. If those patients are being seen at a non-tribal facility, the state receives only half the federal match.

That’s one reason Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that authorized the state to issue bonds to loan ANTHC $35 million, a big chunk of the $41 million price tag for the housing facility.

“It was kind of a unique concept, and at first we had some hesitation as to how it would work and how much it would truly cost, but it’s going to pay itself back in a short time,” he said.

Meyer says knowing the Indian Health Service is a major source of funding for the Consortium reassured legislators, who, he says, gave a close look at the level of risk the state was taking on in funding the project.

“We did, because ultimately if the funding source doesn’t come through, it falls back on the state,” Meyer said. “The federal government for the most part is pretty trustworthy. It’s a good deal for the state and residents of Alaska. So it’s truly a win-win, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

The new housing facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

The Legislature’s Second Special Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 08:00

With the state legislature now gaveled in to a second special session in the new Legislative Information Office in Anchorage,  major state issues are under debate, namely the state’s operating budget.

HOST: Ellen Lockyer

GUESTS:

  • Pat Pitney, director, State Office of Management and Budget
  • Jim Duncan, executive director, of the Alaska State Employees Union Local 52

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 23 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only To Call New One

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:46

The Alaska State Legislature has gaveled out of special session, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. But almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the Legislature has formally relocated to Anchorage, and that they have set aside Medicaid expansion.

As Yogi Berra might have put it, it was déjà vu all over again.

Download Audio:

SEN. KEVIN MEYER: Sen. Stevens, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

REP. MIKE CHENAULT: Rep. Gruenberg, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

MEYER: Sen. Stoltze, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

CHENAULT: Rep. Lynn, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

The Legislature was gathered at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, where a single protester marched outside with a sign reading “You should be in Juneau doing your damn job!”

The Senate held two nearly identical floor sessions, and then the House did the same. Over the course of three hours, there were four pledges of allegiance, four roll calls for attendance, and so on. But not a single bill was taken up.

When Senate President Kevin Meyer rolled through the floor calendar and asked if there was any unfinished business, an aide to Gov. Bill Walker, watching the whole affair, muttered, “a lot.”

The purpose of these repetitive ceremonies was to gavel out from Gov. Bill Walker’s special session, where he had asked them to advance a budget, a bill creating a sexual abuse prevention program, and Medicaid expansion — and to do it all in Juneau.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill led his caucus in ending the Juneau session that had been called for, and officially reconvening a session in Anchorage, where they had been meeting for two weeks anyway.

<<”I would say that the best thing to do, practically speaking, is to meet where we are able to practically assemble the requisite amount of people to do it both economically, and practically … here.”

A poll had been taken, and more than two-thirds of lawmakers wanted to end the governor’s special session. They would keep at the budget and the sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law, but they would scrap work on Medicaid expansion entirely.

“The action taken today is at this point to tell the governor that no action is the action at this point,” said Coghill, a North Pole Republican.

Democrats in the minority pushed back. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, said his caucus had not been polled on the action. If they had, they would have opposed it, and found any vote taken to be against the rules that they meet in Juneau. Wielechowski cited a memo from the Legislature’s attorney.

“As much as I enjoy being in my hometown, Mr. President, this session violates the Alaska Constitution,” said Wielechowski.

Wielechowski added that it was inappropriate to end the session when nothing on the special session agenda had been completed.

“We have had very little work done on any of these bills, Mr. President. We have not done our job,” said Wielechowski. “We should not be adjourning this special session before we complete our jobs. We’ve had no public testimony on any of these items.”

But Coghill pushed back, noting that lawmakers had held meetings on each of the three agenda items. He said that with the Legislature still trying to find a way to plug a multi-billion-dollar deficit, they would keep working on the budget to avoid a government shutdown. Plus, Coghill said, the Legislature always had the ability to gavel out without doing anything.

“We had the right the very first hour that he did it,” said Coghill.

The Legislature voted to end the first special session and call a new one on caucus lines. The rest of the session was mostly uneventful. But when Coghill led one of the four prayers said on Thursday, the invocation took on a special significance.

“Creator of the world that we get to see, and the people we get to know, and the work that we get to do — we sure could use your guidance,” prayed Coghill.

If that guidance were granted, the governor might appreciate it. In a written statement, Walker said he was disappointed that the Legislature had not voted on any of his three agenda items before adjourning, and that he was “deeply concerned about the legislature’s lack of progress on a fully funded budget.”

Categories: Alaska News

Utility to Revive Long-Idled Coal Plant In Healy

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:45

GVEA’s Healy 2 Plant
Credit Golden Valley Electric Association.

Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long-idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week. The facility is being put back on line after nearly 20 years of failings and dispute.

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The power plant is one of two Golden Valley Electric Association has in Healy to burn coal from the next door Usibelli Mine. GVEA vice president of transmission and distribution Mike Wright says Healy 2, formerly known as the Healy Clean Coal Plant, is scheduled to fire up May 27.

Wright says Healy 2’s power output will displace higher price natural gas and oil fired electricity generation sources, but it’s not expected to significantly affect customer bills.

Wright stresses that coal is a long-term, price-stable fuel.  GVEA purchased the Healy 2 plant from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in 2013 for $44 million. The deal followed a drawn out legal battle that began when the $300 million, largely state and federally funded experimental plant failed to meet the utility’s standards in the late 1990s. Bringing the mothballed facility on line entails major upgrades, including Environmental Protection Agency required emissions system improvements at both of the utility’s Healy coal fired plants, changes Wright says add to the overall project cost

Wright says one looming coal fired power issue is new federal carbon dioxide emissions standards that could cap output of the greenhouse gas. He says that could require shutdown of GVEA’s older Healy 1 plant.

Categories: Alaska News

National Guard Welcomes New Leadership

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:42

Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General, and Col. Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard. Streff has been in the guard since 1987.

Streff sits down with reporter Zachariah Hughes to outline his plans for the guard’s changing mission in the wake of difficult revelations about misconduct.

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The Alaska Army National Guard welcomes a new commander during a change of command ceremony at the Alaska National Guard armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in March. Brig. Gen. (Alaska) Laurie Hummel, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, presided over the ceremony where Col. Joseph Streff took command of the Alaska Army National Guard from Brig. Gen. Leon M. “Mike” Bridges.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 21, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:40

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

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Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only to Call A New One

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature gaveled out of special session this morning, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. Then, almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms.

Utility to Revive Long-Idled Coal Plant In Healy

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week.

Hyder Border to Reopen for 24-Hour Access

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, soon will be open 24-hours a day.

Sen. Sullivan: Prepare for A Long War

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is one of five freshmen on the Senate Armed Services committee, and he’s carving out a place for himself among the national security hawks.

Alaska National Guard Welcomes New Leadership

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General and Colonel Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard.

Wood Bison Bulls to Join Reintroduced Herd

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

A Nenana-based barge line will soon be hauling some unusual cargo.  Twenty-eight wood bison bulls are scheduled to travel on Inland Barge from Nenana to the Innoko River near Shageluk, beginning sometime during the next week.

Data: Positive Skill Building Improves Youth Behavior

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

A new study shows kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.

‘Baby Raven Reads’ Program Nurtures A New Generation of Tlingit Speakers

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute is helping to foster the next generation of Tlingit speakers in Juneau. It recently launched a free early childhood program.

Categories: Alaska News

Data show positive skill-building improves Anchorage youth behavior

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:40

A small portion of the data compiled by Anchorage Youth Development Coalition.

 
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Newly compiled data show kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.

Twenty years ago, behavioral health research started to show that if you want teenagers to behave, stop nagging them. Michael Kerosky with the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition says there’s an easier way.

“If we could just help kids build on their strengths, increase their social emotional skills, give them more caring adults, give them more opportunities to contribute, meaningful opportunities, feeling support, having caring teachers. A whole bunch of things,” Kerosky lists.

“If we did all of that, then all of the negative behaviors go down. We don’t have to talk about alcohol, we don’t have to talk about suicide, we don’t have to talk about depression. All we have to do is build on these strengths.”

So a group of youth-focused organizations in Anchorage did just that. And new data shows it might be working. Teens in Anchorage used to rank higher than the national average for considering suicide, experiencing sexual violence, smoking pot, and feeling unsafe at school. Now, they rank lower or equal for most risk factors.

The data is based mostly on the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is self-reported. But Kerosky says that doesn’t make it invalid.

The CDC has “gone to great lengths to make sure the survey is reliable and valid. They have all kinds of checks and balances built in so if the kids mark random questions the computer can pick that up and throw them out.”

Kerosky says it’s not only supportive families, teachers, schools, and youth agencies that can help strengthen kids’ resilience.

“All of us have a role. Even if you don’t have kids, you certainly see kids in the neighborhood. You don’t have to go overboard but just waving. I use the example of a bagger in the grocery store. Just look at their name tags and say, ‘Hi Sam!’ or ‘Hi Joni!’ Every kid loves to hear that.”

You can see all the stats here.

You can also check out data compiled by UAA that’s being used to develop behavioral health solutions.

Categories: Alaska News

Chester Creek Trail To Close This Summer for Repaving

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 16:52


Parts of the Chester Creek Trail will be closed for most of the summer starting on Tuesday while it’s being repaved and improved.

The Municipality’s parks department is closing the trail in two segments. The first – from the New Seward Highway to Nichols Road near Goose Lake – will close from May 26 until then end of July. The stretch from Arctic Boulevard to the highway will close from July 22 to early October.

Park Planner Maeve Nevins says the $2.3 million upgrade to the 20-year-old trail includes new techniques that will prevent things like flooding in the wetlands areas.

“We had to take some different technical measures from what we did in the past where we’re actually doing a full dig out and rebuilding the trail on something called ‘ballast stone,'” she explains. “And that’s a thick stone. It’s the stone that they use in railroad beds. It has a load bearing capacity. So by using that stone first, we lay that down and then we put our leveling course and then we put the asphalt, that allows the water to flow through the trail in that corridor.”

They’re also insulating the culverts with blue foam board to prevent perilous bumps from frost heaving.

Nevins says trail detours will be well marked and include sidewalks and smaller trails. Volunteers will guide users along the detour routes on Tuesday and Wednesday during commute times. Small sections of the trail will re-open as they are completed and will be marked.

You can find out more here.

Categories: Alaska News

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