Alaska News

Kuskokwim Working Group Grapples With Fishwheels, Threatened Weirs, And Confusion

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 17:24

On the day that the summer’s king salmon restrictions began, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to hash out the details of this summer fishing plans. Managing a precarious king salmon run along 700 miles of river will be anything but simple.

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After months of in depth discussions leading up to the closures, 12 hours in, some working group members were still confused.

Kuskowkwim Working Group Members, managers, and the public meet to discuss salmon conservation. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

“What about now, is it wide open it now to any type of gear, or drifting or what? That’s the confusion we have,” said Aloysius..

Bob Aloysius is from Kalskag. Part of that confusion come from the different geographic jurisdictions. Federal managers control the waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge from the mouth to Aniak. The state manages below the mouth and above Aniak.

There are a few key differences in regulations, especially around the middle river. Unlike the federal rules, the state would allow drifting with 4” nets. And they do not plan to allow fishwheels above Tuluksak during times of king salmon conservation, whereas the feds would with certain protections for kings. That comes as bad timing to several Middle River villages which, through the Kuskokwim Native Association, are investing in fish wheels. Lisa Feyereisen is from Chuathbaluk.

“It absolutely does not make sense that we could sit out there drifting with 4” mesh and keep incidental kings when we’re more than willing, we’ve purchased the material, we have people monitoring the fish wheel, and we’re releasing every single king, and that’s the goal of it, to release every single king,” said Feyereisen.

Chuathlbaluk was hoping to have a fish wheel running for the first time in 25 years. The working group passed a motion in support of allowing fish wheels on state waters. As it stands in the management plan, fishwheels operations are linked with 6” mesh openings, which would only be done when there are very few kings in the river.

Federal in Season Manager Brian McCaffery shared details on what’s hoped to be a small social and cultural harvest opportunity of about 1,000 kings total. He says it would be on a per capita basis for 31 of the 32 eligible communities. Each village get a dozen to several dozen fish, but Bethel would not be not proportional to population and may receive around 100 kings.

“Our primary goal again this year is conservation. And we want to give people an opportunity, we hope to work with the tribal council here in Bethel to find ways to provide community opportunities,” said McCaffery.

But the run has to be strong enough to support that limited harvest. To gauge that and considering this year’s early breakup, the Bethel Test Fishery will be starting a few days early, around the 27th.

And just days before the run hits in earnest, managers are worried about two weirs that are hanging in balance. The villages of Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, and Akiachak signed a letter saying that that if they can’t fish for kings for sometime in June, Tuluksak and Kwethluk would break contracts for operating the Tuluksak and Kwethluk river weirs. Steve Miller is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“But we’re hoping right now we can resolve that and get a contract in place. We’re required by law to conserve the fish on this river. That takes data, and those two systems are the only two systems on the lower river and our plan is to operate both weirs,” said Miller.

The group passed a motion supporting the operation of all the river’s weirs to count escapement. The next working group meeting will be at call of chairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Preparing For Potential Legalization

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 17:23

Alaska’s marijuana ballot initiative has some Fairbanks entrepreneurs organizing in hopes of being able to grow and sell the drug. Proposition 2 would have the state regulate marijuana like alcohol.

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Fairbanks resident Brandon Emmett is Executive Director of the recently formed  Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. He says he wants the organization.

“To kind of be a voice for the Alaskan people with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the legislature, both for people who are consumers and people who look to profit off the industry,” Emmett said.

Colorado is the only state that currently allows sale of recreational marijuana and it’s taking in tax revenue on the business. Washington State is in the process of implementing a similar program, and Emmett says if Alaska goes that way, his group wants to be ready to help fill out legal details.

“There are certain provisions of the bill that state persons over 21 can use, they can obtain a certain amount of plants in their home, but all of the time, place and manner of different establishments, what the advertisements can be, how these establishments can be run, none of that is really set yet, so our coalition is really the next step,” he said.

Emmett envisions consumer demand if Prop 2 passes.

“I think if people aren’t afraid of getting busted, they’re gonna go out and buy it on Friday nights just as they would alcohol, or as a substitute for alcohol,” he said.

Emmet and a few partners want to get into the marijuana business, growing and selling the drug. So does fellow Fairbanks resident Mystiek Lockery. She’s not a member of Emmett’s coalition, but has a plan.

“My business is gonna be called Mystiek’s Marijuana Dispensary, Nursery and Supply.  I thought it would be really fun to open up a little section of it and have a smokers club, similar to cigar clubs,” she said.

Lockery says she’s gotten a business license and is trying to educate the public in anticipation of the November election, and the potential passage of Prop 2.

“I have been preparing a website, because I am extremely pro accurate information,” she said. “Most of the people out there have never had access to a body of information that is accurate. We’ve got a lot of propaganda going on that just misleads and is just straight untrue sometimes.”

If Prop 2 is approved by Alaska voters this fall, the state will have 9 months to hammer out provisions for implementing the marijuana law.  The coalition’s Emmett wants to work with regulators to ensure there’s enough lag time so that only marijuana from licensed growers, not the black market, goes up for sale.

Categories: Alaska News

British Kayakers Take On Aleutian Chain

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 17:22

Atka bids farewell to Sarah Outen and Justine Curgenven on May 16. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

For the past three years, a British woman has been trying to travel around the globe using only her own strength. Sarah Outen has biked through China and rowed the Pacific Ocean.

Now, she’s in the Aleutian Islands, tackling some of the world’s wildest seas in a kayak — and learning plenty along the way.

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When she first left London in 2011, Sarah Outen couldn’t have known that her journey around the world would lead to do this:

Danny Snigaroff: “Fish don’t wanna eat? You come around, and you just snag ‘em.”

Sarah Outen: ”Oh, really?”

Snigaroff: “Yeah. You get between them and jerk.”

Outen’s standing on Korovin Beach in Atka — a village of about 70 people in the Aleutian Islands.

The man giving her fishing lessons is Danny Snigaroff. For the past few days, he’s been teaching Outen and her kayaking partner all about the traditional foods that line Aleutian beaches.

Snigaroff: ”Oh, yeah. I was going to ask you, do you have a triple hook? No, eh?”

Outen: “A triple hook? No, I don’t think so. Whoa! No! We don’t.”

Snigaroff: “You don’t have one of these, I’ll give you one.”

Outen: “Thanks, Danny. That’s really kind.”

That could come in handy over the next few months, as these women attempt to kayak through the entire Aleutian chain — from Adak to Homer.

They know it’s been done — at least in part. Traditionally, the Unangan people traveled through the Aleutians in kayaks. Outen says there have been more recent trips.

Outen: “But we’ve not heard of anyone in modern times doing the whole length like that.”

There are plenty of reasons why that would be. Outen’s kayaking partner on this trip, Justine Curgenven, has no trouble listing them off.

Curgenven: “There’s rocky landings, there’s not very many beaches. There’s no people, so if something goes wrong? You know, our longest stretch without people is 250 miles. That would take us 20 days even if everything went well — even if we’re not sat around waiting for weather, which we’re likely to be. So, there’s just so many potential things that could go wrong, I suppose.”

Sarah Outen — the explorer at the center of all this — knows what challenges lie ahead. But she prefers to take things:

Outen: “Bit by bit. In piecemeal. Because it is overwhelming to think of the whole thing in its entirety. I mean, it’s complex logistically, financially, physically.”

Outen is only 28. It wasn’t that long ago that she was back in England — studying at Oxford, rowing on the crew team, and dreaming of adventures.

Outen: “I had no experience of rowing across oceans. I certainly had no money. I was just a student at the time. And during that kind of early phase, just a few months into those ideas, whilst I was still a student, my father died very suddenly.”

That inspired Outen to row across the Indian Ocean alone — a recordbreaking trip, that set the stage for this journey around the world.

It was never supposed to lead to Alaska. Last fall, Outen was trying to row across the Pacific Ocean — to Canada.

Outen: “The weather had been crazy, as you guys who live up here know — that it can be really crazy and unpredictable and fickle.”

That meant changing course. When she arrived at Adak, in the western Aleutians, it had been four months since Outen last saw another human being. She was sick and tired.

In Atka — a week into the kayaking run — Outen isn’t 100 percent.

Outen: “My face looks rather red at the moment, but it’s all allergies. Coming back into contact with people and dust and animals.”

But it’s worth it. Outen says new friends, and new experiences are what this journey around the world is all about.

That’s clear as the adventurers get ready to the leave the village. They’re packing their kayaks on the beach, when the buzz of engines fills the air.

It’s more than a dozen residents, riding down on four-wheelers, to say goodbye.

Crystal Dushkin: “We’re so glad you made it to Atka.”

Curgenven: ”Yeah, so are we! Yeah, that was great. We had a really lovely time.”

Outen: “Mike, I realized I didn’t say cheerio. Bye now!”

Mike Swetzof is an elder, and he says he has to hand it to the kayakers:

Swetzof: ”Got some balls to do something like this. Be adventurous, I guess? I don’t know. It’s just not my thing.”

Taking on the entire Aleutian Chain is scary, he says. But Swetzof and a lot of other elders in Atka think it can be done.

With enough respect for the weather and the sea — and an open mind— anything’s possible.

You can track the kayakers through the Aleutians by visiting Sarah Outen’s website.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 21, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 17:20

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

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Investigators Find No Cover-up at Alaska National Guard

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

An Army Inspector General found leaders of the Alaska National Guard did not cover up any reports of sexual assault and harassment.  At least, that’s how the Inspector General’s office for the Defense Department explained it in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Funny River Fire Takes 20,000 Acres, More Firefighters On The Way

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The fire that’s been burning on the Kenai Peninsula since Monday has now burned more than 20,000 acres. The fire is still contained on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. More than 200 firefighters and several aircraft are using water from nearby Tustumena Lake to control the blaze.

Tyonek Fire Grows To 1,500 Acres

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

A fire near the village of Tyonek has grown to approximately 1,500 acres.

Anchorage Scientist Studies Ancient Cancer For Clues To Modern Disease

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Cancer is often described as a modern disease. But the skeletal remains of our ancient ancestors are marked by the ravages of cancer. And an Anchorage scientist- who’s a cancer survivor, thinks those prehistoric bones could hold clues to understanding how the disease works today. It’s an emerging field though, that has some critics.

Kuskokwim Working Group Grapples With Fishwheels, Threatened Weirs, And Confusion

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

On the day that the summer’s king salmon restrictions began, the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met to hash out the details of this summer fishing plans.  Managing a precarious king salmon run along 700 miles of river will be anything but simple.

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Preparing For Potential Legalization

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska’s marijuana ballot initiative has some Fairbanks entrepreneurs organizing in hopes of being able to grow and sell the drug. Proposition 2 would have the state regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Assembly Passes Special Zoning For Eklutna Village

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The village of Eklutna is now protected as a special area within the city of Anchorage. The Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted on Tuesday to create a district to protect the 800 acres that are considered to be the oldest continually inhabited Athabascan site in the region.

British Kayakers Take On Aleutian Chain

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For the past three years, a British woman has been trying to travel around the globe using only her own strength. Sarah Outen has biked through China and rowed the Pacific Ocean.

Now, she’s in the Aleutian Islands, tackling some of the world’s wildest seas in a kayak — and learning plenty along the way.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Honor Mat Su Fish Experts

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 16:35

 The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission was honored by a state legislative delegation led by Representative Bill Stoltze Tuesday night.   Stoltze told the Mat Su Assembly and those present at the meeting that the commission had managed to achieve changes in state Board of Fisheries policy that could benefit the Mat Su:

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“The presentations in Juneau by the career biologists we are so fortunate that are served as volunteers. I know you can’t pay these guys, anything, you don’t pay them anything, but one thing you can always do is say ‘thank you’, and we appreciate what they have done and what they continue to do for the people of Mat Su on critical fisheries issues. We are out-gunned in so many arenas, but we bring a lot of knowledge to the table, expertise and incredible passion. When the Borough has made presentations, people leave shaking their head, saying ‘wow, we didn’t realize things were so bad.’ Not just so bad, but offering credible solutions.”

 The Valley’s delegation from the 28 legislature had issued a proclamation in April honoring four long time members of the commission: Larry Engle, Howard Delo, Bruce Knowles and Andy Couch. Engle and Delo are former appointees to the state Board of Fish, Couch and Knowles are long time fishing guides.

Stoltze’s comments were echoed by Representative Shelly Hughes:

 ”When they come to Juneau, they are the best of the best and the room fills up and people are awed. The expertise and knowledge is really remarkable, and we are very much blessed to have them working for us. So I just want to say, thank you gentlemen, and those others who are not here today, we just really appreciate .”

The Borough’s Fish and Wildlife commission is a seven member volunteer commission which works to afford the sustainability of Mat Su salmon runs. In February of this year, the commission was successful in convincing the state’s fish board to change commercial fishing regulations to allow more salmon to pass into Cook Inlet’s Northern District river drainages.







Categories: Alaska News

Borough Assembly Upholds School Funding Veto

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-21 16:18

 When the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly unanimously approved a 350 thousand dollar appropriation for the Mat Su School District two weeks ago, it was all part of an amiable budget process that finished with a lowered mill rate and no cuts to services. The extra money for the School district was to help pay for the district’s pre- school program, even though Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who sponsored the appropriation, said that the school district was under no restriction on how it could use the funds. Almost immediately, Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss expressed misgivings, and within two days, he announced his veto of that line item in the 2015 Borough budget. Tuesday night, DeVilbiss addressed the audience

“I felt like, if for no other reason, we should have dialogue on this before it just slides by. So, and I would remind you, the primary issue is not about the merits of pre-K education, it’s about whether your neighbors should be paying for it.”

 But many parents of pre-schoolers, like Michelle Reynolds, want the money put back in the budget. 

“As a taxpayer, I would pay it. And I believe that there are so many people that would be willing to pay it. Because for once, we need our taxes to go to something that finally will give back in the future. And that’s what I look at from here: give you my taxes, give you my money, because it’s our children, it’s our future. “

 The veto came up for an override  Tuesday night, and people lined up to speak in support of the Widening the Net program, which brings pre- kindergarden education into selected Borough schools.   Chris Hines said having the program in Borough schools is the only way he and his wife can afford quality preschool for their child:

“Both of us work full time, and we spend as much time as possible teaching our kids. But we are not qualified for any pre-K program, in terms of assistance. And we can’t afford one, to be quite honest. So this was our only opportunity to get her in any sort of pre-kindergarden learning”

 And teacher Kelly McBride recited well known statistics in favor of early childhood education:

“Research informs us that students who attend high quality pre-school are more likely to succeed, not only in school, but to graduate from high school, attend college or post secondary training. They’re more likely to make healthy life-style choices. We can either invest in children early, or we can pay later, in the form of special education, high school dropouts, unemployment, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and prison costs.”

 But it takes five votes to override the veto, and few of the comments in support of the pre-school program addressed the tax issue. Assemblyman Ron Arvin said he’d support the veto, because the request for the 350 thousand dollars did not come from the school district, but Assemblyman Steve Colligan laid it on the line : He said, it’s the school board’s job to manage the school district budget, not the Assembly’s

“Last year was 80 percent of your home property tax went to the school district and buildings and sustaining that. And yes, there’s less and less money, but statewide, it’s a tough year this year. We have directed the manager this year for a flat budget, or one percent growth. We funded the school district at three percent growth out of savings. I think it’s within the school district board, the administration and the board’s power, to make this a priority. To shave the hair off the peach here for zero point one three percent. It’s their responsibility. “

 In the end, the vote to override fell one vote short, and the veto stays. Mayor DeVilbiss said afterward, that the Borough is not ready to step into non-compulsory education.  

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly passes special zoning for Eklutna village

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 23:21

The village of Eklutna is now protected as a special area within the city of Anchorage. The Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted on Tuesday to create an overlay district to protect the 800 acres that are considered the to be the oldest continually  inhabited Athabascan site in the region.

“It is a walking, breathing, living museum, which we believe is worth preserving for the future generations,” explained Eklutna Inc. CEO Curtis McQueen. He said the Dena’ina community has a 1,500-year history in the region.

The crowd of 50 gave the council a standing ovation when they approved the new zoning law. The purpose of the new designation is to preserve the rural character and cultural uses of the village.  

The overlay prohibits the city from building trails or running utilities through the area to protect the traditional community and the historic sites. It also allows community members to build multigenerational housing on single tracts for extended families and to build community smokehouses.

However, assembly member Amy Demboski worried that giving Eklutna’s native corporation the power to refuse utility easements could create a dangerous precedent for the city.

“It’s challenging for me when I look down to the future and I say for the first time in history, we are giving a corporation veto authority on a local government,” she said. “I absolutely respect the corporation. You are never going to find another better steward, better neighbor than this corporation. But what I am saying is I am not willing to give away the city’s power at this point, no matter how great the neighbor is.”

But ultimately the assembly voted to approve the overlay without amendments restricting the village’s power over utility easements. Both assembly members and representatives from the village and corporation of Eklutna said the move showed respect for the Native community.


Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Continues To Burn On Central Kenai Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:30

A 7,000 acre wildfire continues to burn on the central Kenai Peninsula. So far, no evacuations have been ordered, and no property damage has been reported.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tyonek Fire Draws Response From State Firefighters

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:29

Another fire near the Alaska Native village of Tyonek is drawing a full response from state firefighters. The blaze erupted late Monday afternoon at the village airport, which is across the Chuitna River from Tyonek. But heavy winds in the area pushed the fire across the river in several spots by evening, forcing an evacuation of the village.

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Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC) has issued a call for help. The corporation is providing food and essential provisions for firefighters and displaced village residents and is asking for donations to help.

Tebughna Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that funds cultural enhancements and educational opportunities for Tyonek shareholders and the village of Tyonek, is helping to gather funds that will be used strictly for this effort.

Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo bank with funds going to Tebughna Foundation, account #7758543065.

Those interested in donating material goods can drop them off at TNC headquarters at 1689 C Street, Suite 219, Anchorage, Alaska, 99501.

The following items are needed:

  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Cereal
  • Boxed juice
  • Ingredients for soup
  • Plates, napkins, cups
  • Tea
  • Sugar-free cough drops
  • Kleenex
  • Paper towels
  • Energy bars
  • Sports drinks
  • Sandwich supplies
  • Soups
  • Fruit
  • Moistened towelettes
  • Hand sanitizer
Categories: Alaska News

USFW Wants to Regulate Oil & Gas on Refuges; Young Objects

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:28

About 200 national wildlife refuges have oil and gas development. Among them: the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge in Alaska with active petroleum extraction. The agency that manages refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants rules to regulate that activity. Alaska Congressman Don Young doesn’t like the idea, and he wasn’t quiet about it at a Congressional hearing today.

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Kip Knudson, Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointee in Washington, laid out the state’s case to a House Natural Resources subcommittee. He said Alaska should be exempt from any new regulation by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It would only interfere with the promises of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Knudson said. Besides, he said, it’s just a bad idea.

“If the goal of the rule, or these rules pondered is to improve oil and gas activity, I’m going to predict failure,” he said.  ”And if the goal of the rule is to slow oil and gas activity I’m going to predict near perfect success.”

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated owns about 200,000 acres of subsurface rights in the Kenai Refuge, some leased now for exploration and production. CIRI executive Ethan Schutt says the state provides all the regulation they need.

“We do not need an additional layer of financial burden. We do not need an additional layer of public comment for development of private oil and gas resources in the National Wildlife Refuge System,” he said.

The issue is also a hot one for Louisiana. To make the case for federal regulation, Noah Matson from Defenders of Wildlife showed the panel slides of rusty, leaky pipelines and oozing barrels that he said were on Louisiana Refuges. One of his favorites: A leaking tank repaired with duct tape and garbage bag. (Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., said the method didn’t deserve scorn because, he said, it appeared to be preventing a spill.)

On the committee, Republicans argued the Fish and Wildlife Service had no authority to impose regulations while Democrats said such rules are long overdue. The hearing was placid until Congressman Don Young showed up. He took on Deputy Fish and Wildlife Director Steve Guertin.

Guertin: We’re envisioning now, through this propose rulemaking, taking a lot of public input …

Young: Let me stop there. WHAT PUBLIC? You’re going to hear from the Sierra Club? You’re going to hear from the ‘save the Earth club’? Are you going to listen and give credit to those that live there and were guaranteed by Congress the right to develop their resources?

Young suspects environmental groups are behind the agency’s move for regulation, and he pressed Guertin to admit it.

Young: The idea about taking and not allowing people to drill on these refuges … where did it come from?

Guertin: Again, we’re not talking about denying them access to their minerals …

Young: Where did this restriction come from? WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?

Guertin: I can’t point to a single individual ….


Guertin eventually named the Government Accountability Office. The GAO has twice recommended the service get a better handle on oil and gas operations in refuges. Schutt, the CIRI executive, says even without new rules, Fish and Wildlife requires bonds and special use permits of CIRI’s leasees. On the Kenai, at least, Schutt says the service is already regulating.

Categories: Alaska News

Fired Oil Tax Assessor To Run For State House

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:27

In January, Gov. Sean Parnell removed Marty McGee from a board that deals with the oil producers’ tax bill. Now, McGee wants to take on oil tax policy again – but as a state legislator.

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McGee filed his campaign paperwork on Friday. He’s running for the District 22 House seat, which covers the Sand Lake neighborhood of Anchorage.

Even though the 57-year-old McGee has been a registered Republican for his adult life, he’s changed his party affiliation and will be running as a Democrat. He says he doesn’t feel like there’s space for him to run as a centrist Republican.

“The moderates are being pushed aside and not allowed to be a real material part of making policy and introducing legislation,” says McGee. “That’s why I think that I can be most effective as a Democrat in the Legislature.”

McGee has had his share of conflict with some of the state’s most prominent Republicans.

For nearly a decade McGee served on the State Assessment Review Board. That board is responsible for deciding the value of the TransAlaska Pipeline, and that number is used to calculate the oil companies’ municipal property tax bill. For every billion dollars the pipeline is worth, the oil companies are taxed about $20 million by municipalities along the TAPS route. Last year, the Board determined the pipeline was worth $12 billion, while the North Slope oil producers argued for $2 billion.

Parnell removed McGee from the board this year, because he believed the board was overvaluing the pipeline under McGee’s tenure. Bernie Washington, who serves as Alaska Public Media’s chief financial officer and previously worked for ConocoPhillips, was one of Parnell’s picks to fill the vacancy.

McGee also spent 17 years as the property tax assessor for the Municipality of Anchorage. He resigned from the position in protest last year amidst disagreement with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, after the Municipality returned $1 million it collected in property taxes to Enstar.

Parnell is running for reelection, and Sullivan is running for lieutenant governor.

McGee says if all three of them were to end up in Juneau next year, relations probably wouldn’t be friendly.

“Probably not — I don’t regard them as allies,” says McGee.

McGee says his removal from the State Assessment Review Board played into his decision to run, but it wasn’t the only factor. McGee says he cares about labor issues, and he also opposes Parnell’s new law capping the oil production tax rate at 35 percent. He supports the citizen’s referendum to repeal it.

“I think that the state government should be working to support local governments, not as an adversary with local governments. Which is what I think I’m seeing going on currently,” says McGee.

McGee is the only Democrat to register for the open Sand Lake House seat. Liz Vazquez, David Nees, and Sherri Jackson have all filed letters of intent for the Republican primary.

Sand Lake is currently represented by Republican Mia Costello, who is vacating the seat to run for the State Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Seismologist Delivers Cautionary Notes

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:26

If you have lived in Southcentral Alaska for a year or more, you are almost certain to have felt an earthquake. But a damaging quake is something else again. Experts tell us a quake as powerful as the Great Alaska Earthquake of fifty years ago isn’t likely any time soon, but it doesn’t take a Magnitude Nine to do big damage.

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The next big one already happened. It’s just that nobody lived there.

The Denali Fault quake of 2002 was magnitude 7.9, but unless you lived in Tanacross, Tok or Northway it was remote. Only afterwards did geologists see the massive landslides that it caused. In a sense, seismologist Mike West says, tossing these big numbers around puts urban Alaska at risk of getting complacent.

“I’ve heard people – researchers, probably myself included, say things like ‘Oh it was only magnitude 8,” which is completely warped,” West said. “A magnitude 7 or 8 earthquake is a massive, massive event.”

But if it happens out in the Aleutian Trench, nobody even sees the damage and the main concern is whether it would generate a tsunami. West suggests that maybe Alaskans get the idea that they’ve already seen it all, and he’s here to tell us we haven’t.

“1964 is a nice benchmark,” West said. “It showed us some things that can happen in an earthquake, but there are countless scenarios for equally damaging or more-so earthquakes that aren’t that earthquake.”

“So there’s a small danger in treating 1964 as an example of everything that can happen.”

West points to the nature of the ground we build on in Alaska, and raises the question of what would happen if an earthquake of a magnitude we think we are used to were to happen directly underneath a populated area. And there’s a sobering example from three years ago in New Zealand, where a powerful quake damaged the city in 2010, but another one months later collapsed buildings already weakened.

“We’re talking about a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that killed 150 some people in a first world country,” West said. “And it occurred, it happened because the earthquake was right under town – it was very shallow. And Christchurch was built on soft, wet sediments. And much of Alaska is built on soft, wet sediments.”

Federal authorities are not unaware of Anchorage’s vulnerability. The seismic hazard maps are being updated, and there is a set of boreholes installed by the U.S. Geological Survey in the city’s downtown park strip with seismic sensors spaced at different depths to about 200 feet to pick up ground waves from earthquakes and watch them travel.

“This is the so called ‘strong motion’ seismic network, and it’s a tremendous asset for the state and the municipality,” West said. “It’s really about the densest instrumentation of that type in the country.”

That seismic network continues on up the structure of the nearby Atwood office building, and at dozens of other locations around the city. West says down the road it might be possible to install an earthquake early warning system like is being experimented with in California, though there is no active planning for it at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Ammo Shortages Still Hampering Rural Subsistence Hunters

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:25

With the return of marine mammals and migratory birds to the Bering Straits region, subsistence hunters are still struggling to find certain kinds of ammunition.

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Are you having trouble getting ammo? Well, you’re not alone.

With the return of marine mammals and migratory birds to the Bering Straits region, subsistence hunters are still struggling to find certain kinds of ammunition.

Rural retailers say they are still having trouble stocking ammunition essential for subsistence hunting. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome)

There are several popular calibers they still can’t get in stock at the Native Store in Gambell.

“The .300’s–.303, 2-.22’s, .243, I think,” said assistant manager Julian Apataki last month.

Mary Ungut manages the store and said not only are bullets used hunting seal, ugruk, and other animals hard to get, but they’re more expensive.

“We’ve also been having a hard time getting some .22 shells,” she explained. “It seems that the price is increasing, too.”

Gambell is hardly the only place in Alaska where it’s hard to get .22 bullets. A recent article in the Alaska Dispatch described bare shelves and early morning lines outside Anchorage stores to snag boxes the day shipments arrive. That demand downstate has created a choke point for supplying rural communities where ammo is an essential tool for subsistence.

“If we were to get, say, 30 cases of that .22 ammo—basically what we’d have to do with the 40 stores that have ordered it is we’d divide it amongst the stores. Or, if there was less, we’d divide it based on the need at the time,” said Bill Willaims, manager of distribution for ANICA, the Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association. The company supplies 40 native stores from the Aleutians to Kaktovik, including the one in Gambell. Part of Williams’ job is to anticipate inventory needs around the subsistence calendar, and ship the right bullets at the right time.

“We would prioritize the subsistence needs,” Williams continued, “if people are ugruk hunting and we have .223 ammo in and don’t have enough for everybody—it would go to the people that are hunting ugruks at the time. So that’s basically how we delegate it out.”

Williams has had to venture beyond his Anchorage distributors and down to Washington state for bullets bound for village stores. Rural communities are getting hit with the tail end of a shortage created after the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, which sparked national ammo runs and stockpiling. But because ANICA, like many other rural retailers, places bulk orders months in advance, there was a buffer.

“Two years ago we still had an order coming when all the stores in Anchorage ran out of ammunition. So we did have an insulation because we did have a big shipment of ammo coming in,” Williams said. But after the following summer and into this year inventories were almost totally depleted. “This spring has been really bad. But it’s starting to come back around.”

The shortage is easing, if not disappearing completely. Shotgun shells, .223’s, and other common calibers for subsistence are back on shelves in Nome and Gambell. But higher prices, rationing, and waiting periods have rural hunters wondering if this is the new normal for ammo.

The cause of the ammo shortages in the Lower 48 trickling up through Anchorage and finally to the Bush has been the widely speculated on, with explanations ranging from worries about gun regulation to government stockpiling.

Last winter the NRA’s official magazine, American Rifleman, released a comprehensive and well researched article on what was causing the shortage. In short, lots of people ran out to buy lots of ammo on top of a five year rise in demand not matched by increased production. Based on taxes collected on ammo purchases, the amount of ammunition purchased from 2007 to 2012 doubled. Once the Sandy Hook school shooting raised a panic among gun owners, second amendment proponents, stockpilers and profiteers, rapid runs on already exhausted inventories depleted the supply chain.

Categories: Alaska News

New Equipment Means New Opportunities For Polar Bear Treatment

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:24

A polar bear mother watches carefully with her cubs along her side along the Beaufort Sea. (USFWS photo)

As companies look to expand oil and gas exploration in Alaska, many worry about the possibility of a spill and how wildlife – including polar bears – would be cared for. New equipment has given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the capability to treat polar bears on the scene, which, until now, hasn’t been a possibility.

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A large, stainless steel enclosure sits on display in the parking lot of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Outwardly, it’s not terribly impressive; in many aspects, it looks like an over-sized dog kennel – if that kennel was designed to handle a fully grown, agitated polar bear.

The polar bear holding module, is flanked by two transportation crates. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“There’s two animal doors that access the transport crates, as you can see here,” Jerry Carter, the president of Carter 2 Systems – the company that designed the holding module, said. “And then one man door that we just came through – accessible by a key, spring-loaded, front and back, so you can lock the animal in or lock people out.”

The main enclosure is 12 feet wide and 12 feet long, with plenty of headroom for an adult human standing up. Flanking the holding module are two transport crates, which would hold the polar bear while in transit to the holding module from wherever it’s found.

Despite the enclosure’s rather large size, it can all fit into a standard-sized shipping container that you would see behind a semi-truck. Carter says the holding module actually collapses all the way from it’s full-sized 12 foot width, to less than two feet.

“When it collapses, the ceiling panels come down, floor panels come up, and then it collapses together like that,” he said.

This feature makes it easier to transport to wherever it’s needed. Susi Miller, a polar bear biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that’s what makes this piece of equipment ideal.

The inside of the polar bear holding module. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“We wanted to have something that was relatively portable, that we could deploy in a field situation – like if you had a spill in a remote area, that all this equipment fits inside this conex, and you could take that conex via C-130 or cargo aircraft or barge, deploy it to a field site and treat bears more rapidly in the field,” Miller said.

The enclosure provides a space to clean oil from the bears and for veterinarians to observe and treat them, if necessary.

Miller says the holding module will likely just house one bear or possibly a family of bears – which would include a mother and small cubs. But, there are other situations where multiple bears could share the space.

“It does also allow us to treat adult males, or another scenario might involve sibling bears, second-year cubs or bears that are released from their mother, they’re no longer dependent on their mother, but they’re still hanging around together – we call them sub-adults,” Miller said. “You could potentially put two sub-adults together, but you wouldn’t put strange bears that weren’t related, non-related bears together.”

Once it’s broken down and packed into the conex, it will be shipped up to Deadhorse on the North Slope where it will be based out of.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 20, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 17:09

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

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Wildfire Continues To Burn On Central Kenai Peninsula

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

A 7,000 acre wildfire continues to burn on the central Kenai Peninsula. So far, no evacuations have been ordered, and no property damage has been reported.

Tyonek Fire Draws Response From State Firefighters

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Another fire near the Alaska Native village of Tyonek is drawing a full response from state firefighters. The blaze erupted late Monday afternoon at the village airport, which is across the Chuitna River from Tyonek. But heavy winds in the area pushed the fire across the river in several spots by evening, forcing an evacuation of the village.

USFW Wants to Regulate Oil & Gas on Refuges; Young

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

About 200 national wildlife refuges have oil and gas development. Among them: the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge in Alaska with active petroleum extraction. The agency that manages refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants rules to regulate that activity. Alaska Congressman Don Young doesn’t like the idea and he wasn’t quiet about it at a Congressional hearing today.

Fired Oil Tax Assessor To Run For State House

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

In January, Governor Sean Parnell removed Marty McGee from a board that deals with the oil producers’ tax bill. Now, McGee wants to take on oil tax policy again – but as a state legislator.

Seismologist Delivers Cautionary Notes

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

If you have lived in Southcentral Alaska for a year or more, you are almost certain to have felt an earthquake. But a damaging quake is something else again. Experts tell us a quake as powerful as the Great Alaska Earthquake of fifty years ago isn’t likely any time soon, but it doesn’t take a Magnitude Nine to do big damage.

Ammo Shortages Still Hampering Rural Subsistence Hunters

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

With the return of marine mammals and migratory birds to the Bering Straits region, subsistence hunters are still struggling to find certain kinds of ammunition.

New Equipment Means New Opportunities For Polar Bear Treatment

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

As companies look to expand oil and gas exploration in Alaska, many worry about the possibility of a spill and how wildlife – including polar bears – would be cared for. New equipment has given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the capability to treat polar bears on the scene, which, until now, hasn’t been a possibility.

Former Sitka Principal Found Not Guilty On All Counts

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Joe Robidou has been found not guilty on all counts. A Sitka jury of seven women and five men delivered its verdict in favor of the former school administrator accused of sexual assault Monday evening.

ASD Passes Amended Budget, Adds Back In Teacher Positions

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board voted to increase the 2014-2015 school budget by $26.5 million on Monday night. With the additional money the district will be able to hire back 86 of the teachers they thought they would lose, but not all of them. And there are more cuts to come in the next few years.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Sitka Principal Found Not Guilty On All Counts

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 01:00

Joe Robidou has been found not guilty on all counts.

A Sitka jury of seven women and five men delivered its verdict in favor of the former school administrator at about 6 p.m. Monday evening.

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Joe Robidou (r.) listens to jury instructions with his attorney, Julie Willoughby, in court last week. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The one-time Blatchley Middle School principal sobbed quietly as Magistrate Leonard Devaney — tagging in for David George on the Superior Court bench — read each verdict form in order.

“State of Alaska v. Joseph Robidou, verdict form number 1. Count 1, Sexual Assault in the 2nd Degree, K.L. in May 2012, we the jury find find the defendant Joseph Robidou not guilty.”

And so it went for four additional counts of Sexual Assault, three counts of Indecent Exposure, and one count of Assault in the 4th Degree. The state had pressed charges on behalf of three separate witnesses, all current or former teachers at Blatchley Middle School.

Robidou had been facing five-to-ten years prison time, had he been convicted. Magistrate Devaney informed that with the not guilty verdicts, he was free to go.

Both Robidou’s attorney, Julie Willoughby, and assistant district attorney Jean Seaton, who prosecuted the case, declined comment. Several jurors also declined to speak about the case at this time.

After a week-long trial and twelve hours of deliberation over two days, as she put on her raincoat to head out into a rainy Sitka evening, one juror simply looked at reporters and said, “Not today.”

Categories: Alaska News

Funny River Wildfire Tops 900 Acres

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 00:30

A pair of large wildfires have blazed through hundreds of acres in Soldotna and Tyonek.

As of 10 p.m. Monday, a fire located near Funny River Road near Soldotna had burned more than 900 acres.

A helicopter drops water on the fire near Soldotna Monday night (Ariel Van Cleave photo)

Alaska Division of Forestry Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou said more than 50 firefighters were on the scene, with more crews on the way to help contain the blaze. Crews were aided by two bulldozers and a pair of helicopters that were dropping water on the fire.

The fire caused a large plume of smoke visible throughout the central Kenai Peninsula area and a layer of haze all the way south to Kachemak Bay.

Alexandrou said that no structures were believed to be damaged by the fire. He said the cause was unknown but firefighters suspected it may have been human-caused, as the area is a popular recreation spot.

At the same time, Alexandrou said a wildfire on the west side of Cook Inlet near the village of Tyonek had burned more than 200 acres tonight, forcing an evacuation of Tyonek. That fire is being handled by the Palmer Forestry office.

Due to dry conditions, warm temperatures and low humidity, the Kenai Peninsula has been under a burn suspension since last week. Fire danger around the entire peninsula is extremely high.

Categories: Alaska News

ASD passes amended budget, adds back in teacher positions

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-20 00:18

The Anchorage School Board voted to increase the 2014-2015 school budget by $26.5 million on Monday night, which takes the total up to almost $770 million. With the additional money the district will only lose 57 teachers instead of 143.

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Monday night’s discussion of next year’s school budget focused on the best ways to use the limited funds to help all of the students. School board members debated a number of topics, including the value of planning periods for middle school teachers. They ultimately agreed that teachers for core subjects like English, math, and social studies need time to work together as team.

Other conversations revolved around the importance of summer school. Board member Kameron Perez-Verdia asked should the district use the money planned for updating the ageing science materials and curricula to fund summer school programs instead? The board decided against it.

School Board member Pat Higgins said they tried hard to limit the impacts of the budget shortfalls and balance the needs of different groups.

“I think the board attempted to the extent possible to keep it out of the classroom. They tried to keep it out of middle school. They tried to keep it out of elementary school with classroom sizes. We tried to put it back into the system for kids with special needs. We tried to do everything possible using the extra funds we’ve got to lessen the impacts so the kids would be successful and the staff would have the resources. We weren’t able to put everything back. But I think at the end of the day people would say we tried to be fiscally responsible and put kids first.”

Higgins said the education funding cuts could get even bigger in the future and lead to much larger class sizes and potentially fewer schools. “We have got to really educate the public and educate the legislature what it means not to fund public education.”

The board also amended the budget to provide charter schools with an additional $1.27 million from the fund balance. The money was granted in response to community members who said the district’s seven charter schools need the money to help pay for their facilities. The fund balance is the school district’s safety net, but Mark Foster, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said withdrawing that amount for the charter schools is within reason.

Other funds will go toward three-year-long, high value pilot projects, like early literacy programs, pre-K classes, and upgrading classroom technology.


Categories: Alaska News

Report Says U.S. Participation In Arctic Council Lacks Coordination, Follow-Through

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-19 17:22

A report released Monday from the Government Accountability Office suggests U.S. participation in the Arctic Council lacks coordination and follow-through.

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The U.S. and other member nations in the Council have agreed to dozens of recommendations over the years. They address, among other things, opportunities and challenges that arise as ice retreats from the region.

The GAO found the State Department, which leads the U.S. team, lacks a joint strategy for acting on these recommendations, leaving federal partner agencies unsure how to prioritize the work.

The GAO says there’s also no system for measuring outcomes.

The State Department notes the GAO report only addresses the many recommendations of the Council.

The report does not cover the more formal commitments the U.S. makes in international agreements. The State Department announced in February it will boost its Arctic representation with a special representative for the region.

Categories: Alaska News

Former ADN Executive Editor Pat Dougherty Speaks On Newspaper’s Sale

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-19 17:21

It’s been a little more than two weeks since the Alaska Dispatch took ownership of the Anchorage Daily News. Pat Dougherty was the Executive Editor of the Daily News and had been with the paper for 34 years. He’s speaking publicly about the sale for the first time. He says he retired from that position when the sale became final because he and Dispatch founder Tony Hopfinger wouldn’t have been able to work together.

Dougherty says he was surprised when he first heard that Alaska Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff was buying the paper. And he says there’s one thing about the sale he wants the community to understand.

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Describe the day the reporters found out about the sale.

[There was a] meeting called on the loading dock, it’s the one part of the building that is large enough to hold the company staff, so we went down to the loading dock. I knew what was going to happen. Bob Wile, who is the corporate VP for McClathy who supervises the Daily News, was there and Alice came in. Bob announced the company was being sold and explained some of the reasons for that and introduced Alice.

Alice made a few remarks, very briefly, then said she had another appointment and left. It was kind of a shocking event. Then she was gone and Bob answered some more questions for a while and then people went back to work trying to figure out what does this mean for me.

How about you? How did you decide to leave or was that decided for you?

No, actually I had been talking for some time about the possibility of retirement, but I’d always said I wouldn’t retire until my kid got out of college. Well, she finished last December so that was an important milestone for my life that made that possible. Then when I found out the Dispatch was buying the paper, I knew I wouldn’t want to work for Tony, I knew Tony wouldn’t want me to work for him, so it actually worked out that by virtue of them buying the paper, it made my retirement easier. It gave me some opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I’d just walked in and said I’m leaving. So it worked out well for me. I would like to see the newspaper do well and particularly because the people who were there working for me have done a great job under difficult circumstances with real class, so I want them to have good opportunities to do what they want professionally, which is good journalism.

You spent 34 years at the paper, how difficult was it to leave and not be in the daily mix at the newspaper?

One thing you get accustomed to is always being awash in information, whether it’s been published or just what reporters are hearing or finding out, so you have a real sense of knowing a lot about everything that’s going on. Now I’m just a news consumer like everybody else, so I don’t have that same insider feel, but I’ve been in the newspaper business almost 40 years and 38 of that in Alaska. I’ve done a lot, I don’t feel like I have unfinished business. One of my goals was to be a steward of the newspaper through the difficult times we’ve had since about 2007. I think I’ve managed to do that. I’ve been through 4 or 5 rounds of layoffs at the paper as financial times got more difficult. That takes a lot out of a person. It took a psychic toll on me so I’m very happy to be focused on doing the things I enjoy doing with the people I enjoy doing them with and not having the responsibility of the newspaper. When I’m sitting at home and the phone rings, I know now it’s not going to be a crisis that’s going to own my evening or the next day, so I feel very good about that.

How would you describe what your initial reaction to the sale was, when you found out it was done?

Well, I was……surprised. I was in some way disappointed because these were not the stewards of the Daily News I would choose. But I never thought I owned the newspaper, I always knew it belonged to someone else. That I needed to operate it as best I could within the guidelines I was given by the owners and I certainly did that to the best of my ability.

Pat, what remains your biggest concern about the sale?

The one thing I think is important for the community to understand and I mean that for the Alaska community and journalists who are trying to figure out what the future of what our industry is going to be and that is that the sale of the Daily News to the Dispatch is not the story of the feisty little website that persevered and toppled the old media giant. This is the story of an heiress, married to a billionaire, who was willing to pay whatever it took to buy the state’s most influential newspaper and most successful website. That’s all that happened here.  The Alaska Dispatch was not a financially successful or viable product, but Alice Rogoff had the money and the will to buy the newspaper and so she did.

Many Lower 48 news outlets characterized this as a win for online journalism, topping the giant, you answered this but give me your take again.

Well, I think some of what I heard Alice say in her interview with Charles Wohlforth is correct, that where we are in this business is a time of transition and convergence, where you have print, which is a successful business, although far less successful than it was, with lots of continuing pressures, you have local television stations which are in the same situation, they’re profitable, but lots of what drives their profit is campaign spending. Their business is not as good as it was and their future is uncertain, and then you have online, that is not now a viable business but it is in part and maybe a huge part, where we’re headed. You’re going to end up with news operations doing audio, video, text, data bases, all merged into one place. But you have the digital triumphalists who think every sign of adversity for newspapers is sort of the evidence of triumph of digital over print. It’s much more subtle than that, it’s part of what I find disturbing in watching this whole process. This idea that it’s a simple black and white thing, that digital will prevail, that print will go away. These black and white scenarios and it’s still taking shape. At McClatchy Company, and I’m right with them on this, print has a future that will continue for a considerable time. But we’re never going back to the best of the good old days for newspapers. I think there [are] growing digital audiences, but how to make money from those audiences is not clear. Quality journalism is extremely expensive to produce so you have to have a business model that makes sense that will work in order to produce good journalism.

At the Daily News, that’s what we were about, is trying to figure out how to produce the best journalism that we could and how to operate our business as efficiently and effectively as possible. There was this whole period of time where people in Anchorage, I would hear this refrain constantly, “oh the newspaper is going out of business,” and I’d say, “no it’s not going out of business but it is changing and it’s not going to be like it was because times have changed too much to permit that.” People would look me in the eye and say, “that’s not true,” and I would say, “but this is my career and life, I understand this really well, I’m telling you, the newspaper is not going out of business,” and they wouldn’t believe me. Well here we are, at least I’ve stopped hearing that. People understand now the paper is not going out of business.

In fact, if you look at what happened in Anchorage with the sale of the Daily News to the Alaska Dispatch. By virtue of what the Dispatch paid for the Daily News, the Daily News is the most valuable newspaper of its size in the United State. Now does that sound like an unsuccessful business? If it was an unsuccessful business, why would the Dispatch buy it? So, there’s a, it’s frustrating when you’re immersed in a topic like this and you really understand it and try to explain that to people and they just refuse to believe it.

Tony Hopfinger, who co-founded the Alaska Dispatch and basically replaced you at the paper, has said he doesn’t think the deal does anything to dampen competition among journalists in Anchorage. Do you agree with that?

No, it’s obviously false on its face, but that’s the spin he needs to offer otherwise he’d have to say, the point of this sale was to reduce competition for news in this community. That’s what happened, it’s not complicated, it’s obvious, so he is just trying to sell a line that’s not true.

Hopfinger and Alice Rogoff, the publisher, also have said this deal returns the Daily News to local ownership. Do you think that’s true and do you think the paper lost something when it was bought by an outside newspaper corporation?

I don’t know. The McClatchy Company, which I have huge respect for, is a company based in California. They own 30 newspapers from the East to West Coast from Florida to Alaska so they’re very much a national company in their overall outlook. The thing that made McClatchy unusual was that it really did let the local executives operate the papers the way they thought they should be operated within certain financial responsibilities – the need to make money. And that was always the case from when McClatchy first got involved. So it’s not locally owned but it was operated by people like me. I’ve been at the newspaper for 34 years, I’ve been at the Anchorage Daily News longer, by a considerable margin than Tony Hopfinger and Alice Rogoff combined and I’m the editor of the paper. So it wasn’t locally owned, but it was operated by people with deep roots in the community and a lot of institutional knowledge and people who are unquestionably Alaskans and I’m speaking on the news side primarily. So it’s true and it’s not true, that’s my take on it.

Pat, you worked for Kay Fanning, she sold to McClatchy. How did that transition compare to this sale?

Kay Fanning sold the paper to McClathy, she was just weeks from going out of business otherwise. McClatchy bought the paper in late 1978, the first McClatchy version came out April 2nd of ‘79. I came to work in 1980, so I wasn’t there in the immediate months but I think it was fairly seamless. The paper was only about 13 people when McClatchy bought it. So McClatchy brought in lots of people, helped with the hiring, loaned staff to the Daily News because when McClatchy bought the Daily News, we didn’t own a press, we didn’t have a building, we didn’t have an advertising department, a circulation department, classified. We had an accountant not a business office. So there was huge work to be done to get that launched. So that transition was like a fire drill to get this tiny little buildingless-newspaper a press and a building and get it operational. In this case, the business is all sitting there, the question is integrating the two staffs and communicating the new owner’s vision of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they want to go about that with a staff that is used to doing something different.

So managing that kind of change is difficult and a challenge, but Tony Hopfinger talked about that in the interview with Charles Wohlforth and he talked about that and recognized that as the primary challenge that he had and I think there’s a lot of interest in the legacy Daily News staff in seeing a good transition there and from a news stand point, it’s a great thing. The number of reporters is doubling over night. That’s a huge infusion of energy and ideas so I think, all and all it will be a good thing and I think in some ways, may be easier than the previous transition, I don’t know it’s a little hard, I’m not there now as I was for the previous one that happened almost 40 years ago.

Another focus of Hopfinger and Rogoff is statewide news instead of primarily covering Anchorage, do you think that’s a good thing?

I do. Several of the ideas I heard them articulate are ideas that I had thought or proposed that the Daily News do. They talked about changing the name of the paper to reflect its statewide focus. At one time, maybe before Tony worked for the Daily News or while then, I proposed changing the name of the paper to the Alaska Daily News, McClatchy didn’t want to do that because they believe in the brand of the Anchorage Daily News, that’s the historic name of the paper and not something you would change lightly. The name plate doesn’t define the content of the newspaper, the content does. The Anchorage Daily News doing statewide coverage is the same as the Alaska Daily News, people will understand what they’re reading so if you’re providing statewide coverage, people will understand the brand of the Daily News includes a statewide orientation. It was always the focus of the Daily News from the get go. We’ve had varying amounts of resources available to execute that vision, but that has always been the vision.

At the moment at least, there are many more reporters there. Does this benefit or does the math not work out overhead wise?

It makes for a stronger product. If you do a good job of marketing, you can make hay with that. It’s a boon for readers, but the key questions around the newspaper business these days are not can you spend a lot of money and produce good journalism, the answer to that is yes, unless you’re incompetent, that’s just not that hard to do. But the question in my mind is the business plan for this newspaper. These have been difficult times for the newspaper business and they’re not over yet. The challenges for producing a profitable newspaper is hard and will get harder, the classified advertising business is hugely diminished and that’s just gone and not coming back. You’re now operating a newspaper that used to have 28 pages of classifieds a day and now you have 6 or 5, that’s a big deal and that’s not reversible. I heard Alice say, it’s going to be up to advertisers to rally around this new and revised newspaper.

That suggests to me that Alice doesn’t understand advertisers. The advertisers are not in the paper because they want to rally around the news product. They’re there because they have goods and services they want to sell and they’re looking for the most effective and most economical way to do that. You need to understand the business.

So I don’t think you can count on advertisers to just jump into the newspaper because they think Alice has high journalistic ambitions. It’s a cutthroat world for that business and it’s not going to get easier. I also heard Alice and Tony were asked a question about the paywall at the Daily News. I heard Alice say that we, the Alaska Dispatch came to this sale, with no knowledge whatsoever, I believe those were her exact words, of the paywall and how it worked. I was listening to that and thought, if I were about to pay $34 million for a business, I would have a better understanding of how that business works than is suggested by that answer. These are difficult, complicated questions about running this business and I’m not hearing a lot that suggests that the people that bought it really understand that.

They had, at the time of the purchase, they had probably the most talented print advertising executive in the state working for them. She’s since left and became the publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner; that was a huge blow in a very critical area of that business. I know from a lot of experience that finding a good advertising executive to run the advertising department is not easy and we were fortunate to have found Marty. So again, I have to wonder, how can you let this happen if you’re really going to try to meet the challenges of the business that you’re in? Time will tell.

Alaska Dispatch has owned the paper for about two weeks, what are your thoughts when reading it?

Well, I see that they have decided to use all local stories on the front page. I think that’s reasonable, it’s not exactly the decision I would have made. My preference is to publish a balance of local and national, leaning to the local, but it’s perfectly reasonable thing to do. In fact, I redesigned the Daily News and put all the local news in the A section and had a national and international B section. That represents an ideal way of putting the paper out, so that makes sense.

I also had been urging the company for years to eliminate participation in the Associated Press which I think is an anachronism and is not helpful for the newspaper and replace it where needed which is primarily in sports and it would save a lot of money that could be put into local reporting and the company didn’t think it was a good idea and wouldn’t let me do it. I know Tony feels the same way. He’s trying to get out of his AP contract. It’s a little surprising that he didn’t realize until after they bought the paper that there is a two year cancellation on the Associated Press. He thought he could walk in and cancel it, turns out he has to wait two years unless his lawyers can figure out how to break it early. I think he and I are of similar frame of mind about that. I would have done that years ago if I’d had the opportunity.

Two other things. One is they’re going to get rid of the signed editorials; I think that’s a mistake. One of the things that makes that editorial page important is that you have one institution in the community that is willing to stand up and take oppositional positions on the conventional wisdom on the economic and political elite of the state so. It’s only the Daily News that’s going to say, ‘wait a minute, why are we cutting oil taxes with no guarantee of some result in exchange for that?’ You’re not going to hear that from the Chamber of Commerce, you’re not going to hear that from the people who run the legislature or the Governor. So even if you don’t agree with that opinion, isn’t it valuable to have an institution in the community that constructs the argument and shares it with the community so there is at least the opportunity for a debate about a public policy that is as important as that? So, just eliminating that institutional voice, to me, is a mistake. Another thing they said, is they will not do political endorsements. That I agree with. I’m not very big on political endorsements by the newspaper myself. Particularly not in high profile races.

Now, arguably, it’s valuable to the community to have an editorial board, an editorial page where the school board candidates come in and make their case and then the newspaper makes a recommendation on that because you’re not going to have a lot of information as a voter otherwise on a race like that. So, I could go either way on that. On the other hand, if you’re having a Senate race like we’re having this year, you don’t need the newspaper’s endorsement to help guide you in your decision about who to vote for. You’re going to have more information than you’d want as a voter. So that would be my take on it.

Have you heard anything about how Daily News reporters are handling the change so far?

I think they’re enjoying the infusion of energy and staff. It spreads out things like who has to work on the weekends, that improves your quality of life. Or maybe you’re able to provide more depth on the first story you’re working on because someone else can pick up the second story you would have done otherwise. So I think from their standpoint, initially it’s a good thing. My impression is, it’s working out fine and at the same time people are waiting to see how things play out in the long run, it’s only been two weeks.

Pat, do you worry that the Dispatch staff doesn’t have enough experience to run a newspaper?

Well, that’s a good question. Alice Rogoff has an MBA from Harvard, so that’s certainly good training. She worked as an assistant to the publisher of the Washington Post, 30 years ago for a year or two. She had no operational  responsibilities in that job. She was the CFO at U.S. News and World Report. Which is an operational job, but again, that was 20 years ago. I can’t emphasize enough how much the world of journalism and publishing has changed in the last 20 years. She created a gallery for Alaska Native art in Manhattan, which she underwrote, which rocked along just fine as long as she wrote personal checks to cover it. But she couldn’t sustain that indefinitely because there wasn’t a business model behind it. She went to the legislature and asked them to pay for it and they weren’t interested so that went away. So there’s not a lot of newspaper experience there. She ran the Dispatch, which again was not a profitable business and was as far as I can tell, was never going to become profitable.

Tony Hopfinger was a newspaper reporter, worked for me in fact. Left, wanted to come back, although he now tells the story that he left over some ethical issue where his good journalism was suppressed by the editors of the Daily News, I can say definitively that that is not true. He left and tried to come back and we were not interested in having him come back as a reporter. He then went to the Anchorage Press where he was an editor for a couple of years, maybe, for that weekly. Then went to the Alaska Dispatch where he’s been, I think for about eight years, running a money-losing website. So, those are not resumes for what I would think are great qualifications to run a substantial business in very difficult financial circumstances, but they have a lot of ideas and they describe themselves as being very experimental with what to do with the Daily News. So, maybe they will experiment and hit on some formula, that people who have spent their entire lives in newspapers trying to make them as successful as possible couldn’t come up with.

Given this transformation in local journalism in Alaska, what do you think the future holds?

I have been asked that a lot and I have addressed it but never terribly successfully. The reality is nobody knows where this is headed. The digital triumphilists say print is going to die, television is going to die and everything will be on the internet. I think newspapers are going to be around for a while. They’re money making businesses. But they’re not like they once were. Newspapers were hugely profitable. It’s worth keeping in mind that the period of newspapers being hugely profitable was a relatively short period in the long history of newspapers. The more common history for a newspaper was, newspapers were being born and dying all the time. It was a brutal, Darwinian world for newspapers, where they barely made money, they went out of business, somebody started a new one and that went on for decades – many decades. I think the golden age of newspapers is over, but it doesn’t mean that newspapers are over. They existed before the good times and I think they’ll exist afterwards. I’m not in love with newspapers, even though I spent my life with them. I’ve spent as much time hating that big piece of iron called the printing press as I did having any affection for it.

What we do, people like me in my career, is we go out and collect information, we vet it, we package it and we distribute to people. And I don’t really care if we do that on a fax machine, on a computer, on a telephone, on a piece of paper or the radio. Because the core task is not about the means of distribution, it has to be distributed, but it doesn’t have to be distributed in any particular way. When you think about it, how crazy is it to print the news on a piece of paper and give it to a guy in a four wheel drive truck and have him drive it to everyone’s house. That’s a business that can only exist in the absence of alternatives. Even so, I think reading on a piece of paper is a qualitatively different experience than getting it other ways. There’s a kind of pleasure in it that people like, they enjoy it. It’s really, really hard to improve upon type on paper for transferring information into the brains of human beings. So, I think that’s going to be around for a while yet, but I think you’re going to see newspapers doing a lot more video. I think television stations and radio stations are going to have to get better at doing text presentations. I think the power of still photography that newspapers has owned all to itself for a long time is now going to have to be shared among all of these media. But it can only work in the context of some sort of successful business, unless we think that everybody’s news is going to come from some form of non-profit organization. So at the bottom of all of it is, how can we do this public service that’s very important and pay for it in a way that is sustainable for a long time and creates the kind of independence that a newspaper needs, whether it’s from advertisers, the government or philanthropic organizations. How is that going to be done in the future. Everybody is struggling to figure that out but nobody really knows the answer yet. That’s a long way of saying I don’t know what the future for the news business is.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Daily News, the Dispatch, but what about you? What’s next? More fishing? Less work?

I wasn’t really trying to stop working. What I wanted was more control of my time. The job being the editor of the paper is time consuming, lots of demands on your time. Any given day, fair amount of stress involved in that. I’ve done enough of that. I don’t need to continue to do that. I do enjoy my recreational pursuits, first among them fishing, and I intend to do that. I’ve lived in Alaska for 38 years, never had a summer off. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get up, every day of the summer and do whatever I wanted because there’s so many great things to do. When you’re working, there’s only 19 weekends and every one of those that goes away, there’s 5 percent of your summer that’s disappeared. In the future, I’m going to be looking for interesting things to do. Things I have passion about. I have interest in the non-profit world and the things that non-profits are doing that I think are important in communities. So maybe I’ll volunteer. I also may have the opportunity to do some strategic marketing, strategic  communications consulting. Which I have developed a lot of expertise and I would like to share it with organizations that would like me to do that. I’m just about 62-years-old, will I be bored? I don’t know. I’ve never had the opportunity to be bored, so I’m going to give it a chance and see whether life will feel like it does now, where it still feels like there is more to do than I can get to, or whether at some point, I don’t feel like I’m profitably using my time, so we’ll see but for now I’m really going to enjoy the summer.

Categories: Alaska News
Beggar's Banquet
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