Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 10, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:18

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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Parnell Announces New Pipeline Plan, Changes AGIA Agreement

Anne Hillman, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell announced Friday the state is taking a new approach to a large-scale natural gas line in Alaska.

Supreme Court Okay’s Referendum Repealing Controversial Labor Law

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Supreme Court of Alaska has ruled that a referendum launched by union supporters to repeal a controversial Anchorage labor ordinance can go ahead. The Justices made their decision in just two days.

Treadwell Campaign Attacks Begich On ANWR

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Senate campaign of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has issued a series of press releases attacking incumbent Mark Begich for allegedly receiving support from Outside politicians working to lock up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and enact gun control, which both candidates oppose. But the Treadwell campaign was apparently unaware that a listed host for a Treadwell fundraiser in Chicago is one of the Senate’s biggest advocates for those same two issues.

Ravn Investigating Cause Of St. Mary’s Crash

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Era commuter plane that crashed and killed four people and injured six near St. Mary’s in November.  The government’s full report is many months away, but in the meantime, Era, now known as Ravn, and others are digging into the cause of the crash.

Lawmakers File Dozens Of Bills In Advance Of Session

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

State lawmakers have pre-filed more than 50 bills in advance of the legislative session.

Air Quality Regulations Worry Fairbanks, State Officials

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The controversial air-quality regulations that state officials have proposed for Fairbanks-area residents are aimed at reducing pollution from wood-burning heating systems. They do not apply to coal-fired systems, which are increasingly popular because coal is cheaper than wood.

Winter Grizzly Sightings Raise Concerns Near Denali Park

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Midwinter grizzly and track sightings have raised concern in the Denali Park area. Local resident, four time Iditarod Champion Jeff King spotted blood and bear tracks on a trail while training dogs Wednesday.

AK: Shipwreck

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The grounded crab boat Arctic Hunter has been stuck on the rocks outside Unalaska for more than two months now. Dan Magone of Resolve-Magone Marine Services has been working on a plan to remove the wreck. Right now, the Hunter is at the mercy of the elements. So what happens to a shipwreck while it’s waiting to be saved?

300 Villages: Chickaloon

This week, we’re heading to Chickaloon, a small community located along the Glenn Highway, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Patricia Wade is a member of the Chickaloon tribe.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Quality Regulations Worry Fairbanks, State Officials

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:17

The controversial air-quality regulations that state officials have proposed for Fairbanks-area residents are aimed at reducing pollution from wood-burning heating systems. They do not apply to coal-fired systems, which are increasingly popular because coal is cheaper than wood.

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Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers File Dozens Of Bills In Advance Of Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:17

State lawmakers have pre-filed more than 50 bills in advance of the legislative session.

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A number of bills deal with civil liberties issues. One would put limits on when and how drones could be used in police investigations. A different item would seal off court records in cases that resulted in a dismissal or not-guilty verdict. There’s also a bill to regulate the practice of students being restrained or put in seclusion over the course of disciplinary action, and another to formalize grievance procedures for people undergoing mental health treatment. One piece of legislation would also bring “Erin’s Law” to Alaska, by requiring schools to run awareness programs to curb sexual abuse and assault.

Lawmakers also introduced a few education bills. The chair of the Senate Education Committee filed legislation that would create a new elementary school reading program. Bills introduced in the House and Senate would repeal the state’s secondary school exit exam. Legislation from the chair of the House Finance subcommittee on education would get rid of the requirement that city and borough governments contribute funding to their school districts.

A trio of Democratic women in the House have introduced a suite of legislation concerning women’s issues. One of their bills would reestablish the Commission on the Status of Women, another would require employers to give their workers break time for breastfeeding, and a third would require employers to offer sick leave and allow that leave to be used in situations involving domestic violence or sexual assault. They’ve also proposed upping the eligibility level for the DenaliKidcare medical assistance program to 200 percent of the poverty line. The Legislature approved an increase to the program, which serves children and pregnant women, in 2010, but Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed the legislation because a fraction of those funds go to abortion-related services.

One constitutional amendment was filed. It would make the office of attorney general an electable position instead of an appointed one.

Only one piece of bipartisan legislation was offered. A mix of four lawmakers from the House majority and minority caucuses has filed legislation that would make the Native languages like Yup’ik and Tlingit official languages for the state. A group of House Democrats and a group of House Republicans separately filed two nearly identical bills that would reject pay raises for the governor and his cabinet.

A couple of quirky items were also introduced. One would allow cocktails to be served on golf courses, in addition to beer and wine, and another would make it so the Department of Revenue doesn’t have to register cattle brands.

The Legislature will gavel in on January 21.

Categories: Alaska News

Winter Grizzly Sightings Raise Concerns Near Denali Park

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:16

Midwinter grizzly and track sightings have raised concern in the Denali Park area. Local resident, four time Iditarod Champion Jeff King spotted blood and bear tracks on a trail while training dogs Wednesday.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Shipwreck

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:15

Dan Magone on the deck of the Arctic Hunter, with debris visible on the beach. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

The grounded crab boat Arctic Hunter has been stuck on the rocks outside Unalaska for more than two months now. Dan Magone of Resolve-Magone Marine Services has been working on a plan to remove the wreck. Right now, the Hunter is at the mercy of the elements. So what happens to a shipwreck while it’s waiting to be saved?

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It’s easy to miss the Arctic Hunter until you’re almost at its bow.

“Just go right over there, just inside of that – yeah, right straight ahead would be good, I think…,” Dan Magone said.

The 93-foot crab boat is tipped to the side, half-submerged in Unalaska Bay. It looks small at the foot of the cliffs, and its blue hull blends in with the water.

Cevil Magone “You want to be hanging along the port side, there?”
Dan Magone: “Yeah.”

Dan Magone and his son and employee Cecil Magone have taken a skiff out to the Hunter. The wreck is tilting toward us where we’re anchored, and we can see it listing back and forth.

Dan Magone snorkeling in front of the Arctic Hunter. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

The Hunter has been stuck here a lot longer than your typical wreck, since November 1st. But it’s jammed into the rocks pretty securely, and all of its fuel either spilled just after the grounding, or has since been removed. It’s not an environmental hazard anymore.

So the boat’s insurance company is taking its time getting the wreck removal started. It’s not going to be an easy job, and there aren’t many breaks in the weather on this part of the coastline.

The delay has given Dan Magone more time to fine-tune his wreck removal proposal. Today is the last planning trip he’s going to make.

“Well, we’re doing a dive survey of the Arctic Hunter,” Dan said. “Principally, I’m checking out the rocks that I may have to bust with explosives in order to pull the wreckage out of here.”

After months of pounding by waves and wind, the Hunter can’t float on its own. Salvagers will need to clear a path in the rocks and drag it out to deeper water before they can work on it.

It’s raining and windy today – typical weather for Unalaska Bay, and for Dan, time to go snorkeling. He straps on a wetsuit, fins and mask and dives into what’s probably 40-degree water to swim out to the boat.

Dan Magone and his sea urchins in the skiff after the survey dive. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

From where the skiff stays anchored, we can see that the Arctic Hunter has taken a beating. There’s no glass left in most of its cabin windows, and the window frames are crunched in and starting to rust.

Cecil says that’s pretty typical with a wreck that’s been out here so long.

“On a rock beach like this?” Cecil said. “They just sit there and work, you know. Every wave that hits it grinds it into the rock a little more.”

And anything that’s not tied down is likely to wash out. Dan finds huge wrenches in the water next to the Hunter as he snorkels around.

“Nice one, two and a half… Those are expensive,” Dan said.

He brings them back to the side of the skiff and tosses them in.

“Treasure!” Dan exclaimed as he tosses the wrench in the skiff.

Cecil says these wrenches probably fell out of the engine room. They’d sink or wash ashore if Dan didn’t collect them. More things are already visible on the rocky beach behind the Hunter – like plywood and insulation from the boat’s interior, plus smaller objects.

Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

“Buoys, fishing gear, survival suits, probably a couple bottles of bleach or something,” Cecil said. “You know, just – if you had a doublewide trailer that got hit by a tornado, the kind of stuff you’d find in there is on that beach right now. DVDs, somebody’s socks, all that stuff.”

At least what we can see of the hull is intact. But Cecil says it’s a different story below the waterline.

“Think about, like, a soda can, maybe. If you took a soda can and just raked it back and forth real violently on one of these pieces of lava rock, the top might not be all crunched up super bad, it’d have a little bit of damage, but where it was rubbing on the bottom, you know, it’d just be shredded out, and kind of, like, in ribbons, you know,” Cecil said. “The steel bottom of this boat’s in ribbons where it’s touching the bottom.”

Cecil says salvagers will have to get the boat off the rocks and patch it up to float it again. Then they can take it to somewhere like a dry dock. But Cecil isn’t optimistic much of the Hunter will be saved.

“This thing’s going to be so mangled that you’re pretty much – anywhere you take it, you’re probably just going to have to cut it up into smaller pieces,” Cecil said.

For now, the survey work is done. Dan surfaces at the side of the skiff and climbs back in.

“Invigorating,” Dan said.

And he’s brought lunch.

Ropeik: “What’d you bring, there, urchins?”
Dan: “Sea urchins.”
Ropeik:: “For eating?”
Dan: “They’re for eating, yeah.”

He cuts them open and we snack on them as we head away from the Hunter.

Cecil: “Did you see rocks when you looked in the fish hold?”
Dan: “Yeah. Rocks live there now.”

The Arctic Hunter is becoming part of the landscape out here. Like the rocks that have taken root in its hold, it’s taken root against the beach. The wreck will only break down and blend in more the longer it waits.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Chickaloon

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:14

This week, we’re heading to Chickaloon, a small community located along the Glenn Highway, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Patricia Wade is a member of the Chickaloon tribe.

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Categories: Alaska News

Driver Injured After Semi-Truck Strikes Bus Carrying Kenai Skiers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 17:43

A high school cross-country ski team is okay after its bus was struck by a semi-truck on the Richardson Highway on Friday morning.

Valdez Police say the accident involving the Kenai Central High School cross-country ski team happened at mile 55 of the Richardson Highway at 11:30 a.m.

The bus driver sustained serious injuries.  No serious injuries were reported for the 49 students on board.

The team was heading to Valdez for this weekend’s Valdez Invitational Meet.

The Valdez School District has sent buses to the scene and is transporting the students to Valdez.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Weighs Election Date Change

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 17:38

Image by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

An Anchorage Assembly member wants to move the Municipal Election from spring to fall. He says he believes it will boost turnout, which has averaged around 29 percent since 1993, but other Assembly members says it’s a bad idea and want the public to weigh in before any change is made.

Anchorage Assembly member Chris Birch is proposing an ordinance that would change the municipal election from April to November to coincide with state and federal elections. He says turnout is more than double for state elections in November.

Article by the Anchorage Times.

“So the objective is to move the election to a time when people actually show up to vote,” Birch said.

Birch says the one year when issues were put on the November ballot there was a sharp increase in turnout.

“The high point really is an election that happened in 2004 when we contracted with the state to run a school bond election, two school bonds, they passed and we had a 52 percent turnout,” Birch said. ”And that’s basically what spurred my interest in seeing a dramatic increase, a doubling if you will of municipal voter turnout.”

Twice before, the election has been moved. In 2000 the election was moved from the third to the first Tuesday in April. In 1988 the election moved from October to April. The rational was the same as moving it to the fall today, higher voter turnout. And the concerns were the same: the ethical impacts of sitting Assembly members extending their own terms and the Mayor’s. They solved that problems by delaying the effective date for three years.

Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson says increasing voter turnout is a great idea, but there’ no rush. Municipal Attorneys says it would be legal, although it would increase the terms of sitting assembly members by seven months. Gray-Jackson along with Assembly members Dick Traini and Tim Steel have a counter proposal.

“The proposal that Mr. Traini, Mr. Steel and I have brought forward is to instead of the Assembly making a decision whether or not to move the election from April to November, letting the voters decide when they want to vote,” Gray-Jackson said.

Gray Jackson says Assembly members extending their own terms creates a conflict of interest. Assembly member Birch has served on the Assembly for three consecutive terms equaling nine years. This is his final term. Gray-Jackson says that makes his proposal problematic.

“If I were Mr. Birch, whose term is over April 1st I would feel so uncomfortable bringing forward this ordinance right now,” Gray-Jackson said. ”If he really were concerned about voter turnout, why didn’t he do it during the nine-year period that he was on the Assembly.”

But Birch says he believes it’s fine for him to extend his term since every other Assembly member and the Mayor would also get their terms extended.

Birch: “It would extend my term and every other member’s term on the body. It affects every member on the body uniformly.”
Daysha: “But you’re the only member who’s terming out, right?”
Birch: “Yeah, that’s right.”

Besides increasing voter turnout, holding elections in November could save money, Birch says, because the state and municipality could share resources such as election workers and voting machines. Birch and the Officials with the Clerk’s office have talked with Gail Fenumiai, the Director of the Alaska Division of Elections. She says it’s possible.

“We just talked about whether or not that could happen and we’ve come to the conclusion that it could,” Fenumiai said. ”You know it’s still very early – a little premature to get into any details. There’s still a lot of work that the Anchorage folks need to do on their end to see if that’s even going to become a reality for them.”

Officials with the Clerk’s office say the initial change would require an investment. The seven-month extension will also apply to Mayor Dan Sullivan’s term.

Birch’s ordinance seeking to change elections from April to November will be up for public testimony at the Tuesday, Nov. 14 Assembly meeting along with the ordinances offered by Assembly members proposing the issue go before voters.

Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court Okay’s Referendum Repealing Controversial Labor Law

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 16:01

The Supreme Court of Alaska has ruled that a referendum launched by union supporters to repeal a controversial Anchorage labor ordinance can go ahead.

The Justices made their decision in just two days. The referendum allows voters to decide whether the labor ordinance, named the Responsible Labor Act or better known as A0-37 should be reversed.

The Assembly passed the law last March despite protests. The ordinance takes away municipal workers right to strike and restricts collective bargaining rights. It affects more than 2,000 city employees.

Another case will decide whether Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has the power to veto an ordinance that sets an election date for the Referendum.

In November he vetoed a decision by the Anchorage Assembly to place the referendum on the April Municipal election ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Weighs Election Date Change

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 15:13

An Anchorage Assembly member wants to move the Municipal Election from spring to fall. He says he believes it will boost turnout, which has averaged around 29 percent since 1993. But other Assembly members says it’s a bad idea and want the public to weigh in before any change is made.
Anchorage Assembly member Chris Birch is proposing an ordinance that would change the municipal election from April to November to coincide with state and federal elections. He says turnout is more than double for state elections in November.

“So the objective is to move the election to a time when people actually show up to vote.”

Birch says the one year when issues were put on the November ballot there was a sharp increase in turnout.

“The high point really is an election that happened in 2004 when we contracted with the state to run a school bond election, two school bonds, they passed and we had a 52 percent turnout. And that’s basically what spurred my interest in seeing a dramatic increase, a doubling if you will of municipal voter turnout.”

Twice before, the election has been moved. In 2000 the election was moved from the third to the first Tuesday in April. In 1988 the election moved from October to April. The rational was the same as moving it to the fall today, higher voter turnout. And the concerns were the same: the ethical impacts of sitting Assembly members extending their own terms and the Mayor’s. They solved that problems by delaying the effective date for three years. Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson says increasing voter turnout is a great idea, but there’ not rush. Municipal Attorneys says it would be legal, although it would increase the terms of sitting assembly members by seven months. Gray-Jackson along with Assembly members Dick Traini and Tim Steel have a counter proposal.

“The proposal that Mr. Traini, Mr. Steel and I have brought forward is to instead of the Assembly making a decision whether or not to move the election from April to November, letting the voters decide when they want to vote.”

Gray Jackson says Assembly members extending their own terms creates a conflict of interest. Assembly member Birch has served on the Assembly for three consecutive terms equaling nine years. This is his final term. Gray-Jackson says that makes his proposal problematic.

“If I were Mr. Birch, whose term is over April 1st I would feel so uncomfortable bringing forward this ordinance right now. If he really were concerned about voter turnout, why didn’t he do it during the nine-year period that he was on the Assembly.”

But Birch says he believes it’s fine for him to extend his term since every other Assembly member and the Mayor would also get their terms extended.

“It would extend my term and every other member’s term on the body. It affects every member on the body uniformly. Daysha: But you’re the only member who’s terming out, right? Yeah, that right.”

Besides increasing voter turnout, holding elections in November could save money, Birch says, because the state and municipality could share resources such as election workers and voting machines. Birch and the Officials with the Clerk’s office have talked with Gail Fenumiai, the Director of the Alaska Division of Elections. She says it’s possible.

“We just talked about whether or not that could happen and we’ve come to the conclusion that it could. You know it’s still very early – a little premature to get into any details. There’s still a lot of work that the Anchorage folks need to do on their end to see if that’s even going to become a reality for them.”

Officials with the Clerk’s office say the initial change would require an investment. The seven-month extension will also apply to Mayor Dan Sullivan’s term. Birch’s ordinance seeking to change elections from April to November will be up for public testimony at the Tuesday, November 14th Assembly meeting along with the ordinances offered by Assembly members proposing the issue go before voters.

Categories: Alaska News

Permitting, the Public Process, and House Bill 77

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 13:00

The Legislature is going to go back into session next week, and one of the big issues they’re expecting to grapple with is permitting. A controversial bill that would put restrictions on water rights and limit who can appeal state decisions has been criticized by Native groups and fishing interests, but the Department of Natural Resources says it’s needed to streamline the agency’s work.

HOST: Alexandra GutierrezAlaska Public Radio Network

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Health Officials Concerned About Measles Due To Philippine Outbreak

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 11:14

European Immunization Week. Photo courtesy Gates Foundation, Flickr Creative Commons.

Alaska public health officials are keeping an eye out for cases of measles, especially in residents who travel to and from the Philippines.

That country’s health department this week declared an outbreak of the disease in parts of Manila, the capital.

Alaska has a large Filipino population, many of whom traveled home for the holidays or who have been back there to help rebuild after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in early November.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a travel notice for people going to the Philippines. The agency says all travelers to the country should get routine vaccinations, including the measles, mumps, and rubella shot. Most travelers are encouraged to get immunized against hepatitis A and typhoid as well.

Dr. Mike Cooper, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Social Services, says the risk of Alaskans contracting measles is pretty low, but “what’s going on right now in the Philippines is a great reminder that we live in a very global world. Ease of travel has increased, and so things like measles, unfortunately, are still around.”

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact with an infected person.

“People get a fever, sometimes very high, they can get red eyes, and a runny nose, and a cough,” Cooper says. “And after usually four days or so they’ll present with a rash – kind of a generalized splotchy rash that can start on their head and then move downward.”

Cooper says the disease can be serious, even deadly, especially for the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

Dante Reyes is president of Juneau’s nonprofit Filipino Community, Inc. About 3,000 Filipinos call the Capital City home, and Reyes says many of them travel to and from the country at least once per year.

“I know that some of our members were traveling in the Philippines,” Reyes says. “And actually they were there and they left maybe in the last part of December, early January.”

Reyes says he always goes to a doctor before traveling to the Philippines to make sure he’s up-to-date on his vaccinations. He says most of his friends and relatives who live in Juneau do the same.

He says phone service is still spotty in Tacloban, where Super Typhoon Haiyan did most of its damage. Members of Juneau’s Filipino community who travel in the country often keep in touch with friends and relatives in the Unites States using social media sites, like Facebook.

“I have no idea if some of our members were affected by that epidemic in the Philippines right now,” says Reyes. “I think it’s in Manila, and some of them were in the metro Manila area and some of them were in the provinces.”

In 1996, Juneau had the largest measles outbreak in the United States, with 63 confirmed cases – mostly school children. Two years later, Anchorage had the nation’s largest outbreak, with more than 30 confirmed cases.

After that the state started requiring two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for public school students. Dr. Cooper says there haven’t been any outbreaks in Alaska since then.

“It’s one of those diseases where we’ve done a good job in the U.S. of lowering rates and getting rid of homegrown disease,” Cooper says. “But then when you get pockets of people that are not immunized – whether they declined it, or didn’t get immunized when they were children, or as they got older their immunity waned – they’re vulnerable.”

Kate Slotnick, Southeast Alaska regional nurse manager for the Division of Public Health, says the agency will reach out to local Filipino groups in the area to share information about the measles outbreak in the Philippines.

Other than that, public health officials say they’re just reminding doctors and nurses to be vigilant and watch out for the disease.

Categories: Alaska News

Police Find Deceased Akiachak Man In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 10:59

Police on Wednesday afternoon found a deceased man who was partially frozen to the ground. He was identified as 37-year-old Marvin Paine of Akiachak. Andre Achee is the Bethel Police Lieutenant. He says police took a call about a body at the 150 block of Akakeek street in a cul-de-sac.

“They said the person was unresponsive and partially frozen to the ice. Officers and medics responded to the scene and found that person was deceased,” said Achee.

His next of kin has been notified. Police believe that Paine had been drinking, but they don’t know to what degree. Police say there were no obvious signs of trauma and foul play is not suspected. They think he was at the location for less than 24 hours.

“We suspect that on the evening hours on the 7th, he probably went down in that area around that time. In the evening time, it did get down to about 20 degrees, cold enough to freeze. In the daytime, it was warmer, so you will have standing water, and in the night time, it did freeze, so that’s how we suspect he got into that position or predicament,” said Achee.

The State Medical Examiner Office was contacted and the remains will be transported to Anchorage to determine the cause of death. That exact cause of death is not known, but some signs do point to exposure.

“It’s premature, we suspect that, it’s just a suspicion that it will be an exposure death, but we’re waiting for the determination to be made by the state medical examiners office,” said Achee.

There have been efforts locally to prevent outdoor deaths. The Bethel Winter House opened up this winter with a goal of having zero deaths due to exposure. Last winter, four people died in Bethel from the cold.

Categories: Alaska News

State Considers Closing Kusko Salmon Fishing For Most Of June

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 10:58

Subsistence salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim will likely be very different this coming summer. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is proposing closing subsistence salmon fishing for most of June to protect the King salmon run. State biologists are presenting their plan in a two-day meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group in Bethel.

The preliminary plan includes very limited fishing windows on the main stem of the river, all restricted to 6-inch gear. The lowest part of the river would get three, four-hour fishing periods in the month of June. From just below the Johnson River up to Tuluksak, there would be just one four-hour period in June. From Tuluksak up to Chuathbaluk, there would be one six-hour period in June.

Starting the first week in July, the main stem would see rolling openings for salmon fishing with 6-inch gear. That would start July 3 for the lowest part of the river, July 6th for section two and so on. The state is proposing to close fishing in the tributaries from June 1 to July 25. They also want to close king salmon sport fishing.

During people to be heard Wednesday, several spoke about the need for some fishing opportunity in June.

Tim Andrew is the Natural Resources Director for the Association of Village Council Presidents. He warned the group that residents may not support a full closure if they aren’t allowed to fish for species besides Kings. He said they could see another 2012 when fishermen fished during closures anyway.

“Whenever you do not allow a chance to harvest other abundant species over a long period of time, people are going to react,” Andrew said. “If people go in a long period of time in the summer in the drying season and they don’t see any salmon hanging in their racks, whether it be chums, reds, kings or otherwise, people start thinking about their winter food security. It’s really important that there is opportunity to harvest other species of salmon during that time period.”

Andrew suggested that the group consider using dip nets like fishermen did on the Lower Yukon River this past summer. Fishermen were targeting chums, not kings.

“It is extremely effective for the commercial fishery that occurred there,” Andrew said. “The King salmon that are caught are being released pretty much alive. I’m not aware of any circumstances where there’s any mortality.”

John Andrew of Kwethluk said that fishermen near his village are not happy with the proposed closure in June, which would give them just one, four-hour fishing period in the June.

“That’s not even enough time,” John Andrew said, “because as you know, even with experienced fishermen when we go out there, there are some days when we can’t get any fish in front of our river.”

State research biologist Kevin Schaberg gave an in depth presentation on the projection of the King salmon run which is expected to be poor again this year.

On Wednesday, the Working Group voted to support the following objectives:

  • To achieve the management escapement goal of 85,000 Chinook salmon.
  • To provide for reasonable opportunity to harvest other salmon species.
  • To ensure harvest opportunity will be equitable to all subsistence fishermen on the Kuskokwim.

Although the group supports these objectives, they have not agreed on specific recommendations on how to achieve them.

Categories: Alaska News

Susitna Dam Appropriation; And Set Net Initiative Rejected

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 08:27

Gov. Parnell seeks a smaller appropriation for the proposed Susitna dam. A Tatitlik village administrator goes to jail for misusing funds. Supporters of the marijuana initiative have enough signatures to make the primary election ballot. The flu is everywhere. What is in store for the oil and gas industry in 2014? Lt. Gov. Parnell rejects the set net initiative. The Municipality of Anchorage hires CH2M Hill to manage the port re-design. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark begich both support extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

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Categories: Alaska News

State Goes On Charm Offensive Against Wal-Mart Over Salmon Dispute

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 18:21

Wal-Mart executives tour DIPAC on January 8, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

For months, Wal-Mart and state officials have gone back and forth on whether Alaska salmon should be sold in their stores. The dispute is over a tiny blue sustainability label from the Marine Stewardship Council, which Wal-Mart requires for their seafood. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that a trip by Wal-Mart executives to Juneau has left state officials optimistic for a resolution.

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As executive director of DIPAC, Eric Prestegard is used to giving tours. Every year, tens of thousands of people visit the hatchery in Juneau to see how they raise salmon.

PRESTEGARD: This is the kind of thing you’re only going to see in Alaska. This is very unique to Alaska, what you’re seeing in here. These are incubators.

On Wednesday, his tour group is a little unusual. It’s made up of half a dozen Wal-Mart executives, fresh in from Arkansas to learn about Alaska seafood. Prestegard takes them to a dark room that looks like a server farm. Instead of computer equipment, the towers are full of tiny, young salmon with fresh water flowing through them.

PRESTEGARD: So you can see the fry swimming in there … See ‘em?

GROUP: Oh, yeah!

PRESTEGARD: And you see the little pink belly? So they still have their yolk sac. They’re not ready yet. See the pink belly?

DIPAC was just one of the stops for the Wal-Mart crew. They visited Alaska Glacier Seafoods; they talked with state biologists; and they ate a catered meal of — what else? — Alaska salmon.

This was all part of the state’s charm offensive to make sure Alaska salmon stays in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club freezers. Since June, Alaska politicians have been at loggerheads with the company because of a policy to only carry seafood that has a Marine Stewardship Council logo on it. While nearly all of the state’s salmon fisheries have been certified by the MSC more than once, some Alaska seafood processors no longer want to pay the extra fee for their label. They think going through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s certification process should be enough to prove they operate sustainably, since those measures are based on United Nations guidelines. On top of that, the MSC has been slow to re-certify hatchery salmon in Prince William Sound, which has ruffled some in the industry.

While Wal-Mart’s executives weren’t available for reporter questions during the tour, Prestegard says the whole situation’s left Wal-Mart in a pickle, having to choose between the industry standard for sustainability and Alaska fish.

Oddly enough, I feel a little bit bad for Wal-Mart, because I kind of like they’re in [between] a rock and a hard spot,” says Prestegard. “They have one side — these NGOs and whatnot — that are kind of hitting on them, saying, “You said you were going to do X, Y, and Z, sustainability, blah, blah, blah” And then they have the fact that they’re a huge U.S. retailer, and they can’t buy from the U.S. And I think that does go to their core.”

While this whole conflict has played out, Wal-Mart has continued to stock Alaska salmon. And now that the Wal-Mart executives who handle seafood and sustainability issues have visited the state, Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell is hopeful that they’ll keep on stocking it, even if it doesn’t carry an MSC label.

“They’re committed to Alaska seafood,” says Bell. “It’s important to their customers, and they’re not bound by to a single certifier.”

Keeping Wal-Mart as a customer isn’t just an important financial move for the state. While the company does buy millions of pounds of Alaska salmon, the reputational impact that would come from losing them might be as — or even more — vital than the dollars directly attached to their decision.

“We want to be sure that any cloud that comes over Alaska and the sustainability of our fisheries, that we address that immediately,” says Bell.

The flip-side of that is keeping Wal-Mart committed to MSC products is also important to the London-based sustainability organization. While MSC declined an interview for this story, they’ve traded volleys with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute over the past year over whose certification program is more rigorous.

For its part, Wal-Mart seems optimistic that they can carry Alaska salmon without going back on their sustainability pledge. In a statement, Vice President of Meat and Seafood David Baskin wrote that “Walmart has proudly sourced seafood from the state of Alaska for many years, and we continue to do so.”

Categories: Alaska News

Army Corp Of Engineers Finalizes Deep-Water Port Recommendations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 18:13

As the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers finalizes details of its deep-water port recommendations the agency is anticipating continued heavy development in Northern and Western Alaska. The plan expects not only increased vessel traffic in the Bering Straits region, but offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea and graphite production at a fledgling mining claim on the Seward Peninsula.

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Categories: Alaska News

Senate Debates Emergency Unemployment Policy Extension

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 18:12

The U.S. Senate has been debating all week whether to extend emergency unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed. Some 6,500 Alaskans were receiving the extended benefits before Congress let the program expire Dec. 28.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Names Folger Public Safety Commissioner

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 18:11

Gov. Sean Parnell has appointed a new Public Safety commissioner.

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Gary Folger, who retired from the department as a colonel last May, has been chosen to replace Joe Masters. Masters resigned in October after five years in the post.

The appointment is subject to legislative approval.

Col. Keith Mallard had been acting as interim commissioner.

According to biographical information provided by the governor’s office, the 55-year-old Folger began his law enforcement career in 1979 with the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection in Cantwell.

Folger graduated from the Public Safety Academy in 1981, joined the Alaska State Troopers and rose in the ranks, being promoted to colonel in 2007 and overseeing the Division of Alaska Wildlife Troopers. While with the department, he also was a pilot and boat operator.

Categories: Alaska News

Meeting On Wood Stove, Boiler Pollution Draws Big Crowd

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-01-09 18:10

There continues to be concern in Fairbanks about proposed state regulations aimed at reducing fine particulate pollution from wood stoves and boilers. The latest in a series of public meetings on the proposals, a hearing and open house this week, drew big turn outs.

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Categories: Alaska News

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