Alaska News

Shishmaref Delegation Meets With Climate Change Task Force

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 18:23

A delegation from Shishmaref is visiting Congress to explain how their world is changing. Shishmaref Native Corporation President Tony Weyiouanna told lawmakers at a climate task force meeting the village used to have so much beach they played baseball on it. Now, with the water level rising and the island eroding, they don’t have enough shore to dig clams. They’re finding tumors and hair loss on the marine mammals. The ice isn’t thick enough for safe travel.

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Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Businesses Take The Bitcoin Lead

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 18:22

Bitcoin is a digital currency not backed by any country’s government. The currency only exists on the Internet and has been growing in popularity over the past year and a half.

Now, a few businesses in the capital city are starting to deal in bit coin and accept it for payment.

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In the Alaska Robotics shop in downtown Juneau, shelves are lined with comic books and graphic novels, local art hangs from the walls, and kids talk about Minecraft.

“Do you have any comic books about Minecraft?” a young customer asks shop owner Pat Race.

“Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t think we do… ” Race replies checking his inventory, but he sees that such a comic book does exist and says he’ll order it.

“It’s kind of sciencey,” the customer explains. “You put sand in a furnace and make glass”

Besides Minecraft, another hot topic at the shop is bitcoin. Owner Pat Race got his first bitcoin last spring. “I sent a MoneyGram off to some Eastern European country and then my bitcoin appeared in some account.”

Race bought $150 worth, which, at the time, equaled one bitcoin. Since then, the value of bitcoin has fluctuated. “Back at the beginning of 2013, the price was about $18-$19 for a bitcoin and it peaked at about $1,242 in mid-Nov. and then immediately crashed down to almost $500 in Dec. and is back up to about $800-$850,” Race explains.

Race wants to incorporate bitcoin into his business.

“I would like to adopt bitcoin here at the store just because I think it will emerge as a global currency. And I don’t know if specifically it will be bitcoin but I think some kind of cryptocurrency is in our future,” he says.

Alaska Robotics recently advertised its first item selling for bitcoin – a limited edition print of Miley Cyrus riding a bitcoin with drones flying overhead. It costs .04 bitcoin. That’s the equivalent of roughly $30, and Race is only accepting bitcoin.

He’s not the only business owner in Juneau embracing cryptocurrency. In the window of Gold & Silver Exchange at Nugget Mall, a sign reads, “bitcoin – BUY/SELL”

“It’s only been there three weeks but it’s gotten a lot of attention, ” says owner Dylan Hammons. He’s only sold bitcoin to one person, but he’s not worried. He considers his shop the hub of the bitcoin community. “There’s a lot of talk about bitcoin. I’ve been talking about bitcoin pretty much nonstop for the last month and a half since it shot through the roof, so I’m chatting everybody up about it. There’s a lot of people that are showing interest. People are aware of it now.”

Hammons says some people who got into bitcoin a couple years ago are now bitcoin millionaires.

“From what I hear, there’s actually a bitcoin millionaire walking around town here, so that’s pretty big news,” Hammons says.

When asked if he was the bitcoin millionaire, Hammons replies, ”No, it’s not me. I wish it was.”

Hammons hopes to capitalize on educating others about bitcoin, specifically other Juneau businesses. “The more people get bitcoin into their head, the more they’re going to want to spend it. So, as time goes on, more people are going to be coming into their shops and asking, ‘Hey, do you guys take bitcoin?’ And then the businesses are going to be like, ‘Oh hey, wait a minute, we better figure this thing out.’ So then they’re going to be calling people and that’s where I come in and I go and show them how to do it.”

Northern Economics Senior Economist Jonathan King is surprised with the bitcoin activity in Juneau businesses. “Wow,” he says, “they’re starting to accept bitcoin, huh?”

He doesn’t know of other Alaska businesses doing it, but thinks those that are may be ahead of the curve.

“It’s really interesting and definitely puts those businesses out on the leading edge of a new frontier,” King says.

With that, he says, comes inherent risk, “If you end up in a volatile currency that changes value rapidly, you could end up a big winner or you could end up a big loser.”

The idea of alternatives to traditional currency has been around for a while, but King says bitcoin is something different:

“You can get online, you can do business with somebody in India, you can do business with somebody in China, or you can do it locally if you can find somebody who’s willing to take them, and I think that’s what makes it different. It’s probably one of the first internationally exchangeable alternative currencies.”

King anticipates regulatory hurdles when it comes to taxes. “The U.S. Treasury is probably going to be want an accounting of the exchanges that occurred with bitcoin and they’re probably going to want to get paid in dollars.”

Alaska Robotics owner Pat Race isn’t too worried about that yet. He admits the concept of accepting bitcoin is a bit gimmicky at this point, “but it’s also a technology that I want to support. I think that tourists that come in and say, ‘Oh wow, I found this shop in Alaska that took bitcoin’ – I think it will be a very limited – but those people will be excited to see it.”

This summer, Race plans to accept bitcoin for everything in the store, which means soon you can go into Alaska Robotics and buy a Minecraft comic book with a simple  scan of your smart phone.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Militia Leader Holding Anti-Gun-Control Rally

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 18:21

A local militia leader is organizing an anti-gun-control rally that’ll be held next month in downtown Fairbanks. The rally is one of five to be held around the state on Feb. 23 to show support for the Second Amendment and other right-wing political causes.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 14, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 18:07

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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Former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan Raises $1.2 Million For Senate Race

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate campaign of Dan Sullivan announced today how much money he collected in his first three months of fund-raising: $1.2 million. It’s a fast start for the former Natural Resources Commissioner, who is in a three-way race for the Republican primary.

Shishmaref Delegation Meets With Climate Change Task Force

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A delegation from Shishmaref is visiting Congress to explain how their world is changing. Shishmaref Native Corporation President Tony Weyiouanna told lawmakers at a climate task force meeting the village used to have so much beach they played baseball on it. Now, with the water level rising and the island eroding, they don’t have enough shore to dig clams. They’re finding tumors and hair loss on the marine mammals. The ice isn’t thick enough for safe travel.

Lawsuit Could Bring Federal Oversight Into Salmon Harvests

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A federal lawsuit filed by a Cook Inlet fishermen’s group seeks to overturn state salmon management in some parts of Alaska. The suit targets the National Marine Fisheries Service, among other federal agencies, and, if successful, could bring federal oversight into some of the state’s salmon harvests.

Juneau Businesses Take The Bitcoin Lead

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Bitcoin is a digital currency not backed by any country’s government. The currency only exists on the Internet and has been growing in popularity over the past year and a half.

Now, a few businesses in the capital city are starting to deal in bit coin and accept it for payment.

Fairbanks Militia Leader Holding Anti-Gun-Control Rally

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A local militia leader is organizing an anti-gun-control rally that’ll be held next month in downtown Fairbanks. The rally is one of five to be held around the state on Feb. 23 to show support for the Second Amendment and other right-wing political causes.

World Wildlife Fund Releasing Walrus Ivory Report

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Next month, the World Wildlife Fund is releasing a report on walrus ivory.

Grant Advances Kasaan Longhouse Repairs

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A nearly-half-million-dollar grant will speed restoration of Alaska’s oldest Haida  longhouse. The structure was first built 130 years ago.

Dena’ina Athabascan Exhibit Wraps Up At Anchorage Museum

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Sunday marked the final day of the Dena’ina Athabascan exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. A culmination of seven years of work, the exhibit reveals the art, history, culture and science of the lives of the people whose territory Anchorage now encompasses. Aaron Leggett is one of the curators and a Dena’ina tribal member. We walked through the exhibit one last time on Sunday. Leggett says thousands of Anchorage school children, residents and tourists visited during the four month run. The exhibit starts with a contemporary fish camp scene. One of Leggett’s favorite parts of the exhibit is a slide show of the Dena’ina people.

Categories: Alaska News

World Wildlife Fund Releasing Walrus Ivory Report

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 18:00

Next month, the World Wildlife Fund is releasing a report on walrus ivory.

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Categories: Alaska News

Grant Advances Kasaan Longhouse Repairs

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 17:59

The roof of Kasaan’s Chief Son-i-Hat House, also known as the Whale House, is covered by a tarp during repair work. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)

A nearly-half-million-dollar grant will speed restoration of Alaska’s oldest Haida longhouse. The structure was first built 130 years ago.

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Haida Chief Son-i-Hat built the original longhouse in the 1880s at the village of Kasaan. It’s on the eastern side of Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, about 30 miles northwest of Ketchikan.

It was called Naay I’waans, The Great House. Many know it as The Whale House, for some of the carvings inside.

Scaffolding allows repairs to the Kasaan Whale House smokehole, which was damaged by rot. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)

It deteriorated, as wooden buildings in the rain forest do. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression-era employment program, rebuilt it in the late 1930s.

Now, the house badly needs repair again.

“It’s a matter of our cultural revitalization, showing that we’re still here and part of these lands,” says Richard Peterson, president of the Tribal Council for the Organized Village of Kasaan.

The tribal government is partnering with the Native village corporation Kavilco, and its cultural arm, the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation.

“A lot of the building is still in really good condition. Some of the supports are what’s failing. I think we’re fortunate enough that we don’t need a total reconstruction, so we want to maintain as much as we can,” Peterson says.

Read more about the effort.

An analysis by Juneau-based MRV Architects estimated full repairs would cost more than $2 million. A scaled-back plan totaled about $1.4 million. It listed several phases to be completed as funds came in.

And they have. In late November, the Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation awarded the project $450,000. Peterson says that, plus funds from the tribal government and its partners, is about enough to complete the work.

“So right now, we’re milling up the logs and they’re going to hand-adz all of the timbers. And we’re just going in and starting to secure up some of the corners that are dropping down. It’s been a really exciting project,” Peterson says.

The effort to stabilize the longhouse has been underway for around two years. But it picked up speed last summer.

The lead carver is Stormy Hamar, who is working with apprentices Eric Hamar, his son, and Harley Bell-Holter. Others volunteer.

Peterson says it’s an all-ages effort.

“The great part is these young kids that are getting involved. And it’s across the lines. Native, non-Native, it doesn’t matter. There’s been a real interest by the youth there,” Peterson says.

Work continues through the winter. Peterson says the focus now is repairing or replacing structural elements so the longhouse doesn’t collapse.

The Whale House is already attracting attention. Independent travelers drive the 17-mile dirt road that starts near Thorne Bay. And Sitka-based Alaska Dream Cruises also stops in Kasaan, where the house is on the list of sights to see.

“Because it’s off-site, you’re not going to see any modern technology. There’s no cars driving by. You can really see how our people lived 200 years ago and experience that and look at those totems in a natural setting,” Peterson says. “It wasn’t put there for a park. This is how it was. And I think people really appreciate that.”

Without too many surprises, Peterson hopes work can be completed in around two years.

Then, he says, the tribe will host a celebration like the one Wrangell leaders put on last year when they finished the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Categories: Alaska News

Dena’ina Athabascan Exhibit Wraps Up At Anchorage Museum

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-01-14 17:58

Sunday marked the final day of the Dena’ina Athabascan exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. A culmination of seven years of work, the exhibit reveals the art, history, culture and science of the lives of the people whose territory Anchorage now encompasses. Aaron Leggett is one of the curators and a Dena’ina tribal member. We walked through the exhibit one last time on Sunday. Leggett says thousands of Anchorage school children, residents and tourists visited during the four month run. The exhibit starts with a contemporary fish camp scene. One of Leggett’s favorite parts of the exhibit is a slide show of the Dena’ina people.

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The exhibit opens with a fish camp scene that is contemporary but displays cultural continuity for thousands of years.

Yes, at one time there were salmon cultures up and down both the east and west coasts and most of them are gone now. But in Alaska, certainly for the Dena’ina, the Yupik, the Tlingit in southeast, we still have sustainable wild salmon runs so this literally is an unbroken chain of activities that goes back thousands of years, our ability to go out and put up fish for the winter time. It varies from community to community, like in Eklutna, where I’m from, we have to have an educational permit, but nevertheless, it’s not about the number of fish, it’s about the activity, and being able to pass that on to future generations to know how to put in a net, how to catch fish, how to split fish, how to dry fish for the winter. It’s about the activity not the quantity necessarily.

So let’s walk on a little bit. We’re by the fish camp now. When we come into the next room, give us the visual here.

So in this gallery, this is organized around Dena’ina identity. And it takes you through Dena’ina life cycle. A slide show with photographs going back to the 1880s all the way up to contemporary photographs. There’s about 180 images and it takes about 12 minutes to watch, but I know Dena’ina people who have sat here and watched the entire slide show and they see pictures of their family. Themselves, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, it’s about people, not just objects from the past. It’s about our people and it’s about our people. So to have images from the 1880s up to last summer when some of these were taken. It shows the continuity over time, so despite all the changes that have occurred, the offices, the shopping malls, the movie theathers. This is still our homeland and we’re still here as a people.

When you were doing the research and collecting these items, you’re quite young, was it odd to think about. I imagine it gave you a better visual of what this area looked like, that is now so urbanized. What were your thoughts about that?

Yes. When I got into college and started to learn more, it really informed the place I lived in. It opened my eyes to think that when my grandmother was a child for example, we had fish camps here in Anchorage and they would go to them and we were able to put up thousands of fish. And in some ways it will be the lasting legacy of the exhibit. There’s no replacing seeing the actual exhibit but I know a hundred years from now that book will still be around and people can go to it to learn what for example this display case with traditional clothing that would have been worn during the 19th century. Tanned caribou hide and woven porcupine quill embroidery. It’s spectacular and really fine work. It’s a style of clothing that hasn’t been done during the 20th century. We actually don’t even know how it was done because the Dena’ina gave up that style by the 1880s. So it’s kind of eye opening even to our own people to see these things because we’ve heard stories about them but we’ve never really seen them up close and personal.

I would imagine that some elements of it stand out more than others for you. What are some of your favorites?

This identity slide show I really like, especially in the context of the exhibition. It really made a difference watching this go in and the difference seeing the objects in here without it and then with them, it really brings it to life and again, brings it back to the idea of a living people. Obviously the dioramas I love, the fish camp and the beluga harpoon. The case with the leadership regalia sticks out to me. The beluga spearer itself is quite a rare object. The only one in the world we have here. The story telling house is neat. To be able to sit down with the I pads and be able to select different stories in both English and Dena’ina. I love it all, but those are some of the things that pop into my mind. Also some of the films in the timeline came out very well, very impressed with being able to convey that history, both the Dena’ina resistance to early Russian occupation but also the Kenaitze Indian tribe struggle for the educational fishery during the 1980s. These are very important stories that aren’t told very often and so bringing that history out will open people’s eyes to the history of the area that we live in both from the distant past , from the late 1700s to something that happened in my lifetime in the 1980s.

One of the displays in this exhibit is the table top, describe that for people who haven’t been here.

Sure. It’s called the Dena’ina dining table.  We rented space here in Anchorage, had a special camera set up high above in the ceiling and it filmed down on the table and we had our eight advisors and myself included, who sat around the table with traditional Dena’ina foods and we had a meal. Everybody sat around and we talked about the food and the land and we had a good time. After we filmed it, we had a projector set up and it throws the image down on to an almost full sized table, so it’s almost a one to one table and people can stand around and watch us eat food and laugh and tell stories and have a good time. Of all the things related to the exhibition, visitor feedback, that’s the number one object. I wouldn’t have thought that but hands down, overwhelmingly, people respond to that dining table. I have to admit, even the first time I saw it, it looked very spectacular. We were able to achieve a really good effect.

What are you hoping that the residents of anchorage and people who have come here to see this, what are you hoping they go away with. What was the whole idea of what you were trying to achieve here?

I think number one, anybody who now, when they say Dena’ina, they can put an image to it. When I was a kid and I said Dena’ina, people would say ‘What’s that?’ and I’d say, we’re the people of this area and they would say, ‘well I didn’t know Natives used to live here,’ and I’d say well, we still live here. So, every time they see the Dena’ina center, they’ll now have an image of who the people are. That’s my hope, if I can think of anything, probably that people will have a visual reference or a quote or a place name or an object will come into their mind now. Because if you say Tlingit, something comes into your mind, if you say Yupik, something comes to mind, if you say Inupiaq, something comes to mind, but if you said Dena’ina, maybe nothing came to mind, so that would be it.

Aaron Leggett will receive the governor’s award for arts in the humanities later this month in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Spending Package Secures Funds For Tribal Health Care Facilities

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:23

In Congress tonight, a massive spending package has emerged after weeks of intense negotiations among lawmakers, and it contains good news for Alaskans. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, top Republican on the subcommittee for Interior Department spending, has announced that she’s secured $66 million to staff the state’s six new tribally operated health care facilities.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Affordable Care Act Enrollment Remains Low

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:22

The federal government released numbers today that give an idea of who is signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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In Alaska, about 3000 people selected marketplace plans before Dec. 28 and 83 percent qualify for a subsidy to help pay for premiums. But Enroll Alaska has seen a steep drop off in the number of people signing up for insurance in the New Year.

Only three other states have lower enrollment figures than Alaska. Eric Earling is spokesperson for Premera Alaska, one of two insurers offering health plans on the federal marketplace in the state. He says the figure for total enrollment in Alaska is low, but not surprising.

“Unfortunately given the reality of the technical challenges healthcare.gov had, enrollment is going to be lower than everybody expected and those numbers reflect that,” Earling said.

Earling says Premera isn’t ready to release its own enrollment figures. Earling says overall, the low numbers can be party attributed to the fact that thousands of Alaskans will be able keep health plans that were supposed to be canceled in 2014. That’s a change President Obama announced in the fall.

Enroll Alaska has signed up more than 900 people in marketplace plans, but the pace of enrollment has slowed considerably. COO Tyann Boling says in the last few weeks of 2013, the company was signing up as many as 70 Alaskans a day for insurance. As soon as January 1st hit, that figure plunged by more than half:

“It was a dramatic decrease and we’re trying to do everything we can to get some momentum going again,” Boling said.

Boling thinks there’s a lot of consumer confusion over enrollment deadlines. Enroll Alaska is renewing their advertising effort to get the word out that people have until March 31st to sign up for insurance to avoid paying a tax penalty.

Boling says the healthcare.gov website has only been working well for about six weeks. She thinks the months when it failed had a big negative impact.

“I think the momentum was crushed because of the functionality of healthcare.gov. I think the people enrolling have always intended to enroll,” Boling said. “And so really our goal and objective is to get out to the people who aren’t aware of this law and truly can benefit from this. I just don’t think people understand there’s a great benefit there for them.”

As Eric Earling, with Premera, puts it, the disastrous healthcare.gov launch “significantly altered the equation of what was possible.”

But he says there’s still time to boost enrollment numbers and it’s too early to draw many conclusions from the federal data. The company expected the first year of the Affordable Care Act would be a roller coaster ride and Earling says Premera was ready.

“There were going to be some twists and turns that were unexpected, there were going to be events that happened in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that couldn’t be predicted and so everything that the entire system has experienced in the last few months is certainly systemic of that,” Earling said.

Across the country, 1.2 million people have selected marketplace plans on healthcare.gov. The number of enrollments began to spike the last week of November.

Categories: Alaska News

Refinery Owner Seeks Lower Cleanup Level For Tainted Groundwater

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:21

The operator of the North Pole refinery wants the state to set a lower standard for cleaning up the sulfolane groundwater-contamination problem in the North Pole area. Flint Hills Resources Alaska has asked the head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation to set a less-stringent cleanup level for the industrial solvent that leaked into the groundwater for more than a decade before Flint Hills bought the refinery in 2004. The requests could delay cleanup for several months.

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Categories: Alaska News

Akutan Volcano’s Geothermal Power Potential Increases

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:20

The central cone in Akutan Caldera. Photo courtesy Cyrus Read, USGS.

A new study says Akutan Volcano could be an even more promising source of geothermal energy than previously thought.

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It’s been three decades since the U.S. Geological Survey last studied Akutan’s volcano-powered hot springs. Since then, head researcher Deborah Bergfeld says the springs have gotten stronger, and there’s more material from Akutan Volcano dissolved in the springwater.

“These are all good indicators that there might be a reservoir of hot water big enough to supply geothermal power,” she says.

Bergfeld says a volcanic eruption and seismic activity in the 1990s could account for the increase in power potential — the springs are now producing 29 megawatts of heat. That number would shrink when converted into electricity. But Bergfeld says it would still be substantial.

“We don’t have enough data to say how many megawatts of electricity you could get out of it. We just said that there would be a potential for several,” she says. “Each megawatt could power about 750 homes.”

It sounds like a good deal for the city’s small residential population and its large Trident Seafoods processing plant. Right now, that all runs on fuel oil barged in from Unalaska.

But Bergfeld says a strong volcanic resource alone isn’t enough to tell whether geothermal is worth the cost of installation.

“You also have to have a need for the power. So it has to be people living there… there’s a lot of economy,” she says. “The balance has to work out.”

That’s a balance Akutan is hoping to strike. They’ve been working on a plan to tap into their geothermal resource for years, with the help of several grants.

Akutan mayor Joe Bereskin says the new USGS data will help their cause as they work on a business plan.

“I think there’s a customer base here,” he says. “We just have to make the numbers work. And that’s what our next goal is, to see if it all makes financial sense.”

They hope to have that business plan done in the next month.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Sea Ice Sees 7-Year Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:19

While sea ice in the Arctic has been undergoing a seven-year decline, sea ice in the Bering Sea has been experiencing a seven-year expansion.

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Categories: Alaska News

Interior Alaska’s River, Lake Ice Thinner Than Normal

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:18

There’s less than normal ice build up on many Interior waters. The National Weather Service drills into ice on rivers and lakes at the start of each month, and agency hydrologist Ed Plumb says January’s measurements showed generally thinner ice.

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Categories: Alaska News

Allen Moore Wins Copper Basin 300

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:17

Photo courtesy of the Copper Basin 300 Facebook page.

Allen Moore has successfully defended his Copper Basin 300 title. The Two Rivers musher held off Nicolas Petit on the final leg for his fifth victory, the most in race history.

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Categories: Alaska News

Trailbreakers Prepare Yukon Quest Route

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:16

Trailbreakers are busy packing and clearing the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race trail. There are no major changes planned for the route this year. This will be one of the busier years on the Alaska side of the trail, where dog teams are likely to encounter open water.

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Categories: Alaska News

UAA Planetarium Offers Unique Look Into McNeil Bear Sanctuary

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:15

If you are lucky enough to get a permit, the McNeil River Sanctuary in Southwest Alaska offers an opportunity to safely get up close and personal with the largest congregation of brown bears in the world.

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Since only 185 permits are drawn each year, a UAA professor decided to team up with an Alaskan filmmaker to create an immersive experience for those who can’t make the trip.

When you go to a planetarium, you expect to learn about the night sky, but, as I sit down in UAA’s planetarium, the lights are dimmed and the ceiling lights up with a view of the McNeil River in Southwest Alaska.

Travis Rector is a professor of physics and astronomy at UAA as well as the producer of “River of Bears.” He says the purpose of the planetarium is much broader than just studying the stars.

“One of the things that we can do in our planetarium is we can give people the experience of being anywhere, whether it be an orbit around the earth, or far side of the galaxy, underneath the ocean, or even at a bear sanctuary,” Rector said.

“River of Bears” is the first wildlife documentary ever produced specifically for a planetarium.

Rector and filmmaker Jonathan VanBallenbergh used a special video set up mixed with photographs to take advantage of the planetarium’s domed ceiling and 360 degree view. Rector said that technology allows viewers to immerse themselves in the full McNeil River experience – from the flight in, to time sitting in camp, to the bear viewing areas.

“One of the special experiences about McNeil River is that it teaches you how to watch; it teaches you how to be perceptive about what’s going on around you,” Rector said. “And we tried to convey that feeling in the movie where as you’re watching the show there’s all these things happening, and if you take the time to look around, you’ll see lots of neat little things.”

Rector said because the McNeil River changes as the season progresses, it took the crew two trips to get the material they needed to put the documentary together.

“In the early season, when the bears are at Mikfik Creek, the focus is on grazing and mating, and then as the season progresses, as you start to get into July, the salmon start to run into McNeil River and that’s when the bear viewing switches out to the pads at McNeil Falls,” Rector said.

Even though bears will sometimes come to within feet of the viewing areas, they mostly ignore people. This is largely because of the way the Department of Fish and Game manages the human activity in the area. In the nearly 50-year history of the sanctuary, no one has been injured by a bear at McNeil River.

Despite the refuge’s safety record, Rector says the thought of being surrounded by bears for four days is off-putting for some.

“When you describe the experience that you fly out to this remote location in Alaska and then you sleep in a tent in bear country, that alone makes many people say, ‘there’s no way I would ever consider doing that that,’” Rector said. “And so there’s a lot of people, whether it be the lottery system, or expense, or fear, or physical ability, will never get the chance to experience what there is to experience at McNeil.”

Rector says the goal of “River of Bears” is to bring the experience to that audience.

The show opens Friday at the UAA Planetarium and Visualization Theater.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 13, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-01-13 18:08

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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Federal Spending Package Secures Funds For Tribal Health Care Facilities

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Congress tonight, a massive spending package has emerged after weeks of intense negotiations among lawmakers, and it contains good news for Alaskans.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski, top Republican on the subcommittee for Interior Department spending, has announced that she’s secured $66 million to staff the state’s six new tribally operated health care facilities.  Lloyd Miller, an Anchorage attorney who represents Native hospital and clinic operators, says it will help the tribal groups who borrowed money to build the facilities, and boost the economy as a whole.

Alaska’s Affordable Care Act Enrollment Remains Low

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The federal government released numbers today that give an idea of who is signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In Alaska, about 3000 people selected marketplace plans before December 28th and 83% qualify for a subsidy to help pay for premiums. But Enroll Alaska has seen a steep drop off in the number of people signing up for insurance in the New Year.

Refinery Owner Seeks Lower Cleanup Level For Tainted Groundwater

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The operator of the North Pole refinery wants the state to set a lower standard for cleaning up the sulfolane groundwater-contamination problem in the North Pole area. Flint Hills Resources Alaska has asked the head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation to set a less-stringent cleanup level for the industrial solvent that leaked into the groundwater for more than a decade before Flint Hills bought the refinery in 2004. The requests could delay cleanup for several months.

Akutan Volcano’s Geothermal Power Potential Increases

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A new study shows Akutan Volcano could be an even more promising source of geothermal energy than previously thought.

Bering Sea Ice Sees 7-Year Expansion

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

While sea ice in the Arctic has been undergoing a seven-year decline, sea ice in the Bering Sea has been experiencing a seven-year expansion.

Interior Alaska’s River, Lake Ice Thinner Than Normal

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

There’s less than normal ice build up on many Interior waters. The National Weather Service drills into ice on rivers and lakes at the start of each month, and agency hydrologist Ed Plumb says January’s measurements showed generally thinner ice.

Allen Moore Wins Copper Basin 300

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Allen Moore has successfully defended his Copper Basin 300 title.  The Two Rivers musher held off Nicolas Petit on the final leg for his fifth victory, the most in race history.

Trailbreakers Prepare Yukon Quest Route

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Trailbreakers are busy packing and clearing the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race trail. There are no major changes planned for the route this year. This will be one of the busier years on the Alaska side of the trail, where dog teams are likely to encounter open water.

UAA Planetarium Offers Unique Look Into McNeil Bear Sanctuary

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

If you are lucky enough to get a permit, the McNeil River Sanctuary in Southwest Alaska offers an opportunity to safely get up close and personal with the largest congregation of brown bears in the world. Since only 185 permits are drawn each year, a UAA professor decided to team up with an Alaska filmmaker to create an immersive experience for those who can’t make the trip.

Categories: Alaska News

Treadwell slams Begich for the company he keeps; Dems call it hypocricy

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:31

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.

The Treadwell campaign, in a November press release, noted that Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state, helped Begich fundraise last summer. And, she sponsored a bill that would bar oil development in the Arctic Refuge. The press release connects the dots this way:  “Senator Begich either has no pull within the Democratic Party or he supports Senator Cantwell’s move to lock up ANWR from future oil exploration.”

What the press release doesn’t say is that Cantwell’s co-sponsor on the ANWR anti-development bill, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, is the lead host named on an invitation to a Treadwell fundraiser in Chicago in July. (One of the other hosts, a Harvard Business School friend of Treadwell’s, posted the invitation on the social network LinkedIn.)  Sen. Kirk is also a big supporter of gun control. He was recently the only Republican senator to get an F on the National Rifle Association’s political scorecard. As it happens, the Treadwell campaign issued a press release this week accusing Begich of being in league, indirectly, with people who want to undermine gun rights.

Zack Fields, communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party, says the Treadwell campaign is off base on two fronts.

“It’s hypocritical of Treadwell to wage these attacks when he’s taking money from Mark Kirk, an Illinois senator who has voted for gun control and is an original co-sponsor of legislation to lock up ANWR from oil and gas development forever,” Fields says

And Fields says it’s childish to argue that Alaska senators should only work with colleagues who agree with them on every issue.

Treadwell campaign spokesman Rick Gorka wasn’t with the campaign when the Chicago fundraiser occurred, but he looked into it and says Sen. Kirk did not attend.

“As a courtesy, Sen. Kirk lent his name to be used at an event, and that was the extent of his involvement in this reception,” Gorka says.

Sen. Kirk hasn’t donated to the Treadwell campaign, either directly or through his leadership PAC, according to Gorka. He stands by the accusations the campaign has made against Begich.

The link the campaign has drawn between Begich and gun control is a little fuzzy. It goes like this: Wealthy ex-New York Mayor and gun control fan Michael Bloomberg gave $2.5 million to a political fund called Senate Majority PAC, and the Treadwell campaign maintains that group has aired ads for Begich. “Anti-Second Amendment Billionaire Supporting Mark Begich’s Re-Election Bid” says the Treadwell press release headline. Gorka says his proof is an article in Politico, which reported early this week that the Democratic group has already aired TV spots for a raft of senators, including Begich. But no one seems to know what these pro-Begich ads said or when they ran. Spokesmen for the Begich campaign and the Democratic Party of Alaska say they watch for Begich-related ads and don’t recall seeing any sponsored by Senate Majority PAC.  There’s no sign of the ads on the PAC’s website, either.

Gorka says Politico wasn’t the only news outlet to report that the ads exist.

Treadwell’s press release suggests Bloomberg wants to support Begich. “It’s no secret that Michael Bloomberg wants to undermine the Second Amendment and clearly he sees (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) and Mark Begich as allies in his crusade,” the press release says.

Bloomberg, though, has pledged to spend heavily against Begich, according to a May article in the New Republic, because Begich voted against background checks for firearms last year.

The Treadwell press release calls on Begich to reject any further help from Senate Majority PAC, which is dedicated to keeping the Senate under Democratic control and was founded by Reid’s former chief of staff.

“Mark Begich should make it clear to Harry Reid that he does not want the support of a PAC that accepts funding from Mayor Bloomberg,” Gorka said in an email to APRN. “He should do that publicly. “

But that may not be legal. Senate Majority PAC is organized as an “independent expenditure” group. Federal elections rules say candidates are not allowed to coordinate media plans or strategies with such PACs.

Gorka declined to call anything his campaign did a mistake but says Begich committed a bigger one.

“I think there’s a difference between (using Kirk’s name and) Sen. Cantwell coming to Alaska and actively campaigning for Sen.  Begich,” he said.

The Begich campaign says Cantwell, chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, came primarily to visit the disaster site at Galena and Native medical facilities. She also headlined two fundraisers for Begich, in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Announces New Pipeline Plan, Changes AGIA Agreement

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:21

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

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“We have agreed to amicably terminate our involvement with TransCanada under AGIA, but sign up with TransCanada in a more traditional arrangement along with the producers and AGDC [Alaska Gasline Development Corporation],” he said at a presentation before the Alaska Support Industry Alliance in Anchorage.

Parnell did not release the terms of the agreement, but did announce “Transcanada agreed to a debt-equity structure that guarantees Alaska’s interests are protected.”

Parnell explained the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which was negotiated under Governor Sarah Palin in 2007, was designed with the idea of one developer moving natural gas. Now the project is more complicated and involves gas treatment and liquification.

The new agreement with TransCanada, Exxon, BP, and ConocoPhillips, which Parnell said will be signed very soon, gives the state ownership. “Ownership ensures we either pay ourselves for project services or at the very least understand, negotiate, and ensure the lowest possible costs.”

Parnell said the state would also receive a share of the profits over the entirety of the project.

Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court Okay’s Referendum Repealing Controversial Labor Law

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-01-10 18:20

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

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Assembly members and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan heard criticism of the Mayor’s proposed labor union ordinance at a work session held Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

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 repealed. Andy Holleman, with the Anchorage Education Association, says the ruling was no surprise.

“Certainly we didn’t expect it to come back this quick, but I think that speaks to the legal simplicity of the case,” Holleman said. ”This really isn’t something that never should have gone to court. The city had to contrive a case here. The right of people to bring a referendum is pretty clear cut.”

Despite protests, the Assembly passed the labor law last March. The ordinance takes away municipal workers right to strike and restricts collective bargaining rights. It affects more than 2,000 city employees. The administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan has already negotiated a handful of union contracts under the law. Gerard Asselin is with the Anchorage Police Employees Union. He says the Justice’s decision allows labor supporters to begin focusing on the upcoming election.

“It’s pretty exciting that we can move on with what we’re trying to accomplish,” Asselin said. ”At this point we’re preparing to have this on the April ballot, getting kinda things in place to educate those who are going to show up in April to vote on this issue.”

Whether the issue will be on the April Ballot is still up for consideration. Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler says he’s disappointed, but not surprised, by the ruling.

Since the introduction of the ordinance, signs expressing support for unions have popped up in Anchorage

“While I always understood that this was a difficult argument to prevail on I thought it was a worthwhile one and we needed that resolved so that next year and the year after when we get more of these referendum on labor issues we have some guidance on how to handle them,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler says the court case cost the municipality around $70000 and labor supporters estimate they’ve spend at least that much. At their next regular meeting on Tuesday, Assembly members will be weighing whether to move the April Election to November, which could delay a vote on the referendum. An opinion from the Supreme Court Justices on the case is forthcoming.

Another court case will decide whether Mayor 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.

“I appreciate that this decision was a difficult one to make for the Supreme Court. Their ruling will help provide some certainty in an otherwise murky area of law, and will allow voters to decide on whether fiscal and policy guidance on labor relations should be in the hands of the Municipal Assembly or directed by special interests.” Mayor Sullivan on January 10, 2014 Supreme Court Ruling

Categories: Alaska News

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