Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:37

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

Download Audio:

With Foster Care Cases Up, Lawmakers Consider Funding Triage

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Walker administration is pushing for more funding for the Office of Children’s Services, in response to the growing number of foster children in the system.

Lawmakers Seek Audit of State Crime Lab

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers have approved an audit of the state crime lab to see if it is properly managing evidence.

Prenatal Pot Use On The Rise in Alaska

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

About one in 14 Alaska women are using marijuana while pregnant. That’s based on the state’s pregnancy risk monitoring survey which hundreds of new moms complete each year. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of women reporting marijuana use during pregnancy more than doubled. The women are more likely to be younger, Alaska Native and lower income.

2 New Wolf Kills Add to Denali Population Decline

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The recent killing of two Denali National Park wolves has increased calls for protection of the animals on state land adjacent to the park, where hunting and trapping are legal.

Hovercraft To Shuttle Cruise Tourists to Taku Glacier

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The start of the cruise ship season brings a new excursion from one of the oldest tour outfits in Southeast. Allen Marine Tours is set to run hovercraft trips to the Taku Glacier starting this week.

Alaska WWII Vet Enjoys Bird’s Eye View of D.C. Flyover

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

This is Victory in Europe day, the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end in Europe. In Washington, D.C. more than 50 vintage military aircraft flew over the national mall to the Capitol. One Alaska vet got a bird’s eye view.

49 Voices: Michelle Troll

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we hear from Michelle Troll who moved to Alaska to work at the Ketchikan Daily News more than 30 years ago and never, ever intended to stay.

AK: Samurai Musher

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Samurai Musher

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 16:24

(Photo via

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

The finale of the musical play, “Samurai Musher” brought the audience to its feet to sing along with the cast.  The play told the story of Japanese musher Jujiro Wada, and although the curtain has come down on the play, Wada’s story is still unfolding.

Download Audio

The thread that connects the generations may get tangled for a while, but it is never broken. Although it is said that most Americans cannot trace their family further back than their grandparents, sometimes, no matter how tenuous the connection, the previous generations will find you.  That’s what happened to Heather O’Hare when she got some unexpected news

Wada with dog team in Dawson, YT.

“My then boyfriend was actually teaching English in Japan, so I had already purchased a ticket. I walked into my room one day and my dad came up and said, remember when you said you wished you were Japanese?” O’Hare said. “Well, be careful what you wish for, because it just came true.”

As the audience filed out of the theater, O’Hare, from Modesto, California, tells how she found out that her great, great grandpa was not only a famous Arctic adventurer in his day, but that he was Japanese.

“And I didn’t believe it at first, but then, super-stoked afterwards,” she said.

O’Hare says neither she nor her family knew of their connection to Wada, until about 10 years ago, when a cousin, Rick Medeiros, did some research.

Jujiro Wada.

“Well I was told the story, and I got a hold of people in Japan and a hold of people in Alaska, the Yukon and a couple of other states, Louisiana,” Medeiros said.

Medeiros, from Lodi, California, and a great grandson of Wada, is considered something of the family historian.  He located the Japanese author of a book about Wada, which had been translated into English by a Yukon historian. That research revealed the family link that had been buried for almost a century.

Medeiros: “Most of the information I’ve received has been from Canada, the Yukon Territory.”

Ellen: “How do you feel about this play?”

Medeiros: “Well, we have been with them all week, and they are lovely people, and  they are very proud, so are we. He was an amazing musher, and also an amazing runner.”

Wada and a man believed to be Captain Norwood, captain ot the Balaena, the vessel that Wada worked aboard for three years.

Wada mushed marathon distances, and ran marathons too, for cash prizes – one scene in the play takes place in 1907 in Nome’s new arena.

The play, in brief vignettes, tells of the ups and downs of Wada’s life, from his first trip as a stowaway from Japan to San Francisco, and his rise to prominence in a pre-Territory Alaska as a dog driver renowned for his courage and skill.

Musher Wada’s exploits were followed in newspapers of the time.  He was even commissioned to blaze a trail from Seward to the Iditarod gold fields, and reporters went along to record his progress.

But at one point, just before World War I, he was falsely accused of being a Japanese spy, and faced discrimination as a result.

The accusations ruined his reputation in the new Alaska Territory. Wada went to work in Canada’s North, living on Hershel Island off the Yukon’s Beaufort Sea coast. It is said that he mushed dogs as far as Winnipeg. He married into an Inupiat family and had a daughter, Himeko. But eventually he went back to California, where he died in 1937.

Wada in his marathon days. He won indoor marathons, winning $500 in the 1907 Nome race.

Somewhere down the decades, Wada’s story was lost to Americans. But through the efforts of a Japanese society that memorializes his name, and Alaska and Yukon historians, Wada is finally getting his due in the land of the midnight sun.

O’Hare, Medeiros and several other family members from Japan and California were special guests at the Alaska performances of “Samurai Musher.” and traveled with the cast.  Fifteen year old Ginse Wada, another great, great grandson, carried a framed picture of Setsu, Jujiro Wada’s beloved mother, to the theater for the performance.  It took four years of planning to get them all together in Alaska, Medeiros said.

O’Hare says since her trip to Japan nine years ago, the distant relatives stay close.

The play was presented in Seward, Anchorage and Fairbanks during late April and May.  The musical was brought to Alaska by the efforts of the Jujiro Wada Memorial Society in Japan and the Asian Alaskan Cultural Center in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Welcomes Annual Tourism Gold Rush

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 12:10

Skagway’s modern gold rush – the cruise ship season – has begun. The town of around 1,000 people expects almost 800,000 cruise ship passengers this summer. And the first 2,000 of those passengers had the chance to explore town on Tuesday. The Celebrity Solstice sailed north from Vancouver, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Southeast Alaska residents are reveling in the warm, sunny May weather. But some cruise ship passengers are confused.

“I was gonna say I was expecting more snow, not realizing how temperate it really was,” one passenger said.

“And there’s no snow on the ground, we expected at least two foot of snow,” another said.

But the snow-less sidewalks aren’t a big deal. Not for Floridian Martin Levenson, at least. Alaska? He says, there’s nothing like it on earth.

“I visited all the other 49 other states and this is the last one,” Levenson said. “Save the best for last.”

This is Levenson’s 19th cruise, but he’s never been to Skagway before. David Freeman and Denise Gunn from Victoria, BC are repeat visitors to Skagway.

“We’ll probably go to the purple onion, is it? The Red Onion.”

This is their sixth time here.

“Skagway’s just beautiful, I really enjoy it. If Skagway wasn’t on the itinerary I probably wouldn’t do it.”

David and Denise head to the Red Onion on Broadway, and Eric Hauck from Alberta heads to the, “train ride, choo choo. Be a kid again.”

“It’s quite an interesting operation to see, moving so many people around,” Tyler Rose, the HR director at The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, said. “We haul over 400,000 passengers a year.”

The railroad takes passengers on scenic rides to destinations like Carcross and Fraser. It’s also the biggest summer employer in Skagway, with 175 people working the train, the gift shop, the ticket booth.

“It’s unreal, it really is. All the people coming in, it’s almost like a homecoming. Employees and friends you get to see, the shops open up. The ships start coming in. I know for the businesses the cash registers start to ring.”

“Caribou and a buffalo burger! Ok that’ll be $27.20.”

Bob Gibson is owner of the Barbeque Shack.

“We do caribou burgers, caribou and elk and buffalo burger,” Gibson said. “And my baby back ribs, the meat’ll just fall right off the bone.”

Bob just sold a couple burgers to Laura Everitt and her husband. They’re from England and it’s their first time in Alaska.

“We’ve traveled and we’ve done Juneau and Ketchikan,” she said. “And Skagway, and Skagway is so beautiful. It’s so pretty. The buildings are stunning.”

Laura says they wanted to come to Alaska because they watch TV shows that take place here. Like the Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

“We’ve seen it television, but it just does not do it justice,” she said. “It really doesn’t. It’s beautiful.”

Laura says they’re also enjoying learning about the history of Skagway, the gold rush days.

“Well, the celebration didn’t last long, three days later, everything took a turn for the worse. A man named JD Stewart strolled into town with $2,800 worth of gold dust in his poke,” Allison Graham said. “Jeff’s men were still riled up from the fourth. I guess they must’ve felt untouchable because the lured poor JD into Jeff’s parlor and right into a trap.”

She plays Belle Davenport in the Days of ’98 show, which she says is a mostly true story.

“It’s a vaudeville style show all about Soapy Smith and the events the led to his tragic demise at a shoot out down on the pier on July 8th, 1898,” Graham said.

Down the block from the Days of ’98 show, is a much different business – a jewelry store.

“Ooh, I have a really cool one I can show you too,” Jennifer Ozuzun said. “This is amethyst. Still in rock form.”

Jennifer and her jeweler husband, Murat, own The Local Jeweler shop.

“Are you feeling really excited about the start of the season? Uh, can you tell? (laughter) I’m really excited, I waited 7 months for this. And having your own, it’s our baby so it’s a big deal.”

Jennifer says she’s been back and forth between Skagway for 8 years. Her friend Letishia Moore, who works at the Milano jewelry store, says she feels drawn to Skagway. And apparently so do the cruise ships. According to the Skagway Visitors’ Bureau, there will be 402 port calls this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker plans event on Alaska’s fiscal situation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:26

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration plans to reach out to Alaskans for their thoughts on the right size of state government and future revenue options.

The administration is scheduled to begin the discussion June 5 to 7 in Fairbanks. It plans to bring together members of the transition team that provided ideas for the new administration last year and possibly others.

A Walker spokeswoman said the administration is working to provide an interactive component so Alaskans also can participate online.

Alaska relies heavily on oil revenues to fund state government and faces projected multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices.

Walker and lawmakers opted to focus on cutting spending before beginning discussions in earnest on additional revenues. Next month’s event will represent an early step in those discussions.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska lawmakers’ Capital City plans still unclear

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:25

Sen. Dennis Egan speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on May 7, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Alaska lawmakers are due back in Juneau on Tuesday, but who actually comes and how long they stay is unclear.

“It’s still up in the air,” says Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan.

He’s concerned his colleagues may not want to finish the special session in the capital city. Anchorage is already hosting some committee meetings this week.

A spokeswoman says Senate President Kevin Meyer intends to put out a memo Friday about the Senate’s meeting plans. Technical floor sessions, which don’t require a quorum and often last only a few seconds, are a possibility. Such sessions fulfill a constitutional obligation to keep the special session live.

House Speaker Mike Chenault said Thursday through a spokesman that he intends to hold floor sessions in Juneau, but is unsure about committee meetings.

“And they’re blaming it on construction at the Capitol building. Bull,” Egan says. “The City and Borough of Juneau has bent over backwards to provide space free of charge – free of charge – for the legislature to meet.”

Major earthquake renovations of the Capitol building have effectively put lawmakers and the governor out of their offices. But Egan says alternative space is ready.

Juneau Parks and Recreation has coordinated with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to free up its downtown arts and culture center for the legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

How events unfolded inside Juneau schools after threatening phone calls

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:08

Juneau Police officers made sure Juneau-Douglas High School was secure after a threatening call prompted heightened security at the school for the second time in eight days. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau schools have received five phone calls threatening school shootings in the past two weeks. In each instance, nothing was found, but the threats had to be addressed. Here’s how schools and police responded to the incidents.

Paula Casperson says there isn’t time to be scared, “You have to go straight into decision-making mode.”

Casperson is the principal of Juneau-Douglas High School, which has 650 students. The school has received two threatening phone calls — one on April 27 and another May 5.

“I don’t know that it’s any more or any less disconcerting to have it happen more than once. We’re taking it seriously every time and it’s important that none of us get lazy in our response times as a result,” Casperson says.

In both situations, Casperson decided to go into “stay-put” mode, which means locking the exterior doors, making sure all the students are out of the hallways and common areas and into more secure areas.

“We continue with our teaching and learning environment. A stay-put allows us to continue instruction whereas other safety protocols, say an evacuation or a lockdown, would severely disrupt our educational day,” Casperson says.

Within minutes of the high school receiving its first call, Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School received a similar one andalso went into stay-put.

Seventeen-year old senior Cassidy Legowski was in fourth period English. She said the teacher locked up the room, “We put the green sign in the window and we had no idea what was going on. We found out later though text messages and everything else that somebody had called.”

The green sign indicates everyone inside is safe and no suspect is present. Legowski says she wasn’t scared, but her classmates seemed edgy.

Of the five threatening calls to district schools, Glacier Valley Elementary is the only one that has gone into lockdown.

“You kind of have to look at the circumstances for your school,” says Principal Lucy Potter. “We felt like if the phone call was in fact true, our students were in danger. At that point, we had kids on the playground, we had kids coming back from field trips. They were in many different places.”

Potter says during a lockdown, teaching stops, lights are turned off, doors are locked and kids are moved from windows and doors. She says the suspicious call came in to the main school number and an office staff person picked it up.

Potter says everyone experiences the threat differently.

“When you receive the phone call, the way that you handle the situation or see the situation is going to be very different from a teacher who’s in their classroom with a student, and they hear over the intercom, ‘This is a lockdown. I repeat, this is a lockdown,’” she says.

The superintendent says the first two suspicious calls that were made on the same day came up on caller ID as Skype.

Juneau Police spokesman Lt. David Campbell says there is an active investigation into the calls. He says a detective is determining if there’s any pattern.

“We view each individual threat as real and we respond appropriately because what we can’t have happen is allow us to get complacent and say, ‘Oh there hasn’t been a threat the last five times, there’s not going to be a threat this time,’” Campbell says.

A JPD press release says the calls are not identical, but all came from a computer or electronic sounding voice. Other schools across the state in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai have also received threatening phone calls in the last two weeks. Campbell says Juneau Police are working with the Alaska State Troopers and the FBI in the investigation. He says he cannot comment on if there are any suspects.

Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Paula Casperson says it’s unfortunate that this is the climate schools need to work through, but it’s the reality. She says, for the past few years, the high school has gone into stay-put mode one or two times a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Police will investigate fire that killed Anchorage girl

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 10:04

Police say they are investigating the cause of a duplex fire that left a girl dead in south Anchorage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Anchorage police detective Sgt. Slawomir Markiewicz says the Wednesday morning fire is “suspicious” and that police are investigating with the Anchorage Fire Department.

Fire Department Senior Captain Tony Schwamm says a caller reported flames tearing through the brown, two-story structure around 2:40 in the morning.

He says the flames were at least 15 feet high by the time firefighters arrived.

They heard there was one person still in the building and found the child in a second-floor bedroom.

Schwamm says two other residents were rushed to an Anchorage hospital shortly after his arrival. He does not know their condition.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Alaska’s Water Issues

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-08 09:00

Today we’re discussing water. Specifically, the absence of adequate water and sewage systems  in rural communities across Western Alaska. Though there has been a lot of progress building facilities in the last 20 years, the job isn’t done, leaving many with limited access to potable water. It’s not merely an issue of convenience. There are elevated health risks, economic consequences, as well as questions of fairness in resource allocation. And amid diminishing state revenues along with accelerating climate change, the problems are rapidly worsening.

HOST: Zachariah Hughes


  • Bill Griffith, Village Safe Water Program, State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Joaqlin Estus, news director, KNBA

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 8 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Among Those Fielding Threatening Calls

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:40

Fairbanks schools are among several in Alaska and the western Lower 48 that have received threatening phone calls. There’s been no actual violence, but the calls have prompted lock downs and law enforcement responses.

Download Audio:

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Karen Gaborik says local schools have received a total of five calls, beginning on March 25th and 30th, and then again in the last two weeks, as recently as Tuesday. Gaborik describes caller as female sounding.

Gaborik says the threats have affected seven Fairbanks district schools, resulting in lockdowns or evacuations, as law enforcement responds to assess the situation at each school. Juneau, Anchorage and Kenai schools are among several others in Alaska that have received the threatening calls.  City of Fairbanks Deputy Police Chief Eric Jewkes says the caller has not asked for anything or targeted specific people, instead focusing on general violence.

Deputy Chief Jewkes says Fairbanks police are working with Alaska State Troopers, and the FBI on the case in trying to find out who’s behind the threat, but it’s been challenging.

Fairbanks schools have stopped taking anonymous calls from blocked phone numbers.  Jewkes emphasizes that law enforcement is taking the situation seriously and that although no actual threat to safety has been found, the calls are upsetting. Superintendent Gaborik says its all happening as schools push toward summer break.

Gaborik says the response to each threat has ranged from an hour to many hours depending on the school and where they are at in the day. She adds each situation involves a lot communication with school staff and parents, which takes additional time and resources.

Categories: Alaska News

Graduating 5th grade with a javelin toss

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:35

Fifth grader Jonah Doniere tosses a javelin during the Waldorf School Greek Pentathlon. Hillman/KSKA

As the school year wraps up, some fifth graders are preparing to move from protective elementary schools to more grown-up middle schools. For the area’s Waldorf school students, that transition includes spears and hand embroidered tunics at the tri-school Greek Pentathalon.

Download Audio

A group of students stand evenly spaced, heavy black discs at their feet.

A teacher yells, “Lay of the land!” The students scan the area to make sure no one is near by.

“Present to the gods!” she commands. And each picks up a discus and looks to the sky, where Mount Olympus looms as the home of the classic Greek gods like Zeus and Hera.

“Find gravity and throw when ready!”

The students position their feet wide apart and twist their bodies before hurling the discs.

The crowd of 5th grade students and parents is eerily quiet for a sports event.

“Well, we’re supposed to be quite because this event, you’re not allowed to cheer for separate people,” explains Anchorage Waldorf fifth grader Ali Powell. “Because it makes people feel bad because sometimes parents aren’t here or friends aren’t here that they know.”

Teacher Kyle Van Derschrier plays the role of Zeus. HIllman/KSKA

Ali explains that the original Greek Pentathlon was held more than 2,500 years ago during times of truce, when Greek warriors would take a break from slaughtering each other to instead compete in sports. The five different events, discus, javelin, wrestling, long jump, and running, taught the Greeks useful skills for warfare.

Ali says this event is teaching her more about Greek history than she learned in class. “Yes this cool. It’s reenacting history, so. History is one of my favorite subjects.”

Winterberry Charter School music teacher Kyle Van Derschrier attends the event dressed as Zeus in a gold tunic with white powdered hair. He says the yearly event is also a rite of passage for the students as they move from learning about myths and legends in younger grades to history and fact in older years.

“They will be a lot different in sixth grade than they were in the fifth grade. We see a big difference between the fifth and sixth grade year.”

Further down the field at Goose Lake Park, fifth grader Jonah Doniere prepares to throw a javelin.

“Yeah, it’s sharp on both sides, so it’s very dangerous.”

Jonah Doniere prepares to toss his javelin and shows the tunic he designed and embroidered himself. Hillman/KSKA

On command, he glides his hand over the smooth red pole and grips it in the center. He looks around, colors flashing from the stitches of the tunic he embroidered himself. He tosses the pole. It arcs through the sky and sticks into the ground a few feet away. He’s ready for war. Or at least the sixth grade.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 7, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:34

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

Download Audio:

Russian Fish Called ‘Alaska Pollock': OK By FDA

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

If you’re in a supermarket and see a product labeled “Alaska Pollock,” it could well be Russian-caught pollock. And the FDA considers that perfectly legal. U.S. senators Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell of Washington are urging the Food and Drug Administration to change that practice.

‘Buffer Zones’ Devised to Keep Protesters From Shell’s Fleet

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Final approvals for Shell Oil’s exploration season in the Chukchi Sea are expected in the coming days. And while the company is struggling to secure a home port for its ships in Seattle, they’re still set to head north by June.

Afognak Native Corp. Loses $3.8M In Cyber-Swindle

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

An Alaska Native village corporation in Kodiak was the victim of a multimillion dollar cyber-swindle last month. According to a statement by the corporation’s attorney, Alutiiq LLC, an Afognak Native Corporation subsidiary, lost $3.8-million through an unauthorized transfer to a fraudulent account in Hong Kong.

Can Alaska Lawmakers Break The Gridlock?

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Legislature has been in special session for ten days, and has held only a handful of budget hearings. On the other issues lawmakers have been called back for — Medicaid expansion and a sexual abuse prevention program — there have been zero meetings. The special session has mainly been characterized by gridlock.

Right to Mush? Kennel Conflict Heads to Court in Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A disagreement between neighbors living several miles outside Nome city limits is set to go to trial. The dispute centers on what’s acceptable when it comes to noise—and smell—from a dog kennel.

Ninilchik Community Library Hires New Director

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

This spring, the Ninilchik community library brought its number of paid staff up to…one. It hired a new director at 15 hours per week. Like many small libraries around the state is has a minuscule budget and relies primarily on volunteers to keep it running.

Wasilla Scholar Garners Presidential Recognition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Wasilla high school student Ariel Hasse has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar. The seventeen year old has her sights set on a science career.

Graduating the 5th Grade With A Javelin Toss

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

As the school year wraps up, many fifth graders are preparing to move from protective elementary schools to more grown-up middle schools. For the area’s Waldorf school students, that transition includes spears and hand embroidered tunics.

Categories: Alaska News

Can Alaska Lawmakers Break The Gridlock?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 17:22

The Legislature has been in special session for ten days, and held a half dozen budget hearings. On the other issues lawmakers have been called back for — Medicaid expansion and a sexual abuse prevention program — there have been zero meetings. The special session has mainly been characterized by gridlock. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at one way to break it.

If you’ve been watching the Legislature the past few weeks things have been less West Wing and more Twilight Zone.

With the gridlock between the Republican majority and Democratic minority, the legislative branch and the executive branch, little has been accomplished. The same questions get asked on the state of the budget, and the same answers are given.

“I can’t say I’m an insider and know what’s going on, but as far as the public is aware, they’re not doing anything to break the impasse,” says attorney Douglas Mertz.

Mertz is a mediator with an office just a block away from the Capitol building (“It’s within shouting distance”). Mertz has been following the legislative session, and wondering why lawmakers have not reached a deal to close out their work.

“They’re ripe for some kind of intervention, like public policy mediation,” says Mertz.

While negotiation meetings have taken place between legislative leaders and the governor, there has not been a formal structure with a clear, mutually agreeable path to a resolution.

Mertz says there could be some merit in bringing in a third party to help guide the key players. And there’s precedent.

“Things have been done in other states,” says Mertz. “In Illinois, for instance, a few years ago they had a big issue that the legislature found intractable about telecommunications policy.”

So, they brought an outsider in to mediate between the stakeholders and come up with a solution.

“The legislature enacted it almost immediately,” says Mertz. “It was a real turnaround.”

Mertz says if he were mediating, he would get the leaders of the Republican majority and the Democratic minority in the same room, with plans to bring in the governor’s office at a later point. He would lay out some parameters.

“Well, one of the ground rules would have to be: Stop blaming the other guys,” says Mertz.

As in, no attacks via news releases or press conferences, and no Twitter bashing. The idea would be to focus on the policies instead of the politics.

“Break down all the big issues into small discrete issues, get them to think about what are the blockages here, and how we can get around them,” says Mertz. “Can we engage in some blue-sky thinking about different types of resolutions that we haven’t thought of before?”

Mertz would also ask them to consider the costs of not reaching an agreement.

In this case, those costs involve the literal expenses of keeping the Legislature operating, which can be as high as $30,000 for each day of special session. There’s the risk of government shutdown and damaging Alaska’s credit rating, if an agreement to fund state government for a whole year cannot be reached.

With Medicaid expansion, Mertz says there’s the loss of federal dollars that would pay for the program right now, as well as the human cost of poor people not getting health insurance.

Mertz has a few other ideas, if legislators are curious.

“I don’t know that I’m the right person,” Mertz says with a laugh. “But if I can help out, I’d certainly be happy to.”>>

And as far as his rates?

“They can afford me,” Mertz chuckles. “Don’t worry about it.”

Mertz says the Legislature could ask the state’s chief justice to appoint a mediator, if they’re looking for a neutral party. But he thinks some sort of conflict resolution could be valuable at this point — after all, it’s almost always cheaper than the alternative.

Categories: Alaska News

Russian Fish Called ‘Alaska Pollock': OK By FDA

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 16:25

Photo: NOAA

If you’re in a supermarket and see a product labeled “Alaska Pollock,” it could well be Russian-caught pollock. And the FDA considers that perfectly legal. U.S. senators Lisa Murkowski, and Maria Cantwell of Washington, are urging the Food and Drug Administration to change that practice.

At a Senate hearing yesterday on seafood issues, Cantwell had a simple question for an FDA witness: “Do you agree that the term ‘Alaska pollock’ would give consumers the impression that the product is from Alaska?”

Steven Solomon, the FDA’s deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, didn’t answer directly.

But on the FDA’s official “seafood list,” the acceptable market name for the fish is either “pollock” or “Alaska pollock.” Same thing, says the FDA.

Cantwell says the policy allows Russian fish to masquerade as Alaskan, but she says the Russian fleet has “labor issues.” Cantwell cited the sinking last month of a Russian pollock boat that killed at least 65 crew members.

“These lives are being lost because of lack of training and survival skills,” she said, “and then consumers are seeing a product that’s labeled Alaska and it’s not really Alaskan pollock.”

The Bering Sea pollock fishery is one of the world’s most valuable, and it’s dominated by companies based in Cantwell’s state.

Jim Gilmore, of the Seattle-based At-Sea Processors Association, says Russian pollock is usually processed in China then re-frozen before it’s exported to the U.S. , and  when it arrives, it’s priced lower than real Alaskan pollock.

“Russian pollock right now that’s imported into the U.S. takes about 40 percent of our domestic market. So being able to call it ‘Alaska pollock’ when its Russian pollock has been quite a boon for them,” he said.

This market name issue is different from the controversies over the USDA’s “country of origin” rules. Under those rules, Gilmore says a Russian-caught fish can be labeled “product of the U.S.” if it’s substantially transformed in America – say, turned into a breaded fish stick.

“But if FDA would grant our request, they wouldn’t be allowed to call it ‘Alaska pollock,'” Gilmore said. “That, we think, is misleading.”

Gilmore says the extra irony is that Russia last year banned the import of all U.S. seafood, in retaliation for the international sanctions that followed Moscow’s move on Ukraine.

“So now the Russians can sell their pollock in the U.S. and call it Alaska pollock, and we can’t even sell pollock into the Russian market,” he said.

Solomon, the FDA witness at the hearing, told Sen. Cantwell he didn’t know when the agency would decide whether to remove “Alaska” from *the* fish name. The request was made last fall.


Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla Scholar Garners Presidential Recognition

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 16:09

Wasilla high school student Ariel Hasse has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar. The seventeen year old has her sights set on a science career. 

Hasse doesn’t wonder what she’ll do when she grows up. She says she already knows.

“I want to be a physicist, well, I suppose I should say I want to study physics and physics is something I am very interested in, particularly quantum mechanics and theoretical physics and bridging the gap between general relativity and string theory.”

Hasse, who is in her senior year at Mat Su Career and Technical High School in Wasilla has been selected as one of the two Presidential Scholars from Alaska who will travel to Washington DC in June for an awards ceremony. The other Presidential Scholar is Grant Ackerman, who attends West Valley High School in Fairbanks.  Hasse and Ackerman are among 141 outstanding American high school seniors noted for academic achievement. Hasse says she’s been involved with math and science ever since she was in elementary school.

“I’ve always been really good at math, and I have a good aptitude for it.  And then, I’d say in elementary school, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for science, but if I think about it, there’s definitely some examples of me being interested in it, and then as I got into middle school, and I got involved in some of the extra curricular programs that my school offered, it was very clear to me that I had a passion for it. “

She was invited to apply for the presidential scholar award, one of over four thousand students nationwide.

Part of the application process is to write an essay about a photo that has personal significance. Hasse’s chose a picture of an early 1900s Physics Conference.

“Because it was the first conference that had a woman in attendance. And in the front row of the picture, you can see Marie Curie amongst all of her physics colleagues. And then I wrote about the importance of women in science, and how, while we have made progress, in the realm of science we have a lot more to go, because last year only three women attended the same conference, well over one hundred years later.”

Hasse says a lot of women don’t pursue degrees in physics, nor are there high percentages of women involved in chemistry or physical science programs. She says that could be fallout from cultural conditioning.

“We have these representations of women and what they are supposed to be, and how they are supposed to act. There are a lot of pressures on young girls in middle school, when you are developing a lot of your interests, that’s when I developed a lot of my interests. You have all of these physical and body image pressures and there’s a lot of social things that are happening and a lot of changes that are happening to your body. And we don’t support girls through this period, so they lose a lot of their interest in science.”

Hasse just got back from the National Science Bowl in Washington, DC and noted that few girls  make the science teams. She says only 16 percent of the high school participants at the event were girls.

“You know it is easy to say that gender doesn’t matter, but there is something, there’s something that is allowing my male colleagues, good frients of mine, to engage in conversation about the fabric of the cosmos, while I struggle to get a word in. I see them easily come in and out of conversation as new people walk into the room, people that are male. But I fail to get on the table with them. “

Hasse leaves Wasilla again for the National Science Olympiad next week.  She credits Mat Su Career and Tech High School teacher Barbara Petukh as an influence and a mentor.  Hasse has taken leadership positions by founding the student government in her high school. She has served as president of  the Mat Su Student Advisory Board and as president of the Alaska Association of Student Governments.  She’ll attend California Institute of Technology in the fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Right to Mush? Kennel Conflict Heads to Court in Nome

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 15:52

A disagreement between neighbors living several miles outside Nome city limits is set to go to trial over a dispute that centers on what’s acceptable when it comes to noise—and smell—from a dog kennel.

Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

The disagreement goes back to 2012, but came to a head in the Nome court in January. That’s when the neighbors—Kevin Bopp and his wife Lynn DeFilippo—squared off against the mushers—Nils Hahn and his wife and mushing partner Diana Haecker.

Bopp and his wife were asking a judge for an injunction: to put a stop to the noise and smell while awaiting trial by removing the dogs from the property.

In the back-and-forth between neighbors, Bopp and his wife say the sound and stench of living next to a dog lot has made life unlivable. And Bopp says the mushers who own the dogs should make it right.

“I can’t sleep in my home any more. My home’s not a place of retreat anymore. I’d like to live in my home similar to how it was before the dogs moved in, and it was a peaceful quiet place, and I can’t even come close to that.”

But musher Hahn says he and his wife are guilty of nothing more than raising a dog team in rural Alaska.

“All of those are allowed inside the city limits of Nome. So we’re about 4 miles outside of the city limits of Nome, and if they’re allowed here in town, I think they should be allowed in rural Alaska, in an un-zoned, unregulated area. And if we can’t have dogs out there, you can’t have dogs anywhere.”

Both sides allege bullying, as well as un-neighborly and even aggressive behavior, from the other. Compounding the issue is a question of “who was there first.” Documents submitted to the court show neighbors Bopp and DeFilippo bought their land in 2004, but didn’t build their house until 2008. Mushers Hahn and Haecker lived with their dog team on a different plot of land during that same time period—moving out in 2008 shortly before Bopp and his wife moved into their home. They weren’t neighbors—until the mushers moved back into the adjoining lot in 2012 with their kennel of about 30 dogs.

That’s when the “discomfort and annoyance” with the dog noise and odor began, Bopp says. Hahn says the mushers responded to initial complaints by adjusting their training schedule and feed times—but Bopp says it didn’t stop the noise or the smell. For Hahn and Haecker, the continuing clash was enough to motivate them to lead the effort to declare Alaska a “right to mush” state—a symbolic resolution signed by former governor Sean Parnell last year that signals the state’s support for mushing and related activities.

In January the lawyer of mushers Hahn and Haecker—Bethel attorney Myron Angstman, himself a musher with two Iditarod runs and a pair of Kuskokwim 300 championships under his belt—argued in the Nome court his clients have a fundamental right to keep dogs in rural Alaska.

“If there is a precedent established that outside Nome, seven miles, you can’t have a well-run kennel because your neighbors don’t like it, that would be a significant new step in the state of Alaska where mushing is very, very much valued,”Angstman said.

“Being able to say you can’t mush in certain places, and this is rural Alaska. If you can’t mush in rural Alaska, where else can’t you mush?”

Emphasizing that point were witnesses called during the January hearing, including Iditarod mushers Joe Garnie and Aaron Burmeister. Both testified the dogs Hahn and Haecker keep make “a typical amount of noise for a dog sled team,” and both spoke to the importance of mushing in rural Alaska.

But Jon Wiederholt, the lawyer for neighbors Bopp and DeFilippo, said the case has nothing to do with mushing. He told the court it’s simply about the noise and odor from the kennel.

“It’s never been an indictment of mushing or dog sledding or people who own those sorts of things, and it isn’t specifically a condemnation of the Hahns,” Weiderholt said. “It’s just [my clients’] right to be able to enjoy the property that they originally had.”

Lawyers for both sides point to a similar case from the mid-1990s involving renowned mushers Dan and Mitch Seavey and the family’s Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. Speaking for the family business, Danny Seavey—son of Mitch and grandson of Dan—said that case spent over a decade in court and soured longstanding friendships, but didn’t set any clear precedent for where a musher’s right to a kennel ends and a neighbor’s right to peace and quiet begins.

“The jury found us a nuisance, and declined to issue any damages,” Seavey said from the family business in Seward, estimating the damages to be “less than $5,000.”

“Then the judge did not issue an injunction,” he said. “We didn’t have to stop, but we were a nuisance. And there was no definition as to, now what?”

At the January hearing Kotzebue judge Paul Roteman ruled against an injunction: the dogs could stay where they are, for now. Using the City of Nome’s own ordinances for excessive dog noise as a guide, Judge Roteman ruled the noise made by the mushers’ dogs would be acceptable within city limits. Therefore, Rotemen wrote, they would be acceptable to a “reasonable person in an un-zoned rural community.”

That means the next step for the dispute is a jury trial for a permanent injunction to remove the dogs and decide the case for good, set to begin  in Nome June 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Afognak Native Corp. Gets Cyber-Swindled

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 15:20

An Alaska Native village corporation in Kodiak was the victim of a multimillion dollar cyber-swindle last month.

According to a statement by the corporation’s attorney, Alutiiq LLC, an Afognak Native Corporation subsidiary, lost $3.8-million through an unauthorized transfer to a fraudulent account in Hong Kong.

According to Peter Boskofsky’s statement, a fake email account was set up in Europe under the name of company CEO Greg Hambright, which was then used to perpetrate the fraud. The scam artist sent an e-mail, and then phoned, a controller at a corporate bank Afognak uses requesting an urgent transfer of the money to the HSBC Bank account of a fictitious third party in Hong Kong.

The transaction was not discovered for two days, but when it was, Boskofsky said a freeze was requested on the foreign account, the FBI was contacted and stricter money transfer protocols have been put into place. He added that Afognak’s company computers were not breached and their customer and shareholder information remained secure.

Afognak Native Corporation, headquartered in Kodiak, is a village corporation created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act for the descendants of people from Afognak Island. It has about 900 shareholders.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Buffer Zones’ Devised to Keep Protesters From Shell’s Fleet

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 15:01

Final approvals for Shell Oil’s exploration season in the Chukchi Sea are expected in the coming days. And while the company is struggling to secure a home port for its ships in Seattle, they’re still set to head north by June.

Now, the Coast Guard in Alaska is proposing a set of navigational buffer zones for when fleet arrives.

The zones would cover an estimated 28 oil support vessels inUnalaska and Dutch Harbor, and about 11 in the Port of Goodhope Bay, outside Kotzebue.

The Coast Guard wants to keep people and ships 100 yards away from Shell’s vessels while they’re underway, and 25 yards away while they’re at anchor.

That’s the same buffer the Coast Guard used in 2012, the last time Shell was in Alaska. But it’s smaller than the safety zones they’ve set up in Seattle.

Cmdr. Hector Cintron, the Coast Guard’s prevention chief in Anchorage, says the zones are based on the design of the ports and the amount of traffic nearby.

“The safety zones, in general, are simply needed to ensure the maximum use of the waterways,” he says, “and that’s consistent with safe navigation practices.”

The zones will also keep any protesters away from the fleet. In Seattle, the Coast Guard has set up a ‘First Amendment Zone’ near Shell’s potential terminal, where activists can assemble if they choose. But Cintron says they didn’t think they’d need one for protesters in Alaska.

“Much like any other mariner in the waterway, they would have to obey the regulation — if put in place,” he says.

The zones are out for public comment until June 1.

If approved, they’ll take effect two weeks later in Unalaska, lasting June 15 to July 1. They last all season in Kotzebue, from July 1 to Oct. 15.

That’s the same time frame for another proposed buffer zone — one to cover Shell’s drill ships when they’re at work in the Chukchi Sea. It would keep other traffic 500 meters away from the Polar Pioneerand Noble Discoverer.

Categories: Alaska News

Nissui Sets Aside $21M for UniSea Dock Renovation

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 11:23

UniSea runs the biggest processing complex in Unalaska. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Unalaska’s biggest seafood processor is getting ready to start a $100 million renovation for its docks and factories.

In late April, UniSea got the green light and the first of that funding from its Japanese parent company, Nissui. They’ve earmarked $21 million for a new cod and crab dock in Unalaska.

UniSea president Tom Enlow says their current dock predates the company itself, and is basically condemned.

“And so our primary focus right now is replacing that dock so we have a safe working wharf,” Enlow says.

They’ll remove the current over-water pilings and put in a sheet pile dock using rock fill blasted from the nearby hillside. Enlow says it’ll create about 33,000 square feet of new real estate. It’s the same style of dock the city wants to install at the Unalaska Marine Center.

UniSea’s project also involves adding new moorings for fishing vessels, and a new crane for hoisting crab. Construction will start early next year, during the height of cod and crab season.

“We can offload at other locations on our dock and basically lift-truck the product down to the plant,” Enlow says.

UniSea has been working on permitting this project since 2006, but it’s been delayed over concerns for protected species, like Steller sea lions. Enlow says he expects they’ll get permission to work around the animals by the end of the year.

When the dock is done, they’ll move on to the next phase of the project. Enlow says it’ll involve consolidating some satellite pollock processing lines.

Categories: Alaska News

More Tustumena Delays Won’t Affect Aleutians

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 11:11

Courtesy of Nancy Heise

The state ferry Tustumena has already missed its first sailings in May as it undergoes repairs in shipyard. Now, it’s delayed again — but its first trip to the Aleutians isn’t set to change.

The ferry will spend five extra days off the water, making its first trip between Homer, Seldovia and Kodiak on May 17. It will still set out from Homer for the Aleutian Chain on May 19, as planned.

Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the Tustumena needs more repairs to one of its firefighting water pipes to meet Coast Guard standards.

But once it’s cleared, he says he doesn’t expect the ferry’s abbreviated summer schedule to be impacted any more by state budget cuts.

“The Tustumena is unique — it’s the only ferry that calls on numerous communities. Changing the Tustumena’s schedule would affect many communities that are serviced by that one vessel,” he says. “Therefore, we almost necessarily need to keep that vessel intact and its service unaltered.”

The state is contacting this month’s affected passengers to help them rebook their trips. The ferry is still set to make its first stop in Unalaska May 23.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Fish Commission Seeks Management Role

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-07 11:06

The Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission met for the first time in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

The path to unified management of Kuskokwim salmon stocks is uncharted, but along the way, the newly established Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission wants involvement at each step. That begins with tribal consultation in preparations for another summer of sacrifice. The commission’s inaugural meeting concluded Wednesday in Bethel.

Another weak run of king salmon is expected this summer after several years of decline. State and federal managers are planning a slate of restrictions on par with last years, which brought in the smallest king salmon harvest on record.

Delegate Arthur Lake of Kwigillingok wants tribes to be parts of the decisions.

“Management, not advisory. It’s our hope that state and federal managers and regulators embrace that,” said Lake.

The river will again be splintered between federal control below Aniak and state management above the community at the border of the Yukon Delta Refuge. What’s called a demonstration project for co-management is slated for next summer in the form of a federal committee with tribal and rural input on fish management, but this summer, the commission is pushing for tribal consultation on a level never seen before.

Commission Vice Chair, Nick Kameroff, of Aniak will be one of three chosen to meet at least weekly to consult with managers.

“Everybody hopes they’re received well. Of course we’re not going to have everyone happy, but I’m looking for the future of the resources, rather than my needs right now,” said Kameroff.

The needs are real for Phillip Peter of Akaichak looking at another tough year of closures.

“You mention 60 days, it’s really hard to swallow 30 days or 20 days or 10 days. It’s really hard to swallow,” said Peter.

A wide ranging discussion revealed a vast spectrum of ideas on what conservation means. Some delegates suggested using eight-inch mesh gear, which is designed to catch large king salmon or going back to the traditional wide open fishing schedule. Others pushed for a much more conservative approach.

Though not a delegate, Bethel’s Mary Sattler said the commission has a big opportunity and responsibility for the future of the at-risk king salmon.

“Our fishermen are so good at fishing, they’ll catch them all if that’s what the tribal fish commission wants them to do. The only way we can conserve this king run is if we say conservations starts with me, conservations starts with family, conservation started with my village,” said Sattler.

Jonathan Samuelson captured the commissions’ challenge in bringing together voices from the river. He represented Georgetown, but was raised downriver and upriver.

“We need to be mindful that we come from different worlds along the same river and be open minded and understand that people are going to have different options and different views. But that’s doesn’t mean we can’t come out of it with a untied voice,” said Samuelson.

The million dollar question is what federal and state managers do with a more vocal and organized tribal presence in another critical year.

Geoff Haskett is in charge of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

“This commission is going to have way more ability to influence decisions and discussions. We’ve been working on this for the latest month and a half, working with the state, trying to get as many comments as we possibly can. We’re not going to get everything right. But I need to let you know our intent is to utilize this commission to act upon the things we talk both and have more discussions. We’re trying,” said Haskett.

Closures on the lower Kuskokwim will go into effect beginning May 21st.

Categories: Alaska News