Alaska News

Funding Cut To Kivalina School Could Pose Legal Problem For Legislature

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 18:25

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee slashed more than $40 million in state dollars from the capital budget. A rural school project the state is legally obligated to complete was among the reductions.

Seven million dollars had been set aside for the construction of a school in Kivalina, and a road to it. The state committed to building the school in 2011, as part of a long-fought education lawsuit known as the Kasayulie case. The plaintiffs argued there was a disparity in how the Legislature treated rural schools, and that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to educate students in villages.

Sen. Donny Olson represents Kivalina and serves on the finance committee. He opposes the cuts, and worries the state may expose itself to more litigation if it backs out of funding the school.

“If the state’s in a position where it’s got to continue to defend itself on a consent decree that’s already been accepted by both plaintiffs and defendants, we’ve got to reopen it,” says Olson. “Then we’re spending a lot more money, and we’re already in a financially strapped time.”

One of the complicating factors in the project is the school’s location. Kivalina is a poster child for climate change — it is on a barrier island on Kotzebue Sound, and it is experiencing steady erosion. Because the community may face relocation, the school mandated by the Kasayulie case will be built outside of the village and requires a new road.

Olson says the Senate Finance committee is now trying to restore some of the funding for the project, but there has been resistance to paying for the road. For him, the road is needed for the state to meet its obligations in the Kasayulie case.

“You can’t have a school without a road to build the school,” says Olson.

The cuts caught Kivalina by surprise. Millie Hawley is president of Kivalina’s tribal government, and she had not heard of the cuts until reached by phone for this story. The Kivalina school funding was one of the few new capital projects included in Gov. Bill Walker’s budget because of the state’s legal duty to pay for it.

“It would be very detrimental to the students and the school here in Kivalina,” says Hawley.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who is in charge of the capital budget, was not available for an interview.

In February, a delegation of nine legislators visited Kivalina as part of a trip to confront United States Interior Secretary Sally Jewell over drilling prohibitions in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Lawmakers toured the existing school and village elders pleaded with state and federal officials to aid the erosion-stricken village.

Categories: Alaska News

Media Awaits Release Of National Guard Emails

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:29

The State of Alaska still has not released all documents and emails related to the Alaska National Guard scandal. Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News sued the state for the documents last October after the Parnell administration took four months to deny public record requests.

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At the time, Gov. Sean Parnell was running for re-election and media outlets argued it was important for the public to know how Parnell dealt with allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct in the Guard.

A federal report in September found serious problems in the organization, including fraud, favoritism and an overall lack of trust in Guard leadership.

Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills wouldn’t say exactly how many emails will be released, but she says they’ll be available later this month.

“We are a few weeks behind on when we thought we would be getting the documents to the plaintiffs in the National Guard case, but we are looking at releasing those documents to the plaintiffs and having them ready no later than April 24th,” Mills said. “Hopefully earlier, but definitely no later than the 24th,”

John McKay, the attorney representing the media outlets, says the emails are just as important now as they were before the election.

“There’s serious underlying questions about the National Guard, the treatment of Guard members, the standing of the Guard and it’s reputation and performance that really needed to be addressed,” McKay said. “That didn’t end with the election and neither did our interest in the documents.”

McKay says the state could and should have released the emails by now. He suspects the state is trying to time their release with the publication of a report by retired Juneau judge Patricia Collins.

Collins was chosen by the Walker administration in January to investigate the allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the Guard. Walker campaigned on the issue, saying Parnell was stonewalling to keep alleged wrongdoing out of the public eye until after the election. He said he’d make the transparency of public records a higher priority in his administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Discuss Medicaid Expansion, Meaning Of ‘Payment Reform’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:28

The state House Finance Committee spent two hours this morning considering the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill- HB 148. Lawmakers spent part of that time talking about “payment reform.” But what exactly does that mean?

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The Medicaid expansion bill allows the department to consider payment reform, along with other innovations, as it works to control costs in the state’s Medicaid program.

Representative Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, wanted to know more.

“I’ve heard and seen a lot about payment reform,” Pruitt said. “There’s even parts of the bill that say payment reform. But I don’t have a definition, from what I can tell, of what does payment reform exactly mean.”

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson spent several minutes answering Pruitt. But her main point was that payment reform would involve reimbursing doctors based on patient outcomes instead of paying for every specific service. The idea is to give doctors incentives to provide the best care instead of a lot of care:

“Alaska is a fee-for-service state and quite frankly we are interested in changing that dynamic and quite frankly we have to,” Davidson said. “And we are interested in reforming Medicaid, not just for the expansion population, but for everybody. Because we don’t have a choice.”

At the federal level, Medicare recently announced it’s also moving away from fee-for-service.

Davidson said providers in Alaska know the current Medicaid system isn’t sustainable. And they also know payment reform is coming. Davidson said the state is in a good position to bargain with providers, but she said the department also needs to involve them in the reform process:

“We have to be able to work with the providers, and they certainly know what our challenges are in this state,” Davidson said. “Our budget problem has been all over the news. All over social media. And people recognize we have to do things differently.”

Pruitt is worried about the incentives of the status quo when it comes to health care payments in Alaska. He cited an Anchorage School District report that identified 300 specialists in the state who bill over a billion dollars a year for their services. He wondered if doctors earning that much money would be willing to negotiate.

He told the story of a woman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent $750 dollars to see a specialist who essentially said, “I can’t do anything for you.”

“Maybe we’re in the wrong terminology here. Maybe it shouldn’t be Medicaid reform, maybe it should be medical reform,” Pruitt said. “Because in Alaska we’ve got serious problems where just the public can’t seem to pay. I mean it’s out of control. Three times what it would cost in the rest of the us for a primary care visit, that’s insane. we have bills all the time on gas gouging, maybe we should look at medical gouging in this case.”

The Health Department is hiring a contractor to look at the types of payment reform that have worked in other states to get a better idea of what could work in Alaska.

The House Finance committee plans to spend more time considering the Medicaid expansion bill Thursday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

Citizen Group Seeks Water Rights in Proposed Mining Area

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:26

Chuitna Coal Mine. (Graphic Courtesy DNR)

The public comment period closes Thursday on a water-rights petition from a citizen group fighting a proposed coal mine in the Chuitna watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet.

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In 2009, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed a series of water-rights petitions to theDepartment of Natural Resources. They asked DNR to reserve water rights in a tributary of the Chuitna River called Middle Creek.

Judy Heilman helped start the coalition which comprises fishermen, some residents from the community of Beluga, and others. The group filed the petitions in response to a proposed coal strip mine in the watershed. Specifically, they are asking the water in Middle Creek to be saved for salmon.

“That’s the first mining LMU, logical mining unit, that they want to start and it’s 14 miles of salmon spawning stream and they want to mine down 300 feet deep,” says Heilman.

She says 15-20% of the silver salmon for the Chuitna River are spawned in Middle Creek. She and other opponents of the mine are concerned not only about the resource itself, but about fishermen and subsistence users who depend on it.

“It’s very important for Alaskans to be able to fish and fill their freezers with salmon. There’s never been a salmon stream that’s been restored that’s been destroyed like that,” says Heilman.

Bob Shavelson is the director of Cook Inletkeeper, which has partnered with the coalition.

“Well, the west side of Cook Inlet is still a very remote and spectacularly beautiful place and the Chuitna watershed is unique in that it supports all five species of wild pacific salmon,” says Shavelson. “Like everywhere around Cook Inlet, the Chinook fisheries have been getting hammered recently and nobody has a great understanding on that. But, the Chuitna River has been listed by the Department of Fish and Game as a fishery of concern for Chinook. That’s just another reason that we should protect it because if our king salmon are hanging on by a thread right now, we need to provide everything that we can in a changing climate to make sure they have the resilience to fight back.”

In 2013, PacRim Coal LLC filed for water rights for Middle Creek to divert the water from the stream and mine underneath. According to DNR’s Chuitna mine page, it’s part of a surface coal mining and export development proposal. It would be a 25-year project producing nearly 12 million tons of coal annually.

If it were constructed, the coalition says it would be the state’s largest coal strip mining operation.

Since the coalition and PacRim Coal have both filed for water rights, only one will emerge with the state’s approval.

“I think it’s important to recognize that Governor Walker came in and it was a refreshing openness that he brought and he put together a transition team,” says Shavelson. “The fisheries transition team unanimously came up with a recommendation for what they call a Fish First policy, and that is when we’re making management decisions around our natural resources, we should put fish first and I can’t think of a better example than Chuitna to implement that policy.”

According to DNR, PacRim Coal has made changes to their original mine proposal and has not yet submitted an updated draft. However they are aware of the Coalition’s instream flow reservation petition.

In an email response to a request for comment, PacRim’s Chuitna Coal Project Manager, Dan Graham, wrote quote “PacRim is currently reviewing the notice and applications on file and has no further comment at this time.”

Shavelson says the state’s decision in this case could have ramifications for other areas.

“Well it really would be a new policy in the state’s history because never before has a wild salmon stream been mined completely through,” says Shavelson. “Looking back over decisions about salmon habitat, I can’t think of a more important decision in the past 25 or more years for the management of our resource because if we trade salmon for coal here, if we sacrifice a vibrant salmon ecosystem for a one-time use, then we’re going to set a precedent that’s going to put salmon streams across the state at risk.”

Judy Heilman says she thinks this could be one step down that path.

“It’s very important for the next generations coming up. We can’t leave them polluted streams, no fish in the streams, polluted air. We can’t do that to the kids coming up and the next generation. We have to leave them better than what we have now.”

Categories: Alaska News

Some Alaska Ferry Trips On The Chopping Block

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:25

More than 9,000 people are booked for Alaska Marine Highway sailings that will likely be cut due to budget reductions.

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Ferry Chief Mike Neussl says about 2,500 vehicles are also scheduled for those sailings.

But for now, the ferry system isn’t letting travelers know.

“I am reluctant to pull the trigger (and) cancel those runs that we’ve already sold tickets on and rebook all those passengers because of the possibility that some of that service may be restored if funding is restored,” Neussl said.

Neussl explained the situation to the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board during a Wednesday meeting in Juneau.

He said travelers will be contacted and, if possible, rescheduled as soon as it’s clear how deep the cuts will be. He acknowledged some will be angry.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill To Eliminate Time Change Stalls In House Committee

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:24

A bill to move Alaska off of daylight saving time likely won’t get a vote in the House this session.

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Rep. Bob Lynn, chair of the House State Affairs Committee, appointed a subcommittee to work on the bill after taking public testimony on Thursday during which business representatives opposed the change.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon proposed the bill to stop Alaskans from changing their clocks twice each year beginning in 2017 and to request a federal review of Alaska’s time zones. Most of the state is on Alaska standard time, although a few Southeast communities are on Pacific time and part of the Aleutian Islands are on Hawaii time.

The bill passed the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Schools Replace Controversial Texts With Book By First Nations Writer

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:23

“Shin-chi’s Canoe” by Nicola Campbell, “Not My Girl” and “When I Was Eight” both by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and “My Name is SEEPEETZA” by Shirley Sterling will be available in fourth grade classrooms and elementary school libraries. (KTOO file photo)

The Juneau School District has chosen a book to replace the controversial texts it decided to remove from the fourth grade language arts curriculum.

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Last August, community members raised concerns about school texts depicting Alaska Native and Native American tragedies, including the boarding school experience in Alaska. The texts were called distorted, inaccurate and insensitive.

The district has chosen “Shin-chi’s Canoe” by Nicola Campbell.

Nicola Campbell is a First Nations writer from British Columbia. Her children’s book, “Shin-chi’s Canoe” depicts life in an Indian boarding school from a child’s perspective.

In the free-verse picture book, a character describes being punished for not understanding English – “They cut her long braids and threw/ them away/ and washed her head with kerosene.”

Paul Berg is a former teacher and a cultural specialist at Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. He says even though “Shin-chi’s Canoe” describes a boarding school in Canada, he thinks it’s accurate to what Alaska Natives experienced.

“The stories, the accounts that I’ve heard from elders have been pretty brutal treatment during the boarding school years in Alaska, so that would not be an exaggeration,” Berg says.

Berg evaluated the controversial texts, which are part of the McGraw-Hill Reading Wonders program. His report on the readers was the formal complaint that led to their removal. He said the texts misrepresented the historical reality and marginalized the experiences of the victims.

“Shin-chi’s Canoe” and other books the district is ordering for the classroom are interim solutions. When the superintendent decided to remove the McGraw-Hill readers, he said they’d be replaced by place-based material developed locally in partnership with Goldbelt Heritage.

Berg says this takes time and involves historical research, like interviewing elders. He says the local material will depict real events and share the cultural life of the Native community. He says it would be great to have material describing Tlingit cultural ceremonies that are still part of the Native community in Southeast.

“And just having an account of that even, for example, in the reading program would be a great cross-cultural sharing. But also, for the Native students, an affirmation in the school system of a part of their lifestyle,” Berg says.

Ted Wilson is the district’s director of teaching and learning. He says the district spent about $1,300 for 90 copies of “Shin-chi’s Canoe,” which will be distributed to fourth grade classrooms for use in small reading groups.

He says McGraw-Hill plans on replacing the four readers the Juneau School District removed with new readers at no cost.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Language To Be Officially Recognized In Federal Maps Database

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:22

For the first time, a Tlingit name for a peak in Juneau will be included in the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS. This makes it possible for that name to be printed on federal maps and publications. Getting the indigenous name for a Juneau peak officially recognized actually began as an attempt to give the point a Western moniker.

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To Lance Twitchell, the point east of Thunder Mountain has always been called Tlaxsatanjín.

“From the Tlingit prospective, nothing has really changed,” he says.

He’s the assistant professor of Native languages at the University of Alaska Southeast. In Tlingit, Tlaxsatanjín means “idle hands” or “hands at rest.” If you looked at a topographic map, the peak had been nameless.

“I think you’d see Heintzleman Ridge is what would be there. And that’s it,” he says.

Twitchell wasn’t the only one who proposed a name for the peak to the Alaska Historical Commission. It almost became Mount Scribner, after the late Jon Scribner. He was a longtime Department of Transportation official in Southeast who died in 2005 in a hiking accident.

“He had sort of uncommon passion for the land here. For the people here,” says Mandy Mallott, Jon Scribner’s daughter. She’s non-Native.

“But I was adopted into the Kwaashk’i Kwaan clan out of Yakutat. And I was given a Native name, Ach Kwei,” she says.

Friends of the late Scribner submitted a proposal in 2013 to have the peak named in his honor. The commission approved it, unaware of its Tlingit name. That proposal was then sent to the U.S. Board of Geographic names, which also conducts a review.  

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names added it to their list of things they would consider. But it didn’t take action. Then a proposal was submitted by Lance Twitchell. He says it wasn’t necessarily a counterproposal.

“It had nothing to do with the individual. It just has do with sort of reaching a capacity of saying, we can’t just keep naming stuff for people when these things already have names,” Twitchell says.

After Mallott found out about the peak’s indigenous name, she and her father’s colleagues withdrew their proposal.

“When we heard about the other proposal, absolutely very quickly did we decide that that was the name of that mountain,” Mallott says.

Mallott says she’s interested in seeing Native names being restored to the entire region. She believes her father would want that, too.

“His spirit would have been right there with us and that is to restore indigenous place names of this whole region. It’s not just this one peak,” she says.

Lance Twitchell says he hopes people will learn the Native names for these landmarks.

“So when they see that and they drive by that mountain, they can drive by and say ‘Tlaxsatanjín.’ And just look at it and think that’s what it’s been called for well over 500 years,” he says.

Tlaxsatanjín will be on federal maps starting next month.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Man Turns 30

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:21

People are gathered at Summit Lake for the annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic. It’s the 30th running of the extreme sporting event that’s also Alaska’s biggest tailgate party.

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Arctic Man Founder and organizer Howie Thies of Fairbanks is ready for a big turnout for this year’s event in the Hoodoo Mountains off the Richardson Highway.

“Because it’s the 30th anniversary and we had snow compared to come of the other places in the state,” Thies said.

Arctic Man is an Alaskan rite of spring, a far cry from the humble beginning Theis recounts.

“We started out as a bar room bet and 19 show up 20-30 people, and I’ll have anywhere from 10,000-15,000 people watching this even from all over the U.S.,” he said.

Arctic Man’s main event involves skiers and snowboarders racing up and down mountains. On the way up, they’re towed at high speed by partners on snow machines. Theis predicts intense competition again this year.

“The Olympian who’s won it, Marco Sullivan who has won it four times in a row, is coming back to claim his honors,” Theis said. “Jimmy Scott, a local, young kid from Fairbanks grew up here and started racing this race when he was 16 years old, he’s coming back to claim the snowboard division, he beat a couple Olympians.”

“Yeah, I’ve got some new blood, coming from Australia, coming from Czechoslovakia, I’ve got them coming from everywhere.”

Other Arctic man events include drag and snow cross races, plus endless terrain for recreation. People have died in avalanches, falls and other mishaps during Arctic Man over the years, and Theis urges caution.

“Be safe, watch what you’re doing,” he said. “If you’re gonna drink alcohol, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t drive any motorized vehicle if you’ve been drinking.”

DUI and other arrests are a part of Arctic Man, and State Troopers maintain a large presence at the event, but Theis downplays the rowdy side of things.

“It’s a party atmosphere, to say the least,” he said. “But we’re catering more to bring your kids, bring your family, have a good time.”

Arctic Man main event, the ski and snowboard races are scheduled  for Friday but could run into the weekend depending on weather and snow conditions.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:19

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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Kivalina School Nixed From State Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee slashed more than 40 million in state dollars from the capital budget. A rural school project the state is legally obligated to complete was among the reductions.

Media Awaits Release Of National Guard Emails

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The State of Alaska still has not released all documents and emails related to the Alaska National Guard scandal. Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News sued the state for the documents last October after the Parnell administration took four months to deny public record requests.

Lawmakers Discuss Medicaid Expansion, Meaning Of ‘Payment Reform’

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The state House Finance Committee has spent several hours this week considering the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill- HB 148. A lot of that time has been focused on finding a better way to pay for health care services. It’s called “payment reform” and it’s a big topic of discussion in the health care world right now.

With New Purchase, Shell May Be Less Keen on Arctic

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Royal Dutch Shell announced this week a plan to purchase a major British LNG company, and statements by top executives suggest Shell may now be less committed to its future in the Alaskan Arctic.

Citizen Group Seeks Water Rights in Proposed Mining Area

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The public comment period closes Thursday on a water-rights petition from a citizen group fighting a proposed coal mine in the Chuitna watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Some Alaska Ferry Trips On The Chopping Block

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

More than 9,000 people are booked for Alaska Marine Highway sailings that will likely be cut due to budget reductions.

Bill To Eliminate Time Change Stalls In House Committee

The Associated Press

A bill to move Alaska off of daylight saving time likely won’t get a vote in the House this session.

Juneau Schools Replace Controversial Texts With Book By First Nations Writer

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

After removing controversial texts from fourth grade classrooms, the Juneau School District has chosen a book to replace them.

Tlingit Language To Be Officially Recognized In Federal Maps Database

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

For the first time, a Tlingit name for a peak in Juneau will be included in the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS. This makes it possible for that name to be printed on federal maps and publications. Getting the indigenous name officially recognized actually began as an attempt to give the point a Western moniker.

Arctic Man Turns 30

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

People are gathered at Summit Lake for the annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic. It’s the 30th running of the extreme sporting event that’s also Alaska’s biggest tailgate party.

Categories: Alaska News

With New Purchase, Shell May Be Less Keen on Arctic

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 15:29

Royal Dutch Shell announced this week a plan to purchase a major British LNG company, and statements by top executives suggest Shell may now be less committed to its future in the Alaskan Arctic.

Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden  said at a conference yesterday the combined company would sell off assets over the next three years to raise $30 billion and to focus more on its core business.

“We plan to undertake a portfolio review to assess which assets should stay in the enlarged group, and which positions would be better owned by others,” he said at a conference Shell called to explain the $70 billion deal.

If the deal to buy BG Group goes through, the conglomerate would be the third largest gas-producing company in the world. Business analysts say Shell’s move indicates it sees a brighter business future for natural gas versus oil, and that Shell finds it cheaper to buy reserves rather than explore and develop new ones.

Van Beurden says the purchase of BG will accelerate its plan to pare down to three pillars: Mature cash-producing businesses, integrated gas – meaning LNG and gas-to-liquids projects — and deepwater assets.

“It was of course always the intention over time to build a much more streamlined, much more focused company. This gives you the opportunity to do that straight away,” he said.

Shell, on its website, classifies the Arctic as a future opportunity, not included in any of those three pillars. In the company’s slideshow at the conference yesterday, the Arctic is only mentioned – along with heavy oil, Nigeria and Iraq — as a “longer term option,” the category slated for review and reduction. Van Beurden declined to say which assets might be sold, citing commercial tactics, but he did call for a course correction.

“So yes, you will see some changes in the priorities that we have communicated or implied in recent times as well,” he said.

Shell CFO Simon Henry says the combined company would spend less on conventional exploration. In January, Shell announced that it was committing $1 billion from that budget to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer. A Shell spokeswoman in Alaska says that plan is still proceeding.  Two Arctic-bound drilling rigs are crossing the Pacific now, one on a ship that was boarded by Greenpeace protestors.

Henry, the CFO, told the British newspaper The Independent that if Shell is able to drill in the Arctic this year, a small number of wells would reveal the potential.  He said the company won’t walk away if they find good value. Shell has so far spent more than $5 billion on its off-shore Alaska program.

 

Categories: Alaska News

With AG Confirmation Pending, Same-Sex Marriage Ban Brief Causes Rift With Democrats

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 18:19

Last week, Alaska Attorney General designee Craigs Richards joined 15 other states in asking the Supreme Court to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage. This comes just as legislators are deciding whether to support his confirmation in a vote later this month. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the action has left some Democratic lawmakers in an uncomfortable spot.

“State of Alaska signs brief in support of doomed ban on marriage equality. That was the press release the Alaska Democratic Party sent on Friday, which went on to describe the attorney general’s move as “embarrassing.”

Fast forward to a House Minority press availability on Tuesday.

“I do support his action of upholding the Constitution of the State of Alaska — his oath of obligation,” House Minority Leader Chris Tuck told reporters.

The Anchorage Democrat explained that it was Attorney General designee Craig Richards’ “duty” to protect the state constitution, “no matter what his beliefs are” on a provision that bans same-sex marriage.

The statement was a major shift in rhetoric from Democratic leadership, given that the caucus has regularly pushed for anti-discrimination bills and the issue is important to their base. Asked three follow-up questions on the amicus brief, Tuck struggled to explain his support for the attorney general’s authority without getting into the policy the attorney general was defending.

“We want to have a separation of powers from the executive branch, for the legislative branch, and the judiciary branch,” said Tuck at the availability. “We don’t want to politicize the judiciary branch in any way.”

The attorney general, who is in fact part of the executive branch, is not removed from politics. Richards serves at the pleasure of the governor, and the Legislature must confirm him by the session’s end.

And that’s where the rub comes for Democrats like Tuck, who have been fairly supportive of his nomination.

This is what puts us in an awkward position, because many of us are very upset with the amicus brief. But at the same time, we want to support the governor and we want to have a person in there that he can rely on.”

Democratic lawmakers have been friendly toward independent Gov. Bill Walker since he took office. Most of the opposition to Walker’s policies and appointments has come from the right. The nomination of Craig Richards — Walker’s former law partner — to the post of attorney general has attracted special attention from Republicans, who have raised questions about his work on lawsuits against the oil industry.

But since Richards filed the amicus brief last week, some Democrats have expressed reservations about him. Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage says he would like to have Richards further explain why the state should try to protect language banning same-sex marriage.

“I like him personally. I don’t doubt his intellectual bonafides,” said Josephson. “But there is a lot of pushback on this issue.”

Some Democrats are concerned about the process as well as the policy.

The issue of same-sex marriage attracted considerable attention during Walker’s run for office. During the campaign, Walker criticized incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell for appealing a court decision favoring same-sex marriage. He argued that “pursuing expensive litigation that has little chance of victory is an unwise use of our dwindling resources.”

On Friday, Walker made a point to say he was not involved in the attorney general’s decision to join the brief — and even disagreed with it as a matter of policy. But Walker also said he “fully respect[ed]” the attorney general’s power to pursue that course of action.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, says it’s highly unusual for an attorney general to get that level of autonomy, if that is the case.

“As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never seen an attorney general just unilaterally go out and start setting policy,” says Wielechowski. “If he went ahead and did it, that to me doesn’t seem appropriate. Many people would say it’s insubordination in fact.”

Wielechowski says he and another Democrat in the House have asked Richards to show them precedent for the action. Wielechowski says if the precedent does not exist, that could affect views on Richards’ confirmation.

“When people voted for the governor, they voted with an understanding that he was not going to get involved in these sorts of issues,” says Wielechowski. “I didn’t want, quite frankly, an unelected bureaucrat making these decisions.”

As the day progressed, one Democrat — Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks — who had initially suggested support for the attorney general’s action clarified that he does support marriage equality and misunderstood the nuances of that attorney general’s role as it relates to the court challenge.

And as for Tuck, well, — with all of the heartburn from Democrats over support of the same-sex marriage, the minority leader waffled some and clarified that there were “mixed feelings” in his caucus on the action. He wonders if it was done to shore up Republican support for Richards’ confirmation.

“I believe it’s a political calculation for the executive branch,” says Tuck. “What we have is a maneuver to file the amicus brief, and it may be motivated to win some of the conservatives in the Legislature for confirmation. At this point, I don’t know where that plays out, but I will tell you that we do have some very upset members.”

A spokesperson for the Senate’s Republican majority says the action is unlikely to be a determining factor for her members. Socially conservative members of that caucus say they plan to consider Richards’ record as a whole. Majority Leader John Coghill says he appreciates Richards’ support for the Constitution in this case, but that the attorney general designee still faces an “uphill battle” with him.

On the subject of the marriage ban action, the governor’s office offered a written statement in response: “The confirmation decision is up to the legislature and we are not going to speculate on what any individual legislator might be thinking.”

The Department of Law did not respond to an inquiry on this matter.

Richards needs support from a majority of the Legislature’s members to be confirmed.

Categories: Alaska News

With One-Cent Spill Levy, Alaska House Passes First Tax Bill In Years

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:54

Since the Murkowski administration, the Alaska House of Representatives has not passed a taxation bill where the levy goes beyond the oil industry. That changed on Wednesday, when the House narrowly passed a surcharge on refined fuel. The tax amounts to one cent per gallon.

The surcharge would replenish the state’s diminished spill prevention and response fund. Right now, the fund is covered exclusively through a nickel-per-barrel fee tied to oil production. As that production has declined, so has the size of the fund. The penny-a-gallon tax on gasoline, vessel fuel, and home heating oil would supplement that fund.Aviation fuel would be exempted.

Juneau Republican Cathy Muñoz sponsored the bill. During her floor speech, she noted that the majority of the spills caused in the state involve crude oil and not oil production, and that the surcharge would recharge the fund while spreading the cost among its users. Muñoz added that the fund has been in danger for years, and delaying action on it could cause the spill prevention program to disappear.

“I will be looking at a $7 million shortfall in the division,” said Muñoz, laying out a delay scenario. “We will begin dismantling our core spill prevention and response. And that is a situation that we do not want to be in as a state.”

The bill attracted a mix of opposition from legislators reluctant to instate a new tax, even at a penny. North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson slammed the bill, saying it posed a special burden to Interior residents who heat their homes with refined fuel.

“It is a big deal. You’re making our constituents pay for something that is not our fault,” said Wilson. “You’re make a slush fund because of it, and we’re supposed to just accept that.”

As the state faces a multi-billion revenue shortfall, the debate also served as a preview of what other taxation discussions could look like.

Rep. Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, defended the bill, noting that it amounted to a $10 tax for a person who filled up a 20-gallon tank once a week. He added that people pay property taxes that fund schools, even when they do not have children enrolled.

“We hear, ‘Why should I have to pay for it? It’s not my fault.’ Well, sometimes we have to take responsibility and take care of things,” said Thompson. “This is health and safety and environmental protection that we have to make sure happens in our state, or we’re going to have a major problem that we aren’t able to take care of.”

The bill passed 21-19, with no clear partisan or regional logic to the vote. Five members of the Democratic minority joined a bloc of Republicans to pass the legislation, while some of the Legislature’s most liberal members joined its most anti-tax conservatives in opposition.

While Republican leadership has said it does not plan to advance a broader tax bill this session, two others have been introduced. Homer Republican Paul Seaton proposed an income tax earlier this month in the House, which would max out at 6 percent for the very highest bracket. On Tuesday, Fairbanks Republican Click Bishop offered an education head tax, which would vary between $100 to $500 per person based on income level.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Issues Disaster Declaration For Dalton Highway Flooding

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:18

Governor Bill Walker has declared a disaster in response to flooding that’s making the far northern end of the Dalton Highway impassable. The road is used to supply the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It’s been closed south of Deadhorse since Sunday because an expanding area of overflow from the Sag River and recent blizzard conditions that have hampered Department of Transportation crews. The disaster declaration will amp up efforts to open the road.

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Categories: Alaska News

Ethan Berkowitz, Amy Demboski Heading For Mayoral Runoff Election

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:17

Ethan Berkowitz, standing with his family, won the largest percentage of votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demoski are headed to a runoff for Anchorage mayor on May 5.

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Unofficial results show Ethan Berkowitz leading the mayoral race with 37 percent of the vote. But because Berkowitz didn’t take 45 percent, he’ll be in a run off with Amy Demboski, who, with about a quarter of the total votes, was the second place candidate. Berkowitz says he’ll run the next part of the race the same way as the first – hard and fast.

“Our strategy has always been to try to develop practical solutions to the issues we face today and get ready for the opportunities Anchorage faces tomorrow,” Berkowitz said.

Amy Demboski surrounded by supporters, including one holding a sign with the middle cut-out, a reference to attacks last week against her campaign posters. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Assembly member Demboski beat Andrew Halcro by about three percent. Halcro officially conceded the race just after 11pm on election night. Demboski was competing for a share of conservative votes against both Halcro and Dan Coffey. She says it’s helpful to now have a narrowed field.

“Well now I know who my opponent is directly so there will definitely be compare/contrast opportunities,” Demboski said.

The biggest surprise for election watchers was the low return for Coffey, who has been campaigning since 2013 and outspent every other candidate by a wide margin. Coffey received just 14 percent of the vote.

The school board races were decisive. Incumbent Kathleen Plunkett had twice the number of votes as Derrick Slaughter to retain Seat E. Incumbent Tam Agosti-Gisler beat David Nees for Seat F. And Elisa Snelling overtook Starr Marsett to secure the seat being vacated by Natasha Von Imhof.

All but one of the bond proposals passed. The capital improvements bond for upgrades to the Chester Creek sports complex failed.

The contentious school bond secured 53 percent of the vote. As the legislative statute currently stands, about 60% of the $59 million dollar bond will be reimbursed by the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Subsistence Hunters No Longer Need Federal Duck Stamps

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:14

It took a few years and an act of Congress, but today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rural subsistence hunters don’t need to purchase federal duck stamps.

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Myron Naneng, head of the Association of Village Council Presidents, says many thought this was included in the Migratory Bird Treaty in the 1990s, which allowed spring and summer subsistence hunts.

“We assumed that Alaska Natives would have duck stamp exemptions with the acceptance of the treaty, but at that time a solicitor who lived here in Anchorage said that’s not included,” Naneng said.

For years, it was unclear whether village hunters had to buy the $15 annual duck stamps. Changing the law was a big priority for Alaska Native advocates, and for Alaska Congressman Don Young. Young heralded the announcement of the new federal enforcement rules with a video-taped statement and his own duck call.

Young called it a major victory for rural Alaska.

“Remember we had this problem before of who had a stamp, who didn’t have a stamp,” Young said. “This solves the problem, so I’m real pleased with Fish and Wildlife, and I’m pleased with being able to pass this through the Congress.”

The new rule exempts rural hunters who are permanent residents of subsistence harvest areas from buying the stamp, though they must still comply with other state and federal hunting laws. A new federal law raises the duck stamp fee to $25.

Categories: Alaska News

Rie Muñoz Leaves A Legacy Of Delight, Joy And Laughter

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:13

Rie Muñoz with her dog Muncie in the Mendenhall Wetlands, Juneau in 2008. (Photo by Mark Kelley)

Beloved artist Rie Muñoz passed away Monday night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau after a stroke. She was 93. Muñoz was active until the end, a prolific artist and traveler who drew inspiration from everyday Alaskans.

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Rie Muñoz was born in southern California in 1921 as Marie Mounier. Her parents were from Holland and she spent a lot of her childhood there, where Rie was a common nickname.

Daughter-in-law Cathy Muñoz says, as a teenager, Rie and her two brothers were separated from their parents for 4 years. They were on a boat to the United States and their parents were supposed to meet up with them one week later, but World War II broke out.

“It was her brothers and her that went on to California and on their own, they took care of themselves, they got odd jobs, they got a place to stay. After she graduated from high school, then she was reunited with her parents,” Cathy Muñoz says.

Rie Muñoz moved to Juneau in 1950, traveling by steamship up the Inside Passage. In 1951, she and newlywed husband Juan Muñoz Sr. went to teach on King Island, located in the Bering Sea, near Nome. “King Island Christmas” is based on her time there. Muñoz illustrated the children’s book and the late Jean Rogers wrote it.

Rie Muñoz teaching in King Island in 1951. (Photo courtesy Juan Muñoz)

After their time on King Island, Muñoz and her husband later divorced and she raised their son, Juan.

“When he was young, they were often on the road in the summertime. They would load up her van with artwork and they would travel to remote communities and they did what was called a series of clothespin art shows, where they would come into a community and string a line and then hang her paintings for sale,” Cathy Muñoz says.

That built up Rie Muñoz’s following and reputation as an artist. After holding a number of jobs like teacher, journalist and curator at the Alaska State Museum, Muñoz started making a living as an artist in 1972.

Kes Woodward is an artist, art historian and teacher. He met Muñoz in 1977 when he moved to Juneau to be the state museum curator.

He said Muñoz considered her work expressionistic. She was known for her watercolors of Alaska scenes, such as fishermen at work, children at play and life in remote villages. Woodward says Muñoz was the mostly widely traveled Alaskan artist and her art focused on Alaskan people.

“She depicted them enjoying themselves. For her, Alaska is a place that is joyous. It’s a place full of delight and joy and laughter, and I think that’s her real legacy is that she captured that better than anybody else, better than anybody ever has,” Woodward says.

Muñoz described her process in 1985.

“The subjects that I like to paint are people, people doing things. Now that doesn’t mean somebody in an office typing. But people doing things that appeal to me such as working outside in any sort of occupation mostly. And I go to many, many places to sketch and then come back with those sketches and do the paintings from those sketches,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz was speaking in a KTOO-TV series “Conversations.” At the time, she said she was painting up to 85 original works a year.

A Rie Muñoz weaving hangs in the office of daughter-in-law Rep. Cathy Muñoz. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“I think that art should be creative and honest. And by creative, I mean just that – you have to create something out of yourself. As far as the honesty is concerned, I think that an artist should paint exactly what he or she wants to paint and not ask him or herself, ‘What if I paint this, will this sell?’ It just doesn’t work that way,” Muñoz said.

Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries in Alaska, Seattle and elsewhere in North America. Her work is also in many homes.

“Well, I find my art in a lot of bathrooms and one reason I do is because I’ve done a number of nudes and, of course, they’re perfect in a bathroom,” she said.

Muñoz’s death was unexpected. She was at Easter Brunch on Sunday. On Friday night, she went to her granddaughter’s first solo art show. As her granddaughter was growing up, they used to spend hours together, sitting side by side, painting and sketching.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 17:12

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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Action On Same-Sex Marriage Leaves Democratic Lawmakers In Uncomfortable Spot As Attorney General Confirmation Looms

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last week, Alaska Attorney General designee Craig Richards joined 15 other states in asking the Supreme Court to uphold their bans on same-sex marriage. This comes just as legislators are deciding whether to support his confirmation in a vote later this month. The action has a left some Democratic lawmakers in an uncomfortable spot.

State House Passes Surcharge On Refined Fuel

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since the Murkowski administration, the Alaska House of Representatives has not passed a taxation bill where the levy goes beyond the oil industry. That changed on Wednesday, when the House narrowly passed a surcharge on refined fuel. The tax amounts to one cent per gallon.

Gov. Walker Issues Disaster Declaration For Dalton Highway Flooding

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker has declared a disaster in response to flooding that’s making the far northern end of the Dalton Highway impassable. The road is used to supply the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It’s been closed south of Deadhorse since Sunday because an expanding area of overflow from the Sag River and recent blizzard conditions that have hampered Department of Transportation crews. The disaster declaration will amp up efforts to open the road.

Ethan Berkowitz, Amy Demboski Heading For Mayoral Runoff Election

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski are headed to a runoff for Anchorage mayor on May 5.

Long After Civil War’s End, Rebel Raiders Fought On in Bering Sea

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A hundred and fifty years ago this week – tomorrow, actually – General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Textbooks typically say this event signaled the end of the Civil War. But a few historians make the case that the last shots of the war were actually fired from a Confederate ship off of Alaska’s coast, in the Bering Sea.

Rural Subsistence Hunters No Longer Need Federal Duck Stamps

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It took a few years and an act of Congress, but today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rural subsistence hunters don’t need to purchase federal duck stamps.

Rie Muñoz Leaves A Legacy Of Delight, Joy And Laughter

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Beloved artist Rie Muñoz passed away Monday night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau after a stroke. She was 93. Muñoz was active until the end, a prolific artist and traveler who drew inspiration from everyday Alaskans.

Categories: Alaska News

Long After Civil War’s End, Rebel Raiders Fought On in Bering Sea

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 15:49

Crewman’s drawing of CSS Shenandoah towing 200 prisoners in boats in Bering Sea

One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va. Textbooks typically say this event signaled the end of the Civil War. But a few historians make the case that the last shots of the war were actually fired from a Confederate ship off Alaska’s coast, in the Bering Sea.

She was the CSS Shenandoah, one of a handful of Confederate “commerce raiders,” commissioned to bruise the Union economy by ruining the U.S. shipping industry. The Shenandoah continued its destructive mission until the summer of 1865, nearly three months after Appomattox.

“Well, you can’t really call it ‘the last shots of the Civil War,’ because there was only one side that loosed a blank cartridge in capturing a whaling ship in the Bering Sea,” says Sam Craghead, of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, who has studied its strange story and its last acts of aggression near the Arctic Circle.

The Shenandoah was a 230-foot ship with both sails and a steam engine. She seized more than three dozen commercial vessels, often without firepower, though the crew burned many to the waterline and forced others

Model of Shenandoah, in front of her Confederate flag, the last lowered in surrender.

to transport prisoners.

“So they destroyed the enemy’s ships and that is perfectly legitimate, under naval warfare,” Craghead says.

It sounds brutal, but Craghead isn’t one to judge Captain James Waddell harshly.

“The Shenandoah captured 1053 sailors. Not a one was harmed,” he says. “They were all sent to a friendly port on a ship that he bonded.”

By 1865, U.S. cargo ships were scarce. All the raiding and burning scared off customers and drove insurance rates sky high. So the Shenandoah chased the Yankee whaling fleet in the Pacific. In the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, Waddell burned four whaling ships he found in the harbor. But first, he took their nautical charts, revealing the Arctic whaling grounds. By then it was early April.

“So they start steaming north, heading toward the Bering Sea,” Craghead says. “That was four days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. But if you have any idea where the Caroline Islands are — that’s out in the middle of nowhere. They might as well have been on the other side of moon, because they had no information.”

How long they remained uninformed would later be in dispute. In any case, in June the Confederate raiders were north of the Aleutian Chain, destroying one ship after another.

“All right, on the 25th, near St. Lawrence Island, they captured the whale ship Gen. Williams,” he says. “On the 26th near the same place the William C. Nigh, the Catherine and the Nimrod.”

At one point, Craghead says, the Shenandoah had 200 captives on board, and a string of a dozen small, open boats, taken from whaling ships.

“And they put those 200 men in those 12 whale boats and tied (the boats) end to end and then hooked them to the Shenandoah and pulled them along,” he says.

No need to feel too sorry for them, Craghead says, since these were hearty whalers used to traveling in these boats over long distances in icy seas.

The Shenandoah continued destroying ship after ship until June 28, 1865, when they hit the jackpot near the Bering Strait: A whaler had crashed into ice and was totaled. Other ships had gathered for an auction of its valuable whale oil and bone. The Shenandoah took them all.

“Besides the Brunswick, they burned the Congress, Covington, Favorite, Hillman, Issac Howland, Martha Second, Nassau and Waveryly,” Craghead says.

They left two whaling ships intact to carry prisoners. Craghead says one, called the James Murray, had its captain’s distraught widow and children on board.

“This captain had died during the voyage, and they preserved his body in a barrel of whiskey to take it back to New England,” Craghead says.

Finally, on August 2, 1865, after sailing south to ice-free waters, the Shenandoah came across a ship with a newspaper that said the South had surrendered, President Lincoln was dead, and the war was over. Only then did crew of the Shenandoah give up the mission.

Some historians, like U.S. authorities back in the day, accuse the men of the Shenandoah of piracy in the Bering Sea, because they must’ve known by then the war was over. Some say their prisoners told them. Capt. Wadell, though, claimed he had no proof. Yes, one ship they took in June had a newspaper that told of the surrender, but that paper also said the Confederate president had vowed to fight on. Craghead believes the captain. Regardless, Craghead says he wishes more people knew the tale.

“It’s a fascinating story! One that most people haven’t explored. We spend so much time with Grant and Lee and Jackson, that we don’t get into what happened in the Navy,” he says.

As for the captain and crew of the Shenandoah, they sailed on to England and escaped prosecution.

Categories: Alaska News

WAANT Makes Arrests for Alleged Bootlegging

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:42

Investigators from the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics team arrested two people in seperate incidents Monday. They say 23-year-old Olivia Guest was contacted as she attempted to fly to Chefornak with five bottles of alcohol in her luggage and purse. They say she became confrontational and pushed the investigator away from her luggage. Guest is being charged with alcohol importation and disorderly conduct.

They also arrested 40-year-old Theresa Sipary of Bethel. She is accused of attempting to import 13 bottles of liquor to Kipnuk. Both were taken to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.

Investigators also allege that 40-year-old Wilson Beaver of Bethel brought 22 bottles of whiskey to Tuntutuliak by snowmachine. They were in contact with the community earlier this month. The alcohol has a local value of $3,300, or $150 per bottle. Felony charges were forwarded to the district attorneys office.

Categories: Alaska News

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