Alaska News

49 Voices: Sheila Arkell of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 14:41

Now it’s time for 49 voices. Sheila Arkell and her husband moved to Anchorage from Washington D.C. in the 1980s. She says the city felt a lot more isolated in those days.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Tundra Love

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 14:38

Denise Lisac and Lynn Van Vactor holding carrot and rose hip infusions. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Right now the tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are exploding with flora. While many foragers have already supped on fiddlehead ferns and are looking forward to wild berry picking, some may overlook the traditional medicinal uses of many Alaskan plants. Two Dillingham women set out to capture the benefits of these native plants in a line of homemade bath products – they call it “Tundra Love.”

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It’s a bright spring afternoon, and the ground floor of Lynn Van Vactor’s home smells of shea butter and citrus. With hot plates, a weigh scale, and bottles of oils on the shelves, the space feels like part chemistry lab, part art studio.

Van Vactor and her business partner Denise Lisac hand me a mason jar filled with a dark oily mixture.

“That’s chaga,” she said, as oil sloshed around in the jar. “We’re infusing chaga. We haven’t used this yet and it’s just infusing. Look at that beautiful black color of the oil.”

Local plant bits are left to solar infuse in oil for several weeks: (from left) cottonwood blossoms, chythlook (wormwood), rose hips, cottonwood blossoms, carrot. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Other jars are lined up against the sunny window, filled with infusions of rosehips, carrot, and cottonwood buds. Van Vactor explains, this is an early step in the long process of making a soap or salve.

“Let it sit for six weeks in the sun, and every day you turn and toss those oils,” she said. “Yeah, so that’s some chythlook.”

This basement operation got its start just last fall, when Van Vactor and Lisac both signed up for a class taught by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on native plants.

“‘The Store Outside your Door,’ basically,” she said. “So Denise and I sat next to each other. That’s how it started – yeah, that’s how it started.”

The training taught about local plants that elders in Bristol Bay have used medicinally for generations. These healing plants are all over the place: Plantain is a natural antibacterial; Rose hips are high in Vitamin A for healthy skin.

“And the birch bark has salicylic properties that can treat some of those conditions of inflammation and soreness,” she said.

Van Vactor and Lisac shared a fascination with these plants.

And when they decided to do something about it, they found they each brought a useful skill set to the table.

“I started out in nursing, psych and pre-med,” Van Vactor said. “So I’ve always had an affinity for naturopathic medicine, and Denise has this expert gardening knowledge of plants.”

The bars of soap are carefully crafted and topped with dried flower petals. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

So they had a pretty good foundation. But, she says, they still have a lot to learn on the healing side of things.

“The native healers that use these products will spend a year just studying one plant to really understand the therapeutic benefits of those plants… so we’re no way in that category,” she said. “But we’ve had enough knowledge and ability to utilize the plants for things that we’d actually want in our day-to-day life.”

So, with a lot of research and some digging in the dirt, they started making soaps, salves, and bath bombs. Each recipe includes local plants for a specific purpose. And the products have upbeat names like “Pick Me Up!” “Restore My Skin” and “Aches Away.”

Denise Lisac shaping bath bombs from Epsom salt and oils – the fizzing bombs dissipate into bath water to create a soothing, aromatic soak. (Photo by Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham)

Both Lisac and Van Vactor are semi-retired from long careers, so they’re not expecting to make a living off Tundra Love. But with a price point of $10 for 2 ounces of salve or balm, they say they were able to earn back their initial investment. Their first big sale at Christmas time sold out.

Since then, they’ve gotten rave reviews. Friends and family are asking them to make more.

“I know of a person whose feet had been in pain for months and months,” she said. “And those salves have helped alleviate the pressure in their feet and they’re able to walk better… so there’s these little testimonials coming up.”

Encouraged by those happy customers, Van Vactor and Lisac are dreaming up new products. They’re watching for summer plants to come up so they can infuse another batch of oils. One of the biggest lessons learned, Van Vactor says, is that the recipes go based on what Mother Nature provides.

For example: they’re itching to try out a naturally bug repellent oil made from wild yarrow. But, “It’s gonna be at least a couple months for the yarrow… And it REALLY goes gangbusters in the fall. You’ll get little sprouts coming up between now and then – Yeah you’ll pull it out of your garden – Yeah but now, when we pull it out of our garden, we’ll set it aside – we’re going to use it!”

While their first priority is to make enough for local customers, Lisac and Van Vactor eventually want to expand. They imagine a network of Tundra Love producers, bringing healing plants into homes all over Bristol Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Advance Directives

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 11:59

Talking about death is never easy. But it’s especially difficult in a hospital when a loved one is incapacitated and family members are trying to guess their wishes. Two healthcare workers in Anchorage want to convince Alaskans to have that conversation before a crisis and record their choices in an advance directive.

HOST: Annie Feidt


  • Gigi Rygh, medical social worker, Alaska Innovative Medicine
  • Kris Green, advanced planning care coordinator, Providence Health Services
  • Julie Wrigley, attorney
  • Callers statewide


  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.


Categories: Alaska News

Red Chris Mine waits for final permit

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 10:40

Mining at Red Chris in February 2015. (

A controversial British Columbia mine upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg is slated to ramp up to full production this summer. But the Red Chris Mine is still waiting for final approval from the B.C. government and a First Nations group.

The Red Chris copper and gold mine in the Stikine River watershed has been operating on a temporary environmental permit since February.

It was recently extended through mid-June.

A B.C. official told a Canadian newspaper it gives government and Tahltan First Nation environmental teams more time to evaluate the mine’s tailings dams before issuing the final permit.

The tailings dam system for mine waste management is facing a lot of criticism after a dam at the Mount Polley Mine in B.C. collapsed last summer. It spilled millions of gallons of waste into Canadian waterways.

Imperial Metals owns that mine and Red Chris.

Southeast Alaskans worry B.C. mines could destroy salmon and other wildlife that many people depend on for subsistence and income. Some want their concerns to be addressed in B.C.’s mine permitting process.

Wrangell is at the mouth of the Stikine River, and Aaron Angerman is a member of the Wrangell Cooperative Association. He is also that group’s representative to the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.

Angerman said he is not comforted by government and indigenous groups’ additional efforts to inspect the Red Chris mine and its tailings dams.

“For them to take any different route is almost a moot point because this place was built just like the Mount Polley Mine, larger in scale, and is already running, by the same designers that put this other one together,” Angerman said. “It’s a little too late for those on the Stikine, I guess.”

Angerman said he is very concerned about the Red Chris mine because Wrangell residents depend on the Stikine for so many resources.

“People need to be aware that while there’s a permitting process wrapping up, this has been open since February, and this has been functioning since then,” Angerman said. “And the impacts it could have of basically a dam the size of 10,000 Olympic swimming pools, filled with toxic chemicals, giving way and washing down our river coming straight toward Wrangell, could be devastating.”

Meanwhile, Imperial Metals is losing a lot of money and facing technical challenges as it attempts to bring Red Chris up to full production.

Imperial borrowed millions of dollars to keep the company going until it can make money at Red Chris. It is also trying to reopen Mount Polley.

Imperial Metals President Brian Kynoch told shareholders recently that Red Chris was well on its way to full production this spring. But it had to cut back because of technical issues.

“Since about the second half of April, due to slower spring runoff than forecast, the water levels in the tailings pond were insufficient to run the mill at targeted rates,” Kynoch said. “And this resulted in us running the mill intermittently until just a couple of days ago.”

He said he expects Red Chris to be operating at commercial production levels later this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard seeks fines against anti-drilling protesters

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

The U.S. Coast Guard has initiated penalties against four anti-drilling protesters, including a woman who chained herself to a support ship that’s part of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil exploration plans in the Arctic Ocean.

Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener says Cody Erdman, Chiara D’Angelo, Paul Adler and Matthew Fuller on Friday were mailed penalty notices for violating the 100-yard safety zone when the Arctic Challenger was anchored north of Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.

The maximum fine is $40,000 for each violation, but a hearing officer in Virginia will determine the penalty. The activists will have a chance to present their case.

The Coast Guard says it supports the public’s right to protest. But it says prolonged safety zone violations strain agency resources and hinder its ability to respond to other calls.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Coast Guard commander to head cruise group

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 09:54

Alaska’s former top U.S. Coast Guard official will soon head up the world’s largest cruise-industry trade group.

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo addresses the Juneau Chamber of Commerce in 2011. He’ll soon head up the cruise industry’s trade group. (KTOO file photo)

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo takes over July 6 as CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association.

Ostebo served as commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District from 2011 to 2014. The district includes all of Alaska.

The Coast Guard oversees federal laws and regulations relating to the cruise industry.

Ostebo spent the past year as the agency’s strategic management director, based at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. The cruise association’s main office is also in the nation’s capital.

It’s a major force in maritime lobbying, representing more than 60 cruise lines, including most of those sailing Alaska waters.

Ostebo will oversee the association’s 15 worldwide offices, including one in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s weekend retreat to look beyond the budget impasse

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 09:52

Gov. Bill Walker on April 18. 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Weekend plans for about 175 diverse and influential Alaskans include right-sizing state government, working with interactive financial models and frank talk about the third rail of Alaska politics — revenue, taxes and tapping the Permanent Fund.

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are sponsoring the weekend retreat on building a sustainable future at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They’ll be sounding boards for big picture policy discussions about the state’s long-term fiscal future.

Walker says the location of the retreat has historical significance.

“It will be at the same site where the drafting of the Alaska Constitution took place in 1959. So, I like going back to our roots, so to speak. I like that it’s at the university campus,” he says. “We’re gonna stay in the dorms. The vast majority of us are going to stay in the dorms at UAF.”

Him included.

“I think the First Lady is going to be my roommate. I’m hoping she will be, anyways,” Walker says.

He says he’s looking forward to the collegiate atmosphere and dialogue. Many of the people invited to participate are members of his transition team that met after he was elected in November.

While lawmakers are still at an impasse on the budget, and how to address a multibillion dollar deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, that’s not what this weekend is about.

“We’re moving on beyond the budget impasse. What we want to talk about (is) the next 10 years, the next 20 years, the next 50 years in Alaska.”

Or, as Gunnar Knapp puts it, “We can’t go around having our cake and eating it, too.”

Knapp has studied the state’s fiscal situation for months as director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. This weekend he’ll be speaking and listening.

“It won’t work anymore to say, ‘I demand this, this and this’ in terms of schools, ferry service, or health or roads or troopers or whatever it is people want from the government,” he says. “And at the same time saying, ‘But I don’t want anybody, you know, using the Permanent Fund or asking me to pay taxes.’ You can’t have it both ways.”

The legislature’s finance analysts have repeatedly noted this year that even if every state-funded government worker were laid off, the state would still spend billions more than what is forecast in revenue.

Since January, Knapp says he’s given at least 20 talks on the subject with various civic, education and business groups. Progress has been slow.

“You can’t go way out in front of what people are willing to talk about, even if you know — even if you’re in the legislature and the governor — and you know that eventually the conversation is going to have to get to those things. It is a process of education. … So it’s discouraging that we haven’t faced up to this more this year, but it’s probably just a practical reality of the political situation. Using the savings is the easiest thing to do.”

Knapp hopes that politically taboo fiscal matters will stop being taboo after this weekend.

“I’m not going there to advocate any particular solution,” Knapp says. “I’m just advocating an open conversation about the nature of the problem.”

The retreat itself is expected to be a frugal affair. Most of the participants are paying for their own travel. And dorms are a lot cheaper than hotels. There won’t be bunk beds, but participants may have to share dorm rooms, says Claire Richardson, staff to the lieutenant governor.

Richardson says she expects the state’s final bill to be under $150,000. A big chunk of that is a $37,000 contract for web and television coverage with, full disclosure, 360 North.

Live coverage begins at 6 p.m. Friday online and on 360 North television. For web streams, schedules and more about Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations with Alaskans, go to

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble FACA case against EPA to go forward

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-06-05 09:26

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward. That’s according to a ruling Thursday by Anchorage federal court Judge H. Russel Holland.

Judge Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble:

“With today’s ruling, the judge has essentially said that Pebble has raised plausible claims about how the EPA has handled and utilized input from anti-mining groups in all of the work regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. It represents a pretty significant victory for us that allows our case to advance,” said Heatwole.

Pebble’s opponents were quick to say Thursday that they were disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep the ruling, and the case, in perspective:

“This case is about a federal advisory process protocol. It in no way changes the scientific fact that if the Pebble Mine is developed, it will harm the last great salmon fishery on the face of the planet. It doesn’t change the fact that the EPA has the authority to take this action to protect this fishery, and has had, and will continue to have, the full support of our region to do so,” said Hurley.

While the FACA case moves forward, Judge Holland has ordered the EPA to halt all work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and the preemptive dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place:

“So it basically prevents the EPA from advancing it’s preemptive veto against the project.” said Pebble’s Heatwole. “The next phase for us is discovery, and as we’ve long asserted, we believe there’s quite a bit more information out there as to what was going on behind the scenes with the EPA’s actions against Pebble.”

Both Pebble and the mine’s opponents said the FACA case will likely play out over at least the next year.

In a separate, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA, Pebble is suing for more agency documents and emails it says the EPA is not turning over as per requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:47

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

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Press secretary Carolyn Kuckertz, 38, has been charged with three felonies and misdemeanor for allegedly striking two people while drunk. The arrest occurred on Tuesday around 5:30pm.

According to court documents, Kuckertz quickly backed out of a parking spot at the Anchorage LIO and hit 28-year-old Maura Selenak, leaving her on the curb “in extreme pain.” Selenak suffered swelling and bruising to her torso. She was taken to the hospital, and was released with no major injuries. Kuckertz also allegedly struck another woman on the leg. Witnesses say Kuckertz initially stopped, was asked to stay, but then responded, “I can’t.”

The Anchorage Police Department says Kuckertz was later located at Minnesota and Benson, where she was picking up her daughter from daycare. Officers noticed the smell of alcohol, but were unable to complete field sobriety tests because Kuckertz was “swaying and stumbling.” Her blood alcohol level was later tested at .208, more than twice the legal limit.

Kuckertz is currently being held on $10,000 bail. Kuckertz pleaded no contest to a previous DUI in 2010.

A separate member of the Republican majority’s press office confirms that she has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

Categories: Alaska News

Criminal Justice Commission Gets an Earful in Nome

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:46

Alaska’s criminal justice system is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable—that’s the hard truth shared by a group of legal experts on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. Commission members are visiting Nome seeking input from on ways to reform the system.

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The 13-member commission includes a diverse group—from judges and attorneys, to state agencies and mental health specialists, to Alaska Native and victim’s rights advocates. The commission has 3 years to make recommendations to the state legislature on reimagining Alaska’s law enforcement, courts, and incarceration systems.

“They needed to come up with new thinking, new ways of doing business, because they can’t afford to do it the old way anymore. It’s just too expensive. It’s too expensive to just build prisoners and throw more people in jail.”

Greg Razo practiced law for more than 20 years and is the Alaska Native representative on the commission. With 2 out of every 3 offenders expected to re-offend within three years of their release, the big idea is “justice reinvestment.”

The idea is to take all the money you spend in corrections and move it over and spend it in other strategies, such as treatment programs.”

Mary Geddes is an attorney with the commission. She says treatment—and other efforts that would reduce the high rates of re-arrest—demands a hard look at how the state runs its prisons today.

“We have questions about weather or not this is a good use of our incarceration facilities. That it’s housing non-violent offenders. That it’s housing so many people on a pre-trial basis. That means people who have not been found guilty but are still sitting in jail waiting for the resolution of their cases. And that it’s housing people who essentially have substance abuse disorders. Is that a good use of that expensive resource?”

The response from the audience at Kawerak’s Rural Providers Conference yesterday was a resounding “no.” Elders from the region told stories of “all their kids being in jail,” of grandmothers on fixed incomes housing and feeding their grandchildren as sons and daughters found themselves arrested and re-arrested and brought to hubs like Nome or Anchorage to serve jail time. Kodiak elder Irene Coyle joined a chorus of speakers calling for local solutions.

“We have troubled adults and teens, and they’re being taken away from the village, and they go to the cities. I just see that’s very expensive. I think with the tribal, being where they are now, need to be more stronger, in the criminal justice, so that we can deal with our own people at the villages and continue to find ways to discipline their actions and be responsible and accountable.”

That system *is expensive: costing about 58-thousand dollars a year for every prisoner in a “hard bed”—alongside huge costs like the 240-million dollar Goose Creek Correctional Center in Point MacKenzie. Already filled to capacity, at the state’s current rate of incarceration, Alaska would need another multi-million dollar prison in just 3 years. Advocate Keith Morrison of Nome says spending that money on *local justice systems is a better idea—but he says the state can’t walk away from the current system without paying for something to take its place.

“There will always be costs. The question is, do you want costs to be an investment and on the front end, in stemming these problems? Or would you rather be reactive, like the justice system, and only pay for it on the back end, and not be on the community level? There needs to be a reallocation of funds so that the same amount of money that went into this broken system can be reinvested into the communities to build the community system.”

Another speaker from Koyuk urged commissioners to go out to nearby communities—and not end their trip to rural Alaska in Nome.  The commission can make regular recommendations over the next 3 years, before delivering its final recommendations by February 2017.

Categories: Alaska News

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:42

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright. The Pentagon announced it first to Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which issued a joint press release Thursday.

The unmanned vehicles are about the size of a Cessna and similar to the Air Force Predator drones. It’s good economic news for Fairbanks. The delegation says 128 military personnel, plus family members, will begin moving to the area next month.

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General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle. Photo by U.S. Army.

Categories: Alaska News

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:41

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Council members have concerns over amendments that would exempt fisheries decisions from the National Environmental Policy Act, and open the door to potentially biased science.

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The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a huge law. It spells out the management of all fisheries in the United States that occur more than three miles offshore. Magnuson-Stevens created the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the seven other regional councils that set the rules and regulations around the country.

It’s no surprise then, that council members would take an interest in HR 1335, the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Alaska Congressman Don Young.

And other politicians have taken an interest as well.

“This issue seems to be drawing down support for HR 1335 at the presidential level.”

This is council executive director Chris Oliver, referring to President Obama’s recent letter threatening to veto Magnuson-Stevens, since the House Bill substitutes a new set of environmental standards for fisheries decisions, in place of the standards used under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

NEPA is an important law, too, in its own right. It’s the reason we have Environmental Impact Statements for major decisions regarding the country’s resources.

Oliver told the council that he’s been working for years on streamlining the NEPA-Magunson process, rather than develop a new one. He’d told the council he’d prefer to go with “the devil you know.”

“The fear is that we’re going to set up an extremely complicated process under Magnuson, the implementation of which is going to be subject to implementing regulations or guidelines. In essence, we’re going to end up doing the same thing within the Magnuson Act that we’re doing in our current process, which — while I don’t think it’s the perfect process — we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

With a presidential veto looming, council members did not offer any pushback against Oliver’s plans to restore the NEPA process to Magnuson Stevens. However, they were more vocal about amendments proposed by Alaska congressman Don Young to the bill — especially this language:

“Fisheries management is most effective when it incorporates information provided by governmental and nongovernmental sources, including State and Federal agency staff, fishermen, fishing communities, universities, and research institutions…”

This is sort of a preamble. The deal-breaker for the council comes next:

“As appropriate, such information should be considered the best scientific information available and form the basis of conservation and management measures as required by this Act.”

Council member Duncan Fields, from Kodiak, suggested asking Congressman Young for clarification. How would traditional knowledge — or information accrued over generations by Alaska’s Natives — fare under this amendment?

“It would be hard for me to support a position, for the council to say sort of out-of-hand, we’re not going to consider traditional knowledge, for example, relative to a particular issue and a particular context.”

Ron Hyder, from Oregon, sits on the council’s Legislative Committee. He suggested asking  for a report on this amendment before the council takes a hard position.

“It didn’t even occur to me in this that we might be including traditional knowledge. Because we not only accept, we look for ways to get traditional knowledge into our considerations.”

But it wasn’t just a question of whether traditional knowledge might be discounted, it was also a question of whether the council would be compelled to consider   any information available as “the best science.” This struck some members as intrusive.

Council member Jim Balsiger is the regional director for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

“This council has a long record of accepting information from everyone, and it needs to go through the SSC (Scientific and Statistical Committee). So my whole thought on that was allowing information from anyone outside the normal process raises questions. That’s what I thought we were looking for.”

The SSC is the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Council director Chris Oliver concurred. He saw no harm to the council process if the language about “best science” were struck. He suspected that it originated in conflicts in the Gulf of Mexico, where there was greater distrust of government-sponsored science.

The final recommendations from the council on changes to the Magnuson Stevens Act won’t be made until another committee — the CCC, or Council Coordination Committee — meets later this month.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:39

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member. Pace has a great nose, tons of energy and the drive needed for what to her is a fun game. For the people she finds, though, it’s as serious as life or death.

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Pace is rewarded for a successful search with a game of fetch. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Pace is always ready to play fetch. To her, that’s what a rescue is. Instead of tennis balls, she retrieves people.

A volunteer hides among some shrubs on the other side of a large, soggy muskeg. Pace’s owner and trainer, Carol Towne, holds onto the trembling, whining Labrador retriever.

Towne lets Pace go, the whining stops and the only sound is the tinkling of the bell attached to Pace’s collar.

A four-legged black streak zips across the muskeg, leaving behind a pack of clumsy humans, trying hard but failing to keep up. Pace quickly finds the victims and rushes back to let Towne know.

Pace leads us to the victim, and her reward is a rousing game of – what else? – fetch, this time with a favorite toy.

Carol Towne gets Pace ready to search for a volunteer victim, hiding in a muskeg. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Towne has been training Pace since she was an 8-week-old puppy. Just recently, Pace passed her last level of certification. She’s now officially the second certified search and rescue dog for the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, a process that took about two years.

“Her first test was a trail test. She did that last February,” Towne says. “That’s a half-mile test at night. A victim is hid on one side of the trail or the other. She’s excellent at that. She loves trails. Then we do the obedience. That was the hard part, being named Pace, she can’t stay still.”

Levi – a black Lab mix – had been the sole SAR dog. He’s about 9 years old, which is close to retirement age. Levi’s owner and trainer is Danelle Landis, the SAR dog team captain. She recently bought a young Belgian Malinois named Ripley, and started training her to take over when Levi can’t do the work anymore.

“She’s just finishing learning the whole runaway/re-find piece, which is the very end of the search,” Landis explains. “So, we hold the dog, the person runs away with the toy, then we let the dog go, they get to the person. When they get to the person, they run back and tell us by using an alert signal, which for her is a bark, which took me more than a month to teach her to bark on command.”

Barking isn’t the problem, of course. It’s barking for a specific purpose that can be challenging.

Boomer is a young, happy pitbull mix, and is a little further along in the training process.

Amanda Schuler is Boomer’s owner and trainer. She says she wasn’t sure what to do about her obsessive, overly energetic dog until she learned those traits are highly desirable in a search dog. They’ve been training about a year, and he’ll be ready for his first test this fall.

“He probably has another year of training. For search and rescue dogs, the obedience portion is sometimes the most challenging because they have so much energy and are ready to go, and they have to learn to contain that energy,” she said. “He’s doing well with it, but he has a lot of work to go.”

Schuler is confident that Boomer will do well, at least on the search tests.

“He’s really sharp and he loves playing this game,” she says. “I’m not worried about his 160-acre test, either — his endurance. It’s the obedience stuff that I’m most worried about.“

For the dogs, searching is just plain fun. And despite the serious need for this kind of work, fun is part of the incentive for their handlers, too.

They get to work with their dogs, hang out with other dog lovers and after training is done for the day, they all have more fun with a group hike through the muskeg.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 4, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:37

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

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Senate Spokesperson Arrested For DUI After LIO Hit-And-Run

Alexandra Gutierrez, KTOO – Juneau

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority caucus has been arrested for a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Criminal Justice Commission Gets an Earful in Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Alaska’s criminal justice system is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable—that’s the hard truth shared by a group of legal experts on the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission.

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president.

The Gray Eagle Has Landed… In Fairbanks

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Army has decided to base nine Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright.

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres.

Magnuson-Stevens: Concerns Abound Over Exempting Fisheries Decisions From NEPA

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely recommend some significant changes to the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — but not during its meeting in Sitka.

Mat-Su Borough Board Upholds Shooting Range

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Ketchikan Welcomes A Canine to Search And Rescue Squad

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s volunteer rescue service recently added a new four-legged team member.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Board Upholds Sutton Shooting Range

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 17:20

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough. The Borough’s board of adjustment was called to weigh-in Wednesday on a clash between two legal, but incompatible, businesses.

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A shooting range operating in Sutton has drawn criticism from an adjoining landowner. Chris Rose, who owns 20 acres in Sutton, says he has planed for years to use his land as a wedding event venue in partnership with an Anchorage florist.  Chris Rose:

“Folks in Sutton are concerned, justifiably so, about protecting the investments in their properties. And that’s why we have a Sutton Comprehensive Plan, that is why we have a special land use district. People like me rely on those things before we make investments in our property.”

But about a year ago, Rose says, he noted the sound of gunfire welling up over the bluff that separates his land from the Matanuska River.

That sound was coming from a shooting range operated by Alaska Tactical on property owned by Anchorage brothers Jim and Tim Kane. The Kanes own JTAC, a business that they call a “training facility”, that they run on their Sutton property. Tim Kane:

“Well JTAC doesn’t do the training. We just provide a facility for anybody who needs an outdoor recreational area to provide whatever services they have as a business, and we lease the property to those people.”

Kane says when JTAC opened for business, no Borough permit was required, because JTAC did not have a shooting range on site at first.

“We operated for two seasons and we didn’t have a complaint, nobody approached us. We attended the Sutton Community Council’s meetings to keep them up to date.”

But Alaska Tactical, a JTAC lessee, began using  the land for a private shooting range, without a permit.  It was a  year and a half, before anyone complained.

The complaint prompted the Kanes to get a special use permit, which was approved by the Borough Planning Commission last year. And the Sutton Community Council weighed in in favor of the permit, according to Community Council communications secretary Claudia Dolfi. Dolfi says that shooting is a Sutton pastime and that there are fourteen private shooting ranges in the area.

“At this point, having talked to neighbors and community members, it’s been discussed that if we had an outdoor shooting range and an indoor shooting range, same location, we’d all purchase memberships. We wouldn’t shoot on our own property anymore. It’s just more convenient. I think it would be a great advantage to our community.”

Dolfi says the shooting range could lead to area jobs.

But Rose appealed the planning commission’s decision to the Borough’s Board of Adjustment. Rose says the shooting range violates the Sutton Comprehensive Use Plan.

“I don’t think anybody could have reasonably thought that the Borough would allow a shooting range in a residential area, and that is what this is all about. Particularly on the thin record that was presented to the planning commission in the first place.”

In a judicial proceeding in Palmer on Wednesday, attorneys for the the Kanes and Rose argued their cases.  Teresa Clemmer, arguing for Rose,  cited quality of life and environmental concerns that she says the Borough planning commission overlooked.

“The planning commission has given no consideration to lead contamination in the soil” she told the board.

The Kane’s attorney, Jason Rueday, told the board that the owners of JTAC have followed the law.  Rueday said the planning commission’s decision was based on facts.

“We are in an area where shooting occurs,” Rueday told the board. ” I would submit that this facility is in character with the surrounding area.”

Several member of the public testified in favor of Rose’s position. But Sutton Community Council’s Dolfi handed the board a list of 80 names in favor of the shooting range permit. Mat Su Borouogh attorney Shannon Bodolay told the board that community sentiment is not part of the board’s decision. The board must decide only if the planning commission ‘s decision in favor of the special use permit is reasonable.   In the end, the three member board decided unanimously in favor of the planning commission’s decision to issue the shooting range permit.

Rose said Thursday that the shooting range permit is not based on substantial evidence, but he has not decided yet if he will appeal the board’s decision.  He has thirty days to decide to appeal.  If he does, the case moves to state Superior Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Court Allows Pebble v. EPA To Proceed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 16:38

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward . That’s according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland. Holland denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, which was argued last week in Anchorage court.

Mike Heatwole is a spokesperson for Pebble. Pebble opponents were quick to say today they are disappointed with the ruling. Among them is United Tribes of Bristol Bay director Alannah Hurley, who acknowledged the setback, but says it’s important to keep perspective.

While the FACA case moves forward, the Judge has ordered the EPA to do no work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, or the dredge and fill restrictions it had intended to finalize earlier this year. Judge Holland’s temporary injunction, requested by Pebble, will remain in place, according to Heatwole.

No timeline exists for the case, though both sides said it was likely to go on for at least a year.

In a separate but related lawsuit, the third filed by Pebble against the EPA in federal court, Pebble is suing for more EPA documents and emails. Pebble says the agency has been slow to respond to its requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Categories: Alaska News

Regents Nominate Ex-Exec. For UA System President

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 15:38

Former University of Alaska executive Jim Johnsen of Fairbanks has been put forward by the UA Board of Regents as their choice to be the university system’s next president. Prior to work in the private sector in recent years, Johnsen served in several high profile positions at the university, including chief of staff to former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. Johnsen is currently a senior vice president at Alaska Communications.

A release from UA Regents says Johnsen was selected from a group of four finalists by a search advisory committee that included regents, faculty, staff, students, and UA Foundation members. It says Johnsen will meet with stakeholders in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau over the next month, after which regents will review feedback and make a final decision. If hired, Johnsen will succeed retiring UA President Pat Gamble in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Tracking State Layoff Notices From the Mailroom to the Mailbox

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 15:22

A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.

In the State Office Building’s mailroom, it’s almost the end of the day. Jeremy Duncan and a co-worker are running letters through a postage machine. He’s been a mail courier for about 12 years. And he knows one of those white envelopes might be his.

Jeremy Duncan runs letters through a postage machine at the State Office Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Layoff notifications. I’m sure I have one in there, too,” he says.

There’s a clock ticking closer to 3 p.m. on the wall. That’s the time the mail goes out.

“We’re waiting for a stay of execution type of phone call, huh?” he says. “That’s what it feels like.”

The phone call doesn’t come and, at 3 o’clock, several boxes are loaded onto a cart and wheeled to the mail truck.

In total, the state spent over $6,000 on sending the layoff notices–something they were contractually obligated to do. About 3,000 went to Anchorage, 1,100 to Fairbanks, and 3,000 to other places. About 2,500 were sent in Juneau. And it’s all because legislators haven’t agreed yet on a fully funded budget.

At Switzer Village, Cierra Kendrick opens her mailbox with a key.

“I’ve got what appears to the layoff notices for me and my partner and a couple of pieces of junk mail,” she says. “I just really hoped they would figure it out before it got this far.”

Cierra Kendrick just received disappointing mail: a layoff notice from her state job. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

She works for the Alaska Department of Commerce and her partner works for the Department of Transportation. She had a meeting at work and knew the letters were being sent. She’s heard some of her neighbors are avoiding the mail.

“They just don’t want to. They’d rather wait until  we hear something. They send someone to check the mail so they don’t have to see the letter,” she says.

If the legislature fails to pass a budget in time, a small number of workers could still come back. But there are a lot of unknowns and layoff details vary by department and division. The one thing that is sure, the government will be operating with less funding next year.

Kendrick says it’s been a stressful and confusing time for her family.

“Am I going to have insurance come August, depending on what they do? I have two high-needs kids that rely heavily on our insurance and we can’t afford to go without it,” she says.

State workers last day of work could be July 1. Their health insurance will last through the end of the month. After that, they won’t be covered. Summer was supposed be a special time for Kendrick and her partner.

“We are planning our wedding in July and that’s kind of been put on the back burner because those are expensive.”

Thankfully, they have already bought her partner’s dress, but they’re still trying to figure out how to pay for everything else.

“We’re budgeting for it but there’s only so much you can do. We may have to reevaluate and downsize,” she says.

The day-to-day expenses, Kendrick says, would be difficult to manage if they lose their pay. They also have two car payments. There are expenses like cable and internet.

“We may shut it off to save the 150 bucks,” she says.

The legislature’s budget negotiations are still ongoing. Kendrick says she’s tired of lawmakers waffling.

“It’s a game of chicken is all it is,” she says. “It’s ridiculous that a group of adults is playing a game like this. To them, there is no consequence. But it’s a make or break situation for a lot of people.”

For now, all her family can do is wait until a budget is passed or isn’t.

“It all depends on what pretty little pieces of paper we get in the mail and when they happen to get here,” she says.

Kendrick says she’s currently looking for other employment.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Battle 14,000-Acre Fire Near Kalskag

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 15:10

More than 100 firefighters are battling a wildfire south of Kalskag that started Sunday from lightening. It has grown to 14,200 acres. Four water-scooping aircrafts are attacking the flanks of the fire as crews work to build a perimeter. They’ve put in a water pump near an area of heavy timber.

More than 100 firefighters are battling a blaze south of Kalskag. Image from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Tim Mowry is Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says there are no structures at risk now.

“We’re trying to keep the fire on the refuge so it doesn’t spread to native lands and native allotments,” said Mowry.

The fire is about three and half miles from the nearest point of the Kuskokwim River, and is burning in tundra grass and black spruce. Fire officials have enacted a temporary flight restriction to keep planes out of the area. While the fire grew quickly this week, Mowry says the weather improved.

“We got a little bit of precipitation, and even hail, on the western flank, and the winds have died down a little bit,” said Mowry.

He says the fire was not as active Thursday as it was earlier in the week.

Northeast of Tuluksak, a fire in the Bogus Creek area has grown to more than 8-thousand acres. No staff is on that fire, but aircraft are dropping water. Statewide, 31,000 acres have burned this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Stowers chosen as next chief justice of Alaska Supreme Court

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-06-04 12:24

The Alaska Supreme Court has chosen Justice Craig Stowers to be the next chief justice.

The announcement was made Wednesday in a release from the court system.

Stowers will succeed Dana Fabe, whose latest term as chief justice ends June 30. Under the constitution, chief justices serve three-year terms and may serve more than one three-year term, though not consecutively.

Stowers, a former superior court judge, has served on Alaska’s highest court since December 2009.

Categories: Alaska News