Alaska News

Ketchikan Child Allegedly Caged, Bound By Grandparents

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-23 10:12

On Tuesday, Ketchikan police officers did a welfare check at a Woodside Drive home after getting a tip that a little girl was allegedly restrained at night by her grandparents.

Deputy Chief Josh Dossett said officers arrived at the home and found the girl, approximately 5 years old, in what he described as an improvised cage.

“It was a large-size clothes hamper put on its side with a gate,” he said. “The gate was wire-tied to the front of the hamper.”

Dossett said officers found that the girl’s legs also were restrained, using tape and straps.

Police called the state Office of Children’s Services, and that agency sent case workers to remove the girl from the residence.

While there, police located what they say was a marijuana grow operation. Dossett said they obtained a warrant, and seized about 54 marijuana plants, plus processed marijuana.

“I don’t have the amount of just the processed,” he said. “The total on the marijuana on the plants and the (processed) I believe was about 3 pounds.”

Police charged 46-year-old Eric Riley and 52-year-old Penny Riley with fourth-degree misconduct of a controlled substance and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Dossett said information about the child’s restraint has been sent to the District Attorney’s office for review and possible additional charges.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fisheries Nominee Withdraws

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:28

Governor Bill Walker’s nominee to the Board of Fisheries has withdrawn his name from consideration.

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A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Coghill’s office confirmed the withdrawal of Dr. Roland Maw but couldn’t provide additional details.

Maw went through the first half of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Resources Committee Monday.

His confirmation has been mired in talk of the tension between commercial and sport fishing interests in the state. Maw’s nomination saw strong support from many commercial fishermen and wariness from many charter groups.

Maw could not be reached for comment.

Walker will now have two seats on the Board of Fisheries to fill by April 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Man Indicted On Sex Trafficking, Sexual Assault, Weapons Misconduct Charges

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:27

An Anchorage man was indicted by a Grand jury this week on multiple charges involving sex trafficking, sexual assault and weapons misconduct.

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Xavier Lanell Cook Benson is facing 12 counts related to what law enforcement officials allege in a written release, was a brutal and exploitative sex trafficking and prostitution operation in Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks. 

Adam Alexander is an attorney with the state’s office of special prosecutions. He says Benson will have to meet a high bar to get out on bail.

“He would have to post a hundred thousand dollars cash on the performance bond,” Alexander said. ”He would have to secure the assistance of a bail bondsman on the cash corporate appearance bond and he would have to propose a third party custodian to the court for the court’s approval.”

Alexander says investigations such as this that involve Anchorage police and the FBI are complex and often long term.

“The commercial sex trade is, in many cases, fueled by physical and emotional exploitation,” Alexander said. ”And people often times, and I’m not speaking to Mr. Benson here specifically, but people often times, who operate prostitution enterprises, target vulnerable people and at the same time are becoming increasingly sophisticated.”

If convicted, Benson faces up to 60 years in prison.

Categories: Alaska News

After Providers Lobby, Walker Reverses Cuts To Homeless Programs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:26

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily closed due to a burst pipe and flood Sunday night. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Advocates for the homeless in Alaska are rejoicing after Gov. Bill Walker released an updated budget proposal that restores funding for housing and homelessness services statewide.

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The governor had initially zeroed out the funding in light of the state’s multibillion dollar shortfall. But the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness leaned on the administration to restore it.

It’s mid-morning at The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Ralph Jackson and his girlfriend are sipping coffee, and waiting for lunch to be served in a couple hours. Jackson says they’ve been homeless for about nine months, ever since they got kicked out of an apartment in Petersburg for what he says was a trumped up noise violation. He says The Glory Hole is the first place to really help them out.

“They’re giving us some insight, you know, as to what kind of jobs we can get, and housing especially,” he says.

Jackson says he plans to apply for a dishwashing job at a Juneau restaurant. And he says he and his girlfriend hope to get into subsidized housing.

“We’re on a waiting list, and it’s six months to a year… all we can do is just wait,” he says.

In the meantime, Jackson says they’re grateful for The Glory Hole’s services. In addition to help finding jobs and housing, the shelter offers free meals and a warm, dry place to hang out when it’s cold and wet.

Executive Director Mariya Lovischuk says those services would have taken a $96,000 hit under Gov. Walker’s original state spending plan. She says that’s about a fifth of the shelter’s budget.

“If we did not have that funding it would be really, really devastating, because we already operate on a very bare bones budget,” Lovishchuk says. “And I think we do utilize all of the funding sources that are available to us really, really efficiently.”

The governor’s amended fiscal year 2016 budget funds the state’s basic homeless assistance program at $7.7 million. In recent years, that program has covered operating expenses for nearly 40 service providers statewide and helped thousands of homeless individuals and families. The updated budget also includes $1.5 million for special needs housing grants, aimed at helping nonprofits and developers build affordable housing for low income Alaskans.

Sue Steinacher is director of NEST, the Nome Emergency Shelter Team, which gets about two-thirds of its funding from the state.

“At a time where the state’s economic troubles are making life harder for others, it’s really critical that we provide that safety net,” says Steinacher.

Under the initial budget proposal, Steinacher says there was a real possibility the shelter would have closed.

“Given that the governor has put this money back… I feel much more confident about next winter and the shelter having enough operating funds,” she says.

Scott Ciambor co-chairs the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. He says members mobilized to make sure Walker’s office knew the importance of the funds to homelessness programs across the state.

“It’s not something that the coalition has had to advocate for in the past. So there was some scrambling, as you would imagine,” Ciambor says.

He says their message was simple: In a state where affordable housing is hard to develop and doesn’t exist at all in some communities, many people rely on shelters.

“It’s everything from, you know, the chronic homeless population that have been kind of living this lifestyle for a long time,” he says. “But it’s also a lot of families, who just typically need some rental assistance to make sure that they don’t become homeless.”

In a release, Walker’s Budget Director Pat Pitney said taking the homeless money out “was an unintended consequence of submitting a stripped-down capital budget.” She called putting it back in “a cost-effective way to address issues that could be costly for our communities,” including money spent on law enforcement and social services.

Ciambor says the coalition also met with lawmakers in recent weeks. As the legislature continues to craft the final budget for next fiscal year, he says it’s an opportunity for the group to talk about the importance of homeless services statewide.

KNOM’s Matthew Smith contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Iron Dog Snowmachine Race Primed For Big Lake Start

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:25

The Iron Dog snowmachine race gets underway this weekend, and there are some changes to the race route, which takes riders from Big Lake to Nome and then to Fairbanks.

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Iron Dog executive director Kevin Kastner says the course had to be altered between the villages of Galena and Koyukuk.

“Because of the open water on the Yukon,” Kastner said. “There’s a lot of theories as to why. Both weather conditions and also just post flood, seems to be affecting how the river freezes there. It’s about two and half miles we had to go around. It seems its only adding about 9 or 10 miles to the overall distance to the trail.”

Kastner says volunteers have marked the new route for racers. He says snow along the west coast this week has improved overland trail conditions there, but the sea ice remains unsafe.

“Our plans are to go overland,” Kastner said. “So avoiding the sea ice at all costs.”

Kastner says trail conditions are rough on the west side of the Alaska Range with minimal snow and there’s concern about snow machines overheating. The Iron Dog has a ceremonial start in Anchorage tomorrow, and a restart in Big Lake Sunday.

There are 37 teams in the pro class event. Among them are several past champions, and 2 women. Also of note, dog musher Sonny Lindner of Fairbanks is competing.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Tracking Halibut

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:24

(Photo by Amanda Compton)

Pacific halibut are one of Alaska’s most valuable fish, but we know surprisingly little about what happens to the species during an important time in their life – their spawning period.

Amanda Compton caught up with a study in Glacier Bay focused on just how halibut spawn using a special type of tracking equipment.

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What would you do if you lived hundreds of feet below the ocean surface? Where would you eat? When would you sleep? Where would you procreate? Julie Nielson is a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“I’m studying the movement of halibut in Glacier Bay,” Nielson said. “We’re trying to figure out if halibut leave Glacier Bay during the winter on spawning migrations and if they do, do they return the following summer?”

Fisheries are managed under certain assumptions that determine whether a fisherman can support a family, if a consumer can buy a fish at the local grocery and how much tourist traffic enters the state. Halibut are managed as if they spawn every year and move freely, without preference to localized areas. But are these assumptions true?

To try and answer this question Nielson attached 25 fish in Glacier Bay with satellite tags in the summer of 2013.

Nielson said the tags hold clues to figure out where fish go on spawning migrations, and finding them is a lot like detective work.

Tags scheduled to release in February popped off as expected and began transmitting their locations to satellites.

“I was pretty much glued to the computer for weeks after that date,” Nielson said. “The idea was: If the halibut have gone on a spawning migration, their tags would pop off outside the Park.”

(Photo by Amanda Compton)

All of these tags transmitted locations within the Bay.

“I did not expect that at all; I thought we were going to find some that were out in the Gulf,” she said.

To find out more than just where the tags surfaced, Nielson had a critical priority – she needed to physically recover the tags. So she asked for help.

There was a $500 reward for finding a tag and she made maps of their locations to within 100 meters.

People kayaked, ran, took skiffs and one guy even flew over to a spot where a tag was located.  But a whole other set of tags were set to release in the summer of 2014.

Nielsen’s PhD advisor had been out with her just days before the summer tag release date.

“My name is Andy Seitz. I’m a professor of fisheries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The last 4 days we’ve been out on the research vessel tracking halibut so we can hopefully recover these satellite tags when they pop up and float to the surface of the ocean.”

For the summer tag recovery trip Nielsen had rented a special tag locating device as Professor Seitz explains.

“And it’s called – a goniometer,” he said, laughing. “It’s a glorified radio direction finder, and so it uses the differential reception of radio waves and a directional antenna to calculate the position and distance of the transmitting tag. “

(Photo by Amanda Compton)

On June 30th Nielson and two colleagues headed north into the Bay to be poised to retrieve the tags. Shortly after 4 p.m. the goniometer began picking up a satellite tag signal.

Thomas: “25! Nice.”

Julie: “OK, 30 degrees.”

Julie: “It’s gonna be a white float on it, so hopefully it will stand out.”

Thomas: “We’ve got 8 eyes.”

Radio:” Ishkeen we have a tag number for you: 131078…”

A tag had surfaced, and successfully communicated to a satellite, allowing the Parks Service to access the location of the tag’s transmission.

Radio: “…41 seconds north. Hopefully there’ll be more.”

Tim: “OK, so we’re about 6 miles away from it.”

Amanda: “Julie, how are you feeling right now?”

Julie: “I’m very excited. It’s a, it’s a treasure hunt.“

The bobbing white Styrofoam head of the tag was spotted on the east side of the Bay.

Thomas: “You guys got it? Starboard starboard starboard!”

Tim: “There it is.”

Julie: “Nice!”

The rest of the trip brought more success: over half of the tags scheduled to release were retrieved.

These days Nielsen can be found in her office, fittingly located above a coffee shop: the rest of her work involves long hours at her computer.

“There’s going to be a lot of pain involved,” Nielson said. “We have the detailed data sets for 11 tags. That’s almost half the tags. That’s an incredible number.”

Nielson’s findings suggest a majority of the fish prefer the comforts of Glacier Bay, either remaining inside of it or leaving and returning, one to within 1 kilometer of where it was tagged. She’s currently working on a movement model that she hopes will indicate where the fish that left the Bay actually went.

The model would ideally assist researchers in mapping the movement of other species besides halibut, like sable fish and Pacific cod.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Douglas

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:23

This week, we’re heading to Douglas- a former gold mining town that’s now part of the Juneau Borough but still maintains it’s unique character. Ed Schoenfeld is News Director for CoastAlaska. He’s also a musician who’s written half a dozen songs about his community.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 20, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 17:22

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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Arctic Drilling Regs Require Relief Rig; Shell Sees ‘Critical’ Flexibility

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Department of Interior today released proposed new Arctic-specific drilling standards for offshore oil exploration. They would require an Arctic operator to have a well cap at hand, but more controversially, a rig on standby that can drill a relief well within 45 days if there’s a blowout.

University of Alaska Board Of Regents Approves 5% Tuition Increase

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Friday voted 8-2 in favor of a 5 percent tuition increase, in an effort to gain ground on the University’s budget shortfall.

Board of Fisheries Nominee Withdraws

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Governor Bill Walker’s nominee to the Board of Fisheries has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Anchorage Man Indicted On Sex Trafficking, Sexual Assault, Weapons Misconduct Charges

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

An Anchorage man was indicted by a Grand jury this week on multiple charges involving sex trafficking, sexual assault and weapons misconduct. Xavier Lanell Cook Benson is facing 12 counts related to what law enforcement officials allege  in a written release, was a brutal and exploitative sex trafficking and prostitution operation in Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks.

After Providers Lobby, Walker Reverses Cuts To Homeless Programs

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Advocates for the homeless in Alaska are rejoicing after Gov. Bill Walker this week released an updated budget proposal that restores funding for housing and homelessness services statewide.

The governor had initially zeroed out the funding in light of the state’s multibillion dollar shortfall. But the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness leaned on the administration to restore it.

New Prelim ASD Budget Reinstates Middle School Model

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board unanimously passed next year’s $784 million preliminary budget at their meeting last night. It includes money for giving equal planning time to all middle school teachers and supplements the language immersion programs. But until the state legislature passes its budget, this one could still change.

Iron Dog Snowmachine Race Primed For Big Lake Start

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Iron Dog snowmachine race gets underway this weekend, and there are some changes to the race route, which takes riders from Big Lake to Nome and then to Fairbanks.

AK: Tracking Halibut

Amanda Compton, APRN Contributor

Pacific halibut are one of Alaska’s most valuable fish. But we know surprisingly little about what happens to the species during an important time in their life – their spawning period. Amanda Compton caught up with a study in Glacier Bay focused on just how halibut spawn using a special type of tracking equipment.

300 Villages: Douglas

This week, we’re heading to Douglas- a former gold mining town that’s now part of the Juneau Borough but still maintains its unique character. Ed Schoenfeld is News Director for CoastAlaska. He’s also a musician who’s written half a dozen songs about his community.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Drilling Regs Require Relief Rig; Shell Sees ‘Critical’ Flexibility

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 16:15

The Department of Interior today released proposed new Arctic-specific drilling standards for offshore oil exploration. They would require an Arctic operator to have a well cap at hand, but more controversially, a rig on standby that can drill a relief well within 45 days if there’s a blowout.

The idea for drilling standards suitable for harsh Arctic conditions was spurred by Shell’s calamitous 2012 season, which featured multiple equipment failures and a floating rig run aground. Brian Salerno, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, says the standards are similar to the permit conditions imposed on Shell during that season, with some additions.

“There’s a lot of commonality with what is proposed in this rule with what was done by Shell, and what is currently being discussed with Shell,” he said.

Shell is the only company now planning to drill on the outer continental shelf off Alaska, and it hopes to return to the Arctic this summer. The new rules would apply to future exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. They won’t be final in time for this summer’s drilling season, but Salerno says many of the features will be part of Shell’s permit conditions this year.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says the company supports regulations that promote safety, as long as they’re clear and well reasoned.

“Regarding the relief rig requirement, DOI is clear the use of equivalent compliance measures may be approved, and we think that flexibility is really critical,” she said. “It’s going to encourage the development of new innovative technology for Arctic operations that are both economic and environmentally sound. That’s really important.”

Shell has said that having a relief rig on standby would cost $250 million a year.

The requirement to have a relief well drilled within 45 days after an incident would allow the company to park a rig in Dutch Harbor, an estimated 20 days away from Shell’s farther lease areas. Or, the rules would allow what Shell has proposed for the Chukchi this year: Two working rigs, each serving as the standby for the other.

The rules also say a company may be able to avoid having a relief rig at all, if it can show that other technology provides the same protection.

Marilyn Heiman, who works on Arctic Ocean protection for the Pew Charitable Trusts, says she likes the proposed standards, especially the time limits.

“The big differences are the requirement to have a capping stack in place within 24 hours, a requirement to have a containment system within seven days and the requirement to have a relief rig readily available to drill a relief well,” said Heiman, who was the Alaska policy advisor in President Clinton’s Interior Department. (By “readily available” she means near enough to have a relief well in 45 days, rather than a delay that could be nearly a year-long, due to ice.)

The rules don’t set end dates for drilling, but they say it has to stop before seasonal ice returns, and they require the operators to conduct ice tracking and forecasting to predict when that will be.

Heiman says the 2010 Gulf spill proved a relief drilling rig is indispensible.

“Because if the capping stack doesn’t work, or if the containment system doesn’t work, we know in the Deep Water Horizon, they needed a relief well to actually control the blowout. So, I think that’s a critical piece of this,” she said.

Other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Oceana, praise the draft rules but say Arctic drilling remains too risky. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s reserving judgment until it’s clear the rules won’t deter investment.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Board Of Regents Approves 5% Tuition Increase

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 13:11

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 8-2 in favor of a 5 percent tuition hike for the 2015-16 academic year.

UA President Pat Gamble says this will total out to about $5 million more revenue for the university system.

The Board previously voted down a similar measure in September 2014, but opted to revisit the issue in light of an anticipated drop in state funding.

This is a developing story. Check  back for more.

Categories: Alaska News

Independent Power Producers Seek Utility Regulations Change

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 12:48

 Some Alaska alternative energy producers may benefit from new rules the Regulatory Commission of Alaska is considering. But other independents say the state’s power statutes are so antiquated they should be completely revised.  

Alaska Environmental Power, which harnesses wind energy, filed a petition with the RCA in August of 2013, asking for changes in current regulations that would facilitate independent producers’ access to the electrical grid. Right now, the price of independent power is too high, and that is blocking the growth of independent power companies, according to Teresa Clemmer, an attorney representing AEP. Clemmer says Alaska ‘s current regulations are discouraging private investment in alternative energy.

“Independent power producers are looking for a fair opportunity to compete. That’s all they want is an ability to sell their power at a competitive price and to increase the development of renewable energy by tapping the market forces that are willing to invest lots of money in Alaska.”

Part of the problem is the costs utilities face in purchasing alternative energy and integrating it into the power grid.

Clemmer says state regulations need to harmonize with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] rules when it comes to allowing emerging energy producers to use existing power infrastructure. A 1980s era federal law  encourages traditional electric companies to purchase power from non-traditional producers. Federal regulations require utilities to pay competitive prices for independently produced power under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act. PURPA says utilities must purchase lower-priced althernative power whenever possible.

 Clemmer says, only 3 percent of Alaska’s energy comes from renewable sources, compared with almost 38 percent in the Lower 48, because state regulations have not kept up with the times.

“We just wanted to bring the state law in line with what the rest of the country is doing.”

In 1982, the then Alaska Public Utilities Commission adopted PURPA, which set guidelines for rates and conditions for purchase and interconnection of alternatively produced power by the established utilities. But those guidelines are not enforced, according to Duff Mitchell, executive director of Alaska Independent Power Producers. Mitchell says AEP’s petition to RCA doesn’t go far enough.

“It makes some progress, but it doesn’t remove the barriers to connecting to the grid. The RCA  docket is relatively narrow in scope, and it is asking our state to come away from the dark ages, or pre-PURPA era into a current period where we treat IPP’s and avoided costs and integration costs on the same parity which is already the rule of the land in the lower 48.”

Mitchell is working on a privately funded hydro power project intended to provide power for Juneau when it is complete. He says it’ll connect with the grid at the Snettisham power line eight miles away. Mitchell says Alaska’s system now forces independents to pay multiple fees before their power even reaches consumers, because of each of the six major electric utilities owns a portion of the transmission lines linking Homer and Fairbanks.

“And so it makes it very difficult for an independent power which has inexpensive power to offer, and wants to do a phase two project, and maybe the current utility right next door to them doesn’t need the power, but somebody else further away, let’s say in Fairbanks, does, and yet you have to wheel that power between three other utilities, and so they pancake it, or they extract fees and costs, so that that power is no longer economical.”

Mitchell says, in Alaska, utilities own both generation and transmission of power.. which is counter to FERC rules. He favors a legislative fix to the independent’s problems.  A bill now before the state legislature, HB 78, would seek to address some of Mitchell’s concerns. 

Anchorage’s Chugach Electric has filed comments on the independent producers’  RCA docket, indicating that “individual utility boards… are in the best position to decide whether a particular project offers value to its customers.” Chugach spokesman Phil Steyer says that Chugach already buys power generated by Cook Inlet Regional’s Fire Island wind project. Steyer says his company is backing a different, but related, approach to the problem : unifying the six segments of the grid.

“A unified system operator for the railbelt could establish common rules of the road to include reliability standards and interconnection standards and it could collect through a universal tariff, the cost of operating, maintaining and expanding the existing regional grid.”

Steyer says, under the present system, it is difficult for the management of  electric cooperatives to see beyond their own service areas.  But Mitchell says the transmission lines are mostly state- funded, and should be open to all users. The RCA has accepted Alaska Environmental Power’s petition and Clemmer says at its most recent meeting, [Feb.11] RCA staffers presented language proposing the changes alternative energy producers want. She says the next step is an RCA draft rule and public comment. She says it is likely the RCA will make a decision on the issue by this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Our Own Geological Era

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 12:00

What if what we call the natural world no longer really exists, and we live already in a world of our own creation?  There is growing evidence that human activity has triggered a new geological era.  Scientists are debating whether the evidence we leave behind in the layers of the earth will be plastic, nuclear isotopes, changed biomass indicators, or other things, but they agree that humans have actually changed the planet.  The question is – how do we take responsibility for that, and what can we do from this point on?  It’s a question that means a lot for Alaska, and it’s what we’re talking about on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Christian Schwagerl, author, “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet”
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • 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, February 24, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Legalization In Alaska; And Sally Jewell’s Arctic Visit

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 08:00

First, we’re discussing what the legalization of marijuana coming up next Tuesday means for state residents in real terms. We’ll be breaking down the first step of implementing Ballot Measure 2. Decriminalization in Alaska hardly means there are no more rules when it comes to recreational marijuana.

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We’ll also bring you a report from the Alaska Public Radio Network’s Alexandra Gutierrez on a rare visit from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic Borough and the large group of lawmakers who were also in the Arctic.

Watch the full Sally Jewell press conference:

Categories: Alaska News

New Prelim ASD Budget Reinstates Middle School Model

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 22:42

The Anchorage School Board unanimously passed next year’s $784 million preliminary budget at their meeting Thursday night. It includes money for giving equal planning time to all middle school teachers and supplements the language immersion programs. But until the state legislature passes its budget, this one could still change.

The School Board voted to redirect $2 million away from a technology upgrade fund in order to reinstate the middle school team planning time, including for elective teachers. Board member Bettye Davis said the middle school model works and needs to be followed.

“I prefer that the money go toward the students rather than towards things at this time,” she told the board.

The money pays for an additional 20 full-time middle school teachers. The administration says they will continue to collect data on the effectiveness of the middle school model.

One hundred and fifty thousand dollars from the same technology fund will be used to hire teachers for primary school Chinese and French language immersion programs. In total, the preliminary budget adds in more than 60 new teaching positions.

However, ASD’s final budget will depend on the state legislature. Governor Bill Walker has removed some one-time education funding from his budget. That could leave the district with a $12 million shortfall. Board member Pat Higgins says the budget is not yet final.

“And I look forward to really addressing more issues later in late April, once the legislature gets out. That’s when we really finalize the budget. So for those who think this is it, it’s a long way from it.”

The district is required by the municipal charter to submit a budget to the Anchorage Assembly for approval by the first Monday in March.

Board member Kathleen Plunkett says this early deadline forces them to review the budget twice, which is inefficient. She’s looking to change the charter.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Seeks To Scale Up State Gasline Project

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 17:38

When Gov. Bill Walker was elected, there were questions about the fate of the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project. The proposed $10 billion state-owned gasline was viewed as a backup plan to the large line currently being pursued alongside the North Slope producers, but Walker had criticized the project as being redundant.

Now, Walker plans to keep the ASAP project alive — and scale it up. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The original Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline would have been able to transport half a billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. While that sounds like a lot, it’s really only enough to service Alaska consumers.

“I’m looking at upsizing that,” says Gov. Bill Walker.

Walker would like to substantially grow that project, so the state could sell gas to Asian buyers, too. It’s a change that makes the new version of ASAP look a lot like another gasline project the state is pursuing — the AKLNG project.

“We continue with parallel projects, but pretty darned close in size,” says Walker. “Envisioning whether it’s going to be a 42- or 48-inch line is something to be yet determined.”

So, if the projects basically look alike, and both have the same goal of getting North Slope natural gas to market, what’s the difference? And why have both of them in play?

The distinction is that with the AKLNG line, Alaska has a 25 percent share at most, with the pipeline company TransCanada getting a cut. The rest of the equity is split by Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and BP.

They way the ASAP project is currently structured, the state has total ownership. To scale it up, the state could court Asian buyers and offer them equity in the project in exchange for their investment. By pursuing a scaled-up version the ASAP project, Alaska would be positioned to be the majority stakeholder.

Walker would not definitively say which project concept he preferred, though he advocated for majority ownership in a gasline while campaigning. He also says only one large-diameter gasline will be constructed, describing the new iteration of the project as a backup in case the AKLNG project falls through.

Walker says he consulted with the North Slope producers on his new plan for ASAP, and that he did not face opposition from the North Slope producers when he informed them of his plans.

“I just couldn’t bet on one particular project,” says Walker. “I didn’t really receive any pushback from them on this.”

When contacted, a ConocoPhillips said they were still reviewing the changes to determine what they mean for the project, while a spokesperson for BP referred questions to the governor. Exxon offered a written statement.

“ExxonMobil management did receive a call from Governor Walker advising that an announcement was forthcoming on a State of Alaska ‘back up plan’ for gas development. The governor clearly stated that he was committed to Alaska LNG and only wants one project to proceed. ExxonMobil responded that the Alaska LNG team were actively engaged with his administration in progressing the project,” wrote Exxon spokesperson Kim Jordan. “Now that the governor has announced that the State of Alaska is sponsoring a project in direct competition with the Alaska LNG Project, we are assessing the impact on our forward plans.”

Meanwhile, members of legislative leadership are skeptical of Walker’s plan. Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, is one of the architects of the bill that created the ASAP project. He says taking on majority ownership creates extra risk for the state, and that the proposal could put the AKLNG line in jeopardy.

“The governor has introduced a great deal of uncertainty into my mind into what the state’s intent and mission is, and I know it has introduced that same uncertainty into our business partners minds,” says Hawker.

Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, also has concerns about how the project would work if the producers who control the gas leases are not major players in a project. He says that raises the question of whether Alaska would have an actual product to put on the market, and whether it would get a good price for it. His preference would be to partner with the producers, rather than the end buyers, to get a project built.

“I think if you align yourself with buyers, their main mission is to get the lowest price they can possibly get. Which translates into the lowest price for Alaskans,” says Johnson. “On the other hand, if you’re doing producers, they’re involved with negotiating the highest price, which means a better price and more money for the state of Alaska.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Walker said he did not believe any legislation or additional money was needed to move the ASAP project in a new direction. Legislators are currently reviewing that statement.

Categories: Alaska News

NAACP leads conversation on helping young men of color succeed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 17:37

 

Dr. Allia Carter and author Omar Tyree speak about helping young men of color succeed. Hillman/KSKA

Data from the state’s Department of Education and Early Development show that students of color drop out of high school at higher rates than white students. Anchorage’s chapter of the NAACP is trying to change that.  They hosted a community meeting on Wednesday night where a crowd  the Anchorage School District Boardroom to start a dialogue about helping young men of color succeed. Community members asked questions of two experts who have led programs to help young black men in the United States.

When the moderator asked what the community should do if they find the district is resistant to change or says there isn’t a problem, a murmur of recognition ran through the crowd. Parent Chrystel Bankhead-Scott nodded, wanting solutions. She says she feels like her son is being tracked and given fewer educational choices, though she says she doesn’t know if it’s linked to race.

“That’s why I’m here today,” she said after the meeting.  ”I’m so disappointed. In fact it’s mind blowing. I was shocked about what we were going through.”

Bankhead-Scott says she’s worried that other students are also being impacted.

Dr. Allia Carter is the interim vice president of student affairs at Darton State College in Georgia and was one of the speakers. She says schools are so institutionalized that it’s hard for teachers and administrators to form authentic relationships with the students. She says the solution starts with meeting the kids where they’re at as individuals.

“It’s all really about building that relationship. So the moment you connect with that child and you can truly see that they’re learning and inspired and want to learn, keep that going and stay motivated with that.”

But the solution needs to go beyond traditional teacher-parent-student relationships. Carter says it needs to involve the whole community.

The schools “need to reach out to the advocates for those children. Some times they’re not parents. They might be people who are affiliated with faith-based organizations, their youth organizations, their parks and rec departments. Those kind of people. And I think it’s time for all of us to step up and respond to our community’s needs.”

Community member and parent Adrienne Reed says it’s time to stop talking and start reaching out.

The conversation “needs to go to the junior highs and the high schools. The counselors, the community leaders, go into the classrooms, pull these young men out and ask them, ‘What is the disconnect? Why are you out here doing things that we shouldn’t be doing when you have so many other opportunities? What are we, as adults, as your community doing to fail you?’ Don’t just shove money down their throats, don’t just shove education down their throats. See what it is that they need.”

Reed says she’s ready to start knocking on doors and helping the young men of Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Tops Gallup’s Index of Well-Being

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:57

Gallup today released its annual Index of Well-Being, and for the first time, Alaska tops the list.

The researchers who produce the Gallup-Healthways report say Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014. The Gallup report doesn’t mention that the state has among the highest rates of suicide, sexual assault and other violence.

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Nonetheless, Alaskans working in the social services trenches were inclined to greet news of the report with open arms.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for United Way in Anchorage, says a friend had posted the story on her Facebook wall before she woke up.

“It’s awesome! I wasn’t even aware that we were even close to being number 1, so seeing that was really nice to know,” Brown said.

She got to work and found the well-being report all over her inbox, and it was the talk of her office. Brown says it was a real shot in the arm, a counterpoint to Alaska’s high ratings on all those other national indices: Suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse.

“It’s kind of ironic, I think, that we’ve got both of those things happening at the same time,” Brown said.

The well-being index is based on phone surveys – nearly 177,000 nationwide.

We couldn’t reach Gallup to ask how many were contacted in Alaska, but their website says the results weighted to match each state’s demographics. They asked about five areas: Sense of purpose, financial, social and physical health, and liking your community.

The research director said in media interviews Alaskans reported the lowest levels of stress, high blood pressure, and drug use. Remember: this is based on telephone surveys. It’s also No. 1 for having residents who help to improve their community. The community part rings true to Anne Weaver, a manager at the Fairbanks Community Food bank.

“I’m so excited to hear that because we get to see all the good in this community and we see it every single day,” Weaver said.

Weaver says people hear she works at a “Food bank” and they connect with the suffering. But she’s definitely a glass half-full type. As Weaver sees it, the food bank gives her an opportunity to witness amazing generosity, and to do her own bit for well-being.

“You know we typically serve approximately 150 people each day, and 40 percent of them are kids, so I can go home tonight knowing that I made 150 people’s day better,” Weaver said.

Peter Pinney, Executive Dean for the College of Rural and Community Development at UAF and president of a Fairbanks social services network, can’t vouch for Gallup’s methods or findings. But Pinney does see how the dark and light of Alaska’s well-being can both be true.

“Well, certainly we are leaders in lots of bad indicators in certain areas, but overall, depending on who you talk to, it is a state where people do pay attention and look out for each other,” Pinney said.

Pinney says Alaska has higher than average rates of philanthropy and volunteering, particularly in the social services sector.

“So even though we have issues, we have a lot of people working on those issues,” Pinney said.

You might think people immersed in that work would be inclined to dismiss a well-being survey that doesn’t mention Alaska’s serious problems, but Suicide Prevention trainer Eric Boyer at UAA says he’s happy for it.

“If you think about resilience in a community, they need to know that some things that we’re doing are good, and have some positive,” Boyer said.

Boyer says he thinks Gallup did tap into something real about Alaska, but maybe just one side of a dichotomy.

Categories: Alaska News

YKEDC Gets Grant to Improve Economy, Housing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:54

Bethel dorms feature the integrated truss design. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

The State of Alaska has awarded a grant to the Yukon Kuskokwim Economic Development Council, YKEDC, for a truss-manufacturing project.

If the plan goes forward, local workers would use the region’s wood resources to build frames for highly energy efficient housing.

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If all goes as planned, there will be a truss manufacturing plant in Bethel supplied by logging operations and saw mills in upriver villages, within the next few years.

Brent Latham is the Economic and Energy Development Director at theAssociation of Village Council Presidents, AVCP, the regional tribal non-profit that houses the new YKEDC, for which he’s also director. He says the project has the potential to create new jobs in one of the state’s most economically depressed regions.

“It would be dozens of jobs, in my thinking, especially with the truss-manufacturing plant combined with the additional jobs that would be needed to harvest timber and make lumber out of timber,” said Latham.

The grant of about $70,000 was awarded January 23rd. Half of it was awarded immediately and the other half will be dispersed after a mid-year report is submitted. The funds are intended to support the truss-manufacturing project from assessment and feasibility to implementation.

AVCP Crews prepare to put the integrated truss building that will be new dormitories for their flight and aircraft maintenance schools. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

AVCP President Myron Naneng says local manufacturing could have cost advantages for building housing.

“[We’re] trying to find ways to reduce cost of ordering material from out of state sources, and also have some of the supplies in Bethel that can be shipped to the local area villages,” said Naneng.

The goal is to promote regional economic development and improve housing. 40 percent of housing stock in the region is considered over crowded and about 3,000 homes should be replaced according to a feasibility study produced for AVCP by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and funded by the state of Alaska. Jack Hebert is CEO for the non-profit that works to develop energy efficient building technology adapted for the arctic. He says the plant would supply trusses made from local white spruce for a their ‘integrated truss’ design. Hebert says the design isn’t fancy but it’s adaptable and much more energy efficient than the houses that exist in the region now.

“Our typical home that’s built with this technique, a house that would use, a regular framed house, about 1200 gallons a year in fuel, uses more like 200 hundred gallons a year in fuel. It’s about an 80 percent reduction,” said Hebert.

Hebert says the Cold Climate Housing Research Center has tested the design throughout the state and has two duplexes that use it under construction in Bethel now. Eventually they’ll serve as dormitories for AVCP flight and aircraft maintenance schools.

Nolan Klouda, withUniversity of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Economic Development is developing business plans for the project.

“Our role in the project is to help with the business analysis and the business planning. So we’re going to be doing some financial modeling and projections on the two business operations really, the sawmill and the truss plant,” said Klouda.

Klouda says the business planning should be done by the end of June. AVCP and YKEDC officials say they still have to secure construction funding and probably won’t break ground on the truss plant until 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 19, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:53

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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Walker Aims To Ramp Up Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline Project

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When Gov. Bill Walker was elected, there were questions about the fate of the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project. The proposed $10 billion state-owned gasline was viewed as a backup plan to the large line currently being pursued alongside the North Slope producers, but Walker had criticized the project as being redundant.

Now, Walker not only plans to keep the ASAP project alive – he wants to scale up.

New Alaska Branch of Americans For Prosperity Campaigns Against Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently opened an office in Anchorage. They’re working to convince elected officials to support their vision of smaller government. And one of their main priorities this legislative session is defeating Medicaid expansion.

Tlingit Masks On ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Draw Questions From Southeast Alaska

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A recent episode of the popular PBS program “Antiques Roadshow” caught the attention of some Southeast residents when a couple of 200-year-old Tlingit masks from Haines appeared on-screen. It sparked the interests of regional Natives and historians and raised questions about how the items ended up in the Midwest.

Alaska Tops Gallup’s Index of Well-Being

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Gallup today released its annual Index of Well-Being, and for the first time, Alaska tops the list. The researchers who produce the Gallup-Healthways report say Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014.  The Gallup report doesn’t mention that the state has among the highest rates of suicide, sexual assault and other violence. Nonetheless, Alaskans working in the social services trenches were inclined to greet news of the report with open arms.

Seward Highway Reopened After Rock Slide

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A rockslide closed the Seward Highway in both directions for about two hours Thursday morning.

Tanaina Supporters Appeal To UA Board of Regents

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Supporters of the Tanaina Child Development Center appealed on Thursday to the University of Alaska Board of Regents …urging the board to help save the day care center. Tanaina was informed it would need to find a new home late last month, when UAA opted to end an agreement which allowed the childcare facility space on campus.

YKEDC Gets Grant to Improve Economy, Housing

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The State of Alaska has awarded a grant to the Yukon Kuskokwim Economic Development Council, or YKEDC, for a truss-manufacturing project. If the plan goes forward, local workers would use the region’s wood resources to build frames for highly energy efficient housing.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanaina Supporters Appeal To UA Board of Regents

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:20

Tanaina supporters voiced their concerns to the University of Alaska Board of Regents. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Supporters of the Tanaina Child Development Center appealed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents on Thursday, urging the board to help save Tanaina.

The center was informed it would need to find a new home late last month, when UAA opted to end an agreement which allowed the childcare facility space on campus. 

Max Kullberg is an assistant professor with the WWAMI program at UAA, and one of several Tanaina parents to testify. Aside from being a faculty member and parent, though – Kullberg is also a graduate of the program.

“All my earliest memories come from Tanaina,” Kullberg said. ”I believe my very first memory is sticking my tongue to a yellow metal duck out on the playground, and being stuck to that duck – howling as the teachers ran to get warm water and pry my mouth from it.”

“I remember nap time; I remember my best friends; I remember my teachers; and I remember trying cottage cheese for the first time.”

Kullberg’s three-year-old daughter attends Tanaina, and he hopes his son will be able to go next year.

Kullberg’s desire to keep Tanaina open and on campus echoed that of the other supporters at the meeting.

Jo Heckman is the chair of the Board of Regents. She says the board understands it’s a sensitive and emotional issue for those affected by the decision.

“I, myself, am a mom,” Heckman said. ”So I understand what displacement does to people, their work lives and their ability to function in a work environment.”

And Heckman says she also sees it from the university’s point of view, with the bleak outlook on state funding. Heckman says public testimony is a good opportunity to listen, but ultimately, the Tanaina decision isn’t one the board will be involved in.

“Board of Regents will allow the chancellors to run their universities,” Heckman said. ”Otherwise, we would be doing their job, and really I don’t think that’s the right thing for us to do as a governance body.”

Heckman says the scope of the board is to provide oversight and policy to the university system…not to make decisions at the campus level.

UAA has created a task force, involving university students, staff and faculty, Tanaina board members along with non-profit and early childhood development experts to help figure out a future for the center.

Megan Olson is UAA’s vice chancellor for University Advancement and a member of the task force. Much of the discussion over the last few weeks has surrounded the issue of space, but she says the group’s first task is to define and lay out Tanaina’s goals.

“Once we define that dream, I think we need to start planning toward that, and then the space will come,” Olson said.

Olson says the task force hopes to meet weekly. She says the university has also committed $10,000 dollars to help cover Tanaina’s rent expenses over the summer.

The center has to vacate it’s space on the UAA campus by May 8th.

Public testimony will continue Friday morning at the Board of Regents meeting in Anchorage.

 

Categories: Alaska News

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