Alaska News

Small-scale hydro project comes online in Iguigig

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 17:31

A prototype in-river hydropower system is currently in operation at Igiugig in southwest Alaska.  It’s part of a recent surge of research that has pushed in-river hydro power closer to becoming a reality for rural communities seeking an alternative to diesel-based electricity.
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Given that most rural communities in western and interior Alaska are situated on rivers, hydropower seems like an obvious renewable energy source.

Putting up dams on big rivers like the Yukon is unlikely to happen for environmental and economic reasons, but in-river hydropower is a possibility.  An in-river power system is like a wind mill, but in the water, using the kinetic energy of flowing waters to move blades, which spin a turbine and create electricity.

Photo: Alaska Center for Energy and Power.

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative President and CEO Meera Kohler is keeping an eye on developments with in-river hydro technology, and says it has some promise for her member communities scattered across rural Alaska.  But there’s a catch:

“Obviously, moving water has a lot of energy associated with it, and trying to harness that is the goal.  But being able to harness it with destroying the machine that is harnessing it every couple of weeks – that’s the challenge.”

The destruction that Kohler is referring to would come from one of in-river hydro’s biggest challenges to date: driftwood and debris.  Tests of small in-river turbines at Ruby on the middle Yukon River and Eagle on the upper Yukon were constantly plagued by driftwood.

Unlike the design tested at Ruby and Eagle, which was suspended just under the surface of the water by a small pontoon platform, the prototype in use at Iguigig right now sits on the river bottom.  It’s much wider than it is tall and looks like an old fashioned push lawn mower rather than a typical wind mill or table fan shape.

The prototype is called the RivGen, and it was designed by Ocean Renewable Power Company, which is based in Maine but has an office and several projects underway in Alaska.  Monty Worthington is ORPC’s Director of Project Development.  Having a hydropower system sitting on the bottom of a river, Worthington says, has several advantages.  It works quietly and out of sight, but….

“More importantly it gets us down below the floating debris in a river.  That can be wood, that can be ice in some cases.  Anything that is floating on the surface of the river we are no longer in the way of, and it also includes impeding navigation in certain areas, so we can be down a depth where boats are able to pass freely over the device.”

If placed in a river like the Yukon, the RivGen or any in-river hydropower system would still have to contend with heavy amounts of silt, grinding into and ruining moving parts.  Worthington says that ORPC has been testing various styles of bearings and seals for 6 years through a partnership with UAA, and have found some promising solutions.  But even materials containing diamonds are proving to be susceptible to silt damage over time, so bearings will need to be replaced as part of routine maintenance.

The RivGen test site on the Kvichak River at Igiugig is clear and mostly free of debris – not an ideal place to test the turbine’s ability to deal with driftwood and silt.  But the clear water does give researchers a better chance to watch how the blades impact fish, another important environmental consideration that hydropower designers must deal with.

At a test site on the Tanana River at Nenana, researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Energy and Power are putting some different in-river hydro designs through their paces in more challenging environment, including lots of driftwood and silt.

The most recent design to be tested comes from Oceana Energy Company.  It’s suspended just under the surface from a barge, and looks like a ring with shark fins embedded around it.  According to Alaska Hydrokinetic Research Center Program Director Jeremy Kaspar, the Oceana system worked without a problem for a month last fall and a month earlier this summer.  The Oceana unit was protected by a UAF-designed debris diverter placed just upstream, which Kaspar says was highly effective.

“The debris diverter is kind of a V, and we can adjust the angle.  At the tip of the V, there is a cyclinder that rotates, and when the debris hits that cylinder the debris starts to rotate it and the debris slides off the sides.”

The UAF team also changed the anchoring system to rely on a single line instead of many, reducing the amount of driftwood getting caught by the lines.

Future research is going to look at the potential problems caused by subsurface debris, like water-logged trees and root balls that bounce along the bottom of a river.  When silty water does not allow for video cameras to get a look at what’s going on, Kaspar says the researchers will use sonar.

“The other thing that we are going to be doing in conjunction with the sonar is having a mechanical means of detecting debris – basically we’re gonna put down a grate near the bottom and see if we can get some simultaneous impact measurements along with the sonar.  So then we will know what the sonar is seeing and what the impact forces are.”

As more of the engineering hurdles are crossed, Kaspar predicts that in another five years in-river hydropower systems will be ready for widespread use across Alaska.

“I am hoping that we start convincing the Department of Energy that they really need to fund these pilot projects in places like Alaska.  I think what we will probably see in the next few years is a few communities – Igiugig is almost there – adapting these technologies, with partnerships between the developer and the community.”

Regardless of the technical advances with in-river hydropower systems, no one thinks they can survive spring breakup, so they are all being designed to be removed from the water in the fall or winter before the ice goes out.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker visits Sitka, meets with families of those presumed dead

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 17:19

Governor Bill Walker was in Sitka today to assess the damage from a series of landslides that hit the city after heavy rains Tuesday (August 18). He also met with the families of three people missing since Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the search for the three men was proceeding slowly, hampered by fears of further landslides.

Gov. Walker visited Sitka a day after the fatal landslides. Photo: Governor’s office.

Walker arrived in Sitka early Wednesday morning and flew over the affected areas in a Coast Guard helicopter.

But, he said, it wasn’t until he was standing on the edge of the Kramer Avenue landslide — where trees are stacked 15 feet high and there’s a blank space on the hillside where a house used to be — that the scale of destruction came home to him.

“I mean, the size of the logs, they showed me a picture of the house before. I mean it was a substantial, significant size house…the devastation was just amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Three men are missing and presumed dead after a river of mud and debris wiped out a house and much of the road on Kramer Avenue, a new neighborhood about three miles from downtown Sitka. Walker said it reminded him of the scene in Valdez after the 1964 earthquake, and said he was “overwhelmed.”

“I’ve been governor about nine months now. I’ve prided myself by saying I’ve never had a bad day. Well. I can’t say that anymore. This is a really tough day. So.”

In a Tweet, Gov. Walker thanked local EMS responders for their efforts. Photo: Governor’s office.

Walker also met with the families of the missing men. All three were involved in construction in the neighborhood. William Stortz, age 62, is Sitka’s building official. He was inspecting the site Tuesday morning. Brothers Ulises and Elmer Diaz, ages 25 and 26, were working on one of the houses.

Meeting with family and friends of the Diaz brothers at Sitka’s Grace Harbor Church, Walker said he shared their frustration that search efforts aren’t happening faster. The area around the landslide remains unstable, and search teams have been held up by concerns about more landslides.

During a news conference with the Governor at Sitka’s Fire Hall, City Administrator Mark Gorman, choked up as he spoke about the three missing men — and Sitka’s response. Hundreds of Sitkans have signed up to volunteer in the search, or have dropped off food for those working on the search and evacuated from their homes.

“And what I found in the last 24 hours is heart-wrenching and it’s about community. William is a friend of many years, a…the Diaz boys grew up with my sons. And this is what this is about today. It’s about hurt and caring in our community…At the same time, I offer my profound gratitude to this community. It’s been a remarkably humbling experience to see the act of care and giving that is universal in Sitka. This is what this town is about.”

Gorman was echoed by Fire Chief Dave Miller. Miller said he’s worked with the Sitka Fire Department for about 28 years.

“And I think yesterday was, um, one of the hardest days of my life. When I had to talk to those family members and say, I am so sorry. First for what happened, and then that we are not allowing those teams to go in and start looking for your family members. The thing we have to worry about is, the safety of all the others, too.”

Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell said she’s not yet ready to give up hope.

“It’s been a sad time, but there’s still people that have hope. And that’s the important thing that I think a lot of us need to keep in mind, is that, miracles do happen. And there are family members and friends that are hanging onto that, and I support that. You just never know. So we’re hopeful. And I’m going to stay that way until it just doesn’t make sense to be that way.”

Sitka has requested that the Governor declare a state of emergency, which would open up access to state funds for the response. Walker said the request is his staff’s top priority, and would be answered as soon as possible.

Categories: Alaska News

Ellis sentenced to 3 years, 2 suspended for death of cyclist Dusenbury

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 16:51

Judge Michael Wolverton as he prepared to issue the sentence. Hillman/KSKA

An Anchorage teen who pleaded guilty to hitting and killing a man on a bicycle will be sentenced to three years in prison with two suspended. Judge Michael Wolverton accepted the plea deal agreed to earlier this year.

Alexandra Ellis was 17 when she struck 51-year-old Jeff Dusenbury with her pickup on an Anchorage neighborhood street. Despite arguments by the defense that she be treated as a juvenile, she will serve time as an adult.

The sentencing hearing began on Friday and primarily focused on the scene of the accident and how fast the vehicle and bicycle were traveling. Wednesday’s testimony focused on Ellis’ ability to overcome her alcohol and substance abuse problems. Her substance abuse counselor said Ellis seemed fully committed to her treatment.

Before the accident she had spent nine months in a residential treatment facility as well. But as Ellis sobbed in the background, her father, Maurice Ellis, said she had changed since that day last July.

Maurice Ellis addressed the court during the sentencing hearing for his daughter, Alexandra.

“I would say undoubtedly, without a question in my mind, Jeff Dusenbury has saved my daughter,” he paused. “That’s the only way that I’m able to rationalize this whole thing—that he saved my daughter. That my daughter has a chance at a healthy, happy life because of him.”

Before the final sentencing, Ellis herself addressed the court and apologized to Dusenbury’s family.

“And I would like to end with saying I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the best version of the self that I can,” she said before breaking into sobs. “I’m very sorry for how I’ve hurt you and that I’ve taken away your dad. I’m so sorry. It will never be enough just to say it.”

In making his final decision, Judge Wolverton said the situation was sad for everyone involved, but he had no legal basis for rejecting the plea deal. He assured the public that the probation system works, and if a person breaks the conditions of probation they will face consequences. He then addressed Ellis directly.

Jeff Dusenbury was killed on July 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of the Jeff Dusenbury Sweatfest website.

“If you don’t make those lifelong, permanent changes, none of this will have made any sense whatsoever. None of it,” he said. “I think you can do that. I’m convinced based upon what’s been presented to me that you can do that.”

Both sides declined to comment on the outcome. Ellis will start serving her jail term on October 24.

Categories: Alaska News

Flint Hills refinery asks for looser cleanup standards

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 16:30

Flint Hills continues to push for a less stringent standard for removal of a spilled chemical from groundwater at the company’s shuttered North Pole refinery. Removal of the industrial solvent sulfolane is costing the refinery a lot of money, and opinions differ on how clean groundwater should be.

Historic sulfone spills at the refinery spread to groundwater, and Flint Hills is trying to purge the chemical from the water according to a state clean up plan. The state set the clean up standard of 15 parts per billion while it awaits results of two-year federal study on health effects of drinking low concentrations of the chemical.

Flint Hills has asked the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to consider upping the standard to 362 parts per billion, a level Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook says is backed by a state sanctioned review.

“They went ahead and convened a panel of experts last fall at the University of Alaska. And they determined — with the consideration of being safe,and putting in some parameters to take care of uncertainties — that Flint Hills was on the right track.”

Flint Hills has filed a request seeking an adjudicatory hearing on the clean up standard. Cook says it costs Flint Hills significantly more money to meet the more stringent standard, but stresses that the company continues to adhere to it.

The body of research on sulfolane is small relative to what’s known about effects other industrial contaminants and DEC Spill Prevention and Response Director Kristin Ryan points to that uncertainty in erring on the cautious side until the study, using testing on animals is complete.

Ryan stresses that the cleanup standard Flint Hills is contesting is for groundwater cleanup on  refinery property.

The on site contamination is the source of pollution that’s spread to wells on hundreds of  surrounding properties in North Pole, where about 1,500 people live. Flint Hills has been providing effected residents with drinking water alternatives, including bulk water deliveries and installation of well water filtration systems, since the contamination was first discovered off site in 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Glacier Bay’s missing stories find a new home in Tlingit tribal house

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 15:56

A $3 million Tlingit tribal house is being constructed on the shore of Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay – likely the first time the National Park Service has funded a tribal house.

An artist’s rendering of the Huna Tribal House. (Image courtesy National Park Service)

Three carvers are chipping away on an Eagle moiety pole that will go outside the red cedar tribal house with a Raven. The crest of a Wolf, Porpoise, Brown Bear and Thunderbird are starting to form, representing the clans in the area.

Gordon Greenwald, the lead carver, says it’s taken over a month to get this far on the totem and it’ll likely be six more before it’s finished.

“Now we could complete it faster than that if we used some machines. Chainsaws and so forth to do some of the major cutting but we’ve chosen not to do it that way. We’re trying to do it all by hand.”

His team has been carving the pieces to go in the 2,500-square-foot Huna Tribal House for about five years. There’s a constant flood of cruise ship tourists in and out of the shed, asking questions and marveling at the handiwork. But Greenwald says he doesn’t mind.

“For people that are new to this area, it gives them a chance to learn about our people. Going away knowing  Tlingit people, knowing what our life was like. And for local people, they can stop and see something is being made in our homeland,” he says.

The house posts which will go in the Huna Tribal House. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

An interior and exterior screen is already complete. So are the house posts of the four clans that identify Glacier Bay as home:Wooshkeetaan, Chookaneidí, Kaagwaantaan and T’akdeintaan.

Tom VandenBerg, the chief of interpretation at Glacier Bay National Park says the clans are an inextricable part of the story of Glacier Bay.

“But there’s no physical sign of their history here unfortunately,” he says.

Bartlett Cove is the site of the new tribal house. It’s where the clans originally resided until an encroaching glacier forced them to relocate hundreds of years ago to what’s now called Hoonah. In 1925, Glacier Bay became a national monument and federal laws limited what the Huna Tlingit could do in their homeland.

“It’s difficult, you know. The parks service represents the stories of our nation. And it seems like some of the Native stories have been missing from some parks.”

VandenBerg says there are places like Sitka National Historic Park with Southeast Native totems, but “there’s not much in the way of Alaska Native stories being told in parks.”

The National Park Service received a request from the Hoonah Indian Association back in 1992 to build the tribal house. VandenBerg is unaware of anything else like it: a ceremonial house paid for by concessioners fees from businesses that operate within Glacier Bay.

Tlingit elder and park management assistant Ken Grant says it’s going to be an emotional day when the tribal house is finished.

“Our people really have a strong tie to the homeland. The feeling of being left out has been with our elders for a long time. Like they say in our language: they were buried with a sorrow in their hearts,” Grant says.

He hopes that it’ll provide a space for young Huna Tlingits to learn about their roots and enhance language and cultural preservation.

Gordon Greenwald says it’s been a long time for the project to come fruition.

“But now I’m looking back on it, I’m wondering why this hadn’t happened in all the other parks long ago,” he says.

Back at the shed, carvers Owen James and Herb Sheakley are singing a song about one of the Huna clans.

When Sheakley started this project five years ago, he says he didn’t know all of the stories and he didn’t know how to carve. He’s been practicing at home, making ceremonial hats out of spruce and working on the Eagle pole.

“It’s stuff like this that keeps me going. I can actually create this now,” he says. “Before I could look at this and say, ‘Hmm, I couldn’t do that.’ Making the knives, listening to my boss teaching me the formlines, this is the kind of thing I’m making now.”

Greenwald says he owes teaching to his mentors; passing on the knowledge so it doesn’t stop with him.

“On all of this work, none of us will sign it because none of this work is about us as individuals; it’s about our people,” Greenwald says.

The Huna Tribal House is expected to be dedicated next August.

Categories: Alaska News

Out with Mew, in with the new: Anchorage hires a new police chief

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 15:25

A man with a long history in drug enforcement will take the reins as Anchorage’s new police chief. The city administration says he’ll be in step with a plan to develop a community policing model.

Chris Tolley will take over as Anchorage Chief of Police when current chief Mark Mew steps down in mid October. Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz made the announcement at city hall on Wednesday. Tolley has spent the past 28 years as a special agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the last four of them based in Anchorage. He will begin his stint as a city employee as acting Deputy Chief at APD on September first. Berkowitz said, by way of introducing Tolley, that the deputy job helps ensure a smooth transition.

“His experience, not just around the world and across the country, but here in Anchorage gives him the ability to understand what we do with APD and the ways that we can move forward. At the same time, because he is not directly from the APD family, he’s going to bring a fresh perspective, that I think will help us achieve a better police force moving ahead, able to achieve the kind of diversity within the force that we aspire to.”

From left to right: Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz, incoming APD chief Chris Tolley, outgoing police chief Mark Mew. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Tolley began his law enforcement career as a beat cop in Baltimore 36 years ago. His experience since them exposed him to many aspects of police work. With DEA, he worked both in the US and abroad. Tolley says his background in partnering with domestic and foreign law enforcement will help the APD move in new directions.

“And crime has no boundaries. It is no longer confined to a single city. With the Internet, social media and global travel, law enforcement must extend to one another – local, state, federal and international. Our municipality faces many challenges.. the homeless, drug addiction and violence, all influenced from outside our jurisdiction.”

Tolley’s DEA experience took him to Hong Kong, Vietnam and to Hawaii, where he worked to eradicate marijuana. He has also worked as an undercover agent combating drug transportation, and has a background with the DEA’s Los Angeles office as a manager and personnel trainer.

Current APD chief, Mark Mew, will step down on October 12 to pursue new opportunities with the Bering Straits Native Corporation. Mew has high praise for Tolley

“I think this is a great choice for the next step for the Anchorage police department. I’ve worked with Chris for four years now on a lot of different projects and I know his skill level and his depth of character, and I think he’ll be an excellent choice to lead the Anchorage police department moving forward.”

Berkowitz thanked Mew for his five and a half years of service, saying that during Mew’s tenure, the department wrestled with a lack of staffing.

“I also want to take this occasion to thank Chief Mew for exemplary service under for what has been difficult and trying times.”

The city is working to prepare a budget that will train and put more officers on the street, Berkowitz said. The mayor and Tolley emphasized that a new philosophy of policing is evolving, as well. Tolley says community policing begins with dialogue with community figures.

“Policing’s changed very much since the days I began, when you just take control of a situation and take action swiftly. Today, it’s so important to give everyone a voice. And I want to take the time to listen to them, make sure our officers are trained to do just that.”

He says he wants the force to reflect the city’s diversity.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble asks to subpoena former EPA official

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 10:49

Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham

The Pebble Limited Partnership is asking for a former Environmental Protection Agency official to be subpoenaed as part of the lawsuit over the agency’s alleged violation of federal regulations.

In an August 17 motion, lawyers for the Pebble Partnership asked a federal court to subpoena former EPA employee Phillip North.

According to court documents, North is believed to reside in Australia. In the motion, the partnership asserts that North worked with Federal Advisory Committees on use of the Clean Water Act to prevent the development of the mine.

The motion also says North collaborated with other entities on the Tribes’ eventual petition to the EPA.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the partnership, asserts that the EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the motion alleges that North was an important figure in that activity.

According to the motion, some records of North’s work at the EPA is no longer available, and he shut down his personal email on which some of the alleged communication is said to have occurred, so he needs to testify in person about his activities.

Essentially, the partnership says the EPA acted improperly in its communication and coordination with other entities on the EPA’s consideration of a Clean Water Act designation. The partnership wants to develop a mine there; the EPA’s proposed designation would prevent that by restricting the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed for disposing of dredged and fill material from the mine.

A decision on the proposed designation is on hold due to the lawsuit.

In an email, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which is representing the EPA in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the motion. An EPA spokeswoman also told KDLG News that her agency wasn’t commenting on the filing, as its part of ongoing litigation.

The Pebble filing says that the organization discussed the motion with counsel for the defendant in the case, which is the EPA, and they didn’t oppose it.

A lawyer for the partnership also did not respond to a call from KDLG News.

The case is in front of Federal District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, who denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case in June.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka landslides: Part of a larger landscape change?

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 08:57

The landslides that struck Sitka early Tuesday morning (8-18-15) are the latest in a series of similar events that started in 2011. Although these slides are triggered by a combination of wind and rainfall, forecasters believe it’s too early to correlate these incidents with changing weather patterns — but that may change.

In the weather forecasting business, you win some and you lose some. That was the case in Sitka Tuesday morning, and forecaster Joel Curtis realized he had blown the call.

“I did underestimate the amount of rain we were going to get here. I was thinking somewhere over an inch, and the last 6-hour total that I checked was 2.57 inches. So it’s really been coming down.”

That rain fell between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., triggering two major slides in Sitka — one of them possibly deadly — and several smaller slides.

Curtis is the Warning and Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. He was in Sitka anyway for a training with the Coast Guard’s Air Station Sitka, when he got pulled in first to help manage a major fuel spill over the weekend, and now this.

And even though he’s not a geologist, he considers this type of mudslide to be an environmental event that starts with weather.

“Just a rough estimate: It takes about 15 miles per hour to start moving a tree trunk in the wind. And the more leaves that you have on the tree, or the branches or whatever that can catch the wind, the more movement you can get on the trunk. And so if you took some alder trees that were fully leafed out at this time of year and moved them around, you could actually get the roots moving pretty quick — and that’s just one disturbance in the soil.”

Other disturbances, Curtis says, include the freeze-thaw cycle — which doesn’t apply in this situation — and human activity, which does. Tuesday’s slide rolled right through a construction site, obliterating one new home and damaging another.

Whatever the trigger, the day’s slides were not isolated events. It’s been happening a lot lately. Curtis, though, is not pointing a finger — yet.

“This place is famous for large amounts of rainfall. So the fact that we’re having a warmer and wetter winter — and a warmer and wetter summer, if you will, because the pattern is already started — you look at that and say, Gosh there must be some correlation, because it’s happening with more and more frequency. But that also could be randomness and luck.”

Working backwards over Sitka’s recent slide history, there was the Starrigavan slide in September of 2014, which wiped out a huge area of the valley’s watershed, including an extensive Forest Service habitat project. The same weather event washed out the Herring Cove Trail and a section of Harbor Mountain Road.  There was the Redoubt Lake slide in May of 2013, which buried a Forest Service recreation cabin after a Sitka couple narrowly made their escape; and there was the Beaver Lake slide in December, 2011, which toppled an old-growth forest along a popular trail. 400-700 year-old spruce trees were stacked like Lincoln Logs.

And these were just the events that affected people and made news.

“It’s at least somewhat elusive to say that, ‘Gosh we’re getting into a high frequency pattern because of some particular environmental effect.’ But that being said, I would sure want to correlate that to amounts of heavy precipitation. And I think a statistical study might actually lend itself to that.”

Curtis says there just isn’t the science to support a conclusion between changes in weather and increased landslides — at least not at the moment. He says the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau Campus is planning to develop a landslide program, and he’s looking forward to seeing their data.

Until then the National Weather Service won’t be able to issue landslide advisories or watches, unless a landslide actually happens. “For the time being,” he says, “we’re more reactive than proactive.”

Categories: Alaska News

S&P says Alaska’s bond rating jeopardized by budget deficit

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-08-19 08:36

A ratings agency says Alaska’s bond rating could be lowered if more isn’t done by the state to address its large budget deficit.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook from stable to negative in a ratings report released Tuesday.

The agency said it would likely lower the rating, possibly by more than one notch, if legislators don’t enact measures to begin correcting Alaska’s “fiscal imbalance” within the next year. Conversely, it said the bond rating could be maintained if lawmakers put Alaska on a path to a sustainable budget, with strong reserves intact.

Alaska is dealing with multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices and using savings to help balance the budget. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration has been holding public meetings to outline for Alaskans the state’s fiscal options.

Categories: Alaska News

3 missing persons in Sitka landslide ID’d; Rescue efforts begin anew

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 22:33

A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)

Three people are missing after heavy rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka Tuesday morning.

Governor Bill Walker plans to be in the city Wednesday to visit the affected areas.


On Tuesday evening, the city identified the missing people as Sitka Building Official William Stortz, age 62; Elmer Diaz, age 26; and Ulises Diaz, age 25.

All three were involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue, about two miles from downtown Sitka. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another.

The area remained unstable Tuesday afternoon and officials suspended search and rescue efforts for several hours, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. As of Tuesday evening, search and debris removal efforts had begun again, with plans to continue Wednesday morning.

The neighborhood below the slide was evacuated. Neighbors reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that hasn’t yet been developed.

Heavy rains triggered what now appear to be at least six landslides in Sitka Tuesday morning, prompting the city to declare a state of emergency.

In addition to the two on Kramer Avenue, a slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka’s former pulp mill site, about eight miles from downtown. No injuries were reported, but the building was evacuated, along with bunkhouses belonging to local fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods. Sawmill Creek Road was closed past the industrial park as crews worked to remove the debris.

A fourth slide was reported in a more remote area, on Harbor Mountain, closing Harbor Mountain Road. Other slides were reported at Green Lake, and along the Gavan Hill trail.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM. Tuesday.

The flash-flooding prompted temporary trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. And flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center on Halibut Point Road opened a sinkhole the size of a large van in the pavement, threatening two propane tanks, which were safely removed from the site.

Gov. Bill Walker announced Tuesday night that he will be in Sitka on Wednesday, and will visit the site of the Kramer Avenue landslide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, August 18, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:47

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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Recovery efforts of 4 missing persons suspended until terrain stabilizes

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Four people are believed missing after rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka early Tuesday morning. Recovery efforts have been suspended while officials wait for the affected slopes to stabilize.

Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A legislative panel has voted to sue Governor Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage this morning.

A project to remap Alaska reaches its halfway mark

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

An effort to remap Alaska celebrated its half-way mark Tuesday during a ‘skybreaking’ ceremony in Anchorage. The remapping initiative is a significant undertaking for the state.

Yukon king run shows signs of recovery

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Chinook salmon continue to swim up the Yukon River, the latest indication that the long ailing run may have turned a corner toward recovery.

Anchorage hospitals appeal state’s ER bed cap

Associated Press

Anchorage’s two largest hospitals are appealing the state’s recent allocation decisions in hopes of building more emergency room beds in the next several years.

Woman pleads guilty to running a sex-trafficking ring, sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Monday afternoon Amber Batts was sentenced to five and half years in prison after pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree. The defendant was running the sex trade business “Sensual Alaska” that served people around the state.

Life’s curvy road leads to homelessness for some

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

People don’t usually plan to experience homelessness; life just takes unexpected turns. But for some guests of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, like Michael Hindman, the experience leaves them with more hope than anything else.

A lifetime of fighting: A history of Alaska LGBT rights

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Alaskans voted in 1998 to define marriage in the state constitution as only between a man and a woman. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated that definition, Alaska and the entire country has marriage equality. Alaska’s fight for gay rights began half a lifetime ago.

Can we call it ‘Hoo-Brew’? A new brewery opens in Hoonah

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

On Saturday, a Hoonah microbrewery is opening its doors to serve the village a variety of craft beers. Kegs used to practically disappear around the same time tourists did. Now fresh pints are guaranteed through winter.

Categories: Alaska News

Recovery efforts of 3 missing persons suspended until terrain stabilizes

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:38

—-UPDATE: 5:19 p.m.—–

Officials now say only three people remain missing in today’s landslide: City building official William Stortz, 62, and construction workers Elmer Diaz,26, and Ulises Diaz, 25.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts for several hours this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. As of Tuesday evening, rescue and debris removal efforts had begun again, and were planned to continue until dark, and pick up again in the morning.

—-Original story, 4:32 p.m.—-

Four people are believed missing after rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka early Tuesday morning. Recovery efforts have been suspended while officials wait for the affected slopes to stabilize.

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A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)

Those missing were all likely involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue, about two miles from downtown Sitka. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another, though the full extent of the damage was still unclear Tuesday afternoon.

Neighbors have reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that has not yet been developed.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. The neighborhood below the slide has been evacuated.

Heavy rains triggered what now appears to be at least three major landslides — and a handful of smaller ones — in Sitka this morning, prompting the city to declare a state of emergency.

A slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka’s former pulp mill site, about eight miles from downtown. No injuries were reported, but the building was evacuated, along with bunkhouses belonging to local fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods.

A third slide was reported in a more remote area, on Harbor Mountain.

Cascade Creek was running high after heavy rainfall Tuesday, August 18. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

Harbor Mountain Road has been closed above the first gate at the bottom of the hill. Sawmill Creek Road has been closed beyond Silver Bay Seafoods, as crews work to remove the debris.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM.

The flash-flooding prompted temporary trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. Flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center on Halibut Point Road opened a sinkhole the size of a large van in the pavement. Two propane tanks on the edge of the sinkhole have since been removed.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:37

A legislative panel has voted to sue Gov. Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning.

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The council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. Before the vote, Republican Senator Charlie Huggins made the case for the lawsuit:

“This is not the time for the Alaska State Legislature to be timid and it’s not about the issue, it’s about the separation of powers. So I firmly, firmly urge members of this body to support the motion.”

At a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning, the Legislative Council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. (Annie Feidt/APRN)

Last month, Gov. Walker announced he would expand Medicaid starting September 1. The Legislature failed to vote on his Medicaid expansion bill during this year’s regular or special session.

Only one lawmaker voted against the lawsuit, Democratic Representative Sam Kito of Juneau. He noted that several legal opinions supported Governor Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid on his own:

“And I am concerned about spending money in our current budget times to actually perform an action that could cost the state money.”

Medicaid expansion would offer federal health care to low income, childless adults. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017. After that, the state’s share of the cost of the program will gradually increase, but never amount to more than 10 percent.

At a press conference following the legislative council vote, Walker said he was disappointed in the legislature’s action:

“I stand firm on my decision. It was the right thing to do. I’m not wavering for a minute. Alaskans deserve nothing less. This has not pushed me in a different direction whatsoever.”

The legislative council is bringing in a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge Medicaid expansion. Lawyers with Bancroft PLLC have argued against the Affordable Care Act in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator John Coghill, a Republican from Fairbanks voted for the lawsuit. He says the lawyers will focus on getting a judge to issue an injunction stopping Medicaid expansion from going forward on September 1st. He says if an injunction isn’t granted, the lawsuit is unlikely to be effective:

“I think that we’ll push it, but by the time the process works we’ll probably be in a regular session, so at that point, the damage will probably already be done and then how to unravel it? Probably is not going to happen in the court system.”

About 40,000 Alaskans would qualify for Medicaid expansion. The Walker administration estimates about half that number would sign up in the first year.

Categories: Alaska News

A project to remap Alaska reaches its halfway point

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:36

An effort to remap Alaska celebrated its half-way mark Tuesday during a ‘skybreaking’ ceremony in Anchorage. The remapping initiative is a significant undertaking for the state.

Alaska is 57 percent mapped. That’s the milestone celebrated today at the FedEx hangar in Anchorage. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave the keynote by telecast, and a handful of GIS big-wigs flew in for the event.

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A terrestrial mapping effort reaches its half-way mark. Well-trafficked flight corridors were among the first parts of the state mapped. Photo: screen shot of Alaska Geospatial Council mapping site.

Nick Mastrodicasa with the Department of Transportation is one of the project’s leaders in Alaska:

“When this whole thing started in 2006 — it’s been 10 years almost — I found out that Mars was better mapped, and more recently mapped and more accurately mapped, than Alaska,” Mastrodicasa says.

A lot of the current mapping data used in Alaska is 40 to 50 years old. It was collected using manual cartography techniques that are now obsolete. One of the big drawbacks of that old data is that it isn’t always accurate.

Mastrodicasa describes it to Talk of Alaska host Steve Heimel during Tuesday’s Talk of Alaska program:

“There are some ridgelines we’ve seen that are a thousand meters off,” he says. “It’s not as bad as we originally thought, but it’s bad. We are seeing valleys that are horizontally displaced by half a mile.”

You probably get the picture that these kinds of mapping errors are a big deal if you’re a pilot. Stories of perfectly functional aircraft flying into the side of a mountain are regrettably ubiquitous in Alaska.

For example, say you’re flying through mountainous terrain and your flight path suddenly gets socked in, you really want your GPS device to be accurate. A GPS device is only as dependable as the data behind it. And the new data being collected with this mapping initiative is accurate within millimeters.

Forty-one million dollars have been spent on the project so far, and that money is coming from a multitude of different state and federal agencies.

The data collection process is expensive. It involves a technology called IFSAR. Kevin Gallagher is the associate director of USGS’ Core Science Systems program. He explains:

“IFSAR is interferometric synthetic aperture radar,” he says. “It’s essentially a radar, but by projecting it at the ground and measuring the reflectance back, you get a very highly detailed elevation map.”

Erosion threatens coastal settlements throughout Alaska. High-quality elevation data is vital to risk assessment and decisions about relocating villages at risk. Photo shared via Alaska DNR.

In addition to aviation, the high-quality data set also has significant implications for mineral development and resource management purposes.

This data, Gallagher says, is going to become even more significant as climate change begins to reshape the north. Melting permafrost, land subsidence and erosion are poised to redefine Alaska’s terrain.

“Because the data we’re collecting now is going to serve as a baseline to understand the changes that are occurring out on the landscape.”

Gallagher hopes the remapping project will be finished within another 2 to 3 years , which will bring Alaska’s maps on par with those the Lower 48, and on Mars.

Categories: Alaska News

5 youths, ages 10 to 13, suspected in Bethel school vandalism spree

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:36

Bethel police have identified five juveniles age 10 and 13, suspected of vandalizing preschool classrooms and smashing windows in more than a dozen cars owned by the Lower Kuskokwim School District. Charges are being sent to the division of juvenile justice.

Damages to the school and vehicles is pegged around $100,000. Photo: KYUK.

Lieutenant Joe Corbett says this is not the first time police have dealt vandalism in the school, which has high quality cameras that were rolling.

“We put the images around the police department, we put them in front of school administrators to try to get those kids identified. It normally doesn’t take us very long.”

The damage was discovered Sunday morning and closed the preschool this week. Corbett says the investigation is not entirely complete.

“The first confession isn’t always the entire truth. We need to work it from every angle and make sure that what we’re being told, the confession we did obtain are accurate, consistent, and make sure there is no one else out there who could be escaping punishment on this, if we’re to get all of the kids that were involved.”

The preliminary damage estimates exceed $50,000 for the vehicles and at least $50,000 to the preschool.

A Bethel school was vandalized over the weekend. Photo: KYUK.

“This amount, this level of damage is certainly out of the ordinary. But property damage from kids in this town has been a problem for a long time, and a lot of this is about parental supervision.”

Going forward, Corbett says the police will be enforcing a zero tolerance policy on the city’s curfew rules.

“It’s never been enforced at that level, we’ve always left that up to officer discretion. But when a problem’s been identified, it needs to be addressed. We clearly see there is a problem here. It’s our tool to address it, but it’s not the only tool that the city and citizens have. If you have responsible parents involved in what their children are doing… That’s the best tool of them all. Then we don’t have to write tickets.”

Parents can be fined up to $250 for curfew violations.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon king run shows signs of recovery

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:35

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

Chinook salmon continue to swim up the Yukon River, the latest indication that the long ailing run may have turned a corner toward recovery.

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An Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar counter near the Canadian border at Eagle  continues to tally king salmon. It’s near the end of the run, but counts have remained pretty good, anywhere from about 800 early in the month to nearly 300 August 10 and 11. That’s well down from the over 3,000 counted daily during the peak of the run a month ago, but State Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt says the extended strength of this year’s Chinook return is surprising.

“We’re actually at just over 83,000 chinook salmon. That’s the most we’ve passed over the border since this project began in 2005.”

The number is more than predicted by computer models and lower river return assessments, and well in excess of a border passage objective of 55,000 kings. This year’s return is the second in a row that appears to show movement toward rebuilding a run that once averaged over 150,000 Canadian origin fish, but has tanked in recent decades due to over fishing and suspected environmental factors. The downturn resulted in extreme fishing restrictions, Schmidt expects will be relaxed next summer.

“We’re still going to make sure we’re meeting escapement goals, but it does mean that there is hopefully more fishing in the future for Yukon River fishermen” she says.

Schmidt cautions that management of next summer’s fishery will hinge on what’s predicted by computer models that try to account for complex factors including the ages of the fish expected to return. She says a salmon research project near the river mouth also being used to predict run strength has been seeing more young Chinook.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage hospitals appeal state’s ER bed cap

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:34

Entrance to Anchorage’s Providence Hospital emergency room. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage’s two largest hospitals are appealing the state’s recent allocation decisions in hopes of building more emergency room beds in the next several years.

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The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital have both filed appeals accusing the Department of Health and Human Services of making groundless assumptions about costs and the best interests of the public.

Too many emergency room beds can push up health care costs, so Alaska, like most states, has laws limiting the capacity of emergency rooms. In July, Providence Alaska received permission to add eight beds, six fewer than it requested. Alaska Regional’s proposal to add two freestanding Emergency Rooms in South Anchorage and Eagle River was denied, in an effort to prevent unnecessary ER costs.

The appeals will be heard by an administrative law judge, who will make a recommendation the state’s health commissioner.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman pleads guilty to running a sex-trafficking ring, sentenced to 5 1/2 years

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:33

Amber Batts was sentenced to five and half years in prison after pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree Monday afternoon. The defendant was running the sex trade business “Sensual Alaska” that served people around the state.

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Batts connected sex workers with clients who were pre-screened for safety concerns then she took a portion of the fee. She already has two felonies on her record.

State Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander prosecuted the case. He says the case was not about the morality or legality of prostitution.

“Our hope in prosecuting broader sex trafficking enterprises is to create a safer environment for individuals who are caught up as workers in that trade and in an environment that people feel comfortable disclosing when they’re being victimized. And unfortunately our experience working on the ground here in Alaska, more often than not the people who are working in the sex trade are victims of exploitation.”

Alexander says many participants in the sex trade are vulnerable and have experienced trauma.

But sex trade worker advocate Tara Burns says members of the industry are being prosecuted for actions that make the sex trade safer.

“So we work indoors instead of out on the street. And that is being called “having a place of prostitution now, which is felony sex trafficking in the third degree. We share clients and we communicate with each other about clients – “have you seen this client? Is he safe?” and that is now called a sex trafficking ring or a prostitution enterprise.”

Burns has worked in the industry for 20 years, and her organization Community United for Safety and Protection is lobbying to change the state’s laws. More than 30 thousand people have signed an online petition in support.

“We’re asking the Alaska legislature to repeal the new sex trafficking laws. We want to be able to go to the police to report crimes like sex trafficking without having to worry about being charged with felonies now instead of just prostitution.”

The laws passed in 2012. The human rights group Amnesty International recently adopted a resolution supporting the decriminalization of consensual sex work saying that it will make it safer for the workers.

Categories: Alaska News

From working to homeless and back again — a story of hope from the Brother Francis Shelter

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:32

Mike Hindman at the Brother Francis Shelter. (Hillman/KSKA)

People don’t usually plan to experience homelessness; life just takes unexpected turns. But for some guests of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, like Michael Hindman, the experience leaves them with more hope than anything else. When KSKA’s Anne Hillman spent the night at the shelter late last month, he greeted her and other guests at the door.

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“Alright, anybody and everybody who wants inside, please line up on the right hand side,” 26-year-old Hindman says as he opens the self-locking door to the shelter. He greets a guest. “How you doing, sir?”

It was an unusually calm summer evening. Hindman was monitoring the entrance area to the shelter and checking for contraband like weapons or alcohol.

“Anything inside of your pockets I can see?” he asks a woman as she gazes a bit past him.

Burly and tall with a goofy smile, the name of an ex-girlfriend tattooed in delicate script on his arm, Hindman never saw himself in a place like Brother Francis. He was young, strong, making good money.

“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Why are people homeless? And I’ve always had a job. Why don’t people work and why don’t people do this?’ Maybe I didn’t have compassion or sympathy at first,” he recalled.

But a few years ago, he made a mistake.

“This is the part of the story where I’ve got to tell the truth, ok? This is my big blip. I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska working as a longshoreman…” he starts his history.

Hindman got involved with drugs, was busted for buying narcotics for an undercover cop, pleaded guilty to a felony, and went to prison.

“I learned my lesson right off the bat. My first 30 minutes in jail I realized this is not for me and then besides that 30 minutes I had another 18 months to learn the same lesson thinking, ‘This is definitively not for me.’”

As part of the plea deal he gave the state everything he owned. He was released this spring with nothing but purple prison underwear, donated clothing, and a quarter in his pocket. After sleeping rough for a couple nights, someone told Hindman about Brother Francis. He began volunteering as a door monitor in exchange for secure housing at the shelter and help finding a job. Hindman said it completely changed his perspective.

“I no longer pass judgment when I walk by somebody, its more what can I do to help? Because whether the person, maybe they are an alcoholic, or maybe they do have a temper problem, or maybe they do have a flaw, but I think all of us do. What I worry about now is, is that person cold?”

Working at the door lets him see people’s lives turn around, he said. One day they’re tired and stressed and a few weeks later they have a job and are looking bright. That’s his story, too. He was recently hired as a cook on the North Slope.

But during his off weeks he’ll be back at the shelter, helping out, and saving money to rent a place of his own. Hindman sees beauty in the echo-filled concrete halls.

“I’ve seen people with nothing to their name but they give everything they can to the next guy who also has nothing,” he said, recalling people offering up their only jacket to protect others from the rain. “I know people that make $100,000 a year that probably wouldn’t let you borrow their jacket, you know?”

He says he stays positive and hopes it helps others stay that way, too.

Categories: Alaska News

A short history of Alaska LGBT rights

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-18 17:31

Alaskans voted in 1998 to define marriage in the state constitution as only between a man and a woman. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated that definition, Alaska and the entire country has marriage equality. To some it may seem like things are changing fast, but Alaska’s fight for gay rights began half a lifetime ago.

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In the course of Alaska’s legislative history, there have been six bills to outlaw sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. In Anchorage, there have been at least three ordinances.

They’ve all failed.

(left to right) Jay Brause, Gene Dugan, Fred Hillman and Les Baird. In 1982, the board members were moving out of the Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, which closed down. It was later revamped and named Identity, Inc. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Green)

The fight may have begun in 1975, when the Alaska State Human Rights Commission took a formal stance that sexual preference should be included in the state’s non-discrimination policy.

House Bill 125 was introduced in 1987, during the AIDS epidemic. The commission director, the attorney general and the governor all supported the bill.

“[It was] just something that seemed to me, it was time to make some noise about it,” says former Democratic Gov. Steve Cowper.

He introduced the bill less than two months after taking office. He had served in the Vietnam War and made a friend who was gay.

“They served just as well or better than other people,” Cowper said.

Cowper can’t remember why exactly he introduced the bill, but cites that personal experience as a possible reason. Old files also suggest commission Director Janet Bradley asked for his support.

“But as a general principle, people shouldn’t be discriminated against any more than you should be able to discriminate for racial reasons,” Cowper said.

Cowper’s friend died from AIDS years later. HB 125 never made it out of committee.

Janet Bradley left the Human Rights Commission in 1988. During the last decade of her career, she had taken an aggressive approach to more inclusive legislation.

After she left, Paula Haley became the commission’s director. She’s still the director now and she hasn’t touched the issue.

In 1989 through an LGBT advocacy group, researchers Melissa Green and Jay Brause published a statewide survey documenting the experiences of Alaska’s lesbian and gay community, including issues of discrimination and health.

Janet Bradley ended the report’s forward with a call to action: “This report then becomes our challenge; for if we believe that our vision of Alaska is marred when discrimination exists, we must commit ourselves to eliminating sexual orientation discrimination.”

In 2012, Green published her final report on a survey on LGBT discrimination in Anchorage through Identity, Inc. It was a few weeks before Anchorage voted on Proposition 5, a sexual identity anti-discrimination measure that failed. She says the report received a lot of criticism.

“It has important things to say. I hope that people might still read it, but I’m done. I’m done. I’m off on my own life,” Green said.

She’s burnt out and says she’s kind of bitter.

“It ate up a lot of my life and a lot of my time, and it had, I wouldn’t say exactly zero impact, but pretty close to that,” Green said. “Nobody really cared— outside of the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community, nobody really cared.”

In 1986, the Anchorage Daily News interviewed a gay man working at Identity, Inc., an advocacy organization. He was collecting violent and homophobic voice mail the office received for a research report on gay and lesbian discrimination.

That man’s name was Jay Brause.

“Through the AIDS crisis we started finding out how important our relationships were,” Brause said.

“We started finding out we had no rights. We were denied in so many ways.” Brause said.

He said he knew of couples who’d been together for decades and if one of them would become ill or die, often their relationship meant nothing when it came to hospital visitation, burials, military honors and home ownership.

“How do you explain that to people? It’s a potent, virulent form of discrimination,” Brause said.

During the same year the ADN published the story, he interned with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in D.C.

Brause and his now-husband Gene Dugan applied for their marriage license in 1994. The controversial act eventually led to the 1998 constitutional amendment defining marriage.

He paid for being a prominent gay figure in the 80s and 90s in more ways.

“I felt the prejudice and the discrimination very personally and directly. In a way, you don’t know if you’re hiding or you haven’t disclosed (your sexuality),” Brause said.

Like his friend Melissa Green, he’s disillusioned about his fight and American liberties. His reaction when Alaska got marriage equality?

“I did not have the person-in-the-street’s reaction. No, not even a smile,” Brause said.

In 2006, he and his husband moved to England, where he has dual-citizenship. In September, he’ll travel back to Anchorage to clean up to the last few bits of his life in America before leaving for good.

“Thank you to every single one of us who took on that work as activists, who took chances to make a difference, and believe me, there’s more to be done.”

State Legislative Reference Librarian Jennifer Fletcher researched legislative files. This article could not be produced without her assistance.


Categories: Alaska News