Alaska News

Anchorage Police Investigate Homicide In Spenard

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-16 08:23

Anchorage police are investigating a homicide in the city’s Spenard neighborhood.

Police responded to a trailer residence located on the 2400 block of McRae Road after 2 a.m. Monday morning. They identified a male victim who was transported to a local hospital with a life-threatening injury.

The male was pronounced deceased at the hospital just after 4 a.m. A suspect has been taken into custody.

Police are not releasing the nature of the assault at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

High Winds, Blowing Snow Expected Along Bering Sea Coast

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-16 08:12

Iditarod teams that reach the coast at Unalakleet will run into a fierce windstorm and blowing snow.

Michelle Phillips says she’s not surprised but she also isn’t too worried about her dog team.

Michelle Phillips during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“It’s the coast,” she said. “It just throws everything it can at you and that’s why maybe a dog team that’s had a little more rest may be better at this point in the game.”

Phillips gave her teams extra rest in Kaltag before they jumped on a portage trail and followed a river out to the coastal community of Unalakleet.

Rookie Thomas Waerner agrees that rest at this point in the race is crucial to maintaining speed in a dog team

“I think a lot of people have been pushing pretty hard all the way from Galena,” Waerner said. “So, if you have a team that is a little more rested – not much more, but a little more, than maybe it will be an advantage.”

The temperature is also forecast to rise to slightly above zero. Peter Kaiser says warmer weather comes as a welcome change, since mushers haven’t seen a day above zero in a week.

“I think the dogs will do better in the heat,” Kaiser said. “It will help loosen up…. more glide because the 50 below at night stuff has been kind of like trying push your sled through beach sand.”

Either way, Kaiser says there is not much he can do aside from drive his dog team to Nome.

“We’ll just take it as it comes,” he said. “We can’t go backwards, we can only go towards Nome, I guess we’ll go right through the middle of it.”

Snow accumulation along the coast of up to two inches could slow teams. A fierce, biting wind is likely to cause heavy drifting along the trail, or scour the ice free of snow in others as teams tackle the final 250 miles of trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Burmeister Takes Iditarod Lead Out Of Shaktoolik

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-16 07:48

Aaron Burmeister in Kaltag. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

Reigning Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey was the first into Shaktoolik early Monday morning, but Aaron Burmeister was the first out of the checkpoint.

Both are running with 12 dogs as they enter the last 170 miles of the race. leading the charge to Koyuk.

Burmeister has found himself in the lead for much of this year’s race so far – winning awards for bring the first to Huslia, Kaltag, and Unalakleet.

Burmeister and Seavey are trailed by Mitch Seavey and Aliy Zirkle.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Consider All Their Options As They Head Up The Coast

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-16 07:43

Iditarod teams began the final push up the Bering Sea Coast Sunday night. Everything from the condition of the dogs, to the weather can change dramatically and quickly on the sea ice, and that has mushers scrutinizing their own decisions and those made by their fellow competitors.

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Dallas Seavey was the first musher to head out onto the sea ice along the Bering Sea Coast. Despite a howling wind, he wasted no time blowing through Unalakleet, despite a howling wind.

Temperatures of more than 30 below didn’t stop Dallas Seavey from mixing up a concoction of fat, meat and kibble for his team after they reached Kaltag. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

Seavey planned to bed down and rest in Shaktoolik, 40 miles up north. He says it’s a plan he followed last year. But, Seavey always has more than one plan in mind.

“I write about a dozen different schedules, actually more like 40 different schedules every year,” he said. “More than anything the reason I do that is to know all the different options at all the different locations.”

He isn’t the kind of musher that leaves anything to chance. In fact, few mushers do. But this year, Aaron Burmeister says the combination of deep cold and a rerouted trail still has mushers wondering how to tackle the miles ahead.

“You can’t run a schedule on a new trail with the conditions we’ve had with 50 below, two to three feet of fresh snow, you’ve gotta run your dog team,” Burmeister said.

But after 15 Iditarod finishes, Burmeister knows better than to underestimate how well his competition knows their dogs.

“The mushers that you see running at the front of this race are all mushers that are very good at reading their dogs, understand what they are capable of and savvy dog drivers and that’s what you’re going to find being competitive in this race,” Burmeister said.

Jeff Kings team ate “like pigs” in Kaltag on Saturday night. (Photo by Emily Schwing)


“I will try to win, but my dog team is going to look good doing it,” Jeff King said. When he left Kaltag, Kings says his team “looked awesome.” “I swear to god, I was laughing going I think this time I am going to start picking out the color of my truck right now.”

He means the color of the brand new pick up truck that’s awarded to the first place finisher in Nome. Somewhere on the trail to Unalakleet, King’s visions of a new Dodge Ram turned into sightings of something much less appealing.

“They just started profusely pooping and looking like they didn’t feel good,” King said.

So King has altered his race plan. Something similar happened to Wade Marrs, he says his dogs are losing speed, but he’s still aiming for a top-10 finish.

“I didn’t mess up, but we definitely aren’t going to try to win anymore,” Marrs said. “We’re just going to take it easy and have fun and make it to Nome.”

That’s a difficult change of plans for a musher that’s extremely competitive. It’s a lesson Aliy Zirkle says she learned long ago.

Aily Zirkle blew through Kaltag. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

“You can only race as hard as your dog team can go and then you can’t race any harder, so that is a pill that everyone has to swallow and swallow with a smile on your face,” she said.

Zirkle is known for diligently sticking to a race plan.

Emily: “Do you think that you’re ever a flexible musher?”
Aliy: “I‘d like to say yes, so I’m trying to do a little something different right now, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll get back to you.”

Zirkle says no musher ever really knows for sure whether its’ worth gambling until further up the trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Dallas Seavey Leading The Way To Shaktoolik

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2015-03-15 21:37

After a quick 5 minute stop in Unalakleet, reigning Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey took the lead and is on the way to Shaktoolik.

Aaron Burmeister departed Unalakleet just after 8:30 p.m. Sunday – about an hour and 20 minutes behind Seavey.

As of 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King remain in Unalakleet.

Categories: Alaska News

Lease Sale 193 decision expected late March

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2015-03-15 16:00

Secretary of Interior will issue a Record of Decision on Chukchi Lease Sale 193 by the end of March. It will determine if Shell can proceed with its drilling plans for the region this summer. Their leases have been suspended since 2014 pending the release of the new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that came out in February.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement director Brian Salerno says he thinks the SEIS will be accepted, and Shell will be able to submit an exploration plan.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Arctic drilling regs take holistic look at safety

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2015-03-15 15:53

The heads of the two federal agencies in charge of off-shore oil and gas drilling visited Alaska last week to discuss proposed safety regulations for drilling in the Arctic. They spoke with stakeholders in Anchorage and around the North Slope, including hosting a town hall meeting in Barrow.

Brian Salerno, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, says the rules set transparent, universal safety standards for drilling in the Arctic’s outer continental shelf, and they emphasize prevention. Currently, safety plans are company- and project-specific.

“What this rule does is set a standard of care whereby you bring what you need with you into the region. So specific items, like a same-season relief rig, is included in there. That’s not required elsewhere because rigs are readily available in the Gulf [of Mexico], for example.” The rules also require containment domes and other equipment.

Salerno says the proposal allows for some flexibility and for the use of new, improved technologies. If more companies start working in the region they can pool their equipment. He says it’s unclear how much implementing the regulations will cost industry groups because there’s so little data about working in the region.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Abigail Hopper says the rules include safety requirements for mobilization, demobilization, and transit of equipment as well. They also require an integrated operations plan that involves state and federal agencies.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest, including industry, to have a clear path forward and clear rules and have the public have confidence that the regulators understand the unique characteristics.”

Salerno and Hopper say the feedback they’ve received so far has been positive, though many stakeholders haven’t had time to review the proposal in full. They’re collecting comments until April 27. The new rules, if adopted, would apply to both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

Categories: Alaska News

As They Leave Kaltag, Mushers Say The Real Racing Is Yet To Come

APRN Alaska News - Sun, 2015-03-15 15:33

Iditarod teams are making their way for the Bering Sea Coast, after days of travel along the frozen Yukon River and through the Interior’s boreal forest.

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Up until this point, mushers have been trying to set their teams up for the most competitive part of the race.

When Aaron Burmeister arrived in Kaltag, he said he was surprised to be there first, but he was looking forward to the more competitive part of the race.

Temperatures of more than 30 below didn’t stop Dallas Seavey from mixing up a concoction of fat, meat and kibble for his team after they reached Kaltag. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

“There’s some big names,” he said. “I haven’t been racing them to this point, but from here on, we’re going to see whose schedule shakes out and who’s up there.”

Once teams lave Kaltag and the Yukon River behind, they head through the Unalakleet River Valley and out to the Bering Sea coast.  Jeff King says this is the point in the race most teams have been building up to.

“Up to here, it’s to a large extent preparation of your team for getting here, how are they when they get here?” King said.

Dallas Seavey also believes the real racing is yet to come.

“It definitely starts to come to a head now we’re all frost bitten, tired and beat up and now is when you can see the end goal,” Seavey said. “The end is in sight and we gotta just dig in and power through for the last couple of days here.”

Teams are still struggling with deep cold – temperatures of 30 below and colder overnight, but the weather is supposed to warm up.  With it may come strong winds and heavy blowing snow. The National Weather Service is calling for two inches of snow and winds up to 30 miles per hour.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Continue to Gamble with Rest, Long Runs and Extreme Cold

APRN Alaska News - Sat, 2015-03-14 16:57

According to the Iditarod race rules, teams have to rest for 24 hours somewhere along the trail. They also have to take an eight-hour mandatory rest before they leave the Yukon River and again near the end of the race.

Most teams have already taken most of their required rest. For those that haven’t, it’s a gamble: they could either be low on downtime or they could benefit from saving their rest after a few long runs and extremely cold weather.

Musher Aliy Zirkle says there was a 50-50 chance she would stop for 24 hours in either Galena or Huslia. She opted for Galena.

“I stopped early just because I wanted to check in with my team because I wanted to make sure they looked as good as I thought they did as opposed to on down the trail and they do look as good as I thought they did, so that’s exciting,” she said.

The Galena dog yard started to fill up in the late afternoon Thursday as teams parked for their 24 hour layover. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

Zirkle is one of only three mushers currently running in the top-10 that has not yet taken a mandatory eight-hour rest along the Yukon River. It’s a gamble that may pay off. Added rest could help dogs recover from a series of long runs and extreme cold in the first half of the race.

In Galena, Jason Campeau says it’s part of his race plan to save his eight-hour layover for later.

“Yeah, I think the next couple runs are tough runs, so if you don’t have any longer rest before that until White Mountain, it might be hurting and the dogs might be real slow, so I think having a big rest after these big runs will be a big key,” Campeau said.

But Richie Diehl, says he regrets not taking his eight-hour rest early.

“Maybe in Tanana or Ruby, somewhere back there,” Diehl said. “It would have probably helped these guys a little bit more, especially the ones that I had to drop, they might have benefitted, but I didn’t do it so I’ve got to deal with the consequences now.”

Ray Redington Jr. believes early rest is better for his team.

“I always take my eight hours as soon as I can and it seems like it puts it back into the dogs and keeps them together a little bit better,” he said.

Kelly Maixner agrees.

“I don’t think resting early is as hard of a decision to make as resting later,” he said.

Maixner says he can always rest his team beyond what’s required by the race rules.

“Hopefully, it will work out,” Maixner said. “I don’t get another mandatory long rest for the rest of the race until White Mountain, but you can always rest if you want to.”

But resting beyond the mandatory number of hours is a gamble. Extra rest always benefits the dogs, but it comes at the expense of the team’s overall race time.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Game Says No to Denali Buffer Zone

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 18:12

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The Alaska Board of Game has turned down an emergency petition to re-establish a buffer zone to protect Denali National Park area wolves. Meeting on Friday in Anchorage, the board voted unanimously to reject the petition from the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, Denali Citizens Council and several individuals, to create a no kill zone on state lands along the northeastern edge of the Park near Healy.

Categories: Alaska News

Worker Killed at Port of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 18:10

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A worker was killed at the Port of Anchorage earlier today while handling military equipment.

Lindsey Whitt is the head of the External Affairs for the Port, and says this morning’s incident involved cargo shipping to the 1st Stryker Brigade in Fairbanks.

“A longshoreman was working on the port, and he was loading military equipment onto the rail, and he was pinned between two pieces of military equipment,” Whitt said.

The name of the man is being withheld until next of kin have been notified.

Members of the Longshoreman’s union work under a company named Sea Star– unloading freight from the military’s contractor in Alaska, TOTE. Whitt says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration–or OSHA is investigating whether safety protocols broke down.

But because the incident involves a private company, federal property, and a municipal facility, the specifics of the investigation aren’t yet clear.

Categories: Alaska News

“One Hot Mess” Gets National Attention

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 18:02

Libby Bakalar, aka “One Hot Mess,” striking her rap pose. (Photo courtesy Libby Bakalar)

There are a bazillion blogs these days but what does it take to write one people will actually read? Juneau writer Libby Bakalar has figured out the formula with her blog “One Hot Mess.” Bakalar mixes it up when she writes- using humor, self-deprecation, social media and even a Stephen Colbert-like character to connect with her audience. Her most-read post, titled “Alaska Airlines-to-English Dictionary,” received more than 8,000 hits, and the blog is getting national attention too. Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival has asked Bakalar to submit to their blog.

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Bakalar is the mother of a 4- and 7-year-old who are often the subjects of her entries which range from rap, to essays, to comics, to flow and pie charts, haikus and more.

Bakalar explores many forms on her blog, “My Relationship with Pilots: A Comic” is one example. (Image courtesy Libby Bakalar)

Bakalar recited her rap “Who Da Boss?” for us here.

“The funnest part for me about the blog is having a shared experience with the audience about experiences they can all relate to, like getting your kid geared up for the rain and snow,” says Bakalar.

Or not knowing certain etiquette as in “If I Actually Said What I Was Thinking at a Wine Tasting…” she also read for us.

Bakalar says she tries to be revelatory and analytical.

“I try to get to the root of pretentions and phoniness and all kinds of insecurities and things like that that people appreciate honesty about. This whole wine-tasting routine has all of those elements. It’s this first world, kind of pretentious thing that deserves to be made fun of a little bit. And I am going to make fun of myself and it at the same time,” says Bakalar.

But she’s not always rapping, humorous or irreverent. About once a month she writes an earnest piece, too, like in a November post about how cathartic crying can be.

“One of the things I hear a lot about the blog is, ‘You’re always saying what I’m thinking,’ or, ‘You’re always saying what I’m afraid to say,’ and that is the highest compliment I can get because it means I’m writing something that’s resonating with people on a real level,” she says.

Libby Bakalar in KTOO’s Studio K. Bakalar composes entries on her phone–possibly during this interview. (Photo by Scott Burton/KTOO)

Sometimes Bakalar posts as many five entries a day—most composed on her smartphone. She says she’s inspired by her husband and comic writer Geoff Kirsch, David Sedaris, Louis C.K., Margaret Cho and Stephen Colbert.

“There’s a little bit of a fourth wall, sort of Stephen Colbert-esque character developing. I’m not trying to compare myself to someone as awesome as Stephen Colbert mind you, I’m just saying he’s another person I really admire in terms of his ability to straddle that meta-line between reality and fiction. You know it’s sort of in that middle gray area between a character and a biographical representation of me.”

That version of herself recently wrote a flirtatious open letter to a guy who works at Kindred Post. As usual, Bakalar linked to her entry on Facebook and, in a Juneau-way, it’s gone viral. She likes the interactivity.

“It was all very true. Everything I said in there about how I thought this guy was cute and I feel like an old lady every time I go in the store and blah, blah, blah, he’s listening to this great music, et cetera, et cetera. But I wanted him to know all that, and I was good with that. And at the same time I was curious, is all of this going to get back to him and his friends? And sure enough it did and it was very funny and he was hilarious about it and his responses were awesome.”

One Hot Mess posted “Open Letter to Cute Dude at The Post Office Store” on Monday afternoon. Someone responded with his name within an hour and he got the link soon thereafter. It took a little investigating, but he figured out who she was.

“Should I Go Into This Adorable Shoe Store/Handbag/Accessory Boutique?: A Flowchart.” (Image courtesy Libby Bakalar)

Conor Lendrum says,“I was like, ‘Oh! It’s that fox who I made eyes at, like, that day!”

Lendrum, who has adopted the alias C-DAT-POS, says it’s all surreal—an interesting intersection of the virtual and the real. He’s looking forward to talking to her in person.

“How much of this internet personality is her true personality? How much of it is a construction for this art that she works on? She’s a very good writer. She has a wonderful self-deprecating style and very casual but precise and I really enjoy it,” says Lendrum.

C-DAT-POS will get to ask Bakalar about her and the character. After a bunch of Facebook correspondence, he’s committed to making dinner for Bakalar and her family soon.

The producers behind the Women in Comedy Festival like Bakalar’s work, too. They’re posting a “One Hot Mess” entry on their blog. Other than that, she has no agenda.

“I never want to advertise on it. I never want to commodify it in any way. I just want to have fun with it and continue to entertain my friends and family with it.”

“How much of this internet personality is her true personality? How much of it is a construction for this art that she works on? She’s a very good writer. She has a wonderful self-deprecating style and very casual but precise and I really enjoy it.”

After a bunch of Facebook correspondence, C-DAT-POS made Bakalar and her family dinner. Bakalar told the story of the dinner in 14 pictures on her blog. She declared the meal of marinated pork tenderloin with handmade garlic pesto “Top Chef material, peeps,” and gave the meal a 12 on a scale of 1-10.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Tom James Greg Tomaganuk of Scammon Bay

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 18:00

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Now it’s time for 49 voices. This week we will hear from a high school student from the western Alaska village of Scammon Bay. Tom James Greg Tomaganuk is from Scammon Bay. He was in Anchorage recently for the Academic Decathalon.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 13, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 17:53

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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Medicaid Reform Bill Introduced In Alaska Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN -Juneau
A Medicaid reform bill has been filed in the Alaska Senate. Many Republican legislators have said reform of the state’s low-income health care program must happen before they accept federal dollars to expand it.

House Passes Leaner Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
The Alaska House of Representatives has passed a $4.1 billion operating budget, reducing agency operations by 10 percent over last year. The vote happened shortly after midnight. House Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman said a $230 million cut in unrestricted general fund spending set a record.

Board of Game Says No to Denali Buffer Zone

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
The Alaska Board of Game has turned down an emergency petition to re-establish a buffer zone to protect Denali National Park area wolves. Meeting on Friday in Anchorage, the board voted unanimously to reject the petition from the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, Denali Citizens Council and several individuals, to create a no kill zone on state lands along the northeastern edge of the Park near Healy.

Worker Killed at Port of Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA-Anchorage
A worker was killed at the Port of Anchorage earlier today handling military equipment. Lindsey Whitt is the head of the External Affairs for the Port, and says this morning’s incident involved cargo shipping to the 1st Stryker Brigade in Fairbanks.

Three Advance in Pilot Project to Arm VPSO’s

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel

Three Village Public Safety Officers have been selected to advance in the VPSO Arming Pilot Project with training this month in Sitka. Twenty one VPSOs initially showed interest in taking part. There were seven earlier this year still in the process.

Gray Named Bethel DA

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Alaska’s attorney general has named the Fairbanks district attorney as Bethel’s new district attorney. J. Michael Gray will begin in Bethel April 1 and will replace June Stein, who was fired last month.

New Route Makes Some Mushers Feel Like Rookies

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
This year’s race reroute has left even the most seasoned of Iditarod mushers feeling like rookies. Race leaders won’t start to appear until after teams complete their mandatory layovers and make up their start time differentials. But as Emily Schwing reports, many mushers are still surprised at where they’re finding themselves in the standings.

Women’s Hall of Fame Inducts New Members

Lori Townsend, APRN-Anchorage
The annual Alaskan spring ritual of honoring women who have helped shaped Alaska, took place last weekend in Anchorage. The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremony in the Wilda Marston theater at the Loussac Library. Every year, women, some well known and others not, are honored for their contributions to the state.

AK: Blogger Libby Bakalar

Scott Burton, KTOO-Juneau
There are a bazillion blogs these days but what does it take to write one people will actually read? Juneau writer Libby Bakalar has figured out the formula with her blog “One Hot Mess.” Bakalar mixes it up when she writes- using humor, self-deprecation, social media and even a Stephen Colbert-like character to connect with her audience. Her most-read post, titled “Alaska Airlines-to-English Dictionary,” received more than 8,000 hits, and the blog is getting national attention too.

49 Voices

Now it’s time for 49 voices. This week we will hear from a high school student from the western Alaska village of Scammon Bay. Tom James Greg Tomaganuk is from Scammon Bay. He was in Anchorage recently for the Academic Decathalon. 49 voices is AK’s attempt to put every Alaskan on the radio.

Categories: Alaska News

Women’s Hall of Fame Inducts New Members

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 17:02

The annual spring ritual of honoring women who have helped shaped Alaska, took place last weekend in Anchorage. The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremony in the Wilda Marston theater at the Loussac Library.

Every year, women, some well known and others not, are honored for their contributions to the state. This year’s 13 inductees ranged from one of the first female USGS geologists, who at one point worked on a top secret federal program– to women who had achievements in musical artistry and activism and others who championed conservation and science education.

One of this year’s inductees was Marie Meade, honored for her work in preserving and teaching Yup’ik language and culture. Marie was raised in the Bethel region and now works as a language scholar at UAA. Known for her humble nature, she said she didn’t feel as if she’d accomplished anything, just saw the work and did it- starting in the 1960s with Native students in Anchorage.

“I was teaching boarding home students in East High and I would get on the bus with students and go to Dimond/Mears and work with students there and I would work with junior high students at Romig Junior High, so that was the beginning” she said.

Another well-known Alaska name, even though she passed on many years ago, is Ann Stevens, honored posthumously for her work assisting her husband, the late Senator Ted Stevens and serving on the board of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, league of women voters and other organizations.

Her oldest son Walter accepted the award for the family. He said his mother had a great sense of humor, but also taught him important lessons about respect. Particularly in the 70s when Richard Nixon was President and the Stevens family had been invited to the White House for Sunday services.

“I just kind of put my foot down and said “No, I’m not going to see ole tricky Dick.” And well, my mother came down the hallway, extremely agitated and said, “You will go. You might not like the person, but you will respect the office, so get get your suit on and go.’ And so I did, there wasn’t much choice and that was a great lesson in respecting the higher institutions in this country which I think we all should regardless of who we might disagree with at the time who might be occupying those positions.”

Ann Stevens was honored for community and statewide activism, volunteering and as a role model.

Inductee Arlene ‘Buddy’ Clay came to Alaska in 1944, long before statehood. She and her husband worked for the civil aeronautics administration. She says their first station was Nome, and then they were transferred to Aniak. There, she became a magistrate. The Clay’s built a cabin near the village and lived a subsistence life together, traveling around the country with their dog team for a decade. When her husband died she stayed on.

“I had a 30-ft round bottom river boat with a 40-horse Johnson and I commuted to Aniak with in the summer,” she said. “In the winter I used my dog team and I became magistrate in 1960 for the Alaska Court System and I had 12 villages under my jurisdiction, Kuskokwim, Yukon and Iditarod Rivers.

Clay was inducted for her work in rural justice. She now lives in an assisted living home in Wasilla and at 102, she still operates her ham radio every Thursday evening, something she started in 1948. In all, thirteen women were honored. It is the seventh year of inductions.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Reform Bill Introduced In Alaska Senate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 16:58

A Medicaid reform bill has been filed in the Alaska Senate. Many Republican legislators have said reform of the state’s low-income health care program must happen before they accept federal dollars to expand it.

APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what’s in the bill and what it means for the program’s future.

Talk of a Medicaid reform bill coming out of the Senate picked up earlier this month. Today, Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, finally introduced it. What are his goals with the bill?

An a meeting with reporters this afternoon, Kelly said his objective was to rein in waste that exists with the state’s Medicaid program. He sees unnecessary spending happening in four areas:

KELLY: Travel, ER, prescription drugs, self-referral to more expensive specialists.

The bill he introduced Friday addresses those areas generally. There’s a section on emergency services, setting up a program tracking frequent ER visits. There’s language that setting up a prescription monitoring program and requires guidelines for prescribing narcotics to Medicaid patients. There’s also a section directing the Department of Health and Social Services to look into the pros and cons of privatizing services at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the state’s pioneer homes for senior citizens.

But it is not Kelly’s goal to expand Medicaid. He’s been firm about that, saying he does not want to add more people to a “broken system.” There is no language accepting $145 million in federal money to bring people near the poverty line into the program, and he’s not in favor of such language being added.

Right now, the state’s Medicaid program mostly covers low-income children and pregnant women. With expansion, adults who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level could get government health care — that’s about $20,000 a year for a single person. What does this bill do for people who don’t receive Medicaid now, but would through expansion?

This bill really does not apply to them. There’s a section that sets up a managed care pilot program of sorts, and it only applies to those already enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. There’s also a section establishing a health savings account by taking 10 percent of a recipient’s Permanent Fund dividend that’s voluntary, but again, that only applies to people who are eligible for state Medicaid now.

Now, as it goes through the committee process, there are changes that could be made that could affect them. The legislation is just seven pages, and it’s written in pretty broad strokes. Health care policy is complicated and wonky, and by comparison, the Affordable Care Act was more than 1,000 pages.

You mentioned the creation of a Health Savings Account through people’s PFD. Tell us more about that.

The idea is that if you’re eligible for Medicaid because you’re a child or a pregnant woman near the poverty line, a chunk of your PFD could be diverted for medical expenses. Traditionally, the big benefit of health savings accounts is that money can go into them tax-free. However, most people who are eligible for Medicaid don’t really have a big tax bill anyway.

Kelly stressed that enrollment in the health savings account is voluntary — nobody in this category is going to see their PFD automatically used for their medical bills. But he also said he’s not yet sure how the health savings account is going to work.

KELLY: I can’t tell you why people would choose it. We’ll figure that out. But we’re going to get it started.

At any rate, he said there are other parts of the bill — like the push to a managed care system — that were more important for reform.

KELLY: It’s very possible that this portion of this bill will not have a lot of teeth in it, will not have a lot of impact in the short term.

There’s one other interesting — if kind of inside baseball — thing to note about the PFD section. Because of it, the beginning of the bill title is “An act relating to Permanent Fund Dividends.” Bill titles basically dictate what changes and additions you can make to a bill. So, a bill with phrasing that vague leaves an opening for other policies dealing with the Permanent Fund to be added in. Because that could be such a Pandora’s box, Kelly’s office says they’re planning to tighten that up.

What’s the financial impact of this bill?

It’s unclear. Kelly says there could be savings in the long term, but there would also be start-up costs to some of the programs established by this bill. The Legislature will have a better sense of the price tag after a fiscal note is drafted.

So, what does this bill mean for Medicaid expansion, if anything?

It’s hard to say. Kelly says he has been working with Gov. Bill Walker and his administration on Medicaid reform, and that things have been nothing but cordial between them. But Medicaid expansion has been such a priority for the Walker administration, that this bill isn’t guaranteed to get the governor’s support.

While the bill does not currently expand Medicaid, legislators could add expansion language in, if they so choose, as the bill goes through the committee process. For passage, the bill will have to go through the Senate, and then go over to the House for review. It is expected to be referred to the House Health and Social Services Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who has been open to the idea of Medicaid expansion. It would also likely go to the House Finance Committee, where there are also a few friendly members.

But even if expansion language does get added to this bill, the legislation would still have to go back to the Senate for approval and potentially for a conference committee. Kelly is not optimistic about that going over well in his body.

KELLY: If I were to look into a crystal ball, I would say that would die in the Senate.

For their part, officials at the Department of Health and Social Services, who have been pushing for expansion, say they have not had time to review the bill.

It’s Day 53 at the Capitol. We’re more than halfway done with the 90-day session. Can all this happen in time for adjournment?

If it does, it would have to be on a tight schedule. It’s a pretty complicated subject to jump into so late in the game. But then again, and some people might throttle me for saying this: There’s always the option of a special session.

Categories: Alaska News

New Route Makes Some Mushers Feel Like Rookies

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 15:53

This year’s race reroute has left even the most seasoned of Iditarod mushers feeling like rookies. Race leaders won’t start to appear until after teams complete their mandatory layovers and make up their start time differentials. Many mushers are still surprised at where they’re finding themselves in the standings.

When he arrived in Ruby, Aaron Burmeister had no idea he was near the front of the pack.

“At no checkpoints we’ve been in have we had any idea where we are.. there have been no data, no information available for where we are. I was just taking care of my dogs and tending to things and came in here in third place and was like ‘wow, what in the world?’ I figured I’d be in 20th.”

Burmeister isn’t the only musher who has been surprised about where his team is in the standings.

“I am very surprised at where I am definitely.”

That’s Wade Marrs.  The 24 year old has finished three Iditarods.

“I thought I’d have a lot more catching up to do if I wanted to get in the top ten. Well, right now we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and keep things together and we should be able to pull it off.”

For Paige Drobny, it came as a surprise that she arrived in Galena in 24th place. She says she’s had more rest this year, in comparison to her previous two races.

“The last two years, I felt like I had been pretty on top of things, like running and resting quickly and I was in like 40th place.  I couldn’t believe there were doing it faster than what I was doing.”

This year, no one is running a traditional race plan, because they aren’t travelling a traditional trail. So even for seasoned veterans like 14-time finisher Ken Anderson, it’s not entirely clear even for veterans like Ken Anderson exactly how their teams are performing.

“I’ve run Iditarod so many times you’re like ‘ok the dogs are going to look like this at this checkpoint,’ and you’re just ready for it.”

A third of the way into the race, Anderson wanted his dogs too look the way he’d expect them to look in Takotna, had he been running the normal southern route.

“Come to think of it, they look better, yeah I just realized that!”

Standings will remain something of a mystery until mushers complete both their mandatory eight and 24-hour layovers and make up their time differential from the start. A trail report from race officials warns mushers of a “long, cold slog” along the rerouted trail to Huslia and beyond to Koyukuk.  Perhaps, mushers may find bliss running in subzero temperatures, if they remain somewhat ignorant about the new trail and where they’re running amid the pack.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Gray Named Bethel DA

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 15:41

Alaska’s attorney general has named the Fairbanks district attorney as Bethel’s new district attorney. J. Michael Gray will begin in Bethel April 1 and will replace June Stein, who was fired last month.

The state says Gray has 20 years of experience as a prosecutor in Alaska, beginning in Kodiak. He was named district attorney there and later moved to head up the DA’s office in Fairbanks.

He began his career in rural Virginia.

Chris Carpeneti is the Acting District Attorney in Bethel after Stein
finished this week. He’s resigning as of April 3rd. The department of law says it’s actively recruiting to fill the role and expects to make a hire in the coming weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

“Scrubbers” to Cut Cruise Ship Pollution

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 15:24

A Celebrity Cruise Line ship sails into Juneau in 2012 with emissions coming out of its stack. New pollution-control equipment being installed on Alaska-bound and other ships will reduce the emissions plume. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau)

Cruise lines that sail Alaska waters are installing new pollution-control equipment. It’s aimed at clearing the air — and meeting new regulations. But it’s also dodging some stronger, more expensive measures.

The stuff that comes out of cruise ship smokestacks can cloud the air, leaving a haze over port cities, and plumes along their routes.

But it’s more than unsightly. Sulfur dioxide, ash and other ingredients contribute to acid rain and smog. They can also cause respiratory problems — and even death.

That’s why the Environment Protection Agency set new emission standards for most vessels.

Smoke pours out of the smokestack of the Carnival Spirit as it fires up its engines. (Courtesy Ground Truth Trekking)
That includes almost 30 large cruise ships sailing Alaska waters, some of which are getting new pollution-control equipment.

“One of the ships, which is the Solstice, is being retrofitted right now,” says Rich Pruitt, vice president of environmental stewardship for Royal Caribbean International.

The line will send five ships to Alaska this summer.

He says about 20 of its vessels, close to half its worldwide fleet, are getting new air-emission control equipment, calledscrubbers.

“By spraying water into the exhaust stream, the sulfur dioxide and particulates are basically captured in the water spray. And it effectively removes any sulfur dioxide, up to about 98-99 percent, and a significant portion of the particulates,” he says.

Pruitt says the rest of the corporation’s fleet will eventually get the technology, though it may try some other options.

The cruise industry could meet EPA standards, and upcoming international rules, by switching to low-sulfur fuel, which causes far less pollution. But Pruitt says that’s too expensive, and refineries may not make be able to keep up with the demand.

That’s why the industry is installing scrubbers.

“We’re looking at this as a way of ensuring that we’ll be able to be compliant regardless of where we operate,” he says.
Royal Caribbean is one of several worldwide lines installing scrubber technology.

Carnival Corporation, which owns Princess and Holland-America lines, announced its intentions in 2013.

“The only other major cruise line that brings ships to Alaska is Norwegian Cruise Lines and they also have a program to start to install scrubbers on their existing ships,” says John Binkley, president of the Alaska chapter of the Cruise Lines International Association.

The new federal rules, which mirror those in Canada, are for lines sailing within 200 miles of the coast. They took effect in January, but Binkley says many ships were not ready.

“Each company has negotiated with the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, on a schedule and when they’re going to bring certain ships into compliance,” he says.
Critics say the lines should have been ready sooner.

Chip Thoma campaigned for a tax-and-pollution-control initiative voters approved about 10 years ago.

“The cruise lines fought that tooth and nail in the State Department, and every chance they’d get in Washington, D.C., to try to scuttle that treaty,” he says.

He’s encouraged by plans for new scrubber technology. But he says the lines should also switch to low-sulfur diesel.

“I think the price of fuel, all fuel, is going to keep going down. And it’s eventually going to be in everybody’s best interests to just burn clean fuel,” he says.
Some critics say scrubbers only change air pollution into ocean pollution, since the filtering water is disposed of overboard. Pruitt says Royal Caribbean ships, which include the Celebrity line, will treat the water and dispose of the resulting sludge on land.

Similar technology is used on other large ocean-going ships and coal-fired power plants.

Alaska does not regulate the chemical composition of cruise-ship air emissions. But it does measure its density.

Ed White of the state’s cruise ship monitoring program says scrubbers should improve the situation.

“The assumption is that as the amount of sulfur in the fuel decreases, the opacity would as well. We don’t have any requirements for the equipment used or anything like that. So we’re not directly involved with the scrubbers. But once it goes overboard, we’ll be monitoring that,” he says.

Scrubber technology is expensive.

Some lines won’t discuss what they’re spending. But Carnival has said installation on 70 of its ships would cost about $400 million, or around $6 million each.

Royal Caribbean’s Pruitt says despite the cost, the new equipment won’t increase fares.

“By having the exhaust gas cleaning systems or scrubbers, it will allow us to burn the more affordable fuel. So, it’s not like we feel that we have to pass that on,” he says.
While EPA rules kicked in this year, worldwide standards won’t take effect until 2020. They’re less stringent, but are still a significant reduction.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Advance in Pilot Project to Arm VPSOs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-13 14:36

 

 

First Sergeant James Hoelscher instructs officers at a 2014 training. (Photo By Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel)

Three Village Public Safety Officers have been selected to advance in the VPSO Arming Pilot Project with training this month in Sitka. 21 VPSOs initially showed interest in taking part. There were seven earlier this year still in the process.

Veteran VPSO First Sergeant James Hoelscher of Hooper Bay is the only VPSO set to be armed in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region. Also advancing are Sergeant Philip Plessinger of Fairbanks and Noatak’s Corporal Michael Gagliano.

Lieutenant Andrew Merrill with the Alaska State Troopers says there are many reasons why the 18 other VPSOs did not continue in the program.

“We had a physical fitness test, which was a new process for many VPSOs, and some could not physically pass that test. They have the opportunity to pass that test and participate in the future. Other VPSOs that were fully capable physically and thought they could use force later thought about the fact they live in a community in which they are related to the majority of the community: cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. The thought of using deadly force against one of their family members had them choose to not participate,” said Merrill.

Participants also had to undergo an extensive psychological exam during the process. In 2014 the Alaska legislature passed the law allowing VPSOs to carry guns, in addition to a taser and baton. It was spurred by the death of a VPSO in Manokotak, Thomas Madole, who was shot and killed while unarmed.

The VPSOs that were selected are each employed by the Association of Village Council Presidents, Tanana Chiefs Conference and Northwest Arctic Borough.

In addition to the firearms training, the three VPSOs will receive instruction on defensive tactics, weapon retention, police communication, scenario and judgment training, ethics, and use of force. There are plans for extensive in-the-field training with troopers for the pilot project VPSOs. They are expected to graduate from the program in April and could be armed soon after.

Categories: Alaska News

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