Alaska News

Live Video: The Annual Polar Bear Migration In Churchill, Manitoba

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-03 12:14


Courtesy of explore.org, Polar Bears International, Frontiers North Adventures

Catch a glimpse of the annual polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba, brought to you by Explore.org, the philanthropic media organization and division of the Annenberg Foundation.

Categories: Alaska News

More National Guard Documents Released, Most Unresponsive

APRN Alaska News - Sat, 2014-11-01 19:54

The Alaska Attorney General’s office released a fourth and fifth set of documents concerning the Alaska National Guard on Saturday. One 171-page packet contained mostly press releases and official photographs. Another 151-page set is made up of duplicate records from previous drops.

While much of the material is unresponsive, the fourth packet contains a 2009 letter from then-Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom takes great exception to a letter sent to her from Debra Blaylock, wife of whistleblower Kenneth Blaylock. Debra Blaylock, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Alaska Army National Guard, wrote to Dahlstrom before Thomas Katkus was appointed adjutant general.

Blaylock asked Dahlstrom to “seriously look into Tom Katkus’ background if his name comes up for nomination.” She went on to write that Katkus was under investigation for “numerous allegations.” Blaylock acknowledged her husband had filed one of the complaints against Katkus and stated she had retired from service, “rather than suffer any more of his abuse.”

In her response, Dahlstrom chastised Blaylock, writing that Katkus had served for more than two decades as a captain and division commander with the Anchorage Police Department without complaint or discipline. Dahlstrom wrote that “because of your credentials as a military officer” Blaylock should be “sensitive to the extreme damage that results from reckless and baseless allegations.” Dahlstrom also expressed “great offense” to Blaylock’s “statement that [the Guard] is a ‘good old boy’ network with corrupt leadership.”

Dahlstrom concluded by voicing confidence in the governor and legislature’s vetting process for selecting and confirming a replacement adjutant general. Katkus was ultimately appointed by Gov. Parnell to replace Craig Campbell.

Dahlstrom later went to work for the Parnell administration, first briefly in 2010 and then again in 2012 to 2013. In her second stint as a military affairs aide, Dahlstrom received numerous complaints about the Guard, which she then forwarded on to Parnell chief of staff Mike Nizich.

The fifth packet also contains correspondence from a former Parnell aide with a record in the legislator. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who currently serves in the State Senate, sent an e-mail with the subject “Investigation” to Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre on April 26, 2011. He also forward a copy to Nizich and to Parnell policy director Randy Ruaro. The substance of the e-mail is entirely redacted, for reasons of deliberative and executive privilege.

Only 30 of the 171 pages in the fourth packet appeared responsive to the request by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News.

With only two days remaining before the state’s election, the attorney representing the media organizations sent a strongly worded letter Saturday afternoon demanding that documents be released rapidly, with less redaction and in a process that avoids “further obstructing or delaying or denying access to the requested public records.”

This story has been updated to include information about a fifth packet of documents.

[Fourth Document Packet (25mb)]
[Fifth Document Packet]
[Attorney Letter]

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s Office Releases Hundreds Of National Guard Documents

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:15

The State of Alaska has released letters, emails, and other documents related to the Alaska National Guard scandal (175 MB). A “privilege log” listing why some details in the documents were redacted was also released.

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Copies of all notes, correspondence, memos and emails related to sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard were requested in May by Alaska Public Media. It took until Sept. 26 for Gov. Sean Parnell’s policy director, Randy Ruaro, to deny the request.

Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News sued the state Oct. 8. Two weeks after filing the lawsuit it appeared that the state was willing to release the documents without litigation. A week later the state had only released few of requested documents.

The media organizations advanced their lawsuit Wednesday to force the release of the documents before the Nov. 4 election. Alaska Superior Court judge Gregory Miller ruled on Thursday that the state was to comply with the records requests by Friday at noon. Reporters received an 596-page document around 1 p.m. today.

This is not the first time reporters have had difficulty requesting documents from the Parnell administration. Last year reporters requested copies of an $80,000 study commissioned by the state to look at the effects of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The Parnell administration maintained that the report was not a public record because it was protected under the “deliberative process privilege.” Seven months later Parnell released the report after he’d made the decision that Alaska would not expand its Medicaid program.

Alaska National Guard emails – 175 MB pdf

Privilege Log – 58 KB pdf

Categories: Alaska News

Economists Say It’s Too Early To Determine Effects Of Current Low Oil Prices

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:14

Crude oil prices are hovering in the $80 range, and in Alaska that brings with it worries over the budget. But economists from either side of the political spectrum have roughly the same take on what’s playing out: it’s too early to tell.

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Categories: Alaska News

Leroy B. Dick Jr. Murder Trial Next Week in Dillingham

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:13

Leroy Blair Dick, Jr., now 44, is expected to be tried on a first degree murder charge before a jury of peers at the Dillingham courthouse next week. Pending further delay, jury selection will begin Monday, November 3.

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Dick is accused of killing of Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole in Manokotak in March 2013.

Leroy Dick Jr., at his arraignment on a first degree murder charge on March 20, 2013.

“To be honest, I could say I’m guilty of the crime,” Dick told Magistrate Judge Monte Brice at his arraignment the day after the murder.

Officer Madole, a retired minister, was described as a “friend” and “role model” to the Manokotak community, and was highly respected in the VPSO community. Madole had spent six years pastoring a church in Bethel in the early 2000s, and moved to Manokotak in 2011 as a VPSO. Governor Sean Parnell called the murder a “senseless and cruel act” and ordered all state flags lowered two days later in honor of Madole, who was the first VPSO killed in the line of duty since Ronald Zimin was shot in South Naknek in 1986. Tom Madole is survived by his wife Luan and two adult children.

Madole’s death led to the passing of a bill in Alaska to allow VPSO’s to carry firearms. House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, passed the Alaska House and Senate unanimously. Governor Sean Parnell signed the bill into law last July in Naknek.

VPSO Tom Madole was killed in the line of duty in Manokotak on March 19, 2013.
(Credit Alaska State Troopers)

Madole, unarmed, was killed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 in Manokotak, after being shot several times with an assault rifle. Madole had gone to Leroy Dick’s house at about 4 p.m. after taking a report of a “possible suicidal person,” according to the trooper affidavit. Troopers said Madole realized he was in danger, and had tried to flee the scene after he heard Dick making threatening remarks and chambering a round into a rifle. When the investigating state troopers arrived from Dillingham shortly after the report of gunfire, they found Madole’s body about 20 paces from Dick’s doorstep.

Dick was arrested that day and transported to the Dillingham jail. He was arraigned the following morning at the Dillingham courthouse, and initially refused legal counsel. A grand jury indicted Dick on the charge a week later.

Attorney Jonathon Torres of the Public Defenders Agency is representing Dick. Judge Gregory Miller denied Torres’ December 2013 motion to change the venue out of the Dillingham court. A psychiatric report was filed in this past September.

Gregg Olson of the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals is prosecuting the case. The state filed its intent to seek a mandatory sentence of 99 years in prison if Dick is convicted.

Judge Miller will preside over the trial in Dillingham, which is scheduled to get underway Monday November 3. Two weeks have been calendared for the trial.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Investigators Wrap Up Work in Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:12

The aftermath of the fire. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Two investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s office completed their work at the site of the fire that destroyed the new Bethel alcohol treatment center.

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“The on scene has been completed, however, more followups with interviews may be possible,” Lloyd Nakano, an assistant state fire marshall, said.

Photo by Dean Swope

Four days after the enormous fire that leveled the $12.5 million facility, which was being enclosed for the winter, Nakano says he doesn’t know the cause of the fire.

“We have to eliminate causes such as natural, accidental, incendiary, before we can do any, that’s what we have to do,” said Nakano.

Nakano would not say what sort of tools, heaters or equipment was present that might have caused the fire. They have not ruled out the possibility of arson, but also will not say whether they believe it was an intentionally set fire.

Nakano says there are no reports of fatalities or injuries after a thorough search. Nakano has no timeline for when the investigation will be complete. The Bethel Fire Department and an insurance investigator for the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation have also been involved.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senator Lyman Hoffman Explains Endorsement Of U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:11

Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman surprised some people when he endorsed Republican Dan Sullivan for US Senate. In an interview with KYUK today, Hoffman explained why he took a stance in the high profile race in which Sullivan is seeking Senator Mark Begich’s job.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Youth Take Part In National Community Planning Month

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:10

Laying out neighborhoods isn’t the world’s most glamorous job. But every October, urban planners make an extra effort to get people interested in that work for National Community Planning Month.

In Unalaska, that meant helping some of the town’s youngest residents design a world all their own.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Twin Hills

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:08

This week, we’re heading to Twin Hills, near Bristol Bay. William Ilutsik is a grant writer for the village of Twin Hills.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 31, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 17:07

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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Governor’s Office Releases Hundreds Of National Guard Documents

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The governor’s office has released hundreds of pages of documents relating to the Alaska National Guard issues.

Economists Say It’s Too Early To Determine Effects Of Current Low Oil Prices

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Crude oil prices are hovering in the $80 range, and in Alaska that brings with it worries over the budget. But economists from either side of the political spectrum have roughly the same take on what’s playing out: it’s too early to tell.

Leroy B. Dick Jr. Murder Trial Next Week in Dillingham

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The trial of Leroy B. Dick Jr is scheduled to get underway Monday in Dillingham. Dick, now 44, is accused of murdering Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole in Manokotak on March 19, 2013.

Fire Investigators Wrap Up Work in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Two investigators from the state Fire Marshal office completed their work at the site of the fire that destroyed the new Bethel alcohol treatment center.

State Senator Lyman Hoffman Explains Endorsement Of U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman surprised some people when he endorsed Republican Dan Sullivan for US Senate.  In an interview with KYUK today, Hoffman explained why he took a stance in the high profile race in which Sullivan is seeking Senator Mark Begich’s job.

Unalaska Youth Take Part In National Community Planning Month

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Laying out neighborhoods isn’t the world’s most glamorous job. But every October, urban planners make an extra effort to get people interested in that work for National Community Planning Month.

In Unalaska, that meant helping some of the town’s youngest residents design a world all their own.

AK: Murder

Dave Waldron, KSKA – Anchorage

Don’t worry, nobody’s actually getting killed. Instead, we’re planning a murder mystery party with an Anchorage business called outcast productions. Elisa Hitchcock and Kimberly Gray have been running the business for two decades. APRN’s Dave Waldron enlisted a few colleagues to give a murder mystery party a try.

300 Villages: Twin Hills

This week, we’re heading to Twin Hills, near Bristol Bay. William Ilutsik is a grant writer for the village of Twin Hills.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 General Election Information

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 16:30
Where do I vote?

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What are the statewide Ballot Measures? Who are the candidates?

Click here to find information about this year’s candidates. Many of this year’s candidates in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley appeared on Alaska Public Media’s 2014 Running program. You can find the videos here. For more information about this year’s candidates for: U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor, and Lt. Governor, you can find the videos for this year’s Debate for the State here.

Where can I find more coverage of this year’s candidates and ballot measures?

Alaska Public Media and public radio stations from around the state have worked to provide complete coverage of this year’s election season through both news reporting and public affairs programming. This year’s coverage can be found on our Elections page.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble Files FOIA Lawsuit Against EPA

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-31 13:38

In October, the Pebble Limited Partnership filed its third lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, this time seeking documents Pebble alleges were not turned over through prior Freedom of Information Act requests. The EPA is moving forward to establish restrictions against water use in Bristol Bay which will likely prevent development of the Pebble deposit.

Pebble’s first lawsuit against EPA, filed in May, challenged the agency’s legal authority to veto necessary permits before the developer has applied for them. That lawsuit was dismissed as premature by Judge H. Russel Holland on September 26. Holland said the EPA must have issued a final agency decision or final agency action to provide the basis for a legal challenge.

The second lawsuit, filed in early September, alleges that the EPA has been collaborating with scientists and environmental groups to implement EPA’s “scheme” to prohibit mining the Pebble deposit. Those collaborations, says Pebble, were violating provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. FACA, established in 1972, seeks to ensure that the outside citizens and committees who consult with federal agencies “provide advice that is relevant, objective, and open to the public.”

Pebble alleges EPA’s work with Trout Unlimited, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and others dating to at least 2008 has been anything but objective and open to the public. Judge Holland will hear from both parties in this lawsuit in November, as Pebble has asked that he issue a preliminary injunction against further EPA action.

Pebble is basing their accusation on a paper trail left behind from years of behind-the-scenes work between a number of environmental groups, scientists, and the EPA. The documents Pebble has obtained come from FOIA requests, but Pebble says the EPA is holding back from releasing more.

“We’ve received what I’d call the tip of the iceberg from EPA,” said Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for Pebble. “In just one of our Freedom of Information Act requests, we now know that EPA withheld at least 30,000 pages.”

Much of what EPA turned over to Pebble so far is “heavily redacted,” according to Heatwole, and there are noticeable gaps in the email chain.

“We’ve received no emails from Administrator Lisa Jackson,” he said. Jackson served as EPA Administrator from 2009 to 2013, visited the Bristol Bay region, and was briefed by agency staff about the issues surrounding Pebble. It is also believed that Jackson used a private email account under the name “Richard Windsor,” and Pebble says so far they have received none of those emails either.

Pebble also points to missing emails of former-EPA official Phillip North. From the emails it has obtained, North appears to have been actively encouraging the agency to use its 404c authority long before a 2010 request made by area tribes, perhaps as early as 2005. North coordinated closely with environmental activists and others adamantly opposed to Pebble.

But the EPA told Congress this year that North’s emails from 2002 to 2010 are missing. It was reported by the National Journal that the hard drive on North’s laptop “crashed” around 2010, and the emails have not been recovered.

“If this is the most open and transparent process they’ve undertaken, as they’ve said it is, then the question is what are they hiding?” said Heatwole.

The FOIA lawsuit asks the federal court to force EPA to turn over the rest of any and all documents relating to the agency’s involvement in the Pebble process.

“There’s a counter-narrative to what the EPA has been putting out,” said Heatwole. “They’ve said their interests and actions started against Pebble when they received a tribal petition. But the email traffic clearly shows that they’ve had a lot of internal conversations well before that May 2010 petition.”

The complaint documents filed by Pebble, including some of the memos and emails it has obtained, can be downloaded here.

Categories: Alaska News

In Years Prior To Investigation, Chaplains And Parnell Aide Submitted Guard Complaints To Governor’s Top Staff

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:46

While the governor’s office is now being ordered by a superior court judge to provide more records or explain the reasons for withholding them, the administration did provide a 352-page log of records that could be relevant earlier this week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that hints of a timeline emerge in the document that outline the Parnell administration’s response to the allegations.

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The log begins from the day that Gov. Sean Parnell took office in 2009, and was produced using search terms like “National Guard,” “misconduct,” “fraud,” and “assault.” Many of the 12,000 e-mails do not seem relevant to the request, and cover things like Arctic policy meetings and disaster response. But about 60 pages in, the name of a whistleblower shows up in the subject line of an e-mail between the governor in and his scheduler in November of 2010. From that point on, Alaska National Guard chaplain Matt Friese sent 30 separate e-mails to the governor’s office through the end of 2011.

While Friese could not be reached, his colleague Rick Cavens says those correspondences began after chaplains teleconferenced with the governor four years ago and that they were a group effort.

“We then started conversations through Mike Nizich, who worked for the governor,” says Cavens. “We were to go through him and not go through the governor.”

Cavens says many of the complaints specifically concerned National Guard leadership and did not name victims. The subject lines are vague, but many contain subject lines like “Request you forward the attached or “Please forward to the Governor …” and “Toxic Leadership.” Nothing in the log indicates that those records were directly forwarded from Nizich’s account to Parnell. The Governor’s Office declined to comment on the log and did not clarify if the governor was provided physical copies of e-mails or briefed on them, but Parnell has previously said he was informed of every complaint.

Cavens says one of the specific requirements the chaplains had in dealing with the governor’s office is that their communications not be shared with then-adjutant general Thomas Katkus – who was asked to resign in September — for fear of reprisal.

“We didn’t want leadership involved,” says Cavens. “We had tried to talk to leadership, and it hadn’t gone anywhere.”

At the end of 2011, communications between the chaplains and Chief of Staff Mike Nizich suddenly broke down. On December 22 of that year, Cavens sent an e-mail with the subject line “Compromised.” He shared a copy with APRN, and in it, he accused Nizich of violating confidentiality. Cavens wrote that Adjutant General Katkus told one of the chaplains that he was aware that a group of them “have been a conduit to the governor.”

Cavens believed Nizich had identified them to Guard leadership.

“You understood that confidentiality for chaplains is dear and that we all have tried our chain of command and why Chaplain Friese contacted you in frustration,” Cavens wrote in the e-mail. “At this point in time I do not see you as a trusted agent for positive change and growth in the Alaska National Guard.”

Cavens still holds the same view.

“The only way that they would know it was that individual and us is because we had given that information to Nizich. Nizich, in a rebuttal e-mail, became quite agitated but clearly – and I wrote that e-mail – I wasn’t going to communicate with that man anymore. I did not trust him. And if he was giving information to the governor, it was compromised information.”

Nizich emphasized that progress had been made with the Guard that year, and that was because of the work of the Governor’s Office.

“I have served in the military and know all about the chain of command and the sensitivities of going outside those lines,” wrote Nizich. “Since my conversations with DMVA leadership (still on-going) there has been several positive changes made at DMVA and more on the horizon. These changes have not happened by coincidence.”

Cavens disputes that.

“No, it actually got worse,” says Cavens. “There was more leadership that was installed that had a tendency to bully. We were distanced, or I felt I was. I didn’t see any positive changes and I don’t feel that there were any really instigated.”

Nizich also strongly denied breaching confidentiality in his e-mail response.

“I don’t have much more to say to you except I am extremely frustrated right now and disappointed in receiving your communication suggesting that I breached the chaplains confidence,” Nizich wrote.

After the e-mails from the chaplains stopped at the end of 2011, there was a lull in obviously relevant communication about the Guard’s problems to the Governor’s office. But at the end of 2012, subject lines that directly relate to complaints about the National Guard begin popping up again. They are forwarded e-mails delivered by Nancy Dahlstrom, who was then a special assistant for the Parnell administration. She passed on nearly a dozen complaints between December 2012 and February 2013. One e-mail specifically mentions National Guard whistleblower Ken Blaylock in the subject line. Some are colorfully titled, like “Another example of theft – Ghost Employees” and “Imprecatory Prayers and ‘that Racist Holiday.” One forward is just labeled “Kodiak Entertainment Group,” a pornography company owned by one of the leaders of the Guard’s recruitment unit.

“There were allegations of different kinds of sexual assault, fraud, theft, drug smuggling, gun running, really serious things like that,” says Dahlstrom, who also served as a legislator from 2003 to 2010. She left elected office to serve as Parnell’s military affairs in 2010, before resigning from the position because of ethics concerns. She rejoined his staff in 2012.

Dahlstrom says that when she first reached out to Nizich about complaints about the Guard and its leadership, she was directed to involve Katkus even though some of the messages concerned him. She was also told that the Administration had already addressed these types of allegations.

“When I first brought these e-mails to the attention of the chief of staff, I was told some similar things had come up before and that they had been checked out and that there was nothing to them,” says Dahlstrom. “But when the different allegations kept coming to me, I kept on sending them up the chain, and I was not privy to any information on who had investigated or what. I was just told it had been done.”

Dahlstrom says that one of the people who regularly e-mailed her was perceived as having an axe to grind.

“Well, I was told that one of the people that was complaining was a former employee who was disgruntled and that most likely played into why these things were being said,” says Dahlstrom.

Dahlstrom says that even so, she continued to pass on the complaints and at one point delivered a package related to the National Guard to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. She says that while she can only speak for herself, she took the complaints seriously.

“I knew it needed to be dealt with one way or another,” says Dahlstrom. “If it was true something needed to be done, and if it wasn’t true, something needed to be done.”

Once Dahlstrom left her position with the Department of Military Affairs, there was again a drop-off in clear communication about misconduct in the National Guard. Obvious e-mails only pick up at the end of 2013, when the Anchorage Daily News first published a story about problems with the Guard that October. Communication within the Governor’s office about misconduct within the Guard appears active from that time on, with subject lines referring to news stories, records requests, and involvement of the National Guard Bureau.

["Compromised" e-mail]
[National Guard E-mail Log]

Categories: Alaska News

Judge rules state must comply with National Guard records request

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:13

John McKay argued the case on behalf of Alaska Public Media and ADN.

An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the governor’s office must start providing documents about the National Guard scandal to Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News.  The State has until noon Friday to hand over any related public records they have already identified and cleared and a privilege log that explains why they cannot provide other documents.

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Judge Gregory Miller said that the state had violated its own regulations and statues by waiting until September to reply to the records requests submitted in May and June. When the state did finally reply, they did not provide either documents or a privilege log.

Attorney John McKay argued the case on behalf of the news organizations. He says the judge acted reasonably by requiring the release of documents.

“The judge’s order says if there is something that’s disclosable, do it. And if it’s not disclosable, provide a privilege log like the law requires. Neither of which they’ve been doing and both of which they agreed to do,” McKay said.

The news organizations sued the state in the beginning of October and soon after came to an agreement with the Department of Law. The state said they would start producing the documents as soon as possible and provide them on a rolling basis. They did not.

Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar argued the case on behalf of the State. She said that the delay was due to the privilege of the executive branch to review all of the documents and see if releasing them would violate anyone’s rights.

The governor’s office was given 717 pages of documents cleared by the Department of Law on October 21, none of which have yet been logged or released. Bakalar said the governor’s office is working on many issues.

Judge Miller asked Bakalar at least four times how much time the governor’s office needed to complete the request and was never given a straight answer.

The state could still appeal the judge’s order to the state’s Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 30, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:12

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

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Judge Rules State Must Comply With National Guard Records Request

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

An Alaska Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the governor’s office must start providing documents about the National Guard scandal to Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News.  The State has until noon tomorrow to hand over any related public records they have already identified and a privilege log that explains why they cannot provide other documents.

Organizations Making Final Push To Encourage Alaska Native Voters

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

As Election Day nears, Native organizations in Juneau are making one last big push to encourage voters through a Get Out the Native Vote information rally on Saturday.

YKHC Moves Into New Prematernal Home

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A facility that has lowered infant and mother morbidity rates in the Y-K Delta has a new home. Bethel’s Prematernal Home has moved to a new building along the Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. The new Home is three times the size of the old one and has improved amenities for the region’s expectant mothers during the final stage of pregnancy.

Timeline Begins To Emerge From National Guard Documents

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

While the governor’s office is now being told to provide more National Guard records or explain the reasons for withholding them, the administration did hand over a 352-page log of records that could be relevant earlier this week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that hints of a timeline emerge in the document that outlines the Parnell administration’s response to the allegations.

Refuge Proposes Shooting Caribou that Swim Off Adak

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Adak Island is home to something you won’t find elsewhere in the Aleutians: a herd of caribou, introduced in the 1950s as a hunting option for the old naval base there. The base is closed, but the caribou are still thriving — and lately, some have been striking out for newer pastures. It’s got wildlife refuge managers looking to keep a herd from forming where hunters can’t follow.

Report: Second-Growth Logging Can Start Now

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Tongass National Forest officials want the timber industry to log and process fewer old trees. They’re planning a 10- to-15-year transition to harvesting younger forests.

Two Oregon researchers, one an industry consultant and the other an environmental activist, say it can happen sooner.

Categories: Alaska News

Organizations Making Final Push To Encourage Alaska Native Voters

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:12

As Election Day nears, Native organizations in Juneau are making one last big push to encourage voters through a Get Out the Native Vote information rally on Saturday.

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Categories: Alaska News

YKHC Moves Into New Prematernal Home

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:11

A facility that has lowered infant and mother morbidity rates in the Y-K Delta has a new home. Bethel’s Prematernal Home has moved to a new building along the Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. The new Home is three times the size of the old one and has improved amenities for the region’s expectant mothers during the final stage of pregnancy.

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With her flowing black hair and a light blue dress that shows off her full, pregnant belly, the woman in the window art at the front door of Bethel’s new Prematernal Home, could be any of the hundreds who stay at the facility while they await the birth of their babies.

“These are not stained glass but there’s three of them in the windows and they’re an acrylic paint that’s completely washable, so she’s pretty prominent here and she’s pretty special.”

She’s even painted onto the barriers in the parking lot. That’s Doreen O’Brien, who’s run the Prematernal Home for 24 years. The Home is run by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. It houses pregnant women from the surrounding 58 villages that YKHC serves, during the last month of their pregnancy, so that they can more easily access care required and are closer to emergency services should there be a complication. The new home is a huge improvement over the old one says O’Brien.

“The first and foremost thing that everybody notices is there’s more bathrooms, said O’Brien.

The rooms where women stay are larger, and they have nearly double the number of beds of the old home, 45. There’s a movie and game room, a commercial kitchen, a laundry room and even a workout room. The home is spacious.

“This place is 17-thousand square feet with 15 bedrooms, eight bathrooms, in their rooms. We have two public restrooms as well. And just the size; the old building was 5,000 square feet, this is 17,000 square feet, so it’s three times the size that we were in,” said O’Brien.

The home started out as a stand-alone non-profit in the late sixties, after local health care workers realized that many Native women from surrounding villages who had been directed by health care providers to relocate to Bethel, had nowhere to go. Some were living in poor conditions, even outside.

“In 1967 there was a lady found living under an under an overturned boat up by the old Indian Health Service hospital, about where the new Y-K building is now. And when the medical staff – somebody went out and found her out there and said what are you doing? She said, ‘Well they told me to come to Bethel to have my baby and be safe but I don’t have any place to stay.’ So that woke people up and realized that the women were coming in from the surrounding 58 villages but where were they staying?” said O’Brien.

An ad-hoc committee got together and the Hoffman family donated a house. By 1971, the home had relocated to what is now the old pre-maternal home, a little pink building near the Lutheran church. YKHC took over in 2004. O’Brien says the old Maternal Home wasn’t ideal.

“There was one time that I had 37 women in that prematernal home. We had a big storm come in in a January and every time a plane went to a village they’d throw the pregnant women on it an bring em to town and they’d be standing in the door and I says, I can’t just put you in the street. And there was no place else for em. We had ladies sleeping on the couches. I went into town, in Bethel, and bought every roll away bed that was known to man in Bethel and we put them up,” said O’Brien.

Today each woman gets her own bed in a spacious dorm room with a shared bathroom. Back at the front entry, O’Brien gazes up at the design of the pregnant woman on the glass between the entry and the dining area and marvels at just how far the home for expectant mothers has come.

“The first design of new maternal home back in ’96 or something and that was on the proposal booklet that was going out for grants, so there she is and she’s just kind of there, waiting,” said O’Brien.

And now she, along with the hundreds of women who spend the final weeks of pregnancy at the home, will have a much nicer place to bide their time until baby arrives. Construction of the new Prematernal home was paid for through a state capital appropriation of 12.6 million dollars. The official grand opening is set for Tuesday, November 18th (4-6pm).

Categories: Alaska News

Refuge Proposes Shooting Caribou that Swim Off Adak

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:09

Adak Island is home to something you won’t find much of elsewhere in the Aleutians: a herd of caribou, introduced in the 1950s as a hunting option for the naval base. The base has since closed, but the caribou are still there — and lately, some have been striking out for new pastures.

It’s got wildlife refuge managers looking to keep a herd from forming where hunters can’t follow.

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Kagalaska Island makes pretty appealing habitat for an enterprising caribou. It’s uninhabited, roomy and full of tasty lichen beds. And it’s just a short swim away from Adak.

Caribou on Adak in 1985. (Credit: USFWS)

Both islands are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, where Steve Delehanty is manager. Of the 2,000 or so caribou on Adak, he says a handful have been spotted on Kagalaska in the past two years:

“I’m not a caribou; I don’t know just what’s going through their mind,” he says, “but if you’re standing on Adak, you can look across on a semi-clear day and you can see land there. And caribou are well known to be swimmers, and I guess once in a while, they decide to take the plunge and look for new habitat, a new place to call home.”

Kagalaska’s only about a half a mile away from Adak at its closest point, but Delehanty says the rough water between the two islands makes it impractical to even try to hunt there. And since the Aleutians aren’t home to any of mainland Alaska’s other big mammals — like wolves — the caribou could flourish in their new environment.

“It’s pretty common to have kind of a population boom in an island setting when an animal is brought that doesn’t have any natural predators,” he says. “The population will grow and grow and grow, and sometimes, they’ll sort of eat themselves out of house and home and the population will crash.”

Delehanty says it’s his job to preserve the natural order of the refuge — and the non-native caribou don’t belong. So the refuge is proposing sending staff workers to Kagalaska about once a year, to walk around and shoot any caribou they find.

After that, Delehanty says they’d follow government policy, and decide case-by-case whether it was worth it to salvage and donate a dead animal to subsistence users back on Adak.

“I think everybody prefers that if it’s possible, but there becomes a balance of reasonableness and cost-effectiveness,” he says. “You have to realize how remote this site is, and how logistically challenging this is. And again, there are a couple thousand [caribou] on Adak.”

He stressed that the control plan wouldn’t interfere at all with Adak’s well-established herd, which is a food source and a big tourism draw. On Kagalaska, though, Delahanty says the caribou aren’t just introduced — they’re invasive.

“Even though they’re swimming by themselves to get to Kagalaska Island, they never would have gotten there except for the fact that humans brought them to Adak,” he says. “So it’s kind of a human-originating problem.”

But he’s not sure yet how their human-powered solution will work. Staff could do the caribou control during their annual Aleutian tour on their research ship Tiglax. It’d be convenient, since Adak’s hard to get to otherwise, and it’s already in the refuge budget.

An annual visit to Kagalaska might not be enough, though. Refuge staff set foot on the island so rarely right now that they don’t have good data on how many caribou are moving there, or how often. That’s something else they’d look to find when they went scouting for new herds.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is still taking public comment on the caribou control plan for Kagalaska Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Second-Growth Logging Can Start Now

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 17:08

Remains of a Tongass clear-cut and logging road north of Ketchikan. New growth in parts of the forest could be cut to jump-start a modern timber industry, a report says. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

Tongass National Forest officials want the timber industry to log and process fewer old trees. They’re planning a 10- to-15-year transition to harvesting younger forests.

Two Oregon researchers, one an industry consultant and the other an environmental activist, say it can happen sooner.

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Loggers working the Tongass National Forest harvested large numbers of older trees from the 1950s through much of the 1990s.

Harvests have since slowed, and in recent years, almost stopped.

Tongass officials and environmental groups say the future is in young- or second-growth, mostly trees that have grown back after earlier decades’ clear-cuts.

But that’s a challenging goal.

“Transitioning out of old growth and into young growth, you cannot just flip a switch and do it,” says Catherine Mater, president of Mater Engineering, where she consults for timber companies on industry issues.

She’s based in Corvallis, Ore., but has worked in Southeast for Viking Lumber and the Sealaska Corp.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that all old-growth logging is going to go away. But I do feel very optimistic that there’s an opportunity to have a transition and replacement from a majority of old growth now to a majority of young growth,” she says.

Mater’s partnered with Dominick DellaSala of the Ashland, Ore.,-based Geos Institute, which researches climate change and related environmental issues.

Together, they’re promoting a study detailing how the Tongass National Forest can quickly change from old-growth to younger-growth harvests.

DellaSala says they began by looking at the most controversial forest stands, the ones that lead to appeals and lawsuits.

“So we took those off the table. And then we wanted to see what was left, where we could come up with some higher levels of certainty, where the wood can get to the mills quicker without litigation, without the appeals and without the expenses that go into that,” he says.

They also eliminated areas too far away from roads, or otherwise economically unfeasible.

Mater says that leaves enough land to start a sustainable young-growth timber industry. That includes forests that could produce 25 million to 30 million board feet of timber – very soon.

“We have pre-commercially-thinned lands in the national forest system that offer a unique opportunity to do that,” she says.

She — and DellaSala — say a young-growth  industry could start now and be fully functional in about five years, instead of the 10 to 15 years the Forest Service is shooting for.

Another difference: They say 55-year-old trees can be harvested, while the agency usually considers 90 as the minimum marketable age.

Mater says the new industry would be different from what we have today.

She says it would move from construction lumber to smaller, more heavily processed products.

“This is the stuff that goes into your windows and doors that you see in your homes and in your buildings, in panel-grade material and in custom-grade material,” she says.

“No one has evaluated Southeast Alaska second-growth material in those particular grade factors.”

She says that research could be done in about a year and a half.

Many looking at the issue question whether second-growth Tongass timber can compete with large Pacific Northwest tree farmers, which have been in the business for decades.

Mater says that used to be an issue, but not anymore.

“The reality is that the U.S. markets are already familiar with Southeast Alaska wood species going into those higher value-added markets. What we don’t know, and this is what we are going to test, is whether we can get that same characteristic coming out of old-growth that goes into factories and shops from second-growth,” she says.

Mater says new mills would need to be built to process the younger trees. But she says some old-growth harvests would continue to keep existing mills going.

DellaSala says making the transition–soon–is the only choice. Otherwise, the Tongass will become like Pacific Northwest forests that were badly damaged before such changes kicked in.

“If it goes in the direction of continued old-growth logging, it runs into a wall of litigation and uncertainty for all the stakeholders. If you go the direction of where Catherine Mater’s reporthas been guiding our analysis, then you have the potential for a wall of wood, and much more certainty,” he says.

DellaSala and Mater have submitted their report to Tongass officials, who are planning such a transition with the help of an advisory committee.

They’ve also toured Southeast, presenting their finds to environmental and timber organizations.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Way Race For House 10

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-30 11:48

House 10 stretches from the northern outskirts of Wasilla up to Trapper Creek and the Denali border, swinging West to include Skwentna and the most remote areas of the Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Republican Wes Keller has served the district since he was appointed in July of 2007 to replace Vic Kohring. He’s won every election since, and has served on a wide variety of House committees and subcommittees. He currently chairs the House Judiciary. Keller’s campaign slogan :”Your experienced voice” sums up his involvement in the legislature. Keller reflects pro-family, pro-gun and limited government regulation views.

“I’m ready to take on another two years. I’ve been endorsed by the CPG, the Citizens Patriot Group, the National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association’s Sports Caucus.”

The incumbent was faced on KAKM’s Running by upstart Democrat Neal Lacy, a semi – retired educator, and interestingly enough, a former bow hunting safety instructor for state Fish and Game.

“I would like a chance to be your legislator. I will listen, I will not be condescending toward my constituents.”

Lacy opposes Keller on almost all points. He challenged Keller on women’s issues, resource development and the minimum wage. Lacy charges that some of Keller’s legislation — on voter id — was actually written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an outside organization which attempts to rewrite state laws. Keller says he only uses ALEC legislation as a starting point, not as a template.

And, Lacy says the Susitna Dam project is a boondoggle.

“The Sustina Dam project is a complete and absolute waste of money. We have spent, since the 1980s, somewhere close to about 400 million dollars, and just this last year, the legislature appropriated 20 million more. We know that large scale dams are a problem.”

Keller says the Susitna project is worth the current level of state investment.

You know,we need to look at it, and we don’t just write it off , you know, based on some pre-determined predjudice or bias. Even now, we don’t have the information we need to make a rational decision. We are waiting for data, that was part of the deal. That was part of the reason we spent 20 million dollars to get more information to see if it is, in fact, feasible. And I would contend that if the gas pipeline doesn’t come into being and progress, that affordable electricity is still going to be something we have to look at. Maybe smaller projects maybe elsewhere. “

 Keller also supports investment in Port MacKenzie, because of the economic benefits it could have for the area.

Keller and Lacy spar on health care, and the best way to keep the budget in check. Wes Keller:

“What we have to do is figure out a realistic picture of what the revenues can be, and then ask the agencies to modernize their budgets to accommodate the amount of money available. And some of the departments have done really well with that already, and we are going to have to ask them again to do it. “

Neal Lacy says cut waste.

“We need to look for efficiencies in everything that we do. My bone of contention comes when we give tax credits to organizations that really do not need them. If your business model requires you to have a tax credit from the government, you probably shouldn’t be in that business to begin with.”

Keller, who serves on the Alaska Health Commission, says escalating health costs in Alaska can be checked with some innovation

“..Introduce competitive services to try to de-regulate some of the things that are going now. We have to start taking some risks maybe, but we need to take the lid off the providers and the industry out there, so they can make the best use of technology, distance delivery.”

Lacy argues the state needs to expand Medicaid

“The governor’s refusal to do that was a huge mistake for the people of the state ofAlaska. As I go and visit the constituents around my area, there are a number of people who could be benefiting, I’m talking about retired people.”

Stirring up the two party mix – Roger Purcell, a former mayor of Houston, running as a non-affiliated candidate

“I didn’t give up my Republican registration, and I’m still a registered Republican.”

Purcell says an effective representative works with city councils in his district to find out what the actual needs are.

Purcell says substandard roads are a big problem, as is flooding and underfunded senior centers. He says the state’s road upgrades are too slow, and that long term loans are available to get highway upgrades on the fast track.

 

“But unless your district Rep. is able to meet with them and have the dialogue that goes along with it, especially in the upper Susitna area, and our roads, which are way, way overused and underfunded, you can’t really go down to Juneau and find out what the needs are working with DOT.”

Purcell says the proposed Susitna dam is not in the right place, and that he wouldn’t have voted to spend state money on the project.

 ”Hydro is good, the dam in this location is not. As far as I am concerned, it is not in the correct place to put it.”

 Purcell resigned his mayor’s post in 2008, a day before a recall election was set to oust him, but Purcell says the railroad link between Houston and Port MacKenzie came into being under his watch. He says Port MacKenzie is the future economic driver of the Mat Su region.

“Port MacKenzie is actually the future of the Valley and the state of Alaska. And, the reason is, is with the rail spur going in, which I fought for strongly as mayor, when we put the road beside it all the way down, we will have a truck route highway, a real highway going beside the rail spur down to the Port. You’ll see at that point the different mines opening up in Interior of Alaska, the jobs that will be created. With the high unemployment rate we have now in District 10, you’ll see the ability of folks in this area to get jobs at Port MacKenzie.”

 As of the most recent reports, Keller and Lacy have spent about 8 thousand dollars each, on their campaigns, Purcell a little over 3 thousand dollars.  

 

Categories: Alaska News

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