Alaska News

Senate Panel Proposes $100 Million In One-Time Education Funding

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-28 17:12

While the Legislature is still hammering out how much money to put toward the base student allocation, the Senate Finance Committee has included a major injection of funds in their version of the operating budget.

Where the House had proposed giving school districts $25 million in one-time education aid, the Senate Finance Committee has bumped that number up to $100 million to be divided among school districts based on their enrollment numbers. Their operating budget would allocate $100 million to schools during the 2015-2016 academic year as well.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who co-chairs the committee, said the number serves as a placeholder while lawmakers figure out how they want to adjust the funding formula.

“We want as a group to figure out education,” Kelly told the committee. “We may need some time to do that. This amendment gives us time, while we are not putting the school districts too much out on a limb as we make our determinations.”

The number could change if the Legislature settles on a more permanent fix for education funding by increasing the base student allocation. That’s the amount that each school gets for every student enrolled, and it has sat at $5,680 per child for the past four years.

Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed increasing the BSA by $85 per student this year, which adds up to a little over $20 million for the whole school system. His plan would build in future boosts to the BSA over the next couple of years.

The Democratic Minority in the Legislature has argued Parnell’s plan does not do enough to plug school districts’ budget shortfalls and avoid teacher layoffs. Their legislation would increase the BSA by $404.

The Senate operating budget is expected to come to a vote next week, and then be sent to the House so that differences can be worked out.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the projected cost of an $85 increase to the base student allocation.

Categories: Alaska News

AVO Puts Shishaldin Volcano On Higher Alert

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-28 17:02

After a week of unrest, Shishaldin Volcano in the Aleutians is being put on a higher alert level.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reported Friday that there have been explosions inside the volcano and elevated surface temperatures since March 18.

AVO head scientist John Power says that appears to mean there’s been a small eruption.

Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

“There is probably fresh magma or lava down inside the crater,” he said.

Power says there hasn’t been any lava seen on the rim of the crater or the sides of the volcano. Shishaldin also isn’t emitting any ash.

But Power says this could be a precursor to a bigger event.

“Little things happen like this happen at Shishaldin probably even more often than we’re able to detect,” he said. “They’re always, though – whenever you see some activity like this, there is a concern that it could, you know, escalate into something larger.”

He says Shishaldin is now on a “watch” alert level, which carries an orange color code. It had previously been on a yellow – or “advisory” level – since January.

Only one of the six seismic monitoring stations on Shishaldin is active right now. The others are offline, and there’s not enough funding available to repair them.”

Shishaldin is on Unimak Island, northeast of Unalaska. Of all the conical glacial volcanoes in the world, it’s the the most symmetrical. It’s also the Aleutian Islands’ highest peak, and one of the most active in the chain.

Its last big eruption was in 1999, when it sent an ash plume 45,000 feet above sea level. There hasn’t been any unusual activity there since 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish And Wildlife To Review Southeast Alaska Wolves

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-28 16:38

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review whether or not Southeast Alaska wolves should be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency this month announced what’s called a “positive 90-day finding” on a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf.

Steve Brockmann is Southeast Alaska coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We determined that there was substantial information presented, enough to make us think we probably should do a real status review,” Brockmann said Friday. He said the status review will look at the best available information on wolf populations.

Photo courtesy of ADF&G

The timing of when the review happens also depends on funding granted by Congress which limits the number of petitions the agency can review each year. “Recently that has been several years before we get that funding so we do have an opportunity here to well really take advantage of the time lag to get some conservation in place so we don’t have to list the wolf,” Brockmann said. “Honestly the Fish and Wildlife Service would prefer to leave management of the wolf with the state of Alaska where it belongs. We do have a responsibility to list it if it needs to be listed. We intend to work with our partners with the state and the Forest Service to make sure we don’t have to do that when the time comes.”

The petition to list the wolves was submitted in August of 2011 by two groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace. “Well we’re thrilled to finally have the finding. It’s come over two years late but we knew there was a strong case for pursuing a listing and we’re glad to see that the agency’s decided that our petition had merit,” said Larry Edwards, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka.

The groups argue that the region’s wolf populations are declining and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. In particular, they cite past and future logging on Prince of Wales Island and say wolves on POW are in danger of extinction. State and federal managers closed hunting and trapping seasons in late March on Prince of Wales Island because hunters and trappers had reached a target number of wolves on the island.

That’s a concern for Edwards. “We have some great concerns with how the harvest cap was set for that. We think it was set way too high and the illegal take of wolves wasn’t adequately taken into account. So there’s some significant management problems both in terms of logging and I think how Fish and Game has been managing as well.”

The groups also say two intensive management programs authorized by the state’s Board of Game last year for areas near Ketchikan and Petersburg will put further pressure on wolf numbers.

Doug Vincent-Lang is director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation. He said Fish and Game believes the department has sustainably managed wolves in the region. “We’re confident that any potential conservation concerns can be adequately addressed through existing mechanisms, including state regulatory mechanisms that are out there. Given that we don’t believe that wolves in Alaska are at risk now or threatened with the risk of extinction in the foreseeable future and as such we don’t believe that there’s a justification for a 90-day positive finding for wolves in Southeast Alaska and we’re disappointed with the service’s decision.”

The intensive management programs could mean state sponsored trapping of wolves in the two areas of Southeast, designed to improve the numbers of wolves’ main prey, deer. Vincent-Lang noted the two intensive management programs have not been implemented yet. “Part of the reason is that we’re collecting additional information, both on deer and wolf in those two small areas where the board had approved intensive management programs for the Department to conduct once we had that baseline information. We’ve invested a significant amount of money in the next 3-4 years to inform the development of a status review, which this 90-day finding kicks off in terms of looking at wolf abundance, wolf distribution and wolf genetic structure in Southeast Alaska.”

The finding kicks off a 60-day public comment period beginning March 31st. Fish and Wildlife will seek input and information on Southeast wolves. At a later date, the federal agency then begins a 12-month status review which leading to a decision on whether the animals should be listed as threatened or endangered. The agency determined a listing was not warranted for a prior petition submitted during the 1990s.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Insurers Brace For Confusion Over Deadline

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-28 13:15

Jeff Davis has a prediction for you:

“This is going to be the next shock wave.”

The President of Premera Alaska is referring to the March 31st deadline for signing up for health insurance. President Obama softened the deadline earlier this week, saying if you start signing up for insurance by the end of the month, you’ll be allowed to complete the process. But Davis is guessing many Americans assume after March, they’ll still be able to buy an individual health insurance policy off of Healthcare.gov.

Wrong.

“That’s a big, big change, and I suspect there are a number of people who aren’t aware of that at all and are just thinking, ‘oh I’ll just take care of this later.’ Well, later is going to be November.”

The next open enrollment period begins November 15th and runs through February 15th. Outside of those dates, only people with a “qualifying life event,” including getting married, or having a child, will be able to buy health insurance. Jason Gootee is Alaska’s regional manager at Moda Health, the only other insurer on the Alaska exchange. And like Davis, he is bracing for customer confusion on this issue:

“There’s going to be a lot of phone calls not just for us, but for other carriers as well saying, ‘what the heck do you mean I can’t enroll right now?’”

Gootee says the shift from ongoing enrollment to a set open enrollment period is part of what he likes to call “the new world order” of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

 This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Corporate Personhood

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-28 12:00

The issue of corporate personhood has been brought up repeatedly by callers to the show, and the chance to talk about it now arises with the creation of an organization that is asking political candidates to take a pledge to oppose it.  The legal implications are of course obvious with the current Hobby Lobby case and the Citizens United and Boy Scouts of America rulings that preceded it.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Gershon Cohen, We the People Alaska
  • John Havelock, former Alaska Attorney General
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Seismologists, Lawmakers Call For Earthquake Early Warning System

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:06

In Congress today, a House subcommittee marked the 5oth anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake with a hearing focused on what scientists have learned from that event that can prepare the nation for the next big temblor or tsunami. Seismologists and several lawmakers said Congress needs to pony up for an earthquake early warning system.

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For people who study earthquakes, each major event serves as a lab experiment. Plate tectonics was a tentative theory before the 1964 quake, which also provided valuable insights about soil liquefaction and tsunamis. William Leith, an earthquake advisor for the USGS, says North America’s largest ever earthquake changed policy, too.

“Through the iconic scenes of houses broken apart by landsliding in the Turnagain neighborhood of Anchorage, the ‘64 disaster demonstrated the importance of considering earthquake hazards in urban planning and development,” he said.

Leith was one of four scientists who testified today. They say one lesson the U.S. should have learned by now is the need to develop an early warning system for earthquakes, as other countries already have. USGS has spent $10 million over more than a decade to come up with a prototype for California, but it would take $16 million a year to build and operate a system for the whole West Coast. Professor John Vidale of the University of Washington says the Cascadia fault, for example, is set to deliver an Alaska-sized earthquake to the Pacific Northwest. Vidale says it’s likely to be detectable 1 to five minutes in advance.

“An early warning will forestall train, car and airplane accidents, halt surgeries, allow for bridges to clear, shut down elevators, open critical doors, warn schools and the population in general,” he said.

Vidale  says a magnitude 9 quake would cause an estimated 50 to 100 billion dollars damage. To some Congress members, the lack of will to pay for a warning system makes no sense. Here’s Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.

“We’ve spent $10 million – WOW! — since 1999,” DeFazio said, mocking the sum as low, in Congressional terms. ”We’re looking at a $100 billion problem in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve spent $10 million. You talk about countries like, I think you said Romania? Mexico? They’ve deployed early warning systems and the United States of America hasn’t? We have a prototype?”

One of the scientists said most countries develop a warning system only after a catastrophe strikes. New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt says Congress has been too stingy: ”And here the richest country in the world by far, undeniably, doesn’t act as if we have a future. One invest, one builds infrastructure, one sponsors research when we believe we have a future. Instead we just cut, cut, cut.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young says he and the late Sen. Ted Stevens were able to provide funds for tsunami warning, but he says he’s disappointed Congress has cut it back. As for earthquake warning, Young had a bit of low-tech advice for the panel.

“I do believe we can identify when an earthquake can occur. You have to buy a pheasant. It always worked back in California,” he claimed. “A pheasant will tell you when an earthquake is going to happen about five second before it happens.”

Young supports funding an earthquake warning system, too, but he says the Alaska disaster showed tsunami to be the more lethal danger.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Parnell Asking For Investigation National Guard Sexual Assaults

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:05

Governor Parnell is asking the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate cases of sexual assault in Alaska’s National Guard. In a press release, Parnell wrote he is “deeply concerned by reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard.”

The investigation follows a story from the Anchorage Daily News last October where alleged victims of sexual assault described an extensive problem in Alaska’s National Guard.

Sean Cockerham is a reporter with McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau. He broke that story and is reporting on the investigation. He says he began hearing about problems in the Guard last year.

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Categories: Alaska News

Choose Respect Campaign Marches Across State

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:04

Rep. Benjamin Nageak raises his fist in solidarity with the effort to reduce domestic violence in Alaska at the Choose Respect rally on the Capitol steps, March 27, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

On a sunny but blustery Juneau Thursday, around 150 people gathered and marched down Main Street, including Michael Uddipa, a Thunder Mountain High School varsity basketball player.

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“We are a team that chooses respect,” Uddipa said after marching to Marine Park with his team.

Although Gov. Sean Parnell’s Choose Respect campaign is geared towards eradicating domestic violence and sexual assault in the state, Uddipa said there are other ways to embody the message, which he and his teammates learn about from basketball coach John Blasco.

“We go over, like, what we can do if an opposing team tries to start a fight in the game and see which ways we can handle it without using violence. And we talk about how it is appropriate to compliment women and to not say anything too rude,” he says.

Lt. Kris Sell was one of many Juneau Police officers who marched Thursday. She says law enforcement is intricately entwined with domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We respond to so much domestic violence. We’re in the homes. We see the victims. We see the devastated expressions on the faces of the children who have witnessed it. And we watch the multiple generations that suffer when this is going on,” Sell says.

By participating in the event, Sell hopes to show victims that police officers support them and want to stop the violence.

“This is not okay. We may come from a macho culture but taking domination into the homes is a weak thing to do,” Sell says.

Choose Respect marches took place in more in 170 communities around the state. Throughout the year, these communities are invited to participate in state-sponsored domestic violence and sexual assault webinars that focus on education and prevention.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Leads Valdez Choose Respect Rally

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:03

Governor Parnell led the Choose Respect rally in Valdez today.

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Categories: Alaska News

With Talk Of Minimum Wage Bill, Initiative Sponsors On Guard

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:02

This week, the House Majority Caucus released a new poll showing that about 70 percent of Alaskans support a citizen’s initiative to raise the minimum wage. Now, that’s got some legislators talking about making the change themselves. But initiative sponsors are not welcoming the possibility.

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The way the Alaska Constitution is drafted, legislators get a shot at tackling initiative subjects before they end up on the ballot.

Lawmakers are guaranteed a session where they can introduce similar bills if they want, vet them, and vote on them. If the Legislature passes a substantially similar bill, the initiative is rendered moot and does not go out for a vote of the people.

Majority Leader Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, says there’s a possibility that could happen with the minimum wage initiative, given its popularity.

“You know, there has been discussion on that. We haven’t come to a conclusion, but some people have the thought process of, ‘obviously the public very much supports it. And as representatives of the public, shouldn’t we just go ahead and do the will of the public?’”

Pruitt’s statement came during a press availability with reporters on Thursday, and it provoked a heated reaction from one of the initiative’s lead advocates.

“It’s just a crock. There’s really no other way to describe it.” says Ed Flangan, one of three former labor commissioners who is spearheading the initiative.

Flanagan is sensitive to the Legislature pre-empting ballot measures — the whole thing is a raw subject for him.

In 2002, a similar minimum wage initiative was certified to appear before voters. That spring, the Legislature passed a bill practically identical to the ballot question, bumping up the base wage to $7.75 an hour and pegging the rate to inflation.

The law didn’t last a year on the books before it was changed.

“They came back in one of the more cynical things a pretty cynical group has ever done — came back less than a year later — and gutted the minimum wage bill they just passed by repealing the cost-of-living index,” says Flanagan. “If they had not repealed that provision, the minimum wage in Alaska would be $9.53 an hour instead of $7.75. We wouldn’t have an initiative before the people right now to try to fix what the Legislature broke in 2003.”

This year’s minimum wage initiative would bump the base rate to $8.75 in 2015, and then to $9.75 the year after. Like the attempted 2002 initiative, this one chains the minimum wage to inflation. If citizens pass it, the language cannot be modified for two years.

Flanagan is worried that if this Legislature introduces a minimum wage bill in the final weeks of session, it would just be history repeating.

“We will start advertising immediately,” says Flanagan. “This will not go unremarked. People are going to know what they’re up to.”

Pruitt says lawmakers remember what happened, too. But he says the concerns from sponsors are misplaced.

“No one wants to be seen as just doing this for a political reason,” says Pruitt. “They want to make sure they’re really representing the people that they represent.”

A bill pre-empting the initiative is not a sure thing. House Speaker Mike Chenault says it’s not on his radar, and Labor and Commerce Chair Kurt Olson says his House committee has not been approached to introduce a minimum wage bill. A spokesperson for the Senate Majority says the caucus discussed introducing minimum wage legislation early on in the session, but such a bill is not currently under consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Borough Rejects Ordinance Restricting Cell Tower Construction

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:01

An ordinance to restrict cell phone tower construction in the Matanuska Susitna Borough was rejected by the Borough’s planning commission last week, in a 5-0 vote. Commissioners said it did not go far enough in regulating the so called “tall ” towers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Moose Derbies May Be Allowed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:01

A bill that adds big bull moose derbies to the list of games of chance that can be permitted by the state, passed the House yesterday. Representative Tammie Wilson’s bill would allow a municipality or non-profit organization to be permitted to sell tickets to hunters, and award prizes to those who kill moose with the biggest antlers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Gears Up For Statewide Disaster Drill

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:00

For the most part, Unalaska was shielded from the devastation of the 1964 earthquake. But there’s no telling if it will be next time. That’s why Unalaska and dozens of other communities around the state kicked off a series of emergency drills today.

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It’s been 50 years since the Good Friday earthquake rocked Alaska. It rattled some nerves in Unalaska, but not much else. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away.

Unalaska police chief Jamie Sunderland says the next big earthquake could be a lot closer.

“When you’re anywhere near the coast, of course, that can involve tsunamis,” Sunderland says. “And most of the deaths that occurred in ‘64 were actually due to tsunamis.”

That’s why Unalaska will be holding an imaginary earthquake and tsunami this week. It’s part of the statewide Alaska Shield exercise. The Alaska Department of Homeland Security designs a fake natural disaster every two years so law enforcement and local governments can practice their response.

Last time, it was a harsh winter storm and power outage. This year’s exercise is meant to commemorate the 1964 earthquake. Sunderland says Unalaska will kick things off Thursday morning with a tsunami drill.

“It’s going to involve us setting off the tsunami sirens,” Sunderland says. “We’re going to focus on evacuating the school during a school day.”

It’s a big operation: Four-hundred kids and teachers will be leaving the city schools and walking up to high ground. About 50 feet above sea level or a mile away from shore is considered safe.

The schoolkids aren’t the only ones who will be practicing. Some municipal employees are planning to head for the hills, and Sunderland says other residents should join in — even if the weather doesn’t hold out.

“You know, you might be miserable because you’re out in the elements but you’ve got to get up above the waves so that you’re not dead,” Sunderland says. “And of course, being a little wet and miserable is better than that.”

The next big exercise starts Friday morning, when an imaginary earthquake will hit. City officials will create an emergency command center. They’ll also open up an emergency shelter for affected residents in the gym of the Parks, Culture, and Recreation center.

Recreation manager Ben Bolock says that a few locals just finished taking a Red Cross class on emergency management at the PCR. They’re the ones who will be running the shelter — and Bolock says they’ll be put to the test.

“We have families set up to come in at noon time until about 3 and go through some scenarios — go through a mass feeding,” Bolock says. “We also have some animals scheduled to come in. We are talking to the school district about having a class come over.”

Bolock encourages all Unalaskans to visit the shelter at the PCR this Friday to sign in. There’s no need to stay overnight: That role will be filled by a handful of local teenagers. They’re going to camp out under the supervision of the shelter volunteers. On Saturday morning, the exercise will wrap up with one last mass feeding — a free breakfast, to reward the teens for their service.

For more information about the Alaska Shield exercise, contact the Department of Public Safety at 581-1233 or the PCR at 581-1297.

Categories: Alaska News

Jim Stone Recalls 1964 Earthquake Experiences

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 18:00

Fifty-years ago today, Anchorage resident Jim Stone was about 11-years-old. His father was in the Air Force and the family had moved to Alaska four years earlier. He says he remembers the family dog had been very nervous in the hours before the shaking started. When the quake struck, Jim says his mom was making TV dinners while he and his dad and brother were watching Fireball XL5 on a portable television on a roller stand.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 27, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-27 17:30

Individual news 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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Seismologists, Lawmakers Call For Earthquake Early Warning System

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In Congress today, a House subcommittee marked the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake with a hearing focused on what scientists have learned from that event that can prepare the nation for the next big temblor or tsunami. Seismologists and several lawmakers said Congress needs to pony up for an earthquake early warning system.

Gov. Parnell Asking For Investigation National Guard Sexual Assaults

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Parnell is asking the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate cases of sexual assault in Alaska’s National Guard. In a press release, Parnell wrote he is “deeply concerned by reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard.”

The investigation follows a story from the Anchorage Daily News last October where alleged victims of sexual assault described an extensive problem in Alaska’s National Guard.

Sean Cockerham is a reporter with McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau. He broke that story and is reporting on the investigation. He says he began hearing about problems in the Guard last year:

Choose Respect Campaign Marches Across State

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau Soldotna

Senator Peter Micciche was leading the crowd at Juneau’s Choose Respect march that started on the steps of the State Capitol on Thursday.

Governor Sean Parnell’s Choose Respect campaign is geared towards eradicating domestic violence and sexual assault in the state.

Governor Leads Valdez Choose Respect Rally

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Governor Parnell led the Choose Respect rally in Valdez today.

With Talk Of Minimum Wage Bill, Initiative Sponsors On Guard

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

This week, the House Majority Caucus released a new poll showing that about 70 percent of Alaskans support a citizen’s initiative to raise the minimum wage. Now, that’s got some legislators talking about making the change themselves. But initiative sponsors are not welcoming the possibility.

Moose Derbies May Be Allowed

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A bill that adds big bull moose derbies to the list of games of chance that can be permitted by the state, passed the House yesterday. Representative Tammie Wilson’s bill would allow a municipality or non-profit organization to be permitted to sell tickets to hunters, and award prizes to those who kill moose with the biggest antlers.

Mat-Su Borough Rejects Ordinance Restricting Cell Tower Construction

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An ordinance to restrict cell phone tower construction in the Matanuska Susitna Borough was rejected by the Borough’s planning commission last week, in a 5-0 vote. Commissioners said it did not go far enough in regulating the so called “tall ” towers.

Unalaska Gears Up For Statewide Disaster Drill

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For the most part, Unalaska was shielded from the devastation of the 1964 earthquake. But there’s no telling if it will be next time. That’s why Unalaska and dozens of other communities around the state kicked off a series of emergency drills today.

Jim Stone Recalls 1964 Earthquake Experiences

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Fifty-years ago today, Anchorage resident Jim Stone was about 11-years-old. His father was in the Air Force and the family had moved to Alaska four years earlier. He says he remembers the family dog had been very nervous in the hours before the shaking started. When the quake struck, Jim says his mom was making TV dinners while he and his dad and brother were watching Fireball XL5 on a portable television on a roller stand.

Categories: Alaska News

Court: Reinstate Tongass Roadless Rule Exemption

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-26 17:20

A federal appeals court issued an opinion today saying the roadless rule should not apply to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

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The Tongass National Forest could resume allowing logging in roadless areas under a court ruling. But it won’t happen immediately — or at all. (U.S. Forest Service Image)

The rule was enacted nationwide more than a decade ago. It prohibits logging and other industrial activity in national forest lands without roads.

The Tongass forest, the nation’s largest, was later granted an exemption. That was struck down three years ago in U.S. District Court and the rule was re-imposed.

The Forest Service did not appeal that decision, but the state of Alaska did. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted its request. (Read the decision.)

Tom Lenhart is the state attorney involved in the case.

“Removal of the roadless rule won’t in and of itself increase timber harvests or mining or anything like that. But it will take down the barriers that are preventing some things from happening,” he says.

The 9th Circuit Court’s decision does not immediately lift the rule. It sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether additional environmental review is needed.

Buck Lindekugel is attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. It’s one of a dozen groups that sued to bring back the roadless rule.

“The reality is the decision does not immediately reinstate the Tongass exemption. And the Forest Service’s actions have shown it has no desire to go back to the damage, expense and controversy associated with roadless area logging on the Tongass,” he says.

Forest Service officials referred calls about the ruling to the Department of Justice. The staffer handling the issue could not be reached for comment by this report’s deadline.

Plaintiff’s attorney Tom Waldo of Earthjustice says the decision won’t change much. That’s because the Forest Service is already moving away from the type of timber sales the roadless exemption allows.

“I think that’s where the future direction of the policy debate is going to lie, rather than trying to turn the clock back in time to fight the battle of the 1990s over whether we should be logging in roadless areas of old growth on the Tongass,” he says.

The state has a different view.

“We’re hoping the Forest Service will meet its obligations to seek to meet timber demand. And we feel that some sale from roadless areas is necessary to do that. I’m sure the state will continue to use every means available to encourage the Forest Service to take actions that will further a certain level of development,” says attorney Tom Lenhart.

The state, the timber industry and other development groups have been pressuring the Forest Service to allow more logging.

That includes a proposal for the federal government to turn over or sell some Tongass lands.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Presses Demand for King Cove Road

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-26 17:19

 

Della Trumble, of King Cove Corp., says road is “life or death” for her town.

WASHINGTON - Before Jewell had said a word, Murkowski spoke for 15 minutes about the road. Murkowski reminded the secretary she has a trust responsibility to the mostly Aleut population of King Cove.

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“The notion from your department that you must protect Alaska from Alaska Natives, our first people, it is … it’s insulting,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski has been hammering Jewell in the press for months over her decision in December rejecting the road, through 10 miles of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay. She advertised her fury today with an Incredible Hulk scarf draped around her shoulders, a nod to the late Sen. Ted Stevens. Murkowski says Jewell has done nothing to advance her promise  to look into alternatives for King Cove. At a press conference after the hearing, Murkowski ridiculed Jewell for telling her in a private meeting that she’d made some phone calls about improving marine access for King Cove.

“Well, go talk to the corps of engineers about a breakwater,” Murkowski said, “because I’ve been fighting to get breakwaters and docks in the state of Alaska for the 12 years that I’ve been here, and we’ve got a 20-year backlog. How are you going to get a breakwater?”

Murkowski says she’ll never back off her demand for a King Cove road. She and King Cove leaders on hand for the press conference say a road is the only viable option. King Cove EMT Bonita Babcock says plenty of Americans care about the refuge but too few about her critically ill and injured patients.

“We need people to care enough about their lives, about their beating hearts and to understand that they’re worth more than some eel grass and  some ducks,” she said.

Sen. Mark Begich and the King Cove delegation met privately with Jewell yesterday. He and Rep. Don Young agree with Murkowski on the need for the road. At the hearing, Begich questioned Jewell about the road for five minutes, then moved on to other issues, such as contaminated land and the backlog of contract support costs owed to Native health organizations. The Interior Department has a huge role in Alaska. It’s essentially the landlord for 60% of Alaska and oversees the BIA. Murkowski says she will have to work with Jewell on a large number of issues, but she says the road for King Cove is non-negotiable.

Outside the hearing, Jewell reiterated the reason she opposes the road. Jewell says it would run over a sensitive strip of land between two lagoons.

“It is a very, very important and unique habitat, and the determination by the fish and wildlife service is that a road would be very disruptive though that area,” she said.

If  Murkowski’s repeated assertions that she’s heartless bother her, Jewell doesn’t show it. She says she respects Murkowski’s passion.

Sen. Lemar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said at the hearing Murkowski and Jewell are both highly respected and would be likely allies if it weren’t for this one issue. Alexander says he hopes they can work out a resolution.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Alaskans, Two Very Different Affordable Care Act Experiences

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-26 17:18

The deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday, March 31st. To accommodate the last minute rush, the Obama administration announced you’ll be able to enroll as long as you begin the process before the end of the month. After that, you won’t be able to buy coverage on healthcare.gov, or anywhere, unless you have a qualifying life event, like getting married or having a child. APRN’s Annie Feidt has been talking with Alaskans as they navigate the complicated health law. For this story, she checked back in with two people who’ve had very different experiences.

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Alex Cruver hasn’t had to use his health insurance yet. But he’s very happy to have it. He reaches into his back pocket and proudly pulls out a white and blue Premera Alaska card.

Cruver has asthma. And because of that, he knows he needs health insurance. But it’s always consumed a big chunk of his monthly budget. The last plan he had cost him about $200 dollars a month. When he logged onto healthcare.gov, Cruver found he qualified for a subsidy that would bring the cost of a mid-level silver plan down to just $70 dollars a month.

“It just means I have more money, that’s what it means. I have more money now for myself.”

Cruver is a jazz musician who also works a part time retail job. He earns about $25,000 a year. He’s already paid his first few health insurance bills. And he says the Affordable Care Act offers him a very good deal:

“For me, yeah it’s great. I’m very satisfied. It’s like it was meant for me  basically, but I can’t say the same for everyone. Some people are pretty angry about it.”

Including Mark Knapp. He and his wife Angel own a custom knife shop in Fairbanks. Until last December, they were happy paying $750 a month for health insurance from Premera. But because the plan didn’t meet Affordable Care Act requirements, it was canceled. President Obama then extended many canceled plans for a year, but the Knapp’s plan didn’t qualify:

“So we decided we’d shop around.”

On healthcare.gov, Knapp found a similar plan to the one the couple had for $1260 a month. The subsidy they qualified for brought the cost down to about $700. But Knapp says he and his wife didn’t feel right about accepting a subsidy:

“It doesn’t really fall under affordable health care to me, even though I wasn’t going to pay it all, somebody was going to have to pay it for me.”

So instead, the Knapps found a new policy through a small business organization they belong too. The monthly premium is $850:

“So that’s about $100 a month more than what we were getting it for with Premera.”

It’s also $150 more than what they would be required to pay on healthcare.gov. The plan doesn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act, so it’s scheduled to be canceled at the end of this year. After that, Knapp isn’t sure what he and his wife will do, but he says they won’t ever feel right about accepting a subsidy:

“We were looking at just paying the penalty for not signing up for Obamacare and then paying for any medical care we needed ourselves.”

Knapp says his wife puts things more bluntly saying, ‘No way, no how, are we signing up for national health care.’

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

When Disaster Struck, Allen Took Care Of What He Could

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-26 17:17

Bob Allen (right) was on a fishing boat south of Kodak Island during Alaska’s 1964 earthquake. While Allen’s brother Jack (left) was a State Trooper in Anchorage. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

March 27th marks the 50th anniversary of Alaska’s Good Friday Earthquake – the largest recorded in North America. Many Sitkans have stories from the epicenter.

Bob Allen is known around Southeast now for his family shipbuilding and cruise business, Allen Marine. But five decades ago, he was fishing south of Kodiak Island far from his family when disaster struck. Allen says when you can’t take care of your own, you take care of what you can.

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Bob Allen was over 100 miles from home when a magnitude 9.2 earthquake rocked his boat. Of all days, this would be a tough one to be separated from his wife and kids.

Betty and the kids were in Kodiak. And I was on a 104 foot fishing boat. It was about 5 o’clock. Beautiful day. Flat calm, absolutely mirror calm. And the boat just started vibrating. It was just like a giant had a hold of that boat and it was just shaking it just – rattle rattle shake shake shake – terrible vibration.

The violent jostling had damaged the radio. All they could do was listen. Allen could hear what was happening in Kodiak and the report wasn’t good.

How you doing? And he says oh I’m doing OK! He said well where you at? And he says I’m sitting in the schoolyard.

That is, floating over the schoolyard in an 80 foot barge. Just as devastating, but even more deadly than the earthquake itself, was the tsunami that followed.

The schoolyard in Kodiak was pretty far up above the waterline you knew that that town had been underwater by 10 or 15, 20 feet by then.

Bob knew his home wasn’t flooded because it was on a hill above the schoolyard. But, he couldn’t be sure that his house hadn’t collapsed on his family. And the tsunami waves made it too risky to go home.

We were kind of pinned. We couldn’t do anything. When you reach a point where there’s nothing you can do to take care of your own family you just say OK I’ll take care of what I can and somebody else is going to look after mine, I hope.

That night, over the radio, Allen’s crew learned that the village of Kaguyak had been wiped out. It was only eight miles away. Come morning they set out to help.

They were all on the beach. They were right at the head of the bay right where the old village had been. They had no food, they had no blankets, all they had was that one little radio.And we brought out 46 adults and probably 15 children and one body. They were really in shock they really couldn’t think for themselves you’d take them to the table and set them down with a plate in front of them – hotcakes and sugar syrup. We had a big can of sugar syrup going all the time. We left there and headed for Old Harbor because they were wiped out too. And we’re going through hundreds of empty oil barrels, overturned boats, broke-up houses, deep freezers, refrigerators – anything that could float.

By the time they left Old Harbor, they had 96 adults and 35 kids on board. The plan was to transport the survivors to the Kodiak Naval base. Many had taken a few valued possessions along with them. And when they pulled into shore…

It was just like tying up in a river. The tide is still every 25-30 minutes is going from full high to full low.

They were asked to leave these items on the dock while they boarded the buses. When the buses pulled away the water seeped through the dock and Allen said, “everything they had saved floated away.”

At 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, 33 hours since the start of the quake, Allen finally made it home. An armed guard escorted Bob.

That was the worst part of the whole thing for me was coming home and finding my family gone. All there is is a note on the table from Betty saying that they went to Chiniak. 12 people had drowned on those roads because they had got caught on the head of the bay and that tide washed right up in there and drowned them. So I’m panic stricken!

12 frantic hours later Bob finally gets a call that his wife and kids had been evacuated to Chiniak by plane, and were safe.

Allen: After that I got off the boat I quit fishing and went to work construction.
EF: Did you quit because of this experience?
Allen: Well, there were no canneries left, no place left to sell crab anyway.

When you’re growing up in Alaska its kind of a walking disaster area anyway. Everything always gets rebuilt. Its no problem. I don’t think you’re standing up there or waving a flag or anything. There ain’t a lot of glory in this world.

Categories: Alaska News

Graphite One Resources Purchases Promising Seward Peninsula Claim

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-26 17:16

Vancouver-based Graphite One Resources announced this month they’ve finalized all land purchases for a promising graphite claim on the Seward Peninsula. But village residents in the area are concerned the proposed mine could harm subsistence resources. And they’re frustrated they haven’t yet heard from company officials.

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Graphite One Resources has already drilled some exploratory holes at their claim. Vice President Dean Besserer says they’ll do more work this summer to measure the mine’s economic potential.

“It’s similar to pre-feasibility stage, so applying some economics to ensure that the resource is actually viable or looks to be viable for mining,” Besserer said.

This summer the company will stage operations from a camp off the Teller Road, with more employees working in Nome testing deposit samples. Jerald Brown, a vice-president at the Bering Straits Regional Corporation says they’ve worked with Graphite One the last two years, helping with logistics.

GraphiteOne has attracted a lot of interest. The city of Nome has referred to the potential value of the deposit to bolster its case for building a deep-draft port. And at Monday’s common council meeting, port project manager Joy Baker spoke of getting inquiries about graphite ore transport from a shipping company based in Norway. But so far the mining company has not reached out to the nearby communities of Brevig Mission or Teller, both of which would be directly affected if the deposit is mined.

Albert Oquilluq has served on the Mary’s Igloo Traditional Council based in Teller since 2005. He says potential mine site is one of the most important subsistence grounds for people living in the area.

“The importance of the graphite creek area—it’s a food source, a seasonal food source. We get moose and musk ox and reindeer, occasionally. And migratory birds when they migrate through there. It’s an abundant resource,” Oquilluq said. “And we also get a lot of our berries for the winter there. It’s just a great place to get our winter supply of food.”

There’s also fishing and a small seal harvest from nearby waterways. Oquilluq says nobody with the three IRA’s close by were aware of the claim’s development status. Nor have they been contacted by anyone from the company about the possibility of open-pit mining near a prime food and water source.

“Yeah, we also haven’t heard from this company,” Oquilluq said. “Now the sale is final on that and there was no imput—we did not have any input in the decision making process, so, we kind of feel left out. It’s gonna affect our food security, so…”

Matt Ganley is in charge of land and resources for BSNC, and says that while they’ve helped Graphite One with logistics in the region, that has not included contacting any tribal governments. Besserer says that Graphite One is waiting until after the Alaska Mining Conference this April to reach out to communities close to the deposit.

“Well we understand that we need to have a presence in the community, and educate both the people and the shareholders in the area as to what’s going on with respect to Graphite One’s exploration campaign,” Besserer said. “And we aim to do that in both the spring and summer of this year.”

Joe Price, project manager for Graphite One, says the company held off reaching out to tribes in the region until work on the mine was further along. That way they’d have firmer information on hand for meetings.

Categories: Alaska News

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