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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 21 min 37 sec ago

Obama Lands in Alaska; Says Time is Now to Act on Climate

Mon, 2015-08-31 22:56

Air Force 1 landed at Joint base Elmendorf-Richardson yesterday and President Barack Obama’s motorcade sped downtown, where made a speech at the Dena’ina Center about climate change. He struck a somber note in urging global leaders to get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama said Alaska’s fire season has grown by more than month since 1950, and thawing permafrost threatens the home communities of 100,000 Alaskans. He called the Arctic the leading edge of climate change, and said if global leaders don’t act to curb carbon emissions, devastation will strike worldwide.

“We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair,” he said. “Submerged countries. Abandonned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Indigenous people who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millenia.”

But the president says it’s not too late to avoid irreparable harm, and he says the country is already moving to cleaner energy.

Obama held a roundtable meeting with more than a dozen Native leaders for about an hour before the speech. Kawarek CEO Melanie Bahnke had the seat next to Obama. She says their main message was to include them in decisions that affect them.

“He responded to each of us in turn and we’re looking forward to partnering with the federal government … (as we are) grappling with climate change, erosion but also when we look at the opportunities that are being presented to us by increased shipping,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was at the table for that meeting, but she says the White House didn’t coordinate with her office much, and the only announcement they notified her of in advance was the Denali name change.

“It has been difficult to make sure that Alaskan voices are heard, and that the president will be able to see a view of Alaska that’s real and genuine. I think there’s some frustration,” she said.

The president’s Alaska trip began with an afternoon touchdown. Gov. Bill Walker came down the stairs from the aircraft with Obama. Walker flew to Washington, D.C. Sunday so he could take Air Force 1 back. At the Hotel Captain Cook, after riding in the motorcade from the military base, Walker said he’s not sure how much time he got with Obama to discuss Alaska issues, but says his face time included a presidential tour of the 747, cockpit to tail.

“So that was a big tour, then we had a couple times we sat down (for) visits,” Walker said. “So I don’t know, an hour and half, something like, that would be my guess . Then the ride over here from JBER. So it was really good. It was very meaningful.”

In the evening, the president’s motorcade went to south Anchorage, where Obama had dinner at the home of Alaska Dispatch News Owner Alice Rogoff.

APRN reporter Zachariah Hughes contributed to this story.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans rally against drilling, climate change outside of GLACIER conference

Mon, 2015-08-31 20:08

Protesters in downtown Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA


About 200 people gathered on the Park Strip in downtown Anchorage on Monday afternoon to protest offshore drilling in the Arctic and to speak in favor of stronger measures to fight climate change.

Danielle Redmond with Alaska Climate Action Network helped arrange the protest, which featured a model of Shell’s drilling rig with the moniker “Polar Profiteer” instead of “Polar Pioneer.” She says they’re glad that President Obama is in Alaska and has spoken about climate change, but he hasn’t done enough.

“The message that has become clear to us is it’s absolutely up to us, to ordinary people, to create the political space that is needed for real change.”

Redmond says it’s hard for Alaskans to speak against the human causes of climate change. “People are terrified and they feel like they’re the only ones and are alone. Because we’re an oil state. Our economy depends on it. And so it is a challenging thing to confront that and face that reality and to find solutions on how to move forward in a better way.”

Protesters constructed the “Polar Profiteer” to oppose offshore drilling in the Arctic. Hillman/KSKA

“I’m here at the climate rally is because I feel pretty strongly that the way to look at this topic is through science,” says Anchorage resident Terri Pauls as she waved a dark blue Earth flag. “I just find it super disappointing that so many people chose to ignore or dismiss solid science. I believe we have over 12,000 studies from many decades now.”

Carl Wassilie from Western Alaska joined the event. He also attended protests against Shell in Seattle. He says he objects to offshore drilling because he says the oil industry has not helped Alaska Natives and infringes upon their rights.

“We’re still in the same situation we were 40 years ago, getting third world diseases in the villages. Adn that’s with 40 years of drilling onshore, primarily onshore in the Arctic. We don’t need to go offshore. It’s not going to help the planet and it’s not going to help the people.”

Alaskans gathered to speak out again climate change in downtown Anchorage ahead of President Obama’s arrival. Hillman/KSKA

Others spoke about the impacts of drilling on wildlife and subsistence hunting.

Americans for Prosperity had also planned a rally, but it was canceled for logistical reasons.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Supreme Court Refuses To Block Medicaid Expansion

Mon, 2015-08-31 19:08

The Alaska Supreme Court has refused to temporarily block the state of Alaska from expanding Medicaid.

It’s a victory for Gov. Bill Walker, who announced this summer he was expanding Medicaid without the approval of the Legislature.

Lawmakers sued after Walker announced he was going forward without their consent.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the request from lawmakers to halt expansion while a lawsuit moves forward. The Alaska Supreme Court on Monday agreed, saying lawyers for the lawmakers failed to show Pfiffner erred when denying the motion for a preliminary injunction.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said expansion will go on as planned Tuesday. The state expected about 20,000 additional low-income Alaskans to become eligible for health care under Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News

“Still Awesome”: Waiting for the President

Mon, 2015-08-31 18:56

Crowds gathered in downtown Anchorage this afternoon to await the arrival of the president. KSKA’s Anne Hillman waited behind the Denaina Center, hoping for a brief glimpse.

Amarius Estelle-Tate and Lorrain Estelle pose with an old friend–the doctor who delivered Amarius. Hillman/KSKA

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People trickled slowly toward the corner of 8th and F. Lorrain Estelle walked up with her seven-year-old granddaughter, Amarius, in tow.

“I wanna try to get a selfie with him,” Amarius stated with confidence.

“With who?” Estelle asks her.

“The president,” she replies as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“What do you think is so cool about seeing the president?” I ask.

“Umm… We’re both black, I guess?”

“That’s it?” her grandmother presses. “What else?”

“I like the president. I like his daughters, too,” she says with more thought. “I learned from them to be yourself and be unique.”

Estelle smiles in agreement. “Awesome.”

As the crowd grew and airplanes flew overhead, police gave directions, nudging people away from the street.

“I’d like your cooperation if I could, please,” an officer addressed the crowd as he set out neon green collapsible barriers. “It would make it nice for everyone if we could get back up on the sidewalk. I’m sorry.”

As time inched by rumors flew – did they move the cones to let the president’s car through? Did they block off the Hilton? Is that his car? What did the secret service say?

“Kinda weird down here,” says Steve Benzler, who waited for more than four hours for a glimpse. “Kind of a carnival atmosphere with helicopters and jets above. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be different and special, so I had to come down and check it out.”

A crowd awaits Obama’s arrival outside of the Dena’ina Center. Hillman/KSKA

The waiting continued, and Amarius grew restless. Her grandmother points out members of the secret service.

“Where? I can’t see anything,” she whines.

Then – eventually – Estelle sees movement from the garage at the back of the convention center, far from where our section of crowd waits.

“Three people…” she says. “Wearing plain clothes. They’re wearing hats with a little jacket on. And a bullet proof vest. Oh my gosh!”

“Did you see them?” I ask awkwardly trying to peer over the crowd as screams erupt around me.

“That was his car! You saw the seal? You saw the seal?” Estelle shouts to everyone around.

And with that, the president was inside, his press pool walking past. All Estelle saw was a small bit of his car, but it was enough…for her.

“So what do you think? You just saw it from a distance, but was it still cool?” I ask, having seen nothing.

“Still awesome,” she nods. “Still awesome. Yeah. The fact that he’s here is great.”

Her granddaughter nuzzles up against her. “I didn’t get to see the president,” she says, voice filled with disappointment.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Estelle says hugging her close.

But Amarius was not going to let the moment go by without some sort of splash. As the last of the press walked around the corner, the crowd started to chant. “Obama! Obama!”

“Welcome to Alaska!” Amarius belts with all of her might.

The crowd erupts in laughter. “What a girl!” Estelle says. “You tell him.”

Categories: Alaska News

Obama met by Alaska dignitaries upon arrival at JBER

Mon, 2015-08-31 15:38

President Obama is expected to take the stage at the GLACIER conference after landing at JBER in Anchorage about 1:30 this afternoon and greeted a few hundred Alaskans waiting for him on the JBER runway, including Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Senator Dan Sullivan.

“Thank you so much, it’s great to be here. how are you? Thanks… appreciate you guys, thanks for your service.”

Ninety-four-year-old Poldine Carlo of Fairbanks said sang a song to Obama in Dena’ina to mark the administration’s decision to change the name of North America’s highest peak from Mt. Mckinley to Denali.

President Barach Obama and Alaska Governor Bill Walker disembark off Air Force One on Monday afternoon. Photo: Marc Lester.

Governor Bill Walker flew with the President on Air Force One to Anchorage. He says he got a full tour of the plane. And all together spent about an hour and a half with the President:

“It was really enjoyable. I had a good chance to visit with the President and with member of his key staff. I’ve arrived in Alaska a lot of ways and I’ve gotta say that was the most enjoyable. So it was really fun, a good experience, a good opportunity for me to have some very meaningful discussions with the President.”

Obama spent the afternoon meeting with Alaska Native leaders.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski thanks Obama for restoring Denali; Obama directs his gaze on climate change

Mon, 2015-08-31 10:03

President Barack Obama touches down in Alaska Monday for a three-day tour to the state, and beyond focusing on climate change in visits to Anchorage, Dillingham, and Kotzebue, the president is beginning his trip by restoring the Alaska Native name to North America’s highest mountain.

An official White House release states President Obama will announce the federal government is officially returning Mount McKinley to it’s Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali. The White House noted the designation “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski, in a video posted on YouTube Sunday, thanked the president for the long-sought change.

“For generations Alaskans have know this majestic mountain as The Great One,” Murkowski’s video message begins. “Today we’re honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali. I’d like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.”

Beyond Denali, Obama’s Alaska itinerary focuses on climate change. It’s a topic he’ll discuss at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, an acronym for the international meeting on global leadership in the Arctic. He also plans to discuss an initiative assessing relocation needs of more than 30 Alaska Native communities due to the changing climate and rising sea levels. The effort will be led by the Denali Commission, an independent federal agency, with Senator Murkowski at the helm.

In a video released by the White House on Friday, Obama turned the national spotlight on those Alaska communities.

“A lot of these conversations begin with climate change,” the president said, “and that’s because Alaskans are already living with its effects. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world—in some places more than three feet a year. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now. In fact, Alaska’s governor recently told me four villages are in imminent danger and have to be relocated. Already rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community. Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now. Because what’s happening in Alaska is happening to us, its our wake-up call.”

On Wednesday, Obama will head to western Alaska, spending the morning in Dillingham and finishing his trip in Kotzebue. Many in western Alaska have wondered about the impacts the president’s visit will have on the vital air transportation and freight so many rural residents rely on.

Like Anchorage, the Federal Aviation Administration is implementing Temporary Flight Restrictions in both Kotzebue andDillingham. In each case, the TFR will consist of an inner 10-mile ring of heavily restricted airspace, and an outer ring of less restricted but still limited flying to 30 miles out. Airmen are urged to check the TFRs for updates and specific information.

The FAA notes all aircraft within 10 miles of Kotzebue will be prohibited to only law enforcement and military flights Wednesday between 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., but those times are expected to fluctuate.

As all eyes move to Kotzebue for Obama’s trip—the first time a sitting U.S. president will travel above the Arctic Circle—the president’s schedule has him on the ground for just a few hours, delivering remarks at the community school.

But the trip has left many in Nome—which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers picked as the leading candidate for a deep-draft Arctic port—wondering why the potentially strategic harbor isn’t seeing a presidential visit.

White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese told a conference call of reporters last week that the president’s agenda is simply too full.

“If we had more time and more space the president would love to visit more of the state,” Deese said. “Lots of things going on in Nome, including the Army Corps’ exploratory work that’s ongoing. This is a packed trip, he is using every minute of his time to try see as much as he can, but we can only get in so much.”

The White House says Air Force One will take off from Kotzebue Wednesday evening—ushering President Obama out of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Greens: Obama’s Words, Actions Conflict On Climate Change

Mon, 2015-08-31 08:29

Whitehouse.gov video screenshot

President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska this week, aimed at highlighting his push to fight climate change, comes just two weeks after his administration approved drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Some Alaskan environmentalists see a disconnect between the president’s rhetoric and his actions on climate change.

The Obama administration hopes the Alaska trip—Obama arrives in Anchorage Monday afternoon—will help sell the president’s proposals to rein in America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“What’s happening in Alaska isn’t just a preview of what will happen to the rest of us if we don’t take action. It’s our wake-up call,” Obama says in a White House video filled with images of dripping glaciers and raging wildfires. “The alarm bells are ringing. And as long as I’m president, America will lead the world to meet this threat—before it’s too late.”

The president’s Alaska agenda includes seeing the rapidly retreating Exit Glacier near Seward and meeting some of the rural Alaskans hit hardest by climate change in Dillingham and Kotzebue.

“The changes that we have been seeing over time seem to have accelerated,” Northwest Arctic Borough mayor and former Democratic state legislator Reggie Joule said on Thursday in Kotzebue. Obama is scheduled to fly there on Wednesday.

The Native village of Kivalina—at the western edge of a borough bigger than Indiana—has been seeking funding for more than a decade to relocate before it gets washed into the Arctic Ocean.

“But not just at the coast. It’s in-river, as well,” Joule said. “Every single one of our communities in our borough have some level of impact of climate change.”

Hazards, Benefits Both Great

Even where the hazards from fossil fuel use are stark, Joule said the economic benefits are great. State government in Alaska runs mostly on oil taxes.

“It is a conundrum for us because we are feeling the effects of a global activity,” Joule said.

With Alaska’s icy landscapes melting and villages eroding into the sea, few Alaskans deny that the climate is changing any more. They do question how big a priority fighting it should be.

“Climate change is a reality. The shipping lanes coming over the northern sea route [crossing the Arctic Ocean] are already open,” Port of Dutch Harbor director Peggy McLaughlin said.

The closest deep-water port to the U.S. Arctic, Dutch Harbor is a staging area for Shell Oil’s 31-boat Arctic fleet this summer. McLaughlin said the United States is not the only nation drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

“The Arctic is so much bigger than drilling, and the climate change issues are so much bigger than drilling,” she said. “It’s so much bigger than the US exercising its leases on various drilling sites in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.”

The state’s entire Congressional delegation has been urging President Obama to learn about Alaskan issues other than climate change while he’s in the far North.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she’s looking forward to welcoming the Democratic president on his first official trip to Alaska.

“I think it is somewhat disappointing, though, that he apparently intends to use this as nothing more than a backdrop for climate change,” Murkowski said.

Republican Rep. Don Young issued a statement suggesting Obama “give that stump speech from somewhere else” if he was simply coming to Alaska to promote his environmental platform.

‘Absolute Contradiction’

You might think Alaskan environmental groups would be cheering the president’s climate-themed visit. Instead, the groups most focused on climate change are organizing a protest rally. They argue President Obama can’t claim to be a climate leader after his administration gave the green light to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

“We know that offshore drilling in the Arctic is not compatible with a stable climate future,” Danielle Redmond with the Alaska Climate Action Network in Juneau said. “And yet the Obama administration approved Shell’s final permits just days before coming up here to host a conference highlighting climate change in the Arctic. It’s really just an absolute contradiction.”

Global diplomats including Secretary of State John Kerry are meeting in Anchorage to discuss the rapidly changing Arctic, and Obama is scheduled to join them Monday.

Negotiators have been trying to put the brakes on global warming for years, with little success. While emissions reductions have been elusive, they have settled on a goal of allowing no more than two degrees Celsius of warming this century.

A study by energy researchers this year in the journal Nature found that goal requires leaving most fossil fuels in the ground.

“The results indicate that all of the Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable,” lead author and energy modeler Christophe McGlade from University College London said.

In theory, according to McGlade, you could burn Arctic Ocean oil and avoid dangerous levels of climate pollution, but that would require the rest of the world not to burn any of its oil. That scenario is extremely unlikely, not least because conventional oil is cheaper to produce than drilling beneath the remote and icy Arctic Ocean.

McGlade said if the world wants to stave off dangerous levels of climate change, world leaders “need to accept the fact that some of your fossil fuel resources and reserves will have to stay in the ground. And the sooner you accept that fact, the better for tackling climate change.”

White House Pushback

If geologists’ forecasts are correct, there’s enough oil and gas under the Arctic Ocean to give a big boost to global energy supplies—and to global concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The White House has pushed back against environmental groups’ accusations of climate hypocrisy. In the president’s weekly address on Saturday, Obama defended his support for Arctic offshore drilling. He said the United States was leading the world’s transition away from dirty energy sources.

“Even as we accelerate this transition, our economy still has to rely on oil and gas,” Obama said. “As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry.”

On Aug. 3, the White House unveiled its Clean Power Plan, with Obama calling it “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever takento combat climate change.” The administration estimated its plan will reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 870 million metric tons.

Yet the administration’s approval of Arctic drilling could wipe out any savings in pollution from that plan many times over, according to Lois Epstein with the Wilderness Society in Anchorage. Using Obama administration figures for the amount of technically recoverable conventional oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, Epstein has calculated that using all that oil would generate 10 billion metric tons of CO2—15 times more than the clean power plan would save.

She said that much pollution would be enough to increase the CO2in the global atmosphere by another 1.3 parts per million.

Concentrations of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere are currently at 401 parts per million, their highest in at least 800,000 years. Burning of fossil fuels and deforestation drive CO2 concentrations up another 2 parts per million each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Denali’ restored as official name for North America’s tallest peak

Mon, 2015-08-31 07:55

Photo: National Park Service

President Obama is due to arrive in Alaska on Monday, and the White House says he will announce a new official name for North America’s tallest mountain.

The Alaskan peak known as Mount McKinley since the late 19th century will now be called “Denali.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said this weekend that, with Obama’s endorsement, she’s issued an order to rename the mountain Denali, its traditional Koyukon Athabaskan name.

Alaskans have been pressing for that change for more than 40 years but they’ve always been blocked by Congress members from Ohio, birthplace of President William McKinley.

The announcement is one of several Alaska-specific initiatives Obama is expected to unveil over the next three days as he travels the state to draw attention to the effects of climate change.

Researchers say the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on earth.

Categories: Alaska News

Kerry, Obama to raise global warming issues in Alaska

Mon, 2015-08-31 07:51

Secretary of State John Kerry says history will not look kindly on climate change skeptics who fail to take action to curb warming.

Speaking Sunday in Anchorage, Alaska, Kerry says scientists are overwhelmingly unified in the conclusion that humans are contributing to global climate change and that steps must be taken to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere.

Kerry and President Obama will speak Monday at the State Department’s Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic.

The conference goal is to raise issues facing the Arctic and provide foreign ministers and residents a way to address climate challenges.

Kerry says climate change skeptics are an increasing minority as people make the connection between warming and indicators such as increased wildfires, forests lost to insects and species moving north.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska governor to fly with President Obama to Alaska

Mon, 2015-08-31 07:50

Governor Bill Walker will fly to Alaska with President Barack Obama aboard Air Force 1. (Photo via Gov. Walker’s Twitter stream)

Gov. Bill Walker will fly to Alaska with President Barack Obama on Monday.

Walker’s office announced in a release Saturday that Walker will accompany the president aboard Air Force One from Washington, D.C. The president will address a State Department global warming conference Monday afternoon in Anchorage. He also has visits planned in Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue on the three-day trip, during which he will become the first president to visit the American Arctic.

Walker says he intends to tout Alaska’s benefits to the nation and wants to discuss opportunities for the state and federal governments to work together to improve the state’s economy.

The governor says he will also take the opportunity to personally thank Obama for his leadership in approving permits for Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil off Alaska’s northern coast.

Categories: Alaska News

GLACIER conference brings together Arctic policy makers, stakeholders

Mon, 2015-08-31 07:48

Alaska is readying to host a rare high-profile meeting of international diplomats focusing on the challenges facing Arctic communities.

Organized by the U.S. State Department, today’s GLACIER conference brings 450 policy-makers and stakeholders from 20 countries to Anchorage. All eight Arctic nations are represented, but so are many observer states like China, India, and the EU, who have political and economic interests in the
high north.

This year, the U.S. started its three year term as head of the Arctic Council, taking over from Canada. Many in Alaska are hoping the conference represents a commitment from Washington to play a more active role confronting climate change, rural and indigenous issues, and lagging infrastructure investment in the region.

The conference also brings the first official visit from Presient Obama, who’ll be speaking at the closing session.

With climate change a large part of Obama’s agenda, the president will be visiting a retreating glacier in Seward, the fishing town of Dillingham near the site of the controversial Pebble Mine project, and the
predominantly Inupiaq community of Kotzebue, making him the first sitting president to visit the Arctic.

Obama is using the trip as an opportunity to announce new initiatives on climate, government relations with indigenous tribes, and wildlife management.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama to Talk Climate, Reveal New Alaska Policies

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:58

To a president calling for global action on climate change, Alaska serves as a big show-and-tell exhibit. White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese told reporters in a conference call that as President Obama travels around the state, he’ll draw worldwide attention to the impacts of climate change, which scientists say is changing the Arctic more dramatically than anywhere else on Earth.

“The president has a unique opportunity in going to Alaska to try to highlight why it is important that we act and that there is an urgency in acting,” Deese said. “So I think you can anticipate that he will be trying to speak quite plainly to those issues.”

Details are finally shaking out about President Obama’s Alaska visit. The White House says the president WILL announce new policy initiatives while he’s here, but as Deese described it today, they aren’t aimed at cutting off access to Alaska’s natural resources, as some state leaders fear. At least, that’s not the primary thrust.

(The cat is apparently out of the bag on one announcement: News of Obama Initiative on Village Relocation Pops in Nome)

Deese also confirmed what’s been rumored for weeks: Yes, when he’s in the Seward area on Tuesday, the president plans to visit Exit Glacier, in Kenai Fjords National Park.

“The president will have an opportunity to spend sometime in the park and experience both the beauty and the impact that the climate has had on that area,” he said.

Researchers say Exit Glacier has retreated more than a mile since the early 1800s. Deese says the president will talk to Seward business owners and fishermen, and also plans to board a Coast Guard cutter to view the park from the water.

Wednesday, Air Force 1 is off to Dillingham, followed by Kotzebue, where Obama will become the first sitting president to touch U.S. land above the Arctic Circle.

Obama has been getting grief from environmental groups for permitting Shell to drill in Arctic waters this summer. In Alaska, political leaders complain he doesn’t allow enough development of natural resources, and he infuriated them by recommending wilderness status for much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, among others, has said she worries Obama will try to use the Antiquities Act to put ANWR off-limits to oil and gas development forever, and some fear a big announcement of that kind on this trip. They might be heartened by some of the statements the senior advisor made.

“It is the president’s view that if we’re using oil and natural gas, that we’re better positioned to rely on American resources and to be able to put in place the highest and most stringent safety standards,” he said.

That’s the kind of statement made by proponents of more oil drilling on federal land. On the other hand, Brian Deese also spoke highly of Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to create national monuments without seeking Congressional approval.

“This is a president who has used his authorities under the Antiquities Act to protect more public lands and water than any other president in history,” he said.

(The pro-drilling side says things like this, too, but in a different tone of voice.)

Deese wasn’t all that specific, but he says the new policies Obama will unveil are about spreading strategies Alaska communities have deployed in the areas of alternative energy and response to climate change.

“Principally the policy initiatives that we’ll be talking about on this trip are ones that are about trying to identify ways the federal government can work more effectively with the communities, with the tribal nations, with the state to build on success.”

Obama is expected to arrive Monday at Joint-Base Elmendorf Richardson and speak during the closing session of a State Department conference at the Dena’ina Center.


Categories: Alaska News

Legislators View Palmer Meat Plant

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:52

Palmer’s Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage is the only US Department of Agriculture approved slaughterhouse in Southcentral Alaska. But the facility may only have one more year in operation, if a financial evaluation plan does not pencil out in favor of keeping it in business.  A tour of the meat packing plant by state officials this week was designed to educate legislators on the key role the plant plays in an emerging Alaska industry.

Buzz saws rang inside Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage on Thursday, and butchering and packing went on as usual, despite the gaggle of state lawmakers observing all the action. Thirty or so State representatives and department commissioners, wearing obligatory hairnets and MMMS regulatory blue smocks, were being guided through the plant by manager Frank Huffman, much as a docent leads a museum tour.

“Let’s go out this door right here, folks “, he said, leading the way.

Mt. McKinley is under the state’s budget cutting gun: legislators have looked at the one hundred thousand dollars it loses most years, and have decided not to continue subsidizing the plant in the next fiscal year. But Huffman says closing the doors will hurt Southcentral’s fledgling livestock industry, and with no local livestock some retailers will be hurt.

“All the product at Carr’s Market, Safeway, Fred Meyer, etc, etc, is USDA inspected someplace.”

Meat butchered for commercial sale must have a USDA stamp, and can come only from a USDA approved packing house, and if Mt. McKinley shuts down, the Southcentral livestock producers could use one of two others near Fairbanks. But that would mean  heavy additional costs to Southcentral producers and is not a likely option.

How will no meat packing plant hurt consumers? Well, those reindeer hot dogs are big sellers everywhere in Alaska, Huffman says.  No local slaughterhouse could change that.

“Well, the reindeer dogs you are probably buying now, a lot of it…. Canadian reindeer.. Canadian reindeer. We kill reindeer here from the Reindeer Farm here in Palmer for Alaska Sausage. We bone ’em out and process them for them, and they make their product with it. And you see it in all the stores. That Alaska grown product, that is going to go away.”

Huffman says a reindeer industry could flourish in Alaska. Huffman says local farmers produce pigs, goats, beef, and even yak for commercial sale, all of which are processed at the Palmer facility.

Danny Consenstein, state director of the federal Farm Services Agency, says a meat industry is possible in Alaska.. but at present, there’s just not enough of it being raised.

“We have the capacity to supply Alaska and to supply the rest of the country with high quality reindeer meat, high quality beef, pork, all of this. But we need a plan. We need a plan to support the production side of growing more meat.”

Consenstein says more and more consumers are demanding locally produced product.

“I hear this all the time: ‘where can I buy locally produced meat?’.  It’s just a matter of the supply side. I think the state can recognize the opportunities and start to put a plan together.”]

Just what that plan could be is still up in the air.

Earlier this summer, the state Board of Agriculture and Conservation, [BAC] approved a move to bring in an outside company to evaluate the financial health of the slaughterhouse, with the aim of deciding whether or not to put it into private ownership. Although supporters of the plan to privatize the slaughterhouse says it will save the state money, opponents of the move say that state general fund dollars do not pay for slaughterhouse operations. That money comes from interest on the state’s Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund. Last year, Mt. Mckinley made a 40 thousand dollar profit.  

















Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, August 28, 2015

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:47

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

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Judge denies injunction; Medicaid to roll out Sept. 1

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

An Anchorage Superior Court Judge ruled Friday afternoon that Medicaid expansion can go forward in Alaska as planned next week. Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the Legislative Council’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the program.

Policy promises and more on the presidential docket 

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Details are finally shaking out about the president’s Alaska visit. The White House says the president will announce new policy initiatives while he’s here, but as a senior advisor described it today, they aren’t aimed at cutting off access to Alaska’s natural resources, as some state leaders fear. At least, that’s not the “principal” thrust.

USARC presentation hints at a relocation initiative in the president’s policy plans

Emily Russel, KNOM – Nome

The U.S. Arctic Research Commission was in Nome this week discussing Arctic issues ranging from international shipping to climate change. One presenter in particular unveiled a key detail about an initiative President Obama is expected to announce during his visit next week — involving relocation efforts for rural villages in the face of climate change.

3 homes, community library lost in the Chiniak fire near Kodiak

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The wind-whipped wildfire that threatened Chiniak on Kodiak Island may not turn out to be the community-wide disaster it appeared it might become when officials ordered the evacuation of all residents Thursday night.

Town Square gardeners pick up the burden of city homelessness

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

An unlikely group of employees are on the front-line of dealing with the impacts of homelessness in Anchorage. In Town Square Park, the Parks Department is picking up some of the responsibilities of working with people who have few other places to go.

Belugas sightings persist in the middle Yukon

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Residents of the middle Yukon River from Kaltag to Ruby have seen several groups of beluga whales over the past few weeks.

AK: Setting sail with a tot in tow

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

This is a story about living the life you want after having a kid. Buying a sailboat is one way to keep things exciting. That’s what Anchorage couple Devon and Melissa Bradley did. Here’s a spoiler: their family is happier than ever. We send an audio recorder on board one weekend while they cruised around Kachemak Bay.

49 Voices: Leah Zumwalt of Anchorage

This week, we’re hearing from Leah Zumwalt, a first-grade teacher at Inlet View Elementary in Anchorage. She’s originally from California, but has lived in Alaska for eight years.

Categories: Alaska News

News of Obama Initiative on Village Relocation Pops in Nome

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:34

The village of Kivalina is one of several Alaska locales threatened by eroding coastlines and rising sea levels. APRN file photo: Joaqlin Estus KNBA

Word is out already on one initiative President Obama is likely to announce while he’s here — a plan to put the Denali Commission in charge of a project on village relocation. That came out in Nome this week, at a meeting of The U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

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Renewable energy, climate change, and port development were all highlighted at the U.S. Arctic Research Commission’s second day in Nome, but it was a special announcement about the President’s upcoming visit to Alaska that got the room buzzing.

“So next week when the president is here, he’s going to announce that the Denali Commission is going to be the lead agency to look at the environmentally threatened communities in Alaska,” says Lorraine Cordova, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Port Study. She broke the news Wednesday. The Denali Commission is an independent federal agency that has provided infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska since 1998.

The project will focus on 31 communities throughout the state, from Barrow on the North Slope down to Port Heiden on the Bering Sea and east to Eyak. Over a span of three years, the Denali Commission’s efforts will help determine whether each community should “protect in place” or relocate due to the effects of climate change.

“It’s a difficult community question to answer. Do we move or do we stay. What parts do we move? What moves first, I mean, it’s not as easy as one might suggest.”

In a public teleconference organized by the Denali Commission this morning, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot says the White House intends to put Sen. Lisa Murkowski at the reigns of the project.

Denali Commissioner and President of the Alaska Federation of Natives Julie Kitka chimed in with her approval about the historic announcement

“I think that this is unprecedented to have the president of the United States mention the Denali Commission and be willing to engage and have his administration step up the effort to meet community needs and I really do think that what we’re doing today and as we move forward is going to be incredible. I really do think it really is pretty darn historical.”

President Obama is expected to unveil more details about the Denali Commissions role in the project during his visit to Kotzebue on Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

3 homes, community library lost in the Chiniak fire near Kodiak

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:33

Photo by Scott Wight. Shared via KMXT.org.

The wind-whipped wildfire that threatened Chiniak on Kodiak Island may not turn out to be the community-wide disaster it appeared it might become when officials ordered the evacuation of all residents Thursday night.

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Kodiak Fire Chief Jim Mullican made an overflight of the community this morning and was surprised at what he saw.

“Very surprising compared to some of the pictures that were out on the internet and such of that huge wall of flame we could see from Deadman’s,” he said. “There obviously are some burned areas out there but it’s not the devastation you would think. It surprised me.”

He said three homes and the Chiniak Library were burned to the ground, and other homes and structures were visibly damaged.

“The loss of property, personal property doesn’t appear to be substantial,” Mullican said. “There are people who lost their homes, absolutely, and my heart goes out to them. But overall, we really lucked out, because this was setting up to be a very bad thing.”

The Chiniak K-8 School, on the same street as the library, was not hurt.

As of 2 p.m. the blaze had settled down enough that Chiniak residents were being allowed back into their homes, though the road is still closed to non-residents at the Roslyn Beach Bridge.

There is no immediate cause identified as the start of the fire, estimated to have covered over 2,000 acres, but it may have been a power line or transformer damaged by the winds. Kodiak Electric Association CEO Darron Scott said that reports of outages in the Chiniak area began coming in just before the fire around 9 p.m.

Kodiak City Manager Aimee Kniaziowski, who serves as the joint city-borough emergency management coordinator, said no injuries were reported and everyone from Chiniak appears accounted for.

Categories: Alaska News

Belugas sightings persist in the middle Yukon

Fri, 2015-08-28 17:31

Beluga close-up, photo from NOAA, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Residents of the middle Yukon River from Kaltag to Ruby have seen several groups of beluga whales over the past few weeks.

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Beluga sightings so far upriver are uncommon but not unheard of.  A group of belugas made it past Hughes on the Koyukuk River in the fall of 2001 – more than 550 miles from the ocean.  And a single juvenile beluga was found dead over a thousand miles from the sea on the banks of the Tanana River near Nenana in 2006.

Fish and Game Marine Mammal Biologist Lori Quakenbush in Fairbanks explains that going upriver is not a problem for belugas.

“Depends on how shallow the water gets, how high the water levels are, how high they can go and whether there is anything interesting up there.  If there are fish going up and they can catch the fish either along the banks or concentrated in certain area, that would certainly be a place of interest and belugas might go there.  They are not obligated saltwater animals, fresh water is fine for them.”

Quakenbush does not have a firm explanation for the apparent increase in belugas sightings on the Yukon this year.  But elsewhere in the state, belugas have been known to escape into rivers to avoid one of their main predators.

“One of the things that belugas have to worry about are killer whales, who are a major predator of the beluga.  Killer whales are quite a bit bigger than belugas and need deeper water, so one of the main escape behaviors for belugas is to go into shallower water than the killer whales can get into.  So if there were killer whales at the mouth of the river when the belugas were eating chums, it is a possibility that the belugas would go up the river to get away from the killer whales and stay up there.”

Belugas use sonar to navigate and find food – which often includes copious amounts of fish.  Quakenbush says that a dead beluga from Cook Inlet was found with 12 coho salmon weighing close to 100 pounds in its stomach – and that was just one of multiple feedings that a beluga could do in one day.

With about a month left before ice starts forming on interior rivers, Quakenbush doesn’t think that the belugas will have much trouble getting back to the ocean – as long as they don’t go too far upriver.

“The problem for them could be if the water drops and they stuck above some sandbar or something like that and they can’t get past it and get down. That might be what happened to the beluga that was found near Nenana.”

The hunting of beluga whales and other marine mammals is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  As with the harvest of other marine mammals, beluga hunters must be at least one-quarter Alaska Native. But according to NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Officer Les Cockreham, a beluga that swims upriver is not subject to any additional hunting restrictions.

“Basically there is no permit required, there is no season, and they can take as many as they want.  However there is one law that we look at very heavily that is in play, and that is a “no waste” issue.  In other words, if they kill an animal they have to utilize it.”

Cockreham cautions against hunting belugas without prior experience, due to the high risk of losing the animal after striking it.

The Yukon River belugas are likely from the Eastern Bering Sea stock, which sustains a healthy population level despite subsistence hunting pressure.  The Cook Inlet population of belugas, however, is listed as an endangered species and cannot be hunted.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge thwarts council’s move for an injunction; Medicaid to roll out Sept. 1

Fri, 2015-08-28 15:23

An Anchorage Superior Court Judge ruled Friday afternoon that Medicaid expansion can go forward in Alaska as planned next week. Judge Frank Pfiffner denied the Legislative Council’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the program.

Judge Pfiffner spoke for more than 45 minutes in court, unpacking the complicated legal arguments each side presented to make its case. To win a restraining order to stop Medicaid expansion, the Legislative Council had to prove the legislature would face “irreparable harm” if the program went ahead on September 1. In denying that argument, the judge made several points, including the fact that the state won’t spend any money expanding Medicaid.

“For this fiscal year, with acceptance of Medicaid expansion, nobody disputes that the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab,” Pfiffner says. “It doesn’t cost the state one single dime. Not one farthing.” (A farthing is equal to a quarter of an old British penny.)

In his preliminary decision, Judge Pfiffner also concluded the Legislative Council failed to prove it was likely to win on the merits of the case if it moves forward. The case centered on whether the Medicaid expansion population is mandatory or optional. If the expansion group is optional, that would require legislative approval.

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson smiled with relief when the judge wrapped up his decision. She says many Alaskans have waited a long time for Medicaid expansion and she’s glad they don’t have to wait any longer:

“You know it isn’t about us, it’s about Alaska and Alaskans who are going to get what they need. They deserve good health care coverage. We all do.”

A spokesperson with the Legislative Council said no lawmakers were available to respond to the ruling. The Council hasn’t said yet whether it will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

The state will begin enrolling newly eligible Alaskans in the Medicaid program starting Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Chiniak fire claims library, spares school; Residents evacuated

Fri, 2015-08-28 11:47

Photo by Scott Wight. Shared via KMXT.org.

A growing, wind-whipped wildfire continues to burn out of control in Chiniak. The latest report is that while the Chiniak library has burnt down, the nearby Chiniak K-8 School survived.

The blaze began sometime around 9 p.m. Thursday night, and may have been sparked by downed powerlines. All night flames of the rapidly growing fire were clearly visible from Kodiak City, 10 miles across Chiniak Bay.

Kodiak City Manager Aimee Kniaziowski, who serves as the joint city-borough emergency management coordinator, said winds gusting to 60 mph caused the fire to quickly grow, forcing evacuation of the small community.

“We don’t know where the fires at. We don’t know how big it is… about 4:30 this morning it was about 2,000 acres. And that was just an unprofessional estimate, so we expect that it’s even larger than that now.”

She said the U.S. Coast Guard was planning to send a helicopter to the scene to make an aerial survey of the area burned. Air travel to, from, and around Kodiak has been hampered by the strong westerly winds, which whipped up ash from the Katmai-Novarupta volcanic explostion over 100 years ago, just across the Shelikof Strait. Numerous commercial airline flights were canceled yesterday evening and so far this morning.

We were concerned about the ash in the air that was why when we contacted the state operations folks requesting assistance, they knew they couldn’t send any firefighters or anybody out, at least certainly last night because of the ash and so forth.”

Several school buses were sent to Chiniak last night to help evacuate residents. A few were brought to the Kodiak Middle School and spent the night. Kniaziowski said many others checked in and nobody is reported missing.

“We’re not too concerned about any one individual. It looks like most people have accounted for. At last count it looks as many as 75 people have reported in and at the shelter. We only had a couple at the shelter at the middle school.”)

Kodiak Fire Department Chief Jim Mullican told KMXT that people are not being allowed past a certain point several miles from the fire.

“We have a roadblock set up at Roslyn Beach. Residents will not be allowed beyond that point. We are encouraging residents to not even to go out to that area. The fire is still burning and is still out of control.”

Residents of the nearby community of Pasagshak have been warned to prepare for evacuation in event the winds change. The forecast calls for westerly winds calming a bit today, but still gusting to 40 mph. A small chance of rain is in tonight’s forecast, with a slightly greater chance Saturday.

This is a developing story, and we’ll update it as more information becomes available.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Mayor: Obama Visit to Cause ‘Minimal Disruption’ Downtown

Thu, 2015-08-27 18:25

Next week, downtown Anchorage will be crawling with dignitaries, in town for an international conference hosted by the State Department. Secretary of State John Kerry and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell are coming, as are a boatload of Nordic diplomats. The foreign ministers of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland are all on the agenda for Monday’s conference. Oh, and the president of the United States will be here.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz today announced which street will close for security. He said residents should be flexible when visiting downtown for the first half of the week, but he says the event won’t shut down commerce. As he described it, it’s a chance for Anchorage residents to show the world they can be great hosts.

“For a bit of time, downtown Anchorage is going to be a little more of a walking community than it has been,” he said. “But businesses are going to remain open, the disruption is going to be minimal and our opportunities to show off our city are going to be rather profound.”

The street closures focused on two buildings: The Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, and the Hotel Captain Cook. Streets bordering them will close to traffic. Some parking spots will be off limits and some stretches closed even to pedestrians.

The closures begin Monday at 6 a.m. They’ll remain up around the Captain Cook until noon Wednesday, presumably because that’s where the president is staying while he visits Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue. (The White House has so far provided few details about his itinerary. The opacity is a typical feature of high-level security.)

Conference organizers have warned reporters to expect security checkpoints at entrances to the Dena’ina Center, but Police Chief Mark Mew says officers aren’t going clear city parks, search handbags or turn downtown into an airport-style security zone.

“There will be places where we will tell you you can’t walk. You just can’t go there. But we’re not setting up some sort of screening stations for pedestrians,” Mew said.

Chief Mew says he can’t provide an estimate of how much the increased police presence will cost, citing security reasons. He says the city’s request for federal reimbursement hasn’t been successful.

Municipal traffic engineer Stephanie Mormilo says she knows people will want to come downtown and participate in the presidential excitement, and she says they should.

“I hope everybody is patient and respectful,” she said. “Obviously,there’s going to be impacts. Hopefully they will be minimized as much as possible. But traffic patterns are going to be different than normal. So pay attention to signage, pay attention to barricades, and just be respectful of those who are trying to direct you and of other drivers and pedestrians around you.”

The municipality’s homepage has closure maps and schedules. You can find a link on our website, AlaskaPublic.org.

Links: www.muni.org/Departments/Mayor/PressReleases/Pages/RoadClosuresGLACIERConfPresidentialVisit.aspx

Dena’ina Closures

Hotel Captain Cook Closures

Categories: Alaska News