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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: 57 sec ago

Anchorage Residents Demonstrate in Solidarity with Ferguson, MO

Wed, 2014-11-26 19:49

People gathered in downtown Anchorage to show their solidarity with the community of Ferguson, Missouri.

About 25 people stood on the corner of C and 7th in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday evening holding signs reading “Black lives matter” and “His name was Michael Brown.” They gathered to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri. The white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in August was acquitted earlier this week. The ruling set off renewed protests and riots in Missouri and around the country.

Michael Patterson put out the call for the gathering on Facebook. He says the shooting of the teen, Michael Brown, impacts him personally and highlights racism against all people of color.

“I’m African-American and I live in a country where property is valued over my life and over my people,” he says.  “And I think particularly in Alaska there’s a historical precedence of taking people’s land and then developing it and disenfranchising them from the democratic process.”

Patterson says the reaction of protestors and rioters around the country is understandable. Michael Brown’s shooting was a tipping point. He says the rioters are following a historical precedent.

“Everyone talks about the Boston Tea Party like it’s a great thing. It’s literally the same thing that’s happening” right now in response to the ruling in Ferguson, he says. “People are revolting against the system by destroying property because property is valued more than human life in this country.”

Community member Arenza Thigpen Jr. attended the event. He says the police and justice systems need to change or protests and riots will continue. He suggests starting Community Review Boards to examine police actions, even here in Alaska.

“Allow the community to be involved in a way that has not really been touched off yet. Because after all, police are protecting that community and those residents need to be involved in the process of determining if action was sufficient.”

Thigpen says he thinks race relations between African-Americans and the police are better in Anchorage than in other areas, but he still thinks there needs to be more cultural training within the force.

Many participants said they were at the event because they thought Alaska Natives were sometimes treated unfairly by law enforcement agents in Anchorage. They said all inequalities in the state needed to be addressed.

Categories: Alaska News

Tennis Courts Re-Appear As the Assembly Approves a $472 Million Budget for Anchorage

Wed, 2014-11-26 18:31

The Anchorage Assembly passed its 2015 budget at a midday meeting Wednesday. And with very few amendments or changes made, many assembly members said it was one of the smoothest budget cycles they have been a part of.

“Mr. Mayor,” said Assembly Member Bill Starr, “you’re getting very good at preparing budgets and moving public service. You reached out to your department directors early on, you told us you were going to, you tasked them with areas to scrub in the budget.”

The Assembly voted unanimously to adopt the $471,988,261 budget.

However,  there points of discussion in which assembly members were frustrated that municipal spending is not keeping up with Anchorage’s expansion, and the need for services arising subsequently. An amendment to add three staff members to animal control, for example, was introduced by members Elvi Gray-Jackson and Dick Traini.

“Since ’99 things have not been static in Anchorage,” Traini said. “As the father of the dog parks I get calls all the time, from people who could not get someone there from animal control to take care of something at the dog parks.”

That amendment failed, even after an attempt to cut the proposed amount from $273,976 down to $100,000.

The assembly also took up a resolution from the city’s finance department that sets out broad six-year goals for budgeting. Assembly member Paul Honeman spoke out against what he saw as an irresponsible push to slim budgets without expanding sectors like public safety, which he believes are already stretched too thin–as evidenced by the response to an “unsanctioned dance party” late Saturday night downtown that drew security staff from the airport and University of Anchorage to assist APD officers.

“We cannot continue to do what we’ve always done, we’re going to come up short every time,” Honeman explained. “When you look at public safety, strengthening public safety, nowhere in there does it say update or upgrade out staffing to meet the objectives of the community as it has grown. I just, for principal, I’m not going to be able to support this six-year-fiscal plan.”

The only surprise in the budget voting was a last minute push concerning tennis courts. And it passed. The assembly voted on a request for $600,000 to the Legislature in Juneau that would go towards adding what Mayor Dan Sullivan described as an “open air translucent fabric” over the six courts at East High School, which would keep rain from hampering the tennis season. Assembly members objected to the late inclusion of the request, particularly given last year’s budget battles over tennis courts, but since it may end up near the bottom of the city’s priority list for capital requests could do very little, and passed 10-to-1.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan writers push to finish a novel in a month

Wed, 2014-11-26 16:05

Nearly 500 Alaskans are trying to write a novel this month. An entire novel. They’re participating in November National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide movement aimed at getting people writing. Some of the writers gathered at Anchorage’s Loussac Public Library.

 

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/26-NaNoWriMo.mp3

For the most part, the room of writers at the library is pretty quiet. Teens and adults holding laptops and tablets sit at tables and lounge on the bench, occasionally chatting. Except for Abby Foster, who plunks away on the old school typewriter she calls Gus. This is the seventh time she’s participated in National Novel Writing Month, affectionately called NaNoWriMo. She says Gus helped her surpass her goal of writing 50,000 words this month.

“It gets rid of the inner editor when I’m using it so I can just keep typing,” she says while typing.  ”And there’s no delete key.”

Foster volunteers with the non-profit called NaNoWriMo, which runs the novel writing competition and coordinates events like the Write-ins at the library. She says it takes a lot of things to get people through the process.

“A little bit of craziness…” she says.  ”A lot of people swear by caffeine. I swear by chocolate. But probably the best thing to have if you want to do a novel in a month is support.”

Part of Foster’s role is to provide support to a group of teens she’s been volunteering with through different youth writing groups.

One of those teens is high school senior Zach Butch. He’s working on a graphic novel about the unplanned misadventures of four goofy friends trying to save an artifact from a corrupt government. He’s a little sensitive about his progress.

“Are you trying to insinuate that I haven’t been keeping up with my word count at all?” he says when asked how he’s progressing.

Butch admits he hasn’t been, but that’s not his goal. He says he’s working hard on a project he put aside when he was 14 and he’s having fun doing it.

Eighth grader Max Kelchner takes his 20,000 word count more seriously since he signed a contract with himself to do it. He says he’s almost finished writing his novel about a boy who is writing a novel. It’s like a book within a book.

“There are quite a few parts where it’s funny,” he says. “It’s heartfelt.”

Kelchner offers solid advice for people pursuing writing.

“Put your work into sections maybe, words a day, words a week. For some people that are really have a bunch of ideas going through their head that disappear quickly, you should really write them down.”

Alana Terry, who has already published several novels, says the great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you have a support group and it forces you to really just write.

“I think when I’m writing by myself it’s fairly easy to daydream or wander or say, ‘Hey I’m going to go research this.’ When you’re doing it and paying attention to the word count and the time frame, you just get it out.”

The program started in 1999. So far this month, Alaskan participants have written nearly 7.8 million words.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Industry Blames Pirate Fishing as Red King Prices Drop

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:55

The Bering Sea red king crab fleet finished catching 10 million pounds of quota last week — and they’re facing some lackluster prices as the crab goes to market. It could be due to higher catch limits in Alaska and Russia.

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There’s also the problem of pirates. Illegal crab harvesting is declining, but industry groups say it’s still their biggest concern.

Crab economics can be a tricky business. Take it from Jake Jacobsen, who heads up the state’s biggest crab harvesting collective, the Inter-Cooperative Exchange.

“Supply is really the thing that drives the market, and the Japanese exchange rate is pretty close up there too,” he says. “And then, of course, the quality of the crab and other issues all factor in.”

Dockside prices for Alaskan red king crab were down as much as a dollar this season, to around $6.10, according to the state Department of Fish & Game.

There are plenty of reasons why that could be: like the higher quotas in Alaska and Russia, and currency values giving big Japanese importers a better deal in Russian rubles than in dollars.

And Jacobsen says Alaska’s fleet had another problem this year: unexpected barnacles on some of their catch.

“Those crab don’t typically receive the same price as a clean-shell crab,” he says. “So there’s a little bit of a discount there.”

But it’s all secondary to what he says is still the biggest problem for Alaska: illegal fishing and overharvesting by pirate boats in Russia.

Years ago, Russian pirates caught and delivered more than four times as much king and snow crab as the country’s legal harvest limit. Since then, that number’s declined to its lowest point in a decade, says Heather Brandon of the World Wildlife Fund.

“But even in the last year that we have data for, which is 2013, there was still about a 69 percent harvest over the legal catch,” she says. “So we can see from trade data that there’s still a huge amount of illegal crab entering the market from Russia.”

Brandon co-authored a recent WWF report on illegal crab fishing. It calls for countries that import and export crab to work on stamping out pirate fishing — like by asking for more documentation as the crab makes its way from dock to market. One agreement between Russia and Japan will do just that starting in December.

Japan takes most of Russia’s exports, due to proximity — but plenty of Alaska’s catch winds up there too. That leaves American consumers buying crab that’s estimated to be 40 percent illegal. Jake Jacobsen, with the harvester co-op, says it’s tough to verify where the product comes from:

“The boats that supposedly made the landings are fictitious. They’re signed with names of captains that don’t exist,” he says. “All the documents look legal because they’ve been professionally forged.”

That’s why groups like his are pushing for stricter labeling and tracking requirements. And as always, they want customers to buy domestic. They say Alaska’s fishery is better regulated, better documented and more sustainable than any other.

Of course, that makes it more expensive than illegal crab, too. Mark Gleason is the president of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which estimates Alaska has lost $600 million to pirate crabbing since 2000.

“The people that I represent — they’re capitalists. We thrive on competition. We’re very proud of the product that we produce, and we will put that product up against anyone’s,” Gleason says. “But it’s gotta be a level playing field in terms of the competition. We all need to be playing by the same rules. We all need the same opportunity to bring our product to market. And we welcome the competition with the legal production — it’s just the pirates that have a leg up.”

Still, Gleason thinks it’s possible to stop illegal crab fishing. He points to signs of progress — more international cooperation and regulatory support from lawmakers, who groups like his have been lobbying. And there’s last year’s lower illegal harvest, too.

But what about this year? It’s kind of a wild card, since there’s also more legal crab on the market than in the past. Heather Brandon, with the WWF, says she isn’t sure if higher legal quotas will make for less pirate fishing. And she won’t get to find out for about a year.

“I’m really looking forward to looking at the 2014 data to understand that,” she says. “There are a lot of factors in play.”

That means it’s not clear if pirate fishing is to blame for this year’s lower red king crab prices in Alaska. Still, fishermen say they have to control what they can. The fleet can’t alter the laws of supply and demand. But they’ll still lobby to rid that supply of crab that shouldn’t be there.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Musher Hospitalized After Vehicle Strikes Dog Team

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:54

On Tuesday, Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson was injured when a Talkeetna woman lost control of her vehicle and struck the ATV that Hendrickson’s dog team was pulling.

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Alaska State Troopers received a call just before 7:30 Tuesday evening that a vehicle had struck the ATV ridden by musher Karin Hendrickson near Mile 91 of the Parks Highway. Troopers say that Mabel Quilliam of Talkeetna was driving northbound on the highway when her vehicle left the road and collided with Hendrickson’s ATV.

Karin Hendrickson leaving Willow during the 2013 Iditarod. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Hendrickson was being pulled by her sled dog team on a training run. Quilliam was not reported as being injured. Hendrickson was taken from the scene by Talkeetna EMS and eventually to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Maliko Ubl is Hendrickson’s handler. She says she spoke with Hendrickson on Wednesday about her injuries.

“I talked to her this morning. She sounds pretty good, but it sounds like she–something in her back is broken…and she also has a broken leg,” she said.

Shortly after the accident, word spread quickly on social media. The dog team got loose as a result of the collision, and Maliko Ubl says the Willow mushing community was quick to assist in rounding them up again.

“The mushing community really rallied around us and came out and helped. There were several people out with trucks and trailers, and the last dog finally showed up here, on her own, at about 6:00 this morning. She looks like she’s in really good shape.”

Maliko Ubl says that only two of the dogs showed any signs of injury.

“One dog, Spartan, had a pretty good laceration on his foot. And the, Fly, who has actually been Karin’s main leader up until this year…he looked like maybe he got wrapped up and drug a little bit, but no broken bones or anything like that – just some bruising and abrasions,” Ubl said.

The team has been checked by a veterinarian, and Maliko Ubl says they will likely get at least a few days of rest.

Early in her mushing career, Karin Hendrickson worked as a handler for Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Vern Halter. Halter says he wishes Hendrickson well, and that the accident was a result of unfortunate timing.

“Karin is just exceptional. She works in Anchorage, full time job. She probably commuted home last night, got home 6:30 or 7:00…You can imagine, fifteen seconds either side of this,” Halter said.

The severity of Hendrickson’s broken bones is not publicly known. She is listed in “fair” condition by Providence Alaska Medical Center. Hendrickson is signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, and has run the race six times in the past. It’s not known yet whether her injuries will keep her from her seventh attempt next March.

Categories: Alaska News

Palmer Man Sentenced To 50 Years On Child Sexual Exploitation Charges

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:53

A Palmer resident has been sentenced to 50 years in federal prison on multiple charges of child sexual exploitation. Forty nine year old Robert Earl Cunningham, also known as “Bear” Cunningham and a registered sex offender, will serve the term concurrently with an 88-year state sentence.

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Cunningham was sentenced in Anchorage Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, to the maximum terms allowed on six counts of child sexual exploitation. The terms are 50 years on two of the counts and 30 years on four of the counts. The sentences are to run concurrently to each other, and to the state sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey J. Renschen, who declined to go on tape, says the state had already sentenced Cunningham on multiple charges of sexual abuse of a minor. According to an Alaska State Trooper dispatch, Cunningham was sentenced in September of this year under a plea agreement to the 88-year state sentence. Renschen says the federal charges stem from the use of materials shipped across state lines to produce child pornography.

Categories: Alaska News

Decision due soon on ‘distorted’ school texts depicting Native tragedies

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:51

The Juneau School District made copies of the controversial texts available for public review. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau School District will decide next week if four controversial texts will remain part of the elementary school curriculum.

Members and organizations of Juneau’s Alaska Native community raised concerns about texts depicting Alaska Native and Native American experiences, like boarding schools and the Trail of Tears. A cultural specialist calls the texts “inaccurate” and “distorted,” and a school district committee voted to remove the books from the classroom.

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Fourth and fifth grade teacher Shgen George remembers unpacking books for the new language arts curriculum a week before school started.

“I came across one and I was like, ‘Oh my, that’s not very good.’ And came across another one and went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is getting worse.’ And by the time I got to the fourth book, I was just shaking,” George says.

One of the readers called “Continuing On” follows a Cherokee boy named John as he, his family and thousands of other Cherokee are forced to leave their homeland, a tragedy known as the Trail of Tears.

In the story, John’s father says, “The long miserable journey and the hard times will make us stronger in the end.”

Another tells the story of a Native American girl in a boarding school. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the federal government split families and forced Native children into boarding schools to assimilate. The text describes some of the hardships, but glosses over the loss of cultural identity.

George says the texts are condescending and trivialize the true experiences of Native people.

“In our community, we deal with the effects of these every day now, still. With the boarding schools and trying to keep our language – those are directly related,” George says.

After George first drew attention to the texts in August, the school district’s Native Education Advisory Committee held public meetings filled with emotional testimony. The district also asked Paul Berg to assess the readings, which are part of McGraw-Hill’s Reading Wonders program. Berg is a former teacher and now works as a curriculum developer and cultural specialist at Goldbelt Heritage Foundation.

He says the author of “Continuing On” minimizes the emotional suffering of the boy who’s able to let go of his pain.

“The Trail of Tears was a death march. Twenty-five percent of the people who went on this march perished. This boy at the end of the march is a highly traumatized individual and the writer kind of ascribes to the school of pop psychology where you just get over it,” says Berg. “You don’t. It can take years to overcome and it has very severe effects.”

Berg reached out to the Cherokee Nation and representatives sent written comment listing inaccuracies in the text and called it “a poor choice for the classroom.”

Three of the four challenged readers are categorized as historical fiction, but Berg says they lean toward rewriting history.

“It’s called historical appropriation, when you take an historical event, important in the Native community and reinvent it, if you will,” Berg says.

Berg adds the community shouldn’t let national publishing companies like McGraw-Hill decide what children are reading.

“They are not the authority in reading. We are the professionals. We are the educators. We are the parents. We are the grandparents. We need to be the ones that make the actual decisions,” Berg says.

Berg’s report recommends discarding the publications and replacing them with locally developed materials from the Alaska Native perspective. The readers aren’t scheduled to be used until April.

Beverly Russell and Freda Westman of the Alaska Native Sisterhood gave public testimony supporting Paul Berg’s recommendations at a recent school board meeting. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A district committee that reviewed the challenged material voted 7-2 to remove the four readers from the classroom. Ted Wilson, the district’s director of teaching and learning, voted to keep the texts.

“I recognize that the books don’t do a great job of telling the story. I did not see them as being as damaging as what other perspectives see them as being,” Wilson says.

He says another committee has already met to find alternative literature.

“Given the nature of these texts and the concerns that have been raised, it would be in the best interest of everybody to have identified and present in the classroom other texts to be used either in place of these or in concert with these texts,” Wilson says.

School board member Lisa Worl says the readers may not be ideal, but at least there’s finally acknowledgement and discussion of these hard issues.

“Whereas when I was a child, nothing. This is a difficult conversation, however I’m happy that finally there’s something, even if it’s lacking, so now we can improve upon it,” Worl says.

The superintendent will make a final decision on the controversial readers in early December.

Categories: Alaska News

APU Nordic Skier To Compete In World Cup

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:50

A cross country skier from Fairbanks is taking on the world’s best. Alaska Pacific University team member Reese Hanneman, who grew up in Fairbanks, will compete for the U.S. Ski Team in World Cup races in Europe over the next month.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 26, 2014

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:48

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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Alaska Gov.-elect Walker names 4 to positions

The Associated Press

Alaska Gov.-elect Bill Walker has announced four new staff members, including an attorney general.

Industry Blames Pirate Fishing as Red King Prices Drop

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Bering Sea red king crab fleet finished catching 10 million pounds of quota last week – and they’re facing some lackluster prices as the crab goes to market. It could be due to higher catch limits in Alaska and Russia. There’s also the problem of pirates. Illegal crab harvesting is declining, but industry groups say it’s still their biggest concern.

Iditarod Musher Hospitalized After Vehicle Strikes Dog Team

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson was injured last night when a Talkeetna woman lost control of her vehicle and struck the ATV that Hendrickson’s dog team was pulling.

Palmer Man Sentenced To 50 Years On Child Sexual Exploitation Charges

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A Palmer resident has been sentenced to 50 years in federal prison on multiple charges of child sexual exploitation.  Forty nine year old Robert Earl Cunningham, also known as “Bear” Cunningham and a registered sex offender, will serve the term concurrently with an 88 year state sentence.

Regional Committee Votes to Hold Governance Convention

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A group sponsored by the YK Delta’s Regional Native Corporation, Calista’s Regional Committee, voted this week to hold a Governance Convention next year.  Delegates want to pursue the creation of a regional tribal government or make changes to the regional non-profit.

Decision Due Soon on ‘Distorted’ School Texts Depicting Native Tragedies

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School District will decide next week if four controversial texts will remain part of the elementary school curriculum.

Members and organizations of Juneau’s Alaska Native community raised concerns about texts depicting Alaska Native and Native American experiences, like boarding schools and the Trail of Tears. A cultural specialist calls the texts “inaccurate” and “distorted,” and a school district committee voted to remove the books from the classroom.

APU Nordic Skier To Compete In World Cup

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A cross country skier from Fairbanks is taking on the world’s best. Alaska Pacific University team member Reese Hanneman, who grew up in Fairbanks, will compete for the U.S. Ski Team in World Cup races in Europe over the next month.

Design Challenge Encourages Innovative Solutions For Cabin Fever

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

As the state is cloaked in darkness and cold, cabin fever starts to set in. But some Alaskans think they can fight winter’s scourge by reinventing the spaces we inhabit. The Alaska Design Forum is hosting a challenge to get community members and designers to reconsider the cabin of the future.

Finding the Perfect Thanksgiving Wine

David Waldron, Alaska Public Media

A lot of time and energy goes into what we eat for Thanksgiving, but what about what we drink?

Categories: Alaska News

Design Challenge encourages innovative solutions for Cabin Fever

Wed, 2014-11-26 15:29

As the state is cloaked in darkness and cold, cabin fever starts to set in. But some Alaskans think they can fight winter’s scourge by reinventing the spaces we inhabit. The Alaska Design Forum is hosting a challenge to get community members and designers to reconsider the cabin of the future.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/25-Cabin-Design.mp3

Rachelle Dowdy is the project manager for the Cabin Fever Design Challenge, and she lives in a cabin that’s a bit more of the past than the future. Part of it’s made from a manufactured housing unit from the pipeline days.

“The other part of my cabin is made of broken down snow machine pallets that I reclaimed the two by sixes for,” she explains.  ”And it has hidden framed in doors and windows for future add-ons. It’s that very Alaska style architecture…”

Dowdy lives in Ester near Fairbanks. She doesn’t have plumbing, electricity, or internet access. When she thinks of a cabin of the future, it would have those practical amenities.

Alaska Design Forum director Holly McQuinn says the idea of the cabin design challenge is to get artists, architects, cabin dwellers and everyone else to think about a cabin that fits into the state’s unique environment. It could even help solve some of the state’s challenges, like the sadness brought on by winter.

“I was thinking, ‘what are those things that are challenging to me?’ Ok, well, it’s cold and it’s dark. Well, how do we play with those things? How do we turn that around and how do we think ‘Wow! I’m going to use this darkness and maybe do a light show in my living room.’ Or use some kind of manipulation of light so my perspective shifts so I’m suddenly saying ‘Oh I can’t wait for that darkness to happen!’”

McQuinn dreams about cabins with robots doing housework as well.

Up to 40 design teams from around the state can sign up for the contest. No design experience is necessary. McQuinn says it’s a professional development exercise as well. Participants will display models and drawings of their entries at an art gallery and receive professional photos for their portfolios.

“Possibly some of these could actually be built or developed. Future projects. You know, who knows. The sky’s the limit,” she says.

Anchorage Architect Roy Roundtree says that’s why he’s participating in the contest — to let his mind explore in ways normal work doesn’t allow.

“You never got a chance to really spread your wings as a designer, to really think outside of the box because there’s always a client there to hold you back and say, ‘Hey wait, where’s that deadline? Where are those drawings? I wanted five bathrooms not four!’”

As he starts preparing for the contest, Roundtree says he’s thinking about what a cabin really is. Why do people live in them? Do they want to be part of the wilderness? To harvest from the wild? Is a cabin social or solitary?

“How does your mind change when you journey to a cabin?”

So what will Roundtree’s cabin of the future be? He says he’s not sure, but he has until the contest closes on January 29 to decide. Participants need to sign up by December 8.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Regs Hit Fishing Industry, Unless Congress Meets Deadline

Wed, 2014-11-26 13:50

Federal lawmakers return to Washington next week for the final days of the 113th Congress.  They have to pass a budget or a “continuing resolution” by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Alaska’s fishing industry is watching another deadline approach: Dec. 18. That’s the date tough new EPA regulations apply to commercial fishing boats, unless Congress intervenes.

United Fishermen of Alaska and other industry groups have been trying for years to get a permanent exemption from part of the Clean Water Act that regulates what vessels discharge. UFA Executive Director Julianne Curry says the pending new regulations would apply to just about any liquid emitted from a boat shorter than 79 feet.

“Some of the components that are in this regulation are – they really don’t make any sense,” Curry says.

If the rule goes into effect, the EPA estimates it would apply to as many as 138,000 smaller vessels around the country, and about half them are commercial fishing boats. The rules would apply to, among other liquids, fish-hold effluent, bilge water, grey water, and, Curry points out, deckwash. Even runoff.

“It includes onerous regulations such as making fishermen catalog and make sure their permit is covering rainwater that falls onto the deck and therefore falls overboard,” she said.

A study by the EPA found some of these discharges may be harmful to the aquatic environment or to human health, particularly in  enclosed waters. Curry says UFA embraces appropriate regulation and doesn’t object to reasonable pollution controls.

“The fishing industry is already covered under discharge regulations that just aren’t as overly onerous as the ones that are potentially going to be implemented in December,” she said.

EPA wasn’t eager to adopt these regulations in the first place. It used to have an exemption for discharges that occur in the normal operation of a vessel. But an environmental lawsuit, aimed at keeping invasive species from hitching a ride in a ship’s ballast water, forced the EPA to act. Congress has passed temporary measures to keep the regulation at bay since 2008.

The U.S. House has already passed a bill calling for a permanent exemption for vessels under 79 feet. Several bills are pending in the Senate that would halt the regulation, for a year or permanently. They’re sponsored by Alaska’s senators, and senators as divergent as California Democrat Barbara Boxer and Florida Republican Marco Rubio. In Washington, I’m Liz Ruskin.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Regional Committee Votes to Hold Governance Convention

Wed, 2014-11-26 09:44

The Calista-sponsored Regional Committee voted Monday to hold a Governance Convention next year to pursue the possibility of a creating a regional tribal government or making changes to the Association of Village Council Presidents.

A press release from Calista says there was unanimous support for making changes to regional governance. They say 76 percent of delegates agreed to look at establishing a constitutional government, while 58 percent voted to consider changing the role of a regional non-profit, such as AVCP.

The resolution put forward ideas such as changing the name to Association of Sovereign Yupiit Villages,” providing for direct election of the President, and modifying the charter to allow the President to take executive action to carry out directives from the board.

What the committee is calling a governance convention is tentatively scheduled for March 2015. There, delegates will make a decision on what direction to pursue.

The committee looked at four options, including the regional tribal government, changes to AVCP, establishing a borough government, and finally, disbanding the regional committee. There was evidently a lack of support for creating a borough government under state law.

Efforts to establish a regional tribal government have come up several times in past decades, and with pushback. AVCP supplied a list of 16 groups that in the past several months opposed an AVCP resolution promoting a regional government or the latest Calista-sponsored version.

A YKHC resolution says a regional tribal government would usurp the power of the 58 individual tribes they serve. AVCP President Myron Naneng told KYUK last week that tribal governments have rejected the idea in the past.

The Regional Committee formed this February after the Calista board of directors voted to create the group to study problems with current legislation affecting Alaska Native people, tribal government, and corporations, and come up with a strategic plan. A 16-person steering committee has met several times since the spring. The November and February meetings were closed to the public and the media, but open to Calista shareholders and descendants.

A delegate from Napaimute, Devron Hellings, said in the press release that the goal was to let the native people of the region vote on establishing a regional tribal government by the end of next year.

Some 80 percent of the region’s tribes–45 of 56–were at the meeting, and 40 of 45 village corporations.

Categories: Alaska News

Sterling Highway Crash Leaves 1 Dead, Several Injured

Wed, 2014-11-26 09:42

A crash Tuesday on the Sterling Highway has left one motorist dead and several others injured.

Alaska State Troopers report the crash occurred at Mile 146, near Happy Valley, at 5:40 p.m.

Two vehicles were involved in the collision. None of the victims have been identified. The Sterling Highway was closed while first responders were on scene.

The cause of the accident has not yet been determined and an investigation is underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod musher hurt in crash with vehicle

Wed, 2014-11-26 09:41

A veteran Iditarod musher was struck and injured Tuesday night by a driver who left the roadway and crashed into her team near Willow.

Karin Hendrickson is recovering from a broken back and broken leg.

Hendrickson is a four-time Iditarod finisher. She was preparing for the 2015 race in March.

A spokeswoman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Patty Sullivan, says Hendrickson just before 8 p.m. was running her team along the Parks Highway near Mile 91 when it was struck.

Sullivan says Hendrickson was in serious condition. A helicopter was dispatched to transport her to a hospital but was unable to land because of poor weather.

Sullivan says the crash scattered Hendrickson’s sled dogs and one was missing Tuesday night.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Gov.-elect Walker names 4 to positions

Wed, 2014-11-26 09:40

Alaska Gov.-elect Bill Walker on Tuesday announced four new staff members, including an attorney general.

Walker said in a release that Craig Richards will serve as attorney general. Richards said he’ll be reviewing the status of the National Guard investigation and the state’s lawsuit that is trying to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage.

Walker also announced that he will retain Gary Folger as the public safety commissioner.

He said a former University of Alaska-Fairbanks vice chancellor, Pat Pitney, will be his budget director. She replaces Karen Rehfeld, who retired last Friday after 35 years with the state.

He also announced that Guy Bell will be retained as director of administrative services for the governor’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 25, 2014

Tue, 2014-11-25 17:33

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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Anti-Begich Ad in Voter Guide Prompts Bill to Ban Parties From Booklet

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The state Division of Elections took some heat this year for publishing an attack ad against Sen. Mark Begich within the pages of the official voter guide. Now, Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, wants to ban partisan ads in the guide, a booklet that’s mailed to every voting household.

Lobbyist: State budget shortfall will affect Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues says Alaska’s budget woes may lead to conversations during the upcoming legislative session about tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Kevin Jardell also says it’s likely to mean fewer state-funded capital projects for communities, though he thinks Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be favorable to local governments.

Ketchikan Assembly Responds to Education Lawsuit Ruling

Leila Khiery, KRBD – Ketchikan

A Superior Court Judge has ruled in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in its lawsuit against the State of Alaska over the state’s education funding mandate. The Borough Assembly talked about Friday’s ruling during this week’s regular meeting, and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst calls it a “big win” for Ketchikan.

NMFS Expands Fishing Near Steller Sea Lion Habitat

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The National Marine Fisheries Service will re-open fishing grounds in the Western Aleutian Islands that have been closed for years to protect a population of Steller sea lions.

Sitka herring forecast lowest in a decade

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka’s commercial herring fleet should expect to catch significantly fewer fish this spring.

Calista Shareholders Reconsider Enrolling Descendants

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Representatives from Calista Corporation met at the Cultural Center in Bethel earlier this month with shareholders and descendants, to discuss the details of an upcoming vote on whether to issue shares to “afterborns,” those born after December 1971 when newly formed Alaska Native Corporations enrolled their shareholders.

ANSEP tripling enrollment in middle school program

Sarah Yu, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program is tripling enrollment in its Middle School Academies, after receiving a $6 million state grant.

The program hopes to get middle school students—especially Alaska Natives—interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Nome Churches, Nonprofits Keep Sales Tax Exemption

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Nome’s nonprofits and churches will continue to be spared from paying local sales tax after last night’s City Council meeting saw proposals to strip the exemptions die without a vote.

Orphaned Bear Cub Finds Temporary Home At Alaska Zoo

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An orphaned bear cub from the Eagle area is at the Alaska Zoo. The young black bear will be kept at the facility in Anchorage, while a search is conducted for a permanent home.

When missing person isn’t found, Juneau SEADOGS search for happy ending

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

At least once a week, 10 handlers and their dogs muck through the mountains, muskegs and forests on and off the beaten paths of Juneau in search of volunteer hiders. It’s practice for the SEADOGS, or Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search. Local authorities call on the volunteer group several times a year to help out when people go missing.

Categories: Alaska News

Lobbyist: State budget shortfall will affect Juneau

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:59

Kevin Jardell is entering his second legislative session as the City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau’s lobbyist for state issues says Alaska’s budget woes may lead to conversations during the upcoming legislative session about tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund.

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Kevin Jardell also says it’s likely to mean fewer state-funded capital projects for communities, though he thinks Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be favorable to local governments.

About 90 percent of state revenue comes from oil taxes, and the price of Alaska’s oil is trending down.

“The reality of going into this next year, and the new administration: If oil averages $85, the deficit for the state is about $3 billion,” Jardell told the Juneau Assembly on Monday.

Alaska North Slope crude oil needs to be about $117 a barrel for the state to balance its budget, he said. It was about $77 a barrel at the end of last week.

During the campaign, outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell and Gov.-elect Bill Walker sparred over how much to cut spending to deal with the budget shortfall. In January, Jardell expects lawmakers and the Walker administration to shift the conversation to ways to increase revenue. He says that includes using the state’s $51 billion permanent fund.

“And I think communities are going to have to sit and think about where they stand on the issue, and whether they’re going to weigh in,” Jardell said.

As for cuts, Jardell says the state capital budget will be hit the hardest, with most of the funding going to projects that require a match to secure federal dollars for infrastructure like roads.

“I think the capital budget will be strictly what they call a bare bones capital budget,” he said.

On the bright side, Jardell says the incoming Walker administration is talking a lot about meeting the needs of municipalities.

“They’re really focused on hearing from local governments and ensuring that the state is aligned with the priorities of local governments,” he said. “That’s been one of Gov.-elect Walker’s priorities. It comes from his history, and his being in local government.”

Walker is a former mayor of Valdez. Incoming Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is a former mayor of Yakutat and Juneau.

Jardell’s comments came at the Assembly’s annual retreat. Assembly member Kate Troll called his predictions “a new reality check.” City Manager Kim Kiefer said the Assembly Finance Committee will revisit the city’s state funding requests on Dec. 17.

Jardell’s contract with the city pays him nearly $4,600 a month, according to state’s 2014 lobbyist directory. He’s entering his second year as Juneau’s state lobbyist.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Assembly Responds to Education Lawsuit Ruling

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:58

A Superior Court Judge has ruled in favor of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in its lawsuit against the State of Alaska over the state’s education funding mandate. The Borough Assembly talked about Friday’s ruling during Monday night’s regular meeting, and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst calls it a “big win” for Ketchikan.

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Superior Court Judge William Carey said boroughs are not required to help pay for public education. In his ruling, he said that the contribution is, essentially, a tax earmarked for a special purpose, which violates the state Constitution.

This is a big deal for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which filed the lawsuit in January after years of talking about whether to take that step. The borough argued that the mandatory local contribution was unfair to organized boroughs and first-class cities, because it didn’t apply to smaller communities in unorganized boroughs.

Ketchikan Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst has led the charge on this issue. Considering the efforts he’s put into it, his announcement of the court ruling was calm.

He simply noted that the judge ruled in the borough’s favor, but didn’t grant the borough’s request for a refund of this year’s local contribution for schools. Despite that small loss, “the major principal involved in that case, the borough was successful on that issue.”

Later, Assembly Member Glenn Thompson chided Bockhorst for his presentation.

“Mr. Bockhorst has to be the most subdued person I’ve ever met,” he said. “When he announces that this landmark decision of the Superior Court in favor of the borough — you’ve got to have some fist-bumps going on here. You should stand up, take a bow, do a jig, do something rather than just calmly report that ‘Yeah, we won.’”

Thompson noted that the added cost to the state that could result from this ruling is nothing compared to the projected drop in oil-tax revenue.

“Putting it in perspective, with the 30 percent drop in revenue at the state level, which I think equates to around $3 billion, the $300,000 problem we’ve handed them with the unconstitutionality of the required local contribution is merely a drop in the bucket,” he said. “It’ll just get lost in the trees. It shouldn’t be that big a problem for them.”

The state Department of Education’s budget for the 2013-2014 academic year was $1.4 billion, and $222 million of that came from required local contributions provided by boroughs and first-class cities.

How the state will respond to Judge Carey’s ruling is up in the air. Lawyers representing the state government are evaluating the decision and any options available.

What newly elected Gov. Bill Walker might do also is unknown. During an October campaign stop in Ketchikan, though, he told KRBD that he understood the borough’s frustration.

“And there’s some technical issues in that litigation that they’ve got some good points about, as far as dedication of revenue and those kinds of things,” he said.

Walker said the problem stems from the state pushing obligations onto local governments, and he would open lines of communication in hopes of resolving those disagreements.

In the meantime, Borough Manager Bockhorst said he will confer with the borough’s attorneys regarding what’s next, and will place an executive session on the Assembly’s next meeting agenda to talk about strategies.

Categories: Alaska News

NMFS Expands Fishing Near Steller Sea Lion Habitat

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:57

The National Marine Fisheries Service will re-open fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands that have been restricted for years to protect a population of Steller sea lions.

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The new federal rules were issued Tuesday. They say some fishing, spread out over more space and time, won’t deplete the sea lions’ food source too much. It upholds recommendations that have taken shape this year.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Steller sea lions eat Atka mackerel, Pacific cod and pollock — which were harvested commercially in the Western Aleutians in the past. The fisheries were shut down in 2011, when NMFS first ruled that fishing posed too much of a threat to the endangered mammals.

Now, after a long biological re-evaluation, they’re officially relaxing those restrictions.

Under the new rules, NMFS will re-open 35 percent more pollock fishing grounds compared to what was closed in 2011. And they’ll re-open 8 percent more for Atka mackerel and 23 percent more for Pacific cod in both the trawl and non-trawl sectors. Closures around sea lion haulouts and rookeries will still apply.

The new regulations also extend the fishing seasons for those species. But they keep harvesting limited during times of year when the sea lions appear to be eating more fish — such as pollock, in the winter.

The management plan takes effect in 30 days.

You can read the full text of the rule and see NMFS responses to public comments here.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka herring forecast lowest in a decade

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:56

Aerial view of the Starrigavan boat launch, looking south. (ADF&G photo)

Sitka’s commercial herring fleet should expect to catch significantly fewer fish this spring.

That’s the news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which released its preliminary harvest level for the 2015 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery on Friday (11-21-14).

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The preliminary quota is 8,712 tons. That’s low by recent standards — it would be the lowest level since 2003. And it’s about half of last year’s target, which was 16,333 tons.

The herring fleet exceeded that target last year. The 2014 harvest, at 16,957 tons, was one of the largest ever.

Fish and Game biologist Dave Gordon said the lower forecast is driven by the number of three-year-old fish joining the mature, spawning population in Sitka Sound.

“And very few, I mean, almost none, showed up in the fishery last year,” Gordon said. “So, it’s really the lack of recruitment that’s causing the population to contract at this time.”

The department is expecting  44,237 tons of herring to spawn in and around Sitka Sound. That’s the lowest forecast in a decade, and well below the past several years, when forecasts have consistently been above 70,000 tons.

Last year, the department forecast a biomass of 81,663 tons. Later sampling and aerial surveys suggested the actual population was 68,399 tons.

Gordon said the contraction this year could be caused by a wide range of environmental factors.

The herring that turned three in 2014 came out of the 2011 brood year, which was a good one for herring in Sitka Sound.

“That was actually a year of very high spawn deposition,” Gordon said. “We had 78 nautical miles of spawn in Sitka Sound that year. It was the second highest spawn deposition estimate since the department began conducting spawn depositions in the late ’70s. [But] we saw very, very little survival of young herring from that large spawning event.”

That is likely due to ocean conditions, including food availability and water temperatures, he said. But it’s impossible for ADF&G to know the exact cause.

“What exact environmental factors led to the poor survivals, you know, we really can’t put our finger on,” he said.

Critics of the sac roe herring fishery, including the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, worry that the commercial harvest is depleting the herring population.

The sac roe fishery has taken, on average, about 14% of the mature herring in Sitka Sound each year. Gordon said  that’s not enough to affect population size. He stressed that this year’s forecast is well within the range of natural variation.

“You know, it’s really not the fishery that’s driving the population down at this time,” he said. “It’s basically getting down to just, poor recruitment trend over the last several years.”

The department will take samples again in late January or early February, and announce the final harvest level in late February or early March.

The sac roe herring fishery usually opens in March.

Categories: Alaska News

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