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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: 10 min 20 sec ago

Judge hears arguments in anti-Medicaid lawsuit; Plaintiff attorney joins by Skype

Thu, 2015-08-27 17:36

State attorney Dario Borghesan. Photo: Annie Feidt/APRN.

Superior court judge Frank Pfiffner heard oral arguments this afternoon in Anchorage in the Legislative Council’s case against Gov. Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Council filed suit Monday to stop the program from going forward as planned next week, saying the governor doesn’t have the authority to expand Medicaid on his own.

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Erin Murphy, a lawyer for the Legislative Council, spoke by Skype from Washington, D.C., where she is based. She said the case wasn’t about whether Medicaid expansion was a good thing for the state of Alaska but about, “who has the power to make that decision.”

Erin Murphy, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the Legislative Council, joined the hearing by Skype from Washington, D.C. Photo: Annie Feidt/APRN.

Lawyers for the state argued the Council failed to prove the legislature would face ‘irreparable harm’ if Medicaid expansion takes effect on Sept. 1. That’s required for the judge to issue the temporary restraining order the legislature is seeking.

Judge Pfiffner says he’ll issue an oral decision Friday at noon.

Both sides—and the judge—agree no matter how Pfiffner rules, the case is headed to the state’s Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

BC official says they’re open to more mine treaty talks

Thu, 2015-08-27 17:35

British Columbia’s top mining official says he’s open to involving his federal government in transboundary mine conflicts. That’s a change from earlier statements.

B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett went into this week’s mine meetings saying the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty wasn’t the right place to address mining concerns.

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B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett discusses the week’s mine meetings as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and other state officials listen during a Wednesday press conference in Juneau. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News).

The treaty would allow the countries to convene a commission to examine and resolve the potential for B.C. mineral extraction to damage Alaska fisheries.

Then, Bennett spent three days touring the transboundary Taku River and meeting with tribal, fisheries and environmental critics, as well as state lawmakers and officials.

At a Wednesday press conference with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Bennet said he’s more open to the idea.

“We think that we can resolve most of the uncertainties by working more closely with Alaska. I think you get more done at kind of the local state-province level. But I would not foreclose or dismiss the future opportunity to involve the federal governments if they can help,” he said.

Mallott is actively pursuing federal involvement.

At the press conference, he said he’ll lobby the U.S. secretary of state during his upcoming trip to Alaska.

Salmon Beyond Borders’ Heather Hardcastle reacts to the week’s mining meetings while Rivers Without Borders’ Chris Zimmer, center, and the Douglas Indian Association’s John Morris listen. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/ CoastAlaska News)

“I will seek a meeting with Secretary Kerry in order to hopefully gain the commitment of the secretary that his department will maintain an awareness [and] will be ready to engage if and when asked, because we never know where this ultimately will take us,” he said.

Mallott admitted a meeting is unlikely.

But he said he’ll push for the State Department, which must initiate a request, to leverage involvement of the International Joint Commission, which addresses cross-boundary water issues.

Mallott and Bennett said their meetings were productive and built trust. Both brought up plans for a memorandum of understanding addressing exchanges of information and expanded Alaska involvement in B.C.’s permit system.

Mine critics, in a follow-up press conference, agreed that the meetings were a step in the right direction. But they weren’t enough.

John Morris of the Douglas Indian Association and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group said a memorandum of understanding is no more than a formal handshake.

“We have to move beyond that and start getting something in writing [such as] a good, solid legal contract between our parties to prevent these kind of disasters from happening,” he said.

Morris was joined by environmental and fisheries leaders.

Heather Hardcastle of Salmon Beyond Borders and Taku River Reds said she will continue pushing for both countries’ federal governments’ involvement.

“The International Joint Commission, to us, is the best forum …, with equal numbers of experts on both sides of the border, to look at what has gone on already in the region and what can go on in the future, given these proposed and operating mines,” she said.

Hardcastle and others said they were encouraged by British Columbia’s leaders’ willingness to listen during the week’s meetings.

They also praised the Mallott-Walker administration for opening up its own process to get a broader view of B.C. mining’s potential impacts to Southeast Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

For hungry bears, it’s open season on garbage

Thu, 2015-08-27 17:32

One of the many bears to have figured out the nuances of the bungee cord. (Photo by Rita Leighton, shared via KRBD)

Local garbage bandits have been making their bi-yearly rounds in Ketchikan, leaving messes in their wake.

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There are grizzly bears. And brown bears. And black bears. And there are garbage bears.

More than a few Ketchikan residents have woken to the sound of garbage can lid banging, a can tipping over, quite aware that it’s probably a bear looking for a free meal.

“We moved in in the winter, so we really had no clue. And then the first summer hit, and it just got bad.”

That’s Jenn Tucker. She lives near the landfill in an area she affectionately calls “dump hill.” She says she has been plagued by bears nearly every night of every summer.

“And we’ve been here seven years now. It would be almost every two hours and the bears would be back.”

She says one night she had a bear pushing his nose against the screen door of her house, and she zapped it with an electrified fly swatter. Even that didn’t keep the bear away.

“And then later that night he broke into my car and ripped out my seat, and took a nap in the back seat. And I don’t think he was after food, because there was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich he didn’t eat.

“Just revenge?

“Yup, revenge.”

She says she’s given up on fortifying her garbage cans, and taken up another method.

“We’ve built an enclosure, he ripped that apart. We used to use chains and straps on the trash can, and he actually literally ripped a lid in half. And so we’ve kind of given up. This year we just go to the dump every day.”

Ketchikan’s Solid Waste Superintendent Lenny Neeley says that Tucker’s case is unusual, and he has only ever seen one bear-destroyed garbage lid. He says the best bet is to buy a ratchet strap.

“It’d keep the lid tightly sealed, and it minimizes odors or materials from falling out. I mean, I’ve seen them flip the cans over, jump up and down, and they’re like ‘Enough of this,’ and they just head on down the street.”

Jen Tucker’s vehicle after a bear broke in on Aug. 5th. She says he likely got in through the unlocked passenger door. She now locks her doors while at home. (Photo courtesy of Jenn Tucker)

Neeley says putting stinky meat or fish garbage in the freezer until garbage day is best, better even than having an expensive bear-proof can. He says big bears can dent the lids on many of those so-called bear-proof containers and render them useless.

However, he says that using only bungee cords and ropes won’t cut it because they are often easy for a bear to stretch open a little bit, and once a bear gets a whiff of that garbage, they’ll go for it.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Boyd Porter says that the first taste is what leads to problem bears. Oftentimes, he says it’s bad for the bears in the end.

“Once people train them, then a lot of times, either myself, the Alaska State Troopers or the Ketchikan Police Department will have to go in and kill the bear.”

Porter says they’ve killed as many as 15 bears during a particularly bad year. He says there are about 30 bears around the Ketchikan area this year, and he really doesn’t want to kill any of them. He says if garbage cans are secure, with either ratchet straps or an enclosure, a bear might look around, but won’t stick around.

Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard says it’s the bears that start standing their ground that must be shot.

“After a period of time, they get so familiar with being around humans that they don’t back down and they stand their ground on territory, and they’re becoming a danger.”

Bengaard says there’s usually only one or two bears a year in the city that need to be killed, but police end up chasing off a lot of bears with rubber bullets and even Tasers.

He says there is one bear in town right now hanging around 3rd Ave. that is becoming a problem.

“I actually ran into one of the bears that we’ve been having an issue with. And he’s a big bear. I mean, he’s probably upper 300-pound range.”

“Just walking down the street?”

“Yeah, in broad daylight. So he’s pretty comfortable around people.”

Bengaard says the law states that garbage is supposed to be put out no earlier than 4 a.m the day of garbage pick-up. He says they have some leniency with that, but that they’re serious about people who don’t secure those garbage cans. Citations are $200 each. So far this year, he says he’s only given out warnings, but also says this is one of the busiest times, and is getting busier.

Jenn Tucker says she knows bears will be around foraging every night for at least a few more weeks, but she says she doesn’t mind too much.

“It’s worth it. I mean, look where I get to live. I don’t know, other places have raccoons, rats, but we have bears. Our rodents are just bigger.”

 

Categories: Alaska News

SBA To Offer Sockeye Wildfire Relief

Thu, 2015-08-27 16:19

Those who suffered losses in the Sockeye Fire earlier this summer will be getting some financial help from the (SBA) *Small Business Administration. Wednesday’s announcement covers both residences and businesses.

Governor Walker’s request for a FEMA disaster declaration for the Willow area after the Sockeye fire torched more than 7000 acres has been turned down, but the good news is that the Small Business Administration has automatically offered disaster help to wildfire victims. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras – Sweet made the announcement on Wednesday.  Richard Jenkins, an SBA public information officer, speaking from Sacramento, California,  says the SBA disaster declaration means that anyone who has suffered damage as a result of the Sockeye fire from June 14 – July 22 are (now) eligible to apply for a low interest disaster loan from SBA to help recovery.

“Even though we are the US Small Business Administration, we still help homeowners and renters recover from disasters as well, so we are not just available to businesses impacted by this fire. ”

Anyone who owns a primary residence, or who rents, can borrow up to two hundred thousand dollars for repairs. Those who lost personal property can borrow up to 40 thousand dollars.

[“And for businesses of any size, we can lend up to two million dollars to repair or replace disaster – damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory or any other business asset that they may have lost in the disaster.”]

Jenkins says when SBA declares a disaster, the designation covers areas contiguous to the affected area. Businesses outside Mat Su, that do business within the fire area, and suffered losses as a result, can apply for a loan as well. For example, a Kenai business that sells to Willow can qualify, if it suffers losses directly related to the Sockeye fire.

Home – based businesses can apply as for both residence and business recovery loans, Jenkins says.  99 structures, 55 of them homes, were burned during the fire. 

The deadline for a loan to repair physical damages is October 26. But owners of small businesses can apply for economic impact loans until May 26 of next year .

SBA is setting up a temporary disaster loan outreach center in Willow on Thursday starting at 1 pm. Jenkins invites Willow residents who lost property to come in an talk to a customer service agent.

“And we’ll help them apply for our program right there in the center. We do it electronically, and we’ll sit down and help them go over it line by line.”  

The center is at ambulance station 12 – 3   at 24927 West Willow Creek Parkway and will be open 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays through September 10.  

 

Categories: Alaska News

Farmers in Homer cultivate a north-hardy strain of garlic

Thu, 2015-08-27 15:57

Synergy Gardens freshly harvested garlic – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI

A local farming couple is trying to change the way the state grows garlic by developing special strains resilient in the northern climate.

Lori Jenkins and her husband Wayne live on a farm tucked away in the Fritz Creek area outside of Homer called Synergy Gardens. She loves organic farming. But she really loves garlic.

“When I was little, one of the funnest things was pulling a carrot from the ground and digging a potato and seeing how many and how big. And it’s that same thrill – obviously I get cheap thrills – of digging garlic. It’s just, is it there? Is it perfect? Did something happen to it? Or- there it is, and it’s like little white pearls in the soil,” says Jenkins.

She’s standing in a large shed. On the back wall, rows and rows of garlic are hanging to dry. She pulls some of them down.

“Well, the softnecks- this is a Nootka Rose variety. I’ve already dried them for three weeks and cleaned off the root and cleaned the stems and I’m going to make some braids.”

She deftly weaves them together with rosemary sprigs. She says nowadays, people are used to buying pre-peeled garlic at the store and sometimes are a bit wary of buying a whole head. But the braid makes it extra special.

“To me there’s nothing like a garlic braid. Not only are you bringing something beautiful to their kitchen, but something that tastes delicious. Then, when they go and cook it, it smells so good,” says Jenkins. “I just think it’s so fun when you reach for a braid and twist off a bulb and there’s still some left. It’s almost like you get to harvest again.”

The Nootka Rose that she’s using today is one of three varieties of softneck garlic she’s growing this year along with Silverskin and Red Toch.

Garlic is grown around the world, from Siberia to Guatemala, with different varieties acclimating best to warmer or colder environments. The standard grocery store garlic is a softneck- usually artichoke or silverwhite, much of which is grown in Gilroy, California, known as the Garlic Capital of the U.S. Softnecks do well in warmer places, mature quickly, and stay good for a long time.

“Most Alaskan gardeners advised me not to grow the soft neck. They said it won’t grow good in Alaska,” says Jenkins.

Typically, hardnecks fare better in areas with cold winters, often making them the go-to type for Alaskan growers. Jenkins is growing three of those as well: Georgian Fire, Chesnok Red, and Romanian Red, along with a turban, or hybrid, called Xi’an. But she didn’t want to stick with just those.

“I realized, more research needs to be done. Our weather is shifting, global warming is happening and the change is causing earlier springs and longer falls. And with that, the success of softnecks is possible. I thought, well, instead of importing our seed from the lower 48, for our resilience in Alaska, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a grower who sold varieties that were successful in Alaska?”

That was the start of what she’s named, the Alaska Garlic Project. She wants to develop strains of garlic perfectly suited to both the cold winters and long summers of this state.

We walk outside behind the drying shed where she has several high tunnels filled with tomatoes, veggies, and garlic.

“These first four rows is where I experimented with my silverskins and Nootka Rose softneck garlic. I did outside trials and inside tunnel trials and they sized up equally good but the outside silverskin is still not ready; these ripened a little sooner,” says Jenkins.

But, she says next year, she won’t dedicate her prime tunnel space to garlic; she’ll just wait a little longer. Out in the open air garlic beds, her husband Wayne is digging up heads.

“So I’m using a broadfork which speeds up the harvest of the garlic, getting it broken up out of the soil, so that you can pull the roots without breaking off the stem, so they can be hung up to be dried,” says Jenkins.

He knocks the excess dirt off of one and lays it down in the long row of garlic behind him.

He says, he wishes they could grow several times what they have now, but they are still in the research and development phase of their project.

“It’s all dependent on markets. If we can find out which varieties perform the best for our area of Alaska and then build a website and find out what the size of the market is for fresh garlic cloves, you could refer to it as seed if you wanted to,” says Jenkins. “You know, we’re not just going to go crazy and overplant. It’s all dependent on whether or not we can develop different markets for it.”

Cultivating business is the next step. For now, Lori has already graded out the best of this year’s crop, which came from last year’s which was seed from two years ago. That means, come next summer, she’ll have third year Alaskan-cultivated garlic.

“It’s like apples, you know, we grew up on Red Delicious and Granny Greens. And all of a sudden now, we’re in love with Galas and Pink Ladies and the different varieties of apples are more popular than your old-time favorites. So, just because we knew garlic was good from Gilroy, I think we’re ready to try new varieties for flavor, taste, and sensations,” says Jenkins.

And she wants to show it can be done right here on home soil.

Categories: Alaska News

Researchers share local science with the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Nome

Thu, 2015-08-27 13:58

Science was in the spotlight when the U.S. Arctic Research Commission came together for its second and final day of meetings, covering a range of topics — from fire forecasts and walrus tagging to sea ice loss and the nutritional value of reindeer meat.

The agency — which advises the White House and Congress on Arctic issues — gathered Aug. 26 at Nome’s Mini Convention Center to hear from researchers working at the regional and federal levels.

Greg Finstad presents on the social and economic impact of reindeer herding at the U.S. Arctic Research Commission’s meeting in Nome. Finstad works with the reindeer research program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

Local researchers were up first. Gay Sheffield with the Marine Advisory Program discussed subsistence needs and food security in the Bering Strait, while Jack Omelak of the Alaska Nanuuq Commission emphasized using local knowledge to guide polar bear management strategies.

Federal researchers also focused on the local angle, highlighting what makes their work relevant to the region. Karen Murphy is coordinator of the Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative, which is developing a model to predict storm surges, tides, ice movement, and more in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.

“When the National Weather Service says ‘expect a storm surge of four feet over mean-high water levels,’ what does that mean on the ground? What does that mean, actually affecting the communities? These maps will help people interpret that,” said Murphy.

Murphy said the goal is to get information to the people who will use it — in a format they can use easily. That means maps and other tools will be available online. Murphy said the information will also be broken down by region, so locals can find forecasts specific to Norton Sound or the Seward Peninsula rather than all of western Alaska.

The National Park Service is also doing research on the Seward Peninsula, monitoring the migration of brown bears, muskox, caribou, and other animals. Jim Lawler does research with the National Park Service and said tracking species provides valuable information for locals as well as larger agencies.

“If local subsistence users aren’t getting caribou, is it because there aren’t many caribou?” asked Lawler. “Or is it because the caribou are in a different location than the people are?”

The National Park Service is creating caribou migration maps that can answer that question. But Lawler said professional biologists aren’t the only ones getting involved. The National Park Service has recruited students at the Shishmaref School to help photograph migratory birds to get better on-the-ground information and engage local people.

Fran Ulmer is chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and said gaining local insight is key to successful Arctic policy.

“In Alaska particularly — where subsistence is such an important part of life — to understand how changing ecosystems, species, populations, [and] migrations connect with choices that are being made on the ground by managers, but also [by] subsistence hunters, fishers, and gatherers, is a really important way of making sure the federal government is spending its money wisely when it comes to research.”

The Commission wrapped up its meeting with presentations on renewable energy and port development.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska judge blocks law to limit Medicaid funds for abortions

Thu, 2015-08-27 13:41

A state court judge in Alaska has ruled that a law further defining what constitutes a medically necessary abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding is unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered that the state be blocked from implementing the law, passed last year, and a similar regulation.

The lawsuit was brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which hailed the decision Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Smartphone app identifies weeds invasive to Alaska

Thu, 2015-08-27 08:31

Common toadflax is native to Europe, but is an invasive species in Alaska. (Creative Commons photo by Oxana Maher)

A new smartphone application is helping researchers learn where plant species invasive to Alaska are growing.

The Peninsula Clarion reports that when someone using the Alaska Weeds ID app finds an unknown plant, they can use their smartphone to both identify it and alert a professional botanist of its location.

Users take a photo of the plant and submit it to a team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension service. One of five team members across the state then identifies the plant and replies.

According to invasive plants instructor Gino Graziano, if the plant is invasive he then calls the appropriate land manager depending on who owns the property.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:45

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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With VA problems clear, Sullivan summons officials for solutions

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Senator Dan Sullivan held a field hearing in Eagle River yesterday focused on healthcare for veterans in Alaska. It was an effort, he told the modest crowd, to bring D.C. to Alaska.

GOP candidate Rand Paul drums up support in Alaska

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul spoke in Anchorage and Fairbanks Tuesday, kicking off a swing through western states for the Kentucky conservative.

YWCA races to close the gender pay gap in Alaska

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The YWCA Alaska is one year into their initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in the state by 2025.

Final Sitka landslide victim recovered

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Search crews have recovered the final victim of the August 18 Sitka landslide. The body of 62-year-old William Stortz was found Tuesday afternoon

Speaking at Assembly, officials say: ‘Thank you, Sitka’

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

At the first meeting of the Sitka Assembly since last week’s landslides, city officials spoke emotionally about the loss of three local men — and said they had been overwhelmed by the response of city staff, volunteers, and ordinary citizens.

Bethel preschool re-opens after a monumental cleanup effort

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel M.E. preschool is 95 percent back to normal after a week of cleaning up after vandals ransacked the school, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Juneau protest looks to give BC mines a classic Alaska ‘boot’

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Xtratuf boots are ubiquitous in Southeast Alaska and often associated with fishing. On Wednesday, about a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia.

Hoonah hyrdo project cuts energy bills for local businesses

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s newest hydro power project has been generating electricity since the beginning of August, but it only recently had its ribbon cutting ceremony. The city of Hoonah is cutting diesel consumption by about a third which could help the local economy.

Voices From Nome’s Dream Theater

Kristin Leffler, KNOM – Nome

Back in 1944, an Alaska Native 15-year-old girl named Alberta Schenck stood up against the segregated seating policy at Nome’s Dream Theater. Her case, paired with Elizabeth Peratrovich’s, was instrumental in the passing of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska. That was 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act passed.

Categories: Alaska News

GOP candidate Rand Paul drums up support in Alaska

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:37

Official portrait of United States Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Photo: Office of United States Senator Rand Paul

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul spoke in Anchorage and Fairbanks on Tuesday, kicking off a swing through western states for the Kentucky conservative. Paul received an enthusiastic reception.

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The ballroom of the Westmark hotel was packed to hear what Rand Paul had to say. The senator from Kentucky is one of almost a score of Republicans vying to be their party’s contender for the presidency. Paul sounded traditional conservative themes of smaller government and tax cuts. But he tried to set himself apart from fellow Republicans when it came to government waste. He told the audience, he would hold the Pentagon accountable just as much as civilian bureaucrats.

“Can you have $500 hammers and $600 wrenches and say, ‘we’ve got plenty of money?’… I’m all for auditing the Fed and the Pentagon.”

Rand Paul also tried to distance himself from his competition in his resistance to foreign wars, particularly in the Middle East, and his objections to the National Security Agency’s combing through private cell phone and internet traffic.

Paul drew perhaps the loudest round of applause Tuesday in Fairbanks when he vowed to shut down all Federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

“And if you disagree and you say, ‘what about women’s health?’ There are 9,000 community health centers. There are community health centers that have doubled and tripled in size.  And they’re available across America, and they do not do what Planned Parenthood does.”

Rand Paul’s stump speeches in Fairbanks and Anchorage follows a trail his father Ron Paul, blazed four years ago in his own search for the White House. How effective the younger Paul’s message is with the party base and independent voters won’t be known until early state nominations in Iowa and New Hampshire play out.

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA is One Year Closer to Closing the Wage Gap for Women

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:36

Advertising for the YWCA’s equal pay initiative, which just finished its first year. (Courtesy of YWCA Alaska.)

The YWCA Alaska is one year into their initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025. Women in Alaska only make about 68 cents for every dollar made by a man. According to calculations based on U.S. Census data, this causes the state’s economy loses $1.2 billion every year. Women are making less, so they are spending less. YWCA CEO Hilary Morgan says one of the first steps to eliminating the gap is gathering data that shows it’s real.

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“Women make less money in every single industry in Alaska. Every single one. And this is again, Department of Labor stats,” she says. “And now we just need to figure out why.”

One example is nurses. Eighty-nine percent of the state’s nurses are women, but they make 5% less than male nurses.

Morgan says the YWCA is taking an apolitical, multi-pronged approach to ending the gap. Seventy-four businesses and individuals spanning from BP Alaska to the governor have endorsed the initiative. It involves working with employers to make gender-balanced work places. Morgan says one tool is a survey that helps employers analyze the impacts of their official and unofficial policies.

Some of the surveys “have come back and they say ‘Well, we do this but we don’t have a policy about it.’ So right away then they know if they don’t have a policy about it, it’s a word of mouth thing. So the woman who is not comfortable or confident enough to go ask for it is not going to get it.”

They’re also educating women and girls about career options, salary negotiations, and the nuances of hiring that may be leading to the wage gap. For example, studies show that some male hiring managers who have wives that don’t work are less likely to hire women.

“You can see how they got there. It’s like ‘My wife doesn’t work, I’m the breadwinner, so I don’t want to take a job away from someone who is actually going to be a breadwinner and give it to a woman.’ You can understand the rationale, but if you go in for a job interview and you’re being interviewed by a man, you’re never going to know why you didn’t get that job.”

The Pew Research Center says women are the primary or only breadwinners in 40% of U.S. households.

Morgan says during the first year of the program, the YWCA surveyed Alaskans and found they support closing the pay gap. She says this is the first initiative in the country that sets a specific date for achieving the goal. They are still 32 cents away from equal pay.

Morgan recently announced she is running for state Senate Seat N.

Categories: Alaska News

Hoonah hyrdo project cuts energy bills for local businesses

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:31

Alaska’s newest hydro power project has been generating electricity since the beginning of August, but it only recently had its ribbon cutting ceremony. The city of Hoonah is cutting diesel consumption by about a third which could help the local economy.

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Water flows down the tube and spins a turbine that creates electricity. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

At the Gartina Falls hydro project, curious locals and lawmakers gathered to see how Hoonah will cut its diesel use by 30 percent. For years, diesel was the only option to power the village.

Paul Berkshire, the engineer, points to a structure near the falls that looks like a dilapidated log cabin.

“This is the original attempt to build hydropower here. As near as I can tell, somewhere around 1926,” he said.

Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work but a $10.5 million grant–mostly from the state–made it possible to get the new project up and running. It’s already saved 3,600 gallons of diesel and is expected to save up to 100,000 in a year.

The remnants of an old hydro energy project. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“Basically if you can get anything to spin, you can produce electricity from it.”

On one side of the falls is a stagnant pool that creates pressure. The water flows down a long tube and turns a turbine, similar to a water wheel, and electricity is generated.

The developer is the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative, which supplies energy to small Southeast communities: Angoon, Klukwan, Kake, the Chilkat Valley and Hoonah.

Jodi Mitchell, the  cooperative’s CEO, says when she started working there in 1993, the price of diesel was about 79 cents a gallon.

“Over my career at IPEC, we’ve seen prices go as high as $4.25 a gallon and that’s a wholesale bulk rate that we pay,” says Mitchell.

It’s now close to $3 a gallon but most residents don’t pay for it all in their monthly energy bill. A state program called power cost equalization tries to subsidize rural rates down to urban rates.

“The businesses in the community don’t qualify for that. Because the power cost equalization only pays for residential accounts … and that leads to a whole host of problems,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell says you can see this reflected in the price for milk or a loaf of bread in Alaska’s remote communities and the high costs of energy could deter economic growth.

Ken Skaflestad, the mayor of Hoonah, says the community has become comfortable with diesel.

“We know a lot about it. We’re very experienced in it,” he says.

The project was supported by the City of Hoonah, Sealaska Corp., Huna Totem Corp. and the Hoonah Indian Association. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The village of 750 has investor interest from outside. There’s a new microbrewery in town and a cruise ship dock under construction could bring in more tourists.

“For people who would love the lifestyle here but don’t dare take the risk due to the high cost of electricity, they now know they have support, that they have people behind them that know of their struggle and respond to it,” Skaflestad says.

Jodi Mitchell says for local businesses paying for electricity, the 30 percent could be huge. She hopes with the state’s budget crunch, projects like this will continue to be prioritized and funded.

“I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish here in Hoonah, and I’d hate to see that stop,” Mitchell says.

She says it might take longer for Gartina Falls to offset the price of electricity for Hoonah residents. A sister hydro project is planned for Water Supply Creek.

Categories: Alaska News

Voices From Nome’s Dream Theater

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:30

As educators gear up for the school year, there is one Alaskan civil rights activist from Nome that they may want to include in their history lesson plans.

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Back in 1944, a 15-year-old Alaska Native girl named Alberta Schenck stood up against the segregated seating policy at Nome’s Dream Theater. Her case, paired with Elizabeth Peratrovich’s, was eventually instrumental in the passing of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska. That was 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and nearly 20 years before the passing of the Civil Rights Act.

“Students are very well-versed about Rosa Parks, which is wonderful,” says Nome resident and longtime educator Barb Amarok. “But learning about people from their own community, region and state helps them to realize they’re capable of doing positive things for others. It gives them the message that who they are and where they come from is very important.”

The Dream Theater on Nome’s Front Street back in 1944. Photo courtesy of the Carrie McLain Museum.

While pursuing her doctoral degree in Indigenous Studies at University Alaska, Fairbanks in 2008, Amarok decided to focus her research on the Dream Theater after reading about an incident of discrimination her own family had experienced there. As part of her research, she interviewed five local elders. From Shirley Temple series to 25-cent movie tickets, the elders listed off plenty of fond memories of the Dream Theater, but the conversation turned more somber when they described the segregated seating sections.

“There were three blocks of seats, the middle block was for white people, the one on the east side was for breeds, quarter breeds and half breeds, and the block on the west side was for three-quarter and full blood natives,” said Gary Longley during his interview with Amarok. Longley was also Alberta’s first cousin. “And then they had the balcony…well, that’s where the real old natives sat.”

Amarok also conducted a phone interview with Alberta Schenck the year before she passed away to hear the full story of what happened.  Alberta described two related instances of discrimination. The first was when she went with a date, sat in the white section and was asked to move. When she didn’t, she was forcefully ushered out of the theater. Alberta later returned to the theater where the ticket seller prohibited her from entering.

“Daddy said, ‘If she touches you, you hit her’ and I did,” Alberta said. “And that’s when the police came and got me. I was 15 years old and I got mad. I was mad as a hornet at the time.”

The day after her father bailed her out of jail Alberta wired a message to Governor Ernest Gruening. With the help of a lawyer named O.D. Cochran, Alberta’s case was used in support of anti-discrimination legislation in Alaska.

“Alberta’s letter to the territorial legislature had a lot to do with the Anti-discrimination law of 1945,” Amarok said.

While Amarok was working on this project seven years ago, she promised elders that eventually their voices and Alberta’s story would be brought to classrooms in Alaska and beyond. Through a collaboration with KNOM Radio, a 30-minute version of Alberta’s stories will be paired with a lesson plan for educators. Amarok says Alberta’s story includes lessons and sentiments that need to be heard today.

“We can still come to follow ways of thinking that are not best for the community,” Amarok said. “We need to be able to take a step back and really question whether or not certain practices are for the best and work for social justice.”

That’s what Alberta did and it’s what Amarok hopes her story will inspire in students.

To hear the full Story49 episode about Alberta Schenck and the Dream Theater and access the lesson plan, you can visit knom.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau protest looks to give BC mines a classic Alaska ‘boot’

Wed, 2015-08-26 17:29

Xtratuf boots are ubiquitous in Southeast Alaska and often associated with fishing. On Wednesday, about a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia.

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About a hundred pairs of the brown rubber boots along with photos of Alaskans were on the steps of the Capitol building to protest mines in British Columbia. Photo: Lisa Phu/KTOO.

“This day and this gathering is truly about celebrating clean water and healthy fisheries and the things that make Southeast what it is,” says Edie Leghorn of Sitka. She’s an organizer with Inside Passage Waterkeeper, a group…

“…focusing on clean water in Southeast Alaska. She’s standing on the steps of the Capitol with about 40 other people.

“This day is also about standing united as Alaskans, to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the Alaskan people who have responded with a resounding ‘not on our watch’ to the threat of mines in our Southeast Alaskan salmon streams.”

The rally participants are carrying signs that say “Get Extra Tuff on BC Mines” and “No More Mount Polleys.” It’s been about a year since the Mount Polley Mine disaster in British Columbia, which spilled millions of gallons of mine waste into creeks and lakes. They don’t want the same thing to happen at other B.C. mines near the border.

Among the people and signs are pairs of Xtratuf boots. Caitlyn Cardinell, also with Inside Passage Waterkeeper, says they represent the livelihood of people in Southeast.

“We use and rely on these boots … for our work that we do outside with commercial fishing, forestry, research. They are pretty much a staple in every Southeast Alaskan’s footwear.”

Cardinell says she brought about 200 pounds of boots from Wrangell to Juneau. Boots also came from other communities like Petersburg, Sitka and Kake.

“What we found for this project of collecting salmon stories and boots from Alaskans throughout the region is that Alaska is united on this issue.”

Malena Marvin is executive director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. She met with Bill Bennett, B.C.’s top mine official, who’s traveling in Juneau and Ketchikan to discuss concerns about transboundary mines.

“We really hope to send him and everyone the messages that this is everybody. We don’t see unity on issues in Alaska. Certainly there are so many different types of people and controversies around many issues, but on this people are united. We want to protect our salmon, our jobs, our way of life.”

The rally participants want to see an international solution through the Boundary Waters Treaty, which was signed by Canada and the United States in 1909.

The boots are being donated to Juneau’s soup kitchen and shelter.

Categories: Alaska News

With VA problems clear, Sullivan summons officials for solutions

Wed, 2015-08-26 16:46

Sen. Dan Sullivan held a field hearing in Eagle River on Tuesday focused on health care for veterans in Alaska. It was an effort, he told the modest crowd, to bring a bit of D.C. to Alaska.

Officials, politicians, and veterans themselves agree on what is causing massive problems accessing healthcare recently. Now, they are pivoting towards a search for solutions.
The Veterans Administration has been in the news a lot the last few weeks. That’s for two big reasons: first, the August recess is a time for congressional leaders and cabinet members to visit the communities they craft policy on behalf of.

Senator Dan Sullivan seated at a desk on stage during Tuesday’s Armed Services Committee Field Hearing in Eagle River.

Secondly, since passage of the Choice Act a year ago, there have been some hiccups, to put in mildly.

“Nothing less than an unmitigated failure for our veterans,” was how Sullivan framed the implementation of the Choice Act in Alaska during his opening remarks, attributing it to the “one-size-fits-all design” of the program.

Sullivan sits on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and has been upset by calls from constituents over severe disruptions that happened after the national VA ran out of money earlier this year.

Nationwide, the Choice Program actually worked too well: the number of medical appointments skyrocketed. But, then, so did the costs for that care. The result in Alaska has been canceled operations, enormous medical bills, and just a lot confusion.

There have been several listening sessions across the state this month, but a field hearing is different: this was the Armed Services Committee officially convening for testimony.

“We don’t need rhetoric,” Sullivan said, “what we need are answers.”

The consensus among everyone who spoke was that the VA was doing great in Alaska until the funding cuts exposed holes in the the rapidly enacted Choice Program.

“(It) wasn’t ready for prime-time,” said Verdie Bowen, director of the State’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which overnight went from having some of shortest wait-times in the country to a confusing mess as a result of protocols established under Choice.

“We had several veterans that were scheduled for colonoscopies, went through the prep, went to to the hospital, only to discover that the appointment had been canceled,” Bowen said, “because there was no funding for the appointment.”

In the whole debacle, a lot of fingers have been pointed at TriWest, the intermediary company that, under the Choice Act, has a contract handling referrals and appointments, which have slowed to a halt, particularly in southcentral Alaska.

TriWest president David McIntyre explained they are scrambling to keep up with an unanticipated explosion in demand from the hastily drafted legislation.

“What got implemented was also in the hands of Congress, and at the time the VA,” McIntyre said. “We all were given 30 days to implement a new law, to go from blank sheet of paper to full execution.”

McIntyre told Sullivan the company has already quadrupled its staff from 400 to 1,600, and is in the process of training another 900 employees to try meeting demand. They’re also making sure that local calls for care are routed through Washington state, so personnel are more familiar with Alaska’s unique access issues.

The role of the Congress was also brought up by Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin, third-in-command at the VA. Shulkin is new to the job: in fact, the hearing in Alaska marked his 49th day on the job. He’s also new to the VA: his background is with large private research hospitals, and he expects finding internal fixes and efficiencies to improve the VA system.

Still, similar to other leaders from the VA he believes the nation is dealing with a structural problem as it tries to get an ever-growing and aging population of veterans connected with care.

“We have to do a better job at VA of defining what our needs are, and letting Congress know what we need to be able to take care of the veterans of this country who have served out country,” Shulkin said at a small press conference ahead of the field hearing. “But it may be that with better projections that we actually do need more resources.”

Shulkin says the VA is preparing a proposal for November 1st that could re-establish the Alaska VA as the primary scheduler for appointments, grant more flexibility in choosing local care options, and consolidate funds for payment. Measures, Shulkin, that don’t stand a chance without support in Congress.

Categories: Alaska News

Speaking at Assembly, officials say: ‘Thank you, Sitka’

Wed, 2015-08-26 16:28

At the first meeting of the Sitka Assembly since last week’s landslides, city officials spoke emotionally about the loss of three local men — and said they had been overwhelmed by the response of city staff, volunteers, and ordinary citizens.

Sitka Police Lt. Lance Ewers speaks to volunteers and friends and family of the missing men at Grace Harbor Church on August 19, the day after Sitka was hit by a series of landslides. (Rachel Waldholz, KCAW)

The meeting began with a moment of silence to honor the three men who died in the August 18 landslide. It was announced by assembly member Aaron Swanson.

“I ask that we take a moment of silence to honor the men we lost in last week’s landslide: Elmer Diaz, Ulises Diaz, and William Stortz.”

The assembly, city staff and members of the public stood and observed a full minute of silence. It was followed soon after by emotional testimony from Fire Chief Dave Miller.

“For the last week or more, the people of Sitka have been flat amazing,” Miller said. “They have gone far and above what I would ever have thought any community could ever have done.”

Miller spoke about the hundreds of people who volunteered to help with the search, or dropped off food; and he spoke of the thousands of dollars raised so far for the families of the three men and for those who were evacuated from their homes around the landslide.

“A disaster like this hopefully happens in a community once in a bajillion years, and hopefully I never see another one like this ever,” Miller said. “But I’ve, in my mind I’ve tried to write a letter to the editor, and what it would say. And I’ve been doing this since last Tuesday. I could never get past just, ‘Thanks.’ The list would be too far, and too long. The paper would double in size in one night with all the names and organizations, and everybody that donated time and effort and equipment and everything to make this work.”

While he couldn’t possibly thank everyone, Miller said, he gave special praise to Deputy Fire Chief Al Stevens, who has been running the day to day response and recovery effort. And he ticked off a host of local, state and federal agencies that have responded, including the Coast Guard, State Troopers, Forest Service and National Park Service. Of the Sitka Fire Department itself, Miller said, “I work with the greatest people in the world.”

But above all, he thanked regular Sitkans. “We may not see eye to eye on everything,” he said. “But when it comes right down to it, this community rocks.”

Speaking after Miller, City Administrator Mark Gorman stood to address the Assembly and audience.

“In working with the Tlingit people I learned that when you address people whom you hold in high regard, you stand,” Gorman said. “And tonight I hold this community in the highest regard.”

“We recovered William tonight,” Gorman said. William Stortz’s remains were recovered just before the meeting, at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. “We recovered the Diaz boys last week. Many remarkable moments over the past several days. One of the more powerful ones was last week when Mr. Diaz, in all his courage and all his dignity, crossed the still-settling slide area to comfort the Stortz family across the way, after he had lost his first son. His second son had yet to be discovered.”

The next day, Gorman said, he watched as the Stortz family did the same thing, walking over to comfort the Diaz family.

“The strength, the courage, the humility of this community has been remarkable,” he said. “This is a community that stands tall and comes together.”

Categories: Alaska News

State sets POW wolf harvest quota at 9

Wed, 2015-08-26 16:15

A wolf harvest quota has been set for Game Management Unit 2, which is Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands. According to a joint news release from the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, biologists have set the state harvest at nine wolves.

Nine wolves is half of the maximum allowable harvest, based on a population estimate, announced in June, that showed the number of wolves on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands was 89. That’s a steep drop from the previous year’s estimate of 221.

That drop prompted calls to cancel all wolf hunting and trapping in the area. Six conservation groups sent requests to state and federal officials, asking them to help preserve the remaining animals.

Prince of Wales Island. Screen shot, Google Maps.

David Person is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, who now lives in Vermont. His work in Alaska focused on wolves, and he has helped conservation groups in their work to protect the Prince of Wales Island population.

Person said a legal harvest of nine wolves means an actual take of up to 15, when poaching is taken into account. He said there isn’t a hard and fast number that biologists can point to as a threshold for viability, but Person believes the wolf population for Game Management Unit 2 is too low, partly because of genetics.

“Because it is an island population, it’s mostly isolated,” he said. “So, when you eliminate entire packs, it’s like eliminating an entire salmon run in a stream. You potentially lose the entire genetic stock. So, if you reduce that population, keep bottlenecking it down to very low levels, you end up with very few breeders left and you end up with potential genetic inbreeding and genetic depression.”

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Southeast Region Supervisor Ryan Scott has said that while state biologists agree that the wolf decline in GMU2 is something to keep an eye on, the department isn’t concerned yet about the viability of that population.

But Person said there are examples in other parts of the world where wolf populations dropped, and were not able to rebound. He said state and federal officials have no idea what the viable population is for POW wolves.

“The reality of that, then, is you should be very conservative,” he said. “And a population – I think their latest estimate for the fall last year was 89 wolves, minus 29 reported killed, so that means 60, minus some that were probably not reported and killed, so the population could be 50 or below.”

Person believes many hunters and trappers would not have a problem with a closed season this year, if it helps keep wolves in the ecosystem over the long term.

“Unless you are someone who said, ‘Boy, I would just rather see wolves disappear from this ecosystem,’ well, if there are hunters and trappers that have that viewpoint, well, they’re just wrong. If there are hunters and trappers out who have a conservation bent, which I think is most of them, then they should want a viable population of wolves, as well as a harvestable population of wolves,” he said.

Larry Edwards runs the Sitka Greenpeace office, which is one of the groups that asked for a closed wolf season this year. He said he’s shocked that the department is allowing any harvest. Like Person, he pointed out that more wolves have been taken since last year’s estimate, so it’s unknown how many are left.

“One thing that we do know, from a conversation I had with one of the folks at Fish and Game, is that during their field season this spring, they found only one active den with one pup. That isn’t a good indication, either,” he said. “I think that we’re really in a crisis situation with the wolves on Prince of Wales and I’m totally shocked that Fish and Game would have an open season on them.”

Edwards adds that such a low harvest quota is difficult to manage, because hunters and trappers have two weeks to report their kill, and the quota could be surpassed before anyone knows it.

He said if the federal Office of Subsistence Management also allows a wolf hunt this season, that will add even more pressure to POW wolves.

The Federal Subsistence Board has scheduled a public hearing in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, to get input regarding a subsistence wolf harvest.

“That will give them five days to make a decision, hopefully before their season starts on Sept. 1st, which is quite a while before the Fish and Game season starts in December,” he said.

Edwards said there are some steps conservation groups can take, such as requesting an emergency Endangered Species Act listing.

The Federal Subsistence Board public hearing starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at the POW Vocational and Technical Education Center in Klawock.

Below is the conservation groups’ request to close the wolf season this year.

Request to FSB for no GMU2 wolf season in 2015__23Jul15

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel preschool re-opens after monumental cleanup effort

Wed, 2015-08-26 15:42

The M.E. Preschool is open after a week of extensive cleaning. Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.

The Bethel M.E. preschool is 95-percent back to normal after a week of cleaning up after vandals.

Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Dan Walker says students were back on Monday.

“While it was a very negative event, it was quite heartwarming to see the outpouring of support. It really renewed our faith for the community as a whole coming together when there is something ugly like this that happened. So, we’re quite pleased with that, and we’re really happy we could get back up and running in a week. That was a really monumental effort,” said Walker.

Vandals trashed preschool classrooms and smashed windows in 13 of the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s vehicles earlier this month. Crews had to remove chemicals that were left when fire extinguishers were emptied. After extensive cleaning, preschool staff came in Thursday and worked through Saturday to get classrooms ready. New computers and smart boards will arrive soon.

Walker says the current estimates of damages hovers around $125,000, but it may grow to $150,000. Insurance will cover some, but the district may be on the line for $75,000 to $100,000, says Walker.

Police identified five juveniles ages 10 and 13, and forwarded charges to the department of juvenile justice. Walker says the district will consider adding more security cameras on top of those that helped them find suspects.

“We certainly are going to be looking at adding additional lighting, and taking a look at the campus in general where the district office is located with the schools around it. We’ll be looking at areas that might be vulnerable to vandalism,” said Walker.

The local teacher and staff association is making a donation to teachers to replace supplies destroyed by the vandalism. Walker says there have been offers from around the state and even the lower 48 to send supplies.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan prosecutor position to remain vacant

Wed, 2015-08-26 15:07

The Alaska Legislature has cut funding for every branch of state government, including the Department of Law, which oversees District Attorney offices throughout the state. This means Ketchikan’s D.A.s are taking on a larger workload as they wait to have a vacant position filled.

Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West sits behind his desk loaded with case files on the third floor of the Ketchikan Courthouse.

One of Ketchikan’s District Attorneys, Joseph Kovac, left Ketchikan’s state prosecuting team at the end of June. His position remains unfilled while the state grapples with a huge budget deficit. This means a 50 percent increase in workload for each of the two remaining attorneys in the office.

“We cover Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla, that southern part here.”

That’s District Attorney Stephen West. He’s worked in Ketchikan’s D.A. office for nearly 30 years, and he says most of that time, they’ve had three attorney positions to cover the area, which includes four separate courts. West says he isn’t sure if or when they’ll get that third person back.

West says they’ve worked with only two people before, but when that happened, West said they’d had a lighter case load. Another time, West says they were down to only one person.

“There was a period of time that I was here all by myself around 1990 for probably about eight or nine months … I worked weekends and stuff.”

Now with two people, West says he takes cases out of Craig, assistant D.A. Ben Hoffmeister takes all the misdemeanors, and they split the felonies. Even then, scheduling gets messy.

“Ben was in trial earlier this month doing a felony case that lasted most of the week. I had to do a misdemeanor trial, so we were both in trial but we also had to cover courts and a couple of other courts, so we had to be in two or three places at the same time.”

This increased workload doesn’t just mean more hours. It means more cases are settled out of court that could have been either taken to trial or prosecuted for more jail time or higher fines.

Alaska Department of Law Criminal Division Director John Skidmore says the problem with settling more cases for less time or for lesser penalties is a fear for public safety.

“Having lived in many communities throughout Alaska and been a prosecutor in those communities, I’ve always wanted to make the community a better or safer place. For those reasons it’s very difficult to turn down or walk away from a case that you think is righteous because you have sufficient evidence to support that this particular person broke the law.”

Skidmore says state funding for the Department of Law has steadily declined over the last few years, and took a significant cut of 11% after the last legislative session. That department directly funds the D.A.’s office and their personnel. With about 85% of the office’s budget going toward salaries, the cuts resulted in lost jobs.

“Specifically for the criminal division, we ended up having to reduce our personnel by 11 positions. Within the Department of Law or within the criminal division, our service that we provide is primarily prosecution.”

Skidmore says Ketchikan didn’t technically lose a job, but it may take longer to fill that vacant position, because that empty spot was budgeted under what is called a “vacancy factor.” This means the Legislature and Law Department expected someone to be leaving, and allocated less money for salaries because of that.

“The position down in Ketchikan is not a position that was deleted from the budget. It is a position that is currently vacant due to vacancy factor. Do I anticipate on filling that position? The answer is yes. Can I tell you the exact timing of that as of today? No, I cannot.”

Categories: Alaska News

State ferries to increase cancellation fees

Wed, 2015-08-26 11:50

A picture of the state ferry Fairweather by Issac Taylor is posted at the Petersburg terminal in 2013. Ticket-holders will soon pay more to cancel tickets. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Alaska Marine Highway System will soon charge more for canceling reservations.

The fee increase begins Oct. 1, the same day the winter ferry schedule begins. That schedule, which reflects state budget cuts, was made public today.

The new fees range from 5 to 40 percent of a ticket’s value, depending on the time until travel begins. Those booking more than a month in advance and canceling within a day face no fees.

Current policy charges a 15 percent fee for cancellations made within two weeks of sailing.

A ferry press release says no-shows and canceled tickets cost the system money. The closer a cancellation to sailing, the harder it is to resell that ticket.

Categories: Alaska News

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