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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: 11 min 5 sec ago

IMinority Democrats To Hold Own Hearings

Mon, 2015-05-11 17:15

As the special session grinds on, Democrats in the minority plan to call their own hearings outside of the standard committee process.

With the 30-day special session at the halfway mark, seven meetings have been held on the budget, one on Medicaid expansion, and zero on a sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law. Democrats will hold a hearing on all three of these special-session agenda items at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office on Thursday evening.

As part of the Legislature’s majority party, Republican committee chairs have the authority to schedule official hearings. At a press availability on Monday, members of the minority explained they were dissatisfied with the progress of the special session, and decided to hold meetings of their own. They say they will take public comment, which has not occurred in the meetings that have been held.

The Legislature has been in a state of gridlock since the final days of the regular session, when lawmakers failed to reach a deal on a budget. Because of a multi-billion-dollar deficit, some Democratic support is needed to tap the state’s hard-to-access rainy day fund, but the minority has said it will not support a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion or more funds for education.

If a deal to fund state government cannot be reached, a shutdown is possible as early as July, according to the Legislature’s financial analyst.

Categories: Alaska News

Dillingham Fires Up New Incinerator at landfill

Mon, 2015-05-11 16:34

This week, Dillingham landfill employees began burning municipal trash.

The new incinerator at the Dillingham landfill.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

Poncho Garcia is the Public Works Director for the City of Dillingham. He says the incinerator heats up to about 1,300 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re going through about 5,000 pounds of trash a day. And once we get the other addition help we’re probably going to pump that up to 10,000 pounds or more a day,” said Garcia.

The city purchased and installed the incinerator after the Department of Environmental Conservation did not renew a permit for open burning.

City Manager Rose Loera says the new incinerator will help to save the city costs and clean up the landfill.

“You won’t see bears trying to get into the cells. The bird activity would diminish tremendously,” said Loera.

The incinerator does not handle glass, and the City is continuing to ask residents to sort glass from their trash and take them to drop-off locations around town.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Gets Conditional Approval For Arctic Drilling

Mon, 2015-05-11 16:16

Shell has gotten another green light for its oil exploration season in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval for Shell’s exploration plan Monday morning.

The Noble Discoverer in Unalaska in 2012. (KUCB-Unalaska file photo)

Agency sokesman John Callahan says the conditions include getting permits from other federal agencies to actually drill for oil, work around marine mammals and discharge wastewater.

“So while our agency has conditionally approved this plan, there are some things Shell still has to do before it can go out,” Callahan says.

Shell has described a more concentrated campaign of activity than it had last time it attempted to drill in the Arctic. It plans to use two drill rigs and up to 40 round-trip helicopter trips a week — more than triple the number from its previous plan.

The executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission asked the government last month to consider the effect of noise from Shell’s proposed operations. Arnold Brower Jr., on behalf of the commission, says they could create a “fence of sound” and displace the whales.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino says they’re hoping the environmental permits they wind up with will be ”practical” and “usable,” and will come through in time for a full summer season.

“We achieved these permits in 2012 and we’re looking forward to their delivery for 2015,” she says.

2012 was marked by a range of mishaps, including grounded drill rigs. And Susan Murray, a vice president for conservation group Oceana, says Shell’s not ready for another try.

“If Shell hasn’t shown us yet they can take bad decisions out of the equation, and their contractors can’t take bad decisions out of the equation, they don’t belong in the offshore Arctic yet,” she says. “The risk is simply too high.”

Shell’s rigs are still set to heard north in the next few weeks, though. Along with their permits, they’re waiting on a final plan from the Coast Guard for buffer zones around their rigs when they’re staged in Unalaska and Kotzebue.

Categories: Alaska News

Can Free Pregnancy Tests In Bars Prevent Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Mon, 2015-05-11 16:09

Bars in Alaska are now offering pregnancy tests. The pilot program is meant to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome in the state. Alaska has one of the highest rates in the country. Supporters hope the tests will reach women early in pregnancy – a crucial time when they might not know they’re expecting.

Inside the ladies room at the Peanut Farm bar in Anchorage, a dispenser advertising free pregnancy tests hangs on the wall.

Press the button to get one of the self-administered urine tests, and on this day they’re all out.

The front of the machine features a poster showing a silhouette of a pregnant woman drinking from a bottle. The text at the top says: “Remember the last time you had sex?”

Aimee Rathbone says she didn’t notice the dispenser at first.

“So, I don’t know if it would catch my eye to make me take a test before I drank,” she says.

Rathbone wonders, who’s the target audience? She believes most women will quit drinking when they find out they’re pregnant.

“I think anybody that might suspect it wouldn’t drink except if they were addicted. You know, if they had a drinking problem then maybe it wouldn’t really change things.”

State health officials estimate more than 120 children born in Alaska each year have fetal alcohol symptoms, ranging from mental and physical disabilities to impaired growth to organ damage. Alaska also has a high rate of women who binge drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The University of Alaska is conducting the two-year study. Researcher David Driscoll says it will look at whether pregnancy test dispensers in bar bathrooms can be more effective at preventing fetal alcohol syndrome than posters by themselves.

“Most of the strategies that we’ve used in the past have been relatively effective,” Driscoll says. “But we’re always looking for ways to try and improve our ability to provide information.”

So far, the tests are in just four bars statewide, but Driscoll plans to add more soon. He says women are already filling out an online survey they’re asked to take when they use the dispensers.

Between health care, education and social service costs, the state can spend millions of dollars on a person with fetal alcohol syndrome over the course of his or her lifetime. So, advocates say the $400,000 pilot project could have huge benefits.

“A lot of women now understand that they shouldn’t drink,” Deb Evenson says. Evenson is an Alaska-based educator, whose fetal alcohol prevention work spans more than 30 years.

“But a lot of people are still drinking in early pregnancy, and before they know they’re pregnant, and that can cause a lot of damage.”

Evenson applauds the pregnancy tests as something new, even if people have known about fetal alcohol syndrome for decades.

“This isn’t new information and somehow it’s missing big segments of our society. And so I think all the way that we can share the information in every direction is really a good idea.”

Back at the Peanut Farm bar, basketball and hockey play on several giant screens.

General Manager Travis Block says he was wary about putting the pregnancy test dispenser in the ladies room at first. But after learning about the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome in Alaska, and the potential savings from preventing the disorder, he’s a supporter.

“People are going to drink, and that’s what we’re here to do is, you know, provide entertainment. But each person has to make up their own decision on what they want to do with their body.”

He says maybe the tests will make some women think twice about how much they drink and what the consequences might be.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska earnings up, but losses continue

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:48

The regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska upped its income by $50 million in 2014. Officials at Juneau-headquarteredSealaska say it’s the start of a multi-year recovery.

But critics point to figures showing it’s still losing money.

2013 was a dark year for the 22,000-shareholder corporation.

Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott, right, discusses the regional Native corporation’s earnings and losses during a Friday press conference as Chief Financial Officer Doug Morris looks on. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Its construction company badly underestimated two federal projects,losing more than $25 million. Problems with other businesses more than doubled that amount.

The corporation’s 2014 annual report, which was just released, paints a much brighter picture. It says profits totaled almost $15 million, with growth coming from its service sector.

Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott says it’s the start of a significant recovery.

“We believe 2014 was a great turnaround that created a stable platform to lead to the progress that we need for the corporation,” he says.

But right now, it’s not looking that bright.

Sealaska still lost money last year. The profit only comes when funds for a shared pool of regional Native corporationsnatural resource earnings is included.

Without that money, from a northwest Alaska mine and North Slope oil development, Sealaska is $9.5 million in the red. Official numbers are lower, because some corporate expenses aren’t counted as losses.

The result is the smallest amount of business and investment income going to shareholder dividends in about a dozen years.

CEO Mallott says that will change.

“Stable, increasing dividends is what we want to build toward. 2013 will be a drag for a few more years, for sure,” he says.

Sealaska expects growth in its timber subsidiary, which had almost closed down.

Congress last year passed a controversial lands bill turning over 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest. Sealaska Timber Corp. is logging its first parcels from that package now, on the Cleveland Peninsula and Prince of Wales Island.

Chief Financial Officer Doug Morris says the timber subsidiary is cleaning up and closing some older logging sites.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure they’re going to put in place, new roads and buying more gear, getting ready for this new life, that they’re going to have going forward, It’ll be profitable but not at the levels we want to see as we go forward,” he says.

Sealaska is in looking to make some significant new investments. It sold off its profitable plastics partnership and a smaller company to help fund new acquisitions closer to home.

Mallott says it’s reviewed at least 100 businesses so far. One area is natural foods.

“We’re looking very closely at the seafood industry. And, of course, the seafood industry can have connections to Alaska and Southeast for sure,” he says.

Officials are also looking at data analytics.

He says the corporation also made internal cuts. It reduced its workforce of 400 by more than a third. And it paid no management bonuses.

Morris says the board of directors also made cuts, including a costly health-care credit.

“They eliminated that as well as put a cap on what their fees can be for the year. So now, they can only make up to their cap, which is below what some of the fees had been over prior years,” he says.

Critics says executives – especially those who retired – were overpaid, an undeserving reward for what they call poor management.

Mallott took over as CEO last June, replacing Chris McNeil Jr., who stepped down. The board reorganized about the same time with a new chairman, Joe Nelson of Juneau.

Five incumbent board members are up for re-election this year. They’re being challenged by an equal number of independents.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman held on suspicion of assault after Anchorage stabbing

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:45

A 45-year-old Anchorage woman was arrested on suspicion of felony assault following a stabbing early Sunday.

Anchorage police say they have arrested Elizabeth Chiskok.

Police just after 5:30 a.m. were called to 17th Avenue and C Street in response to a call of a stabbing at a homeless person’s tent.

Police found a man critically injured with stab wounds. He was taken to a hospital.

Chiskok was arrested at the scene.

Police say she knew the stabbed man and had once been in a relationship with him.

Police say Chiskok and the man got into an argument before the stabbing.

Chiskok remained at the scene and cooperated with police.

Categories: Alaska News

Tuluksak Man Shoots Three, No Major Injuries

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:42

A Tuluksak man shot three people, including a tribal police officer Wednesday evening.

Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers says 20-year-old Gerald Lamont shot a family member in the face with a 20-gauge shotgun containing birdshot. He then walked through the village with the shotgun.

“He did shoot a tribal police officer in the back and shot a third person in the head area. Multiple community members were shot at, but were not hit by the birdshot,” said Peters.

None of the victims had major injuries. Troopers flew to Tuluksak to find Lamont still armed.

“Immediately when he saw troopers he dropped the shotgun and fled. Troopers were able to locate him an hour later and take him into custody without incident. Fortunately there were no serious injuries reported, all the victims declined to have medical attention,” said Peters.

Lamont was taken to the jail in Bethel and held without bail. He faces charges of attempted murder, assault, and weapons misconduct. Troopers don’t believe alcohol was involved.

Separately, in Tununak Wednesday afternoon, a tribal police officer reported to troopers that a man in the village was firing a handgun in the air. Peters says 27-year-old Greg Angaiak reportedly walked throughout the community while firing the gun.

“During that incident he went into a local store and stole a couple boxes of ammunition. He reloaded his firearm and continued to fire off the weapon while he was walking throughout the community,” said Peters.

Troopers flew out and arrested Angaiak without incident. School was still in session. Leaders locked the doors and kept students in their classrooms for a couple hours until the threat was cleared. Troopers don’t believe alcohol was involved in that case.

Categories: Alaska News

Teacher Charged with Felony Sex Abuse

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:39

A teacher in Kwigillingok has been arrested for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old student.

31-year-old Michael Wier was arrested Thursday and is being held at the Bethel jail on $50,000 bail. Another teacher had reported that he was concerned for the student after she had been “lingering” around Wier for a couple months.

According to court documents, in mid-March the concerned teacher unlocked Weir’s classroom and saw the man stand up shirtless and out of breath while pulling up his pants from behind his desk. The teacher left quickly and apparently did not see the student. According to documents, the student in April said that she and Wier had consensual sex in the classroom and that she saw the other teacher walk in that evening.

Court documents list Wier’s driver license from Buffalo, New York. Weir is charged with an unclassified felony of sexual abuse of a minor.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate plans technical session in Juneau Tuesday

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:37

The full Senate will not be required to attend the first floor session since lawmakers voted for a recess.

Senate President Kevin Meyer’s office says Tuesday’s floor session in Juneau will be a technical session, for which a quorum isn’t called for. Barring a budget deal, there’s no legislation to vote on.

The House Finance Committee plans to hold hearings on Medicaid, another issue on the special session call, next week in Anchorage.

Lawmakers last week voted for a recess in floor sessions until Tuesday, though House and Senate Finance committees have held budget hearings and behind-the-scenes talks have occurred.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, in an interview, cited concerns with the cost of bringing everyone back to Juneau to gavel in if there was no specific business to take up.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Shot by Bethel Police Sentenced for Assault

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:37

A man who was shot by Bethel police after chasing and striking an officer with a baseball bat was sentenced to three years in prison with two suspended. Aaron Moses was sentenced Friday in Bethel Superior Court. Because he’s been in custody since last summer, he will have time served credited to his sentence.

Aaron Moses was sentenced in Bethel court on May 8, 2015. Video still from witness video.

In a sentencing hearing focusing on Moses’ well-being, his brother, Byron Moses, spoke briefly about the mental health struggles of his sibling.

“Despite all of this I still love my brother. I just pray and hope he gets the help he needs. I’m not here to testify against him. I’m here telling him he needs help,” said Moses.

The court says that Moses had not been taking his medication last summer when he began fighting with his brother after asking for a gun because he was suicidal. He then went outside with a baseball bat and broke the windows on his brother’s truck.

He swung the bat at Bethel police as they unsuccessfully tried to subdue him. After officer Sammie Hendrix was knocked to the ground and struck, he shot Moses. A witness captured the incident on video.

Judge Dwayne McConnell also sentenced Moses to three years of probation with several conditions.

“One the conditions is that you have to take your medication, in my view that’s the most important one. If you don’t, like I told you, you’ll be back here in court. And I don’t want to see you in court, I just want to see you at the AC or the Sea Lion or someplace.”

Moses originally faced two assault charges and one for felony criminal mischief. With his guilty plea, it was reduced to one felony assault charge for causing injury with a weapon.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers say body of missing Wisconsin man found in Alaska

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:30

The body of a 73-year-old Wisconsin man who was missing in Alaska for nine months has been found in a river.

Alaska State Troopers say an autopsy positively identified the body found May 2 as that of Roger Yaeger of Eagle River, Wisconsin.

Troopers say evidence suggests Yaeger shot and killed himself. They say there was no sign of foul play.

Yaeger traveled to Alaska last summer. Family members last heard from him in early August when he visited a relative in Wasilla. His travel was then traced to Fairbanks, where he returned his rental car a few days later.

According to troopers, family members suggested Yaeger was suicidal. He also was believed to have a gun.

Categories: Alaska News

Fishing vessel runs aground in Katmai National Park

Mon, 2015-05-11 11:29

The National Park Service says a fishing vessel abandoned after a fire last month has run aground at Katmai National Park.

The park service said Saturday the Northern Pride was found between Cape Chiniak and Kaguyak Point along the Shelikof Strait. The vessel has released an oil-like sheen. The park service says the sheen is unrecoverable.

The 82-foot wooden vessel’s crew abandoned ship on April 21. The Coast Guard rescued the three-member crew. The vessel capsized shortly after and was believed to have sunk.

The park service says marine mammals, migratory birds and cultural resources are at risk from the shipwreck. It says rapidly salvaging the boat and assessing the spill are high priorities.

The salvage team and park staff hope to visit the grounding this weekend if weather permits.

Categories: Alaska News

With Foster Care Cases Up, Lawmakers Consider Funding Triage

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:45

The Walker administration is pushing for more funding for the Office of Children’s Services, in response to the growing number of foster children in the system.

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A line added to the governor’s new budget would accept $1 million in one-time federal funding that could be used to add more front-line social workers. OCS Director Christy Lawton described it as a life-or-death situation when questioned by Anchorage Democrat Les Gara at a House Finance committee hearing on Thursday.

GARA: Christy, did you say ‘die,’ or did I misunderstand that?

LAWTON: I did say, ‘die.’ Kids die from fatalities related to child abuse and neglect.

Since Gov. Bill Walker first introduced his budget, the number of foster children in Alaska has grown from 2,400 to 2,500. Meanwhile, the Office of Children’s Services is operating with 25 percent of its front-line positions vacant, and with each worker’s caseload at double the recommended average.

Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, expressed concern about the staffing problems at OCS. But he also had reservations that the state was growing the department with funding that might disappear.

“So, we’re adding 10 positions here, because we’re getting temporary funding for a year,” said Neuman. “Well, we don’t know if we’re going to get those bonus funds in future years.”

Budget Director Pat Pitney said the governor’s office was willing to fund the new positions with savings found elsewhere in the department.

“This is a million dollars of that $92 million savings that has already been extracted from this department in this one single year to do something for a small population of very in-need people,” said Pitney.

In addition to holding committee hearings, the Republican legislative leadership is continuing its negotiations with the Democratic minority and with Walker over the new budget.

While the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene its special session in Juneau on Tuesday, they plan to immediately gavel in and out without taking action because a budget deal has not been finalized.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Seek Audit Of State Crime Lab

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:44

Lawmakers have approved an audit of the state crime lab to see if it is properly managing evidence.

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Sen. Berta Gardner made the request of the Legislative Budget and Audit committee on Thursday. The Anchorage Democrat filed a bill to audit the processing of rape kits in the state earlier this year, after a report by the Legislature’s research department was unable to get information on the number of untested kits.

“All of the answers were, ‘Unknown. Unknown. Unknown,’” said Gardner.

The bill is still in committee, but Gardner said she started getting calls from current and former crime lab employees, alleging mismanagement. That pushed her to request an audit on the lab itself.

“There were claims, for example, that one whistleblower — that she’d worked as a lab technician for almost ten years but left her job because she was afraid of losing her national accreditation because of management’s failure to maintain a proper chain of custody with evidence and failure to adhere to standards for storage of evidence,” said Gardner.

The $90 million crime lab has been in operation since 2012.

At the same meeting, the committee also approved an audit of the cruise ship head tax and the way the revenue was being used, and an audit of the Department of Fish and Game’s advisory committee process.

Categories: Alaska News

Prenatal Pot Use on the Rise in Alaska

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:43

About 1 in 14 Alaska women are using marijuana while pregnant and that ratio appears to be going up. That’s based on the state’s pregnancy risk monitoring survey which is a randomized mail and phone questionnaire hundreds of new moms complete a year.

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The survey offers a glimpse into the lives of Alaska women who consume pot while pregnant. For instance, we know that these women tend to be younger, under 24. Kathy Perham-Hester coordinates the survey.

“It would tend to be an Alaska Native woman versus women of other races. There’s a higher proportion of women who have had at least part of their prenatal care paid for by Medicaid. So they might be lower income.”

She says that data also points to where these women live.

“Proportionally more in the northern region of the state and the southeast region of the state.”

PRAMS, or the pregnancy risk assessment monitoring system, has been surveying women in Alaska since the 1990s. Forty other states also have similar programs. It’s funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest data is from 2002 to 2011. Over that span, the percentage of women who consumed pot during pregnancy more than doubled. But one question it didn’t include was “why?”

“You know, we did not ask any question like that. So no, I’d have to say I’m not aware of that.”

A young Juneau mother teases her baby: “You want to be interviewed?” she jokes.

We’re withholding her name because she fears she could lose her job this summer working in the tourism industry. She’s 26, married and the mother of a baby boy.

“Everybody comments on his alertness and how he just smiles and laughs. He’s only two months old but he’s very smart. I mean sure, everybody says that about their baby,” she laughs.

During her pregnancy, Juneau mom smoked pot about two times a week. She says she didn’t experience any nausea while she was expecting. But she did have painful cramps.

“So I would smoke to get rid of those cause you can’t really take any other medication for it, which worked for me because my cramps would diminish enough, I could go swimming or I could go on walk.”

She says she didn’t really start smoking pot until she was in college. And now smoking it recreationally is more conducive to her lifestyle.

“I enjoy marijuana a lot more than alcohol. Like don’t get me wrong, a cold beer on a great sunny day like today is amazing. Especially if you can be on top of a mountain. Nothing beats that. But I’m kind of done binge drinking and partying hard on the weekends.”

Instead, Juneau mom likes to do yoga…high. She’s interested in living a “healthy lifestyle” and doesn’t smoke tobacco. She pays for private health insurance and enjoys spending time outdoors. She says before getting pregnant, she used cannabis medically to soothe her fibromyalgia.

“Smoking marijuana like, really helped me get over that hump because I didn’t have to be on Xanax and Cymbalta all those crazy mind-altering drugs. So that’s kind of when I really started.”

But smoking pot prenatally, wasn’t a decision she says she came to lightly. She did her own online research. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services recently issued a fact sheet on marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, outlining some of the risks.

Dr. Jay Butler is the chief medical officer for the department.

“Well, there’s a lot that we don’t know about marijuana in terms of harms or possible benefits. But right now I think the data points to harms.”

He says THC, the active ingredient in marijuana can enter the bloodstream of a developing fetus or nursing infant.

“There are a number of epidemiological studies that suggest that exposure to marijuana early in life, particularly heavy use may affect brain development and intellect. Is it proof of causation? Not necessarily. But I think the data are strong enough that there’s reason to be concerned.”

But our young mother wasn’t convinced.

“So to me the data wasn’t really solid,” she said. “It didn’t provide enough evidence to really go with that.”

Juneau mom says before she made the decision to smoke pot while pregnant, she needed advice from one more person.

“I asked my mom. And she actually admitted that she did while she was pregnant with me and my siblings. So that kind of made it a little bit more OK after my own research I had done. I could talk to her about it and she told me her experience. And I was like, ‘well I came out normal,’ at least I think. So it can’t be terrible.”

If a medical expert feels like a child has been born drug-affected, an investigation could be launched by the Office of Children’s Services. Juneau mom thinks that’s why more women don’t talk about it…because they’re afraid.

“You hid when you smoked or you kept it private. So why would you ever want to speak about it to someone who might blow the whistle on you?”

Since she started breastfeeding, she says she’s stopped smoking pot regularly for now. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says, with changing attitudes toward marijuana, there are concerns the number of women smoking pot while pregnant could continue to go up.

Categories: Alaska News

Two New Wolf Kills Add to Denali Population Decline

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:42

The recent killing of two Denali National Park wolves, has increased calls for protection of the animals on state land adjacent to the park, where hunting and trapping are legal. The animals were shot in the Stampede area near Healy, the same region where other park wolves have been trapped and killed. The annual harvest is fairly low, but is garnering concern as the Park wolf population continues to decline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska WWII Vet Enjoys Bird’s Eye View of D.C. Flyover

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:40

(Photo: ww2flyover.org)

This is Victory in Europe day, the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end in Europe. In Washington, D.C. more than 50 vintage military aircraft flew over the national mall to the Capitol. In 15 formations, one every minute or so, came B-25 Mitchell bombers, P-47 Thunderbolts, even a B-29 Superfortress, believed to be the last of its breed still flying.  On the Capitol Grounds, tourists mixed with Congressional staffers and school groups.

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Donna Crum from Chicago said she was waiting for the B-17, to honor her father-in-law’s service.

“And so I’m shooting pictures to my husband to be able to show him on his phone,” she said. “And here they come!”

A deep rumble drew the crowd to its feet, every cell phone pointed skyward.

Overhead, in the second B-17, was Alaskan bush pilot Urban Rahoi, a homesteader, lodge owner and Fairbanks businessman. Rahoi answered his cell phone shortly after landing.

“Yeah, riding up in the front there, where the bomb sight and all that is, so I could see better,” he said.

Rahoi flew the B-17, the Flying Fortress, in the war, and he flew one again a year ago. Flies just like a Supercub, he claims. He wanted to be at the controls for the Washington flyover, but he wasn’t allowed. Somebody imposed an age limit of 80. Rahoi is 96.

“I got a big kick out of it because I flew yesterday  with them and the guy that flew it made a hell of a bad landing. Bounced pretty bad three times,” he said. “And the guy that flew it today he bounced and slammed it down pretty hard. They won’t let me fly it. I come in smooth.”

He laughed, but he wasn’t really joking. Rahoi says it was still a beautiful day.

“When we flew over the Capitol there by Reagan Airport up there, through all that towers and everything, you could see good,” he said. “There was lots of people on the ground. It was packed pretty heavy.”

Rahoi is planning to visit family while he’s in the Lower 48 but he can’t stay long. He’s planning a lot of dirt work this summer at his lodge near Tok and he has to start flying in his diesel.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 8, 2015

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:37

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

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With Foster Care Cases Up, Lawmakers Consider Funding Triage

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Walker administration is pushing for more funding for the Office of Children’s Services, in response to the growing number of foster children in the system.

Lawmakers Seek Audit of State Crime Lab

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers have approved an audit of the state crime lab to see if it is properly managing evidence.

Prenatal Pot Use On The Rise in Alaska

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

About one in 14 Alaska women are using marijuana while pregnant. That’s based on the state’s pregnancy risk monitoring survey which hundreds of new moms complete each year. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of women reporting marijuana use during pregnancy more than doubled. The women are more likely to be younger, Alaska Native and lower income.

2 New Wolf Kills Add to Denali Population Decline

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The recent killing of two Denali National Park wolves has increased calls for protection of the animals on state land adjacent to the park, where hunting and trapping are legal.

Hovercraft To Shuttle Cruise Tourists to Taku Glacier

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The start of the cruise ship season brings a new excursion from one of the oldest tour outfits in Southeast. Allen Marine Tours is set to run hovercraft trips to the Taku Glacier starting this week.

Alaska WWII Vet Enjoys Bird’s Eye View of D.C. Flyover

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

This is Victory in Europe day, the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s end in Europe. In Washington, D.C. more than 50 vintage military aircraft flew over the national mall to the Capitol. One Alaska vet got a bird’s eye view.

49 Voices: Michelle Troll

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week we hear from Michelle Troll who moved to Alaska to work at the Ketchikan Daily News more than 30 years ago and never, ever intended to stay.

AK: Samurai Musher

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Samurai Musher

Fri, 2015-05-08 16:24

(Photo via http://www.thesamuraimusher.com)

If you didn’t hear the rendition of the Alaska Flag Song by a Japanese choral ensemble last week at Anchorage’s Alaska Performing Arts Center, you missed something special.

The finale of the musical play, “Samurai Musher” brought the audience to its feet to sing along with the cast.  The play told the story of Japanese musher Jujiro Wada, and although the curtain has come down on the play, Wada’s story is still unfolding.

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The thread that connects the generations may get tangled for a while, but it is never broken. Although it is said that most Americans cannot trace their family further back than their grandparents, sometimes, no matter how tenuous the connection, the previous generations will find you.  That’s what happened to Heather O’Hare when she got some unexpected news

Wada with dog team in Dawson, YT.

“My then boyfriend was actually teaching English in Japan, so I had already purchased a ticket. I walked into my room one day and my dad came up and said, remember when you said you wished you were Japanese?” O’Hare said. “Well, be careful what you wish for, because it just came true.”

As the audience filed out of the theater, O’Hare, from Modesto, California, tells how she found out that her great, great grandpa was not only a famous Arctic adventurer in his day, but that he was Japanese.

“And I didn’t believe it at first, but then, super-stoked afterwards,” she said.

O’Hare says neither she nor her family knew of their connection to Wada, until about 10 years ago, when a cousin, Rick Medeiros, did some research.

Jujiro Wada.

“Well I was told the story, and I got a hold of people in Japan and a hold of people in Alaska, the Yukon and a couple of other states, Louisiana,” Medeiros said.

Medeiros, from Lodi, California, and a great grandson of Wada, is considered something of the family historian.  He located the Japanese author of a book about Wada, which had been translated into English by a Yukon historian. That research revealed the family link that had been buried for almost a century.

Medeiros: “Most of the information I’ve received has been from Canada, the Yukon Territory.”

Ellen: “How do you feel about this play?”

Medeiros: “Well, we have been with them all week, and they are lovely people, and  they are very proud, so are we. He was an amazing musher, and also an amazing runner.”

Wada and a man believed to be Captain Norwood, captain ot the Balaena, the vessel that Wada worked aboard for three years.

Wada mushed marathon distances, and ran marathons too, for cash prizes – one scene in the play takes place in 1907 in Nome’s new arena.

The play, in brief vignettes, tells of the ups and downs of Wada’s life, from his first trip as a stowaway from Japan to San Francisco, and his rise to prominence in a pre-Territory Alaska as a dog driver renowned for his courage and skill.

Musher Wada’s exploits were followed in newspapers of the time.  He was even commissioned to blaze a trail from Seward to the Iditarod gold fields, and reporters went along to record his progress.

But at one point, just before World War I, he was falsely accused of being a Japanese spy, and faced discrimination as a result.

The accusations ruined his reputation in the new Alaska Territory. Wada went to work in Canada’s North, living on Hershel Island off the Yukon’s Beaufort Sea coast. It is said that he mushed dogs as far as Winnipeg. He married into an Inupiat family and had a daughter, Himeko. But eventually he went back to California, where he died in 1937.

Wada in his marathon days. He won indoor marathons, winning $500 in the 1907 Nome race.

Somewhere down the decades, Wada’s story was lost to Americans. But through the efforts of a Japanese society that memorializes his name, and Alaska and Yukon historians, Wada is finally getting his due in the land of the midnight sun.

O’Hare, Medeiros and several other family members from Japan and California were special guests at the Alaska performances of “Samurai Musher.” and traveled with the cast.  Fifteen year old Ginse Wada, another great, great grandson, carried a framed picture of Setsu, Jujiro Wada’s beloved mother, to the theater for the performance.  It took four years of planning to get them all together in Alaska, Medeiros said.

O’Hare says since her trip to Japan nine years ago, the distant relatives stay close.

The play was presented in Seward, Anchorage and Fairbanks during late April and May.  The musical was brought to Alaska by the efforts of the Jujiro Wada Memorial Society in Japan and the Asian Alaskan Cultural Center in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Welcomes Annual Tourism Gold Rush

Fri, 2015-05-08 12:10

Skagway’s modern gold rush – the cruise ship season – has begun. The town of around 1,000 people expects almost 800,000 cruise ship passengers this summer. And the first 2,000 of those passengers had the chance to explore town on Tuesday. The Celebrity Solstice sailed north from Vancouver, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Southeast Alaska residents are reveling in the warm, sunny May weather. But some cruise ship passengers are confused.

“I was gonna say I was expecting more snow, not realizing how temperate it really was,” one passenger said.

“And there’s no snow on the ground, we expected at least two foot of snow,” another said.

But the snow-less sidewalks aren’t a big deal. Not for Floridian Martin Levenson, at least. Alaska? He says, there’s nothing like it on earth.

“I visited all the other 49 other states and this is the last one,” Levenson said. “Save the best for last.”

This is Levenson’s 19th cruise, but he’s never been to Skagway before. David Freeman and Denise Gunn from Victoria, BC are repeat visitors to Skagway.

“We’ll probably go to the purple onion, is it? The Red Onion.”

This is their sixth time here.

“Skagway’s just beautiful, I really enjoy it. If Skagway wasn’t on the itinerary I probably wouldn’t do it.”

David and Denise head to the Red Onion on Broadway, and Eric Hauck from Alberta heads to the, “train ride, choo choo. Be a kid again.”

“It’s quite an interesting operation to see, moving so many people around,” Tyler Rose, the HR director at The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, said. “We haul over 400,000 passengers a year.”

The railroad takes passengers on scenic rides to destinations like Carcross and Fraser. It’s also the biggest summer employer in Skagway, with 175 people working the train, the gift shop, the ticket booth.

“It’s unreal, it really is. All the people coming in, it’s almost like a homecoming. Employees and friends you get to see, the shops open up. The ships start coming in. I know for the businesses the cash registers start to ring.”

“Caribou and a buffalo burger! Ok that’ll be $27.20.”

Bob Gibson is owner of the Barbeque Shack.

“We do caribou burgers, caribou and elk and buffalo burger,” Gibson said. “And my baby back ribs, the meat’ll just fall right off the bone.”

Bob just sold a couple burgers to Laura Everitt and her husband. They’re from England and it’s their first time in Alaska.

“We’ve traveled and we’ve done Juneau and Ketchikan,” she said. “And Skagway, and Skagway is so beautiful. It’s so pretty. The buildings are stunning.”

Laura says they wanted to come to Alaska because they watch TV shows that take place here. Like the Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

“We’ve seen it television, but it just does not do it justice,” she said. “It really doesn’t. It’s beautiful.”

Laura says they’re also enjoying learning about the history of Skagway, the gold rush days.

“Well, the celebration didn’t last long, three days later, everything took a turn for the worse. A man named JD Stewart strolled into town with $2,800 worth of gold dust in his poke,” Allison Graham said. “Jeff’s men were still riled up from the fourth. I guess they must’ve felt untouchable because the lured poor JD into Jeff’s parlor and right into a trap.”

She plays Belle Davenport in the Days of ’98 show, which she says is a mostly true story.

“It’s a vaudeville style show all about Soapy Smith and the events the led to his tragic demise at a shoot out down on the pier on July 8th, 1898,” Graham said.

Down the block from the Days of ’98 show, is a much different business – a jewelry store.

“Ooh, I have a really cool one I can show you too,” Jennifer Ozuzun said. “This is amethyst. Still in rock form.”

Jennifer and her jeweler husband, Murat, own The Local Jeweler shop.

“Are you feeling really excited about the start of the season? Uh, can you tell? (laughter) I’m really excited, I waited 7 months for this. And having your own, it’s our baby so it’s a big deal.”

Jennifer says she’s been back and forth between Skagway for 8 years. Her friend Letishia Moore, who works at the Milano jewelry store, says she feels drawn to Skagway. And apparently so do the cruise ships. According to the Skagway Visitors’ Bureau, there will be 402 port calls this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

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