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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 55 sec ago

Alaska Music Greats ‘Portugal. The Man’ To Rock AK State Fair

Tue, 2015-08-11 17:35

Portugal. The Man comes to the Alaska State Fair 2015


Getting an internationally successful rock band to play in Alaska is tough, but when the Alaska State Fair gets underway later this month, one of the performing groups will be playing for a home town crowd. John Gourley and Zach Carothers formed Portugal the Man in 2006. Both were raised in the Mat-Su Valley, and never dreamed they would eventually be signed to a major record label and playing some of the largest stages in the world. But the road wasn’t easy. Carothers, who plays bass in the band says he still remembers their early struggles.

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Zach Carothers is the bass player and co-founder of Portugal the Man. The band takes the stage at the State Fair on September 2nd.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly relaxes child care facility restrictions

Tue, 2015-08-11 17:34

Abigail Capestany said she probably wouldn’t have moved to Juneau if she’d known childcare was so limited. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The lack of child care in Juneau has been a shock for Abigail Capestany and her 19-month-old toddler.

“My husband and I moved here about a month ago and we’ve been on a waiting list since February, with no end in sight,” Capestany said Monday.

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She moved from Louisiana where, while she was pregnant, she signed up for child care at a big, church-run center. She says the day care even had webcams so she could check-in on her son remotely.

“So then coming here, it was like, oh, there’s very limited options,” she said.

Israa Kako-Gehring beams after the Assembly adopts an ordinance relaxing land-use restrictions on childcare homes and centers, Aug. 10, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

She told the Juneau Assembly that if she knew it would be this hard to get child care, she and her Coast Guard husband probably wouldn’t have come.

That could change soon. As the Assembly went through the motions to unanimously adopt an ordinance significantly relaxing land-use restrictions on child care facilities, Israa Kako-Gehring was beaming in the audience with a huge grin, fists clenched in quiet victory. It was an ordinance she began lobbying for months ago, after her plan to open a nursery school was stymied.

“Currently in the code, schools and churches are allowed to operate in any residential zone, but day cares are not,” she said.

She and her husband had bought an old church to convert to the nursery school.

“We weren’t allowed to operate. And we wanted to change that, so I called the Assembly members,” she said.

That was back in November. When the ordinance she lobbied for goes into effect in 30 days, the key land-use restriction that blocked her will be out of the way.

Kako-Gehring already has business cards made up that say “Gehring Nursery School.” She handed me one, which caught Abigail Capestany’s eye. She asked for one, too and then asked if she was taking applications for toddlers.

Categories: Alaska News

Why SEARHC thinks paying for 8 weeks of parental leave will save money

Tue, 2015-08-11 17:33

Insurance will give SEARHC members more flexibility in health care and generate revenue for the Native medical organization. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A Southeast health provider has adopted what may be the most progressive parental leave policy in Alaska. At least two experts say they don’t know of another employer in the state with a comparable benefit.

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The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s isn’t as far-reaching as Netflix’s new 1-year paid leave policy, but it may start a trend.

Ann Stepetin is due to deliver her fourth child in February. She and her husband had already decided she’d only take two weeks off from her payroll job at SEARHC.

“Because I didn’t think we could afford to be off any longer,” Stepetin says.

Then, she went into work one day and that plan drastically changed.

“You can see me getting emotional, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was such a blessing,” she says.

SEARHC’s new parental leave policy lets Stepetin take eight paid weeks off instead of using her accrued leave.

“Having that in place does give me more of a relaxed feeling to prepare emotionally more or less for the baby rather than stressing about the finances,” Stepetin says.

And that’s exactly what SEARHC executives hoped the new policy would do.

“We want that family to be really focusing on the new child, the new addition to their family, and to not have to worry about any of the other issues,” says Peggy Kadlec, SEARHC’s interim head of human resources. “It’s an important time of bonding.”

SEARHC has about 650 employees in communities throughout Southeast Alaska; most are concentrated in Juneau and Sitka. Kadlec says the health organization wants its employees to have work-life balance.

“We believe our employees that are healthier, happier, will be here at work more frequently, provide the better kind of service into our community and at the end, (it) saves money,” Kadlec says.

She says people who take an active role in health and families have less health issues.

“If our employees are out less for medical reasons, our costs are reduced and we can transfer those dollars to programs to help them as well.”

Kadlec is excited about the new parental leave policy. So is Joy Lyon.

“Because that might pave the way for other organizations to see how successful that is,” says Lyon, executive director of theAssociation for the Education of Young Children in Southeast.

She says it’s critical for the time after childbirth to be as stress-free as possible.

“When you add the extra stress of trying to get back to work, find childcare, figure out your feeding schedule, that just adds such a layer of stress,” Lyon says. “Babies are little sponges for stress, so they’re going to be feeling that stress. Continuous stress inhibits the child’s ability to learn and grow so it has a really long-term impact.”

Ironically, AEYC does not offer paid parental leave to its employees.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires most employers with 50 or more workers to guarantee up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a new child, among other reasons.

AEYC only has 10 employees, but follows these guidelines, like many other employers.

“Being a small nonprofit we just don’t have the ability to pay the extra the whole time,” Lyon says.

Most state and municipal employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child. People who take family medical leave often use accrued time off to get paid.

Dan Robinson, head of research and analysis for the state Department of Labor, says the agency doesn’t have any research on paid parental leave in the state. That could change. The department has applied for a federal grant to look into it.

“It’s very possible that there will be state legislation, that a legislator will say we want to require employers to pay for parental leave, we want to make that paid. In that case, those questions could likely come our direction,” Robinson says.

At SEARHC, parents of new children can still access 12 weeks of Family Medical Leave after the eight weeks of paid parental leave. Ann Stepetin isn’t sure if she’ll dip into it.

“I haven’t thought that far yet. Eight weeks is a blessing compared to the two that I was planning on doing,” Stepetin says.

She says she’ll start with that and see how it goes.

Categories: Alaska News

Hull Crack Forces Ferry Aurora Out of Service Early for Repairs

Tue, 2015-08-11 17:31

The ferry Aurora docks in Gustavus in 2010. It’s now in Ketchikan for hull repairs and its annual overhaul. (Photo by Alaska Department of Transportation)

The ferry Aurora is out of service a week earlier than expected. A small crack was found last week in its hull. The Coast Guard ordered repairs be made before it resumes passenger service on its Prince William Sound route.

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Alaska Marine Highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the Aurora was sent to Ketchikan’s shipyard, where it was scheduled for other work.

“The vessel was going out of service on Aug. 14 to enter its annual overhaul period. Because of that, knowing that we had to do some extensive repairs to the area where the crack was noticed in, we sent the vessel to Ketchikan to have those repairs done.”

The 38-year-old ship is scheduled to resume service in October. It’s not yet known what caused the crack.

Woodrow says the crack did not immediately compromise vessel safety.

The Aurora connects Whittier, Cordova and Valdez. It sometimes sails Southeast routes, mostly filling in for its sister ship, the LeConte.

It carries up to 250 passengers and 33 vehicles.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Move to Protect Polar Bear Habitat

Tue, 2015-08-11 16:08

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Christopher Michel.

The federal government wants to push ahead with its plan to designate a huge swath of the Arctic as critical habitat for endangered polar bears over the wishes of the state of Alaska and trade associations.

Justice Department lawyer Robert Stockman on Tuesday urged appeals court judges to overturn a lower court’s decision rejecting the plan.

Stockman says the critical habitat designation of an area larger than California was as specific as it could be to protect polar bears based on the best available science.

About 95 percent of the designated habitat is ocean. The other 5 percent is along the northern Alaska coast.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline in 2013 said geographical features needed by polar bear females for creating dens and giving birth were not shown to be present on much of the land designated as critical habitat.

Categories: Alaska News

Visa-free travel to Russia reinstated for eligible Alaska Natives

Tue, 2015-08-11 11:22

Flight over western Alaska. (Photo: Francesca Fenzi, KNOM)

The Bering Straits Regional Commission says travel restrictions for Alaska Natives to Chukotka have been lifted—leaving many with relatives on the Russian side of the strait feeling relieved, tired of being used as pawns in international disputes.

Since time immemorial, Natives on both sides of the Bering Strait have traveled freely between what is now Alaska and Chukotka. Political egos and ensuing conflicts after World War II put a stop to this fluid exchange of people and goods.

The director of the FBI at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, ordered the border closed in 1948, urging that, “U.S. national security interests should outweigh the interests of local Eskimos.” John Waghiyi of Savoonga remembers the decades-long border closure. “Sixty years of closure, the Cold War was not good for us,” Waghiyi said, “and then to make it difficult for our people several years ago, you know it’s tough.” “We need to be able to go back and forth,” he stressed, “it’s our god-given right.”

Relations eventually thawed and the border was reopened in 1989. That same year, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed an agreement reinstating visa-free travel for eligible Natives on both sides of the strait.

That 1989 agreement was curtailed three years ago when all travelers, including Alaska Natives with ties to Chukotka, were required to apply for and purchase a visa to travel across the strait.

Now Vera Metcalf with the Bering Straits Regional Commission says the agreement was updated just last month. Qualified Native Alaskans can again travel visa-free under the Bering Straits Agreement, with visits in Chukotka limited to 90 days as defined in the agreement.

Just why the agreement was reinstated is unclear. Julia Straker, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, explained that “due to administrative issues U.S. participants had not been able to travel under the agreement during the past three years.” Without revealing any details, Straker and Metcalf both confirmed those issues have now been resolved.

Despite enthusiasm for the change, various border closures since 1948 have made it more difficult for Natives with ties on both sides of the strait. Waghiyi is frustrated that international disputes infringe on their right to travel. “I don’t think that people that have ties to Alaska or Chukotka need to be used as pawns” Waghiyi urged.

With visa-free travel reinstated, Waghiyi looks forward to visiting family across the strait and hosting more cultural exchanges between Natives from Alaska and Chukotka in the years to come.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man dies from stab wounds

Tue, 2015-08-11 11:14

A 33-year-old Ketchikan man died Monday after he was stabbed early Monday morning at a home on Park Avenue.

According to the Ketchikan Police Department, dispatch received a call about the stabbing at about 8:40 a.m. Officers arrived soon after, and found Wayne Nathan, still alive at that point, with a single stab wound to his upper abdomen.

Deputy Chief Josh Dossett says Nathan was taken to the hospital, where he later died.

“At that point, officers seized the house, began applying for search warrants (and) people in the residence – witnesses – were brought to the station for interviews.”

That includes the man who allegedly stabbed Nathan during an argument.

“There were two males that were both staying the night at that residence. There was a verbal disagreement between them that escalated, and resulted in one of them being stabbed.”

The investigation is ongoing, and Dossett says no arrests have been made. The man who allegedly stabbed Nathan is not in custody; he was questioned and released pending the results of the investigation.

“We’re working with the District Attorney’s. The DA has to make the ultimate decisions on what charges. I can’t say we’re going to charge somebody, because there are varying degrees of what it could be, if he decides on charges in this situation. You have such a wide range, from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide. It’s really up to the DA’s office to look at exactly what the facts of the case are and what they fit.”

Nathan’s body will be sent to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. Dossett says a decision on possible criminal charges is not likely until the autopsy results are complete, which could take several days.

Categories: Alaska News

Looking (And Listening) For Alaska’s Rarest Whale

Tue, 2015-08-11 10:54

A right whale in the southeastern Bering Sea in 2005. Photo: Brenda Rone/NOAA Fisheries.

Researchers are cruising the Gulf of Alaska on the lookout for one of the world’s rarest animals: the North Pacific right whale.

Their needle-in-a-haystack quest is made slightly easier by one fact: These needles make noise.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration left Kodiak on Sunday for a month-long research cruise to track down the critically endangered whales.

“There’s so few of these animals, and we know so very little about them,” spokesperson Maggie Mooney-Seus with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle said. NOAA’s fishery survey vessel, the Reuben Lasker, cruised up from California studying gray whales. Now it’s turning its attention to the scarcest whales known to science.

“It’s going to be definitely difficult,” Mooney-Seus said. “We actually did hear this morning that they had heard a right whale call, that gunshot call that we have a recording of up on our website.”

Here’s that gunshot call of a right whale.

Underwater microphones can usually hear the deep tones of a whale call much farther away than the human eye can pick out a whale when it surfaces.

“Even if they hear an animal, by the time they locate it, the animal’s moved on,” Mooney-Seus said.

The best estimate is that about 30 right whales survive today in the eastern Pacific Ocean, with perhaps 20 males and 8 females.  A few hundred live in the western Pacific and a few hundred more in the North Atlantic.

Nineteenth-century whaling and illegal Soviet whaling in the mid-20th century decimated the populations, and they have not bounced back.

Researchers spotted a young right whale off Kodiak in 2012 and heard others in 2013. The vast majority of eastern North Pacific right whales have been detected in the Bering Sea between Bristol Bay and the Pribilof Islands.

Interior Department funding for right whale studies in the Bering Sea dried up after the Obama administration put plans for drilling in Bristol Bay on hold in 2009.

NOAA still has four mooring buoys that listen for whales in the Bering Sea. Researchers gather data from the buoys annually.

Bioacoustician Ana Širović with the Scripps Insitution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, studies right whales. She has heard the up-calls, down-calls and shotgun calls of right whales in the Gulf of Alaska, but said she’s never seen one.

“They’re very rare,” she said. “There’s been a lot of effort studying right whales in the Bering Sea, and very little in the Gulf of Alaska. Given how small their population is, it’s important to know what their range truly is.”

If NOAA researchers can get close enough, they hope to get photos, tissue samples and even attach satellite tags to whales to monitor their movements.

The NOAA cruise will run a zigzag pattern from Prince William Sound almost the full length of the Alaska Peninsula and out to about 200 miles offshore.

Mooney-Seus with NOAA could not provide an estimate of the cruise’s cost.

Whalers considered the species the “right whale” to hunt because they would swim slowly and close to shore and because their carcasses float.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union carried out what NOAA scientists call a “massive campaign of illegal whaling.” Soviet ships killed 372 right whales in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, severely depleting what was likely a recovering population.

Today, the biggest threat to the tiny population’s survival may be collisions with ships.

“These whales cross a major trans-Pacific shipping lane when traveling to and from the Bering Sea; their probability of ship-strike mortalities may increase with the likely future opening of an ice-free Northwest Passage,” NOAA scientists warned in a 2010 study in Biology Letters.

The right whale was declared an endangered species in 1970, under the precursor to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. A recovery planfor the North Pacific population was not issued until 2013, 40 years later.

Map of NOAA’s 2015 right whale survey route. Photo: NOAA.

Categories: Alaska News

Number of synthetic drug hospitalizations climbs to 88

Tue, 2015-08-11 09:48

The number of Anchorage residents transported to the hospital due health problems stemming from the use of a synthetic drug called spice continues to climb.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the Anchorage Fire Department says its emergency medical responders have picked up 88 people in the past 10 days who were known or suspected to have used the drug.

Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann says those patients represent about 17 percent of the department’s total number of transports during that period.

Police announced last week that they had seen at least 30 hospitalizations related to the drug. They are investigating the recent spike in Spice use.

Spice was once sold in gas stations and convenience stores and marketed as incense or potpourri. City and state lawmakers have banned the drug.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker announces review of Corrections policies

Tue, 2015-08-11 09:47

Gov. Bill Walker has asked for an administrative review of Alaska’s Department of Corrections.

His office said the review will look for ways to ensure inmate safety and improve department policies, if needed.

It will be conducted by Dean Williams, a special assistant to Walker and former superintendent of a state juvenile detention center, and retired FBI special agent Joe Hanlon.

Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette said Hanlon, who’s working on contract, charges $125 an hour and has been approved to work up to 120 hours. The hope is to focus Hanlon’s time on the review’s most complex parts.

Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor pledged support with the review.

In a release, Walker said he’s been looking for ways to improve the department’s operations and the review is a step toward that.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan to host meetings in Alaska on veterans’ health care

Tue, 2015-08-11 09:46

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is hosting meetings in Alaska to hear from veterans on health care provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Listening sessions are scheduled for Aug. 24 in Fairbanks and Kenai. Sullivan’s office, in a release, said the VA undersecretary for health will attend.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee also will hold a field hearing in Eagle River Aug. 25.

Concerns have been raised with the VA’s implementation of the national Choice Program, modeled partly on an Alaska program meant to allow veterans to receive care at non-VA facilities rather than face long wait times.

But VA has only committed to funding Alaska’s program through September. Concerns with the Choice Program in Alaska include a limited number of participating doctors and low reimbursement rates.

Categories: Alaska News

M/V Challenger and barge overturned in Nushagak near Kokwok

Tue, 2015-08-11 09:41

(Photo via KDLG)

A Ridge Contracting vessel and barge are overturned and sunk in the Nushagak River near the outlet of the Kokwok.

The M/V Challenger with two onboard went down Sunday around 3 p.m.; both onboard are fine with no reported injuries. The cause of the sinking has not been determined yet, said Petty Officer Patrick Brown with Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. Brown is overseeing an initial investigation of the downed vessel Challenger:

“It’s approximately 45 feet long,” said Brown Monday afternoon. “It had a barge called “Barge No. 1″ in side tow, when both of them sunk. They were carrying some scrap metal from recycled cars; no oil or hazmat, as far as cargo was concerned, on board them at the time. The Challenger has a max capacity of 300 gallons for fuels on board. The responsible party is reporting there was 100 gallons of diesel onboard at the time that the vessel sunk.”

The Coast Guard flew an aerial survey of the wreckage Monday, noting that the vessels appear to be intact and overturned as other witnesses have reported from the river.

Petty Officer Brown said the flight crew was unable to determine how much pollution may have occurred:

“They spotted some sheen about a mile from the vessel, but we could neither confirm nor deny that it’s coming directly from the vessel at this point,” he said.

The barge was hauling scrapped vehicles from New Stuyahok down the river to Dillingham. New Stuyahok’s IGAP coordinator told KDLG News Monday those vehicles had been drained of oil, gas, and freon, which was recycled in New Stuyahok and was not onboard the barge.

The first boat to pass by the sunken vessel Sunday had Fish and Game biologists onboard bringing weir equipment down from the Stuyahok River site. They encountered the vessel a little past 6 p.m., some three hours after it had rolled and sunk. Fisheries biologist Elizabeth Smith said it was a very windy day on the river, making boating difficult:

“We had just gone through what was probably the roughest patch of waves we had seen that day,” she said Monday. “Pretty big waves for the Nushagak. And that’s when we saw the boat turned over in the river, which was really surprising. I didn’t see anybody on top of first until we got pretty close to it.”

Smith said that’s when two men standing on the then-exposed hull came into view. When those men waved, Smith’s boat headed over, picked them up, and brought them to a nearby gravel bar:

“Both of them were dry,” she said. “They said when the scow tipped over, they were able to walk on top of the hull, so they stayed out of the water the whole time.”

The men, whose names had not been released Monday, used a Fish and Game sat phone to call for a pick up from other Ridge employees still in New Stuyahok.

A resident told KDLG News that Ridge Contracting is currently working on the landfill road in the village and took the compacted scrap car removal as a separate contract.

The company will be responsible for salvaging the vessel, and Petty Officer Brown said Monday that Ridge was taking “proactive measures” to begin that process.

“Right now they’re working on getting a barge and a landing craft up there to try and get the vessel up, remove the threat of any pollution, and get it out of the way of any business that needs to take place on the Nushagak,” said Brown.

Anchorage-based Ridge Contracting has not responded to requests for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, August 10, 2015

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:41

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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5M Acres Burned Puts This Fire Season in the Record Books

Associated Press

This summer’s fire season has officially become the second biggest on record in Alaska.

FBI Charges Wasilla Man In Abduction of 2 North Pole Kids

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Federal Bureau of Investigation in Alaska held a press conference to discuss a child abduction case in North Pole. The rare move by the Bureau is an attempt to calm the public, and recruit them to help.

Governor Meets with Tribes in Advance of Land Trust Deadline

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Bill Walker faces an August deadline for determining the future of the state’s appeal against a court case that could clear a path for Alaska tribes to put land into trust.

Cruise Lines Cited for Violating Air Regulations

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Seven major cruise lines face penalties for polluting the air while sailing Alaska waters.

‘Stop the Violence’ Walk Demands Community Pay Attention

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

After two recent shooting deaths of local teenagers, more than 60 people marched through the rain in East Anchorage on Sunday afternoon to raise awareness of violence in the state’s largest city.

Federal Agency Launches Website to Help Universities, Colleges Deal with Campus Violence

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The Office on Violence Against Women last week launched a website aimed at helping colleges and universities deal with sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus.

Alaska Joins Lawsuit Asking Judge to Block New Federal Water Rule

Associated Press

Thirteen states led by North Dakota are asking a federal judge in Bismarck to block a new rule that gives federal authorities jurisdiction over some state waters. Alaska is one of the states joining the suit.

Miller Energy Charged with Inflating Company’s Value

Associated Press

Miller Energy Resources Inc. and two of its former executives have been charged with inflating the values of the company’s oil and gas properties in Alaska by more than $400 million.

Commercial Fishing on the Kuskokwim Opens Monday

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The summer’s first commercial fishing on the Kuskokwim River is taking place today (Monday). Managers say that this year’s silver run is below average for this time of year and could be late or weak. But they say there should be enough fish for escapement, subsistence, and a limited commercial harvest.

Norton Sound Sees Bumper Salmon, Crab Season

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

It’s a been a good summer for commercial fishing in the Norton Sound—and at the latest meeting of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation Board, a strong crab and an ongoing salmon season means its not over.

Government to Buy $30M of Canned Sockeye

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

The federal government has agreed to buy up to $30 million dollars worth of canned Alaska sockeye salmon.

Humpback Researchers See ‘Old Timer’ Again After 44 Years

Joe Sykes, KFSK – Petersburg

Whale researchers in Southeast Alaska have broken the record for the longest resighting of a humpback whale.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Meets with Tribes in Advance of Land Trust Deadline

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:39

Governor Walker visited five rural Alaska communities, including Akiachak. 2014 Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK.

Governor Bill Walker faces an August deadline for determining the future of the state’s appeal against a court case that could clear a path for Alaska tribes to put land into trust.

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He’s facing pressure from tribes to drop the lawsuit. Trust status would reshape tribal sovereignty on certain lands. Walker said Monday that the purpose of his recent five-village trip was to listen and build relationships with tribes.

“I wasn’t trying to sell a deal or make a deal, or get anyone to do anything different. I just wanted to understand and hear from them about some of their issues in their village and tribal associations,” said Walker.

Walker inherited a 2013 lawsuit fighting an earlier decision about land into trust, from the Parnell administration. He’s delayed action for seven months. A brief is due on the 24th indicating the state’s plans. His tour last week brought him to five place: Akiachak, Tuluksak, Chalkyitsik in the interior, Barrow, and finally to Haines.

He brought boxes of vegetables and strawberries from Palmer-area farms to far corners of the state, as he spoke with plaintiffs who originally sued the federal government in 2006 for the ability to put lands in trust. Walker says a common thread was that tribes wanted to make sure land is available for future generations.

“The theme I would take from across the state is they were looking at it more from a preservation standpoint. They’re trying to hold on to what they had, recognizing that they had a whole lot more previously,” said Walker.

Trust status, however, has major implications for jurisdiction and could give tribes wider control over laws and management of lands, while restricting the power of the state. It also has tax implications. Walker says land status is one of an array of issues related to tribal sovereignty that his administration is considering.

“We’re looking at some of those already, as far as for how we can transfer jurisdiction for certain matters over to tribes. I think I would look, our vision is much broader than land into trust,” said Walker.

His administration is also wrestling with how to implement tribal courts. Walker is not detailing his plans for the lawsuit yet. He says he and his legal team are still reviewing information.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Stop the Violence’ Walk Asks Community to Pay Attention

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:37

Rally goers ask the community to stop the violence on Sunday afternoon. Hillman/KSKA

After two recent shooting deaths of local teenagers, more than 60 people marched through the rain in East Anchorage on Sunday afternoon to raise awareness of violence in the community.

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The crowd sang “Keep calm everybody, and put your guns away. Stop the violence!” The sentiment was echoed on their matching black t-shirts as they marched near the site where 19-year-old Preston Junior Clark Perdomo was shot dead last week.

Among the crowd was resident Allie Hernandez, who moved to Anchorage in 1997 because it was a safe place to raise her kids. She says now, she’s scared.

“This is why we’re walking,” she says between deep breaths. “We have a lot of parents here walking because we’re scared for our kids. We don’t want to see them dead. We don’t want to bury our kids no more. So if we have to walk five miles or six miles, even though I’m not in shape, girl, we’re doing it!”

Summer Yancy walked wearing a set of charms representing friends and family who were impacted by violence. She said Anchorage is so close-knit that everyone is affected by the recent shootings. One way to stop it is to speak candidly with youth about gun violence.

“Let’s have real scenarios of what this looks like when you’re in a real situation,” she said, when talking about ways to facilitate an effective conversation. “With[in] a group of kids and there’s one person in that group that wants to be irresponsible with their gun and all the sudden everybody is sucked in… it can happen to very good kids as well.”

Nineteen-year-old Brennan Gregiore-Girard said he grew up on the east side of town and gun violence doesn’t faze him.

The attendees of the Stop the Violence rally pose for a photo. Hillman/KSKA

“I mean when I hear about it, it doesn’t shock me any more, which is sad to say because we shouldn’t be in an environment where kids should feel that way, but it’s the sad truth.”

He said he thinks kids need to take responsibility for their actions and for the situations they place themselves in.

“I’ve always felt like I could talk things out. My mom raised me that way and my dad raised me that way. And I’ve always wrestled and done combat sports, so it’s not one of those things where I’m scared and all that,” he explained. “But why should I put my hands on someone to stop the violence? Because when you kill someone, you’re not only killing them.” You’re killing a piece of everyone they knew, he said.

The community group We Are Anchorage organized the walk to show a unified front for saying no to violence. They hope to encourage people to start actively watching out for their communities and speaking up.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Joins Lawsuit Asking Judge to Block New Federal Water Rule

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:35

Thirteen states led by North Dakota are asking a federal judge in Bismarck to block a new rule that gives federal authorities jurisdiction over some state waters. Alaska is one of the states joining the suit.

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North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem planned to request a preliminary injunction Monday.

The states filed the lawsuit in June challenging the rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. The states say the new rule illegally expands the jurisdiction of those agencies under the federal Clean Water Act.

The law goes into effect Aug. 28. The injunction seeks to suspend the new rules until a court can decide the case.

The other states joining the lawsuit with North Dakota are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fishing on the Kuskokwim Opens Monday

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:33

The Kuskokwim’s first commercial opening is Monday afternoon. KYUK file photo.

The summer’s first commercial fishing on the Kuskokwim River takes place Monday, August 10th.

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Managers say that this year’s silver run is below average for this time of year and could be late or weak. But they say there should be enough fish for escapement, subsistence, and a limited commercial harvest.

Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim Management Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He notes the historical midpoint of the run was Saturday.

“We feel we’ve provided for fish that should help people meet subsistence needs and still have harvestable surplus for a commercial activity,” said Poetter.

Poetter says the run is behind the five and ten-year average but it looks like similar runs in 2005, 2010, 2012, and 2013 which allowed for commercial fishing on top of other harvest. There was no commercial fishing for chums this year due to a weak run. Poetter says Fish and Game officials understand that people will be relying more on silvers for subsistence.

“…Especially with restrictions on Chinook fishery and the poor chum run we saw. We’re hearing that some folks are now just now starting to do their subsistence fishing, which is pretty late for the year for getting started. And we’ve heard that others are completely done and might go out for just a few silvers for the dinner table. We have a board breadth of where folks are at for meeting subsistence needs,” said Poetter.

The waters from 15 miles below the Johnson River to Eek Island are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From Bethel down to the marker located 15 miles below the Johnson, fishing takes place from noon to 6 p.m.

With the commercial opening comes a subsistence closure. The waters below Strait Slough to the mouth will be closed to subsistence fishing from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The first Kuskokwim commercial opening is on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Norton Sound Sees Bumper Salmon, Crab Season

Mon, 2015-08-10 17:32

Fish delivered to a buyer in late 2007. Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

It’s a been a good summer for commercial fishing in the Norton Sound—and at the latest meeting of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation Board, a strong crab and an ongoing salmon season means its not over.

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“We paid out over $2.047 million to our local crab fleet, which is just amazing.”

NSEDC Board chair Dan Harrelson of White Mountain adds the salmon are still running. So far this year fishermen in Golovin, Elim, Koyuk, Shaktoolik, and Unalakleet have racked up over $650,000—and they’re still fishing. Silvers are just starting their run—with Unalakleet delivering about 20,000 cohos as of last week. Harreslon says it’s an opportunity for people in communities throughout the region:

“We’ve had residents come from White Mountain and some of the non-fishing communities come in and work at the fish plant in Nome, or even travel to UNK and work at the fish plant in UNK. So there’s a definite economic opportunity for folks from Nome and the surrounding villages to work in our various fish plants and as well work on some of the vessels on some of our tenders that we have that are moving the salmon and crab throughout the region.”

The board also heard from it’s for-profit subsidiary, Siu Alaska. Siu’s president and CEO Cora Campbell says, beyond fish, cod liver is the exciting news for Siu this year: a new plant in Dutch Harbor is gearing up to turn the livers of the prized whitefish into health supplements.

“It’s a part of the fish that was just being discarded at sea before, so this is an opportunity to add value, and to use something that was a byproduct before and turn it into a finished product and sell it, and that’s the direction we want to go, full utilization.”

Campbell says Siu’s crabbing vessels are now heading to the Aleutians to harvest a combined 2.6 million pounds of golden king crab. Siu also has boats harvesting Bering Sea pollock

Categories: Alaska News

Cruise Lines Cited For Violating Air Regulations

Mon, 2015-08-10 16:22

Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Seven major cruise lines face penalties for polluting the air while sailing Alaska waters.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued 18 notices of violation involving 48 instances of excessive air emissions since 2010.

Environmental Program Specialist Jason Olds says they were measured in Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Anchorage. Others were spotted while sailing between ports.

He says government or contract monitors measured the density of ship smoke.

“The confusing way to say it might be that it’s the obfuscation of light. And the layman’s explanation is that we look at the contrasting background and how much of that is obscured by the plume.”

Details of the notices are not yet public because the alleged violations and penalties are being negotiated with cruise lines. Olds says they could be resolved within six months, though it could take longer.

He says the standard penalty is about $37,000 per incident.

Olds says violations were issued to almost all of the major cruise lines serving Alaska.

“We have Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity and one to Silver Seas,” Olds says.

“All the ships are equipped with opacity monitors that actually measure the opacity as the smoke comes out of the stack,” John Binkley says. He heads up Alaska’s chapter of the Cruise Lines International Association.

He says the ships self-report when their monitors detect excessive emissions. But sometimes, that equipment comes up with different measurements than human observers.

“And so, that’s one thing they may be discussing in these alleged violations is, which do you give more weight to — the actual instrumentation or the person’s interpretation of what the smoke looks like?”

A number of cruise lines have installed or are in the process of installing stronger pollution-control equipment called scrubbers. They mostly target sulfur emissions, but also remove particulates that reduce opacity.

In addition to cruise ships, the ferry Columbia was found in violation while it was in Auke Bay, home to Juneau’s ferry terminal.

Alaska Marine Highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says that happened two winters ago, after new engines were installed.

“The department worked with DEC, tested the quality of the air coming out of the exhaust stacks and sure enough, it wasn’t in compliance,” Woodrow says.

Further adjustments were made and the Columbia met emission standards. Olds says his department took no further action.

Categories: Alaska News

Visa-Free Travel to Russia Reinstated for Eligible Alaska Natives

Mon, 2015-08-10 15:00

The Bering Straits Regional Commission says travel restrictions for Alaska Natives to Chukotka have been lifted—leaving many with relatives on the Russian side of the strait feeling relieved, tired of being used as pawns in international disputes.

Since time immemorial, Natives on both sides of the Bering Strait have traveled freely between what is now Alaska and Chukotka. Political egos and ensuing conflicts after World War II put a stop to this fluid exchange of people and goods.

Flight over western Alaska. Photo: Francesca Fenzi, KNOM

The director of the FBI at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, ordered the border closed in 1948, urging that, “U.S. national security interests should outweigh the interests of local Eskimos.” John Waghiyi of Savoonga remembers the decades-long border closure. “Sixty years of closure, the Cold War was not good for us,” Waghiyi said, “and then to make it difficult for our people several years ago, you know it’s tough.” “We need to be able to go back and forth,” he stressed, “it’s our god-given right.”

Relations eventually thawed and the border was reopened in 1989. That same year, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed an agreement reinstating visa-free travel for eligible Natives on both sides of the strait.

That 1989 agreement was curtailed three years ago when all travelers, including Alaska Natives with ties to Chukotka, were required to apply for and purchase a visa to travel across the strait.

Now Vera Metcalf with the Bering Straits Regional Commission says the agreement was updated just last month. Qualified Native Alaskans can again travel visa-free under the Bering Straits Agreement, with visits in Chukotka limited to 90 days as defined in the agreement.

Just why the agreement was reinstated is unclear. Julia Straker, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, explained that “due to administrative issues U.S. participants had not been able to travel under the agreement during the past three years.” Without revealing any details, Straker and Metcalf both confirmed those issues have now been resolved.

Despite enthusiasm for the change, various border closures since 1948 have made it more difficult for Natives with ties on both sides of the strait. Waghiyi is frustrated that international disputes infringe on their right to travel. “I don’t think that people that have ties to Alaska or Chukotka need to be used as pawns” Waghiyi urged.

With visa-free travel reinstated, Waghiyi looks forward to visiting family across the strait and hosting more cultural exchanges between Natives from Alaska and Chukotka in the years to come.

Categories: Alaska News

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