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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: 6 min 13 sec ago

Erin’s Law And Sexual Abuse Awareness

Fri, 2015-03-27 08:00

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Erin’s Law was recently introduced again in the state legislature. It would mandate all public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention curriculum to all students grades K-12. It also requires education and awareness for teachers.

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HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Julie Dale, educator, Standing Together Against Rape
  • Melanie Sutton, Health and PE coordinator, Anchorage School District

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, March 27 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 28 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative Analyst Offers Gloomy Budget Outlook

Thu, 2015-03-26 21:31

Each week during the legislative session, various interest groups and lawmakers will host catered lunches as a way of drawing staffers to learn about their pet issues. Often, the selling point is the pizza or the sandwiches. But this Thursday, the food was beside the point. A standing-room-only crowd gathered to watch a special budget presentation that had been discussed in murmurs for weeks. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the outlook was somewhere between gloomy and apocalyptic.

The Legislative Finance director’s model illustrated what he had long been saying:

“You simply cannot cut your way to a sustainable budget.”

Manipulating an Excel spreadsheet with dozens of inputs, David Teal showed what would happen if the state cut formula programs, added a variety of taxes, and shrunk its agencies. None of the actions taken on their own made any difference. At projected oil prices, the state still does not close its multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Teal played with one scenario where the Legislature cuts its budget by 12 percent each year until the state’s $1.4 billion education program was shrunk to $400 million. When the model continued to show a deficit, the audience muttered a few “wows.” House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson had to stop Teal at another scenario. Whole agency operations were shut down — and still, the state faced a shortfall.

THOMPSON: You mean no state troopers? No [Department of Transportation]?
TEAL: No Corrections. No prisons.
THOMPSON: No prison guards? All of those?
TEAL: But of course that isn’t workable.

The only scenario that seemed to make a difference was one where the state cut spending, oil prices rose some, a modest income tax was implemented, and the state drew some money from the Permanent Fund earnings reserve while paying out a potentially smaller dividend. That account is separate from the Permanent Fund’s principal, and legislators can draw on it at any point with a simple majority vote. However, the fund is a third rail, and rarely discussed because of its political consequences.

That was illustrated halfway through the presentation when Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, logged onto Twitter from his phone and accused the Republican House Majority of making moves to “raid the Permanent Fund.” He elaborated on the comment after the presentation.

“When you talk about raiding the Permanent Fund what you’re talking about is taking money out of the earnings reserve and using it for government expenses or using it for something else other than paying out dividends,” said Wielechowski.

Thompson, who sponsored the lunch-and-learn event, responded with some exasperation to the suggestion.

“We’re not raiding the Permanent Fund, and nobody’s going to do that. I mean, I don’t even see how that’s even a possibility,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to have a discussion about how can we fund the core services that are expected under our Constitution by the citizens of Alaska.”

The Fairbanks Republican said the purpose of the presentation, which came from a non-partisan analyst, was to give the public a better understanding of the state’s fiscal outlook. The model had already been shown to many lawmakers and some staff, but — with only a few weeks of session to go — had not been public until now.

Rep. Les Gara, another Anchorage Democrat who was in attendance, said he did find value in seeing the hard numbers, even if he would have liked to see more attention to the effect different policies on oil taxes and credits have on the state budget.

“I think it’s worthwhile to have over, and over, and over again for the public to see all over the state so they can plug in numbers,” said Gara. “Look, if they’re oil tax people, they can say, ‘What would oil tax changes do?’ If they believe in other sources of revenue, they can plug in those numbers. But I think it’s important to lead to an honest public discussion.”

The Walker administration also had at least one member present. Tax Division Director Ken Alper said he thought the presentation captured the urgency of the state’s budget situation. He added that the executive branch is working on its own model as it figures out the next step in tackling the revenue shortfall. But he stressed that for now, the focus is simply on cutting the budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Seek Answers On Rape Kit Backlog

Thu, 2015-03-26 19:18

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, but it has no mechanism for tracking untested rape kits. Now, legislators are considering an audit to find out just how big the backlog is. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

When the Legislature’s research department was asked to find how many rape kits sat on shelves waiting to be analyzed, it kept hearing one answer: Unknown.

The researcher could not even compare Alaska’s kit processing rate to other states because there was so little hard data on how many kits had even been processed in the first place.

In response, Sen. Berta Gardner and Rep. Geran Tarr — both Anchorage Democrats — have each filed bills asking for an audit of rape kits in the state.

Tarr’s aide, Ray Friedlander, laid out the problem to the House State Affairs committee on Thursday, explaining the challenge of coordinating evidence processing rules with the many small police departments across Alaska.

“There’s not a single uniform protocol utilized by 150 law enforcement agencies to do the same,” said Friedlander. “So, in essence, there could be a local law enforcement agency here in Alaska that is in possession of an untested sexual assault kit potentially containing DNA that could remove a rapist from Alaska’s streets, but we don’t know. There’s no database or way to manage these untested sexual assault kits that have been shelved.”

The bill would require every law enforcement agency in the state to go through its inventory and find out how many untested kits it has and when they were collected. Friedlander explained to Committee Chair Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, that the numbers have been high in other places where this analysis has been done.

FRIEDLANDER: Texas had 20,000.
LYNN: 20,000?
FRIEDLANDER: 20,000. Detroit had 11,000. Memphis had 12,164. Illinois had 4,000, and Ohio had 4,000. And we acknowledge that …
LYNN: And we don’t know what we have here.
FRIEDLANDER: Right.

From what is known, there’s a certain amount of variability in how different agencies handle rape kits. Local police departments set their own policies. The state troopers have only been required to send back all rape kits as of February of this year. Once kits make it to the state crime lab, there is a set protocol for tracking them.

But even at the crime lab, there are problems in processing the kits. Orin Dym is the forensic laboratory manager, and he explained that in emergencies, they can turn around kit results in 24 hours. But usually, it takes much longer.

“Our average turnaround time today is 170 days. Our oldest sexual assault request goes back 16 months today,” said Dym. “I will say that is a vast improvement over the 6+ years it used to be.”

That processing time troubled committee members, like Anchorage Republican Liz Vazquez.

VAZQUEZ: So, Why does it take so long?
DYM: Rep. Vazquez, through the chair, it takes so long because there are many times where the incoming requests for service exceed our capability to complete the analysis. We have more business than we can complete in a timely fashion.

Dym responded that it would likely take two years for the crime lab to process the backlog in-house, and that’s assuming there is no staff turnover or loss of funding.

Neither Vazquez nor Lynn found much comfort in that.

VAZQUEZ: I am still very troubled with the 170 days it takes to …
LYNN: Me, too.
VAZQUEZ: … test these kits. I mean it’s a haunting thought in my mind.

The committee plans to hear the bill again next week. A separate request to audit the crime lab is also planned.

Categories: Alaska News

In Continuing Fight, Public Broadcasting Funding Axed

Thu, 2015-03-26 19:07

Earlier this month, public broadcasting survived an effort in the House to slash its state funding by half. Now, a subcommittee in the Senate has axed the appropriation entirely.

Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy chairs the Department of Administration subcommittee, and he warned that the cuts would be deep before announcing them at a Thursday meeting.

“There’s going to be a lot of good across the board that may not be funded,” said Dunleavy. “As we go through this, it’s not necessarily a judgment on those programs, but it has to do with the fact that we may not have the money to pay for everything.”

Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan attempted to restore $5 million in funding to the budget proposal.

“I am a 45-year private sector broadcaster. I programmed, managed, and owned a bunch of private stations here in Southeast Alaska and in Anchorage,” said Egan. “And here I am, speaking up for public broadcasting, because I am not sure everyone realizes how much is going to be lost.”

Egan noted that the cuts would cause some stations in places like Homer and Kodiak to lose their federal funding, too. He said rural communities could lose their emergency alert system, and that public television coverage of the Legislature would be threatened.

The amendment failed three to one, with Republican members voting against it.

Categories: Alaska News

As Legal Landscape Changes, A New Marijuana Club Opens Its Doors in Anchorage

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:57

Theresa Collins, left, and Jami Hicks are two of the four business partners behind Pot Luck Events.

Marijuana is in legal limbo in Alaska. Multiple bills in the Legislature will determine everything from permits to penalties, and in the meantime municipalities are scrambling find rules that protect the public, but also make room for an emerging industry. A new business in Anchorage is taking its first tentative steps forward navigating the shifting legal landscape.

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Inside a brand new private marijuana club air purifiers whir. The room is huge, with a stage at one end, lounge chairs in another, and high ceilings.

“We have a bar,” said Theresa Collins before adding, “no alcohol products!”

Collins showed off jars of free candy and abundant soda options. “We got our food permit and so we do have a munchies menu–been doing like little sliders, nachos, different kind of munchie items for our members.”

Collins is one of the co-owners of Pot Luck Events, a members-only private business hoping to capitalize on Alaska’s expanding legal market for marijuana.

“We’re not selling marijuana, we’re selling an experience. We want a safe place for people to come and consume their marijuana products,” Collins explained. “There is no place like this in Anchorage, and people have been asking for it.”

As far as anyone knows, the Pot Luck club is doing everything legally. Costumers buy a membership package ranging from $20 for a month, to $500 for a year’s worth of access to events, a VIP lounge, and line skipping.

You can bring marijuana as long as it is less that one ounce, but you cannot buy or sell marijuana products inside because so far the state does not allow legal sales. Members are not breaking prohibitions against consuming in public because the club is private. And before even passing coat check, new members are have to show ID and sign a waiver that outlines good conduct. Breaking it gets you kicked out.

It is less like a bar to drop into than an events hall hosting parties, cannabis tastings, and assorted special occasions.

“We’ve actually had interest for two weddings,” said Collins. “We’re definitely open to any type of event that somebody wants to have, and it doesn’t have to be 420 friendly.”

The space’s soft open was last week, “St. Potrick’s Day,” which Collins said went extremely well.

Puns aside, marijuana is serious business, and Collins and her partners have invested a lot of money and time making sure they are on the right side of existing rules. It has not been easy. They struggled to find insurance, a space to rent, and are running everything by a lawyer for advice on compliance with city, state, and Federal rules that are changing week to week.

“You can operate successfully in a professional way, and still have fun,” explained Jami Hicks, another of Pot Luck Events four owners.

On top of raising money and hiring a staff of 15, part of their business plan has been reaching out to neighbors and law enforcement so everyone knows what they are doing. “That was the first thing,” said Hicks, “meet the neighbors, shake hands, find out what the community needs.”

Even though the laws on marijuana are a bit murky right now, that does not mean new businesses can operate carte blanche. The Anchorage Police Department recently executed a search warrant on a high profile business allegedly selling cannabis products, with more charges expected.

Bruce Schulte is the spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says Pot Luck Events is the kind of business that policy advocates have been hoping would appear after Ballot Measure 2 passed.

“They are being good neighbors, they are being very up-front with APD and the fire marshall about what they’re doing, and how many people are going to be on-sight, so I think that’s helping perception, they’re doing everything they can to be model citizens and I think that’s hugely important right now,” Schulte said.

With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, several Assembly members of a sub-committee tasked with overseeing marijuana implementation in Anchorage see the prospect of comprehensive state-wide legislation as unlikely. And that shifts the job of regulation to local governments. Which is fine for many officials in Alaska’s largest city. The municipality has already gotten into the particulars of looking at permit structures and public consumption rules. Todd Sherwood is with the city’s legal department, and says they are hoping for more municipal discretion in designing regulations.

“Every municipality is a little different, but that’s one thing I would say we generally agree on is we want the maximum amount of local control,” said Todd Sherwood with the municipality’s legal department. “But we just don’t know what we can do until we have a complete package really from the state, and then we can work with that.”

Pot Luck Events is just one business getting out in front of the changing circumstances. However, they are not alone. Hicks said they have been contacted by around 50 vendors and businesses about collaborating on events. For now they feel like they have been lucky with how things have come together. They even found a building that is its own advertisement.

“When 420 W. 3rd Avenue came up we couldn’t really pass that up,” Hicks laughed.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 26, 2015

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:40

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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Lawmakers Consider Audit Of Determine Number Of Untested Rape Kits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, but it has no mechanism for tracking untested rape kits. Now, legislators are considering an audit to find out just how big the backlog is.

Choose Respect Rally Marches Through Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker led about 100 people in a Choose Respect rally and march through Juneau on Thursday.

Anchorage Marijuana Club Navigates Shifting Legal Landscape

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Marijuana is in legal limbo in Alaska. Multiple bills in the Legislature will determine everything from permits to penalties, and in the meantime municipalities are scrambling to find rules that protect the public but also make room for an emerging industry. A new marijuana club in Anchorage shows the tentative approach by businesses to navigate a shifting legal landscape.

Fairbanks School Board OKs Budget That Cuts 60 Jobs; Member May Seek Salary Freeze

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board passed a budget Wednesday night that cuts about 60 full-time positions and trims many programs.

Conservation Groups Appeal Big Thorne Ruling

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Less than a week after losing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop the Big Thorne Timber Sale has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked for an injunction pending the outcome.

Prolific Glacial Melt Is 10% Of Annual Fresh Water In The Gulf Of Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A kayak trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 inspired an engineer to research the impact of glacial run off in the Gulf of Alaska. David Hill is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Oregon State University. For the study, he used decades of state and USGS stream flow data, combined with calculations on land characteristics and watershed size to create an analysis for the entire area.

Categories: Alaska News

Choose Respect Rally Marches Through Juneau

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:10

Gov. Bill Walker led about 100 people in a Choose Respect rally and march through Juneau on Thursday.

The statewide initiative to raise awareness about Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault started six years ago, and grew in prominence after being embraced by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Funding for prevention of such crimes has been cut nearly in half in the proposed budget for next year, as the state faces a multibillion dollar shortfall. Advocates say the cuts will slow down, but not stop their work.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks School Board OKs Budget That Cuts 60 Jobs; Member May Seek Salary Freeze

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:09

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Governing Board passed a budget Wednesday that would cut about 60 full-time positions and trim many programs. One board member who voted against the measure says the cuts go too far, and she says she’ll push for a salary freeze to reduce the impact of the cuts.

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In contrast to the hours of impassioned public testimony in the previous two school board meetings over the impact of budget cuts, the mood Wednesday was reserved – even resigned.

Board President Heidi Haas says none of the board members was very happy with the prospect of approving a budget that’s more than $11 million lower than last year’s, due to state funding cuts driven by plummeting oil revenue.

“I have a lot of heartburn around the cuts that we’ve made,” Haas said. “These cuts are going to directly impact my three kids, as well as our (district’s) other 14,000 kids.”

Board Clerk Lisa Gentry says she’s been increasingly bothered by the cuts in recent weeks. Especially after hearing wrenching testimony Monday and Tuesday about how those cuts would diminish the quality of instruction.

“After Monday’s budget meeting, I did not feel good when I went home,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was advocating for anybody. Then especially after hearing all the testimony last night, it reinforced everything that I was thinking, and everything that we could save.”

Gentry says that’s why she declared Wednesday that she can’t support the budget.

She says the public testimony made her realize that even though the district claims the cuts won’t lead to increased class sizes, they’ll have much the same effect. Because cutting so much support staff  like nurses and counselors will require teachers to assume those staffers’ responsibilities.

“That student that may be causing a ruckus or having an emotional breakdown, that teacher’s going to have to take them out of the room and calm them down and give them one-on-one instruction,” she said. “So, we may not have touched the classroom in real teacher’s class size, but we’ve affected the classroom by cutting all these other programs.”

Gentry says some of those cuts could be restored if the district would impose a salary freeze, which would save about $3.9 million.

Gentry admits she proposed the freeze at the last minute. She says she’s tried to raise the issue earlier, and finally just had to bring it up before the board adopted the budget.

“I want it on the record,” she said. “So I came tonight to say my piece.”

Gentry considered making a motion to formally propose it, but decided against it after Haas said it would take time to develop another budget that factored in the freeze, and then to schedule more public hearings. Haas briefly recessed the meeting to confirm that with district and borough attorneys, who told her the budget schedule is dictated by state law and borough code.

The board then approved the $274.9 million budget 4-to-1, with Gentry dissenting. Vice President Wendy Dominique attended via telephone, but wasn’t allowed to vote; member Sue Hull was absent.

Gentry says she plans to propose a salary freeze in upcoming budget deliberations.

Haas says the public would get a chance to weigh in on the proposal if the board backs Gentry’s motion. Haas says testimony may also be given on other budget changes that are proposed once district and borough officials learn how much the Legislature has appropriated for education after it adjourns. This year’s session is scheduled to end April 17th.

“We’ll do another work session and public hearing,” she said. “And then there’s always the opportunity anytime a motion is on the table.”

Haas says she believes the district may have to go through the same budget-slashing exercise all over again next year. She says another cut of about the same size may be needed, because of predictions that the state will again reduce education funding, due to the likelihood that oil prices will remain low through the coming year.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservation Groups Appeal Big Thorne Ruling

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:08

Less than a week after losing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop the Big Thorne Timber Sale has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked for an injunction pending the outcome.

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Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and other defendants, and rejected all of the arguments brought forward by environmental groups.

The Viking Lumber Mill on Prince of Wales Island was awarded a contract to log part of the Big Thorne timber sale. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Holly Harris is the coalition’s attorney from Earthjustice, a legal team that represents environmental organizations. She said a timber sale the size of Big Thorne should go before a higher court.

“When you’re talking about cutting thousands of acres of old-growth forest, forest that will take at minimum 150-200 years to regain its old-growth characteristics, makes it important for the 9th Circuit to review what the Forest Service has done,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed last summer by national and regional conservation organizations after the Forest Service made a final decision to move forward with the timber sale on Prince of Wales Island.

The Big Thorne Timber Sale includes about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest, which environmentalists say is critical habitat for deer and wolves. The groups argue that the Forest Service didn’t adequately consider the impact on wolves before approving the sale.

Big Thorne Map

Harris said the lawsuit aims to protect the region’s economy, along with the old-growth habitat.

“Tourists don’t come from across the world to see a clear-cut. They come to fish, they come to see the majesty of Southeast Alaska,” she said. “So what these groups are hoping to accomplish, is that those trees will be left to stand, and the habitat they provide for the deer, the salmon, for what really drives the economy in Southeast Alaska, will be allowed to survive and thrive.”

In an interview last week with CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton said it was critical to have some old-growth harvest to keep the remaining mills alive while the Forest Service transitions to a second-growth timber model.

About two-thirds of the Big Thorne Timber Sale has been awarded to Viking Lumber in Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, which had hoped to start logging this spring.

The co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace and The Boat Company.

The named defendants are the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton and Tongass National Forester Forrest Cole.

The State of Alaska, Alaska Forest Association, Cities of Craig and Ketchikan and Viking Lumber signed on as friends of the court, on the side of the defendants.

Categories: Alaska News

Prolific Glacial Melt Is 10% Of Annual Fresh Water In The Gulf Of Alaska

Thu, 2015-03-26 17:07

A kayak trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 inspired an engineer to research the impact of glacial run off in the Gulf of Alaska. David Hill is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Oregon State University. For the study, he used decades of state and USGS stream flow data, combined with calculations on land characteristics and watershed size to create an analysis for the entire area.

He found glacier melt makes up about 10% of the overall precipitation added to the Gulf. The annual amount is measured in multiple feet of water. Hill says he worked to model how quickly rain and snow melt started to flow.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska-Italian Minestrone | Indie Alaska

Thu, 2015-03-26 10:30

Stephanie Cromarty describes herself as a typical East Coast girl. Her Alaska Native grandmother and Italian American grandfather raised a close family that connects over a love of cooking. Growing up in Washington DC, Stephanie Cromarty felt completely removed from her Alaska Native heritage. A series of life changes prompted her to pack up her life and move her family to Alaska in order to be more in touch with herself and to reconnect with the culture she missed growing up.

Part one of a four-part series looking at the connection that modern Alaskans have with their food.

Music by Starship Amazing
starshipamazing.com

Categories: Alaska News

Nevada Man Dies At Logging Site Near Wrangell

Thu, 2015-03-26 09:18

A Nevada man was found dead this week at a logging site 12 miles west of Wrangell.

Alaska State Troopers were notified around 5 p.m. Tuesday that David Fussell, age 55, died on Zarembo Island.

The cause of death is unknown. Fussell’s body has been sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy. According to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch, no foul play is suspected.

Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen says there are no outward signs that Fussell’s death was related to a logging incident.

Ipsen says workers at the site told troopers they found Fussell unresponsive, but still alive, in the passenger seat of a truck. They performed CPR, but Fussell died shortly after.

Categories: Alaska News

Entrepreneur Pitches “Fish Franks” As Key to Recovery in St. George

Thu, 2015-03-26 09:14

The Aleutian Marketplace contest was designed to gather ideas and provide funding for new start-up businesses around the Bering Sea.

As the competition heads into its second round, one winner is asking for extra support — and a chance to turn his recipe for success into the real thing.

There’s an old saying when it comes to business: The best ones don’t just sell a product. They solve a problem.

That’s what Unalaska-based Capt. Kristjan Laxfoss set out to do with his idea for a new kind of snack.

“I really learned it from my mom when she was doing — we call it in Iceland ‘fish balls,'” Laxfoss says. “Well, that gets people here blushing. It’s called Captain K Fish Franks. But it’s just like a hot dog.”

Instead of beef or pork, cheap white pollock from the Bering Sea is smoked and wrapped up in casing.

Laxfoss thinks it could be a hit in countries like Japan, where there’s bigger demand for hot dogs and seafood on the menu.

But more than a gap in dining options, Laxfoss says he’s trying to address a long-running problem in the Pribilof community of St. George.

There’s been almost no economic activity on the island — even after the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association built a brand-new fish plant.

“I come there and I see that new building and I ask them, ‘What are they doing with it? What’s in there?’ They said,’Nothing,'” according to Laxfoss. “The little wheels up here in the top start working and I say, ‘I’m going to see what I can do about that.'”

He formulated a plan to turn the empty building into a factory and churn out fish franks. The concept took first place in the inaugural Aleutian Marketplace contest this January.

Gary Chythlook helps run the competition for APICDA and the Aleut Corporation.

“From the feedback that I received from a couple of the judges, they believed that it was an innovative idea, sustainable because of use of a local resource — pollock — and also with the ability to create jobs,” Chythlook says.

For that, Laxfoss got a thousand-dollar check. Later in the year, judges will start evaluating detailed business plans – and the purse will increase to $20,000.

But even if he won again, Laxfoss says it wouldn’t be enough to get started: “You’re gonna need forklifts, you’re gonna need freezer containers and all kinds of stuff — I would say between $1 and 2 million.”

Laxfoss doesn’t have that kind of money. And neither does St. George. Since the island’s crab processor shut down about a decade ago, jobs have dried up and the population’s dropped to just 80 people.

“We’re surrounded by seafoods,” says mayor Pat Pletnikoff. “Unfortunately, we just don’t have the ability to take advantage of those resources and so we look to APICDA to assist us in that regard.”

As a community development quota group, APICDA is meant to take some of the wealth generated by the seafood industry and direct it back into towns along the Bering Sea.

Seafood franks wouldn’t fix St. George overnight. But Laxfoss and Pletnikoff are making the argument that they’re worth some extra funding from the CDQ group.

“We felt that it was important for the community because at the very least we’d get something going,” Pletnikoff says. “And certainly, it offers the prospect of expansion.”

“We’re ready to do our part,” says Larry Cotter, the chief executive officer for APICDA. “But you know, it has to make sense and everybody’s got to step up to the plate.”

Cotter says the organization hasn’t overlooked St. George or ruled out investment in local business. Building a new fish plant was supposed to be a step in that direction. But Cotter says there’s a reason why it’s never been filled.

“The key to making St. George work is having a workable harbor,” Cotter says. “We currently don’t have that.”

The facility is vulnerable to storms and tough to access — even in good weather. Getting the harbor back in shape would cost about $30 million.

Cotter says APICDA can cover a third of that price tag, if the state and federal governments split the rest. With such a large deficit in Alaska’s budget, it’s not clear when the state could make that kind of commitment.

For now, APICDA will continue looking for sources of funding to repair the harbor. But Kristjan Laxfoss wants to move forward without it.

He says it’s possible to set up shop in St. George, as long he can find an investor willing to take the leap — and start feeding the island’s economy back to health, one frank at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

AVO Puts Volcano Near Adak Back on Watch

Thu, 2015-03-26 09:10

A composite view of Semisopochnoi in January. (Courtesy: Dave Schneider/AVO)

A volcanic island in the Western Aleutians is stirring again, after several months of quiet.

Semisopochnoi was put on an advisory alert level on Wednesday morning. It’s the first alert at the volcano since a seismic flare-up last June, which was its first activity in almost 30 years.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory says earthquake activity began at Semisopochnoi in January, and increased over the past few days. They also report new seismic tremors they say could indicate magma moving inside the volcano.

Semisopochnoi is about 130 miles west of Adak. It comprises several craters and cones within one large caldera, where the last major eruption was in 1987.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Votes To Sunset School Bond Payment Program

Wed, 2015-03-25 17:43

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Right now, the state covers up to 70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds issued by municipalities. But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, legislators are wary of taking on additional obligations. The legislation sunsets the school debt program for five years, at which point the program would be brought back with a lower reimbursement level.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican, carried the bill on the floor Wednesday.

“This is not about punishment. This is about trying to control our costs as a state,” said MacKinnon. “I believe that the people of Alaska know that the state cannot afford to make the payments. We certainly can’t afford to take on increased debt.”

While the bill passed 17 to 2, there was some opposition from Anchorage Democrats because of the timing of the bill. The legislation would retroactively sunset the program to January 1. But right now, Anchorage voters are already casting ballots on a $60 million school bond question.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that the Legislature was rushing the bill through because of Anchorage’s municipal election.

“They’re voting based on 22 years of 100 percent reimbursement, 35+ years of state reimbursing some percentage. And so, people in my community are out and voting, and this is what they’re voting on. This is what the state’s told them,” said Wielechowski. “This causes all kinds of confusion in the election in Anchorage, and I think it’s unfair.”

Wielechowski added that the program would amount to a property tax increase of $30 for the average home in Anchorage.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner also expressed concern over the legislation, but ultimately voted for it.

“While our children certainly need safe and comfortable school building for learning to take place, I think at this time right now, I think we need to focus more on what happens inside the buildings than what’s happening on the outside of buildings,” said Gardner.

The bill will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 25, 2015

Wed, 2015-03-25 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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Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

Rep. Young Co-Sponsors Pot Bill to Let States Decide

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska Congressman Don Young has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana in states that have chosen to make it legal. The bill would also allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana use to their patients and require the government to start issuing marijuana research licenses.

Alaska Joins Investigation Into Premera Cyber Attack

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is participating in a multi-state investigation into Premera following a cyber attack on the health insurance company early this year. The state’s insurance director says she has a lot of questions about why the attack occurred and why it took the company two months to announce it publicly. Identity theft experts say the fact that the breach includes social security numbers makes it especially troubling.

MDA: Fort Greely Missile System Ready for Iran ICBMs, Too

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground based Missile Defense system, with its 26 missiles at Fort Greely, is capable of defending the U.S. not only from North Korea, but from Iran, too.

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A plaintiff in the lawsuit that successfully challenged environmental work preceding a 2008 federal petroleum lease sale in the Chukchi Sea is opting out of the legal action.

Truck Rolls Over, Spills Fuel On Dalton Highway

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A truck rollover on the southern end of the Dalton Highway resulted in a fuel spill. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports the tractor portion of the rig remained upright, and the driver survived the Tuesday crash without serious injury.

Discovery Southeast honors teacher Allie Smith

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A second grade teacher in Juneau is being honored for regularly exposing her students to nature. Outdoor education nonprofit Discovery Southeast is giving the first annual Discovery Award to Allie Smith.

Bethel Citizens Urge Council to Stop Liquor Stores

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council heard hours of passionate testimony Tuesday night urging them to  protest anticipated applications to sell liquor. Many in the capacity crowd asked the council to consider the consequences of local sales in a region that suffers disproportionate effects from alcohol abuse and related violence.

More Than Half Of Bering Strait Women Report Experiencing Violence In Their Lifetime

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

A study on violence reveals that 51 percent of women in the Nome Census area have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both in their lifetimes.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Bill Keeps Marijuana As A Controlled Substance

Wed, 2015-03-25 17:36

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill later this week, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

The body voted 16 to 4 on Wednesday to adopt a version from the Finance committee that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version crafted by the Judiciary committee that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move. Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that it was contrary to the intent of the initiative.

“Are you regulating marijuana like alcohol when you treat it as a controlled substance?” asked Wielechowski. “No. Clearly not.”

But Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, defended the move.

“Marijuana remains a controlled substance at a federal level. [former Deputy] Attorney General [James] Cole in his memos directing states with guidance on how to implement strategies to protect their people in regulating the issue of marijuana has the item listed as a controlled substance,” said MacKinnon.

The Senate will take amendments and vote on the content of the bill on Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Stopping State Reimbursement Of New School Bonds Passes Alaska Senate

Wed, 2015-03-25 17:00

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would stop state reimbursement of new school bonds, including ones that are currently being considered in Anchorage.

Download Audio

Right now, the state covers up to 70 percent of the cost of school construction bonds issued by municipalities. But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, legislators are wary of taking on additional obligations. The legislation sunsets the school debt program for five years, at which point the program would be brought back with a lower reimbursement level.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Anchorage Republican, carried the bill on the floor Wednesday.

“This is not about punishment. This is about trying to control our costs as a state,” MacKinnon said. “I believe that the people of Alaska know that the state cannot afford to make the payments. We certainly can’t afford to take on increased debt.”

While the bill passed 17 to 2, there was some opposition from Anchorage Democrats because of the timing of the bill. The legislation would retroactively sunset the program to January 1. But right now, Anchorage voters are already casting ballots on a $60 million school bond question.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski argued that the Legislature was trying to rush the bill through because of Anchorage’s municipal election.

“They’re voting based on 22 years of 100 percent reimbursement, 35+ years of state reimbursing some percentage,” he said. “And so, people in my community are out and voting, and this is what they’re voting on. This is what the state’s told them. This causes all kinds of confusion in the election in Anchorage, and I think it’s unfair.”

Wielechowski added that the program would amount to a property tax increase of $30 for the average home in Anchorage.

Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner also expressed concern over the legislation, but ultimately voted for it.

“While our children certainly need safe and comfortable school building for learning to take place, I think at this time right now, I think we need to focus more on what happens inside the buildings than what’s happening on the outside of buildings,” Gardner said.

The bill will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Bill Would Treat Marijuana As Controlled Substance

Wed, 2015-03-25 16:59

When the Alaska Senate votes on its primary marijuana bill on Friday, the version they will consider treats marijuana as a controlled substance.

Download Audio

The body voted 16-4 Wednesday to adopt a version that keeps marijuana listed as a drug that can be abused, instead of a version that removed that language from the books.

A bloc of Democrats opposed the move, arguing that it went against the will of the voters, which was to treat the drug like alcohol. But supporters of the adopted version noted that marijuana is still considered a controlled substance at the federal level.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Ship Trouble in the Arctic on the Rise

Wed, 2015-03-25 16:55

A new report says that as Artic ship traffic has increased, so has the number of Arctic ship mishaps. The annual Shipping and Safety Review by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, counts 55 ship casualties in the waters of the Arctic Circle last year, up from three a decade ago. Machinery damage or failure accounts for nearly half of those, with wrecking or stranding in second place. Only one Arctic ship, near northern Norway and Iceland, was considered a total loss. The report covers shipping losses for ships over 100 gross tons.

As Arctic ice diminishes, some are predicting the Arctic will become an important region for global shipping. In 2013, with little summer ice, 71 ships navigated some or all of the Northern Sea Route, across the north of Russia. Traffic slowed in 2014 with a rebound of ice. This winter, Arctic ice reached its peak Feb. 25. The extent of annual sea ice cover was the lowest since satellite records began.

Categories: Alaska News

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