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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: 13 min 25 sec ago

Lack of Customers Puts CIRI Wind Farm Plans On Hold

Fri, 2015-01-30 17:14

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated has put the second phase of its Fire Island wind farm on hold because of a lack of customers.

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A plan that once envisioned 33 turbines on the island west of Anchorage has stalled at 11.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

CIRI’s only customer is the Chugach Electric Association. Chugach says it’s taking all the wind power it can under present conditions.

The other utilities have turned CIRI down. The Municipal Light and Power company says it’s not interested; the Matanuska Electric Association says it doesn’t pencil out for them, and the Golden Valley Electric Association is so far away that the cost of power balloons by the time it gets there.

So Suzanne Gibson, vice president of Fire Island Wind, says that for now, phase two of the wind farm is off. She says the state lacks the regulatory framework to deal with the situation.

“In the Lower 48, there’s no question that we would be construction the second phase of Fire Island next year – or actually this year, it’s 2015 already,” Gibson said. “But, unfortunately there’s just not the right regulatory and legislative framework here in Alaska to allow us to do it.”

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska is beginning to look at how utilities should deal with independent power producers, and Gibson welcomes that development because, unlike Lower 48 power companies, Alaska utilities are not federally regulated.  One issue is what are known as “wheeling charges” – the money that utilities charge to move power through their grids.  Gibson says that’s why a tentative deal for CIRI to sell wind farm power to Golden Valley has apparently collapsed.

“We were working with them and we thought that we were going to get an agreement with them. And what we offered them 6.3 cents a kilowatt hour to a utility that generates half of its power at 13.6 cents – so this is like less than half of the cost to generate their own power,” Gibson said. “But, they couldn’t see their way through it by the time they transport the power across another utility system to get it up to Fairbanks, they turned it into something they estimated was 20 cents a kilowatt. They didn’t see the benefit for it.”

The Regulatory Commission has set a date of February 11th to take up the issue of independent power producers.

Categories: Alaska News

Much To Sort Out Before Subsistence Gillnets Hit Kenai, Kasilof

Fri, 2015-01-30 17:13

A new federal subsistence fishery rule adds set gillnetting to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. State and federal biologists are concerned the new rule will hamper conservation efforts aimed at preserving king salmon and other fish species in the rivers. But the Ninilchik Traditional Council, which asked for the right to set gillnet, says it can fish responsibly.

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The Federal Subsistence board signed off on the proposal last week. And they did so despite objections from both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees subsistence use. The proposal was submitted by the Ninilchik Traditonal Council. Most of the concern is about the non-selective nature of gillnets.

“So when we talk about the conservation concerns that both agencies have, it’s not just the king salmon, it’s all the fisheries resources in the Kenai River,” said ADF&G management biologist Robert Begich. The recognized subsistence areas on the Kenai river are around the Russian River Falls, Moose Range Meadows and just south of Skilak Lake; all active habitat areas for several species.

“That area of the river up there, it’s only open to fishing with bait and multiple hooks for one month a year and 2011 was the last time king salmon were allowed to be harvested and we’ve been closing that area by emergency order since then. So, it’s a very tumultuous fishing method that kind of flies in the face of all the other regulatory things that are in place to benefit the fish resource,” Begich said.

“We want people to understand that we are 100 percent conservation-minded,” said Ivan Encelewski, Executive Director of the Ninilchik Traditional Council. He says the gillnets are simply another method of harvest added to what subsistence users are already allowed, including rod and reel, dipnets and fishwheels

“And I think one of the things that people don’t quite understand is that the feds, under this subsistence program, have so much leeway to either shut down or make emergency orders to close those fisheries. And as I noted in my testimony, the inseason federal manager has closed down the king harvest on subsistence the last two years. There’s absolutely no way that this fishery that would be implemented; one that we would implement it on our end that would create a conservation concern, we believe, or that wouldn’t have processes in place to maintain that conservation,” Encelewski said.

Subsistence users are allowed 4,000 sockeye and 1,000 king salmon. Barely a drop in the bucket relative to the overall sockeye return in Cook Inlet, but it’s a pretty large proportion of the king salmon return, which totaled fewer than 17,000 last year on the Kenai river. Enselewski says the push to allow the use of setnets is less about slaying fish and more about tradition.

“It’s definitely important, because it’s the actual traditional means of the community of Ninilchik, and that keeps in line with the culture and the tradition of our people, but it also allows for an opportunity for the community to work on subsistence harvest versus just the individual, so it keeps that connection to the history and the culture as well.”

There’s a lot to figure out before those nets hit the water, though. In the weeks and months ahead, subsistence users and Fish and Wildlife have to sort out whether the use of gillnets even fits into the already-established regulatory framework for the Kenai.  And there are more specific questions to answer on the Kasilof.

“I think for the Kasilof River, it will be working out  the details on an operational plan for fishing a specific time and area, so above the Tustumena boat launch during the month of July, within that framework, how do we provide an opportunity for qualified rural residents to harvest sockeye salmon with a gillnet,” said Jeff Anderson, Field Supervisor for the Kenai Fish and Wildlife office.

Ivan Encelewski thinks it can all come together, and in a way that doesn’t add to the management drama of two rivers that might already be too popular for their own good.

“We’ll see. I think we can do this responsibly and we’ll show people that this will be a good opportunity and a win-win for everyone.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Delays Vote On Air Quality Regulations

Fri, 2015-01-30 17:12

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has delayed voting on a package of air quality regulations, following abundant public testimony for and against the ordinance at a hearing Thursday night.

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The regulations are aimed at cracking down on wood and coal heating systems that chronically pollute neighborhoods, and many of the comments focused on the health impacts.

The second public hearing in two weeks on the proposed ordinance to clean up the air locally took place under a blanket of smog that’s been sitting on top of this area for several days now since the cold snap set in last week.

That was reflected in comments by Assembly Deputy Presiding Officer John Davies when he opened the hearing.

“The levels of pollution are serious and constitute a true health issue,” Davies said.

Like the previous hearing, another standing-room-only crowd turned out again to testify for and against the ordinance crafted by Davies and Assembly members Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub.

Many talked about the health impact of the air pollution. Some expressed doubts there’s a connection that can be made with smoke from wood-burning heating systems. Like Luke Mowry, who lives in Fox, He says he was born and raised in a wood-heated home, and says he didn’t suffer any health problems.

“(I) Got wood heat. (I) Use it quite a bit at my place. That’s our primary source of heat. My boy was born with respiratory issues. So, I know that piece of it, too,” Mowry said.

Bob Hook is a 37-year resident of North Pole. He says he burns six or seven cords a wood a year at his house. And even though Cook suffers multiple respiratory ailments, he’s believes they can’t be directly linked to air quality problems.

“I have in the last eight years developed asthma. I have COPD. I have respiratory issues. And can I directly relate those to air quality? No,” Hook said.

Hook says more research would be required to make a direct connection like that. But he says poor air quality is at least a contributing factor. And because of that, he supports the proposed ordinance.

But local health care professional Jennifer Nelson says Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has begun collecting data on whether and how much air quality affects the health of area residents. Nelson is the director of the hospital’s Emergency Services, Forensic Nursing and Trauma Services. And she says the hospital wants to offer its perspective on those health impacts.

“There’s been lots of comments made, but some of them were not necessarily backed up by hard data,” Nelson said. “So we feel the responsibility of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is to provide some HIPPA-compliant data to aid in this discussion as it relates to our health.”

Nelson says hospital staff crunched numbers and found a rise in emergency room admissions from four areas that registered high quantities of respiratory-tract irritating particulate matter, or so-called PM2.5.

“We have quite a number of respiratory-related complaints, relating from wheezing, shortness of air, cough…,” Nelson said.

Nelson says the data is preliminary, and that further studies are needed. She says the hospital is willing to conduct those studies, and Dodge enthusiastically encouraged her to proceed.

The Assembly will include that data and the public comments when it considers adoption of the air-quality ordinance in its Feb. 12 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 30, 2015

Fri, 2015-01-30 17:08

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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Laurie Hummel Named Alaska National Guard’s Adjutant General

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

At a press conference in downtown Anchorage Friday, Governor Bill Walker introduced the new Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard. Retired Colonel Laurie Hummel served in Army intelligence for 30 years after graduating from West Point, and is the first woman to lead the Guard.

Lawmakers Skeptical Of State’s Plan To Buy Fairbanks Natural Gas Utility

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks & Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The state is taking another step toward increasing the availability of natural gas in the Fairbanks area.  Governor Bill Walker recently re-focused the state backed Interior Energy Project to tap Cook Inlet gas, and it’s now proposing the purchase of a private utility to get the gas to more Fairbanks residents.

Lack of Customers Puts CIRI Wind Farm Plans On Hold

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage & Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated has put the second phase of its Fire Island wind farm on hold because of a lack of customers. A plan that once envisioned 33 turbines on the island west of Anchorage has stalled at 11.  CIRI’s only customer is the Chugach Electric Association.

Much To Sort Out Before Subsistence Gillnets Hit Kenai, Kasilof

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

A new federal subsistence fishery rule adds set gillnetting to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. State and federal biologists are concerned the new rule will hamper conservation efforts aimed at preserving king salmon and other fish species in the rivers. But the Ninilchik Traditional Council, which asked for the right to set gillnet, says it can fish responsibly.

Fairbanks Delays Vote On Air Quality Regulations

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has delayed voting on a package of air quality regulations, following abundant public testimony at a hearing Thursday night. The regulations are aimed at cracking down on wood and coal heating systems that chronically pollute neighborhoods, and as KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, many of the comments focused on the health impacts.

In Response To Obama Actions, Senator Goes Seuss

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since President Barack Obama announced his plans to designate millions of acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, state legislators have taken to the House and Senate floors to rail against federal overreach. The speeches have mostly been indignant and incensed.

AK: Curling

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A warmer winter has pushed many Homer residents inside the local ice rink, looking for a blast of cold air and a good winter sport. And curling seems to be just the ticket. It’s a centuries old game that can be played by people young and old, highly athletic or not, by rookies and experienced players alike. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver stopped by an open curling night at the rink to see what the.

300 Villages: Huslia

This week we’re heading to Huslia, near the Koyukuk river- where there has been no shortage of winter this week. Elsie Vent is the city administrator for the city of Huslia.

Categories: Alaska News

In Response To Obama Actions, Senator Goes Seuss

Fri, 2015-01-30 16:44

Since President Barack Obama announced his plans to designate millions of acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, state legislators have taken to the House and Senate floors to rail against federal overreach. The speeches have ranged from incensed to righteously indignant.

But one state senator has decided to voice his displeasure in a more poetic way. On Friday, Fairbanks Republican Click Bishop gave a Seussian speech on the federal government’s attitude toward Alaska, and read from a modified version of Green Eggs and Ham, titled “Click on Uncle Sam”:

I do not like your crazy rules
like those proposed by Sally Jewell.
I do not like them
here or there.
I do not like them
anywhere.
I do not want them near or far
not Sally Jewell nor Salazar.
Could you, would you.. let us drill?
We have the folks, they have the skill.
We have the oil, underground..
we’ll leave it nicer than we found
I do not like your EPA
they’ve run amuck – they’re in the way.
I do not like this Federal Plan, I do not like it Uncle Sam.

The inspiration for the speech came from U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who once read Green Eggs and Ham as part of a filibuster. The copy of the book Bishop carried with him to the Senate floor was signed by Cruz last year.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Huslia

Fri, 2015-01-30 15:25

This week we’re heading to Huslia, near the Koyukuk river- where there has been no shortage of winter this week. Elsie Vent is the city administrator for the city of Huslia.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Curling

Fri, 2015-01-30 15:20

Curling stone. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

A warmer winter has pushed many Homer residents inside the local ice rink, looking for a blast of cold air and a good winter sport. And curling seems to be just the ticket. It’s a centuries old game that can be played by people young and old, highly athletic or not, by rookies and experienced players alike. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver stopped by an open curling night at the rink to find out just what attracts new people to this unique sport and keeps them coming back.

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Now, this might sound funny. But if there’s one thing every curler at the rink seems to agree upon, it’s that this sport is pleasing to the ears.

“I really like the sound,” Mike Hiller, who is pretty new to curling, said. He’s brought his 8-year-old son Tucker along who totally agrees.

“Sounds really loud because of all the rocks hitting each other and going down the ice,” Tucker  said.

Jeff Sharpe pushes off. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

And his teammate, Jeff von Rekowski, thinks it’s pretty cool too. After all, that’s why people call it “The Roarin’ Game.”

“When the two granite stones collide together, it just echoes throughout the whole building and it’s an incredible sensation and sound and it’s like man, it’s gonna be a good day. Boom!” Jeff said.

Tucker forgot to mention he also likes the brooms. Yeah, it’s the sport with the brooms. So, let’s be honest about curling.

“Well, I mean, if you think about it…we’re hucking a bunch of rocks up and down the ice trying to get them to land in a little circle with brooms in front of them,” Tucker said. “So, I mean, yeah, it’s kind of silly. But it works!”

Players sweep ahead of stone. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Brian Saunders is a first time curler. He came down to the rink this evening with his friend, Anders Gustafson, who’s also never done this before.

“I think everybody gets the brunt of jokes for curling and I wanted to see for myself what it’s all about,” Brian said. “So I got to come down and invited some friends to join me.”

His first impressions? That curling lives up to its nickname “chess on ice.”

“It’s a finesse game it seems like. It’s subtle movements. It’s getting the launching down. It’s getting the right strength that you’re throwing the weight, they called it,” Brian said. “And then, learning to curl and make it curve with a little bit of a hand spin.”

That’s curling in a nutshell. There are two teams with four players each. They take turns throwing stones across the ice to the house, or the circles at the end of each lane. The people with the brooms sweep the ice in front of the stone to speed it up or make a course correction. It’s scored on a point system depending on where the stones end up.

Homer Curling Club plays in Kevin Bell Hockey Arena. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Curling ice is a bit different from typical hockey rink ice. That’s why many established curling clubs have dedicated arenas. But since the Homer group started less than a year ago, it’s working with a hockey rink that needs to be prepped for play. Elizabeth Diament is one of the club’s founders. She’s walking up and down the rink doing something called pebbling.

“Which is basically just taking a sprayer and spraying droplets across the lanes of the ice and those will freeze into little pebbles along the ice,” Elizabeth said. “So, it’s much easier to walk on and it’s much easier to direct the stone where to go.”

When asked how she got into it, Elizabeth credits the Olympics. It’s the same story for several other people here this evening including Natalia Croly, who’s been curling for a few weeks.

“About eight years ago, my husband and I were watching the winter Olympics and we saw this game, curling. We started watching and at first we said that looks extremely boring,” Natalia said. “But, then we found ourselves watching and watching more, for longer. And then we were looking for when the next games were happening.”

Curling stone on the sheet. (Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

When they heard that a group was starting up in town, she says they couldn’t wait to sign up. Now, she’s hooked.

“I don’t know. I just love the feeling of gliding on the ice,” Natalia said. “I just love how that stone just carries you on the ice. I also love that it’s a game with a lot of etiquette.”

On top of everything else, it’s polite. Remember Mike who likes the sound? He calls curling a gentleman’s game. He likes that he can play with his son, that it’s a workout but isn’t too hard, that it’s inclusive.

“It does not matter how good you are. It’s just as fun no matter what your skill level is. It’s all mixed all the time, every night, every time you come here [there’s] a completely different skill level,” Mike said. “There’s always new people and it doesn’t impact the game in any way. It’s just as fun.”

So yes, curling’s kind of silly. But it’s also a serious sport that somehow seems to bring out the best in the people who give it a shot.

Categories: Alaska News

Plastic in the Ocean

Fri, 2015-01-30 12:00

Birds are now turning up dead on remote beaches with stomachs full of plastic. Certain areas of Alaska’s remote coast are now littered with debris that was carried there by ocean currents. Not only is the amount of this debris growing, but the amount of money available for cleaning it up is far too small.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Nicole Trenhom, Ocean Research Project
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

What Do Wilderness Designation Proposals Mean For Arctic Development?

Fri, 2015-01-30 08:00

The Obama Administration has proposed designating more than 20 million acres of both on and offshore federal areas be made off limits to development such as oil and gas exploration. The announcement was described as a gut punch by Senator Lisa Murkowski and had the entire delegation and the governor so steamed, they said it was a “war on Alaska.”

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Liz Ruskin, APRN, Washington DC correspondent
  • Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 30 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 31 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 31 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Police To Assemble Task Forth In Wake of Week’s Fourth Murder

Thu, 2015-01-29 17:52

APD Chief Mark Mew spoke in front of a dozen reporters Thursday afternoon at a press conference. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

A shooting in East Anchorage Thursday morning left a 20-year old resident dead. It is the fourth homicide since Sunday, and the city’s police department held a press conference addressing a rise in gun violence this month, announcing they will create a mutli-agency task force to address the issue. 

Police Chief Mark Mew had his staff analyze how many violent shootings have happened this year, compared to past Januaries. So far, they have doubled.

“For the month of January we had 31 of those occurrences,” Mew said, compared to 12 last year, and 14 in the same period of 2013.

“Of the 31, four were homicides,” he continued, “and approximately a half dozen of them were other assaults.”

In total, the department has 10 cases under investigation, with suspects in several, and leads in all of them.

So far, drugs are the common element. Mew says marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and pills have played a role in all but one of the cases.

“Something’s going on in the drug world right now,” Mew said.

Though it’s too early know for certain, Mew says some of the incidents appear to be related, involving gang activity and possibly retaliation. The department is putting together an in-house task force made up of potentially 10-15 officers pulled from different units to work on the new detail. APD has reached out to federal agencies to potentially coordinate on a task force, something that worked in a 2007 effort to respond rapidly to spikes in violent crime.

“We’re going to be going out, contacting all those people, serving warrants like crazy, taking one thing from one step to the next, shaking down everything that moves on the street,” said Mew, “and putting a lot of pressure on the criminal element that moves around at night.”

But some wonder if it’s the right approach. Paul Honeman is an assembly member representing East Anchorage, where the majority of this month’s shootings happened, and believes without more resources from the city to adequately staff the police department there will not be any long-term resolution.

“Community policing is a philosophy that needs time in order to address problems. And we haven’t seen that in a number of years,” said Honeman, who worked for two decades with APD. “We haven’t kept up with attrition, in fact some years we’ve slipped.”

Honeman has been approached by residents concerned over all the reports of violent crime. While most of the recent deaths and injuries may have had some connection to the illegal drug trade, the problem is felt far more broadly across the community.

“Statistics and numbers mean something, certainly, but it’s the perception of a safe community that’s most important,” Honeman explained. “I think if people in our community don’t feel safe then they’re not safe. In their mind they feel concerned for [themselves], their children, their families.”

The biggest obstacle for detectives is getting good information to pursue leads. Mew says the resistance to cooperation from residents and witnesses has been frustrating, and asks for anyone who may know something to contact police by calling 907-561-7867 (STOP) or online at www.anchoragecrimestoppers.com.

 

Categories: Alaska News

National Guard Problems Highlight Outdated Military Code

Thu, 2015-01-29 17:15

Under the current Alaska National Guard rules, misconduct is only met with administrative penalties. Now, legislators are preparing to strengthen the code.

For an hour and a half, acting Adjutant General Mike Bridges walked the House State Affairs committee through the problems with the Alaska National Guard’s disciplinary system.

“Alaska’s military code was written in 1955 when we weren’t a state,” said Bridges. “It has never been updated or truly affected or enacted since. It’s incredibly antiquated. It has no teeth, and for various reasons over the decades, it has never been enforced in Alaska.”

The deficiencies with the Guard’s disciplinary process were laid out last year, when an investigation by the federal National Guard Bureau documented problems with sexual assault reporting, fraud, favoritism, and mistrust of leadership. The way the military code is currently written, a member of the Guard can be passed over for promotions or discharged from the service, but they can’t be court-martialed in the way Army troops or Air Force members can.

Bridges noted the Alaska force has been working with Guard leadership at the federal level, along with the governor’s office, to come up with a variation on the Uniform Code of Military Justice that would work for the state.

“I call it a preventative measure,” said Bridges. “If folks know there’s a big hammer waiting with a criminal charge to it for while they’re serving in the militia of this state, the National Guard, they’re probably going to think twice about it, unless they’re truly going to offend anyway.”

Many of the questions Bridges fielded dealt with whether the federal code could simply be adopted wholesale. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican, also wanted to know if adopting the code could interfere with criminal charges being filed in the state courts system.

The answer was no.

“We’re going to call the cops anyway,” said Bridges. “What this gives is the state government, besides just the law enforcement side, it gives us a military tool, because we’re a militia to prosecute as a state UCMJ — military code.”

A bill to update the code has not yet been introduced, but the Legislature’s Democratic minority has announced plans to file such legislation.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Walker is planning to announce his pick to lead the National Guard on Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Forecasting At Kayhi

Thu, 2015-01-29 17:13

Ketchikan High School’s roof has become part of a NASA research experiment that could help scientists eventually predict earthquakes.

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“Metal boxes with magical little wires going every which way with like a giant antennae coming out.” That’s what Tribal Scholar Program student Austin DeWitt Williams saw mounted on a wall on Kayhi’s roof. In black lettering one of the boxes read Global Earthquake Forecasting Station. The equipment was designed by NASA and brought to Ketchikan through Trillium Learning, which brings real-time real world projects into schools.

(KRBD photo)

Ron Fortunato, Trillium Learning President, joined the Tribal Scholar students on the roof to explain what those metal boxes are doing. “This is the magnetometer. You see how it’s pointing towards the North and what that does is pick up those electrical signals from the tectonic plates. When they crush against each other they release these electrons and it forms that current. That current comes up through the water. It can be measured 100s of kilometers away, even.” Other boxes he said are measuring gasses, “Sulfur-dioxide, carbon-monoxide, nitrogen-dioxide, ozone all those things are pre earthquake gasses, which increase when electricity comes up through the ground.”

The forecasting system is one of three in the world. The other two ground stations are on top of schools in Kodiak. NASA researchers have been working on the science for years, using data from previous temblors to figure out what happens during an earthquake and if they might be able to use that information to predict them. Fortunato saw NASA working on the project and asked what was next.  NASA was looking to put sensor stations in active areas. In response he asked, “what if we could do it in Alaska? And they said that would be the first choice, to do it in Alaska.”

(KRBD photo)

According to the US Geological Survey, Alaska gets between one to 200 earthquakes a day. Most of them are small but it makes for an ideal place to test this new system. Fortunato said NASA has no obligation to work with students, but because of Trillium Learning projects in the past, they trust him, and he said they trust the kids. “They’re not interns they’re actually required and responsible for producing data, information, maintaining the platform, doing prototype development of the platform things that NASA employees would do.”

An obligation not lost on DeWitt Williams, who said he is nervous about messing up. “ It’s kind of like when you’re on the bicycle and everyone’s watching you and this is like one of your first times riding it. You get to see it as everyone seeing you, everyone watching you intently making sure you do well and then you almost crash. You kind of waver, you get a speed wobble and you think oh my gosh everyone’s going to judge me on this.”

Fortunato says nerves are normal, but from his experience kids involved in real world projects like this learn quickly. On the first day, DeWitt Williams was still a bit unsure how to explain the project saying, “we’re trying to… well I guess… test…the earth quake… like… I don’t know how to put it in words.”

One thing that he was clear about was that the science he’ll be working on could help save lives. NASA still isn’t even sure it will work, but they hope that the data these Ketchikan students collect can help scientists forecast earthquakes hours or possibly days in advance.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska History Gallery To Get Complete Rebuild

Thu, 2015-01-29 17:12

After nearly 30 years, the Anchorage Museum is preparing a complete renovation of one of its most visited areas. The Alaska History Gallery will be taken down at the end of summer 2016 and rebuilt from scratch.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 29, 2015

Thu, 2015-01-29 17:11

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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National Guard Problems Highlight Outdated Code

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Under the current Alaska National Guard rules, misconduct is only met with administrative penalties. Now, legislators are preparing to strengthen the code.

Shell Says It Plans Offshore Arctic Drilling This Year

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC & Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell says the company intends to return to the Chukchi Sea this summer to drill exploratory wells.

Conoco Dials Back Investment in NPR-A

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

While Shell today announced its investing in its Arctic prospects, ConocoPhillips Alaska says it’s dialing back a bit. Conoco issued a statement saying it is “slowing the pace of investment” in its Greater Moose’s Tooth project, in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.

Western Aleutian Steller Sea Lions Potentially Falling Prey To Sleeper Sharks

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

There has been plenty of money spent trying to figure out why the sea lion population in the western Aleutians is not recovering.  But nobody has put much money into studying sharks. The latest data from a study that implanted high-tech tags in sea lions suggests that maybe they should.

Anchorage Police Address Rise In Gun Violence

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A shooting in East Anchorage early this morning left a twenty-year old resident dead. It’s the fourth homicide in less than a week, and the city’s police department held a press conference this afternoon addressing a rise in gun violence this month.

Common Core Stirs Mat-Su Debate

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Common Core, the federally – sponsored education standard adopted by many states, has raised the hackles of some Alaska legislators.

Representative Lora Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River, has been outspoken on the issue, and recently, the Matanuska Susitna Borough has been drawn into the argument.

Earthquake Forecasting At Kayhi

Ruth Eddy, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan High School’s roof has become part of a NASA research experiment that could help scientists eventually predict earthquakes.

Alaska History Gallery To Get Complete Rebuild

Evan Erickson, KSKA – Anchorage

After nearly 30 years, the Anchorage Museum is preparing a complete renovation of one of its most visited areas. The Alaska History Gallery will be taken down at the end of summer 2016 and rebuilt from scratch.

Categories: Alaska News

Western Aleutian Steller Sea Lions Potentially Falling Prey To Sleeper Sharks

Thu, 2015-01-29 16:10

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

There has been plenty of money spent trying to figure out why the sea lion population in the Western Aleutians is not recovering. But nobody has put much money into studying sharks. The latest data from a study that implanted high-tech tags in the animals suggests that maybe they should.

These are not your ordinary wildlife tags. They are sophisticated pieces of equipment that record temperature, light and other factors throughout an animal’s entire life cycle. They float to the surface after the animal dies and transmit that recording by satellite to Oregon State University ecologist Markus Horning.

In 2005, Horning began tagging young Steller Sea Lions in Prince William Sound and as those animals die, he is putting together a pattern that points to sharks – sleeper sharks, sometimes known as mud sharks – as the cause.

“We don’t have proof of sleeper shark being a major driver of the sea lion population, but we have indirect evidence that suggests we need to consider that,” Horning said.

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

Prince William Sound is a long way from the Western Aleutians, and Horning only has a small sample so far. His team tagged 45 sea lions and by now 17 of his tags have popped up, indicating an animal died. Two didn’t hold their data set – the rest did.

“In 15 out of the 17 instances we actually got the full data set, so we can tell what happened to those 15 animals, and, lo and behold, all 15 of those young sea lions died by predation,” Horning said.

All of them. They can tell that by the temperature and light recordings. They are warm and dark when they are implanted, but show changes when the sea lion dies or is consumed. And in four of those recordings there is evidence of who the predator was.

“I think, and that’s a bit of an interpretation, but I think that most likely Pacific sleeper sharks ate those Steller sea lions,” he said.

As Horning says, that’s interpretation. But the tags do provide enough information to use a process of elimination. If the sea lion dies and the tag is freed, it should sense light. But if the tag shows continuing darkness, then the tag must still be inside somebody.

“We think what happened was that those tags that remained dark were actually swallowed by the predator that killed the sea lion,” Horning said.

So that could have been any predator. But the four tags in question also show cold temperatures after the sea lion died.  That eliminates warm blooded predators like killer whales, or great white sharks, but leaves cold blooded, deep dwelling sleeper sharks – nocturnal predators. If there is any scientist who knows about the mysterious sleeper shark, it’s Bruce Wright of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association, who’s been following Horning’s work. He’s not surprised by the findings.

(Photo courtesy Bruce Wright, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association)

“I’m not surprised at all, no.  I predicted a couple of decades ago that sleeper sharks are not mud sharks and don’t eat mud, despite what a lot of fishermen will tell you, that they’re top predators,” Wright said. “And when I’ve looked inside of sleeper shark stomachs I’ve found chunks of seals, big chunks of great whales, salmon, whole salmon that they’ve sucked down, adult salmon.”

There is not much money to study the sleeper shark, but maybe there should be. Horning says all he’s able to provide is a clue that they might be contributing to the sea lions’ recovery failure – just a clue that leads to a great many un-answered questions, like whether the predators have always been here or have expanded their range to include Alaska.

“We also really don’t know how many sleeper sharks are out there. Are their numbers increasing or are their number decreasing? Which of the sleeper sharks are eating sea lions, if they do?  Is it the big ones, is it the medium size ones, small ones? Probably the big ones. Are there big ones in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska? We don’t know,” Horning said.

Horning says a study that showed no evidence of sharks consuming juvenile sea lions in the Western Aleutians does not rule out his theory.  Sea lion would be a rare item in the shark diet, because there are so few sea lions there, and nobody knows how many sharks there are.

Categories: Alaska News

Conoco Dials Back Investment in NPR-A

Thu, 2015-01-29 15:25

While Shell today announced it’s investing in its Arctic prospects, ConocoPhillips Alaska says it’s dialing back a bit. Conoco issued a statement saying it is “slowing the pace of investment” in its Greater Moose’s Tooth 1 project, in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Company president Trond-Erik Johansen says they are “deferring the final investment decision” but plan to shoot seismic over the area this year and continue engineering work. He cited permit difficulties and low oil prices. Just this month, the Corps of Engineers approved an eight-mile road for Greater Moose’s Tooth and chose the route Conoco wants. The BLM, though, picked a different route and hasn’t issued a record of decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Says It Plans Offshore Arctic Drilling This Year

Thu, 2015-01-29 15:11

The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell says the company intends to return to the Chukchi Sea this summer to drill exploratory wells. But CEO Ben van Beurden  says Shell still needs permits, among other challenges.

“So, will we go ahead?  Yes, if we can,” he said at a press conference in London announcing 4th quarter results. “It will depend upon a number of things.  First of all, will we be technically, logistically ready to go ahead?  I’d be so disappointed if we wouldn’t. We’ve been working on this for a long period of time.  And we’ve kept all our capability in place, tuned it, upgraded it just to be ready to drill this coming summer season. ”

Shell’s last effort to drill in Arctic waters, in 2012, was plagued by trouble, culminating in a drill rig running aground near Kodiak. One of Shell’s subcontractors recently agreed to pay more than $12 million in fines for a range of environmental crimes.

Van Beurden told reporters the company will only proceed if it can do so responsibly. He also says Shell is as prepared as any company can be.

At least five different federal agencies must still issue permits, and the Interior Department has to re-approve the lease sale after a legal challenge. A decision on that is expected in March.

Van Beurden says Shell isn’t deterred by the current low oil prices.

“If you look at the investment decisions you cannot go by today’s oil price,” he said. “We have an investment wavelength of a decade typically in our upstream projects, so you have to take a view of what the oil price will be in the long run.”

Still, Shell is holding its conventional exploration budget flat, so this year’s spending in Alaska will require cutting back on exploration in other countries. And Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry says the Alaska operation is expensive.

“If we drill (in the Chukchi), if we go ahead, it will be over a billion dollars,” the CFO said.  ”Even if we don’t drill, it will be approaching a billion dollars, because of the commitment to keep the fleet of ships that we need.  Remember, this is a logistics operation as much as drilling.  The drilling is the easy bit.”

Returning to the Arctic means Shell would also be coming back to its support hub in Unalaska. The company left a mark on the town in 2012. The Noble Discoverer drill ship nearly ran aground there during a summer storm. Then, at its new moorage, it discharged oily bilge water into the bay.

“We’re not going to tolerate that kind of behavior or operations any more,” says Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt. “We’re supportive of Shell. We’re supportive of what they bring to the community in terms of business opportunities, revenue. We just want them to know that we’re not going to trade that, however, for turning a blind eye or just saying ‘do whatever you need to do in order to take care of yourselves.’ That is not what’s happening.”

The mayor says she’s pleased Shell has made changes to its roster of subcontractors and added employees to work on environmental compliance. But If Shell does return to the Arctic this summer, the Noble Discoverer will be back.

This story was written by Liz Ruskin in Washington and KUCB News Director Lauren Rosenthal in Unalaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Common Core Stirs Mat Su Debate

Thu, 2015-01-29 13:45

Common Core, the federally – sponsored education standards adopted by many states, has raised the hackles of some Alaska  legislators. 

Representative Lora Reinbold (R Eagle River ) has been outspoken on the issue, and recently, the Matanuska Susitna Borough has been drawn into the argument.  On January 20, in Palmer,  the members of the Matanuska Susitna Assembly and the Borough’s School Board met in a joint session to hear about school standards. At the heart of the discussion — Common Core — a set of educational standards that has been voluntarily adopted by some states. Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss  convened the information – only meeting, saying:

“I just want you to know, this is not a ‘gotcha’  moment. We are partners here together and I think we all have the common interest of the very best education our kids can get. “

DeVilbiss told Borough School Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo that he wanted to know a how closely the Borough school district is, or is not, aligned with Common Core. DeVilbis said he’d gotten quite a few questions about it from residents. Paramo fielded the questions one by one in a presentation to the joint panels. Later she said in a phone interview with APRN:

“If you put the Common Core standards, and our state standards next to each other, they are going to be quite similar.”

Paramo told the body that standards determine what expectations a student needs to meet, grade by grade.  Curriculum is the means used to meet the standards.

“And then we have one hundred percent local control over writing the curriculum that would meet those standards. So what happens in the classroom with how we teach, how we purchase textbooks, the materials that go with that… ”

Standards matching Common Core are used in  the Mat Su School District for math, she said:

“And in the Mat Su, we did only implement the math standards for Common Core. There are only math and English language arts standards.  So there are only two constructs for which the standards are written.  But in our community, we only implemented math, and we did find that they (standards) were more rigorous.”

It’s that increased rigor in math education that has pushed the state into developing new standards since 2012, according to Susan Macauley, director of teaching and learning support for the state department of education.

“Alaska opted to not adopt the Common Core state standards. What Alaska did do, and this is where some of the confusion is, what Alaska did do, as is required by statute and regulation, is adopt English and math standards. We did that in 2012.  Those standards are significantly different from the standards that we had previously, in terms of for lack of a better word, rigor, and there are similarities to the Common Core state standards, “  Macauley says.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association devised the Common Core standards in an effort to create a uniform set of standards that would be the same state to state. To date 43 states have either totally or partially adapted Common Core or are moving toward it. But some parents, and some state legislators, are apprehensive that Common Core represents the long arm of federal outreach. Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold is one critic of the standards. Reinbold spoke at a Moose Lodge meeting in Palmer prior to the Mat Su Assembly/ School Board meeting, according to Borough Mayor DeVilbiss, in essence prompting many of the questions the mayor brought to the meeting.   DeVilbiss says parents of school students are pressuring him to find out more:

“One of my concerns is that this is the beginning of a progressive agenda that goes beyond math and English and language and arts. We know that in the works there’s history and science. I just hate to see a progressive agenda like this that has not been tested and is being criticized by a lot of educators. ”

DeVilbiss also says the Borough Assembly needs to evaluate how much time, and money, is needed to exceed state educational standards.  

“You know, I can’t speak for the Assembly, but we’re going into budget session and I would say that opens the door for some negotiations.”

Representative Reinbold did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Digging Up Augustine’s Top-Heavy Legacy

Thu, 2015-01-29 11:59

Augustine Volcano during its 2005-2006 eruption. (Photo by Cyrus Read, Alaska Volcano Observatory/USGS)

Augustine Volcano sits alone, a 4,000-foot pyramid on its own island in Cook Inlet. Like many volcanoes, it has a tendency to become top heavy. When gravity acts on Augustine’s oversteepened dome, rockslides spill into the ocean. A scientist recently found new evidence for an Augustine-generated tsunami from a time when Egyptian pharaohs built their own pyramids.

Zebulon Maharrey’s record of a tsunami deposit from 4,200 years ago extends a long record of Augustine’s collapses into the sea. A graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Maharrey has spent the last four years looking at the volcano. Augustine last erupted in 2006, sending an ash cloud two miles high and oozing enough lava to create a new summit.

In Nanwalek, a village on the southern flank of the Kenai Peninsula and 50 miles east of Augustine Volcano, Maharrey found small pieces of wood and other tsunami debris in an eroded face of peat, 21 feet above high-tide level today. He also discovered more than one dozen ash layers that came from Augustine and mounts Katmai and Spurr.

Maharrey’s dating of tsunami deposits from more than 4,000 years ago extends the Augustine tsunami record by about 2,000 years. Maharrey’s academic advisor Jim Beget had found evidence of Augustine splashes into the sea from 1,400, 1,700 and 2,100 years ago.

A peat exposure near the village of Nanwalek that holds evidence of many volcanic eruptions and a few tsunamis. (Photo by Zebulon Maharrey)

Maharrey became interested in looking at Augustine’s history after Beget showed him the following account from the logbook of the Alaska Commercial Company. Someone wrote on Oct. 6, 1883:

“This morning at 8:15 o’clock, 4 tidal waves flowed with a westerly current, one following the other . . . the sea rising 20 feet above the usual level. At the same time the air became black . . . and it began to thunder.”

That writer indicated something happened in 1883 that didn’t in 2006: part of Augustine crumbled. Because the mountain is surrounded by wide apron, it takes a tremendous landslide to send a wave in the direction of Nanwalek, now home to 177 people.

During field expeditions to the western shore of Cook Inlet, Beget found debris from the 1883 tsunami near Mount Iliamna, Nanwalek and Homer.

The newfound tsunami date at Nanwalek shows that Augustine is a repeat offender at piling lava above the tipping point.

“Augustine didn’t just start having debris avalanches 2,100 years ago,” Maharrey said.

In 1883, the extreme tides of Cook Inlet saved the village from being swamped. Because the Augustine-induced tsunami happened at low tide, the 20-foot rise of the sea had the same effect as a random high tide. Researchers think perhaps a few kayaks were lifted away and a few shelters were destroyed, but no one was killed.

Most of the village of Nanwalek is built on a high terrace above the beach, Maharrey said, but an Augustine-generated tsunami today at high tide could inundate the airstrip and low-lying areas along the beach. As the tsunami wave progressed, it would flood coastal areas all around southern Cook Inlet to several feet above the tideline. Or, if it happened at dead low tide, another Augustine tsunami might not wet anything.

Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano’s Eruption Hits One-Year Mark

Thu, 2015-01-29 11:43

Shishaldin lets off steam on day one of its eruption in January 2014, and again in early December. (Credit: Janet Schaefer/Levi Musselwhite, AVO)

If you’ve taken a PenAir flight between Unalaska and Anchorage in the past year, you’ve been traveling over an erupting volcano.

Wednesday marks one year since Shishaldin Volcano woke up on the Alaska Peninsula in January 2014, and didn’t go back to sleep.

Dave Schneider is a geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. He says Shishaldin hasn’t appeared to do much over the course of this eruption. That’s because:

“Most of the activity is occurring deep down in the summit crater, which is quite deep — several hundred yards deep,” Schneider says.

That means even when there’s lava in the crater, it takes a lot of energy to force it out. Shishaldin hasn’t been seeing strong tremors, either, and any ash emissions have stayed on the flanks of the summit. That ash is often visible on regional flights between Anchorage and places like Unalaska.

Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians, and the most symmetrical, conical volcano in the world. It’s also one of the most active in Alaska. In fact, Wednesday marks another Shishaldin anniversary — of a brief eruption back in 1967. The AVO doesn’t know many details about that event.

And though their monitoring tools have improved a lot since then, Schneider says even the past year at Shishaldin has beenunpredictable:

“It had gone for a number of weeks without any evidence of high temperatures, and then on Thursday [Jan. 22], it ramped back up slightly again,” he says. “But there’s really no particular hazard at this point. You know, I wouldn’t go up and stand on the rim of it… Well, I’d kind of like to.”

But really, Schneider says they’ve only kept the volcano on alert because while it’s restless, it could begin to threaten air travel at any time. The volcano has been known to send ash plumes well into the stratosphere, though it hasn’t done so in many years.

That’s why the AVO’s not breaking out the cake and balloons for Shishaldin’s birthday just yet. Schneider says they’ll wait to celebrate until the eruption ends.

Categories: Alaska News

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