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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: 12 min 45 sec ago

Fire Marshals say PATC Fire Cause ‘Undetermined’

Fri, 2014-12-26 15:58

A report from the State Fire Marshals’ office has ruled the cause of a fire that burned the new alcohol treatment center in Bethel as ‘undetermined’. The building is owned by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and was fully insured.

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The report, completed December 10th, according to state fire officials, was released to KYUK today (12/24). The new Phillip Ayagnirvik Treatment Center, or PATC, a 16-bed alcohol treatment facility, was under construction and 90-percent framed.

In the report, investigators say the fire started in the southwest corner of the building near a locked utility locker but they could not determine the ignition source. They rule out all possible mechanical and electrical causes. The summary does not explicitly rule out arson. The case is closed now, but could reopen if further information is received.

Dan Winkelman is the CEO of YKHC. His only comment was that, “YKHC offers a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent fire at PATC …”.

Investigators asked local crews about vandalism and were told that there had been no recent problems, but there were problems with spray-painting several months ago.

The report says four young people who had just left the Teen Center were the first witnesses as they walked toward the power plant. Investigators interviewed the teens for their report and collected photos and video from their phones.

One of the teens said they saw a light at the building but realized it was a fire once they got closer. One teen climbed a ladder and said he saw electric wires burning, sparking and a shelf on fire.

The first photo was taken at 8:15 p.m. The teens said they called 9-1-1 at 8:20 p.m. and started recording video at 8:26. The Bethel Fire Department was dispatched to the blaze, at 8:19 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27th.

The report says the building is a total loss. The estimated value of the structure and contents was more than $12,500,00.00 dollars. The full report is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

Incoming DNR Commissioner Prepares For New Position

Fri, 2014-12-26 15:57

Mark Myers is preparing to become Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources on January 16th. He is currently Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Myers has also worked for the oil industry as a petroleum geologist and for the federal government- leading the United States Geological Survey.

And he was the director of the division of oil and gas when Frank Murkowski was Governor. Myers says he made a difficult decision to resign from that job.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Exploding History

Fri, 2014-12-26 15:56

It’s been more than 70 years since Unalaska came under attack during World War II, but you don’t have to look hard to find the remnants. The community is littered with old gunnery installations, battered Quonset huts and bunkers – some of which are being preserved for posterity.

But there’s history, and then there’s hazard, and the shells and bombs that keep washing up on Unalaska’s shores fall somewhere in between.

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Out on a quiet beach at the edge of the island, Unalaska’s shooting range is where local gun owners go for target practice.

But the team of Army and Air Force munitions experts that have converged on the range aren’t here to practice anything.

They’ve flown in just to examine a mysterious shell that may date back to World War II.

“Let’s go ahead and take a couple minutes and try to get a quick ID,” Air Force Sgt. Luke Mefford said.

He’s the head of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Photo by Unalaska Fire Chief Abner Hoage.

The EOD team has come out to Unalaska, Adak and other Aleutian communities over the years to identify and safely destroy leftover munitions from the war.

Usually, these items get picked up beachcombers or fishermen. Even though they’ve have been swimming in salt water for decades, that doesn’t mean these they’re inert.

Army Sgt. Joe Potocki explains:

Potocki: “Some old explosives use, like, nitroglycerin which is highly sensitive. Being so old, not in the state it’s supposed to be in? You mess around with it, it could definitely go off.”

Rosenthal: “That’s scary!”

Potocki: “It is. That’s why we’re around – it’s why we’ve got a job.”

The job that brought them to Unalaska this time was an effort at historical preservation – gone wrong.

The Ounalashka Corporation runs the World War II museum. Their manager, Dave Gregory, says he was out at lunch one day when an employee of a local fish plant dropped off a donation.

“It was about – oh, what – 20 inches long, six inches at the base. And then it kind of tapered down. Kind of a greenish, dirty color I guess,” Gregory said.

Gregory is no stranger to ordnance. He says the museum does like to collect small pieces, to put in its displays. They add some color.

This shell was different, though. It was heavier and bigger than anything Gregory had seen, it didn’t seem like a good thing to keep around. So he called his friends at public safety. They took custody of the shell, and contacted the EOD team for disposal.

In Unalaska, the team is coping with miserable weather. They take turns snapping photos on the windy, snowy beach. One by one, they dart into a running fire truck for warmth while they consult munitions manuals.

Finally, Sgt. Mefford walks up. They have an ID.

“It’s an artillery round, more than likely fired from a naval ship out in the water somewhere,” Mefford said. “Either for target practice, depending on the exact time period, it may have been used against enemy actions.”

Mefford says he can’t share any more information than that, because the rest is classified.

“I can’t really give you specifics on it, just due to our disclosure rules on it,” he said.

The team wastes no time setting up the blast site.

“Are we gonna have enough antenna to get up on top of this, Scotty?,” Mefford asked.

“Yeah we should, because those caps,” Scott Rice, from the U.S. Air Force, said.

They pack the shell in a hole, and cover it with about 6 pounds of C4, a plastic explosive. They poke in some blasting caps, which are tuned into a remote control.

Once it’s set up, we’re directed to take cover several hundred yards away, behind two gravel berms. We’re waiting for the remote control to warm up, when the team asks me if I want to be the one to set off the explosives.

Rosenthal: “Can I?”

Rice: “Yeah, absolutely! It’ll be ready to go in about 30 seconds.”

Mefford: “We’re not doing it yet. We’re gonna let him set his camera up and then give him the go-ahead.”

While we wait for fire chief Abner Hoage to set up his video camera, I get some basic instructions.

Rice: “Alright, so when we get ready to fire this thing, under this cover is one fire button. You just get ready to press and hold one of them, and then press and hold the other. There will be a two second delay and the shot will go off.”

Potocki: “Do you want to tell her what she has to yell?”

Rice: “Ha, oh yeah. Before you set that off, you have to yell fire in the hole three times as loud as you can. Once forward, once off to your left, once off to your right.”

Air Force Sgt. Scott Rice and I trade. He takes my microphone and recorder, and I take his remote detonator.

Without further ado:


Rice: “Hold it up nice and high! There you go.”


Rosenthal: “Oh whoa! That is a giant plume of smoke. Whoa. That’s a rush.”

Bits of shrapnel rain through the air – some of them even flying past the berms, carried by the high winds.

Once the dust settles, the team tells me they like to let visitors detonate the explosives when they’re working in the field.

Rosenthal: “Well, thanks for letting me do that, it was really fun.”

Rice: “Alright, we’re good to go. We can go and check it out.”

All that’s left of the shell, is a 4-foot round hole. They measure it and pack up their equipment pretty fast.

Rice: “Alright well, that’s fun.”

Mefford: “That’s Jenga.”

JBER Pilot: “I know the aftermath isn’t as exciting. There’s a hole in the ground!”

The team heads back to the Unalaska fire house for a quick debrief. I ask if any of them thought about the history of the shell before they blew it up, and they say they did.

Mefford: “It’s just neat to come across something your granddad or great-uncle or whatever might have shot 70 years ago.”

Christopher McDonald, US Army: “Probably looked a lot better, though.”

Mefford: “Yeah, probably shinier back then.”

The EOD team is pretty sure that ordnance will keep washing up in Unalaska for a while.

That’s why, when it it’s time for the team to fly back to their base in Anchorage, saying “see you later” seems like a more appropriate than saying, “goodbye.”

Categories: Alaska News

The Year Gone by and Prospects for the Year to Come

Fri, 2014-12-26 12:00

From the Pebble mine order to the election to the sale of our largest newspaper to a website, 2014’s news had a lot of unexpected developments. What do you think was the big news of the year gone by? Was it the National Guard scandal? The death of the HAARP (harp) Project? The beginning of same-sex marriage? Or something else?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Homer Residents Take Part In Christmas Bird Count

Fri, 2014-12-26 10:39

Black turnstones take flight. Photo by Kachemak Bay Birders

The birders met at 8:30 in the morning Saturday at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. They came prepared with warm coats, binoculars, and even tripod mounted spotting scopes.

“We have seven count areas within our circle and then we have some sub-areas depending on how many people show up. The count starts at nine o’clock,” says Erikson.

Dave Erikson led the effort. He’s been taking part in Christmas bird counts for the past 39 years. He says the project extends across North, Central and South America. The count is especially popular in Alaska.

“There are about 2,200 areas where they do the Christmas Bird Count. There are about 60,000 people who participate and it’s one of the oldest citizen science projects ever,” says Erikson.

The bird count is conducted by regular people, volunteers, anyone who cares enough to come out and record sightings. For the larger scientific community, the information the volunteers gather is a valuable collection of trend data. Erikson says it gives the volunteers a sense of contributing to something they feel is important. Gary Lyon is an avid birder and he led my group of bird watchers out to the spit.

“At this time of year you can find something really cool besides all the really cool birds that are [already] here,” Gary says. “We have the spit area so we’re going to try and find maybe a visiting shorebird, possibly an interesting sea duck, or a puddle duck.”

After a brief shuffling of personnel we loaded up and headed out to the spit to start counting. Lyon partnered with Joane Thordarsin. The two birders’ heads were on a constant swivel. At first it seemed a minute couldn’t go by without one of them spotting another bird. The count went on through the late afternoon. Then, the birders regrouped at Islands and Ocean to compile data.

“We had a big flock of snow buntings which is kind of unusual for that species. And then we had at least a hundred Gray Crowned Rosy Finch, but that is kind of what you would expect to find out there,” Gary says.

Overall Lyon says he saw mostly what he expected.

“Nothing that made you go yippee,” Gary says.

Lyon’s results mirrored the rest of the birders’. The collective reported only a few outliers from the norm. On average, the birders record 62 species each year in the Homer area. After completing the checklist, Erikson concluded this year they came in just under the average. But Erikson says there’s a grace period for late submissions from bird watchers who want to report more sightings.

“People can record bird species that they see, but we don’t count the numbers,” says Erikson.

New information has trickled in since Saturday and currently the number of species spotted stands at 67. The Christmas Bird Count results from Homer and the rest of Alaska will be published in the Journal: American Birds.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 24, 2014

Wed, 2014-12-24 16:30

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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Officials Warn of Botulism Outbreak in Twin Hills

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Health officials are warning of a botulism outbreak from a batch of seal oil produced recently in the Bristol Bay village of Twin Hills, near Togiak. A state investigation into the outbreak says more than 25 people may have consumed the seal oil, and they’re working quickly to track them down.

Investor Pulls Out Of Tulsequah Mine In BC

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

The company trying to re-open the controversial Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia announced a setback on Tuesday. It says a big investor is pulling out of the project. Chieftain Metals Company says it will use a bridge loan to repay a $10 million advance from Denver-based Royal Gold. Chieftain had been counting on another $45 million from Royal Gold to develop the mine, according to a July agreement that Royal Gold has now scrapped. The Tulsequah is one of five proposed mining projects near the Taku River that have Southeast Alaskans and fishermen worried.

Alaska LNG Export Project Hits A Couple Of Bumps In D.C.

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

Gov. Bill Walker Tuesday announced an agreement that could help sell Alaska liquefied natural gas in Japan, but the effort to build a trans-Alaska gas pipeline is meeting some resistance in Washington, D.C. Lack of political support there is forcing the federal coordinator for the Alaska gas pipeline to close up shop. Also, opponents of gas exports are raising their voice, and their targets include the pipeline Walker and many Alaskans pin their economic hopes on.

Generators Going Again; Lights Back on In Ft. Yukon

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The lights are back on in Fort Yukon, including the Christmas trees, now that three of the village’s four electrical generators are functioning again. A couple of weeks ago, the holidays didn’t look so happy for the remote Yukon River community, when all but one of its generators broke down. But the community got through by cutting back and helping each other out.

No White Christmas in the Aleutians?

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska Winter usually has a different feel in Unalaska compared to the rest of the state. The days aren’t as short, and the temperatures are nowhere near as cold. But as Alaska faces yet another year of below-average snowfall, the Aleutians are beginning to look a lot less exceptional.

Local Organizations Pitch In to Help Haines’ Homeless

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Haines doesn’t have a shelter or official service for people who are homeless. There are local organizations that do what they can to help – a lot of the time that means providing a one-way ferry ticket to Juneau, the closest town with a homeless shelter.

Fish Skin Art Combines Past with Present

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska Natives have tanned fish skins for centuries to make bags, shoes, and other useful items. Now fish skin leather is appearing on high-end products from Prada, Nike, and Dior. Commercially produced salmon leather is made in mass in Europe and Chile, but in Alaska, it’s still made by hand, one fish at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials Warn of Botulism Outbreak in Twin Hills

Wed, 2014-12-24 16:10

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Health officials are warning of a botulism outbreak from a batch of seal oil produced recently in the Bristol Bay village of Twin Hills, near Togiak. A state investigation into the outbreak says more than 25 people may have consumed the seal oil, and they’re working quickly to track them down.

Categories: Alaska News

Generators Going Again; Lights Back on In Ft. Yukon

Wed, 2014-12-24 16:04

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The lights are back on in Fort Yukon, including the Christmas trees, now that three of the village’s four electrical generators are functioning again. A couple of weeks ago, the holidays didn’t look so happy for the remote Yukon River community, when all but one of its generators broke down. But the community got through by cutting back and helping each other out. It all happened just as the utility was planning to build a new power plant that will reduce their dependence on diesel-fueled generators.

Categories: Alaska News

No White Christmas in the Aleutians?

Wed, 2014-12-24 16:03

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Winter usually has a different feel in Unalaska compared to the rest of the state. The days aren’t as short, and the temperatures are nowhere near as cold. But as Alaska faces yet another year of below-average snowfall, the Aleutians are beginning to look a lot less exceptional.

Categories: Alaska News

Local Organizations Pitch In to Help Haines’ Homeless

Wed, 2014-12-24 16:02
Download Audio Haines doesn’t have a shelter or official service for people who are homeless. There are local organizations that do what they can to help – a lot of the time that means providing a one-way ferry ticket to Juneau, the closest town with a homeless shelter. So what happens when a homeless couple shows up in Haines, determined to find a place to stay? That happened with 48-year-old Roger and 45-year-old Judy Kley, who slept in shelters and on the streets for three years and just recently found a home in Haines.
Categories: Alaska News

Fish Skin Art Combines Past with Present

Wed, 2014-12-24 14:21

Native Alaskans and other people of the north have tanned fish skins for centuries to make bags, shoes, and other useful items. Now fish skin leather is appearing on high-end products from Prada, Nike, and Dior. Commercially produced salmon leather is made in mass in Europe and Chile, but in Alaska, it’s still made by hand, one fish at time. 



Artist Joel Isaak slides his thumb along the body of a mostly frozen salmon, prying the fish skin off of the flesh. The process makes a crackling and sucking sound. He grasps the loosening skin tightly with his other hand to create tension.

Joel Isaak demonstrates skinning fish and cleaning the skin at a workshop at the Anchorage Museum. Hillman/KSKA

“Every fish is going to be different, too, for how much it wants to let go of it’s skin and how much it wants to stay, ” he tells a workshop full of women at the Anchorage Museum who have come to learn the ancient art.

The young Athabascan artist has skinned thousands of fish. He started when he was five to help his family prepare salmon for canning. Now he harvests the skins for making clothing and art.

When the skin is off the fish he scrapes off the remaining fat and flesh with a spoon, trying carefully not to rip the thin membrane. Tiny fin bones still protrude from one area and make a harsh clicking noise as he scrapes them clean.

Isaak says he began working with fish skin four years ago after seeing a fish skin basket made by the late Fran Reed.

“So I went and saw it and said ‘I love this! This is so cool! And I want to learn how to do it.’So I started Googling and there’s not a lot of information on the Internet. Just a few sentences here and there.”

So he started experimenting with different ways to degrease the fish using Dawn soap, baking soda, and other chemicals. Before studying art he studied chemistry and his scientific methods and curiosity have stuck with him.

Next he tried tanning the skins with teas or oiling them with different fats and brain matter. He says salmon skin isn’t waterproof unless is treated with oils.

Eventually Isaak met elders, like Helen Dick, who had worked with fish skins and could teach him some of the historical methods.

“When I was working with her I was over scraping them a little bit too much before. And she’s like ‘You’re good. That’s clean enough.’ It was just nice to have someone who had seen their grandparents do it and who had done it before watch what I was doing and make sure I was doing it correctly.”

Isaak says once he learned the traditional ways of making bags and shoes, he started pushing the boundaries and mixing old and new materials.

“Okay, if you start doing hybrids of things, [you ask] where is it really strong and where do you have to go back to the historically correct method?”

Not all of Isaak’s experiments have paid off. His latest pair of fish skin boots developed a hole in the toe after only a month, but he says now he has a better understanding why the historical methods have stuck for so many centuries. But for Isaak, fish skin is also a beautiful art object that connects him to his roots.

Joel Isaak shows off different fish skin leather examples during a workshop at the Anchorage Museum. Hillman/KSKA

“The material itself has it’s own will. It wants to expand and contract when it gets wet. If it’s more humid it will be more flexible. If it’s drier it’s more rigid. It reacts to its environment so it never completely loses that live quality.”

In the classroom, Victoria Cronquist slowly tries to skin her frozen sockeye salmon.

“Salmon are just kind of amazing fish.”

She says she tried skinning salmon on her own, but she hasn’t been very successful. Now she has more hope.

“I’ve been eating salmon for a long time, and it’s kind of sad to throw the skin away. So it’s kind of neat to be able to use it. Especially, possibly to wear it.”

After some effort, the fish releases its skin and Cronquist starts to think about what to make with it.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska LNG Export Project Hits A Couple of Bumps in D.C.

Wed, 2014-12-24 12:22

Gov. Bill Walker yesterday  announced an agreement that could help sell Alaska liquefied natural gas in Japan, but the effort to build a trans-Alaska gas pipeline  is meeting some resistance in Washington, D.C. Lack of political support there is forcing the federal coordinator for the Alaska gas pipeline to close up shop. Also, opponents of gas exports are raising their voice, and their targets include the pipeline Walker and many Alaskans pin their economic hopes on.

Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for the Alaska gas line, figures they’ll close the doors on their offices in Washington and Anchorage at the end of February. Until then, Persily says, they’ll be organizing files and archiving material.

“We have some leftover funds from previous appropriations that we haven’t spent, and we will be using those savings for an orderly shutdown,” he said.

Persily says the 2004 law creating the federal coordinator’s office was intended to expedite permitting for a different pipeline, one that would take North Slope gas through Canada and into the Midwest.

“Back in 2004 the idea was if you don’t get Alaska North Slope gas into the North American grid, if you don’t get Alaska gas to the Lower 48, the Lower 48 could go cold, you could run out of gas for generating plants for electricity,” he said.

Then came the fracking boom and suddenly the Lower 48 has more gas than anyone could’ve imagined. So proponents of the Alaska project revised the plan. Now, the state of Alaska and the producers intend to build an 800-pipeline to Nikiski and export LNG by ship. Officially, though, the Office of the Federal Coordinator is still supposed to be working on a pipeline to the Lower 48, and Persily says only Congress can change that.

“The House and Senate when they passed the 2015 budget did not include any funding in there for the gas line office. The law wasn’t changed. So the combination is, we close down,” he said.

A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s committed to ensuring someone is responsible for coordination. Robert Dillon says Murkowski tried last year to update the authorizing law for the coordinator’s office but then learned the producers don’t find the office necessary. He says the senator wasn’t able to get the appropriation this year. Dillon points out the budget request President Obama sent to Congress had no money for the office, either.

Under Persily, a former journalist, the coordinator’s office has primarily been an information agency.

His staff has produced white papers and maintained a website with news about permitting, the LNG market and competing efforts. Persily acknowledges the loss of his office doesn’t derail the pipeline.

“Certainly other pipelines, refineries have been built. Oil and gas production facilities. There are a couple of LNG export projects under construction. They were all done without such a coordinating office,” he said.  ”But they were much smaller projects than this.”

The main barrier for the pipeline remains that no one has committed enough capital. Altogether, it’s expected to cost as much as $65 billion.

Meanwhile, though, the Alaska project is being swept up in the national opposition to LNG exports. More than 100 advocacy groups sent a letter this week to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to withhold support from bills that would expedite federal permits for gas exports around the country. Groups ranging from the Sierra Club and United Methodist Women to the National Nurses Union signed the letter.

“Responsible climate and energy policy is to keep natural gas underground and refuse to export it to other countries,” the letter says in part. “Otherwise, we will sink hundreds of billions of dollars in decades-lasting infrastructure, diverting investment from renewable technologies, such as wind and solar.”

One of the groups that signed the letter was the Center for Biological Diversity. Its Alaska director, Rebecca Noblin, says that, though the letter mentions gas from fracking, their opposition extends to North Slope LNG exports, too.

“The Alaska project, like any other LNG export project, just poses too great a risk to the climate to go through a fast track permitting process,” she said. “When you look at the state of the climate right now, we really should be putting the brakes on fossil fuel development, not greasing the wheels.”

Natural gas has a mixed reputation in environmental circles. One the one hand, when burned to create electricity, it emits far less carbon dioxide than coal. But when natural gas leaks into the atmosphere unburned, scientists say it becomes an especially powerful greenhouse gas. Opponents say liquefying the fuel also adds to the impact. The industry says it’s drastically reduced natural gas leaks from its operations.




Categories: Alaska News

Investor Pulls Out of Tulsequah Mine in BC

Wed, 2014-12-24 12:08

The company trying to re-open the controversial Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia announced a setback this week. It says a big investor is pulling out of the project. Chieftain Metals Company says it will use a bridge loan to repay a $10 million advance from Denver-based Royal Gold. Chieftain had been counting on another $45 million from Royal Gold to develop the mine, according to a July agreement that Royal Gold has now scrapped. The Tulsequah is one of five proposed mining projects near the Taku River that have Southeast Alaskans and fishermen worried. The enormous KSM project this week won environmental approval from the Canadian government. Chieftain Metals is proposing to move supplies into the Tulsequah — and transport minerals out – by barging them on the Taku.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Signs MOU With Resources Energy, Inc.

Tue, 2014-12-23 16:01

Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday with Japan-based Resources Energy, Inc. for liquefied natural gas development and export out of Cook Inlet. 

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The agreement stems from Japan’s desire to branch away from nuclear power, in favor of LNG in the aftermath of the massive 2011 earthquake, which caused the shutdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Governor Walker says the memorandum of understanding doesn’t include many specifics.

“It’s just more of a cooperation agreement acknowledging that they have a need and we have a need,” he said. “Our need is for a market; their need is for a supply. And so, it’s the first step of what could be a long relationship.”

Resource Energy is working on longer-term development plans for North Slope LNG which could come to fruition by 2025. But, companies are expecting a market window in Japan before then, so Governor Walker says REI is considering a project in Cook Inlet.

“It is a small scale effort in Cook Inlet to just sort of get something, sort of a foot in the door, get something started, some flow going in that direction,” Walker said.

REI is confident LNG exports from Cook Inlet would be viable. The company anticipates a 1,000,000 ton capacity by 2019, increasing to as much as 3,000,000 tons.

REI spokesperson Shun-ichi Shimizu says the company is looking into the costs and figuring out exactly what infrastructure will be needed at the Mat-Su Valley’s Port MacKenzie.

“We have to build a brand new LNG facility there, so I can’t say exactly right now what sort of development we have to expect in Port MacKenzie,” Shimizu said.

Shimizu says the company expects to have a better idea of what will be needed by the end of March 2015.


Categories: Alaska News

Origins Of The Endangered Species Act

Tue, 2014-12-23 16:00

Humpback whales may be coming off the endangered species list soon – federal officials are expected to announce a decision within the next few weeks.

Regardless of what they decide, one thing is clear: without whales and other marine mammals, there might not even be an endangered species list.

In the first of a series exploring humpback whales and the Endangered Species Act, KCAW reporter Rachel Waldholz and biologist Ellen Chenoweth explain how one of the nation’s most enduring environmental laws emerged from the office of one of its least revered presidents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Minimum Wage Measure Could Boost Bus Driver Pay

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:59

A decision by voters to increase Alaska’s minimum wage could bring a bump in the minimum that must be paid to the state’s school bus drivers.

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports a state law passed in 1989 requires school bus drivers to be paid at least twice the minimum wage.

The law does not force employers to increase driver pay mid-way through a contract but could kick in with new contracts.

The state’s minimum wage since 2009 has been $7.75 per hour. That means school bus drivers for five years have had hourly wages of at least $15.50.

Ballot Measure 3, approved in November, will increase the minimum wage by $1 per hour on Feb. 24 and by another dollar to $9.75 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Arctic Fiber’ Project Delayed into 2016

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:58

Both the subsea Arctic cable, and a terrestrial cable along the Dalton Highway, are seeing delays that could push the rollout of Quintillion’s ultrafast broadband network in rural Alaska to 2016 or beyond. (Image: Quintillion Network)

The backers of an ambitious project to build a fiber optic cable between England and Japan beneath Arctic waters—and in the process bring high-speed internet to remote corners of western Alaska—say undertaking has seen delays that will push the arrival of service back until at least 2016.

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Canadian telecommunications company Arctic Fibre is running the undersea cable, while Anchorage-based Quintillion Networksis the “middle mile” provider creating several spur lines that would shoot off the main fiber backbone and connect the ultrafast cable to telecom companies in Nome, Kotzebue, and other communities along the Bering Strait coast and the North Slope. Colloquially referred to as the “Arctic fiber” project, it promises to bring “gigabit internet” to the most remote parts of western Alaska. Quintillion expects speeds of 100 gigabits per second from the fiber line; current consumer broadband in Nome and Barrow reach speeds up to 6 megabits per second, equal to .006 gigabits per second.

During a May visit to Nome, Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce said the cable itself would be built this winter and start being laid during the summer of 2015. But now both the prep work for the undersea fiber line, and the buildout of a terrestrial component to Quintillion’s planned network, are seeing adjustments to their schedules.

For the $650 million Arctic fiber line, Pierce said mapping and surveys began this summer and will continue into the summer of 2015, with onshore landing sites set to be constructed this winter. But she said that is “a small amount of work” compared to the next phase of the project.

“The major work, the horizontal directional drilling from the shore line to the spurs—and that’s again to get those spurs coming into the shore buried deep and out of harm’s way—that will happen next summer. Then the cable will be laid once those … boards are completed for the spur lines.”

But that undersea Arctic cable to Japan is only one part of Quintillion’s plan. The company is also tapping in to an overland cable set to run from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, down along the Dalton Highway, and on into Fairbanks and Anchorage. That part of the project, now being built by AT&T, has faced several delays.

Until either that land line is built, or the cable to Japan is laid, Pierce said it’s a waiting game.

“Our in-service date will be the earlier of whichever one of those connections come into service, whether it’s the Dalton Highway first, AT&T’s build, or whether it’s our connection to Japan first,” she said. “Whichever one of those comes in first, that’s when we’ll be able to turn up service. Either way, it’s going to be later into 2016 before we can turn up service.”

Regardless of which connection comes online first, Pierce said the plan remains unchanged, and Quintillion will complete both the undersea and overland cable. But only when the undersea cable is complete would the promise of ultrafast broadband be delivered to Bering Strait communities.

While that date for service may be a moving target, it’s not changing any plans of the local western Alaska telecoms preparing to bring Quintillion’s spur lines the final mile into homes and businesses.

TelAlaska CEO Dave Goggins said the company is still on board to bring the fiber line to Nome.

Steve Merriam, the CEO of the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, said the co-op worked with Quintillion this summer to build $4.5 million worth of communication shelters in Wainwright, Point Hope, and Barrow. Merriam said his company’s confident enough in the project that they’re laying out serious money to get ready.

The project “definitely has legs,” Merriam said. “We’ve got about a $16 million RUS loan in process to upgrade our facilities on shore to take advantage of the fiber connectivity,” he said, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services’ loan program. The program provides what Merriam described as “low-interest” loans for electrical, sewer/water, and telecommunication projects in rural areas.

“I’ll tell you this, putting in an RUS loan is not a small undertaking,” he said. “It is very, very tedious and very tenuous, and it takes an incredible amount of time. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think this was a go.”

Having already missed targeted in-service dates of 2014 and 2015, and now delayed into 2016, just when the project will “go”—and if it will go first through the terrestrial line or the undersea cable—are all questions that can only be answered as each part of the project inches forward.

No matter how fast the fiber promises to be, the process of getting it built can seem painfully slow to many in western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly Committee: Scale Back Senior Sales Tax Exemption

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:57

A package of sales tax recommendations that could take a big bite out of the city’s anticipated $7.2 million budget deficit is headed for public hearing.

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The Juneau Assembly’s Tax Exemption Review Committee completed its six-month examination of municipal tax breaks Thursday.

The committee recommends:

  • Raising the maximum taxable value of big ticket items from $7,500 to $14,000,
  • Limiting the senior sales tax exemption to Juneau residents,
  • Limiting the senior sales tax exemption to food, fuel and electricity,
  • And limiting the senior sales tax exemption on all other goods to seniors with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

The recommendations were made piecemeal. Deputy Mayor Mary Becker chaired the committee and noted the recommendations don’t constrain the Assembly’s policymaking authority.

One proposal the committee did not recommend was raising the age of eligibility for the senior sales tax exemption from 65 to 70 over five years.

“I would certainly not personally agree to that because I think it is a double whammy,” Becker said referring to the combination with the other changes to the senior sales tax exemption. “I think one or the other is fine with me.”

Assemblywoman Kate Troll said she saw it as a double break.

“They get two good benefits. Instead of eliminating the exemption altogether, we’re keeping it on essentials, we’re making it needs based,” Troll said.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl argued that people are living longer, healthier and many are choosing to continue working past age 65.

“And so some limited shift to reflect the realities of the world we live in I think is good tax policy, because it keeps, it keeps us in line with the economic realities of our age,” Kiehl said.

 The recommendation, which the Juneau Commission on Aging supported, failed in a 2-2 vote. Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis was the other no vote.

Becker says she expects the Assembly’s Finance Committee to take up the recommendations after the public hearing scheduled for Jan. 8.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to a $9.2 million budget deficit. That figure did not reflect $2 million in cuts and new revenue to be carried forward from the current budget year.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Assembly Honors JPD’s “Rock Star”

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:56

Mayor Merrill Sanford reads a speech recognizing JPD Officer Blaine Hatch for his recent award as Alaska Municipal League Employee of the Year. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly last night honored a city police officer who recently received a statewide award as the top local government employee in Alaska.

Then for good measure, the Assembly recognized the entire Juneau Police Department.

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Officer Blaine Hatch is JPD’s school resource officer. He runs the D.A.R.E. program, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. He’s also often the first officer to respond to incidents in Juneau schools.

“Officer Hatch is somewhere between a rock star and a substitute parent for so many of Juneau’s kids,” said Mayor Merrill Sanford.

Hatch received this year’s Alaska Municipal League Municipal Employee of the Year award. AML is a nonprofit interest group for local governments in Alaska. Its board of directors bestowed the honor on Hatch last month after city officials nominated him.

Sanford listed some of the reasons Hatch deserves the recognition.

“He single-handedly teaches D.A.R.E. in six schools, runs the Junior Police Academy, responds to police calls in the schools and assists patrol in his spare time,” Sanford said.

When a student brought a handgun to Thunder Mountain High School earlier this year, Hatch detained him and assisted school officials with a lockdown. He’s also credited with helping save the life of a man who collapsed at a downtown bar this past summer.

But Sanford said it’s the little things that earned Hatch his award.

“Officer Hatch assisted with security at the prom celebrations during the spring of 2013. A school employee wrote JPD a thank you letter after seeing him vacuuming the entryway of the venue in his uniform just before the doors opened,” Sanford said.

After Hatch was recognized, Assemblyman Jerry Nankervis – himself a former Juneau cop – said a few words of thanks to the men and women of JPD.

“I know there’s been stuff in the press lately that has not been favorable toward police officers,” Nankervis said. “I am a homer. Hands down, even in spite of that, this is the best police department in the state of Alaska.”

After Nankervis’ remarks the dozen or so police officers and JPD family members at the meeting stood in a line as Assembly members and city staff offered personal thanks with a handshake or a hug.

Categories: Alaska News

Alice’s Champagne Palace to Open Solstice Weekend

Tue, 2014-12-23 15:55

The Homer icon, Alice’s Champagne Palace, will open for the first time under new management on December 19th.

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Alice’s Champagne Palace (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI)

Matt North is a co-owner of Alice’s. He says there will be food, drink, and live music solstice weekend.

“The music we have scheduled Friday and Saturday,” says North. “Michael Hayes of Downward Dog Productions is handling booking of bands and stage confirmation. The new lights came in for the stage, so we’re getting that all hooked up which is exciting and fun to watch. It’s not anything that us three known a lot about, so it’s really fun to see it take shape. So I think we’re planning on a full open on the 19th.”

Both the bar and the restaurant will be open. North says there’s a new menu featuring locally-sourced dishes, rather than typical bar fare.

The new palace will still feature live music and dancing. And, North says, will try to live up to its reputation as “Homer’s Living Room.”

North purchased the palace earlier this year in partnership with Dr. Todd Boling and his wife, Beth.

He says the renovation and transition has taken a lot of effort, but things are finally falling into place.

“I think all of us have worked tirelessly and countless hours in getting this [done],” says North. “[There’s been] just a lot of cleaning and building. You’re not going to walk in and see a massive change, but behind the scenes in the basement, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, there’s been a lot of time put into it. We’re very excited to get this place back open again.”

Alice’s will be open from 4-10 p.m. December 19th.

Categories: Alaska News