APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 21 min 31 sec ago

Bristol Bay Sockeye: A Run on the Brink?

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:46

Alaska’s largest sockeye fishery is predicted to have a near record return this summer, but so far the reds have only trickled into Bristol Bay’s rivers.

Download Audio

Veronica Elford helps set a net in Naknek Monday, where the fishing was slow.
Credit Hannah Colton

Through Tuesday, 3.4 million sockeye have been harvested, and the total run including escapement is 5.3 million fish. Given that Fish and Game’s preseason estimates suggested 54 million sockeye would return, with 38 million available for harvest, there was more head scratching than fish picking happening as June turned into July.

There are three questions on the mind of most: Are all those fish going to show up, if so, when, and will they hit all at once?

KDLG, Bristol Bay’s public (and often only) radio station, produces a nightly newscast dedicated to the fishery. Daily, we speak with Fish and Game managers, researchers from the University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute, and analysts at the Port Moller Test Fishery.

The consensus a week ago was, “The fish should be here any day now.”

The closest this fishery has to a crystal ball is the Port Moller Test Fishery, which catches sockeye at a series of stations spread offshore from Port Moller. Most of the sockeye caught there are bound for Bristol Bay’s districts, and those that aren’t caught will arrive in 2-11 days. Between genetic sampling of the catch and some study of past data, the timing and size of the run comes into view.

“I think it’s going to come in really strong, and late,” said F/V Crimson Hunter skipper Braden Williams, speaking about the run to the Naknek-Kvichak District he fishes. His first two fishing periods had not been very profitable.
Credit Hannah Colton

Provided, that is, some sockeye start to show up inshore, either harvested by the fleet or counted as escapement up area rivers. The research team needs the “catch and escapement” data to reference back to their test fishery numbers. Port Moller’s catches picked up by June 17, but a week passed and few sockeye arrived inshore.

The suspicion around the Bay for a week has been that the sockeye are balling up between Port Moller and the districts, maybe waiting for a weather change to make a big push upstream. Fishermen and processors worry about a “wall of fish” that will be too large to catch or process.

Or the preseason run forecast could be off, though no one has put up that white flag yet.

“Fish being late is the first part of them not showing up,” said F/V Stevie K skipper Buck Gibbons a week ago. Gibbons reiterated that comment Wednesday night, after a slow harvest and another day of down time in Naknek-Kvichak.

Fish and Game and PMTF are leery of making in-season predictions. Some tell us they want to avoid the “Greenspan effect,” named former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, whose words, it is said, could move markets. But by Wednesday evening, Port Moller and Fish and Game were hinting at problems.

“The run seems to be late if it is to break 30 million, and several days late for it come in at the preseason forecast,” wrote PMTF’s data analyst Scott Raborn.

“It certainly has the feeling of being potentially slightly smaller than forecast,” said Fish and Game Commercial FisheriesDirector Jeff Regnart, who was in Dillingham Wednesday. He added that the sockeye are smaller than expected, and the run seems late, too.

Right now, the Naknek-Kvichak district is lagging the furthest behind. After a long and at times impatient period of waiting, the first open periods offered the eager fleet little harvest.

“So far I haven’t seen a fish in my net yet,” Pederson Point set netter Sylvia Elford told KDLG about an hour into Monday’s opener. The day before her site had delivered only 140 pounds.

“Out of the 20 days we’ve been here, we’ve bought fish twice,” said Rob Trumble, skipper of the fishing tender Denali. “We have 11,000 pounds packed. It’s been the most different year ever.”

Fish and Game’s preseason forecast predicted 28.8 million sockeye returning to Naknek-Kvichak, with 18 million available for harvest. Through Tuesday, only 834,000 sockeye had been accounted for.

“It’s been really frustrating,” said Gabe Dunham aboard the F/V Oracle in Naknek Wednesday evening. His boat has been in the water since June 18. “This down time, best I can say for it, is that it’s been good for shoreside businesses.”

Workers at Nakeen Homepack in Naknek got a batch of reds to process Sunday.
Credit Hannah Colton

Fishermen are not leaving the district, despite the wait. In fact, more boats and more permits are registered to fish Naknek-Kvichak than any other district, and more are added every day.

That’s because fishermen know Bristol Bay’s run size and timing changes every year. They like to throw jabs at the biologists and gripe about their processors, but they also know that rolling with the punches of the world’s greatest sockeye run is part of the job, and part of the fun. “That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching,” a reporter will hear a hundred times a season.

“The last couple of years have been one way, and this year has definitely shaped up to be a different way,” said Lange Solberg on the F/V Opie II.

Solberg was frustrated when he spoke with us Wednesday evening. But he also counts himself among the optimists who say that a big push, the “wall of fish,” will be here soon.

“Hopefully by July 4 we’ll be up to our eyeballs in fish,” he said.

Dave Bendinger is the News Director at KDLG. Hannah Colton and Molly Dischnercontributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Elder Hjalmar “Ofi” Olson Dies at 75

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:40

Bristol Bay elder Hjalmar E. “Ofi” Olson passed away at an Anchorage hospital at the age of 75. Olson was battling kidney failure, and his health was deteriorating in recent months. He was medevaced to Anchorage Sunday, and according to a family friend, was taken off dialysis mid-week. He succumbed late Wednesday or early Thursday, surrounded by family.

Download Audio

This picture was taken early June, after Ofi and some friends gathered for dinner around a first king salmon of the season.
Credit Hannah Colton, KDLG

“I think we all knew that he wasn’t in the best of health, and I just learned very early this morning that he had passed,” said Bryce Edgmon Thursday morning. “A big shock to everyone, even though we all knew his health was in decline. Very sorry to see him go.”

Edgmon spent Saturday evening with Ofi, driving around town, the harbor, boat yard, and visiting subsistence sites all the way down Kananakak Beach.

“We watched a number of the set net boats being launched, and listened to the Fish and Game announcements, and really just had a very nice, quiet, reflective evening,” he said.

Ofi and Anuska Olson
Credit Clark James Mishler

Olson remained in good spirits and his mind was sharp, even as his health grew worse and he spent more time at a hospital in Anchorage.

“We were down in the boat yard, and he was naming off all the boats that were still there, and why they weren’t going out, engine problems, whatever was the case. He was absolutely very sharp up until the very end,” said Edgmon.

Ofi Olson was a Bristol Bay fisherman, and was the longtime president, CEO, and chairman of the board of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. He also sat on a number of other boards, commissions, and panels throughout an active career as one of the region’s most prominent leaders.

“I think his legacy is so rich, and so profound, that it’s only going to grow over time,” said Edgmon. “Ofi was the chairman of the BBNC board, I think, for the longest tenure of any chairman in the history of the state. As iconic figures are known, all you had to say was “Ofi” and people knew who you were talking about.”

As of Thursday morning, there was no information about funeral arrangements. A family friend did say there was consideration of delaying a funeral until after the commercial fishing season.

“I think as time goes on, and his service is held, we’re going to find that a lot of people throughout the state, a lot of Alaska Native leaders, a lot of people in the Native Corporation world and elsewhere, are going to be coming to town and paying their respects to Ofi,” said Edgmon.

Categories: Alaska News

Parasite Plagues Some Yukon Kings

Thu, 2015-07-02 16:34

As Yukon salmon continue their summer runs, subsistence fishermen continue to express frustration about gear restrictions, closures, and — now — potentially infected fish.

Download Audio

When managers and fishermen met for their weekly teleconference on Tuesday, they heard reports of discoloration and pus in chum salmon from callers in Pilot Station, Russian Mission, and Fairbanks.

“Folks here complaining about summer chums having white patches and pus sacs … A lot of these fish have pus in the meat, so that’s a bummer … Kind of little pockets of pus when you fillet the fish. That’ll be about the size of a pea or maybe a little smaller. And I know that in warm water, which is what we have right now, that ichthyophonus really grows rapidly if the fish is infected.”

Stephanie Schmidt, summer season area management biologist for the Yukon for the Alaska Depart of Fish & Game, says the parasite ichthyophonus could be the culprit. Fish & Game says the pathogen is not harmful to humans, and Schmidt invites fishermen to submit samples for testing if they’re concerned.

The summer chum run is now estimated at 1.3 to 1.5 million fish, which is average but below Fish & Game’s preseason predictions. The first pulses are passing through Tanana, Koyukuk, and Kaltag, but many stragglers are still lingering in the lower river. Schmidt says that’s led to record numbers for commercial fishermen.

“There have been record catches of summer chum salmon with dip nets this year in district one and district two. To date, the dip net and beach seine commercial fishery in these lower districts have caught 185,700 summer chum salmon and they’ve released just over 8,000 Chinook salmon.”

Meanwhile, subsistence fishing has been a mixed bag. Abundant chums on the lower Yukon have helped fishermen like Joseph in Nunam Iqua to fill his racks.

“They had a three-hour subsistence opening on Tuesday, and we were finally able to fish with pride. I was able to get 118 chums and six kings, and I was so happy for the kings.”

But fishermen upriver have struggled to meet their subsistence needs, citing plenty of activity but little production. Jack in Kotlik says gear restrictions are largely to blame.

“I’m not familiar with using a dip net. I grew up using gillnets, and I’m not going to switch back to the white man’s way of fishing. I’d rather fish the way that my ancestors fished, so I have to go to Point Romanoff to catch my subsistence fishing. We’re allowed to keep our kings on that side.”

Fish & Game is continuing efforts to protect the kings through strategic closures, but Chinook numbers are still weak. 81-thousand kings had passed through Pilot Station by the end of June —about 20-thousand fish fewer than the historical average. The possibility for incidental harvest of Chinook has been discussed — and even allowed — for short periods in areas with strong passages of chum. But the general call for immediate release, coupled with gear restrictions, hasn’t allowed for much — which Ellis in Ruby says continues to harm traditional subsistence practices.

“Us not having a chance to actually set nets, do the traditional cutting, whatnot … I see this tradition slowly dying. This is very important to my village and our subsistence needs in my village are not being met at all.”

Jack in Kotlik echoed that closures conflict with Native practices.

“We grew up eating our staple foods all our lives and now you guys are just making criminals out of Alaska Natives and I don’t like that,” he says.

Schmidt points out that Fish & Game is trying to work with fishermen on gear usage and incidental take of Chinook. For instance:

“There are new regulations up in 4A upper that allow drift net gear during this time of the season. Didn’t want to just limit you to set net gear only. We also in case anyone does have a fish wheel, we are removing the condition that you have to man your fish wheel at all time and release all king salmon.”

Schmidt says it’s possible that king escapement goals will be reached this year, but conservative management strategies will continue to ensure that happens.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage’s 2014-15 snowfall levels lowest on record

Thu, 2015-07-02 11:50

As July begins and the National Weather Service resets their annual snowfall totals to zero, it’s official — Anchorage’s snowfall levels last winter are the lowest on record.

Anchorage’s official total for the 2014-2015 snowfall season is 25.1 inches.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Snider says that beat the previous record – set in 1957-58 – by more than 5 inches.

“Something else to keep in mind is this new record is about 1/3 of the normal seasonal snowfall, which is about 74.5 inches, or so,” Snider said. “We count that over about 30 years and take the average.”

Snider says only three of the last 12 months exceeded the normal monthly precipitation averages. And he says the effects of such a low snow winter are evident in this year’s busy fire season.

“The snow here in Anchorage is just a point representation, but many other locations, like the Susitna Valley; like the western Kenai Peninsula, all those regions were very low on snow this year,” Snider said. “And that affects the moisture level of the ground, of the shrubs and the landscape, and all that is feeding into the dramatic fire season we’re seeing this year.”

Wildfires have burned 2,253,575 acres so far this summer.

This year’s record low comes just three year’s after Anchorage saw a record-high annual snowfall of 134.5 inches in the 2011-12 season.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game still finalizing budget

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:18

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is still finalizing a plan to for the most recent cut to its budget, but Bristol Bay shouldn’t see too many more cuts, said Commercial Fisheries Director Jeff Regnart during a recent visit to Dillingham

During the special session in June, the Legislature cut about $1.3 million in general fund dollars from Fish and Game’s budget for the new fiscal year, which started July 1, Regnart said.  The Division of Commercial Fisheries will take the largest cut, about $850,000.

“We’ll have a package put together by mid-week next week,” Regnart said. “I can’t tell you whether or not it’s going to impact the bay. The bay has been hit pretty substantially already, with what we’ve done during the legislative cycle. There still might be a few tweaks here. But I don’t see anything significant.”

Regnart said the department was already planning on cuts to Bristol Bay management this summer based on earlier versions of the budget. That includes ending the count at the Nushagak sonar in July, so it won’t count pinks and chums in August.

“We’ll still manage, and we’ll manage based on the fisheries performance, but likely we’re gonna be more conservative, which means less opportunity probably, because if we’re not sure, we will err on the side of the fish,” Regnart said.

That will save the department about $90,000, but likely comes at a cost to the fishery, Regnart said.

Categories: Alaska News

Sea Shanties, Scurvy, and a Sailboat Regatta without Wind

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:13

Fair winds and following seas. A blessing for sailors, heading out onto the water, at the mercy of time and tides.

It was what we hoped for the Arctica, a small but mighty sailboat, with its motley crew of recent surgery patients, pregnant women, and greenhorns.

There’s de facto First Mate Liska Kandror:

“It gets exciting, for sure, you have to move fast, and things drop out of your hands and then there’s a gust of wind that comes up and it’s a good time.”

Her friend Allison Shockley:

(Photo via KBBI – Homer)

“So she invited me and I thought, I’m not going to miss up a cool opportunity to really experience Alaska.”

And mild-mannered yet fearless captain Craig Forrest:

“I’ve been sailing in Homer now since 1977.”

My partner John and I, along with Allie, could all say we’d been near sailboats before. But not necessarily on them. Certainly not crewed them.

On the first day, we learned to sail. It started slow, with the first several hours calm, calm, calm.

“When there’s almost no wind, everything that we do on the boat makes a difference,” said Forrest. “If you step a little too hard in one direction, that makes the boat do something we might not like. If a boat goes by us and puts up a wake, that shakes the wind out of the sails so we can’t maneuver. It’s just really, really difficult.”

It picked up toward afternoon and for the last hour, we splashed through the waves, tacking and jibing, racing around marker buoys. We went home that night, tired and sore.

“Oh man. Crawling around on deck game me some black and blueies on my knees, I’ll tell you what,” said Shockley.

But we came back the next day, ready to hit the water again. We were confident. We hopped up on deck, got her ready to go. Ready for squall and gale were we!

But instead. Nothing.

“Well, we were very close to the buoy at one time,” said Kandror. “We are supposed to go to our next marker and we are not. We are slowly drifting in circles.”

The occasional whisper of half a breeze flopped the sails around. The wrong way.

“What’s happening is the main is forcing our bow upwind and the spinnaker doesn’t have enough wind in it to force it downwind and we keep spinning,” said Forrest.

And so we spun. And spun. And the buoy got smaller and smaller. And then, we got caught by the current, which was moving faster than the wind.

“For some reason we can’t turn. We’re doing 1.5 knots backwards,” said Forrest.

And so we sat, sometimes drifting in the wrong direction, sometimes twirling like a top. But mostly we just sat. Bobbing like a cork in Kachemak Bay. First we turned to sea shanties.

Then, our thoughts turned to the trials and tribulations of our predecessors.

“Back in the day when there were no engines, you know these giant sailboats got stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind for days, weeks. Weeks with no wind. I mean, they had to store their water and their food and they got scurvy,” said Kandror.

“The old square-rig sailboats were not very efficient at all with the wind,” said Forrest. “They’d have the crew hauling buckets of water to throw over the sails. Some of those boats, the masts on them were 80-100 feet tall. That’s a long ways up for a bucket of water.”

And we thought of those sailors, adrift, maybe, or on long voyages far from home. Captain Craig regaled us with tales of sailors of old, of ships in bottles, of how they crocheted, using their knowledge of knots. Of how they were innovative using citrus, berries, and grasses to combat scurvy. Of how they were at the mercy of the winds and seas.

“You look at it all, the history of boats at sea are an idea of a long way of learning how to do stuff and making it work,” said Forrest.

He told us of his own nights at sea, once in a storm with water filling the cabin and the boat on its side. Once sailing through the Barren Islands with kerosene lamps lighting the small boat and the stars brilliant overhead.

There’s something magical about sailing, learning to read the weather, leaving some things to chance, with more than a thousand years of history behind you.

“Because you feel like you’re moving on windpower instead of motor power and panthering across the water. That’s a good feeling,” said Kandror.

At the end of the day, the race was called. Not enough wind to complete the course. We took advantage of modern technology, and got towed back to the harbor.

Disappointing? Not at all. We came as strangers to the Arctica and left as friends with a greater appreciation for the sea and the art of sailing and revised our hopes for next time:

Fair winds and following seas, but if not, good company, please.

Categories: Alaska News

East Coast theology school selling off Alaska Native art, feds to investigate

Thu, 2015-07-02 10:11

Chuck Smythe unrolls the tunic from storage. It’s kept this way to avoid damage. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The country’s oldest theological school is selling off its Native art collection, and Sealaska Heritage Institute is asking the feds to investigate. Tlingit and Haida pieces are among the works–some of which might be sacred.

At Sealaska Heritage Institute, culture and history director Chuck Smythe walks down a flight of cedar steps to the basement, the place where Native artifacts are kept.

Behind a locked door are some of the pieces in the collection.

“We’re going into the conservation room. You hear the freezer going,” he says.

Items that arrive at the institute are cooled to 40 below to kill insects before the pieces go into long-term storage in a temperature controlled room. Smythe shows me a Southeast Native tunic, probably from the 20th century.

“It’s a green tunic with red border and it has flowers and designs.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute is looking for the tribe this tunic belongs to. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

It has delicate beading on the sleeves and collar, a raven on the front. But that’s all we know. The tunic was repatriated from a museum in 2007. Information about which tribe and clan it belongs didn’t follow it back home.

“It’s hard. A lot of museums have very generalized identification of objects,” he says. “I used to work at the Smithsonian in the repatriation office and they have hundreds of objects that are just ‘Northwest Coast.’”

Even harder to track are the Native artifacts that fall into private collectors’ hands. That’s what the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts says could happen to 80 pieces in its care because the owner wants to sell.

The museum has housed the collection since the 1940s; The Andover Newton Theological School is the owner.

Dan Monroe, the museum’s director, says the school informed him a few months ago.

“The 80 works are works that they’ve selected that have the greatest monetary value,” he says.

The college says it’s not an art curator; it’s an educational institution.

Items in storage at Sealaska Heritage Institute. The Andover Newton Theological School’s collection contains works from 52 tribes. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute is questioning whether the artifacts are sacred–pieces used in ceremony.  A federally supported entity, like a school or museum, is barred from selling those and obligated to return them to the tribes.

Rosita Worl, the president the institute, says the spirits of her ancestors are associated with those objects.

She notified the feds that some of the Tlingit and Haida pieces in the theological school’s collection could be subject to repatriation laws–particularly a halibut hook with a wolf crest and shamanic doll.

“We believe that everything has a spirit and that includes animate and inanimate objects,” she says.

Worl is Tlingit of the Eagle moiety and Thunderbird clan. She says she’s been trying to “get over the history” of how the theological school acquired these artifacts in the 19th century.

“We know they were well meaning in terms of trying to Christianize us, but we went through a lot of difficulties with that,” she says. “And I really want to respect all different religions but having the history of that overt suppression of our beliefs was difficult to take again.

The college is estimated to turn a million dollar profit. But Martin Copenhaver, the school’s president, says the pieces for sale are not sacred items. He believes the museum is engaging in an “ugly disinformation campaign.”

“I think the status quo works for them. They have the pieces. They’re able to display them for free. They did not pay for those,” he says. “I think it doesn’t work for them now if those pieces are in other museums.”

He says the school plans to sell to other museums, not private collectors.

“Unless those are ones who intend to then in turn donate them back,” says Copenhaver.

But museum president Dan Monroe says it typically doesn’t go that way.

“I would say it’s fair to summarize the frequency of that happening as highly infrequent,” says Monroe.

Appraisers have already been sent to assess the items but there’s no date for the sale yet. Worl says the willingness to sell the artifacts contradicts the school’s mission statement: “We will strive to be good stewards of the sacred tradition we have inherited.”

“My first wish is that they would say, ‘OK we recognize that Native people have these spiritual relationships to these objects.’ That they are significant,” Worl says. “I would hope that they would recognize that.”

Federal repatriation agents have opened an investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Man dies after apparently shooting self in Alaska park

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:58

An Arizona has man died after apparently shooting himself with a gun at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

National Park Service officials say it’s unknown if the shooting was accidental or deliberate.

Authorities say rangers responded to a report of a gunshot Tuesday morning and found the 22-year-old man, who was dead at the scene. The man’s name has not been released.

Park spokeswoman Miriam Valentine says the shooting occurred at the Riley Creek campground, which is located just inside the park near the entrance.

Valentine says the man was visiting the park with his father, but the father was not present when the shooting occurred.

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incident along with the Park Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s shoreline erosion rate among highest worldwide

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:57

Alaska has some of the most aggressive rates of shoreline erosion in the world. These findings are part of a new study released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS scientists studied nearly 1000 miles of shoreline from the Canadian Border to Icy Cape. The most extreme erosion was found around Drew Point, north of Teshekpuk Lake, about 70 miles east of Barrow.

USGS geologist Ann Gibbs is the lead author of the study. She says the most destructive erosion happens on elevated land.

“When the bluffs erode as opposed to a beach that might, the sand might get deposited offshore and then get washed back up, that happens a lot in more temperate climates,” Gibbs said. “Once the bluff erodes, it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

An average of a meter per year is eroding overall. Gibbs says on the Chukchi side, the rate is about 0.3 meters per year.

“And on the Beaufort coast it’s about six times higher, 1.7 meters a year, so there’s a lot more going on on the Beaufort coast and we don’t quite know why that is. it has to do with the geology, the rock strength and the energy of waves hitting that part of the coast,” Gibbs said.

The study is part of an ongoing assessment of the nation’s shoreline. It did not address climate change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska officially drops lawsuit challenging gay marriage

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of a court case that struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the appeals court Wednesday accepted a joint notice to dismiss filed by the state and attorney Allison Mendel, who represented the couples who filed suit against the Alaska.

A federal judge in October ruled Alaska’s ban violated the U.S. constitution.

After the appeals court lifted a temporary stay and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review of the case, the state had asked federal appeals court panel for a review.

That appeal was suspended in January when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a series of marriage equality cases. The high court ruled Friday to legalize same-sex marriage across the county.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Southeast director won’t take job

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

Just over a week before he was supposed to start, the newly named director of the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus says he won’t be showing up for work.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports that Chris Gilmer emailed UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield Tuesday to inform him that family circumstances and other opportunities will keep him from reporting for duty.

Caulfield says he will be in Sitka next week, at which time he will meet with the community advisory council to plan the next steps for an interim leadership arrangement.

Gilmer was selected for the position in February to replace Jeff Johnston. Gilmer has been core professor and chair of the Department of Undergraduate Writing at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man remains missing after 6 months

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:24

The family of a Ketchikan man who has been missing for six months has filed a presumptive death petition.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports that 38-year-old Roy Banhart went missing either Dec. 28 or Dec. 29 after trying to get into a taxi near a bar.

Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard said in January that Banhart did not leave the city by commercial transportation, but that the department has had missing person cases that last several years in the past.

In an interview Tuesday Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett said the case is still open but that there have been no new developments.

Banhart’s cousin MaryAnn Bright, of Anchorage, filed a presumptive death petition in Ketchikan District Court. A jury will be called to look into the disappearance.

Categories: Alaska News

Ethan Berkowitz takes over as Anchorage’s mayor

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:20

Ethan Berkowitz formally became the new Mayor of Anchorage on Wednesday. The celebration downtown was a marked departure from past inaugurations, with a heavy emphasis on changing directions at city hall.

Berkowitz’s swearing in was an informal affair. Frankly, it felt more like a block party than a government event. Supporters, local politicians, kids, curious passersby – Town Square Park filled with hundreds of people while the Vinyl Floors, a band from West High School, played on stage.

“Hey Rick we still have virtually no guitar up here.” “Can I get a little more guitar up here in the monitors? Just a little.”

The ceremony itself was short and sweet. It was also diverse, something speakers as well as audience members noted. The event opened with a Dena’ina prayer, and eventually yielded to a Yupik dance group and hip-hop performance. Rhetoric throughout drew on language from community activism emphasizing Anchorage’s multiculturalism, as well as subtle nods towards progressive values. It’s the same tone Berkowitz used on the campaign trail, and throughout his transition into office the last two months.

“We are, in many ways, liberated from the way things have been done before,” he said. “And we have the responsibility, and the ability, to take care of things ourselves. It’s our time to make a new Anchorage.”

The mayor’s office in Anchorage is technically nonpartisan. And while there were no overt jabs at the conservative outgoing Sullivan Administration, there was a decidedly liberal flavor to the festivities, with Downtown Democratic legislators smiling beside prominent community activists. For attendee David Landry in the audience, the openness of the event set a tone unlike any past inaugurations.

“Just very excited to have a new generation of mayor in town. And it’s about time,” Landry said.

As for specifics in Berkowitz’s policy agenda, details are scant, but the focus remains on issues highlighted in his campaign.

“Working on public safety issues, we’ve been working on economic development issues. And we’re also getting the early stages of preparing the next budget,” Berkowitz said. “So, we’ve been hard at work, even before we moved into the office.”

But the remainder of the afternoon was for celebration, music, and a very long line for free cupcakes.

Categories: Alaska News

Sunshine affects Ketchikan’s tourism industry

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:15

Ketchikan’s summer tourism season is well underway. Record low rainfall in May and warmer-than-usual temperatures had a lot OF tourists smiling. But in a place known for rain, is sunshine bad for business?

Chuck Slagle walks the dock where a few of his charter fishing boats are coming in from a morning on the water. “How was your trip?” “Great, thanks for asking.”

Tourists eat at the Fish House on June 23, 2015.

One customer noticed Slagle had changed out of the shorts he was wearing earlier in the day. He changed into pants to go fishing. He said a sunny day doesn’t always make for the best fishing, but it does make for a better experience.

“Sunshine makes a big difference in our business.With what we do, people going fishing. They not only have a better time when it’s not pouring down rain, they’ll also look out the cruise ship windows and fishing is more appealing to them when it’s not pouring down rain.”

Slagle also owns the Fish House, a seafood restaurant just above his fleet of charter fishing boats. He said weather affects sales at the restaurant, too. Generally, people aren’t willing to wait in line in the rain.

On a recent sunny day, the line was trailing onto the pavement.  Blake Runkel and his family from Houston were happily waiting in line for their crab lunch. “Yeah I was surprised this is a beautiful day. We lucked out. Short sleeve shirts in Alaska, that’s pretty amazing.”

The Fish House in Ketchikan.

His mother, Pat, booked the trip after hearing rave reviews from friends, and she was strategic about booking it this week after some reading. “It said that was the best time to come. If you could plan your trip They said May to September,  but they said the best time would be from June 15 to July 15.Weather wise I think it was basically.”

She heard a lot about the rain in Southeast and packed accordingly, but was happy to keep the ponchos aboard the Ruby Princess.

The sunshine isn’t an economic boon for everyone though.

“I’ll tell you one thing our business does increase if it’s raining.”

Karl Biggerstaff at Tongass Trading says retail sales can go up about 25 percent on a rainy day, when people are more inclined to stay indoors. Even on a sunny day though, people still shop. Tongass General Manager Chris Parks says the best weather for business is changing weather, a mix of sun and rain.

Parks adds that while weather has a noticeable effect on sales in the short term, the industry is influenced more by the overall economy in the long term.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker makes appointment to Marijuana Control Board

Thu, 2015-07-02 09:09

Gov. Bill Walker has appointed members to a new board charged with developing regulations for the cultivation and sale of legal marijuana in Alaska.

A voter initiative to legalize recreational pot for those 21 and older delegated regulatory responsibilities to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but allowed the Legislature to create a Marijuana Control Board to assume those duties.

The director of the ABC Board will serve as director of the Marijuana Control Board and paid staff of the ABC board will serve as staff for the new board.

Walker appointed Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik to the public safety seat; Juneau assembly member Loren Jones to the public health seat; Mark Springer of Bethel to the rural seat; and Bruce Schulte and Brandon Emmett to the industry seats.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:40

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

Download Audio


Walker Delays Payment on Oil Tax Credits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread a Thin Force Even Thinner

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

Shell Gets Federal Approval to Head North, With Some Stipulations

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

Sand Point Post Office Burglars Sentenced

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Two men have been sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 21 months in federal prison for burglarizing the post office in Sand Point.

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

Marriage Equality and Mourning: Mildred Boesser Fought Until the End

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide last week, President Obama called the ruling “a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up.” Mildred Boesser stood 5 feet tall, and she was one of those people. On the day of the ruling, Boesser was on her deathbed at home in Juneau, surrounded by family.


A Psychologist Follows His Slow-Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

Flying Karamazovs and Friends Bring Chautauqua Spirit to Juneau

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt. Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.


Categories: Alaska News

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread A Thin Force Event Thinner

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:38

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

Download Audio

Public safety director Col. James Cockrell says the department had to find $8.5 million to cut. It’s mothballing two search-and-rescue helicopters, losing some support positions, and tightening its belt in other ways. Cockrell says it’s been hard to cut trooper positions – it’s hard to find good recruits, and troopers fulfill the agency’s mission to fight crime, enforce the law, and protect life and property. Plus, he says the force has always been spread thin.

“Statewide, the population that we serve, we certainly don’t meet the national standards  of providing the number of police officers to the population, and we really never have because we’re  so spread out and the difficulties of getting into some of the areas that we deal with.”

Of the dozen communities losing troopers, eight are losing one or two each. Fairbanks is losing six, and Soldotna five. Wasilla is losing the most — nine state trooper positons. Cockrell says that’s going to make a bad situation worse.

“When you look at specifically the Mat-Su valley, our troopers are, some of them are 30, 40 cases behind on their case load right now. We’re just not keep up with the volume of activity we have out there and that’s pretty much statewide.”

Cockrell says another area that will feel the change is the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which he says is experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence crime. And he noted the loss of a drug investigations trooper in the Bristol Bay region. But he says urban residents will also see a change.

“We’ll have to prioritize our services and certainly when we have less troopers property crime goes even further down on the list. People crimes, assaults, burglaries in process, robberies and domestic violence and sexual assaults. Certainly our responses to some property crimes will be practically non-existent.”

Cockrell says he saw the cuts coming so kept several positions vacant. As a result he says only one permanent employee was actually laid off, along with six non-permanent positions — four troopers who handled cold case murder investigations, and two who did background checks. Now, he says, the department has to cut another $2.6 million to cover state employee pay raises.

Categories: Alaska News

Polar Pioneer: An Economic Boon For Dutch Harbor

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:37

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. The company has plans to take most of that equipment north for exploratory drilling operations later this summer. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

Download Audio

Dutch Harbor is a busy place this time of year.

“The flights are all full, the hotel is full, vehicles – trucks for rent – companies that rent vehicles – they’re all rented.”

City Mayor Shirley Marquardt says the bustle isn’t unusual. She compares it to the uptick in business the community last saw when the pollock fishery took off in the 1980s and 90s.

“… and you had the big at-sea processor fleet show up, these big boats participating in this massive fishery and they’re all coming into town and said ‘we need everything.’”

But this year, much of that business can be attributed to oil giant, Shell. Over the next two years, Dutch Harbor will serve as a logistics hub as the company carries out its exploratory drilling plans further north in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Spokeswoman Megan Baldino says 15 company personnel have been in Dutch Harbor for at least the last two weeks. Now that one of the company’s drill rigs is moored in the bay just out front of town, Baldino says up to 35 people will arrive daily.

“…on any given day the numbers could be lower or higher.”

Because flights to and from the island are limited, the company has chartered flights with Anchorage-based Ravn Alaska. Charlotte Siegreen is Ravn’s spokeswoman.

“It’s usually around one or two a day for the next couple of weeks.”

Currently, only one commercial carrier provides regular service into Dutch Harbor. Siegreen says it’s not yet clear if Ravn will also consider regularly scheduled flights after its contract with Shell ends.

“we don’t have an immediate plans to make any scheduled service changes, but we’re always looking. I can say that.”

With the influx of so many people, Shell has booked a block of rooms at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

“We are full.”

Lori Smith is the General Manger of Hospitality for Unisea, the seafood producer that owns two hotels in town. She says the oil company has been careful to relinquish rooms it is not using to free up space in a community where temporary housing is extremely limited. Mayor Shirley Marquardt says her administration has worked closely with Shell on that issue.

“We’ve been very up front and very honest with Shell from day one, of ‘if people are going to live here full time, if you’re not going to hire people who live her to do the work, do not come into town and jack up prices and kick people out of their homes.”

Marquardt says so far, housing prices have remained stable. She says it’s unclear how the job market might change.

“It’s too early to tell. When they were here the last time they did hire a lot of local folks for security and logistics and running around.”

Megan Baldino says Shell hasn’t yet made any direct local hires, but they have contracted with a number of local businesses.

“Thee are some areas where we bring in people who we have trained to really specific competency requirements, but in the future there are plans to train and utilize local staffing so we can meet those needs locally.” 00:13

The city doesn’t have a system to attribute tax revenue directly to the oil company’s presence, but city officials say they expect an uptick in revenue collected from both bed and fuel taxes.

Categories: Alaska News

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:35

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

Download Audio

The board tabled the final decision and wants to hold a meeting to hear directly from Bethel residents. It dealt the Bethel Native Corporation a victory in shooting down the city’s formal request to stop the license, but the board can still reject their application.

The board is required to honor protests and reject licenses unless the protests are quote “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” which is what three of five voting members found in their quarterly meeting held in Fairbanks.

Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation said the city’s reasoning relied on bad information.

“The protest is not based on any facts of any kind. It’s based on data from a 5.5 year old advisory vote and the reluctance of the city council to take any other position until they can ‘feel good’ about where the equilibrium of the community is regarding alcohol sales. The equilibrium for Bethel is that the community is wet and to make one that is responsible, defensible, and consistent with the law.”

Bethel Native Corporation is the local corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Alaska Commercial Company store had also applied for a license but dropped their request until citizens vote again. Bethel voted out of local option status in 2009, paving the way for legal sales and unlimited imports of alcohol. The new application is the first in five years.

Bethel Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was surprised at the board’s action.

“I feel like it’s an affront to our city council who put a lot of time into deciding this issue to be told we’re arbitrary and capricious about this. It should be an affront to anyone who lives in this community who feels we should have a local opportunity to make decisions for ourselves.”

BNC has been pushing hard for the store as they have been without a tenant at their multimillion dollar new retail complex since it was vacated by Swanson’s grocery store this spring.  They collected 500 letters of support and brought on a prominent lawyer to support their case, Phil Blumstein, who argued the city was evading the state’s liquor laws.

“The legal issue at the center of this protest is whether the city can properly base its protest on its belief that liquor sales should be illegal in Bethel, or its belief that the public believes liquor sales should be allowed in Bethel, where the votes have in deciding the issue the only way the law allows,  have repeatedly voted for sales to be legal.”

Several community groups have formally opposed the application, like the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Lower Kuskokwim School District. They cite the region’s high rates of alcoholism and the disproportionate number of alcohol-related crimes and domestic violence. The city’s had a rocky past with bars and liquor stores prior to the 1970s when Bethel banned them.

Categories: Alaska News

Psychologist Follows Slow Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Wed, 2015-07-01 17:25

Uncle Leroy’s Coffee parked at the Muldoon Farmers Market. Hillman/KSKA

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

The inside of the bus is open and simple. A few of the original 1960s era benches flank the sides of a coffee counter where a teakettle sits on one corner. A two-burner propane stove stands against a wall.

Austin Schwartz pours green coffee beans into a pan and sets a timer. For the next 8 minutes, he slowly shuffles them around.

“Never try to rush the roast,” he says as he slowly swirls his wooden spoon. “It will all happen. In the eight minutes for the first crack. And then just a few extra minutes.”

From his demeanor, it’s unclear if Schwartz has ever actually tasted coffee. “I think people usually regard me as an easy-going person who has a lot of patience,” he says. “I work in the schools with teachers and kids, so I have a lot of practice with patience.”

But he didn’t exhibit that quality when jumping into his new summer venture – Uncle Leroy’s Coffee. Schwartz says he’s always loved a good cup of joe. Then, last December, he had his first cup of small batch roasted coffee, and his adoration bumped up a notch. He bought some green beans and started roasting at home. Less than a month later he saw an old bus on Craigslist, and by June, he had opened up his new mobile coffee roasting shop.

“I’m a day dreamer, so I have ideas. And when I have an idea, sometimes I like to see if I can actualize it. Kind of follow through on it,” he pauses, looking down at the pan. “Because I don’t want to live with regret.”

Now, he drives his aging bus slowly around the city, hoping not to stall in traffic. He pulls into farmers markets, parking lots and food carnivals, roasting and serving simple, black pour-over coffee. No espresso, no lattes.

Austin Schwartz roasts coffee in the back of his vintage bus. Hillman/KSKA

“The bus is actually really nice for roasting because there’s so many windows,” he explains as the bus begins to fill with smoke, coffee smell filling the air.

The beans start to turn different shades of brown, bouncing about the pan like low-key popcorn.

Schwartz says he can roast about four pounds per hour, then he grinds it up, one cup at a time, serving it like was done 150 years ago. Slowly, patiently, yet still buzzing.

Categories: Alaska News