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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: 19 min 56 sec ago

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

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The Saanya Kwaan, Cape Fox dancers, were chosen to lead the processional of 50 dance groups in the Grand Entrance.

Harvey Shields is the leader of the Chief welcome dance.

“We are the Saanya Kwaan people and we originate about 50 miles south of Saxman,” he says.

Like other groups here, the Saanya Kwaan range in age from about 5 years old to elders.

“At two and three years old, they put regalia on them and then they start walking around and as they get older they find their place of where they need to be,” Shields says.

The Johnson O’Malley dance group from Wrangell is further down the street.

“I was still sewing on the ferry,” Sandra Churchill says, laughing. She made two button robes this year for Celebration.

“I know we know it’s every two years, and we still put it off ’til the last minute, but it’s worth it,” she says.

Celebration started in 1982 and Churchill has been to all 16 events. Her dance group has been practicing for months for this year’s festivities.

“It’s important for the young children,” she says, “to see the elders and how much they love it and instill that so they will carry it on for us.”

The sidewalks were clogged with people snapping pictures and taking videos. Patricia McGraw and her husband Gary looked like they were on a safari. They had traveled from Pensacola, Florida to Juneau specifically for Celebration.

McGraw grew up in Juneau. She chokes up as she recalls that time.

“When I was young the Native traditions were totally disrespected. And you know kids knew. I was told not to play with the Native kids. But kids know what’s right, what’s wrong, and I’ve always felt quite strongly that they needed their traditions and we needed to honor their traditions,” she says.

And as a non-Native, Celebration is a homecoming McGraw embraced.

At age 75, Ken Grant says his dancing days are over. But he’s danced at many Celebrations with the Mount Fairweather group from Hoonah.

Grant works for the National Park Service and lives in Bartlett Cove, where he has a spectacular view of the Fairweather range on clear days.

His formal Tlingit name even comes from Mount Fairweather.

“It means being proud, and having pride in the mountain and all that it stands for; the songs, the regalia and the stories that come from it,” he says.

Much like Celebration, he says.

“Most of all I think it builds in pride, it builds in passion, which I think is really important. For anything to function properly you need to have that pride and passion,” he says. “And I think that Celebration is a good source for pride and passion.”

Celebration continues through Saturday with dance performances, Native Art, Native language sessions, lectures, a parade and the Grand Exit.

Categories: Alaska News

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

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Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

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Ritchie Musick at her first cabin in Fairbanks in 1966. (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

Ritchie Musick is standing outside the rustic trailer in Ester Village where she raised three kids without running water. Out the backdoor is a giant playground of aspen, trails, and other mysteries.

“You teach your kids here to be aware of three things: bears, amanitas, and mine shafts,” Musick said.

In 1964 Ritchie drove her Volkswagen Beetle up the Alcan from Los Angeles – over 1,000 miles of dusty gravel road riddled with frost heave. She and her girlfriend drove all over Alaska, seeing otters in Prince William Sound and buildings broken in half by the earthquake in Anchorage that year.

“And then on the way home I took a curve too fast and flipped the car,” Musick said. “Bounced three times off the highway and ended up upside down, but we were not hurt.”

They left the car hanging on a tow truck in the Yukon and caught a ride with a paratrooper to Denver. Back in California, she kept dreaming about Alaska. When she was offered a teaching job in 1968, she packed up her Mustang convertible for another big road trip.

“There was a big bullfrog, there was a big boa constrictor, there were two dopher snakes, one king snake, and an iguana,” Musick said.

The reptiles were in boxes in the backseat. Her friend was in the front.

“Somewhere along the way, the king snake escaped and went slithering across her ankle as we’re driving up the highway. She was not one happy camper,” Musick said. “He disappeared and we never found him until we unpacked the car in Fairbanks and he was under the backseat.”

Ritchie Musick in Ester with her first daughter Michelle (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

She rented a dry cabin for $100 a month, pumping water out of a garbage bin to shower and wash dishes. She tried to get a job with her zoology degree.

“There were only two women with Fish and Game and I could not get hired,” Musick said. “When they sent the women into the field it made front page.”

She ended up teaching high school science for 22 years. When she started in 1968, there were about 10 guys for every girl in Fairbanks. One night in 1970 she went to a party in North Pole.

“Mike and I just kind of fell in love that night, even though I was there with somebody else,” she said.

They started dating in the fall, just before Mike left for Mexico. Love letters flew back and forth that winter.

“He came back in April and we set the date to get married six or seven days later,” Musick said.

Ritchie had wanted to see gorillas since high school. For their honeymoon they flew to Germany and bought a Volkswagen camper bus. After 6 months touring around Europe, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and spent a year driving across Africa. When they got back to Fairbanks, the pipeline was in full swing. Mike got a job surveying between Salcha and the Yukon.

“All of a sudden you were reading about people being murdered here and there,” Musick said. “We’re at a stop sign one time, I’m driving and he’s in the car, some gal’s leaning in the window propositioning him.”

Ritchie started mushing with a hand-crafted children’s dog sled and a black lab, and gradually acquired sled dogs. One day she was running her team on a trail south of Ester.

“I had just started out and it got kind of narrow and I kind of freaked out, put my foot on the brake when I shouldn’t have. And when you cut a corner with a tree, it flipped me over,” Musick said. “And so I’m being dragged behind the sled thinking, ‘Oh no I’ve got 30 miles to go.’ And I saw the tree. Somehow I was stupidly trying to push my sled against the tree but it got me right in the face.”

Her face was shattered and she needed reconstructive surgery. She touches below her right eye.

“I still have a plate and 16 screws under this eye,” she said. “For awhile I had metal here but they took it out because the screws kept popping out of my nose.”

Ritchie and Mike still live in the log house they built in 1986. They have three kids and four grandkids here. Fairbanks has grown in the 50 years since Ritchie’s roadtrip. But it’s still the Last Frontier for a girl from Modesto.

Categories: Alaska News

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage can now boast two comedy improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

When you go to a rehearsal of improv group Urban Yeti, you find out really quickly that their name isn’t the only weird thing about them.

But just who is this group? And why are they called Urban Yeti? Those answers will have to wait until later.

First things first – I ask co-founder John Hanus, the most important question – can I meet the Yeti?

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You could meet the yeti if you were in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, John Hanus and the urban yeti are usually not in the same place at the same time.”

Ok, so it’s disappointing that I can’t get a yeti appointment and a little odd that Hanus talks about himself in the third person, but it’s clear, Hanus, who is a BP engineer by day, is really into his improv group. I ask him why.

“John Hanus’s answer is, I love the aspect of tinkering around with a small business in my spare time and I love the aspect of directing and trying to get the best out of people and shared on a common goal and going in the same direction,” he said. “So I love leaving work and saying, you know, let’s think about marketing and advertising for urban yeti today, let’s think about contracts and to be honest I know I’m a total nerd, let’s think about taxes! That’s cool! I’m getting to know about small business tax structure.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Hanus and his wife Mallory got into improv in college in Washington State, moved back to Anchorage, worked with Scared Scriptless and then decided to start their own improv group. Mallory says of all the performance art to choose from, improv is the most freeing and forgiving.

“Because I can make a fool of myself and just dust it off and move on to the next thing,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in theater type things and got involved in improv in college and it’s been the only thing that’s stuck because it’s so addicting.”

John Parsi is another member of the group. Parsi came to Alaska to work as a law clerk for the Supreme Court. He says he loves the playfulness of improv and the physical comedy.

“You’ll do something as easy as someone pantomime struggling to open a jar and the audience will connect with that and think it’s hilarious because everybody experiences that,” Parsi said. “To see a group of people be able to be playful with those things, I think is fun for an audience, and is an interplay between all of the players on stage, all of the actors on stage and the people in the audience.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You have an opportunity to do that in improv because every single night, it’s a creation, organically produced by four or five people on a stage and 90 people in an audience and that’s an incredible feeling.”

But rehearsal is important as director John Hanus reminds his crew.

Hanus asks me for a word to get things started for Parsi. Clearly I’m not cut out for the spontaneity of improv. All I can come up with is…radio…

Erik Dahl, MaryJo Mrochinski and Aneliese Palmer round out the group. Palmer says trust and cohesion is paramount.

“And if you can create something together, that is what makes a wonderful show,” Palmer said. “If you’re on different pages, its just kind of, individuals walking around, saying crap….and if you are together, then it becomes a scene it becomes theater it becomes funny, it becomes fun.”

Urban Yeti picks themes for their performances. Last season it was Frigid Affair, this year? Debauchery! Urban Yeti performances are the first Saturday of the month at the Alaska Experience Theater.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 12, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:12

Individual news 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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Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.   The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

Subsistence Users Criticize Miners And Regulators At Nome Meeting

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Subsistence users in Nome are criticizing gold miners and regulators for failing to take into account the negative impacts mining is having on other resources in the area. Officials from different agencies took public comment on the issue at a community meeting yesterday.

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups.  Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

Categories: Alaska News

Large crowd greets Celebration paddlers

Thu, 2014-06-12 15:50

(Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Dozens of paddlers from Yakutat to Metlakatla and places in between landed their canoes on a Juneau beach on their way to the Southeast Native cultural festival Celebration 2014.

More than 500 people waded into the water or watched from the shore as the paddlers ended their journey Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of others lined a nearby causeway or cheered from parks and bridges along the route.

We spoke with some of the paddlers and recorded some of the songs and filed this audio post card.

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Celebration continues through Saturday night. You can watch many of the events on 360North TV or online at 360north.org.

Categories: Alaska News

State Hires Ferry Security Officer With Questionable Past

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:19

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position, but the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

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Jason Joel was hired in May as the security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is the incident commander for the state ferry system in the case of a major security event. He has supervision over vessel and facility security officers. He works with the Coast Guard, Custom and Immigration and national, state and local law enforcement agencies.

In the last 26 years, Joel worked as a police officer in several departments in Florida and Alaska. He held many of those jobs less than a year. In at least three cases he agreed to resign in exchange for the departments keeping any details of his work and conduct confidential from the public and future employers.

Joel started at the Haines Police Department in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant after three years. A few months later he was demoted. Police Chief at the time, Gary Lowe, wouldn’t give a reason for the demotion.

Joel’s personnel file with the Haines Borough is confidential. The borough will only confirm it struck a deal with Joel in exchange for his resignation.

Several Haines residents confirmed to KHNS News they witnessed or experienced instances of Joel verbally harassing women, although none wanted their name used in this report. A former police dispatcher documented several instances of harassment from Joel while on the job. She said she reported the incident to the chief.

Several months after Joel left Haines, the Alaska Police Standards Council confirmed it was investigating him. In 2012 the council said it was moving ahead with a process to revoke his police certification. At that point, Joel voluntarily surrendered his certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state.

It’s not clear if the state asked about Joel’s certification during a background check.

“For the most part we really can’t get into the hiring process – that stuff is kept confidential,” Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said. “Really what we can comment on is that he met qualifications for the position and that he’s accepted it and started working for the marine highway system.”

Woodrow says police certification isn’t a qualification for the job.

“He doesn’t need an APSC certification to perform the duties of a security officer for the marine highway system,” he said.

Woodrow also says the state can’t reveal how many applicants it had for the security officer job.

Aside from his work history, public records also show Joel filed for bankruptcy twice in 15 years. The first bankruptcy was in Florida in 1999 and few details are available.  But his 2012 bankruptcy case details nearly $80,000 in debt, not including a mortgage. Joel owes one Haines business, Lutak Lumber, more than $8,000. Owner Chip Lende says he doesn’t extend that line of credit to just anyone, but Joel held a prominent position in the community.

“When an individual when I think has been bestowed public trust because of the position they’ve been hired for we don’t expect them to abuse that when they come into the store looking for credit because we thinking they’re an honorable, trustworthy person because they’ve been hired under that pretense,” Lende said. “So when that trust is abused I think it’s a double slap in the face not just to the vendor but to the community because we’ve extended that credit based on that perceived relationship with the community for that person.”

Because the state’s hiring process is confidential, the public has no way of knowing exactly what the state knew about Joel before he became a state employee.

Joel did not respond to requests for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:18

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

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Missile Defense Agency director James Syring told senators they don’t need to worry about a repeat of last year’s botched test, when an interceptor launched from California missed because the head failed to separate from the booster.

“The failure last July I won’t go into details in this forum, but it was very simple. I’m confident that we’ve corrected that,” he said.

The Missile Defense Agency is asking Congress for $7.5 billion for next year. Syring says one crucial element is a new detection system called LRDR – long-range discrimination radar, which is likely to be based in Alaska. Syring told a Senate Committee he wants to have the billion-dollar radar operating within six years.

“The importance of the radar is that it provides us that needed discrimination capability against the threat from North Korea,” he said. “As they continue to progress and add decoys and counter-measures, and I’ll stop there in terms of classification, we must have a discrimination ability of a radar to counter that.”

Syring says he hopes to announce a location in a few months, but the agency has already told potential contractors to assume the radar will be installed at Clear Air Force Station, near Fairbanks. The budget also calls for 14 more interceptors at Fort Greely, bringing the total there to 40 by mid-2017. One part of Alaska the Missile Defense Agency is giving up on is Kodiak. The agency used to launch rockets from there to serve as targets but stopped in 2010 in favor a Kwajelein atoll in the Pacific. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked if the Kodiak Launch Facility might be part of a future test. Syring said no, because the testing has to be more realistic now, and the geometry of a launch from Kodiak makes it a poor stand-in for North Korea.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Case To Remove Pebble Initiative From Ballot

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

(Alexandra Gutierrez/Alaska Public Media)

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

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Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar presented the State’s case before the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“The mineral deposits and fisheries in the Bristol Bay fisheries reserve impact all Alaskans,” argued Bakalar. “They don’t just belong to or impact the people living in that region.”

The Alaska Miners Association and Council of Alaska Producers are behind the lawsuit. Their goal is to remove the Bristol Bay Forever initiative from the November ballot. The measure would add another layer of scrutiny to the proposed Pebble Mine beyond the permitting process by requiring legislative approval of large-scale mining operations in the region. (The Legislature is already obligated to sign off on oil and gas operations in the Bristol Bay area.)

The miners’ attorney, Matt Singer, held that the initiative circumvents the Legislature’s authority to delegate land management decisions to state agencies. He also argued that because the initiative only focuses on Bristol Bay instead of mining operations throughout the state, it is unconstitutional.

“We don’t regulate land and environmental decisions by balkanizing those decisions — by regionalizing those decisions — unless we’re seeking to solve a problem that cannot be addressed by a general law,” said Singer.

Justice Craig Stowers pressed Singer on that point.

“My question is, if we have statewide interest in the minerals and fisheries in this world-class watershed, in this world-class fishery, isn’t that enough in establishing general applicability — or general interest, statewide interest — putting aside the purpose statement of the initiative?” asked Stowers.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the State certified the initiative in 2012, and has stretched on for about a year and half. The Fairbanks Superior Court sided with the State on the matter in February, and the Supreme Court justices would have to reverse that ruling for the measure to be removed from the ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Confirms Delay Of HAARP Demolition

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility. Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:16

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot.

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Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

“Judge Estelle filed 16 untrue affidavits, under oath, from September 2011 through February, 2013, swearing that he had completed or issued decisions in all matters that had been pending before him, for more than six months, when in fact, he had not completed those decisions,” DiPietro said. “Judge Estelle continued to receive his salary on time, and that’s contrary to a state law that prohibits a judge from being paid on time if the judge has undecided matters outstanding for longer than six months.”

The Judicial Council concluded that by filing untrue affidavits, Judge Estelle failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

Judge Estelle was appointed in 2003. He has been approved in two previous retention elections, in 2006 and in 2010.

In April of this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges against Judge Estelle, and, after a hearing, issued its findings and recommendations against his retention.

DiPietro says that only state judicial District Three voters will have an opportunity to vote for or against Judge Estelle. District Three encompasses Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:15

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

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The report shows basic health care – like a primary care doctor’s visit is generally accessible, even to low income, uninsured patients. Community health centers like the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center provide services on a sliding fee scale.

The report was prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services. Commissioner Bill Streur says there are 200 locations across the state that offer basic health care to low income Alaskans:

“The range of preventative services, the range of primary care services and the options for those folks are pretty significant,” Streur said.

But Streur acknowledges many low-income and uninsured Alaskans have more complicated medical needs. When that’s the case, they may find help through a patchwork system of charity care. Those options include hospital emergency rooms and Project Access, which connects uninsured residents to specialists willing to wave their fees. Streur says his department is trying to figure out how many uninsured Alaskans need regular access to specialty care:

“The majority are people with a chronic condition that require specialty care and there’s no service available to them,” Streur said.

The report also identifies outpatient mental health care as an area that may not be available to the uninsured. The department doesn’t make recommendations for addressing the overall gap in access. Streur says that will be the job of the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group that started meeting this spring:

“What could we do under Medicaid, what could we do under other initiatives to be able to fill this gap?” Streur asked.

Alaskans who fall into the gap generally are childless adults who have incomes under $15,000 a year. They aren’t eligible for subsidies to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act because the law assumed they would qualify for Medicaid instead.

Categories: Alaska News

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:14

Local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

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Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shishmaref Environmental Program. He said a gasoline-like odor from the sheen can be smelt throughout the community.

“You can smell the odor from the Native Store to the other store, which is three-quarters of the village’s length as far as houses,” said Kuzuguk.

Last Thursday June 5, 2014 Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The next day a team from the DEC, the Coast Guard, and Spill Response Coordinator Emerald Alaska arrived on the island to investigate.

Paul Lhotka is an Environmental Program Specialist with the DEC and said the sheen “looked to us to be some type of weathered petroleum product, such as a gasoline or a diesel.”

Contaminated nearshore sea ice. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

Lhotka said no source has been identified and no volume estimation of the product has been calculated. However, a situation report estimates the sheen covers a 1,200 foot area of near-shore ice.

Closeup of absorbent pad collecting product. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Eric Vogel with the Incident Management Division at Sector Anchorage said this ice is hindering clean-up efforts. Local responders are maintaining an absorbency boom and pads along the coast of the affected area to soak up and confine the substance. But with the ice in break up, responders cannot venture more than five feet offshore by foot or skiff to absorb the product.

“Responders are unable to work out on the ice,” Vogel explained, “so most of the recovery operations are from shore—the absorbent boom and pads that are anchored to the shore with rebar and passively collecting this emulsified oil.”

DEC’s Lhotka said the ice is thawing at a rapid rate and should be melted in a few days. Both Lhotka and Kuzuguk said “no known wildlife impacts” have resulted from the sheen.

Samples of the oily substance are being shipped to the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. They are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm.

The Coast Guard personnel are returning to Shishmaref this Friday June 13, 2014 to continue their investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:13

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

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John Davies spent his first summer in Fairbanks on the upper Chena River, using satellite dishes to record radio emissions from the sun. On August 11, it rained 3-and-a-half inches.

“It was just raining like crazy. The water was coming up,” Davies said.

John Davies. (Photo courtesy John Davies)

At 11 a.m. his partner called from the research site a quarter mile away, stranded by flood water. John jumped in the only available vehicle – a front end loader – to go rescue him.

“The water was over the tires. It was 6 feet deep,” Davies said. “Fortunately the bunkhouse was high and dry but there was water everywhere around us.”

The Great Flood of ‘67 nailed Fairbanks the next day, flooding the power plant, wiping out the hospital and displacing 8,000 people. The bridges washed out and the two grad students were stuck there for weeks. Luckily they had a generator, an electric oven and all the ingredients for cake. The next day was the caretaker’s birthday.

“Then we made a raft out of oil drums and poled across this flooded area and delivered this birthday cake to her,” Davies said.

Then came the first winter.

“Fifty-below seemed like I was on the other side of the moon,” John’s wife, Linda Schandelmeier, said, laughing. “It just seemed like a completely different thing.”

She moved up the same year from a homestead in Anchorage. She says the ice fog was way worse than it is today, thanks to lower temperatures and dirtier car engines.

“You’d be at an intersection and you could barely see that the lights were red,” she said. “When they turn green you just had to go on a wing and a prayer. I guess I’ll turn left but I hope nobody else is out there. You really couldn’t tell.”

John had summit fever. In 1970, he attempted a first ascent of Mt. Kimball in the Alaska Range, skiing 40 miles in on the Canwell Glacier. But when they reached the final steep, icy pitch, they ran out of ice screws. They were climbing back down, roped together, when one member of his group vanished.

“It was a fairly narrow crevasse and the sound doesn’t travel very far,” John said. “We were concerned that he was unconscious.”

His friend was uninjured when they pulled him 50 feet up and over the lip of the crevasse, but it was the last peak John tried to bag. Fieldwork was an adventure too, especially before GPS and satellite phones. Linda spent one summer living in a wall tent near Bristol Bay studying cormorants. Once a month someone from Bethel would fly out to check in on her.

“We essentially had no communication,” John said. “They wouldn’t let you do that now. Are you kidding? What if you got hurt? The nearest village was 25 miles away.”

John spent many summers installing seismic stations in the Aleutians, cruising around islands in a fishing boat and climbing craggy hillsides.

“I mean, you first look at it and you think it’s a God-forsaken patch of grass out there in the middle of the ocean, and it’s just cold and windy, and it is a lot of the time,” John said. “But it’s also just an enormously beautiful place, and very, very rich in sea life.”

One time he hitched a ride with a fishing boat from Sand Point to Nagai Island. When the cannery called to say they desperately needed product, John ended up spraying shrimp with a fire hose all day rather than setting up seismometers.

“And fished for about 10 or 12 hours and we caught over 100,000 pounds of shrimp – that is a lot of freakin’ shrimp,” John said. “The guy who was sort of the chef fried up some of the shrimp for us. These were almost like prawns, they were really, really good.”

In 1993 he headed for the next summit: the state Legislature. Alaska’s oil revenues were cut in half that decade, as oil prices and production dropped. John, a House Democrat, proposed a state income tax to balance the budget.

“It was a crazy tax, but it had the advantage of being deductible from your federal income taxes,” John said. “It would actually save people in Alaska about $100 million over the course of a year.”

It passed the House but was crucified in the Republican-controlled Senate. Then his opponent used it to beat him in the next election.

“They ran an ad with a woman in her kitchen saying she just didn’t understand why that John Davies wanted to take $3,000 away from her,” he said.

In the past five decades, John has learned a lot about the physics, the resources and the people that make Alaska tick. Now he’d like to see the state invest in renewable energy for the future. Having lived here in the 60s, it’s not that hard for him to imagine life in Alaska without oil.

Categories: Alaska News

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Wed, 2014-06-11 17:12

Vicki Soboleff talking to the group of parents and kids. (Photo by Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau)

Celebration begins this evening at 6 o’clock with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

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It’s a Thursday evening and some 50 kids and teenagers dance their way through the Tlingit-Haida Community Center near Salmon Creek. Group founder and leader Vicki Soboleff walks up and down the line giving instructions. Soboleff says she and the group have come a long way since the first practice in 1995.

“There were 12 children here and there was a group of their parents and maybe grandparents and aunts and uncles. All those children were looking at me and I was terrified. We didn’t start off singing Tlingit songs. We actually started off singing ‘This Old Man.’ I was just trying to get them to sing and plus I was nervous.”

At this practice they sing numerous Alaska Native songs and Soboleff says they’re instruments for learning.

“Knowledge of your Native culture and involvement in Native song and dance and language really helps you with your sense of self and belonging. To your tribe, your clan. I believe it’s really important for Native children to know who they are, where they came from, what their tribal clan is.”

One of Soboleff’s early dancers is now a teacher. Barbara Dude joined the group when she was seven and now, at 26, she’s an assistant group leader. She helps 15-year-old Allison Ford with her Tlingit introduction—just like Soboleff helped her. Among other things, Dude says she gained language skills, self-esteem, and public speaking skills. But the most important lessons were about something more. She says the group’s goal to help engender identity worked.

“When I started the group when I was seven I didn’t know that I was Tlingit. The group has helped me gain a sense of pride in who I am and now I am able to share that with my children who have known they were Tlingit since they were born.”

Dude is excited for Celebration, especially the grand entrance.

“We all dance in together and ahead of us are dancers from another group, and behind us are dancers from another group and we’re dancing across stage and each person gets their chance to go across stage and dance their hardest. They feel it because everyone around them is feeling it with them.”

Dude tears up and apologizes for becoming emotional.

“How powerful it is to watch them be immersed in the culture and the language. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

The All Nations Children’s Dance Group is true to its name and is open to children of all races and ages until high school graduation. Then Soboleff and Dude hope they’ll join an adult group or stick around to help children learn language, song, dance, and especially, cultural identity and pride.

The Grand Entrance procession begins tonight at 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall. You can watch it on 360 North or 360North.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: June 11, 2014

Wed, 2014-06-11 16:58

Individual news 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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Former Haines Police Officer Hired As Security Officer For The Alaska Marine Highway

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position. But the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

Air Force Confirms Delay In HAARP Demolition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility.  Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

State Defends Decision To Certify Citizens Initiative Slowing Pebble Mine

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took Wednesday when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot. Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Despite precarious ice conditions, local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

Celebration begins Wednesday evening with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall in Juneau. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Fire Service Holding Meeting On 100 Mile Creek Fire

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:56

The Alaska Fire Service will host a meeting tonight in Delta Junction to answer questions about the 100 Mile Creek Fire burning 20 miles southwest of that town.

Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

The fire resulted from a control burn at the Donnelly Training Area earlier this spring.  It’s has since grown to more than 21,000 acres. The Alaska Fire Service reports only 5 percent of the fire’s perimeter is contained.

Cloud cover and cooler weather has helped to moderate the blaze. Fire managers plan to take advantage of the weather to prevent the fire from moving north and east. Two-hundred-ninety-one personnel will continue to protect structures, build a direct line.

There is a flight restriction in place over the fire for commercial and private pilots. A command post for the blaze has been established at the Delta Fairgrounds.

Categories: Alaska News

State Ferry Columbia’s Return To Service Is Delayed

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:50

The state ferry Columbia will not be returning to service in Southeast Alaska this week as expected.

A problem with one of the newly-installed engines on the 418-foot ship means the Columbia will remain in Bellingham awaiting a replacement part.

Columbia in dry dock. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation)

“When it was leaving the shipyard in Portland and transiting toward Bellingham, they experienced an unexpected mechanical issue with the port engine and for that we have to wait for a part to be shipped in actually from Finland to deal with the repair of the damage done to the engine before it can return to service,” Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow explains. “So that will delay it a few days for that. We’ve also had to revise the schedule for the LeConte, the Malaspina and the Fairweather moving out for the next week.”

The Columbia was in a Portland shipyard for nearly nine months having its engines, propellers and lifeboats replaced. Woodrow says a faulty part caused problems after the ship sailed from Portland.

“There was a part that didn’t work properly after it was installed in the brand new engine,” Woodrow said. “They were able to catch it in time before it made major damage to the whole engine but because the part is built and made in Finland, we have to wait I think it takes four days or longer for it to actually get to the U.S.”

Woodrow describes the problematic part as a gear-driven pump. That will be replaced in Bellingham before the Columbia returns to service.

The new scheduled return date is now Wednesday, June 18. The ship was originally scheduled to be back in service in April but more time was needed to complete the engine replacement.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Seek Decision On Status Of Southeast Wolves

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:24

(Map from the University of Alaska Southeast)

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. seeking a decision on the status of wolf populations in Southeast Alaska.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Boat Company have sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hoping for a quicker decision on whether the Alexander Archipelago wolf should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

(Photo from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is already far overdue in making its 12-month finding for the Alexander Archipelago wolf,” Larry Edwards, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka,
said. “That should have been made within 12 months of the time that we filed the petition in August of 2011.”

“So we’re far past that and it’s time to prod some best action on making that final decision.”

The federal agency issued a decision, what’s called a 90-day finding, back in March. That decision means Fish and Wildlife will do further review of wolf populations and determine if listing is warranted. That review is dependent on funding for the federal agency and could take several years.

The petitioners argue that the region’s wolf numbers are declining in Southeast and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest. Edwards says the timing of the agency’s decision is important because of expected decisions on U.S. Forest Service timber sales planned on Prince of Wales Island, Mitkof Island near Petersburg along with Etolin Island, Wrangell Island and a sale planned near Ketchikan.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska said the agency had no comment on the litigation.

The state of Alaska says wolves are not at risk in the region and state officials were disappointed with this year’s decision to perform a population review.

Back in March, Tongass National Forest supervisor Forrest Cole said his federal agency would work collaboratively with the Fish and Wildlife Service on their review. Cole noted there are no reliable estimates of wolf numbers in Southeast but said government agencies would work to develop a reliable method for estimating those numbers.

Categories: Alaska News

Low Value Placed on Togiak Sac Roe Herring Fishery

Wed, 2014-06-11 11:03

The estimated value of this year’s Togiak Herring catch is about half last years, largely because of the price.

Last year the fleet was offered $100 a ton and was later awarded an adjustment beyond that.

This year, the offer has not been disclosed, but the Fish and Game Department is using an estimate of $50 a ton. The fishery fell a little short of quota and processors shut down completely a couple of days before the opening was over.

Categories: Alaska News
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