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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: 27 min 11 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: November 6, 2014

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:11

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

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Aleutian Communities Brace For High-Powered Storm

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are no stranger to strong winds and rough seas. And that’s exactly what they can expect Friday night, when a high-powered storm hits the Bering Sea. Communities are gearing up to face the historic front.

U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial Races Remain Undecided

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Two days after the election, both Alaska’s senate race and its gubernatorial race remain undecided, and both incumbents are lagging behind their challengers. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is down by 8,000 votes in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, while Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Neither candidate plans to concede at this point, and at least 20,000 votes still need to be counted next week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez ran the numbers on both of those races, and joins us to talk about the trends she’s seeing.

Former ASD Teacher Charged With Sexual Abuse Of A Minor

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Former Anchorage School District teacher David Schwantes was arraigned Thursday afternoon in an Anchorage court. Schwantes, 73, is charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

UAF Athletics Penalized For Eligibility Violations

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has imposed penalties on the University of Alaska Fairbanks for student athlete eligibility violations. The University blames a systematic failure to understand and help athletes navigate academic eligibility requirements.

What Happens To Political Signs After Election Day?

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Election Day is over and political signs are disappearing from yards and intersections. But where do they go?

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition on Friday – a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others.  She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals

Categories: Alaska News

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others. She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition tomorrow–a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

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Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Approves $750,000 for Another SAP Audit

Thu, 2014-11-06 00:11

The Anchorage Assembly spent a good portion of its meeting debating whether $750,000 was too much to spend on what is called a Quality Assurance audit by the same company designing the municipality’s new software system, SAP. But the resolution passed with ample support, and most assembly members saying too much money has already been spent on implementing the new automation software to skimp on what are hopefully some of the last steps in the process.

There were questions about whether paying less, or using municipal employees rather than outside contractors, could keep the project on schedule while still ensuring its quality. The dollar amount and the timetable were designed to limit the risk of any more problems popping up amid program’s roll out.

“Our staff would not have the ability or resources to do the technical analysis of the configuration that SAP is being hired to do,” explained the city’s Chief Financial Officer Katherine Giard in response to a question. “Nor would they have the time.”

The audit process will bring in SAP consultants to make sure the software’s technical features are in good working order, and to offer advice when they are not.

“It’s a very big expense,” said Assembly member Paul Honeman, summing up the general sentiment of comments made ahead of the vote authorizing the resolution. ”It’s sad that we’re here at this point. We’re down that path, we’re way down the path where we should have turned around and said ‘we were sold a bill of goods,’ or ‘we’re paying way more than we should have.’ So I say let’s move forward and get it finished.”

The Quality Assurance audit is totally seperate from the external audit that the assembly voted to authorize a few weeks ago. An RFP hit the street yesterday for bids to look into why costs have run so far over on the SAP program’s implementation. That audit will be around $200,000.

Elsewhere in last night’s meeting, the assembly put off making a decision about a comprehensive plan for access points into Chugach State Park, and took more public testimony ahead of a revised resolution on towing laws.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senate Majority Names New Leader

Wed, 2014-11-05 17:30

The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.

The new organization is otherwise much like the old. Sen. John Coghill of North Pole remains the majority leader, and a number of committees are keeping the same chairs with a few notable exceptions. Sen. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River was promoted a co-chair position on the Senate finance committee, while Sen. Mike Dunleavy of the Mat-Su was made chair of the education committee. Dunleavy was a member of the education committee last legislature, and sponsored a constitutional amendment that would have allowed public funds to be used at private schools.

Republicans picked up one Senate seat on Tuesday, with Mia Costello taking over the seat vacated by Democrat Hollis French, giving them 14 out of 20 seats in the state senate. The caucus currently includes all 14 Republican members, 13 of which were present for a press conference held at the offices of a construction industry trade association. Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire, who previously held the influential position of rules chair, was absent from the media availability.

The last Senate majority included two Democrats whose districts covered areas off the road system. Dennis Egan of Juneau and Donny Olson of Golovin were not invited to Wednesday’s organization meeting.

“We are having discussions the minority, but whether or not they want to join us or we want them to join us has not been resolved yet,” says Meyer.

With the election just a day behind them, Meyer says the caucus is still working out its legislative priorities. But the state’s gloomy revenue outlook is an issue the organization plans to address.

“We all know what oil prices are doing and we know that what we budgeted for and we know we’re going to have a deficit,” says Meyer. “And so we’re focused on budget sustainability and how we can make gradual reductions in our budget while at the same time keep the economy strong and keep jobs and keep people employed.”

Legislators may also have to deal with the question of marijuana legalization — whether they want to or not — thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2. Rules Chair Charlie Huggins says he was perplexed that the initiative passed and that Alaska could see some legislative “speed bumps” but would not elaborate further.

The Senate Republicans also demurred on the question of Medicaid expansion. While the governor’s race is too close to call, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker holds a narrow lead, and he has said that his first act as governor would be to accept the federal expansion for 40,000 Alaskans.

Senate President Kevin Meyer says it’s too early to say what the Legislature’s role will be with Medicaid. He says the caucus is generally willing to work with Walker if he wins election.

“You know, it doesn’t matter to us who the governor is,” says Meyer. “We’re going to work together with the executive branch, and we’re going to do what’s best for the state of Alaska.”

The Republican House Majority plans to hold its organization meeting on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leadership Positions
President: Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage)
Majority Leader: Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole)
Rules Chair: Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla)
Finance Co-Chair- Sen. Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks)
Finance Co-Chair – Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River/East Anchorage)
Resources Chair – Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage)
Community and Regional Affairs Chair – Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
Education Chair – Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
Judiciary Chair – Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage)
Health and Social Services Chair – Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka)
State Affairs Chair – Sen. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak)
Transportation Chair – Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
Labor and Commerce Chair – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
Legislative Council Chair – Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Leads Begich by 8,000 votes

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:59

Sullivan at Election Central. Photo by Ashley Snyder / APRN.

Alaska appears to have followed the national trend and elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate. But Democratic Sen. Mark Begich isn’t conceding and it’s likely the race won’t be decided until next week.

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Republican Dan Sullivan was ahead by almost 4 percentage points at the end of election night. He thanked his volunteers and told them he wasn’t making a victory speech.

“Door Knocking! Phone Calls! You guys made it happen!” Sullivan said, to loud cheers.

Begich went home before midnight, saying he’s hopeful his massive outreach in rural Alaska will pay off. Jim Lottsfeldt ran a $10 million superPAC supporting Begich. He maintains the uncounted early and absentee votes will break their way.

“Oh it’s not over,” Lottsfeldt said, echoing the senator’s words to supporters from a few minutes before. “Begich has never had a result that was good for him on election night. It always goes down to the wire. I think in about 10 days when all the votes are counted, we’ll see. “

All precincts had reported by early this morning. More than 22,000 ballots remain uncounted, and more are arriving in the mail. But with Sullivan  ahead by more than 8,000 votes,  the uncounted ballots would have to favor Begich by a huge margin if he’s to stay in office.

In a written statement before all the precincts reported, the Begich campaign said the Democrat would make a statement about the race after all the villages had reported “and when the number of outstanding absentee and questioned ballots is clear.”

Categories: Alaska News

Knowns and Unknowns Among Uncounted Ballots

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:58

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections

With a few candidates up and down the ticket unsure whether they won or lost, a lot of Alaskans are looking to the thousands of ballots that remain uncounted.

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Division of Elections chief Gail Fenumiai says it’s too early to say exactly how many ballots are outstanding.

“Right now we have, in the offices within the state, 23,608 absentee and early votes that are eligible to be counted,” said at mid-day today.

They are from voters who live throughout the state, not in any particular district.

“The majority of them are from non-rural areas of the state, meaning Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Mat-Su area,” she said.

Those are, if you will, the known unknowns. But there are thousands of other kinds of ballots to be added to the total. It’s not clear how many are in these other categories.

For starters, Fenumiai is expecting thousands of questioned ballots. Four years ago there

Voting equipment awaits storage at Division of Elections Anchorage office.

were 13,000, so that’s her ballpark figure. Also, almost 14,000 absentee ballots were sent to voters but not yet returned. Some of those are still arriving by mail. Plus, this year Alaska had more than 200 absentee in-person voting locations across the state.

“And those ballots, we still have some of those who will still be coming back in that were probably voted within the last five to six days,” she said.

She won’t have a count of those until they actually arrive, but she says those are likely number in the thousands, too.

The next count will take place Nov. 11, and again on the 14th through the 19, as needed.  Once the elections are certified, toward the end of the month, anyone can ask for a recount, which is free only if the results are within 10 votes, or 0.5 percent.

Fenumiai says a few precincts had trouble getting the ballots into the voting machines this year, particularly early in the day.

“The ballots were just longer. The Accuvote units just were having trouble just sucking them through, you know the roller heads on them to feed them through,” she said. “The ones that couldn’t go through went into the emergency compartment and then were fed through the unit at the end of the night before they submitted their results.”

Any that didn’t get into the machines Tuesday night are sent to Juneau so that the state review board can consider them, she said.

Despite all the money and advertising in this election, Fenumiai says turnout appears to be lower than in the three previous mid-terms. It was 44 percent by election night, but that number will rise as more ballots come in.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Voters Opt To Legalize Marijuana

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:57

Voters approved ballot measure two last night. The measure makes legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old. Washington DC and Oregon approved similar measures.

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Today, supporters laid out the plan for how the initiative will move forward. 90 days after the vote results are certified, the initiative becomes law and marijuana use will no longer be a crime. A nine month rule making process follows.

Campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford says this nine-month process will enable Alaskans on both sides of the legalization campaign an opportunity to weigh in on how the law should be implemented. Bickford says that will help Alaska avoid making mistakes that other states, like Washington, may have made when they wrote rules on the front end of their legalization push.

“We’ll have more flexibility in coming in to those decisions. Which I think ultimately is good because we’ll have the ability to learn from what’s happening in those states over the course of the next year as opposed to if we had all of that written in at the beginning of the initiative, there would have been less flexibility, you would have been stuck with some of those decisions,” Bickford said. ”It also gives Alaskans from various stakeholder groups, the opportunity to engage in the process and to have a role in the process and I think that’s going to be incredibly important.”

Bruce Schulte with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation said CRCL is a group of Alaskan business leaders from across Alaska who see the new law as the start of a legitimate industry.

“Just as the name would imply, the goal really is to work with the legislature and their control board and all of the other various groups on the rule making process, so at the end of the rule making period, we’ve got a set of rules that make sense, that address all the concerns that folks have and allow a legitimate marijuana industry to thrive in the state,” Schulte said.

Bickford says if the state does not set it’s own regulations within the nine-month window, regulatory authority would then be transferred to municipalities to implement the measure as they see fit.

Categories: Alaska News

Faced With Min. Wage Hike, Seafood Plants See Room to Cut

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:56

Alaska’s minimum wage initiative flew mostly under the radar this fall, overshadowed by high-profile Congressional races. But ballot measure three proposes a big change to state’s minimum wage structure — increasing it by two dollars over the next two years, to $9.75 an hour. After that, it would be adjusted for inflation.

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In Unalaska, at least 83 percent of voters supported that plan. The seafood industry — which is the biggest source of minimum wage jobs in Unalaska — didn’t expect anything less.

Pollock processors at UniSea’s G2 plant in Unalaska. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

Leading up to the election, they were already considering ways to scale back their workforce.

“We’ll have people who, as they retire out of the industry, we just won’t replace them,” says Alyeska Seafoods plant manager Don Goodfellow. “Machinery will take over a lot of those jobs.”

Eventually, Goodfellow thinks up to 30 percent of Unalaska’s processing workers could be automated. He says the seafood business is well overdue to make that kind of change.

“I think we’ve already started and it’s not as a response to that bill, specifically,” he says. “It’s the need to be more efficient about how we do things.”

At UniSea, the potential wage hike makes that need more urgent. Chris Plaisance is a human resources director for the company. If they had to implement the pay increases laid out in Tuesday’s ballot initiative, it could cost up to $3.5 million.

“Our margins are so thin that we need to make improvements or we’re gonna have a problem,” Plaisance says.

UniSea would need to trim its workforce. Instead of layoffs, Plaisance says they would leave entry-level jobs empty at the end of each season. That leaves room to keep employees who’ve been with the company the longest.

Levell Curtis Standifer, Jr. has been working for the company almost year-round since 2010. He’s originally from Washington State.

“Down in the Lower 48, the economy is real bad,” he says. “And I thank God for the state of Alaska, and how they create fishing jobs.”

Standifer and many of his coworkers start out earning minimum wage. But they have ample opportunities to work overtime. Plus they receive free room, board, and transportation from UniSea.

Still, Standifer thinks his employer can afford to pay a little more.

“The fishing companies, they’re doing quite well off our labor,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.”

Judging by preliminary tally, he wasn’t the only one that felt that way. And he certainly wasn’t the only UniSea employee at the polls. Once an hour, the processing plant trucked in employees to cast their votes — and possibly, set their pay.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 5, 2014

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:55

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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Gubernatorial Race Still Too Close To Call

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

The gubernatorial race is still too close to call. Republican incumbent Sean Parnell is trailing by three thousand votes.

Sullivan Maintains Lead Over Begich In Race For U.S. Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich isn’t conceding and it’s likely the race won’t

be decided until next week. More than 22,000 ballots remain uncounted, and more are arriving in the mail. But with Sullivan ahead by more than 8,000 votes, the uncounted ballots would have to favor Begich by a huge margin if he’s to stay in office.

Certain Races Awaiting Absentee Ballots

Liz Ruskin, APRN

With a few candidates up and down the ballot unsure whether they won or lost, a lot of Alaskans are looking to the thousands of ballots that remain uncounted.

State Sen. Kevin Meyer Named New Majority President

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.

Alaskan Voters Opt To Legalize Marijuana

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Voters approved ballot measure two last night. The measure makes legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old. Washington DC and Oregon approved similar measures.

Faced With Min. Wage Hike, Seafood Plants See Room to Cut

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A plan to raise Alaska’s minimum wage saw widespread support during Tuesday’s election. In Unalaska, at least 83 percent of voters approved the measure. And the seafood industry – which is the town’s biggest source of minimum wage jobs — wasn’t expect anything different. They’re factoring in the wage hike as they look cut costs.

Anchorage Voters Overturn AO-37, Support Most Incumbents

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage voters repealed AO-37, the controversial labor law, during Tuesday’s election. They returned many incumbents and also sent some new Republicans to the state legislature as well.

House 36 Race Remains Too Close To Call

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The House District 36 race remains too close to call after Tuesday’s general election. With all 10 precincts reporting to the Alaska Division of Elections, Dan Ortiz, who is not affiliated with any party, has a 19-vote lead. He holds 50.03 percent of the vote, compared to 49.66 percent for Republican Chere Klein.

NTSB: Pilot Decisions Caused Alaska Copter Crash

The Associated Press

The National Transportation Safety Board says a fatal Alaska State Troopers helicopter crash was caused by the pilot’s decision to fly into bad weather and the agency’s inadequate safety management.

Massive Typhoon Bears Down on Aleutian Islands

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

An Alaska-sized storm could bring high winds and destructive waves to the Aleutian Islands this weekend.

Hunter Injured In Bear Mauling On Sally Island

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

A 65-year-old deer hunter was injured and needed a medevac after he was attacked by a sow bear on an island near Kodiak yesterday afternoon. Sitka resident Michael Snowden suffered injuries to his legs. His hunting partner, Jeff Ostrin age 38, of Camas, Washington, was not injured.

Fairbanks Ski Area Still Seeking Buyer

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The alpine ski area, Skiland, north of Fairbanks, made news last month when a mineral exploration project threatened to take over some of its trails.  That’s been ironed out, but Skiland is still looking for a buyer.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Voters Repeal AO-37, Return Many Incumbents

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:55

No on 1 supporters were abundant at Election Central on Tuesday night. Photo by Ashley Snyder / APRN.

Anchorage voters repealed AO-37, the controversial labor law, during Tuesday’s election. They returned many incumbents and also sent some new Republicans to the state legislature as well.

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Anchorage’s election sported its own special ballot measure on Tuesday – should the municipality keep AO-37, the controversial labor law created by Mayor Dan Sullivan’s administration in 2013. After heavy campaigning by city labor unions against the ordinance, the community voted to repeal it. The vote no campaign won by nearly 7,000 votes, or 54 to 46 percent.

Jillanne Inglis is vice president of the Municipal Employees Association and a spokesperson for the No on One campaign. She says the repeal will help employee morale and recruitment.

Gabrielle LeDoux. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage_

“When you have an ordinance like this and a cloud over the city like that and people are looking for employment, they look at what’s going on at the city at the time,” Inglis said. “So they may have been looking elsewhere for employment.”

Anchorage voters reelected all House incumbents who were up for re-election. The tightest of those races was between Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux and Rt. Colonel Laurie Hummel. LeDoux led at the end of the night with fewer than 200 votes.

Two House races in west Anchorage had no incumbents. Republicans retained their hold on Mia Costello’s former seat in House District 22 in Sand Lake. Republican Liz Vazquez beat Democrat Marty McGee by nearly 1,000 votes. She says she took a localized approach to get her name out there.

Laurie Hummel. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“Concentrate on my people, concentrate on my district, put up those signs so there will be lots of name recognition,” Vazquez said. “But with that, I would knock on people’s doors and they would say, ‘Oh, Liz,’ you know it’s like they kind of recognize my name.”

The race for House District 21 is still too close to call. Republican Anand Dubey led for most of the evening, but when all of the precincts reported, Democrat Matt Claman was ahead by 35 votes. Absentee, question, and early voting ballots could change the outcome.

Republicans dominated the contested state Senate seats in the city. Republican incumbent Kevin Meyer overwhelmingly beat political newcomer Felix Rivera for Senate seat M.

Senate K in West Anchorage was expected to be a tight race between Republican and former-representative Mia Costello and Democrat Clare Ross. But by the end of the night, Costello led 57 to 43 percent. Don McKenzie lives in the district and said it was a tough choice between two strong candidates.

Mia Costello (R) – Senate District K. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“But, I know Clare, and she’s done a great job too. I think she would make an excellent representative at some spot,” McKenzie said. “It’s just that she had a tough race running against the incumbent, and I think she showed well.”

Education was a key issue in Costello’s campaign and she says she’ll focus on many ways to improve the state’s education system while in the Senate.

“I also think that looking at the Department of Education to find out how they can serve teachers better,” Costello said. I would like to survey teachers and ask them what they want, or even students and ask students, ‘What kind of a school do you want to be in? What are the things that you are motivated by?’”

Cathy Giessel is a candidate for Senate District N. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Two experienced politicians vied for Senate District N. Democrat and former representative Harry Crawford lost to incumbent Senator Cathy Giessel by 10 percent of the vote. Crawford says he’s disappointed, but it doesn’t mean he’s out of politics.

“I like to watch politics and call people on it when they’re not doing the right thing,” Crawford said. “So, I will be watching and, like I said, holding Cathy Giessel accountable for her votes.”

Giessel says she’ll continue to work for her community, and…

“I think I’m like all the rest of the citizens in this state – they’re glad it’s over,” Giessel said. “Enough already!”

Final results for all of the races won’t be released until all of the more than 22,000 question, early, and absentee ballots are counted.

Categories: Alaska News

House 36 Race Remains Too Close To Call

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:54

The House District 36 race remains too close to call after Tuesday’s general election.

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With all 10 precincts reporting to the Alaska Division of Elections, Dan Ortiz, who is not affiliated with any party, has a 19-vote lead. He holds 50.03 percent of the vote, compared to 49.66 percent for Republican Chere Klein.

Ortiz had been trailing by a narrow margin throughout the race, but the final precinct’s numbers pushed him into that slim lead. He now has 2,608 votes compared to Klein’s 2,589.

The race will be decided by absentee, questioned and early ballots, which could take a week or more.

The state Division of Elections expects to certify Tuesday’s election results by Nov. 28th.

Neither House District 36 candidate has held elected office before, although Klein has worked as an aide for retiring Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell. Ortiz is a longtime teacher in Ketchikan, and says the race was challenging. Part of that challenge was running without a political party behind him.

“Without the organized party behind you, it was more problematic because so much more had to come from my team and my volunteers, so that was probably – I didn’t realize how much of a challenge it would be to run as an independent,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz says he and his campaign team were very excited about the last numbers that came in late Tuesday night.

“However, it’s still too close to call, so we’ll just have to wait until all those numbers have officially come in,” Ortiz said. “Thanks to everyone in District 36 who voted.”

Klein agrees that the race is definitely too close to call, but says she’ll be happy with whatever the voters have decided.

Klein says the campaign wasn’t more challenging than she expected it to be. She has been involved in campaigns previously, even though this is her first bid for office.

“It had a few wrinkles here and there, certainly a little different than a straight-Democrat, straight-Republican ticket, but a lot of fun, actually. Very enjoyable,” Klein said.

Klein says that for her, the campaign reinforced the need to connect with voters on a personal basis.

“Just how important it is to go door to door and make sure you’re talking to people and understand people’s views, and willingness to listen to other views,” Klein said.

Both candidates thanked each other for a well-run race. And we’ll all wait to see what happens with absentee, questioned and early ballots.

House District 36 covers the southern tip of Alaska’s Southeast region. It includes Ketchikan, Saxman, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Hyder, Loring and Myers Chuck.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB: Pilot Decisions Caused Alaska Copter Crash

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:53

The National Transportation Safety Board says a fatal Alaska State Troopers helicopter crash was caused by the pilot’s decision to fly into bad weather and the agency’s inadequate safety management.

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The trooper pilot, a state trooper and an injured snowmobiler they had picked up died in last year’s crash near Talkeetna.

Among the conclusions the NTSB determined Wednesday is that contributing to the crash was the pilot’s motivation to complete the search-and-rescue mission, which increased the risk and affected his decisions.

The board also says the Alaska Department of Public Safety had a “punitive culture” because its internal investigation of a previous accident involving the pilot focused too narrowly on the pilot instead of addressing underlying safety deficiencies.

A department statement says it has since examined its aviation practices.

Categories: Alaska News

Hunter Injured In Bear Mauling On Sally Island

Wed, 2014-11-05 16:52

A 65-year-old deer hunter was injured and needed a medevac after he was attacked by a sow bear on Sally Island Tuesday afternoon.

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Sixty-eight-year-old Sitka resident Michael Snowden suffered injuries to his legs. His hunting partner, Jeff Ostrin, age 38, of Camas, Washington, was not injured.

Initial reports indicated it may have been a group, or a “sloth,” of bears, but according to Kodiak Fish and Game biologist Nate Svoboda it was a sow bear with two older cubs involved in the attack.

“They were carrying the deer out, actually dragging the deer out down to the beach to be picked up,” Svoboda said. “And the stopped to take a quick break for lunch and at that point they heard a bear rustling in the brush. They reached over, grabbed their rifles and moments later a bear charged through the brush and jumped on the survivor and continued to thrash around with him. The witness, obviously startled, backed up a few feet, took aim at the bear and waited until he had a clear shot.”

At that point one of the cubs came out of the brush and was also shot by Ostrin. The second cub was uninjured and is expected to survive the loss of its mother.

Larry Van Daele, the regional Fish and Game supervisor and noted bear expert, said the bears smelled the dead deer from afar and came looking for a meal.

“The bears winded the deer from several hundred yards away. The skipper of the boat actually watched that from a distance,” Van Daele said. “And, like I say, these guys were in a real brushy area. They’re dragging a deer right behind them, a when the bears winded the deer, they started coming, in that direction, following that scent.”

The initial report said the attack was by five bears, which Van Daele says is highly unusual for the normally solitary animals.

“Yeah, that’d pretty much have to be a sow with four cubs – big cubs – which we’ve only seen once or twice in my career to keep that many cubs that long,” Van Daele said.

The men had 30-06 rifles on their deer hunt, which Van Daele says is a suitable caliber for bear protection. He added that they did a lot of things right to avoid tragedy.

“They were hunting as partners; that’s something we always recommend. Because they were hunting as partners, this turned into a mauling instead of someone being killed probably – either from the bears attacking him or loss of blood. So they did the right things there,” Van Daele said.  “There’s always arm-chair quarterbacking; we would prefer people not drag deer out of the field, that they put it in pack and carry it out as soon as possible. And we also prefer people to tend to stay in open areas. Which, of course, isn’t always possible in Kodiak.”

Van Daele said Ostrin is a hero in the situation, having tended to his hunting partner’s wounds, killing the bears and getting help.

Sally Island is about 30 miles east of Kodiak City in Uganik Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Walker Holds Narrow Lead Over Sean Parnell In Gubernatorial Race

Tue, 2014-11-04 21:12

With just 101 precincts reporting in so far, gubernatorial challenger Bill Walker holds a narrow lead over Governor Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Early Results Show Sullivan Leading Begich, Young Ahead of Dunbar

Tue, 2014-11-04 21:08

With 101 precincts reporting in, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic incumbent Mark Begich by about 5 percent.

Incumbent Republican Don Young is leading Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar, 52 percent to 39 percent, with 101 precincts reporting in.

Categories: Alaska News

New federal regulations to favor subsistence users, rural residents

Tue, 2014-11-04 16:48

The Federal Subsistence Board’s rural determination process will change, according to an announcement made at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention last month.

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The changes should mean a more favorable process for villages and other rural communities that rely on hunting and fishing. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor told AFN attendees that the new regulations will come soon.

“We’re moving out, beginning the discussions,” Connor said. “We’ve got to consult with the state, overall this is strongly supported throughout the leadership at the department of the Interior.”

Title VIII in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, mandates a subsistence preference for rural residents on public lands. Every ten years the Federal Subsistence Board determines whether a community meets certain guidelines to qualify for ANILCA’s subsistence preference. That rural determination process has been harshly criticized in recent years.

In 2007, several communities were told that they were no longer considered to be rural, including the Southeast community of Saxman. The board reasoned that the community’s proximity to non-rural Ketchikan put it in the same category. While the community is incorporated as a municipality, a majority of the population is Alaska Native and are members of the Organized Village of Saxman.

The tribe has fought against the board’s attempt to take away their rural status arguing that they have a history of traditional subsistence gathering in the area. The determination was put on hold in 2009 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar pending a comprehensive review of federal subsistence policies. That hold was scheduled to expire this past July, which meant that the Organized Village of Saxman’s opportunity to litigate would also expire.

In April, the Federal Subsistence Board voted unanimously to submit new regulations in the rural determination process. The board does not have authority to implement new regulations, but it can propose them to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture. While Connor did not give details of the proposal, he did say that the board will defer more to communities and tribes in its decision-making process.

“Once implemented the new determination process will enable the board to use more flexible criteria that could lead to the kind of determinations sought by AFN and others in cases such as Saxman in Southeast Alaska,” Connor said.

Native American Rights Fund attorney Matthew Newman represents the Saxman tribe. He says the proposed rules give residents hope, but that the outcome is still in question. While the tribe favors an administrative fix, Newman says the lawsuit won’t be dropped until they’ve had a chance to review the new rules and are satisfied with them.

“I think everyone is relieved and optimistic that the rule is going to move forward,” Newman says. “This rule moving forward is not just a good thing for Saxman, it’s a good thing for all rural communities subject to ANILCA’s priority. This rural determination process has really been a bane for many communities and this idea that every 10 years your way of life is potentially subject to change causes a very, very uneasy feeling among rural residents in Alaska.”

Deputy Secretary Connor also announced changes in the board’s makeup. Two additional public members were added, Anthony Christianson of Hydaburg and Charles Brower of Barrow. Former AFN co-chair Tim Towarak from Unalakleet was named chair of the board. Towarak has served as a president of the Bering Straits Native Corp. and as rural affairs advisor to Gov. Tony Knowles.

Connor said the Department of the Interior is working on a new process that would make it easier for communities and subsistence users to participate in the board’s decision-making process.

Categories: Alaska News

Domestic Violence Survivor Sheds Light On Difficult Road Toward Recovery

Tue, 2014-11-04 16:47

Less than a year ago, Catherine Walczak was mentally and physically abused by someone she loved and trusted. She is slowly getting her life back on track. The 23-year-old wants to tell her story to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence and hope to those who experience it.

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I knew Catherine Walczak as an acquaintance. We had a few classes together in college at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She seemed confident, friendly, and looked as if her life were on top of the world. But underneath she was hiding an abusive relationship.

Catherine says when she first started dating her boyfriend Dimitrios, he seemed like a decent guy and the two were very much in love. Two months later she got pregnant and they decided to move in together. Almost immediately, things changed:

“He’s been abusive towards me, he’s broken sh*t, he’s spilled hot coffee on me. We lived on the third floor of an apartment so he threw all of m stuff out the window and then into the dumpster,” Catherine said. “That went on for months when we were together and living together. But I was so in love with him and he said he was so in love with me and wanted to marry me that I stuck around.”

Catherine stayed with Dimitrios through her pregnancy. In October, their son was born. She thought Dimitrios seemed unhappy as a new dad. He was constantly disappearing for days at a time to hang out with his friends. But he told her he loved their son and that he wanted to be a good father. He watched the baby while she was at work.

One night when she was at home feeding her baby, Dimitrios took him from her arms and went into another room.

“My son screamed on the top of his lungs. He was holding him. A fountain of blood was coming out of his mouth. I asked him, ‘What the f*ck did you do?’ And he’s like, ‘I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything!’” Catherine said. “I went to the emergency room and… the doctor told me that all of his ribs have been broken, his clavicles, his left leg, left arm, he was bleeding internally because he was punched in the mouth a couple of times, his neck is broken. So pretty much my son… his whole body is broken.”

Doctors told her the trauma was not all a result of what had just happened. It was the accumulation of weeks or even months of abuse. She had sometimes noticed slight bruising in the past but because babied bruise easily, she didn’t worry about it. Catherine was devastated.

“He was abusing my infant son on a regular basis when I was at work,” Catherine said. “When I figured it out… ohhh I was out.”

Catherine told police and Dimitrios was arrested and charged with three felonies. She left her apartment and moved back in with her parents. Her son stayed in the hospital for several weeks. He went back home but his health problems persisted to the point that she couldn’t care for him herself.

“I have full custody of Christopher, but my son is living in Anchorage with special parents,” Catherine said. “They’re worried that later on in life he’s going to have a lot of disabilities. He took out all of his aggression on an infant. I don’t know what kind of normal human being would do that.”

Domestic Violence in Alaska is a serious issue. In 2011 a UAA victimization survey found that in Anchorage alone, 60 percent of women have experienced domestic violence. But there are organizations like Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, or AWAIC, to help victims get out of abusive situations. Deputy Director Melissa Emmal explains rates of domestic violence are increasing for people like Catherine, aged 18 to 24.

“Our community needs to do a better job at targeting young people with information about what healthy relationships look like,” Melissa said.

Those who do get out and get help take months, or even years to recover. But Melissa is proud of what they can accomplish.

“I’ve been working with people who have experienced abuse for a little over 10 years and I’m always amazed by the resiliency and strength that I see in people who’ve been through trauma throughout their whole life and a big traumatic incident of violence to get out of a relationship,” Melissa said.

It has been over nine months since Catherine left her boyfriend. She says surrounding herself with friends and family has helped her recover.

“I had my head back on my shoulders. Honestly I don’t know. I am just a tough cookie. I am really strong. I have to be strong for my son because I’m the only thing that he has really,” Catherine said.

Her ex-boyfriend is in jail awaiting sentencing. Her son is still living with his professional family, continuing to recover from his injuries. Right now Catherine is in Nevada with her parents, but plans to move back to Alaska and be closer to her son until he can live with her again next year. Then she plans to move back to Nevada to start a new life for her and her son. Catherine is hopeful about the future but picking up the pieces hasn’t been easy.

Categories: Alaska News

Kalibo, Philippines Is Juneau’s New Sister City

Tue, 2014-11-04 16:46

Juneau gained its fifth sister city this weekend. Representatives from Kalibo in the Aklan Province of the Philippines signed documents Saturday afternoon to formalize the agreement. Juneau and Kalibo are both vibrant tourism centers and regional capital cities.

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About 3,000 Filipinos live in Juneau and roughly 800 of them are from Aklan. Vicky Roldan is one of them. She’s been in Juneau for 21 years and says family is the reason so many Kalibo residents move here.

“There’s a big number of them here because of intermarriages and all that and they keep bringing family over here.”

Kalibo Mayor William Lachica (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KTOO)

Alex Carrillo  was born and raised in Juneau and says the Filipino population has always been a tight-knit community.

“Just growing up in the Filipino Hall around even people who weren’t our relatives. We were so close back then because that’s all we had was one another. The Filipino Hall is a really big part of my life.”

He says Juneau’s bond with Kalibo is more than just a sign of good will toward the Philippines.

“Filipinos are a big part of Juneau, I think. And it just shows that the city of Juneau really appreciates us.”

While in Juneau, the Kalibo delegation did some sightseeing including visits to the Mendenhall Glacier and the Shrine of St. Therese. They also visited local businesses, like the Alaskan Brewing Co.

Many expressed hope that the sister city connection will encourage an exchange of goods, services and information. Dr. Makarius Dela Cruz is Kalibo’s municipal health officer. He says Aklan needs support to provide better health care to its residents.

“Your government could help my government to provide medicines, equipments and also promote nutrition in our town.”

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November and damaged buildings in Aklan. Juneau’s Filipino Community Inc., or FilCom, reached out to those affected across the Philippines. Larry Snyder is on the Juneau Sister Cities Committee.

“The FilCom had a fundraising event for relief money to assist Filipinos. And then the state of course donated two cargo planes full of Alaska sea products, salmon, canned salmon.”

Seafood is important to both Southeast Alaska and Aklan. Jenny Gomez Strickler is the Philippines’ honorary consul to Alaska. She wrote to Alaska Airlines to explore the possibility of a direct flight to Manila that could increase the amount of fish exported. She says there are products that people in the Philippines could use that would otherwise go to waste in the United States.

“In Alaska, our fishermen grind up the salmon heads and throw it back in the ocean. I joke that that would be a taboo to Filipinos. Filipinos love making fish-head soup. They call it sinigang.”

John Pugh is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast. He says there could be a trade in education.

“Having the sister city relationship will enable us to work towards maybe some educational exchanges through agreement with Aklan University – for students, for faculty exchanges – and we think that would be a real benefit.”

If the sister city relationship is successful, members of both communities hope it will also spark more tourism.

Categories: Alaska News

New Bethel Pool Closes Temporarily Due To Safety Issue

Tue, 2014-11-04 16:45

Bethel residents enjoy the new pool. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Just as soon as the doors opened at Bethel’s new pool, they closed. Bethel city officials say there’s safety issue.

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Acting City Manager Pete Williams, says a State Fire Marshall inspected the building before the grand opening on Saturday and found a problem with the sprinkler system.

“They gave the blessing for the opening as long as the fire truck was hooked up to the building for the opening,” Williams said.
“Right now we have some test equipment that is not in town that’s en route and hopefully late tonight or early tomorrow morning they’ll do some more testing and hopefully solve the problem.”

Williams says the pool will remain closed until the problem with the sprinklers is fixed.

Original story:

New Bethel Pool Opens With High Hopes

The pool was welcomed by the community on Saturday with ceremonial cannonballs and trips down the slide.

Hundreds watched as Beverly Hoffman made the grand opening plunge down the new slide. With that splash, the new pool was officially open, and the early reviews are positive.

“It’s really fun,” said a group of Bethel youth.

The pool quickly reached its full capacity and dozens waited in line for their chance to swim. The 25-million dollar six-lane pool is part of a complex that has a hot tub, weight room, and an open exercise room. Bethel’s largest windmill provides about half of the electricity.

The pool has been a dream for three decades. Looking across the pool full of splashing kids, Hoffman, who’s been the persistent voice for years was emotional.

“It’s overwhelming, it’s just what we wanted for this community, a place where families and kids can learn how to swim and be comfortable and dive in water. It’s amazing,” said Hoffman.

The city presented Hoffman with a lifetime pool pass for her many years of work. Ella Kinegak cut the ribbon Saturday and reflected on the long process.

“I used to go into these hotels and they have swimming pools, I used to wonder, if they can do it, I bet if we try in Bethel, it wouldn’t be too hard to try it out,” said Kinegak.

It took three decades, and no one claims it was easy. A group of mothers, the Y-K Delta Lifesavers over the years have baked and sold 20-thousand pounds of cookies to raise funds. Bethel citizens twice voted for increased sales tax for the pool.

The future of the facility was never certain, as it faced opposition in some city councils and an uphill battle for grant money. Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman and Representative Bob Herron worked to secure a 23-million dollar state appropriation 2012. Hoffman says he made the case for the region’s safety.

“People live off the river, hunting, fishing, and we’ve had some of the highest drowning rates in the state and in the nation. I don’t think it’s a nicety, I think it’s a necessity to the people out here. It’s such a good feeling to finally be inside, this is my first day here, it’s totally amazing,” said Hoffman.

At the opening, the hundreds who were eager to swim listened to remarks from a long list of local and state leaders who described the community effort. The local Kuimarvik advisory board has advocated for the pool, while the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s diabetes program and Rasmussen Foundation were major donors to outfit the center with equipment. The city hired an Atlanta based company, USA Pools, to manage it.

Bethel Mayor Rick Robb says the community and region have a great opportunity before them.

“I think this facility will improve the quality of life here, and our people can live better, our kids can grow up with healthy recreation and physical activities. We’ve got a first class pool, a first class gym, it’s really about improving our quality of life,” said Robb.

Categories: Alaska News

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