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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: 53 min 44 sec ago

University of Alaska Delays Survey on Sexual Assault on Campus

Wed, 2014-12-03 17:05

The University of Alaska system has delayed a campus climate survey originally scheduled for October. The goal of the survey is to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and students’ attitudes on the issue.

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After initial delays this fall, the University of Alaska didn’t want the survey to bump against the holidays and final exams. University attorney Michael O’Brien says a survey about sexual assault on campus may bring about unexpected emotions.

“During stressful times of year, we have an extra duty to be concerned about our students’ mental health and putting them in a situation that could trigger past experiences with sexual harassment or, in particular, sexual assault was a bad idea,” O’Brien says.

This is the first time University of Alaska will do a campus climate survey. Back in April, the White House provided sample questions and recommended that colleges around the country conduct surveys.

Initially, the university modeled its survey after the federal government’s. O’Brien says the questions were focused primarily on sexual violence.

“And obviously we want to know about that, but we also want to know about cyber bullying, online harassment and it doesn’t really talk about that, so because our goal is to get it right, we want to focus on, is there either a better product or something we can add to this to make it the most comprehensive for our community?” O’Brien says.

University of Alaska also heard complaints from other schools that the White House survey was unclear, too narrow and didn’t address the needs of certain student populations.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education put University of Alaska on a list of about 80 colleges nationwide being investigated for mishandling sexual assault complaints or as part of a compliance review. Federal auditors from the Office of Civil Rights visited campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel in October.

A monthly online newsletter for UA employees called The Statewide Voice says the survey will likely be conducted early next year. Around 18,000 students, faculty and staff will be randomly selected to participate.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Divers Finish Up Sea Cucumber Season

Wed, 2014-12-03 17:04

It was a relatively quick season for Southeast Alaska sea cucumber divers. The season closed in mid-November after the fleet landed a little more than a million pounds of the seafood delicacy. Meanwhile, it looks like diving for geoduck clams might not be over so quickly.

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Divers had reached or nearly reached guideline harvest levels in seventeen different areas of Southeast by mid-November. The largest hauls this year came out of Moira Sound and Dall Island near Prince of Wales Island, Ernest Sound closer to Wrangell and in Peril Strait near Sitka.

Processed sea cucumbers (File photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Phil Doherty is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, a Ketchikan based industry group. “I didn’t hear any problems out on the grounds,” Doherty said. “Our quota was just a little over one million pounds which is down quite a bit from some of the levels we’ve seen in the past few years. The season lasted approximately six or seven weeks which is a fast season.”

With larger guideline harvest levels the season has typically remained open past Thanksgiving and into December.

Doherty expected the price to wind up somewhere around $4-4.50 a pound. That’s in line with the price from the last few years and would put the value of the fishery above four million dollars at the docks. To compare, last year’s harvest hit one and a half million pounds and at nearly four dollars a pound the fishery was worth over six million dollars at the docks. The number of divers participating has stayed just below 200 for the past decade and divers have earned an average of around 30,000 dollars in the past two years.

Meanwhile, another dive fishery that also opened this fall won’t be over as quickly. Around half of the 750,000 pound guideline harvest level for geoduck clams has been harvested but Doherty said divers will be slowing down their harvest in the colder months. Divers have decided to cut the length of Thursday openings from six hours to three hours.

“So we’ve really slowed down the harvest of geoducks to try and meet the demands of the market,” he said. “It’s a live market animal and if we put too many geoducks on the market at one time along with what Washington state and what British Columbia are doing then the price goes down. So we’ve slowed down our harvest. The season’s going to last for a while.”

Divers did not fish on Thanksgiving Thursday but planned to go back to work in December. “Normally after the Thanksgiving break, we start to lose a little bit of effort in the geoduck fishery as some of the divers who fished sea cucumbers don’t come back after the break. So we may ramp up the amount of hours that we’re fishing here as we get closer to the Christmas break.”

The price for geoduck clams has ranged between 4-6 dollars a pound in the early season.
Last year the fleet landed over half a million pounds of clams, averaging nearly eight dollars a pound. That made the fishery worth over four million dollars at the docks. For the past few years, just under 70 divers have made geoduck clam landings.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Homeless Shelter To Be Closed At Least A Month

Wed, 2014-12-03 17:03

Mike Ricker is a long-term resident of the Glory Hole, Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, which was damaged by a flood last weekend. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, the Glory Hole, will be closed at least a month after a burst water pipe caused major flood damage last weekend.

Patrons and staff were adjusting to that new reality Tuesday.

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Mike Ricker was about to go to sleep Sunday when the water started pouring down on top of him.

“It came down through the Sheetrock in the ceilings three floors, because it was in the ceiling of the third floor, and down through the light fixtures,” Ricker says. “The lights were on and the water was just pouring down out of them.”

Even though it’s technically an emergency shelter, Ricker has lived at the Glory Hole for about a year. He says he ended up homeless after getting behind on a number of bills. Now he’s working odd jobs and trying to get his life back on track.

Ricker and about 20 other Glory Hole patrons are housed at Juneau International Hostel for the time being. St. Ann’s Parish Hall downtown is hosting the shelter’s regular breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Ricker says he’s grateful to the hostel and church for stepping up on short notice.

“If they weren’t open, then what option would we have, you know?” Ricker asks. “We’d be in a pretty tough situation. Thank God for them.”

Glory Hole cook Katie Parrott says the whole situation is stressful for both staff and clients.

“We just want to make sure that people know that we’re still serving food and handing out sack lunches, so we’re still operating to the best of our ability,” she says.

Parrott served about 10 people lunch on Tuesday, a smaller crowd than normal. She says the breakfast service for 21 patrons was about average.

“So it could be just, you know, a lot of people will be doing things throughout the day, maybe won’t be here for lunch but will be here for dinner,” Parrott says. “It could be that people are trying to find somewhere to store their things. Who knows?”

The closure of the shelter comes after the first big snowstorm of winter hit Juneau over the weekend. Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says the broken pipe had frozen before it sprung the leak.

Lovishchuk says insurance will cover the cost of repairs, but she worries people will forget about the shelter while it’s closed during the holidays – a time when the Glory Hole typically receives a lot of donations.

“One of the concerns that I have is that, you know, our fundraising efforts this year will not be as great,” Lovishchuk says. “So, you know, our operating funds for next year will be jeopardized.”

She says contractor North Pacific Erectors is already working on getting the shelter back in business, and the public can help by continuing to donate money and food.

Categories: Alaska News

Toksook Bay Teen’s Yup’ik Music Videos Gain Popularity

Wed, 2014-12-03 17:01

Attracting an audience of over 10,000 Facebook followers, a Toksook Bay teenager is creating his own version of Yup’ik songs and sharing them with an international audience.

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Sixteen-year-old Byron Nicholai created a Facebook page called ‘I Sing. You Dance,’ that recently became very popular in and out of the country after his songs were featured on KTUU.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Post by I Sing. You Dance.

“They helped me reach up to 10,000, because before KTUU it was only 3,000 (likes), and after that, to 7,000 (likes), then to 10,000. Its crazy for a guy like me in a village to get that many likes,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai has been a drummer in Toksook Bay’s traditional group since 5th grade. He says his video page started when he downloaded an app and started playing around with it.

After he uploaded videos without distortion, his audience told him they prefer his natural voice.

Nicholai hasn’t stopped experimenting with his sound. Nicholai uses a technique in which his voice is augmented by a natural echo off of a drum, a trick he learned from his cousin, Moses Charles.

“One time during a Yuraq practice, he showed me how he did that and I thought it sounded awesome. The phone has to be inside the circle of the drum for you to hear the echo… that’s why I’m kinda so close,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai says his songs aren’t exactly traditional. A Toksook Bay elder, Joseph “Anaruk” Felix, sings with Byron in school and is glad to hear the young man making music projects.

“When I listened to the videos the singing seemed unique to his style and personality, but I like it very much. They don’t have dances attached to them as is our tradition, but it is very entertaining to me. I encourage other people to try this, because it brings us closer to our culture,” said Felix.

Nicholai says he is working on a song that goes with a dance and expects to release it sometime soon. He says he would like to be able to travel to teach about his culture and traditional dancing.

The videos can be found here.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional gut sewing at the Anchorage Museum

Wed, 2014-12-03 16:41

The Anchorage Museum is hosting three Alaska Native artists this week. They are teaching students and others about gut sewing, a traditional skill still used today to make rain gear. They’re also learning about the craft from each other and from historical items in the museum’s collection. 

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/03GUTS.mp3

Yupik elder Mary Tunuchuk picks up the beginnings of a raincoat made of dried bearded seal intestine and shows a group of elementary school students.

Elaine Kingeekuk shows off different types of guts to a group of elementary school students at the Anchorage Museum. HIllman/KSKA

“This is the back of the hood and this is the arms,” she says.

The semi-translucent material crinkles like paper every time Tunuchuk touches it. She says the guts are extremely delicate when dry. You have to dip the parka in sea water to make it more flexible before putting it on. She says the traditional gear provides the best protection from rain and cold, especially when hunting on the ocean.

“The snow is blowing. The seas are rough. And you’re getting cold. If you have a rubber raincoat you’re gonna freeze to death. But if you have this one, this gut parka, you’re gonna last a little bit longer because it’s going to keep you warm.”

She says the guts are more breathable than modern materials, and they don’t freeze and crack.

Tunuchuk started sewing guts about 50 years ago. She says her husband needed a parka, and as a young wife she had to make one for him.

To make a parka, women start with fresh intestines from seals or walrus. They scrape off the flesh from the 70 foot-long guts and rinse them for hours. Then they blow up the cleaned intestines like a balloon and wait for them to dry. Tunuchuk says she prefers working with bearded seals over walrus.

“One time I asked my husband or one of my brothers to bring home a walrus gut. I’ll never do that again! It’s so much harder to work, to clean. It’s so wide, and everything seems like it’s super glued in there!”

Once the guts are dry, she carefully sews them together using sinew and sometimes sea grass.

“But don’t use a sewing machine or an electrical thing because those stitches are so close together that when you try to pull it out, you might tear it apart.”

Tunuchuk says sewing a parka can take many days. Every village has different patterns and stitches for sewing. She’s learned even more styles by looking at the materials in the collection at the Anchorage Museum.

A bearded seal gut parka sewn by Mary Tunuchuk. Hillman/KSKA

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center director Aron Crowell, says the goal of the residency is for the artists to learn from each other and from the artifacts. And they’re teaching the museum staff about caring for the materials.

“They’re also talking about the processing and the material qualities of intestines and other membranes from inside sea mammals and how those are uniquely suited to Arctic clothing.”

The artists will be at the Museum for the rest of the week. The public is invited to meet the artists on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1 to 3 pm.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Selections in Tongass Added to Defense Bill

Wed, 2014-12-03 07:31

A long-awaited land selection agreement for Sealaska Corporation is among a package of public land bills that are now slated to move quickly through Congress. A deal to attach the package to the must-pass defense bill was announced late last night.

The bill would turn over about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska, the regional Native corporation of Southeast Alaska, for logging and development.

Nationally, the bill moves 110,000 acres out of national control, enables a controversial copper mine in Arizona and expands a Bureau of Land Management program to streamline drilling permits. Outside of Alaska, it also establishes more than 200,000 acres of wilderness and designates new national parks.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski called it a balanced package that will increase economic opportunities in Western states. If it passes, it will be the largest public lands legislation to become law in at least five years.
The bill would sell an old DEW Line radar station to Olgoonik (Ol’ OO-NIK) Corporation, the village corporation of Wainwright. The parcel is about 1,500 acres inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The bill says the corporation must pay market value for the acreage. It also clears federal interests in three municipal lots in downtown Anchorage and, further north, turns over an Air Force tank farm to the city of Nome. In the defense portion of the bill, lawmakers affirm the process the Air Force used when it selected Eielson Air Force Base to house the first F-35A squadrons.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:21

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that it’s proposing much of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas within U.S. jurisdiction as critical habitat for ringed seals.

Shaye Wolf is the climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity. She says the habitat proposal is the largest in history.

“We know that species that have critical habitat are twice as likely that species without it to be recovering,” Wolf said. ”So we know that critical habitat works.”

A critical-habitat designation means federal agencies that authorize activities there must consult with NOAA Fisheries to determine the effects on seals. Wolf says the designation wouldn’t ban oil and gas drilling, but it does require the permitting agencies to take extra precautions to ensure drilling won’t harm the seal’s habitat.

But Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized the size of the proposed critical habitat area. In a news release she said she is concerned, “this designation would severely impact any economic development.”

The seals were declared threatened in December 2012 because of the loss of sea ice from climate warming. Ringed seals use sea ice for breeding and molting.

The agency will take public comment on the proposed critical-habitat designation for 90 days.

 

Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:20

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

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Categories: Alaska News

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:18

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo: Jim Dau)

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula — their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

Now, a new front has developed in the turf war between reindeer and caribou.

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An unidentified herd of animals has settled near Serpentine Hot Springs, in close proximity to several reindeer herding operations. And the animals’ presence has both wildlife managers and reindeer herders asking: Are they reindeer or caribou?

“Nobody knows if it’s a caribou herd reestablishing itself on the Seward Peninsula, or if it’s a group of reindeer that have run off and gone feral,” said Greg Finstad with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research program.

In order to solve the mystery, UAF’s Reindeer Research Program is teaming up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to genetically test the animals.

The two agencies are soliciting small tissue samples from hunters who harvested game — caribou or reindeer — near Serpentine Hot Spring this summer. Those samples will then be compared with relatively “pure” reindeer samples from St. Lawrence Island, and caribou samples from the Interior, to determine whether the Serpentine herd is more closely related to caribou or reindeer.

Jim Dau is an ADF&G biologist working on the project. He said while the distinction between the two animals may seem slight — it makes a big difference to reindeer herders in the region.

“The reindeer industry has lost a tremendous number of reindeer, especially since the mid 90s. And those losses have occurred primarily when caribou that winter down there leave in the spring. They can just overwhelm a reindeer range and when they leave in the spring they take reindeer with them,” he said.

According to Dau, if the animals are caribou, they’ll likely be viewed as a new threat — especially since they appeared at an unusual time of year: Summer, rather than the typical winter migration period.

On the other hand, if the animals turn out to be reindeer, the reaction would likely be more optimistic.

“If they are feral reindeer, then a reindeer herder can go out and recover them,” said Finstad.

A definitive I.D. would also make it clear which agency is responsible for the animals — for instance, caribou are public resources within the purview of ADF&G; while reindeer are under the stewardship of private herders — and who will have to foot the bill when it comes to monitoring them.

According to Finstad, monitoring is particularly important in the case of caribou. There is very little reindeer herders can do to protect their reindeer from a group of several thousand caribou — but early warnings do help.

“If you have a group of reindeer, and you know where the caribou are, then you do have a chance and you can maybe move them out of the way,” he said.

Still, Dau with ADF&G noted that tracking costs time and money. Warning systems rely on expensive radio collars, plus transportation costs and hours spent placing those collars on the animals.

The total Western Arctic caribou herd is over 200,000 strong. Dau said it’s hard to justify placing a several collars in a relatively small area like Serpentine Hot Springs when he has such a large group to worry about — as well as other stakeholder interests in the region.

“There’s another whole aspect to this,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the Seward Peninsula who are not reindeer herders. They are absolutely delighted to have access to caribou. They want to go caribou hunting and get meat.”

But when it comes to the Serpentine herd, identification is still the first step. Dau said ADF&G is still collecting tissue samples from game harvested between May and August of this year in the Serpentine-Shishmaref-Cape Espenberg area.

Hunters interested in donating samples can bring them to the ADF&G office in Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:17

The ferry Tustumena is getting old. For the last few years, the state has been looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of Southcentral and Southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for a replacement vessel with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

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Categories: Alaska News

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:16

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily closed due to a burst pipe and flood Sunday night. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

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Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says 21 patrons and an overnight staff member were at the shelter when the pipe burst.

“I was not there, but from what I heard, you know, the flood gates opened and everybody got really cold and wet,” Lovishchuk says.

City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Management officials set up a temporary shelter at the Downtown Transportation Center. Patrons and staff were later relocated to the city’s Zach Gordon Youth Center.

Lovishchuk says Juneau International Hostel will provide rooms to Glory Hole clients while a contractor assesses the damage to the shelter. Downtown Juneau’s Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary has temporarily offered its parish hall for meal services.

“Everybody was amazingly helpful,” Lovishchuk says. “The city, the Red Cross, the local churches, the Glory Hole board – just lots of really, really helpful entities.”

Lovishchuk says she won’t know until Tuesday what caused the water pipe to burst or how long the shelter will be closed.

Categories: Alaska News

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:15

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what the City of Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing water concerns.

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The compliance order calls for Ketchikan to finish research into options for dealing with the source of the city’s water, and submit engineering design plans for any needed upgrades by the end of 2015.

The city also must continue plans to upgrade its new water treatment plant and start testing for the waterborne parasite Cryptosporidium – something it’s not tested for previously.

All this is expected to cost between $1.75 and $2.25 million. The city does have about $1.8 million left from a low-interest state loan that paid for construction of the new treatment plant. That is a loan, though, so it will have to be paid back over time.

John Kleinegger, water division manager for the city-owned Ketchikan Public Utilities, explained that “KPU issues the bond and the state makes a guarantee, so the financing would come from the revenue of KPU – Electric, telephone and water combined.”

That means the loan will be paid for by KPU customers.

While the loan would cover the low end of the estimate, it’s likely that the overall cost of the compliance order will exceed that amount. City Manager Karl Amylon writes in a memo that additional costs could be covered by KPU reserves.

Ketchikan’s water supply has been problematic in recent years for a couple of reasons.

First: Ketchikan Lakes, which is the source of the city’s drinking water, has higher-than-allowed levels of coliform bacteria. The water is disinfected before it’s distributed, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency still regulates coliform levels in the source water.

Kleinegger said it might be possible to resolve that issue through the city’s ultraviolet radiation treatment system. The city’s new treatment plant combines chemical and UV disinfection. Kleinegger cited a similar system in the Seattle area.

“This is the Cedar River treatment plant, where, like us, they do have higher than acceptable levels of coliform,” he said. “But they were also able to demonstrate to their regulatory agencies that by providing more UV disinfection than is technically required, they were able to achieve a waiver.”

Ketchikan also will investigate taking water from different locations in the lake.

The second problem is that the city’s water supply has a lot of organic material floating in it, and when that material comes in contact with chlorine disinfection, it forms byproducts that also are regulated by the EPA.

The city’s water has too many of those byproducts, despite the new treatment system that was built specifically to address that problem. That new system uses UV and chloramine — a blend of chlorine and ammonia rather than chlorine alone. It brought the levels down, but not quite enough.

“By what we’ve done so far with chloramination, we’ve cut the levels in half, but we’re still not below 60 parts per billion,” Kleinegger said. “We’re close, but close only counts in horse shoes.”

The city has a plan under way to tweak the new treatment plant and get those byproduct levels below the threshold. It involves adding chlorine early on, but not as much, passing the water through the UV treatment, and then adding the ammonia and more chlorine. Kleinegger said he expects that will bring the levels down to an average of 30 to 40 parts per billion.

All of this is part of the city’s ongoing effort to avoid building a really expensive filtration plant. A conventional filtration plant would cost an estimated $35 million to build, and would be much more costly to operate than the current treatment system.

Kleinegger said that despite all the plans to avoid filtration, he is keeping an eye on the technology as it develops.

“If all this doesn’t work the way that we hoped it will, then our next position will be, if we have to go to filtration, to make it as inexpensive, not only to construct but also to operate, as possible,” he said.

The water compliance order has been under development since this summer, and City of Ketchikan officials have participated in its drafting. It is a legally binding document, and violating it could lead to fines, or civil or criminal court actions.

Kleinegger said it’s a way for the EPA, along with state regulatory agencies, to make sure public water suppliers follow regulations.

“They want to get the serious offenders, which unfortunately includes us, on the path of meeting the requirements of the surface water treatment rules,” he said. “The best way to do it is a legal document that both parties have to agree to.”

The City of Ketchikan is on the EPA’s Enforcement Target List, according to City Manager Amylon. But, signing off on the compliance order should satisfy EPA officials, at least for the time being.

The water compliance order will be in front of the Ketchikan City Council for approval on Thursday. Representatives of CH2M-Hill, the city’s water treatment consultant firm, will be there to answer questions, along with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Categories: Alaska News

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:14

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 2, 2014

Tue, 2014-12-02 17:13

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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NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage & The Associated Press

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

ASD Seeking Solutions To Staff Morale, Hiring And Retention Problems

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Financial uncertainty at the Anchorage School District is leading to morale problems and an inability to attract qualified teachers. The School Board is looking for solutions.

Iditarod Boosts Payout to $70k for 2015 Winner

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Iditarod 2015 will have the highest winner’s payout in the race’s history.   Stan Hooley, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race CEO, says the first to Nome will receive $70,000, that’s almost $20,000 more than the winner earned last year

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula – their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

State Releases Design Study For Tustumena Ferry Replacement

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The ferry Tustumena (tuss-tah-MEE-nah) is getting old. The state is looking into options for repairing or replacing the aging vessel, which serves parts of southcentral and southwestern Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Aleutian chain. On Dec. 2, the Department of Transportation released the design study report for replacement with an estimated construction cost of $237 million.

Burst Water Pipe, Flood Temporarily Shut Down Juneau Homeless Shelter

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily out of commission following a burst water pipe and flood at the downtown facility Sunday evening.

Compliance Ordered for Ketchikan Water Supply

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A compliance order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation spells out what Ketchikan is required to do over the next couple of years to address ongoing concerns over the city’s drinking water.

Artists Flock To Juneau’s Public Market

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

Artists and vendors from all over Alaska and some from the Lower 48 landed in Juneau last weekend for The Public Market. It’s part Christmas craft fair and part gallery.

Categories: Alaska News

South Korean Trawler Sinks in Russian Far East

Tue, 2014-12-02 12:16

The Oryong 501. (via Korea Times)

At least one person has died and dozens more are missing after a South Korean trawler sank in the western Bering Sea early Monday morning.

The Oryong 501 was fishing for pollock off Chukotka in the Russian Far East, with about 60 crew members aboard.

They were reportedly hit by a wave while hauling in fish in bad weather, and began taking on water. There was no report of a distress call before the vessel sank.

Seven people aboard were rescued from a life raft, and one has since died of hypothermia, according to reports. Russian search crews and nearby fishing vessels are still looking for at least 50 missing crew members in the cold waters nearby.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Boosts Payout to $70k for 2015 Winner

Tue, 2014-12-02 12:13

2014 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey celebrates his victory in Nome. (Photo by David Dodman, KNOM Radio Mission)

The 2015 Iditarod winner will take home the race’s biggest payday ever — $70,000.

Announcing the winning purse for the 2015 race—the largest payout for the first musher to Nome in the history of the race—the Iditarod Trail Committee notes the sum is $19,600 more than the $50,400 paid out to Dallas Seavey when he was first under the burled arch as the winner of last year’s Iditarod.

The extra money won’t only go to the top winners, however; second through fifth place will also see an increase over last year’s payouts. The second-place musher will take home $58,600, a jump over last year’s second-place take of $47,600. The third place finisher will net $53,900, just $100 shy of last year’s first-place prize.

All told, race officials say an extra $50,000 will be spread among the top five finishers, with $700,100 set to be paid out among the top 30 mushers. Mushers finishing behind 30th place each receive $1,049, a symbolic amount based on the race’s “official” – but often fluctuating – trail length.

So far 78 mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, which starts in downtown Anchorage Saturday, Mar. 7.

Categories: Alaska News

MEA Rates To Rise

Tue, 2014-12-02 11:52

Matanuska Electric Association has announced an increase in rates effective January of next year.  

MEA spokesperson Julie Estey says the power company’s board of directors authorized a  rate hike of 15 to 20 percent  in November.  Part of that increase is an .81 base rate increase.

“So every quarter, MEA can file what they call a simplified rate filing based on our costs to provide power. So this .81 percent is that quarterly adjustment that we do through the RCA,”  Estey says.

 

MEA members can expect to see a total monthly increase of about $0.63 as a result of the base rate adjustment.  If the  quarterly  increase is approved by the RCA, customers can expect to see about eight to ten dollars more a month in their electric bills.

“This is a component of the 15 – 20 percent increase that we were projecting for 2015. So this is not in addition to that, this is part of that 15 to 20 percent.”

Estey says the average MEA member uses just over 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. The higher bills in January will reflect about 10 – 12 percent of the projected retail rate increase for 2015.

She says  MEA has requested an additional adjustement due to a hike in costs of fuel.

“And that’s an additional filing that the RCA is looking at right now, which is basically pass through costs of fuel for us.”

The majority of projected increases will be reflected in January 2015 customer billings, as MEA meets the increased cost of fuel under the new, higher-priced contracts for Cook Inlet gas, Estey says.

MEA’s new Eklutna power plant is almost ready to begin generating power. Right now it is going through tests. Estey says four of the engines should be up and running by the end of the year, and the final six engines should be ready by March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

ASD seeking solutions to staff morale, hiring and retention problems

Tue, 2014-12-02 00:00

Financial uncertainty at the Anchorage School District is leading to morale problems and an inability to attract qualified teachers. The School Board is looking for solutions.

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Marty Decker has taught English at Chugiak High School for 20 years, but now he’s thinking of retiring early. His class sizes have grown, he has less support, and many of his fellow teachers have been transferred to other areas.

“I love the kids,” he says. “But the added duties and the stresses and the broken hearts of people around me being transferred away, et cetera is pretty tough to take on.”

Decker says it’s no surprise to him that the district is having trouble recruiting new teachers because they offer low pay and no designated retirement. He says programmatic cuts are hurting students, too.

“The kinds of experiences that make a kid want to go to school, the elective subjects et cetera have been basically gouged out of the scenario. So, I think that in addition to the large class numbers that are sort of intimidating for students, there’s less for them to come to school for.”

Decker spoke before the Anchorage School Board on Monday evening. Other parents and teachers talked about the lack of substitute teachers. When a sub can’t be found, principals teach or classrooms are split up. The district is also having trouble hiring support staff, like IT technicians.

ASD already has an extra $8 million in the fund balance because of the high vacancy rate and the lower salaries for the less experienced teachers they hired. If the trend continues, they’ll have $21 million by the end of the fiscal year.

But School Board Member Kameron Perez-Verdia doesn’t see it as a budget surplus.

“What we do have is a $22 million deficit this next year and a $70 million plus deficit in the next three years. We have a serious financial problem and we also have serious internal challenges because of the cutting we’ve been doing for the last three years.”

Perez-Verdia and other board members say they want to focus on improving student experiences and overall morale for the second semester of this year.

So the district is considering solutions, such as increasing pay for substitute teachers. The rate hasn’t been raised in seven years. They’re also looking at hiring a recruiter to help find qualified teachers, especially teachers for Special Education. That department has a 6 percent vacancy rate.

Parents also made suggestions like giving retired teachers incentives to substitute teach, stop moving staff to different schools to improve continuity, and create schools where teachers feel safer expressing themselves.

The Board will make final decisions on how to spend the unassigned fund balance on December 15. They could decide to put some of the money toward next year’s projected fund deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage charter schools seeking facilities, school board discussing solutions

Mon, 2014-12-01 23:25

The Anchorage School District is considering ways to help charter schools find permanent facilities. ASD has six facility-based charter schools and one more that’s petitioning for creation. Most of them are have difficulty finding and paying for adequate building space, especially the German immersion program, Rilke Schule, and the proposed math, science, and arts middle school.

Joey Eski has children at Aquarian, which has a building but needs to expand. “Having support from the school district for facilities for charter schools, allows the school to focus on their program and really achieve their mission without being bogged down with facility problems,” she told the school board during their late session on Monday evening.

School Board member Natasha von Imhof says one potential solution is creating a $5 million Charter School Facility Fund. It would give low-interest loans to the schools to build or lease space. She says the creation of the fund might attract future federal and state dollars.

But School Board President Eric Croft thinks it might be better to bond to build new schools.

“The more I stare at the charter facilities problems, Rilke’s and others, the more convinced I’ve become that we can’t continue asking charters to find facilities out there. It’s difficult to find an abandoned school.”

Other possibilities include building one facility to house multiple different charter schools, like is done in the Mat-Su Valley.

Von Imhof also put forth a different proposal to provide more immediate funding to Rilke Schule, which will not have a building next year.

Both proposals were added to the agenda right before the meeting started. They will be discussed in more depth and voted on during the December 15 school board meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker, Mallott Sworn Into Office

Mon, 2014-12-01 17:09

It was a celebratory tone in Juneau today during the inauguration ceremony for Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott. After opening songs by the Mount Saint Elias Dancers, David Katzeek gave a traditional welcome that emphasized the unity campaign’s theme.

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“Say it loud” “Woo-CHEEN” “It means ‘together.’ Together. Together–there’s not a thing we cannot accomplish,” Katzeek

Both Walker and Mallott were sworn in, sharing a stage with outgoing governor Parnell, as well as U.S. Senator-elect Dan Sullivan.

Dressed in traditional Tlingit regalia, Mallott’s short address focused on political bipartisanship and cultural empowerment.

“Whether we wear Carhartts, blue jeans, fancy suits, or silk ties. Whether we fish, or whether we work with your hands,” Mallott said. “We can empathize. We can know from Angoon to Anaktuvuk Pass, to Anchorage, that we Alaskans can be one.”

Mallott concluded with a call to “rise as one,” the motto at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives meeting.

After thanking all those who helped his campaign, Governor Walker gave an emotional personal account of his own life. He says it mirrors the narrative of the state he now leads.

“My family’s story is Alaska’s story. Ya know, I remember my parents efforts and advocacy for statehood,” Walker said. “Forever etched in my memory is the very day that eight stars of the Alaska flag became the 49th star of the United States of American flag.”

Walker said inclusivity and transparency will be the hallmarks of his administration. He gave a general nod to expanding energy programs as the way to fix the state’s troubled budget outlook.

“Today oil was hovering in the $70 range. We’re heading for some lean times,” Walker said. “There is no reason we cannot turn that around. We live in one of the most resource rich states in the nation, in one of the richest countries in the world. The key to every growing economy is low cost energy. We don’t have a resource problem in Alaska, we have a distribution problem.”

Walker’s address was light on specific policy points, although he pledged to immediately begin work to expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska. Later he appointed Valerie Davidson as the new commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. Davidson championed Medicaid expansion in her former job with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Walker also named former Democratic legislator Sam Cotten as his acting commissioner of Fish and Game. Marty Rutherford, who held a post in the Department of Natural Resources during Sarah Palin’s adminstration, will be rejoining the agency as a deputy commissioner.

Categories: Alaska News

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