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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: 24 min 38 sec ago

The Tongass Tightrope: Balancing Diverse Interests By Committee

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:25

Aerial view of Tongass National Forest. (Creative Commons Photo by Alan Wu)

For three days last week, a few dozen people holed up in a Travelodge conference room in Juneau. There was coffee and donuts, PowerPoint presentations and an easel with big sheets of scratch paper. It was the second in a series of meeting that the Tongass Advisory Committee has leading up to its May deadline to produce its recommendations.

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Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the timber industry, state government, local communities, tribal entities and conservationists on the committee are trying to work out policies that will let them all sustainably coexist. Their mutually shared mantra is what they’re calling the “triple bottom line”–ecological, social and economic sustainability in the Tongass National Forest.

One of their directives from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is to transition the timber industry to harvesting only the Tongass’s young growth, that is, trees that have grown back in areas previously logged or disturbed.

“It is going to be a huge challenge to make a financially viable industry with 200,000 acres of young growth on a 17 million acre forest,” says Tongass Advisory Committee member Eric Nichols. He’s part owner of Ketchikan’s Alcan Forest Products Inc. and Evergreen Timber.“The land base, it’s going to be a huge impact, in that you’ve got to have the land base to grow the trees.”

“And the more we shrink this land base, the higher probability of failure you have.”

Thorne Bay’s timber sale

If the committee is successful and the Forest Service adopts its policy recommendations, it should head off the kind of legal wrangling that the community of Thorne Bay is on the sidelines of now.

Big Thorne timber sale map

Thorne Bay is a community of about 500 on Prince of Wales Island. It’s part of a census area that consistently has the highest unemployment rates in Southeast Alaska. Its economy used to be dominated by the timber industry. Nowadays, Wayne Benner says it’s down to “about a half a dozen small little working mills, ma-and-pa mills.”

Benner is the advisory committee’s co-chair and Thorne Bay city administrator.

“(We) definitely want to make sure they continue on, and have the ability to survive and prosper,” Benner says. “And at the same time, all the other uses of the Tongass National Forest are preserved so that the other entities, the lodges, people coming to hunt and coming to fish, also have the opportunity to enjoy ’em.”

Benner says his government hasn’t formally taken a position on the Forest Service’s controversial Big Thorne timber sale, which could be a boon to the local economy but would destroy thousands of acres of old growth forest.

The timber sale may not be ecologically or economically sustainable, according to Earthjusticeand the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. They’re part of a coalition of conservation groups fighting the timber sale in court.

A conservation-based economy 

Back at the Travelodge, community interests are getting a lot of attention, says Jason Anderson, deputy forest supervisor for the Tongass.

“Despite the difference of interests at the table, there’s a collective interest in doing good stewardship of the land as it benefits communities. There’s probably some difference of opinion of how that’s going to look, but the value of having them all at the table and hashing all that out, that’s really in my opinion the value in having an advisory committee.”

Lynn Jungwirth is the other co-chair of the committee. She brings lessons from her home in Hayfork, California, a town of 2,200 in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. She says in the timber wars back home, both the industry and the conservation groups were powerful. When they fought it out, the communities got caught in the crossfire.

“So while the conservation industry might stop a sale in order to harm industry, we’re the people who lost our homes, lost our equipment, lost our jobs. We kind of thought, well, you know, we need to get together and have a voice, because this is a transition time. We have got to stop pitting conservation against economy and build a conservation-based economy.”

Thorne Bay City Administrator Wayne Benner says even if the committee fails, the learning and perspective is valuable.

“If nothing comes out of it, everybody goes back to where they’ve come from, they’re going to take back a little different vision of how the different entities and agencies really look at managing resources.”

The Tongass Advisory Committee plans to meet monthly until its work is complete.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Port Project is downsized to deal with corrosion, not expansion

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:24

The Anchorage Port project is taking a new direction toward modernization and rehabilitation instead of expansion.
Underneath the wharf at the Port of Anchorage stand 1,400 hollow steel posts. The lower sections of the damp metal are covered in thick reddish-brown corrosion caused by bacteria, silt, and salty water. Thick steel sleeves have been bolted around some of them to cover cracks and holes. The sleeves have started to corrode as well. Port Engineer Todd Cowles calls them Band-Aids.

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The Anchorage Port’s corroded steel pilings.

“You can spend 15 years fixing 100 piles a year only to have the ones you started with starting to fail. These are not 75-year solutions. These are 10- to 15-year solutions. So you invest as much up front cost to get much less return on their investment,” he says.

So now the Municipality of Anchorage and CH2M Hill are designing three possible long-term solutions to the problem. The basic idea is to use steel piles filled with reinforced concrete. If the steel corrodes away in 20 years, the concrete keeps standing.

Port managers want to completely re-do two of the four aging terminals, replace aging cranes and other infrastructure with modern equipment, and make the port more earthquake proof. They will not add any more berths.

Cowles says construction will change the flow of work for many of the companies that off-load goods at the Port.

“We have to move these customers south to be able to make that happen because we’re planning a wholesale demolition and reconstruction.”
The project is a far cry from the failed expansion started in 2006 that resulted in $312 million in expenditures, piles of unused materials, and multiple lawsuits. Cowles says this time they took a different approach to the project.

“I think what we did better this time is really involve our primary stakeholders in kind of kicking the tires on the concept.”

They held a week-long meeting with engineers, pilots, and port users in late August. The designs will be developed enough to estimate their price tags, layouts, and potential risks.

Cowles points out problems and the port.

They’ll be presented to the Municipality in early November.

Four million tons of goods pass through the Port each year as well as a majority of all the cement and jet fuel used in the state. Cowles says the port projects have not interrupted any port activities to date.

Categories: Alaska News

Officers Say Searches, Civil Rights Must Balance In Fight Against Illegal Drugs

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:23

Alaska has ranked among the top 10 states in several categories of illegal drug use in recent years. Last week, participants at the “Reclaim Alaska: 2014 Substance Abuse Summit” hosted by the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association talked about the problem and ways to address it. Participants were also cautioned that civil rights must not be trampled in the process of stemming the flow of illegal drugs.

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Categories: Alaska News

Motorcyclists Celebrate Life On The Road

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:22

The summer tourism season is winding down, with even the hardiest travelers thinking about heading south. Alaska regularly attracts adventurous people from around the world, including motorcycle tourists.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska SeaLife Center Names Sea Lion Pup

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:21

A very special Stellar sea lion pup got a name last week at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. He’s the result of a special breeding and research program looking into the decline of the endangered marine mammals in the state.

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Categories: Alaska News

Red Fox Expansion Causing Problems On North Slope

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:20

As the winter approaches, many animals are migrating south, but there’s one sly creature that scientists say in recent years has started to remain in the high Arctic in the winter. Red foxes have not only expanded their habitat into the far north, the charismatic, bushy tailed mammal is out-competing the native Arctic fox and causing problems at oil field dumpsters in Prudhoe Bay.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 15, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:14

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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BP Alaska Plans Layoffs Following Hilcorp Sale

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

BP Alaska, a major player in the state’s oil industry, is planning to lay off 275 employees and contractors early next year.

State Files To Participate In Big Thorne Lawsuits

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The State of Alaska filed motions in federal court Monday to participate in lawsuits that seek to halt or delay the U.S. Forest Service’s planned Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales Island.

The Tongass Tightrope: Balancing Diverse Interests By Committee

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

A three-day meeting in Juneau between stakeholders in the Tongass National Forest wrapped Friday. It’s the second in a series that the Tongass Advisory Committee has leading up to its May deadline to produce its recommendations.

Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the timber industry, state government, local communities, tribal entities and conservationists on the committee are trying to work out policies that will let them all sustainably coexist.

Anchorage Port Project Is Downsized To Deal With Corrosion, Not Expansion

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Port project is taking a new direction toward modernization and rehabilitation instead of expansion.

Officers Say Searches, Civil Rights Must Balance In Fight Against Illegal Drugs

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Alaska has ranked among the top 10 states in several categories of illegal drug use in recent years. Last week, participants at the “Reclaim Alaska: 2014 Substance Abuse Summit” hosted by the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association talked about the problem and ways to address it. Participants were also cautioned that civil rights must not be trampled in the process of stemming the flow of illegal drugs.

Motorcyclists Celebrate Life On The Road

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The summer tourism season is winding down, with even the hardiest travelers thinking about heading south. Alaska regularly attracts adventurous people from around the world, including motorcycle tourists.

Alaska SeaLife Center Names Sea Lion Pup

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A very special Stellar sea lion pup got a name last week at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. He’s the result of a special breeding and research program looking into the decline of the endangered marine mammals in the state.

Red Fox Expansion Causing Problems On North Slope

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

As the winter approaches, many animals are migrating south, but there’s one sly creature that scientists say in recent years has started to remain in the high Arctic in the winter. Red foxes have not only expanded their habitat into the far north, the charismatic, bushy tailed mammal is out-competing the native Arctic fox and causing problems at oil field dumpsters in Prudhoe Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

First-Time Forager’s Hunt For Mushrooms In Alaska’s Urban Wilderness

Mon, 2014-09-15 15:00

(Photo by Dave Waldron)

Today we’re hunting for mushrooms. Now you may have heard radio stories about mushroom foragers or mushroom experts, but Heidi Drygas is neither of those. Drygas writes the food blog Chena Girl Cooks, and she’s harvested just about everything Alaska has to offer, but mushrooms have always been the last thing on her list.

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(Photo by Dave Waldron)

“I think a lot of people are afraid of it, for obvious reasons,” she said. “Because if you don’t do it right you can die.”

Drygas has finally decided to give mushroom foraging a try, and she’s settled on a ski trail in the South Anchorage area for her location. As this is her first official hunt she is narrowing her search to a very common, very safe mushroom.

“We’re just going to try and find a very plentiful mushroom in Alaska called ‘boletes,’” she said. “They are the easiest to identify as far as I’m concerned.”

Boletes are large and brown, with a domed cap. The mushroom guides that Drygas has brought along say that under the cap, you should see a coral-like texture. If you see a gilled accordion-like texture underneath, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Check out Heidi’s ‘Chena Girl Cooks’ blog.

“Oh look at this! Is this not the cutest mushroom you ever saw?” she said. “But…oh look it has gills, so we can’t eat it. But it’s like the perfect mushroom.”

Once we venture off the main trail we find an abundance of mushrooms, but none that we think we can eat.

(Photo by Dave Waldron)

“It’s like a boom for mushrooms, but for edible ones it’s kind of slim pickings,” Drygas said.

We manage to find a single bolete, but it looks like something’s been chewing on it. Also, it’s rotting. After about 30 minutes with an empty basket I’m thinking the only mushrooms we’ll be eating will be from a grocery store. And then…

Heidi: “There is a pretty little bolete. Isn’t that perfect?”

Dave: “It’s plump, and it hasn’t been eaten by an animal….no gills.”

Heidi: “We don’t have to go to CARRS and find mushrooms! No grocery store trip for us.”

Picking mushrooms is totally like fishing. You snag a great one, and you’re pumped, but then 30 minutes later you’re complaining how dead it is. That is, until you find a mother load.

“They’re everywhere!” Drygas said. “Let’s identify what these are…”

These don’t look boletes, but we’re hoping they’re at least edible.

“That looks like a false chanterelle, which sounds like it’s not edible…edibility unknown,” she said. “That’s exactly what that looks like.”

Find a variety of Heidi’s recipes on Town Square 49.

And flipping through Drygas’ mushroom guides, we notice a lot of these mushrooms have some serious ambiguity.

“A lot of these say ‘edible with caution.’ That does not inspire confidence,” she said. “‘Edible, but you might feel really bad afterwards.’”

And that might be yet another reason why a lot of people are too freaked out to pick mushrooms. Still, we decide if we limit ourselves to just boletes, we’re going to end this trip with a single mushroom. So we track down one other fairly common, mostly edible mushroom.

“So, this one is smooth. This is the gemmed puffball,” Drygas said. “I think that’s what these are; they look like them don’t they? It says ‘edible for most people.’”

(Photo by Dave Waldron)

It’s starting to get dark outside, but we do a small bounty we can be proud of. And besides…

“It’s way more fun than going to the grocery store,” Drygas said. “It’s in your backyard, it’s down the trail. You can see things growing in the middle of the woods and the parking lot.”

When I ask Drygas if she’ll be coming back for more mushrooms, she guarantees it. She says a handful of mushrooms isn’t bad for a first-timer, but she’s already hungry for more.

Heidi: “I think it’s kind of an art, a craft. To know ‘I see a covering and the spruce trees are just so’ and know that you are going to find mushrooms there. And there are definitely people that can do that.”

Dave: “And you’re going to be one of those people some day.”

Heidi: “Well, just give me a few seasons.”

Categories: Alaska News

BP Alaska Plans Layoffs Following Hilcorp Sale

Mon, 2014-09-15 14:51

BP Alaska, a major player in the state’s oil industry, is planning to lay off 275 employees and contractors early next year.

Spokeswoman Dawn Patience says the business in Alaska will be smaller due to the previously announced sale of interests in four North Slope oil fields to Hilcorp.

Patience says the layoffs, combined with the 200 individuals who have accepted jobs with Hilcorp., represents about 17 percent of the total number of BP employees and contractors in the state.

The company’s regional president, in announcing the sale in April, said it would allow for BP to focus on maximizing production from Prudhoe Bay and advancing plans for a major liquefied natural gas project. BP is working on the latter with the state, Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and TransCanada Corp.

Categories: Alaska News

Cheaper Turboprops Lower Some AK Jet Fares

Mon, 2014-09-15 11:05

Cost-cutting on an Alaska Airlines Railbelt route is lowering fares in Southeast.

The airline began flying smaller, turboprop planes between Anchorage and Fairbanks earlier this year. They also flew summer routes between Anchorage and Kodiak.

A southbound Alaska Airlines jet takes off from Petersburg’s airport Sept. 13, 2014. Some of the airline’s fares have been reduced and other price cuts may be coming. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Alaska Vice President Marilyn Romano says they’re cheaper to operate.

“It’s a cost savings because you’re not using a jet that’s designed for a longer flight, and running it back and forth on a very short segment,” she says. “And so by doing that, then you take it to the next level. Our ultimate goal was to bring down our costs. Then we could, at the same time, look at bringing down fares.”

Romano says some cheaper fares went into place last spring and more are coming. She says they’re separate from steep discounts on summer Seattle-Juneau flights that came after Delta Air Lines began competing on that route.

It’s fairly difficult to pin down those discounts, because of the large number of factors affecting fares. Our own comparison showed some current prices lower and some higher than last fall, winter or spring.

Airline officials were reluctant to release such details, but did provide a few examples.

They say a one-way fare from Juneau to Anchorage purchased two weeks in advance has dropped around 10 percent. Ketchikan to Sitka is down about 12 and a half percent. And Juneau to Seattle was discounted by about a third.

It’s part of a larger effort to make sure Alaskans stay with the airline, if they’re booking a route where they have a choice.

“We have over 500,000 mileage plan members in the state of Alaska. And of that number, we’re over 330,000 Club 49 members,” she says.

The new Alaska Alaska Airlines Recaro seats include plug-ins for phones, computers and similar devices. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Alaska Airlines is also adding new interiors to more jets flying in its namesake state.

The airlines’ three larger models have new seats by designed byRecaro, which also makes racing-car seating.

Romano says they’re thinner with the same comfort level and allow for more leg room. Industry observers say they also allow airlines to put more passengers on planes. But they have another feature: They include outlets than can power laptops, tablets and cell phones.

Those seats are mostly on flights traveling longer routes, such as Juneau-Anchorage. They’re not being put on smaller jets, such as “combis,” which fly to smaller communities. Combis carry passengers and freight.

But Romano says smaller aircraft are getting recycled interiors from larger jets with the new seating.

“You’re going to see some newer seats, even on Combis. We’re switching out some of the older seats and putting in newer seats. They’re not Recaro seats, but they’re newer,” she says.

She says smaller communities may occasionally see more recent jets when larger passenger loads are expected.

Read earlier reports:

Categories: Alaska News

Low Use Forces Forest Service To Close Cabins

Mon, 2014-09-15 11:00

The U.S. Forest Service announced the removal of 10 cabins in Tongass National Forest this week.

Ten cabins on the Tongass National Forest will be closed over the next few years due to lack of public use.

Carol Goularte is recreation, lands, minerals, heritage and wilderness staff officer for the Forest Service. She said though some cabins are hard to get to or have safety issues, there is one important reason for the removals.

DeBoer Lake cabin in the Petersburg Ranger District of the Tongass National Forest is one of ten cabins that will be removed by 2017. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

“Why are they going? Primarily because of lack of public interest,” she said.

A tight recreational budget also contributes to the closures.

Beaver Camp, Big Goat Lake and Red Alders cabins in the Ketchikan Ranger District will be removed, as well as McGilvery Cabin in Thorne Bay. In Petersburg, DeBoer Lake and Harvey Lake cabins will be removed, though the trail between Saltwater and Harvey lakes will remain open to the public.  Four other cabins in Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat also will close.

They might not be the last, either.

“If we continue to get low-use or no-use on some of these cabins, we’re going to be forced to have to go through another round of closures on these cabins, because we just can’t afford to keep them all,” Goularte said. “If people want to use them and they want to pay for them, great. But we get a lot of cabin use where people don’t pay.”

Goularte saidcabin fees can range from $30-75 a night, and some cabins can accommodate more than a dozen people. But the cost isn’t always the issue – it’s a changing culture.

“If you think about it, 30-40 ago, it was a lot less expensive to go to a cabin, you could hire a plane to take you to a cabin, the fuel wasn’t that expensive,” she said. “Today there aren’t as many planes around; local people don’t have as many private planes like they did in the past – those people used to go to the cabins all the time. So the use and the lifestyle of the people in Southeast AK has changed in the last 20 or 30 years.”

There will be 139 cabins open on the Tongass National Forest after the 10 cabins are removed, but the loss might not be too noticeable, says Kent Cummins, the partnership and public affairs staff officer for the Tongass.

“These were the least-used cabins in the entire forest,” he said. “Some of them had gotten to the point where they were falling down literally, so I don’t think there’s going to be a big impact.”

The cabins will be dismantled or burned on site over the next few years. Goularte said the cabins will be removed and the sites rehabilitated by 2017.

The Forest Service also is considering closing the Checats  Lake Cabin in the Misty Fiords National Monument if it can’t maintain a minimum of 10 reservations a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Small Stream Flood Advisory Update

Sat, 2014-09-13 14:29

 A small stream flood advisory remains in effect for the Seward area until 3:00 pm Saturday  afternoon. The advisory has been updated since noon on Saturday.  The flood advisory  affects the Resurrection River at Exit Glacier bridge.  Heavy rains in Seward have prompted the National Weather Service to issue the warning.  Up to three inches of rain has already fallen in the area as of 5 am  Saturday morning, and at least two more is expected during the  afternoon.  Minor flooding is expected, and residents in low lying areas are advised to take precautions, as water levels can rise abruptly. Minor flooding was reported Friday night from the River gage at Resurrection River at the Exit Glacier bridge. Water levels climbed during the night to 17 point 92 feet, and 16 feet typically precipitates minor flooding along Exit Glacier Road and the Seward airport.  NWS says water levels in the Seward area are expected to peak during morning hours, and to fall during the afternoon.   The Resurrection River level had dropped to 17 feet by 2:00 pm on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

Search Begins For New National Guard Leader

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:45

A week after firing the Alaska National Guard’s adjutant general, Gov. Sean Parnell is accepting applications for the leadership post.
Parnell requested the resignation of Major Gen. Thomas Katkus after a federal investigation concluded the Guard mishandled cases of sexual assault and found cases of fraud and ethical misconduct.

Parnell says replacing the adjutant general is a step toward changing the climate of mistrust that now exists.

“One of the biggest things, the most significant things I can do in addressing that reports is getting an adjutant general that is able to restore that trust and confidence in leadership,” says Parnell.

Applications will be vetted by a four-person team that includes two members of the governor’s office, Labor Commissioner Diane Blumer, and Arizona Adjutant General Michael McGuire. McGuire was chosen for the panel because of his experience addressing similar problems in the Arizona National Guard.

Parnell says he would like to have the position filled as soon as possible, but that the vetting process could take several months.

Categories: Alaska News

Outside Money Favors Begich, But He Assails It

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:42

The U.S. Senate  this week blocked a constitutional amendment aimed at reversing Citizens United. That’s the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations, unions and associations to spend unlimited amounts on elections as long as these so-called “outside groups” don’t coordinate with campaigns. Sen. Mark Begich, in a close battle for re-election, has railed against outside spending in his race. He voted for the amendment, although so far the outside spending has tilted heavily in his favor.

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If you watch TV, you’ve seen the ads. They’re from groups like Put Alaska First PAC, a pro-Begich SuperPAC that’s bought more TV time than any other group trying to influence the race, aside from the candidates themselves. Alaskans have also seen ads from Americans for Prosperity, the biggest advertiser nationally for Republican congressional candidates.

By the end of last month, some 35,000 political ads had aired in Alaska, for or against Sen. Mark Begich and challenger Dan Sullivan, at a cost of about $4 million. More than half of those TV spots were bought by outside  groups, according to analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, and those are about evenly split between the two candidates.  But the spending on airtime tells only part of the story. Outside money in the Alaska race is approaching $14 million, according to filings at the Federal Elections Commission, and that money is running nearly 2-to-1 for Begich.

One of the biggest spenders, for example, is a national group called League of Conservation Voters, which has spent more than $1 million to help Begich, and none of it has gone to airtime.

“No, we’re really focused on the grassroots, connecting with Alaskans. That’s our primary strategy and that’s what we’re doing through election day,” said Andy Moderow, treasurer of a group called Alaska SalmonPAC that’s doing fieldwork with that million dollars from League of Conservation voters.

SalmonPAC has 30 staffers and is going door-to-door in the Anchorage bowl, supporting Begich. Other Outside groups, on both sides of the race, are spending millions more for things like phone banks, polling and online ads.

It may be running in his favor, but Begich says outside money is corrosive and drowns out citizen participation, so he wants it gone.

“Well because I’ve always disagreed with what the Supreme Court did on Citizens United, even before I was in the races we’re in today,” Begich said. “I think Citizens United that defines corporations as people is the most ridiculous court ruling I’ve ever seen.”

One of the principles of that case is that corporations have rights under the First Amendment, as people do, to make their voices heard in elections. Begich voted this week for a constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to restrict corporate spending in elections. The amendment failed on a procedural vote. Begich says if he’s re-elected, he’ll continue to press for campaign finance reform.

Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, says Begich could have kept outside money out of this race but he refused Sullivan’s offer in June of a mutual pledge to pay a penalty for every outside ad that runs for their benefit.

“Mark Begich can still sign it,” Anderson said. “All it takes is his signature, and it would take these third-party unlimited outside groups spending off the airwaves and allow, you know, the candidate to speak directly to Alaskans, because I think that’s what they want.”

Anderson didn’t specify how Sullivan would vote on a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United, but he said Sullivan would be skeptical of it.

“I think what’s apparent is Outside spending has increased in recent years and despite Sen. Begich’s assertions, Congress isn’t in a position to decrease this influence,” Anderson said.

The Begich campaign, back in June, dismissed the pledge as a gimmick. He says he wants a systemic solution for all elections, not just his.

Categories: Alaska News

Attorney’s Respond to State’s Proposed Translation Plan

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:41

Attorneys have responded to the State of Alaska’s proposed plan to address a state Supreme Court order to improve translation of voting materials in Native languages before November 4th Elections.

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In a 30-page document, Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, representing Yup’ik and Gwich’in Alaska Native voters, asked for five main changes before election day. NARF Attorney Natalie Landreth says the most important request is that the state have bilingual help for Native language voters in every community where it’s needed.

Voters at the Lower Kuskokwim School District choosing primary election ballots on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014.

“You have to have a bilingual person in place in each place in each village in advance of the election and on election day, that’s number one. Number two: you have to have written translations in Yup’ik of the ballot measures, the pro and con statements, the neutral summaries and the complicated pre-election information like what early voting is, how to get registered,” said Landreth.

The state has now offered the changes after a decision by federal judge Sharon Gleason that the voter information brochures were inadequate under the Voting Rights Act.

The state’s proposal does not call for one bilingual person to be in each community where voters need help. The state does address additional written translations in their proposed plan.

In the plaintiff’s response brief filed Wednesday, Landreth says the state must address dialect differences and get the word out about services.

“Sometimes there can be one concept that has two different words in different parts of the Delta. We need to ensure that all those written materials are reviewed and adjusted for dialectical differences if there are any. Four, we’re asking for posters. People need to know that this information is available, before election day. They need to be told that all this information is available and be given the name and a place where they can go get this information,” said Landreth.

The state addresses dialects in their proposal but suggests they would only confer with the plaintiff communities of Togiak and Hooper Bay.

Attorneys are also requesting that posters be displayed in election places on election day reminding people in Yup’ik and Gwich’in, of the availability of language assistance, their right to ask for help or to bring someone of their own choosing. The state’s plan includes use of posters.

The state’s plan also includes two teleconference-training sessions. But Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that in-person training for election workers is critical because of all the changes.

“There needs to be an in-person training to show all of these new materials to those pre-election workers and to teach them how to use them,” said Landreth.

It’s estimated that there are between eight and ten thousand limited English proficient Yup’ik language voters and somewhere between 500 and one thousand Gwich’in language voters in Southwest and Interior Alaska.

Judge Gleason is expected to issue an order telling the state what they need to do soon. She has not yet ruled on whether the state intentionally violated voter’s rights on the basis race or color.

Categories: Alaska News

Search Suspended For Missing Kayaker

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:39

The official search has been suspended for a missing kayaker on the Kenai Peninsula, pending new information.

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38-year old Leif Osmar was reported missing near the Kasilof River by his family Wednesday. He is the son of Dean Osmar, winner of the 1984 Iditarod.

According to the Coast Guard, here was an extensive search and rescue effort on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Coast Guard sent Jayhawk helicopter crews from Kodiak and Cordova, an HC-130 Hercules crew, and the Homer-based Cutter Roanoke Island. The Alaska Air National Guard sent an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crew along with pararescuemen. The Troopers provided helicopter, boat, and ground assistance.

Osmar’s kayak was found capsized in Cook Inlet, near Clam Gulch, on Wednesday. According to Troopers, no signs of Osmar have been found in any probable areas since then.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska State Troopers Want To Recruit In-State Applicants

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:38

Alaska State Troopers are having difficulty recruiting local people to become troopers. Of those that do apply, 76 percent are from the Lower 48. However, the Troopers are dedicated to raising numbers and recruiting from within.

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Recruiting troopers for AST in urban areas is difficult, but getting recruits for rural areas is even more difficult.    There was a spike in recruitment when the National Geographic Channel’s Alaska State Troopers TV show first aired.  However, AST recruiter Sergeant Luis Nieves says the majority of those recruits were still from the lower 48.  Nieves is from outside the state himself.  He’s from Queens, New York but he came up in 2004 with US Coast Guard.  He later joined the Alaska State Troopers and served in the Kotzebue region.  Nieves says there are unfair rumors about the program.

“People assume that as soon as they become and Alaska State Trooper we send them out to a bush community where they live out of a hut and are issued a honey bucket.  That’s so far from the truth.  What ends up happening is people are robbing themselves of the opportunity of an Alaska State Trooper to be able to travel around the entire state and actually be able to experience the entire state.”

Nieves says he sees several reasons for low recruit numbers.  Although those rumors are definitely a factor, he says the real problem is generational.

“The way kids are being raised now the generational gaps, we have new generations that aren’t really interested in law enforcement careers let alone other long term careers.  It’s our obligation to try to get specifically Alaskans to become interested in being law enforcement officers again especially Alaska State Troopers.”

Physical ability and a call to action are something that recruiters are looking for.  Nieves says younger generations have a spectator attitude– instead of helping someone in need, he believes young people are more likely to pull out their phones, record the problem and put it on Youtube.

Being physically fit is incredibly important as a trooper.  Nieves says 80 percent of those who apply to AST fail the physical fitness requirements.  However, AST has a program to help those people reapply.

“And what we’ve done now is we’ve started programs like CAMP, the Candidate Assistance Mentoring Program, we run them through the physical fitness requirements, we let them see where they’re at.  And then what we do is invite local gyms so they witness what the applicants have to go through for the requirements and then provide mentorship and maybe provide some feedback and training at their local gyms.”

Nieves believes the biggest reason people inside the state aren’t applying is because there’s a misconception as to what the troopers are looking for.

“But when it comes to the career field, I think a lot of people just view it as a mystery.  People think that you need to be a saint to be an Alaska State Trooper or to be in law enforcement.  And we understand that people make mistakes and we understand that people have experimented with drugs or made some poor decisions in the past.  Not all of those things eliminate you indefinitely they just eliminate you for a certain amount of time.”

He says what gets most people in trouble in the application process is when they try to lie or cover up any mistakes or run-ins with the law.  Nieves says AST recruiters are looking for people who have learned from their mistakes and want to help others.

Categories: Alaska News

Veterans explore old nuclear missile sites in Anchorage

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:37

Veterans from across the United States gathered in Anchorage last weekend to tour two of Alaska’s eight Nike Sites. The sites housed nuclear missiles in bunkers around Anchorage and Fairbanks during the Cold War. 

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Midway up the mountain that looms over Arctic Valley, a decrepit, weather-beaten one-room building sits in the tundra by an old gravel road. Tiles peel off the floor and broken circuitry hangs out of the wall. On a recent Saturday morning, Nike Vet Greg Durocher gives a tour to veterans who served on the mountain and at similar sites around the state. He points out oddities, like the endless layers of paint on the walls.

“And I know for a fact that some of the painting around here was done by me when I’d get extra duty for something,” he confesses as the group laughs knowingly. “Because I, none of us, would always tow the line.”

Durocher was stationed at Nike Summit above Anchorage from 1974 to ’76 as a military police officer. He sat in the sentry post and tested door locks to make sure no one entered the top secret areas. He says the soldiers had many long, boring stretches, so they played quick draw with their guns or tried to slide down the mountain in the snow. Durocher says they were there to do an important job, though he can’t say much about what exactly they were doing.

“I can neither confirm nor deny,” he says half seriously. “I don’t really know what we’re cleared to say.”

Other Nike vets were less reticent to talk about their time working at the sites containing nuclear missiles meant to protect the United States from a Soviet invasion. Standing on the crumbling mountaintop launch pad, a group of vets compared notes on what each person knew about the rotation schedule for the three missile launch sites stationed around Anchorage.

“One week on, one week standby… ” one says.

“But the hot battery would usually have something wrong and the other would have to be called up,” another interjects.

Nike sites were set up near all of the major cities and military bases in the United States to protect them from potential Soviet air strikes. Using radars, the soldiers tracked Soviet planes and could fire nuclear warheads at them within 15 minutes of notification. The ones in Alaska were considered especially important because Soviet planes would have to fly over the state to get to strategic sites in the Lower 48.

Kincaid Park was another site.

Nike Site history buff Mike Cox walks through the upper parking lot and points to a gray concrete building.

“You can tell this is a launch bunker… here are the rails, right here,” pointing to the tracks where the missiles would roll out of the bunkers for test runs. Most of the rails were covered over by the parking lot.

Cox says the sites were obsolete pretty soon after they were built in 1959 because the radars weren’t fast enough to track missiles launched from the ground or from submarines. But the military kept the sites as deterrents. One of the concrete bunkers at the park was filled with missiles during the 1964 earthquake.

“There were missiles here on their cradles,” he says while standing in the building now used for waxing skis. “They all came crashing to the ground and the missiles split. The solid propellants were spilled all over the ground in here. Several missiles went live in the sense that the electronics became alive and the gyroscopes started spinning. Now just think what could have happened had that propellant gone off and exploded.”

Cox says luckily nothing sparked in the area.

The soldiers stationed at the site spent three days cleaning up the bunker. An account from one soldier calls it the most terrifying period of his life. The unit was given a meritorious citation.

“However, because this was all top secret, they could never talk about it. They had a parade on base but they couldn’t tell their spouses what they had done.”

Now their story is told on a new brass plaque displayed at the park.

Many of the vets said that despite the high levels of secrecy, the relationships they formed as they hid from nasty weather in rec rooms and passed the long, dark hours were incredibly important.

For Tony Barbee, his most important relationship beyond his marriage was with his sentry dog, a German Shepard named Monty.

“Sweetest creature you would ever want to know. Unless you annoyed him or broke a rule on entrance.”

Barbee says he was bonded with his dog, who saw everyone else as an enemy. They patrolled the site at Arctic Valley day and night and in all weather conditions. He says after two years, in 1966, he trained the next handler then had to leave Monty behind.

“It just broke my heart. But I knew that was gonna come,” he recalls. “But I just enjoy and cherish the memories of the activities that went on and what we did. And the fact that we were part of a force that was necessary and needed.”

In 1979, the Nike Site Summit in Arctic Valley was one of the last sites to be closed in the nation. The Friends of Nike Site Summit are trying to restore some of the ageing buildings and offer limited tours of the areas.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Going Green

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:36

In business the general rule is cut costs and raise revenue wherever possible. A company in Homer partially ignores this tenet to provide compostable and recyclable products to environmentally conscious businesses. For Loopy Lupine and its customers, the trade off is a fair one in favor of a smaller carbon footprint.

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The Two Sisters Bakery in Old Town Homer is just one of the businesses that incorporate Loopy Lupine’s line of recycled and compostable goods, and the restaurant’s customers love it.

“When I go to a coffee shop I love to see locally made and compostable stuff and if I’m not bringing my own cup I like to go to a place that does that.”

“Yes, it’s very important, because otherwise we’d be flooded with all these plastic things, which are around already unfortunately.”

“It’s fascinating. They can actually recycle corn and put it in a fork. I didn’t know you could make vegetables utensils but that’s super cool.”

The obscure little company behind those compostable utensils also provides cups made with a corn based coating; take out containers with sugar cane fibers, compostable paper towels, napkins, and even a line of janitorial supplies.

“We’ve sent coffee cups up to Nome and we have a customer up in Fairbanks and we have several customers in Anchorage,” Dale Banks, Loopy Lupine’s owner, said. “But the bulk of our sales are down here on the Peninsula.”

We met inside one of his two warehouses. The wood sided building is on the outskirts of town tucked away inside a grove of trees and partially hidden by a little spillover from a neighboring salvage yard. Leaning up against the building is a makeshift sign that spells out the company name using sections of a dark green rain gutter and an aluminum dryer vent.

It’s a quirky place with an atmosphere to match its name. A port hole in one of the walls offers a peak at its hay insulation.

“We use wood floor because we like walking on it better than concrete,” Banks said. “We also have solar heating walls on the outside so when the sun shines on the wall it pumps warm air into the building.”

Banks started the company in the late 90’s.

His signature product is the one thing Loopy Lupine makes in house, a compostable paper coffee cup.

“We start out with big cut sheets of paper,” he said. “We stack them up on here and I have magnetic printing plates that go onto this printing drum and it’s a one color printer.

Banks demonstrates how customer logos are fixed on the plain white stock paper before it is fed into ‘the machine’.

“Sort of a Rube Goldberg type machine,“ he said. “You’ve got the side of the cup getting fed into the machine and welded on the side and heated up on the bottom.”

There are a lot of steps.

Michael McGuire owner of the organic coffee shop Kbay Café has bought the cups and several other products from Banks for years. He says buying from Loopy Lupine just makes sense for his business.

“All of Loopy Lupine’s products are extremely great products and the coffee we offer is completely organic so we’re also tying into our own belief system,” McGuire said.

But there’s a downside. Going green means you have to pay the price. Banks says his products generally cost a little more for both him and his customers.

“A lot of these things are made in smaller quantities so economies of scale make the cost more.”

“It costs a little bit more up front but the whole idea about paying a little bit more up front is the cost to the next seven generations is less.”

“It’s unfortunate because a lot of the external costs built into things like their non-recyclability or their non-compostability are not accounted for. Therefore it’s not an even playing field on the manufacturing end.”

Banks argues if more companies produced products like his using recycled material the economies of scale would balance out and in some cases the green products would actually cost less to make.

“Processing a recycle material for example uses less water and energy than processing a raw material,” Banks said. “Take trees for example you have to cut a tree down and drag it out of the forest and process it. But, when you start with paper you already have some of the processes done for you.”

So if it could cost less and mean less waste produced why aren’t more companies on the same track as Loopy Lupine?

“Well that’s a very good question,” Banks said. “There’s a lot of entrenched businesses that have a vested interest in continuing with the status quo. On the consumer end people don’t really like to change that much.”

That may be true, even the customers at the Two Sisters, who say they support greener products admit the environmental factor isn’t always the priority.

“If they’ve got good food and they do that…cool. If they don’t and they’ve got good food usually the food is going to direct my participation.”

Banks doesn’t hide his frustration but he still has hopes one day, the use of recycled and compostable material in manufacturing will become the norm.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kaltag

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:35

This week, we’re heading to Kaltag on the Yukon River. Justin Esmailka is the first chief of the Kaltag tribe.

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Categories: Alaska News
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