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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: 52 min 1 sec ago

Banned Books Week: ‘Captain Underpants’ Tops List Filled With Literary Classics

Tue, 2014-09-23 08:09

Today we’re celebrating banned books. Yesterday marked the beginning of banned books week, and Loussac Librarian Stacia McGourty says this week is a huge deal for her profession.

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“Banned Books Week is a national holiday for libraries,” McGourty said, laughing.

And that’s because banned books week is all about celebrating the freedom to read what we want. It’s also a way to bring to light the banned books of past and present. McGourty says more books get challenged than banned these days. The challenges, which are the first step of banning, usually come from school districts.

“Because it’s geared towards children,” McGourty said. “And a lot of the challenges come because people believe that material is not appropriate for that age level of that grade level.”

Some of the most banned books in school libraries are classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. But McGourty says the most commonly banned book is one you likely haven’t heard of – unless of course you are a parent of a 10-year-old boy.

“Captain Underpants is probably number one this year,” McGourty said. “It is an elementary-age graphic novel, and it’s basically a super hero cartoon. I haven’t read this book but it’s been super popular. It’s been popular ever since I was in college working at the book store and it’s popular now. We still have kids asking for it.”

Captain Underpants aside, McGourty says these banned and challenged books are usually serious and sometimes absurd censorships.

“In 1987 Anchorage School Districts banned a dictionary for having slanged definitions for certain words,” she said.

McGourty says banning books in a public library is much harder than doing it in a school, but it does happen. She says anyone can try to ban a book.

“Every library has their own process. At ours you would fill out a comment sheet and it would go to the director. You have to be very specific in why you think it needs to be taken off the shelf, you can’t take things out of context and you have to read the entire book,” McGourty said. “It’s a lot harder in a public library than a school library, because we are a library of the people.”

The Censorship Challenge: A Banned Books Pub  Quiz

McGourty says most people at her library bypass the banning process, and take their censorship into their own hands.

“You have plenty of people who check out a book and never return it, because they don’t think anyone else needs to have that book. Or you have people who return it but black out certain things,” McGourty said. “There is a picture book called In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendack. There’s a picture of a little boy, and he just happens to be naked in the kitchen. And sometimes people draw a little bathing suit on the boy.”

McGourty says you might be tempted to think that if a little vandalism is the worst that’s happening, and if most these book challenges don’t end in actual bans, why make such a big deal about Banned Books Week?

“I think it’s important because you should be aware that you have the freedom to read and explore the ideas you want. You think about China and how they block certain Google searches,” McGourty said. “So it’s not just books, it’s really about protecting ideas and protecting access to information. Because libraries offer free and equitable access to information and a place for the community to come together and learn.”

Categories: Alaska News

State Ordered to Improve Voting Materials for Alaska Natives

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:44

A federal judge issued an order to the State of Alaska in a voting rights case Monday. In her 8-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason said the state must take additional steps to provide voting materials to Alaska Natives with limited English.

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Cori Mills is a spokesperson for the State of Alaska. She says the state is committed to doing everything that was put forth in the judge’s order.

The lawsuit brought by several Native villages alleged that the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials in Yup’ik and Gwich’in. The state argued it had taken reasonable steps.

Nathalie Landreth is an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund or NARF, who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. She says the gist of the 21-point order is that the election information that English-speaking people are receiving must be made available in Yup’ik, and it’s dialects and in Gwich’in.

That includes all the radio announcements about deadlines that one would ordinarily hear on the radio, information about all the ballot measures and all the information about judges. Landreth says the order also mandates the entire official election pamphlet that is printed in English must be available in Yup’ik:

All of this has to happen on a tight timeline before the November election. The order includes deadlines, some as early as this Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Candidates Vie for Rural Support

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:43

This year’s U.S. Senate race in Alaska is shattering records for spending, with millions in outside dollars directed mostly toward TV ads. With less than two months before the general election, both campaigns are also aggressively seeking an edge on the ground in rural Alaska.

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LaTesia Guinn and Barb Angaiak speak in Bethel. Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

In a Bethel subdivision near the Kuskokwim river, Barb Angaiak is sacrificing this sunny Saturday for politics and she’s made a game plan.

“….two houses kinda down the hill, we’ll hit that, come up here, hit gwens, and hit 245 right there,” she says to herself.

Angaiak is a volunteer canvasser working on behalf of Democratic candidates, including the Begich campaign.

We visit the home of LaTesia Guinn. Angaiak knocks. When Guinn opens the door, the two women make small talk.

This door-to-door effort is a key part of Begich’s strategy for reaching the rural vote. The campaign has 13 field offices around the state, double that of his effort in 2008. They have staff in Bethel for the first time in decades, and the Alaska Democratic Party is advertising for part time village based staff.

Max Croes is the Communication director for the Begich campaign.

“That’ s a show of how committed he is to trying to win votes in rural Alaska and ask Alaskans in Bethel, and The Y-K delta, as well as across the state for the vote (and) have a conversation about the things he’s been able to do for rural Alaska,” Croes says.

The Begich campaign opened the Bethel office well in advance of the August primary which named former Attorney General and Natural Resources Commissioner  Dan Sullivan as his Republican opponent.  Sullivan recently hired a Nome woman, Megan Alvanna Stimpfle, as their rural coordinator to formally ramp up their rural efforts.

Ben Sparks, the campaign manager for Republican Dan Sullivan, says his candidate is also taking the rural campaign seriously.

“The Begich campaign has made it very clear they feel as though they have the Alaska Native vote locked up and nothing could be further from the truth,” Sparks says.

Sullivan has five offices; none in rural Alaska. But Sparks says they have tremendous support and organization in what they call Super Volunteers who reach out with their networks.

“Our campaign is not going to rely on paid staffers, we’re going to rely on prominent members of the Alaska native community going and spreading Dan’s message, and there’s nothing more effective that that.”

Both campaigns say nothing replaces having the candidates meet with voters in person.  Begich visited in July to open his Bethel office and travelled downriver a few miles to the village of Napaskiak. Sullivan has not made it in person during the campaign, but his team say he will be here soon.

Sen. Begich did the next best thing on KYUK’s Friday talk line show.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist who currently serves as the Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is writing extensively about the Alaska Native vote this year.  He expects millenials – those voters roughly between the age of 18 and 33 – to be a pivotal force and social media to play a big role in the Alaska native vote.

“This won’t be a traditionally fought election, it will be based on turnout,” Trahant says. “And whichever candidate can build a better list of people to turn out is going to be the one who wins. ”

Back on the ground in Bethel, the conversation between Guinn and Angaiak isn’t restricted to the future partisan makeup of the Senate.

“I wasn’t sure why you were coming here, I posted on Facebook that I had a hummingbird in my yard so I’ve had all of these people come by,” Guinn says.

After an hour of door-to-door, Angaiak calls it a day.

“There’s something different happing this year, and that is this coordinated campaign, making sure they know what to do, getting staff out and about to the communities is really really important and impressive and i think it’s the way to go. It’s a different way of running a campaign.”

But in a year in which she expects the election to come down to minuscule numbers of votes, she plans to be canvassing again soon.

Categories: Alaska News

State Files Complaint Against Medicaid Payment Vendor

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:42

The state has filed an administrative complaint alleging unfair or deceptive practices by the vendor it hired to implement a new Medicaid payment system.

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The claim against Xerox State Healthcare LLC was filed with Alaska’s commissioner of Administration. It follows an unsuccessful attempt at mediation.

It seeks compensatory, punitive and other damages and an order requiring a plan from Xerox by Oct. 15 to resolve problems with the system. The state, in its complaint, also reserves the right to go to court.

The system has been plagued by problems since going live last year. The state said the department was aware of problems but believed Xerox assurances that the system was operational and there was a plan to resolve remaining issues.

Xerox did not make anyone available for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Deadline Set; Southeast Wolves To Undergo ESA Review

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:41

The federal government has agreed to a deadline of the end of next year for an endangered species review for wolves in Southeast Alaska.

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The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Boat Company sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year seeking a timely decision on their petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf under the Endangered Species Act. The groups filed their petition in 2011. The agency issued what’s called a 90-day finding this March, committing to further review of the region’s wolf numbers.

“When a petition is filed there’s supposed to be a preliminary 90-day finding, 90 days after the petition is filed. And the final decision is supposed to come one year after that.”

Larry Edwards is a forest campaigner with Greenpeace in Sitka. And he notes the federal agency has not met timelines for reviewing the wolf petition.

“The difficulty is that Congress doesn’t adequately fund Fish and Wildlife Service to process ESA (Endangered Species Act) listings. So when you go to court, it’s really difficult to get, even from a court, a good date. The fish and wildlife service is looking at doing this in 2017 and I think we did very well to get this settled and get a date at the end of 2015.”

In a settlement agreement filed this week, the federal government agrees to complete a 12-month finding on Southeast wolves by the end of 2015.

Andrea Medeiros spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska

“At that time we will announce whether or not we believe that it is warranted to list Alexander Archipelago wolf as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

The petitioners want greater protection for wolves and their habitat on the Tongass National Forest. They argue that populations are declining and are vulnerable to hunting and trapping pressure along with loss of habitat from logging on the 17-million acre national forest.  In particular, they cite past and future logging on Prince of Wales Island and say wolves on POW are in danger of extinction.

Categories: Alaska News

KTVA reporter quits live on-air after stating she heads AK Cannabis Club

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:40

A KTVA reporter announced that she is the president of Alaska Cannabis Club and quit her job during a live broadcast Sunday night. Reporter Charlo Greene, whose real name is Charlene Egbe, has been reporting on the legalization ballot initiative since April.

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KTVA’s news director posted an apology for Greene’s outburst and use of an expletive on Facebook and Twitter but could not be reached for comment.

Greene posted a video on YouTube explaining why she quit so publicly.

“Advocating for freedom and fairness should be everyone’s duty, I’m making it my life work,” she declared in the video. “To uphold what America stands for truly: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ideals that now need to be defended.”

The Vote No on 2 campaign spoke out against Greene this afternoon. They said they spoke with KTVA’s news director about her biased reporting after a 5-part series that ran this spring.

Kalie Kalysmat, the executive director of the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, said she also expressed concerns about Greene’s bias. She says Greene’s reporting has been a disservice to Alaskans.

“When you have a reporter in a major news outlet as this one, professing her own point of view in stories, it’s really a very sad thing and difficult for the public to know what’s true,” she said during the news conference.

A YouTube video of the TV clip has gone viral, and Greene’s IndieGogo campaign to raise $5,000 for voter education on the marijuana legalization ballot initiative is more than half way toward its goal.

 

Categories: Alaska News

EPA’s 404-C Public Comment Period on Pebble Closes

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:39

More than 160,000 official public comments have been received by the EPA regarding their proposed restrictions on the controversial Pebble Mine. But it’s expected that once the final numbers are tallied, there will be hundreds of thousands of comments, both pro-and-con.

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Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Presses FDA To Clarify Spent-Grain Rule for Brewers

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:37

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, along with beer-makers around the country, is celebrating a recent clarification from the Food and Drug Administration about spent grains.

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The material is a byproduct of the brewing process. Beer-makers often donate their spent grains to farms to use as animal feed. But proposed changes to the rules for animal feed producers had brewers fearing they were going to face a pile of new red tape.

Murkowski, who — in addition to being Alaska’s senior senator — is co-chair of the Senate Brewers Caucus, took up the cause.

In a sternly worded letter to the FDA in April, she said the rules would destroy the symbiotic relationship between Alaska’s brewers and farmers.

But the FDA has been saying for months it was all a mistake. The agency says it never meant to apply the animal feed rule to breweries. That’s now spelled out in the rule.

Murkowski, in a written statement Monday, said she appreciated the FDA’s new approach.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Researcher: Social Changes Are As Drastic as Climate Changes

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:36

Academics and researchers have been meeting in Anchorage to bring together studies looking at what sustainability means in the arctic. Andrey Petrov is lead investigator and director of Arctic Frost. He has studied the arctic in Russia, Canada and Alaska for 15 years. He says there is a lot of discussion about environmental changes, but social changes in arctic communities can be even more dramatic. His work looks at human capital and community innovators.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 22, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-22 17:34

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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State Ordered to Improve Voting Materials for Alaska Natives

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A federal judge has ordered the state to take additional steps to provide voting materials to Alaska Native voters with limited English.

Senate Candidates Vie for Rural Support

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

This year’s U.S. Senate race in Alaska is shattering records for spending, with millions in outside dollars directed mostly toward TV ads. With less than two months before the general election, both campaigns are also aggressively seeking an edge on the ground in rural Alaska.

State Files Complaint Against Medicaid Payment Vendor

The Associated Press

The state has filed an administrative complaint alleging unfair or deceptive practices by the vendor it hired to implement a new Medicaid payment system.

Deadline Set for Southeast Wolves ESA Review

Joe Veichnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

The federal government has agreed to a deadline of the end of next year for an endangered species review for wolves in Southeast Alaska.

KTVA Reporter Quits on Air, Dedicates Time to Pot Initiative

Anne Hilleman, KSKA – Anchorage

A KTVA reporter announced that she is the president of Alaska Cannabis Club and quit her job during a live broadcast Sunday night.

EPA’s 404-C Public Comment Period on Pebble Closes

Mike Mason, KDLG  – Dillingham

More than 160,000 official public comments have been received by the EPA regarding their proposed restrictions on the controversial Pebble mine. But it’s expected that once the numbers are tallied hundreds of thousands of comments, both pro-and-con, will be submitted.

NTSB Report Yields Few Clues In Fatal Soldotna Plane Crash

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A plane crash in Soldotna last summer resulted in the deaths of 10 people. The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary findings on the crash this week.

Murkowski Presses FDA To Clarify Spent-Grain Rule for Brewers

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, along with beer-makers around the country, is celebrating a recent clarification from the Food and Drug Administration about spent grains.

Arctic Researcher: Social Changes Are As Drastic as Climate Changes

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Academics and researchers have been meeting in Anchorage to bring together studies looking at what sustainability means in the arctic. Andrey Petrov is lead investigator and director of Arctic Frost. He has studied the arctic in Russia, Canada and Alaska for 15 years. He says there is a lot of discussion about environmental changes, but social changes in arctic communities can be even more dramatic.

 

Categories: Alaska News

25-Year-Old Rescued After Fishing Boat Sinks

Mon, 2014-09-22 16:16

One man is reported safe after his fishing boat sank in Lynn Canal on Sunday night.

Twenty-five-year-old Woody Paul of Haines was rescued by another fishing boat in William Henry Bay north of Juneau after his boat the 36-foot, Kyra Dawn began taking on water and then capsized.

The boat sank in about 900 feet of water about a mile from shore, according to the Coast Guard. Paul was rescued by another Haines fishing boat, the Gabriella.

Paul’s mother, Carol, was able to speak to her son Monday morning from the Gabriella, she said. He told her he went into the water as the boat sank but was able to hang onto the roof of his bait shed. He didn’t have time to put on a survival suit, but was holding on to one. He was in the water about five minutes before being rescued.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Wesley Shipley, watchstander at Sector Juneau, says they were preparing to send an H-60 helicopter from Sitka when the Kyra Dawn initially reported trouble.

But they canceled the flight when they received a report that Paul was rescued.

The Coast Guard prevention unit is investigating the sinking.

A gale was forecasted for Sunday night in Lynn Canal, which led many fishermen to anchor early. But Haines fisherman Norm Hughes, who was headed for anchorage when the Kyra Dawn sank, said the weather kicked up faster than expected.

“I was about a mile out of Mab Island anchorage and you could see this black line on the horizon, coming across up the channel and it was topped with all these white caps. That’s a weather event coming your way. And I didn’t make the anchorage before it hit and it went from one-footers to five-footers in 20 seconds.”

Seven-foot seas were reported and wind gusts at Eldred Rock Lighthouse reached 71 knots according to the National Weather Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Weighs Gravel Mine Application

Fri, 2014-09-19 17:21

A plan to vacate agricultural rights on a parcel of Matanuska Susitna Borough land is running into opposition. At a Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday night, [sept 16 ]residents spoke out against an ordinance aimed at approving a gravel mine on farmland. 

 The ordinance would allow Colaska, Inc, doing business as QAP, to purchase the development rights on 213 acres of agricultural rights only land the company purchased from the Matanuska Susitna Borough in 2010. Colaska, Inc, wants to extract gravel from the land. But the agricultural rights stand in the way of that plan. The ordinance came up for a public hearing Tuesday , September 16,  at the Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting. Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who opposes Colaska’s application, says several people spoke against the move at the meeting.

“The agricultural land is so limited, and we have a lot of land in the Mat Su Borough, we’re huge.  And there’s lots of other areas where this could be done, where they wouldn’t have to use valuable agricultural land.  Someone argued that the land isn’t currently being farmed and hasn’t been farmed in a while, but it is evident when you look at it that it has been farmed in the past.  There are windbreaks that are built into the land and so the potential is there for it still to be farmed.  And  the concern of a lot of people who came and testified was , once you turn it into a gravel pit, it will never be farmed again. “

 Beck says if the ordinance is approved,

“Yeah, it opens the floodgates.  there are people in line who have brought property on the same gamble, that they may be able to do away with those restrictions.  And I don’t want to start that precedent. “

 Glenda Smith, with the Borough’s land use office, says Borough code uses soil quality to determine if land is classified for agricultural use. If the soil qualifies, the land in question is slated for farming, unless there is a compelling health or safety issue pending. Smith says Colaska knew the land it bought was classed as agricultural.

Borough staff, as well as Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss, have come out against Colaska’s gravel plan. DeVilbiss says he’s put the Assembly on notice that he’ll veto the ordinance, should it pass.

But Assemblyman Vern Halter urged the panel to take another look.  During his comments at the meeting, Halter said:

 ”I’d invite the Farm Bureau to come up and take a look at that piece of property. It hasn’t really been farmed or agged for many years.. it’s  not a farm right now.  Basically, those windrows are going up, but you k now how fast those willows and birch grow, that’s pretty much the condition of it right now. Just on first sight, don’t make such bold suggestions. Go look at it.”

Halter says he’ll decide on the issue after he hears the rest of the public comments.

Tuesday night’s public hearing was continued, however, until the November 19 meeting, at the request of the applicant. The public will be able to weigh in on the ordinance again at at that time.   QAP did not return calls for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:41

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

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Mott, who serves as the assistant adjutant general for the Connecticut National Guard, was recommended to Gov. Sean Parnell by the National Guard Bureau.

The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations looked into allegations of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard and found that victims do not trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the command.

Parnell released the report earlier this month and also called for and received the resignation of Alaska’s adjutant general.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:40

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:39

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

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In their petition they suggest reducing the 2014 overall Chinook salmon by-catch hard cap in the Bering Sea-Aleutian Island Pollock fishery by 40,000 fish.

Natasha Singh is an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She says together, the tribes along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers making the request total nearly 100. And they want the Secretary and the Council to make the Pollock fishery conserve the way that families along the rivers have.

“There’s not food in the freezers for our families, yet you see significant profit from the fleets in the ocean who are taking kings as bycatch and we know that they have the technology where they could increase avoidance of the bycatch we are pleading that for the sake of the people and the families in the river who depend on the king salmon to eat, to provide and subsist, they reduce the bycatch,” said Singh.

The petition calls for the bycatch hard cap in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery to be slashed from 60-thousand to 20-thousand and the performance standard, which is a lower threshold to avoid penalties, to be cut from 47,591 to 15-thousand. That’s just for the remainder of the 2014 season. Historically Pollack bycatch spikes have occurred late in the season in the fall.

But that all appears to be moot. Federal officials say the Pollack fishery has reached 99 percent of their available quota and the B season is expected to close soon, perhaps in week or so, which would make an emergency closure redundant. They add that the total bycatch is expected to be under the 15,000, the lower cap requested by tribes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages off shore fisheries, including bycatch, asked in June for an in-depth analysis of ways to reduce the incidental catch of kings in Pollack nets.

Scientists say there are likely many factors that could be impacting the wild Western Alaska King salmon stocks, from food supplies and climate change to ocean acidity. The state of Alaska has committed funding toward a long-term study to try to figure out what’s gone wrong. But bycatch is one consideration.

Myron Naneng is President of AVCP. He says after a summer of sacrifice, tribes are eager to see a commitment to conservation from the trawl fleet.

“The State of Alaska already implements openings and closures on the river system whenever they feel the returns of salmon are low. So we want that same requirement to be carried through with the trawl fleet in the Bering Sea,” said Naneng.

Attorneys for tribes say if the Pollock fishery bycatch stays under the 15,000 mark, it demonstrates what the tribes claimed in their petition, that the Pollock fishery can stay under a Chinook bycatch of 15,000 and still catch the allowable limit of Pollack.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:38

Flint Hills Resources-Alaska closed its refinery in North Pole in May, citing rising costs associated with cleaning up sulfolane contamination in area groundwater and other economic factors.
(Credit KUAC file photo)

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

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DEC asked scientists with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, to take a second look at the reference doses used by the state agency in setting a stringent cleanup level for sulfolane, an industrial solvent that leaked from the refinery over several years.

The TERA panelists reviewed scientific literature on reference doses used by DEC to come up with the 14-parts-per-billion cleanup standard that the agency says Flint Hills must attain before DEC will declare the water safe to drink.

“It’s a very important step in the process,” says DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell.

O’Connell says the agency will now use the TERA panel’s work to help it determine whether the 14-parts-per billion cleanup standard is warranted.

“Once TERA submits a written report, which will be in about two months, the DEC will take their recommendations under advisement,” he said. “And then we will go forward and calculate a cleanup level based on the reference dose that they have coalesced around.”

Flint Hills Resources officials told DEC late last year that they believe the 14-parts-per billion standard is overly stringent. They say the level should set at about 25 times that level – around 363 parts-per-billion.

Flint Hills asked DEC to reconsider the cleanup level; in April, Commissioner Larry Hartig agreed.

In February, Flint Hills officials cited the stringent cleanup level as one of the reasons they can’t operate the refinery profitably. They closed it in May, and now operate a fuel terminal in one part of the facility.

Flint Hills and the former refinery operator, along with the state, have all filed lawsuits against each other in efforts to assign blame and liability for the cleanup.

O’Connell says DEC will send its final recommendation on a cleanup level to agency Hartig by the end of the year. Hartig will issue a ruling thereafter.

Categories: Alaska News

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:37

A students works in the Thorne Bay greenhouse. (Courtesy Megan Fitzpatrick)

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

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The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

It will be called the Thorne Bay Café.

The Southeast Island School District hired Susan Powell, a restaurant manager from Oregon, to take charge of the café. She listed some of the entree possibilities:

“Carnitas tacos, ‘cause we have the great tortillas from Coffman Cove. Maybe a taco salad, you know, some Mexican things. A barbeque pork sandwich. A Philly cheese steak or chicken cheese steak. A couple different kinds of soup every day ‘cause we’re going into winter”

She’s still working on the menu. But she plans to use produce from four school greenhouses. And she’ll get bread and tortillas from a small bakery run by the Coffman Cove school.

“I think the main goal is to support the schools and promote their products and to have student involvement,” Powell said.

Megan Fitzpatrick is Thorne Bay’s 7th through 12th grade teacher. She said this restaurant is one more fruit to spring from the labor and success of the student-run greenhouse. The school district starting operating the hydroponic greenhouse in Thorne Bay in February.

“We decided to split the class and run [the greenhouse] like a company. We broke the 20 kids into five or six different departments,” Fitzpatrick said.

The departments included construction, business, horticulture, and purchasing and ordering. Fitzpatrick says the students were evaluated on their “youth employ-ability” skills, like work ethic and showing up on time.

“[We were ] pushing it home that we’re running a business here and it takes the whole group to keep the business running,” Fitzpatrick said.

They grew mostly lettuce – butter lettuce, red leaf, romaine. And they sold it to the school lunch program and local grocery stores. The greenhouse was so successful that the school district is planning to build three more in Naukati, Kasaan and Coffman Cove.

So what happened to the Thorne Bay operation after the school year ended?

“There were a few kids that were really into it,” Fitzpatrick said. “They worked all summer long. They independently kept the greenhouse running.”

The idea to revitalize a vacant restaurant and connect it with the greenhouse came from the students and from Superintendent Lauren Burch.

“I think the restaurant might’ve originally come from Mr. Burch but then the kids sort of morphed it so that they can grow the products for it and have a place to sell their products,” Fitzpatrick said.

The restaurant used to be in Coffman Cove. Thorne Bay City Administrator Wayne Benner says Thorne Bay bought it and moved it in 2012.

“The goal was try to generate some economic development,” Benner said. “Try to get some jobs going in the city of Thorne Bay.”

Since then, two operators have leased the restaurant. But both cancelled their leases after less than a year. The city put out a request for proposals again. And the school district was the only bidder.

“The City Council approved going into negotiations with the school district,” Benner said.

The school district doesn’t want to lease the restaurant, but buy it. The council has to do one more reading of the plan to sell, and then they’ll negotiate an agreement.

Fitzpatrick says the students like the idea of a café, not just because it’ll expand their greenhouse business.

“They wanted to have café where they go and do homework after school,” she said. “A place to kind of hang out but also get a snack and some food.”

Along with the café, the students also want to set up a little shop near the restaurant to sell their goods.

Another new development — four schools are getting into the chicken business. So the café will have local eggs.

Restaurant manager Susan Powell says she’s looking around at other local food options, like a Coffman Cove oyster farm. The ingredients Powell can’t find on-island will come from national food distributors.

She plans to set up a Facebook page where people can check on the day’s menu.

Powell thinks if all goes well, Thorne Bay Café could be open in mid-November.

Categories: Alaska News

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:36

Elder Lucy Jacob enjoys lunch with her friends in the cafeteria at the Senior Center. (Photo by Charles/KYUK)

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

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As lunchtime nears, elders gather at the Chief Eddie Hoffman Senior Center in downtown Bethel. Seniors mill around the common area talking, smiling, resting, getting help with paperwork, and playing card games, as they’ve done since the center opened in the mid-80’s.

Just before noon, an elder offers a prayer before lunch.

As the seniors line up for their meal, elder Luther Oscar says he loves the time he gets to socialize with his friends.

“I started coming to the senior center to enjoy the fellowship, also to enjoy a meal with other elders over at the dining hall,” says Oscar.

The meal is bittersweet, as it’s one of the last the seniors will have together in the building. Bethel’s Tribe, Orutsararmiut Native Council, manages the senior center program. This summer they announced that they could no longer afford to stay there.

The senior center serves lunch for elders, delivers food to homebound seniors, and drives a bus to bring them to places like the post office and the grocery store.

Elder, Lucy Jacobs has been a regular at the center for many years. She says her worst fear about the center closing is loneliness.

“I’m afraid I’ll be lonely again, I don’t want the senior center closed. Some of us are always lonely in our homes while our families are gone. When all of us are here together, we are happy, we even get to enjoy games,” says Jacobs.

The center has been housed in a city building off Atsaq Street through a memorandum of understanding that allowed ONC to use the city building free of charge, if they paid the bills. But ONC officials say the cost to run the program totaled over $600,000 last year and that’s just too much

Zach Brink is the Executive Director of ONC.

“The expenses needed to take care of the building are getting too high now that it’s getting too old. We are closing the Eddie Hoffman Senior Center on September 30th, but along the way we are looking at options for a new site,” says Brink.

Brink says they plan to use part of the Lulu Herron Congregate Home, an apartment building for seniors, as a makeshift senior center until a more permanent location can be found.

It is unclear what the city will do with the old site, other than close it off for the winter. Elder Catherine Peters says it’s important for seniors to have a place to socialize and she hopes they’ll find a new home soon.

“We can laugh with them, talk with them, cry with them if we have to. And I hope the younger generation think about, they’re going to get old too and they’ll need a place to stay, comfortable. Everything takes time, everything takes money, don’t wait too long. Get it started,” says Peters.

Brink was uncertain on what level of services ONC can provide seniors in the temporary location.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Chignik

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:35

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Removal of Federal Building trees elicits fierce opposition

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:27

The proposal to remove two trees from the front of the historic Federal Building in downtown Anchorage elicited fiery comments from a handful of community members during a public meeting on Thursday.

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The General Services Administration, which oversees the building, planned to cut down the spruce trees this summer. GSA spokesperson Stephanie Kenitzer says the trees were damaging the building and they needed to repaint the exterior.

“As a homeowner I’ve been told multiple times to not have a tree touching the side of my house. It’s difficult on the siding, it’s hard on the paint. It’s the same kind of philosophy,” she explained.

The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.

But they were stopped from cutting them down by public outcry from community members like arborist Nickel LaFleur.

“Because it’s history. Because our trees are legacies,” she said. “We don’t have that many trees here in Anchorage, and these trees are quite historic.”

Photos show they were planted next to the building at least 56 years ago. Some time around then, a bristlecone pine joined the line up. It’s anecdotally thought to be a gift from Anchorage’s sister city in Japan, though documentation is scarce. GSA never planned to cut down the bristlecone pine.

After the public complained, the agency decided to just trim the trees and repaint — for now. Kenitzer said it’s not a long-term solution.

“The trees will grow again. That’s what trees do. Sunshine, water, they’ll grow again. And we may be addressing this problem again down the road. So it’s really in the best interest of the long term preservation of the building.”

She said an arborist’s report on the situation also claimed that the trees’ roots will hurt the foundation of the building, so they should be removed completely.

LaFleur doesn’t buy the argument, especially since the trees are separated from the building itself by a wide window well.

“The root ball will never hurt the building,” she explained. “If the building is leaking, then roots have a way of heading toward water. But you can’t blame the trees for the problems. Just fix the leaks in the buildings and leave the trees.”

The arborist who completed the initial report on the trees asked GSA to keep his name confidential for fear of damage to his business. Some of the community members have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see the report and other information about the plan to remove the trees.

GSA will make a final decision in 30 days.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

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