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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: 15 min 50 sec ago

Petit First Out of Taknota, Heads Iditarod Field

Tue, 2014-03-04 23:03

Nicolas Petit. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Nicolas Petit took the Iditarod lead Tuesday evening when he was the first to dart out of Taknota about 8:35 p.m. He spent just a few minutes in Taknota and headed towards Ophir.

Petit was trailed by Aliy Zirkle, Aaron Burmeister and Robert Sorlie. All three had reached Taknota by about 9:30 p.m.

Last year’s winner Mitch Seavey and his son, Dallas, who won the year before, were running minutes apart and were out of McGrath. Dallas was in 5th place and Mitch was in 6th place.

Martin Buser, who had lead the field in the early going, was in Nikolai Tuesday night.
The mushers found unforgiving parts of the trail and by Tuesday night, 10 had scratched or withdrawn from the race.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Leaders Leave Nikolai

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:40

Sonny Lindner. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

The Iditarod race leaders left the checkpoint of Nikolai around midday Tuesday. Sonny Lindner, Hugh Neff, Aliy Zirkle and Nicolas Petit pulled out of Nikolai within an hour of each other. But five mushers, including DeeDee Jonrowe and Jake Berkowitz scratched Tuesday, because of broken equipment that was damaged on the extremely rough trail out of Rainy Pass.

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Categories: Alaska News

Burned Bald Eagles Draw Federal Scrutiny In Adak

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:40

A burnt eagle spreads its wings. Photo courtesy Susie Silook, wife of Keith Hamilton.

It’s common practice to burn trash in the Aleutians, to keep landfills from overflowing. But it’s not that simple in Adak, where flaming waste has killed or injured at least ten bald eagles in the last few months. It’s now the subject of a federal investigation.

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It’s common practice to burn trash in the Aleutians to keep landfills from overflowing. But it’s not that simple in Adak, where flaming waste has killed or injured at least ten bald eagles in the last few months. Now it’s now the subject of a federal investigation.

Bald eagles are born to hunt — but they’re also excellent scavengers. If there’s food around that’s easy to get, eagles will go after it. And there’s no easier target for an eagle than the dump.

Keith Hamilton found that out first-hand when he started a job with Adak’s public works crew. Part of his job was to burn trash:

“I noticed right away in November when I started working there that there was birds being burnt and I found a few dead eagles out there, and I complained right away about it.”
When bald eagles get hurt or killed, Adak’s municipal employees are supposed to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service right away.

That’s because bald eagles are protected under federal law. The penalties are steep — possible jail time, and fines of up to $250,000. If it’s an organization that’s at fault, the fine could go all the way up to a half a million dollars.

Hamilton says he asked his supervisor in Adak to report the eagles – but he also says those requests were brushed aside.

And that didn’t sit well with him.

“You know, animals have souls. If you would see those birds out there — limping around the fire, eating garbage with no feathers. And they couldn’t leave the fire pit, they were just trapped there. If anybody really looked at them, they would feel bad.”
When Hamilton came across three eagles at the dump in December – scorched, but alive — he didn’t bother calling his boss or the authorities. He called an Anchorage bird sanctuary.

“All I was trying to do in December was just quietly send off some birds to the hospital get treatment.”
But it didn’t stay quiet. The rescue attracted the attention of the Anchorage Daily News. And one of their reporters reached out to Adak’s city manager, Layton Lockett.

Lockett says that that phone call was the first he’d heard about bald eagles getting burned or killed at his town’s dump.

“Up until these series of events, we had never had a problem to my knowledge or to my employees’ knowledge as well.”

Lockett says Adak took steps to fix it. They quit burning trash for most of the winter and buried it instead. And the city started to build a $25,000 enclosure for the burn pit.

But it wasn’t quite done before public works employees decided to burn trash there again at the end of February. Hamilton was there, and he noticed eagles all around the edge of the fire.

“I had a bad feeling. They made me leave the dump. I came back the next day, looked around and I started spotting more eagles that were injured.”
At one point, Hamilton was stopped by an Adak police officer, who allegedly told Hamilton he’d be breaking federal law if he picked up a bald eagle – even if he was just trying to help it.

That’s not true, according to Ryan Noel. He’s a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service would encourage a person who finds an eagle that’s in distress to take careful measures to try and save it.”

But they can’t be sure that everything in Adak has happened by the books. Noel says that’s why the Fish and Wildlife sent an agent and a biologist to the island this week to investigate.

“We look to see if there was any intent to do any harm, and to determine if there was in fact. And then obviously would refer that information on to the US attorney’s office. And they would determine if there was any grounds for prosecution.”

While they’re in Adak, the Fish and Wildlife team will also be a resource to city officials, who are looking into safe options for keeping eagles out of the dump. With the right federal permits, Adak could use lights and sirens to try to spook the birds away.

For now, the city’s focused on the renovated burn pit at the dump. They’re going to ask the federal investigators to check and make sure it’s up to their standards.

And until then, Adak isn’t going to burn any more of its trash.

And as for Keith Hamilton – the city worker who started all this? It depends on who you ask: Hamilton says he was fired for his activities at the dump, while the city of Adak says he was just put on a temporary leave.

Either way, Hamilton’s not going back to his old job. And he feels he did the right thing:

“We have so many eagles over here. I think people just overlook them, thinking, ‘Oh, well. One dead eagle. We’ve got plenty more.’ But they were suffering. I would do it for any animal, or human.”
Even if that animal is a notorious scavenger.

Categories: Alaska News

Should Humpbacks Lose Endangered Status?

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:40

A humpback prepares to dive in lower Cook Inlet. The state wants to take the whales off the Endangered Species List. Photo by DeWaine Tollefsrud, Creative Commons.

State officials want the federal government to remove some protections for Southeast and Southcentral humpback whales. But a noted researcher says it’s too early to do that.

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Whalers killed so many humpbacks in the 19th and 20th centuries that many worried they might become extinct.

Harvests ended in the mid-1960s when an international treaty took effect. Then, populations began to grow as governments adopted protective policies.

“This is a success story. This is one species that no longer needs the protection of the endangered species act and we should celebrate that,” says Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation.

He says humpbacks will stay safe, even if they lose the act’s protections.

“Even if you delisted the species, at the end of the day, they’d still be adequately protected under existing whaling agreements and existing Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations.”

He says humpbacks are numerous in waters from Cook Inlet to southern Southeast, the population the state wants delisted.

Read the state’s delisting petition.

They still die of disease and old age, when hit by ships or tangled in fishing gear. But he says rapid population growth, which the state estimates at 7 percent, means there are plenty to replace them.

University of Alaska marine biologist Jan Straley says it’s not that easy.

“Just to say you’re going to delist the central stock is almost a simplistic way of saying these whales are one big group. But really, when they come to Alaska, they aren’t.”

Learn more about humpback whales and how they’re tracked.

Straley says breaking up Alaska humpbacks into eastern or western populations does not reflect their full life cycle.

Most Southeast whales winter in Hawaiian waters, though some swim to Mexico. But when they return in the summer, they split up and head to specific parts of the coast.

As that cycle repeats, they develop hereditary differences.

“You could basically wipe out a whole genetic lineage of whales if something happened catastrophically. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it’s a risk of ignoring that part of the structure of the population,” she says.

She agrees humpback numbers have grown. But she says the most-frequently-used estimate is based on old research. So there’s no way of knowing for sure what’s happening now.

Read our report on increasing humpback-human interactions.

The petition to remove the whales from Endangered Species Act listings was submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA Fisheries.

That agency has 90 days to decide whether it’s worth considering the petition. If it does, spokeswoman Julie Speegle says a full review will take about a year.

“We look at factors that may cause the population to have difficulty in the future, like ocean acidification, lack of food, that type of thing,” she says.

Studies suggest a more-acidic ocean could hurt krill, small shrimp-like organisms humpbacks eat.

If the petition is approved, this population will continue to be covered by the federal Marine Mammals Protection Act. That prohibits hunting, requires habitat protections and sets a safe distance for whale-watching tours.

So what more does the species act do?

NOAA Fisheries’ Jon Kurland says it reviews any federally-funded work that could affect the whales.

“We do consultations on things as simple as coastal construction projects, revamping a port or harbor, driving piles for a wharf to broader-scale activities like seismic exploration for oil and gas,” he says.

The Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance, which works where whales spend the winter, filed its own humpback delisting petition last April. That’s going through the review process now.

NOAA Fisheries’ Speegle says it covers all North Pacific humpbacks, a larger population.

“The central North Pacific stock, which the state of Alaska is now petitioning us to designate as a distinct population segment, would be a subcategory of that. So we’ll have to look, do some checking internally here and see how these two petitions dovetail,” she says.

Alaska officials are looking at other marine mammals they think no longer need endangered species act listings.

Wildlife Conservation’s Doug Vincent-Lang says bowhead whales are a possibility. So is the western population of Steller sea lions.

“That population is currently listed as endangered. But there’s 75,000 to 80,000 of those animals now. And we think at least a downlisting to threatened may be appropriate at this time, if not a complete delisting,” he says.

Removing a marine mammal population from endangered species protections is not unheard of. NOAA Fisheries’ pulled eastern North Pacific gray whales off the list 20 years ago. And last year, it delisted eastern Steller sea lions, which live in Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel To Discuss Possibility Of Marijuana Legalization

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:40

As Alaskans weigh how to vote on a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana, the University of Alaska Anchorage is holding a forum on Wednesday evening debating the issue. Tonight we bring you the perspective of one of those panelists. Lance Buchholtz is a retired Midwestern Sheriff who joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or LEAP in 2013. He is also an ordained minister. He says the war on drugs isn’t working.

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Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Athlete Representing U.S. At Paralympic Winter Games

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:40

Juneau’s Joe Tompkins will represent the United States in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Tompkins and Andrew Kurka of Palmer are among 26 athletes named to the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team.

Tompkins has had a successful World Cup career, but has never medaled in the Paralympics.

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Categories: Alaska News

Dust-up in U.S. House Hearing over Bypass Mail

Tue, 2014-03-04 18:31

Rep. Darrell Issa, standing, chats with Alaska Congressman Don Young and Sen. Mark Begich before the hearing.

Alaska’s Bypass Mail system took some punches in Congress today. The chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, is renewing his attack on the postal system that delivers everything from lettuce to lumber in rural Alaska. Alaska’s congressional delegation told him, essentially, to butt out. But Issa, who represents part of southern California, has staged some high-profile fights in his committee, and he seemed to enjoy taking on Sen. Mark Begich, and Congressman Don Young.

Issa is working on a bill he claims will reduce what the Postal Service loses on Bypass Mail, which last year hit $76 million.

“The subsidy means that every six years the American rate payer is buying a Bridge to Nowhere,” he said.

Surely he knew those are fighting words to Young, who was champion of that Ketchikan project. But Young was plenty riled already. Young says Bypass Mail actually saves the Postal Service money — maybe $200 million, he claims — because shippers deliver goods in thousand-pound lots directly to the airlines.

“Bypass mail, people don’t understand it. What it is is the products we were going to ship Parcel Post don’t go through the Post Office,” Young said. “That means you don’t need to build more postal buildings! It means you don’t have to hire any more people!”

He says the Bypass Mail system is working fine, and he accused Issa of meddling.

“There’s a $15 billion debt at the Post office and you’re worried about $70 million? That woulda cost 200? I don’t quite understand that. That’s what you call picking up peanuts when you’ve got a forest fire in your backyard. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Young said.

Issa also wants to allow three more carriers on the mainline routes for Bypass mail, out of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Competition on those routes is limited by a 2002 preference then-Sen. Ted Stevens pushed through that gives most of the mail business to airlines that provide a certain level of passenger service. Issa claims Stevens told him at the time he was trying to use Bypass Mail to subsidize passenger carriers. Young, in a testy exchange with Issa, insisted it was about efficiency.

“And you can’t have efficiency if you don’t haul passengers,” Young said.

“Ok it’s all about passengers,” Issa countered.

“No, it’s about efficiency!” Young said. “If you can’t have passengers you’ll not have efficiency!”

Sen. Begich told the chairman the carrier restrictions are also about safety. Issa wasn’t buying it.

“Are you saying that these other three carriers aren’t safe to carry milk, or vegetables or cans of coke?” Issa asked.

“I’m saying safety is part of the equation,” said Begich.

“What level of safety do you need for a can of coke?” Issa  said.

Begich refused the bait.

“Mr. Chairman I’m not going to go back and forth with you. Maybe you want to. I’ve seen how some of these hearings work … . I’m not going to go back and forth with you over the same argument,” Begich said. He pressed Issa to consider a Senate postal reform bill that he says takes a comprehensive approach to solving the Postal Service’s financial problems, rather than picking on one program.

Young, in a written statement to the committee, suggested Issa has been carrying water for a friend in the airline business. One airline that has fought to participate in the Bypass Mail program is Alaska Central Express. ACE Air Cargo is owned by the Donald R. Swortwood Trust. Mr. Swortwood is based in LaJolla, California and is a frequent contributor to Issa and his leadership PAC. An executive from ACE testified today it would be cheaper if freight-only carriers were allowed to carry a larger share of the mail.

Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, wasn’t at the hearing, but in written testimony she said the Bypass Mail program helps other federal department save money. It allows the USDA, for example, to more cheaply send emergency food aid to the Bush. She also said the incentive for mail carriers to transport passengers has meant 40 fewer communities in the state qualify for funding under the Essential Air Service program, saving the U.S. government millions of dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 4, 2014

Tue, 2014-03-04 17:59

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

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Bypass Mail System Under Attack Again

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee is renewing his attack on Alaska’s Bypass Mail system that delivers everything from lettuce to lumber in rural Alaska. Alaska’s congressional delegation told him, essentially, to butt out.

Bill Would Allow Guns To Be Carried On Campus

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

In Idaho, college students are protesting a bill that would allow guns on campus. Here in Alaska, they’re drafting the legislation.

Iditarod Leaders Leave Nikolai

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Iditarod race leaders left the checkpoint of Nikolai around mid day today. Sonny Lindner, Hugh Neff, Aliy Zirkle and Nicolas Petit pulled out of Nikolai within an hour of each other. But five mushers, including DeeDee Jonrowe and Jake Berkowitz scratched today, because of broken equipment that was damaged on the extremely rough trail out of Rainy Pass.

Burned Bald Eagles Draw Federal Scrutiny In Adak

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

It’s common practice to burn trash in the Aleutians, to keep landfills from overflowing. But it’s not that simple in Adak, where flaming waste has killed or injured at least ten bald eagles in the last few months. It’s now the subject of a federal investigation.

Should Humpbacks Lose Endangered Status?

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

State officials want the federal government to remove some protections for Southeast and Southcentral humpback whales. But a noted researcher says it’s too early to do that.

Panel To Discuss Possibility Of Marijuana Legalization

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

As Alaskans weigh how to vote on a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana, the University of Alaska Anchorage is holding a forum on Wednesday evening debating the issue. Tonight we bring you the perspective of one of those panelists. Lance Buchholtz is a retired Midwestern Sheriff who joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition or LEAP in 2013. He is also an ordained minister. He says the war on drugs isn’t working.

Juneau Athlete Representing U.S. At Paralympic Winter Games

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Joe Tompkins will represent the United States in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Tompkins and Andrew Kurka of Palmer are among 26 athletes named to the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team.

Tompkins has had a successful World Cup career, but has never medaled in the Paralympics.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Race Veterans Scratch In Rohn

Tue, 2014-03-04 12:28

DeeDee Jonrowe. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

DeeDee Jonrowe and Linwood Fielder, both of Willow, scratched this morning at the Rohn checkpoint at 6:00 a.m. and 6:21 a.m., respectively, both citing problems in Dalzell Gorge.

Chugiak’s Jim Lanier scratched in Rainy Pass due to a leg injury.

Cindy Gallea, of Wycoff, Minnesota, scratched in Skwentna on Monday, because of illness.

The top-11 mushers have all made it into Nikolai, led by Big Lake’s Martin Buser.

The racers’ next stop is McGrath.

Categories: Alaska News

Fast Trail Forces Mushers To Ride The Brakes

Tue, 2014-03-04 12:12

Iditarod mushers are working hard to hold back teams on what has been an icy, hard packed trail.  A snowless, rocky stretch of trail through a burn will slow them down, but most mushers are riding their brakes.

Hugh Neff leaves Willow during the 2014 Iditarod restart. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Hugh Neff dropped two dogs in Rainy Pass due to minor injuries, but he says it was likely a good choice.

“This type of trail, it’s probably safer to have 14 dogs instead of 16,” Neff said. “This trail is so lightning fast it’s ridiculous.”

Rookie Katherine Keith of Kotzebue agrees.  She decided to leave a few dogs behind before she even left the start line in Anchorage.

“Primarily, because it’s a hard fast trail so I didn’t really need the additional pulling power and I didn’t want the extra pulling power being this is my first year and being this is a going to be a hard fast trail that’s going to be challenging,” Keith said.

Aliy Zirkle says she got a wakeup call after her sled tipped over as she was moving quickly down the trail.

“So I stopped and regrouped and I was like ‘You have to focus and drive your sled,’ which means you have to put a lot of effort into your legs your arms, your focus your brake and so I ran like that the rest of the way and  that makes you tired and you have to rest,” Zirkle said.

Aliy Zirkle heads out of Willow at the start of the 2014 Iditarod. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Her husband Allen Moore came into Rainy Pass with ringing ears.

“It’s hard to hear right now just because of the sound of your brake and your drag,” he said.

Most mushers are trying to hold back their dogs this early in the race. But Hans Gatt says he tried to make up for a bib number that had him leaving the start line further back than he would have preferred.

“I pushed it a little bit in terms of cutting a little rest but I went very, very slow,” Gatt said.

But that may not help as teams head for Nikolai. According to the Iditarod, Martin Buser went through four sets of runner plastic, all demolished by bare rock exposed in the Farewell burn.  At least one of his brake tines is also broken.

Categories: Alaska News

Buser Reaches Nikolai, Keeps Iditarod Lead

Tue, 2014-03-04 07:39

Martin Buser maintained his lead in the 2014 Iditarod reaching Nikolai early Tuesday morning several hours ahead of Nicolas Petit. Buser reached the checkpoint about 1:09 a.m. Petit followed at 5:36 a.m.

The leaders were followed by Aliy Zirkle, Sonny Lindner and Hugh Neff. All three were out of Rohn Monday night. Dallas Seavey, who won the race in 2012, had jumped into 7th place, two spots ahead of his father, Mitch, who won last year. Dallas Seavey dropped a dog in Rohn.

Katherine Keith led the field of rookies. She was in 26th place early Tuesday morning and out of Rohn.

Buser set the early pace in 2012 only to lose to Mitch Seavey and Zirkle in the final days.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Would Allow Guns To Be Carried On Campus

Mon, 2014-03-03 23:52

Down in Idaho, college students are protesting a bill that would allow guns on campus. Here in Alaska, they’re drafting the legislation.

Hans Rodvik, a political science major at the University of Alaska Anchorage, presented the firearms bill on Monday, and he said the idea came from a number of student groups.

“During the fall 2013 semester, a diverse array of students, including myself, from the College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, and the Political Science Association came together to analyze what issues these three clubs could join together on and help change,” Rodvik told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The University’s Board of Regents banned concealed carry in 1995. Guns are only allowed on campus in a very limited sense – they must be kept in special lockers or left in the parking lot in a locked car.

Rodvik, who is interning for Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole), thinks that infringes on a student’s constitutional right to bear arms.

“We concluded that the current situation surrounding firearms on campus was unacceptable and committed to change it,” said Rodvik.

While the bill doesn’t explicitly mention concealed carry, it blocks the Board of Regents from regulating guns and knives in all but two cases. It does allow them to stop people from shooting firearms in areas where humans, domestic animals, or property are at risk. The regents can also prohibit firearms in “restricted access areas” under the bill.

While the legislation is a priority for some students, the president of the university system has some concerns.

Pat Gamble opened his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee by touting his own experience with guns.

“I’ve been carrying a gun by myself since I was nine years old. Carried two guns in Vietnam every day, an AR-15 and a .38, which I used on several occasions. I shot expert in pistol and rifle, and continued to shoot all through my time in the Air Force that way – never less. Had a custom-grip Beretta, a .38 that I carried as a general officer. Shot it regularly, went through a number of training courses both indoors and outdoors,” said Gamble. “So, I’m pretty familiar with weapons.”

Gamble emphasized his support for the Second Amendment, but said the state still could regulate firearms for the good of the public. He noted that guns are also prohibited at elementary schools and high schools with the goal of protecting young students.

That creates a tension with this bill, since those same children often visit University of Alaska campuses for classes and summer programs.

“We protect them in the schools. Do we protect them when they’re on the campus? I think the answer is yes,” said Gamble.

Gamble told the Judiciary Committee that getting rid of the gun ban would require the University to increase security on its 16 campuses. He says it would be such a big and expensive project that he would want to consult with private security outfits with experience in the Middle East.
And even if security were ramped up, Gamble thinks the University would still need to stop inviting minors onto its campuses.

“I will sit here and tell you right now: I cannot protect the campus if the K-through-12 kids are on there,” said Gamble.

The bill will receive another hearing on Wednesday.

Since the Legislature first convened last year, 10 separate bills and resolutions concerning firearms have been introduced. Half of them have passed.

Categories: Alaska News

Buser Regains Iditarod Lead, First Out of Rohn

Mon, 2014-03-03 22:34

Martin Buser retook the lead in the 2014 Iditarod, leaving Rohn about 1:45 Monday afternoon. Kelly Maixner was the first musher into Rohn, checking in at 11:26 a.m.

Buser was being chased by Aliy Zirkle, who finished second in 2013 and 2012. She left Rohn about 5:22 Monday evening. Right behind her was Sonny Lindner. Hugh Neff and Jeff King trailed Lindner.

By 9:00 p.m. 17 other teams – including Maixner – had made it to Rohn including last year’s winner Mitch Seavey and the 2012 winner Dallas Seavey.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 3, 2014

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:40

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

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Municipality Sues for Port Damages

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Municipality of Anchorage is suing a federal agency over problems with a port expansion project. This is the second lawsuit that the administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan has initiated to try to recover funds spent on the troubled port project.

Norwegian Contingent Prepared For For Iditarod Challenge

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Other teams are still making their way into Rainy Pass as they head through the Alaska Range.  It’s arguably the toughest stretch of trail. Many mushers say they’re ready for the challenge, including a contingent of Norwegians who are in Alaska to find out how their dog teams fare on this side of the world.

Bringing Money to Politics: A Job for a Pro

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska’s U.S. Senate race is shaping up to be a big- money affair. One hidden asset the campaigns deploy is the professional fundraiser. For Congressional races, these are typically Washington-based consultants who help connect the candidates to wealthy political contributors nationwide.

Begich Calls For Increased Education Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Sen. Mark Begich used his annual address to the Legislature to chastise state lawmakers for their approach to education.

Kikkan Randall Wins World Cup Sprint Race

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Kikkan Randall is back on top. Following disappointing races at the Sochi Olympics, Randall of Anchorage, won a World Cup sprint race in Finland over the weekend.

Teammate Sophie Caldwell’s placed 3rd. The U.S. Ski Team says it’s the first ever double podium finish for the women’s team, and the first time in the modern era that a woman, other than Randall, finished on the podium in an individual race.  Saturday’s victory put Randall back on top of the women’s World Cup sprint standings, as she tries to hold onto the title she’s held for the last two years.

This weekend’s World Cup races in Lahti Finland were also the European tour debut for U.S. skier Reese Hanneman of Fairbanks. Hanneman, who earned World Cup starts by skiing to top finishes at January’s U.S. National Championships, placed 73rd in Sunday’s 15 kilometer race.

State Suing Over Flint Hills North Pole Refinery Contamination

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The State of Alaska will sue over contamination from the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery.  Historic sulfolane spills have resulted in the industrial solvent migrating through ground water.

Outrage And Praise For The EPA Over 404-C

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Friday’s announcement by the EPA to seek a 404-C designation for the proposed Pebble Mine has drawn praise and outrage.

Gov. Parnell Responds To EPA’s 404-C Decision Regarding Pebble Mine

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell calls the EPA decision a preemptive veto.

Alaska Zoo Polar Bears To Get New Home

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage has been home to a long line of polar bears over the years,  from the infamous sneaker stealing Binky to the fluffy cub Kali which was shipped to a sister zoo back East last year. Right now,  Ahpun a female, and Lyutik, a young male, are the only two residents in the zoo’s polar bear enclosure, but that is soon to change.

Categories: Alaska News

Municipality Sues Feds for Port Damages

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:27

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The Municipality of Anchorage is suing a federal agency over problems with a port expansion project. This is the second lawsuit that the administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan has initiated to try to recover funds spent on the troubled port project.

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The city has invested around $300 million so far and hope to get some of that money back. They’re suing The U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration, or MARAD, which managed the original port expansion project, for damages. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan made the announcement at city hall Monday.

“To date we’ve raised, through both federal, local and state sources, over $400 million for the project. And MARAD was responsible for the administration, of the spending of that money,” Sullivan said. ”And, quite frankly, we don’t feel that as a customer that we received the product that we should have received for that expenditure.”

Problems arose in 2009, when the “open-cell sheet pile” design crumpled and separated during construction. The Sullivan administration has led the push to get the Municipality reimbursed. The Municipality is also suing engineering firm CH2M Hill which purchased the now defunct Veco Corporation. Veco was involved in the original work that had problems. Last week the Anchorage Assembly awarded CH2M Hill a 30-million dollar contract to manage the new port project. CH2M Hill assured municipal officials that nobody who worked on the first project would be involved in the new one. Sullivan says the port project is poised to move ahead.

“We will start working on updating permits,” Sullivan said. ”Certainly working on a new final design for the port, so we’re going to continue moving forward while this action happens in court and so we want to make sure we don’t loose momentum on making sure that over the next number of months that we develop a really solid plan, we’ve got a good team onboard and we’re remaining committed that we’re gonna – that we’ve got this back on track.”

Design and and engineering work is anticipated to take 18-months to two years with construction likely starting in 2016.

The Port of Anchorage provides an estimated 90 percent of the merchandise goods for 85 percent of Alaska’s populated area and is the major point of entry for container cargo and fuel for Joint-Base Elmendorf Richarson and Ted Stevens International Airport.

Categories: Alaska News

Bringing Money to Politics: A Job for a Pro

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:26

Kirsten Borman is a Republican fundraiser who works for congressional candidates. (KB Strategic Group)

Alaska’s U.S. Senate race is shaping up to be a big-money affair. One hidden asset the campaigns deploy is the professional fundraiser.  Sen. Mark Begich and the Republican front-runners hoping to unseat him all list professional fundraisers in their campaign finance reports, but they declined to talk about it.

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That’s not unusual, says fundraiser Kirsten Borman. If she had Alaska clients, she wouldn’t be talking to us either, but Borman mostly works for Florida congressional campaigns. She says there’s too much at stake for a campaign to pull back the curtain.

“It’s the way it is that your money – your money in the bank, your cash on hand, your quarterly reports – really are a large indicator that the world looks at as to how your campaign is doing,” she says.

She writes a blog on fundraising and serves as something of a spokeswoman for the profession.  Money is blamed for a lot of evil in politics, but she’s proud of what she does.

“I facilitate people being able to invest in the candidates and the type of government that they want and that to me is free speech at its best and at its finest,” she says.

She says fundraisers usually work on commission, 10 to 15 percent, and stick to clients of one party. Borman, who works only for Republicans, says each new job helps her develop her donor database– one of the biggest assets any fundraiser brings to a campaign.

“And obviously, the more clients you have the better you get to know donors,” she says. “I mean, fundraising is all about relationships, and it’s about building and maintaining relationships with people who want to invest in good public servants.”

Good fundraisers collect data on what prompts each donor to give – an email, a phone call, maybe a small reception with the candidate – and what issues they care about.  Incumbents start with rich data, but even first-time candidates have networks to mine. Take Dan Sullivan, one of the Republicans running against Begich. About a third of the $1.2 million Sullivan raised last year came from Ohio, much of it from people associated with his brother Frank, CEO of RPM International, a company with more than 10,000 employees that makes Rust-Oleum and a host of other paints and selants, as well as roof and floor materials.

Sullivan’s reach isn’t limited to Ohio. He also hired MK Group, a fundraiser for the Bush family and National Right to Life.  Meanwhile, his GOP rival Mead Treadwell hired Lisa Spies, a former Mitt Romney fundraiser. Her website says she is Treadwell’s national finance director.

University of Connecticut Political Science Professor Paul Herrnson says candidates are really operating two campaigns: One for votes back home, and one for money.

“Fundraising, unlike collecting votes, is a fully national activity,” he says.

The campaign for votes has a limited season, he says, and it ends on election day. For incumbents, at least, the campaign for money is perpetual, and it’s intensified since Citizens United. That U.S. Supreme Court decision let money flood into political attack groups. Herrnson says it created a massive wild card.

“Candidates didn’t know what was coming at them, and so the threat level became higher, and candidates who could raise lots of money, and that is mainly incumbents, raised more, because they were not sure of what they would face in the election,” he says.

Sen. Begich relies on a Washington outfit called Benchmark Strategies for fundraising. His campaign paid Benchmark more than $100,000 in the last three months of the year – far more than his Republican challengers paid their fundraisers in the same period. Begich also leads the way in the money race. But Stephen Medvic, associate professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College, says there’s little evidence fundraising consultants actually reap more than a campaign would raise on its own.

“Lots of organizations and lots of big donors, they keep their eye out for candidates who they think might have a chance and if a candidate shows any sign of being competitive, they’ll cut a check and send it, sometimes, you know, completely unsolicited,” Medvic says.

Big fundraisers, though, lend cachet to a campaign. They make a candidate seem more viable. That alone draws money, particularly from national donors.  And he doesn’t see that as a bad thing. Like it or not, it takes a lot of money to win, and Medvic says fundraising consultants make the task easier.

“I guess the question is do you want the candidate spending most of his or her time out raising money or do you want them out talking to voters?”

And then he laughs. Let’s not kid ourselves, he says; Candidates still have to spend a lot of time asking for money.

Even Borman, a fundraiser herself, says the importance placed on campaign money has gone too far. She says it frustrates her that her clients, even those who are already members of Congress, have to spend “an enormous amount of their time” raising money.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Calls For Increased Education Funding

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:25

Sen. Mark Begich addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Skip Gray/ Gavel Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich chastised state lawmakers for their approach to education during his annual legislative address.

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He highlighted staffing cuts in Anchorage and Juneau as evidence that the Legislature was not allocating enough money to schools.

“I’ll be blunt. I don’t agree with what’s happened in this building on education funding in recent years,” Begich told the Legislature. “It’s like you’ve built a fire in the woodstove but refused to add enough wood. Now some are complaining the stove doesn’t work and we need a brand-new heating system.”

Begich later told reporters that he thought Gov. Sean Parnell’s funding proposal did not go far enough. Parnell has suggested raising the base student allocation, or the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled, by $85 this year. Smaller increases would be built in for two years after that.

Begich also came out against a measure that would allow state funds to be used at private schools.

“I believe strongly we should never amend the Alaska Constitution as a fix for education,” said Begich. “Public dollars are for public schools, period.”

The line got applause from Democrats and from some moderate Republicans in the Legislature.

The measure was introduced last year by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican. It needs approval from two-thirds of the Legislature before it can be put on the ballot for a majority vote of the people.

“[I’m] somewhat perplexed as to why the senator feels his attention should be spent on internal state issues, as opposed to focusing on national issues,” said Dunleavy in an interview.

Following his address, Begich noted that while his son currently attends private school, he think it would be inappropriate for government to cover his tuition.

Categories: Alaska News

Kikkan Randall Wins World Cup Sprint Race

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:24

Kikkan Randall is back on top. Following disappointing races at the Sochi Olympics, Randall of Anchorage, won a World Cup sprint race in Finland over the weekend.

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Teammate Sophie Caldwell’s placed 3rd. The U.S. Ski Team says it’s the first ever double podium finish for the women’s team, and the first time in the modern era that a woman, other than Randall, finished on the podium in an individual race. Saturday’s victory put Randall back on top of the women’s World Cup sprint standings, as she tries to hold onto the title she’s held for the last two years.

This weekend’s World Cup races in Lahti Finland were also the European tour debut for U.S. skier Reese Hanneman of Fairbanks. Hanneman, who earned World Cup starts by skiing to top finishes at January’s U.S. National Championships, placed 73rd in Sunday’s 15 kilometer race.

Categories: Alaska News

State Suing Over Flint Hills North Pole Refinery Contamination

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:23

The State of Alaska will sue over contamination from the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery. Historic sulfolane spills have resulted in the industrial solvent migrating through ground water.

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Categories: Alaska News

Outrage And Praise For The EPA Over 404-C

Mon, 2014-03-03 18:21

Friday’s announcement by the EPA to seek a 404-C designation for the proposed Pebble Mine has drawn praise and outrage.

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Categories: Alaska News

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