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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: 45 min 15 sec ago

An LGBTQ Renaissance In Juneau

Thu, 2015-01-08 16:55

SEAGLA members get together to march in Juneau’s 2014 July 4th parade. (Photo courtesy James Hoagland)

Juneau’s alliance group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people has been going through a renaissance with new board members and energy. Now, with recent grant funding, SEAGLA hopes to increase visibility and awareness in the capital city and beyond.

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SEAGLA has been around since the early 1980s providing support for the LGBTQ community in Juneau. The name used to be an acronym for Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance, but it’s moved away from that strict definition to be more inclusive.

For years, SEAGLA’s programming consisted of a weekly Friday night social and an annual picnic. Last year, SEAGLA organized a first ever Pride Week in Juneau with several events.

“We did a film festival, a hike, a kickball game, a karaoke night, a big dance and a picnic,” says James Hoagland, one of eight volunteer board members. “All sorts of different kinds of events because we wanted to see who was out there, who our community was and what they needed from us, and we found that they liked all the events and they said, ‘We need more of this and we need to do it even bigger.’”

The annual picnic last year drew about 200 people, the biggest attendance in the organization’s history.

It recently received a $5,000 grant from thePride Foundation, which supports LGBTQ groups in the Northwest. It awarded funds to 56 organizations – three in Alaska. This is the largest grant SEAGLA has ever received.

The money will help expand programming.

“We know that there are hundreds of people out there who just even locally want to get together and do things and build community in all sorts of ways,” Hoagland says.

SEAGLA is meant to be an alliance group for all of Southeast Alaska, but it’s historically served just Juneau. The grant will allow the nonprofit to bridge gaps and offer services to other Southeast communities. Hoagland says individuals in Ketchikan, Haines, Sitka and Skagway have reached out to SEAGLA.

Josh Hemsath with Pride Foundation in Anchorage says the organization gave funding to SEAGLA for this very reason. Anchorage-based Identity Inc. also received a grant to bring students from rural areas to a youth leadership summit at Birchwood Camp.

“The need that we were seeing was how best to address serving individuals, whether they be youth or people who experience geographic isolation because they live in rural and remote communities,” Hemsath says.

Outside of grant funding, Hoagland hopes SEAGLA can grow in other ways.

“It’ll be particularly interesting during the legislative session and figuring out how to plug SEAGLA into the really dynamic political landscape that’s going on right now in Alaska for LGBT people,” Hoagland says.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage, Hoagland says other issues are ripe for change. Representatives Cathy Muñoz, a Republican, and Democrat Andy Josephson have pre-filed billsto add sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Hoagland says SEAGLA can play a role in education. He says many Alaskans don’t even realize that people can get fired from a job because of sexual orientation.

“They thought that maybe we’re protected under another law or something like that and it’s just not the case and I think that most people understand that that’s just not fair. And just opening up their eyes to the importance of putting that on the books in writing so that we can make sure that people don’t experience a really tragic situation like losing your job just because of the person you love,” Hoagland says.

Hoagland says making a political impact will be a natural outcome of expanding membership and strengthening SEAGLA.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Supervisor, Deputy, Leaving The Forest

Thu, 2015-01-08 10:35

The Tongass National Forest will soon be without its two top officials.

Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole plans to retire in April after about a dozen years in the job. He’s overseen timber sales, stewardship efforts and other agency programs in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass National Forest makes up most of Southeast Alaska (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Cole’s deputy, Tricia O’Connor, is moving to a new Forest Service job in Wyoming. She’ll be supervisor of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which borders Yellowstone National Park, starting in February.

Both have been based in Ketchikan. Neither was immediately available for comment.

The supervisors work under Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, who also oversees Southcentral’s Chugach National Forest.

Cole came to the Tongass about 35 years ago and worked in management positions throughout Southeast. Most recently, he’s been a leader in the forest’s transition from old-growth logging to harvesting younger trees.

O’Connor has been Tongass deputy forest supervisor since 2011. She’s been in the region almost 15 years, beginning as Yakutat district ranger.

Both positions have been posted on USA Jobs, a federal employment website.

The Tongass is the nation’s largest national forest, at about 17 million acres. Most of Southeast Alaska is within its borders.

We’ll have more on the Tongass management changes in future reports.

Categories: Alaska News

Human Remains Found In ‘Talkeetna Area’ Cabin Fire

Thu, 2015-01-08 10:18

The Alaska State Troopers report that a cabin fire in the Talkeetna area killed one person.

According to troopers, the initial call was received just before midnight on Saturday night. When troopers arrived from the Talkeetna post, the cabin had burned to the ground.  The next day, they returned with a Deputy Fire Marshal to search in the daylight.  Human remains were found during that search.  No positive identification has been made of the remains, and the investigation is ongoing.  Troopers say foul play is not suspected at this time.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says that, since there is currently no positive ID, no further details, including the location of the fire, are being released.  Talkeetna Fire Department Chief Ken Farina says that the Talkeetna Fire Department did not respond to any structure fires in on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

On Murkowski’s First Day Chairing Energy Committee, Panel Passes Keystone Bill

Thu, 2015-01-08 08:21

Sen. Lisa Murkowski gavelled in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning with a Tsimshian mallet. On her first day as chairman, the committee passed a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, by a vote of 13 to nine, without amdendments. The bill is the first priority of the new Republican leadership of the Senate. It now heads to the Senate floor and debate scheduled to begin next week. The House is expected to pass its version tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

As Walker Forges Own Way On Gasline, Republicans Wary

Wed, 2015-01-07 19:59

It was a not-quite-midnight purge. At 9pm on Tuesday, Gov. Bill Walker announced via press release that half the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors was being dismissed. And in the process, he put the oil and gas industry on notice that he would be doing things differently from his predecessor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

The announcement came just 36 hours before the board tasked with representing Alaska’s interests on the natural gas megaproject was set to get an update on how the work was going. Of the five public members, three — Drue Pearce, Al Bolea, and Richard Rabinow — were notified they should not plan on attending a Thursday meeting in Anchorage.

All three were appointed when the board was created in 2013 by former Gov. Sean Parnell. Pearce heads an oil spill response company in Anchorage, and previously served as the federal coordinator for an Alaska Natural Gas project and as president of the Alaska State Senate. Bolea is a retired BP executive who once chaired the Alyeska Pipeline Services Company board. Rabinow is a former president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. Rabinow’s appointment was opposed by a bloc of Democrats because of his status as a Texas resident, and legislation explicitly permitting out-of-state board appointments was passed to allow him to serve.

Walker says his reasons for removing these members was not personal. He says he mainly wants to see more geographic diversity on the board, and plans to make sure rural areas are represented.

“I think we need to spread out a bit,” says Walker.

The original announcement did not provide a reason for the dismissals, except for to say the changes were part of a “paradigm shift in the way the state will conduct business with Alaska’s gas.” In addition to the board dismissals, Walker announced that the two cabinet members — Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas and acting Commerce Commissioner Fred Parady — who represent the administration on the board have been directed not to participate in discussions that require confidentiality agreements.

“There’s certainly appropriate times to go into executive session, and organizations do that all the time. But it’s unusual to layer on top of that a confidentiality agreement,” says Walker. “It just seems like it’s one more step of keeping the public away from what’s going on, and I’m not sure that’s the way to do business.”

The state is currently in talks with Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada to develop an 800-mile pipeline to get North Slope natural gas to market. The project is expected to cost at least $45 billion. In 2014, the Legislature passed and Parnell signed a bill that would allow legislators to review specific terms of negotiations so long as they sign non-disclosure agreements. The producers involved say the confidentiality rules are needed to prevent competitors from learning proprietary information about the project.

Walker is allowing his natural resources deputy commissioner, Marty Rutherford, to participate in confidential meetings.

“We will participate in AKLNG with our representative,” says Walker. “That’s a different entity and a different process.”

Walker’s announcement was met with a mix of surprise and apprehension by key Republicans in the state Legislature.

“The three people that have been removed, of course, have decades of expertise and experience,” says Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the resources committee. “To let them go — it was just kind of breathtaking.”

Giessel is worried that rehauling the board puts the Alaska LNG megaproject at risk.

“I’m concerned it’s going to slow it down,” says Giessel. “As we miss windows of achievement on that timeline, this could jeopardize the project altogether.”

Giessel is also concerned that refusing the confidentiality terms could make it hard to work with the partners on a project.

“To reject that means rejecting a seat at the table. It doesn’t make sense,” says Giessel.

House Speaker Mike Chenault agrees.

“Without confidentiality agreements, I just can’t see this process going forward,” says Chenault.

Chenault says Walker’s actions raise questions about his strategy for moving ahead with a gasline.

“Nobody was informed on what was transpiring,” says Chenault. “By sending out that message, I have no clue which direction the governor wants to go. Is he wanting to keep these two projects online, or is he wanting to kill these to come up with some other project? I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Alaska’s partners in the LNG project are staying quiet on Walker’s announcement. A representative from ExxonMobil declined an interview on the subject, while ConocoPhillips and BP each offered brief written statements saying that their positions on the project had not changed.

But even if the producers are not commenting on Walker’s action, they’re still watching them closely.

“I would expect industry is waiting to hear more details on what Walker’s ‘paradigm shift’ means,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska North Slope natural gas pipeline.

Persily notes that Walker’s recent actions signal a more confrontational approach with industry than his predecessor.

“Proponents of the Parnell administration would say he made great strides — new investment on the Slope, new investment in Cook Inlet. Critics of Parnell would say he was too cozy with the industry and the state needs to stand up more. And my guess is the industry is waiting to see how Walker goes about things,” says Persily. “The important person in all this is not any of the individual AGDC board members or the head of AGDC or the deputy commissioner of natural resources or revenue. It’s the governor. He sets the policy. He sets the tone, and makes the important decisions. So, the announcement about a ‘paradigm shift’ in dealing with the industry is much more important than changing some board members or getting into a debate over who signs the confidentiality agreement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Ferry Draws Interest

Wed, 2015-01-07 17:15

 Despite televised reports that a sale could be imminent, the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ferry MV Susitna remains tied to a dock in Ketchikan, while the Borough faces a tight deadline for repayment of a twelve million dollar debt to the Federal Transit Administration.

At  Tueaday night’s   Borough Assembly meeting, Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropolous [ spir OPP o lous ] told the body that the FTA wants its money back by January 15. He said he’s written a reply to FTA.

“Our submittal to FTA in response to [their] demand letter is due January 15. The manager and finance director and port director have seen a draft and made comment on it. ”

 

The mid – January date represents an extension of an earlier, September, deadline.

But a European – based company, Intercity Rental Car Corporation, has given the Borough 20 thousand dollars to pay for a demonstration of the boat’s abilities. The Borough Assembly spent little time Tuesday in approving the acceptance and appropriation of the money to pay for the sea trials, passing the motion without comment.  

Intercity Rental, however, is not an American company, and selling the vessel to a foreign – owned company could pose a challenge. The ferry can be given away to a US non-profit, or sold to an American company, but the FTA could frown on selling a Navy – built ship outside the US.

According to its website, Intercity Rental is a fleet leasing company in Turkey, which has about a quarter share of the market. The company leases cars to corporate clients with 1 year to 3 year contracts, and provides comprehensive maintenance services.

 The Borough was given the ferry free of charge, but with grant restrictions attached. The Borough failed to initiate ferry passenger service across Knik Arm, so the FTA is asking for it’s grant money back.

The MV Susitna sea trials have already taken place.  Borough manager John Moosey says negotiations are ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker Meets With DC Officials

Wed, 2015-01-07 17:00

Gov. Bill Walker scheduled meetings with two of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries while he was in Washington Tuesday for the swearing in of Alaska’s new U.S. senator.

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He says he talked to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the road options to the Greater Moose’s Tooth field on the North Slope. That wasn’t the only road they discussed. Walker says Jewell seems resolute in opposing a road between King Cove and Cold Bay, but he says it was good to hear her exact reasons. Walker says he doesn’t think it’s a lost cause.

“Well I’m not convinced of that. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on it is a good thing,” Walker said. “So I’m going to take a look and see if there are some options available in advancing that road project.”

He took up the Prince Rupert ferry dock with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Walker made the case for a waiver from the requirement to use U.S. steel.

It was the new governor’s second trip to the nation’s capital since he was sworn in. He says he doesn’t plan to make the trip so frequently in the future.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski: Keystone XL Pipeline Worth Fighting For

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:59

The new Congressional session is barely underway, but Senate Democrats managed to derail Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s plan for Wednesday morning. She’d hoped to hold a hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Senate Energy Committee.

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The Keystone Pipeline is the signature environmental fight of the moment. It’s the rallying cry, the poster child, the new polar bear. It occupies the political space once held by the fight over drilling in ANWR. The new Republican leadership of the Senate made it their No. 1 priority.

Sen. Murkowski is eager to move the bill through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’s the committee’s incoming chairman. But Democrats threw up a procedural hurdle on the Senate’s opening day, objecting to the hearing she’d planned. Murkowski says she’s undeterred.

“My goal and I know the goal of the Republicans is to advance this through the process as quickly as possible,” Murkowski said.

President Obama has already issued a veto warning. Here’s his spokesman, Josh Earnest.

“I would not anticipate that the president will sign this piece of legislation,” Earnest said. “We promised – We indicated that the president would veto similar legislation that was considered by the previous Congress, and our position hasn’t changed.

The White House followed up with an official statement, saying the Keystone bill would “cut short” an important permitting process. It galls Murkowski.

“Cut short were the words that the president used,” Murkowski said. “This has been under consideration for six years. Give me a break!”

She and other Republicans say the pipeline will create jobs and has broad support among the public. The pipeline is intended to move oil from Alberta through Nebraska and ultimately to refineries in Texas. Opponents say it will contribute to global warming, especially because it will carry petroleum extracted from the oil sands of Alberta, which environmentalists say is particularly harmful.

Murkowski said last month she intends to use her committee chairmanship to “get things done” by passing bills the president will sign, not to just send a message. Now, even with a veto threat looming, she says Keystone is worth fighting for. Murkowski says Senate Republicans can’t let President Obama set the agenda.

“I don’t think we’re going to sit back and just wait to see what the president wants to support before we decide we’re going to move forward with it,” Murkowski said.

She’s proceeding with another committee meeting on the bill this week. She says she’ll work to get a veto-proof majority on the bill, but she acknowledges that may not be possible. Nose-counters around the Senate say it’s about 4 votes short of that 67-vote threshold.

Categories: Alaska News

Poor Air Quality Raising Health Concerns In Fairbanks

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:57

Areas of Fairbanks and North Pole suffered poor air quality this a week as cold stagnant air allowed smoke from wood burning and other combustion to accumulate. The situation is nothing new and the focus of state and local plan to clean up the air.  Fine particulate pollution is a known health hazard, and that’s confirmed in a locally produced report.

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Categories: Alaska News

Despite Spending Freeze, Juneau Access Road Effort Continues

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:56

A sign near Juneau’s Auke Bay Ferry Terminal points to the end of Glacier Highway. The road would be extended about 50 miles to a new terminal closer to Haines under a state plan that’s temporarily on hold. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Work continues on the Juneau Access Project, despite Gov. Bill Walker’s spending freeze. But it doesn’t involve moving dirt or pouring concrete.

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The Juneau Access Road is one of six projects Walker put on holdduring his first month in office. It would extend the capital city’s highway system about 50 miles north to a new ferry terminal on Lynn Canal. From there, shuttle ships would complete the link to Haines and Skagway.

In his announcement, Walker told state agencies they could complete what’s already paid or contracted for. But he said no additional money could be committed or spent.

Juneau Access Project Manager Gary Hogins says the Department of Transportation’s current work is preparing a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is needed for federal funding and approval.

“We just finished going through the public involvement process and what we do next is review the comments, respond to comments and evaluate and select a final alternative,” he says.

Hogins says that will take about a year and $600,000.

He says no other work is planned – for now.

“We would have expected to go into design and construction, but that’s been put on hold,” he says.

“Gov. Walker has made a very smart decision to put the brakes on the Juneau Road extension,” says Emily Ferry of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

SEACC says the Alaska Marine Highway System offers a safer, more environmentally friendly alternative.

“DOT’s own study shows the extraordinary cost of constructing and maintaining the road far exceeds the minimal benefits of making weekend getaways a little bit cheaper for Juneauites,” she says.

The agency says the road would do a lot more than that. It also says the project would ultimately save money by shortening ferry routes.

Road supporters, who share those views, say they’re not giving up.

“I’m disappointed in it. I don’t know that that’s the end of the project. I think it’s a bump, probably for all those other projects too. I think they’ll probably all come back at some point in time,” says Wayne Jensen, who chairs the Alaska Committee’s board of directors.

He supports building the road to increase access to the capital city, and he remains optimistic.

“The stuff that’s committed is continuing and I think that’s a good sign. They’ve got contracts committed and processes in play. And I expect those will continue until some point in time when either there’s a further delay or the projects are reinstated,” he says.

The Transportation Department recently increased road funding in its long-term project list, called the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

The proposed $152 million brings the total to be spent to $520 million.

Road projects of a similar value in Anchorage, Wasilla, Cordova and the eastern Interior were removed from the list.

SEACC’s Ferry says that’s wrong.

“If DOT is allowed to proceed with the Juneau Road extension, other transportation projects across the state will have to be sacrificed over the next decade,” she says.

It’s not clear when the governor will decide what to do with the Juneau Access project.

DOT’s Hogins says he’s assembling the data.

“He’s asked for information as far as what would be the downside or the risk of delay or termination. And we are responding to that,” he says.

Walker said low oil prices mean the state cannot afford the road — and the other five projects — right now. The state faces an approximately $3 billion budget gap for the current fiscal year and the same for the next one.

Other projects put on hold are the Ambler Road, the Susitna-Watana Dam, the Kodiak Launch Complex, the Knik Arm Crossing and the Alaska Standalone Pipeline Project.

Categories: Alaska News

Pajinag Takes The Reins Of Front Street Community Health Center

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:54

Kelly Pajinag grew up in Juneau and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2000. He joined Hospice & Home Care of Juneau in the summer of 2013. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Kelly Pajinag is the new interim executive director of Front Street Community Health Center as of Jan. 1. He’s also the program manager of Catholic Community Services’ Hospice & Home Care of Juneau.

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As he juggles two jobs, Pajinag hopes to help the homeless clinic get through some growing pains.

Kelly Pajinag, 33, says he doesn’t have much of a social life these days. His dual leadership positions have similar responsibilities.

“In regards to some of the things that I’ve experienced at Hospice & Home Care of Juneau with implementing more of the administrative business backbone to the program, I kind of saw a relationship here at the Front Street Community Health Center in regards to recruitment, the staffing, the billing platforms to be implemented and put into place,” Pajinag says.

He’s the second executive director of Front Street Community Health Center since last May whenit left umbrella organization Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Pajinag says the clinic, which has offered medical, dental and behavioral health services, is going through a challenging transition.

“We’re still in the works of really trying to pick up the pieces of having the luxury of a large organization provide your billing, your payroll, your human resources. These are all things that we have to do at the clinic level now,” Pajinag says.

Pajinag sat on the board of the health center prior to becoming its interim executive director. He has three months to fulfill some big goals. One is continuing to diversify its clientele; Front Street has long been ahomeless clinic and still receives a large chunk of its federal funding for that purpose. It hopes to provide care for patients from all walks of life.

“‘Cause there is a need for thousands of people in our community, so my goal is to make it efficient and effective and available for people to access, whether it’s the homeless population, uninsured, underserved or someone that’s conveniently located nearby,” he says.

Another goal is figuring out the clinic’s staffing shortage. Two of its three main care providers are no longer there. Nurse practitioner Janna Brewster, who also served as the clinic’s manager, resigned in November and dentist Ed Linsell retired. The health center is actively recruiting for both medical positions.

In the meantime, Pajinag says part-time nurse practitioners are filling the gap as Front Street continues to provide medical and behavioral health services. Linsell is providing dental care one week a month.

Pajinag says the health center will soon implement billing and get reimbursements from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance. The goal is to get a third of its revenue this way.

At the end of March, the Front Street Community Health Center board will reevaluate Pajinag’s position. Dr. Carlton Heine is a board member.

“Does he have the capacity to do this job with his other job or do we need to look for a different person for executive director?” Heine says.

Until then, Pajinag says he’s confident, with the help of staff and community members, the health center will get through the tough transition and start offering patient-centered care to more of Juneau’s population.

Categories: Alaska News

Touring A Historic Anchorage Building

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:53

Anchorage turns 100 this year. And one of the city’s first permanent homes was the Oscar Anderson House downtown.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 7, 2015

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:52

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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Walker Purges Gasline Board, Rejects Confidentiality Agreement

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It was a not-quite midnight purge. At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Gov. Bill Walker announced via press release that half the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors was being dismissed. And in the process, he put the oil and gas industry on notice that he would be doing things differently from his predecessor.

Gov. Walker Meets With DC Officials

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Gov. Bill Walker scheduled meetings with two of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries while he was in Washington Tuesday for the swearing in of Alaska’s new U.S. senator.

Murkowski: Keystone XL Pipeline Worth Fighting For

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The new Congressional session is barely underway, but Senate Democrats managed to derail Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s plan for Wednesday morning. She’d hoped to hold a hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Senate Energy Committee.

Canadian Archipelago Likely To Become Important Polar Bear Conservation Region

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

A new study released yesterday by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests polar bears are in the midst of a generations-long migration to areas that still have year-round sea ice.

Poor Air Quality Raising Health Concerns In Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Areas of Fairbanks and North Pole suffered poor air quality this week as cold stagnant air allowed smoke from wood burning and other combustion to accumulate. The situation is nothing new and is the focus of state and local plans to clean up the air.  Fine particulate pollution is a known health hazard, and that’s confirmed in a locally produced report.

Despite Spending Freeze, Juneau Access Road Effort Continues

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Work continues on the Juneau Access Project, despite Gov. Bill Walker’s spending freeze. But it doesn’t involve buying steel or moving dirt.

EPA, Alaska DEC Crews Cleaning Up Richardson Highway Diesel Spill

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are working to clean up a month old diesel spill northeast of Valdez.

Pajinag Takes The Reins Of Front Street Community Health Center

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Kelly Pajinag is the new interim executive director of Juneau’s Front Street Community Health Center as of Jan. 1. He’s also the program manager of Catholic Community Services’ Hospice & Homecare of Juneau.

As he juggles two jobs, Pajinag hopes to help the homeless clinic get through some growing pains.

Touring A Historic Anchorage Building

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage turns 100 this year. And one of the city’s first permanent homes was the Oscar Anderson House downtown.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA, Alaska DEC Crews Cleaning Up Richardson Highway Diesel Spill

Wed, 2015-01-07 14:48

Excavator preparing a test hole on east side of the highway, December 15, 2014 (Photo/Engles-ADEC)

The Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are working to clean up a diesel spill northeast of Valdez.

The spill occurred Dec. 9 at Mile 48 of the Richardson Highway, when icy conditions caused a tanker truck operated by Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc. to slide off the road – spilling 4,400 gallons of low-sulfur diesel into a currently-dry roadside creek bed.

Spill response began immediately, but the company had to cease its cleanup efforts just before Christmas, citing a lack of resources. EPA and Alaska DEC crews resumed the work Tuesday.

Excavated area at incident site, January 6, 2014 (Photo/Engles-ADEC)

Steven Russell, an environmental program manager with the Alaska DEC, says the cleanup efforts are going well so far, but below zero temperatures are slowing things down.

“Twenty-below, things don’t move quite as quick as they do if it’s 30 above,” Russell said. ”But, we anticipate that the cleanup effort will continue and will be successful.”

Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc. removed about 650 cubic yards, or about 25 semi-truck trailers-full of contaminated dirt. And the DEC anticipates the removal of about another 350 cubic yards.

Russell says cleanup and restoration work is expected to be complete in about 10 days.

“We need to get that dry creek bed back as close to the conditions that it was at before this event, because we do not want to lose stability on the roadway in the springtime when that area has significant water movement through it,” he said.

Russell estimates the cleanup will cost around $2.5 million, including federal funds and money already spent by Alaska Petroleum Distributing, Inc.

He says the DEC doesn’t anticipate any impact to fish in the area, but will continue to monitor the site over the next several months.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Charged With Selling Meth In Ongoing Trooper, Nome Police Investigation

Wed, 2015-01-07 13:31

First heroin, now meth—as two more Nome residents are behind bars after allegedly selling methamphetamine.

Court records and affidavits from Alaska State Troopers charge 29-year-old Chad Jacobson and 28-year-old Joan Miller with selling methamphetamine to a
confidential informant in November of last year [2014].

Both were arrested last week. Troopers say the arrests are related to the yearlong investigation by the Troopers WAANT–the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team–and Nome Police that resulted in two heroin-related arrests last month.

In November, investigators say Miller—who they identify as Jacobson’s girlfriend—delivered 2 grams of meth to a police informant in a controlled purchase. Field and lab tests identified the substance as methamphetamine.

In an affidavit filed with the Nome court, investigators claim Jacobson set up that sale—and only sent his girlfriend at the last minute. Just days later, Troopers set up another purchase, for another 2 grams of meth. This time, Troopers say, it was Jacobson who made the sale—delivering two “dime-sized bags … containing a white crystal substance” that later tested positive for methamphetamine.

Both Miller and Jacobson were formally charged in Nome court on Friday—for one count each of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third
degree, a felony drug charge that carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Messages to the attorneys handling the cases were not returned Tuesday. Miller’s bail was set at $5,000, while bail for Jacobson was set at $15,000. Both remain in custody at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Tuluksak Man Arrested For Alleged Arson

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:56

A Tuluksak man is under arrest after he allegedly set fire to a home in Kwethluk.

The incident happened Tuesday. Troopers say 21-year-old Ferdinand Andrew had been upset with the occupants of the house and splashed gasoline on the
exterior door and lit it on fire.

The residents and neighbors were able to put the fire out with minimal damage. There were no injuries.

A plastic container with gasoline inside was found at the scene. When troopers contacted Andrew he was wearing clothing that matched the description given by witnesses.

Andrew is charged with Arson in the 2nd degree and violating conditions of release.

He was transported to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center where he awaits arraignment.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Sexual Abuse Allegation In Chuathbaluk

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:53

Alaska State Troopers in Aniak recently received a report that a 4-year-old girl in Chuathbaluk was possibly sexually abused.

The report was made on December 26th and troopers say the abuse allegedly took place sometime in December at a Chuathbaluk home.

State Troopers say the investigation is ongoing and the Bethel Office of Children’s Services was notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg’s New Superintendent Resigns

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:41

Petersburg’s school board will be searching for a new superintendent again this year. The superintendent of the school district has resigned after six months on the job.

Lisa Stroh was hired as superintendent July 1 after visiting Petersburg as a finalist for the position. She worked through the fall but left town just before the Christmas break after asking the school board for administrative leave. The leave request was for December 16 to January 5 and the board granted it. Then on December 31, Stroh sent the board a letter of resignation stating she wanted to resign for family medical reasons.

School Board President, Jean Ellis, reads from Stroh’s letter, “I would like to thank the many wonderful people of Petersburg for making my time here so enjoyable.”

Stroh stated that she wanted the resignation effective June 30, however, the school board is proposing ending her contract now.

“Her contract runs through June 30, 2015 but she will not be serving as superintendent effective immediately,” Ellis says.

Ellis says the board will consider a proposed settlement and release agreement at a special meeting Thursday night. She wanted to wait until the meeting to release more details about Stroh’s contract. How the district’s budget might be affected will also be detailed at the meeting. Stroh’s salary was $122,750.

Ellis says all in all the school district is in good position for a transition into new leadership.

“We have an amazing school district, very strong, and I’m thinking that things will move very smoothly,” says Ellis.

Part of that transition includes long time grade school principal, Erica Kludt-Painter. She’s been filling in as superintendent during Stroh’s administrative leave and with board approval, she would continue in the role through the end of the school year.

Kludt-Painter agreed that the transition should be smooth even though it’s taking place within the school year.

“For a mid-year transition, the change is hard, and it’s a lot of people to think about, especially the immediate effects, more specifically in this building, in the elementary building just because this is where the most change is actually happening,” Kludt-Painter says. “So, I guess I just want to assure people that we’re going into it with a positive attitude and it’s going to be great. We’re going to do this well.”

What it means for the grade school is that second grade teacher, Teri Toland, would step into Acting Principal. Kludt-Painter says Toland has her administrative credentials and is capable of taking over the job. She actually interned under Kludt-Painter as part of her administrative training.

“She’s wonderful, she’s amazing, she’s organized, she’s fabulous,” Kludt-Painter says. “I feel confident and comfortable with the thought of her walking in here and doing this. She knows everybody, she knows the kids, kids know her, families know her.”

Kludt-Painter says she might consider herself for superintendent beyond the interim period but for right now she’s just looking at it as temporary move.

“I guess I don’t want to speculate too far out in the future just because there’s a lot on everybody’s plate right now, so for me I think I just have to look at the present and look at the remainder of the school year and see how it goes,” Kludt-Painter says.

Stroh is originally from Montana. She worked in education for three decades there and in Alaska. She came to Petersburg from Valdez where she broke her two-year contract after a year, citing conflicts with school board members there.

Ellis says the search process for a new superintendent would begin immediately with the plan of hiring someone permanently July 1.

The school board will hold a special meeting this Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the high school library to address the resignation and the transition. The meeting is open to the public.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel’s Warm Temperatures Break Records

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:38

Bethel Bethel Boat Harbor November 13th, 2014. – (Photo by Dean Swope)

Bethel broke the record for highest-average temperature in 2014. It’s included in a broad swath of Western and Southwestern Alaska which have had above normal temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

Rich Thoman, a climatologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks states, “In that area there’s about seven or eight places that have weather inclement observations that go back 70 years or more and at those places it was the warmest in that entire period of record – 70 to 90 or 100 years even. 2014 was warmer than any other calendar year,” said Thoman.

Those that broke records for the year include Cold Bay, King Salmon, Homer, McGrath, Nome, Kotzebue and Bethel.

The higher temperatures have made travel around the Kuskokwim Delta difficult, where frozen rivers become winter highways. The river took longer than normal to freeze up, and when it did there were dangerous open holes that can swallow snow machines, four-wheelers and people. Village travel has been limited all season as a result.

Thomen says says the record warm 2014 is continuing a trend of very warm years seen over the last decade or so. Five years since 2000 have been amongst the warmest ever in Bethel.

“The lowest temperature in Bethel was 16 below and this is the first year that Bethel did not make it down to minus 20,” said Thoman.

It also took a long time to get down below zero, says Thoman.

“This winter, the winter of 2014-2015, Bethel did not have its first sub zero temperature until the 21st of December. Bethel has never gone that late into the season until the temperature go below zero,” said Thoman.

Thoman says the average temperature for Bethel for the entire year of 2014 was 34.9 degrees.

“Now to put that in context, the average temperature for a year in Bethel is about 29 degrees. That doesn’t sound like it’s a big departure but over 365 days, that’s very large. Bethel’s never had a warmer year,” said Thoman.

Weather observations in Bethel started in 1923, according to the National Weather Service.

“Now to put that in context, the average temperature for a year in Bethel is about 29 degrees. That doesn’t sound like it’s a big departure but over 365 days, that’s very large. Bethel’s never had a warmer year,” said Thoman.

Weather observations in Bethel started in 1923, according to the National Weather Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Canadian Archipelago Likely To Become Important Polar Bear Conservation Region

Wed, 2015-01-07 10:10

A new study released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests polar bears are in the midst of a generations-long migration to areas that still have year-round sea ice.

Lily Peacock is a research wildlife biologist for USGS and the lead author of the study. She says, historically, polar bears are highly nomadic and move unpredictably. But, over the last few generations, the bears’ movement patterns have been changing.

“Instead of sort of random movements of bears across the Arctic that we found in sort of the more ancient historical picture, we found directional movement towards the Canadian Archipelago,” Peacock said.

(USGS photo)

The Canadian Archipelago is home to one of four clusters of genetically-similar polar bear populations. During the study, Peacock’s team analyzed nearly 3,000 genetic samples of bears ranging from Alaska’s North Slope, to the Russian Arctic, to Canada’s Hudson Bay, dating back as far as 1972, and as recently as 2011.

Peacock says this suggests polar bears are subtly shifting north.

“Our hypothesis is that they’re doing so because changes of in their habitat,” she said. “Especially because it’s been hypothesized and modeled that that’s where ice is going to be persistent and it’s likely that the ice might become better habitat in the Canadian Archipelago; it’s considered poorer habitat right now, but the multi-year ice might become annual ice and become more productive.”

Peacock says this shift isn’t a product of bears marching en masse from Northern Russia all the way to Northern Canada – it’s more of a genetic migration, made over the course of several generations.

“That means an individual home range shifting northward; that animal mating with another animal that might be at the southern part of her range, but then that offspring might go to the northern part of her grandmother’s range and mate with someone else,” Peacock said. “So it’s sort of this shift of genes of genes northward.”

But, according to Peacock, declining sea ice could put a damper on the process and potentially threaten worldwide populations by cutting off the bears’ migration routes.

“And what can happen when populations of animals become isolated is that their more easy, they can blink out if something happens; if they have a bad winter or bad spring and that stresses the population and it gets smaller and smaller, but the migration corridor has been cut off and you can’t repopulate,” she said.

Though scientific modeling can’t predict exactly what the future holds for polar bears, Peacock says the results of the study say the Canadian Archipelago may become a very important habitat for polar bears over the next several generations.

Categories: Alaska News

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