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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: 35 min 42 sec ago

Search Begins For New National Guard Leader

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:45

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Outside Money Favors Begich, But He Assails It

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Attorney’s Respond to State’s Proposed Translation Plan

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Search Suspended For Missing Kayaker

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:39

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska State Troopers Want To Recruit In-State Applicants

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

Veterans explore old nuclear missile sites in Anchorage

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kincaid Park was another site.

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

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

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

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

Cox says luckily nothing sparked in the area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Going Green

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banks started the company in the late 90’s.

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

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

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

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

There are a lot of steps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kaltag

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:35

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

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 12, 2014

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:32

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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Outside Money Favors Begich, But He Assails It

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

Attorney’s Respond to State’s Proposed Translation Plan

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

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

Parnell Searching For New Head For Alaska National Guard

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A week after firing the Alaska National Guard’s adjutant general, Gov. Sean Parnell is accepting applications for the leadership post.

Search Suspended For Missing Kayaker

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

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

Alaska State Troopers Want To Recruit In-State Applicants

Thea Card, KDLG – Dillingham

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

Veterans Explore Old Nuclear Missile Sites in Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

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

AK: Going Green

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

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

300 Villages: Kaltag

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

Categories: Alaska News

Proposition 2: To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

Fri, 2014-09-12 12:00

Should Alaska join the other states that have decided to decriminalize marijuana? Proponents argue that it’s already a big business here and bringing it out into the open would allow it to be taxed and provide a source of revenue. Proponents argue it’s too risky and would make our existing substance abuse problems even worse.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Taylor Bickford, political consultant, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Critical Of President’s ISIS Plan

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:33

President Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to defeat the terror group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS. He is calling for airstrikes, as well as for the U.S. to support the Iraqi military and Syrian fighters attacking ISIS on the ground.

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On Capitol Hill, the reaction was split, and not just along party lines. Both of Alaska’s senators were critical of the president’s plan.

Sen. Mark Begich opposes Obama’s proposal to arm Syrian fighters. He says there’s no assurance those weapons won’t some day be pointed at Americans. Begich also says he wants to see other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, step up to fight ISIS.

“We can help bring it together, but at the end of the day we can’t be the lead on this either,” Begich said. “The Arab countries have to be the lead.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was traveling today, but in a written statement last night, she said the nation is still waiting for the president to produce a comprehensive plan. She says Obama must define his terms and explain to Americans what constitutes victory and what benchmarks will measure the progress.

Alaska Congressman Don Young endorsed targeted airstrikes, saying they’ve been proven to help those on the ground defend themselves and also curb the advancement of America’s enemies.

Alaska’s congressional candidates also weighed in on the president’s speech. Begich challenger Dan Sullivan says it was a welcome change from Obama’s previous remarks, which Sullivan describes as underplaying the threat while offering no clear plan. Democrat Forest Dunbar, running against Young, says he also supports air strikes, which he says could help Kurdish and other allied ground forces.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Courthouse Evacuated for Bomb Threat, Nothing Found

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:32

The Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage.

The Anchorage Police Department responded to a bomb threat at the Nesbett Courthouse this afternoon. The courthouse was evacuated around 1 pm and the building was searched. They did not find any devices. Police also evacuated Boney Courthouse and closed a few downtown streets as a precaution. The area was declared safe by 3 pm, though the Nesbett Courthouse remained closed. The investigation is on going and no other information is available at this time.

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Categories: Alaska News

National Guard Sexual Assault Survivor Speaks Out

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:31

A survivor of sexual assault in the military stepped forward Thursday at the urging of an Anchorage women’s political action group.  The survivor’s story provides insight into the atmosphere within the AK National Guard that has led to the recent Office of Complex Investigations censure of the Guard’s response to sexual assault cases and the firing of the head of the state’s National Guard, Major General Thomas Katkus.

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 Melissa Jones was a 27 year old specialist in the Alaska Army National Guard when she says she was raped in her off – base apartment in Anchorage. Jones, speaking by teleconference from her home in Paris, Illinois, relayed a disturbing tale of denial and backpeddling on the part of the military authorities who were supposed to handle her case. Jones had reported the attack to her immediate superior, who told her to tell the unit’s chaplain. Her unit commander then told her he’d have to share her report with her sergeant. So three people knew about the attack. Jones took a week’s leave, then:

 ”When I returned to duty, I found that my rape had become known to many people throughout the National Guard building. I was even confronted by a member of my unit, telling me that he had heard two different stories about what had happened to me. The first story was that people were saying that I was gang-raped by my entire company, the second story was that someone had broken into my apartment and raped me. When I asked him where he had heard these rumors, and he informed me that he had heard the latter from my commander.. our commander. “

The leaked information soon was used as an excuse by the Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator’s office to ignore her claims.

“However, when I took leave and came back, I was denied the opportunity to even talk to their office, because my story had been leaked throughout the entire National Guard and they said that they could no longer talk to me.. or would no longer accept my report.”

 Jones says she is a little unsure of many of the details of the assault, but she does remember the date – January 15, 2007. She had been with a group of National Guard peers at popular local bar, but she says she’s sure someone slipped something into one of her drinks, prior to the assault.  She claims she remembers little of the attack. She says she did not file a report with Anchorage police.

 Two months after Jones failed to get action from her superiors, she was deployed to Iraq for the better part of a year. In mid 2008 she again attempted to pursue reporting her case, but was rebuffed. After that she left Alaska, and resigned her active duty position. And she did not get counseling until 2011, four years after the fact. Jones said she is now getting a discharge from the military because she suffers from PTSD, and major depressive disorder.  She at one time considered suicide.

Jones says at the time of her assault, she believed it was a random event, and that she did not dream that other Guardsmen could have been involved.

“At the time I couldn’t fathom the thought of it being one of my military peers. It wasn’t until after I got reinvolved in this situation in 2013, that I found out how many other victims came after me. And then, of course, my story and their stories were so similar.”

 During her discussion with reporters, She named commanders in the Guard at the time of her assault, her immediate superiors, and their superiors, all of whom, she alleges,  ignored her claims. In response to reporters’ questions, Jones said the Office of Complex Investigations did not contact her for it’s recent report. But last summer, the Secretary of the Army’s Inspector General’s office did contact her.

She says the recent OCI report is a first step, but “other changes need to happen, but at this point it is one step at a time. “

“Several of the other advocates and I have recently requested changes to the current sexual assault policy through the National Guard IG office. We have asked that disciplinary measures be implemented, and enforced, for individuals that breach confidentiality regarding sexual assault victims. There needs to be accountability. Alaska statute 39 -25-900 states that breaches of confidentiality can be charged as a misdemeanor. We ask for nothing less than that.”

 Jones was invited to speak to reporters in Anchorage by the Alaska Women For Political Action, a non- partisan group dedicated to the political awareness of women in Alaska, according to the group’s secretary, Sue Levi. Levi says her group sought Jones out.

“My intention is to advocate for women. Women who have been raped, or battered, because of my background in counseling women who have experienced these traumas. I feel that someone should stand up to them, and get the word out to the public. “

Jones says she became re-involved with the issue when she realized how many other women had been assaulted in the years between 2007 and 2013. She says if she knew then, what she knows now, she would have stepped up to her chain of command more.

Categories: Alaska News

Sheraton workers continue rallying for contracts six years into negotiations

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:30

Labor organizers say they’re ramping up the protest against the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Anchorage, where workers have been in contentious contract negotiations with the Texas-based company since 2009. 

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About 150 people gathered in the rain and held signs reading “Boycott Sheraton” and “Protect Good Anchorage Jobs.” Employees were joined by union members from across the city.

Workers and union members from around the city gathered outside of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Anchorage to protest unfair labor practices.

“If we don’t get a contract,” sang a rally organizer from a bullhorn.

The crowd followed behind and responded, “You don’t get no peace!”

 

Workers at the Sheraton haven’t received a pay increase in six years because of failed negotiations with the hotel management. Their union, Local 878, filed more than 30 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the hotel operator, Remington Lodging & Hospitality. The Board ruled in favor of the union for many of the complaints saying the hotel illegally interrogated some workers, tried to coerce them to leave the union, and illegally fired others.

Local 878 president Marvin Jones says even though judges supported the workers, the employer is still filing appeals. ”And so we can’t win this fight in court. We’re not going to win this fight in court. We’re going to win this fight by the community supporting Anchorage workers.”

Gina Tubman is a server at the Sheraton and attended the rally. She was emotional when she discussed being illegally fired for passing out flyers about the boycott in 2010.

“It was very hard because that was my only job,” she said, her voice catching.

Tubman returned to the Sheraton after a court order required the hotel to rehire her. She says she went back because after working there for 13 years, her co-workers were her family. But she says it’s scary.

“It kind of, like, put me in an uncomfortable position, knowing that what they did to me after being loyal to them for many, many years, and it could happen again. So, it’s hard.”

Management at the Anchorage Sheraton declined to comment. Their parent company, Remington Hospitality, did not respond to requests for comment either.

Categories: Alaska News

Extra-Tropical System Makes Way Up Alaska’s Southwest Coast

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:29

The storm system making its way up the southwestern coast of Alaska is bringing rain and high winds.

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This is a large weather front. Very large.

“It is just such a massive system. It is releasing a lot of energy,” Michael Lawson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said. He says after this has moved through, there are only a few places in Alaska that won’t have felt its effects.

“By the time it reaches its peak intensity, it will encompass most of the Bering Sea and the frontal boundary that’s associated with it will stretch all the way up into the Brooks Range and then down south over the Southcentral,” Lawson said.

Lawson as the frontal boundaries push up against the northern gulf, a mass of air gets pushed up against the coastal mountains and has nowhere to go. It gets forced into places like Turnagain Arm and Portage Valley.

“As this air gets funneled through these gaps, there’s a lot of pressure built up on the Prince William Sound side and it’s got to relieve itself in some way,” Lawson said. “So, the air gets accelerated through these channels and can manifest itself in very, very strong winds. That’s likely the situation we’re looking at here.”

Lawson says the Turnagain Arm area can expect to see sustained winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour with gusts of 60 to 80 miles per hour over the next few days.

The heaviest rains are expected to fall in the Seward and Cordova areas, with three to six inches projected along the eastern peninsula and north gulf coast through Saturday.

“With the strong southeasterly winds that are going to be the main force behind the wind in Turnagain Arm, the mountains are going to block a lot of that moisture for the Anchorage area and the Western Kenai Peninsula,” Lawson said. “The majority of it is going to be condensed out on the eastern Kenai mountain side.”

Lawson says as of Thursday afternoon, the system was gaining intensity near the Western Aleutians.

Jason Ahsenmacher is the meteorologist who covers the more western regions. Although it’s massive, he says this extra-tropical system isn’t too out of the ordinary. It’s just the first big storm of the season.

“It’s like anything, whether it’s the first snowfall in Anchorage or whatever,” Ahsenmacher said. “There’s always that shock to the system type of thing that you get when you have the first of anything.”

“So, I think that’s why we’re really trying to get the word out, especially for the local communities along the Bristol Bay coast and into the Kuskokwim delta.”

Ahsenmacher says there will be strong winds along the southwest coast of the mainland from Bristol Bay to the Kuskokwim delta.

“They’re going to be looking at max gale force winds,” Ahsenmacher said. “So, winds along the coastline will be gale force of 45 knots and then inland, we might be seeing some gusts as high as 60 – 65 miles per hour. So, this is going to be a pretty big impact for not only small craft boaters, like in Bristol Bay, it’s going to be quite windy across the mainland as well. So, that’s going to be an impact for hunters and people who are out recreating.”

Over the next couple of days, the system will cover the entire Bering Sea. As it develops along the Aleutians over the next 24 hours, Ahsenmacher says the central and eastern chain can expect heavy rain.

“Areas like Atka, Adak, through Dutch Harbor, that’s going to be where the bigger impact is,” Ahsenmacher said. “We’re looking at the potential for 75 mile per hour winds across Adak and Atka and possibly 75 mile per hour winds across Dutch Harbor as well.”

While coastal Alaska does get pummeled by storms every fall, this is definitely a large one. Over the next few days, residents should take precautions if they plan to recreate, hunt, or fish in affected areas.

Categories: Alaska News

Testimony Begins In Unalaska Murder Trial

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:28

Testimony began Wednesday in Unalaska in the trial of two men accused of beating a coworker to death outside a bunkhouse in 2012.

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Leonardo Bongolto, Jr., 36, and Denison Soria, 42, are charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the death of 55-year-old Jonathan Adams in Feb. 2012.

The three men were seafood processors at Bering Fisheries at the time, living in bunkhouses on Gilman Road.

A 15-person jury heard opening arguments at Unalaska’s courthouse Wednesday morning. State prosecutor James Fayette argued that Bongolto and Soria woke Adams up to start a fight over “petty bunkhouse things.” Fayette said it turned into a “beating” that left Adams dead.

Fayette’s main witness also began her testimony Wednesday. Twenty-five-year-old Morgann Machalek called police about the fight back in Feb. 2012.

Machalek described Bongolto as the “primary aggressor.” She said she saw Bongolto knock Adams out with a punch on the steps of his bunkhouse, then kick him again once he was down.

Machalek said Adams was facedown on the stairs with his neck at an odd angle as she called police. Adams was pronounced dead at the local clinic a short time later.

Machalek was on the verge of tears for most of her testimony on Wednesday. It’ll continue Thursday — Fayette plans to have her show how the fight happened with live volunteers in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that the two men didn’t mean to cause Adams’ death, as the charges allege. Soria’s attorney, Paul Maslakowski, says Adams instigated what was a common fistfight between three men who’d been drinking.

Bongolto’s attorney, James Ferguson, called Adams’ death an accident.

“Getting in a fight where someone died and that’s not what you wanted — that’s an unfortunate tragedy,” Ferguson said in his opening statement.

The jury also heard testimony from the police dispatcher who answered Machalek’s call. They heard audio of that call, and saw pictures of Adams’ injuries and the bunkhouse where the fight took place.

Interpreters were on hand to translate the proceedings for Bongolto and Soria. The two men didn’t speak, but appeared slightly emotional as testimony wound down.

The jury will also hear from the medical examiner as the trial continues this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Statistics Show Downward Trend In Alaska Drug Arrests

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:27

Graphs from the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center. Click to see the entire fact sheet.

Arrest totals in Alaska appear to be going down. A study by the Alaska Justice Center shows that trend holds true with drug arrests specifically.

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Between 2000 and 2012, the total number of arrests in Alaska declined nearly 15 percent.

In that time span, juvenile arrests decreased by more than half. Brad Myrstol is the director of the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center. He says drug-related juvenile arrests went down around 25 percent, but the types of drugs involved appears to be changing.

“The proportion of juvenile drug arrests for marijuana have increased notably in recent years,” Myrstol said. “Meanwhile, the proportion of juvenile drug arrests for narcotics have dropped off quite precipitously.”

Though drug offense arrests for adults have decreased as well, Myrstol says the statistics paint a different picture for adults.

“In general, the trend for adults is that adult drug offense arrests for marijuana are on the decline, and adult drug offense arrests for narcotics have been stable,” Myrstol said.

Regardless of whether the arrests involve an adult or a juvenile, one fact remains the same — the vast majority of those arrests are for possession. And that is something Myrstol says is important to understand.

“There’s, I think, an inherent assumption oftentimes that what we’re talking about is the sale, manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs,” Myrstol said.

But that’s just not the case. Over the past decade, about 26 percent of drug-related crimes for adults and around 15 percent of juvenile drug arrests involved the sale, manufacture and distribution of drugs.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Remains Part of ‘Battle for Seattle’ Between Delta, Alaska

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:26

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

Delta Air Lines ended their summer run between Juneau and Seattle on August 31. An airline official says the season went well, and Delta will be back next year.

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This summer was the first time in almost 20 years when Alaska Airlines did not have a monopoly in Juneau.

In the months leading up to Delta’s May 30 arrival, roundtrip airfare between Juneau and Seattle went down slightly from its typical $500 range.

As the date got closer, travel analyst Scott McMurren says the price dropped to $244.

“And Delta held the line on that price all the way through this summer. Alaska, for competitive service, came down and occasionally would touch that level on competing flights, but they were by no means steady at that price,” McMurren says.

In the summer, Alaska has five nonstop flights between Juneau and Seattle. Delta only has one. Even with the competition, McMurren says Alaska’s flights continued to do well, “which is why the fare floated up. Delta’s flights had plenty of room, which is why the fares stayed flat.”

Data from Juneau International Airport show about 3,700 people boarded a Delta flight in Juneau during August. That means, on average, there were less than 120 people on each Boeing 757 Delta flight, which can seat 180.

Delta’s Seattle vice president Mike Medeiros says he’s happy with Delta’s season in Juneau.

“We were very pleased with the loads, particularly in light of the fact that it’s a new and emerging market for Delta,” Medeiros says.

This summer, Delta added a seasonal flight between Fairbanks and Seattle. It’s also offering year-round service between Anchorage and Seattle. All of this is part of Delta’s larger plan toexpand in Seattle.

“The state of Alaska is an important piece to our success for this global gateway. And so we had plans and it actually worked very well to connect people from Juneau into Seattle and beyond,” Medeiros says.

This time last year, Delta had 33 daily departures out of Seattle. Now, there’s 86. By the end of the year, Medeiros says it’ll be up to 95.

“All we’re doing is creating a hub in Seattle. It happens to be where Alaska has its headquarters and that they’re a partner,” Medeiros says.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s summer was busy. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Juneau Airport show its flights out of Juneau were fuller than last year.

In Seattle, Alaska has about 270 daily departures. Marilyn Romano is Alaska’s regional vice president.

“Just in the last few weeks, we’ve added nonstop service out of Seattle to New Orleans, Detroit, Tampa. We’ve really grown a nice amount of traffic and business in and out of Salt Lake City,” Romano says.

McMurren says Alaska moving into Salt Lake City, Delta’s primary hub west of the Rockies, is Alaska’s way of fighting back in what he calls a “battle for Seattle.”

Who’s winning? McMurren says, the traveler is. He says Delta returning to Juneau next year is good news, since it’ll once again mean lower airfares.

But, if Delta and Alaska ever do make peace, McMurren says Juneau could go back to being a one airline city.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 11, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:18

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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Alaska Delegation Critical Of President’s ISIS Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to defeat the terror group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS. He is calling for airstrikes, as well as for the U.S. to support the Iraqi military and Syrian fighters attacking ISIS on the ground.

Anchorage Courthouse Evacuated for Bomb Threat, Nothing Found

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Police Department responded to a bomb threat at the Nesbett Courthouse this afternoon. The courthouse was evacuated around 1 p.m. and the building was searched. They did not find anything.

Alaska National Guard Sexual Assault Victim Steps Forward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A survivor of sexual assault in the military stepped forward Thursday at the urging of an Anchorage women’s political action group. The survivor’s story provides insight into the atmosphere within the Alaska National Guard that has led to the recent Office of Complex Investigations censure of the Guard’s response to sexual assault cases and the firing of the head of the state’s National Guard, Major General Thomas Katkus.

Sheraton Workers Continue Rallying For Contracts 6 Years Into Negotiations

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Labor organizers say they’re ramping up the protest against the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Anchorage – workers have been in contentious contract negotiations with the Texas-based company since 2009.

Extra-Tropical System Makes Way Up Alaska’s Southwest Coast

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The storm system making its way up the southwestern coast of Alaska is bringing rain and high winds.

Marijuana Coalition To Court Conservative Voters Despite GOP Opposition To Measure

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

This spring, the Alaska Republican Party came out against an initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. Now, some conservatives are declaring their support for Proposition 2.

Testimony Begins In Unalaska Murder Trial

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Testimony began Wednesday in Unalaska in the trial of two men accused of beating a coworker to death outside a bunkhouse in 2012.

Statistics Show Downward Trend In Alaska Drug Arrests

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Arrest totals in Alaska appear to be going down. A study by the Alaska Justice Center shows that trend holds true with drug arrests specifically.

Juneau Remains Part of ‘Battle for Seattle’ Between Delta, Alaska

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Delta Air Lines ended their summer run between Juneau and Seattle on August 31. An airline official says the season went well, and Delta will be back next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Coalition To Court Conservative Voters Despite GOP Opposition To Measure

Wed, 2014-09-10 22:09

This spring, the Alaska Republican Party came out against an initiative that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. Now, some conservatives are formally declaring their support for Proposition 2, without the backing of the party’s official organizations. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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The conservative coalition was introduced in the lobby of the initiative’s public relations firm, and reporters outnumbered the outreach team’s three members. There was Bruce Schulte, a district chair for the party; Dani Bickford, a former officer of the Anchorage Young Republicans who is now working on the marijuana campaign. And then there was talk radio host Eddie Burke, who characterized it as an issue that would resonate with the Tea Party.

“When you start breaking down those liberty and freedom issues, that’s when people understand it’s nothing to do with smoking or not smoking or whether you’re going to use it or not use it,” says Burke. “It has to do with government making decisions for you that they shouldn’t.”

Polls show the marijuana initiative appeals more to voters on the left side of the spectrum. A survey completed this spring by Dittman research found that 83 percent of “very liberal” voters support the marijuana initiative, while just 22 percent of “very conservative” respondents would vote for it.

But no ballot measure campaign ever wants to be branded as partisan. Take, for example, the recent oil tax referendum: Both sides insisted they appealed to people across the political spectrum, even if polling suggested that a person’s position on the issue was likely to correlate with their ideology. Republican and Democratic lawmakers vocally made cases for it, against it, every which way really, and – in one case – did advertising spots with their respective rivals across the aisle.

Now, we’re seeing the same thing happen with the marijuana initiative. Only, the pro-side is running into a little more trouble with that than the antis. Hardly any elected officials have taken public stances in support of the marijuana initiative – there’s Democratic congressional candidate Forrest Dunbar and Democratic state legislator David Guttenberg, and that’s about it. No Republicans running for office have explicitly said they’ll vote for the initiative. Congressman Don Young has come closest to offering support, describing it as an issue best left to the states and supporting legislation in that vein.

Conservative cannabis coalition member Bruce Schulte thinks that’s because there’s a stigma attached favoring marijuana legalization.

“I think it would be hard for any legislator to come out on behalf of an activity which is, in fact, illegal,” says Schulte.

The Alaska Republican Party has also taken a stand against the initiative to allow the sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21 and tax growers $50 per ounce. At their annual convention in May, 75 percent of delegates voted for a resolution opposing Proposition 2.

Schulte was one of the people who spoke against the resolution, arguing that legalizing marijuana encouraged smaller government.

“You know, there’s good people that went to that convention,” Schulte sighs. “They have their own reasons for opposing Prop 2 – I happen to disagree with them. I will work side by side with those same folks on other issues and other campaigns, but on this one, I disagree with them.”

Party chair Peter Goldberg says the party’s position on the marijuana measure is firm, but he understands there’s some diversity of opinion among Republicans.

“There’s some Republicans who feel it should be legalized, and that’s fine,” says Goldberg. “But as a party, and individually, I feel it should be more difficult to get marijuana.”

The initiative opposition group Big Marijuana Big Mistake has a number of high-profile Republicans backing it, like former Gov. Frank Murkowski who co-hosted a fundraiser on the group’s behalf.

Kristina Woolston, a spokesperson for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, believes her group has a stronger claim to having more conservative support.

“The Alaska League of Republican Women voted [on Tuesday] to support the No on 2 campaign, and they also made a financial contribution,” says Woolston. “The Republican Party has supported [us], and also Republican candidates have also lined up to support the No on 2 campaign.”

Woolston also points to support from Democrats, like former Gov. Bill Sheffield and Deborah Williams, who previously directed the Alaska Democratic Party.

As for the party itself, it’s avoided entering the marijuana debate. The Democrats didn’t consider a resolution on that proposition at their convention, even though they weighed in on other measures.

While the marijuana initiative hasn’t gotten much public support from the state’s elected leaders, the few public polls done on the question show a tight race with most giving the initiative the edge.

So, why might that be? Pollster Marc Hellenthal thinks the marijuana measure could be susceptible to something known as a “social desirability bias,” where people publicly take a position they think matches the social norms even though they might vote the other way. That could be especially true for officeholders.

“Public figures don’t want to get branded as a druggie,” says Hellenthal. “So, they’re somewhat reluctant to lend their name, even though they may be very supportive.”

Of course, the only way to find out if the public sentiment matches the private one is to wait for the election returns on Nov. 4.

Categories: Alaska News

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