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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: 19 min 15 sec ago

Not All Happy With Fish Board Decisions

Mon, 2014-02-17 17:03

The state’s fisheries board wrapped up two weeks of meetings on Upper Cook Inlet commercial and sports fisheries late last week. And the dust is settling around the various user groups who have stakes in the fisheries.

This session, management changes were approved for Kenai River early and late king runs, and for the central district sockeye management plan.

Supporters of the changes say that the new regulations are expected to allow more salmon, kings, and coho, specifically, to pass through the inlet into the northern district and into the river drainages of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Larry Engle is with the borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But those opposed to the changes say that commercial driftnetters and setnetters will be hurt, and that they have suffered a disproportionate hit in fishing time and area.

Paul Dale, president of the Kenai-based Alaska Salmon Alliance (ASA), said commercial fishers have taken a significant allocation shift, and ASA has issued a statement questioning the efficacy of the board process.

The board’s actions move the drift fleet to areas nearer to the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers and their rich sockeye runs, allowing northern-bound sockeye and coho to get by drift fleet nets.

But opponents of that plan say the board did not stand up to the recreational fishing lobby, and they claim many of the problems in the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries come from in-river sports and dipnet fishing, because the population of the Anchorage and Mat Su areas has grown over the past decade, and so has the pressure on Cook Inlet salmon stocks.

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Categories: Alaska News

New Geese Habitat Emerging on North Slope

Mon, 2014-02-17 17:01

Brants molting on Teshekpuk. Photo by Tyler Lewis USGS.

For animals that live on Arctic ice, like polar bears and walruses, rising sea temperatures usually mean a disappearing home.

But John Pearce, a biologist for the US Geological Survey in Anchorage, says that’s not always the case.

“We really don’t know how all the different species of wildlife are gonna respond to changes in the Arctic as a result of warming climates and diminishing sea ice, but folks often say there’s likely going to be winners and losers,” Pearce said.

The winners in this round: black brant geese. They spend their winters on the Pacific Coast and in the Aleutian Islands, and summer in the high Arctic.

On the North Slope, the brant frequents inland waters like Teshekpuk Lake, which feeds a wetlands system in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

A year ago, the Bureau of Land Management put together its first-ever unified plan for managing both wildlife and resources in the petroleum reserve. They drew a line around the Teshekpuk area and closed most of it to oil and gas development.

Some of it is technically open, but the BLM wouldn’t lease it without extra consideration for the waterfowl and caribou that live there.

In the meantime, the US Geological Survey is watching to see how animals are using the wetlands. And John Pearce, their biologist, says he’s noticed changes.

Black brant are now flocking to a part of the Teshekpuk area where there didn’t use to be food for them. That’s changing as sea ice melts off and saltwater creeps further inland.

“And that’s causing more coastal flooding of these low-lying habitats and killing off the plants that are more used to fresh water and creating environments where salt water-loving plants can grow,” Pearce said.

Those environments are new coastal salt marshes, full of plants that the geese like to eat. The plants are growing faster than the black brant can crop them, meaning other species of goose and Arctic shorebird are also moving into the new marshes.

These areas used to be home to caribou. Pearce says there’s more than enough fresh water and grazing habitat for them further inland on the Teshekpuk parcel.

And there’s more than enough new marsh for the birds along the coastline. Pearce says they haven’t filled it all up yet. Right now, many of the geese are staying at Teshekpuk Lake like they always have, or splitting their time between the lake and the coast.

It’s not clear what’ll happen next. Pearce aid that he and other biologists have a lot of questions going forward:

“If the storm surges continue to come inland, are these areas just going to be permanently flooded? Or as the permafrost continues to thaw underneath these habitats, are they going to sort of sink out of reach of the brant? And is there sort of a march of this habitat inland, or do we reach a point at which it can’t extend any further inland?”

All those dynamics — short and long-term — are important to the Bureau of Land Management. They need data about where wildlife are, and where they’re going, to make decisions about where’s safe to drill and build.

Stacy MacIntosh is the acting manager of the BLM’s Arctic field office, based in Fairbanks. She says they can’t draw any major conclusions from the new information just yet.

But MacIntosh said she is taking it as a good sign that melting sea ice off the North Slope is creating habitat for a change.

“There was an unsurety as to what climate change may be doing to this area, whether or not it was going to respond positively or negatively,” MacIntosh said.

One thing is sure — oil and gas leasing around Teshekpuk is never going to be popular with conservation groups, which have so far kept it undeveloped. The closest it’s come was in 2006, when the Bush administration tried to open it for sale and lost the case to the Audubon Society and others in federal appeals court.

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Categories: Alaska News

John Kerry Creating Arctic Ambassador Position

Fri, 2014-02-14 18:39

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is creating a new Arctic ambassador position.

In a letter to Sen. Mark Begich, Kerry says he will appoint a person of high stature to serve as “Special Representative for the Arctic Region” in order to elevate U.S. attention on the far North.

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Both Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski have pressed the administration to create the role. Begich says most of the Arctic countries already have ambassador-level diplomats pressing their national interests at the Arctic Council. Earlier this week, Sen. Murkowski criticized the Administration’s approach to the Arctic. In a letter to President Obama, she called a recent White House implementation plan “unambitious” and said its emphasis on research seems aimed at conservation to the exclusion of resource development.

She says today’s news is a step in the right direction but she nonetheless calls the Administration’s efforts to seize Arctic opportunities “lackluster” and “a national embarrassment.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fuel Spilled In Dalton Highway Tanker Truck Rollover

Fri, 2014-02-14 18:38

A tanker truck rollover on the Dalton Highway near Deadhorse resulted in a substantial fuel spill. More than 2,100 gallons of diesel leaked from the tanker following Tuesday’s accident near mile 309 of the Haul Road.

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Categories: Alaska News

Former Alaska Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich Dies

Fri, 2014-02-14 18:38

Former territorial governor Mike Stepovich died early this morning, after being injured in a fall. Stepovich served as governor in the late 1950s and was a major advocate for Alaska statehood. He was 94 when he died. Stepovich was born into a Fairbanks mining family.

Alaska Edition host and Anchorage Daily News columnist Michael Carey was a teenager when Stepovich was Governor. He says Stepovich was a strikingly handsome man who was Governor at at critical time in Alaska history.

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Categories: Alaska News

Former Juneau Olympian Reflects On Experiences

Fri, 2014-02-14 18:38

For the first time in Olympic alpine skiing history, two gold medals have been awarded in an event.

Swiss skier Dominique Gisin and Tina Maze, of Slovenia, tied for the women’s downhill at the Sochi Olympics. Each woman skied the course in 1:41.57. The bronze went to Lara Gut of Switzerland.

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The Olympics continue through February 23rd on NBC television and online.

A former downhill Olympian – Juneau’s Hilary Lindh – has been watching the games and recalling some of her experiences.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Get Answers For Interior LNG Questions

Fri, 2014-02-14 18:38

Legislators got an update on the partially state financed North Slope to Fairbanks natural gas trucking project this week. The state is working with private company MWH to build a $185 million gas processing plant on the North Slope to feed tanker trucks that will move LNG to Fairbanks. The goal of the Interior Energy Project is to deliver first gas by late 2015, at a consumer cost equivalent of about half the price of fuel oil, but many questions remain about how the project will play out.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 14, 2014

Fri, 2014-02-14 17:53

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

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John Kerry Creating Arctic Ambassador Position

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is creating a new Arctic ambassador position.

In a letter to Sen. Mark Begich, Kerry says he will appoint a person of high stature to serve as “Special Representative for the Arctic Region” in order to elevate U.S. attention on the far North.

Both Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski have pressed the administration to create the role. Begich says most of the Arctic countries already have ambassador-level diplomats pressing their national interests at the Arctic Council.  Earlier this week, Sen. Murkowski criticized the Administration’s approach to the Arctic. In a letter to President Obama, she called a recent White House implementation plan “unambitious” and said its emphasis on research seems aimed at conservation to the exclusion of resource development.

She says today’s news is a step in the right direction but she nonetheless calls the Administration’s efforts to seize Arctic opportunities “lackluster” and  “a national embarrassment.”

Fuel Spilled In Dalton Highway Tanker Truck Rollover

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A tanker truck rollover on the Dalton Highway near Deadhorse resulted in a substantial fuel spill. More than 2,100 gallons of diesel leaked from the tanker following Tuesday’s accident near mile 309 of the Haul Road.

Former Alaska Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich Dies

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau & Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Former territorial governor Mike Stepovich died early this morning, after being injured in a fall. Stepovich served as governor in the late 1950s and was a major advocate for Alaska statehood. He was 94 when he died. Stepovich was born into a Fairbanks mining family.

Alaska Edition host and Anchorage Daily News columnist Michael Carey was a teenager when Stepovich was Governor. He says Stepovich was a strikingly handsome man who was Governor at at critical time in Alaska history.

Legislators Get Answers For Interior LNG Questions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Legislators got an update on the partially state financed North Slope to Fairbanks natural gas trucking project this week. The state is working with private company MWH to build a $185 million gas processing plant on the North Slope to feed tanker trucks that will move LNG to Fairbanks. The goal of the Interior Energy Project is to deliver first gas by late 2015, at a consumer cost equivalent of about half the price of fuel oil, but many questions remain about how the project will play out.

APD Policies Now Online

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

After 10 high profile officer-involved shootings over two years, the Anchorage Police Department has made their use-of-force policy public. Police Chief Mark Mew made the announcement Thursday night in response to a recommendation from the Anchorage Community Relation’s Task Force.

Former Juneau Olympian Reflects On Experiences

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

For the first time in Olympic alpine skiing history, two gold medals have been awarded in an event.

Swiss skier Dominique Gisin and Tina Maze, of Slovenia, tied for the women’s downhill at the Sochi Olympics. Each woman skied the course in 1:41.57.  The bronze went to Lara Gut of Switzerland.

The Olympics continue through February 23rd on NBC television and online.

A former downhill Olympian – Juneau’s Hilary Lindh – has been watching the games and recalling some of her experiences.

AK: Cooking

Ariel Van Cleave, KBBI – Homer

Homer’s youth resource and enrichment co-op, known locally as “The R.E.C. Room,” is giving teens a taste of what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen. The after school program has been holding FORK Club Cooking Classes for the last few months providing kids tips on using healthy, local ingredients. It falls in line with the program’s core mission of empowering teens through health education. Organizers hope the classes will be a gateway to a job, or at least a way to help put dinner on the table for their families.

300 Villages: Little Tutka Bay

This week we’re heading to Little Tutka Bay, a small community across the Kachemak Bay from Homer, with some amazing scuba diving. Rick Harness owns a tourism business called Seaside Adventure in Little Tutka Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

APD Policies Now Online

Fri, 2014-02-14 17:26

The Anchorage Community Relation’s Task Force met with the public at Clark Middle School in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage on Thursday evening. That night, the Anchorage Police Department released their “Use of Force” policy along with a myriad of other policies in a 600-page document. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

After 10 high profile officer-involved shootings over two years, the Anchorage Police Department has made their use-of-force policy public.

Police Chief Mark Mew made the announcement Thursday night in response to a recommendation from the Anchorage Community Relation’s Task Force.

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Mayor Dan Sullivan requested the task force’s help after the string of officer-involved shootings, including one where a man wielding a stick was shot by an officer. Sullivan says the review is important.

“It’s important for us to communicate with the community why certain things happen, what the procedures are and also to be flexible and if there are changes that need to be made,” Sullivan said. “If in some cases, we’re too quick in using deadly force or in some cases the opposite, we want to be flexible enough as a department to adjust those policies and procedures and adjust our training accordingly.”

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The forum on police use-of-force procedures signals the end of two years of review by the U.S. Department of Justice and Anchorage community leaders, which included community meetings, review of APD policy by the task force a University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center study looking at 45 shootings over the past 20 years. APD released their use-of-force policy Thursday along with their entire policy manual. Police Chief Mark Mew says it just makes sense.

“The more we dug into it, the more we worked with community groups, the more we started asking ourselves, instead of just always trying to explain a policy that we don’t show people, why don’t we just show people the policy,” Mew said.

The task force made seven recommendations, including making the policy public. Mew says some tactical information will remain off limits, but the release of the department’s policies is a shift toward more transparency.

Since 2012, Rosa Melendez, the Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Justice community relations service in Seattle has been working with the police and community. She says APD’s policy release shows progress.

“And the fact that they’re not only putting the use-of-force policy up there but the entire manual is huge,” Melendez said. “It’s a huge leap of faith for the police department and I think it speaks volumes about the task force and the police department, the trust that they’ve gained with each other.”

The task force also recommends equipping every officer with a taser, standardizing reporting of use-of-force reports and making regular reports to the task force and the public. The task force also recommended that citizens do their part by attending APD’s Citizen’s Academy to better understand why police behave as they do and continuing to engage APD in meaningful discussions. Reverend, Doctor William Green who led the task force says he worries about the low turnout to Thursday’s event.

“You got to involve yourself in the community,” Green said. “Not wait until a crisis comes and everybody wants to picket and everybody wants to get upset. Alright. To prevent these kind of things, we have to participate.”

And Green says one way they can do that is by showing up at noon at the Fairview Rec Center, the second Friday of the month. He says that when the Anchorage Community Relations Task Force will continue to meet.

The use of force policy, along with the entire 600-page APD policy manual is now available on the department’s website.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Little Tutka Bay

Fri, 2014-02-14 16:14

This week we’re heading to Little Tutka Bay, a small community across the Kachemak Bay from Homer. Rick Harness owns a tourism business called Seaside Adventure; Rick is also a scuba diver.

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“My name is Rick Harness, I live in Little Tutka Bay. I have an ecotour business so I take tourists out to play with the wildlife, explore the bays and islands and the dunes.

Most people come over by boat, some people come over by floatplane…. People in our area travel mostly by skiffs, rowboats and kayaks – kayaks are more and more popular as time goes and you’ll see more people traveling that way. We’ve been doing our kayaking business for a few decades now and it’s just our way of life.

In the summertime we have one of the richest plankton counts that you’ll find anywhere. As the spring progresses the waters turn green and greener. But on the shoulder side of season the water clears up and it’s amazing, amazing. It’s like taking a jungle walk with all the kelps and the kelp forest under there and it has such a diverse marine life. Every once in awhile something will be shadowed off to one side of you and pretty soon you find out there’s an otter that’s curious enough to check out out. And I’ve had sea lions come right up to my facemask and stare me down – it’s fun, but quite unnerving. It’s an amazing activity to do because the world above is so rich, but down below is even richer yet.

Everybody that comes to visit says it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever visited – so that says a lot.”

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Cooking

Fri, 2014-02-14 15:56

Homer’s youth resource and enrichment co-op, known locally as “The R.E.C. Room,” is giving teens a taste of what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen.

The after school youth-outreach program has been holding FORK Club Cooking Classes for the last few months providing kids tips on using healthy, local ingredients.

Download Audio

It falls in line with the program’s core mission of empowering teens through health education. Organizers hope the classes will be a gateway to a job, or at least a way to help put dinner on the table for their families.

A group of seven kids is paying close attention to Megan Palma as she starts explaining the best way to cut a tomato. They’re standing around a covered pool table at the Alibi in downtown Homer, which is serving as a make-shift classroom for the evening. Megan is owner of Alibi a la Carte. She said having students come work with her was a natural pairing since she’s an advisor for the REC Room. She and her pupils are doing the prep work for the restaurant’s halibut tacos.

“I tried to pick an item that would taste good, be healthy and be fairly easy. And I wanted them to see, as much as possible, from start to finish,” she said.

Megan was focused on safety. She was surrounded by a small group of 12 to 15 year olds who probably don’t interact with kitchen knives on a daily basis like she does. But her students are handling themselves well. At least until they got to the onions.

Ultimately, everyone was able to fight through their watering eyes and move on to the fresh lime juice and garlic. Finally Megan talked cilantro.

But this is only the prep work for the main event. Megan took the kids into the kitchen two-by-two to pan-sear the halibut and warm up tortillas. Danielle Couch and Ian Brant were first up.

In no time at all, the halibut is cooked to perfection and Danielle and Ian were both headed back to their prep areas. They added the guacamole, pico de gallo, red cabbage and Megan’s Baja sauce.

It’s safe to say Danielle’s favorite part of the evening was eating the taco. Ian had a different take.

“I thought the salsa was pretty good. And especially the avocado because you could actually put your hands in and start to mix it; it got all messy,” he said.

Ian also mentioned he thought he did a nice job with the knife considering he’s only just starting out. And he said while he doesn’t see cooking as his future profession, he wouldn’t mind making it his passion.

“I always tell my mom I want the third-biggest room in my house to be the kitchen because I like to cook; then my bedroom, then the living room. I don’t want it to be my job, but I want it to be my second hobby, I guess,” he said.

Both Ian and Danielle said they’d like to see more kids show up for the next class because they had so much fun. And Megan had a good experience, too. She said she’s happy with everyone’s performance, especially when you take their ages into account.

“At first they were a little squirrely, but… I was amazed at how quickly their skills developed just in one day,” she said.

Megan said she also likes the fact that her students learned and completed a recipe from start to finish.

“Even if they do cook at home, they’re still just assembling already prepared food. So I think it’s nice for them to see as much as we could do it in two hours,” she said.

And I have to say, after watching these kids make the prep work look so easy, I’m not sure what my excuse is for not doing this more often at home.

Categories: Alaska News

Cook Inlet Fishing Rule Changes

Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

The state’s fish board has passed some new rules for commercial salmon fishers in Cook Inlet, but will the rules help salmon conservation in times of declining runs?

HOST: Ellen LockyerAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Mac Minard,  biologist and fisheries consultant with Mat-Su Borough
  • Jim Colver,  Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman
  • 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, February 18, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Herron Cited Again for Ethics Breach

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:06

Representative Bob Herron, a Bethel democrat, received a second ethics citation tied to his co-ownership of a school bus company.

Joyce Anderson is the administrator for the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. She says the committee received a complaint about Herron’s participation in a vote on Senate Bill 57, in April 2013.

Representative Bob Herron.

“It was regarding the per-pupil rate for transportation, set by the state,” Anderson says. “And then, the funding for transportation comes from state funds.”

Senate Bill 57 says that the state has to adjust its school bus rates every year to keep up with inflation.

Herron co-owns Golden Eagle Unlimited, LLC. The company has a contract with the state of Alaska to provide school bus service in the Bethel area.

When the bill came up, Herron voted for it without stating a conflict of interest.

According to statute, legislators aren’t allowed to vote if they have a substantial financial interest in the matter at hand. If they do, they are supposed to rescind their vote and declare a conflict of interest.

The Ethics Committee started investigating this complaint in November 2013 — right around the time they decided to cite Herron for failing to report his school bus contracts on state financial disclosures.

Anderson says that for this investigation, the Ethics Committee tried to determine how much of a stake Herron had in the legislation.

“And the committee felt that because the school bus contract was $930,000 in 2012, and for the 2013 contract, it was over a million [dollars], they felt that he did have a substantial conflict of interest,” Anderson says.

The state is currently playing Golden Eagle Unlimited $1.5 million annually for school bus service.

The Ethics Committee did not levy a fine against Herron for this violation, and they recommend no corrective action. In an email to KUCB, Herron wrote that he should have rescinded his vote.

“All through this ‘investigation,’ I said it was not intentional but there is no excuse,” Herron wrote.

Herron was previously fined $5,000 by the Ethics Committee and about $7,500 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for omitting Golden Eagle Unlimited contracts from his financial disclosures.

Categories: Alaska News

Black Tar Heroin And Marijuana Seized In Bethel

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:02

This week’s drug-related arrests came after a several-month-long investigation involving the work of a confidential informant. It led to seizures of heroin, pot, and the arrest of an alleged bootlegger who bought over 1,500 bottles of whiskey.

The first arrest came Sunday evening, when Bethel police pulled over a vehicle with 52-year-old Andre Williams Senior in the passenger’s seat. They quickly found a glass jar with foil packets of black tar heroin. After searching the car, they seized 33 grams of heroin and 2,370 dollars cash. The street value of the heroin could be 33,000 dollars.

A second heroin related arrest came Tuesday. Troopers went to the home of Kevin Cockroft, 57, and through a window, saw him grabbing a yellow candy container and running back to the rear of the house. They say that container had 8 “niffs” of heroin, each about a tenth of a gram. That package was later found in a honeybucket. They also found a rock of heroin in the fridge.

The investigation came with help of an informant, known only as N1008, who had been involved in shipping alcohol to a local option community. The suspect agreed to help law enforcement identify drug dealers in Bethel. An informant had bought small amounts of marijuana twice at Cockroft’s house.

The informant led law enforcement to evidence alleging that Gabriel Baker, 42, sold marijuana and whiskey out of his home. Troopers say the informant made 3 buys from Baker, each around a tenth of an ounce of marijuana for $100. The informant also bought a bottle of R&R Whiskey for $50. Troopers says Baker bought a total of 1,560 bottles of whiskey, spending more than 21,000 dollars. Selling at 50 dollars a bottle yields 78,000 dollars.

The informant made at least five buys of marijuana and hashish from Christopher Hickman over the past couple months, according to court documents. On Tuesday, law enforcement went to his wife Lorraine Hickman’s apartment and truck, seizing more than 13 ounces of marijuana, 1,400 dollars cash, and drug selling paraphernalia like scales and baggies. A police affidavit says that Lorraine was present at some of the buys and handed Christopher tin foil.

Another defendant, Matthew Hickman Jr, 21, traveled to Phoenix Arizona in violation of his release conditions and spoke on the phone to Richard Hickman, a co-defendant in another case.

Five of the defendants were arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Bethel. The court entered not guilty pleas on behalf of them, before they had a chance to speak with their public defenders or outside counsel.

Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Courts

Fri, 2014-02-14 10:00

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty.

The state’s law department deals with a wide range of legal matters but this week’s show focuses on tribal courts and what the future may look like for court proceedings in rural Alaska. Earlier this week the Senate Indian Affairs Committee reviewed the Indian Law and Order Commission report. It paints a bleak picture for Native communities, saying the high rates of crime in Native communities is a “National Disgrace and a National Problem” and calls for more authority for tribal justice systems, saying in part that the state and fed government should strengthen rather than degrade tribal sovereignty.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

    • Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, February 14 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, February 15 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, February 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 15 at 4:30 PM.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Alaska Edition updates automatically — via e-mailRSS or podcasts

ALASKA EDITION ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

APD Releases Use-Of-Force Policy

Thu, 2014-02-13 23:03

After two years of high profile officer-involved shootings, the Anchorage Police Department has made their use-of-force policy public. Police Chief Mark Mew made the announcement last night, (Thursday 2/13) during a community forum at Clark Middle School in the Mountain View Neighborhood.

“The more we dug into it, the more we worked with community groups, the more we started asking ourselves, instead of always trying to explain a policy that we don’t show people, why don’t we just show people the policy.”

In 2013, Mayor Dan Sullivan directed the Anchorage Community Police Relations Task Force to review APD’s use of force policy after an increasing number of officer involved shootings. Reverend, Doctor William Green is the chair of the task force. He says releasing the policy is a step in the right direction.

“That’s good. I mean the public should know about what’s going on in the police department. It’s not top secret.”

The task force made seven recommendations, including making the policy public. There have been ten officer-involved shootings in Anchorage over past two years.The use of force policy, along with the entire 600-page APD policy manual is now available on the department’s web site.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Rack Up Million-Dollar Travel Bill

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:47

(Alaska Airlines)

In 2013, the state paid nearly a million dollars for lawmakers to fly across Alaska, across the country, and in some cases, around the world. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that legislative travel costs went up nearly 50 percent last year.

Listen Now

Over the past year, Kurt Olson has traveled out of state 10 times in his capacity as a legislator. He’s gone to Boston, Denver, DC, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Nashville. He’s also had to bust out his passport twice – once for an Arctic policy meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland and once for an energy meeting in Banff, a Canadian resort town.

“At that point in time, it was the coldest place in the world. Not just North America. It was 40 or 42 below for three days,” says Olson. “So, I don’t think anyone would accuse me of having gone on a junket on that one.”

All told, the Kenai Republican racked up a $40,000 travel bill, making him the second most-traveled person in the Legislature. Usually, he’s closer to the middle of the pack.

“I was not expecting to be as high as I was, but if I couldn’t justify them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Olson laughs.

When Olson and I sit down to talk about travel, he’s got all his documentation out and annotated. Kansas City was for the annual Council on State Governments conference. Nashville was for the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, which is relevant to Olson because he chairs the House Labor and Commerce Committee.

“Two of the other meetings were generally worker’s compensation. At least two were related to Obamacare, which I am involved in. And none of the meetings were offered in Alaska,” says Olson.

Olson says he can point to four bills he’s working on that are the direct result of his travel. One has to do with opioid use by injured workers; another, their medical bills.

“I don’t really have any problem justifying the travel,” says Olson. “I mean, as long as I am using it and doing things with it that will help the State of Alaska, I certainly don’t have a problem.”

CASE-BY-CASE APPROACH

That’s the general philosophy held by those approving the travel requests.

Mike Chenault is the Speaker of the House, and any member of the majority caucus has to go through him if they want travel reimbursement. In many cases, he’s inclined to give it, especially if involves travel within Alaska or if it has a serious policy bent.

“Knowledge is never a bad thing. And if we just stayed here, we wouldn’t know what was going on elsewhere,” says Chenault.

In 2013, the House Majority Caucus spent over half a million dollars on travel. That’s up $200,000 over the year before.

Travel reimbursements can cover a broad range of activity in and out of state. There are trips for bill signing events, constituent meetings, and interim committee hearings. Rural legislators often have to expense travel within their district, because their communities can only be reached by water or air. Sometimes, lawmakers travel to different regions to get a sense of how legislation will affect districts other than their own. They can also attend funerals on state business. Last year, some lawmakers received reimbursements to attend the funeral of long-time lawmaker John Cowdery, who left the Legislature because of a corruption conviction.

Caucuses can also get reimbursed for retreats they hold in advance of session. In 2013, the House and Senate Majority hosted such events at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. (Members of the Senate Majority were reimbursed $85 a head for dinners at the Double Musky steakhouse during their retreat. A spokesperson for the Senate Majority says the caucus did not intend to eat there, but had to relocate to that venue after the closure of the Alyeska tram forced a cancellation of their original plans.) Chenault says these private gatherings can help a caucus determine which bills should get priority and allows them to work more efficiently once the Legislature convenes.

Out-of-state travel reimbursement request are almost exclusively related to conferences.

Chenault thinks his caucus experienced a 60 percent increase in travel reimbursements for a few reasons, like airfare going up. But probably the biggest thing is that last year wasn’t an election year. Lawmakers weren’t out trying to win votes, so they had more time to go to conferences. Because this year is a campaign year, there might not be as many travel reimbursements.

LESS MONEY, FEWER MILES?

There might also be less interest in travel for financial reasons. This year, the state is looking at a $2 billion revenue shortfall. Chenault says that will be on his mind as he makes travel decisions, but it won’t be the only factor.

“Will out-of-state travel be less this year than it was last year? I’m going to say ‘yeah,’” says Chenault. “But I don’t have a specific dollar amount that ‘that’s it, you’re not traveling anymore.’”

His counterpart in the Senate, Charlie Huggins, has similar feelings.

“It will have bearing. Yes, it’ll have bearing,” says Huggins. “But in the same token, you can’t become an isolationist.”

Huggins says if multiple people want to go on a trip, he might ask them if their attendance is absolutely necessary. Last year, 20 out of 60 lawmakers went to DC for Energy council, 17 went to Las Vegas for the Council of State Governments, and six went to Iceland for the Arctic Energy Summit, all on the state’s dime.

“You know my technique is not so much ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s about ‘reconsider.’ You know, think about it,” says Huggins. “And people, generally speaking, are frugal.”

A LEGISLATIVE STAYCATION

But other lawmakers in the Capitol have different definitions of frugal.

Les Gara is an Anchorage Democrat, and for the past two years, he’s been at the bottom of the travel list. He jokes it hasn’t helped his frequent flyer status.

“I’m definitely not MVP Gold,” says Gara.

Where the average lawmaker spends about $16,000 on travel, Gara’s reimbursements amounted to just $1,300. That covers his ticket to and from Juneau for the session, and another ticket for him to get to a constituent meeting in Anchorage.

“Apart from those two trips, I just haven’t seen any need to spend state money to go travel.”

As part of the small House Minority Caucus, Gara doesn’t have the same access to travel funds as his colleagues in the majority do. In each chamber, the leader of that body is given ultimate authority on the legislature’s travel budget. But to avoid getting involved in the minority’s travel decisions, the Speaker of the House just gives them a pot of money to budget as they will. Combined, the House Minority spent a little over $50,000, a tenth of what the Majority spent.

Gara says that even if he had greater access to travel funds, he doesn’t think he would use them.

“I can learn about legislation here. I know that we charge too much in terms of student loans, double what the federal rate is. I don’t have to travel to find that out. I know we’ve laid off 600 teachers over the past three years. I don’t need travel to find that out or how to reverse that trend. I can figure that out living in Alaska and staying in Alaska.”

Gara doesn’t begrudge other members their travel, though. In his career as a lawmaker, he’s taken two out-of-state trips, and he says he got a lot of information out of them. He just thinks if the state’s going to be paying for him to go somewhere, it better get a lot in return.

Categories: Alaska News

Republican Lawmakers Send Support Letter To Northern Dynasty

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:46

Several members of the Alaska Legislature sent a letter of support earlier this month to the head of the company looking at developing the controversial Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region. The letter was signed by 8 lawmakers including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.

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All of the lawmakers are Republicans. In the letter they stressed that Alaska is a resource development state and they claim Alaska has a history of using its natural resources in a responsible manner. Mike Chenault is the Speaker of the House. He’s from Nikiski, which features a lot of oil and gas infrastructure.

“I think a number of us don’t know if we support Pebble until we see a project plan but I think all of us support the notion that we have a process to develop mines in Alaska. Corporations such as Northern Dynasty should have the opportunity to go through that process. At the end of the day if the project doesn’t meet the criteria of the permitting process we have the ability to say no.”

In the letter the Republican lawmakers assert that they support Northern Dynasty Minerals efforts to advance the Pebble Project and they stress that the Pebble deposit is a state asset that sits on state land. Speaker Chenault maintains that the proposed Pebble Mine has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the state’s economy.

“I look at the jobs that it could possibly be created that would be long-term, well-paying jobs that would be a boom to the economy.”

Northern Dynasty Minerals is currently the only entity in the partnership that was created to develop the Pebble Mine. The giant mining company Anglo American pulled out the Pebble Limited Partnership last year and Northern Dynasty Minerals is looking for another mining company to join the partnership. The 8 lawmakers ended their recent letter to Northern Dynasty Minerals by asserting that Alaska is open to investment from those who seek to develop the state’s natural resources in a safe and responsible manner that respects and benefits its citizens. Speaker Chenault notes that while he supports Northern Dynasty being able to apply for permits for the Pebble Mine project, he won’t support the project if the developers can’t address his concerns.

“I don’t thing that anyone wants to see the Bristol Bay salmon go away. At the end of the day if they can’t prove to me that they can do it environmentally safe then I won’t support it. I can’t support it.”

The Pebble Limited Partnership recently hired a new CEO with experience in the federal permitting system and the company reiterated that the goal for this year is to advance the project and to initiate permitting. However, many observers believe the Partnership won’t go forward with permitting until another company is found to join the Partnership.

Categories: Alaska News

State Picks Direct Route For U-Med Road

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:44

State transportation officials have selected a preferred route for a mid-town Anchorage road connecting the University of Alaska and two city hospitals with major traffic arteries. The municipality and the state are partners in the project, along with landholders in what is called the U-Med district.

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Stuart Osgood, a consultant with the engineering firm Dowl HKM, says the new road will serve a major employment center for Anchorage

“About 11 percent of Anchorage’s workforce works in the U-Med district, which is really shocking. 1 in 9 jobs coming from there. When we went through our analysis, we discovered that about 43% percent of all of the trips into and out of the U-Med area were headed to destinations north and east – to Eagle River, to north east Anchorage, maybe to the Valley. Yet we have very poor access north and east of the U-Med district.”

Osgood says the new road takes pressure off high – crash routes leading to and from two universities within the district.
A 2009 study identified fifteen potential routes, but only four were selected for study. Of those, two were not supported by UAA, because they would route five to seven thousand cars a day through the university campus, causing potential conflict with pedestrians. A third route was considered too expensive.

The preferred route connects Elmore to Bragaw, allowing vehicles to flow South through UAA lands. A good portion of those lands are wetlands, according to the state Department of Transportation’s chief highway design group’s Jim Amundsen. Amundsen says wetlands permits required by the US Army Corps of Engineers will be applied for, now that a route has been selected. One million dollars has been budgeted for wetlands environmental concerns.   Steward Osgood says  the Corps

“ They first looked to us to avoid, and then to minimize and then to mitigate, and we’ll be doing all of those things. And at the end will pay fee in leiu of mitigation, so the project actually pays into a bank that is used to buy conservation lands elsewhere that are valuable in the eyes of the Corps of Engineers. So that million dollars is set aside for the fee in leiu of mitigation.”

The mitigation program requires a developer to pay into a bank that buys alternate wetlands to compensate for those damaged by construction.

 

The legislature has provided 22 million dollars so far for the road project. Dowl’s Osgood says the preferred route is expected to cost 19 point 4 million dollars for point seven miles of road. It is designed to be a two lane road, with a bicycle lane and pedestrian walkways. Osgood says work on the new road could begin in about a year, and a 2015 opening date is expected.

An open house on the U-Med road is set for next week at East High School in Anchorage.

 

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Considers Law Enforcement Gaps in Native Alaska

Thu, 2014-02-13 18:11

In Washington, D.C.  the Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday reviewed a controversial report on Native American law-and-order that portrays the high rates of violence in rural Alaska, particularly against Native women and children, as a national disgrace. While Alaska’s senators agreed the gaps in law enforcement are deplorable, the long-standing dispute over tribal jurisdiction in the state hangs over the search for solutions.

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One of the witnesses, Anvik resident Tami Truett Jerue, told the Senate panel she has the routine concerns every working parent has, though as a resident of a Native village off the road system, she has more to contend with.

“But I also worry about whether my children, my nieces, nephews or relatives are going to be hurt today. And in Anvik I consider us to be a fairly safe community,” she said. But she says it’s a sign something is wrong “when I have to have a conversation with my 14-year-old son when he gets out his snowmachine and goes to school in the morning, ‘Hey I want you to come home early today, the booze came in on the plane.’”

Jerue works for the Anvik Tribal Council, and came to Washington representing Tanana Chiefs Conference, an association of  Interior tribes. She endorsed the findings in the report of the Indian Law and Order Commission – including the controversial conclusion that Congress should amend federal law to clearly recognize Indian Country throughout Alaska. Without full self-government, she says communities like hers will continue to suffer, even though tribal courts are doing the best they can.

“They’ve come up with some excellent ideas, but we were then hindered by state intervention and/or lack of.”

The congressionally-chartered Indian Law and Order Commission produced its report in November. It catalogues the high crime rate Indian communities in the Lower 48 endure, but says the dangers are more severe in Alaska. Commission Chairman Troy Eid told the Senate committee the state is clinging to a colonial model that should give way to greater tribal self-governance and the kind of Indian Country powers that tribes have on reservations in the Lower 48.

“The system in Alaska is not serving the people there, because the state can never police it from afar,” Eid said. “When we were up there last time in December, the leaders came to us and said, ‘We just had a 12 year old girl raped, it took them four days to come out to our village.’ That’s not acceptable in our country.”

The Parnell Administration raised objections to the commission last year, saying the state and Alaska Natives themselves rejected the reservation concept with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. State Attorney General Michael Geraghty wrote that Alaska recognizes tribal authority over certain civil matters but maintains that, absent reservations, tribes don’t have criminal jurisdiction, even over their own members.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Eid why the report recommends that Alaska essentially recreate the reservation model when there’s a constant stream of news stories suggesting law enforcement isn’t working well on reservations either.

“I’m not suggesting that the Alaska situation is acceptable. It is absolutely not,” she said. “But do we want to take what many would acknowledge is a failed or a failing system and then just say that’s the Alaska answer?”

Eid says Alaska doesn’t need reservations for tribes to govern themselves in their own territories. And the report argues tribal law enforcement would be more effective and less costly than what the state is doing now.

Murkowski says the report’s chapter on Alaska focuses too much on the Indian Country question. While that remains a hot-button issue, Murkowski says tribes are working with the state to construct public safety buildings in villages, and tribal courts are issuing domestic violence protective orders that the state is enforcing. She says all sides should work harder for that kind of co-operation.

 

Categories: Alaska News

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