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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: 22 min 48 sec ago

In Wake Of “Education Session,” Democrats Run Teacher Candidates

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:58

On top of the Republican Senate primary and the oil tax referendum, there’s one more competitive race on tomorrow’s ballot – the contest for the Democrats’ lieutenant governor nominee.

In the aftermath of what Gov. Sean Parnell dubbed the “education session,” half a dozen of the new candidates being fielded by the Democratic Party are educators. The most high profile of these is Bob Williams, who was once named the Alaska Teacher of the Year and is now a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Bob Williams teaches math at Palmer’s Colony High, not government. But over the past year, he’s gotten a pretty serious crash course in civics.

“Going through this process of running for lieutenant governor, I thought like maybe you could watch a debate before and kind of say, ‘Oh, maybe I’d do this.’ I thought you could maybe vicariously go through things,” Williams says. “And one of the things I’ve learned is you really can’t learn any better than by doing.”

Williams is a first time candidate, and he’s running against State Sen. Hollis French for the Democratic nomination. Before running for lieutenant governor, the closest Williams had ever gotten to elected politics was participating in Boys State, a mock legislature conference for high schoolers. He presents himself as a Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Juneau type figure, and speaks with the same level of enthusiasm he might use to get kids excited about algebra.

Because he’s starting big and running for a statewide seat, Williams says he’s encountered some skepticism toward his campaign.

“People would tell me, ‘You don’t have a lot of money. You’re not wealthy. You can’t do it,’” says Williams. “That means it’s going to be hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be impossible. And so you talk to a lot of people, and a lot of people have said, ‘Well, you’re just a teacher. And I’d say, “What are you looking for in your next lieutenant governor? Teachers deal with conflict in a civil way, they build trust, they have integrity.”

On the issues, Williams, like French, mostly seems to line up with the Democratic party platform. But as a teacher, he says education issues really helped motivate him to file for office. When Williams declared his candidacy last year, it was shortly after a legislative session where lawmakers considered allowing public dollars to go to private schools.

“The reform efforts that were being pushed forward in the last couple of years haven’t made sense. And so, that’s one of the things where you push and say, ‘We need something different.’”

Williams is far from the only teacher running this cycle. Democrats are fielding five new legislative candidates who are active or retired teachers, and four of those are running in the Republican stronghold of Mat-Su. In Ketchikan, teacher Dan Ortiz is running as an independent candidate.

Williams says the crew of teacher-candidates will sometimes chat about their campaigns with the purpose of “giving advice and a lot of moral support – and some help on policy on education.”

Zack Fields is a spokesperson for the Alaska Democratic Party, and he says a heated fight over education funding, where a grassroots coalition of parents fought for an increase in classroom dollars “definitely catalyzed a lot of public anger,” and it resulted in an “unusually large number” of teachers being involved in this election cycle.

In the State Legislature, fewer than a handful of candidates have teaching experience at the K-12 level, and most of those lawmakers are Republicans.

If Williams were to pull off two upsets – one on Tuesday against Hollis French, and another in November as part of a gubernatorial ticket with Byron Mallott against incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell – the office of lieutenant governor wouldn’t afford him too much opportunity to get hands on with education policy. The office has few powers, but it would elevate his public profile. He says he’d approach the job like his current one.

“I’ve been building trust in the classroom and in the community for 20 years,” says Williams. “My classroom just got a lot bigger. I’ll be doing that across the state of Alaska.”

And if elected politics don’t pan out, at least the experience will have been an educational one.

Categories: Alaska News

Endorsements Fly in GOP Senate Race

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:16

The Primary Election is tomorrow, and the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are scrambling for high-profile endorsements. Mead Treadwell announced today he has astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in addition to Iditarod legend Martin Buser. Joe Miller boasts Fox TV host Mike Huckabee, so-called “World’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio, and – just today — Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson. Dan Sullivan landed board members of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Club for Growth and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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Last week, after Miller announced he had Sarah Palin’s endorsement, Treadwell countered that he already landed her father-in-law, Jim Palin. Meanwhile, in the House race, Democrat Forrest Dunbar says he has the endorsement of Santa Claus. That is, a guy in North Pole who legally changed his name from Tom O’Connor to Santa Claus.

Anchorage Pollster Marc Hellenthal says there’s a reason for all this activity. He says endorsements have an impact on voters, but he warns it’s not always positive.

“The cost is that the endorsement ad – say, by Palin — goes to somebody who doesn’t like Palin,” Hellenthal says, “and they were voting for you before they got the Palin endorsement, and they say, ‘the heck with it, I’m not voting for that person anymore.’”

In a two-way race, the cost of controversial endorsements is higher, he says, because an offended voter runs from your camp to your direct opponent. In a three-way race like this one, the offended voter will still drop you, but may vote for a candidate running too far behind to matter. Hellenthal says the sure-fire way to win at the endorsement game, is to get the blessing of a beloved Alaskan leader, someone who rates very highly with most voters.

“That would be Lisa Murkowski,” he says, “and to my knowledge, she has not endorsed anybody.”

In this Republican Senate race, though, a Murkowski endorsement may not be the golden ticket. Joe Miller is accusing anyone associating with her of being insufficiently conservative.

Categories: Alaska News

Sec. Moniz: We Won’t Be Obstacle to Alaska Gas Exports

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:14

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is in Alaska this week. He says the Obama Administration wants to spur a project to export North Slope natural gas, and he says the No. 1 way his department can help is by staying out of the way.

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Understanding that ultimately these are going to be some major private sector economic decision to be made, but we are determined not to be an obstacle in any way in that pathway. Getting Alaskan gas monetized is good for the Alaska (economy), good for the country and good for our international security obligations.

Alaska’s oil producers applied to the Department of Energy last month for permits to export liquefied natural gas. The project will require an 800-mile pipeline, a liquefaction plant at Nikiski and other infrastructure. The companies haven’t committed to building the $50 billion system.

Proposals to export gas from the Lower 48 are controversial because of concern they will boost the domestic price of fuel. Moniz says the Administration has already decided the Alaska project will be exempt from requirements to show the price impact on domestic markets.

Moniz is one of four Obama Cabinet members visiting Alaska this summer.  The secretaries of Labor, Transportation and Commerce attended campaign fundraisers for Sen. Mark Begich. Moniz says he isn’t attending any fund-raising events on this trip.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 18, 2014

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:13

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

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Endorsements Fly In GOP Senate Race

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The Primary Election is tomorrow, and the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are scrambling for high profile endorsements. Mead Treadwell announced today he has astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in addition to Iditarod legend Martin Buser. Joe Miller boasts Fox TV host Mike Huckabee and – just today – Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson. Dan Sullivan landed board members of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Club for Growth and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bob Williams Seeking Democratic Lieutenant Governor Nomination

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

On top of the Republican Senate primary and the oil tax referendum, there’s one more competitive statewide race on tomorrow’s ballot – the contest for the Democrats’ lieutenant governor nominee.

In the wake of what Gov. Sean Parnell dubbed the “education session,” half a dozen of the new candidates being fielded by the Democratic Party are educators. The most high profile of these is Bob Williams, who was once named the Alaska Teacher of the Year and is now a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Sec. Moniz: We Won’t Be Obstacle to Alaska Gas Exports

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is in Alaska this week. He says the Obama Administration wants to spur a project to export North Slope natural gas. And Moniz says the No. 1 way his department can help is by staying out of the way.

Bethel Man Recovering From Gunshot Wound After Altercation With Police

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A 31-year-old Bethel man is recovering after being shot by a police officer during an altercation Friday. The man, Aaron Moses, was stabilized in Bethel and medevaced to Anchorage. One officer was also treated for minor injuries.

Vandals Drive Over Gravesites, Badly Damage Gazebo During Cemetery Joyride

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska State Troopers are investigating vandalism at the Delta Junction cemetery over the weekend. The vandals drove through the fence both on the way in and out of the cemetery and then ran over several gravesites on their way to the gazebo, which they nearly destroyed.

Juneau Youth Services Offers Housing For At-Risk Teens, Young Adults

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Homeless youth in Juneau don’t have a lot of options when it comes to housing, especially if they’re on their own. The lucky ones stay with family or friends. Many of them couch surf or go camping when the weather’s nice.

But there’s another option many probably aren’t aware of: Juneau Youth Services’ Transitional Living Program.

Brown Bear Hunting In Kenai Wildlife Refuge Could Be Closed For Year

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Brown bear hunting in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge could be closed entirely this year. The Refuge’s proposal comes just days after a call for a full and permanent ban on brown bear hunting.

Gov. Parnell Endorses Alaska as “Right to Mush” State

Anna MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Sled dog racing is Alaska’s state sport and last week Governor Sean Parnell signed a resolution “recognizing, honoring, supporting, and encouraging support for dog mushing and dog mushers” in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Recovering From Gunshot Wound After Altercation With Police

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:13

A 31-year-old Bethel man is recovering after being shot by a police officer during an altercation Friday. The man, Aaron Moses, was stabilized in Bethel and medevaced to Anchorage. One officer was also treated for minor injuries.

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Interim City Manager Greg Moyer could not share any additional details Friday evening.

“It’s an ongoing investigation, we’re diligently looking into it right now as we speak,” Moyer said.

According to the Alaska State Troopers officers with the Bethel Police Department responded to a disturbance at about 10:35 a.m. on Friday morning. Upon arrival they came into contact with a man holding a baseball bat. Officers engaged in efforts to control the man, including the use of a taser, according to Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

“It resulted in a struggle in which one of the officers was struck by the baseball bat,” Peters said. “One of the officers was able to draw his firearm.”

A video of the incident provided to KYUK indicates a shot fired while one officer was set back, another officer was on the ground, and Moses was standing close with the baseball bat raised.  Troopers say he was shot in the abdomen.  Moyer says the two officers were placed on administrative leave as per policy.

A witness, Ryan White, says he saw Moses walking outside Friday morning with a baseball bat. He says Moses ran toward the police with the bat at one point, and then stepped back for a moment.

“I’m not really sure if he was trying to run past them or not, and they tried tasing him, twice, both cops used their tasers on them,” White said.

After that, White says one of the police officers shot him. They then ran to handcuff him.

Alaska State Troopers are investigating after they were contacted by the Bethel Police Department.
Members of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation arrived Friday and secured the scene. Bethel Police have not commented on the incident. When reached by KYUK, State Troopers declined to share any more information.

A family member confirms that Moses is stable and being treated in the Intensive Care Unit at the Alaska Native Medical Center Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Vandals Drive Over Gravesites, Badly Damage Gazebo During Cemetery Joyride

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:12

Delta Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith examines the badly damaged gazebo in the Rest Haven Cemetery Sunday morning. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Alaska State Troopers are investigating vandalism at the Delta Junction cemetery over the weekend. The vandals drove through the fence both on the way in and out of the cemetery and then ran over several gravesites on their way to the gazebo, which they nearly destroyed.

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Delta city officials say the damage at Rest Haven Cemetery was reported around 9 a.m. Sunday by a city worker who’d gone there to help with a burial scheduled for later that morning.

A chunk of broken fencing lies on the ground where the vandals apparently exited the cemetery. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

As he surveyed the damage, city administrator Mike Tvenge struggled to find words to describe the shock and outrage that he and many other area residents were feeling as word of the vandalism spread. Tvenge says city staff will contact family members of those whose graves were damaged during the vandals’ destructive joy ride.

“Certainly we would call families and alert them to what happened,” he said. “It’s absolute disrespect of those here and those families of loved ones.  It’s sad. To me it’s sad.”

But it appears the gravesites weren’t the main goal of the vandals. Those just happened to be in the path that they took to get to the gazebo in the center of the cemetery. That’s how it looked to Tvenge as he walked along the tire tracks that run from where the vehicle apparently smashed through the fence to get in and a few feet away where it smashed its way out.

“Got damage to the fence in two different places, so far. Yep,” he muttered.

The support posts on all four corners were broken, causing the roof to collapse onto the deck. Tvenge says it appears the vandals may have lashed a strap onto one or more of the posts to facilitate the destruction.

“Well, they hooked a strap up to it, it looks like, and tore the building down.

The gazebo was built in 2008 by a Delta youth for his Eagle Scout project. A plaque on the structure states that Eagle Scout Matt Joslin dedicated the structure to his baby brother, who died soon after birth.

Most of the headstones in the path of the vandals were flat, so damage was limited to crushed flowers and broken mementos, like flag-holders provided by the American Legion. (Photo by Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Tvenge and Delta Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith, who also was there to check the damage, both say it’s hard to assign a cost estimate to repair the gazebo, because it like the rest of the cemetery was built with volunteer labor and donated or discounted materials.

Which, in a way, makes the vandalism all the more aggravating.

“This has all been done with volunteer labor. And then these idiots come along – I just don’t get it. I don’t get the mindset,” she said. “It’s just a bunch of people putting their heart into the place and then some idiot comes along…”

Troopers weren’t saying much about the incident Sunday. Spokeswoman Megan Peters would only confirm that an investigation is under way.

Editor’s note: The reporter is married to Mayor Pro Tem Mary Leith.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Youth Services Offers Housing For At-Risk Teens, Young Adults

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:11

The Black Bear Apartments in the Mendenhall Valley is one of two youth transitional living complexes operated by Juneau Youth Services. (Photo by Sarah Yu/360 North)

Homeless youth in Juneau don’t have a lot of options when it comes to housing, especially if they’re on their own. The lucky ones stay with family or friends. Many of them couch surf or go camping when the weather’s nice.

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But there’s another option many probably aren’t aware of: Juneau Youth Services’ transitional living program.

Alyssa White says she hit rock bottom before moving into a JYS transitional living apartment. The 21-year-old had been living in the dorms at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Alyssa White says she hit rock bottom before finding the JYS transitional living program. “I owe a lot to those people,” she says. (Photo by Casey Kelly)

“I was a partier − a pretty bad partier − and it got out of hand,” says White.

She says JYS gave her a place to live, set her up with substance abuse counseling and generally helped turn her life around.

If she hadn’t gotten into the transitional living program, White says she probably would have ended up on the streets, selling stuff to feed her drug habit. Today she works two jobs and lives with her mom. She says they have a good relationship after a rough patch in her teens.

“I owe a lot to those people,” White says. “Like they really changed my whole perspective, and helped me like maintain my jobs and helped me realize I’m a worthwhile person.”

The Black Bear Apartments are nestled into a stand of trees in the Mendenhall Valley. Transitional living supervisor Henry Wyatt says it’s one of two complexes where clients live during the program.

Compared to transitional living facilities in other parts of the country, Wyatt says these apartments feel less institutional. They range from efficiencies to a 4 bedroom unit. He says the girls’ apartments tend to be decorated like home, while the boys’ are more like college dorms.

“We had one client awhile back, he was a gamer, super into video games,” he says. “He covered his wall in video game posters and he took all the discs out of their boxes and had them all hanging on the wall.”

JYS has nine apartments, and can serve up to 18 clients, ages 16-21.

“Some of them are coming from homes where there’s a lot of drug abuse, maybe physical, emotional abuse,” says Wyatt. “Some kids are just living on the street. They’ve literally been kicked out of their house and are couch surfing or sleeping in the woods.”

Besides housing, the transitional living program offers life skills classes, which Wyatt admits doesn’t sound very exciting.

“It sounds like something a 50-year-old said: ‘These kids need life skills,’” he says.

But he says it’s better than the alternative of figuring it out on your own.

“A lot of people learn how to manage their credit by totally destroying their credit in their early 20s, and then go, ‘Oh yeah, OK, that’s what I shouldn’t do!’” Wyatt says with a laugh. “A lot of people learn how to budget by not budgeting well for 10 years, and then going, ‘Oh OK, well I should probably budget my money. That makes more sense.’”

JYS does have ground rules. For example, clients are expected to have a job or be in school. If they can’t find a job, they can do community service while they look for one. They pay 30 percent of their income as rent, an amount based on the federal definition of affordable housing. They get 30 percent of that back when they leave the program.

Clients are only allowed to stay in transitional housing for a year and a half, and they age out once they turn 22.

Drugs and alcohol are not allowed. JYS offers its own substance abuse counseling, or it can set up clients with third-party services. Counselor Lindsey Bray says some issues are too serious for kids to be in the program.

“If they do come in and they have some issues with chemical dependency or they’ve got a chronic mental health concern, then we expect that they’re either already actively managing that situation or we try to connect them with resources to make that happen,” Bray says.

Alyssa White says for her, stability was the most beneficial part of the transitional living program.

“I never really had that one person or group of people to be, like, hey we’re here for you,” she says.

White says she’s still in touch with the JYS staff, and knows they’ll be there for her no matter what issues come up in her life.

Categories: Alaska News

Brown Bear Hunting In Kenai Wildlife Refuge Could Be Closed For Year

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:10

Brown bear hunting in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge could be closed entirely this year. The Refuge’s proposal comes just days after a call for a full and permanent ban on brown bear hunting.

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Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Parnell Endorses Alaska as “Right to Mush” State

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:09

Sled dog racing is Alaska’s state sport and Gov. Sean Parnell has officially endorsed Alaska as a “right to mush” state.

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On Monday Parnell signed a resolution “recognizing, honoring, supporting, and encouraging support for dog mushing and dog mushers” in Alaska.

Nome residents Diana Haecker and Nils Hahn drafted House Concurrent Resolution 24 to safeguard the sport and its human and canine participants throughout the state.

Explaining the cultural significance of mushing in Alaska, Haecker said, “It has it’s place in history, it’s place in the present, and I think more important certainly it’s place in the future, and we felt it needed to be preserved.”

Haecker and Hahn run their own kennel and modeled the resolution off the nation’s “right to farm” statutes, which protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits complaining of farming-related activities like noise or smell.

Alaska’s “right to mush” resolution is not statutory but rather signifies the legislature’s support of mushing and its significance to the culture and people of Alaska.

“It’s more of a symbolic resolution,” Haecker explained, “but I think it also speaks that every legislator in the state has agreed that mushing is worth preserving and that it is an acceptable activity in the state.”

The pair created the resolution after mushers across the state began reporting harassment like obstructed trails, traps set on trails, and lawsuits threatening kennel operations.

The resolution received state-wide support from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Association of Village Council Presidents, and the Willow Area Community Organization. Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey and 15-time Iditarod finisher Mike Williams Sr. rallied behind its passage. Nome Kennel Club President Chrystie Salesky signed a resolution of support.

“It gives backing to us,” Salesky said, speaking on behalf of the Nome Kennel Club, “reassuring us from the state that this is something that they want to see continued and not cease to exist.”

Salesky points out many mushers engage in the sport recreationally rather than competitively though some still use teams to run trap lines and haul wood. Salesky said the resolution goes beyond protecting a sport to sustaining a lifestyle.

“Even though we have all these races going on,” Salesky explained, “there’s a lot of people in smaller communities—  Nome, too— where we’re just recreational mushers, but it’s still our way of life. And it’s just great to have something in effect from the state that supports our way of life so mushing can still continue to thrive into the future.”

Rep. Neal Foster carried the resolution through the House.

Addressing the legislature during a floor speech in March, Foster said in support of the resolution, “It’s good for the state because it’s an image of the state. When people think of Alaska, they also think of dog mushing. And it’s great for the economy, because so many people come from other states to Alaska to see the various races. So we see this as a positive thing, you know, and we just want to let folks know that we support them.” 

Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the resolution in March as Iditarod finishers were crossing beneath the burled arch in Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Introduces Fiancee to Church Crowd

Mon, 2014-08-18 17:00

Sunday was candidate day at Anchorage Baptist Temple. Congressman Don Young used the occasion to introduce his girlfriend, for the first time in public, as his fiancée. A spokesman for Young says Anne Garland Walton, of Fairbanks, has been Young’s girlfriend for three years. She’s 75 and has been an occasional contributor to Republican campaigns over the years. Campaign finance reports lists her occupation as “flight nurse” or “retired.” Young is 81 and running for his 22nd term in the House of Representatives. The spokesman says there’s no ring, and no wedding date yet. Young has been a widower since his wife of 46 years, Lu Young, passed away five years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

Joe Miller Agrees To Support GOP Rivals If They Win Primary

Fri, 2014-08-15 17:10

The Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate said in a debate hosted by KTUU yesterday  they’ll support whoever wins the GOP nomination. The big question was about Joe Miller, who had previously refused to say whether he’d run as a write-in or on a third-party ticket if he loses the Republican Primary on Aug. 19. Now, Miller says he’ll back either Dan Sullivan or Mead Treadwell to help unseat the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Begich.

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“I believe I’m going to be the Primary winner, with the voters and God’s help,” Miller said. “But if one of you two guys – I’ve never said this before: I’ll support you guys. I will. We’ve got to get rid of Begich. There’s no question about it.”

In other Senate campaign news, former Alaska Governor and TV personality Sarah Palin announced today she’s endorsing Joe Miller. She issued a written statement to Fox News and also posted it on social media.

Most polls show Sullivan leading the Republican race and Miller running a distant third.

Categories: Alaska News

US Arctic Representative Tours Alaska

Fri, 2014-08-15 17:04

The United States Special Representative for the Arctic is visiting Alaska. Retired Coast guard Admiral Robert Papp is charged with managing the country’s entire arctic portfolio. That includes investigation of issues and potential claims to arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coastline. Admiral Papp spoke with KUAC’s Dan Bross earlier today and said he’s in Alaska to help determine the primary goals and challenges for the U.S. in the region:

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Categories: Alaska News

Regulators Issue Trespass Notices for Kuskokwim Vessels

Fri, 2014-08-15 17:01

The ‘Shanks Arc’ has been stuck in the middle of Steamboat Slough for more than a year. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel)

State regulators are issuing dozens of trespass notices for old vessels sitting in the Kuskokwim River. Some of the barges and boats pose navigational and safety hazards, while others are just tied up on state land without a permit. Officials say it’s the first step toward getting owners to take responsibility for vessels that are causing problems.

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Barbara Anvil has a longtime fish camp right below where barges park in Steamboat Slough, just outside Bethel. She says, besides getting in the way of people, the barges and other vessels are blocking fish.

“We noticed that our fish aren’t coming up that slough anymore. We get less and less each year. We used to be able to put out our net and get a whole bunch of em.” Anvil said.

Earlier this month, state officials and the U.S. Coast Guard met a packed house of Kuskokwim residents who want to get rid of vessels that are piling up and causing problems. Emily Haynes, with the Department of Natural Resources outlined the basic concerns:

“Number one, contaminants aboard. And that’s where we all play a factor. Navigability, in Steamboat Slough, mostly,” Haynes said.

DNR counted 20 vessels stored in Steamboat Slough during their visit, up five from last year. Historically, the slough has been a parking and storage spot for boats and barges, but as Bethel has grown, the number of vessels has increased. One high profile barge named ‘Shanks Ark’ has been stuck in the middle of the waterway for more than a year.

The barge is owned by Bethel-based Kuskokwim Lighterage and Trucking and was being operated by Faulkner Walsh Constructors, according to DNR. The two companies disagree about who is responsible for removing it. Haynes says the first step towards getting the barge out of way is issuing trespass notices for vessels in the slough.

“It’s not very widely known that we issue permits for barge storage or any vessel storage on state-owned lands. But that is something that we do do. And now we’re working towards gaining compliance from all of these vessel owners,” said Haynes.

There has not been much enforcement, until now. And the process takes time. Bob Carlson works in the Bethel Department of Environmental Conservation‘s office.

He says DEC and DNR officials contacted Faulkner Walsh, about another tug boat that grounded in Steamboat Slough in 2012, named the ‘Saint Michael’, which was leaking fuel. He says he followed protocol and wrote the company a letter asking for action but they did not respond. It took another year to get a DEC notice of violation issued.

“They removed some of the contamination this spring. They removed the engines and some of the contamination. Some still remains in the boat. We were up there yesterday. So the next step would be, in my agency is a referral for enforcement. We would mean we would ask the Department of Law to take criminal or civil action against the company. We have not done that,” Carlson said.

Martin Andrew is president for the tribe in Kwethluk. He says a gravel barge named ‘Delta Chief’, also belonging to Faulker Walsh sunk near his village two years ago and is a navigational hazard. He also says the barge, which contains heavy equipment and fuels, sits right above a popular source of drinking water.

“Last December when I went out and got my water from our communal watering hole, I was shocked to see a sheen of oil in the watering hole and I told my boys, I don’t think we’re going to be getting our water from here anymore,” Andrew said.

At the federal level, the Coast Guard gets involved when there’s pollution or if the barge becomes a navigational obstruction. They can issue fines, up to $40,000 per day or three times the cost of cleaning up the mess. Coast Guard Petty Officer Patrick Brown says the law is intended to force responsible parties to clean up.

“At the end of the day, our job is to make sure the cleanup gets done. So if that means we compel the responsible party or the owner of the boat to do so then that’s what we’ll do. If they’re not available, can’t find ‘em or they just won’t clean up then we’ll go ahead and do it ourselves,” Brown said.

DNR says they began to post trespass notices for 33 vessels in the Bethel area during their visit. Alaska DNR has never pursued a civil case or criminal charges for abandoned or derelict vessels obstructing navigable waters, according to officials, but they’re considering it if Faulkner Walsh does not remove the vessels.

Representatives from the company did not attend the public meeting, but did meet in private with DNR, DEC and Coast Guard officials during their visit to Bethel. When asked during a phone interview how many vessels the company has in Steamboat Slough, Harry Faulkner, one of the owners, disputed DNR’s count of around 10 vessels and had this to say:

“I know what the count is, I own them. Well, I just want to get the facts right, so you have how many barges? I’m sorry I’ve got to take another call. See you later,”  Faulkner said.

The Coast Guard can, through a less lengthy administrative process, issue a ‘notice of federal action’, their first step toward fines they hope will compel Faulkner Walsh to clean up their vessels that are polluting.

Categories: Alaska News

House District 3 Primary Race: Mostly Agreement – And a Few Key Differences

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:58

Redistricting has thrown two incumbent North Pole Republican lawmakers into a new district, and created one of the more unusual political matchups in this year’s primary: District 1 Representative Tammie Wilson versus District 2 incumbent, Doug Isaacson, for the new District 3 seat.

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Doug Isaacson says he’d rather continue working with Tammie Wilson in the Legislature instead of running against her.

“It was not our decision to run against each other,” he said. “That is just the process of the redistricting board.”

They both often found themselves on the same side of an issue during the last legislative session – which was Isaacson’s first, and Wilson’s second full term.

Both are experienced in local politics. Isaacson is a former North Pole mayor. Wilson is a former Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly member

Both oppose ballot measure 1, which proposes to repeal oil-company tax cuts. Both decry high energy prices; and both repeat the familiar refrain that the solution is to bring cheap natural gas into the Interior.

But after a few minutes of conversation, differences in style and substance emerge. Like Isaacson’s tendency to get wonky as he lists his priorities.

“Energy, transportation, jobs, quality of life, investment here in Alaska by Alaskans. And I focus in on these in a structured manner that allows us to have progress.”

Wilson sees herself as more of a retail politician, as she explained during a recent afternoon of door-to-door campaigning.

“For me, it’s all about the constituents,” she said. “I mean, I’m out here walking the neighborhoods to give people the opportunity, whether they agree or disagree with me, to have that conversation.”

Both talk of the need to cut state spending in the wake of falling revenues. But Wilson says that doesn’t mean unemployment will increase.

“Smaller government does not necessarily mean less jobs. It means less government jobs, but maybe it means more private jobs,” she said.

But Isaacson worries that Alaska hasn’t developed plans and policies to enable the private sector to offset shrinking state expenditures.

“If we’re going to have to reduce the budget, what are we going to do to expand the economy? What are we doing to bring down the need for state intervention?”

Their differences over the role of government takes an odd twist over one of the Fairbanks area’s most divisive issues: improving air quality. Isaacson faults Wilson for claiming to support small government and local government at the same time she’s leading ballot initiative campaigns to take control of air quality management from the borough and give it to the state.

“I really stress keeping government close to the people,” he said. “I don’t believe the state necessarily makes the better decision. I believe the state should be augmenting the municipalities.”

But Wilson says the state already has the resources and authority to deal with air-quality problems. And she says creation of another, local layer of government to do the same thing is unnecessary and wasteful.

“Well the state already has the state law, that already goes over air quality,” she said. “We also have the resources on the state level to do that.”

Wilson says having the state deal with the problem could help bring natural gas to Fairbanks sooner. And in the meanwhile, it’ll save borough taxpayers from having to pay more property taxes to support an expanded air-quality program.

“But the biggest reason you want to keep it on the state level is because the ultimate answer is affordable energy, and gas. So people can switch if they want from wood and coal,” she said. “I’ve actually heard from the agency that if the borough takes over the control it’s their issue.”

The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face North Pole Democrat Sharron Hunter in the Nov. 4 general election.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 15, 2014

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:47

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

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US Arctic Rep Visits, Tours Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The United States Special Representative for the Arctic is visiting Alaska. Retired Coast guard Admiral Robert Papp is charged with managing the country’s entire arctic portfolio.

Regulators Issue Trespass Notices for Kuskokwim Vessels

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

State regulators are issuing dozens of trespass notices for old vessels sitting in the Kuskokwim River. Some of the barges and boats pose navigational and safety hazards, while others are just tied up on state land without a permit. Officials say it’s the first step toward getting owners to take responsibility for vessels that are causing problems.

Joe Miller Says He’ll Back One of His GOP Rivals If He Loses the Primary

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate said in a debate Thursday they’ll support whoever wins the GOP nomination. The big question was about Joe Miller, who had previously refused to say whether he’d run as a write-in or on a third-party ticket if he loses the Republican Primary on Aug. 19. Now, Miller says he’ll back either Dan Sullivan or Mead Treadwell to help unseat the Democratic incumbent.

House District 3 Primary: Mostly Agreement – And A Few Key Differences

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Redistricting has thrown two incumbent North Pole Republican lawmakers into a new district, and created one of the more unusual political matchups in this year’s primary: District 1 Representative Tammie Wilson versus District 2 incumbent, Doug Isaacson, for the new District 3 seat.

New Sealaska CEO Plans Big Investments in Southeast

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

New Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott says part of the Juneau-based regional Native corporation’s strategy for reversing recent losses will be to do business closer to home.

AK: A Kinder, Gentler Militia? Alaska’s Militia Rebrands Itself

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

In 2011, members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia were arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. The trial of their leader, Schaeffer Cox, continually made headlines in the years that followed, most of them bad. Now, other militia groups in the state are trying to show a different side to the movement.

300 Villages: Healy

This week we’re headed to Healy, a small community on the fringes of Denali National Park. Clay Walker is mayor of the Denali Borough.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: A Kinder, Gentler Militia? Alaska’s Movement Rebrands

Fri, 2014-08-15 15:55

(Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

In 2011, members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia were arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. The trial of their leader, Schaeffer Cox, continually made headlines in the years that followed, most of them bad. Now, other militia groups in the state are trying to show a different side to the movement. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez spent three days at a militia gathering in Sutton this summer and has this story.

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It’s a picture perfect day, and five people in camouflage are marching beneath a crag in the Talkeetna mountains. Rifles are slung across their chests, and an aerial photography drone is hovering over. The man operating the camera is shouting directions.

“We want to get them relaxed – not always ready to rock. Oh, that’s a nice shot of them going away right there ”

The stuff the videographer is getting looks like it’s straight out of an Army recruitment ad. But the people in camo aren’t soldiers. They’re members of the Anchorage Municipality Defense Force, one of the half dozen or so militias operating in Alaska.

Their commander, Mikel Insalaco, came up with the idea of using a drone to film part of the Alaska Prepper, Survivalist, & Militia Rendezvous, an annual training weekend that brings outfits from across the state together.

“We’re supposed to be paranoid about drones but the reality of this is this one has a good purpose,” Insalaco tells me. “We want to be able to get some pretty wicked footage of the event.”

(Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

The only thing that Insalaco — or, really, any of the rendezvous attendees — seems paranoid about is seeming paranoid.

The American militia movement isn’t exactly viewed as cuddly. After a series of standoffs with federal agents in the Nineties, militias got a lot of attention as a dangerous and fringe anti-government subculture. Locally, the Alaska Peacemakers Militia incident didn’t help that reputation. Cox was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to kill law enforcement officials and illegally possessing automatic weapons and grenades. Three other members were also incarcerated on similar charges.

Taking in the scene at the militia rendezvous, it’s easy to see how an outsider might be wary. The temporary compound is patrolled by armed men. There are pickup trucks draped in camo netting, and plenty of dudes with beards and tattoos milling around.

David Luntz is one of them.

“Militias get a bad name,” Luntz says during a break from training.

He commands the Central Alaska Militia, which covers a swath of land from Delta Junction to Fairbanks. For all that should make Luntz intimidating, he’s just – well – not. He’s got an easy laugh, and if you talk to him for more than a couple minutes about how he leads the militia, the word “transparency” will inevitably come up.

“We want people to understand what we’re about and support us. These groups that hide and be all secret and they’re not public and open – well, people start fearing them,” says Luntz.

It should go without saying that any motley crew can describe themselves as a militia, and Luntz obviously doesn’t speak for all of them. But the attitude he has is a common one among the groups attending the rendezvous.

“Unfortunately, what happened with [Cox] really hurt the efforts in Alaska, and one of our primary missions in Central Alaska Militia is to change that perception.”

Even though some members of the Alaska militia movement believe Cox was a victim of entrapment, many rendezvous attendees distance themselves from and are even critical of the Peacemakers. They’re eager to show their militias are about more than clashing with government.

For Luntz, the militia’s about a few things. He describes it as a “community defense” group where the people involved learn solid survival skills. Outside of a couple digs at the United Nations, there’s not a lot of talk at the rendezvous about one-world government or taking on the Feds. You’re more likely to hear about preparing for what some call “general infrastructure failure,” and being ready for natural disasters — and maybe alien or zombie attacks. (Driving that home is one attendee’s ammo dog, who wanders the compound in a camo pack that reads “Zombie Response K-9.”) So, in addition to sessions on weapons transitions and close-quarter tactics, there’s also training on food storage and first aid.

“I think that some people are a little apprehensive to come out and run around in BDUs [battle dress uniform],” says Luntz. “The militias and these groups that are formed have a lot more positions that people could partake in that doesn’t involve running around in fatigues and army gear.”

Luntz also gets a sense of camaraderie from his militia. He was in the Army for 20 years, and now he does defense work for – yes – the federal government.

And as a member of the Constitution Party and a strong believer in the Second Amendment, Luntz sees his involvement in the Central Alaska Militia as a basic exercise of his rights. But he doesn’t think of his militia as right-wing or even explicitly political.

“You know, we don’t not accept people because they’re a liberal or they’re whatever. As long as you support the Constitution and our form of government and our Republican setup, then you’re pretty much good,” Luntz says, before laughing. “Just so long as you’re not a felon or a sex offender.”

(Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Yup, the Central Alaska Militia runs background checks on potential members. And at the rendezvous, there are plenty of rules they agree to for safety reasons that would be unacceptable to them if imposed by government. They require attendees to have their pistols holstered and unloaded, and prohibit anyone from handling a gun if they’ve had anything to drink within the past eight hours. The rules are as strict as a shooting range, and much stricter than state law.

And as far as government goes, Luntz says they’ve given the State Troopers their standard operating procedures. They also reach out to the boroughs, the state, the Feds whenever they hold an event on public land.

“You know it’d be kind of easy for somebody to be on the other side of this big compound here and out camping for the weekend, and they see us, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god! They have guns,’ and they call the troopers, ‘There’s a bunch of people with guns!’” says Luntz. “So, we make those public contacts.”

As it turned out, the Troopers did get called to the area … but not because of the rendezvous. In fact, not a single shot was fired the whole weekend by the militia crowd. The Troopers were there because a separate party sprouted up near the compound on the last night. There were drunk people driving four-wheelers, a couple of cases of indecent exposure, and shots being fired well into the A.M.

At breakfast the next day, there was some talk about how rowdy the party-goers were and how they were glad the compound had a perimeter set up. At the end of the conversation, one person commented while shaking his head, “And we’re supposed to be the guys people are afraid of.”

(Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Healy

Fri, 2014-08-15 14:29

This week we’re headed to Healy, a small community on the fringes of Denali National Park. Clay Walker is mayor of the Denali Borough.

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300 villages is AK’s attempt to put every community in Alaska on the radio. If you want to hear your community featured, send an e-mail to news@alaskapublic.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Plans To Bring Investment Back Home

Fri, 2014-08-15 13:36

New Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott says part of the Juneau-based regional Native corporation’s strategy for reversing recent losses will be to do business closer to home.

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Mallott told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that Sealaska wants to provide economic opportunities and jobs for its nearly 22,000 shareholders. Most live in Southeast and the Pacific Northwest.

The corporation has sold some of its business interests in areas like Florida, Mexico and Alabama. Mallott says it now has a $100 million investment fund and a $65 million fund for acquisitions.

While jobs for shareholders will be important, Mallott says the number one priority will be to invest in profitable enterprises. In 2013, Sealaska businesses lost about $57 million. That shrunk to $35 million due to revenue from investments and natural resource earnings shared by all Native corporations.

Mallott believes Congress is poised to pass legislation completing Sealaska’s land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The long-awaited measure would transfer up to 80,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the corporation, providing a boon to Sealaska’s timber businesses.

Mallott took over as CEO at Sealaska’s annual meeting in June. He had previously served as treasurer and chief investment officer. He replaced longtime CEO Chris McNeil Jr., who retired. Mallott is the son of Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Sealaska board member Byron Mallott.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Airlines Center Set To Open In September

Fri, 2014-08-15 13:26

On Friday, Aug. 15, the University of Alaska Anchorage invited local media outlets to tour the nearly-complete Alaska Airlines Center. The facility is slated to open to the public on Sept. 5, 2014.

Categories: Alaska News

Keogh Announces Senate E Run

Fri, 2014-08-15 12:51

 Chickaloon’s Warren Keogh has turned in enough signatures to the state division of elections to secure a ballot spot for the Senate E seat. Keogh and his followers made the announcement Thursday in Wasilla. Keogh is running as an independent, and will face incumbent Republican Mike Dunleavy in the November election.

 Keogh, who served on the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly, has a background as a firefighter, paramedic and a water resources specialist in Alaska. He has also served a president of the Chickaloon Community Council.

 Senate E stretches from the Susitna Valley to Valdez, and includes areas to the North of Wasilla, and along the Glenn and Richardson Highways.

Categories: Alaska News

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