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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: 1 min 51 sec ago

Sen. Sullivan Moves D.C. Office to Hart Building

Mon, 2015-06-08 15:40

Sen. Dan Sullivan is out of the basement. His staff announced today that they’ve moved to their new office location in the nation’s capital.  Their new suite is on the 7th floor of the Hart Building, just down the hall and around the corner from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The move means Sullivan and his staff leave behind their temporary rooms, off a basement tunnel between the Hart and Dirksen office buildings. The move took five months, because in the Senate, office choice depends on seniority. Sullivan, as a freshman who hadn’t held an elected position before, has the lowest seniority, No. 100 out of a hundred. That meant he had to wait for the outgoing lawmakers to pack up and leave. Then he had to wait out a series of other moves as, rung by rung,  higher-ranking senators upgraded.

The new Sullivan offices have freshly painted slate-blue walls, new carpet and very high ceilings. The senator’s actual office is spacious, with its own balcony. It overlooks the historic Thompson-Markward Hall, a ladies’ dorm dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Anderson says the best thing about the new office is they have more room. Sullivan plans to hire additional aides to round out the staff, now that they have enough desk space for everybody.

Categories: Alaska News

PFD earning, taxes highlight governor’s fiscal discussion

Mon, 2015-06-08 11:47

Governor Bill Walker gathered Alaska leaders from around the state in Fairbanks over the weekend to talk about state services and how to pay for them.

The event called: “Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations With Alaskans” resulted in some clear and predictable messages, but it’s uncertain when or if they will result in legislative action.


Speaking for one of the many working groups who shared feedback at the end of the gathering, Joe Geldhof of Juneau summed up the consensus of many participants charged with solving the state’s revenue shortfall.

“It’s gonna require going into the Permanent Fund earnings; there’s no way around that,” Geldhof said. “It’s gonna require, probably, some sort of income tax.”

In closing remarks at the conference Governor Bill Walker also referred to the “T” word.

“There’s actually two ‘T’ words,” Walker said. “One’s the truth, we’re gonna tell the truth, and the other is taxes, there’s gonna be taxes; we’re gonna have to do something.”

There was an abundant praise for Governor Walker taking on the budget issue in such a bold public way. Independent oil industry analysts Richard Fineberg of Fairbanks says he appreciates the governor’s effort, but contends there was one key piece missing from the conversation.

“North Slope profitability and our failure to audit and get that data in a timely manner and get it at all sometimes,” Fineberg said.

Democratic State Representative David Guttenberg of Fairbanks agrees that oil tax issues were underplayed, adding there continues to be legislative resistance to all new revenue solutions.

“A lot of people think they were foregone conclusions,” Guttenberg said. “Some people just don’t want to talk about oil taxes, or income tax, or revenue in any forum, in any context, whether it’s good or bad. “

“The political question is, ‘Will you participate?’” Republican State Senator John Coghill, of North Pole, says.

He agrees new revenue isn’t a hot topic among legislators, who remain focused on spending, and credits Governor Walker for taking on political taboo like taxes and Permanent Fund earnings use.

“It’s easier for the main leader of Alaska to go out and do that than it is for an individual legislator who paints a big target on themselves and can’t sustain it,” Coghill said. “The governor said he’s gonna do it; he is doing it; you know, good on him.”

Coghill, Guttenberg and others at the conference spoke well of a new state online model that allows users to tweak various aspects of state spending and revenue, and view the result, a tool they hope will make the budget situation more real to the public and spur action.

Governor Walker plans to continue the budget conversation at other locations around the state in coming months.


Categories: Alaska News

F/V Northern Pride now salvaged, area clean

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:14

The F/V Northern Pride was found hard aground along Katmai National Park’s Shelikof Strait coastline May 7.

But as of Friday, park staff, part of the team effort to oversee salvage operations, say the vessel has been removed and the area cleaned.

The Northern Pride caught fire and capsized on April 21 northeast of Marmot Island (57 miles from Kodiak). The three crew onboard abandoned ship and were rescued from a raft by a US Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. The ship capsized and was believed to have sunk, but reappeared once before it turned up hard aground on Katmai’s coast.

There was some concern that the vessel might leak oil or fuel, but initial site visits by park staff found few, if any, signs of spill.

The wooden vessel had come apart, however, and Katmai’s Chief of Resource Management Troy Hamon said the debris needed to be cleaned up.

“There were a lot of wood pieces that had nails sticking out of it, stuff like that, that our wildlife don’t normally encounter. One of our concerns was just making sure that there wasn’t some of that lumber there that could’ve caused harm to an animal.”

But Hamon said a two-day salvage effort by Kodiak-based Global Diving and Salvage was successful, and the beach and surrounding area have been cleaned.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Mystery sheen’ off Shishmaref coast returns, identified as fuel mixture

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:13

A gasoline sheen along the Shishmaref shoreline. (Photo: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

An oil spill of unknown origin is for the third time in the last year seeping off of Shishmaref’s western coast, but now the state Department of Environmental Conservation says they may have identified the source.

The oily sheen was first discovered last June, on the northern coast of Sarichef Island along the Chukchi Sea. Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer first found the sheen on the nearshore icepack and said at the time it smelled like gasoline.

State DEC and the U.S. Coast Guard officials responded to investigate—and begin cleanup efforts—removing 30 bags of oily waste and recovering about 100 gallons of the fuel-like substance. But the sheen reappeared in December, and even after additional cleanup efforts, exactly what kind of petroleum substance—and where it ultimately came from—remained unknown.

Samples of the sheen, as well as from community’s fuel tanks, were collected from both the June and December visits and tested at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut.

On May 26, the sheen returned, and again the community VPSO called it in, again noting a gasoline odor.

Now DEC officials say an analysis of those samples reveal the substance is a mix of “weathered gasoline and diesel.” During a site visit on Thursday, June 4, DEC and Coast Guard accessed an area along the shoreline identified as the “outlet” of the sheen’s seepage. A release from DEC says responders also observed the oily sheen on gravel that was visibly stained by gasoline.

Just how much of the gas and diesel has been released is unknown. Responders say cleanup is ongoing. So far, officials say only the land and water around the Shishmaref Native Store has been impacted. As of the visit this month there have been no reports of affected wildlife as a result of the sheen.

Categories: Alaska News

Slow oil leak discovered on trans-Alaska pipeline

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:09

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and state authorities are responding to a slow leak of crude oil discovered in a buried section of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that a Friday incident report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says a joint near Pump Station 10 between Glennallen and Delta Junction has spilled an estimated 10 or so gallons of oil.

The leak was discovered during standard maintenance last Friday. The state says Alyeska will work with regulators to identify the cause.

Alyeska Director of Corporate Communication Michelle Egan says the pipeline is not in danger of shutting down.

She says the pipeline operator has recovered contaminated gravel from the area and the company is monitoring the site around the clock, prepared for any necessary oil removal.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska residents rank 3 state services as low priority

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:08

State services like the pioneers’ home, the aerospace corporation and the agriculture division should be Alaska’s lowest priorities, according to participants in a budget conference held by Gov. Bill Walker.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that those three services were the only ones identified as low priorities Saturday during the three-day conference at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Participants were asked to rank operations as critical, medium or low and review their current funding levels.

Nearly every other state service was considered critical by the groups at Saturday’s sessions. Conversations considered how the state could afford to continue to offer services after oil revenue took a free fall.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck says the exercise resulted in about $20 million worth of cuts.

Categories: Alaska News

Special session costs of at least $430K so far

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:07

The two special legislative sessions so far have cost the state at least $430,000, with costs still being tallied.

Jessica Geary is finance manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency.

She says past special sessions have typically cost around $30,000 a day. But she said this year has been different. The first special session was marked by an 11-day recess in floor sessions that sent lawmakers scattering from Juneau, the session’s location. She says legislators weren’t meeting every day and many weren’t claiming a daily allowance, known as per diem, unless they were on a committee that was meeting.

She also says it’s unprecedented to have a special session in Anchorage that lasts longer than a day.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate change destroying Natives’ relics

Mon, 2015-06-08 10:03

Climate change is destroying the historical record of Arctic peoples.

Josh Reuther opens the heavy door to the artifact repository at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Museum of the North. Reuther is a professor of archaeology and a curator at the museum, where most of the artifacts excavated in Alaska are preserved.

Josh Reuther at an archeological dig in Alaska. (CREDIT UAF)

“Everything’s climate-controlled – temperature and humidity,” he says as he thumbs through a drawer of plastic bags filled with artifacts excavated from St. Lawrence Island in the 1920s.

“Let’s see,” he said, “harpoon heads; you can see toggles; you can see drilling implements…”

Reuther says over the past few years the museum has been getting more artifacts that are more deteriorated than those excavated decades ago. He says that’s mostly due to climate change.

“It’s something that’s now a concern really around the entire circumpolar north,” says Max Friesen, an archeologist with the University of Toronto.

Friesen is working on a dig near the MacKenzie River Delta, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“It’s kind of a whole series of problems coming together at the same time to sort of create a perfect storm,” he said. “You have the potential melting of the permafrost, you have sea level rise, you have in some cases changing weather patterns.”

Anne Jensen examines artifacts in her lab.

Friesen and other archeologists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of organic artifacts excavated in the Arctic. Those artifacts, made of materials like wood or animal hides, were until recently abundant at digs around the region, because they’d been preserved in permafrost or silty soils.

“It’s a very rich data base that’s being lost all across the Arctic,” he said.

Rick Knecht, a professor of archeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, agrees. He’s been working a dig near Quinhagak , in southwestern Alaska.

“There’s so much information there that’s far away and beyond a conventional archaeological site, which is just stones and bones,” Knecht said.

Anne Jensen is an archeologist and senior scientist for Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. who’s working at sites near Barrow, Alaska.

She says the threat to artifacts is growing, and that time is short for archaeologists to recover them.

“We probably only have 20, 30 years to get this data, or it’s gone,” Jensen said.

The archeologists say more funding is needed to get as much work done as possible in the time remaining.


Categories: Alaska News

Homer’s long-lived Coast Guard Cutter retires

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:59

The Roanoke Island’s crew, their families, legislative representatives, and Coast Guardsmen from sectors Anchorage and Seward came out to the Homer Elks Lodge for the decommissioning ceremony.

Commander Shawn Decker of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage presided over the ceremony. Decker said the Roanoke Island was first commissioned in Louisiana in February 1992 before she made the long transit to Homer.

Crew of the Roanoke Island. (Photo by Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer)

“Over the course of the past 23 years she’s one of the longest tenured cutters to stay in the same home port her entire career. It’s very common for cutters to move around and to change home ports, but for the Roanoke Island she’s been here [in Homer] ever since she was commissioned and that is definitely not common,” says Decker.

Commander Decker expounded on the duties carried out by the cutter and its crews over the years including: search and rescue missions, law enforcement operations, and community service projects.

“Over the past 23 years Roanoke Island has accumulated over 40,000 hours underway, they’ve completed over 1,000 law enforcement boardings, and they’ve executed over 100 search and rescue cases,” says Decker.

He called those stats a testament to the crews of the Roanoke Island, past and present. Lieutenant Michael Clell Thomas also spoke to the merits of the cutter. He is the ship’s commanding officer and in preparation for the decommissioning he was assigned the job of safeguarding the Roanoke Island’s history.

“It’s interesting how you get focused on yourself and your own crew and what you do with the cutter. You forget the legacy of that cutter and what the cutter has done with past crews. Reading through a lot of the history it’s kind of mind blowing to see all that has been accomplished,” says Thomas.

Thomas has also been consumed with preparations for the trip to the cutter’s new home. The crew will have to travel south to pass through the Panama Canal before heading to port in Baltimore, Maryland. The trip will be 7,000 nautical miles.

“We try to plan it as best we can before the trip but there are always some variables in there such as weather and delays with coming into a country and some of your port of calls that are always on my mind. And then safety from a C.O.’s perspective,” says Thomas.

Thomas and his crew are projecting the trip to take two months.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges. As a crew that operates a couple of weeks out at a time, doing a full two months is quite an evolution for us. The families are really what make this possible for us and without their help a two month deployment can be challenging,” explains Thomas.

After the cutter makes it safely to Baltimore the Roanoke Island’s crew will fly back to Homer to meet their new vessel, the US Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo. Here’s Commander Decker.

“The Sapelo is leaving next week from Puerto Rico and they’re probably going to cross somewhere with the Roanoke Island on the Panama Canal. The Sapelo is going to be here in the beginning of August,” says Decker.

Lieutenant Thomas says only one member of his crew will be transferred after the trek to Baltimore and the rest will be reunited aboard the Sapelo in August. The crew and the cutter are expected to be ready for full duty operations by September.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Council cuts bycatch caps; critics say it’s not enough

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:57

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Sunday evening to lower caps on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea — by 21-percent overall.

But Bering Sea halibut fishermen say the cut isn’t big enough to save their communities.

The vote came after impassioned public testimony stretching over three days. Halibut biomass has declined over the past decade, and fishermen in communities like St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands, face the possibility of being shut down entirely. They hoped that reducing bycatch would make more halibut available to fish.

Councilmember Duncan Fields said the final vote didn’t go nearly far enough.

“I acknowledge on a personal basis my identity with the folks living in Western Alaska,” he said, choking up. “And their loss of economic opportunity, personal identity, and cultural legacy. I get it.”

Alaska Fish & Game Commissioner Sam Cotten originally proposed a larger cut, of about 29-percent. He called it “the bare minimum” to protect Bering Sea fishermen.

But the Council adopted a smaller cut proposed by Bill Tweit of Washington State. Tweit said anything larger would be too steep for industry to absorb.

The numbers are tricky: While the final vote reduces the cap by about 21-percent, the affected fleets have been well under their caps in recent years. So the new cap is actually slightly higher than the total amount of bycatch taken last year.

But the cut varies among different groups. Big flatfish trawlers, who are responsible for most of the bycatch, will take the biggest cut. They must reduce the amount of halibut they catch by about 15-percent from last year’s numbers.

Chris Woodley is director of the Groundfish Forum, which represents many of those trawlers. He said that’s a big hit.

“We’re extremely concerned about job loss in our fishery right now, about tying up vessels,” he said. “We need to sit down and assess the extent that this is going to damage our sector.”

The cut passed 6 to 3. Two Alaska members were forced to recuse themselves, in a controversial ruling by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall Glacier fees to go up in 2016

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:55

Visitors at the Mendenhall Glacier can watch the sockeye make their way upstream at the viewing platforms along Steep Creek.

Starting next summer, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau will increase its entry fee and start charging for use of nearby trails and amenities.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the change today after taking public comments on the proposal this winter.

Visitor center director John Neary says it’ll be the first increase since they first started charging fees 16 years ago. Back then, the center got about 200,000 visitors annually. This year, he says they expect to top 500,000.

“That’s really what it comes down to,” Neary says. “We don’t have an increasing budget scenario, yet we do have very much an increasing number of people who want to see the Mendenhall Glacier and the whole recreation area use has increased dramatically.”

The increase takes effect May 1, 2016. Fees are only charged during tourist season, May through September. For the rest of the year the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and nearby facilities are free.

The fee to get into the center will go from $3 to $5 a day for people age 16 and older. That $5 also will cover the cost of using the pavilion between the parking lot and Mendenhall Lake, the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek trail, bus shelters, and bathrooms near the visitor center. Currently those facilities are free year-round.

Neary says the increase will be used to improve services for visitors. He says traffic congestion is a big issue both in the bus parking area and on trails near the visitor center.

“Which is great,” says Neary. “We really want to connect people to their national forests, right? But there’s lots of costs associated with the platforms themselves, the maintenance of our trails, the staffing to ensure good safety.”

The cost of a season pass also will go up next year, from $10 to $15. Neary recommends frequent visitors take advantage of the passes, as well as various National Park Service and Forest Service programs that cover access to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Report lists watersheds, salmon habitat potentially affected by B.C. mines

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:52

This map, found in the FNMEC report, shows potential contaminant flow paths from B.C. tailings dams into Southeast Alaska waters.

Thousands of miles of salmon habitat and more than 200 communities across Southeast Alaska and British Columbia could be affected if another mine disaster happens near the border. According to a report released this week by a B.C. First Nations group, 35 tailings ponds in the region are drawing more scrutiny after a mine dam collapsed last summer.

The report, titled “Uncertainty Upstream: Potential Threats from Tailings Facility Failures in Northern British Columbia,” quantifies what could be at stake.

The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council lists watersheds, communities and salmon habitat that could be affected by tailings facilities that are upstream from Southeast Alaska.

The tailings dam system for mine waste management is facing a lot of criticism after a dam at the Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. collapsed last summer. It spilled millions of gallons of waste into Canadian waterways.

B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council CEO Dave Porter said this report is a follow-up to an expert panel’s findings about the cause of last summer’s dam breach.

“Given the state of the regulatory legal framework governing the mining industry here in B.C., the panel said we can expect two more such failures in the next decade. Well, from our perspective, that’s unacceptable,” Porter said. “So we believe that it is the responsibility of government, industry and our communities to prepare for such an eventuality.”

His organization compiled this report as a resource tool to help communities understand what the potential risks are to nearby watersheds and fish populations.

According to the report, there are 35 tailings ponds from the Mount Polley mine up to the Yukon border. More than 200 communities in mainland B.C. could be affected by a failure. The study does not list towns in Southeast Alaska, but it does include rivers that flow into Alaskan waters.

Three tailings dams are upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg. Two tailings dams are in the Unuk River watershed, which ends near Ketchikan. There is a tailings dam that could eventually affect the Juneau area and one that could impact Haines and Skagway.

Southeast Alaskans worry B.C. mines could destroy salmon and other wildlife that many people depend on for subsistence and income.

The study finds 80 percent of king and sockeye salmon freshwater habitat in the region is either downstream of a tailings facility or would require migrating through a potential contaminant flow path. The same is true for about half of coho, chum and pink salmon habitat.

The report calls for some changes in B.C.’s approach to mining. The energy and mining council asks for more involvement of indigenous communities in the mine planning process and for more long-term economic benefits to settlements affected by mining. It also asks for an emphasis on protecting entire watersheds and to create a pool of money to help with clean-up in the event of a tailings dam failure.

Karina Briño is CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia. She said laws are already in place to deal with almost all of those requests.

“I think what this recommendation is doing and what this report is doing is it’s enhancing the opportunity that we have, as an industry, to have those conversations at a more local level,” Briño said.

As B.C.’s mining boom continues, more mines with tailings ponds are planned for the region.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 5, 2015

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:55

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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FEC Hits Sullivan Campaign With $3k Fine

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Federal Election Commission slapped Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign with a fine of nearly $3,000 for failing to disclose donations.

Governor’s Weekend Retreat To Look Beyond Budget Impasse

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are sponsoring a weekend retreat on building a sustainable future at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Bragaw Extension Stumbles Over Land-Use Regs

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The planned $20-million-dollar Bragaw Extension would cut through University of Alaska-Anchorage lands to join Bragaw with Elmore. But the land has restrictions on it date from when it was sold by the federal government back in 1964.

Court Allows Pebble v. EPA to Proceed

Dave Bedinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging
violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, will go forward . That’s according to a ruling Thursday by federal court Judge H. Russel Holland.

Rotating Propeller Kills Wasilla Man in Wrangell-St. Elias

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A Wasilla man is dead after an accident in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park.  According to Park officials,  62- year -old Clark J. Baldwin was killed instantly when he backed into a spinning  plane propeller.

Panel Advises Trimming Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has come out in favor of reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.

Kuskokwim River Residents Face Early Season Restrictions

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

King salmon are beginning to show up on the Kuskokwim River. All eyes are on the few kings that are appearing in the Bethel Test Fishery and in subsistence fishermen’s nets during limited 4-inch openings.

On International Donut Day, Kobuk Has You Covered

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Today is National Donut Day and one Anchorage shop is getting national attention. The Kobuk’s old fashioned donuts were highlighted by Huffington Post as one of the best in the country.

AK: Tundra Love

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Right now the tundra and forests of Bristol Bay are exploding with flora. While many foragers have already munched on fiddlehead ferns and are looking forward to wild berry picking, they may overlook the traditional medicinal uses of many Alaskan plants.

49 Voices: Sheila Arkell of Eagle River

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Sheila Arkell and her husband moved to Anchorage from Washington D.C. in the 1980s.

Categories: Alaska News

Emotions Run High In Sitka Over Halibut Bycatch Debate

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:52

As the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Sitka this week, the most contentious issue on the agenda is a proposal to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Commercial halibut fishermen up and down the coast are pushing the council to reduce bycatch limits, while trawlers and others in the Bering Sea say they’ve already reduced bycatch voluntarily  — and lower limits would be ruinous.

Emotions are running high on all sides of the issue. The Council got a preview of that during testimony before its advisory panel this week.

About 150 signed up to testify before the Council on the issue of halibut bycatch. Many of them sharpened their arguments before the council’s industry advisory panel earlier in the week. That panel ended up voting to recommend some cuts in bycatch caps, of up to 45% for some sectors.

Retired Sitka longliner Carolyn Nichols told the panel she worries that if the groundfish fleet continues to take bycatch at current levels, it will endanger the halibut stock — and the future of halibut fishing.

“There are a lot of kids here, like my son, who’s taken over the boat, who are like, yeah why should I buy halibut quota? Because they’re just going to take it away from me when it goes down.”

She pointed out that Canada has managed to cut its bycatch significantly. She was challenged by Advisory Panel member Patrick O’Donnell.

“Do you understand that the Canadians reduced from TK vessels down to 55 in part to accomplish the reductions? And the effects that would have on displacing processing crew, captains, and boats in the Bering Sea?”

“Are you aware of the effects it’s going to have if the directed halibut fishery, the sport fishery, the charter fishery and the subsistence fishery goes down the drain in all of Alaska, Canada, Washington and California?”

John Nelson, captain of the Bering Sea trawler the Rebecca Irene, said his fleet isn’t getting credit for the extensive measures they’ve already put in place to avoid bycatch.

“There’s not a magic bullet here. The increments are going to be small at this point…we can make improvements. But it’s getting harder and harder. We’re really using all the tools at our disposal.”

Nelson said a 50-percent cut in the bycatch cap would force his fleet to shut down part of the year, and mean that crewmembers will lose their jobs.

That’s already happened to halibut fishermen, said Sitkan Frank Balovich. Longliners like him have absorbed big cuts, he said. It’s time for the groundfish fleet to take theirs.

“I mean, why is their family more important than mine? Why are their kids more important than mine? Why is their boat more important than mine? Why is their crew more important than mine?”

He was echoed later that afternoon by Heather Mann, of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative.

“Why is a crewmember on a directed halibut boat more important than a crewmember’s livelihood on a trawl boat? It’s not. It’s not.”

Mann said her fleet has reduce bycatch to below 1% of their catch. She had a question for those who say they can do better.

“How? How in this situation can the trawl catcher vessels in the Pacific Cod fishery do better?”

Meanwhile, for Simeon Swetsov, Jr, the mayor of St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, it’s a matter of survival. In the Bering Sea around St. Paul, more halibut was taken as bycatch in the past few years than caught by the commercial halibut fleet. If current trends don’t change, halibut fishermen in his region face being shut out of the fishery entirely. Swetsov choked up, talking about the impact.

“I’m extremely angry that we’re here today [[starts crying]]…we’ve been dealing with this issue for a long time.”

It’s a matter of justice, he said.

“We live right out in the richest ocean in the world practically, and we’re going to see this happen to us, in our own backyard! No! We’ll fight it!”

That fight will continue over the next few days. The Council is expected to vote on halibut bycatch this weekend.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sitka through Tuesday, June 9. The Council will continue taking public comment on Saturday, and is expected to vote on the issue sometime this weekend. You can find links to the the full agenda and Council livestream, on our website, kcaw.org.


Categories: Alaska News

U-Med Road Developers Need Permission from BLM Because of Land Patents

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:44

Map from the BLM. The patents on the red area have expired. The “for school purposes only” patents on the blue and yellow areas have not. The orange line indicates the location of the proposed road.

1960s era regulations could impact the development of the U-Med District Access Road, also known as the Bragaw Extension. The planned $20 million, two-lane road would cut through University of Alaska-Anchorage lands to join Bragaw with Elmore. But the land has restrictions on it dating from when it was sold by the federal government back in 1964.

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The original land patent says the northeastern area of UAA land can be used “for school purposes only.” It allows for ditches and canals for mining and agriculture, and right of ways for railroads and telegraphs. But not necessarily for roads.

Bureau of Land Management’s acting chief of lands and realty in Alaska, Dave Mushovic, cannot comment on the U-Med District Road directly because the BLM hasn’t received an official plan from UAA, which is the land owner.

He explains that federal land is sold at a discount to state and local governments and non-profits under the Recreation & Public Purposes Act, but the land comes with restrictions. In order to use the land for anything else, landowners have to get permission from the Department of the Interior.

“They really need to because if they don’t, and then we come back and find out they did something that they weren’t allowed to, then we could start that reversionary action and take title back to the entire patent.”

That means the federal government could take back the land. BLM spent months studying the land patent question this spring, at the request of KSKA. They determined in the case of the UAA land, these rules apply to the area “forever.”

But what does the restriction “for school purposes only” really mean? Mushovic:

“School purposes would be any thing that supported the operation of the school on those lands,” Mushovic explained. “So, for example, if they needed dormitories for students, that would be in support of the school purpose. Their own roads and utility systems that support the school.”

Mushovic says the landowner can also sell or give away portions of the land, so long as the use of the land remains in the public interest.

The Department of Transportation is developing the U-Med Access Road. DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says they don’t think the patents would prohibit the development of the road or walkways.

“Access to University of Alaska lands would fit into the purpose – to provide access into the property itself.”

A statement from UAA says they believe the road will provide additional access points to the campus and help the advancement of the university.

But Carolyn Ramsey with Citizens for Responsible Development U-Med says the purpose of the road is to relieve traffic congestion and does not meet the “for school purposes only” condition.

“As far as their land, yes, it does give access to it. But there’s a little word there — “only.” And this “school purposes only” is specifically for education and school. Not for traffic, for better, access, for anything like that.”

BLM Anchorage Field Manager Alan Bittner says they plan to look into the matter. The process won’t take public comments into account, and it’s unclear how long it will take because BLM hasn’t seen the plans yet. DOT wants to start construction on the road this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Advises Curbing Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:41

The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has come out in favor of reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.

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The panel is made up of fishing industry representatives, and it was tasked with making a formal recommendation on the issue, by far the most contentious of the Sitka meeting happening now.

After a day and a half of emotional testimony from all sides, the panel voted 11 to 10 to reduce the bycatch cap for the Bering Sea groundfish fleet by 31% overall. Since the fleet is already under its cap, that would amount to a real reduction of about 13 percent from the five-year average.

The panel proposed different cuts for different sectors. The largest proposed reduction is for the so-called “Amendment 80” fleet. Those are catcher-processors that target flatfish like yellowfin sole, and generate the bulk of halibut bycatch mortality.

The issue now goes before the Council itself.

Categories: Alaska News

National Donut Day brings wide attention to local baker

Fri, 2015-06-05 16:39

Mike Bonito poses with his donuts at The Kobuk. Hillman/KSKA

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Friday is National Donut Day, and one Anchorage shop is getting national attention. The Kobuk’s old fashioned donuts were highlighted by Huffington Post as one of the best in the country. Donut baker Mike Bonito is trained as a professional cook and baker, but he says anyone can make a roast. Donuts, though, are different.

“Donuts have lots and lots of little variables that you have to be able to control and to master. And once you get it all figured out, your donut is different from other donuts. It’s a reality.”

He lovingly explains that to get the perfect donut, you have to mind the temperature of the oil, the batter, and even the room.

“Here’s how picky these donuts are,” he says, pointing to a freshly glazed tray. One or two lack the symmetrical lobes. “This fryer has a heating element, but it doesn’t heat at the same temperature all throughout. So, try as I might, I rotate the donut from the front to the back when they’re actually frying, but sometimes I miss one. When you miss one for just ten or 15 seconds at one part of the fryer, it effects it.”

Bonito started baking nearly 40 years ago. Twenty of those have been focused almost exclusively on donuts.

Categories: Alaska News

FEC Hits Sullivan Campaign With $3k Fine

Fri, 2015-06-05 15:49

The Federal Election Commission slapped Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign with a fine of nearly $3,000 for failing to disclose donations.

The civil penalty stems from the so-called 48-hour notices candidates are required to file for donations received in the days before an election. The FEC found the Sullivan campaign received four contributions before the Primary and seven before the General Election that weren’t properly disclosed. The total amount of the donations in question comes to just over $25,000. Most — if not all – of them appear to be from out of state. The campaign, all told, raised almost $8 million.

FEC documents say the fine was paid in April, before the commission put the case on the public record this week. Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson says the FEC action follows the campaign’s self-reported error.

The period covered by the 48-hour rule starts 20 days before and ends 48 hours before Election Day. The FEC must receive the notice within 48 hours of the campaign’s receipt of the donation.

The campaign of Sullivan’s rival, Mark Begich, also got letters from the FEC with questions about apparent mistakes in their 48-hour reports. The Begich campaign treasurer acknowledge “inadvertant errors” and filed — or refiled — a series of 48-hour reports months after Election Day.


Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell- St. Elias Park Fatality

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:43

A Wasilla man is dead after an accident in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. According to Park officials, 62- year -old Clark J. Baldwin was killed instantly when he backed into a spinning plane propeller. Peter Christian is the District Ranger:

“So what we know with the early reports of the investigation are is that there were four Super Cub airplanes at the Peavine strip within the Park, and all four of them were running, the engines were running, and Mr. Baldwin was outside of his own aircraft attempting to help one of the other airplanes when he accidentally backed up into his own prop, and was killed instantly.”

The accident happened around 11 am on Thursday. Christian says it was 2 pm before Park rangers were able to get to the site. The Peavine Bar Strip is about 15 miles East of McCarthy.

“There were seven people total there, including Mr. Baldwin so the six survivors said he was killed instantly, so there was really no medical response at that point. We received the call for help through a satellite phone. The Troopers received the initial call, but they had no air assets or available personnel as close as the Park Service did, so the National Park Service rangers responded. ”

Park Service officials have recovered the body. The National Transportation Safety Board has been notified.

Baldwin was the sole occupant of his plane at the time of the accident. Christian says that the deceased was the owner of Alaska Cub Training Specialists, a flying club based in Wasilla, and was a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Sheila Arkell of Anchorage

Fri, 2015-06-05 14:41

Now it’s time for 49 voices. Sheila Arkell and her husband moved to Anchorage from Washington D.C. in the 1980s. She says the city felt a lot more isolated in those days.

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Categories: Alaska News