APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 56 sec ago

Federal Agency Expresses Concern With Dam Studies

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:42

A federal fisheries agency has raised concerns about the accuracy of some studies being conducted for a massive proposed dam in Southcentral Alaska.

Download Audio

In a letter to the project manager for the Susitna-Watana dam, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, James Balsiger, said new study requests can’t be developed given the current problems with the data.

Among other things, he questioned the accuracy of the identification of fish species.

Project spokeswoman Emily Ford said overall, the Alaska Energy Authority, which is pursuing the project, is confident in the information it is gathering.

She said the comments raised by agencies and others will be discussed during an upcoming round of technical meetings, at which the authority also will discuss its plans for next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Frontier Airlines Pulling Out Of Fairbanks Market

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:41

Two airlines that serve Fairbanks seasonally have made decisions that will decrease flights to the Golden Heart City. One is related to increased fuel cost.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

‘Targeted Hunting’ Permits Considered In Fairbanks Area

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:40

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering an option to issue “targeted hunting” permits this winter to take moose that frequent roadways in the Fairbanks area.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Health Policy Innovators Gather In Anchorage

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:39

A group of health policy innovators gathered at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage this morning to talk about how Alaska’s health care systems have evolved. The event is part of the Alaska Health Care Commission’s initiative to look at how Alaskans health status has improved in the last 60 years. A lot has changed in that time, including the development of an independent tribal health system.

Paul Sherry was a part of that development, first with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and then with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, where he was CEO until 2008.

Sherry says in the 50′s and 60′s health care leaders were focused on designing a health system that worked for the unique aspects of Alaska.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 1, 2014

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:38

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

Download Audio

Minimum Wage Campaign Running Without Organized Opposition

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

This past legislative session, a bill that would have raised the minimum wage was among the most divisive items under consideration. Now, a citizen’s initiative to do the exact same thing is about the least controversial question on this year’s ballot.

There’s no spirited dissent to the proposition, and polls show the measure passing by a margin of two to one. So why is that? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how the minimum wage campaign found itself running without organized opposition.

Federal Grants Boost Services at Aleutian-Pribilof Clinics

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Community health centers in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands will get at least $600,000 in federal grant money for new services this year. The grants are aimed in part at helping new patients who enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. But there aren’t many of those in the Aleutian Islands. Instead, providers will use the money for the patients they already have.

No Confirmed Cases Of Unusual Respiratory Illness In Alaska

The Associated Press

The manager of Alaska’s infectious disease program says it wouldn’t be surprising if an unusual respiratory illness that has affected children in the Lower 48 is detected soon in Alaska.

So far, Dr. Michael Cooper said Alaska has not had any confirmed cases of enterovirus 68.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable.

The state health department says infection occurs through close contact with someone who is infected or by touching one’s mouth, eyes or nose after touching a contaminated surface. The department says there are no specific anti-viral medications for the illness.

To guard against respiratory illnesses, the department recommends good hygiene and getting a flu shot in early fall.

Federal Agency Expresses Concern With Dam Studies

The Associated Press

A federal fisheries agency has raised concerns about the accuracy of some studies being conducted for a massive proposed dam in south-central Alaska.

In a letter to the project manager for the Susitna-Watana dam, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, James Balsiger, said new study requests can’t be developed given the current problems with the data.

Among other things, he questioned the accuracy of the identification of fish species.

Project spokeswoman Emily Ford said overall, the Alaska Energy Authority, which is pursuing the project, is confident in the information it is gathering.

She said the comments raised by agencies and others will be discussed during an upcoming round of technical meetings, at which the authority also will discuss its plans for next year.

Frontier Airlines Pulling Out Of Fairbanks Market

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Two airlines that serve Fairbanks seasonally have made decisions that will decrease flights to the Golden Heart City.  One is related to increased fuel cost.

Cruise Traffic Level, But Could Grow Soon

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Alaska’s cruise-ship season ended last week. It, and other types of tourism, attracted a similar number of visitors as in 2013. But the next few years could be different.

‘Targeted Hunting’ Permits Considered In Fairbanks Area

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering an option to issue “targeted hunting” permits this winter to take moose that frequent roadways in the Fairbanks area.

Health Policy Innovators Gather In Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A group of health policy innovators gathered at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage this morning to talk about how Alaska’s health care systems have evolved. The event is part of the Alaska Health Care Commission’s initiative to look at how Alaskans health status has improved in the last 60 years. A lot has changed in that time, including the development of an independent tribal health system.

Paul Sherry was a part of that development, first with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and then with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, where he was CEO until 2008.

Sherry says in the 50′s and 60′s health care leaders were focused on designing a health system that worked for the unique aspects of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Cruise Traffic Level, But Could Grow Soon

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:55

Tourists off the Norwegian Sun book a Mendenhall Glacier tour near Juneau’s waterfront on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season, as a waterfront worker watches. Passenger numbers were similar to last year’s. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Alaska’s cruise ship season ended last week. It, and other types of tourism, attracted a similar number of visitors as in 2013. But the next few years could be different.

A group of Japanese tourists off the Norwegian Sun cruise ship walk Juneau’s waterfront, looking for an open sales kiosk.

Most days, they’d find more than a dozen. But right now, there’s just one, because the Sun is the only ship in town.

The Sun can carry up to 2,000 passengers, plus 1,000 crew. Many times this summer, they’ve joined 10,000 or more other visitors and workers visiting Alaska’s capital city.

The cruise ship Norwegian Sun docks at Juneau’s waterfront on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Many are taking their first trip to Alaska–and they’ve got a lot of questions. Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau volunteer Sharon Meier is one of the people giving them answers.

Some of those questions have pretty obvious answers.

“How far are we above sea level?” is one. “And I’m not making that up,” Meier says. “We get that all the time–and if we take American money.”

If they’re off a cruise ship, she’ll politely remind them that it’s floating in the ocean.

“And as far as the currency goes, you have to answer that based on who you are speaking with. You can never assume they want to joke, at their expense. So you just say ‘Yes, we do.’ But if they need an exchange, we can help them find a bank or someone who can help them out.”

Juneau saw almost all of the cruise ship passengers sailing Alaska waters this summer. Skagway and Ketchikan saw a lot. And Sitka, Hoonah, Whittier and Kodiak hosted far fewer. Smaller ships called at other cities, such as Petersburg and Wrangell, plus some Southeast villages.

John Binkley is president Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska.

“It was a great season. We had almost a million visitors that will have come to Alaska on cruise ships. And about the same overall for other modes of transportation,” he says. “I think there were close to 2 million visitors this year.”

This season brought a new ship, the Crown Princess, which carries about 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew. The same-sized Ruby Princess will sail next season, replacing a smaller ship.

Cruise lines often shuffle vessels in and out of their Alaska routes. Binkley says that has advantages.

“Many times when they put a new ship, or a newer ship, into a market, it has a loyal following. So you see a lot of passengers who want to go on the new ships and want to go to Alaska as well,” he says.

Passenger capacity has hovered around a million for several years. That may be as many as North America markets can provide.

But Binkley says cruise lines are targeting new customers, especially in Asia.

“It’s staggering the number of people who will be in the economic strata in China in the next 10 years to afford cruises. And one of the top destinations that they want to cruise through is Alaska,” he says.

“Absolutely, there’s significant interest from China,” adds Jillian Simpson, director of membership and tourism policy for the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Tourists consider checking out a sale on South Franklin Street, Juneau’s gift-shop row, on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“And actually, already we’re getting visitors, not only from mainland China, but also people in the U.S. who are studying from China or for business who are then adding on trips to Alaska,” she says.

Simpson says the association’s final figures aren’t in. But it looks like 2014’s season was strong, with about the same number of visitors.

But not everywhere.

“With the amount of rain we saw, the flooding that was happening early in the season, impacted Denali and the railroad. And anytime there’s lots of rain or storms it impacts the day cruises or people who need to take a boat out to a lodge, as well as flightseeing tours and being able to get out to remote parts,” she says.

Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage also saw extra rain. But that didn’t affect its numbers, since cruise ship berths are booked months in advance.

Back at Juneau’s docks, a visitor’s bureau volunteer doles out maps and tips, as he has all summer.

Some dockside greeters get to be more outgoing. Sharon Meier says she went on board ships this year, to hand out information and answer questions.

What’s her favorite part?

“Meeting the people. The visitors are so eager to see Juneau and Alaska. I think it’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists to come up here,” she says.

Many of their questions are the same, about weather and wildlife, and of course, altitude and money.

But Meier says this season brought something different.

“Some people this summer have been asking where the Sarah Palin statue is. For some reason they think there’s one in town,” she says, laughing. (There isn’t one.)

Next year’s season begins in early May, when the Ruby Princess docks in Ketchikan. The ships will keep sailing till mid-September.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Allowed to Keep In-State Tax Credits in Maryland

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:45

Maryland tax collectors had good news for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan today, and perhaps bad news for his campaign. Maryland authorities say he doesn’t have to repay about $5,000 in homestead tax credits he received from 2006 to 2008, for a home he owned in Bethesda. Only owners claiming a home as their principal residence are entitled to the credits.

Download Audio:

That bad news for Sullivan, at least politically, is that Maryland authorities announced in an email today they’ve concluded Sullivan and his wife were residents of Maryland at the time. Democrats have for months been making an issue of Sullivan’s Alaska residency.

Zack Fields, a spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party, said Tuesday that Sullivan hasn’t been straight with Alaskans.

“It’s clear at this point he’s been dishonest on the campaign trail, because his official declaration of candidacy says he’s a 17-year resident of Alaska, and he and his spokesman have said that he’s been a resident of Alaska since 1997.”

The Sullivan campaign issued a written statement saying, among other things, that a person can be a resident for tax purposes while remaining a citizen of another state. Campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says the Sullivans lived in Maryland temporarily while Dan Sullivan worked at the White House and the State Department but they always intended to return to Alaska.

Maryland authorities started looking into Sullivan’s tax credits after getting a letter from the chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party. Maryland taxation director Robert Young said in an email today the conclusion the credits were properly granted relied on “confidential information that may not be publicly disclosed under Maryland law.” In a previous interview, Young said they give a good deal of weight to the address the homeowners list on their federal tax return, along with other documents.

Sullivan’s opponent, Sen. Mark Begich, pays taxes to the District of Columbia for a house he owns on Capitol Hill, as does Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski. Neither of them, according to property tax records, claim the homestead credit D.C. grants to its residents.

Categories: Alaska News

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:44

In April, it was reported that Gov. Sean Parnell’s top staffer used his personal e-mail account to communicate with Alaska National Guard whistleblowers about sexual assault response. In an interview with APRN that month, the governor said Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s correspondence on the National Guard should be a matter of public record.

PARNELL: I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels. However, I’ve asked Mr. Nizich to check his personal e-mail for that and his recollection is that it’s one email, but again that was four years ago, five years ago. I’ve asked him to check for that and move it to the state account, which is protocol to follow. And that will be a part of the public record at that point.

Shortly after that interview, APRN filed a records request to learn how the Office of the Governor handled complaints about the Guard. Four months later, that request has been denied. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

Download Audio:

Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one.

The request asked for any e-mails Parnell Chief of Staff Mike Nizich sent to National Guardsmen using his personal account from 2010 on. It also sought interdepartmental correspondence between the governor’s office and the top two officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre. The governor asked both of those men to resign this September, after a scathing federal report concluded the Alaska National Guard mishandled sexual assault reports and was plagued by a lack of trust in leadership.

APRN asked for these documents to find out how the Governor’s Office responded to complaints about the National Guard from its own members: Did they respond efficiently, and did they take complaints seriously?

Since the request was filed in May, APRN put in more than two dozen calls to the governor’s office to find out when the request would be satisfied, many of which went unreturned. The response finally came in as a three-page letter that arrived on Friday, September 26, at 6p.m.

The denial letter, sent by Policy Director Randy Ruaro, brings up three major reasons for rejecting the request. It cites the legal right to privacy, and it makes reference to a recent attack ad by Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign that upset the family members of sexual assault victims. It mentions not wanting to identify victims, even though two victims have already publicly come forward. It also suggests the documents fall under privileges protecting personnel and the communications of clergymen.

The letter notes that a “significant amount of information on the subject of alleged misconduct in the National Guard has already been made public.” To that end, the Governor’s Office also included a 56-page enclosure of news stories on the matter, including some done by APRN, instead of any actual documents.

Gov. Parnell was aware of the request, but not of its denial. After a Monday debate in Juneau, Parnell did not say if he believed records related to the National Guard should be made public, and instead repeatedly referred questions to his policy director before telling a reporter she was not “serious” in her questions.

PARNELL: I’ve known about the request, but I have not reviewed any records. I don’t know what he has done.
CANFIELD: Do you want to release the records?
PARNELL: We will comply with the statute to the best of our abilities and that’s why I suggest you go see and ask Randy Ruaro.

So, that’s what we did. First, Ruaro apologized for the slow response.

“That is a long period, I agree,” Ruaro said in a phone interview.

Ruaro said they were “swamped” with requests and lacked manpower to deal with them. He said there was no political calculation behind the delay, and that there was no effort to avoid potential litigation over the request being processed before Election Day.

As far as the denial itself, Ruaro said he took a “broad view” when he opted to reject the request wholesale instead of partially fulfilling it or releasing redacted documents.

“There’s no exceptions for partial releases of records when it’s coming to identities of victims, their circumstances, personnel records,” said Ruaro. “The statutes don’t just say in those instances that you can release part of a record but not all of it. As I read it, they’re more of a blanket prohibition.”

Parnell’s political rival disagrees with that legal interpretation. Bill Walker, an attorney who is running as an independent candidate for governor, questioned some of the reasons for the denial, specifically the argument that the correspondence with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about leadership should be excluded.

“They’re trying to apply a privilege that doesn’t apply to them,” said Walker. “Those chaplains are not the clergy for Mike Nizich and Sean Parnell.”

Walker said if he were governor, his interpretation of the public records statute would make transparency a higher priority.

“Certainly the victims’ names would be redacted out, but not necessarily the process would be redacted out,” said Walker of the policy he believes should have been followed.

Walker also suggested the governor is stonewalling, and the point of the delay is “to keep the issue out of the public eye — to not expose the governor’s wrongdoing until after the election.”

The chaplains who notified the Governor’s Office of wrongdoing within the National Guard declined interview requests or did not respond to messages. But their attorney, Wayne Ross is disappointed Parnell is not providing more information about his office’s response to the allegations.

“I think you ought to hold his feet to the fire and get them,” said Ross. “Obviously he said if it would be released and it’s not being released, somebody’s not following his orders — or he’s not being truthful. I would like to believe that somebody is not following his orders.”

While the Governor’s Office did not provide any records, APRN was separately able to obtain three e-mails sent by a National Guard chaplain along with one response sent by Nizich from his personal account.

The e-mails were sent at the beginning of 2012, and the chaplain’s correspondence refers to the sexual assault crisis only broadly. The chaplain does not identify victims, but he does name specific Alaska National Guard leaders and proceeds to excoriate them. The chaplain mentions the “misuse of a government credit card to the tune of over $200,000” and the promotion of a senior officer who ignored the problem of sexual assault in his command. On a third message sent February 3, the chaplain expresses concern that he’s “cluttering up” Nizich’s inbox.

Nizich did not respond until more than two weeks after the chaplain’s third message. The e-mail, sent from Nizich’s personal e-mail account, reads “just so you know I am receiving your messages. I got a call … wanting to me [sic] to send an acknowledgement.”

KTOO’s Jennifer Canfield contributed reporting to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 30, 2014

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:44

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

Download Audio:

Sullivan Allowed to Keep In-State Tax Credits in Maryland

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Maryland tax collectors had good news for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan today, and perhaps bad news for his campaign. Maryland authorities say he doesn’t have to repay about $5,000 in homestead tax credits he received from 2006 to 2008, for a home he owned in Bethesda.

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one concerning the executive branch’s response to sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard.

Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

How Should the US Lead in the Arctic?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year. Recommendations ranged from the lofty to the concrete.

Walrus Are Hauling Out On Alaska Shores In Record Numbers

The Associated Press

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast.

Deciphering AO-37, Anchorage’s Labor Law

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s controversial labor law, commonly referred to as AO-37, will be on the ballot this November. The mayor and his administration want you to vote yes to keep it. The municipal unions want voters to get rid of it.

None Testify In Favor of Pot at Hearing in Bethel

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel Legislative Office was packed Monday afternoon as Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell lead a hearing on Ballot Measure 2, a marijuana initiative that will appear on the November 4 ballot.

Tlingit Woodcarver Revives An Old-World Tool: The Adze

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute is incorporating a traditional Native carving method into the building of the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau. Wayne Price is a Tlingit carver from Haines. He’s using an adze, a tool used by his ancestors thousands of years ago.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:43

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia, is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

Download Audio:

The director of the Centers for Disease Control says he has no doubt that the disease will be stopped in its tracks in the U.S.

Red Cross volunteers prepare to bury the body of an Ebola victim in Pendembu, Sierra Leone. The Ebola outbreak in Africa has claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Photo by Tommy Trenchard for NPR.

Still, public health officials in Alaska are prepared to respond to Ebola if it arrives in the state.

Michael Cooper is the Infectious Disease Program Manager with the state’s Division of Public Health. He says Alaska is making sure everyone at every level is ready for a potential case of Ebola. But he says because the state has few people with roots in West African countries, Alaska isn’t likely to see a case of the disease:

“Our risk is exceptionally low. It’s harder to get here and the we have fewer people who have ties there that are from there or going over there to work and coming back to Alaska.”

But Cooper says even though the risk is low, the state is taking extensive precautions. The division of public health has issued health alerts and is ensuring that any health care worker or airline worker who could be involved in responding to Ebola will know what to do.

“We’re making sure that whether it’s today or in three months, if somebody comes and they fit certain criteria, they were over there, they have a high risk exposure, they have certain symptoms, that everyone they were to come into contact with in Alaska has a high index of suspicion and they know what to do and who to call very quickly.”

Cooper says if a patient is diagnosed with Ebola in Alaska, the disease could be quickly contained. That’s because Ebola can only be transmitted through bodily fluids.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa, in countries that lack basic public health infrastructure.

 

Categories: Alaska News

How Should U.S. Lead in the Arctic?

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:42

Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.

Download Audio:

Recommendations ranged from the lofty to the concrete. David Hayes, recently the second-highest ranking official at the Interior Department, made the case for better infrastructure planning. He says climate change and the fragile Arctic environment make it vital to choose the right locations for ports, oil wells and other developments.

“If we just go project by project, as we tend to do in the United States today, we’re going to make really bad decisions,” he said, at a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s what integrated Arctic management is all about. Getting a science base and getting everyone together to make sound planning decisions going forward so we don’t screw it up.”

If the U.S. can coordinate that integration at home, he says it can carry the banner for the region.  Hayes says it will take a lot of cooperation to prepare for the oil development that’s coming to the Arctic Ocean, in Russia, Greenland and possibly the United States.

“I went through the Gulf oil spill; I went through the Shell issues. And holy cow, we have got to be careful, as a world, on how this is developed,” he said.

Hayes says there’s no infrastructure to support spill response and suggests it might be time to consider international governance for oil and gas rules. He also says the United States should use the chairmanship to promote renewable energy for Arctic communities that are now mostly dependent on expensive fuel. Combination wind and diesel generators have been successful in Alaska, and Hayes says now it’s time to bring down the cost of the generators with standardized parts and better control systems.

“This is an opportunity for the United States to use its technological leadership in renewable energy to bring to the world small-scale renewable options to replace diesel and to just show, to remind everyone that the Arctic is about people,” he said.

That was a common theme at the one-day conference: Arctic policy isn’t just about conserving wildlife or exporting oil but improving life for Arctic people. Alaskan speakers, like Democratic legislator Bob Herron of Bethel, say Alaskans should be included at every level of decision-making when it comes to Arctic policy.

“We believe that northerners are Arctic experts. And our advice should be inclusive. We want it, and we’re going to strive for it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Robert Papp, the State Department’s special representative on the Arctic, says he’s been searching for a way to make the Arctic a priority for the nation, the way putting a man on the moon was in the 1960s, and building the Alaska Highway was in the 1940s.

“What I have finally concluded is perhaps it’s not defense or security related. Perhaps rather than a national imperative, what we have here is a moral imperative,” Papp said. “We all have a responsibility, an obligation to protect this area of our Earth for future progress, for the people who live there and to preserve this wonderful asset.”

The U.S. assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council after Canada hosts its last meeting in late April.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Walrus Are Hauling Out On Alaska Shores In Record Numbers

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:41

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast.

Download Audio:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms an estimated 35,000 walrus were photographed Saturday near Point Lay. That’s about 700 miles northwest of Anchorage.

The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA’s annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey.

The gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.

Walrus dive from sea ice to feed on snails, clams and worms on the ocean floor.

In recent years, walrus have come ashore as sea ice has receded north beyond shallow water and into parts of the Arctic Ocean where the water can be 2 miles deep.

 

Categories: Alaska News

None Testify In Favor of Pot at Hearing In Bethel

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:39

The Bethel Legislative Office was packed Monday afternoon as Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell lead a hearing on Ballot Measure 2, a marijuana initiative that will appear on the November 4 ballot.

Download Audio: 

Elder Elizabeth Lake came from Akiak by boat to testify. She said she was concerned that legalizing marijuana could create more social problems in a region that already struggles with high rates of issues associated with substance abuse.

“Those people who smoke marijuana don’t work, they’re unemployed. If they have a craving for marijuana they break into business so they can smoke and they end up in jail.”

The initiative would legalize, tax and regulate recreational use of marijuana in Alaska for those 21 years and older. Charlene Egbe, also known as reporter Charlo Green now famous for quitting on air at Anchorage TV station KTVA, to campaign for Ballot Measure 2, said she began using marijuana to stop abusing alcohol.

“That allowed me to curb my drinking, big time,” the ex-TV anchor says. “I actually stopped for the first time since I started when I was 15-16 years old. Six years later, hard-core alcoholic. I stopped drinking because I started smoking weed. And not only that, but my transcripts from college will show that I went from failing out of the entire semester to staying on the dean’s list.”

Green flew in from Anchorage to attend the hearing in person. Ana Hoffman, the president and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, testified against the initiative, saying she believes that marijuana can be addictive.

“I’ve seen people of my community of Bethel, I’ve seen people in area villages and people in my own family prioritize marijuana over other basic needs. I have been in homes equipped with indoor plumbing but these home s do not receive water or sewer services. The children in these homes are not able to bathe or flush the toilet because that is not important. What is important in these homes is that the parents in these homes are never without marijuana.”

There were 14 testimonies at the Bethel hearing. No one from Bethel testified in favor of Ballot Measure 2.  The final hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Carver Revives an Old Woodworking Tool: The Adze

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:38

Sealaska Heritage Institute is incorporating a traditional Native carving method into the building of the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau. Wayne Price is a Tlingit carver from Haines. He’s using an adze, a tool used by his ancestors thousands of years ago.

Listen now:

Like most construction projects, the building site of the Walter Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau is filled with modern power tools.

But if you walk to one corner of the building, Tlingit carver Wayne Price has been texturing hundreds of board feet of red cedar using just one tool – an adze.

To be more precise, it’s an elbow adze that Price made himself.

“The blade is made from a leaf spring out of a truck and the handle is made from the branch of an alder tree and it’s held together by string and a chunk of leather.”

The handle is about two feet long and he grips it with both hands as he chips the wood.

“It’s quite heavy. It’s, I don’t know, three pounds, maybe a little more, so it’s pretty heavy to be swinging all day.”

That’s what Price has been doing. Since the beginning of September, Price has been adzing red cedar board after red cedar board, all day long.

“I’m in pretty good shape right now.”

The work he’s doing on the board requires Price to read the wood,

“…and spot the knots and see the grain changes and be able to hit it and turn around and go the other way and keep all the adze rows in a straight line.”

With each swing, Price chips off a little piece of cedar, leaving behind a textured finish, the same seen on traditional Tlingit structures and pieces of art.

“When my ancestors, oh so long ago, were able to make the first adze, that was the foundation that gave them the ability to make all the clan houses, all the totems, all the dugout canoes, all the masks, all the art work.”

Price says the use of an adze is one of the foundations of Tlingit culture and something he’s trying to keep alive. He started using one as a young man. Taught by master carver Nathan Jackson, Price adzed a clan house floor in Ketchikan.

Since then, he’s used the tool on a lot of his work, including 36 totem poles and eight dugout canoes.

“It roughs and shapes and chops and digs and chews all that material out of the way until we get to the hull of the ship.”

The 680 board feet of red cedar that Price is adzing for the Walter Soboleff Center will be used as columns surrounding the staircases of the four floor building. The heritage, culture and arts center is scheduled to open in May.

“I think if Walter’s looking down, he would be smiling. He would be very supportive of an adventure like this – something that’s old and something that’s new being able to merge together to the benefit of the all the people that are going to come for generations here. They’ll be able to walk up the stairs and be able to see that each one of these marks was made one at a time.”

As he chips away all day long, Price says he’s brought back to the past. He sings Native songs to the beat of the adze, as his ancestors watch over his shoulder making sure he keeps his standards high.

Categories: Alaska News

School Board seeks suggestions for $22 million budget shortfall

Mon, 2014-09-29 21:12

Community member giving comments during the meeting at Wendler Middle School.

The Anchorage School Board knows that unless the state funding formula changes, they will have a $22 million budget shortfall next year. They’re asking the community to give suggestions on how to deal with the budget crisis during community listening sessions.

Most of the district’s budget is spent on salaries, said School Board President Eric Croft, so they only real way to reduce it is by cutting positions–up to 220 next year alone. But he said community members do offer creative solutions for saving some money.

“We want to hear ideas for cost savings, big or small. People talk about having People Mover move the students, not busing.” He says suggestions range “all the way to here’s the way garbage collection can be done more efficiently in my high school.”

During the listening session, Kristi Wood suggested getting more parents involved to do things like maintenance work on school buildings.

“I think there’s a potential for having a lot of volunteer support in your parent base. I think you need to ask and you will get a response.”

Wood also suggested spending less money on technology and more on teachers.

ASD explains the budget shortfall during a PowerPoint presentation.

English teacher and parent Janel Walton spoke out against increasing the number of periods in a high school day from 6 to 7. She says each teacher would have to grade for 180 students instead of 150.

“But it hurts the kids. Because what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have teachers start to compromise what they teach in the classroom. Because they know they can’t get it graded in a timely fashion. They know they can’t get it done. It’s just not humanly possible.”

Many community members, like Celia Rozen, also spoke in favor of supporting the highly gifted program.

“People always assume that gifted kids will do okay in school, but they need counselors, they need special classes, they need advanced math,” she said. Gifted children often need help with social issues and with applying to colleges, too.

The School Board will host two more sessions — Tuesday at Alpenglow Elementary and Wednesday at Lake Hood Elementary. Both sessions start at 6 pm.

Categories: Alaska News

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Mon, 2014-09-29 18:23

In April, it was reported that Gov. Sean Parnell’s top staffer used his personal e-mail account to communicate with Alaska National Guard whistleblowers about sexual assault response. In an interview with APRN that month, the governor said Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s correspondence on the National Guard should be a matter of public record.

PARNELL: I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels. However, I’ve asked Mr. Nizich to check his personal e-mail for that and his recollection is that it’s one email, but again that was four years ago, five years ago. I’ve asked him to check for that and move it to the state account, which is protocol to follow. And that will be a part of the public record at that point.

Shortly after that interview, APRN filed a records request to learn how the Office of the Governor handled complaints about the Guard. Four months later, that request has been denied. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one.

The request asked for any e-mails Parnell Chief of Staff Mike Nizich sent to National Guardsmen using his personal account from 2010 on. It also sought interdepartmental correspondence between the governor’s office and the top two officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre. The governor asked both of those men to resign this September, after a scathing federal report concluded the Alaska National Guard mishandled sexual assault reports and was plagued by a lack of trust in leadership.

APRN asked for these documents to find out how the Governor’s Office responded to complaints about the National Guard from its own members: Did they respond efficiently, and did they take complaints seriously?

Since the request was filed in May, APRN put in more than two dozen calls to the governor’s office to find out when the request would be satisfied, many of which went unreturned. The response finally came in as a three-page letter that arrived on Friday, September 26, at 6p.m.

The three-page denial letter, sent by Policy Director Randy Ruaro, brings up three major reasons for rejecting the request. It cites the legal right to privacy, and it makes reference to a recent attack ad by Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign that upset the family members of sexual assault victims. It mentions not wanting to identify victims, even though two victims have already publicly come forward. It also suggests the documents fall under privileges protecting personnel and the communications of clergymen.

The letter notes that a “significant amount of information on the subject of alleged misconduct in the National Guard has already been made public.” To that end, the Governor’s Office also included a 56-page enclosure of news stories on the matter, including some done by APRN, instead of any actual documents.

Gov. Parnell was aware of the request, but not of its denial. After a Monday debate in Juneau, Parnell did not say if he believed records related to the National Guard should be made public, and instead repeatedly referred questions to his policy director before telling a reporter she was not “serious” in her questions.

PARNELL: I’ve known about the request, but I have not reviewed any records. I don’t know what he has done.
CANFIELD: Do you want to release the records?
PARNELL: We will comply with the statute to the best of our abilities and that’s why I suggest you go see and ask Randy Ruaro.

So, that’s what we did. First, Ruaro apologized for the slow response.

“That is a long period, I agree,” Ruaro said in a phone interview.

Ruaro said they were “swamped” with requests and lacked manpower to deal with them. He said there was no political calculation behind the delay, and that there was no effort to avoid potential litigation over the request being processed before Election Day.

As far as the denial itself, Ruaro said he took a “broad view” when he opted to reject the request wholesale instead of partially fulfilling it or releasing redacted documents.

“There’s no exceptions for partial releases of records when it’s coming to identities of victims, their circumstances, personnel records,” said Ruaro. “The statutes don’t just say in those instances that you can release part of a record but not all of it. As I read it, they’re more of a blanket prohibition.”

Parnell’s political rival disagrees with that legal interpretation. Bill Walker, an attorney who is running as an independent candidate for governor, questioned some of the reasons for the denial, specifically the argument that the correspondence with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about leadership should be excluded.

“They’re trying to apply a privilege that doesn’t apply to them,” said Walker. “Those chaplains are not the clergy for Mike Nizich and Sean Parnell.”

Walker said if he were governor, his interpretation of the public records statute would make transparency a higher priority.

“Certainly the victims’ names would be redacted out, but not necessarily the process would be redacted out,” said Walker of the policy he believes should have been followed.

Walker also suggested the governor is stonewalling, and the point of the delay is “to keep the issue out of the public eye — to not expose the governor’s wrongdoing until after the election.”

The chaplains who notified the Governor’s Office of wrongdoing within the National Guard declined interview requests or did not respond to messages. But their attorney, Wayne Ross is disappointed Parnell is not providing more information about his office’s response to the allegations.

“I think you ought to hold his feet to the fire and get them,” said Ross. “Obviously he said if it would be released and it’s not being released, somebody’s not following his orders — or he’s not being truthful. I would like to believe that somebody is not following his orders.”

While the Governor’s Office did not provide any records, APRN was separately able to obtain three e-mails sent by a National Guard chaplain along with one response sent by Nizich from his personal account.

The e-mails were sent at the beginning of 2012, and the chaplain’s correspondence refers to the sexual assault crisis only broadly. The chaplain does not identify victims, but he does name specific Alaska National Guard leaders and proceeds to excoriate them. The chaplain mentions the “misuse of a government credit card to the tune of over $200,000” and the promotion of a senior officer who ignored the problem of sexual assault in his command. On a third message sent February 3, the chaplain expresses concern that he’s “cluttering up” Nizich’s inbox.

Nizich did not respond until more than two weeks after the chaplain’s third message. The e-mail, sent from Nizich’s personal e-mail account, reads “just so you know I am receiving your messages. I got a call … wanting to me [sic] to send an acknowledgement.”

KTOO’s Jennifer Canfield contributed reporting to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Suit Halts Seward Coal Loading

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:52

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs in a ruling on September 3, in which the court rejected the defendant’s claim that the coal facility’s state – issued stormwater permit protects it from pollution liability.  The appeals court has sent the matter back to federal district court.

 Since then, the coal facility, which is owned by the Alaska Railroad and operated by Aurora Energy Services, has ceased operations, to avoid risk of violating the Clean Water Act., until the district court makes a decision.

 Although loading coal has ceased, shipping coal has not. Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage, says shipments by train from Healy to Seward are on schedule.

“We are the transporter. We move the coal to get it down into Seward.” Sullivan says. “We are continuing to move coal.  We have trains going down to Seward twice this week, and we will continue to move coal into the facility down there. “

 Thompson says two ships are on enroute now to pick up the coal in Seward. But now there is no way to load the coal onto those ships.

Lorali Simon, spokeswoman for AES, says the company is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a compliance order, which could allow AES to resume loading.

 

Senator Mark Begich has urged the state DEC to issue a compliance order, if additional conservation measures are met. And Begich has asked Governor Sean Parnell to intervene on behalf of AES. Governor Parnell has sent a letter back to Begich, saying that DEC is working on the compliance order, contingent on Environmental Protection Agency approval.

The EPA has oversight over permits, although permitting authority is delegated to the Alaska DEC. Begich has also contacted the EPA on the issue.

The pollution charge is one aspect of a lawsuit, filed by the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. It charges that the coal loading facility has dumped lumps of coal into Resurrection Bay, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The US District Court ruled against the plaintiffs, who then appealed the decision. Three judges of the Ninth Circuit met in Anchorage in August, and overturned the district court ruling on that aspect of the case.

The Alaska Railroad has not been found liable for any Clean Water Act violations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Man Injured After Crane Crushes Truck Cab

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:45

A Nome man was seriously injured Sunday in what police are calling an “industrial accident” when the neck of a crane fell on to the cab of a truck he was driving at a local gravel pit.

The cab of the truck crushed by the falling crane. Photo: John Handeland.

Nome Police Chief John Papasodora said emergency responders got the call for an “accident involving injuries with a crane” late Sunday morning.

The crane was operating in the gravel pit just east of the intersection of the Nome-Teller Road and the Dexter Bypass.

Longtime Nome resident Louie Green Sr. says his grandson, 25-year-old Bryce Warnke-Green, was behind the wheel in the truck when the crane tumbled down and crushed the truck’s cab. Green said the weight of the crane caved the corner of the cab down right over the driver’s seat—pushing the roof down nearly to the seat.

Emergency responders medevaced Warnke-Green to Anchorage Sunday afternoon. On Monday Green, Sr. said MRIs done at an Anchorage hospital show his grandson has a “crushed spine” with “bone fragments” showing up in the scan.

Green said his grandson is now on his way to Seattle to seek treatment from specialists at the University of Washington. He said surgery is planned.

The gravel pit property is owned by Bering Straits Native Corporation and was leased to ProWest LLC contractors. ProWest was operating the crane and truck at the time of the incident.

Messages to ProWest in Nome were not returned Monday.

Chief Papasodora said the accident is being investigated and the Operational Safety Hazard Administration has been notified.

The Nome Police Department is investigating the incident as an “industrial accident.” Photo: John Handeland.

Categories: Alaska News

Another Begich Ad Alleges Alaska’s U.S. Senators Co-operate

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:44

Sen. Lisa Murkowski keeps trying to shake him off, but Sen. Mark Begich continues to insist they have a good working relationship.

Listen now:

His latest television ad mentions Murkowski by first name only. It features Margie Brown, former CEO of Cook Inlet Region Inc. Brown says Begich helped expand Alaska’s telecom industry.

“And I like how he works with Lisa,” Brown says.

Brown points out that Alaska is one of the few states with both senators on the Appropriations Committee.

“We can’t afford to lose that. I voted for Lisa. Now I’m voting for Mark,” she says at the end.

Last week, Murkowski very publicly endorsed Begich’s opponent, in a TV ad for Republican Dan Sullivan. This is the second Begich ad featuring an Alaska business person highlighting what they allege is a good relationship between the senators. Begich spokesman Max Croes says there’s nothing wrong with saying that.

“Well the response we had from the first ad was that Alaskans were pretty pleased with the fact that Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Begich work together in Washington,” Croes said.

Murkowski, though, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Begich last month demanding he quit using her name and image in his ads.  The latest ad again shows  a photo of the two senators smiling, standing in Murkowski’s Senate office.

While Murkowski is overtly trying to ditch Begich, Croes says the claim the two senators  make a good team is reflected in their Senate votes:  For the first half of this year, they voted together 80 percent of the time, a figure verified by the independent group Politifact.

Kevin Sweeney, a spokesman for Murkowski’s campaign, says they don’t intend to respond to the latest ad because Murkowski has already made her views known.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Towns Struggle to Retain Safety Officers

Mon, 2014-09-29 17:43

Two Aleutian communities are going without local law enforcement after their village public safety officers resigned.

Download Audio:

Akutan’s officer has stepped down for personal reasons. And False Pass lost its VPSO two months ago, when the officer decided to move closer to his family on the East Coast.

Both of those officers were employed by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, or APIA. They get funding from the state of Alaska to put officers in five communities.

Recruiting officers isn’t difficult, according to APIA public safety coordinator Michael Nemeth. Keeping them is a challenge: It’s rare for an officer to stay in Aleutians or Pribilofs for more than a few years.

Hiring from within the region might help with that, but Nemeth says it’s hard to pull off.

Until the positions are filled, Akutan and False Pass will rely on the Alaska State Troopers for assistance. And if all else fails, Nemeth says he could ”saddle up” himself. He’s a certified VPSO with experience in Nelson Lagoon and St. George.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages