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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: 41 min 43 sec ago

AK: Sea Star Mystery

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:56

Taylor White is the aquarium manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Since sea star wasting disease hit Sitka a month ago, the aquarium has lost 35 sea stars and now, only two remain in the touch tanks.

A trip to the coast usually means you’re going to see sea stars, but a mysterious disease is killing them along the West Coast. There had been a few reports of sick sea stars in Alaska, but recently in Sitka, the first mass die offs in the state were detected. Scientists in Sitka are tracking the progress.

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Patty Dick lives on a boat in Thompson Harbor in Sitka. In the morning, when it’s low tide and she has an extra moment, she goes out and checks on the sea stars living in the area.

“I just sit there in awe of the beauty of that animal,” she said. “Everybody loves sea stars.”

Dick teaches 6th grade biology at Blatchley Middle School. She often takes her students on field trips to learn about marine animals, and they usually find dozens of sea stars.

But one morning last month, Dick noticed something was wrong with the sea stars. “I just looked over and I just stopped. There were these big, huge, white spots all over them and they were just wasting away. My heart just sank.”

She’d heard about this happening, but she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. “I’m trying to find one star fish that is not affected,” she said, “and they were all dead. They were all dead.”

Taylor White pulls up a rock on Sage Beach to see three leptasterias, which are small, 6 legged sea stars that are common at this site. She points to the one with three legs and lesions, symptoms of sea star wasting disease.

They had sea star wasting disease. All along the West Coast, sea stars have been dying of this disease. The first case was discovered in the summer of 2013 on the Olympic Peninsula and scientists still don’t know what’s causing it.

Taylor White is the aquarium manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center. For the past year, she’s been working with a team that is monitoring sea stars and other marine life in Sitka and along the West Coast.

“It’s a lot of just crouching down and going from the top left corner and going through the entire plot, moving this rockweed around, and counting as any starfish as you see,” White said.

She takes me for a walk along the beach to see for myself. She pulls up a rock and is looking at some six-legged sea stars called leptasterias. We’re looking at sea stars on Sage Beach, next to the science center.

The Sitka Sound Science Center is part of a project called MARINe, which stands for Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network. MARINe is made up of agencies that use the same marine monitoring methods. They’ve set up about 120 sites along the coast in the U.S., from Southern California to Alaska. There are three sites in Sitka – the only long-term MARINe sites in Alaska. White helps monitor the Sitka sites as part of her job at the science center.

“You really do look a lot harder at sea stars now that sea star wasting disease is occurring,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people are paying a lot more attention now.”

Once sea star wasting hits an area, it can quickly spread through the population. Research divers from the University of Alaska, Sitka, have surveyed different areas in Sitka Sound and have seen evidence of wasting in most locations. At Sage Beach, divers found that in the past few weeks, sunflower stars have disappeared, leaving behind white ‘ghost piles’ of tissue.

When a sea star has the wasting disease, its legs can walk away from its body, sometimes leaving behind only a central disk.

While there have been minor wasting events in the past, this event is by far the longest and most widespread.

White says she’s seeing the same thing happen in the touch tanks at the Sitka Sound Science Center. “A lot of those guys have been in there for a very long time. It was hard to see it suddenly hit.”

They use an open system, so sea stars live in water straight from the ocean. She describes what she saw when the disease hit. “They just started crawling away from their bodies,” she said. “They contort themselves. Then they just started to decay since there are so many bacteria in the water. They just kind of break down after that point.”

The Sitka Sound Science Center is part of a project called MARINe, which is a consortium of agencies on the West Coast that use the same longterm monitoring methods. Sage Beach is one of Sitka’s three MARINe sites.

When sea stars are sick, they can lose a leg and then regrow a healthy one. But with the wasting disease, they just keep losing legs, sometimes until only a central disk is left. The aquarium has had 35 sea stars die within three weeks, and now, only two remain in the touch tanks.

Scientists know there will be substantial impacts from these mass deaths, but they aren’t sure what yet.

Marnie Chapman, a biology professor at the University of Alaska, Sitka, has been working with White in the longterm monitoring project. She says sea stars play a big role in the ecosystem.

“They are major predators in the intertidal,” she said. “They’re definitely the lions and tigers of the intertidal environment.”

And they’re diverse. There are about 1900 species of sea stars in the world, and at least 18 in Sitka alone. “Sea stars are as unique and as individual than those predators that we’re more familiar with,” said Chapman.

There are several groups trying to figure out what’s causing this mass die off. It could be a bacterium, a virus, or environmental change, like lower pH levels in the ocean or warmer water. Most scientists think it’s a combination of things.

When scientists do figure it out, there’s not much that can be done. If it’s a pathogen, there won’t be a sea star vaccine. If it’s warmer water, that’s irreversible.

Chapman worries about the future of the species. She recalls a day when she was out counting dying sea stars and a boy was looking at healthy ones nearby. “This young kiddo was saying, ‘mom, look at all the sea stars,’ and there were a lot of really healthy, unaffected on the side they were looking on,” she said, “and I thought, ‘boy, I hope that still happens. I hope that still happens next summer.’”

But there is some hope. At some of the MARINe sites along the coast, they’re seeing some juvenile sea stars. So, they could make a comeback. In time, we’ll know better.

And there is something that everyone can do to help track the disease. If you see sick or healthy sea stars, report it to seastarwasting.org. Reports from the public help scientists better understand the disease and could help solve this mystery.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hydaburg

Fri, 2014-10-24 16:55

This week, we’re heading to Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. Natasha Peele is city administrator of Hydaburg.

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Categories: Alaska News

Libertarian Candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate

Fri, 2014-10-24 12:01

Libertarian candidates Carolyn Clift and Mark Fish are running for Governor and the U.S. Senate, respectively. (Photos from the candidate’s campaign Facebook pages.)

Libertarians believe citizens should be free to engage in any activity that does not violate the rights of others. Their party wants government out of the way so people can pursue liberty and freedom. How would this translate to elected positions?

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Carolyn Clift, Libertarian candidate for Governor
  • Mark Fish, Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Candidate Forrest Dunbar

Fri, 2014-10-24 12:00

Forrest Dunbar is the Democratic candidate for U.S. House.

Lifelong Alaskan and political newcomer Forrest Dunbar is young and determined. This Yale Law grad wants to be Alaska’s next Congressman. Dunbar is running as a Democrat. His social policy fits with that party, but he says he is more in line with Republicans on resource development.

Congressman Don Young was offered two options to appear on Talk of Alaska, and his staff said his schedule would not allow him to appear on the program.

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Forrest Dunbar, Democratic candidate for U.S. House
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Fish & Game Revising Wildlife Habitat Management Plans

Fri, 2014-10-24 08:47

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is revising management plans for some of the most exceptional areas of wildlife habitat in the state. But critics say that even after an outcry about what’s been called a massive erosion in environmental protection by both the public and the Legislature, little to nothing has been fixed.

The Habitat Division within ADF&G oversees the 32 so-called “special areas.”  They’re state lands like McNiel River Game Sanctuary and Izembek refuge supporting wildlife from brown bears to sandhill cranes.

Randy Bates is the head of the Habitat Division, and is to release the first batch of eight revised management plans in the near future.

“We don’t have a target date yet, but in the relatively near future– I would hope in the next month or two,” Bates explained. “At the end of the day what we want is a plan that protects and preserves the area–the natural habitat, the populations of fish and game–for the reasons these areas were designated.”

Once those drafts are finished by ADF&G employees they’ll be made available for public review lasting about 45 days.

“That’ll give the public an opportunity to review that informally, see the changes that we’re proposing, and we’ll have the opportunity for public meetings in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks,” Bates added.

The informal review process is a way for Bates and his staff to hear concerns or recommendations for specific plans, but in a way that is less constrained by protocol than under the Administrative Procedures Act.

But Ric Sinnot, who retired from ADF&G after 28 years, said that during his time within Habitat the division would spend an entire year working on each plan, identifying every stakeholder–from birders to oil companies.

“And all year long those people would be involved in the process,” he recalled. “You didn’t just say ‘Well we’re gonna do this plan,’ and then go into hiding for a year, and then come out with a plan and go ‘Well you’ve got 30 days to review it.’ And that’s what’s happening now.”

Sinnot is also concerned that the “informal” commenting and review process is not legally binding, and so lacks a meaningful mechanism for public involvement in deciding who will use the special areas, and for what.

“The conventional wisdom is that these things are going to be changed so much that they’re gonna be unrecognizable from the earlier plans,” Sinnot worried.  “The pressure is to make them as unrestrictive as possible, so that pretty much anyone who comes in with a permit to do pretty much anything will be given the permit and told to go out there and do whatever they want to do.”

Sinnot’s concerns draw on what happened last year at Dude Creek: the Habitat Division released revised plans for the area covered in red ink, cut in half, with environmental regulations and scientific sections totally scrapped.

At the time, Bates explained to APRN the cuts were the result of a miscommunication with his staff.

But Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inlet Keeper, a conservation group, believes the process fits with a trend coming out of Governor Sean Parnell’s administration.

“Here we have our special areas–these are our critical habitat areas our refuges our sanctuaries–and the administration is making broad-brush changes behind closed doors without public participation,” he explained. “So there’s a real concern about the erosion of democracy here and the behind-the-scenes process that’s taking place.”

Shavelson is circulating a petition that he says has picked up about 800 signatures. It asks the administration to reconsider the state’s criteria for managing the Special Areas. Shavelson also worries that even stakeholders with specific concerns about individual areas will have a hard time reviewing all the information set to be released in just 45 days.

“When all these plans come out at one time it’s gonna be like drinking from a fire-house. There’s gonna be no way for local people to respond meaningfully.”

When it comes to the upcoming management plans, there is no way to get a preview of how they will look, or what changes to expect. The biologists within ADF&G working directly on revisions are not cleared to speak with the public–or even employees in different divisions within the department. That’s according to a year-old memo sent by Bates to Habitat staff.

Bates denies that this amounts to a gag order, the term offered by both Shavelson and Sinnot.

Asked for a response, Bates gave a light laugh and replied, “Not much need to respond to that. I do look forward to the open public process that we intend to have on these planned revisions.”

While ADF&G does not have a set date for releasing its revised management plans– and thus kicking off the 45 days of public review–Bates said the department will publicize the information as soon as possible on both the department website and the state’s public notice system.

Categories: Alaska News

Statewide Legislative Races; And The Alaska Federation Of Native Convention

Fri, 2014-10-24 08:00

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

From Southeast to the Northwest Alaska and many places in between, some interesting races and ballot issues top voter concerns. Also, the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention is happening in Anchorage, covering a variety of rural issues.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, October 24 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 25 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 25 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Alcohol Advertising Near AFN Prompts Complaints

Thu, 2014-10-23 21:01

Fostering healthy communities has been a regular theme of the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. Health associations set up booths with literature on substance abuse, and all official AFN events are sober. If anyone shows up under the influence, that person is escorted out.

So a banner advertising drink specials alongside the AFN logo attracted attention on Thursday, when it was up at McGinley’s Pub in sight of the convention entrance.

“It’s literally across the street where everyone is going in and out of the door to come in here and conduct the business at hand,” say Liz Medicine Crow, who is attending the convention, and she takes issue with the sign beyond the unauthorized use of the AFN logo. The banner read “A Jack in the hand is worth two in the Busch” to advertise whiskey and the Busch brand of beer, while punning on the term “Bush Alaska.”

Medicine Crow says the advertising is in conflict with the spirit of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

“People are really disgusted,” says Medicine Crow. “I’ve heard that people are hurt. I’ve heard that people think that it’s 100 percent inappropriate. I also hear that people are not surprised, because the welcome from this place of Anchorage is just not as warm as it could be considering how much money comes into this town and how many people are utilizing the services here.”

The banner took on added significance because of McGinley’s affiliation with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Sullivan includes his status as a founding partner of the bar in his official biography, and a 2012 financial disclosure — his most recent completed filing available on the Alaska Public Offices Commission website — lists income from the establishment. Sullivan delivered welcome remarks to AFN on Thursday morning, and is running as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He did not return a message left on his cell phone asking about the banner.

But employees of McGinley’s Pub explained that the sign was actually the work of their beverage suppliers. Bar manager Denise Bostedt said that the sign was produced and installed by K&L Distributors, and that no one from McGinley’s was involved in its design.

“I can promise from the bottom of my heart that we never meant to insult anybody,” said Bostedt. “We love when AFN comes to town.”

A spokesperson for AFN confirmed that use of their logo was unauthorized, and that they received “many” complaints about the banner through the day. After representatives from AFN contacted McGinley’s about the sign, the pub covered up the logo with three sheets of white paper but left the sign up, with the rest visible. When approached by a reporter with questions about the sign on Thursday night, they took it down entirely.

Categories: Alaska News

Tilton, Wehmhoff Vie For House 12

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:01

 Wasilla’s Cathy Tilton and Chugiak’s  Gretchen Wehmhoff are as dissimilar as their parties. Cathy Tilton sticks to a Republican agenda

“I am pro-gun, pro-family and pro-business and I believe that the role of government is not to interfere in our daily lives but to create an environment that allows business to be successful and provide essential services.”

Democrat Gretchen Wehmhoff says she’s people-oriented.

“And I’ve always been involved in my community from Girl Scouts to Arctic Winter Games, and I believe that this is the ultimate community service, to be running for office. I’m pro – people and I believe that we can work with communities and work together to better our state, better our district.”

The two candidates for House 12 faced each other under tv lights on KAKM’s Running series earlier this month.

Tilton has made no secret of her concerns about the budget, especially when it comes to Health and Social Services.   She cautions that spiraling Medicaid costs could “bankrupt” the state. She worked with Representative Mark Neuman on the state operating budget last session, focusing on HSS cuts, and recommends weighing the goal of the state’s formula programs against their actual achievements

“What they were doing good, what they weren’t. And then we were able to look at those things and make long term decisions that could give us some long term sustainability in the recommendations that we made in cutting those places.”

 Wehmhoff wants to provide better transportation choices for workers, increase educational funding and says she’s worried about housing for state senior citizens.

“I don’t know how much cutting we can do on some programs. Some programs have been cut to the bone. But I do think we need to think about our revenue sources, and how we bring revenue back into the operating budget.”

 Tilton has a background in the real estate business, but she touts her legislative staff experience, and campaigned hard in her district to beat her primary opponent in August, taking over 64 percent of the vote.

Wemhoff has little political experience, but has a background in mediation, education and, she says, in the care of an elder family member. On another family note, Wehmhoff is related to Senate F candidate Bill Stoltze by marriage.

School funding, energy and the budget seem to be the top questions this election, but in the Matanuska Valley, fish issues can lead to fighting words.

Wehmhoff says the answer is education.

“We do know, scientifically that a lot of our problems with our fish returning, also has to do with the spawning areas. We have a lot of work to do on educating the public on it’s not just commercial fishing, it’s not just sportfishing, but we need to be aware of where fish are spawning when we are out riding our ATV, you know, where are we crossing streams, are we going down streams.”

Tilton, who advocates state control of halibut management, agrees.

“And what we do need to do is to be able to bring everyone together and, you know, as a consensus builder, someone who can bring those groups together and have them talk with each other to come up with solutions.”

 As for campaign spending, Tilton, as of the October 6 Alaska Public Offices Commission report, has raised almost 75 thousand dollars for her run, although 54 thousand of that was for the primary race. Tilton has spent just about 62 thousand of her campaign chest so far. Tilton has contributed heavily to her own campaign.

 Wehmhoff, on the other hand, has run her fiscally tight campaign on a shoestring. Wehmhoff has raised just $18,634, spending $15,829 as of last APOC report. 

Categories: Alaska News

McGee, Vazquez vie for open House District 22 seat

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:29

Rep. Mia Costello vacated the seat for House District 22 this year when she decided to run for Senate K instead. Neither of the candidates vying for her house seat have served in the legislature before. 

HD 22

On some issues, Democrat Marty McGee and Republican Liz Vazquez are very similar. For example, they both support allowing the permitting process to continue for large projects, like the Pebble Mine.

“What I’m saying is every mining project should be treated the same and be allowed to submit an application,” says Vazquez. “In the case of Pebble Mine they have not been allowed to submit and application.”

“And it shouldn’t be the federal government making that decision,” says McGee. “That’s what Alaska statehood was about in the beginning. Is that Alaskans take control of the natural resources in their state.”

Vazquez says all mining projects need to be treated equally. But McGee says the permitting process does need refining so the regulations are clearer.

Both candidates also agree the state’s budget is too large, and they can’t say where exactly they would cut without more information.

McGee says he would draw on his 17 years of experience as Anchorage’s assessor to try to improve the government’s efficiency.

“I worked very closely with different administrations on the municipal level of finding ways to have more efficient government and use technology and work with our personnel rules, our job descriptions to cause the budget to fit within the means we have.”

He says examining the capital budget is especially important because he sees too much spending on-large scale projects as leading to the downfall of the state.

Vazquez says she would turn to internal audits to find ways to trim the budget, like she has while serving on the Anchorage budget advisory committee.  “So the first thing I would be looking at is looking at their reviews of the different programs and so forth. And figure out what’s waste, what’s not effective.”

Vazquez says the same approach needs to be taken for education issues in Alaska — it’s not about giving more money, it’s about using the money more effectively. “As a legislator I would want to see more better results. I would support forward funding so the district is aware of what funding they have a year in advance, but I would want to be more effective with the dollars that are spent on education.”

She says she would cut materials and supplies before cutting teachers. Vazquez also supports using public money for private schools to give parents more options.

And on this topic, Vazquez and McGee disagree. McGee says public money needs to go to public schools, and more of it. He says the legislature needs to re-evaluate how they fund schools.

“The pattern that the Republican majority has set in the legislature is to cripple and destroy the public education system. I’m absolutely opposed to that.”

Both candidates have lived in the district for decades and raised children there. McGee was born in Sand Lake and has worked in fishing, mining, real estate, and property assessment. Vazquez is a lawyer who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Alaska 31 years ago. She’s also served on the Chugach Electric Board.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Fuel Barge Adrift In Beaufort Sea

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:22

A small, unmanned fuel barge is adrift in the Beaufort Sea and may be heading toward Prudhoe Bay after its tow line snapped in a storm on Monday.

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The 134-foot barge has 950 gallons of diesel fuel on board. It’s owned by a Canadian company, and was in Canadian waters when it broke loose from its tugboat.

Now, Coast Guard response commander Shawn Decker estimates the barge is drifting west in ice-free water at a speed of three to four miles per hour. At that rate, he says it could reach Prudhoe Bay sometime late Friday – and there aren’t any vessels nearby that could try to stop it.

Decker says it’s not guaranteed the barge will run aground in Prudhoe Bay. It’s drifting between the Arctic coastline, and winter sea ice advancing from the north.

The Coast Guard wasn’t able to visually locate the barge today, so they don’t know for sure where it’s drifting, or how fast. Decker says a Coast Guard aircraft will find the vessel again Friday and drop a tracking device onto its deck.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 23, 2014

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:22

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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Small Fuel Barge Adrift In Beaufort Sea

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A small, unmanned fuel barge is adrift in the Beaufort Sea and may be heading toward Prudhoe Bay after its tow line snapped in a storm on Monday.

AFN President Criticizes Gov. Sean Parnell

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The head of Alaska’s largest Native organization publicly criticized Gov. Sean Parnell Thursday morning, the opening day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage.

Fish & Game Revising Wildlife Habitat Management Plans

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is revising management plans for some of the most exceptional areas of wildlife habitat in the state. But critics say that even after an outcry about what’s been called a massive erosion in environmental protection by both the public and the Legislature, little to nothing has been fixed.

Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan Courts Rural Alaska Voters

Liz Ruskin, APRN

U.S. Senate candidates Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan sparred today over who can better move Washington to bring more resource development to Alaska. The Anchorage debate was sponsored by the Resource Development Council and associations representing the state’s oil and gas, mining and logging industries.

Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan Courts Rural Alaska Voters

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Late last week, US Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan took his campaign to Bethel.  The challenger to Senator Mark Begich, who if successful, may be the Senator that tilts the power balance in the Senate from Democratic to Republican.

20 Alaska Native Languages Now Official State Languages

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Twenty Alaska native languages are now official languages in the State of Alaska—after Governor Sean Parnell signed House Bill 216 into law this morning at the Alaska Federation of Native conference.

Third Minto Earthquake Rocks Interior Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

There was another strong earthquake, followed by dozens of aftershocks, in the Interior Thursday.  A magnitude 5 earthquake at 8:30 am was centered in the Minto area northwest of Fairbanks. There have been no reports of damage, but the quake, the latest in a series in the same area, has drawn concern from seismologists.

Wrangell Doctor Indicted On Child Porn Charges

Katarina Sostaric, KSTK – Wrangell

A federal grand jury indicted a Wrangell doctor Wednesday on child porn charges.

Unalaska Clinic Shares Ebola Response Plans

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Concerns about Ebola are running high in Unalaska. The town’s unique geography and large international workforce have residents wondering how they’d be affected by an outbreak. Local medical providers are trying to calm those fears.

 

Categories: Alaska News

AFN President Criticizes Gov. Sean Parnell

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:21

The head of Alaska’s largest Native organization publicly criticized Gov. Sean Parnell Thursday morning, the opening day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage.

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Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate Candidates Spar Over Resource Development

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:19

U.S. Senate candidates Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan sparred Thursday over who can better move Washington to bring more resource development to Alaska. The Anchorage debate was sponsored by the Resource Development Council and associations representing the state’s oil and gas, mining and logging industries.

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Sullivan, sticking to his main campaign strategy, repeatedly tied Begich to President Obama and the Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid. Sullivan says the Democrats want to impede resource development with regulations, lawsuits and by blocking legislation.

“What I’ll do as a U.S. senator is to follow on what I did as DNR commissioner, to work with people all the stakeholders to recognize we have a problem. Bipartisan support. And I’m very interested in being on the Environment and Public Works Committee to do exactly what we need to do: Really reform our regulatory and permitting system to unleash the energy potential of Alaska and America,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Begich insists the election is not about Obama. He says Alaska is closer to new logging opportunities with the Sealaska land bill, which he says is ready to go to the Senate floor. He says development of the National Petroleum Reserve is progressing, as is Arctic Ocean drilling. Begich says he’s been able to promote resource extraction with his committee assignments.

“When you elect someone like Dan Sullivan, here’s what we do lose. Seniority does matter. How many times before did you have Ted Stevens standing up here talking about seniority? It makes a difference in the U.S. Senate. And when you’re on the appropriations committee – Two seats from the same state, very rare,” Begich said.

At the end, debate organizers polled the audience on whether the forum would influence their vote. Most respondents said it would not.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan Courts Rural Alaska Voters

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:18

Sullivan greets Leif Albertson at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce lunch. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Late last week, U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan took his campaign to Bethel. The challenger to Senator Mark Begich, who, if successful, may be the Senator that tilts the power balance in the Senate from Democratic to Republican.

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On a clear and chilly Friday afternoon at the Alaska Territorial Guard Park, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan walks along the Wall of Honor and asks resident Tundy Rogers about names of those who served.

“Sullivan: Is that your uncle?, Tundy: my stepdad’s over there, I’ve got cousins in Eek, Quinhagak, Goodnews, Hooper Bay, damn near the whole wall. Sullivan: Boy, proud tradition.”

US Senate candidate Dan Sullivan campaigned in Bethel October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ben Matheson /KYUK)

Wearing his combat boots, the Lieutenant Colonel in a Marine Corps Reserve unit was getting the face-to-face contact with potential voters that many say is essential to success in rural Alaska. Retail politics of course is one voter at a time. Buck Bukowski is wearing a button that reads Yupik for Begich.

“Sullivan: I’m going to try and convince you to change buttons. Bukowski: I don’t know..”

Less than three weeks before election day, Friday’s visit marks Sullivan’s first to the Y-K Delta in over a year of campaigning. The rhetoric, however, between the two campaigns has already reached a shrill pitch on rural issues. Sullivan alleges that incumbent Senator Mark Begich has been saying that he has the Native Vote.

“Locked up”

A statement that Begich spokesperson Max Croes says his boss has never made. It’s ugly on both sides: the Begich campaign has positioned Sullivan as an adversary to subsistence users, tribes, and rural Alaska. Sullivan, however, is quick to defend his rural cred.

“But I have very deep ties with the Alaska Native community that go much deeper than my opponent’s, because they’re family. My daughters are Alaska Native girls, and my wife is Alaska Native. And we’re going around the state with a great leadership team. I’m very proud to have some of the most prominent Alaska Native Leaders and rural leaders in the state, from all parts of the state, supporting the Sullivan campaign,” said Sullivan.

Begich, has said repeatedly that this race will be decided in rural Alaska and has opened 16 field offices. That presence was apparent at a Bethel Chamber of Commerce lunch, where Democratic staff sat in the back and a tracker with a national group working to elect democratic candidates, videotaped Sullivan’s every word, looking for a slip up or material to be used in ads.

Sullivan visits the ATG Memorial Park Wall of Honor. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

After a stump speech focusing on low cost energy, reducing federal overreach, improving public safety, and dealing with the salmon crisis, Sullivan heard directly from Bethel residents.

In the first question, Bethel resident John Wallace said he was disappointed that Sullivan did not attend the Association of Village Council Presidents Conference earlier this month.

“Didn’t get an invitation, so you, know, you kind of, but we’re here, right, we’re here, I’m here, she was here at the event, for the very reason you mentioned, to get out, talk to people,” said Sullivan.

She, was Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan. Dan Sullivan planned to travel to Hooper Bay and Aniak over the weekend to shake as many hands of potential voters as possible, along with Senator Lisa Murkowksi, who’s endorsed him.

Sharon Chakuchin attended Sullivan’s lunch. She says that not knowing the extent of Sullivan’s involvement in the Katie John lawsuit, which the state appealed when he was Attorney General gave her pause.

“We just heard that term, Katie John, and it strikes a chord in your heart, oh my gosh, Katie John, that’s terrible, so I figured we had to know the other side, we have to know what that’s about,” said Chakuchin.

Sullivan says he was just doing his job to protect state sovereignty, but he say he supports the federal rural subsistence priority. But his opponents consider the decades-long lawsuit an attack on rural and Alaska Native subsistence rights.

A tracker for American Bridge 21st Century films Sullivan. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

Sullivan will come face-to-face with his record as Attorney General this week at the state’s largest gathering of Native people, the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both Senate candidates are proudly listing prominent rural and Alaska Native endorsements. Sullivan planned to campaign in Aniak with former state representative Carl Morgan.

“I think and know that he’s going to do a lot of plus for bush Alaska,” said Morgan.

Sullivan says, if he’s elected he’ll forge a new relationship between the region and federal government and work to bring opposing sides together to fix the subsistence system.

“One of the things I’m a big big proponent of is sitting down with all the differnet stakeholders, hearing them out, and trying to get common ground and move forward. Can we do that on subsistence? I think so,” said Sullivan.

Early voting begins October 20th. Election day is November 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

20 Alaska Native Languages Now Official State Languages

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:17

Twenty Alaska Native languages are now official languages in the State of Alaska — after Governor Sean Parnell signed House Bill 216 into law Thursday morning at the Alaska Federation of Native conference.

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In a packed room at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage, nearly two dozen elders sat front and center as the governor and a handful of legislators spoke to the importance of the bill.

The lawmakers spoke to the inspiration for the bill, and how it was long overdue. But it was the assembled speakers, teachers, and students of nearly all of those 20 Alaska Native languages who spoke to the vitality of what the recognition means.

Lance Xh’unei Twitchell, an associate professor at Univerity of Alaska Southeast, began in Tlingit before switching to English.

“There is no such thing as language superiority, just as there is no such thing as racial superiority,” Twitchell said. “That is what we’re saying today.”

Ceremonial pens used to sign the bill into law were given out to the assembled elders—with each taking a moment to speak to what the new law means for them, their language, and their communities.

Selina “Ka’seix” Everson — a Tlingit speaker from Juneau originally from Angoon — received the first pen, blushing as she admitted to being the oldest elder in the room and marveling at how much change she’s seen since the days when she says she was punished for speaking her
language.

“My Tlingit … is now the official state language. One of them. And again, you don’t know how thankful we are. We are rising as one,” Everson said.

Nome’s Bernadette “Yaayuk” Alvanna-Stimpfle says the new law finally put speakers of all languages on an even field.

“…And that means, the English speakers are now equal with Inupiaq speakers,” Alvanna-Stimpfle said, speaking Inupiaq.

As each of the assembled elders spoke, the speakers agreed that the recognition of their languages was just one step in an ongoing march. Many echoed sentiments of taking the next step in that march by installing the newly-recognized languages into state education programs, and in universities.

Categories: Alaska News

Third Minto Earthquake Rocks Interior Alaska

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:16

There was another strong earthquake, followed by dozens of aftershocks, in the Interior Thursday. A magnitude 5 earthquake at 8:30 a.m. was centered in the Minto area northwest of Fairbanks. There have been no reports of damage, but the quake, the latest in a series in the same area, has drawn concern from seismologists.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wrangell Doctor Indicted On Child Porn Charges

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:15

A federal grand jury indicted a Wrangell doctor Wednesday on child porn charges.

The grand jury charged Wrangell doctor Greg Salard with two felonies for distribution and possession of child pornography.

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Federal law enforcement officers arrested him last week after executing a search warrant at his residence.

The indictment alleges Salard was in possession of child pornography on the day of his arrest.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent alleges in an affidavit that Salard was also making child pornography available to others through a file-sharing network.

A conviction for distribution of child pornography carries a penalty of five to 20 years in prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska. Possession of child pornography has a maximum 10-year sentence. Both counts carry fines up to $250,000 and the possibility of lifetime supervised release after imprisonment.

According to the press release, the arrest and indictment are part of the Department of Justice’s efforts to increase federal prosecutions of sexual predators and to reduce Internet crimes against children.

Salard is one of four medical providers in Wrangell. He is employed as a family doctor by Alaska Island Community Services and serves under a contract with Wrangell Medical Center, the community’s hospital.

AICS Executive Director Mark Walker said both organizations suspended Salard’s medical privileges after the arrest.

“We know that he’s been charged, but we know nothing more,” Walker said. “We don’t know what his pleading is going to be and the outcome of the case. But at this point he’s not practicing for us or the hospital.”

Walker said he found no reason in the workplace to suspect Salard would be arrested for child pornography.

“There were never any complaints that relate to anything like this,” Walker said. “So we’re completely taken by surprise by all of this and dismayed about the impact on the community and want to do whatever we can to help anybody that is concerned about it, answer any questions, provide counseling for them.”

Salard started practicing in Wrangell in 2009. Walker stressed that job applicants go through a rigorous hiring process that includes a background check.

The hospital suspended Salard’s medical privileges in 2011 and restored them in 2013 after court action and controversy in the community.

The State Medical Board is reviewing the case and may take action on Salard’s medical license in the next few weeks.

Salard is at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau awaiting his arraignment in U.S. District Court Oct. 28. At his last court appearance, he requested a public defender and said he had been fired from his job.

Categories: Alaska News

A Year In, Battle for Dude Creek Still Being Quietly Waged

Thu, 2014-10-23 17:05

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is revising management plans for some of the most exceptional areas of wildlife habitat in the state. But critics say that even after an outcry over what’s been called a massive erosion in environmental protections. After vigorous debate in the Legislature and public, though, little to nothing has changed—even as the next step in the process is just weeks away.

The Habitat Division within ADF&G oversees the 32 so-called “special areas.”  They’re state lands like McNiel River Game Sanctuary and Izembek refuge supporting wildlife from brown bears to sandhill cranes.

Randy Bates is the head of the Habitat Division, and is to release the first batch of eight revised management plans in the near future.

“We don’t have a target date yet, but in the relatively near future– I would hope in the next month or two,” Bates explained. “At the end of the day what we want is a plan that protects and preserves the area–the natural habitat, the populations of fish and game–for the reasons these areas were designated.”

Once those drafts are finished by ADF&G employees they’ll be made available for public review lasting about 45 days.

“That’ll give the public an opportunity to review that informally, see the changes that we’re proposing, and we’ll have the opportunity for public meetings in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks,” Bates added.

The informal review process is a way for Bates and his staff to hear concerns or recommendations for specific plans, but in a way that is less constrained by protocol than under the Administrative Procedures Act.

But Ric Sinnot, who retired from ADF&G after 28 years, said that during his time within Habitat the division would spend an entire year working on each plan, identifying every stakeholder–from birders to oil companies.

“And all year long those people would be involved in the process,” he recalled. “You didn’t just say ‘Well we’re gonna do this plan,’ and then go into hiding for a year, and then come out with a plan and go ‘Well you’ve got 30 days to review it.’ And that’s what’s happening now.”

Sinnot is also concerned that the “informal” commenting and review process is not legally binding, and so lacks a meaningful mechanism for public involvement in deciding who will use the special areas, and for what.

“The conventional wisdom is that these things are going to be changed so much that they’re gonna be unrecognizable from the earlier plans,” Sinnot worried.  “The pressure is to make them as unrestrictive as possible, so that pretty much anyone who comes in with a permit to do pretty much anything will be given the permit and told to go out there and do whatever they want to do.”

Sinnot’s concerns draw on what happened last year at Dude Creek: the Habitat Division released revised plans for the area covered in red ink, cut in half, with environmental regulations and scientific sections totally scrapped.

At the time, Bates explained to APRN the cuts were the result of a miscommunication with his staff.

But Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inlet Keeper, a conservation group, believes the process fits with a trend coming out of Governor Sean Parnell’s administration.

“Here we have our special areas–these are our critical habitat areas our refuges our sanctuaries–and the administration is making broad-brush changes behind closed doors without public participation,” he explained. “So there’s a real concern about the erosion of democracy here and the behind-the-scenes process that’s taking place.”

Shavelson is circulating a petition that he says has picked up about 800 signatures. It asks the administration to reconsider the state’s criteria for managing the Special Areas. Shavelson also worries that even stakeholders with specific concerns about individual areas will have a hard time reviewing all the information set to be released in just 45 days.

“When all these plans come out at one time it’s gonna be like drinking from a fire-house. There’s gonna be no way for local people to respond meaningfully.”

When it comes to the upcoming management plans, there is no way to get a preview of how they will look, or what changes to expect. The biologists within ADF&G working directly on revisions are not cleared to speak with the public–or even employees in different divisions within the department. That’s according to a year-old memo sent by Bates to Habitat staff.

Bates denies that this amounts to a gag order, the term offered by both Shavelson and Sinnot.

Asked for a response, Bates gave a light laugh and replied, “Not much need to respond to that. I do look forward to the open public process that we intend to have on these planned revisions.”

While ADF&G does not have a set date for releasing its revised management plans– and thus kicking off the 45 days of public review–Bates said the department will publicize the information as soon as possible on both the department website and the state’s public notice system.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Public Media, ADN Reach Agreement With State Over Public Records Request

Thu, 2014-10-23 10:46

Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News have reached an agreement with the state of Alaska in their lawsuit to obtain records related to the Alaska National Guard scandal.

The agreement signed Tuesday says the Department of Law will assign a team of attorneys to process the request for public records and produce the documents as soon as possible.

The state also agrees not to destroy any relevant documents. The pact specifically covers emails on the personal email account of Mike Nizich, chief of staff to Gov. Sean Parnell, that concern problems at the Guard.

Alaska Public Media first filed a public records request in May to determine how Parnell and his executive staff responded to reports that Guard leaders were mishandling sexual assault complaints.

The media outlets filed a lawsuit after the state rejected their requests.

Categories: Alaska News

Congressman Young Doubles Down On Remarks About Suicide

Thu, 2014-10-23 10:42

On Monday, Congressman Don Young offended teens at Wasilla High with statements some took to be blaming family and friends for a student’s recent suicide. In a written statement, a spokesman said Young should have been more sensitive.

But Tuesday, Young doubled down on his remarks about suicide.

Speaking at the Mat-Su Senior Center, Young said he was frustrated that three 18-year-olds at the high school had interrupted him, as well as their fellow students.

Rep. Don Young’s answer to a question regarding his remarks to Wasilla High School students.

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-Recording provided by the campaign of Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar.

“And I’m an old school teacher,” Young said. “You do not interrupt.”

The campaign of Young’s Democratic challenger, Forrest Dunbar, emailed news outlets a recording of Young’s remarks at the senior center. On the recording, Young recounted a confrontation with one of the students.

“And then he had the gall to say suicide is a disease. It is not a disease, it is an illness. And a lot of times that illness should be recognized by a support group,” Young said. “And it should be supported by the teachers that recognize this person has an illness. He needs help. Is it his parents? Is it his friends, that are not supporting him?”

Young added that he thinks government assistance adds to the problem by telling people they no longer have to work but can get something for nothing.

“This suicide problem didn’t exist until we got largesse from the government,” Young said.

Dunbar, Young’s challenger originally said he wasn’t going to capitalize on Young’s insensitive remarks because he assumed the Congressman was sorry. Tuesday evening, though, Dunbar said both episodes are bizarre. Dunbar called Young “completely out of touch” for suggesting Alaska’s suicide crisis is due to public assistance programs.

Wasilla High principal Amy Spargo says she didn’t think the student who challenged Young on the cause of suicide on Monday was disruptive.

“The student eventually did, with emotion say to Congressman Young that the student we lost had friends and that he had support and his family loved him,” Spargo said.

Categories: Alaska News
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