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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: 10 min 16 sec ago

University of Alaska Regents Approve Tobacco Ban

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:13

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has approved a policy banning smoking and other tobacco use on its campuses statewide.

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The language passed by regents during a meeting in Anchorage Thursday says, “The University is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for its students, employees, and visitors, by prohibiting tobacco use and smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes and similar products, within its campuses and facilities.”

No funding is attached to the policy which will be up to campus communities to implement.

Tobacco use will be allowed inside private vehicles.

The ban takes effect December first 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Butler to Return as Alaska’s Top Doctor

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:12

Jay Butler is returning to his job as the state’s top doctor.

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Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson says in a release that Butler will be both the state’s chief medical officer and director of the Division of Health.

Davidson also announced Jon Sherwood will be deputy commissioner for Medicaid and Health Care Policy.

Both appointments are effective immediately but subject to legislative approval.

Butler was previously the chief medical officer from 2007-09. He left to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before he returned to the state position, he was senior director of the Division of Community Health Services at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage.

Sherwood is a 25-year veteran of the state health department.

Categories: Alaska News

Study: Climate Change Hurting Salmon Habitat

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:11

Nature Conservancy scientist Colin Shanley talks about research on climate change impacts to Southeast salmon habitat. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Scientists know climate change is altering rain and snowfall patterns in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. A new study details how that could affect salmon and suggests what can be done.

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“Global climate change may become one of the most pressing challenges to Pacific Salmon conservation and management for Southeast Alaska in the 21st Century.”

That’s the opening statement in a report released earlier this year by The Nature Conservancy scientists Colin Shanley and David Albert.

Standing next to a fast-running Juneau creek, Shanley says the research began by examining about a half-century of Southeast stream-gauge measurements.

“By doing that we can figure out how historical patterns of temperature and precipitation affected our current stream discharges and things important to salmon,” he says.

The researchers looked at how warming temperatures and changing rain and snow patterns have, and will, affect the sources of streams.

A new report says salmon, including sockeye, shown here, could have habitat disrupted by new rainfall and snow patterns caused by climate change. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“Those watersheds that are generally fed by deep snowpack in the mountains might see fluctuations in their snowpack. And that in turn affects how much water is in the river throughout the rest of the next summer,” Shanley says.

One threat is flooding during the spawning and incubation period. The study projects that will happen more often during key times.

“When the salmon run up the river in the fall, they’re laying their eggs in the gravel and leaving them there, hoping that they’ll hatch. And some of these high-water events, where you get rain on snow, are going to cause more flooding events, or that’s what we predict. So certain streams are more susceptible to scour and loss of salmon eggs,” Shanley says.

In other places, streams may have less water and flow slower.

That’s already happened in parts of central and southern Southeast, killing fish.

“For the salmon streams that are really reliant on a more consistent rain to maintain adequate flows, you’re seeing water temperatures exceed what salmon can really tolerate,” he says.

Shanley says some of those scenarios can be addressed.

The study recommends restoring or improving damaged streams and rivers. That includes more of the restoration work already being done, including adding trees and stumps.

“The wood in the water slows down the water, so that can help with higher water. … That’ll get cooler and then they (salmon) can hide from predators and direct sunlight,” he says.

Shanley says fixing culverts and reconnecting diverted streams to wetlands would also help. That’s also been done, but he says more is needed.

He adds other change will come without human assistance.

“What we imagine happening is kind of a shifting in productivity of streams in Southeast Alaska. Because there is a great variety of streams in terms of mountainous headwaters and glaciated headwaters and low-elevation floodplains that were really set up to be pretty resilient,” he says.

Changes in watersheds could affect other plants and animals, as well as community drinking water supplies. That’s been predicted for a while.

But Shanley says it’s not all bad.

“This is not a doom-and-gloom outlook. This is really just us just getting smarter about how climate change may play out and how it might affect resources that are valuable to us,” he says.

The two-year study was published in the Public Library of Science-One, an international, peer-reviewed, online publication. It cost about $90,000, with grants from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is an international conservation organization. Other regional projects include Tongass National Forest restoration projects and small business development.

Categories: Alaska News

10 Years On, Selendang Ayu Spill’s Legacy Still Evolving

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:10

The Selendang Ayu split in two halves off Unalaska’s coastline in early December 2004. (Credit: Lauren Adams/KUCB)

This week marks 10 years since the bulk carrier Selendang Ayu ran aground off Unalaska Island. The ship lost power and broke in half against the shore, spilling oil and its soybean cargo, and leaving six crew members dead.

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It was the biggest shipping disaster in the Aleutians’ recent history – and its impacts are still evolving today.

Name a maritime disaster in the Aleutian Islands, and Dan Magone has probably helped clean it up. He’s been salvaging shipwrecks since long before a real spill response system was in place.

That had changed, thanks to the Exxon Valdez, by December 2004, when the Selendang Ayu lost power north of Unalaska. But even then, Magone says:

Dan Magone: “We were very ill-equipped to deal with a ship of that size.”

There was no automatic tracking to give early warning that the 738-foot vessel was in trouble — and no heavy-duty tugboats nearby to rescue it. Tow lines from local tugs kept snapping, and the Selendang’s anchors didn’t hold.

An oil sheen is visible at the wreck of the Selendang Ayu December 2004. (Lauren Adams/KUCB Archive Footage)

Magone got on scene just as the vessel went aground, and the Coast Guard started airlifting the crew to safety. With a squall moving in, Magone went back to Unalaska.

Magone: “We landed at the airport, and I got out of the helicopter as my son was driving by in a welding truck. He pulls off to the side of the road, comes over and gives me a great big hug, which was totally out of character. But what I didn’t know was the Coast Guard helicopter crashed not long after we left.”

Six Selendang crew members were lost at sea – but the Coast Guardsmen survived that crash. Retired Coast Guard Capt. Ron Morris, the federal on-scene coordinator for the disaster, remembers meeting them in town.

Ron Morris: “They still smelled like the jet fuel, whatever they use in the helicopters. I mean, they reeked of the disaster, essentially.”

Meanwhile, the ocean was ripping the Selendang Ayu in half. The spill that followed poured 336,000 gallons of oil and 66,000 tons of soybeans into the water and onto shore.

Magone was ready to start responding, though the weather meant his expectations weren’t high — now, he thinks they’re lucky if they cleaned 10 percent of the spill.

Still, Ron Morris says locals were angry at first that the complex, multi-agency planning process and lack of nearby equipment delayed the response.

Morris: “It’s just that you’re so far away from everything there. You’re working on the other side of the island, which is remote as well — and those resources just aren’t around the corner.”

Once it began, the project would last two years. It was the biggest, longest job Dan Magone ever took on. And hundreds of locals got involved. Brenda Tellman was hired to scour the beaches for oil, rock by rock, living at the site for weeks on end.

Brenda Tellman: “Some beaches were really messy and really stinky, but I think even if you got what we got off, it was better than leaving it there. … We ended up using some seashells, that worked pretty good — better than the [oil] scrapers itself.”

Others worked to keep Unalaska’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry safe from any oil that turned up close to town. The big fisheries were unharmed — but the state did close a small tanner crab harvest near the spill.

A worker holds up a handful of grass, oil and soybeans found on a beach near the wreck. (Lauren Adams/KUCB Archive Footage)

Some fishermen found work at the wreck to make up for lost revenue. Roger Rowland was one of those. When he talks about the Selendang now, he’s quick to bring up other local spills – some of them deadly, like the Kuroshima in 1997. He says yes, the Selendang was dramatic – but it’s just one in a long list:

Roger Rowland: “And if you throw in near misses, you can easily call one a year — just right here in our local waters. It’s not as out of the box as we might like to think it is. It’s just barely outside the box.”

Still, that was enough to spark some big changes to spill planning in the region. The Selendang led to Unalaska’s emergency towing system, which has come in handy in the past several years. And it resulted in better vessel monitoring – a vital tool in a high-traffic area where weather and human error will always cause problems.

But one thing some say might have saved the Selendang hasn’t happened — the dedicated heavy-duty tug. Retired Capt. Ron Morris says it’s a missing piece at either end of the Aleutian chain, where thousands of ships cross over as they transit the Pacific Ocean:

Morris: “You know, if you had a towing vessel [in the west at] Adak, and there at Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, so that you could take care of vessels on the Great Circle Route in those two choke points, you’d have a much better opportunity to conduct a save on a drifting vessel.”

That unfilled need has been especially significant for Dan Magone. A year ago, he merged his decades-old salvage company with Resolve Marine. The international corporation saw an in after the Selendang for one of their tugs, the Resolve Pioneer.

Magone: “Resolve thought, well, if we could hook up with Magone and use his facility and do what he’s been doing to try and make income any way we can so that we can have a vessel out there until it’s needed — so that’s what evolved there.”

But it’s not ideal for the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment, a study funded by the settlement from the Selendang that’s just now wrapping up. They plan to ask the federal government and other sources for millions of dollars to finance an even bigger tug – and a whole new response system.

Finding that funding will be a big challenge. It predates the Selendang, and still hasn’t been solved, 10 years down the road.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Maps

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:09

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

If you want to find a rare book or unusual map in Juneau, there’s only one place to go – Dee Longenbaugh’s shop. Longenbaugh is the owner of The Observatory: a rare book shop, used bookstore, and treasure trove all in one. You can find everything from local cookbooks about how to prepare halibut to maps of the Great White North.

Kayla Desroches stopped by the Observatory on a recent afternoon and has this profile.

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When I arrive, Dee Longenbaugh sits at her computer. Piles of old papers peek out from under her desk. I avoid stepping on them; I don’t want to trample documents that look a hundred years old.

But Longenbaugh says that age doesn’t determine the worth of a rare book or a map. For her, it’s not so much about what year the map came from. It’s more a question of what the map reveals.

“Why are these old ones so very different? If you’re curious, you want to find out why,” she said. “What did they believe at that time? And it’s the only thing I know that shows the world as our ancestors knew it or thought they knew it.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

While her priciest map is $15,000, Longenbaugh stocks inexpensive maps so that anyone can buy them.

“You can have excellent taste and little money and we all know the opposite can be very true. But I also get people hooked on maps,” Longenbaugh said. “Maybe you’re young, don’t have much money, OK, well here’s a little map for you. And say, five or ten years go by, well you now you’ve got money, oh yeah, and you love those maps.”

Although Longenbaugh is a business owner, her store began as a passion project when her children had gotten older. She collected around 343 old books about Alaska on trips to San Francisco and New York – enough to set up her bookstore in 1977. So she rented an old house in Sitka’s downtown area.

“…And my sweet older son built me a very nice bookcase which I still have and I put the books on display and ran a little ad in the paper and people started coming and it was just kind of fun,” she said.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

Longenbaugh says that it was the first used bookstore in Southeast.

In 1989, she and the Observatory moved to Santa Fe for a time. But she says she had a longing for Alaska. She flew back to the state to visit with her daughters, who live in Juneau, and stayed.

Longenbaugh originally settled in the Juneau Empire offices. She’s since ended up on the corner of third and Franklin where there’s a bread shop in the basement. Sometimes the baker’s music vibrates up through the floors.

Although it’s a little quiet during the off-season, Longenbaugh loves meeting the world travelers during the summer months. Some antique owners keep their rarities behind lock and key, but she believes in inviting guests to see and touch her maps.

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

She says one way to tell an old map is genuine is to feel for the Gutenberg Press plate mark – the raised ridge along the side of the paper. She pulls a circa 1763 map of Alaska and Asia from a drawer, and spreads it across a table in back. The paper is made out of linen and is thick and pliable.

“A reproduction’s going to be smooth of course. If it’s real, you feel that plate mark? And you look it over on the other side. There it is – even stronger. That would not come through of course on a reproduction,” she said.

Longenbaugh also has a group of loyal customers in the community who come for the books. Mary Ellen Frank and her husband have been visiting her shop for 20 years.

Frank crafts figurines and then creates clothing for them that reflects traditional Native dress from around Alaska. Her work has been featured in museum collections and exhibitions.

She says she’s browsed The Observatory for research and that Longenbaugh goes above and beyond.

“When Dee travels, and she’s travels worldwide, she keeps her eyes open for things for you,” Frank said. “Or if she goes into a museum there that is of particular interest to you, she’ll let you know about that, get photographs for you. Really share.”

(Photo by Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau)

And Frank can guess why Longenbaugh is so popular in town.

“When you drop by her shop, if there’s somebody else there, in to time at all you’re all involved in the conversation,” Frank said. “She’s just one of those really engaging, charismatic people.”

Longenbaugh has a personal attachment to her maps. She says her favorite is a 1570 depiction of Alaska and Asia recreated in the 1600s. She says that Alaska is almost unrecognizable until you spot the Strait of Anian, the former name for the Bering Strait. However, her favorite maps are usually her newest and she moves around with them.

“I take ‘em home and sometimes I bring ‘em back because I get another one that I like even better,” Longenbaugh said.

While certainly at the traditional retirement age, Dee is all about her business. She says it gives her the chance to meet interesting people, examine books and maps, and keep on learning. She doesn’t plan to give that up anytime soon.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kluti Kaah

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:08

This week we’re heading to the Native Villages of Kluti Kaah in Cooper Center Alaska. Mark Johns lives in Kluti Kaah.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 12, 2014

Fri, 2014-12-12 17:07

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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U.S. Senate Considers $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

It’s been a big week for Alaska in Congress. Lawmakers removed the Alaska exemption in the Violence Against Women Act, a significant gain for advocates of tribal authority.

Sealaska Lands Bill Passes Congress

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A bill transferring 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska passed Congress.

SAGA to Cease AmeriCorps Program, Hopes Another Org Will Save It

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Nineteen AmeriCorps volunteers throughout the state were told this week their positions, including stipends and benefits, could end on Monday.

University of Alaska Regents Approve Tobacco Ban

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has approved a policy banning smoking and other tobacco use on its campuses statewide.

Butler to Return as Alaska’s Top Doctor

The Associated Press

Jay Butler is returning to his job as the state’s top doctor. Butler will be both the state’s chief medical officer and director of the Division of Health.

Study: Climate Change Hurting Salmon Habitat

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Scientists know climate change is altering rain and snowfall patterns in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. A new study details how that could affect salmon and suggests what can be done.

10 Years On, Selendang Ayu Spill’s Legacy Still Evolving

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

This week marks 10 years since the Selendang Ayu [SELL-en-dang AYE-you] ran aground off Unalaska Island. The vessel lost power and broke in half against the shore, spilling oil and its soybean cargo, and leaving six crew members dead. It was the biggest shipping disaster in the Aleutians’ recent history – and its impacts are still evolving today.

AK: Maps

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

If you want to find a rare book or unusual map in Juneau, there’s only one place to go – Dee Longenbaugh’s shop. Longenbaugh is the owner of The Observatory: a rare book shop, used bookstore, and treasure trove all in one. You can find everything from local cookbooks about how to prepare halibut to maps of the Great White North.

300 Villages: Kluti Kaah

This week we’re heading to the Native Villages of Kluti Kaah in Cooper Center Alaska. Mark Johns lives in Kluti Kaah.

Categories: Alaska News

Akeela House celebrates 40 years of successful sobriety treatments

Fri, 2014-12-12 13:27

Akeela’s celebration cake for their 40th anniversary. Hillman/KSKA

The Akeela House in Anchorage turned 40 this year. It’s one of Anchorage’s oldest substance use treatment facilities. Now it has programs in communities and prisons across the state.

Ron Greene graduated from the Akeela House residential treatment facility in the late 80s. He says the program used to rely on extreme measures to breakdown people’s defenses.

“It was crazy in those days. Sleep deprivation that kept us up for days on days end. We did just some crazy things that I know they’re not allowed to do nowadays. It would probably be considered client abuse. But in those days they did them.”

Greene says it worked. He’s been sober for 27 years now. He was also helped by the continued support of the program — he could only move out if he had another sober person to live with him. Other graduates say Akeela taught them basic living skills, like cleaning and answering the phone.

Akeela CEO Rosalie Nadeau says their methods have changed dramatically since the early days, but they still use the ideas of a therapeutic community.

“We do it more in group, where they get confronted on their behavior. ‘What do you mean you’re good? I saw you doing this. And you talk all kinds of crap. And we can’t have that.’ So we do that kind of thing now, but it’s less confrontive, and it’s less personally demeaning.”

Nadeau says they adapt their methods for different groups. Confrontation isn’t as effective for people with other mental health disorders or for women with children living with them.

Julia Luey graduated from Akeela House in 2008 when she was 21 and now manages one of Akeela’s other programs. She says going through the recovery program was brutal but forced her to grow up. She says her most significant relationships were with the other clients who helped run the house. They taught her an important message:

“That’s there’s hope. That there’s a different way to live. And you don’t think there is when you’re addicted. And that that’s going to be your life for the rest of your life. And it’s a lot of hard work, but if you’re honest and motivated to change, then it’s there. It’s everywhere.”

Akeela House started as one facility in 1974. Nadeau says no one remembers exactly how the program got it’s name. Eight years ago they began expanding, and have now grown from 11 employees to 180 and run programs from Ketchikan to Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Capital Budget Seeking $350 Million for Port Expansion

Thu, 2014-12-11 17:42

The City of Anchorage put out its wish-list for funding from the state Legislature, and topping the list is a request for $350 million for just one project.

“The priority is: Port of Anchorage, Port of Anchorage, Port of Anchorage,” said Mayor Dan Sullivan, whose office worked with the Anchorage Assembly collecting and ranking capital projects for the city.

The port funding request is more than every other item in the budget combined, it comes amid steep declines in how much money the state is willing to give Anchorage for capital expenses. In fiscal year 2013 the city got a $250,297,475 for new projects. Last year it was $80,134950.75, down more than two-thirds.

Sullivan admits there’s an element of sticker-shock in the request, but the price tag is meant to give legislators a realistic cost on updating a port serving 85% of communities in the state.

“We’re hoping for a commitment,”Sullivan explained, “over the next several years, if we can break this into several pieces. So, we’ll work closely with our legislators and the governor and see if we can’t come up with a funding mechanism that works for everybody.”

Sullivan and other members of the Assembly are hoping the scaled back plans adopted for the port’s final design will convince legislators that upgrades are not an extravagance, they are a necessity.

Other priorities in the wish-list include the Midtown Transit Center and several road updates to facilitate more east-west vehicle traffic. The current assembly shares the mayor’s focus on funding infrastructure programs, which made for a smooth budgeting cycle this year.

“It was a very good process, you’ll find both the executive branch and the legislative branch, for the most part, were on the same page,” said DickTraini said, vice-chair for the Assembly.

Traini believes it’s unrealistic to expect Legislators to fund every item in the 66-page document, but that at the very minimum it gives representatives a more detailed view of their constituents’ needs.

You can view the full capital budget here.

Categories: Alaska News

ASD Charter Schools Need Facilities; School Board Considering Proposal

Thu, 2014-12-11 17:08

Charter schools in Anchorage are struggling with a facilities problem. The schools are part of the Anchorage School District, but they have to find and pay for their own buildings. And it’s really hard to find empty schools or pay to build new ones. Now the Anchorage School Board is discussing a potential solution.


Rilke Schule principal Dean Ball pops his head into a kindergarten classroom on a recent morning.

Snowman stories by Rilke Schule students.

“Guten morgen, Herr Ball!” the children chorus. That’s “good morning” in German.

Rilke Shule is Anchorage's German-emersion charter school. Like all public schools, charter schools are publicly funded and are free. But unlike neighborhood schools, students are chosen through a lottery system. And the district does not provide charter schools with buildings. That means Rilke Schule is spending more than $700,000 a year --or a third of their budget -- to rent rooms in a church.

Ball says it’s far from ideal. Classrooms on the three floors are small and awkwardly elongated. Teachers work from storage closets.

“Here’s our one set of bathrooms for our 383 kids,” he says, pointing to standard sized building bathrooms.

The school is running out of space, though they’ve tried to make modifications.

“We also built a wall between the art room and the storage area at the time and that became a classroom. Very small.”

They have six portable units outside the school. Their forth grade classes are held offsite at Abbott Loop Elementary. Ball says they’ve been looking for a new place to rent or a way to build for four years.

Rilke Schule is not the only charter school in Anchorage without a home. The School Board approved the creation of a new middle school a year ago called the STrEaM Academy, but it didn’t open this fall because the founders can’t find a building.

Middle school teacher Andranel Brown says she and her coworkers want to create the hands-on, place-based school because of comments made by her students in east Anchorage.

“A few times we have gone on hikes and a number of years kids would say ‘Ms. Brown I’ve never been on a hike before.’ I’m like, ‘What? We’re standing here on Bird Ridge. It’s just around the corner.’ Or kids would go on the planet bike ride [through downtown and Kincaid] and say ‘This is the farthest I’ve been from home.’ And I said, ‘This is not OK.’”

Brown says they’ve chased leads and spent months looking for a location. She says she’s spoken to many other Anchorage charter school principals, and she always hears the same message:

“Facility consumed my life. That is what took up the bulk of my time. If we had had a space that was adequate for us, we could have directed so much more energy into other things.”

Now the Anchorage School Board is considering offering help. Some board members want to set aside $5 million for a Charter School Facility Fund. It would give schools low-interest loans to help them build new facilities or modify others. Board member Natasha von Imhof says it’s a way to help the schools solve the facilities challenge without costing the district money.

“It’s a loan pay-down; it’s not necessarily a grant. And so as charter schools pay back the loan, whether it be through capital campaigns or a state grant or simply monthly payments, the money goes back into this charter school facility fund.”

Von Imhof says the fund could be used to attract federal and state dollars as well. Both levels of government are considering putting more money toward public charter schools.

Von Imhof says charter schools are important for the entire district because they are innovation incubators.

“Charter schools are given a little bit of freedom to try innovative academic practices that, if are successful, can be standardized and scaled up to apply to other neighborhood schools.”

Artwork by Rilke students.

Another proposal would set aside $2 million of the $5 million specifically to help Rilke Shule.

School Board member Kameron Perez-Verdia says he recognizes the charter schools’ needs, but he’s unsure about the fund.

“I do definitely have reservations about using operating funds to put into a fund like that because I think that we all know that we are in a very difficult financial situation as a district.”

Perez-Verdia says bonding is a better solution, but that would take time to put into place.

School Board member Pat Higgins says he’s concerned that public money would be given to a school that does not have to follow the competitive bidding process.

“So I’m not opposed to helping the schools get better facilities and get it at better rates, but I want total transparency on all the finances that are taking place.”

He’s also concerned that charter school facilities could be built at commercial building standards, which are lower and less expensive than institutional standards. Schools are built as institutions and can serve as community shelters.

Rilke Shule Treasurer Jason Shorter says the fund is a good short-term solution for the school and the district.

“It’s a great deal for charter schools because it’s significantly cheaper than commercial money for us, and it’s a good situation for the district because charter schools count toward all the good metrics the district has.”

Many charter school organizers are in favor of the solution because it can help them find facilities right now.

The School Board will discuss and vote on the issue during their December 15 School Board meeting.


Categories: Alaska News

Outgoing Senator Mark Begich Bids Farewell On Senate Floor

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:52

Mark Begich said goodbye on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday. His six years in office end with this Congress.

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Begich, who lost his seat largely due to his embrace of Democratic policies, recounted how far the country has come since the great recession.

“I remember coming onto this floor as a freshman in ’09,” he said. “The chaos in this economy was unbelievable. The amount of jobs we were losing, 600+k a month – equal to my whole population of my state. Unemployed! Boom Gone.”

He says he and other freshmen wondered what they’d gotten into. Now the stock market is up, unemployment is down and the annual budget deficit has shrunk. Begich says there’s more to do and urged his colleagues to be optimistic.

“People may be angry with us, but they want to know what we’re going to do to solve these incredible problems,” he said. “And it will be incumbent on the next Congress to sit down and work together. It’s going to be tough. Because the politics of today are about the moment in time. It’s not about the long term.”

He told a few anecdotes about his time on Capitol Hill. Once, he said, he and his son Jacob dug out their car after a snow storm and parked it near the white-domed Capitol building.

“Those who know me – I don’t really follow all the rules around this place,” Begich said. “We started walking through the Capitol with our snow shovels over our shoulders. The place was empty. And I realized what an incredible place this is…,” emotion choked off his words a few times during the speech, particularly when he spoke of his wife and son. “…You just see the history…and in a small way we were part of it.”

Begich staffers sat in the back of the chamber, many in tears.

As is the tradition, other senators stood to laud Begich. One was Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who later said her own farewells. Landrieu says many senators assert their parents gave their lives to public service, but in Begich’s case, it’s quite true. Congressman Nick Begich’s plane disappeared en route to Juneau. As Landrieu noted, that left Mark and five siblings without a father.

“So when Mark walked in here, the first day I met him, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was expecting someone to have a heavy burden on their shoulders because of that,” she said.

Instead, Landrieu says, Begich was one of the most optimistic people in the Senate, brimming with self confidence and encouraging to his peers.

“And I know that his father is truly honored that he didn’t get bitter. He wasn’t angry. He accepted that as God’s will, which is a hard thing to accept,” Landrieu said. “And he just, just did so much for the community that his father loved, the state that his father loved.”
Before Begich left the floor, senators stood in line to hug him. Their applause lasted nearly a minute. On Jan. 6, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan will be sworn in as Alaska’s 8th senator since statehood.

Categories: Alaska News

Senior Care Center Key to Development Plan

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:51

This drawing shows tentative plans for a senior complex along Revilla Road. The plan includes a senior care facility, condos for seniors, and housing and services for employees of the senior center. (Image from Ward Cove Group development proposal.)

A long-range plan to develop borough-owned land in Ketchikan’s Ward Lake-Revilla Road area is inching forward, albeit with hesitation on the part of the Borough Assembly.

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A huge part of the Ward Cove Group’s development plan is a proposed senior housing complex, close to the intersection of Revilla Road and North Tongass Highway. The company’s president told the Assembly that he’s been carefully researching senior centers over the years, and has a good idea of the kind of facility he’d like to see built.

Ketchikan has a shortage of housing options for senior citizens, specifically seniors who need assistance. Ward Cove Group President David Spokely said seniors often have to leave town, because there just isn’t space at the Pioneers Home, the state-run senior care center.

“When I came here years and years ago, there was a six year waiting list for senior housing,” he said. “There’s still a six-year waiting list.”

Spokely said his vision for the senior center is a true home, with different levels of assistance and various services, such as an urgent care medical clinic for seniors.

He said one section would be for seniors with memory problems.

“The best place I found Down South was, they have about four rooms that open up into a 20-foot by 40-foot corridor, that corridor has a little coffee shop and sitting area. It looks like someone’s living room,” he said. “So when you come out of your assisted-living room, you come right out into a living room that everybody is combined in. No hallways, no corridors, no place to get lost.”

There would be another section for residents who don’t have dementia, but need regular physical care; and for those residents who can move around independently, Spokely said the proposed facility has places to go.

“The center area is a food court, basically a community area where you can get food and services, a little movie theater,” he said. “Just an indoor community center that you would expect to find in a typical downtown area.”

Another section would offer apartments and condos for seniors who don’t need assistance, but want to take advantage of some of those services offered through the center.

“We’re looking at a senior community that (would) not just serve the people of Ketchikan, but to be an attraction to the rest of the state,” he said. “To invite people so they don’t have to go to Seattle and live without family members, and leave the state of Alaska to get care.”

All this might sound too good to be feasible, but Spokely said he has spent a lot of time researching senior care centers, and figuring out what is possible for Ketchikan.

“Most people take vacations at Disneyland. Ask my wife, our vacations are going through senior centers throughout the Northwest, and urgent care centers, asking them how they operate and how they fund it,” he said.

Spokely said starting the overall development with the senior center makes economic sense, because there is an established need for that service. He mentioned his mother-in-law, who has lived in Ketchikan since 1946.

“She still gets up, still walks every day, whether it’s raining or not all year round and she loves the rain,” he said. “She’s not going south. But at some point, she’s not going to be able to stay in her apartment anymore.”

Spokely said the senior center is for his mother-in-law, and seniors like her, who want to keep on walking in the rain.

Here’s a PDF version of the development proposal:   WardCoveGroupProposal

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Expedition Uncovers Previously Undiscovered, Ancient Mollusk Specimens

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:50

During a 2010 expedition in the Beaufort Sea’s deep, Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast, scientists discovered what turned out to be a previously-unknown, ancient type of mollusk.

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The newly-discovered bi-valve mollusk, called Wallerconcha sarae, dates back about 1.8 million years.

This image shows the new species of bivalve mollusk was recently described and named Wallerconcha sarae. (Photo by Paul Valentich-Scott)

Paul Valentich-Scott, is the curator of malacology, which is the study of mollusks, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California. He says the specimens are pretty small – only about an inch across and round-shaped.

“Think of a 1-inch ball bearing, but they’re all white,” Valentich-Scott said. “They do have an outer skin that’s really dark brown and kind of heavy, a little bit hairy-like, actually.”

“And inside, when you open them up, just think of opening up a clam shell that you might eat and they look very much like a clam that you might have for steamers or that kind of thing on the inside.”

This description fits a variety of mollusks, but Valentich-Scott says the specimen does have a few unique traits that warranted both a new species and genus.

“This one had some very unusual characters in the sort of top part of the shell that had not been seen before; so, it’s all shell-based,” Valentich-Scott said. “Since we don’t have an animal, we can’t do any DNA work and compare it that way, we can only compare shells of both fossil species and recent species to this new discovery.”

There are about 75 species of mollusks documented in the region, but Valentich-Scott says new discoveries are rare.

“A few of them have been new, like in the 20th century, but not many,” Valentich-Scott said. “So, in terms of what we know of this group of animals up in the Arctic, this is quite significant.”

the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Beaufort Sea. (Photo by the US Coast Guard)

Wallerconcha sarae was discovered by scientists on a joint U.S.-Canadian expedition off Alaska’s North Slope aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Healy in 2010. Their primary mission was to map the sea floor and sediment below to gain a better understanding of the region’s geology.

Valentich-Scott says the discovery was made when scientists were investigating an interesting spot on the bottom of the Beaufort Sea.

“This is one of the unusual situations where we have essentially an extinct hydrothermal vent system,” Valentich-Scott said. “We’re pretty sure that this was an active vent system somewhere in the 1-2 million years ago.”

The first hydrothermal vents were discovered in the mid-1970s. And since the science is so young, relatively little is known about them. But, by studying this extinct vent system, the picture is gradually becoming a clearer.

Even though researchers only have what are essentially mollusk bones to study, Valentich-Scott says they can still make educated guesses into certain aspects of the animal’s existence based on knowledge of active hydrothermal vents and other comparable mollusk species.

Chief scientist Brian Edwards collecting samples from the gravity corer. (Photo by Helen Gibbons, USGS/ECS Project)

“It probably used the bacteria in the environment of this hydrothermal vent to more or less feed,” Valentich-Scott said. “We know it was a filter-feeding organism and it might have been in fairly warm water, or it could have been a cold seep as well, we’re not quite sure.”

“But, in terms of other types of reproduction or what it did on a daily basis, we just don’t exactly know at this point.”

The shells were found buried as deep as 15 feet in the sea floor’s sediment, but Valentich-Scott says some were discovered much shallower, which opens up some interesting possibilities.

“We also found them within about 1 or 2 inches of the surface of the mud,” Valentich-Scott said. “So, it’s highly suggestive that they could, in the right circumstance, still be found alive.”

There are only about 15 specimens to work with so far, but as scientists delve further into Arctic research, Valentich-Scott believes more will likely be uncovered.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 11, 2014

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:45

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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With Lower Oil Prices, State Expecting Major Deficits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Department of Revenue has drastically revised its financial forecast to account for lower oil prices.

Port Funding Tops Anchorage Mayor’s Budget Wish List

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The City of Anchorage put out its wish-list for funding from the state Legislature, and topping the list is a request for $350 million for just one project.

Outgoing Senator Mark Begich Bids Farewell On Senate Floor

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Mark Begich said goodbye on the floor of the U.S. Senate today. His six years in office end with this Congress.

Anchorage School Board Discusses Charter Schools’ Facility Issues

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Charter schools in Anchorage are struggling with a facilities problem. The schools are part of the Anchorage School District, but they have to find and pay for their own buildings. Now the Anchorage School Board is discussing a potential solution.

Senior Care Center Key to Development Plan

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A long-range plan to develop 300 acres of Ketchikan Gateway Borough-owned land is inching forward.

A huge part of the Ward Cove Group’s development plan is a proposed senior housing complex. The company’s president told Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly that he has carefully researched senior centers over the years, and has a good idea of the kind of facility he’d like to see built.

Arctic Expedition Uncovers Previously Undiscovered, Ancient Mollusk Specimens

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

During a 2010 expedition in the Beaufort Sea’s deep, Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast, scientists discovered what turned out to be a previously-unknown, ancient type of mollusk.

Former NBA Coach Leads Haines Girls’ Basketball

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

Haines School now has a PE teacher and high school girls’ basketball coach who trained an NBA team for 20 years. And what might be even more surprising…Greg Brittenham says despite his high-profile jobs with the New York Knicks and later with Wake Forest University, what he’s really wanted is to end up in the 2,000-person town of Haines. 

Categories: Alaska News

Former NBA Coach Leads Haines Girls’ Basketball

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:40

Haines School now has a physical education teacher and high school girls’ basketball coach who trained an NBA team for 20 years.

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And what might be even more surprising — Greg Brittenham says despite his high-profile jobs with the New York Knicks and later with Wake Forest University, what he’s really wanted is to end up in the 2,000-person town of Haines.

During a recent basketball practice, Coach Brittenham leads ten girls in a layup drill. It looks like a humble job for someone with this on their resume:

(Courtesy Haines Borough School District)

“Prior to this was at Wake Forest University as a player development coach. Prior to that with the New York Knicks for 20 years as an assistant coach in varying capacities.”

But Brittenham waited years for the right opportunity to move to Haines. He would call or email school district administrative assistant Ashley Sage about once a year asking about job openings. Why?

“Look around,” Brittenham said. “I mean, that’s why everybody’s here, especially in the winter. People don’t leave this place, it’s just spectacular. It’s everything I’ve wanted. It’s taken me about 18 years to get here and I’ve finally made it.”

In the early 1990’s, Brittenham visited Haines for the first time. He was working with a summer program in Klukwan called Camp of Champs. After that first experience, he kept coming back every year, even after the Camp of Champs program ended. He’s also done basketball clinics all over Southeast Alaska.

When the Haines PE teacher position opened for this school year, Brittenham saw his chance. He and his wife moved here in the summer.

“One of the things I believe is if the kids know that there’s no other agenda and they know I’m not in it to make the money, to use this school to get to another level, not at all, I’m only here to help,” Brittenham said. “Once you’ve gained their trust, then the job is easy because they know you’ve got their best interests at heart.”

Brittenham has never worked as a school PE teacher before. He says one of the most surprising things about the new job is what he’s seen from other teachers.

“These teachers work endless hours,” Brittenham said. “I came in on a Sunday off the ferry and there were teachers here preparing for Monday on a holiday weekend. The amount of hours that these people invest in the community is just astounding.”

Brittenham is now getting the unique chance to teach kids about movement in a way he often wished NBA players had been taught. He says youth sports are so competitive that kids go right into learning sports skills before they learn fundamental movement patterns, like how to tuck and roll when you fall.

“So when I go to the pros, there’s a lot of those guys that — they’re unbelievable jump shooters and they can dunk, but they can’t move. They don’t run the floor very well, or they don’t slide their feet, they can’t get over to play defense,” Brittenham said. “It was interesting to see, these guys made it that far, yet they’re really lacking the skills that we’re working on now with our fourth and fifth graders.”

Brittenham is enjoying the challenge of teaching, but he says basketball is his passion. So he’s happy to be a Glacier Bears coach.

“I’ve got a group of girls that just absolutely embrace learning how to play the game of basketball,” he said.

There are 16 girls signed up for the team. Brittenham says they’re working on mechanics:  Shooting, passing, keeping control of the ball. That’s something junior Kayley Swinton has noticed.

“It’s more perfecting everything,” Swinton said.

Swinton has played basketball in Haines since fourth grade. This season has been different.

“A lot more positivity and everybody’s working together,” Swinton said. “Coaches and everybody have just been more into basketball and they’re just more into the game.”

Brittenham says he plans to coach a little unconventionally. He wants to give team members more equal playing time regardless of talent.

“You know, the philosophy is if you’re going to invest time and energy into this team, then I’m gonna absolutely find minutes for you to play games,” he said.

He also doesn’t plan on choosing a team captain. He says he’d prefer to think everyone is a leader on the team.

The Glacier Bears girls play their first game in Petersburg December 19th. The first home game is January 2nd against Wrangell.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Massage Parlor Owner Charged With Felony Sex Trafficking

Wed, 2014-12-10 19:45

The owner of an Anchorage business owner is being charged with two felony counts of sex-trafficking after a four-year joint investigation by state and federal agencies.

Yin Mae Tran-Lau is accused of promoting prostitution at her Anchorage massage parlor since 2011. According to a lengthy deposition submitted to the court from the Anchorage Police Department detective leading the case, days of surveillance, undercover operations and witness cooperation are all part of the evidence in the state’s case against Ms. Tran-Lau.

The case involves local partnerships with the IRS and FBI as part of a task force to combat sexual exploitation in Alaska.

Such cases are complex, and extremely difficult to charge, explained Adam Alexander, Assistant District Attorney for the State’s Office of Special Prosecutions,”The perpetrators of these types of offenses are instinctively drawn to vulnerable populations as victims, and people who manage prostitute enterprises are almost by definition, or often times, are sophisticated business people.”

Charging documents in the case paint a detailed picture of how particular web-sites tutor clients in etiquette to exchange money for sexual favors, and the elaborate ways large sums of cash are managed by traffickers.

At one point the documents describe a Ziploc bag full of bills changing hands inside a Fred Meyer grocery store as a check is written out on the top of a grill.

During one six day period the lead detective observed 90 patrons enter one of Tran-Lau’s parlors, all of them men.

There’s also evidence of international flights and boarder crossings to bring workers from California to Anchorage.

Though multi-agency investigations are time consuming and resource intensive, Alexander said they fit with a growing push in to combat sexual exploitation,”Our offices here with the Alaska Department of Law are pretty aggressively investigating allegations of sex-trafficking state-wide, and unfortunately we’re seeing an increase in the number of cases.”

“We look forward to our day in court,” said defense attorney Steven Wells. “We’re going to raise a vigorous defense, and anticipate a jury will find Ms. Tran-Lau not guilty.”

An arraignment is scheduled for next week on December 16th.


Categories: Alaska News

With Lower Oil Prices, State Expecting Major Deficits

Wed, 2014-12-10 19:30

The Alaska Department of Revenue has drastically revised its financial forecast to account for lower oil prices, anticipating multi-billion-dollar deficits.

Oil revenue is expected to drop by more than half. The department’s fall report projects the state will bring in $2 billion in oil revenue this fiscal year, compared to nearly $5 billion in the previous year. The Department of Revenue made that calculation based on an average oil price of $76 per barrel. Brent crude oil is currently valued at $65 per barrel.

The Department of Revenue does expect oil production to increase slightly over the next two years, and projects that it will remain above a half million barrels per day over the next three years. Production is expected to decrease by 22,000 barrels this fiscal year.

The new numbers indicate the state is facing a major deficit. When lawmakers passed their budget this spring, they planned for a gap of $1.4 billion. The deficit for that same budget has now ballooned to $3.5 billion.

A similarly large deficit is expected for the coming fiscal year. Last week, Gov. Bill Walker released the budget his predecessor, Republican Sean Parnell, without endorsement. Parnell’s $5.5 billion proposal would result in a $3.3 billion deficit if accepted unchanged at projected oil prices.

The state currently has $15 billion in savings.

Categories: Alaska News

Police: Felon Killed Prosecutor in Jealous Rage

Wed, 2014-12-10 16:23

Police in the country’s northernmost community say a convicted felon shot and killed a state assistant prosecutor in a jealous rage over a woman.

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Murder charges were filed Wednesday in Barrow against 47-year-old Ronald Fischer in the death of 48-year-old assistant district attorney Brian Sullivan.

North Slope Borough police say Sullivan was killed Monday night in the Barrow home of a woman who had a past relationship with Fischer.

Investigators say Sullivan was unarmed and seated on a couch when he was struck twice with blasts from a 20-gauge shotgun fired by Fischer.

They say security video from a nearby store shows Fischer entering the home.

Online court records did not list a lawyer for Fischer. Attorney Robert Campbell represented him this year in a felony case, but says he won’t be handling Fischer’s murder charge.

Sullivan was an Army veteran and former Washington state House representative.

Categories: Alaska News

New Report Questions Susitna-Watana Economics; AEA Responds

Wed, 2014-12-10 16:21

A new fiscal analysis of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project questions the Alaska Energy Authority’s estimates regarding how much the 735-foot tall dam would cost the State of Alaska, if built.

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On Monday, economist Gregg Erickson released his analysis of the financial picture of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  The report was commissioned by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that opposes the project.  Erickson has worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage, a Washington D.C. think-tank, and in multiple roles for the State of Alaska.  He says that, from his perspective, Susitna-Watana doesn’t pencil out.

“There is no market test that this proposed project meets.  There’s every evidence that they’ve underestimated the cost and overestimated the demand.  It doesn’t seem at all likely that the project could be built without very, very large amounts of state subsidy.”

Gregg Erickson says that the Alaska Energy Authority and it’s predecessor, the Alaska Power Authority, have a history of projects going over budget, including Bradley Lake and the Healy Clean Coal Plant.

Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana, maintains that AEA believes its $5.2 billion dollar estimate is reasonable for construction of the proposed dam.  He says that claim is backed up by a third-party review.

“We want to make sure that our cost estimates are right on the money, and that’s why we requested an independent cost estimate.  They came in around ten percent of one another.”

One of the issues cited in Erickson’s report is the fact that that independent analysis has not been made public.  Wayne Dyok says that AEA plans to release a feasibility report next month that will include the methodology for estimating the cost of Susitna-Watana as well as information regarding the third-party analysis.

Beyond cost estimates, Gregg Erickson’s report calls AEA’s expectation that it will be able to borrow money at an interest rate of five percent “exceedingly optimistic.”

“There’s so much risk involved in this project that, unless the state wants to backstop this project…there’s no way you could borrow at five percent right now or in the foreseeable future.”

Wayne Dyok says that the five percent figure factors in money from the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service program, which could pay for up to half of the Susitna-Watana project.

“Right now, the Rural Utilities Services funding is less than four percent, so when you blend that with other funding you end up with five percent financing.”

According to Gregg Erickson, the federal money also comes with the condition that the state not only provide a backstop against cost overrun, but also guarantee that the project is finished once it begins.

Like Trout Unlimited, who commissioned the highly-critical report by Erickson, the Talkeetna-based Susitna River Coalition is opposed to the building of Susitna-Watana.  Mike Wood is the Coalition’s president.  He was handing out copies of the report at Mat-Su legislative offices on Monday afternoon.  Wood says Erickson’s analysis gives strength to opposition arguments based not just on conservation, but also on cost.

“What it really comes down to is economics.  All along, that should have been the first question…the state was asking itself.  What is this going to cost?  It never should have gotten to the environmental part.”

Beyond Gregg Erickson’s report, another potential concern for AEA is state funding to continue studies for Susitna-Watana.  In the last five years, the state has spent over $190 million on the project.  According to AEA, about $90 million more is still needed to complete federally required field studies in the area.  Last year, the project received $20 million.  The proposed budget left by Governor Parnell for the next fiscal year also contained just $20 million for Susitna-Watana.  If that number doesn’t go up significantly, it could mean additional delays for the project.  Wayne Dyok says AEA plans to work with Governor Walker and legislators to keep Susitna moving forward.

“…Our goal is to work with the [Walker] administration, and ultimately the legislature, to come up with the right number for the coming year.”

During his campaign, Governor Walker made it clear that he intends to take a close look at the state budget, and that some projects may end up on the cutting room floor.  Whether Susitna-Watana is one of those remains to be seen.  Walker has expressed support for hydro projects, and told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in August that he would support Susitna-Watana if it meant stabilizing energy costs in the Interior.

In the meantime, the Alaska Energy Authority is considering long-term financial options.  Wayne Dyok says the AEA board of directors will meet later this month to discuss the fiscal outlook.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Expansion, Child Welfare Top Priorities For New DHSS Commissioner

Wed, 2014-12-10 16:19

Valerie Davidson. (Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Valerie Davidson has been one of the biggest advocates in the state for Medicaid Expansion. Now implementing that expansion is one of her top priorities as Alaska’s new Commissioner of Health and Social Services. Another focus for Davidson will be child welfare- she just served on the U.S. Attorney General’s advisory committee on Native children exposed to violence.

Davidson started in the job December first. She says when she accepted the appointment she consulted her two daughters and her mom.

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Categories: Alaska News