The federal program extending unemployment benefits past the 26-week limit offered by the state will end on Dec. 28 unless Congress opts to extend it.
Bill Kramer is the Chief of Unemployment Insurance for the State of Alaska. His department is working to get people back on their feet before the program closes for good.
“We’re trying to make sure that people hear about it and know about it and everybody who’s filing is getting the message about the end of it coming up and trying to encourage people to utilize the job centers or whatever resources they can to try and get back to work,” Kramer said. “Hopefully we can find work for most people so they can move on and get reemployed.”
Approximately 6,500 unemployed workers in Alaska are taking part in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Kramer encourages those who are affected to look into alternate resources for household aid.
- Alaska Job Centers – Toll-free 877-724-2539
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
- United Way Alaska – 2-1-1
In less than three weeks, the Winter Solstice will mark a gradual lengthening in the daylight hours in Alaska. And, with more light, come thoughts of next spring’s garden. Anchorage Daily News gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels is the author of two books on the soil and food web: Teeming With Microbes and Teeming With Nutrients. Lowenfels says even though it’s frigid outside, it’s a good time to be thinking about gardening.
Garden guru Jeff Lowenfels will speak at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall on Thursday evening, as part of the APU President’s Forum series. The event is co-hosted by the Alaska Botanical Garden. Lowenfels is an internationally recognized author and columnist. He is working on the third of a trilogy of books on organic gardening. The first, “Teeming With Microbes”, and second, “Teeming With Nutrients” have gained wide acclaim. Lowenfels’ talk, “Horton Hears A Who – And So Can You”, will follow a wine and appetizer reception. The event starts at 6:30 pm at Grant Hall. Admission prices are $15 for members and students, $20 for non-members, $30 for two tickets.
Rural Alaska communities rely on mail service more than most. For many, it is a source of not just communication, but a supply line for things like medication and other necessities. That’s why Skagway residents are concerned with their postal service, after two employees were let go, leaving the post office short staffed and overwhelmed.
After two months of back and forth about whether a rec center with public tennis courts should be built with grant money from the state legislature, the Anchorage assembly voted the idea down at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Several options for what to do with the money meant for a rec center were introduced to find a way forward but none succeeded. Assembly member Amy Demboski introduced an amendment that would have sent $6 million back to the state and said the assembly should ask for a reappropriation for tennis courts.
“The Administration and Mr. Starr have put in so much work on this project and I appreciate it and both have tried to alleviate my concerns. But ultimately, when we come back to it project 80′s deferred and critical maintenance to me is just that,” Demboski said. “It’s not for building tennis courts, it’s not for buying a tennis facility. It’s for deferred and critical maintenance of existing structures.”
The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a public rec center with tennis courts in the Turnagain neighborhood. Then millions for the project, which the Assembly did not request, were rolled into a $37 million allocation for infrastructure maintenance.
Most Assembly Members disagreed with the process. Some said legislators were unaware they had given money for the project. Assembly member Bill Starr said a smaller amount should be set aside for the time being and that returning the money was a bad idea.
“If we don’t send legislative intent or speak to it on the record or put it in a reserve account or whatever we run the risk of losing it. I’ve learned that we can un-appropriate the money,” Starr said. “Maybe the next assembly comes along and isn’t pro tennis and they decide to go back through whatever procedure un-appropriate the money and do something else with it. I think I would speak strongly against sending it back.”
Assembly member Tim Steele agreed.
“I don’t think it was a mistake that the legislature put money in and sent it down to us. I think it was a lobbying effort by the tennis association,” Steele said. “It happens all the time that entities other than the governmental entity goes down and lobbies for issues and gets money, on every level of government.”
Assembly member Chris Birch said the best idea was to scrap efforts for the rec center this time around and hope that a new request for the money is approved.
“To me the best bet would be that you know we’ve approved a capital budget request for facility upgrades that we’re going to be approaching the legislature with this session for $10.5 million for a multiuse sports facility,” Birch said. “And I think that that’s where this thing started and that’s where we should end up.”
Demboski’s amendment failed 8-3.
A measure introduced by Time Steele and Bill Starr’s setting aside smaller amounts for the project also failed.
Tennis supporters, who had the backing of Mayor Dan Sullivan on the project, seemed baffled and disappointed after the votes and said they’re determined to introduce new legislation right away to insure a rec center with public tennis courts is built.
Alaska state fishery managers are predicting a strong sockeye salmon run in Upper Cook Inlet next year.
The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported the 2014 forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls for 6.1 million sockeyes, or red salmon.
The forecast, released last month, predicts a run of between 4.4 million to 7.8 million sockeyes.
At the 6.1 million level, Fish and Game calls for a total harvest of 4.3 million sockeyes and an escapement of 1.8 million fish to all rivers, mainly the Kenai River.
Upper Cook Inlet sockeye are caught in personal use, sport, subsistence and commercial fisheries.
About 2.6 million sockeyes were caught in regional commercial fisheries this year. About 3.4 million fish was the average harvest between 2003 and 2012.
Alaska State Troopers say musk oxen have been seen in and around the Bethel area, and people should keep their distance.
Troopers say the musk oxen have been seen near homes, on winter trails and near the local waterfront.
According to troopers, musk oxen can move long distances quickly and they often appear in new areas overnight.
Troopers say people should take safety measures to view the animals, which can be aggressive and easily agitated.
Troopers say dogs should be kept away because they are seen as predators and musk oxen will protect themselves accordingly. Troopers also say it’s a good idea for people to stay at least 150 feet away.
What do the Space Needle, Sitka Sound Science Center, and Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Washington have in common? They all carry artisanal salt made by Alaska Pure. The Sitka company’s sea salts are designed around flavors reminiscent of Southeast Alaska. In 2013 their wild blueberry sea salt captured a national taste-test award.
The Egyptians revered the pyramid shape in part because they believed it to be the shape of the primordial mound from which the Earth was created.
Jim: This is where the salt gets made. [ROLLING DOOR UP]
Jim and Darcy Michener love the pyramid because…
Darcy: When you bite into it, it kind of yields a fine crunch.
It refers to artisanal finishing salt – the kind that’s sprinkled on a dish right before it’s served. Their attention to detail won the Micheners a national taste-testing award from Cooking Light magazine. The editors wrote:
“It’s hard to know which is more divine; this salt’s texture or its vivid hue. The gorgeous flat flakes are delicate on the palate, shattering beautifully with the faintest pressure. It’s nice, clean salt flavor has just a hint of fruity acidity. Equally striking sprinkled on scallops, dusted on a cookie or clinging to the rim of a margarita glass.”
Jim: If you look closely enough you can see little inverted pyramids floating on the surface. And they start out as a minuscule speck and they grow, and grow, and grow. When they get large enough and heavy enough they sink down to the bottom.
EF: And this is your day job? This is your everything right now?Jim: This is our everything.
Jim: So once the salt is made and we harvest, it drains.
Jim: And it just looks like freshly fallen snow.
EF: It looks like the kind of snow that if you were to visit Santa at the mall…
Jim: Yes, we think it would be great for movie sets.
The love affair with salt production started as a happy accident on their honeymoon. They left salt water evaporating on a wood stove too long and crystals formed. From then on it was long, slow, not always scientific process. Back breaking at times. For the first six years they lugged five gallon jugs of water from the harbor…
Jim: Ten five gallon jugs in the morning, ten five gallon jugs in the evening.
Everyday. The hard part was nailing down all the variables, and figuring out how to replicate the experiment for quality and consistency.
Jim: I would say its 70% science and 30% art. I mean it really is an art to learning what your salt is doing. Like a living thing, and nurturing it, making sure the conditions are right.
The Micheners described their first night after they made the leap to the large scale production facility that they operate now. They couldn’t make a single grain of salt. They say that night really tested their marriage
EF: I’m curious too in what ways this has shaped your relationship?
[SILENCE FOLLOWED BY LAUGHTER]
Jim: Uhh, good communication is key.
Jim and Darcy seem to have found the right balance – both with salt production and their partnership.
Jim handles the mechanics and Darcy handles taste – for instance how the blueberry salt finishes on your palate.
EF: Does the blueberry taste like blueberry?
Darcy: It does, if you don’t have a real discerning palate some people can’t pick that up. A lot of people will taste salt and say oh it tastes like salt. Well of course it tastes like salt first, you’re going to get salt first. But if you let it sit for a minute you will get a real bright acidity to it and a real berry flavor. It’s undeniable in my opinion.
What some might consider just flavored salt flakes, the Micheners believe are tiny monuments to the natural environment of Southeast Alaska. Pyramids for the Last Frontier.
The City and Borough of Juneau has called the first air emergency of the winter.
For residents of the Mendenhall Valley, that means wood stove burning is banned until the alert is lifted.
An air emergency is called when particulate levels are at or near unhealthy levels and there’s no wind or precipitation to clear the air. CBJ Deputy Lands Manager Dan Bleidorn said the particulate matter is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, about 1/30th the thickness of a human hair.
“So, it’s very fine stuff,” Bleidorn said. “It causes lots of health issues. It gets lodged in the lower portions of your respiratory system. Children and elderly folks and people with asthma and things like that, they can really suffer when the limits go above what it’s supposed to be at.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits on air particulate levels. Juneau has been non-complaint with the rule in the past, but not since 2006.
Old style wood stoves produce a lot of particulate matter, which is why they are banned during an air emergency. Open burning is also banned in the Mendenhall Valley from November 1st to March 31st. Newer pellet stoves and pellet boilers burn hotter and more efficiently, so they are exempt.
The ban is enforced by the Juneau Police Department. Repeat violators can face fines up to $300 dollars, but Bleidorn said they are rarely issued.
“It seems like at the beginning they give a lot of warnings, because people are new to the valley or this is the first time of the year they’ve used their wood burning stove,” he said. “So they are just unfamiliar with the rules to begin with. And then as the season progresses, generally people come on board.
Over the next year, millions of dollars are expected to enter Alaska in the form of campaign spending. The Alaska Senate race could end up being one of the more expensive races in the country, because Republicans need to unseat Democrat Mark Begich if they want to take control of Congress. Since much of the money is going to be spent on political ads, some state legislators would like to see stronger federal disclosure laws, so voters know who’s paying for the airtime. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
If you spend any time watching local television, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this during a commercial break:
ACTRESS: For too many of us, costs are going way up. Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.
NARRATOR: Call Sen. Begich. Tell him no more broken promises. Stop Obamacare.
The ad was put together by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and it’s been criticized for being filmed in a Lower-48 kitchen and for featuring a Maryland actress.
But Democratic state legislators Hollis French and Les Gara have a bigger problem with the ad than the shooting location. They think it should name the organization who paid for it, and who their top donors are. Alaska law already requires that of campaign ads in state elections, but no such rule exists at the federal level.
“When you peel back the layers, you realize it’s just a couple of super wealthy individuals that are funding these,” says French, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. “I think it makes a difference if their names have to be read as the person funding the advertisement.”
In the case of Americans for Prosperity, that would be Texas billionaires David and Charles Koch, who operate a multinational conglomerate with interests in Alaska.
“It’d be, you know, the first Koch brother, the second Koch brother, and then they’d probably run out of donors unless they’ve got some third person to throw in some money,” jokes French.
French and Gara held a small rally to draw attention to the issue in Anchorage on Tuesday, and they plan to introduce a resolution this upcoming legislative session that would ask Congress to pass stronger disclosure laws.
They want to see something like the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was introduced after the Supreme Court decided corporations had the right to make campaign expenditures. That bill would have put a number of limits on corporations, and one of the measures in it would have made interest groups list their donors at the end of attack ads.
The bill lost momentum in Congress after being filibustered in the Senate. But French wants Congress to revisit the law, so campaign ads in federal races are treated the same as ads in state races.
“Come on, Congress,” says French. “If we could do it, you can do it.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation is largely on board. Sen. Mark Begich originally supported the DISCLOSE Act, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced separate legislation that would tighten rules for political action committees. Rep. Don Young voted against the DISCLOSE Act, and still opposes the legislation.
For its part, Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity doesn’t like the DISCLOSE Act. They think their donors could be harassed or face other negative consequences for supporting their organization.
Michael Macleod-Ball with the American Civil Liberties Union says that whether or not you like a group’s message, that’s a legitimate concern for free speech advocates. He cites an effort by opponents of the civil rights movement to make the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reveal their membership list.
“People were in fear of their lives for being disclosed as members of the NAACP,” says Macleod-Ball. “Times are different now, but there are always organizations where membership in that organization presents a particular threat.”
Americans for Prosperity also holds that Gara and French are raising the issue as a way of deflecting negative attention from a fellow Democrat.
“They bring it up just as we start holding the Senator accountable for his Obamacare vote,” says AFP President Tim Phillips.
And as far as that ad with the Maryland actress? Phillips is standing by it. He says it’s the message that matters, and that Alaskans should expect see more spots like it on television going into campaign season.
“I think you’re going to see additional ads coming from us,” says Phillips.
No word on shooting location yet. Phillips says decisions involving set and casting have yet to be decided.
Groups in Alaska working to sign people up for health insurance on the federal marketplace say the website is working much better. The Obama Administration re-launched an improved healthcare.gov marketplace yesterday. Now insurance agents and navigators have three weeks to help Alaskans enroll in insurance plans that start offering coverage January 1st.
Tyann Boling probably knows HealthCare.gov better than any other Alaskan. And the COO of Enroll Alaska is not shy about grading the web site. In October, on a scale of 1 to 10, she gave it just a one. In November, a four. And now?
“I’m very pleased to announce that I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 it’s operating at about a seven. I would say our enrollment numbers are coming up dramatically.”
Boling says yesterday her insurance agents enrolled 14 people in the marketplace, a tally that was unimaginable a few weeks ago. She says the process usually takes around 45 minutes. But the web site needs work. Boling says her agents still encounter technical issues, especially with more complicated cases:
“You know I can’t pinpoint one situation that is the main problem, its just the complexity of people’s lives that can make it more challenging to get people enrolled.”
When problems do pop up, Boling says her agents are usually able to work through them instead of sending clients home, another big difference from the old website. Susan Johnson is the regional director of the federal Health and Human Services Department. She says she’s aware the site still needs attention:
“We’re working everyday with teams 24/7 to get to a 10.”
Johnson wants people who gave up on the site in the early months to give it a try again.
“It’s continuous progress. We didn’t get to December 1st and say, ‘we’re done.’ We’re going to get to December 23rd and continue to work through improving the site, all the way until March and beyond.”
December 23rd is the date people need to be enrolled to have coverage by January 1st. The open enrollment period extends through March 31st.
The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has three people working to sign up Alaskans for insurance. But the clinic says about 1/3 of the people they help earn too little to qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, they should be eligible for Medicaid, but Governor Sean Parnell declined to expand the program. Development Director Jon Zasada says that puts the center in a tough spot:
“The work that we do in providing primary care does not equal having access to quality insurance. For us and for, we think, other community health centers around the state, this does amount to an unfunded mandate.”
Alaskans who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion can apply for a hardship exemption, so they don’t have to pay a penalty for being uninsured. Overall, the main groups assisting Alaskans with healthcare.gov have enrolled 96 people since October 1st. They hope that number will increase substantially in the next few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, Kaiser Health News and NPR.
Hundreds of dead birds washed up on the shores of St. Lawrence Island towards the end of November. And though the cause of the die off isn’t yet known, the quick response demonstrates a mounting capacity for dealing with unexpected environmental events in the region.
Increasing reports of deformed frogs and toads in the mid 90s, prompted Congress to mandate studies to look into the problem.
Amphibians are sort of the canary in the coal mine for gauging the environmental health of land and surface water. The study was released in November, and looks at amphibian abnormalities on 152 wildlife refuges across the country, including five in Alaska.
The decade long study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service examined more than 68,000 frogs and toads. Generally, only about 2 percent of the amphibians were found to have abnormal limbs. But there were a few areas, called ‘hot spots’ where the rates were much higher.
Two of those areas were in Southcentral and Eastern Alaska. Mari Reeves is an ecologist with the fish and wildlife service. She says they wanted to see if the hot spots had something to do with people.
“And we found a strong and significant association between abnormalities and road proximity, so if you lived closer to a road you were more likely to be abnormal,” Reeves said. ”And it was a probabilistic thing, meaning that if you lived next to a road you were not always abnormal, like we definitely had collection events right next to roads that we didn’t find any abnormal frogs but what we found is that the average frequency went up.”
The abnormal frogs were found in greatest numbers in the Kenai and Tetlan refuge areas.
ANWR, Innoko,Yukon Delta, and the other refuges that were sampled had much lower rates.
Reeves says the connection to abnormal frogs and toads could in part, be linked to copper in brake linings. When you hit the brakes, a bit of the copper grinds off the brake lining and settles on a roadway. Reeves say incredibly low amounts of copper can impact a tadpole’s ability to avoid predators and dragonfly larvae like to eat tadpole limbs.
If they bite them off during the tadpole’s early growth, they can grow back, but they might not look the same.
“And depending on the complexity of how that wound happens, you can get some really interesting malformations like split limbs or limbs that, they’re called bony triangles, in the limb and if it’s just a clean break, you might just get one limb that looks like a normal limb except that it’s smaller than the other ones,” Reeves said. ”Those are the really common abnormality types.”
Reeves says another fairly common abnormality specific to Alaska frogs is one called “Black eye” or “Hollow eye,” where the normal gold color around the iris is gone. Researchers don’t know if the frogs can still see through that eye. Reeves says ‘legacy toxins’ were another problem for frogs. Pesticides such as Lyndane, used to kill spruce bark beetles or contaminants that drift to northern climates from other places and drop in snowfall cause toxin accumulation through global distillation. Reeves says multiple stressors likely caused the hot spots for abnormalities.
“We think that we understand at least a bit of how that mechanism works, is that very low levels of contaminants can make the tadpoles sick, can make the tadpoles not as well able to get away from their predator, who bites the legs off and so you get these limb abnormalities,” Reeves said.
She says the study is the largest data set in the world on this amphibian issue, although the testing was only conducted on wildlife refuges.
- Trends in Amphibian Occupancy in the United States (PDF)
A Delta Junction-area farmer is rebuilding a barn fire that killed 500 chickens and other livestock last spring. Despite that and other adversity, Brandy McLain is determined to restore her poultry operation.
2013 has not been a good year for Brandy McLean. In April, she lost her barn – and the chickens, turkeys and ducks that were trapped inside. She’s stayed in business since then by growing crops and raising hogs, and had begun rebuilding the barn, with the help of her father and friends.
Then, in September, her father died.
“It’s been a rough year – one heck of a year, y’know,” McLean said. “It’s been about the worst year of my life. But I’m not going to give up.”
That pretty much sums up McLean’s attitude.
“Mom and Dad didn’t raise me to sit around crying,” she said. “You get out and do it.”
The 38-year-old single mom with two boys has been doing just that over the past several weeks, plugging away in a kind of slow-motion barn-raising. Friends helped her frame up the 16-by-20-foot structure a couple of weeks ago
“I mean, you can actually see it now,” she said. “It’s looking great!”
McLean had hoped to have the barn done by now, but says it’s tough to get volunteer help to show up due to storms and cold snaps over the past few weeks. She’s got a few dozen chickens free-roaming, and some that she’s farmed-out to others. But she’s resigned to waiting until spring to really get back into the poultry business.
“I’ve got stock running around, living with the hogs,” she said. “I was hoping by now to be laying eggs. That’s part of my business. So it’s kind of slowed things down some.”
McLean is mostly getting by right now by selling hogs, and produce. She attended a Farmers Market in Tok over the weekend, a chance to make a little cash, and remind everyone that Triple McLean Farms is still up and running.
“We grew a lot this year, as far as cool crops and root crops and things like that. And I was able to sell a lot of that. Supplement with baked goods. I’m doing that. And I’m going down to the Tok Bazaar on Saturday, sell potatoes and some baked goods and things,” McLean said.
She said that not only earns income, “It lets people know that, hey, we had a fire, but we’re still in business.”
McLean says she and some volunteers will get back to work on the barn after Thanksgiving. She’s planning to give thanks to everyone who’s helped out on the project by throwing a big barbecue next summer. She says fried chicken will definitelybe on the menu.
Fairbanks emergency responders rescued a woman from a window of a downtown Fairbanks high rise yesterday.
Fairbanks Police lieutenant Matt Soden says police got a call about the woman in an open window on the 8th floor of the Northward apartment building Monday morning.
“We responded over there, made contact from the doorway with the female who was having some mental health issues. She was very scared; thought that people were after her, and she was climbing out the window to make an escape,” Soden said. ”We began talking with her, trying to convince her to come back in while at the same time the fire department responded and set up their ladder truck with a large bucket underneath her and as she either slipped or started to fall, they were able to get a hold of her and get her into the bucket.”
Lieutenant Soden says the woman only fell about a foot and was not injured, but was transported to the hospital. He says family members also responded.
The Lower 48 has been on the offensive against the flu virus for weeks. But in Unalaska, most people didn’t have access to vaccines until late November.
An attempt to tailor flu prevention around Unalaska’s unique population didn’t go over well with locals.
Kathy Whitman has lived in Unalaska for years, and in that time, she’s learned not to take chances with her health.
“Out here it’s really kind of a concern because if you get sick, you’re pretty much looking at a trip off the island. You know, you’re having to go to Anchorage to get fixed,” Whitman said.
That’s why Whitman tries to get a flu shot as early as she can every year — typically in October. But when she called the Iliuliuk Family & Health Services clinic asking about her vaccine this year, Whitman was told she’d have to wait — all the way through November.
“I don’t think that this was a wise choice to be made,” Whitman said. ”You know, they’re taking a chance with our health, and if it was just my health — but it’s the whole community, you know? Once one person gets it, it kind of goes like wildfire, generally.”
While there is a risk in skipping a vaccine or waiting too long to get it, clinic director Eileen Conlon Scott says the flu shot can wear off.
“Every year we end up with a lot of people getting the flu at the end of the season because they get inoculated too early,” Scott said.
And clinical director Ramona Thompson says Unalaskans could wait until Christmas and still be protected.
“Honestly, it wouldn’t even bother me if it didn’t come until then,” Thompson said. ”I mean, it would probably bother the community, but I don’t feel like it’s a concern until the processing plants start ramping up.”
Thompson says Unalaska’s flu season happens later than in the Lower 48 — usually, from January through April. That lines up with the processing A season, when lots of workers come to town from out of state and possibly bring illnesses with them.
Even though clinic staff had a reason for giving out vaccines later this year, they didn’t notify patients that they were changing the schedule.
Scott says she got at least ten calls in October from locals like Kathy Whitman who wanted to know when they’d be able to get their shots.
And not everyone could wait. Some of the school’s highest-risk employees were inoculated by a visiting nurse in early November. And some kids under 18 who were also at risk, got their vaccines on time from a stockpile at the clinic.
One other high risk group is the seafood processors — the people who clinic staff say might be a driving force behind Unalaska’s flu season.
UniSea is the biggest processing plant in Unalaska. To cut down on sickness, they’re running a mini flu clinic out of their office here, and at company headquarters in Washington State.
But not everyone participates. And UniSea’s human resources director, Michelle Cochran, says they don’t require employees to get vaccinated before they start work. So it’s pretty much a given that some people are going to get sick.
“Every year, you know, there’s some sort of illness that goes on, and I think a big part of that is just people entering a new environment — you know, who knows what they’re bringing with them?” Cochran said.
Cochran’s also on the board of directors for the Iliuliuk clinic. While the board didn’t have a part in the decision to offer flu shots a little later this year, Cochran says she thought it made sense.
And the clinic’s not giving up on the idea that a later vaccine could be better. But next year, they’re going to give patients an option.
The clinic will be prepared to give flu shots starting in October. But they’ll be recommending people wait until November, so they’ll be protected from getting sick when it really counts.
Speaking an endangered language at home is the essence of language revitalization, according to author Leanne Hinton. She’s written the book Bringing Our Languages Home and was recently in Juneau for the Tlingit Tribes and Clans Conference.
Mischa Jackson and her husband are speaking Tlingit to their 10-month old baby Michaelyn.
“We do little words and phrases and commands at home and try to expose her as much as we can to elders that speak conversationally, so she can just hear it. And she loves to hear it. It gets her attention better than English does,” Jackson says laughing.
Jackson herself doesn’t speak the language well. Her family has roots in Klukwan, but Jackson grew up in Anchorage, then lived in southern California. Her mother taught her Tlingit songs, and that’s about it.
By speaking Tlingit at home, Jackson wants to give her daughter something she didn’t have. Jackson’s husband, on the other hand, was exposed to the language growing up in Kake. “Her dad got to listen to his grandparents and he’s a much better speaker because of it, whereas for me, I can’t make the same sounds as easily as he can, so I know it makes a huge difference,” says Jackson.
Jackson is doing exactly what Leanne Hinton recommends for parents who may not speak a language but want to make it a part of their home.
“All it really takes is dedication to the language. It doesn’t even take fluency because you can be learning with your children,” Hinton explains. “Like many of the families I know started from scratch when their children were already born and as they learned, they were bringing it home bit by bit and making it more and more the language of their home.”
Hinton is professor emeritus of language at the University of California Berkeley. She specialized in American Indian languages, sociolinguistics, and language loss and revival. She’s written a number of books on keeping endangered languages alive and says speaking the native language at home is the key.
Home, she says, is the last place where it disappeared.
“To get it back into the home again is the one time that the language is actually going to become naturally acquired again by children so that actual native speakers are occurring. Once people are learning it at home and using it, then you feel like you’re beginning to be out of danger for the language,” Hinton says.
Hinton says ideally parents would only speak the endangered language at home, but that’s usually not the case. “Most of the people that I’ve interviewed are lucky if they use it 50 percent of the time, and 50 percent of the time is actually a fairly good ratio,” she says, “but you want more for an endangered language if possible.”
Parents, like Jackson, who speak their Native language at home will likely face some challenges when their children go to school and their peers and teachers are speaking English. Hinton says children may then refuse to speak the Native language at home, but there are ways to tackle this problem.
“One way is to start trying to talk about how important it is to use the language but that may not go over with a 5-year-old,” says Hinton. “Some parents just simply won’t respond to their kids if their kids talk to them in English. They’ll talk to the kids in their endangered language and if the kids talk back in English, they just say, ‘I don’t understand.’ Sometimes that works quite well.”
Another option is making language a game. Imagine jars with pennies inside. Every family member gets one. If a person catches another saying something in English that could be said in their indigenous language, that person gets to take a penny out of the other’s jar and put it into their own jar.
At this point, Jackson doesn’t have to worry about those challenges yet. She says her daughter Michaelyn isn’t saying much, in English or in Tlingit, “Every once in a while we laugh because it sounds like she’s says, ‘dlaa,’ like she’s saying, ‘haa dlaa,’ so we crack up whenever she does that.”
That’s Tlingit for, ‘Gee whiz.’
Clarification: KSKA would like to clarify a statement made in a story aired today (Tuesday, Dec. 3). The reporter failed to indicate that there was a door charge for a luncheon meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers set for noon at the Aviation Heritage Museum featuring speaker Steward Osgood of Dowl HKM .
A consultant says that the Bragaw Street extension into Anchorage’s UMed district could cost more than originally planned.
Community members from Alaska towns as large as Anchorage and as small as Allakaket are in Juneau for the second annual Prevention Summit sponsored by the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. The council is under the state Department of Public Safety.
The three-day summit at Centennial Hall brings together teams from 19 communities. Each team has at least three members.
“They’re victim service providers, first responders such as maybe law enforcement or healthcare providers, tribal representatives, as well as just people interested in preventing violence in their community,” says council executive director Lauree Morton.
Teams will be working on strengthening existing prevention strategies and developing new ones.
“It’s an opportunity for communities across the state to get together and talk to each other about what is working and what else they want to do to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault,” Morton explains.
The summit features presenters from around the state and outside the state, many who are experts in their field. One of the workshops will be with Green Dot, a national non-profit organization that is working with several communities in Alaska on an intervention program.
Morten says youth from Juneau and Sitka will also be highlighted at the summit, “young adults who are actually implementing strategies in their high schools on reducing violence.”
First Lady Sandy Parnell kicks off the second annual Prevention Summit Tuesday at 11 am. Opening remarks will also be made by Morton, Alaska Native Sisterhood grand president Freda Westman, and Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand President Bill Martin.
The state of Alaska is looking for partners to research a new source of natural gas called methane hydrates.
It could bring in new revenue for the state far down the road, but some environmentalists worry the risk of releasing that much methane is too great.
Methane hydrates are methane gas that’s trapped in ice crystals in the subsurface of the ocean floor and in the permafrost. Tests by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2012 in Alaska showed that the resource existed on the North Slope, but no one has commercially extracted methane hydrates anywhere in the world.
The state’s Director for the Division of Oil and Gas, Bill Barron, says the state and the federal Department of Energy are working together to research the potential in Alaska.
“But that’s why we’re doing these tests. This is very new technology. You can heat it and melt the water and that will liberate the methane,” Barron said. “There is a way to use carbon dioxide to exchange the carbon dioxide for the methane within the ice and liberate the methane and use it for CO2 sequestration.”
Barron says producers can use many of the same types of drills and well casings used in standard oil and gas drilling. But because methane hydrates are stored in the earth in a different way from typical natural gas, they need to research ways to release it safely and without melting the permafrost.
“You’re trying to strike that balance between how much recovery you get with what the impact is,” Barron said. “Right now we don’t think the impact will be at all substantial. We think that just a few degrees may be enough to liberate the methane.”
Meaning that the permafrost column will stay intact. Barron says this theory is based on research and on evidence from wells that have already struck and recovered some methane hydrates.
But Richard Charter says producing methane hydrates could be very risky. Charter is a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and has been on the Department of Energy’s methane hydrate advisory committee for 10 years. He says the main risk is a giant blow out that could release significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
“Are we going to trigger a release that we can’t control of natural gas, particularly in the ocean, that we can’t shut off at a time when global warming is a problem and then further accelerate global warming?” Charter said.
Charter says drilling onshore is safer than offshore, where the risk is triggering a subsea landslide along with a release of methane. But either way, he says it’s different from conventional gas drilling because melting the hydrates leads to geological instability. He says the development of methane hydrates is at the point where researchers and industry players have to get it right.
“With hydrates we’re about where Thomas Edison was when he had his early light bulbs, some of his early light bulbs blew up,” Charter said. “So when you’re in the experimental phase of something with as large a scale of potential risk as hydrate exploitation certainly appears to have, you want to be extra careful because when you are learning is when you can have very large accidents.”
State and federal energy experts will be meeting with industry representatives in Denver on December 11 to see who wants to partner with the government to conduct the research and development work.
Charter says industry interest is based on methane’s potential for being the next big energy resource.
“If you could get a sufficient quantity of it to make it economically exportable, and by export I mean Asia as a market, then all of the sudden it’s a game changer for Alaska,” Charter said.
Methane extracted from hydrates can be transported along with natural gas from conventional sources either in a gas line or as LNG on a tanker.
Japan is the furthest along with methane hydrate research. The country drilled and extracted the resource from an offshore well in March.
A survey of oil company managers and executives has given Alaska poor marks for its business climate.
The annual report by the Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank, stacks Alaska up against other states and countries in an effort to develop a “policy perception index.” The respondents weren’t kind to the 49th state.
The survey asked about 16 factors, including taxation, environmental regulation, political stability and security.
Nearly 900 oil and gas industry professionals responded.
Alaska came in 79th place, right in the middle. You might see that as a glass-half-full result, but Pakistan wasn’t far behind and it put Alaska just below Tunisia, where a terror attack killed 40 foreign workers at a gas plant in January.
Larry Persily, federal coordinator of Alaska gas pipeline projects, notes the survey was conducted between February and May, so it’s impossible to say how many respondents were aware the Alaska Legislature rolled back taxes on the oil companies in April. Persily says the controversy itself plays a role.
“Oil and gas taxes is an emotional issue in Alaska. It’s in the news constantly. There’s referendums. There are political battles. The industry is aware of that and it certainly colors industry’s perception,” he said.
He also points out the report gauges perceptions, not actual conditions. Still, Persily says perceptions can sting.
“You don’t want that out there. It’s toxic but I think we also have to understand this is a self-reporting survey, it’s not a statistically accurate sample, so we should be concerned about it, but it shouldn’t ruin our day,” he said.
Bob Pawlauski, of the state Oil and Gas Division, says the Legislature made several changes this year that makes Alaska more friendly to industry. It provided flexibility to give companies more time to develop their leases, and it eased some of the permitting requirements. Not to mention the tax rollback. Former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick is working to get that repealed. He says the survey is an industry PR tool.
“Of course they’re speaking for their corporate interests,” Roderick said.
The industry named Oklahoma its favorite place this year. At the bottom of the pile is Venezuela.
You can read the survey here.