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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: 35 sec ago

North Slope Borough Leaders Getting Pay Raises

Mon, 2014-08-11 08:24

North Slope Borough’s mayor and at least 10 other leaders are getting big raises.

Alaska Dispatch News reports that Mayor Charlotte Brower will see her salary jump by about $24,000 to more than $222,000. That’s roughly $90,000 more than Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan makes.

Other borough leaders are getting raises of up to 19 percent.

Officials say the raises are long overdue. Brower told Borough Assembly members she sought higher pay for department heads in order to attract key employees who could make more money working for other agencies and corporations in the oil-rich North Slope region.

The North Slope Borough serves seven villages and the city of Barrow, with about 9,700 residents spread across an area the size of Minnesota. The communities can only be reached by plane. The Department of Defense ranks Barrow as one of the costliest places to live in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot Killed, Passenger Injured in Big Lake Crash

Mon, 2014-08-11 08:23

Alaska State Troopers say a pilot is dead and his passenger is being treated for life-threatening injuries after a plane crash at the Big Lake Airport north of Anchorage.

The single-engine Piper Comanche suffered some kind of engine trouble after taking off Sunday just before 2:30 a.m. Investigators say the pilot, 50-year-old Christopher Cyphers, of Anchorage, tried to return to the airport for an emergency landing, but the plane struck a tree.

Cyphers was killed and the passenger was taken to an Anchorage-area hospital.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman charged with negligent homicide for killing child on bike

Fri, 2014-08-08 17:20
Her Yang Thao was charged Friday with criminally negligent homicide for hitting and killing a four-year-old girl who was riding her bicycle in Anchorage in May. The 47-year-old woman is accused of talking on her cell phone and speeding when she ran over the girl who was riding with her sisters in the Dimond Estates Mobile Home Park. Thao stopped her car after the accident and cooperated with the police. Police did not find any evidence of intoxication. If found guilty, Thao could face up to four years in jail. On Thursday, a driver who struck and killed another cyclist while allegedly driving under the influence was charged with manslaughter. Alexandra Anne Ellis struck and killed Jeffery Dusenbury on July 19. Under Alaska law, manslaughter is a class A felony and has harsher punishments than criminally negligent homicide, which is a class B felony. Vehicle drivers have killed three people on bicycles in Anchorage this year.
Categories: Alaska News

As Project Chariot Clean-Up Ends, Legacy Lingers for Point Hope

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:50

During the Cold War, the U.S. Atomic Energy Agency made plans to detonate nuclear bombs a few dozen miles from Point Hope. The idea–part of Operation Ploughshares–was to make an Arctic deep draft port by harnessing war-time technology for civil engineering projects with strategic value. Strong opposition from Point Hope halted those plans, but not before secretive experiments were conducted.

Listen now:

 

The staging ground for a final clean up of the Project Chariot Site, 23 miles from Point Hope. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

 

This summer, state and federal agencies are cleaning out what they hope are the last remnants from Project Chariot’s legacy, even as residents of Point Hope say they still feel left out of the conversation about what happens on their land.

On Wednesday, The U.S. Department of Energy brought a small group of reporters to see the bare-bones camp where remediation work began in July. At the Cape Thompson site, a few tents are clustered behind rows of Connex trailers, backhoes and four-wheelers buzzed about, and the workers piling bags of dirt for removal all carry either 12-gauge shotguns or holstered .44′s as bear protection. Some have both. The operation is costing around $3,000,000, and the whole point is removing soil that was tainted with diesel when a series of test-wells were dug in the early-60s.

“It’s important for us as an organization, and it’s important for me personally,” said Mark Kautsky in the back of an all-terrain vehicle bouncing from one site station to another. Kautsky has overseen the Chariot site for DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, and worked on its clean-up since 2009. “I want to make sure that the community understands that we take this seriously, and that we want to do everything we can to right the wrongs that have been done over the years.”

Remediation work includes cutting and capping pipes extending as far as 1,200 feet underground that were used to gather environmental data. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

Kautsky sees DOE’s work not just as the environmental task of shipping out fuel-tinged soil, but also rebuilding the trust-relationship with the community of point Hope.

“The wrongs that we’re talking about [are a] lack of adequate communication, a bully approach to doing the projects without consultation, without informing the citizens of what’s going on over here,” Kautsky continued.  “And what we’re trying to do is just heal that wound, and do what we can to improve the relationship.”

Though atomic bombs never went off, for decades the government was highly secretive about what did happen at Cape Thompson. And even what is known can seem troubling.

“They were called scaling tests, done with high explosives,” Kautsky explained, responding to a query on lingering suspicions detonations took place. “That question about whether nuclear devices were ever brought to the site or not is one we’ve looked into very closely. And there was never the kind of equipment that would have been necessary to actually drill a hole that was the size that was required to put a nuclear device into. So no, these weren’t nuclear materials that was shipped up here–conventional high explosives.”

John Halverson monitors contaminated sites for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which also looked into Chariot’s records. From Halverson’s perspective, the department’s standards for cleaning up all the known contaminants will be met this summer.

“For the clean-up work this should be the end of anything that’s planned,” Halverson said as the group approached the site of the Charlie test well. “There will still be some documentation as far as where the bore-holes are planned. But there’s been a lot of record reviews, and a lot of work done to try and identify all the potential problems. And from information that’s available we think that this’ll be the end of the clean-up work.”

Agencies visited Point Hope in March to discuss plans for the season’s work at Chariot, and they are heading back in a few weeks, once the project’s done.

But leaders in Point Hope say this is just more of the same.

“We don’t want to hear it by word of mouth. We want to see,” said Steve Oomittuk, sitting at home in Point Hope, the second-floor room filled with family pictures, art work, and DVDs. “I don’t know of anyone from our community working over there to watch, just to make sure this is happening.”

Last year, Oomittuk retired from a decade as mayor of Point Hope, and does not believe the government has earned back enough trust to be believed at face value. He and others note that when it comes to Chariot, Point Hope has repeatedly been consulted either late or after work already took place, only to find out more for themselves later on.

Jack Schaefer is the Tribal president and current mayor in Point Hope, and since the early-90s has poured over records and classified documents trying to figure out for certain what happened at Chariot.

“There’s still eight boxes that need to be declassified,” Schaefer said in his office within the domed Qalagi building.

For Schaefer, the paper-battles over declassification are not just quibbles about the historical record. He wants to know if materials brought to the site can explain the elevated levels of stomach and throat cancer that killed many in Point Hope in the years after the Chariot experiments.

“I was hoping that you would talk to some of those that were still alive, that had witnessed some of the stuff—I don’t know if you’ve been able to do that?” Schaffer asked, slightly slowing the frenetic clip of his speech. “We lost a lot of people, and so we don’t have very many witnesses in regard to that.”

Oomittuk has spent most his life whaling, and said that if the community is unsure–or can’t trust–what the government did, then there is insecurity over whether subsistence foods are safe to eat.

“We always believe that the animals gave themselves to us. That made us who we are as a people. Our identity. Our food source. Our clothing. Our shelter,” Oomittuk explained. “That Cape Thompson area is very vital to us.”

Schaffer was not certain when exactly DOE is expected to arrive in Point Hope for their final update. But he said certain steps still have to be met for any of their claims to be credible.

“I do hope that a trust-relationship is mended, and that there is more transparency, and that we do get the complete set of declassifications, and deal with it on a government-to-government basis,” he explained.

There will probably always be disagreements over what exactly the coded and complicated troves of documents related to Project Chariot actually show. But for leaders in Point Hope to still not trust or be up to speed on what is going on now means Chariot’s legacy isn’t over yet.

Categories: Alaska News

With Capitol renovations on schedule, contractors get more work

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:49

The Alaska Legislative Council approved an additional $650,000 to its $5.8 million Capitol building renovation contract on Thursday.

Demolition of the north wall of the west wing of the Capitol will proceed this fall, instead of in 2015. The updated contract won’t change the overall scope of the renovations in Juneau.

Listen now: 

This was the view from Rep. Alan Austerman’s fifth floor Capitol office in June. (Photo courtesy Legislative Affairs Agency)

This summer’s work was focused on the west wall of the Capitol along Main Street. That’s where scaffolding’s been up all summer. The work has been as much about discovering the integrity of the 84-year-old building’s structure, as it is about making it earthquake resistant.

Wayne Jensen is the project architect. He told the Legislative Council, which manages the legislature’s budget and support staff, that the contractors are on schedule and the work has gone well this summer.

“The concrete frame that was exposed is in good shape,” Jensen said. “We found there’s some discrepancy in the plumbness of the building, that the concrete was out of plumb a little bit.”

In other words, the walls weren’t quite vertical.

“And we’re able to deal with that. So all in all, things have gone well.”

Jensen told legislators that doing extra work this season will save time and could save the state money.

It also resolves the contractors’ concern about a possible conflict next year. Demolishing the north wall of the west wing while masonry work is underway on the new and improved west wall would be bad.

Jon Pulver is Dawson Construction’s project engineer.

“And the problem is, if you’re doing that, and you have masons that make it up, essentially, if they catch us as we’re going around and demoing, then we’ll have to hold them off because you can’t have that vibration going through and having the brick and the fresh mortar with vibration,” Pulver said.

The mortar could set improperly, according to Dawson.

The overall Capitol renovation is expected to be complete in 2016. The contractors are working their way around the Capitol clockwise, rebuilding exterior walls. Work will continue to be scheduled around the winter legislative sessions.

In addition to the earthquake improvements, the project will also expand the building into the courtyard and replace the heating system.

Contractors completed the first phase in 2013. It focused on the main entrance of the Capitol, making the marble steps, marble columns and the portico the columns supported structurally sound. They had all become very vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, August 8, 2014

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:46

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Listen now:

Project Chariot: A Nuclear Legacy in Point Hope

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

During the Cold War, the U.S. Atomic Energy Agency made plans to detonate nuclear bombs a few dozen miles from Point Hope. The idea was to make an Arctic deep draft port by harnessing war-time technology for civil engineering projects with strategic value. Strong opposition from Point Hope halted those plans, but not before secretive experiments were conducted. This summer, state and federal agencies are cleaning out what they hope are the last remnants from Project Chariot’s legacy. Residents of Point Hope say they still feel left out of the conversation about what happens on their land.

With Capitol Renovations on Schedule, Contractors Get More Work

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Legislative Council approved an additional $650,000 to its $5.8 million Capitol building renovation contract Thursday. Demolition of the north wall of the west wing of the Capitol will proceed this fall, instead of in 2015. The updated contract won’t change the overall scope of the renovations in Juneau.

Early Tests Show B.C. Tailings Spillwater Is ‘Safe’

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

British Columbia’s Environment Ministry says water that poured out of a massive mine-tailings pond earlier this week appears to be safe. But local emergency officials continue to warn area residents against drinking, bathing or swimming in affected water.

Westward Plant Workers Face Air Pollution Charges

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed charges against two people as part of an ongoing investigation into air pollution at the Westward Seafoods plant in Unalaska. Two former Westward employees are accused of sidestepping pollution controls — and violating the Clean Air Act.

New Geotags May Shed Light on Auklet Migrations

Annie Ropiek, KUCB – Unalaska

Every summer, thousands of tiny auklets flock to the Aleutian Islands to nest. But scientists don’t know where the seabirds go in the winter. That’s about to change, thanks to a group of researchers who’ve just returned from Buldir Island, east of Attu, and Gareloi, near Adak. They’ve been camped on the uninhabited islands since late May, outfitting crested and parakeet auklets with tracking tags for the first time.

Fairbanks Fimmaker Rolls Out Plans For Yup’ik Themed Movie

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A Fairbanks resident has a movie in the works featuring Alaska Native characters. She’s looking to cast Yup’ik, or Alaska Native people.

Farming Off the Grid

Elizabeth Jenkins, APRN correspondent – Anchorage

It’s peak season for farmer’s markets across the country right now. Food is typically grown in a rural setting. But one Southeast Alaskan couple is taking that to the extreme. They live in a completely off-the-grid location in a place without cell phone coverage or roads. And they have to be inventive to get the produce to market.

300 Villages: Port Lions

APRN – Anchorage

This week we’re heading to Port Lions, on the northern tip of Kodiak Island. Kathryn Adkins is a lodge owner and city clerk in Port Lions.

Categories: Alaska News

Early Tests Show B.C. Tailings Spill Water ‘Safe’

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:43

British Columbia’s Environment Ministrysays water that poured out of a massive mine-tailings pond Aug. 4 appears to be safe.

But local emergency officials continue towarn area residents against drinking, bathing or swimming in affected water.

Listen now:

This aerial image from a British Columbia emergency office video shows the Mount Polley dam break and some of the damage downstream.

Some tribal and environmental groups on both sides of the border doubt the test results. They say polluted water could damage salmon runs on the Fraser River, which enters the ocean at Vancouver.

Some of those fish swim north to Alaska. And a smaller Fraser River run could change Pacific Salmon Treaty allocations, reducing Alaska’s catch.

The dam break took place at the Mount Polley Mine, about 400 miles southeast of Ketchikan. Officials say the escaped wastewater and silt could fill almost 6,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. That’s almost three times an earlier estimate.

The central British Columbia open-pit copper and gold mine is owned by Vancouver-basedImperial Metals. The corporation plans to open the similar Red Chris Mine this year near the Stikine River, which ends near Wrangell.

The Environment Ministry says early tests showed levels of dissolved metals and acid are within government standards. It says the levels are also within limits that protect fish and other aquatic life.

But ministry officials say further tests are needed. It also says the tests could not measure all dissolved metals.

Critics say the province’s water-quality standards are too weak. They also say metal concentrations that don’t kill salmon can still disrupt their senses, making it difficult to find their spawning grounds.

The area affected by the dam break is home to a large sockeye fishery. The run is just starting and will peak in several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Westward Plant Workers Face Air Pollution Charges

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:42

The Westward Seafoods plant is tucked away on Captains Bay Road. But the factory — and two of its former employees — are drawing heat from federal regulators for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.

Listen now:

Westward makes its own electricity on-site using three generators. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis says the company has air permits that lay out what pollutants it can emit — and under what conditions.

“It was required to have pollution prevention equipment to reduce the nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse,” Feldis says.

Nitrogen dioxide is a rusty-looking gas that can cause respiratory problems in humans. It also contributes to the formation of smog.

Feldis says the system designed to cut down on nitrogen dioxide emissions at the Westward plant was rarely used during a two-year period — from 2009 to 2011. The plant kept sending required reports to state and federal agencies during that time, but Feldis says the data was inaccurate.

Now, the former powerhouse supervisor is being charged with falsifying those emissions reports. Raul Morales faces up to two years in jail, on top of fines.

The former powerhouse operator is also facing federal charges. Bryan Beigh was on the job in July 2011, when he allegedly tampered with the meters on a water injection system. That’s a key component of the pollution control equipment.

“It’s alleged that he in fact used a magnet and a drill to physically change the readings on these flow meters,” Feldis says.

Feldis says the two former employees are planning to plead guilty in federal court. But the investigation isn’t complete.

According to Westward Seafoods vice president Mark Johahnson, at least one other worker was involved in the alleged violations.

“This was the actions of three individuals,” Johahnson says. “I don’t think it should color the other thousand or so that work up there for us. We have company values and policies to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t detect it before we did.”

Johahnson says the company fired the employees who were allegedly responsible. And they also reported the violations to regulators as soon as they came to light in September 2011.

But that wasn’t the first time that the Westward plant landed in hot water over pollution.

About a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency accused Westward of burning fuel with excess sulfur. Westward didn’t cooperate with investigators in that instance — allegedly violating disclosure laws in the process. The company eventually paid $570,000 to settle the case.

Johahnson says Westward is trying to make improvements.

“We have redoubled our compliance efforts to ensure that it won’t happen again,” Johahnson says. “But outside of that, I can’t really say anything due to the ongoing investigation.”

Meanwhile, Westward’s sister company may be getting out of the power generation business in Unalaska.

Alyeska Seafoods — which is also owned by Maruha Nichiro of Japan — recently agreed to tie in to the municipal electric grid in Unalaska. The factory could be buying its power from the city of Unalaska by next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

New Geotags to Shed Light on Auklet Migrations

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:41

A pair of crested auklets nests on Buldir Island in 2012. (Photo courtesy Ian Jones)

Every summer, thousands of tiny auklets flock to the Aleutian Islands to nest. But scientists don’t know where the seabirds go in the winter.

Listen now:

That’s about to change, thanks to a group of researchers who’ve just returned from Buldir Island, east of Attu, and Gareloi, near Adak. They’ve been camped on the uninhabited islands since late May, outfitting crested and parakeet auklets with tracking tags for the first time.

Steve Delehanty is the director of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

“Technology has just come into existence within the last couple of years, that little tiny tags on the birds — geolocators — are light enough now, and small enough, to safely put on these rather small birds,” he says.

Delehanty boarded the refuge ship Tiglax in Unalaska a little over a week ago and went to pick up the auklet researchers, about 700 miles down the chain in the Western Aleutians.

He says the new geotags will record where the auklets go over the next year. Then, the researchers will go back and check on them.

“The birds are very faithful not only to the island where they nest, but even to the same rock crevasse,” he says. So the researchers “will go and capture these same birds next year.”

This was also part of an annual trip for Delehanty — he takes the Tiglax every year to visit different parts of his uniquely far-flung refuge. And he says the Aleutians never disappoint.

“You’re looking out and you’re seeing tens of thousands of auklets — swarming around the colony and on the water and in the air, big ribbons, strings of thousands of auklets and puffins and murres and kittiwakes and so many other species,” he says. “It’s just a really special thing to be able to see that.”

And it happens, he says, because the Aleutians are a rich ecosystem without many native predators. Buldir is one of the only islands in the chain where rats and foxes were never introduced — which is why the auklets come back, year after year.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Filmmaker Rolls Forward on Yup’ik Movie

Fri, 2014-08-08 16:40

Screenwriter, Daniels Calvin from Fairbanks. Photo courtesy of Daniels Calvin.

A Fairbanks resident has a movie in the works featuring Alaska Native characters. She’s looking to cast Yup’ik, or Alaska Native people.

Listen now:

Fairbanks resident Daniels Calvin wrote the screenplay for the movie, ‘Atellgun’ or ‘Namesake,’ with inspiration from wilderness survival and something closer to home.

“I was inspired by the story of plane crash survivors, and things that they do to save their lives and the lives of their children. And my daughter is Aleut, she is from Perryville, but there wasn’t anything like a musician for her on TV. Or it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of actors on TV that are Alaskan Native. So I wanted to create an outlet for her to have these role models she can look up to,” says Calvin.

She says she decided to make a Yup’ik-themed movie after looking back to her time, with Yup’ik people in Bethel, when she worked for 4-H. Though not a Yup’ik speaker, or Yup’ik herself, Calvin wrote the screenplay relying on an online resource from University of Alaska Fairbanks, “Alaskan Native Knowledge Network.” She also took responsibility for funding the movie.

“There really isn’t a lot of hand holding that goes on here in Fairbanks, uhh, this project is funded by me working three jobs. Being a filmmaker is all about passion, if you don’t have it you’ll never survive. There’s not really a lot of places to find money, you find people doing kick starters and things of that nature but for this particular project I am doing this all with borrowing resources, checking things from the library, peoples time they’re donating, and out of pocket from myself,” says Calvin.

The movie is in the preproduction phase, and Calvin says she’s scouting locations but will not be filming in Bethel due to cost. The movie will be filmed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Auditions will be held this Sunday, August 10th, at the UAF Great Hall in Fairbanks, from noon to three.

Categories: Alaska News

Lieutenant Governor Primary Election

Fri, 2014-08-08 12:00

Lieutenant Governor candidate Hollis French.

He’s been a prosecutor and a state Senator, and now Hollis French is running for Lieutenant Governor. His opponent, Bob Williams, is campaigning on the issue of education. French on justice and taxation issues. And what else?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Hollis French, candidate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Port Lions

Fri, 2014-08-08 11:48

This week we’re heading to Port Lions, on the northern tip of Kodiak Island. Kathryn Adkins is a lodge owner and city clerk in Port Lions.

Download Audio

My name is Kathryn Adkins, I’ve lived in Port Lions since 1990. Port Lions is a population, currently, of about 170, give or take. Our population swells in the summertime with fishermen and people that have summer homes here and it, of course, decreases when summer is at an end.

We’re about 18 air miles from Kodiak. We’re one of the five villages on Kodiak Island. We’ve got a lot of trees, a lot of mountains, a lot of water and, at times, a lot of rain – although this summer it’s been pretty dry.

Port Lions, I should say, doesn’t have a store here. We lost our barge service from Seattle quite a number of years ago and when that happened it was too costly for the store owner, so we lost our store. But we’re in the process of building a new ferry dock; it should be completed this fall. We’re hoping to try to reinstate some kind of a monthly barge service from Seattle.

The village is established as a result of the 1964 earthquake. The community of Afognak Village relocated here to Port Lions in December of 1964. The Lions  Club Kodiak chapter was instrumental in helping the village relocate – and that’s why it’s named Port Lions.

We just celebrated a big Fourth of July event, 50 year Anniversary, and we’re planning another special event in December.

It’s a beautiful place and it kinda gets under your skin; people love it here.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Farming off the Grid.

Fri, 2014-08-08 11:47

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

It’s peak season for farmer’s markets across the country right now. Food is typically grown in a rural setting. But one Southeast Alaskan couple is taking that to the extreme. They live in a completely off-the-grid location in a place without cell phone coverage or roads. And they have to be inventive to get the produce to market.

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(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

Farragut Bay is more than just a little off the beaten path from Petersburg. It takes about an hour to get there in a skiff. The boat cruises into shallow water, passing a sailboat catamaran that Farragut Farms uses to transport up to 1,000 pounds of vegetables every other week. But the trip’s not over yet. Bo Varsano and Marja Smets homestead is still a fifteen minute hike through spongy marsh.

Varsano has lived on the property for about 20 years. The electricity runs entirely off solar panels. There’s no sewer system or running water. They have a rain catchment for bathing, doing dishes, and watering plants. And that’s how they like it.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

“Yeah, I definitely fell in love with the place before I fell in love with him,” Smets jokes.

The couple uses about two acres to grow food, mostly in raised garden beds and greenhouses. Varsano lived here first, but he says he didn’t think about the property for commercial farming.

“It was probably more Marja’s idea than mine. I think I was more aware of how much work it was than she was, but it was a mutual decision.”

That was five years ago. Now, Farragut Farms supplies their produce to the Petersburg farmers market, grocery store, school cafeteria, and a local restaurant.

It’s the eve of the market, so Varsano and Smets are getting everything together for the next day: kale, chard, carrots, and kohlrabi. It’s a lot of work for two people.

They have to package the produce, put it in coolers, and row it down a side slough to their sailboat.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

“Most people think we’re pretty crazy, I suppose,” Smets laughs.

They are part of a growing number of local farmers in Southeast Alaska. The couple transports their produce 30 miles to Petersburg. In a sail boat, it’s a long trip, but the bulk of grocery store products travel thousands of miles to the region. The Petersburg Economic Council recently applied for a $25,000 grant from the USDA to fund farmer’s market promotions. Liz Cabrera, the coordinator for the PEDC, said she looks at it as growing one small business at a time.

“It adds an element of economic diversity to our local economy,” she said. “It also adds, in general, an increased sense of resilience where we’re not as dependent on something being brought in from down south.”

Part of the grant money, if awarded, would go toward hiring a part-time market organizer and developing a Southeast Alaska Growers conference in Petersburg. As it stands, there are no formal networking opportunities to discuss the challenges farmers face in the region. Bo Varsano loves the idea, and he says there are plenty of interesting challenges.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

“We’re kind of in a unique position of there’s just two of us and we’re remote enough,” Varsano said. “We can’t hire anybody; we have to get creative.”

That’s meant designing a greenhouse on wheels and a gate to keep the moose out, even inventing vessels to transport the goods. Marja Smets hopes by sharing this information, the local foods movement will continue to thrive.

“We feel like the best way to learn and improve is to learn and talk to others about what they’re doing,” Smets said. “We’re not alone.”

The couple finishes packing the rest of the kohlrabi for the farmer’s market.

To make it on time, they’re leaving on their catamaran sailboat at midnight. The trip can take up to four hours with their smaller boat engine. Varsano said they sometimes complain about the lifestyle, but the remote beauty of the landscape makes up for the difficulty.

“It’s pretty easy to kind of invent your own life here.”

Categories: Alaska News

Pitch-on-a-Train brings out Alaskan

Fri, 2014-08-08 09:18

Local Alaskan organizations are trying to promote entrepreneurship to diversify the economy. Last week, the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation hosted the second annual Pitch-on-a-Train competition. Five Alaskan start-ups tried to convince a panel of judges that their ideas could make money. 

Listen here

Traveling down the railroad tracks toward Whittier, five teams prepare to sell their ideas. They’re pitching business plans that could work in Alaska in a setting that doesn’t let them forget the uniqueness of where they live. Without Power Points and graphics they have to both maintain their balance on a moving train, and distract the panel of nine judges from the rugged scenery of Turnagain Arm. All but one of the judges is from the state.

SwipeAPI pitches to the panel of judges. Hillman/KSKA

Among the competitors is Duane Halverson. He’s pitching a product he developed for his hunting camp called Roving Blue. It’s a portable water purification system that uses ozone to kill pathogens. Ozonated water can be used as a disinfectant, too. He says the unit runs on batteries or solar power and can clean enough water for about 250 people.

“So you can see the applications worldwide are enormous. FEMA, hurricane, tornado disaster, anywhere where your water supply is interrupted. Galena, for example. There you go. So it’s something that can really contribute greatly to mankind,” he said.

But is it marketable? A good investment? Judge Terry Jones, who founded Travelocity, says these are the questions the judges are asking.

“A good pitch and a good idea are different because the pitch is more than the idea,” he said. “The pitch is about putting it to work. Remember, creativity is about thinking up new things. Innovation is about doing them.”

That was what the Anchorage Startup Weekend winners wanted to do — to turn the hard-to-grasp idea of Bitcoins into something people see as functional. Bitcoins are money that’s mined on the Internet using mathematical algorithms. At the moment, one Bitcoin is worth about $580. But Travis Krause says they aren’t easy to spend.

“Right now it takes over three days to take Bitcoin and turn it into US dollars so you can go buy a taco. Now we take that three day process and turn it into a three second card swipe.”

In the five days since the team formed, they created a credit card called SwipeAPI that can be used anywhere in the world to buy things with any type of cyber currency. And it already works.

“Well, I bought coffee with it this morning,” Krause said languidly. “And then I bought espresso with it later on this morning again.”

Krause’s team says that if Bitcoin was easy to use, then maybe the 99 percent of the population that doesn’t even really understand it, might start.

So did the judges think they had a great pitch? The best of the five? They announced the winners during lunch.

SwipeAPI pitches to the panel of judges. Hillman/KSKA

“Fifth place,” said the announcer, “is SwipeAPI.”

The team says they didn’t expect to win, but they didn’t expect to be last either. Team member Lance Ahern says it was still a positive experience.

“That experience of going through, putting our information together, getting out in front of the judges, presenting our idea. I think it’s good. We need to go through that.”

Ahern says Anchorage Bitcoin users are already paying to be part of the trial.

As the for the water treatment idea, it faired a bit better. They came in second. Judge Jones says their product could go somewhere with some work.

“I think the water cleaning system is awesome. I think they need marketing help to understand how to price it and where to go with it,” he said.

Other pitches included a time-share luxury jet and software to control drones for everything from fighting fires to cleaning gutters. But the ultimate winner? A tried and true idea — expanding a Juneau homemade ice cream business that features rhubarb sherbet to include an ice cream truck by the cruise ship docks.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Friday, August 8

Fri, 2014-08-08 07:03

The Anchorage Assembly okays a compromise labor law. The three major candidates for the GOP Senate nomination debate in Fairbanks. Shell and North Slope Native groups reach a drilling agreement. The bridge across the Tanana opens, the bridge to somewhere. Alaska LNG project buying land. Fishermen complaining about Gov. Parnell’s choice of fisheries adviser. Gov. Parnell is disturbed the federal government sent five refugee children to Alaska. Forty years ago, Richard Nixon resigned as president.

Listen now:

HOST: Michael Carey

GUESTS:

  • Dermot Cole Alaska  Dispatch/ADN.
  • Paul Jenkins Anchorage Daily Planet.
  • Tim Bradner Alaska Journal of Commerce.

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday August 8 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, August 9 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, August 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday August 9 at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

Treadwell, Sullivan Assail Each Other’s Ties To L48 Companies

Thu, 2014-08-07 18:11

The two leading Republican U.S. Senate candidates are increasingly turning on each other. Last week, Dan Sullivan sent mailers to Alaska voters alleging Mead Treadwell benefitted financially from the Obama stimulus package, a bill he denounces on the campaign trail. This week Treadwell is fighting back, and he’s taking aim at the Ohio paint conglomerate Sullivan’s family runs.

Listen now:

Sullivan, in his mailer, says Treadwell was on the board of a Maryland dredge-building company that took $6 million from the Obama stimulus bill. Disclosure documents show Treadwell sold shares of Ellicott Dredges for $1.1 million in 2009. As the mailer puts it: “Treadwell used Obama’s stimulus to line his own bank account, and Alaskans are footing the bill.”

Treadwell says Sullivan is overstating his connection to the dredge company. He wants Alaskans to take a hard look at RPM International, the paint company Sullivan’s grandfather founded and Sullivan’s brother runs. According to a government database of stimulus spending, RPM International got contracts worth more than $15 million from the stimulus bill, mostly through its roofing division, called Tremco. Treadwell points out that Dan Sullivan owns shares of RPM worth up to $1 million.

“So, I’d say, examine thyself, Mr. Sullivan,” Treadwell says.

This is a case of parallel accusations. Both Sullivan and Treadwell decry the Obama Administration’s spending. Each candidate is linked to a different Lower 48 company that does a lot of business with the government, a bit of it funded with Obama’s stimulus money. Each says he had no sway over the company’s decision to take that money, but says the othe guy’s ties to the company are significant and relevant to the campaign.

Sullivan holds no position at RPM, and has no legal say in the business, which includes brands like Rust-oleum and DAP and has 10,000 employees around the world. Treadwell says Alaskans should still care how RPM makes its money because executives of the company have contributed heavily to Sullivan’s campaign.

“But, you know, I don’t have the money to do a mailer to 50,000 people.”

Campaign finance reports show RPM employees and their spouses have given $130,000 to Sullivan’s campaign, helping make Ohio Sullivan’s No. 1 state for contributions. Also, Sullivan’s brother, Frank, the CEO of RPM, their father, and an ex-RPM board member contributed a combined $125,000 to a super PAC running ads to support Sullivan and tarnish rivals. Aside from the stimulus money, Treadwell points out RPM was sued in 2010 over its business practices.

“I just would say, take a look at where his money is coming from, both his personal wealth, his ability to take a year off from any employment to run for office, his ability to come in with so much money to begin with and most of it comes back to a company called RPM which settled last August for $65 million for overcharging the U.S. government,” Treadwell says.

In that case Tremco, RPM’s roofing division, was accused under the False Claims Act of price-gouging and selling the government defective products. The claims involved roofs on 150 public buildings including schools, post offices and more than a dozen veteran’s hospitals.

In a press release about the settlement a year ago, RPM CEO Frank Sullivan said the company sometimes charged the government the wrong price. The Sullivan campaign wouldn’t speak on tape for this story, but issued a statement saying Sullivan had nothing to do with the activity in question and that he’s proud of the company his brother and grandfather built.

Treadwell says the Sullivan mailer against him is wrong. He sold most of his stock in Ellicott and resigned from the board before the company won its largest chunk of stimulus money — $4 million for a dredge it sold the government. He WAS on the board when the company applied for a $1.75 million grant to upgrade machinery but says that wasn’t a board decision. Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said last week the mailer was accurate because Treadwell didn’t sever his ties to Ellicott. According to his financia disclosure form, Treadwell still owns a six-figure stake in the company and receives board compensation. Treadwell says he’s paid $1,000 to attend board meetings as a non-voting advisor.

While the front-running Republican candidates go after each other, Democratic operatives working to re-elect Sen. Mark Begich, are enjoying the fireworks and taking notes.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage lifeguard charged with distributing child pornography

Thu, 2014-08-07 18:06

Jonathan Daniel Sabet

A former Anchorage lifeguard has been arrested for possessing and distributing child pornography. Twenty-two-year-old Jonathan Daniel Sabet worked at the East High School Pool. A Parks & Recreation press release says he passed two FBI background checks before he was hired in 2010.

The Anchorage Police Department started investigating Sabet in April. Investigators worked undercover and received videos from the suspect that showed the sexual exploitation of children. Special agents with the FBI also received videos from him in July. The police searched his house on Wednesday and found more child pornography. He was arrested and is being held on a $15,000 bail.

The APD says this is an ongoing investigation. They encourage anyone who might have more information or who thinks their child might have had an inappropriate interaction with Sabet to contact them at 786-8500.

Categories: Alaska News

Eielson A Frontrunner to House F-35 Fighters

Thu, 2014-08-07 17:39

There’s good news for the Fairbanks business community today. The secretary of the Air Force called Alaska’s congressional delegation this morning to announce that Eielson Air Force Base is the only candidate selected to house two squadrons of F-35 fighter planes. The final decision won’t be until the fall of 2015, after a study of the environmental Impact, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s confident.

Listen now:

An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter banks during a test flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where pilots will eventually train on the aircraft. Photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/U.S. Air Force via NPR.

“Eielson clearly is the front-runner. There was no reasonable alternative which was identified, they moved straight to the preferred alternative, which I think is really quite compelling for Eielson,” Murkowski says.

The Air Force cited Eielson’s strategic position on the globe, the wide-open air space and training range, and the support of the local community. Sen. Mark Begich says he expects the 48 planes will bring several hundred jobs and, all told, some 2,000 people, including family members. Begich gave credit to the Tiger Team, the Fairbanks and Interior leaders who promote Eielson.

“They came out in droves. They had information, they had data. They went to every public hearing. They made sure the Department of Defense, the Pentagon heard from Alaskans first-hand why this base location in Alaska was the right decision, especially at Eielson.”

The F35A is a single-seat, single-engine fighter with stealth technology that can also carry heavy bombs.

Categories: Alaska News

As Primary Nears, House Candidate Attacks Rival’s Residency Status

Thu, 2014-08-07 17:39

Last election cycle, state legislator Mia Costello’s opponents falsely alleged that she didn’t actually live in the Sand Lake neighborhood of Anchorage that she represents. Now, it’s déjà vu in the district, with similar charges being levied against a new candidate.

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There’s a pretty lengthy paper trail suggesting that Republican candidate Sherri Jackson may not live in District 22. The Casper Court house she owns is located on the wrong side of Jewel Lake Road, putting it in a neighboring district. The senior housing facility where Jackson works is listed as her place of residence. Her 2013 fishing license has Casper Court on it, and so does the absentee ballot she cast in November 2012.

Jackson’s opponent in the Republican primary, Liz Vazquez, is so convinced that Jackson can’t run in the district that she hired a lawyer to pursue the claim and handle inquiries on the residency matter.

“The thought that she actually lives at her employer’s house, which is a half mile from her actual residence that she’s owned for 15 years, is farcical to say the least,” says attorney Scott Kendall.

The Vazquez campaign alleges that Jackson changed her voter registration to her employer’s address after redistricting maps were finalized last July, and her Casper Court home was sliced out of that area – the idea being it would be easier for her to run in for office in that neighborhood. Rumors to that effect began circulating on Facebook this week.

Vazquez complained to the Division of Elections in June, but they missed the deadline to challenge Jackson’s candidacy at that point. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai dismissed their complaint, and Vazquez chose not to appeal the decision in court because of the cost.

But had Vazquez submitted the complaint in time, Fenumiai would have initiated an investigation and judged Jackson’s residency by this metric:

“What we ask somebody who say is — like I’m going to use a homeless person for this example – we say, ‘Where do you sleep at night?’ And they tell us where they sleep,” says Fenumiai. “That is where we consider their residence is for voter registration.”

So, I went to find out where Sherri Jackson sleeps. Jewel Lake Plaza is right at the edge of District 22. It’s got more than a dozen apartments for low-income seniors with Section-8 vouchers. To enter, you have to be buzzed in, and Mark and Sherri Jackson’s names are at the top of the directory.

MARK JACKSON: Hello?
GUTIERREZ: Hi, is this Mark Jackson?
JACKSON: Yeah.
GUTIERREZ: Hi, My name is Alexandra Gutierrez, and I am looking for Sherri.
JACKSON: Well, she’s working tonight.

Even though his wife’s out, Mark Jackson invites me in for a look. The place is furnished; the refrigerator is covered in magnets and photos; and there are “Sherri Jackson for State House” signs in the window.

“I don’t know how you would assume that we don’t live here from having a stack full of books, plants, and everything else that goes in a house. This is where we live,” says Mark. “But I do own a house over on Casper, but my children live there.”

Mark explains that Sherri is the on-site representative at Jewel Lake Plaza, and that they moved there two years ago as part of the job. Their kids are in their twenties, so they let them occupy the Casper Court home.

As I’m about to leave, Sherri arrives. She says she’s aware of the residency complaint, but doesn’t put stock into it.

“I’m not going to put myself or my family in a situation that is under such scrutiny that you make a fool of yourself,” says Sherri Jackson. “It’s not worth it.”

She shows me a letter from September 2012 documenting their move, and we talk to a Jewel Lake Plaza resident who vouches for the Jacksons as neighbors.

Jackson admits that her paperwork could raise some eyebrows. She says that because the Casper Court property is still in her name, she would sometimes use it instead of her post office box. She adds that she used the Casper Court address on the 2012 absentee ballot because she had just moved and she and her husband were traveling for a family illness.

“I guess it could look bad in a way, but that’s the reality of my situation,” says Jackson. “You know, a lot of time people don’t put addresses in until they settle down.”

House District 22 is currently represent by Republican Mia Costello. Costello is vacating the seat to run for the State Senate, but when she was up for reelection last year, she also had her residency questioned.

“Maybe it’s in the water! Yeah, Mia went through hell on that, too,” says Jackson. “I remember sharing with her, ‘Just hold your head up.’”

Jackson believes her situation is comparable to Costello’s and sees the residency allegation as a politically motivated attack.

“I don’t really know how she could really be confused. I mean, I would never have stepped out and run for public office not living in the district. So, I’m not sure what that really means – that she’s concerned maybe? It smells as if there’s maybe a concern in the air around her race.”

Jackson does not plan to withdraw from the Republican primary. While state statute does not allow people to claim “temporary work sites” for their residency, Jackson thinks her situation qualifies as permanent.

Vazquez attorney Scott Kendall still believes that Jackson shouldn’t be eligible to run.

“I guess I’m far from convinced based on the fact that she was simply there and had stuff there. Certainly, since filing in May of this year she’s had plenty of time to occupy a unit there. Again, she’s not entitled to live there but for working there, so it is her work site.”

This isn’t the first controversy over election rules in District 22 this campaign cycle. The Republican primary was initially supposed to be a three-way race, but David Nees’ candidacy was rejected because of paperwork problems.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Asked to Return $12.3M in Federal Grants for Ferry Project

Thu, 2014-08-07 17:38

Listen now:

The Federal Transit Administration wants the Matanuska Susitna Borough to pay back 12 point 3 million dollars in grants related to the ferry MV Susitna.

Matanuska Susitna Borough manager John Moosey made the announcement today [thursday] at a press conference in Palmer.   He said

 ”We have been working diligently the last 2 and a half years to resolve this issue. We have not been successful yet. “

 Moosey said that Borough Assembly members will meet in a special meeting next week to decide what to do.  He said it is not clear what will happen if the Borough fails to pay.

 ”We hope not to find out. But we at this point in time, are looking for an alternative solution other than paying 12 point 3 million dollars back”.

 The Federal Transit Administration letter, received this week, indicates that there is a 30 day deadline on the payment.

 Moosey said that a delegation from the Borough visited Washington DC last December to speak with the secretary of the FTA to present everything the Borough has done to resolve the issue of the ferry, albeit unsuccessfully.

“So at that time, we talked about many options we could do. And really threw out some discussion items, so essentially this action, this letter really allows us now to sit down and talk turkey and work out how this is going to be resolved.”

 Moosey said that the Borough will respond to the FTA within the 30 day time frame.  He says the amount of the money is not in dispute.  The Borough has been trying to sell the ferry for years, for about 6 million dollars, with no success, to try to recover costs the Borough has spent on it.

The Susitna is berthed in Ketchikan, which initially cost the Borough about  30 thousand dollars a month, although in recent months that cost has been reduced.

“And that has been part of our challenge, is that we have the boat, which we have in Ketchikan, which we have monthly costs on, and at the same time we have this grant from the FTA that needs to be resolved. So we are getting pinched both ways on this issue.”

 Mat Su Port Director Marc Van Dongen says about four million of the 12 point 3 million dollars was spent on the Port MacKenzie terminal building, and engineering and design costs ate up the remainder of the money.

“It was also used for the studies, we had to do environmental studies, route studies, passenger surveys. We did a design for the ferry landing at Port MacKenzie.”

 The ferry was paid for by the US Navy, but was given to the Borough with certain provisions tied to the millions of dollars in grants that went with it.

 Moosey said the Borough’s plan to use the ferry between Port MacKenzie and Anchorage fell apart when the Borough failed to get a second influx of money to build ferry landings on both sides of Knik Arm.

Categories: Alaska News
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