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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: 18 min 39 sec ago

The Silver Screen Comes Back To Bethel

Mon, 2014-07-07 17:42

The customer line snaked its way from the entrance to the concession stand. (Photo by Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel)

The new movie theater in Bethel lit up its screens last week on Independence Day. It was the grand opening for Suurvik Cinema, the only theatre for hundreds of miles in a vast stretch of Alaska.

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A long line of excited moviegoers are ready for the first big screen viewings in Bethel for over thirty years. Bethel resident Ronald Jennings Jr. says it’s a big deal for him.

“It’s like one of the first movies that I get to watch in a movie theater. I only did it a couple of other times and that was in Juneau so I’m pretty excited for it being here in Bethel, and that they had the courtesy to bring anything like this to a rural area,” say’s Jennings.

The theater is a part of the Kipusvik Complex, which is owned by the Bethel Native Corporation. President and CEO Ana Hoffman opened the theater with a ribbon cutting ceremony, she presented BNC board members who used traditional ul’uaqs to cut the ribbon.

After buying their tickets customers move into one of the two theaters with their snacks. Most adults and couples choose the comedy “22 Jump Street”, but Alexis Kinegak chose the children’s adventure: “How To Train Your dragon 2, it was fun and little bit sad,” Says Alexis.

Alexis’s mom is Yvonne Kinegak says she was an employee at the last movie theater in Bethel; the Swanson’s Theatre, which closed in the early 80s.

“It feels really good to be in Bethel and watch a movie. I used to run the movies at the old theater, so it feels really good to have a theater back here, a place to hang out for the kids and it’s just exciting so I’m very happy,” says Kinegak.

Suurvik is the Yup’ik translation for “movie theater.” Suurvik Cinema will be open weekdays in the evenings, and begin operations early afternoon on weekends.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Dispatch News debuts Tuesday

Mon, 2014-07-07 17:41

The Anchorage Daily News is slated to become the Alaska Dispatch News tomorrow (Tuesday), according to a story published over the weekend on the organization’s website.

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If you’re going to miss calling the city paper the Anchorage Daily News, tonight might be the night to save a couple of screen shots and hold a little funeral.

Starting Tuesday, the Anchorage Daily News is slated to become the Alaska Dispatch News, according to a story published Sunday on adn.com.

Online visitors can still access the paper’s content using adn.com and alaskadispatch.com, but the two websites are expected to redirect to a single site, according to the article. So how will Alaskans cope with the change?

At a Fred Meyer in town, Yvonne Brown says she’s not in favor of scrapping the paper’s name.

“I think they should leave it. I like Anchorage Daily News better, because it’s been that way since day one,” Brown says.

For Sara Reubenowitz, the blending of names is emblematic of blending the two media organizations.

“I like the Dispatch. I’ve liked it a lot. And I think it’ll add a good addition to the Daily News.”

The change comes nearly three months after newspaper’s publisher announced the $34 million sale of the Anchorage Daily News to a local online startup, the Alaska Dispatch.

Editor Tony Hopfinger declined a request for an interview about the change until Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-07-07 17:07

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Bears Maul Hiker Near Bird Ridge

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A bear mauling in the Bird Creek area has sent one woman to an Anchorage hospital.  At about 10:20 Monday morning, Alaska State Troopers got a call for help from a hiker on the Penguin Ridge trail.

First Marijuana Shops Open In Washington

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The first marijuana retail shops are opening up in Washington this week. It’s the last big piece of a citizens’ initiative passed in 2012 that regulates the drug like alcohol. With Alaska voters considering a similar ballot measure this fall, APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez checks in with Seattle law enforcement to see how they’re dealing with the new policy.

Juneau Police Arrest Suspect in Gold Street Racial Incident; May Also be Suspect in Celebration Case

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau police believe they have a suspect in connection with a racial incident that marred the parade at the end of last month’s Celebration.

The Michigan man also is being investigated by the Secret Service and is wanted in Hawaii for threatening people.

Alaska Highway Projects Likely Safe Despite Federal Shortfalls

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

News that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money is worrying a lot of states, but not Alaska.   In a letter to transportation departments all over the country earlier this month, the federal Department of Transportation  announced that if Congress did not take immediate action, the trust fund would be depleted in a matter of weeks, forcing federal highway officials to institute cash management procedures in August.  At that time, federal officials will use a formula established by law to determine how much money each state will receive.

Refugees Finding Employment Opportunities In Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Businesses in Anchorage have a tough time finding entry level employees. For some employers, the solution is hiring refugees – individuals who fled violence or persecution in their home countries and are trying to enter into life in the United States. Catholic Social Services recently gave an award to P&M Gardens for their willingness to employ refugees.

Nonprofit Touts Alaska Dental Therapists As Oral Health Pioneers

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Dental health aide therapists have been providing midlevel dental care in the Norton Sound region for about a decade. Now a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights Norton Sound Health Corporation’s dental therapist program as one of the leading efforts in the nation for increasing access to dental care.

The Silver Screen Comes Back To Bethel

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

The new movie theater in Bethel lit up its screens last week on Independence Day.  It was the grand opening for Suurvik Cinema, the only theatre for hundreds of miles in a vast stretch of Alaska.

Alaska Dispatch News Debuts Tuesday

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Daily News is slated to become the Alaska Dispatch News on Tuesday, according to a story published over the weekend on the organization’s website.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 4, 2014

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:57

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Holly Brooks Reclaims Mt. Marathon Title

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Seward

Tens of thousands of spectators were on hand in Seward for the start of the 2014 Mount Marathon race Friday.

Historic Quake Disrupts Life, Habitat In Aleutians

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

At a magnitude 7.9, last week’s deep-sea earthquake was the most powerful to hit the Western Aleutians in 50 years. The quake didn’t cause any structural damage — but it was a reminder that life in the islands can change in an instant.

White House Makes Economic Case For Expanding Medicaid In Alaska

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The White House has issued a report laying out the costs of not expanding Medicaid. Alaska is one of 24 states that rejected federal dollars to increase access to Medicaid, preferring instead to study how those who would have qualified are currently receiving care.

Atka Camp Serves Up Subsistence Lessons

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

A pop-up subsistence school has opened in a remote corner of the Aleutians. Atka’s second-annual culture camp is meant to keep Unangan traditions going strong.

Smithsonian Channel Program Attempts To Encapsulate 49th State

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A program airing this Sunday on the Smithsonian Channel tries to capture the majesty of the 49th state. Toby Beach is the producer and director of Aerial America. The show features all 50 states, but only Alaska was given a two hour treatment rather than one. Beach says the program cuts through the distorted view of Alaska that people may get from the flood of so-called reality TV shows about the state.

Charter Vessel With Exotic Dancing Gets Mixed Reception

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

A lot of fishing boats were removed from the Bering Sea crab grounds after rationalization prompted a huge surge in quota stacking and consolidation of the fleet. Some crab boats sit unused in harbors around the state, others are being used as tenders in other fisheries, but in Kodiak, one has been turned into a strip club.

AK: Farming

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

The dream of homesteading and living off the land is part of the Alaskan mystique. Few succeed. The couple who owns Chugach Farm, have made it work on only one acre in the middle of the woods in Chickaloon.

300 Villages: Tanana

This week, we’re visiting the interior village of Tanana. Donna May Folger is mayor of Tanana.

Categories: Alaska News

Holly Brooks Reclaims Mt. Marathon Title

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:46

Holly Brooks hugs fellow competitor Charlotte Edmondson before race. (Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Seward)

Tens of thousands of spectators were on hand in Seward for the start of the 2014 Mount Marathon race Friday.

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Holly Brooks after the race. (Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Seward)

After coming in second last year, Olympic skier Holly Brooks has reclaimed her title as winner of the women’s Mountain Marathon race. She finished the 3,000-ft climb in 52 minutes and 49 seconds, with 2013 champion Christy Marvin right behind her.

“It was a tough field. This was the deepest women’s field in a long time,” she said. “So, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Brooks has competed in Mount Marathon six times, and come in as the runner-up in half of those runs.

“You know I’ve been second three times in this race,” she said. “Twice, I’ve gotten passed on Main Street right here, and that was all I could think about. I didn’t want to have to think about that for another year.”

The 3-mile race is always grueling, but the dry weather this year meant runners had to contend with dust and heat. Brooks was the first to finish the uphill portion, but says the descent was a struggle.

(Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Seward)

“I’m coming downhill, I just felt like a marionette going down a mountain,” she said. “I just could barely hold myself up.”

Seventeen-year-old Allison Ostrander, of Soldotna, made history in the junior’s race as the first girl to ever win it. She came ahead of all the girls and boys with a time of 28 minutes and 54 seconds, with a 40-second lead to spare.

Eric Strabel has again won the men’s division. Coming in just before 4 p.m. with a time of 44 minutes, 46 seconds. Matias Saari came in second and Benjamin Marvin in third.

Categories: Alaska News

Historic Quake Disrupts Life, Habitat In Aleutians

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:45

At a magnitude 7.9, last week’s deep-sea earthquake was the most powerful to hit the Western Aleutians in 50 years. The quake didn’t cause any structural damage — but it was a reminder that life in the islands can change in an instant.

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The first tsunami warning issued after last Monday’s earthquake didn’t include Unalaska. In fact, the quake’s epicenter was far away from the town – deep underwater, 600 miles across the chain.

But that didn’t stop residents from taking notice.

“A lot of folks might have just caught a little — tidbits of it, such as the word Aleutians — earthquake — evacuation, when the warning was further down the chain,” says Unalaksa public safety director Jamie Sunderland.

He says they started getting calls about the quake and the tsunami risk almost immediately. They only had one dispatcher on duty, and had to scramble to bring in extra staff.

When a tsunami advisory was issued for Unalaska a short time later, he says it was tough to get the message out – that residents didn’t actually need to evacuate. Some were already heading for high ground.

Of course, Unalaska had practiced for a day like this during the statewide tsunami drill just a few months before. But Sunderland says their experience this time, showed some things are out of their control.

“Think back to grade school where they had you do a little exercise where you whisper a certain phrase into someone’s ear, and by the time it comes around the room, the message is completely changed,” he says. “The same thing happens as we pass messages through our various systems, as we try and abbreviate things.”

In Adak – just a couple hundred miles from the quake’s epicenter — the message about getting to high ground was a lot clearer:

“Given the duration and intensity of the earthquake, most people didn’t need much warning to go up there,” says city manager Layton Lockett.

He says they sounded their tsunami siren right after they felt the quake. And together, about 100 Adak residents stopped what they were doing and headed for the town shelter, an old church on a hill.

“It actually worked very well,” Lockett says. “Better than any drill we could have planned for.”

Despite the strength of the quake, Adak didn’t see any damages. In fact, the disaster’s only victims may not have been people or property at all.

Seabirds on nearby Buldir Island build their nests in rocky cliffs. When the earthquake hit, parts of those cliffs collapsed or slid away – crushing some eggs and killing chicks in the process.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge director Steve Delehanty was visiting Adak during the quake. He says there’s no way to tell how many of Buldir’s kittiwakes, murres and auklets were lost. But he also says it’s part of the natural cycle – the birds are well adapted to a changeable environment.

“There’s a short-term impact to birds, but it’s the very forces of nature that those birds depend on in the long run to provide their habitat,” Delehanty says.

The same is true of the people that live on the chain. Life in the Aleutians means expecting the unexpected – from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes and tsunamis – even when all that washes ashore is a wave less than a foot tall.

Categories: Alaska News

White House Makes Economic Case For Expanding Medicaid In Alaska

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:44

The White House has issued a report laying out the costs of not expanding Medicaid.
Alaska is one of 24 states that rejected federal dollars to increase access to Medicaid, preferring instead to study how those who would have qualified are currently receiving care. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about how the study judges Alaska.

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Lori Townsend: So, what’s in this report?

Alexandra Gutierrez: The report looks at two big things: The economic costs of denying Medicaid access and the health costs.

There are 26,000 Alaskans who currently make too much money to get Medicaid coverage, but not enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The White House Council of Economic Advisors says that if Alaska had taken federal money for expansion, the state would have increased its economic output by $250 million over the next three years. Doctor visits would have gone up by 70,000, and hundreds of jobs would be added to the state’s economy. It also goes beyond the macro picture by looking at how many of those people who fall into the Medicaid gap would avoid catastrophic hospital bills and how many wouldn’t have to borrow money to pay for their care.

Now as far as public health is concerned, the Council of Economic Advisors projects that a lot more routine screenings would be performed on lower-income Alaskans. They estimate that 900 more mammograms would be done every year, along with 3,800 cholesterol screenings, if the people who fall into the Medicaid gap were to get coverage.

LT: How is the Parnell administration reacting to this information?

AG: It doesn’t sound like they’re quite buying some of these claims. I spoke with Bill Streur, who is the commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, and here’s a piece from our interview:

STREUR: It reads more like a marketing brochure than it reads like a deep analysis.”

He sees the report as a political weapon, meant to put pressure on state governments that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. The way Medicaid expansion would have worked in Alaska is that the state would pay a small amount of the cost with the federal government taking on the lion’s share. And one of the things the White House’s numbers suggests is that Medicaid expansion pays for itself through the ripple effect to the state’s economy.

Streur’s skeptical of that, and he’s relying on the state’s own Medicaid Reform Advisory Group to figure out what role Medicaid plays in the state’s economy, how the program can be improved, and how to address people falling into the gap. That advisory group will finish its report this fall, and Streur says if Parnell is going to revisit the question of expanding Medicaid, it’ll be after they release their conclusions.

LT: Last year, a lot of different groups, like the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and the NAACP, were pushing Gov. Sean Parnell to go ahead with Medicaid expansion. Is this going to come up as a campaign issue?

Parnell’s two biggest challengers have both criticized him for rejecting the federal Medicaid money, and have said that accepting it would be one of their first acts as governor if elected.

Independent candidate Bill Walker lists it as one of his top priorities on his website, and it seems like every other week that Democrat Byron Mallott is now sending a press release mentioning the governor’s Medicaid decision. And as a Senate Democrat running for reelection, Mark Begich has also gotten in on the act, calling on Parnell to change his mind.

Now, whether Parnell will, there’s no indication of that. It hasn’t been his prerogative at this point.

Categories: Alaska News

Atka Camp Serves Up Subsistence Lessons

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:43

The campsite at Korovin Beach on Atka. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

A pop-up subsistence school has opened in a remote corner of the Aleutians. Atka’s second-annual culture camp is meant to keep Unangan traditions going strong.

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Earlier this spring, Danny Snigaroff visited the campsite where he’d be teaching younger folks how to fish and hunt.

“At culture camp, we don’t eat no hot dogs — no beef hamburgers, nothing [like that],” Snigaroff said. “It’s all Native food.”

Snigaroff and other Unangan elders grew up on sea lions, birds, and seal. And they’re still staples in Atka. That’s because most residents are still living a traditional subsistence lifestyle.

But it’s not as common in other Aleutian communities.

“There’s just not been a lot of transmission of all that knowledge and skills,” says Crystal Dushkin.

She’s the director of cultural affairs for Atka’s tribal council. Dushkin helped organize the community’s first-ever culture camp last summer. Putting traditional foods at the center made sense.

“It’s very specialized. It’s not something you could learn out of any kind of book,” Dushkin says. “I mean, sure, you could learn anatomy and all kinds of things about animals. But you can’t learn what these elders have to teach from any book.”

Or, in a classroom. That’s why the camp is being held on Korovin Beach in Atka. It’s a good place to learn about and gather plants. And it’s a good place to actually make camp.

“We’ll have all our meals and sleep out in the tents, whoever wants to,” says Dushkin, right up until the last day.

It falls on a Russian Orthodox holiday. So to honor saints Peter and Paul — and celebrate the end of camp — the village will hold a potluck. It’s another chance to gather around the foods that have sustained the culture for centuries.

Categories: Alaska News

Smithsonian Channel Program Attempts To Encapsulate 49th State

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:42

A program airing this Sunday on the Smithsonian Channel tries to capture the majesty of the 49th state. Toby Beach is the producer and director of Aerial America. The show features all 50 states, but only Alaska was given a two hour treatment rather than one. Beach says the program cuts through the distorted view of Alaska that people may get from the flood of so-called reality TV shows about the state.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Charter Vessel With Exotic Dancing Gets Mixed Reception

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:41

A lot of fishing boats were removed from the Bering Sea crab grounds after rationalization prompted a huge surge in quota stacking and consolidation of the fleet. Some crab boats sit unused in harbors around the state, others are being used as tenders in other fisheries, but in Kodiak, one has been turned into a strip club.

Download AUdio

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Farming

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:40

The dream of homesteading and living off the land is part of the Alaskan mystique. Few succeed. The couple who owns Chugach Farm, have made it work on only one acre in the middle of the woods in Chickaloon.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Tanana

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:39

This week, we’re visiting the interior village of Tanana. Donna May Folger is mayor of Tanana.

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Categories: Alaska News

Primary Election: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

Fri, 2014-07-04 12:00

It will soon be decision time for Alaska voters on which Republican should face incumbent U-S Senator Mark Begich in November. Each candidate has an hour-long live opportunity to answer phone calls from public radio listeners statewide. Mead Treadwell has done it. And now it’s Dan Sullivan’s turn.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Dan Sullivan, U.S. Senate 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, July 8, 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

Lawsuit Challenging Native Language Needs at Polls Winds Down

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:32

A lawsuit over whether or not the state of Alaska’s division of elections has adequately met the needs of Native language speakers for election materials is winding down in a federal court in Anchorage. Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News has been following the case and joins us now.

Listen now:

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 3, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:30

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Lawsuit Challenging Native Language Needs at Polls Winds Down

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A lawsuit over whether or not the state of Alaska’s division of elections has adequately met the needs of Native language speakers for election materials is winding down in a federal court in Anchorage.

Shaktoolik Erects Coastal Berm to Delay Relocation

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

For years agency reports have listed Shaktoolik as eroding with immediate need for relocation. But without government funding, little action has been taken and erosion has progressed. Now the people of Shaktoolik are taking matters into their own hands and  building a coastal berm to protect their community.

After Floods, Huslia Earmarked $356,000 In Federal Funds

Associated Press

More than $270,000 in federal funds will help relocate five homes in Huslia following flooding and erosion on the Koyukuk River last month. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the money under its “imminent threat” funds. It supplements another $85,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover the full $356,000 cost.

Honor Flag Arrives in Anchorage

Joaquin Palomino, APRN – Anchorage

The “honor flag,” an American Flag that travels the country honoring those that lost their lives in the line of duty,  arrived in Anchorage yesterday just in time for 4th of July weekend.

B.C. Pipeline Plans May Mean More Bering Sea Oil Tankers

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Last month, the Canadian government gave conditional approval to the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia. If it’s built, it’ll bring hundreds more oil tankers through the Bering Sea. That’s putting pressure on the Aleutian Islands to get ready for an increase in vessel traffic.

Air Force Delays Scrapping Research Facility; UAF Seeks Takeover

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Air Force has agreed to delay its plans to demolish a $300 million research facility near Glennallen to allow more time to work out a deal to transfer ownership to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

Bear Urine Tested as Musk Ox Repellent in Nome

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

A unique smell has been wafting through parts of Nome this past week, but it’s not your typical summer fragrance. It’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new plan being tested to keep musk oxen herds out of town. Tony Gorn is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome.

Despite Higher Fees, Sitka’s ANB Harbor A Welcome Upgrade

Greta Mart, KACW – Sitka

Boats returned in March to the newly-rebuilt ANB Harbor in Sitka, but wasn’t until just last week that local officials cut the ribbon on the project. KCAW’s Greta Mart attended the ceremony, to learn what people thought of the finished product.

Juneau Utility Sold for $170 Million to Outside Purchaser

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Alaska Electric Light and Power has merged with Spokane-based Avista Corp. The sale was announced in November and the $170 million purchase closed on Tuesday.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Shaktoolik Erects Coastal Berm to Delay Relocation

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:30

For years agency reports have listed Shaktoolik as eroding with immediate need for relocation. But without government funding, little action has been taken and erosion has progressed. Now the people of Shaktoolik are taking matters into their own hands and  building a coastal berm to protect their community.

Listen now:

The beginning of the Shaktoolik coastal berm. Photo: Anna Rose MacArthur.

for years agency reports have listed Shaktoolik as eroding with immediate need for relocation. But without government funding, little action has been taken and erosion has progressed. Now the people of Shaktoolik are taking matters into their own hands and building a coastal berm to protect their community.

A four-foot high pile of driftwood lines the coast of Shaktoolik. It stretches one mile from the first house to the dump. The barrier is the city’s first step in building a coastal berm, and it is the community’s first defense for fall storm surges.

Harvey Sookikyak is one of the crew members constructing the berm. “If we try and wait for any kind of federal money, then it’s going to take more than a while to get this thing started,” he said, explaining the reason for the project. “So we decided it’s time for us to do something on our own.”

Coordinating the project is Eugene Asicksik. He’s the Mayor of Shaktoolik and the Vice Chair of the Shaktoolik Native Corporation. “There has been a number of agencies that have come up with plans but there’s been no money to actually start,” Asickik said. Those plans include evacuation roads, evacuation centers, and even relocation.

Over the years, Asicksik said a parade of government and private agencies have landed in the community to assess the erosion. He says they investigate, write a report, and leave.

Two examples are in 2008 the state’s Immediate Action Workgroup released a report classifying Shaktoolik as one of eight communities in Alaska “in greatest peril due to climate change.” In 2009 the federal Government Accountability Office listed Shaktoolik as one of four Alaska communities “likely need[ing] to move all at once and as soon as possible” from continued flooding and erosion.

“But again there is no money,” Asickik repeated. “That’s where we’ve taken initiative upon ourselves.”

That initiative is building a coastal berm. Over the past two years the community has saved and raised money to build it: $120,000 from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation in community development funds and $500,000 from NSEDC in an outside entity grant.

Asicksik said they are going to work until the money runs out— about three months. The funds will pay for labor, equipment, and fuel. It will not pay for an engineer.

Instead, Shaktoolik is basing the berm’s design off a blueprint from the Department of Transportation. The DOT had intended to construct a vegetated berm in Shaktoolik as an experiment for other eroding communities. Shaktoolik lifted that design, just without the vegetation.

“The money doesn’t allow it,” Asicksik said.

DOT coastal engineers Harvey Smith and Ruth Carter drafted the design and support the community’s efforts.

“They’re kind of taking our idea and making it happen in a bigger way than what we could do with our little grant,” Ruth Carter said when asked about the community’s self-engineering.

The berm will consist of a driftwood pile, embedded with gravel, backed by a gravel mound. The materials come from the Shaktoolik coast.

Though the community is paying to construct the berm, if the barrier gets damaged, the state or FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—might be responsible for repairing it.

Jeremy Zidek is the Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and explained, “This berm, if it was owned by the city, it was properly engineered and maintained as a protective measure for the community, it can be eligible under public assistance program.”

The berm’s construction is in its second week. To date, the workers have piled the driftwood and finished cutting a road to begin hauling the gravel.

Gesturing to the berm’s beginning, Asicksik said, “Yes, we could just sit here and see what happens. But I can’t. I personally can’t. So in a way we are taking our own fate.”

Asicksik said he does not know how long the berm will last. At best, he says the barrier will prevent a surge from cresting into the community. If anything, he said, it will buy the community time— time to remain in Shaktoolik or just time to escape the storm.

Categories: Alaska News

“Honor Flag” Comes to Anchorage for 4th of July

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:29

Shortly after September 11th, 2001, Chris Heisler traveled from Texas to New York to hang an American flag where the World Trade Center once stood. That flag has since been dubbed the “honor flag,” and Heisler says it has traveled more than seven million miles to pay tribute to those that have died serving the United States.

Listen now:

“This flag represents everything that’s true and great about this nation and the emotions this flag brings out in people,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

This 4th of July weekend, Heisler brought the flag to Anchorage, and for the first time ever people will be allowed to handle it. “We have brand new custom gloves used to handle the U.S. honor flag and we’re going to allow the general public to take pictures with and handle the flag. This is a unique opportunity that has never been afforded to anyone in the nation.”

The flag will be part of the fourth of July parade, and will be on display at the Hilton Hotel Thursday night. In Anchorage, I’m Joaquin Palomino.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Pipeline Plans Could Mean More Bering Sea Traffic

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:28

Last month, the Canadian government gave conditional approval to the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia. If it’s built, it’ll bring hundreds more oil tankers through the Bering Sea. That’s putting pressure on the Aleutian Islands to get ready for an increase in vessel traffic.

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Canada’s government set out more than 200 conditions for the tar sands pipeline to meet before it moves forward. Many relate to spill prevention – but they don’t extend as far as the Bering Sea.

Leslie Pearson is project manager for the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment. She estimates the pipeline would bring about 200 more tankers a year through already crowded Unimak Pass.

As development spurs traffic across the Aleutians, Pearson’s group is preparing to release its report on how to keep the region safe.

“We’ll have a draft report from the Risk Assessment that identifies recommendations for building an optimum response system, and that includes towing, offshore distances, response, salvage, marine firefighting capabilities for the Aleutian region.”

The report is more than five years in the making. Among other things, it’ll propose that trans-Pacific tankers stay 50 miles from shore throughout the Aleutian Islands. Pearson says that would give rescue tugs more time to reach a disabled tanker before it ran aground.

“Right now, some vessels are transiting a lot closer to the island chain, which – time is of the essence, and there’s a great distance out there, so the intent is to push them further offshore, provide more time and hopefully prevent any accidents from occurring.”

The Risk Assessment will also recommend stationing rescue tugs in Unalaska, Adak or both. And it asks for more cleanup and salvage tools on those islands – including a large tank barge to off-load fuel from other vessels.

Ships traveling to and from Northern Gateway would do so in innocent passage – if they’re not stopping at an American port, they’re not really subject to American rules for spill prevention. But Pearson says more monitoring would help keep them in check.

Tankers stopping at ports in Alaska have to join the state Maritime Prevention Network’s satellite tracking program. Starting this year, Pearson says large container ships do, too.

“They’ve been able to contact vessels when they decide that they’re going to slow down and do donuts out in the Pacific or in some sort of close proximity just to bide time. The eye in the sky, I think, has been really pivotal.”

That program’s still voluntary for foreign vessels not stopping en route across the Pacific. But Pearson hopes tankers like those that would travel to Northern Gateway would buy in.

The Risk Assessment report won’t have much else to say about cost. Pearson says it shows the economic benefit in protecting the region’s fisheries from harm, but it doesn’t address the price of new equipment. She says they’ll use the recommendations to ask federal and private sources for help. The report is due out August 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Delays Scrapping Research Facility; UAF Seeks Takeover Deal

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:27

The Air Force has agreed to delay its plans to demolish a $300 million research facility near Glennallen to allow more time to work out a deal to transfer ownership to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

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The 30-acre HAARP facility is located near Gakona, about 20 miles northeast of Glennallen. Credit vlf.stanford.edu

Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Sen. Lisa Murkowski Wednesday that the service will halt dismantling the so-called HAARP facility until May 2015. HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It’s used to conduct experiments on the Earth’s ionosphere.

The delay is good news for Bob McCoy. He’s the director of UAF’s Geophysical Institute, and he and officials with other universities and science agencies have been negotiating with the Pentagon for more than a year now to hand over the HAARP.

“We’ve been reaching out across the country,” McCoy said, “trying to represent the scientific community, to say to the U.S. government, ‘Hey, this is important. This is the most exquisite facility of its kind. Please don’t destroy it.’”

UAF already owns a share of the HAARP facility, along with the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The 30-acre facility includes an array of 180 high-power-transmitting antennas that alter the Earth’s ionosphere to effect auroral displays and test communications and surveillance technologies, among other things.

McCoy says university officials and others in the scientific community decided to seek full ownership of the HAARP facility after the Air Force announced last year that it no longer needs the facility and would scrap it.

David Walker is the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for science, technology and engineering. He told Murkowski during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing in May that the service intended to dismantle the HAARP facility this summer to avoid winterization costs.

“We would like to get the critical equipment out of the site before the winter,” Walker said. “The harsh winter in Alaska does lead to a very costly winterization to maintain the site. We’d like to avoid that if we can.”

McCoy says he’s hopeful the UAF consortium can work out a deal. He said his immediate concern is to halt the dismantling and removal of diagnostic equipment that monitors the effects of the high-power transmitting antennas.

“You need diagnostic instruments – optical, radars – to see what’s been happening, to do the science,” he said.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday whether the Air Force has or will halt the dismantling of that part of the facility.

Walker told Murkowski in the May hearing that the Air Force would consider handing over the facility. But not if it was required to continue funding its operation and maintenance.

“We have gotten interest from the university in Fairbanks,” Walker said. “However, the interest that we have (heard expressed) is that they will run it if we fund it. Which is unfortunately in this fiscal environment that we’re in right now, this is not an area that we have any need for in the future and don’t see it would be a good use of Air Force S&T (science and technology) funds in the future.”

McCoy says he and the other researchers know they’ll have to operate the HAARP facility on a tight budget.

He says UAF and its partners are developing a business plan that would cut the estimated $5 million annual operation and maintenance costs, much of which went to paying for the facility’s diesel-fired generators.

“Five million dollars was a figure that we came up with, based on information we had from the past, and information we got from the Air Force,” he said. “What we’ve been looking at lately (is) the last campaign that was run by DARPA a few weeks ago. (It) was run on a shoestring. So we think that number we may be able to run it for much less, much more economically.”

McCoy says the business plan would be modeled on many of the same practices that UAF employs in the operation of the NASA-owned Poker Flat Rocket Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Bear Urine Tested as Musk Ox Repellent in Nome

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:26

A unique smell has been wafting through parts of Nome this past week, but it’s not your typical summer fragrance. It’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new plan being tested to keep musk oxen herds out of town. Tony Gorn is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome.

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“We routinely—almost daily, now—move musk ox. But then they come back. So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town,” Gorn says.

He says the agency has tried it all—rubber bullets, firecrackers, even aircraft. Now, with tension in Nome mounting … as herds of the animals are continuing to congregate and threatening dogs and property—Gorn is trying a more natural incentive to coax them to leave.

“Some of the groups, at least, of musk ox are moving close to town because they’re trying to find a bear-free zone. So really the idea is to make it appear like there may be bears in the local area and maybe they would move back out. It’s absolutely not tested yet, but it’s worth a try.”

Gorn says the urine has been applied to two sites where people have had run-ins with the herds. However, Nome’s windy, wet climate is proving a challenge for implementation. Gorn is not yet sure how well the scent is carrying.

But where do you buy—or harvest—bear urine?

“Well, you can buy—you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing,” Gorn says.

Gorn has been in contact with other biologists that deal with musk oxen, but says Nome’s situation on the Seward Peninsula is unique. And it’s a polarizing issue for residents—some people are frustrated by the threat of herds in their backyard, while others like the experience of living close to wildlife.

The musk oxen population on the Seward Peninsula has been declining by about 13 percent each year.

Categories: Alaska News
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