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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: 29 min 49 sec ago

Former Sitka Principal Found Not Guilty On All Counts

Tue, 2014-05-20 01:00

Joe Robidou has been found not guilty on all counts.

A Sitka jury of seven women and five men delivered its verdict in favor of the former school administrator at about 6 p.m. Monday evening.

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Joe Robidou (r.) listens to jury instructions with his attorney, Julie Willoughby, in court last week. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The one-time Blatchley Middle School principal sobbed quietly as Magistrate Leonard Devaney — tagging in for David George on the Superior Court bench — read each verdict form in order.

“State of Alaska v. Joseph Robidou, verdict form number 1. Count 1, Sexual Assault in the 2nd Degree, K.L. in May 2012, we the jury find find the defendant Joseph Robidou not guilty.”

And so it went for four additional counts of Sexual Assault, three counts of Indecent Exposure, and one count of Assault in the 4th Degree. The state had pressed charges on behalf of three separate witnesses, all current or former teachers at Blatchley Middle School.

Robidou had been facing five-to-ten years prison time, had he been convicted. Magistrate Devaney informed that with the not guilty verdicts, he was free to go.

Both Robidou’s attorney, Julie Willoughby, and assistant district attorney Jean Seaton, who prosecuted the case, declined comment. Several jurors also declined to speak about the case at this time.

After a week-long trial and twelve hours of deliberation over two days, as she put on her raincoat to head out into a rainy Sitka evening, one juror simply looked at reporters and said, “Not today.”

Categories: Alaska News

Funny River Wildfire Tops 900 Acres

Tue, 2014-05-20 00:30

A pair of large wildfires have blazed through hundreds of acres in Soldotna and Tyonek.

As of 10 p.m. Monday, a fire located near Funny River Road near Soldotna had burned more than 900 acres.

A helicopter drops water on the fire near Soldotna Monday night (Ariel Van Cleave photo)

Alaska Division of Forestry Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou said more than 50 firefighters were on the scene, with more crews on the way to help contain the blaze. Crews were aided by two bulldozers and a pair of helicopters that were dropping water on the fire.

The fire caused a large plume of smoke visible throughout the central Kenai Peninsula area and a layer of haze all the way south to Kachemak Bay.

Alexandrou said that no structures were believed to be damaged by the fire. He said the cause was unknown but firefighters suspected it may have been human-caused, as the area is a popular recreation spot.

At the same time, Alexandrou said a wildfire on the west side of Cook Inlet near the village of Tyonek had burned more than 200 acres tonight, forcing an evacuation of Tyonek. That fire is being handled by the Palmer Forestry office.

Due to dry conditions, warm temperatures and low humidity, the Kenai Peninsula has been under a burn suspension since last week. Fire danger around the entire peninsula is extremely high.

Categories: Alaska News

ASD passes amended budget, adds back in teacher positions

Tue, 2014-05-20 00:18

The Anchorage School Board voted to increase the 2014-2015 school budget by $26.5 million on Monday night, which takes the total up to almost $770 million. With the additional money the district will only lose 57 teachers instead of 143.

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Monday night’s discussion of next year’s school budget focused on the best ways to use the limited funds to help all of the students. School board members debated a number of topics, including the value of planning periods for middle school teachers. They ultimately agreed that teachers for core subjects like English, math, and social studies need time to work together as team.

Other conversations revolved around the importance of summer school. Board member Kameron Perez-Verdia asked should the district use the money planned for updating the ageing science materials and curricula to fund summer school programs instead? The board decided against it.

School Board member Pat Higgins said they tried hard to limit the impacts of the budget shortfalls and balance the needs of different groups.

“I think the board attempted to the extent possible to keep it out of the classroom. They tried to keep it out of middle school. They tried to keep it out of elementary school with classroom sizes. We tried to put it back into the system for kids with special needs. We tried to do everything possible using the extra funds we’ve got to lessen the impacts so the kids would be successful and the staff would have the resources. We weren’t able to put everything back. But I think at the end of the day people would say we tried to be fiscally responsible and put kids first.”

Higgins said the education funding cuts could get even bigger in the future and lead to much larger class sizes and potentially fewer schools. “We have got to really educate the public and educate the legislature what it means not to fund public education.”

The board also amended the budget to provide charter schools with an additional $1.27 million from the fund balance. The money was granted in response to community members who said the district’s seven charter schools need the money to help pay for their facilities. The fund balance is the school district’s safety net, but Mark Foster, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said withdrawing that amount for the charter schools is within reason.

Other funds will go toward three-year-long, high value pilot projects, like early literacy programs, pre-K classes, and upgrading classroom technology.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Report Says U.S. Participation In Arctic Council Lacks Coordination, Follow-Through

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:22

A report released Monday from the Government Accountability Office suggests U.S. participation in the Arctic Council lacks coordination and follow-through.

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The U.S. and other member nations in the Council have agreed to dozens of recommendations over the years. They address, among other things, opportunities and challenges that arise as ice retreats from the region.

The GAO found the State Department, which leads the U.S. team, lacks a joint strategy for acting on these recommendations, leaving federal partner agencies unsure how to prioritize the work.

The GAO says there’s also no system for measuring outcomes.

The State Department notes the GAO report only addresses the many recommendations of the Council.

The report does not cover the more formal commitments the U.S. makes in international agreements. The State Department announced in February it will boost its Arctic representation with a special representative for the region.

Categories: Alaska News

Former ADN Executive Editor Pat Dougherty Speaks On Newspaper’s Sale

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:21

It’s been a little more than two weeks since the Alaska Dispatch took ownership of the Anchorage Daily News. Pat Dougherty was the Executive Editor of the Daily News and had been with the paper for 34 years. He’s speaking publicly about the sale for the first time. He says he retired from that position when the sale became final because he and Dispatch founder Tony Hopfinger wouldn’t have been able to work together.

Dougherty says he was surprised when he first heard that Alaska Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff was buying the paper. And he says there’s one thing about the sale he wants the community to understand.

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Describe the day the reporters found out about the sale.

[There was a] meeting called on the loading dock, it’s the one part of the building that is large enough to hold the company staff, so we went down to the loading dock. I knew what was going to happen. Bob Wile, who is the corporate VP for McClathy who supervises the Daily News, was there and Alice came in. Bob announced the company was being sold and explained some of the reasons for that and introduced Alice.

Alice made a few remarks, very briefly, then said she had another appointment and left. It was kind of a shocking event. Then she was gone and Bob answered some more questions for a while and then people went back to work trying to figure out what does this mean for me.

How about you? How did you decide to leave or was that decided for you?

No, actually I had been talking for some time about the possibility of retirement, but I’d always said I wouldn’t retire until my kid got out of college. Well, she finished last December so that was an important milestone for my life that made that possible. Then when I found out the Dispatch was buying the paper, I knew I wouldn’t want to work for Tony, I knew Tony wouldn’t want me to work for him, so it actually worked out that by virtue of them buying the paper, it made my retirement easier. It gave me some opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I’d just walked in and said I’m leaving. So it worked out well for me. I would like to see the newspaper do well and particularly because the people who were there working for me have done a great job under difficult circumstances with real class, so I want them to have good opportunities to do what they want professionally, which is good journalism.

You spent 34 years at the paper, how difficult was it to leave and not be in the daily mix at the newspaper?

One thing you get accustomed to is always being awash in information, whether it’s been published or just what reporters are hearing or finding out, so you have a real sense of knowing a lot about everything that’s going on. Now I’m just a news consumer like everybody else, so I don’t have that same insider feel, but I’ve been in the newspaper business almost 40 years and 38 of that in Alaska. I’ve done a lot, I don’t feel like I have unfinished business. One of my goals was to be a steward of the newspaper through the difficult times we’ve had since about 2007. I think I’ve managed to do that. I’ve been through 4 or 5 rounds of layoffs at the paper as financial times got more difficult. That takes a lot out of a person. It took a psychic toll on me so I’m very happy to be focused on doing the things I enjoy doing with the people I enjoy doing them with and not having the responsibility of the newspaper. When I’m sitting at home and the phone rings, I know now it’s not going to be a crisis that’s going to own my evening or the next day, so I feel very good about that.

How would you describe what your initial reaction to the sale was, when you found out it was done?

Well, I was……surprised. I was in some way disappointed because these were not the stewards of the Daily News I would choose. But I never thought I owned the newspaper, I always knew it belonged to someone else. That I needed to operate it as best I could within the guidelines I was given by the owners and I certainly did that to the best of my ability.

Pat, what remains your biggest concern about the sale?

The one thing I think is important for the community to understand and I mean that for the Alaska community and journalists who are trying to figure out what the future of what our industry is going to be and that is that the sale of the Daily News to the Dispatch is not the story of the feisty little website that persevered and toppled the old media giant. This is the story of an heiress, married to a billionaire, who was willing to pay whatever it took to buy the state’s most influential newspaper and most successful website. That’s all that happened here.  The Alaska Dispatch was not a financially successful or viable product, but Alice Rogoff had the money and the will to buy the newspaper and so she did.

Many Lower 48 news outlets characterized this as a win for online journalism, topping the giant, you answered this but give me your take again.

Well, I think some of what I heard Alice say in her interview with Charles Wohlforth is correct, that where we are in this business is a time of transition and convergence, where you have print, which is a successful business, although far less successful than it was, with lots of continuing pressures, you have local television stations which are in the same situation, they’re profitable, but lots of what drives their profit is campaign spending. Their business is not as good as it was and their future is uncertain, and then you have online, that is not now a viable business but it is in part and maybe a huge part, where we’re headed. You’re going to end up with news operations doing audio, video, text, data bases, all merged into one place. But you have the digital triumphalists who think every sign of adversity for newspapers is sort of the evidence of triumph of digital over print. It’s much more subtle than that, it’s part of what I find disturbing in watching this whole process. This idea that it’s a simple black and white thing, that digital will prevail, that print will go away. These black and white scenarios and it’s still taking shape. At McClatchy Company, and I’m right with them on this, print has a future that will continue for a considerable time. But we’re never going back to the best of the good old days for newspapers. I think there [are] growing digital audiences, but how to make money from those audiences is not clear. Quality journalism is extremely expensive to produce so you have to have a business model that makes sense that will work in order to produce good journalism.

At the Daily News, that’s what we were about, is trying to figure out how to produce the best journalism that we could and how to operate our business as efficiently and effectively as possible. There was this whole period of time where people in Anchorage, I would hear this refrain constantly, “oh the newspaper is going out of business,” and I’d say, “no it’s not going out of business but it is changing and it’s not going to be like it was because times have changed too much to permit that.” People would look me in the eye and say, “that’s not true,” and I would say, “but this is my career and life, I understand this really well, I’m telling you, the newspaper is not going out of business,” and they wouldn’t believe me. Well here we are, at least I’ve stopped hearing that. People understand now the paper is not going out of business.

In fact, if you look at what happened in Anchorage with the sale of the Daily News to the Alaska Dispatch. By virtue of what the Dispatch paid for the Daily News, the Daily News is the most valuable newspaper of its size in the United State. Now does that sound like an unsuccessful business? If it was an unsuccessful business, why would the Dispatch buy it? So, there’s a, it’s frustrating when you’re immersed in a topic like this and you really understand it and try to explain that to people and they just refuse to believe it.

Tony Hopfinger, who co-founded the Alaska Dispatch and basically replaced you at the paper, has said he doesn’t think the deal does anything to dampen competition among journalists in Anchorage. Do you agree with that?

No, it’s obviously false on its face, but that’s the spin he needs to offer otherwise he’d have to say, the point of this sale was to reduce competition for news in this community. That’s what happened, it’s not complicated, it’s obvious, so he is just trying to sell a line that’s not true.

Hopfinger and Alice Rogoff, the publisher, also have said this deal returns the Daily News to local ownership. Do you think that’s true and do you think the paper lost something when it was bought by an outside newspaper corporation?

I don’t know. The McClatchy Company, which I have huge respect for, is a company based in California. They own 30 newspapers from the East to West Coast from Florida to Alaska so they’re very much a national company in their overall outlook. The thing that made McClatchy unusual was that it really did let the local executives operate the papers the way they thought they should be operated within certain financial responsibilities – the need to make money. And that was always the case from when McClatchy first got involved. So it’s not locally owned but it was operated by people like me. I’ve been at the newspaper for 34 years, I’ve been at the Anchorage Daily News longer, by a considerable margin than Tony Hopfinger and Alice Rogoff combined and I’m the editor of the paper. So it wasn’t locally owned, but it was operated by people with deep roots in the community and a lot of institutional knowledge and people who are unquestionably Alaskans and I’m speaking on the news side primarily. So it’s true and it’s not true, that’s my take on it.

Pat, you worked for Kay Fanning, she sold to McClatchy. How did that transition compare to this sale?

Kay Fanning sold the paper to McClathy, she was just weeks from going out of business otherwise. McClatchy bought the paper in late 1978, the first McClatchy version came out April 2nd of ‘79. I came to work in 1980, so I wasn’t there in the immediate months but I think it was fairly seamless. The paper was only about 13 people when McClatchy bought it. So McClatchy brought in lots of people, helped with the hiring, loaned staff to the Daily News because when McClatchy bought the Daily News, we didn’t own a press, we didn’t have a building, we didn’t have an advertising department, a circulation department, classified. We had an accountant not a business office. So there was huge work to be done to get that launched. So that transition was like a fire drill to get this tiny little buildingless-newspaper a press and a building and get it operational. In this case, the business is all sitting there, the question is integrating the two staffs and communicating the new owner’s vision of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they want to go about that with a staff that is used to doing something different.

So managing that kind of change is difficult and a challenge, but Tony Hopfinger talked about that in the interview with Charles Wohlforth and he talked about that and recognized that as the primary challenge that he had and I think there’s a lot of interest in the legacy Daily News staff in seeing a good transition there and from a news stand point, it’s a great thing. The number of reporters is doubling over night. That’s a huge infusion of energy and ideas so I think, all and all it will be a good thing and I think in some ways, may be easier than the previous transition, I don’t know it’s a little hard, I’m not there now as I was for the previous one that happened almost 40 years ago.

Another focus of Hopfinger and Rogoff is statewide news instead of primarily covering Anchorage, do you think that’s a good thing?

I do. Several of the ideas I heard them articulate are ideas that I had thought or proposed that the Daily News do. They talked about changing the name of the paper to reflect its statewide focus. At one time, maybe before Tony worked for the Daily News or while then, I proposed changing the name of the paper to the Alaska Daily News, McClatchy didn’t want to do that because they believe in the brand of the Anchorage Daily News, that’s the historic name of the paper and not something you would change lightly. The name plate doesn’t define the content of the newspaper, the content does. The Anchorage Daily News doing statewide coverage is the same as the Alaska Daily News, people will understand what they’re reading so if you’re providing statewide coverage, people will understand the brand of the Daily News includes a statewide orientation. It was always the focus of the Daily News from the get go. We’ve had varying amounts of resources available to execute that vision, but that has always been the vision.

At the moment at least, there are many more reporters there. Does this benefit or does the math not work out overhead wise?

It makes for a stronger product. If you do a good job of marketing, you can make hay with that. It’s a boon for readers, but the key questions around the newspaper business these days are not can you spend a lot of money and produce good journalism, the answer to that is yes, unless you’re incompetent, that’s just not that hard to do. But the question in my mind is the business plan for this newspaper. These have been difficult times for the newspaper business and they’re not over yet. The challenges for producing a profitable newspaper is hard and will get harder, the classified advertising business is hugely diminished and that’s just gone and not coming back. You’re now operating a newspaper that used to have 28 pages of classifieds a day and now you have 6 or 5, that’s a big deal and that’s not reversible. I heard Alice say, it’s going to be up to advertisers to rally around this new and revised newspaper.

That suggests to me that Alice doesn’t understand advertisers. The advertisers are not in the paper because they want to rally around the news product. They’re there because they have goods and services they want to sell and they’re looking for the most effective and most economical way to do that. You need to understand the business.

So I don’t think you can count on advertisers to just jump into the newspaper because they think Alice has high journalistic ambitions. It’s a cutthroat world for that business and it’s not going to get easier. I also heard Alice and Tony were asked a question about the paywall at the Daily News. I heard Alice say that we, the Alaska Dispatch came to this sale, with no knowledge whatsoever, I believe those were her exact words, of the paywall and how it worked. I was listening to that and thought, if I were about to pay $34 million for a business, I would have a better understanding of how that business works than is suggested by that answer. These are difficult, complicated questions about running this business and I’m not hearing a lot that suggests that the people that bought it really understand that.

They had, at the time of the purchase, they had probably the most talented print advertising executive in the state working for them. She’s since left and became the publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner; that was a huge blow in a very critical area of that business. I know from a lot of experience that finding a good advertising executive to run the advertising department is not easy and we were fortunate to have found Marty. So again, I have to wonder, how can you let this happen if you’re really going to try to meet the challenges of the business that you’re in? Time will tell.

Alaska Dispatch has owned the paper for about two weeks, what are your thoughts when reading it?

Well, I see that they have decided to use all local stories on the front page. I think that’s reasonable, it’s not exactly the decision I would have made. My preference is to publish a balance of local and national, leaning to the local, but it’s perfectly reasonable thing to do. In fact, I redesigned the Daily News and put all the local news in the A section and had a national and international B section. That represents an ideal way of putting the paper out, so that makes sense.

I also had been urging the company for years to eliminate participation in the Associated Press which I think is an anachronism and is not helpful for the newspaper and replace it where needed which is primarily in sports and it would save a lot of money that could be put into local reporting and the company didn’t think it was a good idea and wouldn’t let me do it. I know Tony feels the same way. He’s trying to get out of his AP contract. It’s a little surprising that he didn’t realize until after they bought the paper that there is a two year cancellation on the Associated Press. He thought he could walk in and cancel it, turns out he has to wait two years unless his lawyers can figure out how to break it early. I think he and I are of similar frame of mind about that. I would have done that years ago if I’d had the opportunity.

Two other things. One is they’re going to get rid of the signed editorials; I think that’s a mistake. One of the things that makes that editorial page important is that you have one institution in the community that is willing to stand up and take oppositional positions on the conventional wisdom on the economic and political elite of the state so. It’s only the Daily News that’s going to say, ‘wait a minute, why are we cutting oil taxes with no guarantee of some result in exchange for that?’ You’re not going to hear that from the Chamber of Commerce, you’re not going to hear that from the people who run the legislature or the Governor. So even if you don’t agree with that opinion, isn’t it valuable to have an institution in the community that constructs the argument and shares it with the community so there is at least the opportunity for a debate about a public policy that is as important as that? So, just eliminating that institutional voice, to me, is a mistake. Another thing they said, is they will not do political endorsements. That I agree with. I’m not very big on political endorsements by the newspaper myself. Particularly not in high profile races.

Now, arguably, it’s valuable to the community to have an editorial board, an editorial page where the school board candidates come in and make their case and then the newspaper makes a recommendation on that because you’re not going to have a lot of information as a voter otherwise on a race like that. So, I could go either way on that. On the other hand, if you’re having a Senate race like we’re having this year, you don’t need the newspaper’s endorsement to help guide you in your decision about who to vote for. You’re going to have more information than you’d want as a voter. So that would be my take on it.

Have you heard anything about how Daily News reporters are handling the change so far?

I think they’re enjoying the infusion of energy and staff. It spreads out things like who has to work on the weekends, that improves your quality of life. Or maybe you’re able to provide more depth on the first story you’re working on because someone else can pick up the second story you would have done otherwise. So I think from their standpoint, initially it’s a good thing. My impression is, it’s working out fine and at the same time people are waiting to see how things play out in the long run, it’s only been two weeks.

Pat, do you worry that the Dispatch staff doesn’t have enough experience to run a newspaper?

Well, that’s a good question. Alice Rogoff has an MBA from Harvard, so that’s certainly good training. She worked as an assistant to the publisher of the Washington Post, 30 years ago for a year or two. She had no operational  responsibilities in that job. She was the CFO at U.S. News and World Report. Which is an operational job, but again, that was 20 years ago. I can’t emphasize enough how much the world of journalism and publishing has changed in the last 20 years. She created a gallery for Alaska Native art in Manhattan, which she underwrote, which rocked along just fine as long as she wrote personal checks to cover it. But she couldn’t sustain that indefinitely because there wasn’t a business model behind it. She went to the legislature and asked them to pay for it and they weren’t interested so that went away. So there’s not a lot of newspaper experience there. She ran the Dispatch, which again was not a profitable business and was as far as I can tell, was never going to become profitable.

Tony Hopfinger was a newspaper reporter, worked for me in fact. Left, wanted to come back, although he now tells the story that he left over some ethical issue where his good journalism was suppressed by the editors of the Daily News, I can say definitively that that is not true. He left and tried to come back and we were not interested in having him come back as a reporter. He then went to the Anchorage Press where he was an editor for a couple of years, maybe, for that weekly. Then went to the Alaska Dispatch where he’s been, I think for about eight years, running a money-losing website. So, those are not resumes for what I would think are great qualifications to run a substantial business in very difficult financial circumstances, but they have a lot of ideas and they describe themselves as being very experimental with what to do with the Daily News. So, maybe they will experiment and hit on some formula, that people who have spent their entire lives in newspapers trying to make them as successful as possible couldn’t come up with.

Given this transformation in local journalism in Alaska, what do you think the future holds?

I have been asked that a lot and I have addressed it but never terribly successfully. The reality is nobody knows where this is headed. The digital triumphilists say print is going to die, television is going to die and everything will be on the internet. I think newspapers are going to be around for a while. They’re money making businesses. But they’re not like they once were. Newspapers were hugely profitable. It’s worth keeping in mind that the period of newspapers being hugely profitable was a relatively short period in the long history of newspapers. The more common history for a newspaper was, newspapers were being born and dying all the time. It was a brutal, Darwinian world for newspapers, where they barely made money, they went out of business, somebody started a new one and that went on for decades – many decades. I think the golden age of newspapers is over, but it doesn’t mean that newspapers are over. They existed before the good times and I think they’ll exist afterwards. I’m not in love with newspapers, even though I spent my life with them. I’ve spent as much time hating that big piece of iron called the printing press as I did having any affection for it.

What we do, people like me in my career, is we go out and collect information, we vet it, we package it and we distribute to people. And I don’t really care if we do that on a fax machine, on a computer, on a telephone, on a piece of paper or the radio. Because the core task is not about the means of distribution, it has to be distributed, but it doesn’t have to be distributed in any particular way. When you think about it, how crazy is it to print the news on a piece of paper and give it to a guy in a four wheel drive truck and have him drive it to everyone’s house. That’s a business that can only exist in the absence of alternatives. Even so, I think reading on a piece of paper is a qualitatively different experience than getting it other ways. There’s a kind of pleasure in it that people like, they enjoy it. It’s really, really hard to improve upon type on paper for transferring information into the brains of human beings. So, I think that’s going to be around for a while yet, but I think you’re going to see newspapers doing a lot more video. I think television stations and radio stations are going to have to get better at doing text presentations. I think the power of still photography that newspapers has owned all to itself for a long time is now going to have to be shared among all of these media. But it can only work in the context of some sort of successful business, unless we think that everybody’s news is going to come from some form of non-profit organization. So at the bottom of all of it is, how can we do this public service that’s very important and pay for it in a way that is sustainable for a long time and creates the kind of independence that a newspaper needs, whether it’s from advertisers, the government or philanthropic organizations. How is that going to be done in the future. Everybody is struggling to figure that out but nobody really knows the answer yet. That’s a long way of saying I don’t know what the future for the news business is.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Daily News, the Dispatch, but what about you? What’s next? More fishing? Less work?

I wasn’t really trying to stop working. What I wanted was more control of my time. The job being the editor of the paper is time consuming, lots of demands on your time. Any given day, fair amount of stress involved in that. I’ve done enough of that. I don’t need to continue to do that. I do enjoy my recreational pursuits, first among them fishing, and I intend to do that. I’ve lived in Alaska for 38 years, never had a summer off. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get up, every day of the summer and do whatever I wanted because there’s so many great things to do. When you’re working, there’s only 19 weekends and every one of those that goes away, there’s 5 percent of your summer that’s disappeared. In the future, I’m going to be looking for interesting things to do. Things I have passion about. I have interest in the non-profit world and the things that non-profits are doing that I think are important in communities. So maybe I’ll volunteer. I also may have the opportunity to do some strategic marketing, strategic  communications consulting. Which I have developed a lot of expertise and I would like to share it with organizations that would like me to do that. I’m just about 62-years-old, will I be bored? I don’t know. I’ve never had the opportunity to be bored, so I’m going to give it a chance and see whether life will feel like it does now, where it still feels like there is more to do than I can get to, or whether at some point, I don’t feel like I’m profitably using my time, so we’ll see but for now I’m really going to enjoy the summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Work To Contain Wildfire Near Tyonek

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:20

State fire crews are scrambling to contain a wildfire near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.

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Categories: Alaska News

Assemblywoman Proposes Anchorage Labor Law Changes

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:19

An Anchorage assemblywoman is rolling out a proposal to repeal Mayor Dan Sullivan’s labor law changes.

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The Anchorage Daily News reports Jennifer Johnston is proposing a substitute that would restore some provisions eliminated by the law backed by Sullivan.

Sullivan’s measure limited strikes, limited raises to the rate of inflation plus 1 percent and eliminated binding arbitration.

Labor organizations organized a repeal effort that voters will consider in November.

Johnston, an ally of Sullivan, says she wants to avoid spending $400,000 on the referendum. She also says she’s concerned voters will overturn the measure, which would bar the assembly from re-enacting it for two years.

Johnson’s version would restore some rights to strike, eliminate provisions that allowed the city to outsource union work and restore binding arbitration language.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Democratic Party Holds Convention In Nome

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:18

The Alaska Democratic Party ended its weekend convention in Nome on Sunday with resolutions on issues ranging from Alaska Native rights to same-sex marriage and came away with a full lineup of candidates for key November races.

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Former Unalakleet representative Chuck Degnan addressed the crowd at the Alaska Democrat’s convention in Nome. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Pushing the issue to the front of their platform, the party affirmed the right of Alaska Native voters to get election materials in their native language — an option already in place for voters but one former Unalakleet Representative Chuck Degnan says doesn’t go far enough.

“There needs to be accurate translations so that voters can know what is being voted on,” Degnan said. “There’s enough dialectic differences in Alaska that they need to localize it through the tribes. And the state needs to learn how to work with tribes.”

Aside from Nome Democrats, the convention also saw delegates from communities like Teller, St. Michael, and White Mountain. Secretary and Treasurer of the Nome Democrats, Nancy Green, says, poor weather and an unusually warm spring, meant many who planned to attend didn’t make it.

“I hear that, it is the hunting season, it is time for me to do some subsistence stuff, and it is, we’re caught right in the middle of that, but they do email me and I forward them information,” Green said. “Yeah, we needed more participation, yeah, and it’s kind of spendy, too, to come.”

Some unaffiliated voters were also among the crowd of about 75 people – voters like retired aviator and veteran Chuck Wheeler.

“Yeah it’s kind of nice they come to Nome,” Wheeler said. “If it was a Republican
convention I’d be here. I just want to see where they’re coming from. It’s all about money. Networking, who you know.”

Beyond updating where they’re coming from, the convention was also looking at where the party is going, particularly in the November elections. Beyond supporting the re-election of U.S. Senator Mark Begich, the real focus of the convention was Byron Mallott, the former Juneau mayor who’s running against incumbent Governor Sean Parnell.

But there’s a third man who wants to be Governor — independent candidate Bill Walker — but few at the convention would say what Walker’s presence in the now-three-way-race could mean for Mallott’s chances in November.

Until then, it’s who Mallott will run with that remains an open question.

“Alaska has strong possibilities for increasing participation of all Alaskans, and access to early voting for all Alaskans, and I will use the bully pulpit of Lieutenant Governor, to do that over and over again, as your Lieutenant Governor,” political newcomer Bob Williams, a Mat-Su Valley math teacher who’s running for Lieutenant Governor, said.

He was at the convention in Nome, but his opponent in the race was not—Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said he was at a long-scheduled family reunion in Florida.

While the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor will come in the August primary, the party did formally endorse Forrest Dunbar—the Anchorage lawyer vying to take Alaska’s only U.S. House seat from long-serving Congressman Don Young.

In addressing the convention, Dunbar rallied the base by affirming the party’s stance on key issues—like supporting the repeal of the new oil tax system passed last year, expanding Medicaid, and supporting same-sex marriage—issues the Democrats hope differentiate their candidates from Republicans.

“It’s our year for people who believe that we should have control over our own resources, it’s our year for people who think we need to defend Medicare and social security and expand Medicaid, it’s our year for people who believe that gay rights are human rights and that you should be able to marry the person who you love,” Dunbar said.

With their platform set and candidates for most major races in place, the Democrats left Nome facing a summer of heavy campaigning in preparation for vital races come the fall.

Categories: Alaska News

State Finds No Health Impacts From Aurora Energy Plant

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:17

An analysis by the state finds no health impacts from coal ash and dust from the downtown Fairbanks Aurora Energy Plant. Particulates from the facility drift onto properties in the surrounding neighborhood, but the state report dispels health concerns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Remembering Harvey B. Marvin

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:15

Tlingit elder Harvey B. Marvin has died at the age of 81. Marvin grew up in Hoonah, worked for the public health service in Sitka and was the state of Alaska’s first Native auditor.

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Marvin grew up in Hoonah, worked for the public health service in Sitka and was the state of Alaska’s first Native auditor.

Lillian & Harvey Marvin at a Tlingit-Haida Central Council Native Forum luncheon. (Photo courtesy of Jodi Garrison)

He was born in 1933 in Excursion Inlet to Lillian Pratt Marvin Smith, who was of the Kaagwaantaan clan, and John Marvin, of the T’ak Dein Taan clan, and a grandchild of the Chookaneidi. He was one of their 12 children.

He went to Mt. Edgecumbe High School, business school in Chicago and served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Korean War.

Native land claims

Marlene Johnson grew up with Marvin in Hoonah.

“We were of opposite clans.  He was an Eagle and I was a Raven, but we were good friends,” she says with a chuckle.

That friendship came in handy during the years they would work together on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Marvin and Johnson were among the five members of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council Executive Committee to lobby Congress. When ANCSA passed in 1971, Huna-Totem was created as the Hoonah village corporation.

Marvin was appointed corporation treasurer. Johnson was a board member.

“He was at every meeting and worked with us as we looked at the history, and doing the land claims and other important things for the corporation,” she says.

These were complicated issues. Johnson says Marvin was just the guy to explain them.

“He  was very fluent in Tlingit, so he could explain it in Tlingit to the elders that didn’t understand English that well,” Johnson says.

As they met with new shareholders in Hoonah and other parts of Southeast, she says Marvin also listened well, so he could tell the board what Huna-Totem members wanted in their corporation.

Marvin later transitioned from treasurer to board member, serving 19 years. He was a member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and active with Tlingit and Haida. In 2005, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Central Council for what the organization called his “extreme dedication” to the Alaska Native community.

“He was with and very loyal to Tlingit-Haida Central Council since the ’60s,” says Edward Thomas, who was Central Council president at the time.

Super voters

Lisa Worl keeps the family tree for her large family. She always called Harvey Marvin great grandfather, though he was actually her great uncle.

Worl is on the Juneau School Board. Marvin and his late wife Lillian were there when she was sworn into office.

She can recite the work Marvin has done for his people through Native organizations, as a Sitka Assembly member, and other political involvement.

Harvey and Lillian Marvin were Democrats and “super voters,” she says.

“It was more a matter of civic duty and always making sure the family was aware of the issues and make sure they voted. They never pushed any people but obviously they had their people they were supporting,” Worl says.

Former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula was one of them. Kerttula got to know Marvin when her father, Jay Kerttula, was a state senator and chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee. Marvin was the auditor.

Years later, when Beth Kerttula ran for Juneau’s downtown seat in the state House, Marvin sat her down for a tutorial on the nuts and bolts of Juneau politics.

“He had almost every twist and turn and nuance, and knew the groups I needed to reach out to and knew the people I needed to go talk to,” she recalls.

But it didn’t stop there. Both Marvins worked hard on all five of her campaigns and were in the gallery at the state capitol when she took the oath of office.

Kerttula calls him an astute politician.

“You know I think Harvey would have been governor or U.S. Senator in a different day,” she says. “He just had that kind of talent and ability.”

More importantly, she says, the Marvins set a great example of how to be good human beings.

Lillian Marvin passed away in February, just after the couple celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.

“The two love birds are back together,” Worl says.

A memorial service for Harvey Marvin is Saturday at 3 p.m. at Alaska Memorial Park on Riverside Drive. A private family viewing is 1 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 19, 2014

Mon, 2014-05-19 17:08

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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Report Says U.S. Participation In Arctic Council Lacks Coordination, Follow-Through

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A report released Monday from the Government Accountability Office suggests U.S. participation in the Arctic Council lacks coordination and follow-through.

The U.S. and other member nations in the Council have agreed to dozens of recommendations over the years. They address, among other things, opportunities and challenges that arise as ice retreats from the region.

The GAO found the State Department, which leads the U.S. team, lacks a joint strategy for acting on these recommendations, leaving federal partner agencies unsure how to prioritize the work.

The GAO says there’s also no system for measuring outcomes.

The State Department notes the GAO report only addresses the many recommendations of the Council.

The report does not cover the more formal commitments the U.S. makes in international agreements. The State Department announced in February it will boost its Arctic representation with a special representative for the region.

Former Executive Editor Pat Dougherty Speaks On ADN Sale

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

It’s been a little more than two weeks since the Alaska Dispatch took ownership of the Anchorage Daily News. Pat Dougherty was the Executive Editor of the Daily News and had been with the paper for 34 years. He’s speaking publicly about the sale for the first time. He says he retired from that position when the sale became final because he and Dispatch founder Tony Hopfinger wouldn’t have been able to work together.

Dougherty says he was surprised when he first heard that Alaska Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff was buying the paper.  And he says there’s one thing about the sale he wants the community to understand.

Crews Work To Contain Wildfire Near Tyonek

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

State fire crews are scrambling to contain a wildfire near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Assemblywoman Proposes Anchorage Labor Law Changes

The Associated Press

An Anchorage assemblywoman is rolling out a proposal to repeal Mayor Dan Sullivan’s labor law changes.

Democrats Leave Nome With Updated Platform, Candidate Endorsements

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The Alaska Democratic Party ended its weekend convention in Nome Sunday with resolutions on issues ranging from Alaska Native rights to same-sex marriage and came away with a full lineup of candidates for key November races.

State Finds No Health Impacts From Aurora Energy Plant

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An analysis by the state finds no health impacts from coal ash and dust from the downtown Fairbanks Aurora Energy Plant. Particulates from the facility drift onto properties in the surrounding neighborhood, but the state report dispels health concerns.

Bethel Novelist Wins Rasmuson Grant

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Don Rearden has won a Rasmuson Project Award grant of $7,500 to turn his novel, The Raven’s Gift, into a screenplay.

Remembering Harvey B. Marvin

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Tlingit elder Harvey B. Marvin has died at the age of 81. Marvin grew up in Hoonah, worked for the public health service in Sitka and was the state of Alaska’s first Native auditor.

Categories: Alaska News

State Files Fairbanks 4 Response

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:17

The state has filed a response to petitions for post conviction relief for the Fairbanks four. The four men, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of the 1997 beating death of John Hartman, but continue to profess their innocence. Last fall the Alaska Innocence Project filed new information in the case that points to others being responsible for the killing. The state response indicates it so far is not convinced, but it has requested an evidentiary hearing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Ravn Outlines Safety Improvements As NTSB Pushes For Investigation

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:16

The National Transportation Safety Board took the unusual move last month of asking the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the Ravn family of companies.

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A report says Hageland failed to achieve safety outcomes, at the time losing operational control and launching flights without proper oversight. The company’s CEO says the report does not reflect the changes Ravn has made in recent months.

Wreckage of the Cessna 208 that killed two pilots in April. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Troopers)

The FAA says it already was looking into the companies before the NTSB issued its request. Still, the board wants a hard look at the airlines, citing 6 accidents over the past two years, including two fatal crashes in the Y-K Delta. Bob Hajdukovich is President and CEO of Ravn. He says the report is a step behind the company’s efforts.

“Everything that is requested for in the letter has already happened or is in the process of happening, so really, what was the purpose of the letter?” Hajdukovich said.

The NTSB says an inadequate risk assessment program may have played a role in the crash that killed four people in a Cessna 208 outside St. Marys in November. The agency says that flight is among many Hageland allowed to launch without knowing or addressing some risks.

Hajdukovich says since January, that process of deciding whether it’s safe to fly was made in tandem with a central control center in Palmer. Before, flights were release based out of hubs like Bethel or Nome.

“I think when you have a local control there is the potential for making more of an economic risk assessment as opposed to a pure risk assessment,” Hajdukovich said. said. ”So in other words, that person on the ground in Bethel can be impacted by 300 people in the lobby, 20,000 pounds of mail, or bad weather. So there’s always a tension that’s there that you don’t want to be there when you’re truly trying to analyze the risk of the flight.”

The NTSB held off on making their recommendation after the operational control center was in place. But after two pilots died on a training flight in April, the agency moved ahead.

Hajdukovich lists millions of dollars in improvements at Era Aviation, now named Corvus Airline, which carries flights with 10 or more passengers. He adds Hageland is seeking 5-star rating in the Medallion Foundation safety program, which exceeds FAA regulations. In any case, Hajdukovich says safety is the top priority.

“That’s not a long term strategy to hurt airplanes or certainly hurt our customers so we’re going to take every opportunity to improve our safety systems,” Hajdukovich said. ”We have humans behind the wheel, and we have customers that can also be a part of our safety system. They should report that they were in bad weather and they didn’t think the pilot should be there. They should report that. They shouldn’t be so hungry to get home that they are part of that pressure pot, that pressure cooker,”

The FAA says it will formally respond within 90 days. They report having increased surveillance since 2011 and had a team on site last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Program Aims To Increase Number Of Insured Alaska Natives

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:15

Insurance will give SEARHC members more flexibility in health care and generate revenue for the Native medical organization. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A tribal health organization in Southeast Alaska is encouraging members to enroll for health insurance.

Through a new program, some Alaska Natives will have an opportunity to get it at no cost.

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Thirty-year-old Crystal Rogers is an Alaska Native who signed up for health insurance on her own through the Affordable Care Act.

Rogers was born and raised in Juneau. As a Tlingit, she has access to health care from Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, which receives funding from the federal government. Rogers considers these resources a blessing.

“But at the same time there are some gaps and there are some needs that are not being filled,” she says.

When she went to college in Portland, Rogers realized the care she received from SEARHC didn’t travel with her. She ended up using an Indian Health Services facility in Portland, but there were still times she needed care after hours.

“It’s been a long time coming where I’ve been paying out-of-pocket myself for urgent care, emergent care, care while I’m traveling, and I just couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want to do it,” Rogers says.

Now that Rogers has health insurance through healthcare.gov, she no longer has to pay any out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles or co-payments. That’s one of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for low income Alaska Natives and American Indians. Rogers pays only a monthly premium.

“I have more options and still also use the SEARHC facility,” Roger says. “I’m really pleased with the care I have now. It’s the best care I’ve ever had.”

SEARHC outreach and enrollment manager Andrea Thomas wants to make sure Alaska Natives know all their health care options.

“There are a lot of great opportunities with the Affordable Care Act and being able to enroll at any month of the year and depending on your income, you can get just a really tremendous deal,” Thomas says.

Around 13,000 Alaskans enrolled for insurance on healthcare.gov. In an optional section of the application, only 115 identified themselves as Alaska Native or American Indian.

These numbers reflect the general open enrollment period which ended March 31 and doesn’t start again until November. Alaska Natives can enroll during any month of the year.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has partnered with SEARHC and several other Native health organizations around the state to offer a new Tribally-Sponsored Health Insurance Program on a trial basis.

The program purchases insurance on healthcare.gov for a select number of income eligible, qualified Alaska Natives, and pays all the monthly bills. There’s no cost to program participants who are encouraged to use tribal hospitals and health centers whenever possible.

Thomas says insurance helps the patient and SEARHC.

“Like any heath care entity, we bill insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, third-party insurance. And when people are uninsured, you can’t bill. So this is another way to increase the number of people that are insured, which is basically revenue coming in,” Thomas says.

According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the federal government provides roughly half of what tribal medical organizations need. That’s not enough, says Thomas.

“Health care costs are rising while the money that we receive is just a fraction of what it really costs to really run effective programming,” she says.

Now that Rogers has seen the benefits of having insurance, she’s encouraging other Alaska Natives to get it as well.

“Even if it was just, let’s say, half of the people were covered. The other half of the people who are not covered will end up getting better care as well. It’s really for the benefit of all of our tribal member shareholders and these facilities that take care of them,” Rogers says.

SEARHC and other Alaska Native medical organizations are screening people for eligibility in the tribally sponsored insurance program. More than 500 Alaska Natives will be able to participate in the trial, which lasts through December.

Categories: Alaska News

Special Exhibit Offers Hands-On Glimpse Of University’s New Research Vessel

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:14

Sikuliaq floats in the Menominee River just after launch. Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks.


A new exhibit opens at the University of Alaska Museum of the North over the weekend. The year-long installation is called “Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliaq.” It offers a first-hand look the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ state-of-the-art new research vessel, slated to sail in Arctic waters next year.

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Andres Lopez stands at a small table. He arranges four wooden blocks in a row. One of the blocks is tall and cylindrical, another is short and rectangular.

“The idea here is that you can use these blocks to simulate some sort of profile of the ocean bottom…” he said.

Lopez is the Curator of Fish at the Museum. He’s also the Guest Curator of a new exhibit showcasing the University of Alaska, Fairbanks’ new ice-capable Research Vessel, the Sikuliaq.

“Then you run this little device,” Lopez said, hitting a button to activate a small camera-like device. It starts to scan over the tops of each wooden block. “That acts like a sonar, so it will send out a signal and wait for it and listen for its bounce back and map out what it’s seeing in the form of a scan.”

A screen displays a squiggly, green line. It’s an outline of the tops of each block. This is supposed to simulate how scientists map the ocean floor. It’s the kind of work that will take place on board the Sikuliaq.

Once the ship sets sail, researchers on board will start to collect all kinds of data for National Science Foundation-funded projects. On another screen across the room, there’s a map of the world.

“You can see a summary of the information we have on different aspects of the ocean,” Lopez said.

Push a button and the display changes from a map of the varying ages of the sea floor, to a display about ocean currents. Press the button and different colors indicate varying ocean water temperatures. Press another button and watch the annual growth and retreat of sea ice.

There’s also a virtual tour of the ship. A console with buttons and another screen is set up so that visitors can navigate their way around the ship. Roger Topp is the Head of Exhibits and Digital Media Production at the Museum. He modeled the tour after a video game.

“So, you can explore all the outer decks of the ship,” Topp explained. “And learn about the parts of the ship and accumulate points the more you explore.”

“Arctic Odyssey” isn’t the kind of exhibit that offers wall hangings and specimens locked away in cases. In fact, its hands-on approach stands out for UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Dean Mike Castellini.

“It’ not sit and just read about it,” he said. “I’ve been helping people at the sonar display trying things and people are pointing at screens and going what if we do this? People are picking up things up, like this woman over here is moving something under that microscope.”

Visitors can examine samples scientist like the ones scientists might gather from places where the Sikuliaq will eventually sail.

“It’s soft, it kind of looks like grass,” Katrina Manta said, sliding a round dish filled with polar bear fur under the microscope. But not like green grass, the hair is shiny and yellowish-white.

Behind us, stands a six-foot, scaled model of the Sikuliaq on display. The ship itself is 261 feet long and it can sail through sea ice up to two-and-a-half feet thick. It’s the only vessel of its kind in the United States research fleet. It’s currently sitting in Lake Michigan shipyard in Wisconsin, where the electronics among other systems are undergoing testing. Mike Castellini says it could be sea-worthy by the end of the month.

“In about three weeks from now, we’re going to get the keys from the ship and if you think about it, it’s been 30 years that we’ve been waiting for those keys,” he said. “To be able to have not only the newest ship in the fleet, but also one that’s unique and to have UAF associated with it, what better day can you come up with right?”

Eventually the Sikuliaq will sail through the Panama Canal in to the Pacific Ocean and then North to Alaska, stopping in California, Hawaii and Guam, before it pulls into the harbor in Seward next January. The museum’s special exhibit will be open until next April – right around the same time the ship is scheduled to undergo ice-breaking performance tests in the Bering Sea.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Point Lay

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:07

This week, we’re headed to Point Lay on the Chukchi Sea. Dorothy Henry lives in Point Lay.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 16, 2014

Fri, 2014-05-16 16:06

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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State Files Fairbanks 4 Response

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state has filed a response to petitions for post conviction relief for the Fairbanks four.  The four men, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of the 1997 beating death of John Hartman, but continue to profess their innocence.   Last fall the Alaska Innocence Project filed new information in the case that points to others being responsible for the killing. The state response indicates it so far is not convinced, but it has requested an evidentiary hearing.

Ravn Outlines Safety Improvements As NTSB Pushes For Investigation

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The National Transportation Safety Board took the unusual step last month of asking the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the Ravn family of companies. A report says Hageland failed to achieve safety outcomes, and launched flights without proper oversight.   The company’s CEO says the report does not reflect the changes Ravn has made in recent months.

Trial Program Aims To Increase Number Of Insured Alaska Natives

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A tribal health organization in Southeast Alaska is encouraging members to enroll for health insurance. Through a new program, some Alaska Natives will have an opportunity to get it at no cost.

Special Exhibit Offers Hands-On Glimpse Of University’s New Research Vessel

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new exhibit opens at the University of Alaska Museum of the North over the weekend. The year-long installation is called “Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliaq.”  It offers a first-hand look the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ state-of-the-art new research vessel, slated to sail in Arctic waters next year.

AK: Rusty Blackbirds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

That’s the call of the rusty blackbird, a ubiquitous species that has caught the attention of the Audubon Society.  The reason:  numbers of the birds are plummeting, and causes of the decline are not well understood. The rusty blackbirds breed in Alaska’s wetlands. And Audubon is asking Alaskans to help count the birds to get a handle on what’s happening to the species.

300 Villages: Point Lay

Jolene Almendarez, APRN Intern

This week, we’re headed to Point Lay on the Chukchi Sea. Dorothy Henry lives in Point Lay.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School District releases proposed budget amendments

Fri, 2014-05-16 15:54

The Anchorage School District released their suggestions for adjusting next year’s budget on Friday. Under the superintendent’s proposal, the district would cut 57 classroom teachers instead of 143. The proposal does not add back in more than 48 support staff positions that were cut in the initial budget.

Additionally, one-time funding from the legislature will provide money for three-year long initiatives, like early literacy coaches, science curriculum materials, and other programs. $15 million from the state legislature was also allotted specifically to support Anchorage’s eight charter schools over the next three years.

In a press release from the district, Superintendent Ed Graff said “It’s important that we look ahead and designate our resources on practices that are sustainable and not solely focus on the year in front of us. I believe this proposed budget adjustment package is a solid combination of prioritizing classroom teachers  and investing in high-value initiatives that are focused on improving student achievement  while remaining fiscally responsible.”

The budget proposal will be discussed during the ASD School Board meeting on Monday night at 6:30 pm in the ASD Education Center on Northern Lights.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: 2014 Rusty Blackbird Blitz

Fri, 2014-05-16 15:07

(Copyright Bill Benish. Taken on Feb. 28, 2009 in Bronx, New York City)

The Rusty Blackbird, is an ubiquitous species that has caught the attention of the Audubon Society. The reason – numbers of the species are plummeting, and causes of the decline are not well understood. The rusty’s breed in Alaska’s wetlands, and Audubon, along with other groups interested in the birds’ welfare, is asking Alaskans to help.

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Its call has been likened to the sound of a VHS tape rewind and it has been described unflatteringly as a “non-descript little black bird.”  But the little black bird with the intensely bright yellow eyes came under the gaze of East Coast ornithologist Dr. Russ Greenberg, who wondered why the once-abundant bird was disappearing.

Greenberg, who died last year, authored several studies on the rusty blackbird, and founded the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group almost a decade ago to rally people to the cause. Beth Peluso is with Audubon Alaska.

“And I think one of the things that is really interesting to me about this is that it highlights how our Alaska birds are tied in to other places,” Peluso said.

(Copyright Bonnie Ott. Taken in Maryland on March 9, 2012)

Audubon wants to recruit volunteers to help track the migratory pattern of the rusty blackbird all through the U.S. and Canada this spring.

“There may be something happening on the wintering grounds or along the migration routes that are affecting what’s happening with our birds here. So this project is really great because it is going to give us a snapshot all the way through, from wintering grounds all the way up through the migration to where they are nesting up here in Alaska.”

Joining the 2014 Rusty Blackbird Blitz is as easy as posting to Facebook, and you don’t have to be a serious birdwatcher to do it. Peluso says citizen scientist data is collected on a website: eBird.orgThe idea is to document arrivals of the rusty blackbird into Alaska.

“They are really tricky to survey,” Peluso said. “They don’t nest in colonies. They are kinda dispersed a little bit when they are nesting, so they are kind of hard to get a good count on.”

But the information gained may help to unravel a mystery: why is the Rusty Blackbird in the steepest decline of any bird in North America? Audubon says the birds’ numbers have dropped between 88 and 98 percent since the mid-1960s. And that has propelled the little bird to the top of the International Union For Conservation of Nature’s Red List – a list of threatened species.

So now here we are on the Potter Marsh boardwalk on the outskirts of Anchorage. Peluso, who’s hauling a spotting scope over her shoulder, says it’s one of the better viewing spots.

“I thought I’d try scanning the spruce trees. So you really have to be pretty quick, you have to be pretty quick on the uptake if they are flying by. you have to know.. yeah, and since they are migrating they are a little harder to find,” Peluso said. “They are not just sitting there singing, like they would if they were on their breeding territory. So it is a little tricky. ”

She says the Rustys are just starting to arrive in Alaska this week

“I’ve been checking eBird every couple of days to see the reports starting to show up all of a sudden,” Peluso said. “There were a couple down in Juneau, and a couple here and there. And now there are a whole bunch up in Anchorage. There’s a bunch up in Fairbanks. It’s really fun to see how fast it happens.”

Steve Matsuoka, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, joins us for the walk. He says Rusty Blackbirds breed in the boreal wetlands of Alaska and the Yukon. Climate change could be one culprit in their decline.

“There’s growing evidence based on chronologies of aerial photographs dating back to the 1950s that a lot of the lakes and ponds and water bodies in boreal Alaska at least are shrinking in size. And we think that that is due to a combination of evaporation.. things are simply warming up,” Matsuoka said.

The marshy areas provide lots of bugs the birds like to eat.

But little is known of their patterns: where they stopover and what predators threaten them. Matsuoka says habitat degradation in the South is a factor but there is still no smoking gun. Until Greenberg got interested a decade ago, no scientific study had been done on rusty blackbirds since the 1920s.

“Pretty much like anything that he looked at anywhere in North America, showed the same trend for the species,” Matsuoka said. “So which was this ninety percent decline that had occurred over at least the last 40 years and maybe dating back a century. ”

Matsuoka says reports from the mid 1800s indicate that the Rusty Blackbird once filled the sky with its migrations.

More recent studies show good survival rates in the birds’ early life cycle, leading to the theory that the harm is in wintering grounds in the Southern United States.  Other species are getting squeezed between drying wetlands up North, and disappearing habitat down South. The Lesser Yellowlegs, for instance, also breeds in boreal wetlands.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Awareness: State of the Art

Fri, 2014-05-16 12:00

The earth is restless in Alaska, with more earthquakes than all the other states combined – plus volcanoes and tidal waves. The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 was critically important scientifically, and that science has made remarkable advances in recent years.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Michael West, Alaska State Seismologist
  • 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, May 20, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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