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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: 30 min 11 sec ago

Dept. of Corrections Confirms Inadvertent Recording of Attorney-Client Calls

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:50

Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

At a hearing last week in Dillingham, a public defense attorney mentioned to the judge that he had been cautioned by his agency about discussing confidential matters with clients in custody at state correctional facilities. The agency had learned that the state’s Department of Corrections was either monitoring or recording phone calls between inmates and their attorneys, a practice that defies the attorney-client privilege.

DOC officials say they are investigating the matter, and do confirm that some phone attorney phone calls were inadvertently recorded. They also say the problem isn’t yet fixed.

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Audio transcript:

The confidentiality of conversations between attorneys and clients is a basic and sacred tenet of the criminal justice system in the US.

And that’s not a privilege that defendants or even the convicted forfeit when they’re behind bars:  the Alaska Department of Corrections’ own policy clearly states that “calls between a prisoner and an attorney may not be monitored except when authorized by court order.”

“Sometime in the fall it was brought to our attention that some attorney calls were being recorded, and we started looking into at that time,” said Kaci Schroeder, a special assistant to DOC Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

Schroeder says that after the department determined that attorney-client calls had been, or were being recorded at state correctional facilities, steps were taken to correct the problem.

But right now there are more questions than the department has answers, starting with exactly how many attorney phone calls were recorded.

“We’re still trying to determine that,” said Schroeder. “At this time we don’t think it was very many, maybe less than forty. That’s what we’ve discovered up to this point.”

Are phone calls between attorneys and clients in jail still being recorded?

“We’re doing our best to make sure they’re not. But I can’t yet guarantee that,” said Schroeder, adding a warning for attorneys: “If at the beginning of a phone call, an automated voice says you are being recorded, then you are being recorded.”

Schroeder says DOC is in the process of destroying material that shouldn’t have been recorded. But can the department confirm that those tapes have not been listened to by law enforcement or state prosecutors?

“Not at this time. That will be part of the investigation.”

She says the department’s internal investigation will also look to see if any criminal cases have been jeopardized by the recorded conversations.

Automated System.  Phone communications at Alaska’s correctional facilities are handled by Dallas, TX-based Securus, which has contracts with some 2,200 facilities in 45 states according to the company’s Web site.

In each prison, the communication is automated to provide an easy way to monitor and record all of the inmate phone traffic, minus calls with attorneys (and a few others entitled to confidentiality). The system can also put time limits on calls, and can block specific numbers to prevent harassment.

It’s also designed to automatically not record calls to the listed numbers for inmates’ attorneys.

Hinting that it might have been a technical glitch or training issue, Schroeder says DOC is working with Securus to figure out exactly what went wrong with the system that allowed for the recorded calls.

“Chilled.”  The state’s Public Defender Agency says it is aware of at least one recorded phone call between one its attorneys and a client. The agency believes that was not an isolated incident.

In an email, Deputy Public Defender for the Criminal Division Douglas Moody said that until the agency has some assurance that the problem is fixed, the agency “will assume that DOC is listening” to all of the conversations between inmates and agency attorneys.

Private attorneys are also concerned about the recorded calls.

“It’s very troublesome, I’m sure for practically any attorney,” said Rex Butler, a Anchorage-based attorney known to tackle some high profile defense cases.

“It’s bad enough that we have clients spread out all over the state now, in jails that it takes hours to get to,” said Butler, “but then when you get a client on the phone, if they cannot rest assured that they’re getting attorney-client privilege, then it chills our ability to do our job.”

Butler says that DOC needs to provide attorneys with a list of the calls that were monitored or recorded. He also says the department needs to provide some assurances that the problem has been remedied, and that the tapes have been destroyed.

“I really want to be comfortable in knowing that my conversation with my client is going to be confidential. I have to have that.”

DOC is working on the problem and says it will notify attorneys, but adds that it could still take weeks or even months to get it all sorted out.

Categories: Alaska News

Helo 1 Crash Still Under Investigation

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

The State Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures following a helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year. The crash is still under investigation.

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A helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year is still under investigation. The Alaska State Trooper’s Helo – 1 crashed near Talkeetna during a rescue mission, killing its pilot, a state Trooper and one civilian in early 2013.

 Trooper director Colonel Jim Cockrell says in light of the accident, the state Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures. He says the National Transportation Safety Board has pointed out some concerns that need to be addressed:

“Including reviewing all our internal policies regarding our use of our aircraft with our department pilots. We’re hiring a safety manager or safety officer to oversee all aspects of safety at the aircraft section. We’ve hired a new aircraft supervisor with an extensive aviation background, and the same with a new commissioned leiutenant we put in the aircraft section. “

 Cockrell says the NTSB recommendations are not directly related to last year’s accident. In addition to the three new hires, the Troopers are now evaluating aviation training programs, and are making changes in risk assessment. The decision to send Trooper aircraft out on a mission will no longer be on one person’s shoulders:

“The issue is to ensure that we have some oversight on these missions to make sure that we are not taking undue risk. And we’re not asking the pilot to make that final decision. And, sometimes, people’s lives are definitely at risk, and it’s hard for our personnel who’s joined the department to provide public service, it’s hard for them sometimes to say ‘no’ and that’s why we want to make sure that we have someone outside, the if you want to call it the loop, that makes the decision if it’s worth our risk to handle this call. “


Trooper helicopters are operated under the division of Alaska Wildlife Troopers, which provides the department with 43 aircraft and 50 pilots.   Adjustments to the safety management system include installing real time satellite tracking devices in aircraft, which allow monitoring of all aircraft 24/7 by cellphone.

 Troopers are working with the NTSB to determine the cause of the 2013 Helo 1 crash, but results are inconclusive at this time. The NTSB has releases some 2,000 pages of documents related to the Helo 1 investigation on the agency’s website.    The night - time crash took the lives of pilot Mel Nading, Trooper Tage Toll and snowmachiner Carl Ober.  A report on the crash’s probable cause is expected in late summer.








Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fish Discussing Cook Inlet Salmon Issues

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

This week the board of fish is dealing with the contentious battles over Cook Inlet salmon. In both the Kenai and the Mat-Su Boroughs many are fighting over fish that are disappearing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Army Seeks ‘Data Gaps’ Over Cleanups At Old Chem/Bio-warfare Site Near Greely

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

The Gerstle River Test Site is located about 35 miles southeast of Delta Junction, east of the Alaska Highway. It’s adjacent to a 65,000-acre test site expansion area, which the Army has given back to the State of Alaska. Image from the U.S. Army.

Environmental officials are reviewing cleanup work conducted at a former military test site south of Delta Junction. The Gerstle River site was used by the Army to test chemical and biological agents during the height of the Cold War.

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The Army created the 20,500-acre Gerstle River Test Site in the early 1950s to determine how high explosives and chemical- and biological-warfare agents would work in the Arctic. The site is about 35 miles southeast of Delta, within a few miles of where the Gerstle flows into the Tanana River.

Substances tested at the site include mustard gas; nerve gas, including Sarin, and the biological agent tularemia.

The Army conducted several cleanups around the site was used before and after it was shut down in the early 1970s. It also monitored and periodically tested the area. But Army officials aren’t sure whether they’ve compiled all the data that’s been collected, and whether they know all there is to know about the site. So they’re taking another look at the issue to plug the “data gaps,” says Brian Adams, the project manager with Fort Wainwright’s environmental office.

“Plugging those holes is key to doing cleanup of the site,” Adams said.

Guy Warren is an environmental program specialist with the stateDepartment of Environmental Conservation who’s working with the Army on the data-gap analysis. He says the Army launched this latest round of studies on the site after it got funding for the project last year.

“They’ve hired a contractor that’s going back and looking through all the differentreports  that we have on the test site, to kind of get a picture of what do we know today about the history, the use and the disposal of chemical weapons and other components on that property,” Warren said.

Warren says this new round of analysis will pick up on the work of a previous round, which petered out about 12 years ago.

“I don’t think anything was ever really finalized with the public. There were still some questions out there about what may be left on the site,” he said.

Adams says the Army also is re-forming an advisory committee that was disbanded about 12 years ago, after Greely ended up on the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure list. He’s now looking for about 20 people to serve on the Reclamation Advisory Board, And he’d especially like to get residents of Delta Junction, Healy Lake, Dot Lake and Tok to serve on the board.

“There’s knowledge out there,” he said. “There’s a knowledge base out there. People know things. They may have worked out there. They may have been on the sites at the time, whatever.”

Adams says that information, along with data that’s already been collected on the Gerstle River Test Site, will help Army officials decide whether to close parts of the site to entry – or, as he says…

“… Delineate some of those areas that you don’t really want to go into and play in. Like some of those disposal pits. You don’t really want to play in a disposal pit area,” he said.

Adams says access to the test site is currently open, and that it’s a popular place for moose hunting. The site also is still being used for training by Fort Wainwright soldiers.

Adams says anyone interested in service on the board must contact him by Friday.

Editor’s Note: Persons interested in serving on the Gerstle River Training Site Reclamation Advisory Board may contact Adams at Fort Wainwright’s environmental office, (907) 361-6623 or email send an email topao.fwa@us.army.mil.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Democrats Nominate Kiehl, Kito, And Reardon For Kerttula’s Vacant Seat

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

Tongass Democrats have nominated Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III, and Catherine Reardon to fill the House District 32 seat vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Sam Kito III, Catherine Reardon & Jesse Kiehl take questions from reporters Monday morning in capitol entry way.

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The three were chosen after public interviews over the weekend. Nine Juneau Democrats applied to fill the seat.

All three nominees say they will seek a full term if appointed.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan took the nominees’ names to Gov. Sean Parnell this morning. The governor has 30 days to fill a vacancy in the legislature within 30 days of that vacancy.

Kerttula resigned Jan. 24 after accepting a position at Stanford University.

Categories: Alaska News

Stebbins Planning To Fix Long-Standing Problems Using Recovery Funds

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

Two-and-a-half months after severe flooding ruined homes and vital infrastructure, Stebbins is organizing to put recovery funds towards fixing long-standing problems exacerbated by the storm damage. President Obama declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster last month, unlocking federal funds to help the community.

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Most homes in Stebbins don’t have sewer or water. The provisional remedy—a honey-bucket hauling system—is a series of chest-high black containers along the main road that a truck periodically empties en route to the sewage lagoon. And it created a serious health hazard when flood waters spilled several across a marshy plane just behind a row of homes, which has since frozen over.

Residents and officials were worried what would happen to the contamination when the ground thawed in the spring. Sitting in her narrow office with files spread across her desk, city administrator Nora Tomm said signs of contamination started appearing even earlier.

“After the storm we had close to 10 dogs that were reported, that they died from being sick and they had signs of e-coli,” Tomm said.

Advised by officials that the flood waters could bring contamination, residents took precautions and threw out household goods and stores of food.

Sitting in the main concourse of the Stebbins’ school, Anna Nashoanak with the Stebbins IRA explained that in a cash strapped community with so little employment the loss of traditional food caches was a significant loss for many in the community. This week NSEDC sent 3,000 pounds of halibut and salmon in response to a request from the IRA for help with community-wide losses of fish and meat in the storm.

Tommy Kirk, head of the IRA in Stebbins, had put posters on bulletin boards in Stebbins’ native store, the washeteria, and post office, and said by Thursday almost all the fish had been distributed.

Morris Nashoanak is mayor of Stebbins and says that the top priority working with state and federal funders is the town’s water system.

“Currently, our water and sewer has been on for many, many years,” Nashoanak said. “The flood from, recent flooding has put us in the situation where the state and the federal are looking to try and speed the process of getting the water and sewer for Stebbins.”

Though water and sewer have been development priorities in Stebbins for decades, local officials are now approaching it as an essential disaster mitigation measure, just like their calls for a protective seawall.

A lot of the vital infrastructure in Stebbins is not just outdated—it’s right in the path of ocean-flooding that’s only getting worse as storms intensify, freeze ups latten, and the beachfront erodes.

The school’s large cylindrical gas-tanks are just on the other side of a thin, improvised dirt road from the water. There’s still a knee-high, rust-colored water-mark from November’s flooding on them. Nearby is a thin yellow spigot juts out of the earth towards the sea-ice—the hook-up for gas deliveries, and it’s surrounded by driftwood and crumpled boat left over from the storm months ago.

The development projects Stebbins needs are not forward-looking proactive measures—they’re basic protective measures that community doesn’t have the resources to put in place on its own.

Mayor Nashoanak says that rather than relying on consultants and outside engineer firms for management of the projects—as they did in the past—the city is reorganizing to lobby and labor on its own behalf.

“And I think, with our group of people have lived through years of enduring storms, and the needs of the community I think with our group of people that have knowledge of trying to obtain some funding sources would be more of a mark to the community because the community can be able to stand up on their own and lobby for themselves,” Nashoanak said.

The Department of Homeland Security has helped residents since the storms catalogue property damage, and should be dispersing funds in the next few months. But the leadership in Stebbins is working on solidifying priorities to capitalize on FEMA money that could make a long-term difference for the community’s safety.

The hope is to present a list of needs to representatives in Juneau during this current legislative session in order to spur action in time for the clean-up efforts set to resume in the spring.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 3, 2014

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:11

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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Department of Corrections Says Some Calls Between Inmates, Attorneys

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Department of Corrections says at least a few dozen phone calls between inmates in state prisons and their attorneys were inadvertently recorded.  Officials with the department say they’re still investigating the problem, and cannot yet confirm that it’s been corrected.

Planned Parenthood Tries To Block Abortion Regulation

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Alaska argued before Judge John Suddock in a hearing Monday in Anchorage Superior Court. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last week, objecting to new limitations being placed on abortions paid for by Medicaid.

Trooper’s Helo 1 Crash Still Under Investigation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The State Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures following a helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year. The crash is still under investigation.

Board of Fish Discussing Cook Inlet Salmon Issues

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

This week the board of fish is dealing with the contentious battles over Cook Inlet salmon. In both the Kenai and the Mat-Su Boroughs many are fighting over fish that are disappearing.

Army Seeks ‘Data Gaps’ Over Cleanups At Old Chem/Bio-warfare Site Near Greely

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Environmental officials are reviewing cleanup work conducted at a former military test site south of Delta Junction. The Gerstle River site was used by the Army to test chemical and biological agents during the height of the Cold War.

Tongass Democrats Nominate Kiehl, Kito, And Reardon For Kerttula’s Vacant Seat

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Tongass Democrats have nominated Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III, and Catherine Reardon to fill the House District 32 seat vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Commission Rolls Out Arctic Strategy Plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission is rolling out its strategy for the region.

Stebbins Planning To Fix Long-Standing Problems Using Recovery Funds

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Two-and-a-half months after severe flooding ruined homes and vital infrastructure, Stebbins is organizing to put recovery funds towards fixing long-standing problems exacerbated by the storm damage. President Obama declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster last month, unlocking federal funds to help the community.

Front Of The Pack Shapes Up On Yukon Quest Trail

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A “front-of-the–pack” is beginning to shake out on the Yukon Quest Trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Commission Wants Alaska To Have More Influence Over Arctic’s Future

Mon, 2014-02-03 18:04

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission is rolling out its strategy for the region.
The draft report is over 100 pages, and it offers recommendations on how to manage maritime commerce and resource development in the Arctic, how to improve emergency response, and how to include the state’s indigenous population in policy decisions.

Rep. Bob Herron, a Bethel Democrat who co-chaired the commission, says having an “Arctic thought process” puts the state on better footing with the federal government when it comes to having a say in policy for the region.

“We want to be in the center of all those decisions,” says Herron.

The Arctic Policy Commission’s work may have a more immediate influence on the state’s own policy. The report identified the lack of infrastructure as a key problem for the region, and Herron and his fellow co-chair, Sen. Lesil McGuire, each introduced legislation to address that last week. One bill would create a port authority for the Arctic, while the other would authorize the state to issue loans for projects like roads and harbors.

McGuire acknowledges that Arctic development will be expensive and difficult to afford given that the state is looking at a budget shortfall. Still, she sees it as a necessary investment.

“I think we’re going to have to start looking at it right now. We’re already behind,” says McGuire.

The Obama administration offered its own strategy for the Arctic region last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Planned Parenthood Tries To Block Abortion Regulation

Mon, 2014-02-03 17:52

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Alaska argued before Judge John Suddock in a hearing Monday in Anchorage Superior Court.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last week, objecting to new limitations being placed on abortions paid for by Medicaid.

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Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Social Services last Wednesday. They object to the state trying to limit abortions paid for by Medicaid by narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Attorney Janet Crepps argued by phone on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. She asked Judge John Suddock to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation, saying it could harm women who rely on Medicaid.

“The inability to obtain a medically necessary abortion or delay that unnecessarily increase the risks of the procedure are irreparable harm that justify the issuing of a temporary restraining order,” Crepps said.

Crepps said she worried about women with certain forms of diabetes or mental illness not qualifying for abortions if they need them. Initially the case was assigned to Judge Mark Rindner on Friday but the State of Alaska objected to him as the judge. Judge Gregory Miller was assigned the case the same day, but he recused himself. Then the case was assigned to judge Suddock.

State Attorney Stacie Kraly argued it would be fine to let the regulation stay in effect while the judge decides the case. The Department of Health and Social Services wants doctors to fill out a sheet checking off why an abortion should be reimbursed. Kraly said the additional documentation is not that big of a deal.

“What this form does is simply put a very minor additional documentation requirement on the part of the doctor providing the service to articulate that they believe, in their medical judgment, that the service that they are providing is medically necessary,” Kraly said.

The regulation requiring the additional paperwork was introduced in August by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur.

The regulation went into effect over the weekend. Doctors must now fill out a new form to certify a woman is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function in order to qualify for an abortion paid for by Medicaid.

Judge Suddock expressed concerns that mentally ill women might not qualify for abortions under the new regulation.

“A woman who’s bipolar, if she doesn’t take her medication she’s reverberating between a manic state and a depressive state,” Suddock said. “And it’s no fun and it has practical effects on all aspects of daily life, living, job, relationship, ability to provide childcare for the woman. But if she goes off her medication, is she really in imminent danger of impairment of a major bodily function?”

Jim Minnery with the conservative group, Alaska Family Action complained that Judge Suddock could not be impartial in the case because his former law partner had argued cases about abortion.

“We’re very disappointed that the state of Alaska didn’t accept Judge Suddock’s offer to recuse himself from the case,” Minnery said. “It’s that simple. We very much think that there’s a conflict of interest.”

Judge Suddock said he will rule swiftly on whether to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation until the case is decided.

Planned Parenthood has also requested a preliminary injunction which would suspend the state regulation for a longer period if the case takes more time.

Categories: Alaska News

Keith Hackett Settles In As UAA’s Athletic Director

Mon, 2014-02-03 17:20

The University of Alaska Anchorage’s new athletic director, Keith Hackett, wrapped up his first 100 days on the job last month.

He’s finished his first Great Alaska Shootout and watched the cross country running and volleyball seasons cap off successful seasons, but he says there is still work to be done.

New UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett addresses the media on Sept. 20. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

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When Keith Hackett was hired, UAA was in the midst of recovering from the controversial firing of former athletic director Steve Cobb and hockey coach Dave Shyiak.

During the hiring process, Hackett knew of the lingering fractures caused by those events, but, it didn’t deter him.

“I accepted it knowing that and knew that what I had to do was be ready for, ready for anything,” he said.

So far, Hackett has spent a lot of time building new relationships and trying to rebuild old ones with community members and partners that were damaged or had fallen by the wayside over the past several years.

“I’m a firm believer in no one of us is smarter than all of us,” Hackett said. “And we just, I think it’s just so critically important for me in my role to bring people together.”

Among those relationships Hackett is setting out to repair is with Anchorage’s hockey community. Mark Filipenko is the president of the UAA Hockey Alumni Association. He says he likes what he’s seen from Hackett so far.

“Asks a lot of questions. I think he’s really trying to figure out what the next steps are and the best steps to improve the program [are],” Filipenko said. “And he has some really good ideas himself, coming from a successful program. So, it’s been a real nice pleasure working with him.”

There have been a lot of questions for Hackett to answer as he has spoken with members of the community. But, having only been in Anchorage and at the university for a few months, he says some are difficult to answer.

“Most of the questions have been, well: ‘What are you gonna do with this? What are you gonna do with hockey? How come there’s no ice at the arena?’ You know, I don’t have some of those answers, I just know that I’m gonna do the very best I can every day to help our student athletes to be successful and in turn help our coaches to be successful, help our university to be successful,” Hackett said.

But, he says even if he doesn’t have all the answers yet, those conversations have helped him identify some of the issues the athletics department is facing.

Hackett has also been eyeing other issues that need to be dealt with – most notably, revenue.

“My plan with regard to the financial equation has everything to do with generating revenue,” he said. “And that’s through ticket sales, concessions, rentals, all those kinds of things, because we have to take on a larger part of that burden.”

That issue is growing especially prevalent as the department prepares to move over to the new Alaska Airlines Center, which will cost an estimated $2.7 dollars per year to maintain.

Hackett says the sports center will open up opportunities for new revenue streams that are currently unavailable.

“We have to do some things to fully utilize or maximize the use of that building, and part of that is gonna be we want more people to come to games,” he said. “So, we have to go out and sell tickets; we have to find a way to get people to come.”

Ticket sellers will have a big job once they start work next summer, as the Alaska Airlines Center holds about 4,000 more people than the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.

Hackett is currently working on a report outlining his first 100 days on the job and identifying issues the department needs to address.

Categories: Alaska News

Dems Submit List Of Candidates For Kerttula Seat

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:50

Democrats in Southeast Alaska have named their list of finalists to fill the Alaska House seat vacated by Beth Kerttula last month.

They are Jesse Kiehl, Catherine Reardon and Sam Kito III. The Tongass Democrats submitted a list of three names to Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday.

Under the law, the governor is to appoint a qualified replacement within 30 days of a vacancy. The law states that the appointee shall be a member of the same political party as the predecessor and, in this case, would be subject to confirmation by a majority of House Democrats.

Kerttula, a Democrat from Juneau, resigned on Jan. 24 for a fellowship at Stanford University.

Categories: Alaska News

Front Of The Pack Shapes Up On Yukon Quest Trail

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:25

A decided “front-of-the–pack” is beginning to shake out on the Yukon Quest Trail. A fast trail means mushers are looking for ways to hold back dog teams.

The sky was still pitch black when Brent Sass sped into the Circle checkpoint, with a dog team that wasn’t ready to stop.

As Sass walked up and down a line of dogs, he mumbled to his handler. ‘I’m fresh as I can be,’ he said.  He told his handler, Steve Stoller he had gotten two hours of “solid sleep” on the trail.

“Dogs are raring to go and he looks well rested and he’s pumped as usual!” Stoller said.

Sass jumped on the runners and took off for the Yukon River nearly as quickly as he arrived.

Behind him, Allen Moore was prepping his dog team to leave.  He took off within 90 minutes of Sass.

Moore says his team wants to run at full bore down the hard-packed trail.

“The biggest challenge is to hold them back,” Moore said. “It has been from the start.  My foot’s been on the dragger brake because the conditions have been like this tale top here.”

But Moore is quick to add that there’s still roughly 800 miles of trail ahead.

“We’re still jockeying for position,” he said.

Teams will continue to shake out as they get closer to Eagle.  Cody Strathe is having a fast run up front, but he says it has more to do with his race plan than the competition.

“But I knew that as my plan went on, more and more of the teams that push a little harder would catch up, so I think you’ll see I’ll drop bag a little bit as time goes on but hopefully I’ll remain towards the top,” Strathe said.

Even if dog teams want to keep moving, the weather may have slowed them down.

Mushers have to carry straw out of Circle, because flights that were scheduled to deliver supplies to Slaven’s Cabin were unable to fly due to thick fog Sunday.

Slaven’s usually serves as an unofficial dog drop and checkpoint along the Yukon River.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill To Reject Pay Raises For Governor, Commissioners Moves Forward

Fri, 2014-01-31 18:25

A bill that would reject pay raises for the governor and his commissioners is on track to get a vote in the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced the bill on Friday. The pay-raise recommendations come from a non-partisan board that look at factors like cost of living and salaries for comparable positions in other states. The State Officers compensation commission advised that the governor’s salary should be increased from $145,000 to $150,873, that his commissioners salaries should be raise from $136,350 to $146,143, and that the lieutenant governor should see a pay bump from $115,000 to $119,658.

Finance Co-Chair Kevin Meyer acknowledged he would like to accept the recommendations, but that “the timing is not good when we’re in deficit spending here.”

There was some pushback on rejecting the recommendations completely. Right now, more than half of the state’s deputy commissioners make more than the commissioners themselves.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, an Eagle River Republican, thought the recommendations might help address that.

“What troubles me the most about rejection is the inequity between a deputy commissioner and a commissioner,” said Fairclough. “If we have talent that is in the ranks, and that they’re not moving up to take those additional responsibilities, and still making more than the person who did, that might create some friction inside of those departments.”

She ultimately agreed to advance the bill out of committee, but supported amending it.

The conversation over bill also triggered some discussion over the point of high compensation for the state’s executives. Sen. Donny Olson, a Democrat from Golovin who caucuses with the Senate Majority, noted that salary was often besides the point when someone takes on the position of governor or commissioner.

“You’re not running because of what the pay’s going to be,” said Olson. “You’re running because you feel like you can do a service to the State of Alaska and affect public policy.”

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said he thought it was misguided to use salaries to attract people to state executive positions, but for a different reasons.

“I don’t mind that the state doesn’t get the best and the brightest,” said Kelly. “We do tend to attract the best and the brightest on a lot of levels. I would actually prefer they were in the private sector, because that’s what really drives our economy.”

He qualified his statement by saying that salary should not be an object when it comes to the attorney general or natural resources commissioner.

Gov. Sean Parnell has already said he would reject an increase to his own salary. If the commission’s pay raise recommendations are not rejected, the cost of the raises would be upwards of $200,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Students, Parents Organize to Fight Education Budget Cuts

Fri, 2014-01-31 18:17

Students at West High School handed out stickers Friday with an image of a bar code and the words, “Don’t make us a profit center. Public Funds for Public Schools” on them. Students are wearing the stickers to protest proposed budget cuts in the Anchorage School District.

Students and Parents are mobilizing in Anchorage to fight possible education cuts and legislation that proposes a constitutional amendment allowing public funds to go to private schools.

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High School Junior Mae Vaordaz spent her lunch period Friday handing out stickers to fellow students at West High School in Anchorage.

“This is a label that says: ‘Don’t make us a profit center. Public Funds for Public Schools.’ And so this is something that we’re handing out to all students,” Vaordaz said. ”This is just helping get the word out as to what we’re doing because students will ask us, ‘why are you guys wearing labels?’ and we’ll tell them what’s going on.”

Vaordaz says she handed out about 500 of the stickers to raise awareness about the proposed budget cuts in the Anchorage School District. She says other students at schools across the district are passing out the stickers and planning their own protests.

ASD officials rolled out the proposed 2014-2015 budget recently. Under the plan, the district would cut more than 200 positions and high school schedules would have seven periods, instead of six to save money. Governor Sean Parnell has offered to increase the Base Student Allocation, or the funding per student, by $200 dollars over three years, but ASD officials say that’s not enough to make up for several years of flat funding.

Junior Laura Gorden created the bar code stickers. She says they send a message.

“We used a bar code because we want to show that as students we’re not just money that can be pushed around,” Gorden said. “That we are in fact people who deserve education and the quality of that education is a complex thing that is not a basic political issue.”

West High School Students handed out stickers to protest proposed budget cuts in the Anchorage School District Friday. From left to right Mae Vaordaz, Debbie Kim, Laura Gordon and Margaret Clark.

Gordon says the “Students with a Voice” group got going after she and friends heard Governor Sean Parnell’s “State of the State” address and became concerned about budget cuts and legislation aimed at creating a constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to go to private schools, including religious ones.

Parents are organizing too. Becca Bernard, who has a child at a district-approved charter school has joined a group of parents that are meeting to fight the cuts.

“Well I think parents are really important in this whole issue. I think things are just going to continue on the was they are unless parent come forward and really speak up,” Bernard said. ”And talk about how important it is to them that public schools be funded adequately and that they remain as strong as they are. Parents need to come forward and speak just as loudly as they can so that the legislature and the governor know how strongly people feel about this.”

Tina Bernoski is a high school counselor at Bartlett High School and has two children in the Anchorage School District. She’s helping Bernard coordinate the parent group.

“We want people to come with ideas. We’re definitely hoping to write legislators and not just your own legislators, but those who hold the purse strings, so to speak – the House Finance Committee – letters to the editor,” Bernoski said. ”And we’re hopefully going to organize a rally letting legislators know that we’re serious and we really want to connect the dots and make this not only about the Anchorage School District but about Alaska.”

Bernard and Bernoski say they’re working with parent groups in Juneau and Fairbanks. They’ve set a rally for February 22nd at 1pm at Loussac Library in Anchorage. They’re also circulating a petition to increase the BSA by more than the Governor’s proposed $200 dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Paratrooper Collapses, Dies After Jump

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:30

An Alaska-based paratrooper has died after collapsing following a jump.

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U.S. Army Alaska officials say in a release that the soldier died Thursday night at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

The statement says there is no indication the soldier had a hard landing or that there was equipment failure during the parachute jump he completed prior to collapsing.

The Army says the soldier’s parachute had been packed away, and he was wearing his rucksack when the drop zone safety officer reached him.

He was rushed to the Anchorage hospital and underwent emergency surgery, but was pronounced dead just after 8 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Desperate Renters Face Bugs, Damage

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:29

Housing Complaints Hotline: 343-4141

The Big Timber Motel in Anchorage has been in the news recently because of health and safety concerns – everything from fire code violations to an infestation of bedbugs, but it’s not the only low income housing in Anchorage with problems. And city officials say it’s difficult to address the issue.

Kassie Lee Lewis pets her cat’s head in their room in the Mush Inn in downtown Anchorage. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

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Forty-eight-year-old Kassie Lee Lewis shares a small room with her gray cat at the Mush Inn on the outskirts of downtown Anchorage. On a recent morning, she’s just finished airing out her clothes and bedding. It’s something she has to do daily to keep the bugs at bay. She points to the bed.

“I just got done going through my clothes and my bed to make sure that the bed bugs were all killed and off,” Lewis said. “I do it every day and I do kill cockroaches every day.”

She says they’ve been a problem since she moved into the room in October from Brother Francis shelter. Even though she works to keep the bed bugs out she says they crawl in from a neighboring room through a gap around a pipe under her sink. And they make her feel bad.

Lewis says bugs use the gap around a sink pipe as a way into her room. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“It’s kinda disgusting and it makes me feel – I mean you can see on my face, they bite my face, they bite my arms and my legs and stuff,” Lewis said. “It’s a bummer. It makes me think of those women and children in Africa with flies all over their bodies when it happens to me.”

Besides problems with pests, Lewis shows me a place on the ceiling where water is leaking. But the rent of $850 is all she can afford.

Closer to downtown, David – who asked that we only use his first name – sits beside cages holding tropical birds in the lobby of Henry House, a transitional living facility.

A hole in the floor of David’s room in Henry House is an example of some of the damage in the building. Photo courtesy of David.

Henry House is a for-profit motel for men that has agreements with state agencies to provide housing for people coming out the mental health court, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Corrections, among others. They rent simple dorm rooms for around $750 a month and serve tenants one meal a day. Women are not allowed in the rooms, but David, shared photos of his room on his cell phone in the lobby.

“I was really surprised when I went into the bathroom and I saw a hole on the floor and there was also a hole in the drywall,” David said.

David thinks the rooms should be fixed.

“Bringing up the rooms to code would be a really positive step forward for the people that are here,” David said. “The people that are on the road to recovery or the people that are dealing with long-term mental disabilities.”

The owners of Henry House, Kathy and Bob Henry, did not agree to a recorded interview, but they admit that tenants have damaged rooms and that they have trouble keeping up with maintenance.

The office for the Henry House. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The oversight of Motels in Anchorage is not the responsibility of any one department or office. Instead several departments monitor them. Some departments, like fire, inspect annually, but others like building and health only check things out if they receive a complaint.

Anchorage Municipal Building official Sharon Walsh says the problems at Henry House and the Mush Inn can be reported to that hotline at the City’s land use enforcement office.

“Anything having to do with what they call vectors, you know vermin, cockroaches, rats – that will go to the health department,” Walsh said. “And then the ones that are building maintenance related, they’ll go inspect and determine what needs to be done.”

A hole in the drywall beneath a crumbling bottom windowsill in David’s room. Photo courtesy of David.

Over at the Municipal Department of Health and Human Services, Deputy Director Steve Morris, says his Environmental Health Section handles pests.

“Their primary responsibility is inspection of food facilities and that sort of thing, but they also enforce a part of Title 15 which has to do with housing,” Morris said.

And motels. But Morris says the code is at least 30-years-old. There’s no regular inspection for pests. And he says the inspectors are already overworked.

“I can tell you that If we were to get hundreds of bed bug complaints we would not be able to satisfactorily inspect them, there’s just not the resources available to do that,” Morris said.

To really address the issue of bed bugs, Morris says staffing levels and the municipal code would need to be addressed.

“That’s something the Assembly would have to consider,” Morris said.

Back at Henry House, David says he hasn’t seen any pests in his room, but he’s reported the damage in his room to the owners. As of Thursday, nothing’s been fixed.

Kassie Lee Lewis points to a place in her ceiling where water has been leaking through. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

At the Mush Inn, Kassie Lee Lewis says she’s reported the leaking, cockroaches and bed bugs in her room to the manager’s office, but nothing has been done. She’s on the waiting list for an apartment through Cook Inlet Housing, but for now she’s keeping up her routines.

“Sometimes I kill ‘em in the bathroom and I kill them in the living room,” Lewis said.

Down the road near Merrill Field, many of the two-dozen residents of the Big Timber motel which was seized by the city after the owner did not pay taxes, are still living there.

Problems at that motel include fire code violations and bed bug and mice infestations. The municipality is considering condemning the building.

So far, they’ve spent around $40,000 on upgrades and paying back bills so that residents can have hot water and heat again. They are not charging residents rent at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans Unhappy With Postal Service Changes

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:28

An increase in complaints from Alaskans about the U.S. Postal Service prompted Sen. Mark Begich to write the Postmaster General this week, demanding answers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Begich Reports Bringing In About $850K In 4Q

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:27

U.S. Senator Mark Begich reported bringing in nearly $850,000 toward his re-election effort during the final quarter of 2013.

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Begich’s campaign, in a filing with the Federal Election Commission, reported ending the year with $2.8 million on hand.

The contributions from October through December include nearly $530,000 from individuals and about $280,000 from political committees.

Two of Begich’s Republican rivals had released fundraising totals for the quarter but had not yet released their reports. Mead Treadwell’s campaign reported raising more than $228,000, while Dan Sullivan reported bringing in more than $1.2 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Prosecutors Dismiss Case Against Former Dillingham High School Assistant Wrestling Coach

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:26

State prosecutors today dismissed the case against a former Dillingham High School assistant wrestling coach who had been accused of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old female student.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Lake Minchumina

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:25

This week we’re heading to the tiny community of Lake Minchumina in Interior Alaska. Charles Draper maintains the local runway and he volunteers at the village’s library.

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Categories: Alaska News

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