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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: 51 sec ago

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

AK: Magic

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:24

Kei Kawada, center, looks on as his friends play a game in Unalaska’s Magic: the Gathering tournament. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

For more than 20 years, people all over the world have been playing the strategic fantasy card game Magic: the Gathering. But the game has only recently found its way to Unalaska, where the island’s teenage boys have been going through a serious Magic phase for the past few months.

 

A close-up of spells on the field during the championship Magic match. The small dice mark added strength on a card. The large die keeps score. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

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For the city’s recreation staff, that means a chance to offer a Lower 48-style experience: an official Magic tournament, which they hosted earlier this month.

By Unalaska standards, high school senior Kei Kawada is a Magic: the Gathering veteran. He’s been playing for eight months, more than double most of the rest of the boys in today’s tournament.

When Kei walks into the multipurpose room precisely one minute late, while the rules are being explained, the others aren’t too happy to see him.

Carlos Tayag: No one wanted you to show up.

Kei and 17 other friends and rivals are in for a grueling five hours of strategizing, spell-casting and card shuffling. All these boys are in middle and high school.

Tayag: So we’re playing legacy format, which is basically every card ever invented…

That’s referee Carlos Tayag explaining how the game is going to work.

Kei writes down his score in a Magic game against Isaac Guge during the tournament. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

Magic is the original dueling trading card game, invented in Renton, Wash. in 1993 and still based there today. There are thousands of cards, all with fantastical illustrations and names like “Kamahl, Pit Fighter.” Players use them to attack each other and defend themselves in games.

Tayag has been playing Magic for 10 years. He’s also been the youth programs coordinator for the city department of parks, culture and recreation since October.

“It’s probably been going heavily here for about six weeks that I’ve noticed,” Tayag says. “But I’ve heard that there are underground societies on the island where they’ve been playing Magic for longer.”

Full disclosure: Tayag and I are roommates, and he’s even gotten me dabbling in Magic. But I’m only watching and learning today.

Tayag: “One more thing. The youngest player chooses who goes first in this round.”

Group: “Yessss!”

Round one is about to begin. Everyone shuffles their decks, draws their hands and gets their game faces on. Tayag starts the clock. And then… it get serious. Soon, all around, I’m hearing things like this:

Unidentified player: [card slap] “Cradle of Vitality. Whenever I gain life, I may pay one plains and any uncolored mana, and if I do, I can put a one-one counter on a target creature for each life I gain.”

Complicated? Definitely. But the basics of the game are simple. Every card is a spell – creatures, enchantments and more. They all cost a certain number of different-colored mana cards. You have to put those cards down before you can play anything else.

Johnny Khongsuk plays a spell in a Magic game against Kennan Jordan during the tournament. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

Players use spells to deal damage to each other or block attacks. You start with 20 points each and try to knock each other down to zero.

Players have to buy the cards to build their decks. You can spend a little or a lot of money, and you could make a deck that was pretty hard to beat. But there’s no card shop in Unalaska. So players buy cards online and barter with friends.

It’s basically a big trump game — and, Tayag says, a learning experience.

“They practice communication skills and really how to problem-solve with each other,” he says. “You have to decipher rules and they kind of get to figure out what works how, and why does it work, and why does one person win over the other.”

So far, Kei Kawada seems to have a good sense of that. He’s victorious after round one.

“It’s all about dealing damage,” Kei says. “I like it.”

Recreation coordinators Carlos Tayag and Andrew Miller watch closely as Johnny Khongsuk and Kei Kawada vie for the championship.

But Kei’s a little nervous; now, everyone wants to beat him. Over the next two rounds, he has to be merciless, even taking out his little brother, Ryu.

Across the room, another younger player is climbing the ranks. Johnny Khongsuk, an eighth grader, has only been playing Magic for month or so. I asked him about his strategy before round one.

“Be a pain, and just like, make — tap his creatures, and attack when he has nothing to defend with,” Johnny says.

Johnny makes it through to the final — and so does Kei. It’s going on 9 p.m. and the room has emptied out by the time the championship match begins.

Soon, both boys are wiping sweat off their brows. This is one of the most intense games they’ve ever played.

Johnny pulls a spell he hasn’t used before. It lets him steal some of Kei’s cards.

Kei: “Dang, he’s just using all my creatures!”

Johnny: [evil laugh] “Using your creatures against you.”

But soon enough, Kei’s back on top, and Johnny can’t pull out the win — Kei defeats him. His championship prize? A big box of new Magic cards.

Johnny Khongsuk, Andrew Miller, Kei Kawada and Carlos Tayag after the championship. Kei took first place; Johnny took second. Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska.

The community center plans to hold a Magic workshop in February, and maybe more tournaments later in the year. Carlos Tayag isn’t sure how long the Magic craze can last here, as players graduate and get interested in other things. But he hopes it’ll have some staying power.

“Not only is it an intelligent game, but it’s a social activity,” he says. “I’d much rather have kids playing card games in the community center than playing some other type of game over their videogame system, and they’re not really kind of connecting with the real world.”

And that social interaction holds true even if kids are playing in one of those so-called underground societies — maybe at Johnny’s house, next weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 31, 2014

Fri, 2014-01-31 17:23

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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Alaska Paratrooper Collapses, Dies After Jump

The Associated Press

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

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.

Desperate Renters Face Bugs, Damage

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

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.

Alaskans Unhappy With Postal Service Changes

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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.

Begich Reports Bringing In About $850K In 4Q

The Associated Press

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

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.

Bill Rejecting Governor, Commissioner Pay Raises Likely To Get Senate Vote

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

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

With New Gasline Terms, TransCanada Role Evolves

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The gasline deal that was brokered earlier this month had signatures from more than half a dozen parties. But one party to the agreement confused some lawmakers, like Senator Hollis French.

Prosecutors Dismiss Case Against Former Dillingham High School Assistant Wrestling Coach

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

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.

AK: Magic

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

For more than 20 years, people all over the world have been playing the strategic fantasy card game “Magic: the Gathering.” But the game has only recently found its way to Unalaska, where the island’s teenage boys have been going through a serious Magic phase for the past few months.

For the city’s recreation staff, that means a chance to offer a Lower 48-style experience: an official Magic tournament, which they hosted earlier this month.

300 Villages: Lake Minchumina

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.

Categories: Alaska News

With New Gasline Terms, TransCanada Role Evolves

Fri, 2014-01-31 15:44

The gasline deal that was brokered earlier this month had signatures from more than half a dozen parties. Executives from Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and BP all were part of the commitment to build a pipeline to transport North Slope natural gas for shipment, as were commissioners from Gov. Sean Parnell’s cabinet. But one party to the agreement confused some lawmakers, like Sen. Hollis French:

FRENCH: In the building, people are asking, ‘Why TransCanada?’

TransCanada was a key player in Sarah Palin’s effort to build a gasline, and legislators from both parties have expressed concern that the company is just a holdover from that attempt. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that Parnell administration officials are responding by making a case for the pipeline builders.

Since the Palin administration, the State has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to TransCanada as reimbursement for planning work on a gasline. And during that time, things went bad: Instead of signing on to the project, ConocoPhillips and BP made their own failed effort to build a pipeline. When the state-sponsored project went through an open season, it couldn’t find any customers. The Lower 48 shale boom meant it was no longer economic to route the line through Canada.

Because of all that history, TransCanada’s continued involvement in the new proposal has caused some lawmakers to feel a bit of déjà vu. At a Senate Resources Committee hearing this week, Anchorage Democrat Hollis French wanted the administration to lay out how this new arrangement differed from the terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

“Is this like AGIA 2.0? What is this?” asked French, who was once an advocate for AGIA.

Under AGIA, TransCanada was licensed to basically advance a project on Alaska’s behalf. The Parnell administration is now pursuing what they’re describing as a more traditional commercial agreement, where the state and the North Slope producers are partners in a project with roughly similar ownership shares.

But because the project is expected to cost at least $45 billion, it would be a squeeze for Alaska to cover a quarter of that. That’s where TransCanada comes in again …

“We think that this particular partnership is in the state’s interests and will provide value to Alaskans independent of AGIA considerations,” said Balash.

In addition to doing the physical work of constructing the gasline, TransCanada has made a deal with the administration to shoulder a good chunk of the project costs in exchange for a cut of the state’s equity. State consultants Black & Veatch estimate that the State would have to pay $11.4 billion to take on an ownership role if TransCanada isn’t involved. If they are involved, that amount is brought down by half to $5.8 billion.

“What we’re trying to show here is that competition for dollars in this next decade, if we go alone without a partner, we’re going to have some water to carry,” said Balash.

On the money-making side of the balance sheet, the dollar amount the state would take in would be about the same whether TransCanada’s sharing the profits or not, according to the administration’s projections. That’s because in this scenario, the state’s earning income by investing the billions of dollars it didn’t have to spend on the project, which should cancel out the payments to TransCanada.

Balash says another reason for keeping TransCanada involved is that they know how to build pipelines in rough terrain.

“If you take a look at where they got their start in the Canadian Rockies, they’re familiar with constructing in discontinuous permafrost and mountainous areas,” said Balash. “They’ve overcome those challenges, and that’s experience I think we want to have on this particular project.”

Still, senators on the committee had reservations.

Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, wanted to know why the state isn’t putting the partnership arrangement out to bid, in case other companies might be interested. Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson asked if TransCanada’s involvement with competing pipeline projects in North America might create problems.

“Somebody’s going to win the horse race, and I hear you almost saying ‘We don’t care. Whichever one does it, we’re here to perform for that,’” said Dyson.

TransCanada executive Tony Palmer stressed that the Alaska project is important to them, and their involvement with other gasline plans is the nature of their business.

“That’s what we do. We build pipeline projects — build them an operate them across North America,” said Palmer. “We own 10,000 miles of pipeline in the United States, and we own 30,000 miles of gas pipeline in Canada.”

There’s also one more big reason TransCanada is still part of the new gasline arrangement: They were part of the old one. If TransCanada had been cut out, the state would have been at risk of violating their contract. This way, the two parties avoid going to court.

So while the new plan might not exactly be AGIA 2.0, it’s definitely shaped by it.

Categories: Alaska News

Art Enters the Dialogue about Marine Conservation

Fri, 2014-01-31 13:00

Gyre expedition crew members and National Park Service staff prepare to load marine debris onto a boat during an intensive cleanup of Hallo Bay in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, June 2013. Like most of Alaska’s 6,640 miles of coastline, Hallo Bay is off the road system, so beach cleanup can only be done by boat charter. This is often prohibitively expensive. Photo by Kip Evans.

An exhibition of art made from trash that washed up on beaches is about to open, offering a creative perspective on a growing environmental problem.  It’s part of a thrust by the Anchorage Museum to refresh the dialogue about the Arctic.  And it opens in the nation’s only Arctic state.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Julie Decker, Director, Anchorage Museum, Curator of “Gyre”
  • 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, February 4, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Calls Off This Year’s Exploratory Drilling Plans For Alaska

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:08

Shell announced on Thursday that it has called off its plan to do exploratory oil and gas drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska this year – and what it will do in future years is not clear.

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The company’s new CEO, Ben Van Beurden, pointed directly to a recent federal appeals court ruling that casts doubt over the federal oil and gas lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

“We are frustrated by the recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in what is a six-year-old lawsuit against government,” Van Beurden said. “And the obstacles that were introduced by that decision simply make it impossible to justify the commitments of costs, equipment and people that are needed to drill safely in Alaska this year.

“So, we have to wait for the courts and the U.S. Administration to this legal issue and given all of this, we will not drill in Alaska in 2014 and we are reviewing our options here.”

The ruling by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and the Native Village of Point Hope that claimed federal authorities underestimated the amount of oil and gas exploration and development activity the sales would generate and the impacts that would result from those activities.

Up until now, Shell has been leading that industry push, but its exploration ventures in 2012 ran
into problems, including a drilling rig that went adrift and grounded south of Kodiak.

Van Beurden took the helm of Shell a month ago as the company was putting out signals to the financial community that its earnings would be down.  Today he announced the figures on its financial performance for the past year, and they were not pretty. Profits were down 71 percent from the year before.  He said the company has “lost momentum,” and he’s setting a new course – divesting some stagnant assets and cutting capital expenditures by 20 percent.

“Frankly, I believe we got a little ahead of ourselves and some of these long-term plays and I want to moderate our investment base here,” Van Beurden said.

He said Shell ended up with a “cash flow deficit” last year, and the company needs to concentrate its reduced 37 million-dollar capital budget on areas that will show a return.

Late last year, Conoco Phillips, the other company that had plans to drill in the Chukchi this year, quietly shelved its plans as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Copes With Shell’s Decision Not To Drill

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:07

At least one Alaska community was banking on Shell’s presence – and business – this summer.

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Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Pushes To Lift Crude Oil Exports Ban

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:06

A campaign by Senator Lisa Murkowski to lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports got its first hearing in Washington today. It’s been 25 years since Congress has formally considered the ban it adopted during the Arab oil embargo, but the recent energy boom in the Lower 48 is triggering new debates.

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To some people it still sounds crazy. Why consider selling American crude overseas when the U.S. still imports 40 percent of its oil from other countries? And then there’s the question of the impact on consumer prices.

Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, says that’s his focus.

“American families and American business deserve to know what exports would mean for their specific needs when they fill up at the pump or get their delivery of heating oil,” Wyden said.

The witnesses at the hearing spoke from their own economic corners. Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, the largest leaseholder in North Dakota’s Bakken play, says the ban gives undue advantage to U.S. refineries. They can sell their fuel overseas, but as he put it, producers
like him are stuck being their milk cows.  A Delta Airlines executive, on the other hand, says allowing crude exports will force the price up to whatever OPEC wants it to be, and American consumers will have to pay more for airline tickets and everything else.

An academic from the University of California-Davis, says it’s not so simple. Amy Myers Jaffe says the export ban is only for crude, so U.S. petroleum is already affecting the world market, in the refined products we export.

“So what we’re really discussing is: Who gets to profit from the exports?” Jaffe said.

With the ban in place, it’s the refiners. Without the ban, producers get in on it. Jaffe notes another market wrinkle: the Bakken boom produces light oil, but refineries are set up to process particular grades, so she says America will always have to import heavy crude.

“Because there’s just going to be some refineries that already exist on Gulf Coast that have certain configurations and there’s just only so much light crude they can put through the system,” Jaffe said.

Murkowski says it’s good for policymakers to ask questions and ponder the issue. She figures it will take a lot more dialogue before Congress members and their constituents feel comfortable with lifting the ban. But she also says we’re running out of time.

“We get to a point where we have a mismatch between what we are producing domestically and the capacity within our refineries,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski says without exports, we may reach that point of oversupply in just two years. After the hearing, Murkowski said Alaskans have a special reason to be concerned, because North Slope oil may have to compete for West Coast refinery space.

“I think as Alaskans, we need to appreciate, we have enjoyed higher prices for our crude because it has been in high demand particularly in California, but if California is now going to be able to meet this demand because of oil from other parts of the Lower 48 – that price is going
to go down (and) our margins are going to be less for Alaska,” Murkowski said.

She says she plans to eventually draft an export bill and press her case to the Administration.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT Works To Dig Out Richardson Highway

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:05

State Department of Transportation crews will be working for days to get the Richardson highway completely opened.

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Hannah Blankenship is a spokeswoman for the DOT’s northern region. She says the majority of the backed up water from the Lowe River has receded back to within the river’s banks.

“However there is still debris and ice from where the river was, and that’s what our crews will be working on removing over the next few days,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship says they are still evaluating the snow pack and it’s unclear what kind of damage may have occurred to the roadway. She says they don’t have a timeline for re-opening the highway because stability is still an issue.

Categories: Alaska News

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