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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: 52 min 9 sec ago

State Hurrying To Update Rural Infrastructure Before Federal Dollars Diminish

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Federal money for rural infrastructure is drying up, and state agencies are overhauling projects while they still can. With Alaska’s brief construction season about to begin, state officials are hurrying to bring airfields, roads, and other Bush infrastructure up to standard before funds get scarce.

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Categories: Alaska News

‘Second Shake’ Rattles Noatak, Northwest Brooks Range

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Just two weeks after the strongest earthquake in the region in more than 30 years, residents of Noatak and others near the far western edge of the Brooks Range felt another series of powerful quakes over the weekend.

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Mike West is a state seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks. He says the 5.5 magnitude quake that struck at 12:57 a.m. Saturday May 3 came nearly two weeks to the day after an even stronger 5.6 quake on April 18.

“There were quite a number of earthquakes all through Saturday that were part of this aftershock sequence of this second earthquake,” West said.

Saturday’s quake was just that: an earthquake, not an aftershock from the April temblor.

“That’s a little weird for us because it doesn’t fit the aftershock paradigm,” West said. “It’s as large as the original earthquake … and was followed by its own series of aftershocks.”

Those aftershocks were similarly strong, with seven rated a magnitude four or stronger. West said the two strong quakes, both followed by powerful aftershocks, are likely caused by the same geological forces.

“It’s important to think of this as a sequence,” West emphasized. “Stress was building up through the normal movement of plate tectonics, and that needed to be relieved. The earthquake on April 18th, (Saturday)’s earthquake, all the aftershocks from both of those, are all sort of part of this process.”

Like April’s quake, the Saturday event was felt about 20 miles to the south in Noatak, at the giant Red Dog zinc mine, and even in Kotzebue. Despite the power of the “second shake,” West said there’s no danger beyond frayed nerves on the horizon. Nonetheless, he said the Earthquake Center is visiting Noatak and Kotzebue this week to install seismology equipment for better observation of the activity.

“We have plans right now to install probably two seismic stations in an around the source of the earthquake,” West said Sunday. “This is driven not so much by a concern of things to come, but we just want to be prepared, and frankly, better understand why these earthquakes occurred in the first place.”

The last time the region saw seismic activity on par with these two most recent quakes was back in 1981, when West said a 5.5 quake struck in roughly the same area about the same distance from Noatak.

Categories: Alaska News

Burst Water Pipe Likely Cause For Skagway Ferry Dock Sinking

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:54

Western Marine Construction began working early Tuesday to refloat the dock. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Stephens, Alaska DOT&PF)

State transportation officials agree that a burst water pipe likely caused the Skagway ferry dock to sink last month. Repairs continue in hopes of getting the dock operational and returning ferry service to the Southeast community within the next week.

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The state is making repairs and some modifications to the dock now that it’s floating again.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says it’s not yet known how much the salvage and repairs from the sinking will cost the state.

Woodrow says the state is hoping to resume ferry service to Skagway on May 11. A final decision on that timeline will be made later this week, he said.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Considers Solutions To Housing Shortage

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:53

City officials are hoping to address Juneau’s longstanding housing shortage by opening more public land to development.

The Juneau Planning Commission recently recommended about 150 acres of city-owned land on Pederson Hill be rezoned to allow a residential neighborhood to be built. The idea is to copy the early 20th century-style subdivisions of downtown Juneau and Douglas. But not everybody is happy about the proposal.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 5, 2014

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:19

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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Oil Producers Get Break On Alaska Property Taxes

The Associated Press

Public documents show Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration worked out a deal with Alaska’s major oil producers that allows the companies to withhold tens of millions of dollars in property taxes.

Alaska GOP Aims To Block Party Coups

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Republican Party has taken measures to prevent a takeover by libertarian and Tea Party activists. The new rules say a person has to be registered as a Republican for at least four years before seeking a top leadership position, and they require all candidates for the party’s statewide offices to be vetted by a special committee before they can run. The rules were adopted on Saturday, at the Alaska Republican Party’s biannual convention.

Alaska Villages Find Success With Wind-Diesel Energy Combination

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

It’s hard to use wind as a main power source because it fluctuates. But four small Alaskan villages have succeeded in creating an innovative wind-diesel system that works even in harsh, variable weather conditions.

‘Second Shake’ Rattles Noatak, Northwest Brooks Range

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Just two weeks after the strongest earthquake in the region in more than 30 years, residents of Noatak and others near the far western edge of the Brooks Range felt another series of powerful quakes over the weekend.

Warm, Dry Weather Prompts Southeast Alaska Fire Warning

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A fire warning issued last week for northern Southeast Alaska has been expanded to the whole region.

Breakup Underway Along Yukon River

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Breakup along the Yukon River is underway. Warm temperatures over the weekend and low water levels mean river ice is rotting in place before it has a chance to jam up.

State Hurrying To Update Rural Infrastructure Before Federal Dollars Diminish

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Federal money for rural infrastructure is drying up, and state agencies are overhauling projects while they still can. With Alaska’s brief construction season about to begin, state officials are hurrying to bring airfields, roads, and other Bush infrastructure up to standard before funds get scarce.

Burst Water Pipe Likely Cause For Skagway Ferry Dock Sinking

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

State transportation officials agree that a burst water pipe likely caused the Skagway ferry dock to sink last month. Repairs continue in hopes of getting the dock operational and returning ferry service to the Southeast community within the next week.

The state is making repairs and some modifications to the dock now that it’s floating again.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says it’s not yet known how much the salvage and repairs from the sinking will cost the state.

Woodrow says the state is hoping to resume ferry service to Skagway on May 11. A final decision on that timeline will be made later this week, he said.

Alaska Airlines Center Adds New Dining Option

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

With around four months left until it’s slated to open, the University of Alaska Anchorage is tweaking the design of its new sports complex. The university has decided to add a new restaurant in an effort to draw in the surrounding community.

Juneau Considers Solutions To Housing Shortage

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

City officials are hoping to address Juneau’s longstanding housing shortage by opening more public land to development.

The Juneau Planning Commission recently recommended about 150 acres of city-owned land on Pederson Hill be rezoned to allow a residential neighborhood to be built. The idea is to copy the early 20th century-style subdivisions of downtown Juneau and Douglas. But not everybody is happy about the proposal.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Airlines Center Adds New Dining Option

Mon, 2014-05-05 16:05

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

With around four months left until it’s slated to open, the University of Alaska Anchorage is tweaking the design of its new sports complex.

The university has decided to add a new restaurant in an effort to draw in the surrounding community.

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Though much of the finishing work remains, the interior of the Alaska Airlines Center is beginning to take shape.

From the newly-installed floor of the performance gym, which is lit largely by natural light streaming in through a number of massive windows, you get a good idea of just how central it is to the building’s design. Two levels of stadium seating – capable of holding about 5,000 spectators – surround the floor.

Coaching offices overlook the gym. And, peering up to the top floor you can see five hospitality suites with a prime view of the court. According to Tlisa Northcutt, the director of development for Seawolf athletics, those suites aren’t the only thing occupying the arena’s upper-most level.

“There’s also a restaurant going in that will be like 360 days a year; it’s not just for campus, it’s really meant to be kind of an addition for the community in this area,” she said. “It’ll be known as Varsity Sports Grill.”

Northcutt says the grill will be open for lunch and dinner daily, and should seat approximately 100 people at its indoor tables.

Team locker rooms are nearing completion. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“There’s also a lovely patio; it’s amazing; it has a great view,” Northcutt said. “It will actually be able to expand the seating for most of the year. They’re looking at putting propane heaters and that sort of thing out there too.”

The patio – which faces the Chugach Mountains to the east – should fit around 80 people.

The restaurant is a late addition to the arena’s original design, and was approved by the University of Alaska Board of Regents in April.

Bill Spindle is the vice chancellor for administrative services at UAA.

“It’s not the classy brew pub where they’re brewing their own beer, but it has a lot of the characteristics of a brew pub,” Spindle said. “It’ll be something like if you went to the Glacier Brewhouse, it’ll be something similar to that.”

“It’s a place where you can have a really good meal and a drink if you want.”

Though the restaurant will have some food options for students, its focus is to bring in others who live and work in the surrounding area.

Beer and wine will be for sale at the restaurant, which, according to Spindle, marks a shift in UAA’s alcohol policy.

“The University has not allowed alcohol on campus except for specific restricted events, so we have redone our policy and got approval from the chancellor for the arena only, to have beer and wine at particular events,” Spindle said.

In addition to allowing the sale of beer and wine at the Varsity Sports Grill, the new policy will also enable alcohol sales at athletic events, though details about that process are still in development.

UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett hopes the restaurant will help make the new sports center into a community destination.

“When people come to sporting events, 75 percent of them go out to dinner before or after an event, so, what our hope is, is that those people that are going out to dinner choose to come to the Varsity Sports Grill,” Hackett said.

The restaurant will be operated by NANA Management Services.

Spindle says the Alaska Airlines Center is still on track to open Sept. 5.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska GOP Aims To Block Party Coups

Sun, 2014-05-04 16:15

The Alaska Republican Party has taken measures to prevent a takeover by libertarian and Tea Party activists.

The new rules say a person has to be registered as a Republican for at least four years before seeking a top leadership position, and they require all candidates for the party’s statewide offices to be vetted by a special committee before they can run. The rules were adopted on Saturday, at the Alaska Republican Party’s biannual convention. Party Chair Peter Goldberg says the changes are a reaction to a coup staged by a group of Ron Paul supporters at the 2012 convention.

“Two years ago, people that were not Republicans were registering to become Republicans on the day of their district conventions and participating,” says Goldberg. “That’s really not appropriate.”

The insurgents elected a libertarian-leaning chair and vice chair, but the Alaska Republican Party’s old guard kicked them out of office last year.

Very few of those insurgents were present at this year’s convention, which was held in Juneau. But the 2016 convention will happen in Fairbanks, making an influx of dissidents more likely.

If that happens, Goldberg says the new rules will make it harder for party outsiders to seize control.

“That’s all it is — just to make sure that the people that participate as Republicans really, in their hearts, are Republicans, and they’re not just showing up to try and change the course of the party,” says Goldberg.

The convention delegates adopted the changes with significant support, but not without protest.

Lance Roberts, a delegate from Fairbanks, was part of the 2012 takeover, and he repeatedly tried to amend the new rules. He believes Republican moderates are trying to shut out the rightwing.

“I think it’s completely the wrong direction,” says Roberts. “We should be more open, more honest, and we should be inviting of these people.”

In addition to changing party rules, the convention delegates condensed the Alaska Republican platform. Sections on education and crime were streamlined, and specific provisions on school vouchers, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, and the teaching of creation science were removed.

There was also a failed effort to strike language opposing the expansion of gay rights, with a third of the party delegates voting to take those sections out of the platform.

The Alaska Republican Party also passed a resolution opposing a ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol, with support from 75 percent of the delegates.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Alaska State Troopers Slain In Tanana

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:35

A 19-year-old Tanana man has been arrested in connection with the murder of two Alaska State Troopers on Thursday. The bodies of the two slain law officers were brought to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage on Friday, accompanied by a Trooper escort.

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Trooper Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich were in Tanana on Thursday at the request of the village VPSO. They didn’t leave the village alive.

Nineteen-year-old Nathanial Lee Kangas has been charged with two counts of first degree murder in the shooting death of the two Troopers.

Friday in Anchorage, a shaken Trooper Colonel James Cockrell said members of the department are still in shock over the killings.

“The department is totally focused on the families involved,” Cockrell said. “This is a tragedy for them, it is totally unexpected, and this will take a long time to heal.”

Cockrell described what law enforcement officials know so far about the killings.
Johnson and Rich were stationed at the Fairbanks Rural Unit, and had experience with the villages in their jurisdiction. They were in Tanana Thursday afternoon to serve an arrest warrant on Arvin Morse Kangas, 58, the father of Nathanial Kangas. The elder Kangas had been involved in an altercation with the village VPSO the previous night and had brandished a shotgun at the village officer while driving by the officer’s house. That act prompted VPSO Mark Haglin to call for support.

“Troopers arrived in Tanana about 2:45 yesterday afternoon,” Cockrell said. “Troopers made contact with Arvin Kangas near the front door of his residence. While attempting to place Kangas under arrest, a struggle ensued. This resulted in all three entering the residence. While inside the residence, both troopers were shot and killed by Nathanial, the son of Arvin.”

Cockrell said that events are still being investigated, and that he was unsure of who witnessed the crime, other than those involved. Cockrell said that after Johnson and Rich were shot, it appears that VPSO Haglin took Nathanial Kangas in.

“We’re not totally certain,” Cockrell said. “We do know that approximately 15 minutes after the shooting, we had a report that Nathanial Kangas was in custody in back of the VPSO patrol vehicle.”

Troopers were notified by a phone call at 3:10 Thursday afternoon by the VPSO that there was one Trooper dead and another possibly dead.

Backup Troopers reached the village about 6 p.m. Thursday. Arvin Kangas turned himself in around 10:30 last night. He and Nicholas Kangas are now being held in Fairbanks.

Cockrell said Friday that Nathanial Kangas committed the killings with a semi-automatic rifle, but would not comment on the number of rounds fired. He said it appears that Johnson and Rich had not fired their guns.

“To my knowledge, it doesn’t appear so,” Cockrell said.

Law enforcement officials are preparing charging documents in the case with the help of the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Cockrell said. The younger Kangas is being charged with two counts of murder, and one count of assault. The elder Kangas is being charged with assault and driving with a revoked license.

Investigators remain on scene in Tanana to collect evidence and interview members of the community in regards to the killings of Johnson and Rich.

Johnson was 45 years old and had 21 years with the Troopers. He leaves behind his wife and three daughters. Rich was 26 and had been on the force for three years. He leaves behind his fiancee and their one year old child.

Separate memorial funds have been set up for the families of both men.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanana Residents Devastated By Trooper Deaths

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:33

Tanana is an Athabascan village about 130 miles west of Fairbanks, near the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. The village’s 300 residents all know one another, and many are related.

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Categories: Alaska News

Lindsey Holmes Not Seeking Reelection To House Seat

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:29

Rep. Lindsey Holmes speaks to reporters during a House Majority press availability, Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

West Anchorage Republican Lindsey Holmes will not be running for reelection to the Alaska House of Representatives.

Holmes has served eight years in the Legislature, six of them as a Democrat. She switched parties after her last election, and then became the target of a recall campaign. She says that while the criticism was difficult, that’s not her primary motive for leaving office.

“I never went into this planning to be somebody who was down there forever,” says Holmes. “And after eight years, I came home, and I just wanted to be home more.”

Holmes says that while the decision to change parties proved difficult at points, she is happy with the work she did with the House Majority Caucus as part of its moderate wing. She does not have firm plans for the future, but she plans to help Anchorage Republican Mia Costello in the race for her district’s Senate seat and that she would like to get involved with the Vote No on 1 campaign to defeat the oil tax referendum.

Holmes confirms she is retiring from politics the day after the Anchorage Superior Court handed down a decision related to her recall.

Judge Gregory Miller upheld a ruling by the Division of Elections that there were not sufficient grounds for a recall against Holmes. Judge Miller also rejected the argument that the statutes governing recalls were overly burdensome.

Wigi Tozzi is the West Anchorage district chair for the Democratic Party, and he argued the case for the recall campaign. He says they will not be appealing the decision now that Holmes is retiring.

“The voters stood up, and for two years – essentially two years – for an entire term, made it very clear that they were unhappy and that they weren’t going to put up with that,” says Holmes. “If you want to find out if your district has a mandate, then you should run again. And she’s not running.”

Matt Claman, a former Anchorage assemblyman, will be running for the West Anchorage House seat as a Democrat. There are no Republicans in the race yet.

Holmes won the race as a Democrat in 2012 by ten points, with 55 percent of the vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Firefighters Respond To Caribou Lake Wildfire

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:28

Firefighters with the Alaska Division of Forestry are responding to a wildfire near Caribou Lake today.

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Forestry Spokesperson Darren Finley says the fire was called in at around 2 p.m. and has burned about 10 acres, four miles southwest of Caribou Lake.

Caribou Lake is on the southern Kenai Peninsula, about 25 miles northeast of Homer.

Finley says two helicopters are on the scene and an additional crew has been called in from Palmer.

He says as of 2:30 p.m., the fire was 50 percent contained and he is “pretty hopeful” the fire is under control.

Categories: Alaska News

Carl Moses Remembered for ‘Full Career’ of Public Service

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:27

Carl Moses at the dedication of Unalaska’s small boat harbor,
named for him about two years ago. (Photo courtesy of the City of Unalaska)

Flags are at half-staff today as Alaska says goodbye to its longest-serving state representative.

Carl Moses died in Sand Point on Wednesday after a long illness. He was 84. He leaves a legacy of service in Southwest Alaska and across the state.

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Most people who knew Carl Moses will tell you he was a man of few words.

“But when he spoke, even I listened,” Laresa, Moses’ wife of 23 years, said.

She says that as a business owner and statesman, her husband was devoted to making the Aleutian Islands and Alaska a better place.

Moses grew up on Sanak Island, near Sand Point. He opened his first store there when he was young, and went on to run stores in False Pass and King Cove, where he was a member of city council.

He was first elected to the state legislature in 1964. Two years later, he settled in Unalaska, where he’d stay for four decades, fishing and running businesses.
Former Unalaska mayor Frank Kelty says from the start, Moses helped put the town on the map.

“I always felt that Carl had a good feeling that fisheries were going to develop here,” Kelty said.

Moses’ general store in Unalaska was Carl’s Commercial, which became a gathering place and a supplier for fishing vessels as the town grew. He later opened a hotel, a bar and, briefly, a steakhouse.

Shirley Marquardt is Unalaska’s current mayor. She says Moses liked contributing to “unfinished places.”

“Certainly business-wise, but then it turned into for being a statesman: how could he help the community grow?” Marquardt said.

Moses was one of just a few early legislators to prioritize fisheries. He won elections as a Republican and a Democrat.

He left the House in 1973 and took what he once called a “20-year vacation” in an interview with KUCB. He built his businesses and served on the state Board of Fish and as president of the Aleut Corporation.

In 1992, a year after he married Laresa, Moses’ friends urged him to return to the House. He ran as an independent and won.

Moses served 11 terms total, more than any other representative. And he did it as a member of all three major political parties.

“He often joked that well, by golly, maybe he’d have to run as a Green party candidate just to round it all out,” Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who was part of Moses’ staff, said.

He wanted to run for office after Moses retired. But his time came sooner than he’d hoped. Edgmon opposed Moses for his seat in 2006. The tied election was famously decided by a coin toss, which Edgmon won.

“You know, I look back at that occasion with very bittersweet memories, because I never wanted it to be Carl that I was running against,” Edgmon said.

Edgmon says Moses was one of Alaska’s greatest Native leaders. He says Moses taught him a lot about politics – how to be patient, and how to pick your moments.

“When Carl did speak publicly, whether it was in the committee or the rare times he spoke on the House floor, he generally had something profound to say, and memorable as well,” Edgmon said.

Unalaska city manager Chris Hladick remembered Moses with his poker face and his trademark pipe, waiting in his office for plans to come together.

“He’d always be the vote that someone would need at the last minute, and 15 minutes before midnight, they’d go, Carl? … and he had a little piece of paper with his projects written on it, and he says, ‘Time to go,’” Hladick said.

Moses was the architect of the state’s shared fisheries resource landing tax, which brought millions from offshore processors back to coastal communities. And he was a champion of capital projects in his district — those included Sand Point’s harbor, and a small boat harbor in Unalaska that was named for him when it opened in 2011.

Moses left a mark – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski says she admired him when she was in the State House.

“He gave a full career to representing people, not only in the legislature, but at other levels, and you don’t forget that,” Murkowski said.

When Moses left the House, he told his wife Laresa it was time to move away from Unalaska. He wanted to settle somewhere he could return to his roots.

“And I said, ‘Okay, where are we moving to?’ And he said, ‘Sand Point. I want you to come and look.’ So we come to Sand Point … and he took me on these steps and he said, ‘What do you think of a store right here?’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re actually moving here?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I guess my job is to make home.’ And from 2006 to now, we’ve made Sand Point our home,” Laresa said.

Moses died at that home on Wednesday. Laresa says he wanted his ashes scattered on Sanak. She plans to hold memorial services in Sand Point and Anchorage, along with Moses’ two children, Lewis and Arline, and other friends and family.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Schools Anticipating Teacher, Staff Reductions

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:26

The State Legislature has boosted money for education, but it’s not enough to stem cuts by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. The district is getting 6 million new dollars from the state, $3.3 million more than the expected increase, but acting Superintendent Karen Gaborik says it’s not sufficient to avert teacher and staff reductions.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Smokejumpers

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:25

Smokejumpers complete five training jumps before the fire season flares up. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

The first Red Flag warnings have already been issued for parts of Southcentral and the Interior and wildland firefighters are gearing up for the season.

Some of them will approach wildfires from the ground, but there’s one elite group that’s been training for more than two months to fight fire from the air. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up with the Alaska smokejumpers to find out how they train and why they do it.

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“First jumper get in the door,” a spotter said, as a group of the most elite wildland firefighters in the nation climb to the top of a three-story metal tower with a zipline standing at the end of a small field in Fairbanks.

Smoke jumpers train to manage malfunctions on a zip line. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

The jumper is only about 50 feet off the ground, but the exercise simulates what it’s like to stand at the open door of an airplane, 3,000 feet above the ground. It’s the same kind of scenario smokejumpers will face if there’s a real wildfire. The firefighter takes off across the zip line

“Get ready,” the spotter said. “Jump-thousand, reach-thousand, wait-thousand, pull-thousand.”

Lisa Allen repeats the spotter’s words, watching from across the field.  She’s spent the last 18 years fighting wild fire all over the Western US. Like most smokejumpers, she started on the ground before she took to the skies.

“It’s a very efficient way to get to a fire. I love being in the sky, I love flying,” Allen said. “I wouldn’t say I’m an adrenaline junkie but I do like the thrill of it and just the independence of it.”

Hurling oneself from a moving aircraft into a blazing inferno might seem like something that comes with a long list of potential dangers, but Allen says there are really only a handful of things that can go wrong.

During training, smokejumpers are briefed on the inside of the airplanes they’ll fly in. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

“They’re very rare, they rarely ever happen, but if you don’t handle them correctly, they can have very serious consequences,” she said.

Smokejumpers train to fight wild fires that can’t be reached from the ground. These are blazes that flare up far from road systems and in some of the most remote parts of the country. What smokejumpers do is different from their land-going counterparts, who try to contain fire by approaching it from its outside edges.  Training for smokejumpers is rigorous and requires more than just fire-fighting skills. Robert Jaeger is the Crew Supervisor for the Alaska Smokejumpers.  He thinks the fitness test is the most nerve-wracking part.

“We have to do a PT test every year and it’s not that hard, but someone is timing you and it’s for your job,” Jaeger said. “So it’s pass or fail.  If you don’t pass, you don’t have a job.”

They have to run a mile and half in under 9 minutes and 30 seconds or three miles in 22 minutes and 30 seconds.  They also have to do 10 pull-ups, 60 sit-ups and 35 pushups. Jaeger has been jumping for 24 years and he hasn’t failed yet.

The gear and Kevlar suits smokejumpers wear is ready to go. They have
to be ready for a call to a fire at a moments notice. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

“It’s always close!” Jaeger said. “Even if you get it easy, it’s still hard.”

Maybe the hardest test involves packing 110 pounds for 3 miles in less than 90 minutes. Kevlar jumpsuits the smokejumpers wear, combined with all the gear they carry in the field can weigh even more than that.  They train as much as they do in part because they also have to ready at a moment’s notice.  Lisa Allen says when they are called to a fire, they don’t have much time grab all their gear and get on an airplane.

“You have two minutes from the time the siren goes off to the time you need to be on the plane, because they want to be rolling out of here in four minutes and then wheels up flying in six minutes,” Allen said.

But even with all the preparation, there are still stories of close calls. Operations Supervisor Rob Allen has been jumping since the early 1990s. He says it’s about knowing his gear, understanding the risk and trusting his fellow jumpers.

“We know it’s dangerous,” Allen said. “We know things could happen bad and when things go bad for us, they generally go really bad but we hope that with our training and the way we communicate with each other and pay attention to stuff, that we can get out of trouble as fast as we can get into it.”

Back on the zipline, a jumper works through a simulated parachute malfunction. Lisa Allen says the slow, methodical counting helps him keep a time frame.

“In stressful situations, you can become unaware really quickly of time passing and in that situation time is of the essence so you want to stay in a very sequenced count to get a  canopy up above you that’s going to save your life,” Allen said.

The smoke jumping base in Fairbanks is one of nine run by the federal government in the nation. In all, roughly 400 smokejumpers are training to fight fires this year.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Wrangell

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:24

Carol Rushmore works for the city and Borough of Wrangell.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 2, 2014

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:16

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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Two Alaska State Troopers Slain In Tanana

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A 19-year-old Tanana man has been arrested in connection with the murder of two Alaska State Troopers on Thursday. The bodies of the two slain law officers were brought to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage on Friday, accompanied by a Trooper escort.

Tanana Residents Devastated By Trooper Deaths

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Tanana is an Athabascan village about 130 miles west of Fairbanks, near the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. The village’s 300 residents all know one another, and many are related.

Tensions Bubble Up Between Alaska GOP, Tea Party

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

For years, there’s been conflict between the Alaska Republican Party’s establishment wing and its more conservative Tea Party faction. Those tensions bubbled to the surface Friday when the party’s U.S. Senate candidates took the stage at the state convention.

Firefighters Respond To Caribou Lake Wildfire

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

Firefighters with the Alaska Division of Forestry are responding to a wildfire near Caribou Lake today.

Rep. Lindsey Holmes Will Not Seek Reelection

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

West Anchorage Republican Lindsey Holmes will not be running for reelection to the Alaska House of Representatives.

Carl Moses Remembered For ‘Full Career’ Of Public Service

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Flags are at half-staff today as Alaska says goodbye to its longest-serving state representative. Carl Moses died in Sand Point on Wednesday after a long illness. He was 84. He leaves a legacy of service in Southwest Alaska and across the state.

Fairbanks Schools Anticipating Teacher, Staff Reductions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The State Legislature has boosted money for education, but it’s not enough to stem cuts by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. The district is getting 6 million new dollars from the state, $3.3 million more than the expected increase, but acting Superintendent Karen Gaborik says it’s not sufficient to avert teacher and staff reductions.

AK: Smokejumpers

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Red Flag warnings have already been issued for parts of south central and the Interior and wildland firefighters are gearing up for the season. Some of them will approach wildfires from the ground, but there’s one elite group that’s been training for more than two months to fight fire from the air. KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up with the Alaska smokejumpers to find out how they train and why they do it.

300 Villages: Wrangell

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

Carol Rushmore works for the city and Borough of Wrangell.

Categories: Alaska News

Miller Rejects Unity Pledge At Republican Convention

Fri, 2014-05-02 17:00

For years, there’s been conflict between the Alaska Republican Party’s establishment wing and its more hard-line faction of Ron Paul supporters. Those tensions bubbled to the surface on Friday when the party’s U.S. Senate candidates took the stage at the state convention. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports from Juneau.

Up until the very end, the Republican Senate candidate forum was a mostly a kumbaya-type affair. The candidates avoided personal attacks, and they stuck to their message of beating Democratic incumbent Mark Begich.

Dan Sullivan, a former attorney general and natural resources commissioner, sprinkled the word “unite” throughout his speech. He hammered that point when the moderator asked if he would support the party’s nominee even if he lost the primary.

“We need to unite,” Sullivan told the audience. “What I’ve been trying to do for the last six months is unite all Republicans.”

Mead Treadwell, the sitting lieutenant governor, also promised to support the nominee, if Republican voters don’t choose him.

“We as a party need to stick together,” said Treadwell.

But then the moderator got to Joe Miller.

“I think that when we make such a commitment, it takes a baseline of trust. Both of my opponents who are sitting here today supported Lisa Murkowski in her war on the Republican nominee in 2010,” said Miller. “Without that baseline of trust, I cannot make such a commitment.”

Miller won the party’s Senate primary back in 2010, defeating Murkowski in an upset.

While Murkowski had initially said she was going to support the party’s choice, she ended up launching a write-in campaign and beating Miller in the general.

Sullivan and Treadwell are seen as representing the party establishment in the current Senate race. Neither one publicly endorsed a Senate contender in 2010.

After the forum, Miller reiterated that he did not feel comfortable promising to support Sullivan or Treadwell.

“We’re unwilling to unilaterally disarm and make a pledge when they supported who looked the Alaskan people in the eye and lied to them about what she was doing,” Miller told reporters. “That really questions, in my mind, how trustworthy they are as well. So, we’re unwilling to make sure a pledge.”

In April, Politico magazine published a piece by University of Alaska Anchorage Professor Forrest Nabors suggesting that Miller could run as an independent candidate should he lose the Republican primary.

Miller responded with a piece on Thursday saying that he had no intention of running as anything but a Republican.

The Alaska Senate race is one of the mostly closely watched races in the country. It is considered a toss-up, with polls showing voters split between the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Alaska State Troopers Killed In Tanana

Thu, 2014-05-01 22:39

Two Alaska State Troopers were killed Thursday while conducting an investigation in the Interior Alaska village of Tanana, agency spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters identified the victims as Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich, both of the troopers rural unit operating out of Fairbanks.

Authorities are releasing few details. Peters does say one person has been detained.

Peters says the troopers were following up on a Wednesday night report that someone had brandished a gun in the village.

Shots were fired somewhere in the town at about 3 p.m. Thursday, Tanana resident Mary Edwin told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Other troopers had responded to Tanana by 6 p.m., said Edwin, a former schools superintendent.

An Alaska Bureau of Investigation crew was headed to Tanana, Peters said.

Tanana has a population of about 238 people and is located about 130 miles west of Fairbanks. There is no highway leading to the community.

Because of its location two miles west of the junction of the Tanana and Yukon rivers, the community was a trading post for Koyukon and Tanana Athabascans long before European contact, according to a state website.

Community members continue to live a traditional Athabascan lifestyle, including hunting and fishing for their food.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB Recommends Safety Review Of Ravn Alaska

Thu, 2014-05-01 18:05

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending a comprehensive audit of safety programs and regulatory compliance of the company providing much of the commuter air service within Alaska.

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The NTSB announced Thursday it’s recommending the “urgent” action by the Federal Aviation Administration for a review of HoTH Inc.

That company includes Hageland Aviation, Frontier Flying Service and Era Aviation doing business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect and Corvus Airlines.

The NTSB says it has investigated six accidents and one incident related to the company since 2012.

That includes fatal crashes November 29th near the Saint Marys airport and on April 8th about 22 miles southeast of Kwethluk.

Categories: Alaska News

Major General Thomas Katkus Responds To National Guard Sexual Assault Allegations

Thu, 2014-05-01 18:04

Governor Sean Parnell has been responding to allegations that sexual assault crimes within the state’s National Guard were reported to him four years before he requested a federal investigation. The Governor says as soon as he had specific information, he acted. Parnell’s commissioner of the Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Major General Thomas Katkus says the federal investigation should help improve the system.

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Major General Thomas Katkus, how large do you think the sexual assault issue is within Alaska?

The numbers I’ve got show us below what it would be in Alaska, we have a different number, total number of cases,  because we track victims, don’t track it as if we’ve got that many suspects. We’ve got 37 cases; of those 37 cases we have only 11 reported sexual assaults are Guard members as perpetrators. My position is even one is too many and it’s a problem – a large problem; 37 cases over the past 5 years.

How does Alaska compare to military nationally for sexual assault?

With Alaska being the highest sexual assault in the nation, dark climate, small houses, alcohol, there is a lot of propensity toward that kind of activity, which is unfortunate but also very rampant in cold, dark climates. I think the problem is getting better results with the resources being put toward it. The Guard is community based so we have a lot of resources beyond DOD. We have a lot of members in the National Guard that are counselors or lawyers so we have resources. The issue is out there fairly evenly across all services but we’re better equipped to offer services.

Does the legal structure of the Guard make it more cumbersome, more difficult to track cases and get information, Anchorage Police Department handling cases?  Helpful or more difficult?

Difficult to address. We as a National Guard, we don’t have an independent criminal justice system. We’re not like active duty that has its own Uniform Code of Military Justice to address specifically infractions within the National Guard, because we have members that are also traditional, that go home at night and are under the laws of their communities. The authorities that cover our members are really the local authorities, the state troopers or other law enforcement. It’s not our purview to supplement that. We take our own disciplinary actions through normal business practices, rules and regulation enforcement and then we have discipline. But we don’t incarcerate individuals. We don’t have a requirement; that our preponderance of evidence is what we go off of, 51% is civil action as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt in any type of criminal investigation.

Governor Parnell said he acted to call for a national investigation as soon as he had specifics. What kind of specific information is needed to prompt an investigation?

For the National Guard Bureau that the Governor asked, it’s just the request of the Governor. The Governor, anytime he has a desire to have an independent assessment or look into an organization he’s responsible with, which would be the Air Guard or the Army Guard, he can contact the National Guard Bureau, advise them of the problem and they would propose the best solutions to step forward to look into it. Because it could be a safety issue, it could be an area of concern on finance, so either the safety investigators would come out or an auditor. Or in this case to look at a problem with how the reporting system is or an assessment of how overall, we are addressing sexual assaults or sexual harassment in the National Guard. So, in this case, again, he puts the problem statement forward and they provide the resource that best answers that.

Why wouldn’t chaplains risking their positions to bring the concerns forward to the Governor be enough to prompt an investigation by the DOD?

I don’t know that I have an answer for that. The Chaplains shouldn’t be at risk for bringing any of these issues forward. There’s no risk to them to, matter of fact it’s incumbent on them to bring those issues forward. Their job description is pretty much, they advise the command….trying to make sure I get this right so that this is fairly accurate. The significant responsibility that they’re held to is to advise the commander of issues of ethics, morals and morale within an organization. So they’re almost held on a no harm, no foul. They’re required to bring the bad news forward if they’ve got the bad news.

Well it seems there was some confusion or hesitancy in that regard. Your deputy commissioner asked the chaplains to sign a document saying they wouldn’t speak on behalf of the Guard, when actually what they were doing was bringing victims concerns forward. Did you ask him to do those things or was that something he felt he needed to do as deputy commissioner?

I believe the letter you’re referring to is a letter that went out to all of our members as we approached the political season. It was advising everyone to be very judicious and cautious on how they answer anyone that is approaching them and asking them for an official position of the department. So in that sense that was just to reiterate to clear it with a supervisor and we’re not prohibiting anybody from talking to the press, their chain of command or other people. Just that they try to clear that, get the best information possible and if they’re speaking for the department, make sure they clear it through our public affairs office in order to make sure we have the best, most accurate information out there.

Do you think there needs to be changes in reporting and how people can bring these concerns forward to help boost confidence for people who are taking on the very difficult thing to have to come forward and talk about trauma and painful episodes they may have experienced?

Absolutely, especially with as many deployments as we have because it’s not only in the area of sexual assault, it’s any type of experience that they are not normally exposed to in civilian activity. So there are traumatic events in everyone’s life. We follow DOD policy and its changing constantly. I think in the last five years the department of defense has definitely stepped up its game. It’s provided additional resources and of the limited training dollars, a significant amount of that resource is directed to bystander training, self help awareness to educate people about reporting any type of sexual assault or activity related to it. Then the resourcing for the investigation of those has increased and we’ve worked on training our investigators to investigate the civilian equivalent complaints of sexual harassment. WE have additional resources that would look into any allegations of sexual assault, after the law enforcement have also been engaged on that same topic. And then the victim advocacy program we have. Multiple victim advocates have been assigned to the Guard as of late. Currently have three sexual assault coordinators assigned and 42 victim advocates assigned to the National Guard. So your question was, do I see better ways to do it? We can always improve but it is an incredible change over the past five years to where we are now.

Major General, how damaging is this for morale?

You know, it’s damaging for morale, but where I’m very, very concerned, is we’ve made great strides in making people aware, we have a process in place, it’s very transparent and they can feel comfortable reporting and they’re going to get the help. With all of the adverse press and the senior officials who have basically expressed their concern and trust, I would hope that would not translate to the other end of the food chain to the young members who may be victimized and may now decide not to come forward because of lack of trust in the system. The DOD has spent five years trying to put in place a system that works and I’m very afraid that this might be undermined by the lack of confidence that may be generated by this perception that is out there.

Are you confident that when this investigation is over, that the system will show there are no major problems with how the guard is handling reporting and the cases that come forward?

I’m confident that the assessment will come in with a better way of doing it. This is the first time we’ve really stepped back and evaluated from top to bottom, the entire process.  I would hope they would come in and advise us of better ways to do business. So we look forward to what we will get as feedback. My feeling is we have a good system in place right now, it’s a workable system that follows all of DOD’s processes and regulations and I’m thinking an outside look will provide that much more suggestions that we can incorporate and make this better.

My last question would be, you just mentioned Guard members and a perception of what’s happening. What would be your concern about perception? We know there are high rates of assault, what perception are you concerned about?

Well, the perception I’m concerned about is that, in the past five years, 70% of reported assaults, the perpetrator was a member of our community, not the National Guard. So 11 assaults in five years, those members were Guard members who committed those acts, so out of 37 cases, only 11 have we had to discipline one of our own members over. The rest, the other 26 cases, are all cases were we have provided exceptional support for the victim. Those victim advocates have engaged. We’ve taken the victims to local law enforcement, supported them through all of the issues and tried to make sure we could be there for them. That’s what’s not getting reported here is DOD as an organization has provided incredible response in taking care of the soldiers and airmen that are assigned in the National Guard and that’s where I’m really afraid the perception is being missed here.

Is the Guard looking at, the people who have been victimized. Are there efforts underway to track back and look at where are people getting into positions where they’re at risk. Is there research into that so you can help young men and young women avoid some of those pitfalls?

There’s always different types of training we have people exposed to and mandate and some of the best is bystander training where not only do you train people to look out for themselves and not put themselves into harm’s way but also train soldiers to look out for other people that may be inadvertently putting themselves in harm’s way. So they teach them how to carefully approach a situation and defuse it. Sometimes a third party, that extra set of eyes that the potential victim may not be able to see. So your answer is yes, we’re training people to be safer and we’re training them to look out for each other and realistically that’s how you start solving all of these problems is everyone becomes aware of looking out for each other.

Categories: Alaska News
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