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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: 13 min 53 sec ago

Senate Passes Farm Bill

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:14

The U.S. Senate passed a four-year farm bill Tuesday that includes Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

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The so-called PILT program sends some $26 million a year to Alaska communities adjacent to non-taxable federal lands. The bill also renews Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, which gets some $30 million a year from the federal government.

Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, though, voted against it, saying it provided billions of dollars in wasteful agriculture subsidies.

The bill continues controversial subsidies for some crops. It also creates new crop insurance to replace billions of dollars in direct payments to farmers. It cuts more than $8 billion from the food stamp program over a decade, but those cuts affect about 15 states that critics say were taking advantage of a loophole, and Alaska is not among them.

Alaska’s Democratic Senator, Mark Begich, was one of 68 senators who voted for the bill. On the House said, Rep. Don Young also voted for it.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Richardson Highway Reopens After Avalanche Debris Removed

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:13

The wait is over for residents in Valdez.  The Richardson Highway is now completely open to motorists ahead of schedule.

The announcement comes after avalanches buried and flooded the roadway nearly two weeks ago.

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Valdez residents now have complete access to the Richardson Highway thanks to crews spending most of the night and this morning removing avalanche debris and snow from the Keystone Canyon area.

Spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says the Alaska Department of Transportation had expected to reopen the area around 3:00 p.m. Wednesday.

“By 10:00 a.m. they were confident that everything that needed to be done to have the road open was done,” Woodrow said. “And so we’re updating electronic signs to let people know along the Richadson [Highway] that they can drive out of Valdez and to Valdez.”

“And we’d call it a soft opening, but if the folks in town want to get out, they can do it now.”

Woodrow says drivers still have to be cautious of construction equipment near the roadway.  He also says there is a possibility that slides may occur in the area later this winter.

This was the final phase before DOT could completely reopen the Richardson Highway. The northern portion of the avalanche area from Milepost 18 to 42 was reopened last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 5, 2014

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:13

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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Who Should Pay For Public Education?

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Every year, politicians struggle with how much money to put toward public education. Now, they’re asking another question. Who should pay for it? One legislator is making the case that local governments shouldn’t be obligated to contribute to school budgets.

Shively Takes Aim At Recent Anti-Pebble Mine TV Spot

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The proposed Pebble Mine isn’t at the permit stage yet, but it continues to make news. This week, anti-mine groups released a letter signed by more than 300 scientists opposing the project, and the Pebble Partnership has announced a shuffle at the top. Attorney Tom Collier will become CEO, taking over from John Shively, who will stay on as chairman of the board. Meanwhile, Shively is taking aim at a recent anti-Pebble TV spot.

Senate Passes Farm Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate passed a four-year farm bill Tuesday that includes Payments in Lieu of Taxes. The so-called PILT program sends some $26 million a year to Alaska communities adjacent to non-taxable federal lands.

Richardson Highway Reopens After Avalanche Debris Removed

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The wait is over for residents in Valdez. The Richardson Highway is now completely open to motorists ahead of schedule. The announcement comes after avalanches buried and flooded the roadway nearly two weeks ago.

Board Of Fish Contemplates Kenai River King Conservation

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The state Board of Fisheries continued deliberation over dozens of proposals for Cook Inlet fishing industries today. Some steps were made in the direction of conserving Kenai River king salmon, but many other issues are due for some attention.

Cook Inlet Salmon Changes Could Benefit Mat-Su

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Mac Minard, is a fisheries biologist now working as a consultant for the Mat-Su Borough. He says the board’s action today focuses primarily on Kenai River king salmon, but it could be beneficial to the Mat-Su on two fronts.

Legislation Allows Pre-2008 Canadian Polar Bear Trophies Into U.S.

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House today passed a bill that included a provision allowing some 41 American sport hunters to bring polar bear trophies home from Canada. It’s an issue Alaska Congressman Don Young has been working on for five years. Young, on the House floor, said the animals were shot in Canada, before the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.

2 Minors Charged In Illegal Musk Ox Killings

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Two minors were charged in Nome in January with 11 counts of wanton waste of big game. The case comes from an incident a year-and-a-half ago near Brevig Mission in which a herd of musk ox were illegally killed and not harvested. At the time of the incident the defendants were 13 and 10 years old.

Yukon Quest Leaders Race Into Dawson City

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A fast pace at the front of the pack has Yukon Quest teams spread out over nearly 200 miles of trail.  Cody Strathe who’s running in 4th place isn’t expected into Dawson city until the early evening, roughly 18 hours after the first team arrived at the half way point. This year’s Yukon Quest won’t break any official records because of trail reroutes, but the pace itself is definitely one for the books.

U.S. Ski Team’s Winning Formula Includes Plenty Of Fun

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

On the Cross Country Skiing World Cup scene, the U.S. Women are known as the team that has the most fun. And you can bet they’ll have more glitter, face paint and fancy socks than any other Olympic team in Sochi. The accessories may seem silly, but they’ve also become an important element in the phenomenal success of the team.

Categories: Alaska News

Board Of Fish Contemplates Kenai River King Conservation

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:12

The state Board of Fisheries continued deliberation over dozens of proposals for Cook Inlet fishing industries today. Some steps were made in the direction of conserving Kenai River king salmon, but many other issues are due for some attention.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Cook Inlet Salmon Changes Could Benefit Mat-Su

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:11

Mac Minard, is a fisheries biologist now working as a consultant for the Mat-Su Borough. He says the board’s action today focuses primarily on Kenai River king salmon, but it could be beneficial to the Mat-Su on two fronts.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Legislation Allows Pre-2008 Canadian Polar Bear Trophies Into U.S.

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:10

The U.S. House passed a bill Wednesday that included a provision allowing some 41 American sport hunters to bring polar bear trophies home from Canada.

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It’s an issue Alaska Congressman Don Young has been working on for five years. Young, on the House floor, said the animals were shot in Canada, before the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.

“Keep in (mind the) fact these are dead polar bears in storage hunted legally, under the premise of Canadian and United States law,” Young said.

Young, an avid hunter, is an ardent critic of the Endangered Species Act, but he says this just helps a pair of Alaskans and a few dozen other American hunters whose trophies have been sitting in cold storage for years.

He says the importation would send about $41,000 to a U.S.-Russian polar bear conservation fund.

The issue has drawn limited opposition in the past, but this week the Obama Administration said it has no objection.

Categories: Alaska News

2 Minors Charged In Illegal Musk Ox Killings

Wed, 2014-02-05 18:09

In January, two minors were charged in the Nome Court House with 11 counts of wanton waste of big game.

The case comes from an incident a year-and-a-half ago near Brevig Mission in which a herd of musk ox were illegally killed and not harvested. At the time of the incident the defendants were 13 and 10-years-old.

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An Alaska State Trooper from the Nome post investigated after receiving a report of two dead musk ox west of Brevig Mission.

On Sept. 29, 2012 the trooper found five cows and two bulls—all dead—in the California Creek and Fish River drainages.

The investigating trooper’s written account states that two of the boys shot at the herd of musk ox with rifles over the course of multiple days, as well as chased them on four-wheelers. Two other boys had been present at different points, but not participated.

In total, 15 charges were filed, all of which are class A misdemeanors. A person convicted of unlawfully taking a musk ox is responsible for $3,000 in restitution to the state. Both the DA’s office and the Fairbanks-based firm representing one of the defendants declined to comment on the case, and it’s unclear what repercussions—monetary or punitive—the two boys are facing.

Elmer Setot Jr. lives in Brevig Mission and works with the Seward Peninsula Advisory Council and Eskimo Walrus Commission. He says the he and others were not aware of what had happened until after there was a trooper response. Setot says it’s important for youth to learn about relationships with wildlife as part of their education.

“So, there should be efforts, at least by community leaders, to talk to the younger generation about respecting wildlife as it was taught to us in past generations,” Setot said.

According to figures from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game the population estimate for musk ox in the hunt area of the Seward Peninsula is just under 2,000. Of that total, just 39 a year can be killed by permitted hunters.

A bull musk ox can yield nearly 300 pounds of meat.

Categories: Alaska News

Should Local Funding Of Public Schools Be Optional?

Wed, 2014-02-05 16:38

Every year, politicians struggle with how much money to put toward public education. Now, they’re asking another question: Who should pay for it? One legislator is making the case that local governments shouldn’t be obligated to contribute to school budgets.

“Onerous.” “Inequitable.” “Unconstitutional.” Those are just some of the words North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson uses to describe the contribution local governments are required to make to their school districts.

WILSON: The fiscal burden placed on local governments is enormous and consuming.

The way the law is currently written, organized boroughs and municipalities must kick in a share of their property taxes to fund their schools. Communities that aren’t organized – that is, mostly villages off the road system – don’t have to make that contribution.

Wilson wants to change that. Influenced by a lawsuit coming out of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Wilson is sponsoring a bill that would make local contributions optional.

WILSON: It is my feeling, and looking at the Constitution, that the State should fulfill the ‘basic needs formula.’ They made the formula.

Those “basic needs” cost over $200 million, according to the bill’s fiscal note. That number is more than a little concerning to some of Wilson’s fellow lawmakers. The bill was heard in the House Education Committee on Wednesday morning, and it got some pushback from legislators who thought the price tag was high given the state’s $2 billion budget shortfall.

Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux expressed sympathy for Wilson’s argument. She remembers when she was a mayor, she thought it was unfair that some communities had to make contributions and others didn’t.

LEDOUX: As a borough official, I would probably be head-over-heels in love with this bill.

But …

LEDOUX: I’m just not sure at the moment what the impact it would have on the state budget.

Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, was even more blunt.

“I have no confidence at all that the state is going to backfill $200 million,” said Seaton.

He added that if the bill were to pass, it might have unintended consequences, like making the definition of “basic needs” less generous. The state might be less willing to put money toward things like vocational education, for example.

Peggy Wilson of Wrangell also wondered if putting the state totally in charge of funding education might mean more meddling from, well, legislators like them.

“There may be legislators that say, ‘Wow, we gave them local control, but they were doing something. They were donating something. But now, we’re giving all the money, so why don’t we have more say of how they teach?” said Peggy Wilson.

Bill sponsor Tammie Wilson argued that all the money talk was beside the point, and that her legislation was a matter of constitutional principle.

“We made boroughs become boroughs whether they wanted to or not, based on a promise that we didn’t keep. Will we have to take it out of somewhere else? Well, last I heard, children are like our number-one priority in the state unless that’s changed in the last few minutes,” said Tammie Wilson. “So, if some others don’t get it, well, sometimes you just have to take on those responsibilities and figure out a better way to do it.”

Whether Wilson’s bill passes or not, the constitutional question is something the state will eventually have to reckon with. Last month, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough filed a lawsuit making a similar argument that the state was obligated to fully fund education in all districts, and the Fairbanks North Star Borough is considering joining the suit.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Identify Body In Quinhagak

Wed, 2014-02-05 13:01

Alaska State Troopers have identified the body that was found in Quinhagak on Monday afternoon as that of 25-year-old Lisa Johnson. She had been a missing person since Feb. 2.

Johnson’s body was located off a trail near the end of the new runway in the village. Troopers yesterday (Tuesday) secured the surrounding area and have been working with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation.

The body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.

Troopers say that the ABI investigators will stay in Quinhagak to advance the investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest Leaders Race Into Dawson City

Wed, 2014-02-05 12:47

A fast pace at the front of the pack has Yukon Quest teams spread out over nearly 200 miles of trail.

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Cody Strathe who’s running in 4th place isn’t expected into Dawson City until the early evening, roughly 18 hours after the first team arrived at the half way point.

Allen Moore cars for his dogs in Eagle’s dog yard. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

This year’s Yukon Quest won’t break any official records because of trail reroutes, but the pace itself is definitely one for the books.

The top three teams broke away from the rest of the pack early in this year’s Yukon Quest, but Race Marshall Doug Grilliot says he expected that.

“But a lot of that has to do with the number in the field so it’s a little easier to get spreads like we’re seeing,” he said.

Grilliot says the trailbreakers and the race logistics team have responded well to the fast-moving front of the pack, but Race Judge Rob Cooke says it has been a challenge to stay ahead.

“The only real concern is that because the front-runners are moving pretty fast, you’re having to spread out officials, vets, the Marshall and the judges,” he said.

Cooke ran the Quest as a rookie last year. He was impressed when both Brent Sass and Allen Moore arrived in Dawson with 13 of their 14 starting dogs on the line.

“For me being a back-of-the-pack musher to actually come forward and see these front three guys has been something else… just the level of motivation how happy the dogs are, what excellent condition they’re in is unbelievable,” Cooke said.

Head Veterinarian Kathleen McGill agrees.

Temperatures have dropped to 20 below and are forecast to remain there for the next week or so.

Other teams arriving in Dawson over the next few days may not include 13 dogs, but McGill says with the 36-hour mandatory layover, they will all have plenty of time to rest and recover.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Ski Team’s Winning Formula Includes Plenty Of Fun

Wed, 2014-02-05 09:00

On the Cross Country Skiing World Cup scene, the U.S. Women are known as the team that has the most fun. And you can bet they’ll have more glitter, face paint and fancy socks than any other Olympic team in Sochi. The accessories may seem silly, but they’ve also become an important element in the phenomenal success of the team. 

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When Holly Brooks was packing to head out on the World Cup last fall, she had to make some tough choices. She could only bring one 50 pound bag for four months in Europe and Russia. But one thing was a must have:

“I have these really funny pink glitter suspenders. And you know I really have to pare down the packing, but this… has to come.”

Racing internationally is generally a serious pursuit. There are long hours of grueling training, shorter hours of extremely tough competition, and many lonely weeks away from home. But Brooks says the U.S. women’s team finds ways to add as much fun as possible to the mix:

Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.

“On relay day we get really excited. We have the glitter, the face paint, the relay socks, the cheering suspenders the flags and the tutus.”

And then there’s the YouTube music video.

Last year, the U.S. Ski Team produced a video to Taylor Swift’s “I knew you were trouble.” It shows the athletes strumming guitars, dancing and of course skiing, while crooning to the lyrics.

The antics may be silly, but they are also getting results. In 2011 in Sweden, the American women made the World Cup podium in a four person relay for the first time. Brooks says teammate Ida Sargent was on the sidelines, wearing the pink suspenders.

“She was running up and down the hill next to us like a mad woman, just cheering her head off. And just when you think you’re tired, when you think there’s nothing left in your body and you see your teammate who isn’t skiing on the team that day, but expending every ounce of energy she can, cheering you up a hill, that gives you that extra push, that extra motivation.”

A lot of the credit for the fun team atmosphere goes to Kikkan Randall. She found the striped knee high relay socks at a convenience store in Germany:

“And thought oh, I’ll get four pairs of these, they might be kind of fun for relays. And then we started wearing them and started being very successful. So now they kind of became the lucky socks.”

The team members train during the off season at separate clubs across the country. And Randall says the camaraderie when they initially came together during the World Cup season didn’t just happen on its own:

“At first with our team, we definitely had to make an effort to do things together and create a team identity. But now it’s just kind of something that feeds off of itself. We’ve really just become a family so now it’s just naturally what we do.”

Alaska Pacific University’s Erik Flora coaches Randall, Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen and works with other U.S. Ski Team women. He says energy radiates from the group. And other teams in the world are taking notice:

“One of the top male sprinters in the world, he’s from Sweden, and he had an interview last year where he talked about it. He said his preparations have been really good… and then with an unsolicited comment he said, ‘but what we could learn from the Americans is to have more fun to bring it all together.’ And that was really cool to see.”

Still, Flora isn’t ready to wear any glitter himself. He’s happy to leave that part of the job to the athletes.

Categories: Alaska News

Board Of Fish Meetings Continue

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

The state Board of Fisheries continued its Upper Cook Inlet meeting Tuesday. Much of the day was devoted to Kenai River king salmon issues, but the Board began the day by taking a step back.

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Categories: Alaska News

Court Temporarily Suspends Restrictions On Medicaid-Funded Abortions

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has temporarily suspended a regulation that would have restricted women who qualify for Medicaid funded abortions.

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The regulation went into effect over the weekend. It requires doctors to fill out a new form certifying the woman seeking a Medicaid-funded abortion is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function.

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

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last Wednesday. They object to the state narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Judge John Suddock can issue a Preliminary Injunction suspending the regulation for a longer period of time if the court case is not settled quickly.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pole Crude Refinery Shutting Down

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

Officials with Flint Hills Resources Alaska announced today they will halt processing crude oil at the company’s North Pole refinery over the next few months.

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Categories: Alaska News

Top Three Mushers Strategize As They Come And Go From Eagle

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:41

The top three Yukon Quest teams arrived in Eagle in the wee hours of Monday morning, well ahead of schedule. It was clear as they relayed their tales that teams are starting to strategize as they near the half-way mark in this year’s race.

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Categories: Alaska News

Teachers, Parents Speak Against Using Public Funding At Private Schools

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:11

Gov. Sean Parnell is calling on the Legislature to take on education reform. And as part of that, he wants lawmakers to advance “SJR 9.” That controversial resolution is the first step in amending the state Constitution so public funds can be spent at private schools. The second step would be to put it on the ballot, so Alaskans can make the final decision.

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But do they want that option? Over the course of two days, scores of people weighed in before the Legislature on that prospect.

The Senate Finance Committee took testimony for four hours straight on Monday, and most of it sounded like this:

TESTIFIER #1: “Amending the Constitution in this way is a mistake.
TESTIFIER #2: I think diverting public funds to private educational institutions is wrong.
TESTIFIER #3: We are standing in opposition against SJR9.

Close to a hundred members of the public offered comment and all but a dozen spoke against removing the prohibition on state money benefiting private schools.

Many of the arguments against SJR9 focused on school vouchers. While the measure would not create a voucher system, it would enable lawmakers to set one up if they desired. Some testifiers worried that such a system could drain public school funding. Others expressed concern that private schools wouldn’t be held to the same standards as public ones, and that they would discriminate against students with special needs.

Brian Schilling, of Eagle River, told the story of his adolescent daughter, who has special needs. His family spent $50,000 on private schooling for her, but she continued to be years behind in her learning and was at risk of being expelled. Schilling says they ended up switching into the public school system, and her progress has been noticeable.

“Private schools do not have to take all kids, and they definitely don’t want my kid. And they don’t want kids like her,” said Schilling.

The people who testified in opposition to SJR9 were spread across the state. Some self-identified as politically conservative. Most said they were parents. And many said they were educators.

During the first portion of the meeting, Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, asked each person whether they belonged to the National Education Association, the union that represents teachers. He stopped after 45 minutes, saying he was doing that to get a sense of which constituencies opposed the bill.

KELLY: Mr. Chairman, I won’t be asking that anymore. I just want to make a point that whether people are a member of the NEA or not, does not make their testimony any less valid or their testimony less sincere. I just want to get a sense of where people are coming from, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea here.

While the questions stopped, testifiers spent the rest of the meeting declaring their NEA membership or lack thereof – like in Terrie Gottstein’s case.

GOTTSTEIN: I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the NEA. I am however a member of Triple A. *laughter*

The public testimony offered the next morning was more supportive of SJR9. By that point, at least one conservative advocacy group had blasted an action alert urging members to testify. Just over half of the two dozen comments were in favor of the resolution.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican who’s leading the charge on SJR9, told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks members of the public education community simply managed to rally their base faster, and that polling data shows the majority of Alaskans support his position.

“I think the folks that oppose SJR9 got a number of their people out,” said Dunleavy.

In defense of his resolution, Dunleavy has also said that concerns that SJR9 would negatively affect public schools are overblown. He wants people to separate his resolution from the idea of vouchers.

“There’s no case that we could find in which it spun out of control. In which it emptied the coffers. In which it bankrupted school districts,” said Dunleavy at the Monday morning committee hearing. “We can’t find any situations like that, although we’ve heard about this through those that don’t necessarily support this concept that this could be the case. We can’t find data that supports that.”

The measure needs the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature to advance. If successful, the constitutional question would then be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 4, 2014

Tue, 2014-02-04 18:10

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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North Pole Crude Refinery Shutting Down

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Officials with Flint Hills Resources Alaska announced today they will halt processing crude oil at the company’s North Pole refinery over the next few months.

Court Temporarily Suspends Restrictions On Medicaid-Funded Abortions

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has temporarily suspended a regulation that would have restricted women who qualify for Medicaid funded abortions.

The regulation went into effect over the weekend. It requires doctors to fill out a new form certifying the woman seeking a Medicaid-funded abortion is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function.

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

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last Wednesday. They object to the state narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Judge John Suddock can issue a Preliminary Injunction suspending the regulation for a longer period of time if the court case is not settled quickly.

Governor Parnell Calls For Education Reform

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell is calling on the Legislature to take on education reform. And as part of that, he wants lawmakers to advance “SJR 9.” The controversial resolution is the first step in amending the state Constitution so public funds can be spent at private schools.

Over the last two days, more than 100 people weighed in before the Legislature on that prospect.

Division of Elections Verifies Signatures On Marijuana Initiative

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A measure that would regulate marijuana like alcohol has enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Today, the Alaska Division of Elections verified that more than 31,000 of the signatures submitted come from registered voters.

The lieutenant governor is expected to certify the initiative this month.

If the marijuana initiative is successful, Alaska will be one of the first states in the country to effectively legalize the drug.

Richardson Highway To Reopen Wednesday

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

After nearly two weeks, the Alaska Department of Transportation says the Richardson Highway in the Keystone Canyon area could reopen as soon as Wednesday.

Board Of Fish Meetings Continue

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The state Board of Fisheries continued its Upper Cook Inlet meeting Tuesday. Much of the day was devoted to Kenai River king salmon issues, but the Board began the day by taking a step back.

Keith Hackett Settles In As UAA’s Athletic Director

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

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 cross country running and volleyball cap off successful seasons. But he says there is still work to be done.

APU Coach Finds His Own Recipe For International Success

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most Alaskans know who Olympic skier Kikkan Randall is. But can you name her Alaskan Pacific University coach? His name is Erik Flora. He’s a workaholic who is enthusiastic, passionate and motivated. And he deserves more than a little credit for the dramatic turn around the U.S. cross country ski team has managed in the last decade.

Top Three Mushers Strategize As They Come And Go From Eagle

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The top three Yukon Quest teams arrived in Eagle in the wee hours of Monday morning, well ahead of schedule.  It was clear as they relayed their tales that teams are starting to strategize as they near the half-way mark in this year’s race.

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Initiative Meets Signature Requirement

Tue, 2014-02-04 17:58

A measure that would regulate marijuana like alcohol has enough signatures to appear on the ballot. On Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections verified that over 31,000 of the signatures submitted come from registered voters. The lieutenant governor is expected to certify the initiative this month.

If the marijuana initiative is successful, Alaska will be one of the first states in the country to effectively legalize the drug.

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Categories: Alaska News

APU Coach Finds His Own Recipe For International Success

Tue, 2014-02-04 14:28

Photo courtesy of APU.

Most Alaskans know who Olympic skier Kikkan Randall is. But can you name her Alaskan Pacific University coach? His name is Erik Flora. He’s a workaholic who is enthusiastic, passionate and motivated. And he deserves more than a little credit for the dramatic turn around the U.S. cross country ski team has managed in the last decade. 

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It’s a freezing cold morning at Hatcher Pass. The sun won’t hit the cross country ski course for at least another hour and a steady wind is making things unpleasant. But as Coach Erik Flora starts directing the morning’s time trial, he appears to be enjoying himself.

Flora has reason to be in a good mood.

When he became the director of Alaska Pacific University’s nordic program in 2006 he coached one young Olympian- Kikkan Randall- and a handful of other promising athletes. Now four of the 14 members of the U.S. Cross Country Olympic team are from APU. In less than a decade,  Flora has helped transform the idea of what’s possible in cross country skiing. The only American to win an Olympic medal in the sport was Bill Koch nearly forty years ago. For Flora, it didn’t add up:

“We’re Americans. Hard working, lot’s of ingenuity. But for some reason in Cross Country skiing, we just weren’t doing it.”

Photo courtesy of APU.

Flora had hoped to go to the Olympics himself. But a car accident at Hatcher Pass  in 1999 left him with a career ending back injury.

“It was a pretty devastating experience. I had kind of worked my whole life toward this high level skiing and Olympic goal and then all of the sudden, it was taken away.”

At first, Flora thought he was done with the sport for good.  He took a job with an air taxi at Lake Hood, to pursue his airplane mechanics license and become a pilot.  For a few winters, Flora barely touched his skis. But then Alaska Pacific University convinced him to teach masters athletes for about six hours a week. That part time job sparked a new passion for Flora- coaching:

“It was amazing, being able to pass along what I had learned and to help someone forward. I could see that’s what I wanted to do.”

In 2002, Flora went to Salt Lake City to watch the Olympics. A friend from Norway, Tor Arne Hetland, was competing in the Skate Sprint that year. Flora met Hetland during a year he spent in Norway after High School, training with some of the country’s best young skiers. In Salt Lake City, Hetland won gold. The moment was life changing for Flora:

“You know it’s possible for someone to win a medal. But you’ve never seen it, you’ve never had breakfast with them. They don’t seem like they’re human. Being friends first with this athlete… and then all of the sudden he wins a gold medal. It’s like, ‘wait a second, I can do that.’”

Flora went skiing the next day and plotted his own comeback in the sport.  When that plan fell apart, he turned his attention to taking his coaching to the next level. Kikkan Randall was already a two time Olympian and gaining ground on the World Cup. When Flora took over as her coach in 2006 he began boosting the amount she was training, by more than 30% by the end of the first year:

“We didn’t have a recipe book on how this works. We didn’t have a manual on how to build this. But we kept on experimenting and trying to learn and find the key components.”

A year later, in 2007, Randall won her first World Cup Medal- a bronze in the skate sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. In the years since, she’s steadily improved, racking up 10 World Cup gold medals. Flora also coached Holly Brooks’ improbable transition from ski coach to Olympic level athlete. Now siblings Sadie and Erik Bjornsen are heading to their first Olympics under Flora’s direction. Luke Bodensteiner, a former teammate who is now vice president for athletics for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association says Flora is getting results:

“He really raised the bar. He’s demanded a lot from his athletes. He’s shown them not only how to do really big amounts of training, but how to do it wisely. How to put a premium on recovery.”

Bodensteiner says even as Flora pushes his athletes hard, he’s remarkably easy going and always has a positive attitude. That’s how Holly Brooks sees it too, from her point of view as one of his skiers, who also used to coach with him:

“He just exudes passion. It could be raining sideways. We could be hypothermic, hungry and he would still be jumping out of his socks excited. He’s just an incredible motivator.”

Flora says it turns out he’s a far better coach than athlete. Now he’s heading to Sochi with a team of medal contenders. And the formula is starting to look pretty simple to him:

“I always felt like there had to be some kind of secret process that had to take place to have this international success that we’re having. And it’s funny, the more success we have, the easier it feels.”

Looking back, Flora says the car accident at Hatcher Pass may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. And in Sochi, he’ll probably be the coach who looks like he’s having the most fun on the side of the trail.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Richardson Highway To Reopen Wednesday

Tue, 2014-02-04 13:10

After nearly two weeks, the Alaska Department of Transportation says the Richardson Highway in the Keystone Canyon area could reopen as soon as Wednesday.

Crews took advantage of favorable conditions and made significant progress in cleaning up the Keystone Canyon area.

Officials are confident that crews will have the area cleared by 3 p.m. Wednesday. DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says there maybe some cautions once it reopens.

“There may be some flaggers for the initial opening just in case there is a little bit of extra debris on the side of the roads, but they’re working on trying to clear as much of that debris and put it off the side of the road so that it isn’t an issue for traffic.”

DOT says the roadway is in good condition and can support both passenger and commercial vehicles.

The cleanup of the Keystone Canyon area of the Richardson Highway comes following nearly two weeks after being underwater to an avalanche.

Categories: Alaska News

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