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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: 57 min 25 sec ago

Tlingit Expert, Linguist and Writer Dies at 72

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:36

Tlingit expert, linguist and award winning writer Richard Dauenhauer passed away Tuesday morning at Bartlett Regional Hospital. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a month ago. Dauenhauer was 72 years old.

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He was married to Tlingit poet and scholar Nora Marks Dauenhauer. Together they authored many books, including the Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature series published by Sealaska Heritage Institute and University of Washington Press. They are two-time winners of the American Book Award.

He was poet laureate of Alaska in the 1980s and started teaching at the University of Alaska in 1984. In 2013, the University of Alaska Foundation honored him with the Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence for his contributions in preserving Alaska Native languages.

Assistant professor of Alaska Native Languages at UAS Lance Twitchell called Dauenhauer a “powerhouse” who merged the Tlingit world with the academic world.

“I remember telling him years ago and then I told him about a month ago that his work changed my life and put me on a path that I’m very thankful for and because of his work, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. And so, it’s amazing to have people like that close to you that can have such an impact on so many people in such a positive way,” Twitchell said.

This is a developing story from KTOO-Juneau. More details and stories from the life of Richard Dauenhauer are forthcoming.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 21, 2014

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:30

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 Serial Killer Robert Hansen Dies at 75

Associated Press

Convicted Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, who hunted down women in the Alaska wilderness in the 1970s as Anchorage boomed with construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, died Thursday.

Anchorage Attorney Hired In Cases Against Bethel Police

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Interim Bethel city manager Greg Moyer confirms the city has hired Anchorage law firm Ingaldson, Maassen & Fitzgerald to represent the city in cases involving allegations of police brutality and an officer-involved shooting.

Yukon River Kings Meet Escapement Goal, But Not Yet In The Clear

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Yukon River king salmon continue to show symptoms indicative of low production. Unprecedented fishing restrictions in Alaska this summer allowed over 64 thousand kings to cross the border into Canada.

$1M Ad Buy Targets Begich for Absenteeism

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Americans for Prosperity announced today it has paid more than $1 million to run a TV ad attacking incumbent Mark Begich for missing votes in the U.S. Senate. The ad features Steve Perrins, a reality TV personality and owner of Rainy Pass Lodge.

Mat-Su Stares Down Deadline to Repay $12M For Failed Ferry System

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Matanuska Susitna Borough has until September 5th to repay more than $12 million in federal grants related to the ferryboat “Sustina.”

A 25-year Look at the Anchorage Youth Court

Anne Hilleman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Youth Court is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary. The organization has shrunk over the years. The court now hears about a third of the cases it did a decade ago. But it’s goal is the same — to give young people a second chance.

Touring By Tesla: From The Mexico Border to Fairbanks

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Guy Hall is an electric car evangelist. He drove from the California-Mexico border to Fairbanks in a Tesla Model S, and stopped by KTOO in Juneau to let a reporter take his wheels for a spin.

Tlingit Expert, Linguist and Writer Dies at 91

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Richard Dauenhauer, who passed away on Tuesday, is known for many things, including poetry, translation and teaching.

Ice Bucket Challenge Splashes Into Petersburg

Elizabeth Jenkins, KFSK – Petersburg

If you’ve spent any time on social media this summer, you’ve probably come across the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s a fundraising effort for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now, the viral sensation is popping up in communities around Alaska.  KFSK’s Elizabeth Jenkins has this story in Petersburg where the term “ice bucket” is taken very literally.


Categories: Alaska News

Ice Bucket Challenge Splashes Into Petersburg

Thu, 2014-08-21 16:55

If you’ve spent any time on social media this summer, you’ve probably come across Youtube videos of the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s a fundraising effort for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now, the viral sensation is popping up in communities around Alaska.  In Petersburg, the term “ice bucket” is taken very literally.

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Everyone from Justin Bieber to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has been doused with water. “I think the funniest one I saw was Martha Stewart. She went and did the ice bucket challenge before she got her hair done. I thought that was cheating a little,” says Nancy Berg. She co-owns the Viking Travel agency with her husband and, together with their employees, they will each dump a five gallon bucket of water on themselves–with some local flair, of course. “So it will be ice with some ice from the cannery. We’re not even just doing water.”

They’re doing it to raise money for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease which a neurodegenerative illness. Here’s how it works: people challenge each other to dump a bucket of ice water on themselves. “Supposedly if you don’t do the challenge, you’re supposed to donate, but I think everyone’s donating and doing it for fun.”

Most people are donating around $100 for the cause. The ALS Association has raised almost $23 million dollars this year, much of that attributed to the viral campaign. It’s significantly more than last year’s earnings of just over $1 million. Berg says she learned about the Ice Bucket Challenge while watching the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “They got challenged by Justin Timberlake and I kept following who was doing it. Now every time I get on Facebook or somewhere on the internet I see some new celebrity.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski takes the plunge.

Viking Travel is challenging friends and local business in downtown Petersburg, but first they have to douse themselves. They line up on the sidewalk outside their office, buckets filled to the brim. They count down “3,2,1″ before dumping the slushy mixture of ice and water onto themselves.

Some critics of the Ice Bucket Challenge are calling it an of act of “slacktivism.” A viral sensation run amok without any long term commitment from its participants, but for the Petersburg Insurance Center, ALS affects someone the company knows. That’s why employee Katie Eddy says they’re accepting the challenge. “We have a fellow agent in Juneau and his brother passed away from the disease, so that’s why we’re doing it. Kind of in honor of his brother.”

Nancy Berg crosses the street to challenge Inga’s Gallery, a popular food truck in downtown. She approaches the window, telling the staff “you have 24 hours,” and they genially accept. The challenge has spread to other people and businesses in the community–ice buckets poised to drop.

If you want to see Viking Travel get soaked in the Ice Bucket Challenge, visit the company’s Facebook page.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell takes the challenge.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Says ‘Bring it on’

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:41

Sen. Mark Begich faced no serious challenger in Tuesday’s election, so he’s been out of the campaign spotlight in recent weeks. He told supporters at a luncheon in Anchorage that Sullivan and the rest of the Republican field pulled to a conservative extreme in the pre-Primary debates.

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“They have gone so far right, you can’t even describe what right is anymore,” Begich said.

Sullivan has said he wants abortion to be illegal, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. He supports laws barring same-sex marriage and says the Supreme Court made the right call in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows certain employers to refuse insurance coverage for IUDs and other birth control methods they object to. Begich takes the opposite positions.

“You all know me. I’ve been pro-choice from day 1,” Begich told about 170 people at the fundraising event. “It is the women’s choice to make the choice about their healthcare. And we don’t need government telling you what to do with your bodies. And we don’t need Dan Sullivan to tell you what to do with your bodies.”

Begich has been under attack for allegedly taking undue credit for achievements of the entire Alaska delegation to Congress, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski demanded he take down an ad saying they work well as a team. Begich, though, listed what he says are his successes, such as building the military presence in Alaska, fully funding tribal healthcare contracts, opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling, and expanding healthcare options for Alaska veterans.

“I’m proud of these accomplishments. I know my opponents are already churning up, ready to say, ‘We’re going to after Begich’s accomplishments,’” Begich said. “You bet. Bring it on. Bring it on. I’ll talk to you until you’re blue in the face about everything I’ve done to make Alaska a better place.”

The candidates and independent political groups have already spent more than $18 million on the race. For the primary, that comes out to about $115 per voter.

Dan Sullivan wasn’t available for an interview today. He didn’t talk to reporters on election night and had no public appearances today. His spokesman said Sullivan granted two print interviews but needed to rest his voice, which laryngitis has reduced to a whisper.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 20, 2014

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:40

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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Begich Says ‘Bring It On’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Now that former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan has won the Republican Primary, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich knows who he’ll face in November. As APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports, he’s staking out his positions, with an emphasis on his record and abortion rights.

Oil Tax Referendum Opponents Declare Victory

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

A referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature oil tax law is trailing by nearly 7,000 votes, and its opponents are now declaring victory.

Oil Vote Goes Down In State Record Books as the Most Expensive Issue Race

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The referendum was the most expensive issue race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised.

Report: Alaskans Aren’t All That Healthy

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

According to the recently released “Healthy Alaskans 2020,” an assessment and strategic plan issued every decade, Alaskans aren’t all that healthy. A 15-page overview of Alaskans’ health status as of  2012 shows Alaskans are not doing as well as people in the U.S. overall in every category.

A Susitna Valley Farm Sells Its Produce Close to Home

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Most food Alaskans consume comes from Outside.  There are quite a few producers who grow and sell locally, however.  Last week, KTNA’s Phillip Manning visited one farm that has been operating in the Upper Susitna Valley for the last thirty years.

Yup’ik Voters Give Ballot Translation Mixed Reviews

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Alaska Native voters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western Alaska give the Yup’ik language primary ballot translations mixed reviews. All eight of the Yup’ik voters that KYUK talked with said they needed help understanding what they were voting on.

Indian Village Totem Poles Come Down in Juneau

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The two totem poles that stood for 36 years in Juneau’s old Indian Village have been hauled off.

Peninsula Women Swim Across Kachemak Bay

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

Early this past Sunday morning three Homer women joined the short list of athletes to successfully swim across Kachemak Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Industry Puts $10M Into Oil Vote

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:39

The referendum was the most expensive issue race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised. APRN’s capitol reporter Alexandra Gutierrez has been following the campaign.

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Categories: Alaska News

Report: Alaskans Aren’t All That Healthy

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:38

According to the recently released “Healthy Alaskans 2020,” an assessment and strategic plan issued every decade, Alaskans aren’t all that healthy. A 15-page overview of Alaskans’ health status as of  2012 shows Alaskans are not doing as well as people in the U.S. overall in every category.

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Categories: Alaska News

A Susitna Valley Farm Sells Its Produce Close to Home

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:37

Most food Alaskans consume comes from Outside.  There are quite a few producers who grow and sell locally, however.  Last week, KTNA’s Phillip Manning visited one farm that has been operating in the Upper Susitna Valley for the past 30 years.

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In Alaska, the vast majority of the food we eat isn’t grown here.  Patrick Likely of the Alaska Food Policy Council says the proportion of food grown in-state is very small.

“Five percent of food that’s consumed in Alaska is actually coming from Alaska.”

The Birch Creek Ranch has been in the Kingsbury family for three decades. Photo by Phillip Manning/KTNA.

While most of the food does come from Outside, there are still a fair few local growers.  In the Upper Valley, one such producer is Birch Creek Ranch.  Birch Creek has been run by the Kingsbury family for the last three decades.  Alan Kingsbury says that the family first acquired the land as an agricultural parcel from the state in 1981.  Early on, the only products coming out of the property were a result of the clearing that the state requires on ag parcels.

“We sold firewood, saw-logs, lumber, and that sort of thing while we were getting the fields cleared and ready for production.”

As more land was cleared, Alan and Leilani Kingsbury began to grow crops.  Their first sales began in the mid ’80s.

“We were growing some things and trying a lot of things, everything from sheep and goats to barley, wheat, sorghum, rye, foraged turnips, and potatoes.  We grew seed potatoes for awhile.”

As time went on, the Kingsburys moved toward greenhouse production of flowers and away from things like potatoes and animals. They also have a large berry patch, where people can pay by the pound to come and pick currants and serviceberries.

Alan Kingsbury says that one issue facing farmers today as compared to the 1980s is a decreased level of state support.

“The state was much more gung-ho [about] agriculture back in earlier days, in our timeframe, when Jay Hammond was governor.”

Leilani Kingsbury agrees, and says one of the biggest issues that has faced Alaskan farmers for decades is the need for infrastructure, such as:

“Plants, places to store, cool, chill, clean, process, and equipment and supplies, and people to service and repair them are still all lacking, very much.”

Now, much of the growing at Birch Creek Ranch is done by Alan and Leilani’s son, Brian.  Now, the farm grows about four acres of vegetables, including a number of

Birch Creek Ranch broccoli. Photo by Phillip Manning/KTNA.

high-tunnel greenhouses.  One way Brian sells his vegetables to locals is through a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program.  That lets individuals buy a “share” of the farm, which entitles them to a portion of the crops at harvest time.  Brian also sells to local restaurants, but he says the majority of his revenue comes from old-fashioned farm stands.

“About a third of my business has been with the CSA. About half of it, now, is retail markets, and the rest of it is restaurants.

The restaurant contracts are growing, however.  This year, Brian says that he has begun selling to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, easily the biggest lodging facility in the area.  In addition, he’s started selling at farm stands outside of the Valley.

“I saw that I needed to take things to Anchorage, and I started with a farm stand at the Alaska Native Medical Center Campus…It’s a big move for me.”

Brian says the Anchorage trips take an entire day in addition to the extra picking, but that it does allow him to break into a new market.

One local venue that makes extensive use of Brian Kingsbury’s produce is the Flying Squirrel Bakery and Cafe`.  His wife, Anita Golton, is the majority owner and manager of the cafe`.  She says that the businesses complement each other well.

“We just kind of do it all together…and it’s always made a lot of sense to take farm products from there. And, to be able to have other places to use those products seems like a valuable thing.”

Anita Golton says the Flying Squirrel has been recognized by the Alaska Department of Agriculture’s Restaurant Rewards program, which reimburses part of the cost of buying local ingredients in order to offset what are usually higher prices.  Despite using over 600 pounds of rhubarb and various other ingredients from Birch Creek Ranch as well as other Alaska growers, Anita says the supply simply isn’t enough to keep up with production most of the time.  As a result, a small portion of her total product is made with primarily Alaskan ingredients.

“I feel like we try to do as much as we can to integrate it in everything, and it’s probably a lot more in the middle toward the end of the summer, but it’s probably not more than one percent.  The main reason for that is that there are so many ingredients that just aren’t available.”

The entire family agrees that visitors and locals alike enjoy the fact that they can have locally grown produce available during the growing season.  Brian says he’s currently looking to consolidate on crops and markets that have proven successful in order to make Birch Creek Ranch a success for another generation.

- See more at: http://ktna.org/2014/08/19/upper-valley-agriculture-birch-creek-ranch/#sthash.dVGQDbQ6.dpuf

Categories: Alaska News

Yup’ik Voters Give Ballot Translation Mixed Reviews

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:36

Voters at the Lower Kuskokwim School District choosing primary election ballots on Tuesday, August 19th, 2014.

Alaska Native voters in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western Alaska gave the Yup’ik language primary ballot translations mixed reviews. All eight of the Yup’ik voters that KYUK talked with said they needed help understanding what they were voting on. 

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Elder Jacob Nelson is originally from the coastal village of Kwigilingok. He moved to Bethel in the 1970′s and he speaks mostly Yup’ik, and very little English. He says leading up to Alaska’s primary election, he heard some information on the radio in his language about an oil tax referendum.

“I only ever heard about the ballot initiative on radio, not from anyone else.”

Alaska’s primary ballot asked voters to weigh in on whether to repeal oil tax changes made by the state legislature last year, among other things.

The Primary was held on the heels of a trial, where Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund argued the state of Alaska was not doing enough to help Yup’ik voters understand the issues in their language. The state division of elections argues they’re doing enough. Critics say the translations are full of jargon and legalese that’s difficult if not impossible for mainly Yup’ik speaking voters to make sense of.

Like many elders in the area, Nelson says he couldn’t understand the Yup’ik ballot because it’s written in a modern style he’s not used to. He had someone working at the polls explain the issues to him, in spoken Yup’ik, and marked an English ballot. He said he’s glad there is some effort, but there could be more.

“This will be good for the people if people could understand what they are voting for and if we understand it the way we speak.”

It’s estimated there are around 10-thousand Yup’ik speaking voters in Alaska. The language is the second most spoken language in the state behind English, also the second most spoken Native American language in the country behind Navajo. A decision on the lawsuit against the state of Alaska regarding language translations is expected soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Indian Village totem poles come down In Juneau

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:35

The two totem poles that stood for 36 years in Juneau’s old Indian Village have been hauled off.

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A work crew with a 12-ton boom truck pulled the delicate poles and hauled them to a warehouse Tuesday. They had deteriorated badly over the years, but were taken away more or less intact.

A 12-ton boom truck delicately lifts a weakened Eagle totem pole off its perch at the Gajaa Hit building. Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO.

Ricardo Worl is the president and CEO of The Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, which owns the Gajaa Hít building where the totem poles stood.

“There’s a lot of discussion as to what would be the best and most appropriate solution and what we’re going to do with them,” Worl said. “We even talked about letting them lie in state, here in the village.”

Fear of vandalism and concerns that pedestrians wouldn’t properly respect them have cooled that idea, Worl said.

“So for now, we’re going to bring them to the housing authority warehouse, let them dry out inside the warehouse, and then we’ll decide what we’re gonna do with it from there,” he said.

Brian Wallace was a teenager when he watched the late Edward Kunz Sr. carve the poles. Tuesday, Wallace happened to be passing by and stopped to watch.

“It’s mixed emotions, you know? Seeing something like this, and I don’t know how well it can be restored, or if it’s going back to the spirit of the forest,” Wallace said.

Worl said parts may be salvaged for indoor display.

Meanwhile, a pair of Haida carving brothers that Sealaska Heritage Institute commissioned have completed the new totem poles and nearly finished the new screen that will replace the warehoused ones.

Worl said the target date for raising the new poles is Sept. 29.

Categories: Alaska News

Peninsula Women Swim Across Kachemak Bay

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:34

Current swim coach for the Kachemak Swim Club, Dana Jaworksi, says she’s considered swimming the bay since she first moved to Alaska nearly 10 years ago. Then last winter her dream took a strong turn toward becoming reality when she and her friend Jan decided to go for it.

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“I walked up to Jan one day and said, ‘Hey I got something I want to ask you about.’ And she said, ‘Me too. You want to swim across the Kachemak Bay?’ And I said, ‘That’s what I was going to ask.’ And it was meant to be,” says Jaworski.

Jan Rumble is also a coach with the club. She and Dana were joined by a teacher from Anchor Point, Lila Lee Little, and they started training for the big day on the first of June.

“Really, the distance as far as open water swims go is not that far. Diana Nyad swam 72 hours straight from Cuba to Florida. This is nothing like that,” says Jaworski.

Dana says their swim was about four and a half miles. Each of the women have done that before, so the only things that worried them about getting into the water were possible run-ins with jellyfish, fishing boats, and of course, the cold.

“Just a mile and a half off the end of the Spit, the current brought the glacial water right to us and it was extremely cold and it just got colder. So the last mile was just excruciating,” says Jaworski.

The swimmers had friends following them on boats to avoid falling into the path of another vessel and they didn’t see a single jellyfish. They did see some seals, fish, and a humpback whale.

All in all, Jan says the swim was a huge success.

“The weather was perfect and our support crew just did great and other than the cold, it was a beautiful swim and a beautiful day,” says Jaworski.

The trio first planned to start the swim on Saturday morning but because of poor weather decided to wait until Sunday.

They have bumped the number of people to swim the bay up to at least 10. Claudia Rose of San Diego made the last swim back in August of 2013.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Wins, Snubs Election Central Celebration; Treadwell Concedes

Wed, 2014-08-20 10:51

Dan Sullivan took 40 percent of the vote, handily beating Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell to win the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate. Sullivan, though, wouldn’t talk to reporters and didn’t come to Election Central at the Egan Convention Center, as winning candidates usually do. Veteran newsman Steve MacDonald of KTUU Channel 2 said he thought this might be an election night first.

“I can’t think, off hand, I cannot think of anyone who has refused to claim victory,” MacDonald says.

U.S Senate Republican primary candidate Mead Treadwell concedes the race late Tuesday night. He came in third with about a quarter of the vote. Former Alaska attorney general Dan Sullivan won the GOP nomination. Photo by KSKA/Ellen Lockyer.

Sullivan held his lead all night, and once most of the vote was counted, his campaign staffers were seen pressing an Associated Press reporter to declare the winner. She said that wasn’t her job. After midnight, with the Egan Center shutting down, journalists gathered on the sidewalk outside a restaurant where Sullivan was having a private party. TV cameramen filmed through the closed windows. MacDonald says it was like the star of election night was a no-show, despite a lot of coaxing.

“The one thing that politicians crave to do is make that victory speech and we’ve tried, everybody here has tried every single possible way, to get them to talk, and they won’t do it.”

Just before 2 a.m., after Miller conceded, the Sullivan campaign finally issued a press release acknowledging their win.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposition 1 Opponents Declare Victory

Wed, 2014-08-20 06:00

A referendum to repeal Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature oil tax law is trailing by nearly 7,000 votes, and its opponents are now declaring victory.

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When the first returns came in, the referendum was up by exactly five votes. The Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway team marched into Anchorage’s Election Central cheering enthusiastically and believing momentum was on their side.

With 98.6 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, the “no” votes on Ballot Measure 1 are ahead of the “yes” votes by nearly 7,000 votes.

But as the night wore on, the numbers began to turn against the ballot measure. By the time all precincts had reported Wednesday afternoon, the nays were beating the yeas with 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent.

At a press conference, Gov. Sean Parnell says he sees the results as decisive.

“I don’t consider a five-percent win in the end as close. We’ve got a lot of elections [where] that’s deemed a landslide.”

Parnell says the results should spur industry to invest more in oil and gas production in the state, a major argument used by the referendum’s opposition. Meanwhile, supporters of the referendum charged that by capping the tax rate at 35 percent, the new regime gives too much of a break on oil production. They wanted to go back to a system where the tax rate on production went up along with the price per barrel.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the referendum sponsors still had not conceded. The Division of Elections still needs to count about 15,000 ballots, with potentially more coming in.

T.J. Presley is the campaign manager for Vote Yes Repeal the Giveaway, and he doesn’t think the race is a landslide for the no crowd — he’s getting satisfaction from the race being such a tight one. He believes that if the referendum had been on the general election ballot along with a set of initiatives on marijuana, Pebble mine, and the minimum wage, it might have been more successful. Instead, it was on the primary ballot, which tends to draw more conservative voters, and it shared space with a high profile Republican Senate contest.

“It was a perfect storm, and in spite of all that, we still got 48 to 52,” says Presley.

The referendum was the most expensive race over a ballot measure in the state history, with the oil industry putting in more than $10 million to defeat the measure. Referendum sponsors spent a fraction of that amount, with a little over half a million raised.

This story was updated at 4:55pm on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Categories: Alaska News

Steady Voter Turnout Reported In Primary

Tue, 2014-08-19 17:38

Elections workers are reporting a steady turnout for today’s primary. Nearly 10,000 voters cast their ballots early, compared to 5,000 voters in the 2010 primary. Drawing people to the polls are two major races – a referendum that would repeal a tax break on oil production and a three-way contest for the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination. Polls are open until 8p.m., and returns will be coming in shortly after.

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Categories: Alaska News

Modeling Indicates Fairbanks LNG Project is a Go

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:40

The state is a step closer to proving its North Slope to Fairbanks natural gas trucking project can work. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority lead Interior Energy Project is aimed at providing gas at about half the cost of heating oil, and officials say they’re honing in on the target.

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Categories: Alaska News

Federal Requirements Burden Small Medical Practices In Alaska

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:39

Dr. Oliver Korshin in his office in east Anchorage. Photo by Annie Feidt.

EHR,  ICD-10 and PQRS may sound like alphabet soup to you. But most doctors around the country know exactly what those acronyms stand for. They are programs championed by the federal government to improve quality and bring medicine into the electronic age. But in Alaska, where small medical practices are the norm, the new requirements can be a heavy burden.

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Dr. Oliver Korshin doesn’t want to use electronic records in his office. Starting next year, the federal government will penalize him for that choice- withholding 1 percent of his Medicare payments.  So in February, the 71 year old ophthalmologist mailed in a form, requesting an exemption. He had to indicate which exemption category fit his situation:

“The only one that possibly applied to me was disaster. So I picked disaster and I described my disaster as old age and I submitted as my supporting document a copy of my passport.”

Korshin practices three days a week in the same small office in east Anchorage he’s had for three decades. Many of his patients have aged into their Medicare years right along with him, like the 86 year old woman visiting on a recent afternoon for a regular check up.

Korshin has just one employee, a part time nurse. And his lease runs out in four years, when he will be 75 and expects to retire.  He says for his tiny practice, electronic medical records just don’t make sense. It would cost too much to make the switch and maintain a new system.

“No possible business model would endorse that kind of implementation in a practice situated like mine, it’s crazy.”

Dr. Koshin talks with a patient at his office. Many of his patients have aged into Medicare along with him. Photo by Annie Feidt.

Korshin will lose another 1.5% of his Medicare payments next year for failing to enroll in PQRS, a federal program that requires doctors to report quality data.  And then there is ICD-10, a new coding system- also set to take effect the fall of 2015. Korshin says small practices can’t keep up with all of the federal requirements:

“This flurry of things one has to comply with means that unless you work for a large organization like a hospital that can devote staff and time to dealing with these issues, there’s no economy of scale, I can’t share these expenses with anybody.”

Korshin may seem like an outlier, being so close to retirement with such a small practice. But according to the Alaska State Medical Association, he is not alone. The association’s Mike Haugen says half of the doctors in Alaska are over the age of 50 and very few are employed by large organizations:

“Most practices in Alaska are small practices. They’re 1, 2 and 3 doctor practices. The number of really large practices- and that’s relative in Alaska- you can probably count them on one hand.”

Haugen says he hears a lot of complaints from doctors who are feeling overwhelmed by the federal requirements for practicing medicine. And he worries the burden is forcing many- especially older doctors, to consider retiring early:

“There won’t be some flashing neon sign we ever see that says x number of doctors have left. It’s a very quiet process and that for me is the scary part, because you take a look at the medical association membership a year or two from now, and it may be smaller and access to care in this state is a real issue.”

But Rebecca Madison thinks a lot of doctors would decide to stay in practice if they had help with the transition to electronic health records. That’s Madison’s job as executive director of Alaska eHealth Network. She wants to make it as easy as possible for providers to make the switch to electronic records. And she encounters a lot of resistance.

“We hear everything from it will never work for them, it’s too costly for them- especially for some of the older providers in this state who are coming to the end of the time in their practice. It’s a huge investment.”

Madison tries to sell doctors on the benefits. She reminds them electronic records can make their offices more efficient and give them better data on the care they’re providing. And it will make it easier when it comes time to sell their practices. Madison also sees the issue from the patients’ perspective:

“My whole goal and the reason I got into this… process is to give the data to the patient. They deserve to have it- it’s their data- they should be able to access it.”

But Madison says she understands electronic records won’t work for every doctor and she thinks that’s okay. Remember Oliver Korshin and his letter asking the federal government for an exemption from the electronic records requirement due to old age? He got a response- through Senator Murkowski- in May.

It was denied.

Korshin says he will continue practicing anyway- the old fashioned way.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 








Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Arrest, Charge Teen With Arson For Delta-Area Fires

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:37

The 16-year-old that Troopers arrested and charged Monday with setting a fire at a Delta Junction house on Sunday also is charged with torching the Clearwater Lodge, shown here on the morning of May 15th.
Credit KUAC file photo

Alaska State Troopers have arrested a 16-year-old male and charged him with arson for setting a house in Delta Junction on fire last weekend and for the May 15th fire that destroyed the Clearwater Lodge.

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Troopers investigating the May 15th fire that destroyed the Clearwater Lodge got a big break in the case Monday when they were questioning the juvenile about another fire on Sunday that heavily damaged a Delta-area home.

Troopers says they found evidence that showed the house had been broken-into and that items were stolen before it was set on fire.

According to a Trooper report issued this morning, investigators were able to identify the suspect and the vehicle he allegedly was using. The report says the 16-year-old admitted to the theft and arson.

During the investigation, Troopers also learned the juvenile was responsible for the Clearwater Lodge fire. The report is unclear as to how, but the implication is that he admitted to that crime as well.

The juvenile’s identity hasn’t been released. Troopers don’t identify juveniles involved in criminal cases.

Monday’s arrest was good news to Kevin Ewing, who along with his wife, Patsy, own the Lodge. Ewing says he hopes that others who he suspects also were involved also will be rounded up.

“We’re very happy that this group (is) off the street and not doing this kind of stuff anymore,” he said.

Ewing estimates the arsonists that destroyed his lodge will cost him about a million dollars. He says his insurance policy didn’t cover the half-million-dollar appraised value of the structure. And the Ewings plan to build a new lodge on the site of the old one on the banks of the Clearwater River east of Delta.

The juvenile charged with arson was taken to Fairbanks Youth Facility Monday on multiple charges of arson, theft, and other offenses in connection with the two fires.

Investigators can’t yet say whether others were involved in one or both fires. An investigation in both cases continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Cleans Up Cold War-Era Radio Site In Southeast

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:36

Duncan Canal (KFSK file photo)

A large soil clean-up project at a former Cold War mountaintop radio site near Petersburg is underway this summer. A contractor for the U.S. Air Force is removing soil contaminated by fuel and building debris left at the site after it’s decommissioning almost three decades ago.

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The site was a manned Air Force communications station, one of 18 built in Alaska during the 1950s. It was part of a Cold War-era early warning system called White Alice used to relay radio communications from Clear Air Force base in Alaska to Colorado Springs fifty years ago. It’s on Kupreanof Island, just south of Ohmer Slough on Duncan Canal, about eight miles west of Petersburg. The Duncan Canal station began relaying radio signals in 1960. It was deactivated in 1976 and the buildings were removed in 1986.

The Air Force already removed over 100 dumped fuel barrels from that area in 2000. Other fuel drums, demolished buildings, trash and chemical contaminants remain. A contractor working for the Air Force documented PCBs, fuel, chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and groundwater.
Lori Roy is project manager with the US. Air Force and said the contaminated soil was more than expected. “We went out and characterized what we thought was pretty good. But of course we usually see that it’s more than anticipated. So we want to ensure that we are cleaning up and getting everything so we are doing all kinds of excavation and confirmation sampling to make sure that we come away clean and we’ve done our good job out there.”

The main contractor on the job is a company called Bhate. They’re working on land that’s part of the Tongass National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The mountaintop site is currently used by AT&T Alascom for a commercial communication facility. It’s a relatively remote area just off the Tonka road system and there are a few recreational cabins nearby.

Roy said the contractor is not using the Tonka log transfer facility to transport the contaminated soil because of an ongoing logging operation in the area. Instead the contractor is landing a barge closer to the site in Duncan Canal. “We brought all our stuff in though Tonka and now we’re using the alternate area to take the super sacks of soil out. So if people are boating along the shoreline they’ll see tons of supersacks over there in the Duncan Canal area and we are coming in and out of that side of the island.”

Those super sacks are large polypropylene bags for the contaminated dirt. Roy estimated they’ll be filling around one thousand super sacks with 785 cubic yards of soil. It will be shipped to a landfill in Arlington, Oregon.

The cleanup involves three separate areas, a dump site, a fuel storage area and a site with debris from demolition of the buildings. Roy said after the excavation the sites will be refilled with clean soil. “It will not have the current vegetation on it but there will be no gaping holes.All the excavations will be filled and tilled. So it will all be smooth.”

Roy said the contractor had not anticipated the daily record rainfall that’s hit the area several days this summer and that’s created some problems for excavating the soil. She did not have a dollar amount for the project – the final costs won’t be known until the work is complete. However an environemental decision document on the work estimated the overall price tag could be three and a half million dollars, once the three sites are cleaned up, filled with new soil and tested.

The cleanup is about halfway done and Roy hoped the project would be finished by the end of September. Soil sampling at the site will continue for a few years after.

Categories: Alaska News

King Salmon Trolling Ends On Slow Note

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:35

Poor weather extended a planned three-day king opener into five days. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

After an unprecedented two extensions, the summer king salmon season for trollers in Southeast is over.

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The Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed the fishery at 11:59 PM Monday, August 18 — two days later than planned.

Pattie Skannes is troll management biologist for the region.

“Yeah. We don’t usually work on Saturday and Sunday. But this was one of those openings that required a little bit of attention every day. We set it for three days thinking, This is going to be easy. But it turned out to be anything but easy.”

The target for the three-day opener was 36,000 kings. But on day one, it looked like trollers were bringing in about 12 fish per day. During the first opener of the season — the first week of July — trollers were landing about 50 kings per day. An August storm blew in and kept many of the region’s 700 trollers off the ocean. So the department extended the opening 24 hours to Sunday night. And then another 24 hours until Monday night.

As the weather improved, Skannes says, so did the fishing.

“There were some boats that came in with 0-10 kings, and some that came in with a few hundred. So it’s a wide range, but the average is still fairly low — 19-20 per boat per day. So I think that we’re going to come out just about right.”

Skannes relies on fishermen to keep her informed of their success during the fishery. During a three-day opener, the Department can’t collect fish tickets from processors quickly enough to make timely decisions about how things are going. So a number of boat call in their catch rates directly to Skannes, and she estimates the total harvest based largely on this voluntary survey.

It’s a strategy to avoid undershooting the harvest, and having a third opener later in the summer.

“There have been years in the past where there was a third opener to kind of mop up what’s left. We don’t let you do that anymore. It’s very unpopular. So I expect this will be our last opening for the year.”

In the first summer opener in July, trollers landed almost 200,000 kings. They were paid an average of $3.14 per pound. Since then, the catch rate for coho salmon has skyrocketed, with trollers sometimes bringing in hundreds of coho with their kings. The average price for coho has been around $1.49 per pound.

Although this wraps up the summer season for kings, trollers will still be on the ocean fishing for coho and chum salmon for the next few weeks. And come October, trollers will once again be able to target kings when the winter fishery gets underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Observations of Kachemak Cranes Paints Detailed Picture

Tue, 2014-08-19 16:34

Volunteers with the Kachemak Crane Watch have kept an eye out for Sand Hill Crane adults and colts all summer. The season isn’t over yet, but the information collected so far has given the group a decent picture of the cranes’ progress.

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Categories: Alaska News