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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: 32 min 43 sec ago

Biofuel Could Help Lessen Rural Energy Costs

Tue, 2014-01-28 18:23

The community of Tok hosts a thick, growing forest of spruce trees, and a thinning, shrinking population of people and businesses. Like elsewhere in rural Alaska, high-energy costs and a lack of jobs are causing people to leave. But the trees may be the solution to bringing people back.

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Categories: Alaska News

NIOSH Tackling Fishing Industry Injuries

Tue, 2014-01-28 18:22

For more than 20 years, NIOSH has been working to prevent accidental deaths in the fishing industry. Now, these safety experts are tackling injuries – the kind fishermen are used to getting every season.

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In her time at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Jennifer Lincoln says she’s found a common cause behind the most serious fishing accidents.

“If you ask me what leads to fatalities in the fishing industry, it’s drowning,” Lincoln said. “It’s vessel losses and falls overboard.”

Lincoln directs the Alaska field office for NIOSH.

Their commercial fishing experts have been studying fatal accidents since 1991. Using their research, they’ve come up with a slew of mechanical gadgets – like door monitors and emergency winch stops – to make boats safer.

But Lincoln says it’s not clear if there’s a button or sensor out there that can keep fishermen from getting hurt.

“What we don’t know – what we don’t have as much information about – are non-fatal injuries,” Lincoln said.

Injuries aren’t tracked like fatalities – in part, because they are so common. But getting hurt can have big implications for a fisherman, like lost time and wages,” Lincoln said. “If a problem goes untreated at sea for too long, it can lead to more serious ailments.

And that can be painful. Jake Jacobsen has fished in the crab fleet. He can rattle off some gruesome accidents.

“I know guys that have had their foot smashed and bones broken when we were fishing way out west in the Aleutians, and they just stayed on the boat and wrapped it in a plastic bag, and ran the crane until they get to town and have a doctor look at it,” Jacobsen said.

Unalaska’s clinic sees a lot of those patients. That’s why Lincoln, from NIOSH, teamed up with a state epidemiologist to study the local patient load.

Lincoln says they looked through the Unalaska clinic’s medical charts from 2007 to 2008.

“What was interesting to me is that, in that two-year time period, a fisherman came in every other day to the clinic to be treated for a traumatic injury,” Lincoln said.

Most of the time, it was a sprain or contusion. It usually happened while they were catching fish or processing it.

“They were hit by something, or struck by something, or crushed by something,” Lincoln said.

That could be fishing gear, or even a box of frozen fish stored aboard a processing vessel.

Those are pretty basic observations. Lincoln says there are some useful takeaways.

“Sometimes there’s a lot of time that goes by before they’re seen at the clinic,” Lincoln said. “So the people on the vessel need to be properly trained in managing the injury.”

Lincoln is sharing these results with safety officers at fishing companies. Eventually, she wants to be to find the patterns in how fishermen get injured.

That would require a bigger pool of data, which Lincoln says NIOSH can get by teaming up with the state Fishermen’s Fund and the Coast Guard. Once they figure out the underlying causes, NIOSH can start suggesting tools to cut down on accidents.

But they’re never going to be able to eliminate them, says Jake Jacobsen.

He started out as a fisherman and now oversees about 80 crab boats in the Inter-Cooperative Exchange. Jacobsen says ending the derby-style fishery made crabbing safer. But still:

“You get knocked around a bit out there, out on deck,” Jacobsen said.

That leads to lots of small injuries. When accidents happen:

“If they’re little things, fishermen are kind of disinclined to talk about it anyways,” Jacobsen said. “You get over it.”

And even if you can cut down on the risk of accidents, it’s a lot harder to change the culture of fishing — the expectation of long hours, big payoffs, and the battle scars to show for it.

Stephanie Joyce contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

High Tech Trackers Gather Info On Cook Inlet Kings, Reds

Tue, 2014-01-28 18:21

The Alaska Board of Fish will begin deliberations on the Cook Inlet fisheries in Anchorage next week. One of the more difficult issues before the board is the declining King salmon runs and demands by sports fishing interests to shut down the commercial catch of reds to let every precious king into the Kenai River system.

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In Cook Inlet, the  statewide decline of King Salmon has raised the long running Cook Inlet Fish Wars between commercial and sports fishermen to a fever pitch.

Last summer east side setnetters became the latest casualty as their fishery was shut down by a fish board dominated by sports fishermen.

In the middle of that battle, working almost unnoticed was a group of scientists wielding high tech tools.  David Welch’s company “Kintama”  deployed receivers and inserted internal radio tags into two species of Cook Inlet salmon: the  Sockeye reds targeted by commercial fishing fleet and the Chinook Kings treasured by sports fishermen to gather data on where these fish are as they swim to spawning grounds in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.

“Well, it’s basically the size of a tube of lipstick,” Welch said.

Last week Welch presented an animated map showing the path the salmon took.  The data he gathered documented in real time how far each tagged fish was from shore and how deep it swam.  Fish biologists have know for a long time that Chinooks prefer the bottom and sockeyes like the surface, but till now they have not had hard data.

On the map, the tagged sockeyes marked in red swam off shore till they got close to the river’s mouth and then they would home in.

“My suspicion is that the sockeye are found even further off shore, but of course we don’t have data beyond where we have the instruments,” Welch said. “But then when they are coming into the Kenai River they move quite quickly into the Kenai.”

That behavior contrasted with the Chinooks who stayed close to shore and tended to hang out there for 20 days before making a dash into the river.

“On a flood tide basically so they probably get away from seals and other predators that are waiting at the river mouth,” Welch said.

Welch’s study is good news for the Cook Inlet drift fishermen because it shows little potential for Chinook interception in their fishery, but the picture for east side setnetters is less clear.

There’s a big problem in Welch’s work. There were no receivers in the mile and a half segment right off the shore where setnets sites are located.

“We can do that but we just didn’t have enough time to build the equipment that’s needed cause that a very tough area,” Welch said. “It’s very shallow, big tides, big waves, so we have to build specialized containers for the receivers so they’ll survive long enough.”

Welch hopes the state will give him the money to capture better fish behavior data to help resolve the allocation battles in Cook Inlet to the benefit of all Human users.

“One of the things we hope we can do is to use the depth data so that the sockeye fishermen can design their nets so they can catch the sockeye while minimizing interceptions of Chinooks,” Welch said. “So hopefully we can put the data on the table so the folks can sit down and figure out what might be done.”

Until now, no one has bothered to ask the salmon what they think of the Fish Wars but there may be a hint in Welch’s study, which found two Kings that wanted no part of it.  They head out as far and as fast as they could.

“We got a call while we were still out tagging that it was caught in Uyak bay in the northern part of Kodiak Island,” Welch said.

The other rogue King headed south where he was found two months later in the mouth of Columbia River.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 28, 2014

Tue, 2014-01-28 18:01

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 Pushing To Restore Veteran Benefits

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Veterans and military members in Alaska and around the country have been outraged at Congress since December, when lawmakers passed a budget that would trim their retirement benefits, starting in 2015. All three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation voted for that budget, even though they oppose the military pension decrease. Senator Mark Begich today stood with a group of veterans before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and pledged to restore the nearly $6 billion decrease.

USDA Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh Visits Bethel Region

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Rural Alaska’s infrastructure is young. Many homes still use honey buckets. A lot of the funding to build the infrastructure comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA funds water and sewer projects, as well as housing, energy, and communications projects and even ones that support growing local food.

Drug Court Could Offer Jail Alternative

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks substance abuse counselor is pushing for the state to consider an alternative to jail for drug offenders. The effort is in response to a steady stream of young heroin addicts, some of whom end up in jail.

Temperature Records Fall Across Alaska

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Temperature records fell across the state yesterday. With highs in the 40s, 50s and 60s, much of the state is experiencing weather that feels more like May or June than January.

Warm Winter Brings Open Water To Y-K Delta

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Warm temperatures have depleted Alaska’s snowpack and melted river ice.  And residents of the Yukon Kuskokwim delta have noticed more open water in recent weeks.

Biofuel Could Help Lessen Rural Energy Costs

Anne Hillman, APRN – Anchorage

The community of Tok hosts a thick, growing forest of spruce trees, and a thinning, shrinking population of people and businesses. Like elsewhere in rural Alaska, high-energy costs and a lack of jobs are causing people to leave. But the trees may be the solution to bringing people back.

NIOSH Tacking Fishing Industry Injuries

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For more than 20 years, NIOSH has been working to prevent accidental deaths in the fishing industry. Now, these safety experts are tackling injuries – the kind fishermen are used to getting every season.

Board Of Fish Ponders Low Salmon Run Solutions

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

The Alaska Board of Fish will begin deliberations on the Cook Inlet fisheries in Anchorage next week. One of the more difficult issues before the board is the declining King salmon runs and demands by sports fishing interests to shut down the commercial catch of reds to let every precious king into the Kenai River system.

Categories: Alaska News

9 People Apply For Alaska House Vacancy

Tue, 2014-01-28 11:53

Nine people have applied to fill the vacancy in the Alaska House left by last week’s resignation of Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat.

The list, released by the Tongass Democrats, includes Ken Alper, a former Kerttula aide who works as an oil and gas analyst for minority Democrats.

Other applicants are Nancy Barnes, James Betts, Sara Hannan, Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III, Tim Lamkin, Kim Metcalfe and Catherine Reardon.

All applicants were given a questionnaire to complete by noon on Friday. Tongass Democrats say public interviews of the candidates are planned this weekend, with plans to forward a list of three finalists to the governor.

House Democrats will have to ratify the appointee.

Kerttula last week stepped down as minority leader and resigned to take a fellowship with Stanford University.

Categories: Alaska News

Sea Lion Lunges At Sitka Fisherman

Tue, 2014-01-28 11:20

A 19-year-old Sitka man had a run-in with a sea lion at Seafood Producers Cooperative on Saturday.

Sea lions touch noses as one clambers onto a buoy in Sitka Sound. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau.

Alaska State Troopers say the man was sitting on the railing of a fishing vessel when a large bull pounced. The sea lion jumped out of the water and attempted to bite him — on the behind, causing the man to fall forward into the vessel.

The bitten man was a crew member on the Sitka-based Fishing Vessel Confidence, which was offloading bait herring at the time, according to State Troopers Spokesperson Megan Peters.

Julie Speegle, a spokesperson with the National Marine Fisheries Service says the man did not require medical attention.  “There were no puncture wounds, just abrasions,” she said.

According to Speegle, quote,  “it isn’t unheard of for big and powerful wild animals to habituate to humans, and see us as a food source.” Troopers do not believe that the crew was feeding sea lions, but, just to be safe, officials are reminding fisherman and hunters to dispose of waste properly, rather than dumping carcasses or scraps in the harbor.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Begin Review of Gasline Project

Mon, 2014-01-27 19:37

It took Gov. Sean Parnell three years to get his oil tax overhaul through the Legislature. Now, the goal is to pass a bill setting the terms for a massive natural gas pipeline in 90 days. Hearings on the project started today, and a half dozen more are scheduled through this week alone. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The gasline bill that Gov. Sean Parnell produced Friday is long and detailed. So detailed in fact that the title alone takes up two pages.

But here are a few highlights: The legislation taxes natural gas at a rate of 10.5 percent starting in 2022. It allows for those taxes to be directly paid in gas instead of money. It expands the powers of the natural resources commissioner and the revenue commissioner to work out a deal with all the other parties involved. The governor has said this is the sort of stuff that needs to get turned into law if the North Slope producers are going to lock themselves into a project that’s expected to cost upwards of $45 billion.

For lawmakers to lock themselves into the project as well, they want to be assured Parnell’s arrangement is going to work.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday morning, Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer wanted to know what made this gasline proposal better than all the other plans he’d seen. He likes the idea of the state partnering with the North Slope producers and getting an ownership share in the projects, but needs to hear a little more.

“This one is a little different, and so I am trying to get excited – I am excited – but is there anything else you can share to help my excitement?” asked Meyer. “I’m getting old, I’ve been hearing this too many times, and I’m done doing cartwheels. But I do want to see a gas pipeline in my lifetime.”

Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says there are two big reasons why this gasline is more likely to be built. One, the legal settlement over gas at Point Thomson has made Exxon more eager to develop their leases there.

And two:

BALASH: In the past, when the companies have evaluated various opportunities to commercialized North
Slope gas, they’ve had to take into account the oil that would not get produced if the gas was blown out and sold.

Balash says that’s not the case anymore.

“What we see in the next decade is that we are approaching the turning point in the field’s economics in the recovery of gas versus oil.”

While that answer satisfied some questions about the viability of a natural gas megaproject, it triggered a whole different set of questions about the state’s energy outlook. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican, pointed out that just last session, the Legislature passed Parnell’s oil tax bill on the premise that it would boost production of that resource.

“The exercise that we went through last year, how does that jibe with the gas approach this year?” asked Dunleavy. “In other words, we are anticipating and hoping for more production. Does that more production in oil is that predicated on the long use system of re-injecting gas, or is there another approach?”

Balash responded that the oil tax act they voted on last year will accelerate this transition to gas by encouraging Exxon, Conoco, and BP to produce more oil now. Mike Pawlowski, a deputy commissioner with the Department of Revenue who was also testifying on the project, added that the whole Prudhoe Bay Unit still has areas with untapped oil within it that don’t fit in within that oil-gas trade-off.

The bill is slated to be heard in the resource and finance committees in both chambers, as well as the House Labor & Commerce Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

State, Valdez Officials Assess Richardson Highway Avalanches

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:22

UPDATED 4:22 p.m. - Alaska Department of Transportation continues to monitor the Richardson Highway after avalanches over the weekend cutoff road access to the city of Valdez.

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Officials gave an update on the situation during a teleconference earlier Monday afternoon.

Valdez may not have road access, but progress has been made to provide transportation to its residents.

Following an aerial assessment of multiple areas, the Alaska Department of Transportation determined that some mountains along the Richardson Highway are still fairly active.  DOT maintenance engineer Jason Sakalaskas said once those areas are deemed safe, crews will begin work on the northern end of the avalanche area near Milepost 39.

“On the north side we do not see a lot of large avalanches, which is good,” Sakalaskas said. “So the cleanup efforts in that location should be fairly minimal, or fairly expeditious.”

As for the Keystone Canyon area, there is still a significant amount of water behind the north side of the dam created by Saturday’s slide. Sakalaskas said there is no safe way to approach relieving the water without removing it from the downstream side.

He did see one positive from the area. The Lowe River in the canyon has begun flowing again.

“We do this as a positive measure because obviously it will drain the impounded flow, but also will be a controlled release of the water, which is on the north side of the canyon,” Sakalaskas said.

Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s and 30s for the rest of the week, but DOT officials are hoping for cooler temperatures to help stabilize avalanche conditions especially at higher elevations.  They don’t expect find any road damage from the slides.

Valdez is still accessible by ferry and plane. The Alaska Marine Highway System modified its schedule to three direct trips between Whittier and Valdez.  Normally, the ferry Aurora sails clockwise from Cordova to Whittier to Valdez and back to Cordova.  DOT Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost explains…

“On Tuesday there will be a trip in each direction starting in Valdez to Whittier, then back from Whittier to Valdez. Thursday, we’ll have the normal Whittier to Valdez sailing; Friday we’ll have a Valdez to Whittier Sailing; Saturday, another Whittier to Valdez and finishing up Sunday with a Valdez to Whittier.”

Era Alaska also added a fourth flight between Valdez and Anchorage.

A voluntary evacuation advisory from the city is still in effect for residents of the Nordic and Alpine Woods subdivisions of the 10 mile area.

The Valdez City Council plans to hear an update on the situation during a special meeting tonight.

Original Story:

Valdez remains cutoff by road from the rest of the state due to avalanches and flooding over the weekend.

Progress has been made in clearing some of the debris on the Richardson Highway, but crews still have a long way to go.

Crews from the Alaska Department of Transportation spent Sunday stabilizing slopes along the Richardson Highway. They were also able to clean up some debris around the 39 Mile area.

DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says no progress has been made near the Keystone Canyon due to a lake forming behind an avalanche damn.

“The water is coming out of the old railroad tunnel and so water is flowing, which is good news,” Woodrow said. “Though it would be more helpful if the water were decreasing at a faster rate than it is.”

The Nordic and Alpine Woods subdivisions in the 10 Mile area have been under a voluntary evacuation advisory as a result. Valdez Public Information Officer Sherri Pierce says the city is closely monitoring the area.

“We’ve asked them to be prepared if we have any reason to believe that they’re in any sort of imminent danger,” Pierce said.

City officials are working with the Alaska Marine Highway system to increase ferry service to Valdez.

A DOT maintenance engineer arrived Sunday night to assess to the situation as is expected to make a report the findings Monday afternoon.

Valdez City Manager John Hozey, Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer, and Valdez Fire Chief George Keeney plan to do their own assessment via helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan, Treadwell Address Variety of Topics At Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:21

Two of the Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senator Mark Begich’s job, presented their records and thoughts on a range of issues for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd today.

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Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and former Attorney General and DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan agreed on all of the topics. From supporting a gas pipeline to denouncing federal overreach and the NSA. Both men are pro-life and both say the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment in Bristol Bay was too early.

Treadwell says the state invited exploration of the potential for a copper mine in the Bristol Bay region and the EPA made a bad decision. He said the state needs to fight back.

“Because we do protect the environment here. I’m very proud of my record on the environment but I’m very proud of Alaska’s record on the environment. And don’t let them tell you, you aren’t smart enough,” Treadwell said. ”The EPA was looking for a sponsor for a long period of time. With about a million and a half dollars of research they said, we can overcome close to $150 million worth of science on a half trillion dollar project. It’s wrong, we have to fight it, and we have to be outraged. I am.”

Sullivan says the state has the highest standards in the world and companies should be allowed to go through the permitting process. He says the EPA completing a watershed study before there was a Pebble mine proposal was unprecedented.

“They’ve never done it before. And when I was Attorney General and DNR Commissioner, most recently a joint letter from me and Attorney General Geraghty, we asked the EPA, where do you get this authority? They never answered,” Sullivan said. ”And whether you are for Pebble or against it, and I know it’s a controversial project, no Alaskan should be for an EPA that believes it can preemptively look at any project in the state, on state land and tell us whether or not we can move forward on it.”

Anchorage Chamber officials say candidate Joe Miller was invited but declined to appear today. Miller’s spokesman Randy DeSoto says the campaign not aware of an invitation until it was too late to participate.

Categories: Alaska News

Researchers Explore Polar Vortex

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:20

With unseasonably warm weather reaching all the way up into the Brooks Range in Alaska and bitterly cold weather dipping deep into the Lower 48 states, everybody wants to know more about the Polar Vortex – the jet stream that wobbles around the Arctic. Last month in San Francisco a team of scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center came out with a study that takes one more step toward better understanding that wobble by putting a lot more detail into high-latitude weather records of the past.

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Categories: Alaska News

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:19

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property, but the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

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As marine traffic escalates through the Bering Strait, the passage is gaining global prominence. And nearby on the Seward Peninsula sits Port Clarence, one of Alaska’s few naturally deep water ports.

The Coast Guard owns the real estate—around 2,500 acres— and was set to divest the property after the site’s LORAN station shutdown in 2010. However, Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Nome recently and said with the port’s strategic proximity to the Arctic and Bering Strait, the branch is keeping some of the land.

“The Coast Guard would like to retain a portion of that property as a hedge for you all, for the federal government, for the people of the U.S. to have a piece of property that’s right adjacent to what could become the most important international strait north of the Panama Canal,” Ostebo said.

The Coast Guard isn’t the only entity interested in Port Clarence. Ostebo says federal agencies, the state, corporations, and industries all want a piece of the property. One of those parties is the Bering Straits Native Corporation. Matt Ganley, BSNC Vice President of Resources and External Affairs, says the Corporation claimed the land in 1977 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and the property is one of the final pieces to the Corporation receiving full entitlement.

Ostebo says the Coast Guard will be divesting an undetermined amount of Port Clarence, but couldn’t provide a timeline. He is encouraging interested parties to negotiate agreements amongst themselves before approaching the Coast Guard with an offer.

“My number one objective is that at the end of the day, everybody wins. And I think there’s an everybody wins solution here with the Coast Guard retaining a piece, the state getting a piece, industry maybe getting a piece, other federal agencies getting a piece,” Ostebo said. “And it’s going to take a while.”

In the mean time, Ostebo says the site is well preserved and in working order.

This summer the Coast Guard will station a patrol boat at the port to monitor Bering Sea waters, respond to offshore incidents, and assist with local vessel boardings.

Categories: Alaska News

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:18

The Army has 657,000 acres of training ranges around Fort Greely, next door to Delta Junction. Because Delta is not located within a borough, the feds gives PILT funds to the state to distribute.

City and borough government officials here in Alaska are a bit on edge about Congress’s failure to provide funding for the PILT program, which helps local governments with a lot of federal land in their areas. The program is especially critical to smaller communities like Delta Junction.

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Local governments can’t impose property taxes on federal land. So, since the late 1970s, the federal government has been paying counties around the country – or boroughs here in Alaska – to compensate them for revenues that they otherwise could’ve generated through property taxes on that land.

That’s the PILT program – it stands forPayments in Lieu of Taxes. It’s not a big program, by federal standards – it totals about $400 million this fiscal year, of which Alaska would get about $27 million.

But Delta Junction Mayor Pete Hallgren says it’s very important for small communities like his, which gets most of its revenue from PILT.

“We’re looking at somewhere close to two-thirds of our income is from the federal PILT,” Hallgren said. “So you can see that the PILT is extremely important to the city.”

But Delta, which is flanked on the south and west by Fort Greely and Army trainingranges, may not receive the $930,000 or so that it’s slated to get from PILT this year. Because, Congress did not include funding for the program in the big omnibus spending package it passed last week.

That’s worries local government officials around the state, including Denali BoroughMayor Clay Walker. He says his borough will lose about a tenth of its revenues if it doesn’t receive the $300,000 that it was scheduled to get through PILT this year.

“Boy, the idea of 10 percent of your budget just getting whacked with no advance notice or planning is just a tough one to swallow,” Walker said.

Walker says the Denali Borough Assembly passed a resolution earlier this month calling on Congress to fund the program. He says the borough counts on PILT to supplement emergency services and solid-waste disposal. It provides those services to both the borough and facilities in the adjacent 6-million-acre Denali National Park.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough stands to lose only about $400,000 if Congress fails to fund PILT. But Mayor Luke Hopkins says the borough is already making painful budget cuts. And borough officials don’t want to ask borough taxpayers to fill a gap created by the lack of PILT revenue.

“Payment in Lieu of Taxes is certainly an important program,” he said, “And we don’t want to see it expire.”

Hopkins says this isn’t the first time that Congress has been slow in funding PILT. The degree of partisan budget battling of the past few years, however, makes this delay disconcerting.

“But this is – this one is getting down really close to the wire,” he said.

The uncertainty is especially worrisome because local governments must soon begin working in earnest on the next fiscal year’s budget.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says he’s optimistic about the chances of Congress restoring funding for PILT, because it appears to have bipartisan support.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Begich said. “This is about fairness, when the federal government has possession of so much acreage within Alaska, they need to pay for some of these services.”

Begich says members of a House-Senate conference committee that’re working on the Farm Bill have resolved almost all of their differences, and will send the bill back to each house soon. He expects the Senate will then act quickly to work out remaining differences and approve the measure when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

“We have and I have advocated to get this up on the floor of the Senate in short order, because I think we’re close enough that we can resolve these issues,” he said.

Begich says the Farm Bill will also, of course, help Alaska’s agricultural industry. And he says there’s funding for water and sewer systems, as well.

Categories: Alaska News

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:17

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster.

The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

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Jeremy Zidek with the state Department of Homeland Security says the announcement is significant because it means the U.S. government will foot 75 percent of the bill for public repairs.

“Damages to roads, boardwalks, utilities, other public infrastructure, critical facilities – perhaps like a clinic or school that was damaged, so it’s really to help the community to recover,” Zidek said.

The state provides assistance to individuals and households to help re-coop lost property. Those funds have not yet made it to people in Stebbins. Part of the reason is that the state extended the deadline for applying for assistance until last Friday.

Leaders in Stebbins are finalizing a list of funding priorities for public assistance money. that list includes building a new mitigating seawall, plotting a second evacuation route and accelerating air-strip and water system updates.

Categories: Alaska News

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:16

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed. And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

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Categories: Alaska News

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:15

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Girdwood’s Callan Chythlook-Sifsof had hoped to make the U.S. snowboardcross team but when the team was announced on Saturday she was left off.

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Chythlook-Sifsof is now 24-years old and she grew up in Aleknagik and Dillingham before moving with her mother to Girdwood to be closer to the Aleyeska Resort. She was in the running for one of the 3 spots on the women’s snowboardcross team but was edged out by two snowboarders from Vermont and a snowboarder from Utah.

Chythlook-Sifsof was hoping for a return trip to the Olympics. She made the snowboardcross team in 2010 and became the first Alaska Native to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.

Via Facebook, Chythlook-Sifsof issued a statement about missing the Olympics. In that statement she noted that she has been struggling through two consecutive seasons of injury and recovery and she labeled this as one of the toughest seasons yet. She stressed that she’s looking forward to cheering on her teammates in Sochi.

Chythlook-Sifsof suffered a season ending knee injury in February of last year and she battled other injuries this season.

While Chythlook Sifsof will miss the Olympics, she was able to compete in the just-completed X-Games in Aspen. She placed 10 in the women’s snowboardcross competition.

The members of the snowboard cross team that will head to the Olympics were selected based on their World Cut results and Chythlook-Sifsof had finishes of 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 24th.

There are 4 members of the men’s snowboardcross team. Two of the riders are from California, one is from Vermont and the final rider is from Maine.

The head coach of the Olympic Snowboardcross team is Peter Foley who said the U.S. will have a strong team with a mix of seasoned veterans plus some new athletes who are riding very fast.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 27, 2014

Mon, 2014-01-27 18:11

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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State, Valdez Officials Assess Richardson Highway Avalanches

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Alaska Department of Transportation says highway access to Valdez has been cut off indefinitely by avalanches. The community may not have road access, but progress has been made to provide transportation to its residents.

Hearings Begin For LNG Pipeline

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It took Governor Sean Parnell three years to get his oil tax overhaul through the Legislature. Now, the goal is to pass a bill setting the terms for a massive natural gas pipeline in 90 days. Hearings on the project started today, and a half dozen more are scheduled for this week alone.

Sullivan, Treadwell Address Variety of Topics At Anchorage Chamber of Commerce

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Two of the Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senator Mark Begich’s job, presented their records and thoughts on a range of issues for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd today.

Researchers Explore Polar Vortex

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

With unseasonably warm weather reaching all the way up into the Brooks Range in Alaska and bitterly cold weather dipping deep into the Lower 48 states, everybody wants to know more about the Polar Vortex – the jet stream that wobbles around the Arctic. Last month in San Francisco a team of scientists with the Byrd Polar Research Center came out with a study that takes one more step toward better understanding that wobble by putting a lot more detail into high-latitude weather records of the past.

Admiral Ostebo Discusses Future of Port Clarence

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The U.S. Coast Guard owns Port Clarence, and many entities want a piece of the property. But the Coast Guard intends to hold on to at least some of the real estate.

PILT: Local Municipal Officials Hope Congress Will Fund Federal-Aid Program

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Local government officials are getting nervous about Congress’s failure to continue funding for a program that helps municipalities with a lot of federal land. Money for the so-called payment in lieu of taxes or PILT program wasn’t included in the trillion-dollar spending bill Congress passed this month. But it is reportedly part of the Farm bill that lawmakers unveiled late today. The program is especially critical for smaller communities like Delta Junction.

Western Alaska Residents Await Disaster Relief Money

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

President Obama has declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster. The storms inflicted heavy damage on Kotlik and Stebbins, and created problems in other Bering Straits communities.

Program Could Loosen Water Pollution Regulations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchroage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are joining in a new program that allows water polluters to gain clean water credits without reducing the amount of effluent they produce. The deal is not used in Alaska yet, but it allows a permitted facility to purchase pollutant reduction credits from other users within the same watershed.  And clean water advocates in the state say the arrangement is missing the point of the Clean Water Act.

Chythlook-Sifsof Left Off Olympic Roster

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A snowboarder with deep ties to the Bristol Bay region will miss out on a return trip to the Olympics.

Categories: Alaska News

2014 Yukon Quest Set to Start Despite Warm Weather

Mon, 2014-01-27 16:29

Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Officials are keeping a close eye on the weather and trail conditions as they prepare for the starts of the 1000 mile race this Saturday.

With temperatures well above normal and not much snow in the forecast, there’s been plenty of speculation about trail conditions for the upcoming Yukon Quest.

“There have been absolutely no discussions to cancel or delay the race. Nor are any planned. The race will start on February 1st,” Race Marshal Doug Grilliot said in a statement on the race organization’s website.

Temperatures are forecasted to drop slightly by the end of the week.  Race Manager Alex Olesen says trail breakers are still working on both the Alaska and Canadian sides of the trail.

“It’s soupy, it’s soupy everywhere right now,” Olesen said.  “We’re just hoping it locks up enough with this cold weather coming that it isn’t soaking wet the whole way. But it’s going to be a lot of wet or hard ice.  It will be just trenches through slush.”

Olesen says the trail isn’t the only concern.  The organization is dealing with drop bags filled with perishable meat and food as well. “We had all of our food drops in a conex [trailer].  It actually went well,” he says.  “The warmest they got was 28 degrees and then we put them in a refrigerated unit and set it to 15 below to keep them as cold as we could.”

Officials say the race could be re-routed.  That has happened in the past, most recently last year when a lack of snow and icy conditions kept teams off of American summit outside of Eagle.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Proposes Slight Bump To Base Student Allocation

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:49

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his education package Friday, and inside is a small increase to the school funding formula.
That increase would come through the “base student allocation,” which is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled.

For four years, the BSA has sat at $5,680. Parnell’s bill would raise it about one percent a year for three years. For the upcoming academic year, it would be raised to $5,765. The year after that, it would go to $5,823. Finally, during the 2016-2017 academic year, the BSA would be set at $5,881. There isn’t any language that would inflation-proof the formula beyond that point.

In a statement, the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate said they appreciated the increase, but that they didn’t think at $200 boost over three years went far enough. This year alone, the Anchorage School District requires a $251-increase to the BSA to cover their shortfall. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District needs $300, while the Juneau School District needs $425.

At current student enrollment levels, the BSA increase would cost $11 million this year. In addition to the BSA increase, Parnell has already included $25 million to offset school energy costs in his budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Avalanches Close Richardson Highway

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

The only highway to Valdez has been closed by avalanches. The Anchorage Daily News reports one avalanche nearly struck a truck today on the Richardson Highway.

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he Alaska Department of Transportation says the driver did not have time to stop and struck a snow berm. The driver was not injured.

Valdez police called Alaska State Troopers at 8 a.m. Friday morning to report the highway through Thompson Pass was completely blocked by avalanches,

The Transportation Department says it has closed the highway from Mile 12 to Mile 69.

Crews have been unable to clear the road because of fears of unstable snow. The highway could be closed for 24 hours as crews wait for conditions to improve.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Salmon To Remain On Walmart’s Shelves

Fri, 2014-01-24 18:40

Walmart announced Friday that they will continue to stock salmon products from most of the large seafood processors that operate in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

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