APRN Alaska News

Syndicate content aprn.org
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: 29 min 19 sec ago

Department of Defense Prepares For More Arctic Activity

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:03

Shell may be abandoning their plans for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters in 2014, but vessel traffic, tourism and other activity will continue to advance. As part of our ongoing look at future plans for port development and military oversight of Arctic safety and security, APRN’s Lori Townsend recently spoke with Daniel Chiu the undersecretary for strategy at the Department of Defense. Chiu says the Pentagon expects large increases in defense activity is likely decades out, but he says DOD is closely following climate science to ensure they have the lead time to adjust if necessary.

Download Audio

Dr. Daniel Chiu – Thank you very much for asking me to speak with you about our DOD Arctic strategy. Pleased to talk to you about it, it’s something we’ve been working on in my office, the strategy office in the office of the Secretary of Defense for some time now. In support of the work you’ve seen come out from the White House earlier this year, when the President released the national strategy for the Arctic region. As you know the President feels very strongly, particularly with the effects of climate change that we need to pay attention to the arctic and to development and changes in the arctic and insure security, safety and prosperity and especially cooperation in that region as we’ve seen over the past many years.

In support of that, Secretary of Defense Hagel was pleased to roll out the DOD part of the strategy in Halifax. In particular how the DOD will be supporting the national strategy for the Arctic region and how we will be contributing from a defense perspective to supporting security, safety, prosperity and cooperation in the region as well. Something we believe we’re heavily engaged in already.

So to those ends, frankly we see a lot of the changes, although some of the reasons require our attention as a nation, a lot of the changes provide us with some opportunities to continue to work with others as we have in the past on cooperation, collaboration particularly in the safety and security realms. But also on ensuring that environmental conditions in the Arctic are not only protected but well respected as we continue to monitor changes in that area. As you know one of the things that’s important as we think about not only climate change but the Arctic in particular in the context of climate change, is the time frame issue here. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that although we do see already a lot of changes. Clearly the rate of human activity in the Arctic is rising at unprecedented levels and certainly attention and discussion on the Arctic is greater than it has been for many, many years, that changes in the Arctic come over time. And this time is measured not so much in minutes, hours and days but really in terms of years and frankly decades in many respects.

And as such, for the DOD, we’re really trying to think what our near, mid and long term both objects and needs are in the region. The near being roughly now the next couple of years, the mid-term being in the 5 to 10 year time frame, the long term being in the 10, 20, 30 year time frame.  That’s at least how we like to do our strategic planning.

Right now, our assessment, is in the near term, from a needs perspective and a challenges perspective, we actually assess ourselves as being in a good place. For the most part, Arctic nations and others who are active in the Arctic have been not only quite collaborative and cooperative, but have been working to solve in very constructive manners for the most part in the region. And we’ve seen that happen between a number of countries operating in the Arctic.

In the medium to long term, we start to see increasing uncertainty. And as you can imagine that’s tied very closely to exactly what the trajectory of climate change and the effects of climate change will be on the Arctic. We follow the science as closely as possible. We work very closely with, in particular, the Navy’s Office of Oceanography on that, to insure we have the best data we can for making those projections. But I think as you know, those projections, even the best informed ones, have a great amount of variability in them. As such, the way we’re trying to address that is to insure that we’re monitoring the situation in the out years, as closely as possible and simply insure that we have enough lead time to make changes to our planning assumptions should those changes become necessary.

Right now, the scientists are telling us, that their best guess is the kind of changes that would necessitate reassessment of our planning assumptions are in the decades time frame. We’re preparing for that, but we’re keeping that in consideration as we think about, particularly the budget and while we think about budget bills, we’re remembering that, while we need to maintain focus on this, we need  to put it in that decades out, time frame. So we’re doing that and we’re doing that through a process that we have internal to the department of defense that generates for example, our requirements for our budgetary outlooks. And we’re doing that in close conjunction in this case with Northern Command. They have been named the Arctic capability advocate. And that’s just a fancy term for saying they will be the lead for determining as conditions change, should we need to change for the Arctic. They were named as such in particular of course, because they are the only command that we have that has homeland arctic territory, that of course being where you are in Alaska. But they are obviously doing this in close conjunction with other combatant commands, especially UCOM, given the global breadth of the arctic. That’s roughly where we are and the reason why we’re here talking to you.

Thanks for that opening statement. In that backdrop you were just describing, that lead time needed to make changes. There’s a lot of political jockeying around arctic resources, Canada is building up its Arctic military, Russia and Canada are staking overlapping claims in the Arctic. How do you see this unfolding over the next decade and what is the U.S. military’s role in insuring there’s no escalation of tensions over territory and sovereignty?

Dr. Chiu – Right, that’s a great question. Let me divide it into two aspects. One is in terms of Arctic capabilities and resourcing those Arctic capabilities and the other one is Arctic claims. On the capabilities piece, Canada is paying a lot of attention to the Arctic and they are also thinking very hard about how to invest those resources over time and again, the time frame is a very important issue to consider here as we are doing as well. And I think they would, as we do, try to tie that to conditions as much as possible. And by that I don’t just mean environmental conditions, I do mean the conditions that you are alluding to, the competing claims, the political/military so to speak conditions in the region. So in the meantime, we think it’s absolutely critical to manage the resolution of any competing claims in the arctic. But as you, I think have implied, and as we would note, these are largely not defense issues. This is largely about using existing mechanisms to resolve these disputes. They are in place and to a large extent those with competing claims are adherents to those processes and we strongly encourage that. So from a DOD perspective, our view would be to continue to support these and as these ideally get resolved, reconsider what capability requirements are needed at that point.

And then continue to foster the types of collaboration and cooperation that we already conduct obviously with Canada and with many other nations as well to again, foster that more cooperative approach to resolving these claims and that would be a roundabout way to get to the end of your question, which would be how DOD believes we can play a role in trying to manage these diplomatic competition so it does not reach any kind, does not escalate into anything more intense than that.

Conditions are changing rapidly in the Arctic and there’s growing international interest. It takes at least a decade, if congress gave the green light today, for funding for ice breakers, for an Arctic port, we’re still at least a decade away from having that work done. Security is largely unmonitored in this region, how concerning is that?

Dr. Chiu – So, two points that are important and one is the lead time and we’re very cognizant of that. Both because of the types of capabilities we’re talking about, for example the icebreaker question, or because of the nature of the environment there, building infrastructure in an Arctic environment takes much longer, much more difficult than almost any other environment. You’re absolutely correct to say there is a long lead time. That is absolutely why I’ve mentioned a few times, the need to really monitor the situation as closely as possible. Monitor primarily at this point from an environmental perspective which is why I mentioned we’re working closely with the Navy’s oceanography department to insure that we understand the broad environmental conditions which might either accelerate or quite frankly, given the science we’ve seen, potentially decelerate, at least in some time frames, some of the human activity going on there.

But do we absolutely have to monitor the security situation there as well? Yes, we do. Again, this crosses political, military, diplomatic and hard security realms. We do have to pay attention to that. I think we have historically and we will continually. But we are also really emphasizing and the point of this strategy is to highlight our opportunity, at this point, not to just monitor and react but really to be involved in shaping the outcome of this in a proactive manner so we can preserve, the more cooperative angles/aspects of our interactions in the Arctic and make that the predominant theme going forward.

Kotzebue is strategically the best location for a deep-water port, but Port Clarence appears to be emerging as the likely choice. Is the Pentagon weighing in on where it should be and where on the Alaskan coast do you think it should be located?

Dr. Chiu – So currently our work on this has largely been in support of the work the CG has been doing and we’ll continue to do that. From a defense, Navy, broader joint service perspective, we have not assessed a need for that kind of an installation at this time. So we’ll continue to work with the CG and work closely with DHS as they make their decisions about this kind of infrastructure. But at this point, this is not a DOD initiative so we don’t have any specifics on any DOD requirements, frankly because we don’t have those requirements on those near-term time frames. As we get further out, this is something we would take into consideration and you’re right, we’d have to do that kind of comparative analysis to make sure we have the capabilities we need.

What should Alaskans expect to see for military presence in the next five to ten years? How will the DOD ramp up to address traffic, territory and security concerns in the Arctic?

Dr. Chiu – Currently, certainly in the next five years or so, I don’t anticipate any major changes in presence. From a security standpoint, we don’t see any major threats in the region in this time frame that require military presence. On the safety piece and particular on environmental safety and human safety issues. We certainly will insure that we can support our colleagues in the CG for example as effectively as possible and as necessary. We work very closely with them on these issues. If there are changes necessitated, because of increased human activity in the region, we’ll certainly consider that in conjunction with the CG and with the support of CG, but we’d have to array that against the broad range of things that DOD will do. Again, though I would caution you and listeners to put this in perspective. Although we do see a lot of additional activity, everything from tourism to intraregional commerce and exploration, we do have to put that into context.

Certainly more people, but this is not a vast opening of the Arctic. The Arctic remains a very harsh environment and its important as people use vague terms like vague terms, or misunderstood terms like ice free, we are not in any near term time frame, anticipating a rush of people to the region. So we will monitor this, able to support as necessary but in the near term we don’t see any big changes in the area.

Failure of the U.S. being signed on to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Does this impact the strategy militarily to not be signed on?

Dr. Chiu – On the one hand no, at an operational level, we continue to operate and collaborate consistent with the norms laid out in the law of the sea treaty on a day to day basis. So it’s not hampered or changed the way we behave on day to day basis and that’s allowed us to generate the kind of collaboration and cooperation we’ve seen in the arctic to date.

That said, on a broader, political level, the one concern I have about not being part of the structure associated with the Law of the Sea Treaty is that there will be a lot of forums and discussions which we may not be able to participate in as effectively as we’d like to if we’re not signatories to it. So the competing claims you mentioned before, of course we would like to be resolved in a manner consistent with the Law of the Sea and theoretically may be done through the mechanisms that the law of the sea has already prescribed. Not being signatories creates constraints in our ability to be able to participate in that at a diplomatic level. I would defer to my friends in the state department but suggest that this is at least less than optimal. On a day-by-day basis for DOD, the type of cooperation we have with other militaries, the types of support with the CG, the types of operations we need to do to protect our homeland and our interests, we’re find on that front.

What sort of future does the missile defense system that is partly based in Alaska facing?

We’re currently doing a review on that as part of the quadrennial defense review. We are of course, extremely concerned about growing ballistic challenges. While not technically an Arctic issue, you can understand why it has implications there as well, both from an early warning perspective and a missile defense perspective. And we’re trying to find the appropriate solution in terms of managing that problem from a defensive standpoint, but frankly insuring that we have the right capabilities to deter and dissuade the use of those weapons in the first place and not rely on just on defenses.

Categories: Alaska News

Democrats Introduce Medicaid Expansion Legislation

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:02

Democratic state lawmakers are introducing legislation in the House and Senate to expand Medicaid in Alaska. Governor Sean Parnell rejected the expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, in November.

Download Audio

The law calls for the federal government to pay for 100% of the expansion for the first three years. That match will gradually decrease to 90% by 2020.

Senator Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, says the Governor’s own Medicaid report shows the expansion would be a huge benefit to the state:

“From better health care to Alaskans to new jobs to lower health insurance premiums for businesses, expanding Medicaid makes sense both financially and morally.”

No Republican lawmakers have signed onto the legislation. Wielechowski says he’s hopeful that will change.

Senator Berta Gardner, a Democrat in Anchorage, says she’s going to keep working to win Republican support:

“The folks I’ve talked with are theoretically supportive, but they want to take a wait and see approach, they’re not willing to come out publicly at this point.”

The bill expands Medicaid to childless adults who earn less than about $20,000 a year. The state would participate as long as the Federal government pays at least 90% of the cost.

Representative Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, says he wasn’t approached by Democrats about the bill, but thinks the legislation is a no-go:

“Are we really going to give something to someone, and we’re going to write legislation that says here you go, and if the feds do something, we’re going to take it back?”

26 states are expanding Medicaid this year and several more are considering it.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Taku River Tlingit Sue To Stop Tulsequah Mine

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:01

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has filed suit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to stop the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The old mine is at the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most prolific salmon stream.

Download Audio

Water treatment plant at Tulsequah. It operated for a few months to treat acid rock drainage, but Chieftain shut it down due to the high costs. Photo courtesy Chieftain Metals.

Now the Tlingit First Nation says British Columbia authorities failed to consult with them, and believe that voids the mine’s environmental permit.

Precedent

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the British Columbia government  to consult with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation on decisions surrounding the Tulsequah Chief Mine.

The Taku River watershed in northwestern B.C. and Southeast Alaska is the Tlingit’s traditional territory.

 “The consultation is an ongoing obligation.”

Randy Christensen is a lawyer for Ecojustice Canada, the donor-funded  environmental law firm handling the case.

He says the obligation is clearly spelled out in the 2004 decision.

 “At the end of the day the Supreme Court of Canada declared that our client was owed a duty of consultation and accommodation on this project.”

At the time, Redfern Resources owned the mine. The company went bankrupt in 2009 and Chieftain Metals picked up the property and environmental permits.

Substantially started

In the current lawsuit, the Taku River Tlingit allege they were never consulted about a government decision that the Tulsequah was “substantially started.”

Under the B.C. environmental process, once a mine is approved, the owners have a limited amount of time to get mobilized. In this case, 10 years.

Substantially started does not mean mining. Though Chieftain Metals says it’s ready to mine the Tulsequah, in reality the company is still looking for financing.  But in June 2012, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office declared the mine was substantially started.

Christensen says the First Nation wants the B.C. Supreme Court to declare that Chieftain Metal’s environmental permit has expired.

“Without an environment assessment certificate, they can’t proceed with any on-the-ground construction of this project, so what we’re seeking from the court would be an order that the environmental certificate has expired. That would halt activities on the ground,” Christensen says.

Such a declaration would void all Tulsequah permits.

“My primary feeling is one of relief,” says  Chantelle Hart, a member of Children of the Taku. The society is not party to the lawsuit, but members are all Tlingit born in the Taku River watershed.

I’m glad the lawsuit is now out because at least it’s another firm very clear stance that shows that Taku River people are not going to allow Chieftain into the territory.

Hart says Chieftain Metals has ignored her people.

The transboundary group Rivers Without Borders says the same goes for the B.C. Ministry of Environment. Chris Zimmer is Alaska spokesman for the international group.

The clear implication here is if this lawsuit is successful, the mine is dead in the water and will have to go back to environmental assessment, because it can’t proceed without that certificate.

Chieftain Metals did not return calls for this story.  In its year-end financial report  to the Ontario Securities Commission the company acknowledged the lawsuit, stating the “Corporation believes the petition is without merit.”

Chieftain Metals’ stock closed Monday at 28 cents a share  on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano’s Alert Status Upgraded After Unusual Activity

Thu, 2014-01-30 19:00

The Alaska Volcano Observatory upgraded the alert level at Shishaldin Volcano in the Aleutian Islands on Thursday after observing some unrest at the summit.

Download Audio

Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

AVO scientist Kristi Wallace says the unusual activity at Shishaldin began Wednesday.

“Little bit ago, AVO changed the color code at Shishaldin from green to yellow based on increased temperatures at the summit crater of Shishaldin Volcano as well as increased steaming yesterday,” she says. “Both of those observations were observed via satellite imagery.

Wallace says the observations don’t mean Shishaldin is in imminent danger of eruption. The yellow status just indicates behavior that isn’t normal.

Shishaldin is the highest peak in the Aleutians, rising about 9,400 feet above sea level. It’s located on Unimak Island about 100 miles northeast of Unalaska.

Shishaldin was last elevated to yellow in 2009, when the same kind of activity occurred. Wallace says that anomaly didn’t result in anything more serious.

Historically, though, Shishaldin has been very active:

“It’s erupted approximately 28 times since 1775, so in historic times it’s erupted quite frequently, although the eruptions are typically low-level plumes and ash and steam plumes,” Wallace says. “So [it's] not a particularly dangerous volcano, although the eruption that occurred in 1999 did send ash plumes as high as 45,000 feet above sea level.”

Wallace says the AVO is going to keep monitoring Shishaldin for signs of explosions. But the seismic stations closest to the summit aren’t working right now. That means using more distant monitoring points as their main sources of data.

“There’s a whole network of stations, so we’re just relying on other stations that are not quite as close to the summit area where we’re seeing the activity,” Wallace says. “Hopefully those will be enough for us to pick up a seismic signal, although this volcano’s not just monitored with a seismic network. We’re still using satellite imagery, and then the infrasound stations which are good at detecting explosion signals.”

There are two other volcanoes in the Aleutians currently on a yellow alert. Those are Cleveland, 175 miles southwest of Unalaska, and Veniaminof, northeast of King Cove.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 30, 2014

Thu, 2014-01-30 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.

Download Audio

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

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

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

Unalaska Copes With Shell’s Decision Not To Drill

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

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

Murkowski Pushes To Lift Crude Oil Exports Ban

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

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

DOT Works To Dig Out Richardson Highway

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

State Department of Transportation crews will be working for days to get the Richardson highway completely opened. Hannah Blankenship is a spokeswoman for the DOT’s northern region. She says the majority of the backed up water from the Lowe River has receded back to within the river’s banks.

UAS Training Takes To Skies Above JBER

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Soldiers from the 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion conducted an Unmanned Aircraft System – or UAS – training flight on Thursday morning in the skies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Department of Defense Prepares For More Arctic Activity

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Shell may be abandoning their plans for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters in 2014, but vessel traffic, tourism and other activity will continue to advance. As part of our ongoing look at future plans for port development and military oversight of Arctic safety and security, APRN’s Lori Townsend recently spoke with Daniel Chiu the undersecretary for strategy at the Department of Defense. Chiu says the Pentagon expects large increases in defense activity is likely decades out, but he says DOD is closely following climate science to ensure they have the lead time to adjust if necessary.

State Dems Introduce Legislation To Expand Medicare In Alaska

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Democratic state lawmakers are introducing legislation in the House and Senate to expand Medicaid in Alaska. Governor Sean Parnell rejected the expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, in November.

Taku River Tlingit Sue To Stop Tulsequah Mine

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has filed suit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to stop the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The old mine is at the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most prolific salmon stream.

Categories: Alaska News

Planned Parenthood Suing Over Abortion Funding Reg

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:24

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest says it is suing over regulations in Alaska that would further define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of receiving Medicaid funding.

Download Audio

The new regulations are scheduled to take effect Sunday.

Under the regulations, the certificate to request Medicaid funds features two boxes.

With the first, a provider would have to certify the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or the abortion was performed to save the woman’s life.

With the second, a provider would have to indicate an abortion was medically necessary to avoid a threat of serious risk to the woman’s physical health from continuation of her pregnancy due to “impairment of a major bodily function.” Attached to it is a list of such impairments.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Destroys Fairbanks Apartment Building

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:23

Fire destroyed an apartment building in Fairbanks this morning. The blaze caused multiple injuries and two residents were unaccounted for as of this morning.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

State Senators Push For Criminal Justice Reform

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:22

Criminal justice reform may be coming to Alaska. After spending the summer collecting more information on efforts happening in other parts of the country, the Senate Judiciary Committee has started holding hearings again on their omnibus crime bill.

Download Audio

The legislation would raise the dollar-threshold for non-violent crimes like shoplifting and writing bad checks to be considered felonies. It would also set up a prisoner re-entry fund to help ex-convicts return to society, and it would create a criminal justice commission tasked with regularly reviewing the effectiveness of Alaska’s sentencing laws and making sure they’re in line with penalties in other states.

Sen. John Coghill, who chairs the Judiciary committee, says the bill has the potential to save the state money and improve public safety outcomes.

“We’re trying to say ‘We can’t afford to build another jail,” says Coghill.

Alaska has the worst recidivism rate in the country. Two-thirds of the state’s prisoners eventually go back after their release.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Aims To Arm VPSOs As Danger Levels Rise

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:21

The legislature’s Community and Regional Affairs Committee convened Tuesday to discuss House Bill 199, a proposal to allow arming village public safety officers in rural Alaska.

Download Audio

Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham was the bill’s chief sponsor. He told the committee that the measure would establish protocols and funding for bringing qualified VPSOs through firearms training. In addition to high rates of turnover, issues with pay, housing, and facilities, Rep. Edgmon enumerated on the safety concerns voiced by VPSOs.

“You know, the whole crux about the bill is making sure that VPSOs can do their jobs right. A VPSO walks into a situation that sometimes is lethal and he or she is armed with a baton, with a taser, they’ve got handcuffs on them and their wearing a protective vest,” Edgmon said. “And, unfortunately, I’m here to tell you as somebody born and raised in rural Alaska, the social issues, the numbers of domestic violence calls, the episodes of violent confrontations have been on the increase.”

The funding structure laid out in the current draft of the bill would bring 20 qualified candidates annually through a training program at the police academy in Sitka. At $62,000 a year the funding would cover travel, liabilities, lodging, and firearm equipment for the VPSO’s who complete the program. And ultimately the regional entities in a given area would decide whether they want their VPSO’s to carry firearms.

For the majority of the two-hour session, calls from across the state—exclusively from current or former law enforcement officials—poured in. What emerged was a patchwork of perspectives on the problems policing rural Alaska. The litany of testimony offered circled around the issue of state law enforcement relying more and more on VPSO’s to help with rural policing, but weariness over current and future regulations and standards within the program.

At its most generous, the criticism focused on specific points in implementation. And at the other end, Jake Metcalf, executive director for the union representing public safety officials says the expanding reliance on VPSO’s is an inadequate way of compensating for a more costly trooper presence.

“They’re not certified police officers, so I think rural Alaska is getting a different type of law enforcement than the municipalities and a lot of regions of the state that have significant trooper resources,” Metcalf said.

What was not questioned is that violence against law enforcement officials has been steadily increasing. The very impetus for HB199 reigniting the decades-old debate on whether or not to arm VPSO’s was the death of a Manokotak officer last March.

Former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters says that the hazards have led some VPSO’s to break the law by arming themselves in order to do their jobs.

“With these escalations of use of force against them, which we certainly know about, their job is becoming more and more dangerous to the point where there are VPSOs carrying firearms today against the regulations that are in place and against policies that are in place that prohibit them,” Masters said.

Criticism and recommendations for HB199 were in abundant supply during the session—but the vast majority of those who spoke were ultimately in support of it. Rep. Neal Foster’s remarks on the discussion summed up the prevailing sentiment.

“Until we can get more resources out to rural Alaska so that we can give the same level of protection to folks out in rural Alaska as we do in other parts of the community,” Foster said. “I think this bill is a step in the right direction and it’s doing something that we can do now with a minimal amount of resources.”

Committee Co-Chair Gabrille LeDoux did not bring the bill to a vote. Instead, she ended yesterday’s session asking legislators to consider all they’d heard, and saying that in her own experience guns are an integral component to life in bush Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill Extending PILT, Alaska’s Village Safe Water Program

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:20

The U.S. House today passed a farm bill that includes programs for Alaska unrelated to agriculture. The bill continues another year of funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, a program that pays municipalities surrounded by federal land to compensate for the loss of tax base. The so-called PILT program sends about $26 million a year to Alaska and is a large portion of the budget for some local governments. The bill also renews Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, which gets some $30 million a year from the federal government.

Download Audio

The final bill did not include a proposed cut to the food stamp program, which Congressman Don Young says would have hurt thousands of Alaska families. The farm bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and is expected to come up for a final vote in the Senate next week.

Categories: Alaska News

State of the Union Address Irks Alaska’s Delegation

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:19

President Obama gave his State of the Union address Tuesday night, and the response from Alaska’s U.S. senators was swift and negative, particularly to Obama’s pledge to act without Congress where he can.

Download Audio

“Going it alone is not a solution and it’s counterproductive in government,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a video rebuttal. “Consensus-building is hard, but 100 percent do-able.”

Sen. Mark Begich, the only Alaska Democrat in Congress, took swipes at the president, too. He says Obama should’ve focused on oil and gas development and he promises he won’t sit idle for what he calls an executive power grab from an Administration that doesn’t get Alaska’s core issues.

Categories: Alaska News

From Paying $1,000 A Month For Health Care To $100

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:18

A Juneau woman says getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act means she’ll take better care of herself. Prior to January 1st, Bonnie Berg was paying up to $1000 a month for health insurance. Now, she’s paying less than $100.

Download Audio

Bonnie Berg spent most of her professional career working in social services. She always had insurance through her job and when she retired in August 2010, she kept it through COBRA.

“I was paying about a $1000 a month, and about $250 each quarter for my basic meds. So in other words, it was costing me $13,000 a year just for the dead basics,” she explains.

After 18 months on COBRA, Berg switched to a catastrophic plan, which cost $526 each month. She paid close to $900 every quarter for two asthma medications. Her deductible was $5,000.

Bonnie Berg. Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau.

In the 40 months since retirement, Berg went to the doctor only twice. “I wasn’t willing to pay for any tests on my own. I wasn’t willing to do anything the doctor really wanted me to do, unless I was having an episode,” Berg says. “I probably allowed myself the worse medical care of my life at the time I was paying huge prices.”

When the Affordable Care Act became law, Berg wanted to be on a health plan as soon as she could, though she will qualify for Medicare in eight months. “This is going to save me $4- or $5,000 just in eight months. If anything happens, it’s going to save me a lot more than that,” she says.

Berg tried to navigate healthcare.gov on her own in mid-October, but didn’t get anywhere. Then she found someone to help.

“That makes a huge difference. You really need to do a hook-up with a navigator who has done this for a few people now or an agent with Enroll Alaska. It’s free. They know exactly what questions to ask. They put it all in in the correct format and tell you what to do next,” Berg says.

Berg now pays $90 a month for health insurance. Her deductible is $250 and her maximum out of pocket is $500.

Enroll Alaska’s Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boiling says Berg’s case is not rare:

“We get a lot of very, very happy people that are getting health insurance for the first time or they’re getting health insurance that’s affordable to them for the first time.”

Boling says about 80 percent of people signing up with Enroll Alaska receive financial assistance.

Juneau’s United Way Navigator Crystal Bourland says people are also happy to find their plans include free preventative services, like cholesterol screenings, colonoscopies, and immunizations, ”Regardless of which plan they choose they can still go to the doctor to get preventative and wellness checks. Just some of those added protections that exist under the Affordable Care Act, I think, is usually pretty surprising for people.”

Despite the positives, Enroll Alaska’s Boling says the health brokerage firm has made 1,100 enrollments, but she thinks that should be at least 15,000 by now. She blames the early troubles with the healthcare.gov website, “We lost two full months of enrolling people and those were critical months. That’s where the momentum was and we couldn’t get people enrolled. I think that we lost a lot of people and we lost them for good.”

Bonnie Berg was not one of those people. She worked with an agent for more than a month before she successfully enrolled in mid-December. Now, she says, she’s ready to take better care of herself:

“I’m going to be putting some thought into my health which is a good thing for anybody to do.”

The deadline to apply for a plan that starts in March is February 15. Open enrollment ends March 31 and won’t begin again until November.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Panel Hears Bill On Elementary School Reading Programs

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:17

With education being a hot issue this legislative session, some politicians are looking at the basics of learning in their effort to improve student outcomes. Today, the Senate Education Committee held its first hearing on a bill that would establish a reading program targeted at kindergarteners through third graders.

Download Audio

Gary Stevens chairs that committee, and he’s sponsoring the bill. The goal is to reach struggling students early, instead of playing a difficult and costly game of catch-up.

“You would think everyone who’s an adult out there with a job can read, but it appears that’s not always the case,
says Stevens. “There are people struggling somewhere along the way, they didn’t pick up that ability, and have never since.”

The bill is based on a literacy law that’s on the books in Colorado, and it would require school districts to conduct reading assessments to identify students who are behind. Those students would be given extra support in getting up to grade level.

During the hearing, Stevens said that many Alaska school districts are already taking those steps with their students, but acknowledged that it could be a challenge for smaller districts to comply with the legislation.
The Department of Education is reserving judgment on the bill.

“Is it the absolute right direction? I think it’d be interesting to hear from districts,” says Les Morse, a deputy commissioner with the department. “But there are some very good and important approaches to reading instruction that are embedded within this legislation.”

If approved, the reading program is expected to cost the state $200,000.

According to a report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Alaska is in the bottom ten states for childhood reading proficiency. About three-quarters of Alaska students are not reading at grade level, which is slightly up from a decade ago.

Categories: Alaska News

Richardson Highway Opens North Of Mile 19

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:16

The Alaska Department of Transportation opened up a section of the Richardson Highway today. DOT cleared avalanches from the road north of mile 19, but the highway is still closed between Miles 12 and 19.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Can You Guess When The Road To Valdez Will Reopen?

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:15

Nobody knows when the Richardson Highway is going to reopen, but the Valdez Parks and Recreation Department is hoping everyone has a fun time guessing.

Download Audio

They’ve started a Nenana Classic-style contest to see who can accurately predict when the highway closure will end.  They hope it will be a fun distraction as residents wait for the highway to reopen.

The person who guesses the closest time will win a prize package worth $100.

Categories: Alaska News

Nauman May Be the Only Woman in this Year’s Quest, But She’s One Tough Rookie

Wed, 2014-01-29 18:13

Mandy Nauman is the only woman racing in this year’s Yukon Quest. Credit Trail Breaker Kennel / https://www.facebook.com/trailbreakerAK.

Not everyone who signs up for the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race actually gets a dog team to the start line.  When sign-ups opened last fall, at least two women added their names to the roster, but one dropped out two weeks ago.  That leaves one woman in a field of 18 mushers.

Download Audio

“I’m pretty tough!” says Mandy Nauman.  “I think I’m tough, but who knows.  Once I get on that Quest Trail I might not be that tough!”

The Fairbanks musher has been training dogs from Veteran Brent Sass’s Wild and Free kennel based in Eureka, AK for the last eight years. For Nauman, the Yukon Quest has been dream in the making for nearly a decade.

In a recent email, Mandy Nauman says that “if [she] can inspire one little girl to follow her dreams, then [she’s] done [her] job” as a female musher, but beyond that, Nauman isn’t likely to focus on being the only woman to race a dog team in the Yukon Quest this year.  “I am a rookie… very much a rookie.” she laughs.

It’s clear she’s nervous about the race, but driving a dog team in the Quest has been a long-time goal for the 32-year-old Minnesota native.  “I’ve been running dogs for about eight years but I’ve gotten pretty serious about it in the last three years,” says Nauman.

She wasn’t the only women to sign up for the race, but after a recent withdrawal, she’s the only woman who will start this year.  “My goal is to finish,” she says.  “I don’t really care where I finish.  Granted, I don’t want to be last, but if I am last and I finish then I’m fine with that.”

She can’t exactly explain what it is about sled dogs that gets her fired up, but she caught the mushing bug at Vermillion Community College in Ely, Minnesota years ago.

“One of the classes I had to take was a dog mushing class,” explains Nauman. “I played softball for the college, and my coach was also the instructor so he had taken me out on a sled a couple times.  And I had been to Alaska a couple summers before. I worked in Denali, so I knew about dog mushing and I was just like ‘I’m going back to Alaska,’ so, I dropped out of college and moved here to Fairbanks.”

That’s when she met seven-time finisher Brent Sass.  The two worked together at Chena Hot Springs and they’ve been friends ever since.

“When I first started getting into long distance mushing, Brent was the guy I’ was working with,” she says, “so I’ve know his dogs for eight years.  I love them!  They’re part of my family and I couldn’t imagine anybody else’s dogs, honestly.”

She spent the fall training up twelve dogs from Wild and Free Mushing for this year’s race.  Like her, many of those dogs are also rookies.   “I have four dogs that are under the age of three right now.” She’s not fazed by their inexperience.  By the time she gets to the start line, she says her team will also include a few veteran dogs.  “A lot of these dogs have been on that trail which is going to be huge, so they’re going to teach me the trail and teach me a lot of things,” she says. “Like to be tough and they’ll teach me to be patient and take my time and not stress out about the little things and just do what I do best and that’s take care of the dogs.”

Nauman laughs when she tries to explain what her family thinks of her lifestyle. “They think i’m crazy!”  But she laughs when she admits that they could be right. “Yeah, I mean you might have to be a little bit crazy.  But in all seriousness, they one hundred percent support me,” she smiles.  “I’ve been doing it for eight years I think they just figure it is time that it happens.  I say I’m only going to do it once, I think [my boyfriend] Matt will only let me do it once.” She’s quick to add that long-time boyfriend, Matt Austin fully supports her.  “I think if I say I want to do it again, I think he’ll tell me to go find another boyfriend!” she chuckles.

Because this may be Nauman’s first and only run down the Yukon Quest trail, she says finishing in Whitehorse is her only option. “I know it’s going to be the hardest thing I ever do but you know with Wild and Free… you don’t quit when you’re running Wild and Free dogs,” she says in a serious voice. “So, I’m just going to keep that in the back of my head and chug along and I am going to do it!  I’m going to do it!”

Mandy Nauman and her dog team  will line out at the start of the 31st annual Yukon Quest International Sled dog race in downtown Fairbanks Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 29, 2014

Wed, 2014-01-29 17:59

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.

Download Audio

Planned Parenthood Suing Over Abortion Funding Reg

The Associated Press

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest says it is suing over regulations in Alaska that would further define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of receiving Medicaid funding.

Fire Destroys Fairbanks Apartment Building

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fire destroyed an apartment building in Fairbanks this morning. The blaze caused multiple injuries and two residents were unaccounted for as of this morning.

Judiciary Committee Explores Omnibus Crime Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Criminal justice reform may be coming to Alaska. After spending the summer collecting more information on efforts in other parts of the country, the Senate Judiciary Committee has started holding hearings again on their omnibus crime bill.

Bill Aims To Arm VPSOs As Danger Levels Rise

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

A legislative committee discussed a proposal yesterday to allow arming village public safety officers in rural Alaska.

House Passes Bill Extending PILT, Alaska’s Village Safe Water Program

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The  U.S. House today passed a farm bill that includes programs for Alaska unrelated to agriculture. The bill continues another year of funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, a program that pays municipalities surrounded by federal land to compensate for the loss of tax base. The so-called PILT program sends about $26 million a year to Alaska and is a large portion of the budget for some local governments. The bill also renews Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, which gets some $30 million a year from the federal government.

State of the Union Address Irks Alaska’s Delegation

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama gave his State of the Union address last night, and the response from Alaska’s U.S. senators was swift and negative, particularly to Obama’s pledge to act without Congress where he can.

From Paying $1,000 A Month For Health Care To $100

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau woman says getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act means she’ll take better care of herself.  Prior to January 1st, Bonnie Berg was paying up to $1000 a month for health insurance. Now, she’s paying less than $100.

Senate Panel Hears Bill On Elementary School Reading Programs

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With education being a hot issue this legislative session, some politicians are looking at the basics of learning in their effort to improve student outcomes. Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held its first hearing on a bill that would establish a reading program targeted at kindergarten through third grade.

Richardson Highway Opens North Of Mile 19

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Alaska Department of Transportation opened up a section of the Richardson Highway today. DOT cleared avalanches from the road north of mile 19, but the highway is still closed between Miles 12 and 19.

Can You Guess When The Road To Valdez Will Reopen?

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Nobody knows when the Richardson Highway is going to reopen, but the Valdez Parks and Recreation Department is hoping everyone has a fun time guessing.

They’ve started a Nenana Classic-style contest to see who can accurately predict when the highway closure will end.  They hope it will be a fun distraction as residents wait for the highway to reopen.

The person who guesses the closest time will win a prize package worth $100.

Baranof Goat Study Unlocks Clues To Island’s Paleo Past

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

A study to help establish goat hunting guidelines on Baranof Island has revealed much more than how to manage the goat population. It has sparked a mystery. And it’s offered clues to what the island looked like before there were hunters.

Nauman May Be The Only Woman In This Year’s Yukon Quest, But She’s One Tough Rookie

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

There’s only one woman in the Yukon Quest field of 18 mushers.

Fairbanks Musher Mandy Nauman has been training dogs for the last eight years.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials Unsure When Richardson Highway Will Reopen

Wed, 2014-01-29 12:14

The state Transportation Department now says they don’t know when the flooded highway through Keystone Canyon outside of Valdez will be passable again.

Water dammed up behind an avalanche continues to go down slowly and a video camera is being installed to monitor it.

They hope to have avalanche areas above that cleared soon but caution anyone traveling that part of the Richardson Highway once it is re-operned to beware of the danger of more avalanches and watch out for flaggers.

Categories: Alaska News

Vote on Anchorage Labor Law Set for November Ballot

Wed, 2014-01-29 00:52

A tense moment last year at public hearing about when to hold a vote on a controversial labor ordinance.

The Anchorage Assembly finally set a date for a vote on a referendum that would repeal a controversial labor law Tuesday night. It won’t happen until fall.

Voters will finally be able to cast ballots on a referendum that would repeal a controversial labor law, but not any time soon. That was the decision of the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night.

“The body ended up setting another date for the referendum which will be with the regular municipal election in November,” Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said.

The Assembly voted in October to put the referendum on the April Municipal Election ballot, but Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed their decision.

Then the date for a vote was up in the air because of two court cases surrounding the labor law, one which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Assembly passed the law, also known as ‘the responsible labor act’ or AO-37, last March despite protests. It takes away municipal workers right to strike and restricts collective bargaining rights.

It would affect more than 2,000 city employees. The labor law will be suspended until after the vote. Some Assembly members, including Dick Traini, argued that the city charter required a vote be held within 75 days of the most recent court decision.

Traini was not pleased that the vote was being put off until November.

“It’s a mistake by the body,” he said. “The six that decided to ignore the 22,000 people that requested the vote on AO-37. You know when those people signed their names they anticipated voting expeditiously on that thing. And you know it’s not going to help the people that want to keep AO-37 because those 22,000 people are going to grow. In November, they will repeal that critter.”

The Assembly voted 6-5 to put the referendum on the November ballot. Those in favor argued there would be higher voter turnout. Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Adam Trombley, Amy Demboski, and Bill Starr voted for it. Critics said it was a move to slow down momentum for the repeal.  Traini, Tim Steele, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman, and Patrick Flynn voted against.

Another ordinance was introduced at Tuesday’s meeting that would change the entire municipal election from April to November. That would not go into effect until 2017. Public testimony will be taken on that issue on Feb. 25.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich Pledges To Restore Veteran Benefits

Tue, 2014-01-28 18:28

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.

Download Audio

All three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation voted for that budget, even though they oppose the military pension decrease.

Photo by Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC.

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.

At first, the cut doesn’t sound like much. It would drop a retiree’s cost-of-living adjustment one point below the inflation rate until the veteran reaches age 62. But some enlistees retire and start collecting their pensions while still in their 30s, so this COLA cut could mean diminished benefits for two and a half decades.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says for some individuals, it adds up to an $80,000 sacrifice.

“But I think most importantly it’s a broken promise,” Rieckhoff said. “This is America breaking their promise to men and women in uniform, and it’s unprecedented.”

Alaska has more veterans per capita than any other state, and they’re relatively young.  More than a quarter of them have served since 2001. It’s no surprise, then, that Alaska’s congressional delegation is getting an earful. Sen. Begich says he’s heard from more than 800 Alaskans objecting to the cut.

“I can tell you, the calls to me office are coming in 2-to-1, 3-to-1 over the next most popular issue, healthcare,” Begich said. “So this issue has taken front and center.”

Begich defends his vote for the budget containing the COLA cut, saying it was necessary to prevent another government shutdown. More than a dozen bills have been introduced to rollback the COLA cut. It’s a popular position in Congress, and Begich, running for re-election this year, sides with the veterans.

“When these heroes signed up and made the military a career, it’s what they were promised and what they expected, and they should expect no less now,” Begich said.

He isn’t proposing a specific way to pay for the rollback but says finding the money – $6 billion over 10 years – won’t be too difficult.

Some lawmakers are proposing to take it out of the Defense budget – exactly what the Pentagon fears. Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that something must be done to rein in personnel costs, which he says are unsustainably high. He says military compensation has been climbing since the 1990s and is now higher on average when compared to equivalent civilian jobs. Winnefeld says the growing cost threatens the Defense Department’s ability to prepare the troops.

“In the end, we believe the most important way we keep faith with the fantastic young men and women who volunteer to defend our nation is to only send them into combat with the best possible training and equipment we can provide,” Winnefeld said. “Controlling compensation growth in a tough budget environment will help us do just that.”

But even he says he can’t support the COLA cut that Congress passed.

Winnefeld says such a change should include a grandfather clause to exempt current retirees and service members.

Categories: Alaska News

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life. Renew here or visit KBBI by April 21 to enter to win one round-trip airfare with Era between Homer and Anchorage. Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

ON THE AIR
Celestial Iguana
Next Up: @ 09:00 pm
Elevations

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4