APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 4 min 23 sec ago

Legacy of Bar Break Violence Haunting Downtown Business Development

Fri, 2015-01-02 19:00

Alcohol and late night clubs are often blamed for the frequency of bar break violence in downtown Anchorage. The last few months have seen shootings, fights, and even a massive unsanctioned street dance party that was cleared by police officers in riot gear last November.

The Anchorage Assembly is casting an unusual amount of scrutiny on a pending liquor license transfer that’s raising questions about how businesses that sell liquor should develop downtown.

The LED Lounge hasn’t officially opened, and on a recent Thursday afternoon there was construction debris and a few workmen installing swanky decor.

“I think we have one of the largest–if not the largest kitchen in the state of Alaska,” said Robert Alexander, owner and operator of the business. He shows off a huge menu covered in small print for the Italian, Chinese, and Southern cuisine he plans to serve out of the half-finished industrial kitchen in the back of the building, which he rents from the owner.

The menu is for the restaurant side of the business, Tri-Grill, but the other half of the space is for the LED Lounge, consisting so far of a bar, a small dance floor, and lots of colorful glowing lights built into the tables and walls. That is the side that’s led to a series of procedural snags in the Anchorage Assembly.

Plans have been on hold since Assembly member Patrick Flynn delayed the transfer to give the public an opportunity to testify, which opened the door for possible protest from the Minicipality.

Alexander’s building at the corner of 6th Avenue and I St. used to house Platinum Jaxx, a nightclub with a reputation as a bad operator in the neighborhood. It closed last summer. Now a group of property and business owners in the area think the LED Lounge will bring the same problems.

At the heart of the matter is what kind of business Alexander plans on bringing in.

“We will turn up the music on the weekends because more people come out on the weekends,” explains Alexander. “Does that make us a nightclub? No.”

In weighing whether or not to block the transfer, the Assembly is picking apart Alexander’s 20-year business career in Anchorage. Recently, the Public Safety Committee gathered to hear more information on the issue, and assembly members asked Alexander questions about his plans for late-night security. But they also brought up a civil court case finding that Alexander had let his worker’s compensation insurance lapse repeatedly over a period of two years.

That ruling is under appeal, but in the meantime Alexander’s full businesses record is fair game for assessing the permit transfer.

“He was assessed a fine of over a million dollars for those violations,” said Assembly member Bill Evans after the meeting. “There was a detailed report which shows a lot of dis-concern and a lot of failure to report, failure to cooperate with the board. So that’s been an issue that the Assembly is going to at least consider in deciding whether he should be granted the liquor license.”

Booze is big business in Anchorage, and operators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain permits from one another.  The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board technically has authority over the transfers, but typically defers to decisions from local governing bodies. The thought being that those who live in work in a particular town or neighborhood know better what liquor may bring to the area.

Assembly member Evans believes the long shadow cast by Platinum Jaxx over the area merits the detailed review of Alexander’s record.

“This is a bit unusual, most of these transfers go through usually without this kind of scrutiny,” said Evans. “Part of the issue here is that a lot of the neighbors were really upset about it. They raised concerns. And I think it caused the Assembly to look at this a little more closely.”

The chorus of property owners opposing the transfer is small, but vocal, and they insist you cannot protect home or business values while serving booze until bar break next door. Chris Schutte directs the Anchorage Downtown partnership, which took the unusual step of registering its objection to the transfer, a first for the organization.

“Given  the neighborhood’s previous experience, confidence in an incoming operator is really important,” Schutte said by phone. “Without that confidence there, and without assurances there, perhaps tied to the license transfer, the neighborhood will not feel comfortable with this operator coming in.”

Schutte proposes conditions be attached to the permit, like an earlier closing time and set ratio of food to alcohol sales.

Alexander admits that while his business record is not spotless, that is not unusual when you grow over so long a career. And most of the faults brought up by the Assembly had to do with a period of rapid expansion. Since then, he has taken on a director of operations to manage finances. But he thinks the degree of scrutiny he is under is exceptional, and feels unfairly judged.

“I haven’t done anything yet, you know? You gotta give me a chance,” he said, pausing. “I just hope this whole thing goes away quick so that it becomes old news.”

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on the transfer at its first meeting in February.

Categories: Alaska News

Traffic Deaths Jump To Highest Level Since 2007

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:07

The state Highway Safety Office says traffic fatalities climbed in 2014.

Download Audio

Sixty-five people died in wrecks last year, more than the previous six years and the most since 75 people died in 2007.

Counting pedestrians and cyclists, 70 people died.

Highway Safety Office research analyst Miles Brookes says it’s too early to say precisely how many fatal wrecks involved drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Brookes says so far about 38 percent had been confirmed to have involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels over the legal limit.

Categories: Alaska News

Over $63 Million Worth Of Marijuana Sold In Washington State In 2014

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:06

Many Alaskans are keeping an eye on pot-sale rules in other states in the wake of last year’s legalization vote. The Washington State Liquor Control Board says that state’s retail marijuana industry sold more than $63 million worth of pot in 2014.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

New Charges Filed In Homer Sexual Assault Case

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:05

The attorney for a Homer man suspected of harassing an intoxicated, unconscious teenager at a 2012 party says his client will plead guilty to felony evidence tampering and hindering prosecution charges.

Download Audio

Defense attorney Phillip Weidner says 22-year-old Anthony Resetarits also will plead guilty to misdemeanor harassment and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

A Kenai grand jury indicted Resetarits and his brother in September 2013 on felony charges of sexual assault.

A judge in August dismissed the charges, citing problems with information presented to the grand jury.

New charges filed Tuesday say Anthony Resetarits deleted photos of the incident and encouraged others to do so.

Categories: Alaska News

Prince William Sound Black Cod Fishermen Likely Facing Lower Harvest Limits

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:04

Fishermen taking part in the state waters Black Cod fishery in Prince William Sound will likely be facing lower harvest limits when the fishery opens next spring.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Delta-area Birders Spot Species New to Interior During Christmas Bird Count

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:03

Delta-area bird-count coordinator Steve DuBois photographed this Eurasian collared dove in the Delta Junction area in September. (Credit Steve DuBois)

Delta Junction-area birders participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count spotted a rare species not normally seen this far north in the winter.

Download Audio

Steve DuBois and other birders in the Delta Junction area are all aflutter that two of the four Eurasian collared doves have been hanging around the area since last summer were spotted again in last week’s bird count.

“We were anxious to see if the doves would still be present for the Christmas bird count. And sure enough, they were,” DuBois said.

That’s significant, especially this late into winter, says Gail Mayo. She heads up Fairbanks’s Arctic Audubon Society chapter.

“Oh yeah, it would be noteworthy. And it would definitely be a first for the Delta count,” Mayo said. “It would definitely be a first if we were to see one in Fairbanks.”

DuBois is a retired state Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist who coordinates the Delta-area bird count. He says even a summer sighting would be unusual for a bird species that was first spotted in the Western Hemisphere less than four decades ago.

“They got into the Bahamas and then into (the) United States back in the 1970s,” he said, “and have been expanding their range north and west since then.”

DuBois says the doves were first spotted in Alaska around Ketchikan, in the summer of 2006. He says there was a few sightings around the Interior in recent years, before four showed up at a bird-feeder in Delta last summer and took up residence.

“Of course, the big question was, y’know, these were doves that were not native – could they survive the winter?”

He suspects they probably wouldn’t have lived this long in a typical winter. And that, if it ever gets really cold this winter, they probably wouldn’t make it.

“My guess is that they probably will not establish themselves year-round, through the winter,” he said

But DuBois says he believes the appearance of the Eurasian collared dove this time of year is part of a trend of bird species ranging farther north as the Earth’s climate continues to warm.

“Well, the birds are definitely expanding north and west, and have been since the ’70s,” he said. “And now they’ve made it up into southern and coastal Alaska, where they seem to be established. And I would guess that’s probably due to climate change.”

Maybe so, says Mayo, with the Fairbanks Audubon chapter.

“Well it certainly could be a factor,” she said, but added that more data is needed. Mayo says that’s why the Christmas Bird Count is so important, especially in northern locales like here in the Interior.

“National Audubon has started doing some huge studies of Christmas bird count data as one of their main sources to see if they are looking at trends. And they definitely have some examples of birds (that) seem to be responding to climate change,” she said.

To find out more about the Christmas Bird Count and other birding projects around the Interior, go online to arcticaudubon.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Ambler Road Would Have Mixed Impact on NW Arctic Caribou

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:02

Facing halted state spending and budget cuts, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, says it’s still moving forward to prepare an environmental impact statement for the contentious Ambler Road, which would branch west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville and run into the copper deposit near Ambler. If the road gets the go-ahead, it’ll be a mixed bag for the Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd, who winter on and migrate through land that the road would bisect.

Download Audio

“I think we’ve got enough information to show that with regard to caribou, it’s not an easy answer,” said Kotzebue-based ADF&G biologist Jim Dau. “It varies tremendously, seasonally. It’s hard to make a categorical statement saying, ‘roads are terrible for caribou,’ or, ‘they have no effect.’ It’s not that simple.”

Photo: Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

For Dau, what’s certain is the road and the development that likely comes with it will have long-term impacts on the caribou herd and its users—but the costs and benefits aren’t clear-cut. Dau says caribou can coexist with roads (as many other North American herds live on more developed land), but they fragment habitat and interrupt migration range.

“I think the major impact of roads on caribou is how it affects movements, not just how much lichen is covered by gravel,” said Dau.

In a recent study, biologists from the Wilderness Society, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service found that only about 1.5 to 8.5 percent of the northwest herd’s lichen-rich winter habitat would be displaced by the proposed road. While that sounds like a negligible impact, Dau says there’s more to consider.

Most of the caribou migrate south in the fall, traveling just to the west of where the road would end, but sometimes, instead of traveling south toward the Seward Peninsula, they hook a left and walk up the Kobuk.

“You know, I’ve seen 50- or 80-thousand caribou walk completely out of the Kobuk into the Koyukuk—the upper Koyukuk drainage—and that’s completely along that road, that proposed road,” said Dau.

The caribou can likely learn to live along a road. They’ve done it time and time again throughout the continent. Dau has studied herds’ movements near the Kuparuk oil fields, near the Red Dog Mine…he’s talked to biologists in Canada whose herds navigate much more developed land than we have in Alaska. But Dau’s question is one many share on this eve of potential development: Will this be the only road, or is it just the first?

AIDEA has said many times that the Ambler Road will be the only road—even that it’ll be closed and remediated once mining operations have ceased. The public has been skeptical, especially given its extravagant cost (between 190 and 400 million dollars), which is expected to be recuperated through tolls from users. Dau says he doesn’t support or oppose the road, but if this is just the beginning of development, he says he’s taking the long-term view.

“If they were going to extend that road from Ambler out to any deep-water port, then it would bisect the NW Arctic herd range and the caribou would have to cross that road multiple times per year. That would be a very, very different animal,” said Dau. “So, I tend to think about long-term things. Not just the next 10 years or 20 years. What’s this road going to look like in 50, 75 years or 100 years? Those are the time frames you need to think about.”

And, while AIDEA has maintained that the Ambler Road would be industrial-use only, Dau says the public, including subsistence users in villages near the road, would likely desire access for hunting and other uses if the road were built.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 2, 2015

Fri, 2015-01-02 16:01

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

Traffic Deaths Jump To Highest Level Since 2007

The Associated Press

The state Highway Safety Office says traffic fatalities climbed in 2014.

Walker Plans To Stick To Marijuana Implementation Schedule, But Other Delays Still Possible

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After considering a delay in legal marijuana sales, Gov. Bill Walker has confirmed that implementation of rules regulating the drug should meet the schedule approved by voters.

Over $63 Million Worth Of Marijuana Sold In Washington State In 2014

Conrad Wilson, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Many Alaskans are keeping an eye on pot-sale rules in other states in the wake of last year’s legalization vote. The Washington State Liquor Control Board says that state’s retail marijuana industry sold more than $63 million  worth of pot in 2014.

New Charges Filed In Homer Sexual Assault Case

The Associated Press

The attorney for a Homer man suspected of harassing an intoxicated, unconscious teenager at a 2012 party says his client will plead guilty to felony evidence tampering and hindering prosecution charges.

Prince William Sound Black Cod Fishermen Likely Facing Lower Harvest Limits

Marcia Lynn, KCHU – Valdez

Fishermen taking part in the state waters Black Cod fishery in Prince William Sound will likely be facing lower harvest limits when the fishery opens next spring.

Delta-area Birders Spot Species New to Interior During Christmas Bird Count

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Delta Junction-area birders participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count spotted a rare species not normally seen this far north in the winter.

Ambler Road Would Have Mixed Impact on NW Arctic Caribou

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, says it’s still moving forward to prepare an environmental impact statement for the contentious Ambler Road, even after Governor Walker has placed a hold on the project.

AK: Puppet Town

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

300 Villages: Kasaan

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Revenue Shortfall and What to Do About it

Fri, 2015-01-02 12:00

The price of oil has gone down so far that it’s likely state revenues this fiscal year will be less than the forecast. And the forecast was already down more than $7 billion from the year before. The question the Governor and the Legislature are asking now is not whether there will be a deficit but just how big will it be and where will the money come from to fill it.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kasaan (Archive)

Fri, 2015-01-02 11:28

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Puppet Town (Archive)

Fri, 2015-01-02 11:27

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

Download Audio

We aren’t talking about Muppets. Those fuzzy, funny and googly-eyed characters are not the same as puppets. Not in Haines, Alaska.

Here, there are at least three puppet troupes, dozens of self-taught puppeteers and puppet makers and one artist who has traveled to Europe to explore the history of puppetry, Byrne Power.

“What I saw was a puppet troupe who was doing a show – it looked like stuff from their backyards, stuff you’d find at the Salvation Army, rusting metal, old toys – and I said ‘We could do that,’” Power said, at the Sheldon Museum in Haines where he helped curate the puppet exhibit Strung Up and Reconfigured.

Power is sort of the father of puppetry in Haines. Almost 10 years ago he gathered a group of artists and formed a puppet troupe. Here’s artist Debi Knight-Kennedy explaining how she fell into the puppet scene.

“Byrne came up to me one day before I knew him very well and he said ‘So, you’re a doll maker.’ And I said, ‘No, I make figurative sculpture.’ And he said ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. So you can make your dolls talk. I’m starting a puppet troupe.’ And that was it. It was all over for me,” Knight-Kennedy said.

After a few years, Power stayed with traditional puppetry, while some in the group wandered in a different direction. Now the group is called Geppetto’s Junkyard and consists of more than a dozen people including a plumber, a yogi, a boat builder, retired teacher, jujitsu instructor and others.

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

This winter, they created a show called “Space Lust.” It was described on posters as a cross between steam punk, space cowboy and puppet space opera. It was wild scene of live music, special effects, acting and of course, puppets.

The puppets are all hand-made and usually assembled from found objects, like bicycle parts, kitchen gadgets, vacuum hoses and carved wood.

Knight-Kennedy’s husband, Gene Kennedy is also in the troupe. He’s a handyman and plumber, but is drawn to creating puppets, like the carved wooden horse he made, with multiple moving parts.

“It’s all wooden cut out plywood,” Kennedy said. “Basically there are four parts to the body and two levers that work in tandem. And the head swings on its own and it’s counterweighted with lead weights so it always comes back to the same place.”

Geppetto’s Junkyard has their fans. They pack in the sporadic shows. But no one – especially the puppeteers and actors, pretend they are traditionalists. Power is more so. Back at the museum he says he doesn’t think anyone in Haines is true to traditional puppetry.

“There are some puppet styles for instance that take real skill to manipulate. It’s not as simple as you stick your hand up and wiggle it around,” Power said. “You learn very definite things about how to move your hand and it takes months and months of training, years, to be good.”

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

Of the more than 100 puppets in the exhibit, about two-thirds were made locally. There was even one that might be local from several generations ago. It’s a bone, shell and sinew Tlingit puppet on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Puppets, Power said, cross all cultures.

In Haines this winter, puppets were everywhere. Besides the museum exhibit and Geppetto’s Junkyard show, Power also put on a show. Students at the Haines School created their own puppets. There was even a visit from Carlton Smith of Juneau who performs Tlinigt ventriloquism with his puppet, Charlie.

Power says he’s drawn to puppets because they still surprise people. He says when he goes on the road with a show, he’s not pigeon-holed because puppets are still edgy and intriguing enough to cross all ages and interests.

“Because if you have a music group, you say to someone, ‘Oh what kind of music do you have?’ and they say whatever style of music it is and you say ‘Oh, then you play here.’ But if you have a puppet troupe, the first question is ‘Is it for children?’ and I say, ‘Well, not really.’ And they look kind of blank and say ‘OK’ and you can play for anybody.”

And maybe that’s why puppets and Haines go together. For puppeteers like Melina Shields with Geppetos Junkyard, it makes perfect sense.

“I think that there’s just something inherently creative that happens by taking these found objects and letting the puppets be born into whoever they are,” Shields said. “And it’s just magic.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 31, 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:10

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

Mallott To Decide Walker’s Future Involvement In Point Thomson Settlement

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has delegated his authority on the Point Thomson lawsuit to his lieutenant governor, while still leaving open the possibility of his involvement.

New Campaign Hoping to Increase Conservation in Aleutians

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The waters around the Aleutian Islands support a dizzying range of wildlife — and major industries right along with it. Right now, the government’s job is to help find a balance. But there’s a new campaign to permanently tip the scales toward conservation in the Aleutian Chain.

Arctic Shipping Chills In 2014

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

Predictions of the Arctic as a major shipping route appear to have dimmed in 2014. Just 31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013. Malte Humpert, director of a Washington-based think tank called the Arctic Institute, said the number of transits is an indication of slower economic activity in the Arctic, and predictions of an Arctic boom have cooled, too.

Crude Price Drop Unlikely To Affect Fuel Prices In Western Alaska

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

Oil prices continue to fall, with Brent crude around $55 a barrel –and gasoline prices are dipping below $3 per gallon in Anchorage. But even as fuel prices plummet, rural Alaskans are unlikely to see major savings. Sean Thomas is the vice president of energy and shipping corporation Crowley Maritime. He said western Alaska’s unique geography is a contributing factor to static fuel prices in the region.

Fish and Game Commissioner: All Resources Important

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Fish and Game resources are important to nearly every Alaskan and the state’s new acting commissioner of Fish and Game says he’ll take that to heart as he makes decisions. Sam Cotten is a former democratic state lawmaker. More recently, he’s been a commercial fishermen and a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Anchorage Sets New Temperature Record

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The city of Anchorage can claim a new record. The city did not see a temperature drop below zero for the entire year of 2014. The last time Anchorage residents saw a below zero reading was Dec. 26 of 2013.

Bainbridge Island Nonprofit Providing Unique Deliveries

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

This time of year, many have been buying pasta or cans of soup to contribute to food drives. But food bank organizers say they could use foods with protein.  A Bainbridge Island, Washington nonprofit is delivering such foods in a unique way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

New Campaign Hoping to Increase Conservation in Aleutians

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:10

Download Audio

The waters around the Aleutian Islands support a dizzying range of wildlife – and major industries right along with it. Right now, the government’s job is to help find a balance. But there’s a new campaign to permanently tip the scales toward conservation in the Aleutian Chain.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game Commissioner: All Resources Important

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:03

Download Audio

Fish and Game resources are important to nearly every Alaskan and the state’s new acting commissioner of Fish and Game says he’ll take that to heart as he makes decisions. Sam Cotten is a former Democratic state lawmaker. More recently, he’s been a commercial fishermen and a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Sets New Temperature Record

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:01

Download Audio

The city of Anchorage can claim a new record. The city did not see a temperature drop below zero for the entire year of 2014. The last time Anchorage residents saw a below zero reading was December 26, 2013.

Categories: Alaska News

Bainbridge Island Nonprofit Providing Unique Deliveries

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:00

Download Audio

This time of year, many have been buying pasta or cans of soup to contribute to food drives. But food bank organizers say they could use foods with protein. A Bainbridge Island, Washington nonprofit is delivering such foods in a unique way.

Categories: Alaska News

Ambler Road Would Have Mixed Impact on NW Arctic Caribou

Wed, 2014-12-31 14:26
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, says it is still moving forward to prepare an environmental impact statement for the contentious Ambler Road, even after Governor Bill Walker has placed a hold on the project. The Ambler road would branch west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville and run into the copper deposit near Ambler. If the road eventually gets the go-ahead, it will be a mixed bag for the Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd which winters on and migrates through land that the road would bisect. “I think we’ve got enough information to show that with regard to caribou, it’s not an easy answer,” said Jim Dau, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Kotzebue. “It varies tremendously, seasonally. It’s hard to make a categorical statement saying roads are terrible for caribou or they have no effect. It’s not that simple.” Dau says the road and development that comes with it will have long-term impacts on the caribou herd and its users—but the costs and benefits aren’t clear-cut. Dau said caribou can coexist with roads but they fragment habitat and interrupt migration range. “I think the major impact of roads on caribou is how it affects movements, not just how much lichen is covered by gravel.”

In a recent study, biologists from the Wilderness Society, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service found that about 1.5 to 8.5 percent of the northwest herd’s lichen-rich winter habitat would be displaced by the proposed road. That may not sound like much but Dau said there is more to consider.

Most of the caribou migrate south in the fall, traveling just to the west of where the road would end, but sometimes, instead of traveling south toward the Seward Peninsula, they hook a left and walk up the Kobuk.

“You know, I’ve seen 50 or 80 thousand caribou walk completely out of the Kobuk into the Koyukuk—the upper Koyukuk drainage—and that’s completely along that road, that proposed road.”

The caribou can likely learn to live along a road. They have done it time and time again throughout the continent. Dau has studied herds’ movements near the Kuparuk oil fields, near the Red Dog Mine. He’s talked to biologists in Canada whose herds navigate much more developed land than in Alaska. But Dau’s question is one many share: Will this be the only road, or is it just the first?

AIDEA has said many times that the Ambler Road will be the only road and it will be closed and remediated once mining operations have ceased. The public has been skeptical, especially given its cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dau said he doesn’t support or oppose the road, but if this is just the beginning of development, he says he’s taking the long-term view. “If they were going to extend that road from Ambler out to any deep-water port, then it would bisect the NW Arctic herd range and the caribou would have to cross that road multiple times per year,” he said. “That would be a very, very different animal. So, I tend to think about long-term things. Not just the next 10 years or 20 years. What’s this road going to look like in 50, 75 years or 100 years? Those are the time frames you need to think about.” While AIDEA has maintained that the Ambler Road would be industrial-use only, Dau said the public, including subsistence users in villages near the road, would likely desire access for hunting and other uses if the road were built.
Categories: Alaska News

Crude Price Drop Unlikely To Affect Fuel Prices In Western Alaska

Wed, 2014-12-31 13:49

Fuel tank farm in Wales, Alaska. (Photoby: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM.)

Oil prices continue to fall, with Brent crude around $56 per barrel and gasoline dipping below $3 per gallon around the state. But even as crude prices plummet, rural Alaskans are unlikely to see major savings this winter.

Sean Thomas, the vice president of energy and shipping corporation Crowley Maritime, said western Alaska’s unique geography contributes to static fuel prices in the region.

“The western Alaska market is not a traditional market that you would see at the corner gas station,” he said. “Those markets are served by very large bulk orders that are placed into tank farms, and then are pretty much locked in by ice. So new product does not get in to those locations until the ice goes out.”

Thomas said the price customers see at a gas station in Nome, for example, reflects the market value of gasoline during the summer, when Crowley purchased the fuel. Gasoline stored in tank farms throughout the winter has already been paid for, and doesn’t fluctuate with world market prices.

Nome Utility Manager John Handeland said most utility systems in the region operate under a similar purchasing system. He explained that the Western Alaska Fuel Group – a consortium of communities including Nome, Unalakleet, Kotzebue and Dillingham – purchases diesel and other fuels in bulk, trying to minimize costs during the limited summer window.

The group receives its fuel from Vitus Marine, Handeland said, at an average price calculated for the month when the order was placed. Though the current market fluctuations are extreme, Handeland noted that the price of oil tends to rise in summer and fall in winter every year.

Thomas said summers do generally mean a spike in fuel prices — a trend he attributed partially to demand. But while locked-in prices may seem burdensome when the market is low, he said stable fuel values have also benefited rural customers in the past.

“If you think back just a couple years ago when oil was trading at $60, $70, $80 a barrel and spiked to $140 a barrel. People in Anchorage and elsewhere were paying twice as much at the gas station, and places like Nome and Bethel and Kotzebue prices stayed the same,” said Thomas.

As for whether current market lows will hold until next summer’s purchasing season, both Handeland and Thomas agree: Only time will tell.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Shipping Chills in 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 11:39

The year 2014 has proved to be a slow one for Arctic shipping. Just 31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013.

Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says this year has served as a reality check on some of the over-heated Arctic predictions of recent years.

“I think 2014 kind of shows that development and Arctic shipping may be further off than we might have thought a few years ago, that the ice is not melting as quickly as previously predicted,” he said.

Humpert says shipping is a good indicator of economic activity on the ground in the Arctic. 2007 and 2012 were low ice years, fuelling excitement about Arctic resource extraction, container shipping, even large-scale tourism. Then this year, the ice rebounded a bit. Not only did the number of ships drop off, but Humpert says the purpose changed, too.

“Last year (2013) we had a lot of oil carriers, we had one LNG carrier, we had iron ore, we had timber – a lot of natural resources,” he said.  ”And this year we had actually a few passenger ships, we had heavy lift vessels so that indicates there was building equipment, like an oil platform being transported into the Russian Arctic.”

Humpbert closely watches the Northern Sea Route. (That’s the course over the top of Russia – meaning, if you’re coming from Asia, you go through the Bering Strait and hang a left.) It’s not just ice that’s putting a damper on Arctic activity. Humpert says Russia is feeling the effects of sanctions, resulting from its move on Ukraine. That has scaled back Russian oil activity, and low oil prices haven’t helped. Humpert says he hears a new tone among Arctic forecasters these days.

“I think, in general, the pendulum of excitement and reality, it might be swinging back to reality a little bit,” he said.

Joël Plouffe, a Montreal-based managing editor of the journal Arctic Yearbook, has noticed the same thing. Plouffe says the opening of the Arctic has been oversold as a major and immediate boom, but it remains a region where access is limited and development expensive.

“This is the reality. The boom is not there. And whatever will happen will take years and years and years,” he said.

Still, he does see some exciting developments this year, starting with the Northwest Passage. (That’s the course you’d be on if you went north through the Bering Strait and turned right, over Alaska and Canada.) It sees much less traffic than the Northern Sea Route, but this year, Plouffe says, one transit was a commercial ship travelling without a separate icebreaker.

“The shipping company called Fednav was the first shipping company to actually take some minerals out of the Canadian Arctic and take them out to China using the Northwest Passage, and using drones to help them in Arctic waters,” Plouffe said. “So that’s something new and this pattern will continue.”

And, he says, this year saw the first shipments of oil from Russia’s Arctic waters. Plouffe says expectations of a sudden boom have helped focus some American attention on the Arctic, at least in Congress and among some journalists. Now Plouffe hopes that focus can be expanded to concern for people –the high energy bills in rural Alaska, for instance, and the safety of travel in the region.

“It might not be as sexy as talking about the big boom, but there’s a lot of work to be done to explain to people that eventually what will happen in the North when there will be less ice there will be more human activity,” he said. “So this is not a boom. This is just more human beings travelling in the north and being more vulnerable, also.”

Both Plouffe and Humpert say climate change is transforming the Arctic, even if the pace of its impact on shipping has been over-hyped at times. Humpert likened it to the Gold Rush, which forever changed California, although many reports at the time of easy riches proved to be exaggerations.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Plans To Stick To Marijuana Implementation Schedule, But Other Delays Still Possible

Tue, 2014-12-30 21:30

After considering a delay in legal marijuana sales, Gov. Bill Walker has confirmed that implementation of rules regulating the drug should meet the schedule approved by voters. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event earlier in mid-December, Gov. Bill Walker made a crack about how he wished he could delay the work of marijuana regulation for four years. During campaign season, back when he was still a candidate and the fate of a marijuana ballot measure was yet to be decided, Walker spent little time talking about the initiative except to say he opposed it. Now obligated by voters to do something about it, Walker told the Fairbanks audience he would like to delay some parts of the marijuana initiative by 90 days.

But in a press release on Tuesday, the governor announced he plans to stick to the schedule set by the initiative, with marijuana business licenses available by May of 2014. According to those tasked with the work of implementation, making that deadline is still going to be tight.

“There’s very little leeway or room in that timeline,” says Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s alcoholic beverage control board

That board is working with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to come up with an implementation plan. At a recent meeting with governor, participants concluded that is possible to meet the terms of the initiative. It’s just not a guarantee.

“When you actually go look at the process for meeting those deadlines, really, everything has to go right. What we were pleased [about] when we had the meeting with the governor’s office is that everyone is on board with making everything go as right as possible.”

The marijuana initiative gets added to the books on February 24, and the law will basically go into effect in stages. Possession of the drug outside the home will become legal at that point, but the state legislature will be given the chance to set some of the terms governing commercial operations. Then, a regulatory board has until November 24 to craft its own rules for the industry. Those rules then go to the Department of Law for legal review. It won’t be until next February until marijuana ventures can submit licensing applications.

While that sounds like a long time, Franklin says there are plenty of opportunities for hold-ups, and a lot of that depends on what the Legislature decides to do with the new marijuana policy. Lawmakers could just let the existing alcoholic beverage control board manage the cannabis industry, but they could also create a separate marijuana control board to govern it. Initiative proponents have supported this idea to prevent regulatory power struggles between the alcohol and marijuana industries, and bill to create such a board is already being drafted by Senate judiciary chair Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican.

Franklin says if the legislature goes that route, and serves it with a new agency, it will be impossible to meet the initiative’s deadlines.

“There is no question in my mind that if the legislature creates a separate marijuana control board and a separate marijuana control agency — and that agency has to be hired and put in place and put somewhere physical, and they all have to learn and understand their new jobs, and then they have to work with their brand new board in their brand new industry creating brand new rules from scratch — they will not meet those deadlines,” says Franklin.

Bruce Schulte represents a marijuana industry trade group, and while he’s not as emphatic as Franklin, he doesn’t totally disagree.

“I don’t know that it would be impossible, but certainly it would take up valuable time if a new board is to be created,” says Schulte.

That leaves the members of his group — the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation — in a bit of a bind. Schulte says they like the idea of marijuana and alcohol being regulated separately, but they also want to see implementation happen as quickly as possible. Constitutionally, the Legislature cannot weaken or undo an initiative for two years. But because so much of those two years need to be spent on rule-making before retailers can sell the product, Schulte is worried that leaves the new marijuana law in a vulnerable spot.

“Optimistically, the first stores would be open by August, maybe September, of 2016,” says Schulte. “So, at that point, you’ve got barely six months to establish a track record and to generate some revenue and prove that it can be done responsibly before the legislature then has the opportunity to shut the whole thing down.”

Schulte thinks it’s possible to create a separation between alcohol and marijuana regulators while still meeting the initiative timeline. He says that could be done by establishing an independent marijuana board, while keeping it in the same agency as the ABC board and having it share the same staff.

“I think that would be a compromise,” says Schulte.

If the legislature opts not to create any sort of marijuana control board, the ABC board will be granted regulatory authority over the drug by default.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages