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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 31 min 3 sec ago

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:58

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies.

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The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states.

Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Donlin Gold Closes Camp During Permitting

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:57

(Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Donlin Gold is shutting down its camp at the site of its gold deposit near Crooked Creek. Kurt Parkan is external affairs manager for Donlin Gold.

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“Because a significant amount of fieldwork necessary to bring the project to permitting has already been completed, the need for a camp to be open during that permitting phase doesn’t exist, so we’re temporarily closing the camp during the final phase of the permitting process, and will make a decision to open it once we get through permitting and additional fieldwork justifies the need for the camp to be open again,” said Parkan.

Parkan expects 10 jobs lost in the closure. Over 200 people worked on site at times of peak exploration and fieldwork. The camp has been open for most of the past 20 years, during which companies have explored the massive gold prospect. Teams will continue basic environmental monitoring, but without the convenience of an established camp. Mothballing the site will take about two months.

Donlin is about two and half years into the permitting process and expect another two years before a final permit and the company makes a decision on whether to move ahead.

“The company is focused very heavily on the permitting phase right now, working with cooperating agencies, government agencies to complete the permitting process and environmental impact statement,” said Parkan.

draft environmental impact statement is expected in late summer or early fall of this year. Donlin’s proposed open-pit mine would be among the largest gold mines in the world. The company is owned by Nova Gold and Barrick Gold, two Canadian companies.

Categories: Alaska News

Sugar Creates Genetic Trouble For Coastal Alaska Natives

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:56

The idea that traditional diets are best for coastal Alaska Native people is being further confirmed by the discovery of a gene deficiency that doesn’t allow their systems to process sugar. Dr Matthew Hirschfeld is the director of maternal/child health services at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The intolerant gene causes a condition know as as C-Sid.

Hirschfeld says it’s likely 1 to 5 percent of Alaska Natives have the gene mutation. He told APRN’s Lori Townsend the addition of sugar into so many processed foods is not good for anyone, but is especially bad for coastal Alaska Native people.

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Categories: Alaska News

Scattered Services Make Homelessness In Haines Hard To Grasp

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:54

Haines Salvation Army corps officer Dave Kyle stands in a room where he lets people sleep if they’re in need of temporary shelter.

It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.

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“We had one guy here when I first got here, he slept in the back there for six months until he could get back to Chilkat Lake,” Lt. Dave Kyle said.

Kyle is a corps officer at the Haines Salvation Army. He points back behind racks of second-hand clothing to a room where five or six people have slept over the past three years. Kyle says he’s on “sketchy ground” letting people stay here when they have nowhere else to go. This isn’t a licensed shelter.

“I do tend to push the envelope a little bit in regards to helping my community,” Kyle said.

Sierra Jimenez works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which serves seniors and people with disabilities. SAIL and the Salvation Army are two Haines organizations that seem to deal with homelessness the most. Local churches, Lynn Canal Counseling and the police department also help sometimes. They often provide one-way ferry tickets to Juneau, to the Glory Hole shelter.

“[That happens] several times a year,” Jimenez said.  “And I don’t know that it’s a solution but it’s the solution that we have here in Haines. And that generally is for somebody who is chronically homeless, truly has no place to go and no resources and shelter is the only option.”

Roger and Judy Kley were in that situation when they showed up in Haines more than a year ago. KHNS brought you their story in December.

“When my PFD check come in that one year, I’d already made the decision that we were coming to Haines one way or another,” Judy Kley said. “I was getting real frustrated on the stress I was under not having a place to live.”

The Kleys came to Haines from Anchorage. They slept in the Salvation Army building for a night or two and then they were sent to the Glory Hole in Juneau. It wasn’t until they got disability income that Jimenez was able to help them successfully apply for a government-subsidized apartment in Haines.

When people like the Kleys show up, Jimenez and Kyle say it would be nice to have a shelter for them. But they’re not sure if there are enough homeless people in Haines to make a shelter worth it.

“You know it’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer to that,” Jimenez said. “It would be so nice to have an emergency bed or two for families that come through while we try to put the pieces together. That would be the dream, the ideal situation.”

“Yes, ideally a shelter would be an excellent deal for it,” Kyle said. “But in the emergency sense, in the crisis sense, I don’t think we have enough [people like that.]”

Kyle says helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless is a bigger concern here than helping those that are already homeless.

“Homeless care is very low on my expenses radar. I just helped a family out with $1300 worth of rent assistance, another family at $65 for electric, another family at $75 for electric, I just sent the guy to Juneau for $37 and I haven’t helped anybody for homeless,” Kyle said.

But he agrees that all of those people are at risk of homelessness if they didn’t have a place like the Salvation Army to turn to for assistance.

Jimenez also says helping people who are maybe a paycheck or two away from homelessness is a more common problem in Haines.

“Sometimes somebody just needs help one month with rent or food and then they can be back on their feet. Other people need education and help budgeting,” Jimenez said. “There’s every different story.”

After KHNS’s December story on homelessness, Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa contacted the Salvation Army and SAIL to set up a meeting, which hasn’t happened yet.

“There’s plenty of room for discussion on these issues and to take a look at what’s the scope of the problem,” Sosa said. “Because I know that there are some homeless people, but I don’t know how many.”

If Sosa wants definitive numbers, he’s not going to get them. There are a few local organizations responding to homelessness. But there is no organization tracking it.

If people want to put a number on homelessness in Haines, it will require taking a leap and setting up a centralized service, even though the scale of the problem is uncertain.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Swings at Obama’s Arctic Wilderness Plan But Misses

Wed, 2015-01-28 15:55

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today failed to land her first counterpunch at the Obama administration’s new Arctic conservation policies. The Senate rejected an amendment that would’ve put a time limit on wilderness study areas. Only Congress can permanently designate land as wilderness. But as Murkowski explained on the Senate floor, once the president recommends wilderness status, the government manages the land as wilderness anyway.

“In fact many areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades, because the Congress has not acted,” she said.

The amendment she proposed for the Keystone pipeline bill would’ve removed that protection if Congress didn’t approve a request within a year. The amendment would’ve started the clock on the 12 million acre wilderness area President Obama proposes for the Arctic Refuge. It also would’ve affected a wilderness study area inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other areas in a dozen Western states. Fifty senators voted for it, but it needed 60 to pass.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Seeks To Fill Assembly Seat

Wed, 2015-01-28 14:33

Five hats have been thrown in to the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s ring to replace Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver, who won the state House District 9 election in November and is now in Juneau. The Borough Assembly is expected to choose Colver’s  Borough District 6  replacement at a meeting on February 5.

 Steve Menard, Robert Doyle, Barbara Doty, Gregg Hanson and Neal Lacey are under consideration. Interviews will be scheduled starting  Thursday.

The six remaining Borough Assemblymen could  vote on a replacement  as early as next week.  In the event of a tie, the Borough mayor will cast his vote.

The deadline for applications is  5:00 pm  Wednesday

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Organizing to Stave Off Army Cuts

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:11

The City of Anchorage brought together leaders from the community to organize against potential military cutbacks at two Army bases Alaska. The municipality hopes to convince federal officials that the military is not only good for Alaska, but that Alaska is uniquely vital for the Armed Forces.

Representatives from a wide array of Anchorage institutions–universities all the way to tourism groups–gathered in a conference room at city hall on Tuesday. It’s part of an effort to get out ahead of a draw-down that could take as many 5,300 Army servicemen and women out of the Anchorage area, and with them, thousands of family members that are embedded in the local economy.

Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office reached out to prominent community members to start coordinating a cohesive message in the weeks ahead.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to incorporate all the different sectors, and make sure we can put forward a best-case scenario that lets this committee know the value not only of the military to Anchorage, but what we offer in terms of being a strategic location for training,” Sullivan explained.

Cuts could come from both Fort Richardson, as well as Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks. But Anchorage officials are hoping to make the case that the two bases must be viewed as part of the same package: access to training grounds, quick deployment capabilities, and good employment opportunities for family members.

To hone that message, officials are contracting with Art Services North, an events-planning group.

“The city sees this as a major event, and they see it as sort of needing someone to choreograph all the pieces and parts to create a fluid presentation,” said Darl Schaaff with the company, adding that right now the biggest challenge is how little time is available to gather input from stakeholders.

Part of Art Services North’s presentation will be a tour of Anchorage to officials from the Army and Defense Department when they visit in February ahead of a public listening session. Two co-chairs were selected from the city’s tourism and economic development lobbies to make those arrangements.

The draw-down is part of a national reduction in the size of the armed forces, eliminating 120,000 positions from active duty. A maximum of 11,100 troops could be removed from Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly Bans Marijuana From Public Use

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:03

The Anchorage Assembly voted 11-to-0 last night  to ban public consumption of marijuana. It’s a big first step as both the city and state try to regulate marijuana ahead of decriminalization next month.

Many of those who testified before the Assembly accused the body of violating the will of the voters by trying to ban marijuana in Anchorage. But that is not what the new ordinance does. Instead, it gives the Anchorage Police Department and law-makers the first in a series of instructions about how to proceed as marijuana goes from illegal to legal on February 24th. The new rules treat marijuana almost identically to alcohol: no lighting up on the sidewalk, no driving under the influence, no consuming if you’re under 21.

The measure creates a civil citation for consuming in public, bringing with it a $100 ticket, but no jail time or criminal record. Mark Mew is chief of the Anchorage Police Department, and believes that while the bill is imperfect, the municipality would send the wrong signal if it took no action on the matter until the Legislature finished a totally comprehensive bill later on.

“But by that time, everybody’s gone hog-wild,” Mew explained, “and we’ll never be able to contain it back to where it is.”

The very big missing piece in Alaska’s decriminalization process right now is regulating who can grow, process, and sell marijuana products.

Until local and state officials develop rules for dispensing, there’s still no technically legal way to obtain recreational marijuana. That also means that even after February 24th, businesses like bars are not allowed to let patrons use pot in their establishments. For now, a private business counts as public when it comes to marijuana.

Assembly member Bill Starr added an amendment to the measure bringing it back before the body a year from now to re-assess whether or not the law is working.

As municipalities around the state weigh their local options, a joint Judiciary committee in Juneau is hammering out a bill of their own, SB-30. And the process is no less complicated.

Categories: Alaska News

With Greater Numbers, Democrats Hope For More Leverage Over Medicaid Expansion

Tue, 2015-01-27 21:43

House Democrats plan to use their increase in numbers as leverage when pushing for Medicaid expansion.

With the last election, the House Minority caucus grew from ten to 13, making support from at least some of their members necessary for any action that requires a three-fourths vote. The most significant of these actions is a vote to allow the Legislature to cover a shortfall through the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a hard-to-tap rainy day account that is worth $11 billion.

At a press availability on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Chris Tuck said that requirement could help his caucus push for Medicaid expansion. While the federal government would pay the added costs of Medicaid expansion through 2016, the Legislature must accept the money through a line in its budget.

“We do know that that’s going to be a bargaining strength for our side,” said Tuck. “We’re going to use that vote very cautiously. We want to make sure that we’re doing the best for Alaska, making those lasting opportunities not just in health care, but in education.”

Expanding Medicaid to include Alaskans with incomes at 138 percent of the federal poverty level been a priority for Democrats in the Legislature and for unaffiliated governor Bill Walker. According to a report commissioned by the state in 2013, Medicaid expansion would bring more than $2 billion in federal funding to the state over the next six years. But opponents of expansion — including former Gov. Sean Parnell and some Republican lawmakers — note that same report concludes the state would be obligated to pay over $200 million over that same time period.

With a projected deficit of over $3 billion, the Legislature’s financial analysts have determined that it will be necessary to access the Constitutional Budget Reserves. The withdrawal could be structured in such a way that education funding is tied to a vote, making opposition to use of the reserves more difficult.

Categories: Alaska News

Double Homicide in East Anchorage Latest in String of Gun Incidents

Tue, 2015-01-27 18:44
A shooting early Tuesday morning killed two people in an East Anchorage four-plex. It was the second fatal incident in less than a week. The Anchorage Police Department wrote in a release that at around 3:30am shots from a firearm left 27-year-old Christian Haynes dead. Bullets also struck a 23-year-old female inside the building who police have not yet identified. She was brought to a hospital and pronounced dead shortly afterwards. APD Spokesperson Jennifer Castro says that while no suspects have yet been taken into custody, detectives have spoken with witnesses. “We are throwing everything we have at this case right now with our detective, patrol resources, and investigative resources,” Castro said. “We’ve had our crime scene team out there all day long. So, at this time, we’re all hands on deck right now.” Castro declined to comment on whether the shots were fired inside the residence, saying the Department does not want to release details that could help a perpetrator avoid arrest. The incident comes within a day of police taking a 14-year-old into custody in connection with the shooting death at a Midtown parking-lot at the corner of Tudor and Lake Otis. Since the start of the year, APD has issued releases on eight gun-related assaults. The Department’s crime analyst is in the process of investigating whether or not gun violence is on the rise. “We know that there’s been a lot of violent crime happening in our community lately, it’s certainly a concern of our citizens,” Castro explained.   And the biggest thing that we’re asking for, ” she continued,  ”is getting good solid information from our citizens.” The department asks witnesses, or anyone with information to call officials at 561-7867.
Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: January 27, 2015

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:35

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

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Obama Withdraws 9.8m Acres of Arctic Ocean

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama is withdrawing 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from future oil and gas lease sales. Today’s announcement comes in conjunction with the Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore plan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has already described it as a gut punch to Alaska’s economy. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, though, says the withdrawals are limited to small areas of the Beaufort, a 25-mile buffer along the Chukchi Coast and the area around the Hanna Shoal, northwest of Barrow.

Invoices, Invitations, Litigation, and Even Secession: Walker Says All Responses Possible To Arctic Drilling Decision

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska lawmakers have described the new protections for the Arctic as an act of war against the state. Now the governor wants to shoot some volleys of his own.

Cook Inlet Gas Considered To Relieve Interior Alaska’s Energy Costs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State and local leaders are trying to determine if natural gas from Cook Inlet is a viable option for interior’s need for a lower cost, cleaner energy source. At issue are some of the same costs that derailed an earlier focus to bring in North Slope gas.

Sullivan: Alaskans Dream Big, Breathe Air ‘Bathed in Promise’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In his first Senate speech, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today spoke in support of the Keystone Pipeline. He likened it to the tie vote in the Senate over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973.

Proposed ASD budget includes 24 new teachers

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District’s proposed $770 million budget for next year includes 24 new teaching positions. It’s a drastic change from previous years’ cuts and this year’s initial feared shortfall.

Delta To Add Year-Round Competition In Juneau, Fairbanks

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Delta Air Lines will fly year-round between Juneau and Seattle starting in May. This is a change from just offering flights during the summer, and could signal more Delta service coming to the state in the future.

Unalaska Locals Hope Proposed Watershed Fixes Are First of Many

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska Lake and the Iliuliuk River run through the heart of Unalaska. The watershed used to be habitat for thousands of salmon. But after decades of development and little consideration for containing runoff, that fish population seems to be on the decline.

This week, after months of public debate, Unalaska’s city council will take a first look at one million dollars of mitigation projects. Residents hope it’s the first step down a path to recovery.

Walker Says Rupert Terminal Will Be Rebuilt

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker says he’ll continue pushing for construction of a new ferry terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

AMHS To Close Ferry Bar Service This Winter

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Alaska Marine Highway System is closing bars on state ferries, a move that state Department of Transportation officials say will save about $750,000 a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Cook Inlet Gas Considered To Relieve Interior Alaska’s Energy Costs

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:08

State and local leaders are trying to determine if natural gas from Cook Inlet gas is viable option for Interior’s need for a lower cost, cleaner energy source. At issue are some of the same costs that derailed an earlier focus to bring in North Slope gas.

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The state lead Interior Energy Project is aimed at getting natural gas to Fairbanks consumers at a price equivalent to $2 a gallon heating oil.

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation is helping vet potential suppliers, and the governor’s office recently re-focused the project on Cook Inlet gas. FEDCO president and CEO Jim Dodson says current Cook Inlet production is committed to south central area customers.

“We’ve got to convince somebody that we’re willing to pay a price high enough so that they’re able to have an investor come in and invest at least $10 million or more, probably, into Cook Inlet and go down and drill a well that has we don’t know what probability it has of success, but it’s not 100%,we heard that,” Dodson said.

Dodson heard that from Cook Inlet Energy Commercial Manager Mark Slaughter, who met with FEDCO and other local leaders this week, to talk about supplying Fairbanks. Slaughter refers to the Interior Energy Project targeted gas price as a starting point.

“It’s a commercial negotiation, so it just will depend between the parties how everything works out and it’ll depend realistically on financing and what level of government involvement is involved,” Slaughter said.

The state is backing the Interior energy project with an over $340 million financing package, but that’s for a range of needed infrastructure including getting liquefied gas north, something FEDCO Dodson lists options for.

“[It] could be a pipeline, it could be a rail car, it could be a truck, all of those things are in play,” Dodson said.

Governor Bill Walker is pushing the option of moving Cook Inlet LNG north on the Alaska Railroad. The Interior Energy project originally proposed trucking in gas from the North Slope, but the ballooning cost of a LNG processing facility there, pushed the estimated consumer gas price too high. Upping Cook Inlet production to meet broad demand in Fairbanks would also require expanded processing capacity.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Locals Hope Proposed Watershed Fixes Are First of Many

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:05

Murky water in Unalaska Lake is evidence of a runoff problem that may be harming salmon. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

Unalaska Lake and the Iliuliuk River run through the heart of Unalaska. The watershed used to be habitat for thousands of salmon. But after decades of development and little consideration for containing runoff, that fish population seems to be on the decline.

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On Tuesday, after months of public debate, city council is voting ontaking its first look at a million dollars of mitigation projects. Residents hope it’s the first step down a path to recovery.

Qawalangin Tribe president Tom Robinson is standing in the middle of one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in Unalaska. The valley’s lined with duplexes and family homes overlooking a winding creek. But it’s not all picturesque:

Tom Robinson: You can see – we are at the base of the Overland Road. And you can see an attempt to capture some of the sediment problems from the quarry…

Robinson’s pointing at a pool of murky runoff, which sits below a gravel road leading up to a privately owned rock quarry. He and other locals think this area’s a main source of the silt, which has been clogging up the Unalaska Lake watershed.

“The amount of gravel that’s put on the road … you know, I don’t think anyone really thought that the runoff would be a big problem,” Robinson says. “Well, folks, it is. And it’s killing our lake.”

For the past few months, the Anchorage-based consulting firm PND Engineers has been running tests on the lake and the river. And they’ve asked residents like Robinson what they think would be the best way to clean them up and help restore the salmon runs.

Robinson says there’s been a lot of public participation in that process:

“By the demise of our lake, this is probably the first time that, I think, you saw that many entities in one room, taking on a topic,” he says.

PND is working with a million-dollar grant, left over from the defunct Coastal Zone Management program. At this week’s city council meeting, they’ll present their ideas for using that money to improve the watershed. (Click to see the draft plans for the lakeand the river.) 

One suggestion: better training for roads crews on how to reduce runoff while they’re out plowing snow. They also recommend new culverts, ditches and sediment traps on the gravel roads that run through the watershed.

Ideally, they say the city should start paving those streets. City Engineer Robert Lund is a big supporter — but he says it’s a major undertaking.

“It really, really rains here a lot, so that’s one of the things you’re kind of fighting, is just the weather and the topography. It’s very steep and all that,” Lund says. “So those are expensive issues — that’s why paving’s, I think, a good one, because it really takes the source.”

Lund says that controlling runoff wasn’t always a priority for the city. But now, he hopes they’ll draw new lessons from the research that’s been done on the local watershed.

“There’s better practices that we could be doing,” Lund says. “And there’s not really an excuse not to take care of our environment to the extent that’s practical, or at least conserve it … while there’s still fish in it.”

The salmon, he says, are the best indicator of whether the watershed is healthy. And it’s widely believed that the population is a fraction of what it used to be.

Right now, the most reliable source of data to back that up is the high school hatchery class. They’re the only ones conducting regular checks on the salmon and their habitat.

On a recent morning, students were out at the river measuring the water level, and checking how clear it was.

Ashley RobinsonCan you feel it, though?
Cole McCracken: 
It’s right here.
Ashley: So… yeah.
Cole: But that seems pretty low. Well, normally, we do it from right on the end of the side. It’s the deeper area…

Senior Cole McCracken’s been speaking up at public meetings about the watershed. He’s grown up fishing salmon here, and he says he’s seen the river change:

“The sediment concentration has increased over the past few years, for sure – or, more than that,” he says. “Probably over the past, like, couple of decades.”

Eventually, McCracken’s class may not be the only ones keeping tabs on the river. The engineers who’ve been helping the city wade through options for their grant are recommending two fish weirs to collect hard data on the size of the runs. That could help shed light on what’s causing them to drop off.

Steven Gregory is the teacher in charge of the hatchery class. He’s a big advocate of the weirs — but he says he hopes the city — and residents — will go further in tackling runoff.

“There has been a perception that something needs to be done, and now, I think, people believe that there actually are some ways to make an improvement,” Gregory says. “So I’m excited about that, but again, it’s going to take a sustained effort.”

And, probably more funding than the million dollars the city has at its disposal right now. That’s why Robinson and the Qawalangin Tribe have pledged to track down additional grants for clean-up.

And after a petition from dozens of residents, the city of Unalaska is looking into a special historic designation for the watershed. That could pave the way for more funding and protection in the future.

CLARIFICATION: After the PND presentation and a chance for public input at Tuesday night’s meeting, city council will decide how to move forward. City manager Chris Hladick expects they’ll ask staff to compile a final plan on what projects the city can afford and finish on time — the grant money has to be used by June 2016.

Hladick says council will vote on a final watershed plan at their Feb. 10 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Says Rupert Terminal Will Be Rebuilt

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:04

Gov. Bill Walker says he’ll continue pushing for construction of a new ferry terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

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His administration cancelled project bidding Jan. 21 due to a dispute over construction materials.

Federal funds covering most of the project require U.S. steel to be used. Canadian officials won’t let that happen.

The ferry Taku loads up at the Prince Rupert, B.C., ferry terminal July 24, 2014. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

At a recent press conference, Walker said he expected to find a way around the conflict.

“It’s an important part of what we do as far as our Alaska Marine Highway System. So, we’ll continue to have that discussion and I’m sure we’ll come to some sort of understanding so the project can move forward,” Walker said.

Prince Rupert is about 100 miles southeast of Ketchikan. It’s the only ferry port on the mainland road system in the thousand miles between Skagway and Bellingham, Washington.

State Transportation Department officials say the current dock and ramp will last no more than five years.

The terminal had to close for repairs when it was deemed unsafe in 2008. But that was only a temporary fix.

Since then, there state has negotiated a $3.3-million, 50-year lease for the terminal, which is part of Prince Rupert’s port.

Transportation Department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said that’s a long-enough commitment to justify reconstruction.

“Usually when we build facilities, bridges, roads they have a finite life. And 50 years is a pretty good estimate for a lifespan of a terminal,” Woodrow said.

Bidding documents listed the cost at $10 million to $20 million.

Woodrow says if the project proceeds, it’s expected to take one or two construction seasons to build.

Categories: Alaska News

AMHS To Close Ferry Bar Service This Winter

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:03

The Alaska Marine Highway System is closing bars on state ferries, a move that state Department of Transportation officials say will save about $750,000 a year.

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According to a DOT, the ferry bars lose money every year, and closing them will help limit other potential reductions in service. Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the biggest savings will be in salaries, but no current employees will lose their jobs.

The ferry Taku sails into the Wrangell Narrows on its way south in 2013. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“Crewmembers that work in the bars currently, they’ll be put in other positions. Then those positions wouldn’t be hired for the summer and then through the next winter,” he said.

Six state ferries have bar service: The Kennicott, the Matanuska, the Columbia, the Tustumena, the Malaspina and the Taku. The bar-closure dates will vary, depending on when they’re scheduled for their spring overhaul.

Woodrow said bar lounges will be offered as additional general lounge areas. The bars themselves will be closed off, but not removed, in case the state decides to offer that service again in the future.

Even though the bars will be closed, passengers 21 and older will be able to purchase beer and wine in the cafeteria areas during scheduled meal service times.

Woodrow said how that will work has not yet been determined.

“That’s something the department is going to be working on as these ships enter into their overhaul status, they’ll be working on the ship and finding a safe place, but also a convenient place to be able to store the beer and wine so that when passengers are purchasing their meal, they also can purchase a beer or wine to go along with their meal,” he said.

Woodrow said the first ship due for an overhaul is the Kennicott in March. The last one is the Taku, which is scheduled for June.

Categories: Alaska News

Obama withdraws 9.8m Acres of Arctic Ocean

Tue, 2015-01-27 16:57

President Obama is withdrawing 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from future oil and gas lease sales. Today’s announcement comes in conjunction with the Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore plan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has already described it as a gut punch to Alaska’s economy. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell says the withdrawals are limited to small areas of the Beaufort, a 25-mile buffer along the Chukchi Coast and the area around the Hanna Shoal, northwest of Barrow. Except for the Hanna Shoal, Jewell says the proposed withdrawals are already off limits in the current five-year plan.

“They already were deferred from oil and gas leasing. And I don’t think anybody who looks at those maps would say that that is an unreasonable amount,” she said in a call with reporters.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says the draft puts “massive portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi off limits” to leasing. Young says President Obama is treating Alaska like an “eco-theme park” to please his allies.

The off-shore plan is drawing daggers from environmentalists, too. Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups claim the plan will aggravate climate change and creates the risk of an oil spill in a region with no infrastructure to support a cleanup.

Hanna Shoal is home to a diverse range of fish species and marine mammals. That withdrawal is about 1.6 million acres, or some 300 lease blocks. Ten of those blocks there are currently leased, three  to Shell, according to a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The president’s order, though, says the rights of those leaseholders are unchanged. Jewell says the withdrawal has no affect on Shell, the only operator close to exploratory drilling in the Chukchi.

“There’s nothing that we’re announcing today that impacts Shell’s plans. They have valid existing leases. We’ve been working very, very closely with them to support the activities that they want to do up there but to make sure that there done in a safe an environmentally safe way,” she said.

In a statement, Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino says the company is focused on exploring its existing leases in the Chukchi. But the company hasn’t announced whether it will restart its Arctic exploration program this summer. Shell has spent more than $6 billion so far and has asked the government to extend its leases. The earliest are set to expire in 2017.

On Sunday, the Obama administration angered Alaska officials by announcing it will seek wilderness status for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, which would preclude development. Sen. Murkowski this week called Obama and Secretary Jewell indifferent to the people of Alaska.

Jewell says she respects the senator’s passion.

“On the personal side: I worked on the (Trans-Alaska) Pipeline when I was a college student,’ Jewell said. “I have visited Alaska dozens of times. I love the state.”

Jewell is planning a trip to Kotzebue next month, to go on an Alaska Federation of Natives retrear. She says she looks forward to demonstrating her belief in balanced resource development and in listening to all sides.

“I’m committed to doing that. And I look forward to coming to the state,” she said. “And I hope I am welcomed.”

News Director Lauren Rosenthal of member station KUCB contributed to this story.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Invoices, Invitations, Litigation, and Even Secession: Walker Says All Responses Possible To Arctic Drilling Decision

Tue, 2015-01-27 16:56

Alaska lawmakers have described President Barack Obama’s new protections for the Arctic as an act of war against the state. Now the governor wants to shoot some volleys of his own.

The decision to block drilling in a good chunk of the Arctic angered Gov. Bill Walker so much that he did not even rule out secession when asked about it at a press conference.

“We’ll consider all options,” said Walker. “I don’t think that’s one we’ll give a lot of credence to. But I won’t say that we won’t. I don’t know that that gets us what we want. Interesting thought, though.”

Walker, an independent, does intend to send a $2 billion invoice to the White House, charging for the loss of revenue potential to the state.

“They owe us,” Walker said. “They owe us as far as I’m concerned.”

Walker acknowledged that the federal government is unlikely to pay the bill, but wants to make a statement about Alaska’s resource economy.

The governor is also considering more traditional responses, like inviting the president and secretary of the Interior for a tour of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And if that does not work, he says a lawsuit is possible.

Obama announced the decision to designate 12 million acres of ANWR as wilderness on Sunday, and offered a plan to ban drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas on Tuesday. While Shell holds offshore leases in the Arctic, no oil production is currently underway in the affected areas. The proposals have no immediate effect, but critics worry the plan could lock up billions of barrels of oil for the foreseeable future.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan: Alaskans Dream Big, Breathe Air ‘Bathed in Promise’

Tue, 2015-01-27 16:36

In his first Senate speech, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today spoke in support of the Keystone Pipeline. He likened it to the tie vote in the Senate over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973.

“Then, like now, opponents howled. They said TAPS would be an environmental disaster. They said bird and caribou populations would be decimated. But none of that happened,” he said.

Sullivan is the first member of Congress from Alaska to discuss that pivotal moment in state history who did not live through it, or not as an Alaskan anyway. His sweeping address went on to discuss the American dream, and what he describes as the Obama Administration’s threat to it. Sullivan says the dream is still alive in Alaska.

“In Alaska, the very air you breathe is bathed in promise,” Sullivan said. “The people still speak the language of bold ideas, and rugged adventure.”

He made a pitch for more access to federal land, for ending bureaucratic delay, and for curbing the growth of regulation.

“According to the President’s own Small Business Administration, federal regulations impose an annual burden on our economy of close to $2 trillion dollars,” Sullivan said. “That’s roughly $15,000 dollars per year, per American family.”

Other Congress members have cited that per-family figure, too. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker this month awarded the claim two Pinocchios, saying it’s misleading because it leaves out the savings. The Post cited the example of fuel-efficiency standards: They raise the cost of a car but save gas money over time.

Sullivan, in his speech to the Senate, also argued for his amendment to disarm the EPA.

“In a classic case of federal government power creep, 200 armed EPA, close to 200, armed EPA agents, are roaming our country,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois soon came to the floor and argued against arming the EPA, making it Sullivan’s first official Senate clash.

“Sen. Sullivan wants them to enforce the laws but he doesn’t want them to carry a firearm. That to me is ridiculous. In fact, it’s dangerous,” Durbin said, citing instances where he says EPA agents had to confront armed suspects.

But Republican colleagues, from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, publicly congratulated Sullivan after the speech. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, according to a statement issued by Sullivan’s office, particularly liked the emphasis on “Alaska-sized dreams.”

Categories: Alaska News

Delta To Add Year-Round Competition In Juneau, Fairbanks

Tue, 2015-01-27 09:29

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

Delta Air Lines will fly year-round between Juneau and Seattle starting in May. This is a change from just offering flights during the summer, and could signal more Delta service coming to the state in the future.

Delta Air Lines Vice President of Seattle Mike Medeiros says the response to its one daily flightbetween Juneau and Seattle was good last summer. So good, Delta decided a couple weeks ago to extend it all year.

“It’s, quite frankly, a place that needs some competition so we’re ready to step in and be able to provide that,” Medeiros says.

Delta will fly a Boeing 737 during the summer months, which can seat up to 160 people. In September, it will contract with SkyWest, which flies a Bombardier CRJ-900. Medeiros says the 76-seat plane better meets demand during the rest of the year.

Travel analyst Scott McMurren writes the newsletter Alaska Travelgram. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

He says extending service beyond the summer is not a decision Delta made lightly.

“When we’re making a commitment to a market, it’s very difficult to pull out. It’s difficult on the company and difficult for us to do that,” he says.

Delta will also extend seasonal service between Fairbanks and Seattle to be year-round, and add summer flights from Seattle to Ketchikan and Sitka. Medeiros says the new Southeast Alaska services will be evaluated at the end of summer.

“We’ll see how Alaskan residents have responded to us. If they respond like they did in Fairbanks and Juneau to the competition, then I think it over time could find its way to a year-round pattern as well, but hard to predict that,” Medeiros says.

Adding additional service to the state of Alaska is part of Delta’s expansion in Seattle to connect passengers to international destinations or other hubs within the U.S. Delta has around 95 daily flights from Seattle, almost triple what it had last year. It hopes to grow to around 150 departures in another two years.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson says the company isn’t nervous about Delta’s year-round service in Alaska. He says over the years other airlines have come in and out of the state.

“There’s always going to be competition in business. And we have to continue to make our business perform just like it has over the past number of years with an on-time record, a product that people want to fly on, especially Alaskans,” Thompson says.

He says Alaska saw little change in passenger numbers from previous summers when Delta wasn’t flying from Juneau to Seattle.

“For the most part, we still had a lot of Alaskans flying on Alaska Airlines being able to go in-state and out of state as well,” Thompson says.

And he doesn’t think Delta’s year-round service will change that.

“I think we have a pretty solid reputation, and we have a pretty good loyalty base here in the state of Alaska,” Thompson says.

Travel analyst Scott McMurren is one of those loyalists, and as a member of its mileage program, likes to rack up Alaska Airlines miles.

“But there’s always part of the market that doesn’t care about that or they care up to a certain point, especially if I’m traveling with my family or if buying a ticket for an employee. Delta is going be able to capture some of that market by dropping the price,” McMurren says.

Right now, fares between the capital city and Seattle after Labor Day are priced higher than they are in the summer. But, McMurren says, fear not.

“To have the competitive force year-round, fares will go down,” McMurren says.

He anticipates roundtrip fares between Juneau and Seattle in the winter to be comparable to those in the summer and drop to as low as $250.

Categories: Alaska News

APD Responds To Shooting Death

Tue, 2015-01-27 09:20

Early Tuesday morning Anchorage police responded to a fatal shooting at an apartment complex at East 41st Court. Two people were shot, a man and a woman. The man was dead on the scene. No arrests yet.

This follows a midtown fatal shooting Sunday in which a 14-year-old is charged with shooting 18-year-old Gustav Steinhilpert the Third in a vehicle in a parking lot. Police call this one a drug deal gone bad.

Categories: Alaska News

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