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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: 10 min ago

Arctic Climate Researchers Zoom in on Plankton

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:29

Researchers collect water samples in the Chukchi Sea. (Courtesy of Amanda Kowalski/ArcticSpring.org)

They’re not recognizable like polar bears or whales. But phytoplankton are a key part of life in the Arctic – and now, they’re at the center of a new research effort to predict how the region will respond to climate change.

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Almost every animal in the Arctic eats — or eats something that consumes — phytoplankton. They’re tiny specks of algae that usually blossom into big clouds out in the ocean in the springtime.

But that’s not what Kevin Arrigo saw a few years back. He was in the Chukchi Sea for a research cruise funded by NASA.

Arrigo: “The deeper we went into the ice, the more phytoplankton there were. They reached amazing concentrations, to the point where it was the largest bloom anybody had ever seen anywhere in the world’s oceans. And it was under three feet of ice.”

Phytoplankton need two things to grow — nutrients and light.

In the past, scientists have assumed that sun can’t get through thick Arctic sea ice. But as the earth warms up, the ice is thinning out. And it’s definitely easier for light to get through.

Arrigo: “The thing we didn’t know was what the nutrient distributions look like — particularly before the bloom starts, early in the spring. Because nobody’s ever been in the Chukchi Sea, sampling the entire ocean from top to bottom at that time of year.”

That’s what Arrigo set out to do this spring, with a team of about 40 other scientists. They examined the base of Arctic food web in the Chukchi Sea, with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

That paid for a trip aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. Arrigo says it was an ideal vessel, but there were some roadblocks it couldn’t plow through.

Arrigo: “We were really unlucky in that everything happened late this year. The melt ponds never formed while we were out there. The phytoplankton under the ice never developed because there was never enough ice. But we were really happy with the results because we know now that the whole region — the entire Chukchi Sea — is really prime habitat for these things to develop.”

Bob Pickart is the lead physical oceanographer for this project. He says he’s coming away with hundreds of water samples from up and down the Chukchi Sea — all loaded down with nutrients.

Pickart: “These nutrients –- they spur the growth of the phytoplankton. And then from there on, it just spirals right up the food chain. So it’s like the base of the ecosystem. This is what it’s all about.”

Pickart says there’s a lot of work ahead to analyze the samples. His findings will be shared with other scientists on the team.

Pickart: “They have to know, why are the nutrients in the water in the first place. How did they get there? Where does the water go? What’s the timing of the water? So they have to know all about the physics of the circulation on the Chukchi Shelf in order to then understand the biology.”

Arrigo is a biologist, and he has his own questions — about the timing of the phytoplankton bloom.

Arrigo: ”Productivity has been shifting earlier and earlier, because the ice is melting earlier and earlier. But now the bloom — the productivity — is not even waiting for the ice to melt.”

If it’s coming earlier than animals are used to:

Arrigo: “What’s going to happen? Are they going to produce their offspring at a point when the bloom’s already happened, it’s too late, there’s no food in the water?”

Arrigo says the best chance of predicting that is to understand how the phytoplankton are interacting with their environment right now.

That’s why the researchers are hoping to return to the Chukchi Sea next year to gather more water samples, and a better look at the bottom of the Arctic food web.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Find Climate Cooling Effect in Ancient Thermokarst Lakes

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:28

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate. But a new study published online by the journal Nature today indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost in the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales. The study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

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Katey Walter Anthony is an Associate Professor at  the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering  She studies methane emissions from Arctic thermokarst lakes.

“Until now, we have understood these thermokarst lakes, or lakes where permafrost thaws, to be a really important source of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes the climate to warm,” she says.

A few years ago, Anthony was in a boat on a river in Siberia, when she noticed something in the sediments along the riverbank.

“We could see where ancient lakes had been eroded by the river, so we could see the lakes in cross section,” she says.  ”It looked like we were looking at a layered cake.  Those layers were the layers of sediment in the lake and we saw really thick beds of moss.”

Some time after the last glacial maximum – roughly ten thousand years ago – permafrost began to thaw.  Depressions formed, filled with water and eventually millions of small lakes started to dot the Arctic landscape. They were all emitting methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Anthony says that process probably lasted for about a thousand years.

“But those waterbodies sit around as lakes for several thousand years,” she explains, “and at some point, they burn up all of the permafrost carbon and so their methane emissions decline and as they slow down in their emissions, they speed up in their ability to soak up carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Over time, Anthony believes thick, carbon rich beds of peat moss grew as microbial decomposition declined.  She and colleagues studied more than 50 ancient lakes in parts of Siberia and Alaska.  In some places, she says they found beds of peat moss up to four meters, or 12 fee, thick.

“We would walk up to these permafrost exposures and we could pull on those mosses and it was like pulling long tendrils of spaghetti,” she laughs. “They were very well preserved and poorly decomposed, and the reason is that when the mosses grow and then senesce in these lakes, they have anaerobic bottoms.  there’s no oxygen down there and so site mosses don’t decompose and eventually, lakes drain and the sediments really quickly refreeze.  it’s like flash freezing of those mosses.”

Anthony believes lakes across the landscape have accumulated 1.6 times the amount of carbon they emitted before the lakes refroze. She says that increases the total estimated amount of carbon scientists believe is currently stored in the circumpolar permafrost region by 50 percent.  The results also show these ancient lakes actually have a net cooling effect on climate over thousands of years.

“It’s cooling the climate,” she says.  ”It’s soaking up more climate than its emitting.  It’s is offsetting human emissions.  It’s not a  avery large offset to human emissions and I think there bigger concern is that all of this very large reservoir of lake moss peat, this lake carbon, is stored in permafrost since the sediments refreeze when they drain.”

Anthony doesn’t believe this net cooling effect till offset current predications for a warmer climate in the future. “So, in the future, the projected warming of permafrost across the Arctic, will thaw all of that carbon again and make it vulnerable to decomposition by microbes and return that carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane.”

The study is published in the most recent issue of Nature.  Funding comes from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the US Geological Survey.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 16, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:14

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

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Tuck Fined $14,000 For Campaign Finance Violations

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The minority leader of the State House has agreed to pay a major fine for mismanaging campaign funds. Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged that he mixed up his campaign contributions with his personal savings and failed to make accurate and timely disclosures.

Kerry Names Ex-Coast Guard Boss Special Rep to Arctic

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday named former Coast Guard commandant Robert Papp as special representative to the Arctic. Kerry created the new position to elevate Arctic issues in America’s foreign policy and national security strategy as the U.S. prepares to assume the chair of the Arctic Council.

Murkowski Joins Democrats on Vote for Birth Control Coverage

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. Senate bill requiring companies to cover birth control in employee healthcare plans failed a procedural vote Wednesday. Both Alaska senators voted for the bill, aimed at undoing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of only three Republicans to vote for the measure, dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.” It fell four votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.

Judge Blocks Law Limiting Medicaid Payments For Abortion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

A superior court judge in Anchorage has blocked a law restricting Medicaid payments for abortion from going into effect.

Authorities Investigate Explosion in Petersburg

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

Details are emerging about an explosion that injured a Petersburg person over the weekend and has brought federal explosives agents there to investigate.

Permitting Officials Explore Alternatives For Donlin Gold Mine

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Donlin Gold is in a multiyear permitting process for the proposed gold mine located north of Crooked Creek about 120 miles upriver from Bethel. Scientists and engineers are now studying not just Donlin’s proposed plan, but several variations that would significantly change the mine.

Alaska LNG Project Community Meeting Provides Questions and Hope

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska LNG Project hosted a community meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday night. About 90 people listened to an explanation of the newest version of a plan to get natural gas from the North Slope to market.

Fall Chum Season Opens on the Yukon

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The fall chum salmon season on the Yukon begins Wednesday.

Arctic Climate Researchers Zoom in on Plankton

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

They’re not recognizable like polar bears or whales. But phytoplankton are a key part of life in the Arctic – and now, they’re at the center of a new research effort to predict how the region will respond to climate change.

Scientists Find Climate Cooling Effect in Ancient Thermokarst Lakes

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate.  But a new study published online by the journal Nature today indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost in the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales.  The study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Blocks Law Limiting Medicaid Payments For Abortion

Tue, 2014-07-15 18:58

A superior court judge has blocked a law restricting Medicaid payments for abortion from going into effect.

In an injunction issued on Tuesday, Judge John Suddock wrote that there are “serious questions of constitutional validity” of a new state law that puts limits on what qualifies as a “medically necessary” abortion. The state was supposed to start enforcing the law on Wednesday.

The law passed after similar regulations were put on hold by the same judge. The legislation was advanced by mostly Republicans, and went farther than the Department of Health and Social Services regulations by defining the term “medically necessary” to include only physical conditions.

Both the law and the regulations are the subject of a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

Categories: Alaska News

Questions Remain About Alaska’s Prison Deaths

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:34

A number of inmate deaths in Alaska prisons over the past few months have prompted state legislators to seek answers. But at a hearing hosted by Senator Hollis French (D – Anchorage) on Tuesday in Anchorage, few questions were resolved.

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In a hushed room, Constance Anderson held a photo of her daughter, Kirsten Simon aloft for all to see.

“So I have a lot of questinos, i want to know if the guards are trained, to know if someone is real sick and if it is the policy of the prison to send in a medic, who was five feet away from her cell… there was a medic five feet away from her cell, five feet, from what I understand as what I have been told. Do you know how painful that is? I love my daughter, she was an overcomer. She worked with people with disabilities and had a disability herself.”

Simon, age 33, was found dead in a holding cell in the Anchorage Correctional Center on June 6 of this year.

Anderson relayed Simon’s medical history, her troubled past, her drug addiction.. but she said she is not buying the explanation the Simon may have died from heart failure. Simon’s death was the fourth of an inmate this year, but not the last, and Anderson is not the only family member of an inmate who died in prison. [In a packed hearing room at Anchorage’s temporary Legislative Information Office, people sat on the floor, stood in the hallways, and listened to Vernisia Gordon, fiancee of 20 year old Devon Mosely, who died in an Anchorage jail in April of this year. Gordon read from a prepared statement, tracing the timeline of Mosely’s incarceration and sudden death. He died almost a week after his case had been dismissed.

“Six days after dismissal, still no phone contact from Devon, I’m asked to visit and stll told ‘No.” Four/four, (April 4, 2014) one week after dismissal, still no phone call from Devon. Devon dies at 1:44 pm. I go to the jail at 2:15, and I’m told to come back at 5:30.”

In both cases, officials say no foul play is suspected. But family members who testified said the bodies were covered with bruises. Gordon had the photos to prove that.

Senator French, along with fellow Democrats Senator Berta Gardner and Representatives Andy Josephson and Geran Tarr, heard testimony from Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt and from Brad Wilson, who heads the Alaska Corrections Officers Association. Schmidt and Wilson are at odds, specifically over the issue of staffing in Alaska’s prisons. Commissioner Joe Schmidt

“One to five is the ratio. It stacks up well, nationally. If there was a certain number.. we do staffing analysis, we analyze post orders, we look at the work load, we look at the schedule and the hours we have to cover and we make decisions. No one has ever said what that magic number is, how many state employees we have to hire to guarantee nobody’s going to get hurt. There isn’t one. When the prisoners came home from Colorado, our prisoner population went up 27 and a half percent, staffing went up 28% in that same time period. What is significant here is that correctional officers went up 33%.”

Commissioner Schmidt says about a dozen inmates in the state’s prison system die every year.. well below the national average.

But Wilson says DOC’s staffing numbers are off.

“Yes, this is five to one, but four shifts. Three of them are on, but using his math, that means it’s twenty to one. Twenty to one. Three fourths of them aren’t even there. They’re off.”

Wilson says there needs to be an independent review of  the deaths.

Perhaps the most telling information to come out of the hearing dealt with the mental health of inmates on intake.  DOC’s Laura Brooks,

“We have a new report out from the Mental Health Trust Authority that says about 65 percent of our population are mental health trust beneficiaries. About 22 percent of those are what we would call the severely and persistently mentally ill. So those, that 22 percent, include those people with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.”

Jeff Jesse, director of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, confirmed that 65 percent of inmates are mental health beneficiaries.

Jesse told the panel, that under the Murkowski administration, prison mental health programs were discontinued, but in recent years, the Trust has worked with DOC on improving programs for inmates who are mental health beneficiaries.  Wilson says corrections officers do not have the training to deal with mentally ill inmates.

“Unfortunately, the Alaska institutions are the largest mental health providers in the state of Alaska. And their main contact there is corrections officers. We need more training for corrections officers, they are not trained psychologists, but they are the ones that end up having to counsel these individuals, who work with these individuals.”

Perhaps the most notorious prison death in Alaska happened last year, when serial killer Israel Keyes took his own life while incarcerated. The corrections officer on duty at the time, Loren Jacobsen, was fired by the state but ACOA has defended the guard and said the state made him a scapegoat. An arbitor has said the firing was not justified.  




Categories: Alaska News

Residents protest home demolition, Knik Arm Bridge

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:33

Residents protest in front of a home slated for removal for the proposed Knik Arm Bridge. Hillman/KSKA

More than 50 people gathered in the Government Hill neighborhood this afternoon to protest the demolition of two homes. The state is clearing the land to make way for the proposed but not yet funded Knik Arm Bridge.

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“Stop the demolition now! Stop the demolition now!” chanted a group of Anchorage residents from across the city standing in front of a blue house in Government Hill. They waved signs reading “Haste Makes Waste” and “Save our Homes.” Anne Reddig was with them.

“This is my neighborhood,” she said. “I live three houses this way. I don’t want a big gaping hole waiting for something that’s not funded. They’re taking away my neighborhood. They’re ruining where I live.”

Two houses and the old Sourdough Lodge are being demolished in preparation for the proposed $1.6 billion dollar Knik Arm Bridge. So far the state has only secured about $150 million for the project. The protesters say the state is moving too hastily — why should the state remove homes when it’s unclear if the project will actually happen? Most of the federal funding the state is trying to secure has historically gone toward projects in much larger, congested urban areas.

96-year-old Margery Ellis built her home in Government Hill in 1950. It’s set to be demolished during another phase of the project. ”We don’t need terrorists when we have KABATA,” she said, referring to the project’s previous name. “Everything they’ve done is to destroy Government Hill, which is the oldest community in Anchorage.”

Before the protesters gathered, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jill Reese and the property manager led a tour of the buildings.

“You probably just want to just wait,” the crowd of reporters at the bottom of the wooden stairs was told. “Have three people come up at a time. Because these are not very sturdy.”

The upstairs portion of the blue house was filled with sun from the skylights and soaring windows. But the musty ground floor had ripped up carpet and asbestos ceiling tiles. DOT’s Reese pointed out damage.

“Practically everything in the whole house would need to be redone. And as you’ll see there’s broken bathroom fixtures and those sorts of things.”

Reese said all three buildings are in the way of the bridge project. She explained the state moved quickly to purchase the buildings and relocate the tenants because that process can take a lot of time.

“You can’t wait until you’re ready with the financing to start building the bridge. You might be three or four years down the line just to get properties purchased. Also, especially in the Anchorage Bowl, prices aren’t going down.”

Reese said the state will pay for the removal of the buildings, which could cost between $500,000 to $1 million. Then they’ll be reimbursed if they get the federal grant. And the houses don’t have to be destroyed. Reese said they can also be moved to other parts of town. That’s what happened to some condos when Dowling Road was built.

Jill Reese talks about the project inside one of the homes slated for removal. Hillman/KSKA

“What we say is the market will speak. If there’s a dollar to be made on these properties in their whole form then I’m sure that is the route that will be taken. And if not then they will be demolished.”

All of the contractors who were walking through the properties during the protest declined to comment. They were examining the project before submitting bids by the 25th.

Some of the protesters said that it doesn’t matter if they tear down or relocate the buildings — it still leaves a hole in the neighborhood. And Lance Powell from Mid-Hillside said not only people in Government Hill should be concerned.

“Well if it can happen here, it can happen in any neighborhood in Anchorage.”

Powell says empty lots deter businesses and new residents from coming into the area. Others say large roads divide communities and cause deterioration, and that’s not what they want.

“What do we want?” cried a man over a bull horn.

“Homes!” responded the crowd.

“What do we need?” “Homes!” “What will we save?” “Homes!”

DOT has scheduled for the properties to be cleared by November and planted over with grass. They do not have a set schedule for when the bridge would be funded or built.

Categories: Alaska News

House Considers Bill To Provide Advance Funding To IHS

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:32

The CEO of Kotzebue-based Maniilaq Association on Tuesday urged a U.S. House subcommittee to pass a bill that would provide advance funding for the Indian Health Service.

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Tim Schuerch says the uncertainty and delays in federal funding makes it hard to run a hospital and hire health care professionals. He spoke in favor of legislation that would have Congress appropriate money a year in advance for the IHS, as it does now for the Veterans Health Administration.

“If I don’t know where the money is gonna coming from in October, November, December, how can I make those commitments to those health professionals, to hire them?” Schuerch said. “Our doctors have to know that they’re gonna get a paycheck.”

One way or another, the bills must be paid. And if the federal funds aren’t there yet, Schuerch says he must pursue other options…like asking a bank for a line of credit or a bridge loan.

“Inevitably, what’s gonna happen in that discussion is the bank is gonna ask me, “So, what is your plan to pay the money back? When are you gonna get the money and what is your plan to pay back the amount borrowed with interest?’” Schuerch said. “And the answer is generally, ‘I don’t know. It’s up to Congress.’”

Without concrete answers, Schuerch says borrowing is difficult, and advanced federal appropriations would help alleviate many of the current problems.

The Maniilaq Association provides health, tribal and social services to 12 federally recognized tribes and 8,000 people in Northwest Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Reports Almost $1.2M In Donations In 2nd Quarter

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:31

In the U.S. Senate race, it appears Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is sustaining his fundraising momentum.

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He reports nearly $1.2 million in donations for the second quarter of the year. That makes three straight quarters for him where contributions exceeded $1 million.

Incumbent Senator Mark Begich reports raising only slightly more for the quarter. Sullivan’s contributions come primarily from out-of-state, but his campaign says he raised almost $200,000 of his money in-state during the previous three months.

Tuesday is the federal deadline for campaign finance reports covering April through June. Republican challengers Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell have not yet announced their totals.

Categories: Alaska News

World Eskimo Indian Olympics Start Wednesday

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:30

The Nulukataq event at WEIO in Fairbanks. Photo: Ronn Murray Photography, WEIO.

The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics start Wednesday in Fairbanks, with qualifiers for events like one-armed reach and the Race of the Torch ahead of opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. inside the Carlson Center.

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WEIO started in 1961 as a way to bring athletes and dancers from across Alaska together for competitions and celebration. Since then it has grown into a days-long event, comprised of tournament-style athletic competition, as well as pageantry showcasing skills like skin-sewing, and recognizing ongoing achievement in cultural practices.

WEIO has also served as an organizational body for establishing uniform standards for native games from around diverse parts of the state. It is one of the reigning authorities in the world on records for events played across the circumpolar North, like one-foot high kick, knuckle hop, and ear-pull–games rooted in testing and strengthening abilities necessary for subsistence.

This year’s WEIO tournament through Saturday, with the full schedule of events available here.

Categories: Alaska News

In Fight Over Marijuana, Alcohol Becomes Taboo

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:29

While alcohol is usually a fixture of most political fundraisers, there will be no wine or cocktails at events focused on the marijuana initiative.

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The opposition group Big Marijuana Big Mistake is hosting its first fundraiser Tuesday, and the only beverages available will be “delicious lemonade, sparkling waters, all kinds of fun pop and soda,” says Deborah Williams.

Williams is the former Democratic Party Chair, and she’s co-hosting the event alongside former Govs. Frank Murkowski and Bill Sheffield. Because the ballot initiative they’re fighting would allow the sale of marijuana, organizers decided weeks ago that they should make the event substance free.

“Former Rep. Alyce Hanley recommended that we make this event alcohol-free, and we all enthusiastically agreed,” says Williams.

But the group didn’t originally make it clear that their event was going to be dry. On Tuesday morning, sponsors of the marijuana initiative sent out a press release advising people who attend the fundraiser to “exercise caution” if offered alcohol because it is “more harmful” than marijuana. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol also pointed out that Murkowski received nearly $20,000 in political contributions from the beverage industry during his last decade in the U.S. Senate.

Williams believes the attack was uncalled for, and described implication of hypocrisy and the comments on Murkowski as “nasty.”

But Chris Rempert, who is the political director for the pro-marijuana campaign, still believes the criticism of his opponents is merited, even if they’re not serving hard drinks at their event.

“Alcohol is frequently a major part of political events, and since their invitation was touting refreshments and since the event was being hosted by an alcohol friendly governor like Murkowski, we felt it was important to convey the message,” says Rempert.

For their part, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol does not plan on serving alcohol at any future events they host.

Categories: Alaska News

Hazardous Material Containers Cleaned Up In Galena

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:28

A state report on the response to the 2013 flooding in Galena says more than 5,000 containers of hazardous material scattered throughout the area during the disaster were collected.

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The containers ranged from aerosol cans to 55-gallon drums, with the hazardous debris strewn within a 15-mile radius of the Yukon River village.

An environmental program specialist with the agency estimated the cleanup cost at well over $1 million, costs that will be included as the state seeks reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Categories: Alaska News

Sunken Barge Irks Kuskokwim Residents

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:27

The barge, Shanks Ark, sitting in Steamboat Slough.

Residents of fish camps along ‘Steamboat Slough’ near Bethel are calling for an abandoned barge to be removed. The barge has been sitting half submerged in the middle of the slough for more than a year.

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Barbara Anvil is furious the barge has been left in the slough, which serves as a highway for boats in summer and for snow machines and four wheelers in winter. She says the barge is right in the middle of that highway and it’s a safety hazard.

“This winter somebody got hurt with a four wheeler … In fact, my brother’s the one who came across his four wheeler over there by the barge. There was lots of blood and stuff around it,” said Anvil.

That blood was, then 28-year-old, Jason Fisher’s. He says he was driving his 4-wheeler around 10 o’clock on December 16th on his way home from Bethel to Kwethluk, when he hit the barge. He doesn’t remember much because the impact knocked him out. He had a head injury and was in the hospital for about a month. He had to have surgery to amputate nine and half of his fingers. Bethel Police and Search and Rescue officials confirm Fisher’s story.

The barge, named ‘Shanks Ark’, sunk in 2012 or 2013. Officials with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources say the barge is owned by Bethel-based Kuskokwim Lighterage and Trucking and was being leased and operated by Faulkner Walsh Constructors, also of Bethel.

Ana Hoffman is CEO of Bethel Native Corporation. She also has a family fish camp on the slough. She wrote to the Coast Guard, which she says identified the barge as a navigational hazard that requires no action on their part.

“I was pretty alarmed that the barge really is left there sunken in the middle of the slough. It seems to be a real hazard,” said Hoffman.

She called on Alaska’s Senators for help. Senator Lisa Murkowski met with residents about the problem. Murkowski’s office says they’ve been monitoring the situation and in touch with state officials about the barge. Still, nothing has been done.

Harry Faulkner, an owner of Faulkner Walsh Constructors says State Department of Environmental Conservation and the DNR have their facts wrong. He says he was done leasing the ‘Shanks Ark’ barge, which he was using to haul fish, by the time it was moored in Steamboat Slough.

“We put it away for the year and it decided to float itself out in the Spring of the following year. (Daysha Eaton: They said it happened while it was moored and you were still leasing it.) Faulkner: That is not correct. We had it leased for the year and we were done with it. (Daysha Eaton: Okay, can you send me the documents that show the time period for which you were leasing it?) Faulkner: No. (Daysha Eaton: Why not?) Because it was a verbal agreement between the fish manager and Dave Ausdahl, the owner of the barge,” said Faulkner.

Dave Ausdahl refutes Faulkers claim and says Faulkner Walsh failed to secure the vessel when they put it away after fishing season.

“I provided the barge to Faulkner Walsh for their fishery operations in exchange for them fetching and returning to storage each year and keeping it floating. So it was under their care, custody and control through the 2012 season when they were to put it away properly,” said Ausdahl.

But they didn’t put it away properly, claims Ausdahl, which caused it to float out into the middle of the Slough and get stuck. Neither Faulkner nor Ausdahl said they’d heard about Fisher’s terrible crash last winter.

Anvil says she’s not sure who is responsible for removing the barge, but she hopes it happens before someone else gets hurt.

“It’s gonna start getting dark pretty soon and at nighttime you can’t see that there’s a barge there … so I’m sure somebody’s gonna get hurt,” said Anvil

‘Shanks Ark’ is one of several rusting vessels that make the slough look like a graveyard for river going barges. At last count, state officials say there were 22 abandoned vessels in the Bethel area, 13 of them in Steamboat slough.

DNR officials say the company operating the barge when it broke loose is responsibility for removing it.

Faulkner Walsh has submitted a plan to remove their sunken barge near Kwethluk, and two vessels in Steamboat Slough, but never removed any of them. They have not submitted a plan to remove ‘Shanks Ark’ which remains in the middle of the channel.

Categories: Alaska News

Healy Frees Sailboat Trapped in Arctic Ice

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:26

The Coast Guard cutter Healy made a detour from its science mission in the Arctic last Saturday to rescue a sailboat trapped in ice near Barrow.

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The Healy broke through Arctic ice to reach the S/V Altan Girl near Barrow on Saturday. /Credit: USCGC Healy

The Altan Girl is a 36-foot steel boat, trying to sail the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to eastern Canada.

The vessel is Turkish-Canadian, according to The Nome Nugget. The newspaper says the boat’s skipper, Erkan Gursoy, plans to sail across Canada all the way to Turkey.

But the boat got stuck in sea ice Saturday, 40 miles northeast of Barrow. Weather conditions meant search and rescue couldn’t fly in from the North Slope — so the Coast Guard diverted the Healy to help out.

The Healy towed the Altan Girl through 12 miles of Arctic ice before they reached open water. The cutter’s crew did a safety check. Then they sent the sailboat back to Barrow to resupply and wait for better conditions.

The Healy is now back on track with its Arctic research mission, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fishing Season Ramping Up In Cook Inlet

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:25

In the Southern District, the Port Graham Subdistrict opened July 14 to commercial set gillnetting for the first time this season. Returns haven’t been especially high, so that fishery has been closed so far, says Glenn Hollowell, Fish and Game Finfish Area Management Biologist for the Lower Cook Inlet.

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“We’ve been tracking the sockeye return to English Bay Lakes,” says Hollowell. “It’s been what I’ve called modest this year. We’ve just barely made our escapement goals with a subsistence fishery but no commercial fishery. Had we had a commercial fishery, I think it would have depressed escapement to the lakes below the level that we want to see. So, we’ve kept the commercial fishery closed and the subsistence fishery open.”

The sustainable escapement goal is 6,000 to 13,500 sockeye. As of July 11, about 6,700 fish had returned. Beginning at 6 a.m. July 14, it is open for regular 48-hour Monday and Thursday commercial fishing periods. The subsistence fishery will remain open.

Set gillnetting opened in portions of the Barabara Creek, Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove, and Seldovia Bay Subdistricts in early June. Those areas will remain open for two 48-hour fishing periods per week. Hollowell says it’s still early in the season to tell, but this harvest doesn’t seem to  match up to last year’s.

“It seems like we’ve been running slightly ahead of the 10-year average,” says Hollowell. “But last year was just an amazing year. We were way ahead of the 10-year average last year and we seem to be trailing that a little bit this year.”

The 10-year average for sockeyes is about 21,000 fish. The 2013 harvest was more than 29,000. So far this season, 22,000 reds have been caught by set gillnetters in the Southern District.

The purse seine fisheries in the Tutka Bay, Halibut Cove and Humpy Creek Subdistricts and the China Poot and Neptune Bay Sections are also open.

“Typically, those are very, very slow fisheries until about now and then they start to pick up as pink salmon come back through and as we start seeing coho and sockeye salmon,” says Hollowell. “And the sockeye salmon harvest has picked up quite a bit in the purse seine fishery in the last week and a half I would say.”

As of July 3, only 373 sockeye had been caught. By July 7, that number had jumped to more than 1,300.

In the Kamishak Bay District, the Chenik Subdistrict had its first purse seine opening July 12 through 14.

“Usually they go into Chenik Lake during high tide cycles,” says Hollowell. “But, apparently, they got in during a moderate tide cycle. So, we’ve got about 6,000 fish in the lake, which is within the sustainable escapement goal of 3,500 to 14,000. So, we’re doing okay there.”

Finally, in the Outer District, there are openings in Port Dick, and the Windy Bay, Rocky Bay, and Nuka Island Subdistricts.

Hollowell says as it is still early in the season, it will still take some time to identify this year’s trends in the commercial salmon harvest throughout Lower Cook Inlet.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 14, 2014

Mon, 2014-07-14 18:04

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

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 Scientists Use Satellites to Track Polar Bears

Joaquin Palomino, APRN – Anchorage

With sea ice in the Arctic melting, the region’s most iconic animal—the polar bear—is in peril.  Researchers have monitored the threatened predator for decades, but tracking bears in remote and harsh climates can be costly and dangerous.  Which is why federal scientists have started using a new tool to study polar bears: satellites.

At Democratic Lt. Gov. Debate, Differences In Style Over Substance

Alexandra Gutirrez, APRN – Juneau

When voters go to the polls in August, there will be just two statewide primary contests on the ballot. There’s the Republican Senate primary, which is attracting national attention and millions of dollars to match. And then there’s the Democratic lieutenant governor’s race. The two candidates for the Democratic nomination debated Monday at a lightly attended Anchorage Chamber of Commerce event. The pair differed more in style than substance.

Flooding Cleanup Starts in Juneau

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A handful of homes in Juneau are cleaning up after a river flooded over the weekend. The unusual event has become a regular, almost expected occurrence in the Capital City.

Entrepreneurs Get Second Chance for Awards

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs are getting a second chance to win $40,000 to develop regional businesses. It’s part of a partnership involving a Native corporation and a conservation group that made its first awards last year.

Calista Looking to Expand

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Facing federal budget slashing and continued pressure on 8(a) contracting, the Calista Regional Native Corporation is continuing to look beyond federal contracts. The company acquired STG, a major construction company last year and is hoping to grow across the economy.

Memorial Dedicated to WWII Internees

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Juneau’s Japanese population was forced from their homes and sent to internment camps in the Lower 48. Teenager John Tanaka was among those shipped out. He was the valedictorian of Juneau High School in 1942, but didn’t get to graduate with everyone else. An empty wooden chair was put on stage in his place. Now, a bronze replica of that chair will remain at the Capitol School Park permanently. The sculpture was dedicated at a memorial to the interned on Saturday.

“Key Ingredients” Highlights Local Foods

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Eating is, by nature, a social activity. But these days, with the frenetic pace of American living and a disturbing reliance on fast food, it’s hard to get the whole family together for a meal. Now a traveling Smithsonian exhibit at the Palmer Museum attempts to get people connected to their local foods. A sampling of old time Palmer colonists’ recipes is helping to highlight the use of native grown produce.




Categories: Alaska News

At Democratic Lieutenant Governor Debate, Differences In Style Over Substance

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:08

From the very beginning, it was clear that there weren’t going to be fireworks at the lieutenant governor’s debate.

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The event had a capacity of 150, but just over 40 people showed up and a couple of tables were entirely empty. And then, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President and debate moderator Andrew Halcro introduced the office of lieutenant governor like this:

“The lieutenant governor’s position is commonly referred to as simply watching over the state seal, or waiting for the governor to die,” said Halcro.

After State Sen. Hollis French and Wasilla teacher and political newcomer Bob Williams established that, yes, serving as lieutenant governor is a worthwhile job, they laid out their positions on everything from energy to education. And over and over again, their answers echoed each other.

They both expressed concern that the state wasn’t spending its money on the right things, both calling out the expensive and controversial renovation of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. And one place where they would like to put more money? Well here’s French.

FRENCH: One area where we’re failing to make the adequate amount of investments is in education.

And here’s Williams.

WILLIAMS: We need to think about what is an adequate and reasonable amount for education.

They both support increasing the minimum wage. But they have reservations about allowing the sale of marijuana in the state, even if neither of them think possession of the drug should land someone in jail. Again, here’s French.

FRENCH: The ballot initiative I think goes too far. It legalizes not only marijuana but the derivatives and the condensed products, and you end up with storefronts. And I don’t think Alaska’s quite ready for that.

And Williams.

WILLIAMS: That idea of criminalizing and spending a lot of money to put people in prison for recreational drug use I think is wrong. But I will be voting no.

And as far as the new tax ceiling on oil production goes, both French and Williams want to go back to a higher profits tax. If anything, they ended up debating moderator Andrew Halcro more than each other on the oil tax question, given that the Chamber’s taken a position against the referendum. Halcro repeatedly pressed them on their arguments before the business-friendly audience.

When it came time to ask each other questions, neither one focused on substantive differences. Williams asked French how he planned to try to work across the aisle and why he wanted to be the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, given that French has for governor before. French didn’t even ask Williams a combative question, instead asking him to talk about his experience teaching during years of flat funding.

The primary election is August 19. The Republican Party already has its nominee, as Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is in an uncontested race to be Gov. Sean Parnell’s running mate. Independent candidate Craig Fleener, who is running alongside Bill Walker, will not appear on the primary ballot and will instead be submitting signatures to get his name on the general ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Use Satellites to Track Polar Bears

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:08

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Studying polar bears in the Arctic can be difficult. Scientists rely on boats, helicopters, and low flying planes, which can’t access many remote regions where polar bears live.

An adult female polar bear and her two cubs travel across the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean north of the Alaska coast (photo courtesy of US Geological Survey).

The U.S. Geological Survey, though, recently started tracking polar bears from space, using high resolution satellites. “The advantage that we see for the satellite imagery is we don’t have to put people in helicopters and fly them over the sea ice,” says Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program. “It’s [also] completely non-invasive to polar bears.”

Atwood is currently analyzing satellite images from Rowley Island in Nunavut, Canada, where polar bears amass in large numbers during the summer. Researchers have used the images to complete a bear count on the island, which seems to be accurate. As an end goal, Atwood hopes to better understand how the threatened animal is responding to climate change.

The new tracking method could also produce information about a predator that’s not very well understood. “We lack sufficient data, we lack sufficient information for nearly half of the polar bears range,” says Geoff York, director of conservation for polar bears international. “I think one thing we need to do straight away is fill in those blank spots on the map.”

York and other researchers are particularly eager to use satellites to study the predator in the arctic sea ice: an environment that’s rapidly changing.  But spotting white bears in a sea of snow has its challenges. “It’s a great target to shoot for, but I don’t think the technology is there yet,” York explains. “You’re looking for white on white, and that’s next to impossible.”

More immediately, USGS researchers plan to use polar-bear spotting satellites in coastal Alaska, and other parts of the Arctic.


Categories: Alaska News

Flooding Cleanup Starts in Juneau

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:06

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A handful of homes in Juneau are cleaning up after a river flooded over the weekend. The unusual event has become a regular, almost expected occurrence in the Capital City.

Categories: Alaska News

Entrepreneurs Get Second Chance for Awards

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:05

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Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs are getting a second chance to win $40,000 to develop regional businesses. It’s part of a partnership involving a Native corporation and a conservation group that made its first awards last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Looking to Expand

Mon, 2014-07-14 16:03

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Facing federal budget slashing and continued pressure on 8(a) contracting, the Calista Regional Native Corporation is continuing to look beyond federal contracts. The company acquired STG, a major construction company last year and is hoping to grow across the economy.

Categories: Alaska News

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