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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 32 min 32 sec ago

Deceased man found near downtown Anchorage

Thu, 2015-07-23 21:39

A fourth man in less than two weeks was found dead outside in Anchorage on Thursday late afternoon. The man, who has not been identified by the Anchorage Police Department, was near 3rd Avenue and Karluk Street close to where one man was found last week. He was a member of the homeless community. He’s the sixth member of that community to die recently. Two passed away in the hospital last week according to staff at Bean’s Cafe. Three died outdoors.

Police spokesperson Renee Oistad says no foul play is suspected, and the body will be autopsied. Paramedics did try to revive the man. Oistad says the number of death seems high because they happened in public places, but the number of death reports is not unusual for the department.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thu, 2015-07-23 17:42

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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Young Votes Yes, Meant No, On Bill Gutting GMO Labeling Laws

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a bill to allow “voluntary” labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

2nd Murkowski Energy Bill Has Controversies Lacking in 1st

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Yesterday Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced an energy bill that steered clear of hot-button issues to ensure Democratic support. Thursday, the Alaska Republican sponsored a separate energy bill of just hot buttons.

Gov. Walker Travels to Pentagon to Make Case for Alaska Troops

Associated Press

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is in Washington, D.C., making the case with the military for restoring proposed personnel cuts.

Five Fires Threaten Tanana On the Yukon

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Recent rain slowed wildfire growth around the interior, but there are still nearly 200 active blazes, and over twenty staffed fires. The largest response is to a half million acre complex of fires near Tanana.

Anchorage To ‘Revisit’ Knik Arm Bridge

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Municipality of Anchorage has taken a big step toward opposing the proposed bridge called the Knik Arm Crossing project.

Suspect Arrested for Threatening Calls To Arizona Schools, Which Were Similar to Alaska’s

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A New York man was arrested last week for making threatening phone calls to Arizona schools that were motivated by online gaming on an Xbox, authorities say. Details of the calls sound similar to ones made to Alaska schools, though the FBI says the arrest hasn’t been connected.

4 Charged with Theft of Oysters from Kachemak Bay Farm

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Four local residents are being charged with criminal trespass and theft for stealing oysters from a farm on the south side of Kachemak Bay on 4th of July.

With Ever-Changing Restrictions, 2015 Marks a Summer of Flexibility on the Kuskokwim

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Subsistence fishing is open indefinitely on the Kuskokwim River. But that hasn’t been the norm this summer, as the river underwent two management regimes —state and federal—and strict closures for two species. Lower river fishermen are adjusting to the new reality of Kuskokwim subsistence—where conservative management is now the status quo.

Pains of Trooper Cuts Felt At Small Community Jails

Joe Sykes, KFSK – Petersburg

Budget cuts to state troopers are taking place all over Alaska. But in small Southeast communities, like Petersburg, it’s a double whammy. That’s because community jails are also taking a hit. And the two are inextricably linked.

Haines Climbers Likely First Women to Summit Cathedral Peaks

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Haines residents Jenn Walsh and Jessica Kayser Forster are likely the first women to summit the 6,400-foot Mount Emmerich in the Chilkat Valley, also known as Cathedral Peaks.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Young Votes Yes, Meant No, on Bill Gutting GMO Labeling Laws

Thu, 2015-07-23 17:39

The U.S. House today passed a bill to allow “voluntary” labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the bill, which he says he did by mistake.

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The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, would gut state labeling laws, including Alaska’s 10-year-old requirement that any genetically modified salmon sold in the state carry a disclosure to consumers. The legislation has become an online flashpoint, pitting the food industry against sustainable food activists and consumer groups.

Michelle Wilson Nordhoff, an Anchorage mom and natural-food shopper, says she wrote Young recently and asked him to vote against the anti-labeling bill. She got a letter back, dated Monday.

“In the letter that he wrote to me, he said ‘Rest assured that I will oppose this legislation should it come to the House floor for a vote,'” she recounted, reading from the letter.

Wilson Nordhoff says she noticed the bill was on the floor today, so she called Young’s office to find out how he voted. She says she was stunned when she got a voicemail message telling her the congressman voted for the bill. Wilson Nordhoff says the vote is bad for Alaska’s efforts to market its wild salmon.

“I think once people find out that Rep. Young went ahead and supported this, Alaskans are going to be shocked,” she said. “I mean this is definitely a huge issue for our economy.”

Young’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, says it was simply a mistake: Congressman Young pushed the ‘yes’ button when he meant to push the ‘no’ button.

“Unfortuantely, by the time he realized his mistake, the voted had closed and he was unable to change his vote to no,” Shuckerow said. The bill passed by a wide margin.

Shuckerow says Young has long supported GMO labeling, particularly for salmon, and after the vote, he submitted a statement for the Congressional Record to clarify his position. Just yesterday, Young wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in favor of GMO labeling in which he urged the entire House to vote against the bill that he, in the end, voted for.

Wilson Nordhoff is skeptical that Young’s “yes” vote was just a mistake.

“I just think most of these leaders now in Congress just vote according to what corporations want them to vote for,” she said. “I don’t think they’re listening to the people. Maybe not even to fishing industries in the state anymore.”

Shuckerow says Young has sponsored two bills in the House that show his true position. One would ban genetically modified salmon and the other would require product labeling for GMO fish. Young has also explained his accidental vote in a Facebook posting. 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

2nd Murkowski Energy Bill Has Controversies Lacking in 1st

Thu, 2015-07-23 17:38

Yesterday Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced an energy bill that steered clear of hot-button issues to ensure Democratic support. Today, the Alaska Republican sponsored a separate energy bill of just hot buttons. The bill would end the ban on exports of crude oil. It also includes state revenue-sharing for off-shore oil development. The bill would direct revenues from Alaska’s outer continental shelf to the state, coastal communities, and tribes. The bill also has revenue sharing for Gulf of Mexico and Southern Atlantic states.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pains of Trooper Cuts Felt At Small Community Jails

Thu, 2015-07-23 17:31

Kelly Swihart, Petersburg’s Chief of Police, stands in front of one of the cells in the community jail. (Joe Sykes)

Budget cuts to state troopers are taking place all over Alaska. But in small Southeast communities, like Petersburg, it’s a double whammy. That’s because community jails are also taking a hit. And the two are inextricably linked.

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When you think of doing time, most people imagine something on a grand scale like out of the film “The Shawshank Redemption.” But the community jails in Southeast are a little different from that.

Kelly Swihart is Petersburg’s Chief of Police. He shows me a cell block made up of two rooms lodged at the back of the Petersburg police station.

He takes me into one of the cells.

“We have two steel bunks with some mattresses here and over in the corner is a combination unit of a sink and a toilet. It’s pretty sparse,” he says.

The maximum stay here is 15 days at the moment. After that an inmate will be transferred to a larger facility in Juneau or Ketchikan. The state troopers are responsible for the transportation of people from community jails. But there are no law enforcement troopers in Petersburg, and Swihart thinks the swingeing cuts to the state troopers program will make it difficult for them to move prisoners in good time.

“The chain of command at the DOC and the department of public safety need to connect,” he said. “Right now we are only supposed to hold people for 15 days based on our facility set up so they’ve only got a couple of weeks to get em out.”

And he says what makes it extra hard is the Department of Corrections has slashed the budget for community jails. In Petersburg, state funding fell from 320,000 dollars to $185,000. He’s put in a proposal which would limit the length of stay in Petersburg’s jail to 9 days. That would make it even harder for the state troopers to get there on time.

“Cuts to community jails has been a great concern to Alaska state troopers,” said Colonel James Cockrell, the Director of Alaska State Troopers. He says he’s already seeing a backlash from police departments in small communities as the troopers do not have the budget anymore to act as effectively in moving prisoners.

“We are the face of state government and we’re the ones interacting with local police departments and we’re the ones who are going to have to pick up the back load when they start reducing their services,” he says. “We’re starting to get an adversarial relationship with the small police departments.”

And much of the issue here is about maintaining relationships. The Department of Corrections controls the budget for the jails while the Department of Public Safety deals with the State troopers. Alaska State Troopers are being told to cut a further $2.6 million this year. With both agencies making severe cuts Cockrell says they will have to start to prioritize services.

“There might be occasions where we are not going to have the manpower to make the transport but more likely we’ll make the transport and a trooper won’t be able to respond to a call for service,” he tells me.

This is something that really concerns Kelly Swihart but he thinks whatever happens the community jails need to stay open.

“The state needs to have a jail here. We need to have that type of facility here in Petersburg,” he said. “Without that facility we would have a negative impact on our quality of life and it would negatively impact our public safety.”

For the time being the jail here is safe. But Swihart says it might not be long before further cuts spell closing time for community jails across the state.

Categories: Alaska News

4 Charged with Theft of Oysters from Kachemak Bay Farm

Thu, 2015-07-23 16:20

Four local residents are being charged with criminal trespass and theft for stealing oysters from a farm on the south side of Kachemak Bay on 4th of July.

Oyster theft is, unfortunately, not an uncommon crime around Kachemak Bay, an area with more than a dozen mariculture sites dotting its coastline.

On July 13th, Alaska State Troopers received a call from an oyster grower in Jakolof Cove.

“The oyster farm had essentially pulled up a batch of its oysters and realized there weren’t nearly as many as there should have been,” says Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Troopers.

“And after they did that, they went back and they reviewed their security footage because they do have security cameras around their operation. They noticed that on July 4th there was a group of four adults that did not have any type of permission to be there. Essentially, those individuals stole oysters from their oyster farm.”

Through images from the security tape, they were able to identify three of the four people as Homer Deputy Harbor Master Matt Clarke, his wife Rebecca, and local resident Christine Kulcheski.

“And we made contact with the three people that they had identified. Those people did cooperate with us. Through our efforts, we were able to identify the fourth person that was involved and charges are also being pursued against that individual.”

The name of the fourth person has not been released yet.

The two Clarkes and Kulcheski are being charged with fourth degree theft and first degree criminal trespass.

The number of oysters and their monetary value have not been disclosed yet.

Deputy Harbor Master Clarke was contacted but did not wish to comment at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Five Fires Threaten Tanana On the Yukon

Thu, 2015-07-23 16:05

Recent rain slowed wildfire growth around the interior, but there are still nearly 2 hundred active blazes, and over twenty staffed fires. The largest response is to a half-million-acre complex of fires near Tanana. Managers expect suppression and demobilization to take weeks.

Mud and mosquitos! Rain made for a messy commute as firefighters headed to the fireline on the Spicer Creek Fire northeast of Tanana. The fire is one of five large fires burning near Tanana. AFS Photo.

Like many of the big wildfires in the interior, the five blazes around Tanana were started by abundant lightning that hit the region a month ago. One of the 2 largest: the Spicer Creek Fire has sandwiched the village up against the Yukon River. Bill Paxton, an information officer with the Lower 48-based team managing the response says over 350 people are working both quiet and active areas of the fire.

“While we’re doing rehab and pulling hose on one part of the fire we’re over, actively building line on another (part of the fire) where the threat is,” Paxton says.

Crews from the Lower 48 are battling the Spicer Creek Fire near Tanana. Photo: Inciweb.

Paxton says there’s potential for the Spicer Fire to spring back to life as the weather warms and dries this week, and the priority continues to be protecting the community.

“We’ve got, probably, 20-some miles of hose laid out protecting structures here, plus on the lines that we’re building.”

Paxton identifies the current area of concern as northwest of Tanana, where crews are directly attacking the fire.

“Building a defensible line all the way to this stream called Bear Creek, and from Bear Creek all the way to the Yukon, it’s tough going. It’s hand work. It’s saw work.”

Paxton says structure protection like hoses and sprinklers remain in place along 150 miles of the Yukon River, where the Spicer and 4 other large fires have threatened to advance for a month. He says the management team has committed to running the fire response through the end of July, after which the plan is to transition to a smaller organization.

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Begins For Wrangell Doc Accused of Distributing Porn

Thu, 2015-07-23 15:50

A Wrangell doctor is standing trial this week on child pornography charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Fischer said in court this week that Greg Salard found, downloaded and shared videos that included footage of adult men molesting toddlers.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Cara MacNamara argued in court that the government can’t prove Salard possessed or distributed child pornography.

FBI Special Agent Anthony Peterson was set to testify for the prosecution on Thursday.

Fischer says Peterson found the illegal material was uploaded through a file-sharing program from a computer registered to Salard.

MacNamara said an FBI agent misinterpreted the software.

Salard faces an aggravated rape charge in Louisiana, where he’s expected to be extradited to following the Juneau trial’s conclusion.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker travels to Pentagon to make case for Alaska troops

Thu, 2015-07-23 15:45

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is in Washington, D.C., making the case with the military for restoring proposed personnel cuts.

Walker says he stressed Alaska’s strategic importance, especially with Russia enhancing its military presence in the Arctic.

Walker says military leaders expressed their strong preference to not be making troop reductions but that the reductions are tied to automatic federal spending cuts, known as sequestration.

The Army told the Alaska congressional delegation July 8 that it planned a reduction of 2,631 paratrooper positions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and 75 troops at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.

The Anchorage base is one of six domestic bases that will lose  1,200 or more soldiers as part of a cost-saving plan to reduce the active-duty force by 40,000 troops over two years.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Alaska Lodges Make National Geographic’s ‘Most Unique in the World’ List

Thu, 2015-07-23 15:31

Tutka Bay Lodge – Photo courtesy of withinthewild.com, shared via KBBI.org

Two remote Alaska lodges have been given an international nod with a listing from National Geographic as some of the most unique in the world.

Nestled in scenic Tutka Bay on the southern Kenai Peninsula, is the Tutka Bay Lodge.

“Well, Tutka Bay is a large fjord across Kachemak Bay from Homer and the lodge is very private. There’s not a lot of other buildings around.”

The lodge is owned and operated by Mandy Dixon and her mother Kirsten.

“And you get off your boat and you walk up the boardwalk onto a huge deck, which can land three helicopters at a time. It’s a very large deck and it has a hot tub in the middle of it. It’s quite beautiful and it’s surrounded by old growth forest and lots of eagles’ nests. It’s just like this private little cove that’s protected from everything else,” says Dixon.

The luxury lodge recently joined the National Geographic Society’s Unique Lodges of the World program. To be part of the program, lodges must demonstrate a commitment to authenticity, excellence and sustainability.

“Well, it was really an amazing honor for my family. We basically got the recognition through a random referral to National Geographic. We don’t know who that is or what happened there, but somebody just kind of got us on their radar. They came and inspected us and they felt like we were a great fit for their small group of unique lodges around the world.”

One thing that caught National Geographic’s attention was the lodge’s unique offerings of local cuisine. Dixon is a world-renowned chef. In 2014, she was the governor’s nominee to represent Alaska at the Great American Seafood Cookoff. She and her family pride themselves on serving local food as much as they can.

“Ninety percent of our food is local, either from here in Homer for Tutka Bay, from the farmers, obviously the seafood, and from the Matanuska Valley for the other lodge, Winterlake.”

Winterlake Lodge, also owned by the Dixon family, made National Geographic’s cut as well. It is about 60 minutes northwest of Anchorage by floatplane in the Alaska range. It serves as part of the Finger Lake checkpoint on the Iditarod trail, where they feed hungry mushers by the dozen.

“It’s log cabins. My father has built all the buildings on site. It’s kind of up an old Gold Rush trail and since we moved there, animals have flocked back there. There’s moose and bears. Every day they see them at the lodge.”

Dixon’s family has been in the luxury lodge business for about 30 years. And while neither lodge necessarily needs a boost in business, she says this designation will open up new avenues for them.

“People respect National Geographic. They respect their opinions and trust National Geographic. They actually have their own booking agency, so people can book to come to the lodge through National Geographic. So, that is a new outlet for us.”

All in all, Dixon says she’s pleased with the listing. She says being at the top of the luxury lodge business isn’t something she planned but it has made for an exciting life.

“My mother is a trained chef. I am a trained chef. We care a lot about food. My father is an incredible adventurer and just loves to give people that experience – that authentic, life-changing experience. I think with that, and having high quality service, we just kind of came into that market.”

Winterlake and Tutka Bay are two of only three lodges in the U.S. to make the list. In total, 38 properties on six continents have been given this prestigious title.

Categories: Alaska News

Naknek Museum Opens: Fishing Nostalgia & Traditional Culture On Display

Thu, 2015-07-23 15:26

Naknek celebrated the grand opening of its new museum last Saturday. The museum showcases artifacts from the Bristol Bay fishing industry and traditional culture. The Bristol Bay Historical Society hopes the museum will give local tourism a boost and connect residents to the region’s history through objects.

The new museum is housed in an historic building across from the library in downtown Naknek.

Several intricate model sailing schooners are on display.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

LaRece Egli is a Naknek artist who led efforts to set up the collection. She says the building has come a long way.

Artist LaRece Egli unwraps several glazed ceramic plates that came from old canneries. The plates were donated to the museum by Naknek resident Rod Cyr. Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

“Three weeks ago the floor wasn’t yet finished, the walls were dirty, none of the artifacts had been moved in and cleaned, the cases were still sitting in crates in Anchorage… so it’s been a complete transformation.”

The items in the collection mostly came from the old Naknek museum, which was closed for years. There are model sailing schooners, cedar corks, old cannery equipment, and a hand-sewn fur parka.

With help from Anchorage Museum conservationists and local volunteers, Egli spent many hours moving, cleaning and installing these artifacts.

She says this painstaking work was all worth it to hear the stories people have about the objects in the collection.

“I mean, even that coffee can sitting right over there that we’re accepting donations in… in the last 24 hours I’ve heard 2 stories about how those cans were valued because they’re square, I guess they were coveted for berry picking because they could be mounted onto a frame of a backpack easily.. And that’s just a coffee can!”

A beautiful fur parka, handcrafted by Annahook Thompson, is one of the most eyecatching pieces upon entering the museum.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Among the visitors on opening day was Tim Troll, who wrote a book about the sailing days of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Troll says he was amazed by one item in particular – a gear list from an old cannery.

“It’s a board that has sailboat numbers from 1 to 37 along the vertical, and along the horizontal it has gear, like your stove, your tent, your water beaker… so that every fisherman they checked off their particular gear for the fishing boat, and then the cannery sent them out there,” says Troll.” I’d never seen anything like that. You know, it gives you a real feel for those guys out there…. That really does tell the story right there, once you understand what it is.”

The museum’s collection will continue to grow. Bristol Bay Historical Society President Fred Anderson says the Society is planning outbuildings to showcase old planes and vessels.

“We have a growing collection of wooden boats, all the way from a sailboat conversation, up to the last wooden boat made before they went to fiberglass,” says Anderson. “it’ll be very nice and interesting.

In the coming weeks, the Historical Society will hammer out the details of running the new museum. They’ll set regular hours, charge admission, and open a coffee shop next door.

They expect the fundraising, and the story gathering, will be ongoing indefinitely.

A hand-sewn children’s toy is one of Egli’s favorite pieces in the collection. “What really gets me is the little ptarmigan feet!” she said.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Categories: Alaska News

Teachers’ field trip: Lessons from the Mendenhall Glacier

Thu, 2015-07-23 10:27

Thirteen educators participated in Discovery Southeast’s Teacher Expedition on the Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Teacher training” usually means spending time in a library with textbooks and PowerPoints. But for 13 Alaska educators last week, it meant hopping on a helicopter, donning crampons and toting an ice ax on top of the Mendenhall Glacier as part of Discovery Southeast’s Teacher Expedition. I was invited to tag along.

From the Juneau airport, less than 10 minutes fly by before the helicopter lands on the ice of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Bev Levene, who works at the glacier’s visitor center, says she look at this glacier every day, “But now I’m actually seeing it, touching it, being on it, and it’s really cool and kind of surreal in a way.”

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The glacier expedition is just one of several teacher trips that Discovery Southeast offers in the summer. Teachers pay tuition to learn in an outdoor classroom for a week and can get continuing education credits from the University of Alaska Southeast.

Richard Carstensen is one of the founders of the outdoor education nonprofit and an instructor.

“This is our backyard in Juneau,” Carstensen says. “And they’re going to bring this back to their classes, even if they can’t actually the walk the kids around on the ice. It’s going to just give them a much more full body understanding of what this glacier is doing.”

Cathy Connor is a retired geology professor at University of Alaska Southeast and another expedition instructor.

Teachers were outfitted with crampons, helmets and ice axes. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“If you teach teachers, you teach the world. If you just teach kids, that’s just a flash in the pan. They’re the parade moving, but teachers are your pivot point. They’re the railway station that all the trains come through,” Connor says.

During the expedition, teachers were supposed to spend three days on the Juneau Icefield. Due to weather, ice time was limited to the day on the Mendenhall Glacier. Matt Potter says the days spent off the ice were just as rewarding. Potter is in the process of moving from Anchorage to Circle, where he’ll be the lead teacher.

“We hiked up somewhere and there was this gravel pile and we had a bunch of 5-gallon buckets and we dumped water down it just to look at what the effect of concentrated run off is, how it sorts out the rocks from the gravel from the silt,” Potter says. “It was a really good hands-on activity to show in real time the processes of erosion. That’s something that no matter how old you are, you’re going to have fun dumping water down a hill, right?”

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

But it’s the glacier that draws the most awe.

“There’s just nowhere else on Earth like this,” says Allie Smith, a teacher at Juneau’s Auke Bay Elementary School.

“And the one thing that I’m so amazed with today is watching all the melt streams on the surface of the glacier. I always knew there was melting but there’s just a lot more channels and dynamics to see up here than I realized,” she says.

Throughout the day, the instructors pose this question to the group of teachers:

“Do you guys have any ideas on what you might take to your classrooms about the process that’s happening out here?”

Discovery Southeast Naturalist Steve Merli drops the orange. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The teachers have some ideas, like using algebra to predict snow accumulation and ablation cycles, nature walks in areas where the glacier once was, experiments that model how ice carves away at cliff sides. But they have weeks before school starts, so while they’re on the glacier, they might as well goof off for a few minutes.

Palmer teacher Nicolas Owens stands over a small glacial river.

“It’s a very technical thing we’re doing here. We’re going to drop the orange in. We should probably measure something off or eyeball a measurement and then we’re going to calculate how fast the water’s flowing,” Owens says.

“On your mark, get set, go.” The orange is dropped into the flowing glacial water.

“Oh no,” Owens says, as someone laughs. “It’s in the eddy,” he says. “The orange is stuck in the eddy.”

Categories: Alaska News

Man arrested for threatening calls to Arizona schools similar to Alaska’s

Thu, 2015-07-23 10:22

(Creative Commons photo by Andreas Levers)

A New York man was arrested last week for making threatening phone calls to Arizona schools that were motivated by online gaming on an Xbox, authorities say. Details of the calls sound similar to ones made to Alaska schools, though the FBI says the arrest hasn’t been connected.

The FBI arrested 29-year-old Viktor Lisnyak of New York on July 15 for making several menacing calls to schools in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“At this point, I do not have the information that it is related to the cases in Alaska,” says Staci Feger-Pellessier, spokeswoman for the FBI in Anchorage.

At least eight threatening phone calls in April and May disrupted Juneau schools. Similar phone calls were made to schools all over the state including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Soldotna, Kenai and Hoonah.

The phone threats to Juneau schools alluded to school shootings and the caller had a computer-generated or robotic sounding voice. Investigators reported similar details in the Flagstaff calls.

Lisnyak told Flagstaff detectives he made threatening phone calls to schools in the United States, so many “he doesn’t remember all the specific calls,” according to the charging document. It says the calls “were in response to on-line video gaming. He would gain ‘points’ for making these calls and at times had to make these calls if he ‘lost’ a game.”

Lisnyak is suspected of making calls between March and May. He could face 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

FBI spokeswoman Feger-Pellessier says the Alaska calls are still under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

With Ever-Changing Restrictions, 2015 Marks a Summer of Flexibility on the Kuskokwim

Thu, 2015-07-23 10:20

Marie Andrew was busy this July at her Napaskiak fish camp. (Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Subsistence fishing is open indefinitely on the Kuskokwim River. But that hasn’t been the norm this summer, as the river underwent two management regimes —state and federal—and strict closures for two species. Lower river fishermen are adjusting to the new reality of Kuskokwim subsistence—where conservative management is now the status quo.

On a sunny Saturday after a four hour subsistence opener, Joe Green and his two kids shuttle salmon up the steep banks at the Bethel small boat harbor from the skiff to the back of their pickup.

These openers are critical for Green as he fishes for a total of four families.

“This year we’re shooting for anything. The feds and the government shock you. They screw up everything for you. So we get what we can,” said Green.

(KYUK photo)

On top of his chums, he caught just shy of a dozen red salmon and says he’ll be freezing fish for the first time this summer. It’s a summer of flexibility on the Kuskokwim. Unprecedented king salmon restrictions were followed up by more closures to protect a weak chum run, which so far at the Bethel Test Fisheryranks among the lowest in recent history.

Alissa Joseph works on the fisheries staff for Bethel’s Tribe, ONC and is traveling the river and talking with fishermen in the Bethel area’s 150, or so fish camps.

“We don’t go to fish camps to look at their racks, we go to get their information and how they did. We don’t need to know how many fish they got. We just want to know how subsistence is going, how it’s working for them, and how we can be of assistance as advocates for them,” said Joseph.

(KYUK photo)

The information goes to state and federal managers and the Kuskokwim Working Group.

Joseph was checking in on subsistence fishermen like Nicholai Evan. At his Napaskiak fish camp, his whole family is cutting and preparing caught in the opening. He normally catches 100 kings every summer. So far this year, he’s only caught 10. How he plans to make up the deficit?

“Caribou, moose, seal, geese, swans. My part of life is subsistence, I hardly go to the store, once in a great while,” said Evan.

Nearby David Nicholai reports that his family also got significantly fewer kings than normal—but it’s enough for them to get by.

“Enough, good enough for fish, there are lots of fish out there. Lots of chums, lots of reds, some king salmon,” said Nicholai.

Besides being large, rich, and historically abundant, king salmon are also prized for their immaculate timing. They’re first, when the weather is clear and dry. But this point in the season, it’s clear that things have changed.

Under the roof of Marie Andrew’s drying rack, the Napaskiak resident is busy putting chums and reds up to dry. The Kuskokwim red salmon fortunately this year came on strong, and relatively late. But this time of year, Andrew is starting to see flies.

(KYUK photo)

“During that smokey time, when the wild fire smoke was around there wasn’t that much, but lately I’ve seen lots, like today when the sun was out,” said Andrew.

She says that she’s typically done by now in a normal king year. Near Bethel, Sugar Henderson is looking forward to silvers. She says her family took part in the limited community permit system at the start of the year and was allocated a dozen kings.

“I normally do strips with my kings and dryfish with my silvers. But knowing I’d only get 12 kings I did all dryfish. And then with our pressure cooker, we figured we would try strips with silvers. Kind of backwards,” said Henderson.

After several rocky years of poor king returns and the stop and go restrictions, Henderson has had to adapt.

“We’ve learned to adjust to what we get. I’m not one yelling and screaming ‘we need our kings, we need our kings’! We do need our kings, but I understand the fact they need to replenish, so we’ve just adjusted ourselves, our lifestyle, to what we could get,” said Henderson.

And as long as Kuskokwim salmon runs and regulations defy prediction, summer fishing plans will remain a moving target.

Categories: Alaska News

Senators seek hearing on Walker’s Medicaid expansion plans

Thu, 2015-07-23 09:17

The chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee says he’ll take under advisement requests to hold a hearing on Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion.

But Republican Rep. Mike Hawker says Walker has the ability to pursue his plans regardless of what the committee says.

Republican Sens. Anna MacKinnon and Cathy Giessel, who are committee members, requested Wednesday that the panel hear the matter.

State law lays out a process by which a governor can go to the committee to request to accept and spend additional federal or other program funds. Even if the committee disagrees with the plan, the governor can proceed.

Hawker said Walker has indicated his decision is final and Hawker said there’s nothing of substance for the committee to accomplish.

Categories: Alaska News

Bankrupt oil company wants payments back

Thu, 2015-07-23 09:17

The city of Homer is filing a response to a request from an oil company seeking the return of thousands of dollars in previous payments to businesses.

The Homer News reports Australian company Buccaneer Oil filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of last year. The city, Homer Electric Association and several business received letters from the company’s trustee saying preferential payments made to them in the 90 days before the bankruptcy filing had to be returned.

Moore & Moore Services owner Lloyd Moore says he’s still owed $10,000 from Buccaneer Oil that he’ll never see, and now the company wants back the money it did pay him.

Letter recipients argue payments were made to them through the ordinary course of business and are not subject to return.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wed, 2015-07-22 17:52

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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Interior Dept. OKs Arctic Drilling—With Limits

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

The Obama administration approved Shell’s Oil’s plan for drilling in the Arctic Ocean today. But for now, Shell is restricted on how deep it can drill.

Murkowski Unveils Her National Energy Policy Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today released a national energy policy bill. It’s been one of her highest priorities as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and she produced the bill jointly with the top Democrat on the committee, Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Southeast Village Brings Its Subsistence Designation Battle To Capitol Hill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Southeast village of Saxman took its fight to be designated a “rural” community to Congress today.

Murkowski Balks At Proposed Funding Source for Highway Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The deadline for renewing the nation’s highway programs is nine days away. Leaders in the Senate this week negotiated a bill that would fund highways for the next six years. But it would require selling off $9 billion of crude oil that’s stashed in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, objected to the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Dozens Testify Against Megaprojects In Anchorage  

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The government body that handles transportation across Anchorage saw its largest turnout in more than a decade for public testimony against two large projects.

Southeast Pleas For Restored Ferry Service; AHMS Skeptical, Citing Dwindling Coffers

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Southeast Alaska community leaders hope to restore or change some parts of the proposed ferry schedule for this fall, winter and spring.

Chum Salmon Flood Western Alaska Waters As Buyers Struggle to Keep Up

Emily Russell, KNOM – Nome

Salmon fishermen in the Norton Sound and Kotzebue region are having a bountiful year for both commercial and subsistence.

As Chinook Cross Into Canada, Fall Chum Begin Running on the Yukon

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The kings have reached Canada—and Alaska Fish and Game biologists say they’ve now met their escapement goals all along the Yukon.

BC Withholds Key Permit from Transboundary Mine

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

British Columbia officials are delaying permits for an open-pit mine near a river that flows into the ocean south of Ketchikan. They say Pacific Booker Minerals has not proved it can keep toxic water out of nearby waterways.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Unveils National Energy Policy Bill

Wed, 2015-07-22 17:39

Sen. Lisa Murkowski today released a national energy policy bill. It’s been one of her highest priorities as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and she produced the bill jointly with the top Democrat on the committee, Maria Cantwell of Washington. Murkowski says it required compromise; the bill doesn’t include some of the big items on Murkowski’s energy agenda.

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This bill is heavy on energy efficiency and weatherization, modernizing the electric grid and new technologies. Murkowski says she wants a bill that can actually pass.

“This has been an effort through months and months to find common ground on energy issues that not only impact Alaskans, but impact people around the country.”

It’s a pragmatist’s bill designed for a polarized Congress. It does not include controversies like the Keystone XL Pipeline and offshore revenue-sharing for states, let alone anything that would open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. It also does not include one of Murkowski’s biggest national priorities – ending the ban on exporting crude oil. The senator says she’ll work on that separately.

“What you will see is a base bill that is bipartisan in nature, that does not have everything that I would like, but it doesn’t have everything the other side would like. That’s the nature of legislation.”

The bill doesn’t direct federal resources to Alaska, or create Alaska-only programs. That would trigger the congressional ban on earmarking. But Murkowski and her staff say the bill has provisions Alaska is well positioned to benefit from. It authorizes federal research on geothermal energy, for instance, and promotes the development of hybrid micro-grid systems, like the wind-and-diesel combos that now power some Alaska villages. It supports state energy programs with loan guarantees, and includes training to produce workers who can build and maintain modern power systems. It doesn’t have financing for the big Alaska natural gas pipeline, but it does speed up the processing of LNG export permits.

The Senate Energy Committee will take the bill up next week, and after that it will go to the Senate floor, where, Murkowski, senators will be allowed to offer amendments.

“I’ve said before this is not a messaging bill, this is a time to update energy policy, and we’re doing it in the regular course of business.”

Murkowski says the bill would reclassify hydropower as a renewable energy.

She’s especially proud that the bill would repeal lots of old and redundant energy laws. That, she says, will cut down on the scores of reports Congress requires the Energy Department to produce that no one reads.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Village Brings Its Subsistence Designation Battle To Capitol Hill

Wed, 2015-07-22 17:38

Saxman Totem Park and Clan House. Shared via KRBD-Ketchikan.

The Southeast village of Saxman took its fight to be designated a “rural” community to Congress today. Saxman Village President Lee Wallace told a House subcommittee he was devastated in 2007, when he watched the Federal Subsistence Board decide Saxman was “non-rural.”

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“When the vote came down, it ended up being the saddest moment in my life, only to be eclipsed by the loss of my parents.”

The rural designation matters because without it, the 400 or so residents of the community near Ketchikan aren’t entitled to a subsistence priority when it comes to hunting and fishing. The ruling was put on hold, but Wallace says it still hurt in Saxman.

“There was a lot of civic apathy and there was a feeling of loss that we couldn’t maintain our way of life, gathering, hunting, fishing.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young, who chairs the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, says the decision to remove Saxman’s rural status wasn’t right. The village pre-dates Ketchikan, the city that grew up three miles away. Young sponsored a bill to restore Saxman’s rural status, and change the process.

“It reinstates Saxman and anytime now on, if they want to redesignate another community as non-rural, it has to come through this committee.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has sponsored a similar bill in the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the Federal Subsistence Board has proposed a rule change that would allow more flexibility when determining rural designations, and has held public hearings on that rule. Wallace told the subcommittee that while the rule change would help, Young’s bill would provide more security.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Pleas For Restored Ferry Service; AHMS Skeptical, Citing Dwindling Coffers

Wed, 2015-07-22 17:35

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

Southeast Alaska community leaders hope to restore or adjust some parts of the proposed ferry schedule for this fall, winter and spring. That’s the word from most of those testifying Wednesday morning during a teleconferenced Alaska Marine Highway System public hearing.

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The draft ferry schedule reflects budget cuts by the Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker.

It proposes tying up the ferry Taku, which has been docked since July 1st, for the entire year. Its replacement will sail half as often to and from Prince Rupert, British Columbia’s northernmost port.

Assistant Ketchikan Borough Manager Deanna Garrison says that will hurt regional fisheries.

“This has resulted in a significant reduction of service in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg. Specifically, losing the Taku is problematic for Ketchikan fish processors. It’s faster for processers to place a product on the ferry to Prince Rupert and truck seafood to the Lower 48,” Garrison says.

The schedule, released last month, also lays up the fast ferries Chenega and Fairweather, beginning in the early fall.

Five small communities will have no service for a month in the winter and larger cities will see reduced sailings overall.

Sitka teacher and coach Jeremy Strong says the cuts will hurt teams traveling to and from out-of-town games.

“If we’re cut out completely through the spring into Juneau, where we can meet up with a lot of the other mainliners …, then our season looks a lot more bleak. And we’ll get a lot less kids to be able to have those opportunities.”

Others worry about fewer tourists, especially in towns where ferries bring independent travelers.

Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill says fewer and less reliable sailings have already hurt her community, where the mainland highway system connects to the ferries.

“Several caravans of motor homes canceled their trips to Haines this summer. And some aren’t going to make any reservations for next year. And so, that’s a huge hit to those businesses that those caravans support when they’re in our communities.”

The Legislature planned to begin deep ferry cuts this summer, which made the whole schedule uncertain.

Leftover funds from the previous year allowed most summer sailings to continue, through vessel breakdowns and the Taku tie-up cut some runs.

Wrangell Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore says the schedule has to be more reliable so travelers – and the tourism industry — can make plans.

“So if there’s some way that DOT can address that in the coming months to be prepared for next summer so our visitors know what they can and can’t do ahead of time and we’re not devastating our communities in the middle of that.”

Ferry officials say they’re taking all suggestions seriously. But there just isn’t enough money to meet most of the requests.

Deputy Commissioner Mike Neussl says the situation is unlikely to improve, since there won’t be any leftover money.

“I just want to set the stage that fiscal fear ‘17 likely will not have that same relief pot available. And there’s every indication that further cuts to the system and to the state government as a whole are likely.”

That’s unless the price of oil, which fuels the state budget, increases. Analysts say that’s unlikely to happen.

Categories: Alaska News

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