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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: 25 min 35 sec ago

Getting to Iditarod Start Line in Fairbanks Had Its Own Challenges

Mon, 2015-03-09 14:14

Teams prepare for the 2014 Iditarod start in Fairbanks Monday morning. (Photo By Emily Schwing – APRN)

Normally Iditarod dog teams restart the race from Willow the day after the ceremonial start in Anchorage, but this year, they spent an extra day travelling north for a restart in Fairbanks.  For some teams, the trip to the start line in Fairbanks Monday wasn’t without incident.

Many mushers left for Fairbanks directly from Anchorage’s Campbell airstrip following Saturday’s ceremonial start.  Curt Perano, also known as the Kiwi musher, says the combination of an unreliable dog truck and poor weather had him heading for Fairbanks immediately.

“Yeah we hit a bit of a snowstorm and then Bret Sass his real wheel, so we recovered him and helped haul his dogs up here to Fairbanks, so a six hour trip became like 10 [hours],” Perano said.  “The wheels fell off the truck literally, but yeah, we made it.”

Brent Sass won the Yukon Quest last month.  He says a hairy trip up the Park Highway hasn’t dampened his attitude.

“I feel great. I’m super stoked to get on the trail as always  it’s been kind of a bigger buildup now with the travel after the ceremonial,” he said. “The Iditarod is always a bigger build up than the Yukon Quest anyways, but yeah, I’m stoked.  I can’t wait until the say go.”

But Michelle Phillips was a little nervous.  She accidentally locked, her parka, warm clothes and other gear in her truck, along with the keys.

“Yeah, Murphy’s law.”

Phillips, from Tagish, Yukon tried to laugh it off as she waited for a locksmith arrive. It took a few minutes, but once the truck was open, Phillips was able to concentrate. Her goal is a top ten finish this year.

“You never know until you get out there and see what the race holds for you, you know. I’m just going to try to stick to my schedule, do my plan and see where that takes me,” Phillips said.

Nearby, long-time Iditarod musher Ray Redington, Jr. was scrambling.  His dog truck wouldn’t start, because it wasn’t plugged in overnight. He didn’t comment, but did find a way to make it down the trail, among 78 other teams who will race for Nome over the next two weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

“City Limits” explores development of Anchorage

Mon, 2015-03-09 13:39

New Anchorage Museum exhibit opened on Friday.

As part of Anchorage’s Centennial Celebration, the Anchorage Museum is hosting a new exhibit called “City Limits.” It’s a brief walk through Anchorage’s past that helps visitors understand how the city developed.

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Curator Carolyn Kozak walks past Dena’ina artifacts and an empty white tent into the echo-y museum gallery. Surrounding her are bits of Anchorage’s history –photos of the first railroad spike, a teal kitchen from the 1950s, the uniform of a pipeline worker.

Kozak says the exhibit tells the story of how Anchorage’s landscape and diversity came to be. When non-native settlers first arrived, they chopped down trees and built a work camp focused on the railroad. Kozak says the first Railroad Commissioner Frederick Mears soon realized that they needed to care for their environment before proceeding with development.

“The water was close to becoming contaminated so he changed his first order of business from railroad construction to surveying a new town site and getting people to higher, safer ground.”

That’s why downtown is a perfect grid, and the rest of the city is not.

The exhibit’s opening gallery during installation.

“The city limits were really only a small part of the town. Beyond that it was unregulated. They didn’t have municipal services. There wasn’t any running water. If you wanted a road out there you had to build it yourself. So it sort of explains the midtown sprawl in a way, and I think Spenard Road is a good example.”

Kozak says the exhibit is about more than the physical development of the city, it’s about the community as well. She walks into the center gallery and faces a giant map highlighting more than a hundred countries — they’re the places where Anchorage residents are originally from. Colorful graphs show how Anchorage’s diversity compares with other big cities.

“I’m hoping that this gallery will help dispel some myths that our visitors have about Anchorage and Alaska more broadly and also some permanent residents as well. I think people think of the state as being very homogeneous at times, especially visitors from the Outside, but in reality Alaska is the fifth most diverse state in the United States.”

The exhibit’s central gallery during installation.

Kozak says the exhibit also celebrates the city’s more colorful past with t-shirts from famous strip clubs and bars, a historic photo showing barrels of liquor being destroyed during Prohibition, and a cartoon of an animal chorus line the 1970s singing the old tourism theme song, “Wild! Wild about Anchorage…”

The City Limits exhibit runs through October 11.

Categories: Alaska News

Tonka Seafoods Tests Out The Shrimp Market

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:22

Seth Scrimsher stands in one of Tonka’s freezers with blocks of frozen pink shrimp. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)

One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods, Inc. is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. As Angela Denning reports, they should have their answer in a few weeks.

Shrimping used to be a robust industry in Petersburg. The state’s first shrimp plant started here in 1916 but the market ceased being profitable and the last plant closed down ten years ago.

Still, co-owner of the local seafood processor Tonka Seafoods, Seth Scrimsher, says the product is special.

“There are very few cold water shrimp left in the world,” Scrimsher says. “It’s mostly warm water shrimp or farmed shrimp. And the cold water shrimp is known for a sweeter flavor.”

We’re talking about pink shrimps, the tiny ones found on salads.

Tonka Seafoods is a locally-owned business located just outside of downtown Petersburg and they think they may have found a new shrimp market involving Iceland and England.

“We need to see if we can freeze them fast enough and maintain the quality and ship it to the buyer as cheaply as possible to work under their budget contraints,” Scrimsher says.

Tonka can freeze up to 30,000 pounds of shrimp within 24 hours but this winter was about testing. They froze smaller batches totaling 250,000 pounds. Those shrimp are enroute to Iceland where they will be cooked and peeled and then sent on to markets in England.

“Iceland has a tremendous amount of quota for these pink shrimp but it’s been steadily declining which is why they’re looking over here to replace some of that,” Scrimsher says.

That means competing against Iceland’s at-sea processors who freeze the shrimp at sea.

Tonka’s process starts at the back dock of the plant located along the Wrangell Narrows so boats can drive up and unload their catches.

I follow Scrimsher into the first room off the dock.

“The shrimp comes in here, would get dumped on that table where the initial sorting and the distribution to the belt begins,” Scrimsher says.

As the shrimp travel along a large white conveyor belt they are rinsed and sorted by about a half dozen workers called “graders”.

“And they’ll pick out the seaweed, the pieces of broken shrimp and pick out the side stripes and so we’re just running clean pink shrimps,” Scrimsher says.

The cycle starts in the morning with the catch the fishermen delivered the night before. They try to have the shrimp frozen within 24 hours.

They’re already good and cold as fishermen are icing the shrimp when they catch them which Scrimsher says takes a careful hand.

“They’re layer icing them and then we ice them heavier once we get here,” Scrimsher says. “There’s kind of a fine line between too much ice and just enough ice.”

Too much ice changes the flavor of the shrimp and too little will spoil it.

The shrimp get frozen in 22 pound blocks in the freezing area. There are two huge storage freezers that keep the shrimp frozen before shipping.

Tonka should know by mid-March if this whole process will work out with the international markets. And if it does?

“Then we would try to add a few more fishermen to try to catch and process the entire guideline harvest amount,” Scrimsher says.That’s about three million pounds of shrimp near Petersburg. On a busy day, that would mean employing 18 people working shrimp at the plant.

Although there is a strong domestic market for pink shrimp, Tonka doesn’t have the equipment to process it yet but Scrimsher says with luck, that could one day be happening too.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Say Woman Injured In Fairbanks In Officer Shooting

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:14

Alaska State Troopers say a woman has been hospitalized with apparently non-life-threatening injuries in Fairbanks after a trooper-involved shooting.

The woman was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Sunday evening after the incident at a Dale Road home.

Troopers say they responded to the home after getting a report shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday that a woman had pointed a gun at another woman.

Troopers say that during an interaction with the woman who reportedly pointed the gun, responding troopers fired at her, injuring her.

The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation.

According to troopers, the names of the officers are being withheld for 72 hours, as dictated by department policy.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Faces Murder Charge In Woman’s Shooting In Eagle River

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:13

A 32-year-old man is facing a murder charge in the shooting death of a 56-year-old woman in Eagle River.

Police say James Andrew Baker also faces two attempted murder counts after two others were wounded early Sunday morning. He is being held without bail.

Investigators say June Mary McCarr was found dead in a vehicle.

Police say the incident started when the vehicle owned by Baker was parked with six people inside using drugs. At some point for an undetermined reason Baker allegedly started shooting at the others.

All of the occupants then fled on foot except for McCarr. The two who were wounded were hospitalized in stable condition.

Police say Baker was later given a ride by a motorist and they’re hoping to make contact with that driver.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Prepare For New Route Through Interior Alaska

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:00

Willow musher Lisbet Norris prepares for the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

The Ceremonial start of the 43rd Iditarod filled Downtown Anchorage with dogs, fans, and snow trucked in from Goose Lake.

Unusually warm weather has hampered Southcentral Alaska’s winter snowpack and led officials to move the race start to Fairbanks for only the second time ever. The new route through the Interior will challenge even the most tenured seasoned racers as long-held strategies are scrambled.

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Light morning rain and temperatures in the upper-30s Saturday morning were yet another reminder: it hasn’t been a good season for mushers in Southcentral Alaska. Reliable training grounds like Willow, where many prominent veterans keep kennels, all the way down to Kasilof have been without good snow to put miles on their teams. That’s led many, like 2014 finisher Monica Zappa, to spend winter on the move.

“We’ve basically been living out of our truck, we haven’t been able to train at home on the Kenai Peninsula for 2 and a half months, so we actually ended up going to Wyoming,” Zappa said.

Monica Zappa makes her way through Anchorage during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

While the switch in start locations may seem like an advantage for Interior mushers clustered around Fairbanks, many teams moved up there for part of the season to take advantage of the snow. And with the first leg of this year’s route following smooth, fast rivers rather than the technical climb and decent through the Alaska Range in past years, veteran Richie Diehl says the terrain isn’t to any one region’s advantage.

“I’m from Aniak on the Kuskokwim River, so I love river traveling,” he said.

But long stetches on the Chena and Nenana rivers so early on present new challenges. Paige Drobny will be pacing her team in the first leg of the race.

“I’m gonna make sure to have my GPS on so that I don’t let them go any faster than 10 miles per hour, is my speed, because it’s flat and straight it’s really easy to let them run, and I think you can burn ‘em out if you do that,” Drobny said.

The other confounding variable is the distance between checkpoints. Iditarod mushers who design strategies around sprinting from one stop to the next will have a difficult time making it all 119 miles from Tanana to Ruby without stopping. And that, says Lisbett Norris, means making plans to camp.

“I packed an extra caribou skin, in addition to my regular sleeping pad, ’cause I want to be comfortable and cozy,” Norris said.

Brent Sass. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

There is one other long-distance sled-dog race where stretches on rivers and camping on the trail are the norm, and that’s the Yukon Quest. While Brent Sass of Eureka has only run the Iditarod twice before, he’s run the Quest 9 times and just a few weeks ago came in first.

“Yeah, camping out is one of my main deals, I love camping out on the trail, and I’ll be doing the same thing: building a big fire every stop I can,” Sass said.

Few mushers at the Ceremonial Start would reveal the details of their layover strategies—which is par for the course in a race where psychological advantages are their own tactic. But there are also some unknowns in the weather forecast, as temperatures are projected to drop to twenty below with a possibility of heavy snow. And for Kelly Maixner, changes in the layover rules are yet another variable to contend with.

(Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

“We do have a different option this year of taking our 8 before our 24,” Maixner said. “So I’ll just have to get out there and assess the situation, it’s kind of gonna be an on-the-fly race this year for me.”

In a year with so many adjustments, the one change that mushers across the board, like Hugh Neff of Tok, are looking forward to is the race’s first ever stop in Huslia, home to George Atla who passed away just last month.

“Ya know, George Atla is the greatest dog-musher ever, and we’re honoring his spirit this year,” Neff said.

The festivities were marred by the death of a sled-dog not involved in the ceremonial start. One of the dogs belonging to Lachlan Clarke, a race veteran from Colorado, got loose from the staging area at Campbell Tract, and was hit by a car several hours later.

The race’s official start is at 10 a.m. Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Voices on Homelessness seeks solutions to region-wide problem

Sun, 2015-03-08 23:16

Treating people who experience homelessness like people could help solve the problem. That was one of the solutions discussed by a group of community members who met on Saturday for the Northern Voices on Homelessness conference in Anchorage.

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The three-hour-long conference was a brainstorming session that brought together social service agencies, people who have experienced homelessness and others who are concerned about the issue. People teleconferenced in from Nome, Juneau, and Kodiak as well.

UAA Anthropology professor Sally Carraher helped coordinate the event. She says the idea was to look at homelessness from many different perspectives and together think of possible solutions.

“So we want to do a network that connects and services and agencies and real people and the public and connects them so we’re all speaking a shared language,” she explains.

The group includes people from northern Canada and throughout Alaska as well. Carraher says one thing that makes homelessness unique in the north is the sense that everyone should take care of themselves.

“And on the one hand I think that resiliency and that strength is really awesome about Alaska and northern Canada and Northerners in general. But I think it’s also kind of a barrier when trying to think about a problem like homelessness. You can’t expect individuals to each pull themselves out of this problem.”

So the community needs to remember that homelessness is just a circumstance and could happen to anyone, says Kaya Wolfe, who lived in shelters as a child and has couch surfed as an adult.

“These are people on the street, they’re not scenery, they are human beings. And I want to talk about their successes, I want to talk about their struggles, and I want to talk about hope for the future.”

Wolfe and other attendees spoke about reducing the stigma attached to being homeless so that people can more openly seek help.

Robert Alexie is a resident of Karluk Manor, Anchorage’s Housing First facility. He says that social service agencies and the public need to stop seeing people who experience homelessness as statistics and instead seem them as humans who need encouragement.

“You know, you want to say anything to someone, say ‘Hey, go up to Karluk Manor. Use the resources.’ A lot of people don’t want to use the resources.”

Alexie says not using resources is often an issue of pride but being directed to Karluk Manor is what saved him and his health. He says the staff at Karluk sought him out for housing and helped connect him to medical services.

“After almost 20 years on crutches, I’m walking without them. And it’s nice,” he pauses, thinking of words. “That’s what Karluk gave me, and there’s no way I can repay them. There’s no way.”

Housing First provides individuals with permanent housing without requiring them to seek treatment. Many experts see it as a successful solution for ending chronic homelessness.

More than fifty people attended the conference. Conference coordinators say this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Categories: Alaska News

Sled Dogs in Slow Motion

Sat, 2015-03-07 17:06

The dogs were ready to pull on this unseasonably warm day in downtown Anchorage at the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 6, 2015

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:52

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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Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point.

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from the Bethel District Attorney’s office. His resignation comes on the heels of the Walker Administration’s firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the funding public media gets from the state.

As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make.

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away.

AK: Women Who Mush

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women. In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

Categories: Alaska News

Plenty Of Work Left Before An Alaska LNG Pipeline Becomes A Reality

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:43

In a press conference March 2, 2015, Gov. Bill Walker holds up a copy of House Bill 132 that would limit the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s powers on the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline. House leaders introduced it earlier that day. The governor was adamant that the bill would hinder rather than help progress for the project by tying the state’s hands during negotiations. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Next year, Alaska is supposed to move forward on the engineering and design work of a natural gas pipeline. The project would cost at least $45 billion, with that amount split between the state, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada. If the project gets built, it would allow Alaska to sell North Slope gas to Asia, and and use the revenue to help pay for state government.

But there are a lot of things that must happen before the state gets to that point. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez checks in with us on where the Legislature is on its timeline.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti Resigns

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:42

Prosecutor Chris Carpeneti has resigned from his position at the Bethel district attorney’s office. His resignation comes about two weeks after the firing of Bethel District Attorney June Stein.

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While working in the office Sunday, February 22nd, Stein received a letter, hand-delivered from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

Stein says the letter said, “This action is being taken at the direction of the governor as part of the transition of the new administration.” The Governor’s spokesperson has so far declined repeated requests for an interview about why Stein was fired and maintains Governor Bill Walker can’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.

Carpeneti was tapped to be interim leader at the Bethel DA’s office after Stein’s departure. Stein’s last day is Monday, March 9th. Carpeneti’s last day is scheduled to be April 3rd.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Weather Prompts Concerns Over Early Fire Season Possibilities

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:41

Alaska wildfire mangers are anticipating the possibility of an early season. This winter’s unusual weather is prompting concerns.

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Categories: Alaska News

Radio Stations Weigh Rural Impact of Proposed Public Media Cut

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:40

Public radio and TV in Alaska could lose $2.5 million next year if a proposed state budget cut goes through. It would be a small reduction compared to the overall deficit legislators need to close — but it would eliminate more than half of the fundingpublic media gets from the state.

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As lawmakers try to spare towns with only one source for broadcast information, that distinction might not be so easy to make. 

In Dillingham, KDLG shares the airwaves with a commercial station and a few religious broadcasters. But once you get outside town, general manager Rob Carpenter says his public AM station is the only one on the air for miles.

“We are in the center of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska,” he says. “Our broadcast area is roughly the size of Ohio.”

It spans most of Bristol Bay’s 25 villages, and the areas in between, where residents travel to hunt and fish off the grid.

“We do messages to people who don’t have any other form of communication,” Carpenter says. “We’re the only one that can provide weather for the region, and there’s a lot of areas that are very remote, where there’s cabins and stuff where they can get no other signal.”

But KDLG isn’t technically a sole service station. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, that would have to be “the only primary broadcast service — radio or TV, commercial or noncommercial — within a 50-mile radius from the station’s transmitter.”

There’s only a handful of stations that fit that description in the whole country, and most of them are in Alaska. KUCB is one of them.

The state is hoping to spare sole service stations from major budget cuts. Tyson Gallagher is a staffer for Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, who proposed the 59 percent reduction for public broadcasting in the state House. If it goes through, Gallagher says they still want to make sure all Alaskans have access to information on the air.

“And so with our intent language, we’ve asked the Department [of Administration] to basically do their best to hold harmless those communities that have only one source of broadcast, being public broadcast, and look at a reduction of service of places that have duplicative services, first,” he says.

That could include the ability to stream radio online, which isn’t always possible in rural areas with slow connections.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission to implement any cuts. Brenda Hewitt has been on that board for 10 years. She says losing funding would likely lead stations to cut staff, and that could mean less local news content and original programs.

“You know, you could just put repeaters in every nook and cranny,” Hewitt says. “And then you would have to rely on maybe just national programming and national news, and you’d have one person there that would turn the light switch on and the knobs on and that would be it.”

Some of Alaska’s smallest public radio stations already rely on larger neighbors to help to fill out their daily broadcasts. KCUK in Chevak, for example, repeats programming from Bethel’s KYUK.

Though Bethel is home to more than one radio station, KYUK is the only broadcaster reaching thousands of people in villages across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It broadcasts in English and Yup’ik, providing services like travel warnings about the freeze and thaw of the Kuskokwim River.

“If people in Anchorage or any other urban area can imagine, it’s like someone needing to tell you whether or not you can drive on the roads that day,” says KYUK’s programming director, Shane Iverson.

Budget cuts and layoffs in Bethel would have a ripple effect, Iverson says, since his station shares local news with others across the state.

That’s why Brenda Hewitt, the public broadcasting commissioner, says it’ll be hard to separate the Alaska Public Radio Network’s rural and urban stations in trying to dole out cuts.

“We need everybody,” Hewitt says. “The small stations are the ones that give us the boots on the ground. They can send us the stories that we wouldn’t otherwise hear when you’re in urban Alaska — and we are a whole state. I mean, we’re not just Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.”

Juneau’s public radio station, KTOO, is part of a Southeast consortium called CoastAlaska, which covers about every size of media market Alaska has to offer. Executive director Mollie Kabler says the network has recently started selling its fundraising expertise to rural stations, including KUCB.

“It’s a fee-for-service arrangement, and it’s worked out great, because we know how to do the business of public media, and stations that are small … have just worked with us directly to do that,” Kabler says.

It’s just one way she says stations are trying to build up listener support and consolidate resources. As state funding declines, Kabler hopes that kind of change will help the whole system stay afloat.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional Chief Paul John Passes Away

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:39

Association of Village Council Presidents Traditional Chief and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Honorary Board Member Paul John of Toksook Bay has passed away. His family says he died in Anchorage this morning. His family says he was around 88-years-old.

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John was one of the most respected leaders in the region. He is remembered for dedicating his life to the younger generation and encouraging the well being of Alaska Natives in the YK Delta. He advocated for the preservation of the Yup’ik language and for maintaining traditional values.

His funeral arrangements are still pending.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Women Who Mush

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:38

This year 78 mushers are signed up to drive dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but only a third of them are women.

In the Yukon Quest, only 3 of 26 mushers who started this year were women. Despite the small numbers, many are up-and-coming mushers who are redefining what it means to run dogs.

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In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman ever to win the Iditarod. A grainy YouTube clip from coverage by CBS news shows a crowd gathered on Nome’s front street to greet Riddles.

Libby Riddles: “What I feel like is if I died now it’s ok.”

CBS: “And the Money?”

Libby Riddles: “The money? Maybe Hawaii that’s what I keep talking about. A box of dog biscuits for every dog on the team.  I don’t know. I can’t even believe it yet.”

The following year, Susan Butcher won the race and set a new speed record in 11 days and 15 hours.  Butcher repeated her win and broke her own record again in 1987. She went on to claim the championship twice more in 1988 and 1990.

But a woman hasn’t won the Iditarod since. In fact, the only woman to win another thousand-mile sled dog race in Alaska is Aliy Zirkle.

“I didn’t get into dog mushing to race or to win or to go, go , go , go, I got into mushing because I love dogs,” Zirkle said. “It’ so fun to travel with dogs who want to go and run more than you do.”

In 2000, Zirkle became the only woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Since then she’s tried to claim an Iditarod championship.

“Now, when you get competitive, and you learn to train these dogs like they’re athletes, then the sky is limitless,” she said.

Zirkle has come up short in the Iditarod placing second the last three years in a row. But does it really make a difference if you’re a woman when it comes to long-distance mushing?

“I would say that in the dog mushing world, most people want to beat Aliy Zirkle,” she said. “There are a few men that I could probably count on ten digits that want to beat me because I’m a woman.”

“It’s a level playing field,” Ryne Olson said. “There’s no advantage either way.”

Olson first started mushing in Alaska under the guidance of Aliy Zirkle.

“I mean you could argue that some of the stereotypical traits of women might help you in some ways and hinder you in others, but I don’t think I mean the sport of mushing there’s nothing stereotypical about it,” Olson said. “Everything is abnormal, I guess.”

Olson finished her first Iditarod in 2012. She was training a puppy team for Zirkle. Olson just finished a successful Yukon Quest with her own team of yearlings and young dogs. Olson placed third, ahead of Zirkle, in this year’s Copper Basin 300. Zirkle placed sixth. So even though Zirkle won’t have to look over her shoulder for her protégé in this year’s Iditarod, she expects to in the future.

“Ryne – my step daughter or adopted daughter or whatever you want to call her – she’s going to beat me,” Zirkle said. “She did beat me.”

But that rivalry is friendly.  The relationship among women who mush is something up-and-comer Kristin Knight-Pace says helped get her to the start line of this year’s Yukon Quest for her rookie 1,000-miler.

Paige Drobny at the Iditarod’s ceremonial start in 2013. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“I think the camaraderie between all of the women who are my friends who are mushers which – oh my gosh, there’s so many – they’re all around my age, they’ve all worked so hard to get to this point and now here we are about to jump off the ledge and do a thousand mile race and man the support system is incredible between all of them,” she said.

Knight-Pace also has Iditarod aspirations for the future.  This year, she helped train up a few dogs during her Yukon Quest run that will compete on Paige Drobny’s Iditarod team. But Drobny, a two-time Iditarod finisher, says they work well together not because they are women, but because they have similar philosophies on how to raise and race dogs.

“You know it’s not just the girls actually. I feel like everyone is super focused on dog care, smaller kennels and working with what they have,” Drobny said. “So yeah, there’s a bunch of women, but there’s also some men too that have the same devotion to their kennels so it’s a really  positive direction for the sport.”

Of the 25 women who will line out their dog teams at the Iditarod start line this year, at least half a dozen have the potential to finish in the top-20. And then there’s Aliy Zirkle who will try for her first Iditarod win- and the first win by a woman in a quarter century.  A group of young female mushers will likely be cheering her on.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wilma Distor

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:37

This week on AK, we’re launching a new segment. It’s called “49 voices” and it’s a chance for Alaskans to talk about why they live in the state and what they love about it. First up is Wilma Distor who recently moved to Mountain Village after working as a teacher in Pilot Station for nearly a decade. She’s originally from the Phillipines.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Uber stops free rides, pauses operations in Anchorage

Fri, 2015-03-06 16:03

Uber is pausing operations in Anchorage and stopped offering free rides on Friday afternoon. But negotiations with the city are not over.

The Uber Pacific Northwest Operations Manager Bryce Bennett announced the decision in a blog post. He cited slow negotiations with the municipality about new regulations that would allow Uber drivers to charge for their services. “The city has dragged its feet and failed to provide a clear end-date for negotiations,” Bennett wrote.

Uber created an online petition to show public support for the service. More than 1,000 people signed within the first four hours of its creation.

Deputy municipal attorney Dee Ennis, who is working on the Uber case, says the muni and the company came to an impasse on issues of public safety. The city wanted Uber drivers to undergo fingerprinting, drug testing, and medical exams like other taxi drivers. Ennis says now it’s up to the Assembly to decide if they are willing to compromise on the issues.

“If the policy makers in the Assembly decide these things are important then we may never get to an MOU [memorandum of understanding]. If the city says, ‘Well if the consumer is aware that Uber doesn’t provide certain features, that it’s a consumer choice’ then we would proceed to an MOU.”

Assembly members will hear from the administration and from Uber during a March 18 public safety committee meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

What is the Iditarod?

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:04

Whether you’ve lived in Alaska for decades or you’re a newcomer to the state, you’re probably still curious about the “Last Great Race on Earth.” How long does the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race take to finish? Where does it go? What’s with all those dogs? Alaska Public Media answers all of your questions about the most popular sporting event in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Steve Heimel and Historical Context for APRN

Fri, 2015-03-06 12:00

Steve Heimel has been a fixture of the APRN system since its inception. After more than three decades of dedicated service to news, Steve is leaving the network for other challenges. From covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill to helping Alaskans understand the breaking news on September 11th, Steve has been a steadfast, credible and authoritative voice. Steve Heimel
is our guest on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Steve Heimel
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

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

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

Thu, 2015-03-05 22:18

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Davidson gave a two-hour presentation to the House Health and Social Services committee on Thursday afternoon, walking the lawmakers through the potential savings and costs of expanding Medicaid. Even though the Walker administration no longer has a vehicle to accept federal funding for expansion, Davidson is optimistic that there may be other ways to advance the policy.

“We are certainly open to other opportunities to get this done, of course,” says Davidson.

Expanding Medicaid to cover Alaskans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has been a major priority for Gov. Bill Walker. In the first years, the federal government will cover the total costs of expansion, with 90 percent payment after that.

Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who chairs the House Health and Social Services committee, says he is friendly to the idea of expansion, but would like to see the policy come as part of a larger Medicaid reform bill.

“We’re looking for a way forward on Medicaid expansion that makes sense for all Alaskans,” says Seaton.

Numerous members of the Legislature’s Republican majority have stated they would like to see the issue of Medicaid expansion handled through a bill instead of the budget, and that they would like to see that bill come from the Walker administration.

A Medicaid expansion bill has previously been filed by a group of Democrats in the minority, but has not been heard. Seaton says the prime sponsor, Andy Josephson of Anchorage, first put in a request for a hearing last Friday. Seaton says there is no hearing currently planned for that bill, but that his committee will continue to hear more on Medicaid expansion from the Walker administration next week.

Categories: Alaska News

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