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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: 39 min 34 sec ago

Two Properties Up For Demolition To Make Way For KABATA

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:48

The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to demolish two Anchorage properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge construction.

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Categories: Alaska News

FAA Hazardous Material Fine Prompts Legislators To Redo Relocation Policy

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:47

Next session, state lawmakers will have to be a little more careful about what they ship down to Juneau. The Legislative Council has amended their moving reimbursement policy in response to the Federal Aviation Administration discovering hazardous materials in a representative’s air freight.

Wes Keller, a Wasilla Republican, was found to have shipped multiple items that violate FAA rules on an Alaska Airlines cargo plane as part of his relocation to Juneau last January. Among his belongings were a small amount of ammunition, a cigarette lighter, and a can of StaticGuard aerosol fabric spray. Because the state pays moving costs for lawmakers, Keller’s goods were shipped under the Legislative Affairs Agency account.

“It wasn’t intentional,” says Keller. He says a bin that he meant to transport via ferry got mixed in with his air freight.

The Legislative Affairs Agency was cited by the FAA for the violation. The initial fine was nearly $20,000, but the FAA agreed to halve it contingent on a change to state policy. At a Wednesday meeting, the Legislative Council voted to end reimbursement for the shipment of any item that qualifies as a hazardous material under state or federal law. The Council also added a new rule that goods shipped via a state account must be inspected by Legislative Affairs Agency staff before being put on a plane to Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Borough Pursuing Drone Park

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:47

The Fairbanks North Star Borough wants to set up a special area for companies to develop and test drone aircraft for the military. The project would capitalize on recent year’s state laws aimed at helping woo the defense industry and spur economic development.

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Categories: Alaska News

State’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties Announced

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:46

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation on Tuesday released its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic properties for 2014.

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If you’ve ever been to Talkeetna, you’ve probably passed right by an unassuming, old log cabin on the corner of one of the town’s busiest intersections. Over the past 80 years, that cabin has come to be known as the 3 German Bachelors Cabin.

That’s where I meet Sue Deyoe, the museum manager for the Talkeetna Historical Society.

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

She says Tony and Henry Meise and Frank Moennikes built the cabin in the 1930s and worked mining claims near Cache Creek.

Deyoe says the building is significant largely because of how it was built and how well it has stood the test of time.

“How much longer is it gonna be able to keep on going in the fashion that it is?” Deyoe said. “It is a true miners and trappers cabin; there aren’t that many left in Alaska that are this well preserved.”

If the building’s deterioration isn’t put in check soon, Deyoe worries the 3 German Bachelors Cabin might fall beyond repair…or as she characterizes it, “go extinct,” as has happened with similar properties in the area.

She hopes it has a better shot at survival now that it’s one of the state’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties for 2014.

The list, from the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, allows the Talkeetna Historical Society to apply for a small grant – no more than $5,000 – from the Association.

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Allegra Hamer with the association says even though the grant can help get preservation efforts moving, its larger purpose is to raise awareness.

“By focusing attention on them, the properties themselves can often leverage other funding: government, state, or private funding,” Hamer said. “Which enables them to be preserved.”

The Talkeetna Historical Society leases the cabin from the Alaska Railroad because it sits on Railroad property.

To offset costs, the Historical Society sublets the space when it can.

Dora Miller is using the cabin this year as a gallery for her photography business, Aurora Dora. She agrees the cabin needs some work, but she loves the space and wants to keep it open year-round if possible.

“I love Talkeetna, it’s where I’m part of it. And this cabin is a great spot,” Miller said. “You know, I’m right here. It’s Main Street and Spur Road. I’m by the welcome to the beautiful downtown Talkeetna sign.”

Despite periodic attempts at upkeep, a lot of work still needs to be done. Especially with the chinking, electric, and the floor – which slopes noticeably to one side of the cabin.

Sue Deyoe says some changes have been made to the cabin over the last several decades, like adding a deck and replacing the roof, but the vast majority of the construction is still original.

“You can see how the log cabin is created, with common, these lap-notched corners,” Deyoe said. “That’s significant in that it doesn’t, they don’t do that this way anymore.”

The endangered properties list also includes the Fort William H. Seward Barracks Building in Haines, Anchorage’s 4th Avenue Theatre, and other endangered properties in Kake, McCarthy, Cordova, and Willow.

Categories: Alaska News

The Alaska Marine Advisory Tracks The Effectiveness Of Whale Pingers

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:45

A purse seiner docked on North Harbor

As commercial fishing fleets head out on the water in Southeast Alaska this summer, some could run into problems with an expanding whale population. Whales can destroy nets and even become entangled in them. But a device being used regionally aims to prevent that. Marine mammal specialists are trying to determine its effectiveness and troubleshoot problems.

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Orca whales rely on echolocation to map the ocean terrain. That means they send out a signal and get a signal back. It helps them avoid predators, hunt for food, and avoid nets. Baleen whales, like humpbacks, don’t have that ability. “As they’re feeding, they’re not really paying attention to what’s ahead of them and they run into things. Anchor lines, mooring lines, nets. Things in the water,” said Kate Wynne, the Marine Mammal Specialist at the University of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

She brings out a device called a whale pinger. It’s about three inches long, made out of plastic, and shaped like a football. She licks her finger and touches one of the electrodes. “Let’s see if I can get it to ping here.” The device makes a high pitch noise. “So if they’re in contact with the water whether it’s fresh water or salt water or spit, it will activate the pinger,” said Wynne.

The device was originally designed to keep whales out of shark barriers in Australia. But here in Alaska, it’s used to deter whales from running into purse seines and gill nets. If you’re a baleen whale swimming in the Frederick Sound, “50 feet away from the net, you’ll hear this thing go ping and you’ll look up from the fish that you’re chasing and you’ll hear a couple of different pings and you’ll keep moving away from that ping until you don’t hear it and you’ll be back to the beach,” said Wynne.

The device can be expensive. It’s $125, and fisherman may need up to a dozen, depending on the size of the net. It doesn’t always guarantee that a whale will swim the other way. “I have heard several reports where they say, ‘well there was a pinger and I had a big hole that blew through my net right through a pinger,’” said Wynne.

That’s exactly what happened to Joe Cisney. He’s been a fisherman his entire life and works on a purse seiner. “In the previous ten seasons I have never been whaled, but we had three go through our net last year. As it turns out, one or two or three of the pingers quit working and we didn’t know it,” said Cisney. He says it wasn’t a dead battery issue. The pingers just malfunctioned.”So it gave the whales a target to hit because there wasn’t any noise coming from that section of the net.”

As far as giving pingers another chance, Cisney isn’t forgetting his last experience. “No More. Unless they become more reliable and, you know, give you an indication that they’re working or not,” said Cisney.

Commercial fishing fleets in Alaska use pingers on a voluntary basis, but they are required in parts of the U.S. In California, a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that by catch of beaked whales went down to zero percent after pingers were mandated.

Right now, the Marine Advisory Program is collecting its own data to determine the effectiveness of pingers and troubleshoot problems. Wynne said, “by gathering data from different situations different gear types, we’re getting a better understanding of how the pingers work and how to modify them.”

The program is asking fishermen with and without pingers to fill out log books around Petersburg, Kodiak, and the Aleutian islands. Wynne said whales infrequently become entangled in nets, but when they do, there’s still a lot we don’t know.

“I’m not sure a statistician will ever be happy with the results we get. But when I hear reports from fisherman that say a whale went around and got back on course. To me, even if it’s not statistically significant, it’s biologically significant. It means that it’s working for me.”

If you would like to participate in the research, the Alaska Marine Advisory is giving out the logbooks to document whale sightings near fishing vessels. Contact (907) 772-3381 for more information.

Categories: Alaska News

Big Rule Change Comes To Yukon Quest

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:44

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will have a new set of rules in 2015. Overall rest time has been decreased by two hours, but mushers will be required to make more mandatory stops along the 1000 mile trail.

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Driving a dog team between Fairbanks and Whitehorse used to take 12 days or more, but in the last few years the fastest sled dogs have completed the run in just over nine days.  Eureka musher Brent Sass says the addition of more mandatory stops fundamentally alters the race. “It’s huge. It’s huge.  It’s a huge change!” he exclaims.

Brent Sass’s lead dogs lick the ice from their booties during a quick stop for supplies at Carmacks during the 2014 Yukon Quest.
(Credit Emily Schwing / KUAC)

A mandatory 36 hour layover at the race’s midway point in Dawson City has been cut by 12 hours. Sass says that will improve overall dog care. “There may be a dog that has a wrist injury that you’ve been milking and he’s doing fine but it’s definitely getting sore,” explains Sass.  “You know when you get to Dawson, you know 36 hours you can get rid of a wrist injury. With 24 and a bad wrist injury? Not necessarily.”

Other changes are likely to shake up race strategy.

A second mandatory stop in Eagle, near the Canadian border, will increased from four to six hours. Next year, mushers will also be required to take two additional six hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last third of the race. An eight hour mandatory layover at the last checkpoint before the finish line remains in place.

Yukon Quest Executive Director Marti Steury says the decision is meant to help sleep-deprived, exhausted mushers. “I find it to be a progressive move forward in looking at the overall success of the race and it seems to me that because the speed has changed so much in the last few years,” says Steury, “that this is something that is going to be of assistance and that’s our hope is that it helps the mushers.”

Last year’s race saw teams spread out over more than 200 miles of trail. Steury says floating stops means race personnel can keep up with teams running at both the front and back of the pack.

Two-time champion Allen Moore of two Rivers plans to run a fifth Quest in 2015, but he says the changes will force him to rethink his plan. He also says the race could become more competitive. “It will probably draw more interest from a lot of people who haven’t thought of running the race just by changing it up a little bit,” sayss Moore.

The race organization has struggled in the last few years to draw interest from long distance mushers due in part to a small purse and a notoriously challenging trail. Mushers will sign up for the race in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Subsistence Fishermen Say Commercial Chum Fishing Is Too Early

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:43

As the Kuskokwim River king salmon run comes to an end, the Department of Fish and Game is looking toward a commercial chum opening in the lower river Friday. But in a year with unprecedented Chinook restrictions and increased reliance on chum salmon, many middle river fishermen say it’s too early.

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Department of Fish and Game District W-1. The proposed opening would be in the lowest section of 1-B.

At a work session Tuesday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, subsistence fishermen told managers a commercial opening now undermines the conservation mindset and sacrifices that the working group and others have pushed all year. Nick Kameroff is from Aniak.

“The more commercial fishing that starts there.. it’s a lot of boats, it’s going to dwindle our chums and reds and opportunity for other people on the upper river who have not yet met their subsistence needs,” said Kameroff.

Several middle river residents reported not catching as many chum salmon as they might expect this year. They say many are still chum fishing and plan to try and target more silvers this year.

Mangers are proposing a commercial opening Friday in lower Sub district 1-B which runs from 15 miles below the Johnson River the to the southern tip of Eek Island. The six-hour opening is not finalized yet, but managers expect allowing 6-inch gear.

Aaron Poetter is the Kuskokwim Area Management Biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

“Looks like we’re sitting really good as far as fish that have moved into the river, the relaxation of some restrictions in order to provide subsistence opportunity, good abundances of chums moving in, processor availability,” said Poetter.

A preseason forecast pointed to 100 to 200 thousand chum salmon available for commercial harvest. The data this year indicate an above average chum run. There will still be incidental kings salmon caught. The commercial buyer, Coastal Village Seafoods, told the working group they would not buy king salmon caught, all would be sent home for subsistence use.

There was no quorum, so the group could not pass a motion. Co-Chair LaMont Albertson from Aniak said he wanted managers to hear a message from the middle river.

“For those of use who have talking conservation upriver, this is not viewed as a conservation move when you open it up. You can say it’s just for chums, ands that fine and I understand that and I understand the statistics you use to justify it also. But in the true spirit of the way things have gone this year, and in the way the people in the middle river, upper river and even the lower river somewhat have responded, This is just the wrong year to start this soon,” said Albertson.

The working group will be talking long term in the coming months and discussing the possibility of a tier two chinook salmon permit system that allocates permits based on several criteria.

Biologist report that a few silvers at least are in early: the Bethel Test Fisheryon July 6th tied the record for the earliest catch of a coho salmon.

The next working group meeting will be at the call of the chair.

Categories: Alaska News

Foundation Hears Funding Aims of Bering Strait Communities

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:42

Residents and visitors celebrated the opening of a new Search and Rescue facility in Golovin. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM)

The Rasmuson Foundation awarded more than $30 million in grants in 2013. But in the last few years only about one percent of that money has gone for projects in the Bering Straits Region. Foundation members traveled to small communities in the region last week to see what kinds of programs residents would like to see funded.

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Six folks from the Rasmuson Foundation landed in Nome aboard a private jet Wednesday morning. Fog kept them from making it to White Mountain, the first of three trips planned for the day. But at noon, board members, staffers, and the foundation’s president took off in a chartered plane from a regional carrier to Golovin, for the dedication of a new Search and Rescue building.

“We have experienced, and assisted in, a lot of Search and Rescues, including searching for lost people around surrounding villages,” Irene Navaro told a crowded room of residents and Rasmuson visitors. Navaro is head of the Chinik Eskimo Community in Golovin, and explained the reasons why people there have pushed hard for the completion of a garage-sized building to help with searches. “We’ve had plane crashes close to Golovin that we were able to assist in rescuing.”

People care strongly about search and rescue in Golovin because it happens a lot: snowmachiners traveling the coast break down, the Iditarod, Iron Dog, and local races all pass through. And stuff just doesn’t always go as planned.

Jack Fagerstrom says residents don’t usually want to wait for the state troopers to fly up, or sit still until weather breaks when it’s their neighbor or relative that’s missing. The city got money to buy communications equipment and snowmachines in 2009, and funds from NSEDC matched by Rasmuson for a total cost of around $600,000 to build the new facility. The point, Fagerstrom explained, is to make sure searchers and their equipment are as safe and prepared as possible.

After lunch inside the new building and a quick tour of Golovin from the back of a pickup truck, the Rasmuson crew got back on the plane and flew across the Norton Sound to Saint Michael.

Kawerak president Melanie Bahnke helped coordinate the visit, and said sites were picked to show the Rasmuson delegation the range of needs across the region.

“They also wanted to go to villages where they haven’t had as much of a financial presence, so we took them out to St. Michael today,” Bahnke said, ducking to avoid the wind in the bed of a truck heading into town from the airfield.

Though St. Michael got a few thousand dollars for chairs and tables some years ago, part of Rasmuson’s reason for rural trips is giving out advice for how to succeed in securing more funds in the future.

“Where the trustees of our foundation choose to invest is in projects that serve a wide section of the community. So we do a lot of things for kids, for elders,” said the foundation’s president, Diane Kaplan, as she answered questions from a small audience at the head start building in St. Michael. A lot of their money, especially smaller grants under $25,000, goes towards things like replacing gym floors, paint supplies, or a new roof—projects that aren’t exactly flashy, but make a difference for residents on the ground.

And that’s exactly what St. Michael mayor Bobby Andrews is eager for help with.

“We are very excited—we’ve been thinking of where we can get some funding to do our flooring, our carpet, our gym. Knowing the carpet is so old and that we have 3 and 4-year-olds coming in for school daily, and hopefully we can get some help with doing our floors,” Andrews said.

While new carpeting may seem small, those are the tangible improvements in people’s lives that foundation vice chair Cathy Rasmuson says aren’t apparent until you actually go to rural communities.

“I think coming into the villages is a very important part of the Rasmuson Foundation, because reading about a project and a proposal on paper is not the same thing as meeting the people that are involved in it and that are passionate about it,” Rasmuson said, sitting in the back of a plane heading back to Nome at the end of the day.

Foundation members, joined by representatives from the Alaska Humanities Council, NSEDC, and Kawerak, are scheduled to travel today to Koyuk and Elim to hear more about funding needs in the Bering Strait Region.

And Wednesday evening, Cathy Rasmuson officially announced the foundation will be awarding $1.3 million to the city of Nome as part of an agreement to construct the Beringia Center inside the planned Richard Foster Building.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 9, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-09 17:18

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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Begich Co-Sponsors Bill Responding To Hobby Lobby Decision

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Senator Mark Begich today joined other Democrats in sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for a company to deny employees certain health benefits, including birth control, if they are required to be covered by federal health care law.

The bill is a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which says closely held companies can refuse to provide such benefits if the owners have religious objections. Sponsors are calling it the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.

It is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House, where conservatives praise the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for religious liberty.

State To Spend $500,000 To Furnish New Anchorage Office

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The state will spend up to half a million dollars to furnish the new Anchorage legislative information office.

The Legislative Council, which handles office policy for state lawmakers, awarded the contract to Think Office LLC at a Wednesday meeting. They’ve directed the firm to buy from the Swiss modern design company Vitra. Listed on the Legislative Council’s proposal are rolling chairs that retail for $1,500 and $300 metal coat racks.

Two Properties Up For Demolition To Make Way For KABATA

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Transportation has announced plans to demolish two Anchorage properties to make way for Knik Arm Bridge construction.

Fairbanks Borough Pursuing Drone Park

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough wants to set up a special area for companies to develop and test drone aircraft for the military. The project would capitalize on recent year’s state laws aimed at helping woo the defense industry and spur economic development.

State’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties Announced

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation on Tuesday released its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic properties for 2014.

The Alaska Marine Advisory Tracks The Effectiveness Of Whale Pingers

Elizabeth Jenkins, KFSK – Petersburg

As commercial fishing fleets head out on the water in Southeast Alaska this summer, some could run into problems with an expanding whale population. Whales can destroy nets and even become entangled in them. But a device being used regionally aims to prevent that. Marine mammal specialists are trying to determine its effectiveness and troubleshoot problems.

Big Rule Change Comes To Yukon Quest

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will have a new set of rules in 2015.  Overall rest time has been decreased by two hours, but mushers will be required to make more mandatory stops along the 1000 mile trail.

Subsistence Fishermen Say Commercial Chum Fishing Is Too Early

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

As the Kuskokwim River king salmon run comes to an end, the Department of Fish and Game is looking toward a commercial chum opening in the lower river Friday. But in a year with unprecedented Chinook restrictions and increased reliance on chum salmon, many middle river fishermen say it’s too early.

Foundation Hears Funding Aims of Bering Strait Communities

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The Rasmuson Foundation awarded more than $30 million in grants in 2013. But in the last few years only about one percent of that money has gone for projects in the Bering Straits Region. Foundation members traveled to small communities in the region last week to see what kinds of programs residents would like to see funded.

Categories: Alaska News

Fisherman Dies After Falling Overboard Near King Cove

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:21

A crew member aboard a commercial fishing vessel died after being swept overboard near King Cove last weekend.

State troopers say 53-year-old Rudy Paul Dushkin, Jr., a King Cove resident, was aboard the F/V Matt-Michelle Sunday morning, gillnetting for salmon. Dushkin was hauling in the anchor when a large swell hit the side of the boat and knocked him into the water.

Skipper Bert Bendixen was the only other person on board at the time. He put out a distress call, and was able to tow Dushkin closer to shore using a longline. He then put on a survival suit to pull Dushkin out of the water. But Dushkin couldn’t be revived.

Troopers say Dushkin wasn’t wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the incident. His body will be taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

TODAY Show to Broadcast Live from Mendenhall Glacier

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:21

The NBC TODAY Show will broadcast live from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center early Thursday morning. Juneau residents are invited to attend.

TODAY’s Natalie Morales will host a portion of the show from the visitor center pavilion from 3 to 6 a.m. to air live on the East Coast.

Kayaking along Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier. Gorgeous! #TODAYTakesOff Thursday on @TODAYshow pic.twitter.com/YNejoNtwSW

— Natalie Morales (@NMoralesNBC) July 8, 2014

Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau Elizabeth Arnett has no idea how many people will turn out for the live broadcast since it’s so early in the morning.

“But we think a lot of people are going to want to get in on this. I mean it is a big deal for Juneau to have this show going live from our glacier,” Arnett says.

Cars are allowed at the visitor center any time after 2 a.m. but can’t park in the lot closest to the glacier or along the rock wall.

Arnett recommends the public get there no later than 2:30 to get parked and find a place to stand. People can arrive and leave anytime during the 3-hour shoot.

“It’s going to be a fun time. We expect everybody to be in a good mood. It’ll probably be chilly. I was just looking at the weather forecast and it says showers,” Arnett says.

No food or flavored drinks are allowed at the glacier. The visitor center will be closed, but bathrooms will be open.

The TODAY Show episode won’t air in Alaska until 7 a.m. Thursday.

This is not the first time the TODAY Show has been in Alaska. The show has been taped in Denali National Park, but this is the first live broadcast from the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Chinese Icebreaker Set for Sixth Arctic Expedition

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:18

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker XueLong, July 2010. Photo: Timo Palo via Wikimedia Commons.

China’s icebreaking research vessel Xuelong, orSnow Dragon, will soon begin another summer in the arctic.

Chinese state media Xinhua reports the Snow Dragon is set to leave its Shanghai base next week to embark on a sixth summer expedition to the North Pole.

A crew of nearly 130 scientists and other crew members will take part in the 76-day trip, which will mostly focus on environmental research in the polar region, officials from the Polar Research Institute of China said.

The team will set up eight short-term and one long-term observation stations on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, setting up what one scientist called the largest on-ice observations in China’s arctic expeditions so far.

The project is also seeking information as to how El Niño might affect the polar region, especially with regard to ice coverage.

The trip figures into what has become an increased presence in the arctic by China and other non-arctic nations. The intergovernmental agency known as the Arctic Council has granted China and 11 other nations permanent “observer status” as of 2013. As early as 2010, China was sending ice breakers through the Arctic Ocean, following a route that could cut shipping times to northern Europe by up to two weeks when compared to the current route through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.

The Xuelong is China’s only functioning ice breaker, but Chinese media The China Daily reports the country is expecting to build a second icebreaker by 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Rustic Goat’s new parking lot draws community outcry but wins approval

Tue, 2014-07-08 23:21

The plan for Rustic Goat’s newly approved parking lot

The Rustic Goat, a new restaurant on Turnagain in West Anchorage, is getting a new parking lot. But the establishment and its plentiful customer base have stirred up mixed emotions in the neighborhood.

The business was intended to be a neighborhood hang out that people would walk or bike to, so the developers put in limited parking. Instead it’s turned into one of Anchorage’s hottest new restaurants and people are lining the local streets with cars and increasing local traffic.

Resident Solani Miles says it makes the community unsafe. Speaking before the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night, she described walking with “our daughters, who are two and four, who we have literally started keeping on leashes when we walk in our neighborhood now because there is so much traffic.”

She was one of about 20 people who spoke passionately about the issue. The crowd applauded and heckled the Assembly and other community members, depending on their positions.

Some felt the proposed parking lot would alleviate the area’s new congestion. Others opposed taking away the community’s green space. Many spoke up to say that the whole endeavor was poorly planned.

Assembly member Ernie Hall, who represents the area, said the business owners consulted with the community council and the planning and zoning commission before building.

“This was not poorly planned. But nobody had anyway of foreseeing the fact that it was gonna be phenomenally successful.”

The Assembly debated postponing the issue to discuss other solutions but ultimately passed the motion 9-2. Many said it was to improve safety in the neighborhood.

The new parking lot will add 28 spaces for the Rustic Goat and take up about 13% of the green space without removing any of the trees.

In other business, the Assembly voted to accept the new version of the Wetlands Management Plan. This one includes a new line saying that Mosquito Lake itself “shall be preserved without disturbance.” It distinguishes that the lake is different from the wetlands around it and gives it added protection. However, in the end, the Army Corps of Engineers has final say whether or not to permit development in high-value wetlands areas.

Categories: Alaska News

Palmer Farm School Provides Local Food Education For Youngsters

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:51

(Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

A dozen or so five- and six-year-olds are playing a game in the shade of a gnarled apple tree. The game involves a frog and a detective, somehow. The kids all are enjoying themselves, shrieking and laughing. It’s all part of a summer program at Spring Creek Farm.

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When a former pilot, and WAC veteran decided to take advantage of homesteading opportunities in Alaska after World War II, local Palmer colonists laughed. But a decade later, Louise Kellog’s dairy farm became the most successful in the area. Before her death, Kellog put 700 acres into a trust, and offered it’s management to Alaska Pacific University. Steve Rubenstein, APU’s director at the farm, says the farm environment is the classroom setting for the university’s unique Masters in Outdoor and Environmental Education program.

(Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

“What we have is a Masters program in Outdoor and Environmental Education,” Rubenstein said. ”This would be our tenth year, headed in now. It is part of the outdoor studies department at Alaska Pacific, with the intention of training outdoor educators and environmental educators for the next level of professional work here in state.”

Rubenstein says there is no other program in the state doing the same thing.

“We wanted to use the environment that we have here in Alaska in this context, in order to really be able to do something different than what other folks were doing,” Rubenstein said. ”And we have an outdoor studies program already that’s training a lot of people that are working for agencies.”

“When we first started the program, the primary focus really was teachers working in the school system perhaps, who wanted to do more environmental education with their classes, but needed the extra training to do so, people that were looking to work for agencies developing curriculum for places like the Murie Science Center, Fish and Game, Fish and Wildlife.”

APU operates Spring Creek as a satellite campus, and is attempting to further the farm as an educational asset.

Plans are in the works to eventually house a charter high school on site, with an emphasis on outdoor education and natural resource skills.

(Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

Currently, the farm is home to Louise’s Farm School, named in honor of Kellog. Megan Rock is the coordinator at the Farm School, and she shows me around.

“So, like I said, this is an old chicken coop that has been converted,” she said. “So this is where our younger students, this is where our Chickadees, classes are conducted. And they learn about using their five senses to experience the outdoors.”

Rock leads the way through a corridor to a much larger room.

“The Eagles and Owls, [the older children] classes are housed back here, and they are studying more-so about culture and community. Rock said. “Athabascan culture because the farm itself is held on Athabascan land, and community service programs, so we are doing stream bank restoration and we are doing out reach with non profit programs like My House, and teaching the kids about social responsibility.”

The farm school serves home schooled children, ages 5-13. Rock works with three companies that provide correspondence courses for home-schooled children. Louise’s Farm School just received a state agricultural division grant for 2014. Rock says the funds will be used to develop curriculum to teach youngsters about local foods and local farms. She calls it place-based education.

“The long term projects that we are working on are really allowing students to experience learning in different ways,” she said.

The kids will learn about farming from seeds to harvest, Rock says.

We go down to the basement of Louise’s original house, where seeds are sprouted under grow lights.

“It’s a little bit dark, so watch your step. We are using this as our seeding area for the farm”

Downstairs, trays are packed with seedlings of all kinds, peeping up from trays lighted over head, while a fan whirs to circulate air and heat.

“So early April, this place is humming. It’s really neat for the kids to come in here and see this happening.”

Outside, an early spring has coaxed lettuce, kohlrabi and scallions to sprout in neat rows.

Nearby, the farm’s grower Josh Valler is guiding volunteers who are planting pepper seedlings in a hoop house. He says the farm’s learning programs are right in step with the “get kids outdoors and moving” trend.

“It’s really important. I mean, we are looking at a new diabetic generation,” Valler said. ”And the work here is extremely healthy, getting kids out into the field to do the labor and to understand where food comes from. ”

Although APU calls Spring Creek an educational farm, at present some acreage is leased for hay production, and the vegetable garden yields produce for local CSA subscribers and an Anchorage farmers market. Round hay bales and idle reaping machines stand in the neat fields, although the dairy cattle are long gone. Steve Rubenstien glances at the view of the Chugach Mts. out his office window. Rubenstein says, as the Valley population continues to expand, open land will become ever more valuable.

“This may well be one of the last acreages of its size this side of Palmer,” Rubenstien said.

Rubenstein says Louise would be proud that her farm is being used for a school.

“She wanted this farm to continue, but also to continue as a place for kids,of all ages, from college on down, to have access to the natural world,” Rubenstien said.

But Matanuska Valley farmland is under seige by developers, and Rubenstien says that forty acres flanking the farm is already earmarked for housing. And he is only too well aware that if the farm were ever to become a financial burden to APU, the bulldozers would be standing at the gate.

Louise Kellog died on July 24, 2001, in Palmer. Thirteen years later, her vision to keep open spaces available for learning about the natural world, is very much alive.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak CommSta Killer Sentenced To 4 Consecutive Life Terms

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:21

The man convicted of a 2012 double murder at the Kodiak Coast Guard Base will spend the rest of his life in federal prison. Sixty-three-year-old James Wells was sentenced Tuesday to four consecutive life sentences in federal court in Anchorage.

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During sentencing, Wells maintained his innocence, saying “we all suffered for this tragedy.” His defense attorney, federal public defender Rich Curtner, said “the killer is still out there.”

However, in handing down his sentence, Beistline said Wells was a cold-blooded killer who has shown no remorse. He said Wells was the only person who had motive and opportunity in the deaths of his coworkers, Richard Belisle and James Hopkins.

The evidence was overwhelming, Beistline said, adding “the real killer is sitting at the table in front of us.”

U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said after the sentencing that justice was served.

“This was really one of the most planned, premeditated and cold blooded murders that we’ve ever seen,” she said.

The federal prosecutors’ case was largely circumstantial, as the murder weapon, a 44-magnum handgun, was never found, and there were no witnesses. Nevertheless, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder on April 25th after deliberating less than a day. The trial lasted 19 days.

The widows of both men Wells killed also spoke at the sentencing, and both told him to “rot in hell.”

Nicola Belisle said that no sentence would ever be enough.

Wells was not arrested until 10 months after the murders while the FBI tried to build the case against him. Belisle said she spent that time in fear of her life, worried Wells would also kill her or her children in an attempt to stop the investigation. She spoke of sitting in her home across the street from Wells’ house with a loaded firearm, waiting for him to come after her.

“I’m still having to look at his house every single day. I want to burn it down. It needs to go away,” Belisle said. “That’s my ultimate goal so that I don’t have to look at it for the rest of my life, and my children, my potential grandchildren that they don’t ever have to sit in our family home and see that house.”

Belisle may get that chance, as Judge Beistline said the victims’ families are due restitution.

Wells can appeal the sentencing within 14 days.

Categories: Alaska News

Helicopter Service To Diomede Halted Amid Contract Snag

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:20

Diomede, seen from the west. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Transportation to one of Alaska’s most remote communities has stopped, because of a contract delay that’s tying up funds.

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Helicopter flights to Diomede were suspended this week because a complicated system of state and federal subsidies expired June 30th–before the yearly re-authorization contract was inked. Rich Sewell is a planner with the Alaska Department of Transportation, and said the dollars paying for passenger flights to and from Diomede each Monday—weather permitting—come from three different sources.

“There’s part funding by US DOT, matching dollar-for-dollar what the state of Alaska provides, and this funding just ensures that the air-carrier gets to a break-even point. And, like I said, the individuals have to pay an airfare.”

The Diomede service is contracted with Erickson Helicopters—formerly Evergreen–and is subsidized at $337,520 a year. Half of that–$188,760–is paid by federal dollars from US DoT, and the state portion comes from a grant distributed by Kawerak. Passengers pay another $200 one-way on top of that, which one Diomede resident staying in Nome until flights resume said makes the service financially do-able for her.

Before weekly helicopter flights got subsidized, Sewell said, the situation was much worse.

“Every time they sparked up that bird it was $10,000,” he explained.  “So you can imagine, it got to the point it was pretty desperate out there. Say a mother would come in to Nome to delivery [a] baby, and then the problem was how does she get home to Little Diomede?”

The island, 28 miles west of Wales, is one of three communities in Alaska served by a modified version of the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978, as a way of ensuring rural residents wouldn’t be completely abandoned by commercial fliers. In Alaska, the program serves a total of 45 communities and will cost about $14,729,690 this year.

Sewell says there’s a reason why that doesn’t just amount to a giveaway to regional carriers.

“Air carriers must be profitable, of course, to be in business,” he responded.  “I mentioned 82% of our communities in Alaska are off the road system—there’s no other access, there’s no other practical access. So it’s not some kind of feather-bedding program. I think that it’s an essential—well, Essential Air Service.”

Diomede’s contract has to be renewed every year. Last year, flights were halted for weeks while documents were being signed. According to Heather Handyside, spokesperson for Senator Mark Begich–who has pushed for many of the aviation programs serving Bush communities–the holdup this time around was on the Federal side.

“Well the funding structure looks sound and reliable, and they completed their negotiations and a contract will be signed to make sure that the transportation will continue as normal service to Little Diomede,” said Handyside.

As of today, US DOT has issued an Order finalizing details with Erickson. Pearl Mikulski is in charge of Kawerak’s role in negotiations, and says the paperwork is on course to be settled in the next few days. And according to a pilot with Erickson, if that’s true, they could start bringing back-logged passengers to and from Diomede by the end of the week.

Categories: Alaska News

Merged Alaska Dispatch News Website Launches

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:19

The Alaska Dispatch and Anchorage Daily News websites Tuesday merged under a new name – Alaska Dispatch News. The new name will soon appear in the print edition as well.

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Since Alaska Dispatch took over the Anchorage Daily News in early May, merging the two websites has been a top priority.

So far, editor Tony Hopfinger says the transition to the new Alaska Dispatch News website has been fairly smooth…the process mostly consists of migrating content from the former Anchorage Daily News site to the renamed Alaska Dispatch News website, but he says more changes are expected in the future.

“We’ll still be tweaking things for the next several weeks, I think,” Hopfinger said. “And there are some features that we’re trying to add back in that readers might be missing from ADN and then also trying to keep the reader experience the way we had it for Dispatch fans as well.”

Some of those missing features include the online Sudoku and crossword puzzles, and the sunrise/sunset timer.

Hopfinger says the decision to rename the organization Alaska Dispatch News was made in part to retain the ADN brand, as well as to better-depict their mission and future goals.

“The next focus here is; how do we build out our news organization across the state? How do we cover more towns and more communities and more statewide news?” Hopfinger said. “So, the name is very important to us and it should reflect the state, not just reflect Anchorage.”

To bolster their news coverage, Hopfinger plans on gradually stationing reporters in Alaska’s hub cities, likely starting in Bethel, and eventually in Washington DC as well.

On Sunday, July 20th, the header of the print edition will change from Anchorage Daily News to Alaska Dispatch News.

Categories: Alaska News

National Geographic Remaps Melting Arctic

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:18

A new National Geographic Atlas of the World is coming out this fall, and it’s already controversial.

The tenth edition of the world atlas depicts Arctic sea ice during a record-low year. Some scientists say that’s not representative.

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“The ice cover during the summer in 2012—this is the record-low ice cover—is less than 50 percent of what it was in the 1980s,” says Josefino Comiso, lead researcher of the NASA satellite study. He says it is important to redraw the map, since the Arctic is changing so rapidly.

The map is controversial. It only shows multiyear ice, which doesn’t melt during warmer seasons. Cartographers didn’t want to include new ice because it might be too confusing.

New ice is still important to the Arctic landscape, providing shelter for animals and reflecting solar energy. It also poses risks to Arctic Ocean-going vessels.

“An ocean that’s covered with first-year ice—which is going to be a bit thinner—it’s still hazardous,”  says Andy Mahoney, Assistant Research Professor at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “You still can’t take a non-ice-reinforced vessel into those waters.”

Mahoney says showing an average of ice levels taken over a few years would make the map more representative than the record-low ice year.

“It’s also a very political issue. I think it behooves everyone to do the best job they can to make sure they’re using relevant and representative data when drawing a line on a map which can have profound implications sometimes,” he says.

New ice is becoming increasingly important to people in the Arctic, says UAF geophysics professor Hajo Eicken.

“Nowadays, if you go up to Barrow towards the end of summer, the closest ice may be several hundred miles away. You have open ocean out there, and for people in Barrow these days, the first-year ice is just as important as the multiyear ice,” he says.

But Arctic ice is changing so rapidly, the cherry-picking argument may be moot in a few years, Eicken says.

“Ten years from now we might say ‘Whoa, why did they pick 2012 when there was so much ice left? Why aren’t they updating this so much more quickly?’” Eicken says.

The new atlas comes out Sept. 30.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Says Wolf Deaths Have Implications For Pack

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:17

A new study indicates that the death of a wolf has implications for the rest of the pack, depending on the size of the pack and the dead wolf’s sex. The study is in response to the legal trapping of a breeding female that was part of a well-known wolf pack that was frequently spotted in Denali National Park.

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Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Housing Project Targeting Rural, Native Communities

Tue, 2014-07-08 17:16

What kind of housing will Southeast Alaska communities need in the future?

Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority is looking to answer that question with a housing needs assessment due out in September. The nonprofit says it will use the study to secure funds for housing projects, including some targeting rural and Native communities.

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Categories: Alaska News

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