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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: 3 min 58 sec ago

Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:04

The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in Alaska this fiscal year.

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The spending bill appropriates $50 million for construction work at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base. And another $50 million for design work a new radar facility elsewhere in Alaska to improve the missile-defense system’s ability to detect and track incoming enemy missiles.

The Missile Defense Agency will be placing 14 more interceptors like this at the Fort Greely missile base by 2017. The will bring the total number of interceptors at the base to 40. Photo from the Missile Defense Agency.

Matt Felling, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says those appropriations demonstrate the military’s confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense system after it succeeded to destroying a decoy in a test earlier this year.

“Just this past June, we had a successful interceptor missile test,” Felling said. “And I think that the military realized that we’re building a lot of momentum, to double down on the funding levels, to make sure that everything possible could be done to get our missile defense as strong as possible, quickly as possible.”

Felling says the funding will pay for continued work on Greely’s missile field 1, one of three at the base. It’s part of a $1 billion project  approved in 2013 to prepare the base for an expansion that would increase the number of interceptors there from the present 26 to 40 by the end of next year.

The other $50 million appropriation will be used to design a facility to house an advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar system. Felling says the military hasn’t decided whether to build that facility at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson, or at Shemya, an island in the far western Aleutian Island archipelago.

Those are the only major appropriations for military construction in Alaska. Felling says the spending bill also contains funding for smaller projects at Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“We have funding coming to Alaska at our military installations, he said. “We haven’t seen the dramatic increases, like we have seen in missile defense, in terms of construction on base, or construction, or maintenance.”

One proposed missile-defense facility did not get any funding in the spending bill – that’s for a second Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense installation that some lawmakers have proposed for the eastern United States. Congress approved language specifically prohibiting funding for that base in another piece of legislation passed last week, the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Alaska congressional delegation and other lawmakers have criticized in recent years, saying it’s an unnecessary installation. Felling says the authorization bill language, and $100 million appropriation for the Alaska missile-defense projects, means the proposal for the East Coast installation is dead – at least, for now.

“These bills are an affirmation of Alaska’s A.) location, in terms of defending America from threats abroad, and B.) of our ability, and our success story.”

President Obama is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill this week.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:03

Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.

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If built, the industrial road would provide access to the Ambler Mining District, rich in deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse is the CEO of NovaCopper, Inc., a mining company that would benefit from the road.

“The Ambler district is a very special district,” said Neuwenhuyse. “It’s very high grade. It’s the sort of district that can provide jobs for generations because it’s very substantial. It’s been known about for a very long time and it’s always been the issue of access.”

But funding may also become a problem as the price of oil continues to fall.  This week, Alaska Governor Bill Walker slashed more than $100 million dollars from the capital budget including $8 million that would have gone toward the road project in fiscal year 2016. Van Nieuwenhuyse said he doesn’t necessarily see the cut as a set back.

“It’s a big wake up call. The state will have to make tough decisions,” he said. “This may be one of them. There may be other alternatives for finding the continued advancement of the EIS.”

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is still working on the application to begin a federal Environmental Impact Study. Mike Catsi is the Business Development and Communications Director for AIDEA.

Cats said the Governor’s recent cut hasn’t hindered what is already a long and arduous application and permitting process.

“This is a proposed budget it still has to go through the legislative process. We’ve been in communications with the Governor’s office about the project,” Catsi said, “so right now we’re moving forward. We still have money in our budget until the end of June, 2015.”

Currently, funding for the project is coming entirely from state dollars appropriated by the legislature, but Catsi said if that changes in coming years, there are other ways for AIDEA to find money.

“At AIDEA, we look at projects from a business perspective,” Catsi explained. “We have to build a business case to move forward with them, so when we make an investment and we’re looking at paying for the permitting or moving forward with that, then we would be looking at recouping those funds over the long term of the project,” he said.

The state has already spent more than $26 million dollars on feasibility and development studies since 2011. Catsi said information from those studies is available on AIDEA’s website.

This week, AIDEA invited a number of representatives from various tribal organizations and villages that could be affected by the road’s construction to Fairbanks. During an interactive presentation, the majority of attendees told AIDEA they believe more studies on the environmental and cultural impact of the road are needed.

Categories: Alaska News

Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:02

The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.

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Eighteen-year-old Brett Pauk was arraigned today on three charges: felony criminal mischief, felony burglary, and a misdemeanor theft charge.

Pauk’s alleged co-conspirator is a 17-year-old from Togiak. As a minor, he ia unnamed in court documents, but troopers say charges will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

At least $100 in cash and a pair of headphones valued at $160 were stolen from the clinic.

Troopers say the two men ripped electrical wires out of the wall in an apparent attempt to knock out surveillance, quote, “annihilating” the clinic’s communication and electrical systems. That damage has caused the loss of communication between the clinic and the Kanakanak Hospital, and the clinic may remain closed for several days as crews scramble to make repairs.

Categories: Alaska News

Broker Enrolls About 1K Alaskans In Latest Signup

Wed, 2014-12-17 17:01

A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.

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That includes renewals and new sign-ups. Aimee Crocker, operations manager for Enroll Alaska, says most of those enrolled by the broker this period have been renewals.

Overall enrollment figures aren’t yet available. Alaskans also can sign up themselves.

Monday marked the deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage beginning Jan. 1. People have until Feb. 15 to sign up for 2015 coverage through the federally run online marketplace.

Crocker says unlocking accounts for renewal clients has been frustrating.

She says website passwords were reset in April and some individuals have had to get temporary passwords or find documentation with their identification number.

Categories: Alaska News

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:59

As we’ll see, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be costly and sometimes dramatic.

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In much of Alaska, bridges, roads, buildings, and runways have been built on permafrost. That’s soil that became frozen during ice ages from 400 to 10,000 years ago, and a few feet down is frozen rock-hard year around.

Geophysics professor Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, said that due to human activity that removes the natural ground cover and warming temperatures, permafrost from the Brooks Range south is becoming unstable. He said when permafrost that’s a mix of ice and soil melts, the water often flows away and the surface sinks.

House sinking due to melting permafrost
(Credit kml.gina.alaska.edu)

“It’s not just everything sinking evenly,” said Romanovsky. “But there’s some dips and troughs and all kind of thing develops, which for infrastructure is the worst case scenario.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ chief of maintenance and operations Mike Coffey said as permafrost thaws, it takes more time and money to keep roads in shape.

“When it thaws, then we maintenance and operations spend just about all summer up north fighting the roller coaster ride,” said Coffey. “So, we’re removing pavement, re-leveling, smooth roads, then repaving or chip sealing back over the top to try to smooth roads out.”

Coffey said during most of the 32 years he’s been with the Department of Transportation, Fairbanks winters were cold.

“Historically in the fall they instantly, or very suddenly, went to below zero and they stayed below zero until spring,” said Coffey.

Now, Coffey said, warmer temperatures are changing maintenance requirements for Fairbanks roads.

“We’re getting freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw. We had a huge rainstorm in January; I think that was in 2011,” said Coffey. “It’s forced us to change the way we do our winter maintenance operations in that we’re actually now having to do anti-icing in the Fairbanks area, which 10 or 15 years ago probably wouldn’t have even been thought of.”

Jack Hébert is founder and CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. He said melting permafrost can also damage building foundations, putting houses at a tilt or out of square. Sometimes houses sink into the ground, or the soil subsides, leaving stairs dangling above the ground. But Hébert said there are ways to save a structure whose foundation is damaged.

“There’s ways that you can inject material where the ground is starting to subside,” said Hébert. “And actually — it’s called slab jacking — you can actually lift parts of the foundation that are failing that can either be done with a fluid, even concrete, or it can be done with a slab jacking foam, and that pushes the foundation back up.

Also in Fairbanks, some hillside residents have seen their wells run dry, and downhill residents’ have seen their basements fill with water as permafrost melts. Hébert said mortgage funders and some municipalities now require soil tests so homes are not built on permafrost at risk of thawing.

Climate change has some people hoping warmer summers and milder winters will become the norm in Alaska. Other effects range from disastrous to inconvenient.

Mike Brubaker, director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Center for Climate Change and Health, said people can prepare for the downsides of climate change by increasing local self-sufficiency  ̶ food, water, and energy security

“It’s something that’s always been a challenge and always been a priority for small rural Alaska communities,” said Brubaker. “And I think we just have to continue to work on that, and to make sure as opportunity presents itself through construction, through investment, through development that we’re making good decisions and helping to make our communities as climate resilient as possible.”

While there may be challenging times ahead, Jack  Hébert said he’s still optimistic for the future.

“We can learn and work together on finding ways to address this climatic change that we’re experiencing just as in many other ways we have to adapt to the times we’re living in,” said Hébert. “I think we’ve got the talent to do that up here. It’s going to take research. It’s going to take commitment. Working together, I think we can get there.”

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Sound Slayers: A Women’s Movement on Wheels

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:58

The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. The Sitka Sound Slayers got rolling two years ago and boast 29 members on their roster. But how did this former spectacle turn into a bonafide sport?

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Off the track, these 29 women are teachers, commercial fisherwomen and stay at home moms. But on the track, they are a force of raw female power.

Slayers: HotWheelz, La Femme Nikita, Ivanna Getonya, Kippered Smacks, I’m the Filthy Oar, Sin & Tonic, Sodium Chloride, Bev O’lution, Valkori, Chooser of the Slain…

Modern derby is very different than the derby of 30 years ago, with an increased emphasis on safety, regulation, and self-ownership (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Meet the Sitka Sound Slayers

Their logo is a skull with crossed halibut and gaff hooks. Yes, they skate in fishnets and lipstick, but also helmets and mouth guards. Roller Derby is tough to play and addictive to watch. Their last bout with the Garnet Grit Betties of Wrangell sold out in five days.

“I typically have very thick glasses and wear ridiculous dresses,” said Bridgette Whitcomb, a 7th grade science teacher.

“My goal in life is to be Ms. Frizzell by day. And so, like my students will see me and they’re like. ‘Wait. I know you. Who are you?’ And then they get really upset because they realize, ‘OMG, it’s Ms. Whitcomb.’

“I was missing athleticism in my life,” said Cori Schumejda.

Schumejda played basketball in college and is now the league president. She goes by Valkori and sometimes warms up with Viking horns on her head.

“There was that point where I felt like I had my professional life and then I was a mom,” said Schumejda. “And there was no little slice of that for me. I think women are looking for a place to be competitive.”

Players skate on a flat track, not a banked track, and safety is paramount. There’s no punching, no elbowing, no clotheslining. In other words, modern derby is not the derby you may remember from a few decades ago.

According to the National Museum of Roller Skating, it all started with a TV publicist named Leo Seltzer who losing money during the Great Depression. He decided to organize these marathon skating events and sold tickets.

The public loved it, even more so when players began exaggerating their falls and elbowing opponents. Seltzer tried to curtail this fake play, but it was too late. By the 1970s, Roller Derby was part-theater, part-wrestling. A raucous, rage-filled spectacle with staged fights and little regulation.

In this bout between the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and the Chicago Hawks (about 40 seconds in), one skater grabs another by her collar and slings her across the track into the medical bench. And she’s not wearing a helmet. The crowd goes wild.

Rebirth as a Women-Owned Movement

So how did Derby go from that, to this?

“Extraordinarily independent,” described Juliana Gonzalez. “Fiercely feminist as far as I can tell. And pretty unapologetic about where we see women in the world and where we see sports in the economy.”

Juliana Gonzalez (aka Bloody Mary) is the Executive Director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. In 2001, a grassroots league formed called the Texas Rollergirls. Gonzalez was one of the founding godmothers. When we spoke, she was in the locker room of Team Greece at the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas.

Globally, the WFTDA has roughly 400 leagues, representing about 25,000 athletes. Gonzalez explains that while Roller Derby has retained elements of its former self, the power structure is flipped. The female skaters run their own leagues, not an outside owner or a commercial interest. For Gonzalez, derby’s fundamental autonomy is why leagues are springing up around the world.

“Our sport is not designed with the intention of getting recognition from the sporting world,” said Gonzalez. “There is such incredible appeal to a movement that will say, ‘We stand for ourselves. We’re glad you like it. Join us.’”

Derby Finds a Home in Alaska 

And women in Alaska are heeding that call. There are member leagues in Wasilla,FairbanksAnchorage, and Juneau. In Southeast, there’s also the Ketchikan Rainforest Rollergirls and the Petersburg Ragnarök Rollers. The Slayers hope to one day join the WFTDA. But for now, they’re mostly savoring the house they’ve built at right at home.

“I really love Sitka’s audience because they just come alive and it really just breathes fire into the skaters,” said Courtney MacArthur. Her derby name is Bev’ Olution, a tribute to how the sport radically changed her life. She has a tattoo on her arm of a little girl praying to a Barbie doll.

“I always thought I had okay self-esteem, but looking back, it was like, ‘No.’ It was connected to all these unhealthy things,” said MacArthur. “I get my sense of self from a completely different place now and I take pride in completely different things, like being strong, being fast, being healthy.”

Roller Derby was invented by a man. No argument. But it is definitely women who are taking it back.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 17, 2014

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:57

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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What’s on Gov. Walker’s Federal Wish-List?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in the state this fiscal year.

Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road– gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at a time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.

Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.

Broker Enrolls About 1K Alaskans In Latest Signup

The Associated Press

A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.

Proposed Anchorage Ban on Commercial Pot Fails in Assembly

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

An effort to keep Anchorage out of the marijuana regulation process failed last night in the Anchorage Assembly after extensive public comment.

Meeting Teaches Immigrants How Proposed Reforms Affect The Immigration Process

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

About 50 people attended a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday aimed at teaching Alaska’s immigrants about President Obama’s proposed actions to help immigrants gain legal status. The main message of the meeting was that you cannot apply for any of the programs yet, but you can start preparing documents.

Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Today we’ll hear the last in KNBA’s series on Climate Change and Alaska Natives. As Joaqlin Estus reports, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be dramatic.

Sitka Sound Slayers: A Women’s Movement on Wheels

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. There are more than a dozen leagues in the state, from the North Pole Babes to the Sitka Sound Slayers, with 29 members. And the derby they’re playing is not the derby of 40 years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

What’s on Gov. Walker’s Federal Wish-List?

Wed, 2014-12-17 14:45

Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying for decades, but Walker believes opening ANWR is politically possible.

“I think it is,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m not a stranger to that issue, and I’ve been in D.C. many times over the years on that issue. We’ve come close in the past, so that is certainly going to be a priority for me, absolutely.”

He also wants the Obama Administration to expedite all necessary permits and reviews for the Alaska Natural Gas pipeline. The project is a joint effort of the state and the private sector, but Walker says the feds can help by streamlining the regulatory timetable.

“Not bypassing the public involvement or process at all but, rather than moving one permit and then the next permit, maybe moving some permits at the same time,” Walker said.

Clearly, money matters. Walker this week submitted a bare-bones capital budget that relies mostly on federal funds. Walker says he’s a big fan of infrastructure, and projects that have federal funding are good candidates for the capital budget. But when it comes to the Knik Arm bridge, which isn’t in his first budget, federal construction funds aren’t the only consideration. Walker says he’s concerned about the cost of operation and maintenance.

“And we have to sort of figure out this incredible deficit, one of the largest in our state’s history, so it’s hard to ignore that,” he said.

Alaska, like most states, has an office in Washington D.C. It’s has five state employees, led for the past three years by Kip Knudson, the director of state and federal relations. Walker hasn’t yet announced who he’ll appoint to the job.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Anchorage Ban on Commercial Pot Fails in Assembly

Wed, 2014-12-17 02:15

The Anchorage Assembly’s vote last night to uphold the state’s timetable for developing commercial marijuana guidelines has state-wide implications.

As the largest potential market for commercial pot, much of the drive behind the proposed measure was to leverage Anchorage’s size in order to shape how regulations develop in the year ahead.

“This goes back to an absolute opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength, not to be a follower,” explained Assembly member Amy Demboski, who introduced the bill as a “wait and see” approach. “To me this is an opportunity to be problem-solvers, not to be obstructionist, it’s literally to look at it and say ‘ok, how do we proceed carefully.’”

Almost a hundred people came to last night’s meeting, many of them to share their feelings on the marijuana ordinance. The majority of those who spoke during public testimony opposed the ban, citing reasons that spanned the ideological spectrum, appealing to democracy, tax policy, and even scripture as they made their case.

Likewise, those testifying to keep commercial marijuana out of Anchorage offered a diverse range of reasons.

“We don’t need another industry promoting the use and increased use of another intoxicant,” explained Jeff Jesse, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, who believes commercialization could exacerbate Alaska’s already-high rate of substance abuse. “Ending prohibition does not necessitate the creation of an industry to promote increased consumption.”

After hours of testimony and debate, the assembly overwhelmingly voted to kill the measure, with only Demboski and Assembly member Paul Honeman supporting it.

Drafting the regulations around marijuana will take months, and some who supported the ballot campaign think the hardest work is still ahead. In February state legislators will start the year-long process of laying out the specific rules determining permits, taxes, advertisements–all the technical details that come with an industry.

Bruce Schulte is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says after input has been collected from around the state, communities will then have three months to decide whether the commercial regulations fit local needs.

“That three month window is the appropriate and proper time for any community around the state to look at the state-wide rules, consider their own needs and objectives and then make a decision to opt out or apply additional rules and guidelines of their own,” Schulte explained. “Honestly, what makes sense for Anchorage is going to make just as much sense for Fairbanks, for Bethel, for Nome, for Kotz.”]

The vote doesn’t mean Anchorage will automatically opt in to regulations once they are done, only that a “wait and see” approach will unfold over a longer timeline.

Categories: Alaska News

President Obama Makes Bristol Bay Off-Limits For Oil, Gas Development

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:09

President Obama today extended an executive action that puts Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas development. 

“Under the authority granted to me under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act,” he said. “This withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any oil or gas leasing for purposes of exploration, development or production.”

The president’s announcement is being celebrated in Dillingham.

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Categories: Alaska News

State Hires Project Lead for Medicaid Expansion

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:08

The Department of Health and Social Services has created a new position to help the state work toward the goal of expanding Medicaid.

The job is “Medicaid expansion project director” and it’s being filled by Chris Ashenbrenner, who spent two decades working for the department and came out of retirement to take on this challenge.

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Ashenbrenner has been on the job only a few weeks, but her desk in Juneau is already covered with post-it note reminders and piles of paper. Those piles will help Ashenbrenner with the challenging task of coordinating the state’s plan for expanding Medicaid.

Ashenbrenner has a lot of experience with federal health policy in Alaska. She was director of the division of public assistance when she retired in 2009 and helped carry out welfare reform and start Alaska’s Denali KidCare program- the Medicaid program for kids.

She says helping the state expand Medicaid is the only job she can imagine coming out of retirement for:

“I saw such great need for people to get healthy,” Ashenbrenner said. ”Be able to get health services and be healthy in order to really lead them to be able to support themselves and their families. It’s such a barrier.”

Ashenbrenner hopes the state can expand Medicaid next summer.  But a lot has to happen to make it work. Ashenbrenner has to identify costs, make sure the right systems are in place and work with the community and lawmakers to come up with a plan that will work for Alaska.

She recognizes the plunging price of oil and the state’s growing budget deficit could stymie Medicaid expansion. But she’s confident Alaska can come up with a proposal that offsets any costs of the program. She says Alaska has the advantage of building off the experience of other states like Wyoming and Utah:

“Both of those states have said they can do expansion without spending any new money and that’s the kind of plan we’re looking toward being able to develop,” Ashenbrenner said.

The department faces a big technical hurdle before Medicaid expansion can work. The systems for Medicaid enrollment and payment aren’t functioning properly. But Ashenbrenner thinks those problems can be resolved by the summer.

The federal government is offering a team of people to help Alaska work through any challenges. And within the state, Ashenbrenner says there’s an encouraging amount of enthusiasm and support:

“From community groups, from people inside the department, people inside the department, really excited about the possibility of getting this up and going and so that feels really good,” she said.

Ashenbrenner’s position is a temporary one. She’ll resume her retirement when expansion is complete. At first she was hopeful that would be in time for king salmon fishing. Now, she thinks moose hunting season is more realistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

North Slope-Bound Tanker Wrecks, Spills 1,200 Gallons of Diesel, Catches Fire

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:07

A fuel tanker headed to the North Slope wrecked at a remote spot along the Dalton Highway Sunday and overturned, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The wrecked rig later caught fire and burned up.

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The tanker owned by Fairbanks-based Big State Logistics was headed to a customer on the North Slope Sunday when it slid off the road around milepost 189 of the Dalton, near Wisemen, and overturned around 8:15 p.m.

The fire that burned the wrecked tanker lights up the night. The rig caught fire after Big State Logistics removed the remaining 9,000 gallons of fuel from it.
(Credit Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a news release Monday afternoon stating that the cause of the wreck was unknown and under investigation by the state Transportation Department. And that the driver was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released.

Ashley Adamczak, an environmental specialist with the Fairbanks DEC office, says the tanker’s rear compartment ruptured and spilled about 1,200 gallons of diesel.

Big State Logistics sent personnel Sunday night to recover about 9,000 gallons that was still in the wrecked tanker. That was pumped into another tanker and sent on its way to the North Slope.

Adamczak says at some point after the fuel was removed, the wrecked tractor-trailer caught fire.

“The cause of the fire is still under investigation,” she said.

Adamczak says investigators with DEC were unable to survey the spill Monday, because of the fire.

“Due to the fact that the fire was still burning, we haven’t been able to get in too close and take a look at it.”

Adamczak couldn’t confirm Monday afternoon whether it had been extinguished.

She says investigators hope to get back into the area soon to survey the spill.

“One of the first priorities will be delineating the area of contamination, which means basically checking the soil for petroleum and seeing how much of an impacted area we have.”

Adamczak says DEC also will have a better estimate on how much of the ultralow-sulfur diesel was spilled once the tanker carrying the remaining load gets to its customer.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau School Board to Decide if Montessori Borealis Should be its Own School

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:05

Montessori Borealis teacher Cory Crossett explains how the bead chain cabinet shows mathematical concepts in physical form rather than on a piece of paper. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Montessori Borealis has been part of the Juneau School District for 20 years as an optional program. After a couple years of planning, the Montessori Borealis community submitted a proposal last spring to become its own school.

The school board will decide tonight.

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Part of the Montessori Borealis school day includes a 3-hour block of time where the student decides what to learn. Montessori Borealis teacher Cory Crossett reads off a student’s work plan.

“He’s going to go on to do some long multiplication. After that he’s going to do some language work and write a poem and parse it, which means to break out the different parts of speech and symbolize those, ” he says. “It looks like it’s on to writing a final draft on his research on Ancient India.”

The plan has to be approved by the teacher.

“And so he’s going to work through this at his own pace and the idea, just like it is when you’re an adult, is to make a plan and successfully complete that plan and, you know, sometimes you’re going to pull it off and other times you’re not, but you’re going to learn how to self-regulate,” Crossett says.

Montessori education is based on multi-age classrooms. Borealis has two lowerelementary classrooms of first through third graders, and two upper elementary classes of fourth through sixth. Its adolescent program is made up of grades seven and eight. Total enrollment is about 140 students and their classrooms are in the Marie Drake Building.

Crossett says mixed grades means maintaining a consistent classroom culture.

“When I get new fourth graders, the older kids help them orient to the systems and the older kids have an investment in the systems running the right way. It essentially means that you are no longer the only teacher in the room. You may be the only adult there, but the kids learn how to help each other and to rely on each other in that way and it creates a really powerful sense of community,” Crossett says.

Montessori was developed in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, a developmental psychologist from Italy. The Montessori education model begins at age 3. If Borealis becomes its own school, adding a preschool and kindergarten is part of the plan.

“We’d love to be able to say we offer a full Montessori program from age 3 through middle school with fidelity, so we’re doing a program really more as it’s supposed to be done,” says Montessori Borealis Principal Kristin Garot.

The district would charge tuition for preschool; kindergarten would be free.

Expansion would also add a third lower elementary classroom and eventually a third upper elementary classroom, guaranteeing enough students to support its middle school program.

Garot says becoming its own school would make Montessori Borealis more prominent as a public school option for parents.

“When they reach out to different schools we sometimes get left aside because they don’t realize where we are or that we’re here, and so I think having our separate school designation will make it really clear,” Garot says.

If Borealis becomes its own school and maintains a minimum enrollment of 176, it could receivemore than $800,000 a year from the state and the city, according to the district. Preschool tuition could add another $100,000. These funds would cover costs and produce a surplus for other district needs.

Montessori Borealis isn’t the only Montessori program in the community. Juneau Montessori has been around for almost 30 years. The private nonprofit in Douglas offers toddler, preschool and kindergarten programs. Parents who want Montessori educated children often start them out at Juneau Montessori and then enter the Montessori Borealis placement process for first grade.

Juneau Montessori Executive Director Sharlyn Smith is excited about the prospect of having more Montessori education in Juneau, but she’s worried as well. If Borealis becomes its own school with a kindergarten, it may draw those children away from Juneau Montessori.

“If we have children that’ve been here for four years that suddenly all leave to try to get into the Borealis program, that’s a big hit on your program because those are your experienced children and then the level of functioning in your classrooms really goes down,” Smith says.

Juneau Montessori has about 60 students, including toddlers as young as 15 months. Smith says families often pay for their children to go through the whole program, including kindergarten, to maintain the community and learning style.

“But if you could have this education for free, people might try to do that, just because it’s good for their family and, of course, they should do what’s good for their family, right?” Smith says.

Tuition at Juneau Montessori is around $900 a month. Preschool tuition at Borealis could be roughly the same. That detail, among others, will be worked out if Montessori Borealis becomes its own school.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Release Names of Missing Kuskokwim Travelers

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:04

Search and rescue crews used chainsaws to cut the ice open during their search. (Photo courtesy of BSAR)

Alaska State Troopers have released the names of the two other travelers that remain missing on the frozen Kuskokwim River.

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Twenty-six-year-old George Evan, and 27-year-old Sally Stone, both of Akiak are feared dead after the ATV they were riding slipped into a hole on the frozen river.

Fifty-one-year-old Ralph ‘Jimmy’ Demantle, also of Akiak, is also believed to have been riding the ATV. His body was recovered from the ice hole near Kwethluk Sunday.

Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.

“There were two adult males and one adult female. They were supposed to be traveling from Bethel to Akiak via four-wheeler and they just hadn’t shown up. When the search and rescue group went to see if they could find any signs of them, essentially they were able to find a single set of ATV tracks going into an open lead. A machine was recovered and also the body of Ralph Demantle has been recovered from the water and search and recovery efforts are continuing for the other two,” said Peters.

The missing travelers were reported to troopers at around 5:00 p.m. Friday. They were last seen in the Kwethluk area Thursday night. Bethel Search and Rescue says the three were traveling at night in snowy weather.

On Saturday searchers and State Trooper Air Assets began a search and found an open hole above Kwethluk with a single set of ATV tracks leading into it.

Troopers say alcohol is believed to be a factor in the incident.  The search for Evan and Stone continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Power Company Customers Will See 11 Percent Rate Hike

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:03

Thousands of rural Alaskans will see their power bills go up after the first of the year. That’s because the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, or RCA, approved an 11 percent rate increase last week for Alaska Power Company customers.

That’s lower than the hike the company asked for. But it’s still more than many residents in Southeast and the Interior say they can afford.

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Categories: Alaska News

Are Agencies Prepared for Effects of Climate Change?

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:02

As Alaskans grapple with the effects of a warming planet, they look to federal and state agencies to help with problems that are too big for an individual or even a community to tackle. But it’s not clear if statutes and regulations, and agency fundingare up to the task.

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Dozens of agencies are working with communities trying to recover from disasters,rebuild infrastructureprotect against further damage, or relocate. But James Blowe, of Alukanuk, says agency funds often come with impractical or counterproductive requirements, and it can be hard to reach people.

“Getting people to talk with you is almost impossible,” said Blowe. “They either, ‘You gotta talk to this person,’ or ‘We don’t know what we should do,’ or ‘You need to call the Corps of Engineers,’ and they said’s it’s out of their hands. It’s just a big runaround.”

Civil Project Management Chief Bruce Sexauer, in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska office, says the Corps does have to work within certain limits – such as funding levels set by Congress. It has to evaluate projects to see that costs don’t exceed benefits. And it requires matching funding.

“A local community still needs to supply 35% of the cost,” said Sexauer. “So a $10 million project, that’s a significantly large project for a small community to be able to handle.”

Eugene Asicksick is the former mayor and current vice-mayor of Shaktoolik, a village of 230 people who live on a spit with Norton Sound on one side and the Shaktoolik River on the other. He says over the years, federal and state agencies provided studies with valuable information, and funds for some projects but not enough money for the big steps that seemed necessary. Asicksick says as the years passed, storms worsened and eventually one hurled drift logs too close to peoples’ homes.

“We encountered storms in 2009, 2011, and 2013,” said Asicksick. “And 2013’s storm was the first time the driftwood has crested over to where the houses were built.”

Terry Johnson, a Marine Advisory Program agent with the University of Alaska, says he and consultant Glenn Gray began working with Shaktoolik in 2011 to develop a climate change adaptation strategy. Johnson says the village had formed a committee with two representatives each of the tribe, the city, and the village corporation, and held open meetings during the planning process. He says community priorities were clear:  to save lives in the event of inundation, and to protect property such as water storage and fuel tanks.

“What we did is listen to what the committee told us, and then we set out to find information that would help them decide what the best approaches were,” said Johnson. “And we kind of packaged that information. And we drafted what we called a decision document, which was really just a set of descriptions of the problem, descriptions of potential solutions to the problem, and then a set of questions, ‘do you want to take this approach, yes or no.’”

Asicksick says village leaders came to a decision. “We decided after several planning,” said Asicksick. “There was talks of evacuation, evacuation building, relocating, that all of them were pretty much cost-prohibitive because of the cost-benefit ratio requirement to get any federal dollars.”

Asicksick says the village received $620,000 from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. And the local tribe, city, and village corporation pitched in with fuel, heavy equipment, and gravel to forge ahead with a project to protect themselves.

Now we have a berm about a mile and a half long in front of the village and the gravel berm is about 8 to 10 feet high in places and 10 to 12 feet wide,” said Asicksick.

Asicksick says when it can afford to, the village will plant vegetation on the berm to strengthen it, and will soon be working with agencies to restore an area where erosion has brought the sea to within a hundred feet of the runway.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: December 16, 2014

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:01

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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President Obama Makes Bristol Bay Off-Limits For Oil, Gas Development

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama today extended an executive action that puts Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas development.

State Hires Project Lead for Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The department of health and social services has created a new position to help the state work toward the goal of expanding Medicaid.  The job is Medicaid Expansion Project Director and it’s being filled by Chris Ashenbrenner, who spent two decades working for the department and came out of retirement to take on this challenge.

North Slope-Bound Tanker Wrecks, Spills 1,200 Gallons of Diesel, Catches Fire

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A fuel tanker headed to the North Slope wrecked at a remote spot along the Dalton Highway Sunday, overturning and spilling more than a thousand gallons of diesel. The truck subsequently caught fire and burned.

Anchorage School Board Puts Money into Savings, Rilke Schule Facility

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board decided how to spend their unexpected $24 million fund balance during a lengthy Monday night meeting. Most will be saved to make up for next year’s anticipated deficit. The money was originally budgeted for this year, but the district spent less than planned on salaries because they had difficulty hiring and retaining highly experienced teachers.

Juneau School Board to Decide if Montessori Borealis Should be its Own School

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Montessori Borealis has been part of the Juneau School District for 20 years as an optional program.

After a couple years of planning, the Montessori Borealis community submitted a proposal last spring to become its own school. The school board will decide tonight.

Troopers Release Names of Missing Kuskokwim Travelers

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Alaska State Troopers have released the names of the two other travelers that remain missing on the frozen Kuskokwim River.

Alaska Power Company Customers Will See 11 Percent Rate Hike

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Thousands of rural Alaskans will see their power bills go up after the first of the year. That’s because the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, or RCA, approved an 11 percent rate increase last week for Alaska Power Company customers.

That’s lower than the hike the company asked for. But it’s still more than many residents in Southeast and the Interior say they can afford.

Are Agencies Prepared for Effects of Climate Change?

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

As Alaskans grapple with the effects of a warming planet, they look to federal and state agencies to help with problems that are too big for an individual or even a community to tackle. But it’s not clear if statutes, regulations and agency funding are up to the task.

Categories: Alaska News

Girl Scouts of America And The Digital Cookie Program

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:00

Today we’re trying to sell cookies online. Last week the Girl Scouts of America announced that in 2015 they will introduce the Digital Cookie program. The program will allow Girl Scouts to sell their cookies online. The only problem? Alaska won’t be participating.

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“Everybody else is getting charged normal rates, except Alaska and Hawaii,” Sue Perles, CEO of Girl Scouts Alaska, said. “We’re getting charged a $20 fee per order.”

She’s referring to the $20 flat rat that would have been applied to all Alaska orders. That means if an Alaskan Girl Scout were to sell a box of cookies to a friend online, it would cost the usual shipping rate, plus a $20 fee. That single box of thin mints could end up costing more than $30. While Alaskans are no strangers to higher shipping costs, Perles says we have our limits.

“We’ve already had discussions with the appropriate people at the National Headquarters of Girl Scouts about signing a different kind of contract next year,” Perles said. “And they’ve assured us they will work hard to do that because they want all girls to have the opportunity to participate in Digital Cookie.”

Alaskans buy about 650,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies each year, and Perles is confident those sales will see a healthy increase once rural troops have the ability to sell online.

“We have troops selling in Unalaska, Dutch Harbor; we have troops in Bethel and Cake. We have troops in communities large and small,” she said.

Perles also points out that a large number of Girl Scouts come from military families.

“And they have friends and relatives all over the world, and Digital Cookie will be an enormous tool for those girls,” Perles said.

With more kids becoming tech-savy every year, Perles is sure that the program will eventually be a key addition to the Alaskan scouts.

“We want our girls to be ahead of the curve and to really learn how to apply their Digital knowledge to a business situation,” Perles said. “And they will at some point learn that through Digital Cookie.”

Although we’ll have to wait at least a year to order our cookies online, Perles says Alaskans will at least be able to sample the two new cookie flavors coming out in January; Rah-Rah Raisin, and the group’s first ever gluten-free cookie Toffe-tastic.

Categories: Alaska News

Indie Alaska: I Am The Gingerbread Village Builder

Tue, 2014-12-16 10:15

850 pounds of icing, 40 houses of gingerbread and chocolate – Joe Hickel has been creating Marina’s Village in the lobby of The Hotel Captain Cook for 35 years. Last year’s creation took six days to build and features a new country scene.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School Board puts money into savings, Rilke Schule facility

Tue, 2014-12-16 08:35

The Anchorage School Board decided how to spend their unexpected fund balance during a lengthy Monday night meeting. Most will be saved to make up for next year’s anticipated deficit. Some charter schools will also get some help.

The board is putting aside $17 million to soften the anticipated budget deficit for the 2015-2016 school year. ASD CFO Mark Foster said during a work session that this will mean the district should not have to lay off any teachers or instruction support staff next year. Superintendent Ed Graff told the board the money will help teacher and student morale so they can focus on the classroom.

“We are trying to make sure that we do what’s right by not having to go through this churning of staff and employees and decision-making unnecessarily.”

The board also narrowly voted in favor of advancing $2 million to the German-immersion charter school for building a new facility. Some board members questioned the merits of using a large chunk of money to help a small percentage of ASD students. Others wondered about the school’s financial transparency and the apparent opposition within the school community to the building project.

Senator Bettye Davis voted against giving Rilke Schule the money in this fiscal climate, though she does support the school.

“At this point I can’t see me even making a loan just to give this particular charter just to build a building when they can’t agree if they need it or not.”

The board set aside another $1 million for a charter school facility fund that will sunset in 2016.

That left nearly $4 million to use during the second semester of this year. The district will spend more money toward hiring teacher’s assistants, paying substitute teachers more, and providing summer school. They will also try to recruit more special ed teachers. Graff says these measures will help with classroom crowding.

Categories: Alaska News

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