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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: 41 min 57 sec ago

Mallott Raises Most Funds, But Parnell Maintains Biggest Bank Account

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:05

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Democratic candidate for governor Byron Mallott was the top fundraiser this reporting period, but Republican incumbent Sean Parnell maintains the most money going into the general election.

Mallott has raised $297,000 since February, with $55,000 coming from the Alaska Democratic Party and another $50,000 coming from his own pocket. Parnell hauled in $286,000 in that same period, including a $100,000 contribution from the Alaska Republican Party. Independent candidate Bill Walker raised $259,000, with $170,000 of that self-financed.

While Mallott brought in the most money, he also spent the most. His campaign used $277,000 since November, and is left with just $55,000 in the black. The Parnell campaign has $447,000 going into November, while Walker has $116,000 left to spend between now and the general.

Mallott’s biggest single expense was a polling contract with the Mellman Group, a D.C.-based political consulting firm. Much of his campaign income has gone to staffing and office expenses, and little has gone toward advertising. The Mallott campaign put $7,000 toward signs and $545 on Facebook advertisements. The campaign issued a press release attributing the amount of cash on hand primarily to travel, but just 6 percent of expenditures went toward airfare, hotel, or car rental.

The Walker campaign spent slightly less than Mallott, using up $268,000 of their funds. Walker has put the bulk of his money toward advertising, spending $44,000 on TV ads on KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage and another $15,000 in the Fairbanks and Juneau television markets. His campaign has also spent nearly $30,000 on campaign signs and $23,000 on Facebook advertising.

The Parnell campaign used up just $170,000 of its war chest, dividing up its expenses between staffing, polling, and social media advertising.

The other candidates in the governor’s race – Republican challenger and Tea Party activist Russ Millette, Republican Gerald Heikes, Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers, Libertarian Care Clift, and Democrat Phil Stoddard – raised $15,000 combined.

Both Parnell and Mallott may see a slight – even substantial – financial boost once the lieutenant governor nominees are selected in the party primary.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has $15,000 going into the primary. He faces a nominal challenge from Kenai Republican Kelly Wolf, who has raised $50. Once the Republican nominee is selected, his funds are effectively merged with the gubernatorial candidate.

In the Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Hollis French has raised $62,000 and Mat-Su teacher and political newcomer Bob Williams has brought in $30,000 since February. Williams has spent most of his funds, while French has held onto the bulk of his money. French has $69,000 still left on hand, exceeding the amount held in Mallott’s account.

Categories: Alaska News

Critics Say Canadian Mining Projects Could Damage Regional Fisheries

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:04

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Canadian investors are putting millions of new dollars into mining projects near the Southeast Alaska border. They include the K-S-M and Tulsequah Chief prospects, which critics say could damage regional fisheries.

Categories: Alaska News

Cyclist Death Investigation Underway While Friends Mourn

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:03

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Three bicyclists have been killed by vehicles in Anchorage this year. The most recent was Fifty-one-year-old Jeff Dusenbury, who was hit by a pickup truck in South Anchorage Saturday. Fellow cyclists are mourning his death and waiting for the outcome of the District Attorney’s investigation.

Three men sit on a grassy knoll above a pile of flowers marking the spot where their friend was killed just two days before. They chat about Jeff Dusenbury’s kindness – he was always willing to fix a kids bike. They talk about his passion for the sport.

“I got a call today from a friend of Jeff’s who said he was worried that no one’s going to want to ride with him anymore because Jeff was always the one who would call him and want to go for the ride,” said  Peter Van Tuyn.

As he speaks, three boys bike past. “They’re just having fun on a summer afternoon biking three miles an hour down this road. You know, Jeff was the safest cyclist – is it fair to say guys? – that we knew. He was always safety conscious, helmet, aware. And these kids are just doing what kids do. And if the same thing had happened here, you’re talking three kids. There’s no distinction between Jeff and that. It’s a tough thing.”

On Saturday morning Dusenbury was biking to meet Van Tuyn for a long ride. Decked out in his bright pink and blue gear and his helmet, he pedaled toward a short dirt path at the dead end of 84th Avenue. At the same time, a 17-year-old girl backed a pick up truck down the street, struck Dusenbury and fled the scene.

Police are still investigating the incident and say it could take up to six more weeks while they wait for toxicology reports and collect evidence. Then it’s up to the District Attorney’s office to decide if the driver will be charged.

Clint Campion with Anchorage DA says fatalities from bicycle-vehicle collisions are investigated in the same way as other traffic collisions. They collect information on how the vehicle was moving, if the people involved were impaired, and their histories.

“Normally we’re analyzing whether someone acted recklessly or with criminal negligence,” he explains. And if we believe that they did, then that’s going to rise to the level of a criminal offense. If someone was simply negligent and it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense, then we may not charge them.”

Campion can’t talk about the inquiry into Dusenbury’s death. But he says sometimes investigations take months, which can be very hard on people who are grieving. The death of another cyclist, killed on Northern Lights in January, is still under investigation. Campion says it’s too soon to say if charges will be brought in either case.

Back at the memorial site, Darren Marin reflects on the lessons of his friend’s death for both cyclists and drivers. “Everybody needs to just slow down. Just slow down and don’t be in a rush and be aware of what you’re doing.”

But Mike Vania says, the tragedy won’t stop them from biking. “You gotta get on that bike and keep pedaling because we know Jeff would. If it happened to one of us, he’d be torn up, but we know he would ride. And we would want us to keep riding.”

“Oh, absolutely,” chimes in Marin.

About 700 cyclists die in vehicle collisions each year in the United States. That’s about 2 percent of vehicle related fatalities.


Categories: Alaska News

Denali Climbing Season Ends, Summits Down

Tue, 2014-07-22 16:02

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Denali climbing season has ended, and the numbers are not impressive.  This year had the lowest summit percentage in over 25 years.  A number of factors played into the lack of summits.

Categories: Alaska News

Dipnetters Try Their Luck On The Kenai River

Tue, 2014-07-22 15:23

Dipnetters crowd the water on the north shore of the Kenai River. Photo by Annie Feidt.

The state’s largest personal use fishery is happening on the Kenai river. Dipnetters from across the state are crowding onto the north and south beaches at the mouth of the river hoping to fill coolers with sockeye salmon. 

Chad Preston is standing chest deep in frigid ocean water. He’s fighting a swift current as he holds onto his dipnet. Preston’s been in the water all day and he’s not smiling.

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“Well I’m trying, so far I only caught one fish and I’m disappointed right now.”

Preston at least has one thing going for him- the water is not as crowded as it usually is.

Most people are waiting out the slow period on the beach. Novena Registe is sitting in the breezy sun with a group of friends. She opens up her cooler to show off the seven fish she’s caught so far.

Registe started dipnetting 10 years ago to feed her family. Now she does it for another reason- because she loves it.

“It’s when that fish hit that net and you pull it out, it’s a special feeling that no one can describe.”

Reporter: “Try to describe it.”

Registe: “It just makes you feel so good. It’s just exciting. I just love fishing.”

Novena Registe (left) shows off a fish she caught.

The crowds on the Kenai are not for everyone. When the fishing is hot, dipnetters are standing shoulder to shoulder in the water. Walking on the beach requires stepping over nets, sleds and other gear. But it’s not hard to find people who love the carnival-like scene, like Monica Workman:

“This is truly the Alaskan experience. And we own a boat and people think we’re crazy, they’re like, why don’t you just take your boat out and we’re like no way! Because this- the whole experience of just being on the beach, the water, the people, the sun- when it’s out- it’s just a really neat experience.”

Workman is dipnetting with her husband and two kids. She says they all have a job to do. Her husband catches the fish. Her son bonks them. Her daughter slices the gills and Workman guts them. This is their 5th year dipnetting. Their first year, she says, things were not as streamlined:

“We didn’t even pack water. We had a little net, my husband had hip waders and I didn’t have a knife, a cooler, nothing. We’re like well, let’s just see what it’s like. And people are so nice out here, there was a lady who lent me everything, she gave me a knife told me how to gut it and everything.”

Now the Workmans are the experts- passing their knowledge along to their friend Robert Carter, who is in his 70′s but dipnetting for the first time. It hasn’t been an easy initiation. Carter has patiently held his net in the water for most of day without catching a single fish. And then- finally- success.

Robert Carter poses for a “fancy picture” of the first fish he caught dipnetting on the Kenai.

He drags his net onto the beach to inspect his catch:

“It’s a monster!”

Carter holds his dipnet in one hand and his fish in the other and poses for a celebratory picture:

“I want a fancy picture. That was unbelievable!”

And with that, Carter heads back out in the water, going for his next fish.


















Categories: Alaska News

Services Held for Bethel Woman

Mon, 2014-07-21 18:00

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A Bethel woman who had a baby while in a coma, then passed away was laid to rest over the weekend. The young woman was clinically brain dead for most of her pregnancy. Her baby, Faith, was born on July 8th and is now being raised by family in Bethel.

Jessie Ayagalria’s uncle, Henry Combs described her as a tomboy who loved making art and raising dogs. He said she also had a darker side though, which included abusing alcohol, and which he said sent her to the hospital one night in late January.

“It was a Sunday, in he evening,” Combs said. “Jessie had been gone for a while, out drinking for a while. I was out at church, and I had come home kinda late in the evening. She wasn’t feeling well. Then she ended up having the seizures and then we called 9-1-1.”

The 29-year-old was flown to Anchorage where doctors at Alaska Native Medical Center said she’d suffered cardiac arrest. She had no brain wave activity. They also discovered she was 12 weeks pregnant.

“There wasn’t much hope at first. Most of the doctor’s at ANMC said that she couldn’t carry the baby, that it wouldn’t work out,” Combs said.

But Combs said one doctor said it was possible. Family members agreed to put her on life support. The baby was born by C-section at 35 weeks on July 8th. They named her Faith.

Amy Bee said her cousin stayed strong for her baby.

“We all knew as soon as the baby was born … we were just waiting for Jessie to pass. And it was three days after she had her baby, I got the phone call that she passed away,” Bee said.

The community has rallied around the family. Bee and her husband Behrend Swope held a yard sale over the weekend to raise money for Faith’s care.

“We’re just putting on a sale here to benefit her. Hoping to help contribute to the family and help contribute to the family and help them afford the necessities for Faith as she’s in her early days here,” Swope said.

Krissy Medina with baby Faith. (Photo provided by KYUK-Bethel)

The baby’s aunt, Krissy Medina, is caring for Faith. She said the baby is doing well.

“She’s eating a lot more,” she said. “She’s growing. She makes me laugh every day. Seems like it’s like my sister being born again. Her whole face looks like her, especially her nose and her cheeks,” Medina said.

Combs said the family’s sadness is being eased by the baby that resembles her mom. He said he’s sharing their story because he hopes it will help others struggling with alcohol avoid the fate of his niece.

“As a lot of people do in Bethel you know its something more than just being able out to go have a good time,” Combs said.

“It ends up becoming something that’s done regularly. Unfortunately some of us kind of let that take over us. Jessie herself, I mean she did drink. She didn’t like it when others around her would, but she did herself. It was something she struggled with,” Combs said.

But Combs said despite the tragedy that his family has experienced they have not lost their faith.

“In the gravest circumstances there’s still hope and there’s faith,” Combs said. This whole entire endeavor you know really tried our family in faith and hope. There were times that we lost hope – we lost our faith. There were times when we pulled together — it’s been a long journey. What I took out of it was it renewed my faith, my hope you know that miracles do happen. Baby Faith, that’s a physical sign right there.”

Faith’s mother was laid to rest in Bethel this past weekend. Donations can be made to an account set up for the baby and her family at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union (Acc.#:1825307, checking). The family has also set up a page at ‘gofundme.com” and the yard sale to raise funds for the family is continuing this coming weekend. You can learn more about what’s being done for baby Faith at KYUK.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 21, 2014

Mon, 2014-07-21 17:27

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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Campaign Profile: Sullivan’s “Amazing Credentials”

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

As a candidate for U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan has a bucket of advantages. He married into an acclaimed Athabascan family. His own family, back in Cleveland, are six-figure donors to Republicans in high places. One of his biggest assets, though, is his resume. But political opponents say his record has thin spots and complain he oversells himself.

Companies Apply for LNG Export License

The Associated Press

The companies pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project in Alaska have applied for an export license with the U.S. Department of Energy. The application requests authorization to export up to 20 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas a year for 30 years. Participants in the project include BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., TransCanada Corp. and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC.

Scientists in Denali Looking for Dinosaur Remnants

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists are back in Denali National Park for another year of dinosaur hunting. They are taking more measurements on a hillside not far from the park road that contains thousands of tracks laid down in what was an arctic lake bed about 70 million years ago.

Scientists Probing Alaska’s Bat Population

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA – Anchorage

Not much is known about the bat population that lives in Alaska. And until recently, there was no pressing need to study the nocturnal mammal. But with bats being decimated across much of the country by the fungal disease White Nose Syndrome, state and federal researchers are working to learn as much as they can about the animal.

North Slope Students Inspired by GeoForce

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Twenty-six high school students from the North Slope recently completed the third year of UAF’s GeoForce program. The four-year summer program gets students into the field to learn about geology hands-on. They’ve seen glaciers in Alaska, visited the Grand Canyon, and explored volcanoes in the northwest. Program Coordinator Sarah Fowell says GeoForce aims to motivate students to study science.

Oil Spill Drill Conducted Near Teller

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Even as marine traffic increases past the Bering Strait, no one knows how well an oil spill could be cleaned up in the case of an accident. Stakeholders traveled to the region last week to conduct the first spill response exercise there, and learn more about the challenges.

Services Held for Bethel Woman

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

A Bethel woman who had a baby while in a coma, then passed away was laid to rest over the weekend. The young woman was clinically brain dead for most of her pregnancy. Her baby, Faith, was born on July 8th and is now being raised by family in Bethel.






Categories: Alaska News

Scientists in Denali Looking for Dinosaur Remnants

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:11

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Late last week Dr. Tony Fiorillo and his team were wrapping up work at the site near the road and preparing to helicopter out to another undisclosed location for a week of investigating a site he’s not ready to disclose much about, but they just published a report about the lake bed site in the journal “Geology.” They found a huge number of tracks there.

Their analysis of those tracks shows that these duck-billed Hadrosaur dinosaurs formed herds and fell into four age categories, indicating a social structure in which young dinosaurs were cared for by older ones.

They could obtain that fine detail because of the quality of the tracks. They can see the actual texture of the animals’ skin, which means its not just deeper mud compressed by the great weight of the dinosaur, but the actual spot on the surface where the foot went down.

These dinosaur social groups were walking in an Arctic warmer than today, with a temperature range similar to that of wintertime Tokyo – not really freezing much, if at all. And the site was definitely some sort of water hole.

Along with the Hadrosaur foot impressions, the scientists have found fossil plant impressions and the tracks of another Dinosaur species – a strange feathered one that is mostly seen in Asia. That’s one of the things they were looking for this year, and found, Fiorillo said.

Most of Fiorillo’s documentation ends up in the Perot Museum in Texas but some of it has now gone into an exhibit at the park’s  Murie Science Learning Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Bat Population Probed

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:09

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It’s 1 a.m., and the dim glow of the sun just peaks over the horizon at Potter Marsh, a popular bird watching spot in South Anchorage. Veronica Padula and Keegan Crowley, both students at the University of Alaska, meander down a zig-zagging boardwalk and scan the horizon. The two researchers aren’t trying to spot cranes or herons. They’re looking for bats.

A map of the Little Brown Bat’s known range in Alaska. The Little Brown Bat is the most common bat in the state (Alaska Department of Fish and Game).

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Padula says with a chuckle.  “Last night we were really stoked when we finally found a bat.”

Padula and Crowley have been patrolling Potter Marsh for the past week trying to determine where bats feed, so they can come back later with nets to catch the animal for study. To assist in the hunt, Crowley uses a small ultrasonic recorder that measures the frequency of bat calls.

“When they’re feeding you’ll see a bunch of small, shorter calls because they’re trying to be really accurate to find the tiny insects,” Crowley explains, before being interrupted by the shrill chirp of a bat weaving through a meadow a few feet in front of him.

After consulting the recorder, Crowley and Padula determine the bat is feeding. Next week they plan to set up nets in the area to catch the critter.

The research at Potter Mash is part of a broader effort to try and understand bats in Alaska. While the mammal occupies a huge swath of land between the Brooks Range in the Arctic and Alaska’s southernmost boarder with Canada, they remain mysterious.  “What we don’t know about bats far outweighs what we do know,” says David Tessler, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

For example, scientists don’t know whether the mammal spend their winters in Alaska or migrate, if they nest in caves, trees, or man-made structures, or how long they’ve occupied the far north.  And while there are six known species of bats in Alaska—most living in south-east—there could be more.

“There aren’t many times in wildlife biology…where you can embark on something entirely unknown,” Tessler says, “and we know almost nothing about bats here, so that’s exciting.”

But the lack of information could make it hard to protect Alaska’s bats from the fungal disease White Nose Syndrome. First discovered in New York in 2006, the disease covers bats in white splotches of fungus, and causes them to come out of hibernation in the winter and act abnormally.

Little Brown Bat affected by White Nose Syndrome (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

During the early days of the disease there were reports of swarms of bats hovering over interstates during wintertime daylight hours—a time period bats typically spend hibernating. Some caves were found overflowing with tens of thousands of dead bats. And the animal displayed erratic behavior, such as flying into people and objects. To date, the disease has killed more than six million bats in twenty five states and five Canadian provinces.

“It has been called the greatest wildlife disease of our lifetimes and it’s impacting the mammal in a major way,” says Jeremy Coleman, national White Nose Syndrome coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We are seeing demise akin to the passenger pigeon and the American bison.”

While White Nose Syndrome hasn’t made it to Alaska yet, that doesn’t mean the state’s safe. Researchers say the disease is traveling about 200 miles per year, and the fungus could potentially spread throughout all of North America. If it finds its way to the last frontier, White Nose Syndrome could wreak havoc on the state’s ecosystem. One obvious impact would be an increase in the number of small insects.“It’s estimated that one bat can eat as many as 5,000 mosquitoes a night,” Tessler says, ”so they’re actually very, very useful in controlling pests.”

With such a shortage of information on Alaska’s bats, though, it’s hard to know if or when White Nose Syndrome will arrive. Which is why Veronica Padula and Keegan Crowley are romping through Potter Marsh in the early morning hours, trying to find and catch the nocturnal mammals.

“It helps us get to know better where they’re roosting and if they’re staying here over winter or migrating,” Padula says. “A bat in the hand can tell us many, many things.”

Categories: Alaska News

North Slope Students Inspired by GeoForce

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:04

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Twenty-six high school students from the North Slope recently completed the third year of UAF’s GeoForce program. The four-year summer program gets students into the field to learn about geology hands-on. They’ve seen glaciers in Alaska, visited the Grand Canyon, and explored volcanoes in the northwest.

Program Coordinator Sarah Fowell says GeoForce aims to motivate the students to study science. “We think one of the reasons that rural students are under represented in science and math majors is perhaps that they don’t see the relevance to their lives and their communities. And, for example, they don’t see what a geoscientist would do for a living.”

The program is mostly funded by oil and gas companies that want to recruit local workers but need them to understand geology. To participate, the students have to maintain a B-average in science and math classes. Fowell says this helps keep them on track for graduation.

Participant Lolo Drigs from Wainwright says this year’s program, with visits to Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake, inspired her interest in the environment. “It got me interested in learning more about how everything forms and why they are there and how we can prevent certain disasters.”

Cynthia Kim from Barrow says at first she didn’t care about science, until she met her 8th grade teacher. “And she changed my whole perspective on science. And she opened my eyes to what science really encompasses. And it’s really about the whole world. Everything is pretty much science.”

With that enthusiasm, Kim was willing to face GeoForce challenges, like drawing a geological map of an area. She says it was hard. “’Cause it was kind of like this 2-D thing where you had to look at a piece of paper and think that it was 3-D. You had to look at it from a perspective that it was obviously not. So you had to put yourself onto the map and figure out where you are. That was pretty confusing.”

She says she still too young to know for sure, but she thinks she might want to become a geologist.

The program ends for this group of students next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Spill Drill Conducted Near Teller

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:02

Chadux officials set a skimmer down current from the Teller tank farm, near fish-racks and other subsistence equipment. (Photo by: Zachariah Hughes – KNOM)

Even as marine traffic increases past the Bering Strait, no one knows how well an oil spill could be cleaned up in the case of an accident. Stakeholders traveled to the region last week to conduct the region’s first spill response exercise, and learn more about the challenges posed.

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John Katula oversees marine vessels with the Alaska Department of Conservation, one of the agencies that organized a cleanup drill last Wednesday in the community of Teller, near Nome.

“We’ve got seven of the plan holders that actually move oil in through this area involved in the exercise, so that we can make sure that if there was a spill from any of the operators that we were prepared and that our contingency plans were designed correctly to respond to any spill,” Katula said, standing on the rocky spit connecting Teller with Brevig Mission as the tide came in.

It’s DEC’s job to decide whether fuel shippers are prepared to handle an accident. In the Bering Strait, companies that barge fuel to small communities up and down the coast don’t expect to be the ones actually cleaning up oil. Instead, they contract with Alaska Chadux, an Oil Spill Response Organization.

Colin Daugherty manages cleanup response for Chadux and helped deploy 30-foot-long strips of orange boom (the floating tubes that help collect oil) along the shore of Teller’s inner-harbor, near the tank farm.

Part of the drill included deploying 30-foot long strips of orange boom. (Photo by: Zarariah Hughes – KNOM)

“We brought everything to enact a Geographical Response Plan to protect Grantley Harbor,” Daugherty explained, equipment humming nearby. “The plan calls for 3600 feet of boom. So we brought two containers of boom and anchors and line. And this is equipment that’s staged in Nome. So this is permanently here for this type of event.”

Part of the drill was testing how long it took for a convoy with equipment to drive the 72 miles from Nome to Teller. Organizers were interested in small but vital questions like that because no oil spill response plan for the Bering Strait has been tested in the field. And with rough water and wind speeds around 20 miles per hour, the crew was forced to adjust the day’s original goals.

“I don’t think we’d know how to do this in good weather,” Daugherty said. “It’s usually bad weather that causes an incident. So we came here this morning and adapted—we didn’t want to get anybody hurt over this, over a training exercise. So we just went to something a little bit less weather affected by working the inner harbor.”

But rough weather is part of what Chadux and others agencies want to learn more about as they plan for expanded commercial activity in the Bering Strait.

DEC will sort through the data they collected with Chadux and revise plans that are on the books. Chadux, like most other Oil Spill Response Organizations working in Alaska has most of its equipment and personnel in Anchorage. They rely on storing caches of equipment in hub communities like Nome that can be deployed relatively quickly in case of an accident. Chadux general manager Matthew Melton said getting to actually see and experience conditions is essential, because even basic things like roads present challenges.

“That was something that didn’t occur to me until I was driving the road yesterday,” Melton summed up at a debrief Thursday morning over breakfast between all the drill’s participants. “If it was rainy and washed out and we put 20, 30 tractor-trailers going back and forth on their trips, that road’s gonna get beat up.”

Another point repeatedly raised is the need to work more closely with Bering Strait residents, Jacob Okbiok works for the Teller Native Fill business, and described the reason more residents did not turn out to observe the drill.

“It’s usually around this time of year when everybody’s at camp, and maybe around first of August is usually everybody comes back,” Okbiak said in between examining equipment staged on the beach and helping pack it away. “It’s kind of, you could say [an] oddish time to chose to do an oil spill response.”

Those are the kinds of things you might not know if you’ve never been to the region.

Strings of plastic boom fabric were set early Wednesday morning by the Inner Harbor, and on the rocky spit connecting Teller with fish camps at nearby Brevig Mission, which was partially washed out during storms last fall. (Photo by: Zachariah Hughes – KNOM)

The exercise in Teller did not answer many questions about how an oil spill in one of the most remote parts of the state will be handled. For example, while Teller has a road for rigs to haul equipment to, the rest of the 14 communities in the region do not. And though weather was rough enough to scramble plans for organizers, the water was ice-free with decent visibility–conditions that cannot be counted on most of the year.

However everyone involved in the drill, from fuel company reps to subsistence advocates, agreed this was an important first step in what needs to be a longer process.



Categories: Alaska News

Sunday night shoot spree results in no injuries

Mon, 2014-07-21 15:58

Few details are available about Sunday’s 3 am drive-by shooting in Anchorage near 47th Avenue and Arctic Blvd.  An Anchorage party bus with 17 people inside was shot 10 times by at least four different guns. Bullets entered through the back window and the body of the 28-passenger vehicle. No one was injured.

Left: Markers showing where APD found bullet casings.
Right: Bullet holes in the Anchorage Limo and Sedan vehicle.
Photos courtesy of APD.

The police contacted the driver about three and half miles away near Lake Otis and Northern Lights. All of but one of the occupants had fled when the bus stopped. The remaining witness told police she didn’t know why anyone would shoot at the bus. They had been at Al’s Alaska Inn for about two hours before the shooting. She said she didn’t know about any fights there.

Police are still trying to identify the shooters and locate people from the bus. They photographed and collected more than 30 shell casings at the scene. They say incidents like this are very rare.

Categories: Alaska News

Campaign Profile: Sullivan’s “Amazing Credentials”

Mon, 2014-07-21 14:45

Republican U.S Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

As a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan has a bucket of advantages. He married into an acclaimed Athabascan family. His own family, back in Cleveland, are six-figure donors to Republicans in high places. One of his biggest assets, though, is his resume.

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Degrees from Harvard and Georgetown. Positions in the White House and State Department. And, interspersed throughout, service as infantry officer in the Marines. Gov. Sarah Palin gushed about his “amazing credentials” just before she appointed him Alaska Attorney General. Topping off his C.V.: three years as Alaska’s Natural Resources Commissioner.

His resume is part of what impresses Irene Rowan, who has worked on Alaska Native issues since the 1960s and is close to Sullivan’s wife.

“I think he’ll do very well for Alaska in Washington,” she says. “He has the drive, he has knowledge of all the Alaska issues, and he knows how to move around in the system of Washington DC.”

Sullivan deploys his resume to strategic advantage. He says he’s the only candidate in the race who has a real record of fighting the policies of the Obama administration.

“Fighting the federal government’s over-reach, taking it to the Obama administration,” he said on KOAN recently. “A lot of candidates love to talk about that. I’ve had the honor of being in the arena, battling these guys.”

It’s a candidate’s job to sell his accomplishments.  But political opponents say his resume has thin spots and complain he oversells himself. Sullivan, for instance, often says he was one of the lead AGs in the country to challenge the legality of “Obamacare.”

“In terms of credibility candidates, I’m the one who sat down, the one who sued on this, the one who laid out a lot of the intellectual framework of why we thought (the Affordable Care Act) was unconstitutional,” he said.

Sullivan’s name is on a 2010 memo to Gov. Sean Parnell analyzing the legality of the Affordable Care Act.  But Alaska didn’t file its own challenge.  It attached its name to a lawsuit out of Florida, after 20 states were on already board. It’s much the same with the dragon all the Republican candidates pledge to slay – the EPA.

“We won a case that I brought, originally brought, just three days ago,” he said at a Republican debate in June. “In the U.S. Supreme Court! With the EPA! Putting them in their place.”

The case was about the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which, actually the Supreme Court left intact, at least for major smokestacks. Alaska tagged on to a case filed previously filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These days Sullivan says he brought the case, but a press release from Sullivan’s time as AG strikes a softer tone. It quotes Sullivan saying the state’s involvement began in 2003 – years before Sullivan became attorney general.

As AG and later as DNR commissioner, Sullivan frequently cited his professional history during lobbying visits in Washington, says Russ Kelly. Kelly was an associate director of Gov. Parnell’s Washington, D.C. office and was assigned on several occasions to shadow Sullivan as he made the rounds of congressional offices.

“I was disappointed,” says Kelly. “I didn’t think the meetings went well. I didn’t think they were productive.”

After one trip, Kelly wrote a long memo to top Parnell staffers critiquing Sullivan’s work. It was recently emailed anonymously to APRN. Kelly, who had a bad break with the Parnell Administration, says he doesn’t know who’s distributing it. He says he wrote it because he felt a duty to report what he’d seen of Sullivan’s presentations on Capitol Hill.

“I was concerned that when you go into these offices and you don’t make the right impression and you don’t have substance to share, then you’re at risk of burning bridges and hurting relationships for the future,” he says.

In the 2011 memo, Kelly says in most offices, Sullivan spent too much time reciting his resume and basic facts about Alaska, even when, in Kelly’s opinion, the situation called for more complex answers.

But Kelly’s memo says Sullivan made good use of his connections, particularly with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, with whom he exchanged family news. Sullivan has connections across Washington, but his link to Sen. Portman is especially valuable. Portman’s the chief fundraiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an arm of the party. Over the years, Portman and his leadership fund have received tens of thousands of dollars from Sullivan relatives in Ohio and employees of RPM International. That’s the paint company Sullivan’s grandfather founded and his brother Frank now runs. The NRSC is supposed to remain neutral in a Republican primary, but Portman’s presence at a Sullivan fundraiser on Capitol Hill last fall helped raise his profile among national donors.

So far, Sullivan has raised $3.8 million, nearly 90% of it from out of state. He’s keeping pace with Sen. Mark Begich – quite a feat for a first-time candidate. Meanwhile, two Sullivan brothers and an ex-RPM board member have paid $125,000 to an independent campaign called Alaska’s Energy/America’s Values that’s dedicated to promoting Sullivan.

Sullivan brushes off questions about how his family’s political contacts may have helped him raise money from national groups.

“We worked hard to get in front of those groups and make our case that we were the strongest candidate to win this primary, win this race,” Sullivan says.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has run a TV ad promoting Sullivan. Sullivan’s brother Frank sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber. When pressed about any help his brother may have provided, Sullivan sticks to generalities.

“There’s been a lot of people who’ve been helpful …. A lot of people who have been helpful who care about America,” he said.

One of the gems of Sullivan’s resume is his military service. Sullivan was a full-time Marine for four years. As a reservist, he spent all of 2005 as staff to the general in charge of the entire Middle East.

“Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – wherever he was …. I was with him,” he says.

Last year, Sullivan was called up for six weeks to Afghanistan, where he says he focused on dismantling terrorist networks. As an infantry officer, Sullivan is trained to “kick in doors and kill bad guys,” as he put it to a conservative group in Wasilla, according the Anchorage Daily News.  While rival Republican Joe Miller often calls himself a “combat vet,” that’s one thing Sullivan acknowledges is not on his resume.

“I do not consider myself combat in terms of kicking in doors, shooting, being shot at. I’m an infantry officer. I was a recon officer. I’ve spent years up here training hundreds of Alaskans to be recon officers,” he says.

Like Republican opponent Mead Treadwell, Sullivan has a history on the climate change question. These days, Sullivan sounds like a skeptic: “The consensus in the scientific community on what’s going on with regard to man-made global climate change is still out.”

But in 2007, as an assistant secretary of State, he flew to Germany to help sell the Bush climate initiative. At a press conference in Berlin, he insisted to a room of doubtful reporters that the administration was serious about helping meet UN targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

“Our goal, our stated goal, has been to slow, stop and reduce emissions,” Sullivan told them, according to the State Department transcript.

Sullivan says he thinks the scientific consensus on climate change has weakened since then.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Rolls Out Proposed Restrictions on the Pebble Mine

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:14

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a visit to Dillingham. (Credit Jason Sear)

The EPA has released the details of how they plan to use the Clean Water Act to put in place protections in Bristol Bay from the possible negative impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Supreme Court Affirms Tribal Court Jurisdiction

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:13

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today in a long running tribal court jurisdiction case. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights. The father, Edward Parks, was not a Minto tribal member, so he claimed the court did not have authority over him. He tried to take the case to state court and bypass tribal appellate court saying he was not allowed oral presentation of his argument. Natalie Landreth is an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, the legal organization that defended the adoptive parents against the biological father’s challenge. She says there were two areas of legal clarity provided in the decision. The first is that a plaintiff must exhaust the appellate process in tribal court before taking a challenge to state court.

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Landreth: The second thing is it didn’t adopt what the state vigorously argued along with Mr. Parks which was this idea that you have to be allowed to present complex things in an oral argument format, saying tribal courts have to look like state courts, the court rejected that, saying that’s not the case.

What about the issue of tribal court authority over another tribal member not from that community. Was that settled in this decision or is that still out there?

 Landreth: I think that will depend on circumstances of cases where you might have an odd fact pattern, but this decision does clearly says, the jurisdiction is over that child. If that child is a tribal member of that tribe, then that tribal court has jurisdiction. That isn’t ground breaking, they cited the other Alaska tribal court case we’ve had in the last couple of years , which was the Kaltag decision, Judge Burgess said exactly the same thing, so again they did make a decision on that, but they’re not going out on a limb. They’re not doing something divergent from a court simply following the law.

Does this provide more clarity for how the state should see tribal courts and their jurisdiction?

Landreth: Absolutely.  Each one of these cases that we’ve been working on for years, is a separate step forward, a different piece of the puzzle which says what we’ve been advocating all along, which is that these courts do have authority to adjudicate children’s cases. There may be 31 flavors of that but that basic premise has not changed and this case is another piece of that puzzle.

Natalie Landreth is an attorney with NARF.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty says the decision was not far reaching.

Geraghty: The court decided the case on fairly narrow grounds, that Mr. Parks had not exhausted his tribal court remedies. So I think we’ve learned something from the opinion and that is positive in the sense that litigants before tribal courts, need to avail themselves of all remedies and appeals before the tribal courts before they go to state courts.

When you say that this is a narrow decision, are you saying that in your mind it’s not settled law then that the tribal courts have authority beyond their immediate tribal members?

Geraghty: That question was not decided. Which was did the tribal court have jurisdiction over Mr. Parks, a non-member who had never lived or resided in Minto. You can read some things in the court’s opinion but ultimately it did not reach that issue, which is the one the state was weighing in on, when we intervened.

Why is it seen as an important fight for the state to challenge tribal court authority givien the problems in rural Alaska and the need for help in administrating justice in tribal communities. What’s the long range concern about tribal authority that keeps the state arguing against some of these tribal court decisions?

Geraghty:  Well, I think….Mr. Parks case was terminating his parental rights. That’s not in the grand scheme of things probably a public safety issue. We do mean to make progress on that front and we’re not challenging tribal court authority on that front, we’re looking for ways to work with them to improve public safety. The case of Mr. Parks, when you’re dealing with family issues that are under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The issues, like Mr. Parks, they’re citizens of Alaska. They’re guaranteed certain rights under the constitution of our state. And when they go to state court claiming that those rights have been trampled or not observed, they’ve not received due process, yes, I take an interest in those.

Michael Geraghty is Alaska’s Attorney General.

Categories: Alaska News

State Confirms Rabies in Bat in Southeast Alaska

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:12

State officials have confirmed rabies in a bat in Southeast Alaska.

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The state health department said biologists on Prince of Wales Island last Sunday trapped several Keen’s myotis bats, one of which was acting more aggressively and seemed possibly sick. It was euthanized and tested for rabies. The test came back positive Thursday.
The two prior cases of confirmed rabies in bats in Alaska were in 1993 and 2006, both in Southeast.

Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state, says Alaska doesn’t have a huge bat population. She says the department wants to ensure anyone who may have been bitten by a bat doesn’t discount their possible risk of exposure.

Categories: Alaska News

Diomede Helicopter Service Resumes

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:11

Little Diomede sits on the border of Russia and the United States. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm, August 25 2008.

The helicopter to Diomede is flying today. The first flight to the island took off around 11 o’clock Friday morning after a new contract was formally signed by Erickson Aviation, Kawerak and Federal Department of Transportation officials Thursday.

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The helicopter to Diomede flew Friday morning at 11 a.m., the first flight to the remote Bering Sea island since a contract for service that uses state and federal funding lapsed at the end of June.

A new contract was formally signed Thursday by Erickson Aviation, regional nonprofit Kawerak, and federal Department of Transportation officials. Despite the contract ending June 30, mail deliveries by Erickson have continued.

“All the signatures, all the final ones came through yesterday, and as soon as I got back, there was a phone message for me and a couple emails saying go ahead, get going,” said Mike Kutbya, the Nome-based pilot and manager for Erickson Aviation. “Soon as I got the aircraft tied down, I called people that had missed flights over the last couple of weeks and got a flight ready to go today.”

The flight will continue its customary route, leaving from Nome and heading roughly 140 miles northwest toward Little Diomede. As in the past, weather and the number of passengers may necessitate an additional stopover at the community of Wales, where passengers can also board the helicopter and fly to Diomede. Tickets between Nome and Diomede remain $200 one-way; one-way tickets between Wales and Diomede are $100.

The federal Department of Transportation and Kawerak worked since May to hammer out a new contract, which leverages nearly $340,000 to keep the service running under the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978. Evergreen was the company that ran flights to Diomede in 2012 and 2013. Erickson eventually bought Evergreen, but a proposal from Erickson for the 2014 contract wasn’t delivered until June 7. That delayed input and approval from Diomede residents, federal DOT officials, and Kawerak until the end of June.

The new contract is now signed by all parties. As of Friday July 18, Kutyba said Erickson is resuming flights twice a week to the island—passenger service on Monday, weather permitting, with mail service on Wednesdays. Kutyba said Friday’s flight was to make up for those who have been waiting for weeks to return to the island.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Signs Bill in Bethel to Ease Autopsy Burden

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:10

Governor Parnell signs HB 301, which eases the burdens on families for required autopsies. L to R: Alaska Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Zientek, Rep. Bob Herron, Governor Sean Parnell, YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman, and Senator Lyman Hoffman. (Photo by Dean Swope, KYUK – Bethel)

Governor Sean Parnell was in Bethel Thursday to sign a bill intended to help rural families navigate the process of having an autopsy done hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.

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When someone in western Alaska dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances, the state is required to conduct an autopsy or exam in Anchorage. Sometimes in that time of stress, family members are making decisions without good information. In a packed room of regional leaders at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation Thursday, Governor Parnell signed a bill into law intended to make that stressful time easier.

“This is about dignity and respect for our lost loved ones, as well as the dignity and respect of the families that are involved,” said Parnell.

The bill makes explicit that families can choose to have the body returned directly to them, instead of a funeral home. Bethel Representative Bob Herron sponsored the bill.

“It’s hard on the family because they want closure, they want it done right. And in the past, it’s to no fault of anybody, but the state appeared to be promoting the funeral home business,” said Herron.

Part of that was the documentation for families, which has been changed. Supporters cite stories of people getting stuck with large funeral home bills they couldn’t pay. That’s led to some funeral homes holding the body hostage until they get paid.

Nicholas Hoover is the Social Services Director for Association of Village Council Presidents and works with families in need. He says good communication hasn’t always happened in the past and points to a recent 7-thousand dollar funeral home bill.

“If a family isn’t prepared, they can tack on services like embalming, it’s toxic, and it’s not traditional custom to have a body embalmed. Cosmetics is another…traditionally the family is the one who dresses the body and prepares it for a funeral,” said Hoover.

The law also allows for the possibility of some exams to be done outside of urban areas in a hub like Bethel with video equipment. That could cut down on the approximately 900 cases the medical examiners see annually.

Dr. Gary Zientek is Alaska’s Chief Medical Examiner. He says there are no plans yet to establish a rural examination program and the requirements for a facility and training are steep.

“…Photographs and fingerprints, we have to do a lot of documentation it would be a lot of training. It would probably be possible, but it requires a lot of work before we do that,” said Zientek.

The law would pay for embalming if required by an air carrier and could return the body to places besides the exact location of the death. The Governor also signed resolutions in support of Alaska’s role in national arctic policy and of Recover Alaska’s efforts to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. He spoke at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Alaska News

Fort Yukon Plans New Landfill to Improve Safety, Facilitate More Recycling

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:09

The City of Ft. Yukon plans to build a new landfill. The project is aimed at improving safety and recycling some of the community’s waste stream.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 18, 2014

Fri, 2014-07-18 16:52

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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EPA Rolls Out Proposed Restrictions on the Pebble Mine

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The EPA has released the details of how they plan to use the Clean Water Act to put in place protections in Bristol Bay from the possible negative impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

Alaska Supreme Court Affirms Tribal Court Jurisdiction

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today in a long running tribal court jurisdiction case. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights.

State Confirms Rabies in Bat in Southeast Alaska

The Associated Press

State officials have confirmed rabies in a bat in southeast Alaska.

Diomede Helicopter Service Resumes

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The helicopter to Diomede is flying today. The first flight to the island took off around 11 o’clock Friday morning after a new contract was formally signed by Erickson Aviation, Kawerak and Federal Department of Transportation officials Thursday.

Governor Signs Bill in Bethel to Ease Autopsy Burden

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Sean Parnell was in Bethel Thursday to sign a bill intended to help rural families navigate the process of having an autopsy done hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.

Fort Yukon Plans New Landfill to Improve Safety, Facilitate More Recycling

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The City of Ft. Yukon plans to build a new landfill. The project is aimed at improving safety and recycling some of the community’s waste stream.

AK: Weaving

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

It has long been forbidden for men to weave in the Chilkat tradition, but Tlingit artist Ricky Tagaban is an exception. Using techniques practiced for thousands of years, Tagaban creates his trademark iPhone bags, hair clips, and head bands, putting a modern spin on an ancient tradition.

300 Villages: Dry Creek

This week we’re heading to the tiny Interior village of Dry Creek. Tom Nerbonne runs a saw mill in Dry Creek.

Categories: Alaska News

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