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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: 40 min 39 sec ago

Strong Chum Runs Mean Salmon Openings In Norton Sound

Wed, 2014-07-02 17:24

Chum salmon leaping near Cold Bay, AK. (Photo: K. Mueller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 28, 2011)

As severe restrictions on Chinooks continue to hit subsistence users, early signs of strong chum runs are leading the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to announce some unanticipated commercial openings.

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“What is happening is this year we’re have an early, strong chum salmon run in most areas of Norton Sound,” said Scott Kent, ADF&G biologist for the Nome area. “It’s front-loaded in that, it’s hitting hard right now, and then it’s probably going to drop off here considerably in a week or so.”

Kent said that means this next few days in the region are going to be fruitful for fishermen. “We’re going to probably start seeing a lot of fish passage this week and into the weekend.”

Kent said the region is seeing some of the best chum counts on record for this time of year. At the Kwiniuk tower on the North side of Norton Sound, for example, 12,000 chums have already been counted, making this year one of the best runs in the station’s 49 years of operation.

Kent said the strong chum run is especially good news considering the poor pre-season forecasts.

“We were not expected directed openings in Golovin and Elim this year, especially not this early,” he laughed. “So, it’s a pleasant surprise.”

The Norton Sound isn’t the only region in western Alaska seeing strong chum numbers. A three-hour opening Saturday, June 28 lifted gear restrictions in the Lower Yukon and gave some families a much-needed chance to put up chum on their racks.

“Everybody’s real happy for the Y1 and Y2 three-hour six-inch gillnet opening that you guys had,” said Basil Larson from Russian Mission during a weekly Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association teleconference on Tuesday.

Not everyone was able to take advantange of the opening, Larson said, but those who could made it count. “There’s not a lot of families that could afford to go down and go fish for those three hours, but the families that did go down, I talked to them and they are all done with their summer chum subsistence harvest.”

Callers further upriver on the Yukon, like Janet Woods in Rampart, said they are frustrated at having to wait until nearly all the Chinooks have passed just to have a shot at fishing for chums.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting. We can’t even so much put in a net. If you let people fish even one day, that would eliminate all these problems with people getting caught, and getting their fish nets taken away, and having to go to court and pay,” Woods said. “We need to have our fish—that’s what sustains us.”

Fish and Game representatives on the call explained that upriver communities can expect a similar subsistence opening once 90 percent of the Chinook have passed. Which, based on past years, is likely to be some time around July 18.

Kent said that, while the Chinook restrictions have been severe, they do appear to be working.

“The King run is very poor,” he stressed, “but it’s not as dire as we thought it was going to be going into the season. In other words, we think we’ve got a good chance of making our escapement goals because we’ve taken such severe restrictions.”

While making escapement into Canada is an important goal to hit, Kent stressed the run is still significantly below historical levels.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a good run, it doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back yet. But it appears the measures taken across the region are working to conserve Chinook salmon.”

For a full list of ADF&G’s salmon openings in the Norton Sound area can be found on their website.

Categories: Alaska News

Person Dies in Merrill Field Airplane Crash

Wed, 2014-07-02 09:25

Anchorage police confirm one person has died in a plane crash at the city’s small plane airport.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro says the crash was reported just before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Merrill Field.

Police were at the scene within three minutes of the call, and authorities were able to confirm the fatality within five minutes of arriving.

All runways were shut down at the airport near downtown Anchorage and the Federal Aviation Administration has been contacted.

No other details of the crash were immediately available.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Poll Suggests Parnell Vulnerable … In A Two-Way Race

Tue, 2014-07-01 18:16

In the three-way race for governor, Sean Parnell’s two challengers have developed a bit of a chummy relationship. Here’s Independent candidate Bill Walker last month at the National Congress of American Indians.

WALKER: There are many benefits of running and one of the benefits I’ve had is getting to know Byron.

And Democrat Byron Mallott …

MALLOTT: I have to say that we’ve become good friends.

But now, one of those candidates says he doesn’t want to have to compete with the other at all. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that Walker would rather face the governor alone.

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Since Independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott launched their campaigns, both have concentrated on beating Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. Mallott and Walker have never sent a press release bashing the other, and they’ve even complimented each other’s ideas on the campaign trail.

(Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Only, there’s a problem with that. In the polls that have been conducted, Walker and Mallott both lose in a three-way race. Now, Walker has released a poll suggesting he would be competitive against Parnell if they were facing head on. He says he wouldn’t mind it if were suddenly to find himself in a two-way race.

“No disrespect to anybody, but I certainly wouldn’t,” says Walker. “So I think the poll speaks to that.”

The poll was commissioned by the Walker campaign, and conducted by Ivan Moore Research and the Alaska Survey. It shows Parnell with 42 percent support from respondents, Walker with 29 percent, and Mallott with 16 percent. When the poll takes Mallott out of the equation, the difference between Parnell and Walker shrinks to one point – 46 percent to 45 percent. And when Mallott is matched up against the governor, Parnell wins by a landslide – 55 percent to 34 percent.

Looking at the results, Walker says he doesn’t regret bypassing the closed Republican primary, where he would have been able to challenge Parnell more directly. While Walker is now an independent candidate, he has previously run as a Republican candidate and lost to Parnell in the 2010 primary. He says his message now does better with a broader audience than just Republican voters.

Walker adds that even if he likes the idea of a two-way race in the November 4 general election, he hasn’t approached Mallott about dropping out.

“It’s not intended to be a shot at him in anyway, other than just the polls — they are what they are,” says Walker.

Not surprisingly, Mallott isn’t too friendly to the idea of leaving the race, or trying to merge tickets. Mary Halloran is Mallott’s campaign manager.

“It is not and it never will be a two-way race between Bill Walker and Sean Parnell,” says Halloran. “What the poll does show and we’re most interested in is that most Alaskans want a different governor.”

Halloran is also skeptical of the poll itself. She suggests that it could be a “push poll” — never mind the problem of Alaska being famously difficult to survey.

The only other polls released on the governor’s race have been done by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, and they reached an opposite conclusion. A May poll showed the numbers basically flipped, with Parnell getting support from 37 percent of respondents, Mallott coming in second with 27 percent, and Walker in third with 17 percent.

“We do know that in all the other polls we’ve seen, Walker’s come in dead last,” says Halloran. “And what’s changed? As far as we can tell: nothing.”

Halloran says that moving forward, the Mallott campaign plans to spend more time highlighting the differences between their candidate and Walker, particularly on social issues like abortion.

Halloran would not say if their campaign’s internal polls match any of the publicly available numbers.

Ivan Moore, who conducted the survey, stands by his numbers.

“There was nothing about this survey that could be characterized as ‘pushy’ in any way at all,” says Moore. “When you come out with poll numbers that people don’t like, they resort to attacking the poll itself. I am an open book, and anyone who wants to come and sit down and look at the original data with me can do it.”

Moore says his results likely differ from PPP’s because his firm calls cell phones and landlines. PPP collects its information from landlines and online responses.

For its part, the Parnell team is brushing off Walker’s statement that he could be competitive in a two-way race.

“No matter how hard Walker tries to ignore the reality of a three-way race, Sean Parnell continues to hold a double-digit lead,” says campaign manager Jerry Gallagher.

Categories: Alaska News

Predator Run-Ins Threaten Hikers in the Chugach

Tue, 2014-07-01 17:42

A Fish and Game biologist says three wolves appear to have killed a hiker’s dog before stalking the dog’s owner on a popular trail just outside Anchorage last month. Another hiker’s account of a similar incident on a nearby trail may leave some wondering if canid predators are a growing threat on local trails.

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The first reported incident occurred about a month ago during the afternoon as a hiker was making his way up to Wolverine Peak in Chugach State Park with his two dogs.

One of the dogs, a jack russell, went missing for a couple of minutes. When the owner backtracked to look for her, he saw another type of canine. Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle took the report.

“He at first thought it was a coyote. As he looked at it he realized it was too big to be a coyote, he figured it was a wolf. And then he realized there were two more of them near the first one.”

The wolves saw the hiker, too.

“After about a minute or so they started approaching and he started retreating back up toward the ridge at a slow walk, initially. The wolves started picking up speed and trotting along and he started jogging, which is something we recommend against,” Battle says.

Battle says running is what prey usually does, and it may trigger a chase response from the wolves.

The wolves were within 30 feet when the hiker stopped retreating and stood his ground. The conflict dissipated shortly after.

The following day, the hiker went back to the trail to recover the carcass of one of his dogs, close to where he first saw the wolves. Battle says it had not been fed on.

Around the same time the hiker’s dog was fatally attacked, Anchorage hiker Molly Liston had a similar experience on a nearby trail.

Liston was hiking with her two dogs when she noticed she was being stalked.

“I just had this feeling that these aren’t dogs running up towards me,” Liston says.

She thought the animals were wolves at first due to their large size. She later decided they were coyotes based on the yipping noises they made. Liston started making her way back to the trailhead, periodically stopping to yell at the two animals following her.

“I’d take about five steps, turn around, yell, wave my arms and yell “NO!” Take about five steps, wave my arms and say NO.”

Liston couldn’t see the two animals the whole time she was retreating down the trail, but she knew one was on either side of her by the glimpses she did get.

“I almost get over to the other trail and my dog, Tallie, decided to go back and kind of see what was going on… and that’s when they almost got her. They were about 5 feet away from lunging and getting her. Again I just screamed “NO” and started running towards them,” she says.

Liston made a frantic call to a family member to meet her at the trailhead. The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes.

Based on the noises Liston says she was hearing from the animals, wildlife biologist Dave Battle says the animals were likely coyotes. But he also says reports of coyotes harassing dogs or people in the backcountry are rare.

One of the most difficult parts of Battle’s job is confirming wildlife sightings, especially when it comes to wolves versus coyotes.

“Some people know exactly what they’re seeing. Some people can tell easily the difference between coyotes and wolves; other people might not have had as much experience and know exactly,” Battle says.

Battle advises hikers to stand their ground if they think they’re encountering either species. He also says pepper spray is effective as long as it’s deployed when the animal is in range.

A representative from Chugach State Park said they have not posted any warning signs for wolf activity at Anchorage area trail heads.

Categories: Alaska News

Treadwell Urges US to Check Putin in Arctic; Sullivan Spotlights ‘Pro-Putin Rally’

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:51

In a recent presentation in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell spoke of the need to stay on neighborly terms with Russia. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus. Dan Sullivan, Treadwell’s rival in the GOP primary for U.S Senate, issued an email yesterday saying Treadwell attended a “pro-Putin rally,”  echoing the words of an anti-Russian columnist who denounced the conference where Treadwell spoke.

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The event, at the Senate’s Hart Office Building, was attended by a few hundred people. Sponsors of the U.S.–Russia World Forum say the annual event promotes mutually beneficial cooperation. This year, with Russian President Vladimir Putin reaching into Crimea, the idea seemed tinged with doubt.

At the start of the panel discussion in mid-June, the moderator introduced Treadwell with a little joke. It fell flat.

“This morning we get a message from Moscow that Russia is not waiting over Alaska,” said Edward Lozansky, president of American University in Moscow. “Because some of the people were worried that right after Crimea next would be Alaska, so please relax.

Treadwell ignored the joke. He said in the Arctic, the U.S. has to cooperate with Russia, because both countries need to prevent shipping disasters and oil spills, keep fish stocks healthy and enforce the borders.

“So given that need of proximity for cooperation, no matter what the international climate is, my point today is that at a time of very tough international climate, do not forget that we are neighbors because people will be affected, wildlife will be affected, our overall national security would be affected,” Treadwell said.

In an interview with APRN just before the speech, Treadwell said he intended to warn America not to let Putin dominate the region.

“What I’m going to say is our problems with Russia in the Arctic are such that we either challenge Putin now, or we are going to be challenged by him later,” he said.

In the international forum, with the Russian ambassador at hand, he sounded a bit more diplomatic. Treadwell, for example, barely used Putin’s name.

“My challenge to the Russians in this room is: help us keep those things more normal,”Treadwell said. “And my challenge to the Americans in this room is: don’t let Russia go it alone in the Arctic.”

With Russia’s armada of ice breakers and America’s lack of attention to the far north, Treadwell warned Russia could take command over shipping routes and resources.

“We’ve been through an exercise in the Caspian where we’ve said we’re not going to let one country control it,”Treadwell said, “and yet that’s exactly what we’re doing in the Arctic.”

Longtime Russia critic James Kirchik denounced the event in the online publication The Daily Beast, saying most of the speakers were Putin sympathizers.  Kirchik claimed Treadwell and Minnesota’s secretary of state were recruited to speak at the event so they would “gush about the importance of U.S.-Russian relations for their respective state economies, and warn against any moves that might set those relations back.”

Dan Sullivan’s Senate campaign sent a 250-word excerpt of Kirchik’s article to its press list Monday, with the subject line: “ICYMI: Treadwell attends pro-Putin rally” and the headline “Mead, what were you thinking?” Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson declined to be interviewed. He sent a message saying Monday’s email wasn’t actually a press release but an “In case you missed it” notice. The format, though, was classic press release, with the Sullivan campaign banner up top and the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” Anderson said Sullivan was unavailable to discuss the topic.

Categories: Alaska News

State Seeks to Join Izembek Lawsuit

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:50

The State of Alaska has tried to back up the village of King Cove on their quest to build a road through protected wilderness. Now, the state’s prepared to follow them into court.

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Trading land with the federal government was the last, best hope to free up space in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for a road. It would have connected King Cove to the airport at Cold Bay.

Wetlands in the Izembek NWR. (Kristine Sowl/USFWS)

After a long analysis, the Interior Department decided against the swap in December. It was a big disappointment for King Cove — and also the state of Alaska.

“We have 43,000 acres of land that we were going to exchange,” Tom Lenhart, an assistant attorney general, said. ”As well as, we obviously have an interest in the health and safety of our citizens. So there’s very valid interest there.”

That’s why Lenhart filed a petition on the state’s behalf in U.S. District Court this week.

“It’s a motion to intervene, which means we are moving to join the King Cove plaintiff group that has already filed suit,” he said.

A mix of private citizens and governments from around King Cove filed that suit at the beginning of June. They argue that the Interior Secretary violated federal law when she rejected the land exchange out of concern for wildlife in the refuge.

Lenhart says the state could provide some handy tools for making that case.

“Not just in law, to assist,” he said. “But with our biologists and planners, et cetera, who were in there for the last couple of years with the Department of the Interior, you know, looking at these alternatives.”

But first, the court will have to weigh in on the state’s request to join in. Even if they don’t get permission, Alaska still has another lawsuit in the pipeline. The state’s started the process to sue the government for a right of way through the Izembek refuge.

Della Trumble, a spokesperson for the King Cove Corporation, hopes the federal government’s taking note of all this.

“Everybody’s going to every possible extent, or avenue possible, to make this happen,” Trumble said. ”Hopefully the message is, ‘You’ve got to work with us.’ They’ve got to work with us on this issue.”

Trumble says it’s been a quiet summer in King Cove, with calm weather and no medical emergencies.

But it’s not always so peaceful. There were 11 medevac flights this year — many in rough weather.

Trumble says a road would provide reliable transportation out of the village during emergencies. And after lobbying for so many years, Trumble says getting a road would also let residents move on.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Releases Plan For Budget Cuts

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:49

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a list of budget cuts to be implemented during the new fiscal year. The reductions affect a wide range of programs and services.

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The budget actions come in response to an $8 million cut by the state legislature and an expected $4 to $6 million rise in fixed operating costs. UAF Vice Chancellor for Administration Pat Pitney says the legislative cut is being spread over numerous areas.

“In order to take the state budget reduction, there were pullbacks from units that ranged from 3 to 6 percent, so on average 5 percent, but there were some units that were held harmless, from a strategic standpoint or from a revenue based standpoint or from other circumstances,” she said.

Pitney says shortfalls related to increasing fixed costs will have to be found within each program.  For many, the specific impacts are listed as “to be announced” pending additional review, but Pitney says there will be job losses.

“A lot of it we will try to do through attrition, but there will be layoffs. It could be in the 40 to 50 range in a six to eight month period,” she said.

Among identified savings are $2 million from holding open job vacancies for 90 days, and more than a half million dollars from a legislatively mandated restriction on travel.

“Every unit is taking a 20 percent travel reduction, with the exception of instructional travel and athletic travel, which are taking a 5 percent travel reduction,” Pitney said.

Other cost savings measures include reducing administration, bringing programs currently in leased space back on campus, streamlining marketing and communications, elimination of UAF printing services, and cutting back campus bus shuttle routes.  Pitney attributes the targeted actions to recommendations of a budget review committee.

“Almost all of the recommendations, leadership endorsed in some way, shape or form. There were some modifications,” she said.

Among non academic university supported programs that will suffer in addition to taking their share of across the board reductions, are KUAC Public Broadcasting, which has to generate $100,000 more in public support, and UAF athletics, which has to raise another $50,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Possible Growth at Ted Stevens Airport Has Some Concerned

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:48

Every five to seven years, the Ted Stevens International Airport publishes a master plan detailing upcoming changes at Alaska’s busiest air hub. The latest variation of the plan was released Monday, allowing the airport to qualify for federal funding. While there are a lot of hypotheticals in the document, it makes one thing fairly clear: As Alaska grows and as more visitors come to the state, the airport will have to adapt to increased traffic.

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The south terminal of the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage (photo courtesy of Ted Stevens International Airport).

To do so, the plan lays out a handful of options, including moving some cargo jets to Fairbanks and upgrading existing infrastructure. The airport is also considering paving a new runway in the future, which could impact both the Coastal Trail and Point Woronzof park. That proposal has Anchorage based carpenter David Landry worried.

“What they’re talking about is putting a big rubble rock jetty into the anchorage coastal wildlife refuge, and decimating a really beautiful stretch of the Coastal Trail that a lot of those visitors to Anchorage really enjoy,” he says.

The airport has been floating the runway proposal for a few years, but Evan Pfahler, project manager for the Master Plan, says adding new infrastructure is a last resort. He adds that the plan doesn’t green light any construction. “The master plan is simply that, it’s a plan,” he says.  “It’s not any kind of approval or design that frankly enables the airport to do anything.”

The document will be available for review until August 29, and the public is encouraged to comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 1, 2014

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:48

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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Gubernatorial Challenger Would Prefer To Face Parnell On His Own

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
In the three-way race for governor, Sean Parnell’s two challengers have developed bit of a chummy relationship. But now, one of those candidates says he doesn’t want to have to compete with the other at all. Walker would rather face the governor alone.

Treadwell Urges US to Check Putin in Arctic; Sullivan Spotlights ‘Pro-Putin Rally’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In a recent speech in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell spoke of the need to stay on neighborly terms with Russia. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus. Dan Sullivan, Treadwell’s rival in the GOP primary for U.S Senate, issued an email Monday saying Treadwell attended a “pro-Putin rally.”

State Seeks to Join Izembek Lawsuit

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The State of Alaska has tried to back up the village of King Cove on their quest to build a road through protected wilderness. Now, the state’s prepared to follow them into court.

UAF Releases Plan For Budget Cuts

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a list of budget cuts to be implemented during the new fiscal year. The reductions affect a wide range of programs and services.

Possible Growth at Ted Stevens Airport Has Some Concerned

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

Every five to seven years, the Ted Stevens International Airport releases a new master plan, which details upcoming changes at Alaska’s busiest air hub.  The document allows the airport to qualify for federal funding, and was released earlier this week. While there are a lot of hypothetical’s in it, the plan makes one thing fairly clear: As Alaska grows and as more visitors come to the state, the airport will have to adapt, which concerns some residents.

Southeast Summer King Fishing Opens With Record Hopes

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

While much of the state is experiencing low king salmon runs, it’s an entirely different story in Southeast, where fishermen are looking at a record high target harvest.

Fairbanks Weathers Wettest June On Record

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

It’s official.  Last month was Fairbanks wettest June on record. National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Bartus credits precipitation that began late Monday with taking the total just past the previous record.

Predator Run-Ins Threaten Hikers in the Chugach

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

A Fish and Game biologist says three wolves appear to have killed a hiker’s dog before stalking the dog’s owner on a popular trail just outside Anchorage last month. Another hiker’s account of a similar incident on a nearby trail may leave some wondering if canine predators are a growing threat on local trails.

New Dock at Jewel Lake Makes Area Accessible to Everyone

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s Parks and Recreation Department opened a new dock on Jewel Lake yesterday. Unlike the previous, weather-damaged facility that loomed 15 feet over the water, this one makes the lake accessible – to everyone.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Summer King Fishing Opens With Record Hopes

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:47

While much of the state is experiencing low king salmon runs, it’s an entirely different story in Southeast, where fishermen are looking at a record high target harvest.

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“This is just an extraordinary year,” says Fish & Game biologist Pattie Skannes.

Trollers will be going after more than 171,300 kings in this first opening. Skannes says it’s the largest target ever for the July opener.

And it’s significantly higher than last year, when the July target was just 62,864 kings.

To put those numbers in perspective, there will be about the same number of fish available to trollers in the next two to three weeks as were available to all gear groups — trollers, seiners, gillnetters and sport fishermen — for the entire year last year.

Skannes says a number of things are contributing to the high target, including big expectations for Chinook returns in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Columbia River is expecting an enormous return this year, a record-breaking return,” she says. “So some of those stocks are what we call driver stocks for the Southeast fishery. That means that they contribute significantly to what we are harvesting up here, so we benefit from their abundance.”

Skannes says it’s always hard to know what causes big returns, but it might be a matter of what’s happening way off shore.

“The leading hypothesis is that productivity is driven mostly by ocean conditions,” she says. “So years in which we have a good abundance, that is in part explained by ideal or favorable ocean conditions.”

Fish & Game hasn’t set the length of the July opening yet. That will depend on how fast the fleet approaches its target. But Skannes estimates it will last between 14 and 21 days. And she expects there will be a second opening in mid-August, following the closure of the Coho troll fishery. Last year, there was no second opening, because the fleet caught the entire summer quota in six days in July.

Skannes says she expects more boats to participate in the fishery this year, attracted by the large quota and long opening. Last year, 714 permit-holders fished. That was lower than in the past, perhaps because of the low quota and short season. This year, Skannes says she’s expecting about 800 boats.

And last year, fishermen got an average price of $4.61 per pound for king salmon, according to number compiled by Fish & Game. Skannes says that so far, during spring trolling, fishermen have seen an average price of $5.52 per pound. She expects that summer prices will probably be somewhat lower than that, because of the higher volume of fish coming in.

Meanwhile, trolling for chum salmon has gotten off to a slow start. In recent years, Fish & Game has seen a fairly significant fishery in June in Icy Strait. This year, Skannes says, it was almost nonexistent — although numbers have picked up in the past week.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Weathers Wettest June On Record

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:46

It’s official. Last month was Fairbanks wettest June on record. National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Bartus credits precipitation that began late Monday with taking the total just past the previous record.

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Categories: Alaska News

New dock at Jewel Lake makes area accessible to everyone

Tue, 2014-07-01 16:45

Anchorage’s Parks and Recreation Department opened a new dock on Jewel Lake yesterday. Unlike the previous, weather-damaged facility that loomed 15 feet over the water, this one makes the lake accessible — to everyone.

Jewel lake dock

Project proponents speak as Ira Edwards tests out the new accessible dock on Jewel Lake.

Traffic on Diamond roars by as Ira Edwards tosses a kayak into the water then raises himself out of his wheelchair. He’s testing out the new accessible dock at Jewel Lake in south Anchorage. The kayak sits in a metal cage affixed to the edge of the low wooden dock.

“As a paralyzed person, I don’t have quite the torso control that you might,” Edwards explains.  ”And it allows me to have a more stable platform to get into the boat. So once I’m in the water the boats are naturally stable enough to try to avoid tipping over, unless I do something really dumb.”

Edwards was paralyzed when a tree landed on him in 2010. He was clearing trails in a state park after a massive wind storm. But he says he hasn’t let his injury slow him down; he still skis, hunts, fishes, and paddles.

“You have to make the choice to get out and do things. You can sit at home and mope about things, but if you want to do it, you have to go for it.”

Edwards says projects like the new dock help make that possible.

Maeve Nevins managed the $60,000 project for the municipality. She says some features that make the dock accessible are simple.

“As you come down, you notice the wood four by four bumpers?” she says she she walks down the low grade ramp. “That’s so that a wheelchair or a person who is blind or whatnot can navigate. They can find their way, and their not going to fall off.”

The bumpers line the entire custom-built dock, which is low enough on the water for anyone to fish from it. It also sports a two-tiered bench to help someone move from a wheelchair into a boat. It’s the first accessible public dock in Anchorage. Nevins says the municipality is also installing accessible playgrounds all over the city. They have $100,000 to upgrade Jewel Lake Park.

Beth Edmands Merritt is the CEO of Challenge Alaska, an organization that’s been working with people with disabilities for 30 years. She says projects like this help people overcome both mental and physical barriers to being active. She says they help the community, too.

“The more people see people with disabilities out and about, they realize what can be achieved.”

Down on the water, Edwards paddles about a bit then pulls up to the dock to a handful of people.

“Wa-la! I floated, I launched. I loaded it back up.”

“Perfect!” his friend says, as he helps Edwards load up the kayak and the dock is now available for the next person seeking an adventure.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Army Cutbacks Could Impact Alaska Bases

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:27

The U.S. Army is looking at greater cutbacks than previously considered, and there could be Alaska impacts. Ft. Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson are among posts nationwide being considered for reductions as part of the Army’s “2020 Force Structure Realignment.”

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The “2020 Force Structure Realignment” proposes drastic reductions in the numbers of people at at 30 individual Army posts. It uses 2011 levels as a starting point. At Ft. Wainwright that would mean going from 7,400 people down to as few as 1,600, and at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from 6,800 to 1,500 people by the year 2020. The Army is taking public comment on an environmental assessment of the proposal.

Cathy Kropp with the Army Environmental Command in Texas, says the cuts are bigger than a proposal reviewed last year that looked at reducing the nation’s Army by about 70,000, to around 490,000 soldiers.

“So now we’re a year later, and the quadrennial defense review comes out, and it says that the Army needs to cut to 440,000 or 450,000 in that range. And if the sequester continues into 2016 we may need to cut to as low as 420,000,” she said.

Kropp says that doubles the potential reduction, and broadens it to include non-enlisted personnel.

“We’re not just looking at the brigade combat teams. This year we’re looking at all the support elements as well,” she said.

Kropp emphasizes that the cuts outlined for each base total more than the overall targeted force reduction, giving the Army downsizing options.

“It doesn’t mean that some of the installations won’t have the maximum cut. But in no way will every installation lifted get the maximum cut,” she said.

The Army finds no environmental impacts from the proposed personnel reductions but is taking feedback on effects, including socio economic impacts. Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins is optimistic the community will again stand up in support of maintaining a strong presence at Ft. Wainwright.

“They will have these community listening sessions, like we had last year. And we had an incredible turnout, it was very strong,” Hopkins said. “This year, in this latest programmatic environmental assessment it says that they will take community input and it will be one of the four factors that they are basing their decisions on. Well, we had a pretty strong showing last year, I think we’re going to have a strong showing because these listening sessions are expected to happen in September, so we’re going to do it again.”

U.S. Representative Don Young says he’s experienced numerous post war Army reductions over the decades, and urges Alaskans not to panic about the latest proposal.

“Don’t worry about things you do not have control over, and I say that very sincerely. We believe our merits outweigh the worry. We believe the location outweighs the worry,” he said.

Young points to the quick overseas deployment capability of Alaska based forces. The Army’s Kropp says there’s no deadline by which the Army has to release a final finding on impacts, nor is there a timeline for finalizing or implementing reductions.

Categories: Alaska News

Donlin Gold and the Kuskokwim Corporation Sign Long-Term Land-Use Deal

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:26

Donlin Gold and the Kuskokwim Corporation have signed a surface rights agreement for the proposed gold mine located 120 miles upriver of Bethel. The deal gives the native corporation rights to some construction contracts and sets financial terms for decades to come.

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The regional native corporation, Calista, owns subsurface rights at the Donlin site, while The Kuskokwim Corporation, has the surface rights. Maver Carey is President and CEO of TKC. She says the financial terms are confidential.

Donlin Gold mine plan. Donlin Gold / donlineis.com

“I can say that over the next few years we’ve got a few milestone payments that Donlin has agreed to pay us, for example the signing bonus for actually signing the agreement,” Carey said. ”What we’ve done with that is create our first elders dividend, and then a portion we need to use to get our companies ready to go.”

The open-pit gold mine that Donlin Gold is now working toward has been in the works for over a decade. It’s currently in the permitting stage. The Kuskokwim Corporation was formed in 1977 with 10 upper river village corporations merged. They have around $3,000 shareholders and a portfolio of companies from construction and apartments to aerospace operations.

The new companies would construct and operate a new port on the Kuskokwim River, downriver from Crooked Creek serving a couple of Donlin barges carrying fuel and supplies. TKC secured the right to the contract in the agreement. The deal replaces an agreement set to expire next year and sets the terms for accessing and building on the land.

The corporation also plans to play a big role in the reclamation of the mine site decades into the future after the millions of ounces of gold have been dug out.

“It just marks a milestone in that partnership that has been going on for some time,” Kurt Parkan, external affairs manager for Donlin Gold, said. ”It’s an agreement with both entities to advance the project into the future.”

The agreement runs until 2031 and can be extended if and when the mine comes into operation. Carey says the agreement has provisions for shareholder scholarships and hiring. While the company calls it a historic agreement, Carey says the agreement does not mean instant wealth.

“Instead it’s a legacy we’re going to leave for our children and grandchildren, and when I say legacy, not just a financial legacy,” Carey said. ”We have a lot to do in terms of training and employment opportunities, so our children and grandchildren can be CEOs of the new subsidiaries we’re creating.”

The open-pit mine would be among the largest gold mines in the world. The project is owned by Nova Gold and Barrick Gold, two Canadian companies.

Categories: Alaska News

ANTHC Wins $153 Million Settlement

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:25

153 million dollars is the huge new settlement for back contract support costs due the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium from the Indian Health Service. The settlement clears up a 15-year backlog of underpayments and was announced on Friday.

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Attorney Lloyd Miller says it’s similar to the recent settlement with Southcentral foundation with one big difference.

“What distinguishes it, is that it is the largest settlement in history ever achieved between a tribe or tribal organization and the United States,” he said.

The settlement is for a 15 year period, 1999 to 2014. Miller says because the health service contracts to run ANTHC are large, there have also been large liabilities that have accumulated because of the shortage in contract funding.

“Because the federal agency, the Indian Health Service has not been paying the full contract amount that was due to operate the hospital and as a result, cuts have been made in some years, new service lines have not been opened as rapidly as they could have been,” Miller said. Revenues from Medicare and Medicaid have suffered because services have not been provided and these are all of the elements that went into the settlement with the Indian Health Service.”

Miller has been fighting for tribal contract payments based on U.S. Supreme court decisions in 2005 and 2012. Miller says President Obama has asked Congress for full contract support for tribal contracts going forward. There have been between 300 million and 400 million in IHS tribal settlements in Alaska and nearly 600 million nationally.

There are still numerous back claims left to settle both in Alaska and across the nation.

ANTHC President Andy Teuber could not be reached for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Spring Creek Prison Death Ruled Homicide

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:24

The death of an inmate at Seward’s Spring Creek maximum security prison has been ruled a homicide. In the early hours of Sunday, 29-year-old Elihu Gillespie was found unresponsive in his cell, and taken to Providence Seward Medical Care Center. Gillespie was pronounced dead about an hour later.

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On investigation, state authorities have ruled the death the result of an inmate-on-inmate assault.

Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Bureau of Investigation are investigating the incident. Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen, would not say if a weapon was used, and said details would come out in the report.

Gillespie had been sentenced to 50 years, with 29 suspended, after his conviction in a 2009 shooting that left two other men dead.

Ipsen says no charges have currently been filed against the other inmate in the continuing investigation. According to Troopers, Gillespie’s cellmate, 25-year-old Jason Rak, has been identified as the suspect. Rak has been serving a 29 -year sentence for attempted murder in a 2008 shooting at the Dimond Center mall in Anchorage.

According to Troopers, Gillespie and Rak were held in the segregation unit, and both have a history of disciplinary actions within the corrections system. In December of last year, Rak was involved in an assault on another inmate, who sustained critical injuries.

Categories: Alaska News

Human Remains Discovered On Adak

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:23

State troopers believe that a set of human remains found on Adak this month are those of a long-lost camper.

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“Based on a wallet with some ID that was found near the remains, we believe that this is Samuel Arrington, who was 57 at the time of disappearance,” says trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen.

Arrington went missing in July 2008 during a camping trip at Lake Betty. The lake is about a mile from the spot where two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees stumbled on the human remains in mid-June.

The state medical examiner performed an autopsy, but Ipsen says it didn’t reveal much.

“So the remains are going to be shipped out of state to try and pin down the cause of death and do positive identification,” Ipsen says.

Right now, the troopers don’t suspect foul play.

Categories: Alaska News

High Court Throws Out Petition Case

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:22

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a challenge to Alaska’s signature-gathering laws because of lack of standing.

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Robert Raymond, of Shorewood, Wisconsin, filed his lawsuit against the State of Alaska in 2012. He believes his First Amendment rights are being violated because he is not allowed to distribute ballot petitions in Alaska unless he is a resident.

Three separate federal appeals courts have overturned similar laws in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Michigan. But because Raymond did not have a specific cause he wanted to work on and could not show he was immediately harmed by the law, the Ninth Circuit Court threw out his case on June 24.

Categories: Alaska News

With HIV cases on the rise, Alaskans consider new tool for prevention

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:21

Twenty-four people in Alaska have been diagnosed with HIV since January. Normally, that’s the total number of new diagnoses for an entire year, not just six months. Now Alaskans have a new way to help prevent HIV infections. The Center for Disease Control recently released new guidelines for a daily pill that can prevent new infections, though it’s not seen as a cure-all.

PreP in AK

Pre-exposure prophylaxis is commonly called PreP. It’s a drug that’s also used to treat HIV and prevent it from developing into AIDS. PreP is aimed at people who do risky things, like have multiple, anonymous sexual partners or share needles. Studies show that if a person takes it consistently–every day–it’s 92% effective.

“Taking a pill everyday if you’re practicing these high risk behaviors isn’t easy,” said Susan Jones with the state’s Section of Epidemiology. “Having HIV infection and coping with that is harder.”

Jones said using PreP is also a good choice for HIV negative individuals who are in relationships with people who are HIV positive.

The drug, called Truvada, has been available since 2012 but guidelines for using it as a preventative tool were only released by the CDC in May. Jones says now people in Alaska need to learn about it.

“The task of identifying those people at high risk really falls on the health care providers. And they’re not always used to asking those tough questions about sexual behavior.”

Part of that may be because sexual behavior is changing. One third of the people who tested positive for HIV this year were men who met their partners through phone apps or online. But Davy Norris from the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association said the new technology isn’t the problem.

“It’s not really the technology that’s the issue, it’s the way people are using that tool. Young men are having multiple anonymous sexual partners and not using condoms and just kind of doing it very unsafely.”

Norris said people don’t need to stop using the apps, they just need to be responsible when they find a partner that way. And he emphasizes that using PreP isn’t an excuse to stop using condoms. “We want people to have a comprehensive understanding of HIV prevention and to try multiple things because that’s the most effective way.”

He also notes that only half of the new infections are in men who have sex with men. ”So it’s certainly not fair to say it’s just a gay issue.”

Anyone can be infected by HIV, especially if they participate in risky behaviors. But Jones says PreP could be an effective tool in stopping the spread of the disease. ”Maybe there’s 23 more people out there that we can prevent from getting an infection at the end of this year.”

Truvada is widely available. However, without insurance, it costs about $1,000 per month. Studies show that side effects are minimal.

Categories: Alaska News

Large Dredge Unlikely In Grantley Harbor This Season

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:20

DNR Meeting in Teller. (Photo: Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM)

A massive dredge looking to work the waters near two communities in western Alaska is sparking concerns from subsistence users—and brought the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to villages west of Nome last week, to talk to residents about their concerns.

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the large gold dredge AU Grabber is unlikely to appear in Grantley Harbor this season, says the Department of Natural Resources, but not guaranteed.

A Nome miner, Hank Schimschat, owns the AU Grabber, an 80-foot long barge dredge with an excavator arm, and has submitted a permit to mine in the harbor waters.

Jack Kerin is the Natural Resource Manager with DNR. He said, “Specifically DEC has considered the current application to be of a scale that requires an individual permit and that process can take up to a year.”

That process would involve providing baseline data for the water’s resources and explaining how the dredging won’t impact subsistence. But all that work might not be necessary.

“If the applicant comes in and revises, changes his mining plan, to be something of a scale that these issues can be addressed,” said Kerin, “then it’s possible he could be issued a permit.”

Teller, Brevig Mission, and Mary’s Igloo use Grantley Harbor for subsistence activities and have sent a letter to DNR opposing Schimshat’s operation. Many residents are upset DNR is allowing the permit to undergo further review at all.

One Teller resident stated: “This is very disturbing that DNR [is] giving them a chance to review their application. First of all, you know, the backhoe is going to disturb our land. So what are they going to come up with, you know? Suction dredges next?”

That comment was made at yesterday’s community meeting in Teller where Karin and two other DNR employees addressed community concerns about dredging in Grantley Harbor. Kawerak invited DNR to Teller as part of the corporation’s annual executive session. Many residents from Brevig Mission boated over to attend.

Kerin says since the State owns the subsurface of Grantley Harbor, Schimschat has a legal right to apply for a dredging permit and revise his application.

Kerin explains, “The person has a legal right to the subsurface of the state, the mineral state, and what we have is the right to ensure that how he accesses it is done in a reasonable manner that doesn’t cause undue disruption to the local community. But he has the right to try to change his application to try to address the concerns raised by the community.”

Those concerns surround subsistence. Jolene Okleasik, Teller resident, also attended the meeting and said,“I don’t want it to become like Nome around here. Because if you see lots of dredges, you’ll probably not even see any fish or any wildlife.”

Because the waters of Nome, said Teller resident, Joe Garnie, are very different from the waters of Grantley Harbor. While the shallow waters of the Bering Sea are reestablished every year by winter storms, Grantley Harbor is not, making the harbor unable to withstand dredging’s impacts.

“Even just the minimal equipment of suction dredges would be very destructive here,” said Garnie. “This is not necessarily self-healing waters with wave action like you have right in the Bering Sea. This is old growth bottom.”

Kawerak also invited Graphite One to the meeting to talk about their local mining operations, but no representatives attended.

Categories: Alaska News

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