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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: 43 min 43 sec ago

Bergdahl’s Hometown Unprepared For Public Backlash

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:30

Almost immediately after the jubilant response to former Fort Richardson soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from the Taliban on Saturday, the story took a very different turn. First, there was criticism of the Obama administration for exchanging five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl. Then, some soldiers from his former unit started speaking out against the freed prisoner of war. Bergdahl’s hometown in Idaho was unprepared for the public backlash.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wolf Population Declining In Denali National Park

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:29

A survey of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve this spring turned out the fourth lowest count since biologists started keeping track of the animals nearly 30 years ago. Park Service officials say the numbers show a decline in the population, but they haven’t settled on an explanation.

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(Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

This year, biologists counted 51 wolves among thirteen packs in a 17,640 square kilometer area.  That’s approximately the same size as 94 football fields. Simple arithmetic shows this year’s is the lowest wolf population density ever recorded in the Park and Preserve.

“We do think there’s been a real decline in wolves over the last six or eight years,” Park Biology Program Manager Steve Arthur said. ”Not a super steep decline, and we’re at about the level that we were in the early 90’s, which was following a decline in wolves that was in response to a reduction in caribou abundance.”

There hasn’t been a recent decline in the caribou population. In fact, Arthur says caribou numbers are slowly increasing.  But he says they have moved to the north and east end of the Park.  The lowest numbers of wolves were recorded on the west side of the park, where there are fewer caribou.

But Arthur doesn’t have an explanation for why total population and population density estimates of wolves are so low.

“Whether this is a serious decline, I guess this is a matter of interpretation. Certainly the numbers are low, we wouldn’t want the numbers to get much lower than that,” he said. “The question is: what is driving that? We’re fairly uncertain as to what’s going on and that’s why we’re monitoring the situation.”

Biologists count wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve twice a year.  Counts in the fall will provide information about the number of wolf pups born this spring.

Categories: Alaska News

Over 4,250 Show For Anchorage’s Bike To Work Day

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:28

More than 4,250 bikers turned out for Bike to Work Day in Anchorage on Wednesday. That’s more than double the participants for last year’s snowy event, when low numbers were blamed on the cold, wet weather. In 2012, about 3,800 bikers took to the streets and trails.

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Lori Schanche is the non-motorized transportation coordinator for the municipality. She says the number of riders counted at each special Bike to Work station has increased, but the percentage of people wearing bike helmets is down slightly to 87%. It was at 92% last year.

Categories: Alaska News

Canadian Man Embarks On 6,700 Mile Horseback Trip

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:27

A Canadian man started a horseback trip from Deadhorse to Mexico on Tuesday. Rider Len Crow is embarking on the 6,700 mile journey to raise money for orphanages, including a facility in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his ride is scheduled to wrap up in 11 months.

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Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Assembly Cuts Library Funding

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:26

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to cut its share of funding for the city-owned Ketchikan Public Library. In 2010 city voters approved spending up to $5.2 million for the facility. Because Borough residents were not allowed to vote on the issue, who should pay for services has been sometimes controversial.

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The assembly eliminated the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax during budget discussions Monday (June 2). The money generated from that tax, more than $405,000, is deposited in the city’s general fund and helps support the Ketchikan Public Library.

Assembly member Glen Thompson proposed the amendment.

“Folks outside the city did not have any input on the library, did not have any control over any of its funding, and are now paying an additional half percent in sales taxes. This 0.7 mills winds up being a double dip and I think it’s inappropriate and I think we should delete the whole program.”

Asked if the Borough is under any legal obligation to provide the funds next fiscal year, Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen said no. He says an agreement between the city and borough is renewed on an annual basis, and that agreement expires at the end of the fiscal year.

Assembly member Bill Rotecki says he would like to see the City and Borough work together.

“But I think it could be done through more serious discussion than we’ve had in the past. Alternatively, and far more logically, since everyone in the borough uses the library, would be that it became a borough function. That to me would be the most logical thing to do.”
Assembly Member Alan Bailey says the city and borough have discussed the library in the past, in part during cooperative relations committee meetings. He says he has mixed feelings about the issue.

“I’m just envisioning that were going to cut this out and right behind this they’re going to raise the taxes again. I know that’s not our problem, but it is a problem to our community. At what point do they stop. What effect does this have specifically on the city and the library by withdrawing these funds? What effect does this have? I have concerns about that.”

The Assembly voted 5-2 in favor of cutting the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax, therefore eliminating the borough’s contribution to library funding. Thompson and Assembly members Mike Painter, Todd Phillips, Agnes Moran, and Jim Van Horn voted for the motion, Baily and Rotecki voted against.

Any remaining residual funds will go into the non-area-wide fund and can be used for projects such as sewer repair.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Bike to Work Day participation soars

Wed, 2014-06-04 15:40

Jeremy Beheler and Amber St.Amand join the city’s largest Bike to Work Day crowd to date. See more photos on Alaska Public’s Facebook page.

More than 4,250 bikers turned out for Bike to Work Day in Anchorage today. That’s more than double the participants for last year’s snowy event, when low numbers were blamed on the cold, wet weather. In 2012, about 3,800 bikers took to the streets and trails. Lori Schanche [Skanky] is the non-motorized transportation coordinator for the municipality. She says the number of riders counted at each special Bike to Work station has increased, but the percentage of people wearing bike helmets is down slightly to 87%. It was at 92% last year.

The Anchorage area also hit a record with the number of students participating in Bike to School Day in May. Three thousand students from 62 schools participated. It was the largest number of schools in any city in the nation.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Man Solves Mystery Of Governor’s Mansion Photo

Wed, 2014-06-04 10:57

The mystery of a picture found in the attic of the Alaska Governor’s Mansion has been solved, thanks to a Juneau resident.

Terry VanLeuven owns the original black and white picture of the late President John F. Kennedy shaking hands with a smartly dressed little boy.

Gov. Parnell and Terry VanLeuven with Kennedy picture. (Governor’s office photo)

Gov. Sean Parnell’s office last week asked the public if anyone could identify the child, thinking he was an Alaskan. During the 1960 presidential election, JFK made a campaign stop in Alaska.

When VanLeuven saw the picture in the Juneau Empire last week, he called the governor’s office and KTOO. He met with Parnell on Monday to tell him the story.

VanLeuven’s late wife took the picture when Kennedy was in Oregon, probably during a 1960 campaign stop. The boy in the picture is Brian Kennedy, who was 8-years-old at the time and the son of a Myrtle Point, Ore. logging family.

VanLeuven moved from Oregon to Alaska 33 years ago, and brought the picture with him. It still hangs in his home.

In 1986, he gave a framed copy to newly elected Gov. Steve Cowper. He had his 21-year-old daughter Tracy present it to Cowper at the annual Christmas open house at the governor’s mansion.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow says the picture will go to the Alaska State Museum and be included in the Cowper collection.

VanLeuven, who will be 76 in August, says he was really happy to hear that during his meeting Monday with Gov. Parnell.

 “Almost made me cry. I have no idea how that picture stayed with me 50 years in all the places I’ve been all over Alaska and some of the stuff I left behind, but I had that picture,” he says. “I guess that picture meant a lot to me or something, because I never lost it, you know.”

VanLeuven says the original picture was taken at the community building in Coquille, Ore.

Kennedy was the 35th U.S. president, elected in November 1960.  He was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage ranks among nation’s top bike commuting cities

Tue, 2014-06-03 22:14

Anchorage is celebrating it’s 10th annual Bike to Work Day on Wednesday — an event aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says that bike commuting in Anchorage is up 151 percent since 1990. It’s one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/02-Biking-in-ANC.mp3 http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Biking-try-2.mp4

Jackie Edwards pushes her teal bike up the hill on the Chester Creek Trail toward the bridge over Northern Lights.

“I am bike commuting from work,” she says, pausing to catch her breath. “To my house.”

It’s her first time trying it.

“I’m just trying to include a little bit more activity in my life. And I’ve always wanted to ride my bike but I didn’t have the guts. Within the last week or so, I just decided I wanted to give it a shot.”

She says as a beginner, it’s exhausting, but worth it.

“I get to see pockets of my community that I would never, ever see driving in my vehicle. So it’s great.”

Edwards is joining more than 1,800 regular bike commuters in Anchorage. It seems like a small number — it’s only 1.1 percent of all commuters in the city. But it’s almost twice the national average. And the number doesn’t account for folks who bike other places like to the grocery store or to volunteer positions, as Chris Black is doing.

“For me, I like it,” he says as he pauses at the same hill.  “It’s a really good alternative. You lose a few pounds and stuff like that.”

Black says he bikes because it’s healthy for him. Bill Popp from the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation says it’s also healthy for the local economy. Retail sales are up for bikes and bike parts. And Popp says making the community more bike friendly attracts young professionals and, to a degree, some businesses.

“When they’re thinking about making an investment in a city,” he explains they think, “what kind of cultural and environmental opportunity does that city represent to the workforce that they’re going to want to hire either by importing that workforce or hiring it locally and retaining it.”

But along with all of the positives are some negatives. Cyclist and driver Julie Saddoris says she’s been almost hit by cars a few times and sometimes drivers are just rude to her.

“Cyclists and cars interact on the road together, and there’s a lot of anxiety and frustration on both sides. And I think that improvements could be made to make the two coexist better on the road.”

So what’s the solution? She says one is increasing awareness. She’s proposing a “Share the Road” specialized license plate to the next state legislature.

But Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage Co-founder Brian Litmans says sometimes it’s easier than that. He says reports confirm that there’s safety in numbers.

“With more people out there bicycling, motorists become more aware and recognize there’s more bicyclists on the road. So I think we’re seeing that the behaviors are just starting to change,” he says. “More motorists are recognizing me at crosswalks and waving me through. And that makes it a much safer city to bike in.”

Litmans says the city also needs better marking and signage on bike lanes and bike routes, so people are more likely to see cyclists.

Back on the trail, Edwards, the first time bike commuter, says making use of the new perspective of being on a bike helps keep her safe, too.

“I think it’s interesting – I’m more aware. More aware, just paying attention to all of the traffic around me versus when I’m in my car.” She says she pays attention when she’s in her car, but when she’s on her bike paying attention prevents her from getting hit.

After her brief rest, she’s ready to finish her ride. She hops on her bike and is off.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:16

Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday morning in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.

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The lawsuit challenges the state over what some local officials say is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities, but not others, to fund a minimum level for local schools. The borough argues that because not everyone in Alaska is required to contribute to local education, the mandate is not fair.

The Borough filed the suit in early January. In February, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted to file an amicus brief in support of the Ketchikan Borough’s argument. Other plaintiffs in the case are Ketchikan residents John Harrington, David Spokely, Agnes Moran and her minor son, John Coss.

Louann Cutler of K&L Gates, LLC spoke on behalf of all plaintiffs. Cutler says under the constitution, the state is required to fund education. She acknowledged that the state is not required to ‘fully’ fund education, but reiterated that a statue requiring a local contribution from local sources, imposes an unfair tax on municipalities.

“It’s not just the municipalities; it’s the tax payer who are forced to make this payment to support the state obligation. It’s clearly a dedicated earmarked source of state funding, and that’s the problem with it. It’s not that the state has to fully fund education, it’s that it has to fund it in a way that doesn’t violate other constitutional provisions.”

Cutler says by forcing organized boroughs and cities to dedicate a certain amount to education funding, it is making them tax collectors.

A key case being used to support the Borough’s argument is State v. Alex. The Alaska Supreme Court decision in that case invalidated a state statute authorizing private aquaculture associations to collect fees from commercial salmon fisherman. This was found to be in violation of the dedicated funds clause.

Assistant Attorney General Kate Vogel presented the state’s argument. Vogel says the local contribution is constitutional because it not subject to the restrictions that apply to state money such as legislative approval or dedicated funds prohibition.

“This isn’t a specific funding source; it’s not a specific tax. It is simply an allocation of responsibility to a local government unit. It is no more a dedication that the portion of that same statute which talks about state aid.”

Vogel says if the local contribution was truly state money, the borough would receive 100 percent of its basic need and the money would be under the control of the state which could choose to use it for a purpose other than education. She says local contributions are currently going directly to the school system and municipalities are deciding how that money is spent.

Vogel reiterated that it is not a tax and municipalities could use other means, beside taxes, to fund the mandate.

“It’s not about the state imposing a state tax, which clearly it could do anywhere that it so chose. This is the state cooperating with the local communities and requiring that they themselves exercise their taxing authority or whatever other means that they use to come up with a certain amount. But certainly the state isn’t dictating a specific tax.”
Judge Carey responded.

“To my knowledge every municipality or borough that contributes does it through taxes. They’re not getting it through the bingo hall.”

Monday’s court appearance is the sole time oral arguments will be heard. The case is now in the hands of Judge Carey. It may be months before a decision is reached.

Categories: Alaska News

Pavlof Volcano Eruption Sends Ash Toward Cold Bay

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:15

Lava fountains out of Pavlof Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay
early June 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Stacy)

Pavlof Volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, sending a haze of ash out above nearby towns.

The volcano’s ash plume is up to 18,000 to 20,000 feet Tuesday. That’s put local airlines on alert.

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PenAir spokeswoman Missy Roberts says the ash hasn’t caused problems for any flights just yet. Planes made it in and out of Sand Point last night and Cold Bay this morning.

Ash plumes out of Pavlof Volcano on June 2. (Photo by Christopher Diaz)

“All of our flights are currently on schedule; however, our dispatch and operations continues to monitor the situation on an hourly, if not even more so, basis,” she says. “For the safety of our passengers and our operation, we will make changes as needed at that time.”

She says they’re looking for changes in the wind that could send ash into the way of PenAir’s planes. The ash is a safety risk and can damage the aircraft.

“Whether it’s hanging out over one of our stations or one of our alternates — you know, if we have the ability to be able to go around it… if we don’t, we’re certainly not going to go through it,” she says. “So those are some of the things we look at again on an hourly basis to make sure it’s safe for everybody.”

Right now, Alaska Volcano Observatory scientist Game McGimsey says most of Pavlof’s ash plume is being blown south, out to sea and away from flight paths and towns.

Lower-level winds — at around 5,000 to 10,000 feet — are carrying ash west, toward Cold Bay. There haven’t been reports of ashfall yet, but McGimsey says that could change.

“If there is an ashfall today, it would likely occur in Cold Bay and it would be very, very light, a trace amount, which is about 1/32nd of an inch.”

The AVO first put Pavlof on watch on Saturday. McGimsey says its activity escalated quickly — but that’s not unusual for this volcano.

“The onset on Saturday was fairly abrupt and didn’t have much, if any, seismic precursory activity — we simply saw it on satellite imagery,” he says. “And yesterday [Monday] about 3 p.m. was when the seismicity took an abrupt uptick, and that was commensurate with photographs from Cold Bay residents showing the plume had greatly increased in height and intensity.”

There was also glowing lava visible from Cold Bay last night — fountaining out of the volcano’s crater and flowing down its north flank.

McGimsey says there’s no telling how long this eruptive period will last. This time one year ago, Pavlof erupted for several weeks, sending ash up to 28,000 feet and stranding hundreds of air travelers.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Seismic Activity Continues Near Noatak

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:14

Map for April and May 2014 Earthquakes in Northwestern Alaska. (Image courtesy Alaska Earthquake Center)

Strong earthquake activity continues near Noatak, with a strong aftershock recorded last week that has become the third powerful temblor in what is now a series of strong quakes and potent aftershocks in just the last two months.

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Natasha Ruppert, a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center in Fairbanks, said Thursday’s 4.6 magnitude aftershock struck just before 10:30 p.m. about 18 miles northeast of Noatak.

“This one [is] in almost exactly the same area, so this one was another large aftershock,” Ruppert said—a lingering jolt in the wake of the powerful 5.6 magnitude rumble felt April 18, the strongest quake in the region in more than 30 years.

“They all are in the same area, but basically the main shock was … in April 18,” Ruppert said. “There was another large magnitude 5.5 earthquake [on May 3.]” The April quake was followed by nearly 100 aftershocks (represented by blue circles in the above image), five of which were magnitude 4.0 or stronger and one that registered a 5.3 magnitude. The early May quake, though slightly weaker than its April predecessor, was similarly followed by strong aftershocks, seven of which were of magnitude 4.0 or more.

After that earlier May quake, the Earthquake Information Center traveled to Kotzebue and Noatak to install sensors closer to the activity.

“We are able to tell, now with new equipment, we are actually seeing that these events are a little bit more shallower, closer to the surface, than what we thought before,” Ruppert said. “We are able actually to compute locations for these earthquakes much more accurately,” as a result of the new sensors, she added.

Ruppert said the remote nature of the far western Brooks Range means there’s still no firm scientific consensus for what faults are causing earthquakes and other tectonic activity in that region of western Alaska.

More accurate readings on these quakes and aftershocks, she said, could help build that consensus.

“This particular earthquake sequence is just another piece of the tectonic puzzle that we are trying to build for that region,” she said.

As part of their summer fieldwork, Ruppert said a team from the Earthquake Center will be visiting Nome this July for continued work in western Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Property Thefts Linked To Drug Use

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:13

The new Alaska State Trooper unit began operations on January 1, and made it’s first arrests that same day, when a pair of 22 year olds smashed into a business and tried to grab an ATM machine. So called “Smash and dash” thefts are escalating in the Valley : thefts of tv’s, snomachines, computers.. and guns

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 The thefts involve home break -ins. What is sparking the crime wave? Trooper Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn [weg zen ] says it’s drugs

“If we can link a theft to a person, normally that person is a known drug user. Very seldom do we find a person who’s just stealing to steal, normally, they steal to support a habit of some sort. “

Sgt. Wegrzyn is part of the four man crime unit. He says Troopers are linking the thefts to the increased use of heroin in the Mat Su

“Heroin is becoming more popular in the Valley. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have found heroin. Today, it’s everywhere.”

 

Vicki Walner is one Palmer homeowner who is taking the offensive against the thefts.

“If you fight property crime, you have to fight the drugs. And the heroin usage out here in the Valley is astronomical.”

She is fighting back using a tool that young Alaskans know well: social media

Walner settles into a chair in her comfortable kitchen, Springer spaniel Charlie at her feet . Her house, on a two lane blacktop outside of town, is in a peaceful setting. Horses graze in nearby paddocks, and chickens cluck in the midafternoon sun.  But crime is spreading a shadow over this bucolic scene. She says crime and drugs go hand in hand.  Walner says she’s seen the effects of heroin addiction written all over her neighborhood.

“We had the neighbors over behind us on the next street had their door kicked in. And they were burglarized. And I thought, why don’t people in the neighborhood know, why don’t we tell each other what’s going on so we can watch out for each other. So I started this web page  for a few friends, and it just blew up.  We have over 5700 members now.”

She says she’s trying to make some changes using Facebook

 ”So this is our main page, here. And this is a vehicle.. stole a gas can out of sombody’s yard, and they got a picture of em.”

 She toggles down the page full of photos, comments, – typical social media stuff.  Only all of it is directed toward locating stolen property.  Photos of snomachines, cars, trucks, televisions, even pets crowd the page.  People are posting them in hopes that someone, somewhere, has information on the stolen property.

 ”We even recovered a semi that has been missing for four months. It’s amazing when you have that many people, that many eyes and ears out looking for things. “

Don Bennice, executive director of Alaska Family Services in Palmer, is looking at the social costs of heroin addiction – a drug he says that wasn’t even on the counseling service’s radar ten years ago.

“Alcohol far and away is our largest area, and then marijuana certainly is number two. But the one that has really changed over the last few years is herion use. Heroin use has dramatically increased.”

 When Troopers shut down the meth labs in the Valley, drug users turned to the prescription drug, oxycontin to stay high. But the expensive opiate oxycontin led to heroin in short order. *According to the online Daily Beast, a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that heroin use in the US has jumped 80 percent between 2007 and 2012, and that three quarters of users live in non – urban locations.

Bennice says a lot of people are moving into the Valley “and they are bringing their baggage with them.”

He says his counselors are also noting “an influx of girls from stable families” coming in for help. He says that the heroin in the Valley is “cheap”, he suspects, purposely so, “to get young people involved. ” But the drug seems to cross all social borders

 ”Both sexes, we see it in middle income families. We see it across the board. “

 He says there are not enough counseling centers in the Valley to cover the growing number of cases.

 ”Clearly right now there’s not. That is one of the things we are very concerned about, and right now, we have about ten or eleven providers in the Valley that do behavioral health services. And we are working very hard to coordinate those services to try and meet the new demand.”

 

According to a health scan released last year by the Mat Su Health Foundation, 36 percent of Valley high school students have tried marijuana, and 3 percent have tried heroin, according to 2011 statistics. But close to 43 percent have tried drugs of various kinds, including meth, oxycontin, spice and cocaine.

Recently state Troopers arrested a 20 year old Wasilla man,Clay Katzmarek, who was providing heroin to juveniles as young as 15.   Bennice says, teens simply can’t handle it.

 

“It affects their brain differently. Their brains aren’t totally formed like an adult’s would be, and it has a much more severe impact on them.”

 

 Where are they getting it? Often, in the mail.  A year ago, a drug-sniffing dog at an Anchorage post office led Troopers to a 37 year old Palmer woman, Amber ODell, who was receiving heroin shipments from California at her Palmer post office box.

In Houston not long ago,  two men, Barretta Faatafuga and James Gwaltney, both 37, were charged with possession and intent to distribute almost four pounds of heroin shipped to their street address from California.

The disturbing trend goes beyond personal property losses. For example, a Wasilla gunshop was robbed last winter. Sgt. Wegrzyn says those arms were recovered

“We are heavily interested in recovering stolen firearms. The other part of it is, if they fall into the wrong hands, and then those guns are then involved in other crimes. In like in the first quarter, we recovered 24 stolen guns. And, I’m positive, that a large number of those would have never been recovered without this unit being formed. Because we had the time to go out and track those guns down.”

 

Meanwhile, Vicki Walner continues her crusade to track down stolen property.

“Nobody used to like a nosey Nora, but nosey Nora is going to be the one that keeps your house from being broken into, “  she laughs.

 Walner says her site provides the oversight to track stolen property quickly, and tells this story about two snomachiners who stopped in Wasilla for a bite after a run. But when they finished eating:

“The trailer and snomachines are gone. So they immediately put it on our group. Well immediately, reports of it start coming in. ..’ I saw them pulling out of the restaurant , and this is the direction they were going’ .. ‘ i saw them on Knik-GooseBay road,’ .. and this went on for about two hours. Next thing we know, someone calls in and say ‘someone just dumped a trailer and two snomachines off on my street’. It got so hot, they just dumped it. “

She says the thieves are keeping up with her Facebook page too, although they probably don’t like what they see there.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Kobuk Meeting on State-backed Ambler Mining Road Weighs Promise of Jobs against Local Concerns

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:11

Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed industrial road that would pass through the region.

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Even getting there presented some challenges, however. Lesley Lepley works with Dowl HKM, the company contracted by the state to handle logistics for moving the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road project along. Lepley said days of rain and seasonal runoff left the Kobuk River swollen, with soft ground making the Ambler runway unusable.

“We had charter flights arranged to bring people from Ambler, and unfortunately both runways got shut down in Ambler,” Leplet said. “Our Caravans couldn’t land, so we had to rely on people boating.”

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, organized the meeting. Leaders from all three communities came together first for a question and answer session with AIDEA representatives. Afterwards, the public gathered in chairs and bleachers for a presentation on the road’s development status, first in English, then translated into Inupiaq.

Perspectives on the proposed road continue to be mixed. Many who spoke at the meeting support the potential for jobs from road work and at the eventual mining district.

Miles Cleveland lives in Ambler, and said the region needs jobs to survive. “We need jobs to continue to pay for our light bills, our water and sewer—those take money.”

Like many other aspects of the proposed road, however, there is very little hard data on just how many jobs it would bring, and to whom.

AIDEA is currently selecting a contractor to begin work on the massive Environmental Impact Study that’s an essential part of the Federal approval process for any road project. Fred Sun, from Shugnak, is on the board of directors for the NANA regional corporation. He spoke at the presentation’s close about the need to wait until environmental data is collected to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with the road.

“Whether or not your decision is to support this road or go against it, I think it’s just as important you support the EIS process,” he said, “because not only is it going to be helpful for the construction of this road, but it’ll be helpful for other projects in the future.”

While a complete environmental impact study wouldn’t be a green light for the road, others feel like the project is advancing toward a point of no return. It’s not clear how frequently AIDEA or the state’s different permitting agencies have shut down development projects after conducting the EIS process.

Jill Yordy is in charge of mining and clean water programs at the Northern Center in Fairbanks. She said even at this point, the rhetoric from the state is shifting.

“One of my big concerns related to that, is that the conversation will then be framed to be ‘what route should the road take,’ not ‘whether or not there should be a road.’ And I think that’s a really important conversation to have. We need to decide whether or not a road in this region is really acceptable before we try to figure out what route it should take.”

AIDEA is hoping to start the EIS process this summer. They’re holding a public board meeting in Anchorage on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The public is encouraged to call in with comments.

A link to AIDEA’s public board meeting agenda, and instructions for submitting public comment, can be found on on their website.

Categories: Alaska News

Shipyard Program Sets Students On Career Path

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:09

There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.

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Kaila Del Rosario, 17, is one of three high school students participating in a new job training program at Vigor shipyard.

Kaila Del Rosario is looking through the window of an observation deck at the shipyard. She watches as workers slowly reel an Alaska Marine Highway ferry onto the dry dock for maintenance.

Right now, Del Rosario  is here as an observer. In about a year, she’ll probably be here as an employee.

“That’s the plan so far and I’m just going along with it and I find it really, really cool and exciting,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario is 17 years old, a high school junior. Her interest in a career at the shipyard started when she signed up for welding at Kayhi, because she wanted to have a class with her best friend.

“When that class started, I actually started liking welding and I started getting really good at it,” Del Rosario said. “My hands were steady. And I did research on how it’s a good skill and a job and it pays well. Cause I kinda live on my own. I moved out when I was 16.”

Del Rosario was born in the Phillipines. She was raised by her aunt and uncle, who moved to Ketchikan when she was 5 years old. She says she was always pretty independent — she started working at 14 and paid for some of her own expenses. When she was 16, her aunt and uncle agreed to let her live on her own. Del Rosario says it helped her take responsibility.

“When I was with my auntie and uncle, I was like I don’t have to worry about this, I was more interested in hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Something about paying bills and getting school done kind of did the trick for me to mature up.”

Del Rosario says when she was younger, she would skip out on school to drink or smoke with her friends. When she started living on her own, she focused more on school and her part-time job at a tour company. But she didn’t really have a plan for the future.

“When I was younger, freshman year, I didn’t really care about a lot of things, all of a sudden bam this happened,” Del Rosario said. “And I didn’t really know what to do with myself after high school, and now this is happening, and it’s just like I’m gonna take this opportunity and go for it.”

David McLavey and Stone Reily are the other two students in the shipyard program. Here, they learn about a painting machine.

Let’s talk more about that “bam this happened moment.” Del Rosario signed up for welding and loved it. Then, she went to a career day at the shipyard last October. There, she talked to Doug Ward, who works in Business Development at Vigor. She told him about her interest in welding and said she’d like to learn more about working at the shipyard.

“She certainly was the one…we just kept thinking about her,” Ward said. “What can we do to get high school kids into the workplace and get them exposed to all of the shipbuilding processes that we do down here.”

Del Rosario’s interest is one of the reasons the shipyard put this 8-week program together. Here’s the way it works: the high school students come to the shipyard for two hours, two days a week. And they actually get paid $10 an hour. Each week, they shadow someone in a different department.

“That was beauty of the program, it would show us the shipyard and all the different departments so we could find out what we’re interested in,” said Stone Reily, one of the other Kayhi students in the program.

“My plan was welding and so far it’s welding,” Del Rosario said. “But I do feel like I want to do different kind of departments, like I actually am interested in mechanic now.”

Del Rosario is planning on taking a math class and auto shop at Kayhi next year — two courses she wouldn’t have been interested in before. And then next May, when she graduates?

“I mean I can’t think of anything why we wouldn’t want to hire someone who is so focused so young in life and knows what she wants to do,” Ward said.

When Del Rosario thinks about where she was her freshman year of high school compared to where she is now…

“I’m actually proud of myself for the first time that I got myself out of that life that I used to do,” she says. “And into wanting to do what I been searching for, something I’m actually passionate about. Cause I was never passionate about a lot of things.”

Vigor is hoping to find more people like Del Rosario. They plan to continue the work experience program next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly considers labor law options

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:05

Anchorage Assembly members met Tuesday to continue the conversation about the municipality’s controversial labor law, AO-37. The labor subcommittee and community members debated Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston’s proposed revisions of the municipality’s old labor laws.

In her version, unlike in AO-37, unions would still have the right to binding arbitration and the right to strike.

However, her amended version of the labor law does give the administration more control over things like scheduling employees and equipment. But Johnston said the regulations could be negotiated.

“And maybe the unions might know best,” she said, explaining that her version allows flexibility. “And if they know best they can plead their case and make their case. And if it’s a good case it should be probably accepted. And if at some point there was a mayor who didn’t accept their good case, that mayor and that administration has the full liability if something went wrong. Which, I’m sorry, but the union doesn’t have that liability. It doesn’t have that accountability.”

Johnston said she wants to discuss the nuts and bolts of the labor laws with the community before bringing it to the Assembly.

The president of the Anchorage Central Labor Council, Daniel Repasky said he appreciates Johnston’s attempt to fix the problems caused by AO-37.

“There are some flaws in it, but I suspect that because of the make up of the assembly right now that if her ordinance goes forward, her changes, that they would be addressed by amendments from the assembly. So I could deal with that. But again I would prefer that AO-37 just disappear.”

And it still could. Assembly member Dick Traini is proposing a motion to repeal AO-37 completely at the next Assembly meeting. Public comments will be taken on June 24.

The city is also working with the state’s Division of Elections to determine how much it would cost to add the repeal vote to the November statewide ballot. If it does not go on the statewide ballot, the vote would be delayed until next April’s municipal elections. They’ll make the decision by July 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 3, 2014

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:01

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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Ketchikan Gateway Borough, State Argue Education Funding

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Judge William Carey heard oral arguments in Ketchikan Superior Court on Monday in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding.

Pavlof Volcano Eruption Sends Ash Toward Cold Bay

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Pavlof Volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, sending a haze of ash out above nearby towns.

Unusual Seismic Activity Continues Near Noatak

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Strong earthquake activity continued in the far northwest corner of the Brooks Range on Tuesday after a powerful 4.6 jolt was recorded

Thursday and was followed by more seismic activity this week.

Increased Mat-Su Property Crimes May Be Linked To Increased Drug Use

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A jump in property thefts  in  Matanuska Valley communities spurred the Alaska State Troopers to start a new Crime Suppression Unit in Palmer this year. Property crimes in the Valley may be linked to the increased use of  drugs, like heroin, and the trend upward – of both drug use and property crimes  has  social costs that have yet to be tallied.

Kobuk Meeting on State-backed Ambler Mining Road Weighs Promise of Jobs against Local Concerns

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Yesterday evening residents from Kobuk, Shugnak and Ambler gathered in the Kobuk community school for meetings about the status of a state-backed

industrial road that would pass through the region.

Anchorage Ranks Among Nation’s Top Bike Commuting Cities

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage is celebrating its 10th annual Bike to Work Day, on Wednesday – the event is aimed at promoting bike commuting in Anchorage. But Bike to Work Day isn’t the only time cyclists are on the road in the city. Data from the American Community Survey says bike commuting in Anchorage is up more than 150 percent since 1990, making it one of the top cities in the nation for bike commuters.

Shipyard Program Sets Students On Career Path

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There have been some young faces in recent weeks at the Ketchikan shipyard. This spring, Vigor Industrial started a new job training course for high schoolers. Three Ketchikan High School students have stuck with the program. For one of them, working at the shipyard has been especially meaningful.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel City Council Investigation Sent to District Attorney’s Office

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:33

Officials are not speaking about the recent referral of the Bethel City Council’s investigation into contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues to the District Attorney’s office.

The document has not been released to the public in the month since the council received it back from attorney Michael Gatti, but it has been passed onto the District Attorney’s office.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney June Stein says no charges have been filed and did not have a timeline for when their review would finish. She declined to speak to any specifics on any potential investigation. Bethel City Attorney Patty Burley had no comment about referring the investigation to the authorities.

KYUK and six other news organizations, including the Anchorage Daily News and the Associated Press are seeking release of the document. The city clerk cited attorney client privilege in the initial rejection of the records request.

The Bethel City Council on Tuesday in a special meeting will go into executive session to discuss that records request.

In other business, the city is getting closer to hiring an interim city manager. They interviewed candidates last week and in Tuesday’s special meeting will look at background checks and could move forward on establishing the contract position.

Port Director Pete Williams has been the Acting City Manager since the council fired Lee Foley last month following the investigation.

In the executive session, the council will also discuss the collective bargaining agreement.

Categories: Alaska News

No Primary, Only General Election Contest For Juneau Legislators

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:32

Sam Kito lll (left), Sen. Dennis Egan (middle), and Rep. Cathy Munoz (right). (Photos by Skip Gray)

All three Juneau legislators will be challenged in the November general election, but not in the August primary.

The candidate filing deadline was 5 p.m. Monday.

George McGuan, 33, filed as a Democrat to run against Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz for House District 34 in November. Munoz currently represents House District 31, which encompasses the Mendenhall Valley and out the road. With redistricting, the number has changed, but not the geography.

Peter Dukowitz, 44, plans to run in November as a Republican against Democrat Sam Kito III for House District 33 (now HD 32). Kito was appointed in February to fill out the term of Beth Kerttula, who resigned her seat in January to take a fellowship at Stanford University. Kito’s new House district will include Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat, will be challenged by Republican Tom Williams. Egan’s Senate District P will change to district Q in November, also encompassing Haines, Skagway, Gustavus and Juneau.

The primary is August 19. With no primary contest, the candidates can concentrate on the general election campaign.

Categories: Alaska News

Low-Level Eruption Of Pavlof Volcano Escalating

Tue, 2014-06-03 10:19

The Pavlof Volcano ssh clouds were reported to reach 22,000 feet yesterday. (Photo by Christopher Diaz at northernXposed Photography)

Alaska Volcano Observatory spokesmen say a low-level eruption of a volcano about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage is escalating, with pilots reporting that ash clouds are getting bigger.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Power said Monday in a statement that pilots have recently reported ash clouds from the Pavlof Volcano rising to 22,000 feet above sea level.

Scientist Robert McGinsey says the current eruption began Saturday and lava has reached the surface. Asked how long the eruption might last, he replied, “hours, days or weeks.” On Saturday, a pilot reported a gas and ash plume about 8,000 feet above sea level.

McGinsey says aircraft flying below 25,000 feet should avoid the area. He says the ash cloud is currently a narrow plume streaming about 50 miles to the east.

The 8,262-foot volcano is one of the state’s most active.

An eruption last year prompted regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities.

Categories: Alaska News

Bergdahl Release Ignites Political Controversy

Mon, 2014-06-02 17:29

Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.

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Categories: Alaska News
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