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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: 38 min 50 sec ago

Villages Seek Yukon, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Change

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:28

The Federal Office of Subsistence Management is holding a series of public hearings on requests for expanded federal control of salmon fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Faces Big Decision on Local Liquor Licenses

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:26

BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman speaks at a community meeting in Bethel. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Bethel residents are urging the city to protest a package store license that’s before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits LLC application was officially filed Monday morning.

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With a separate deadline of 90 days to act on BNC’s proposal, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board attended a community meeting in Bethel to bring people up to speed on the process. Director Cynthia Franklin, explained that the board by law must honor a hypothetical government’s protest of a license, unless it meets specific criteria.

“Is this protest arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable? When people ask me what it means- is the city council picking on this application? That’s basically what it means in everyday language. Everyone would know arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable if they saw it,” said Franklin.

The city hasn’t taken any action. Bethel is unique in that it’s wet but with no liquor stores or bars. Voters in 2009 went unrestricted and did away with local option laws limiting imports and prohibiting sales. The next year citizens rejected local sales in an advisory vote.

That 2010 vote weighed heavily with Deborah Sampson, one of dozens in the more than four hour meeting who testified against the idea of a liquor store.

“We overwhelmingly said we don’t want alcohol here. We don’t want it sold, we don’t want a distribution point, and I don’t think that status should change until we have another vote,” said Sampson.

And citizens could again go to the polls if the council chooses to sponsor a community vote. Mayor Rick Robb, who has spoken publicly in favor of local sales, says he will bring a proposal before council to have an advisory vote.

People from the villages around the lower Kuskokwim spoke up, mostly to oppose the store. The regional significance of Bethel as a hub was a theme throughout the night. Dan Winkelman, President and CEO of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, cited research about the the effects of easier access to alcohol.

“It is not whether prohibition works or doesn’t work as some have said. But rather as these studies have concluded, the issue is more precisely that as alcohol availability increases, so do alcohol related injuries and death,” said Winkelman.

A handful of the nearly 50 speakers made the case for local sales. BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman said the choice is not about whether to have liquor sales, but whether to have regulated sales or continue to support an underground bootlegging economy.

“It is time for the community to mature and no longer be crippled by paternalistic mentalities. We manage our lives in the most challenging of environments. We can handle a liquor store in Bethel and the area villages can handle it too. Let’s give ourselves a little credit. We are capable, sophisticated, adapting people,” said Hoffman.

The vast amounts of liquor being shipped in helped shape the perspective of Alan Evon from Kwethluk who worked at an air carrier.

“I used to offload 10,000 pounds of booze a day for Bethel and the bootleggers. We should stop the orders coming in, stop that artery of alcohol coming in, and just sell it at the liquor store,” said Evon.

A variation of what Evon describes would require a change in the local option status, and the idea that came up several times in the meeting. ABC Director Franklin says Bethel’s legal situation makes it difficult to regulate.

“As long as you’re in the wet status, you have no rules, so what I keep trying to let people know, when people stand up and say ‘we can’t let the alcohol come here,’ you’re fooling yourself. The alcohol is here. You’re wet. Wet, wet, wet. You’ve got a lot of alcohol here, and you have no rules that are enforceable,” said Franklin.

Franklin added that with Bethel’s current adjusted population of just under 6,000 people, the law would allow for two package stores, two bars, and four restaurants, plus a few specialty licenses.

The timing for the current licenses is in flux. Currently none of the scheduled ABC board meetings this spring and summer meet both 60 day and 90 day requirements. There is a possibility of more meetings. The board can hold a public hearing related to objections to the license, which can be filed in writing by individuals.

Categories: Alaska News

Co-op Herring Fishery Means Fewer Boats, Quiet Year In Sitka

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:25

Most years, the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka means boats filling the harbor, crew members filling the bars, seiners jostling for position within sight of town, and spotter planes in close formation overhead. But this year fishermen voted to abandon the competitive fishery in favor of a co-op. That meant a much smaller footprint, with fewer boats, crewmen, tenders, and spotter pilots. The reason? Low prices for roe, for starters. And a strong US dollar that makes all American exports more expensive.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Artist Rie Muñoz Dies At 93

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:24

Alaska artist Rie Muñoz has died. She was 93.

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Rie Muñoz. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)

A statement from her family says Muñoz was “active and independent until her last hours.”

She was known for her colorful watercolor paintings of Alaska scenes, such as fishermen at work, children at play and life in remote villages. Her paintings, prints and reproductions are in galleries throughout North America.

Born in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1921, Muñoz first came to Alaska in 1951, traveling by steamship up the Inside Passage. She fell in love with Juneau and decided to make it her home. She held several jobs, including journalist, teacher and museum curator, before devoting herself full-time to art in 1972.

She traveled extensively in Alaska, visiting every community on the road system and several off of it.

Her experience as a teacher on King Island inspired the children’s book “King Island Christmas” by her long-time friend Jean Rogers. Muñoz illustrated the book. Rogers passed away in 2013.

Rie Muñoz is survived by her son Juan, daughter-in-law Cathy, grandchildren Mercedes and Matthew, and her brother Piet Mounier, as well as a niece and two nephews.

A celebration of life will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 23 at Centennial Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

Historic Auk Totem Pole Being Restored

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:23

The The Yax té totem is 47 feet long (Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

A 74-year-old totem pole that once stood at the Auke Recreation Area in Juneau is being restored for a second time. The Yax té pole had to be taken down in 2010 after it was damaged by woodpeckers and heavy rains. Now after being in storage for five years, it’s getting a new life.

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In 1941, The Yax té pole was carved by Frank St. Clair, a Tlingit from Hoonah as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Originally, it was intended to be one of many in an Auk Village totem park. But World War II broke out and funding dried up. Fred Fulmer, Frank St. Claire’s great-grandson, is helping with the restoration.

“Whenever great-grandpa’s pole needed to be restored redone I wanted to be a part of that. My nephew told me about Wayne over here doing the totem pole so I stopped by and he said come on over,” says Fulmer.

Wayne Price finishes painting the top of the pole (Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Wayne Price is the master carver for the restoration and has been doing this kind of work for over 43 years—making dugout canoes and totems. He’s a Tlingit from Haines and says he found his calling watching his dad.

“I remember looking up watching him carve. That’s it. That’s what I want to do. I got the opportunity to start sweeping up the wood chips,” Price says.

He’s worked on 36 different totem poles in his career, and he says the feeling he gets is the same every time.

“You walk into the room and smell the red cedar and see the tools and create the artwork that means so much and goes so far back,” he says.

In Tlingit, Yax té means “Big Dipper.” The raven sits at the top of the 47-foot tall pole. Price says it’s one of the tallest totems he’s ever worked on.

This isn’t the only time the pole has been restored. In the 90s, the base was vandalized by arson. The carver who worked on that first restoration made a startling discovery: several bullets had been shot into it. Rosa Miller is the tribal leader for the Auk Kwaan. She remembers being heartbroken seeing it in that state before.

“I don’t understand why people shoot at things like that,” Miller says. “It’s obviously there for a reason. The reason it was put there was to honor us. We are the original settlers here. The clan of the area.”

Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO

Fred Fulmer, the original carver’s great grandson, says he has childhood memories of taking care of the totem. He’s from Hoonah but when he would come to Juneau, his mom would want visit the pole at Auk Bay Village.

“She would go around and pick up garbage and start weeding. All of us would jump in and start cleaning. She didn’t say anything. She just went to it. You know, you got the cue, get in there and do that,” Fulmer says.

He’s passed on that reverence for the Yax té pole to his daughter, Yolanda.

“The feeling I get is just one of connection with my ancestors,” she says. “You know with my great-great grandfather. I can imagine the hands that worked on this pole. So it’s a real visceral feeling. I get the tingles and I get the chills.”

The restoration will be completed in the following weeks. The wings will be put back on the totem. It’s being repainted turquoise, yellow and red. Wayne Price says story poles like this one are, essentially, a history book of Native culture.

“We didn’t have paper but we carved the whole tree. This is classical example of that. Being a part of keeping that book so people can read it is very, very rewarding,” he says.

Yolanda says it’s going to be wonderful to see the pole return to its home.

“Know that our ancestors are with us and that we can sing and celebrate and bring this pole back to life,” she says.

But it might be a while before the Yax té totem returns to the Auke Recreation Area. The Juneau Ranger District is still looking for funding to put the pole back in its place.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 7, 2015

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:22

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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Juneau Prison Deals With Overcrowding By Housing Women In A Tent

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s prison population is the third fastest growing in the country, and the prisons are over capacity. The crowding problem is especially evident at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center where half the female inmates live outside, in a tent. Some of them actually like it, but it’s an indication of a problem one state senator is trying to fix.

Seaton Suggests Income Tax for Diversification of Revenue Sources

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Representative Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, filed a bill Friday to bring back an income tax to Alaska. Dillingham Democrat Bryce Edgmon co-sponsored the bill.

Villages Seek Yukon, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Change

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Federal Office of Subsistence Management is holding a series of public hearings on requests for expanded federal control of salmon fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

Greenpeace Protestors Board Arctic Rig

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Royal Dutch Shell is seeking a court injunction to remove Greenpeace activists who boarded a vessel carrying a Shell oil drilling rig across the Pacific.

Bethel Faces Big Decision on Local Liquor Licenses

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel residents are urging the city to protest a package store license that’s before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits LLC application was officially filed Monday morning.

Co-op Herring Fishery Means Fewer Boats, Quiet Year In Sitka

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Most years, the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka means boats filling the harbor, crew members filling the bars, seiners jostling for position within sight of town, and spotter planes in close formation overhead. But this year fishermen voted to abandon the competitive fishery in favor of a co-op. That meant a much smaller footprint, with fewer boats, crewmen, tenders, and spotter pilots. The reason? Low prices for roe, for starters. And a strong US dollar that makes all American exports more expensive.

Alaska Artist Rie Muñoz Dies At 93

Casey Kelly & Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska artist Rie Munoz passed away last night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau. She was 93.

Historic Auk Totem Pole Being Restored

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A 74-year-old totem pole that once stood at the Auke Recreation Area in Juneau is being restored for a second time. The Yax té pole had to be taken down in 2010 after it was damaged by woodpeckers and heavy rains. Now it’s getting a new life.

Categories: Alaska News

Greenpeace Protestors Board Arctic Rig

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:26

Credit: Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Shell’s Arctic drill rigs have picked up some unwelcome guests on their trip across the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, six activists from Greenpeace boarded the Polar Pioneer rig. Their goal is to raise awareness about climate change, says senior Arctic campaigner Laura Kenyon.

“We as humanity really can’t afford to drill for oil in the Arctic and we can’t afford to let Shell open production in the Chukchi Sea if we want to avoid dangerous climate changes,” Kenyon said Monday.

She was speaking from the Esperanza — a rainbow-painted, 237-foot research vessel that’s been following Shell’s Arctic rigs as they head north to Washington State. Continuing that chase to Alaska isn’t out of the question.

But for now, Greenpeace wants the group that’s actually camped out on the rig to speak for itself. The activists have been outfitted with satellite phones and wireless internet, and they’ve already started posting updates about their trip on Twitter.

“The plan is to let them use this Arctic oil drilling platform as a platform for themselves — for their messages they want to send to people,” Kenyon says.

In a statement, Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino said the company values opposing viewpoints on Arctic drilling — but they don’t support “illegal tactics” like boarding a rig.

“Nor will we allow these stunts to distract from preparations underway to execute a safe and responsible exploration program,” Baldino said.

Baldino wouldn’t comment on whether Shell will seek another injunction to keep Greenpeace away from its Arctic fleet. A federal court granted Shell a restraining order in 2012 after activists climbed onto the Noble Discoverer rig in New Zealand.

The actress who portrayed TV’s “Xena, Warrior Princess” was part of that group. But this time around, Lucy Lawless is not involved.

Categories: Alaska News

2015 Anchorage Municipal Election

Tue, 2015-04-07 11:22

Voting day is here for the 2015 Anchorage Municipal election. Click here to find your polling place and check out a sample ballot before you head to the voting booth.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill To Seize Federal Lands

Mon, 2015-04-06 17:25

Of the nearly 200 bills that have been introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives, fewer than 20 have been put to a vote. On Monday, a controversial bill that would seize millions of acres of land from the federal government joined that group. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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To say Alaska has a complicated relationship with Washington, DC, would be an understatement. The federal government spends billions in the state, but it also owns millions of acres of land in Alaska and often manages those lands in a way that is not to the liking of the state’s leaders. Now, lawmakers are moving legislation to seize those acres, with a few exceptions.

“The bill requires that the federal government turn over the lands held by the federal government except for lands that are in private ownership, lands used for military or naval purposes or military reservations, and land that was a national park on January 1 of 2015,” said Rep. Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, while carrying the bill on the House floor.

If the bill becomes law, Alaska could lay claim to nearly 170 million acres of federal land within the state. But there may be a slight problem: The federal government may not feel legally obligated to comply with the bill.

“The Constitution says it’s illegal,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat. “The Supreme Court reading the Constitutions says it’s illegal. The lawyers we pay in the Terry Miller building say it’s illegal. And our past attorney general says it’s illegal.”

Josephson cited a memo, drafted by the Legislature’s legal department, that plainly said as much. He also pointed to unintended consequences, like the state unintentionally seizing United States post offices and interfering with the delivery of mail.

“Now, some people will say, ‘Andy, this is hyperbole, and you’re overdramatizing this,'” said Josephson. “I’m just reading the words. I don’t mean to overdramatize it. I really don’t. It’s just what the words call for.”

Other opponents, like Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage, argued that the bill should not be a priority at a time when the state is facing a fiscal crisis. In Utah, such legislation is expected to cost $2 million to litigate.

“We’re facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit. We don’t have the money to litigate a bill that is 100% unconstitutional,” said Gara.

When a similar bill passed in Arizona, its Republican governor vetoed it because of its questionable legality.

But defenders of the bill pointed out that Alaskans still should be able to take the battle to court, if they want to. Referencing the Declaration of Independence, Wasilla Republican Wes Keller argued that the state had grounds to pursue the land seizure policy.

“It’s never unconstitutional to fight what’s rightfully yours,” said Keller. “That’s just part of the fundamentals of the pursuit of happiness — it’s ours, we can fight for it, whether we’re talking 5.5 acres, a million acres, or more.”

Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux noted that the state has defied the federal government by legalizing marijuana, and the federal government has not yet interfered.

“I suspect that at least some of the lawyers might say that the pot initiative was unconstitutional, and yet we’ve done that. Colorado has done that. Several other states have done that,” said LeDoux. “And guess what? The federal government blinks. If enough states do it, and enough states say what they want, and say we’re going to take it — we just might get what we want.”

The bill passed 27 to 11, on caucus lines. It will now be sent to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines School Restricts Yoga Pants And Saggy Pants

Mon, 2015-04-06 17:14

Haines School is now one of many around the US that have put restrictions on yoga pants and leggings. These rules have sparked discussions about appropriate school attire and personal choice.

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At Haines School, the new dress code slogan is ‘hitch up your britches and cover your bums.’ Students who wear leggings or yoga pants must wear a long shirt or skirt that covers their rear. And students whose pants sag are reminded to pull up their britches.

Dean of Students Rene Martin says this was the problem: some students were wearing leggings and yoga pants that were see-through, and there were also some boys who wore pants that sagged and showed their underwear.

“Quite honestly, no one needs to know what underclothing you have on,” Martin said. “And when you can see or not see underclothing, that is impacting education setting. Both for males and females and staff and teachers and visitors to our building. It’s a distraction.”

She says she talked to individual students about it, but they kept wearing the same thing.

“You know, I was giving them a chance, giving them a chance,” Martin said. “And then it’s like the day I had to see everybody’s something-something, I was like, ‘okay, it’s time.’”

The week before spring break, the school made an announcement: Students wearing baggy pants, pull them up and wear a belt. Students who want to wear yoga pants or leggings, wear a shirt or skirt that covers your butt. They said the updated restrictions would go into effect after spring break.

Martin says this isn’t a change to dress code policy, but an update. The dress code states: “Undergarments including bra straps and sports bras, underwear, are not to be visible.”

The “hitch up your britches and cover your bum” update applies to all grades, Kindergarten through 12. Martin says even though see-through or baggy pants weren’t a problem in younger grades, it’s just more equitable to apply restrictions throughout the whole school.

A group of high school students sitting together at lunch last week said they think the rule is mainly targeted at girls who wear yoga pants and leggings. The saggy pants restrictions aren’t new.

“I don’t really care. I’m a jeans person. I don’t wear leggings, I don’t wear yoga pants as often,” said Gabrielle Galinski.

Rachel Haas says she does wear leggings and yoga pants.

“Since we’re going through high school,  everyone’s having their own body issues — like gaining weight and stuff like that,” she said. “And some people grow out of their jeans and leggings are just way cheaper. So that kind of made me mad.”

Rachel is wearing a long, knee-length rainbow sweater. She says she’s worn the sweater almost every day in order to keep wearing leggings.

A group of middle school girls across the cafeteria had even stronger feelings about the rule. Ashley Williamson says not all yoga pants are see-through, so why put restrictions on them all? She also feels like the dress code rules are unfairly enforced.

“The authorities are nagging on girls for, like, leggings but there are also guys who sag their pants. I’ve never heard any teacher talk to them about that, ever.”

Ashley and her friends say a rule that focuses on whether or not your butt is covered makes them uncomfortable. One girl put it this way: “When someone says you need to cover your butt, I’m like, ‘why were you looking at my butt in the first place?’”

“I walked in one morning and I heard several people in the hallways arguing about the rollout of the policy,” said high school English teacher Ryan Harms. He says when he heard how fired up some students were about the dress code, he decided to have class discussions about it.

“[Students said things] ranging from the sense of victimization as a woman that they’re being sort of objectified. And then there were other people who said ‘It’s not a big deal, I’m not violating the dress code anyway so it doesn’t affect me.’”

Martin says only one student has come to her with concerns about the dress code.

“Their biggest concern was, are we picking on the girls for what they’re wearing? And that it should never matter what you’re wearing, and that you shouldn’t be ashamed,” Martin said. “And I reassured them that it wasn’t about personal choice of clothing, it wasn’t about shaming them for what they’re wearing. It’s about professionalism in an educational setting, and appropriate wear for this setting.”

A few years ago, the student council appealed a dress code rule banning hats. And now, high schoolers are allowed to wear hats in the building. Martin says if students want to change dress code restrictions, that’s the way they can do it.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 6, 2015

Mon, 2015-04-06 17:12

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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Bill To Seize Federal Land Goes To Vote In Alaska House

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Of the nearly 200 bills that have been introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives, fewer than 20 have been put to a vote. Monday, a controversial bill that would seize millions of acres of land from the federal government joined that group.

Anchorage School Board considers wide-ranging budget cuts

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board is discussing the possible ways to cut $29 million from their budget for next year. The $784 million budget passed last month, but needs to be adjusted for proposed funding cuts from the legislature.

School District Faces Potential Revenue Loss of $8 Million

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a potential revenue loss of nearly eight million dollars, if current proposed budget cuts stand. That’s more than double the three million dollar cut the district was already preparing for.

Dalton Highway Closed South Of Deadhorse

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The far northern end of the Dalton Highway will remain closed until Tuesday morning.  The section south of Deadhorse, was also closed for 2 days last week as overflow from the Sag River continues to impact the only road supply route for North Slope oil fields.

First Two VPSOs Graduate From Firearm Training

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Two Village Public Safety Officers graduated from firearm training Friday, becoming the first officers in the 40-year history of the program to be armed.

New Version Of Erin’s Law Targets Teen Dating Violence

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The latest version of a law to mandate sexual abuse prevention education in public schools is unlikely to reach the governor’s desk this year.

That’s according to Senate Rules Committee chair Charlie Huggins, who said in a committee Thursday that an expanded version of Erin’s Law would likely be a two-year bill. Sen. Lesil McGuire’s rebranded Alaska Safe Children’s Act includes teen dating violence prevention.

Community Potluck Shows Support For Local Refugees

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 200 people crowded into the main hall of Northway Mall in Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to show their support for Anchorage’s refugee community. The event was organized in response to vandalism aimed at Sudanese refugees.

Chief Mat-Su Medical Services Official Resigns

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A February union complaint has resulted in the resignation of the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s chief medical services official.  Clint Vardeman handed in his resignation Monday. Vardeman directs the Borough’s emergency responders.  His resignation is effective April 20.

Haines School Restricts Yoga Pants And Saggy Pants

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

At the Haines School, the new dress code slogan is ‘hitch up your britches and cover your bums.” The school is now one of many around the US that have put restrictions on yoga pants and leggings. And the new rule has sparked discussions about appropriate school attire and personal choice.

Cim Smyth Wins The Kobuk 440

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

Big Lake musher Cim Smith won the Kobuk 440 sled dog race this weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Chief Mat-Su Medical Services Official Resigns

Mon, 2015-04-06 16:50

A February union complaint has resulted in the resignation of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s chief medical services official. Clint Vardeman handed in his resignation today Monday. Vardeman directs the Borough’s emergency responders. His resignation is effective April 20.

Vardeman and two other Borough emergency services officials were placed on administrative leave last month. The others are Brian Wallace, head of EMS in the Wasilla-Palmer area, and Gene Wiseman, who heads response for more rural parts of the Borough.

Borough officials are saying little about the reasons for Vardeman’s departure, or about the complaint that seems to have sparked it. An internal investigation is ongoing.

Last month, Dennis Brodigan resigned his job as director of the Borough’s Emergency Services department, citing personal reasons.

Big Lake Fire Chief Bill Gamble has been named inerim replacement for Brodigan and Casey Cook, the Borough’s emergency manager for disaster planning, is to be Vardeman’s interim replacement.

Categories: Alaska News

School District Faces Potential Revenue Loss of $8 Million

Mon, 2015-04-06 16:46

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a potential revenue loss of nearly $8 million, if current proposed budget cuts stand.

The school district isn’t panicking just yet, but they are seriously reevaluating their budget for fiscal year 2016.

“Fortunately right now we have general fund balance. We want stability. We built into our budget stability and reserves so in the event something happens, we can take care of things,” says Pegge Erkeneff, communications specialist for the school district.

She says the school board was planning on approving the budget today, but those numbers don’t include the most recent cuts. Since late last week, she says everyone’s been crunching numbers.

“And then again we also know in Juneau, everything is fluid,” Erkeneff said. “So, we’ve been working all evening and all day on this holiday day for us to calculate what these numbers mean and what it means for contracts that haven’t been issued as well as what it looks like for open positions; we have several open positions right now we’re hiring for.”

Erkeneff says the district had planned for reductions in some areas, but not in others.

There are a few ways the school district gets funding. The first is through the Foundation Formula, which includes the Base Student Allocation, or a dollar amount the district receives per student enrolled.

“The Senate Finance committee proposed a 4.1 percent reduction to the Foundation Formula overall,” Erkeneff said.

That’s not tied specifically to the BSA but from the formula in general.

“And the actual amount that relates to for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is $4,238,432 and that’s for this upcoming year’s budget,” Erkeneff said. “So, we’ve already been in the budgeting process. We’ve been working on this since last fall. So, this is a reduction of $4.2 million that was unanticipated.”

She says the amount the borough can contribute is tied to what the state contributes, which means almost another million dollars in unexpected lost revenue potentially.

“That 4.1% reduction to the Foundation Formula also correlates to a reduction in what the Borough’s maximum allowable contribution is to the school district and that amount is $977,000,” Erkeneff said.

So that’s a total of more than $5 million of unanticipated cuts. However, there is another nearly $3 million in cuts the district was prepared for.

“Often times, the legislature will give one-time funding so it’s outside of the Formula, which has happened every year,” Erkeneff said. “So, when Governor Walker proposed the operating budget reductions, that included already – and we’ve known about this one for a couple months – that we were going to potentially have a reduction of what the state could give the school district of $2,262,989.”

That corresponds to a $520,000 reduction in the borough’s matching contribution as well.

Erkeneff says the district has looked at what $8 million adds up to in physical form.

“So when we just look at the big picture, so over 80% of our budget, of the 2015-2016 budget, is related to staff salary and benefits. So, an $8 million reduction if we translated that straight into positions would be approximately 100 positions in the district,” Erkeneff said. “Now, I’m not saying-and I don’t want to panic-that we are cutting 100 positions. That’s not what we’re looking at. But that is what $8 million translates into.”

She says a special worksession is planned for today to reexamine the budget and see what can be done to compensate should the cuts remain this deep.

Categories: Alaska News

Cim Smyth Wins The Kobuk 440

Mon, 2015-04-06 16:39

Cim Smyth arrived in Kotzebue early Easter morning, winning the 2015 Kobuk 440 sled dog race.

In the early hours of Easter morning, the first mushers arrived into Kotzebue at the end of the Kobuk 440 sled dog race. The first place title and more than $11,000 purse went to Cim Smyth of Big Lake, who arrived just past 6 o’clock on Sunday morning – after 2 days 18 hours and 4 minutes on the trail.

It was a first-time win for Smyth, who says the race was his primary focus this year, after he chose not to run the 2015 Iditarod. Despite a controversial date change that pushed it closer to the finish of the 1000 mile sled dog race, the Kobuk 440 drew a total of twelve mushers this year – competing for an historic $35,000 combined pot.

And while several teams had completed the race from Fairbanks to Nome just two weeks earlier, that didn’t keep former Iditarod winner, and defending Kobuk 440 champion, Jeff King from the competition.

Smith and King travelled neck-and-neck for much of the race, with King leading from Ambler to the halfway point of Kobuk and back. But Smyth finally passed King on the westbound trail Saturday evening, at a shelter cabin between Ambler and Selawik.

“You know, when I caught Jeff out there at the shelter cabin, I felt pretty good,” he says. “I really felt like I had a big advantage because…he had a lot of time to make up at that point.”

“I stopped for twenty minutes at that shelter cabin,” says King. “And I’m glad [the dogs] did — they ate really, really well. They cleaned out a whole cooler while I was there. But, um, that’s where I was went he went by… and it became apparent — I mean my dogs had really full stomachs, they ate a lot at that shelter cabin — and I had to back off.”

The race was close, and tensions appeared to be high as the pair flew through several upriver checkpoints. But at the finish line, both competitors shook hands and congratulated each other on a great race.

Smyth even surprised King with an offer to remove booties from his rival’s team.

Kotzebue musher John Baker was next to arrive at the finish. He started the race with a strong showing –arriving first into Ambler, and collecting a bevy of local prizes in the process. Baker says another highlight came at the halfway point, where he caught up with cousins and other family members in Kobuk.

“That’s the wild side of my family,” he says.

Just as Baker was arriving in Kotzebue, the battle for fourth and fifth place had begun. Kristin Bacon and Ken Anderson sprinted, less than a mile apart, across the narrow stretch of Hotham Inlet.

Ultimately Bacon emerged victorious, arriving fourth to the finish line in her longest distance race to date. But Bacon says the nearly 500-mile event wasn’t as intimidating as she’d expected.

“I had a blast. I mean, I totally lucked out this year. This was stellar,” she says.

Bacon was the only woman to run this year’s Kobuk 440, and the only musher to complete the race with a full team of twelve dogs.

Tim Pappas, racing a team of dogs from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails kennel, arrived next in sixth place. The race rookie says he was more than pleased with his placement, which he hopes will go toward qualifying for next year’s Iditarod.

Mushers continued to arrive throughout the afternoon and night — including Kotzebue locals Andrew Brown, Paul Hanson and Jim Bourquin. As of Monday afternoon, Dempsey Woods Sr. of Ambler was the last musher still on the trail, despite a stormy turn in the weather.

Only one musher scratched from the race; Tony Browning says he decided to pack it in after his dogs, many of whom ran the Iditarod with Nome’s Aaron Burmeister, began experiencing health problems near Selawik.

But Browning was quick to quip that the race was still a pleasant one, saying: “It was fun while it lasted.”

Categories: Alaska News

New Version Of Erin’s Law Targets Teen Dating Violence

Mon, 2015-04-06 16:11

Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire and aide Lauren Rasmussen presented the Alaska Safe Children’s Act in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The latest, beefed up version of a law to mandate sexual abuse prevention education in public schools is unlikely to reach the governor’s desk this year.

That’s according to Senate Rules Committee Chair Charlie Huggins, who said in a committee Thursday that an expanded version of Erin’s Law would likely be a two-year bill. Sen. Lesil McGuire’s rebranded Alaska Safe Children’s Act includes teen dating violence prevention.

Senate Bill 37 still requires public schools to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education from Erin’s Law. Now, it also includes teaching seventh through 12th graders about dating violence and prevention.

“Violent behavior normally – this is astonishing, but – begins between the ages of 12 and 18. That’s when we start to see the signs of it. Only 33 percent of the teens who have been in a violent relationship are reported to have ever told anyone about that abuse,” said Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire.

This part of the bill was largely created due to what happened to 20-year-old Anchorage woman Breanna Moore, McGuire said. Moore’s mother Cindy Moore gave a tearful testimony describing how her daughter was shot in the head and killed in 2014. Breanna’s boyfriend has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

“How could this have happened to such a strong, beautiful and independent young woman. Why didn’t she say something about the continuing abuse we later discovered? Why did she stay? Why did she not seek help? As parents, why did we not see the signs?” Moore said dating violence education in schools will save other young people.

McGuire’s rewritten bill gives parents the option of excusing their children from the prevention education. Another added component of the bill would make it mandatory for some volunteer athletic coaches to report child abuse. They’d receive training.

Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner said that requirement may put off some volunteer coaches.

“Even if we recognize that it’s important for people to understand what they might be looking for and how they can intervene or get help, be responsive to something that isn’t right, we don’t want to go so far that people just plain don’t want to volunteer,” Gardner said.

The bill requires school districts to bear the cost of implementation, but it also repeals other unfunded mandates, like requiring a second round of fingerprints and background checks for certified preschool teachers.

Still, school district representatives like Ketchikan Gateway Borough Superintendent Robert Boyle called McGuire’s bill another unfunded mandate.

“Public schools are the go-to agency when it comes to efficiency, quality and creating massive changes in the society. We’re very good at this. But providing the change needed in our state related to Senate Bill 37 is something I believe we will accept willingly and fully embrace. However, the way the bill is written is extraordinarily unfair to the public school system if it is to be implemented at no cost,” Boyle said.

Four bills addressing Erin’s Law have been introduced this session. Erin’s Law is the one specific piece of legislation Gov. Bill Walker said he wanted on his desk during his State of the State Address.

McGuire’s Alaska Safe Children’s Act was held in the Senate Education Committee and isscheduled to be heard again on Tuesday. Republican Rep. Charisse Millett’s similar bill is in committee Monday at 8 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton Highway Closed South Of Deadhorse

Mon, 2015-04-06 16:00

Dalton Highway on Monday morning. (Credit Alaska DOT)

The far northern end of the Dalton Highway will remain closed until Tuesday morning.

The section south of Deadhorse, was also closed for two days last week as overflow from the Sag River continues to impact the only road supply route for North Slope oil fields.

The Dalton closed between mileposts 378 and 413 Sunday night, as blizzard conditions similar to those that shut it down last week, again hampered efforts to channel water off the highway. State crews are using heavy equipment to move snow and build berms along the road where it traverses a wide plain along the Sag River.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says the operation is compromised when the weather goes bad.

“When we have storms come in, we’re not able to keep up with the poor weather and the water,” she said.

State road crews have been battling overflow from the Sag River for weeks, a situation that’s been an issue in the past, but is especially bad this year.

“The water is so high right now,” Bailey said. “We have pictures, actually, where you can see delineators which are usually 5 feet above the ground.”

“In some places they are up to the water level and in some places you can see about a foot, but what that really means is you’ve got 4 feet of water just over the road.”

Traffic so far north on the Dalton Highway is mostly oil industry related, including a constant train of tractor trailers ferrying supplies and equipment. Nance Larsen, a spokeswoman for trucking contractor Carlisle, says the stoppage is affecting projects her company’s trucks supply.

“Safety is really the first order of business, so that’s where our focus is right now, is making sure that our drivers are operating safely and under safe conditions,” she said.

Larsen says Carlisle has not halted shipments up the Dalton, but operations have been altered because of the closure near the northern end.

“We are moving freight to and from points that we know we can safely do so, and putting cargo in place so that when the road is passable that we can continue to move freight farther up the road when it’s available,” she said.

Larsen says Carlisle appreciates state efforts to keep the road open. The DOT’s Bailey says hydrologists are trying to figure out what’s causing the overflow problem to be so bad right now, creating what she describes as a very unique situation.

“We very rarely close the Dalton Highway,” Bailey said. “It’s happened once this winter before this, and once two or three years ago.”

The state hopes to get the road passable again Tuesday. Major construction work scheduled to begin this summer will raise impacted portions of the highway up to 7 feet, and install culverts.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School Board considers wide-ranging budget cuts

Mon, 2015-04-06 15:07

The Anchorage School Board is discussing the possible ways to cut $29.4 million from their budget for next year. The $784 million budget passed last month but needs to be adjusted for proposed funding cuts from the state legislature.

Superintendent Ed Graff presented a list of ways to reduce the budget. It includes everything from cutting early learning pilot programs to save $7.8 million to outsourcing sports programs to save $4.2 million. Another possibility cuts about 117 teachers and increases class sizes to save $11.7 million.

School Board member Kameron Perez-Verdia stated the problem bluntly. “This sucks. And none of us want to do it.” However, “I think a practical exercise is necessary. We are going to be in a position where we need to make these decisions.”

Board members Natasha Von Imhof and Tam Agosti-Gisler say they need more information on the specific impacts of the cuts, such as what different positions do, before making decisions.

After further discussion, Board president Eric Croft concluded that most board members support protecting classroom instruction first.

The conversation is ongoing and the board says they will not make a final decision until they know the full magnitude of the final state cuts.

Categories: Alaska News

First Two VPSOs Graduate From Firearm Training

Mon, 2015-04-06 13:29

Governor Bill Walker (left) and VPSO Michael Gagliano after the governor signed his first bill, establishing Law Enforcement Officer Day. (Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

Two Village Public Safety Officers graduated from firearm training today (Friday, 4-3-15), becoming the first officers in the 40-year history of the program to be armed.

First Sergeant James Hoelscher of Hooper Bay and Corporal Michael Gagliano of Noatak were certified in a ceremony in Sitka attended by Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Mallott told the pair that they will be examples, closely watched by communities across the state.

“Those of you who carry firearms, you know why you carry firearms,” Mallott said. “You are there to keep us safe. You also know that there may be the need to go in harm’s way. And for that, as Lt. Gov, as a lifelong resident of this state, as a grandfather, as a parent, as one who grew up in a village, I thank you so much.”

VPSOs Michael Gagliano (second from left) and James Hoelscher (second from right) pose for pictures with their families, Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. (Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

Also on hand was Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham. Edgmon wrote the legislation to arm village officers after VPSO Thomas Madole, of Manokotak, was shot and killed in in 2013.

Corporal Gagliano, standing with his one-year-old son in his arms, said after the ceremony that Madole’s death was one reason he’d gone through with the training. The two trained together when they were first hired.

“Tom was in my class here back in 2012, actually from the same state I’m from, so we were pretty close,” Gagliano said. “After he died, there was definitely some changes that needed to be made…and hopefully he didn’t die in vain.”

Of twenty-one officers who initially expressed interest in the program, three passed the physical test, background check and psychological screening necessary to participate in firearm training at the Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, and two completed the course and graduated.

After the graduation ceremony, Governor Bill Walker signed his first bill in office. House Bill 43, written by Anchorage Representative Bob Lynn, declares January 9 Alaska Law Enforcement Officers’ Day.

Categories: Alaska News

Update: Hyder Border Closure Keeps Emergency Access

Mon, 2015-04-06 13:26

Canadian officials say the small Southeast Alaska town of Hyder will continue to have 24-hour-a-day access to emergency health care.

The Canada Border Services Agency began closing the road to nearby Stewart, British Columbia, on April 1. The cost-cutting measure locks the border gate from midnight to 8 a.m.

Hyder residents depend on Stewart for health care and mainland road access. They demonstrated against the closure last week, saying it would hurt business, as well as emergency services.

Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Bourque says ambulance, fire and police agencies have been given gate keys to continue all-day access. Residents can also call the agency.

“The protocol is only for emergencies,” she says.

Ketchikan State Rep. Dan Ortiz, whose district includes Hyder, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski contacted Canadian officials to argue against the closure.

The Alaska city of fewer than 100 residents is about 75 miles northeast of Ketchikan. Stewart, a few miles away, has about 500 people.

The closure comes at the start of the area’s tourist season. Business owners say it will scare away bear-viewers, photographers and anglers who head out in the early morning hours.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Highlights Huge Cash Flow Problem at Nome’s Utility

Mon, 2015-04-06 12:30

Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Nome Joint Utility is working on a broken budget—a financial plan that is unbalanced and unrealistic. That’s the takeaway from the Rural Utility Business Advisor report, or RUBA—delivered to the Nome City Council and utility board this week.

The RUBA highlights some good parts of the utility’s operations—noting its accounting is sound and has a well-organized management system. But the report paints a troubling financial picture for the finances at NJUS—which have been in turmoil since November, when the utility first took on a $2.2 million line of credit from the city. But while that money went to pay off loans guaranteed by grants, the RUBA found unpaid debts to vendors and creditors that presents and even bigger financial hole.

“Doesn’t look like there’s enough cash to be covering things right now, from what I can see. If you have $3.5 million in accounts payable out there, you don’t have enough money coming in to pay, you’re just trying to pay the one that screams the loudest, that’s what seems to be going on,” said Fred Broerman, who works for the state’s Division of Community Regional Affairs and wrote the RUBA report.

As recently as March 10, he says that $3.5 million was still owed on debts dating back as far as 2012—with many charging interest. But Broerman says the RUBA review didn’t find any mention of that debt on the utility’s monthly budget.

“We were looking for, you know, the transparency that all the finances are on the table. And that $3.5 million in accounts payable didn’t show up,” said Broerman. “And that’s significant enough to say, hey, the utility board needs to know that and the council needs to know that.”

The RUBA audit also found the utility’s revenue and its expenses are dangerously unbalanced. The money it takes in fails to cover its operating cost, let alone plan for repairs or replacements down the road—and it found the utility board reviewed those finances just once in the last half of 2014. That led to budgets that were unrealistic and projects with funding that was poorly tracked. Council member Jerald Brown asked Broerman for the bottom line.

“In your opinion, is the sky falling? I mean, is there a really big problem here?” saked Brown.

“Well, you’ve got a cash flow problem,” said Broerman. “You know, that accounts payable, that big…that’s a huge problem.”

Utility manager John Handeland took the podium to say that $3.5 million has been chipped away to a number now closer to $2.7 million. And Handeland says new loans are coming from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that would cover the rest.

“That loan comes it, it wipes out accounts payable,” said/asked? Brown.

“It pretty much wipes out accounts payable,” said Handeland.

Beyond finances, the RUBA report noted other areas of concern for the utility—mostly focused on personnel and staffing—but the warning bell on finances rang clear. Council member Brown says when it comes to righting the ship, every option is on the table—but the first step will be looking at a long-overdue rate increase.

“One of the things that is currently being considered and being discussed is the rate increase. That will address a lot of the operational accounting needs, or finance needs, going forward, is to put into place a rate structure that is sustainable,” said Brown.

And though she delivered her comments at the start of the meeting, City Manager Josie Bahnke told the council she and utility manager Handeland have been working to address the financial shortcomings at NJUS since a draft of the RUBA was released in February—and she says they’ve made some progress.

“You know, a lot of work has been done to address some of these issues. I think when this line of credit was approved, a lot of people jumped to conclusions about a lot of things that were going on. But this report, this evening, being presented, it’s in an effort to maintain public trust, and to provide for transparency at the utility. And that’s been our goal,” said Bahnke.

Wednesday’s meeting ended with an executive session closed to the public—where the council and the utility board met with representatives from Nome’s Wells Fargo branch to discuss a multi-million dollar fuel loan for 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

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