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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: 55 min 36 sec ago

Memo Underscores Confession In Fairbanks 4 Case

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

There’s new evidence challenging the long contested murder convictions of 4 Native men in Fairbanks. The information was provided to the court by the Alaska Innocence Project, in its effort to free the men known as “The Fairbanks 4”.

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Categories: Alaska News

Former-Gov. Palin Defends ACES

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defended the oil tax structure she championed while in office, known as ACES. The system has been dismantled by state lawmakers and her successor Governor Sean Parnell.

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Palin also took a swipe at Parnell on Anchorage radio station KWHL when asked about Parnell’s change in direction, pointing out that Parnell came from the oil industry.

Parnell was Palin’s lieutenant governor from 2006 to 2009.

Palin also had supportive words for a rival to Parnell in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. She didn’t endorse Walker, but said he has “his thumb on the pulse of… most Alaskans who care about the future of this state.”

Walker said today that he had not spoken with Palin and was surprised by her remarks.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Ferry Service Will Resume Sunday

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

State ferry service to Skagway resumes on Sunday.

Alaska Marine Highway ferries have not been running to Skagway since the ferry dock there sank on April 24th. The state was able to contract with a marine salvage and repair company out of Juneau for an emergency sole source contract, and the dock was re-floated a few days later.

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Since then, the company has been inspecting and repairing damaged parts of the dock. The likely cause of the sinking is a water pipe under the dock that burst, flooding the hollow compartments that keep the dock afloat. Repairs have also been made to the passenger ramp that was partially submerged, the electrical systems and the vehicle ramp hydraulic system.

To date, the salvage and repair costs have run about a half million dollars, according to the state. Permanent repair work will be ongoing but not affect ferry service, according to a press release for the Marine Highway System.

Categories: Alaska News

Unusual Quakes Send Seismologists Into Rapid Response

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

Aftershocks are continuing to rattle the western edge of the Brooks Range near communities like Noatak, and now seismologists are conducting a “rapid response” to capture these tremors. That’s after two earthquakes that came two weeks apart at magnitudes not recorded in the region in more than 30 years.

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Michael West is a seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. He said, “Our objective right now is to get instrumentation in the ground quickly.”

Map of the May 3, 2014 quake located 52 miles north of Kotzebue. (Image courtesy of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center.)

Saturday a 5.5 magnitude quake shook the Brooks Range after another 5.6 quake rocked the same area in April. West says the reason for installing the instruments after the fact is two-fold.

“First of all, aftershocks will continue at some lower rate,” West explained. “Being able to understand the aftershocks, tells us something about the original earthquakes and why they happened.”

The instruments are being stationed in communities closest to the quake—Kotzebue and Noatak. Seismologists installed one in Kotzebue yesterday and are installing another in Noatak today. While in Noatak, they will hold a public meeting to address community concerns.

Carol Westly is with the Environmental Department of the Native Village of Noatak and is helping to organize the session.

Westly said, “For many of us it’s the first. Many of us haven’t been in a real earthquake. So I guess the most important information we’re hoping to get from them is what to do or not to do in the event of a big earthquake.”

There have been no reported injuries or major structural damage from the quakes, Westly said, but residents are tallying over 30 aftershocks since the first earthquake in April.

After such ongoing seismic activity, Westly said, “What they want to put is a sensor, an earthquake sensor in Noatak. I think some of us will feel better knowing there’s one here.”

West from the Earthquake Center says the instruments will give seismologists a better idea of the location and depth of the two quakes.

Most seismic equipment is located hundreds of miles away— in the Alaska interior and southern coast. West says this distance distorts data from quakes occurring in Northwest Alaska and does not register seismic activity below magnitude three.

West calls this deficit a “liability” for the state.

“What all these little earthquakes do that happen in huge numbers—these magnitudes ones,” West explained. “They happen in tens of thousands every year in the state. Nobody feels them—but they allow us to map out fault zones. They allow us to pinpoint the areas where bigger earthquakes are more probable in the future.”

West says the instruments being installed in Kotzebue and Noatak are temporary stations until the Alaska Earthquake Information Center finds more long-term solutions.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA Student Breaks Ground With Yup’ik Spell Checker

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:39

A student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has created software that can spell-check the Yup’ik language. Yup’ik language experts are excited about the possibilities even though the designer is not a fluent speaker.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 8, 2014

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:16

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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Gov. Parnell Signs Gasline Legislation

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Surrounded by state legislators, cameras, and heavy machinery, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a measure that could serve as a starting point for a major natural gas project. He put his name on the bill Thursday, at a pipeline training center in Fairbanks.

Former-Gov. Palin Defends ACES

The Associated Press

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin defended the oil tax structure she championed while in office, known as ACES. The system has been dismantled by state lawmakers and her successor Governor Sean Parnell.

Palin also took a swipe at Parnell on Anchorage radio station KWHL when asked about Parnell’s change in direction, pointing out that Parnell came from the oil industry.

Parnell was Palin’s lieutenant governor from 2006 to 2009.

Palin also had supportive words for a rival to Parnell in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. She didn’t endorse Walker, but said he has “his thumb on the pulse of…  most Alaskans who care about the future of this state.”

Walker said today that he had not spoken with Palin and was surprised by her remarks.

Memo Underscores Confession In Fairbanks 4 Case

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

There’s new evidence challenging the long contested murder convictions of 4 Native men in Fairbanks. The information was provided to the court by the Alaska Innocence Project, in its effort to free the men known as “The Fairbanks 4”.

UAA, Willamette University Partner To Offer New Law School Opportunity

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

There isn’t a law school in Alaska. But the University of Alaska Anchorage is launching a new program to make it easier for Alaskans to attend law school. It’s a partnership with Willamette University College of Law in Oregon.

Education Bill Boosts Juneau Community Charter School

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Community Charter School is getting a 56 percent increase to its budget through an upcoming change in state law.

New mandates in House Bill 278 give charter schools more parity with other public schools.

Skagway Ferry Service Will Resume Sunday

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

State ferry service to Skagway resumes on Sunday.

Alaska Marine Highway ferries have not been running to Skagway since the ferry dock there sank on April 24th. The state was able to contract with a marine salvage and repair company out of Juneau for an emergency sole source contract, and the dock was re-floated a few days later.

Since then, the company has been inspecting and repairing damaged parts of the dock. The likely cause of the sinking is a water pipe under the dock that burst, flooding the hollow compartments that keep the dock afloat. Repairs have also been made to the passenger ramp that was partially submerged, the electrical systems and the vehicle ramp hydraulic system.

To date, the salvage and repair costs have run about a half million dollars, according to the state. Permanent repair work will be ongoing but not affect ferry service, according to a press release for the Marine Highway System.

National Weather Service Issues El Niño Watch

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

There could be more warm and cloudy weather on Alaska’s coast and more wildfire danger in the Interior this summer if a temperature trend in the waters of the Pacific Ocean along the equator continues. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center today issued an El Niño Watch, saying the weather pattern is more likely than not to develop this summer.

Unusual Quakes Send Seismologists Into Rapid Response

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Aftershocks are continuing to rattle the western edge of the Brooks Range near communities like Noatak, and now seismologists are conducting a “rapid response” to capture these tremors. That’s after two earthquakes that came two weeks apart at magnitudes not recorded in the region in more than 30 years.

UAA Student Breaks Ground With Yup’ik Spell Checker

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage has created software that can spell-check the Yup’ik language.  Yup’ik language experts are excited about the possibilities even though the designer is not a fluent speaker.

Categories: Alaska News

Sand Point Sees Progress In War On Drugs

Thu, 2014-05-08 15:28

A man allegedly carrying black tar heroin was arrested as he stepped off a plane in Sand Point last month. It’s the most recent development in the town’s fight against hard drugs.

Twenty-two-year-old Gage Carlson is facing two felony charges after his April arrest: one for transporting heroin with intent to sell it, and another for possession of Oxycodone.

Carlson has been in custody in Anchorage, pending another hearing in Sand Point District Court this week.

He was allegedly carrying seven grams of black tar heroin when he arrived in town. Police chief John Lucking says that would fetch anywhere from $14,000 to $28,000 on the street. They’re still investigating others who might be connected to Carlson’s case.

Lucking says it’s part of slow but steady progress in combating Sand Point’s drug problem. For one thing, he says police have seen an increase in tips about suspected drugs or drug dealers coming into town. That lets them make arrests before suspects even enter the airport.

He says they have Sand Point’s grassroots anti-drug group, Reclaim Alaska, to thank for the upsurge of community involvement.

Tiffany Jackson is the chair of that group, which is less than a year old. As far as she knows, none of their volunteers were involved in this latest investigation.

Jackson says the bust is a good sign. But it also shows that substance abuse is still an issue in town.

“But I’m hopeful that the community is making a turn toward being more healthy,” Jackson says. “There seems to be a positive response when we hear that less drugs are making it into the community and there’s less opportunity for people who have addictions to have access to them.”

Reclaim Alaska’s volunteers are also working on promoting healthy choices among local youth. They held two “Reclaim Days” at Sand Point’s school this past semester — teaching students about the dangers of drug abuse, and getting them involved in spreading the anti-drug message.

Now, the group is brainstorming ways to do more.

“It’d be nice if we could figure out some way to formalize the organization [and] get some support to move its mission forward,” Jackson says.

She hopes some of that support will come through grants. But she says Reclaim Alaska prides itself on what’s been done without any funding — especially considering what they’re up against. Sand Point is a remote community with a transient population, and a long-standing issue with heroin and meth. Jackson says for residents to organize is a big step forward.

“I think the reason it’s been successful so far is that it took community members in Sand Point saying, regardless of the money that’s available, ‘We’ve had enough. We need to take our community back. We need to make this a safe place for our families, for our children, for our future, for right now’ — and taking a stand,” she says.

That started even before Reclaim Alaska came together, when a group of Sand Point residents ran a suspected drug dealer out of town. They met the man at the airport last August and bought him a one-way ticket back to Anchorage.

Jackson says Reclaim Alaska formed in the wake of that incident, and she says they don’t condone vigilantism. But they are working with other communities, like Dillingham and Bristol Bay, to spread the idea that activism is possible — even without resources.

At home in Sand Point, Jackson says her ultimate goal is a totally drug-free community.

“I think that it would be difficult to truly achieve. But it’s something that we absolutely work towards,” she says. “The more people that are knowledgeable of what’s going on, of the resources that are available to make any sort of healthy change or choice in their life, the better.”

Reclaim Alaska has the support of police, local government and neighboring communities in that mission. Jackson says they’ll keep chipping away at it, one step at a time.

Categories: Alaska News

Education Bill Boosts Juneau Community Charter School

Thu, 2014-05-08 15:12

The Juneau Community Charter School wants to use part of the additional funding to improve its building. The school leases one and a half floors of commercial space downtown. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau Community Charter School is getting a 56 percent increase to its budget through an upcoming change in state law.

New mandates in House Bill 278 give charter schools more parity with other public schools.

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The Juneau Community Charter School opened in 1997 with 40 students in first to fourth grade. Since then, the school has grown. It now has 110 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Prior to the Alaska Legislature passing House Bill 278, the projected budget for the Juneau Community Charter School was close to a million dollars. Now, the school is looking at a budget of more than one and a half million dollars.

HB278 increases state funding for charter schools of a certain size. Of the 27 charter schools in the state, this only affects two – Juneau Community Charter School and Homer’s Fireweed Academy in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Every Tuesday, the kindergarten and first grade students go on a nature hike. (Photo by Lisa Phu)

“In the past a school would’ve had to have been 150 students to get the same level of funding as many of the other schools in the state that are not charters,” says state deputy education commissioner Les Morse. “And now it allows that school to start off at 75 students and still get the funding equitable to other schools.”

Under HB278, in addition to state money, school districts will be mandated to support charter schools with local government funds. Some districts were already doing this; some weren’t.

“In the past, we’ve only passed on money that we received from the state for the Juneau Community Charter School,” says David Means, director of administrative services for the Juneau School District. “Under HB278, because we have a local match from the City and Borough of Juneau over and above our state money, we have to pass on a share of that money onto the Juneau Community Charter School as well.”

This accounts for about $300,000 of the charter school’s new money, which would otherwise go to other district schools.

“I think we want to try to keep our education dollars as equitable as possible among all of our students, whether they’re charter school students or students in one of our regular traditional schools,” Means says.

Matt Jones is a charter school parent and vice president of the committee that manages the school.

“At this point we’re now on the same footing as all the other neighborhood schools in the district. Whereas we’ve been operating for the last 15 years on significantly lower funding than most schools do, about 30 percent less than most schools,” he says.

Jones is also the treasurer of the committee. He says half the additional funding will likely go toward new staff – a facilitating teacher, a special education teacher, and a paraeducator or reading specialist.

Another big issue is the school building. The charter school leases one and a half floors of a commercial building. It’s located downtown, walking distance to libraries, museums and trails, but Jones says the space isn’t set up for students and classrooms.

There are 23 students in the combined class of kindergarten and first grade. The Juneau Community Charter School has a total of 110 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“There’s not a lot of space in the halls for students and for lockers and things like that. There’s no gymnasium. There’s basically no room outside the main classroom area that we rent and we’re spread out across a couple of floors in this building that has other tenants in it,” Jones says.

Instead of a cafeteria, the charter school serves lunch in a narrow hallway. The students go to the Capital Park playground because they don’t have their own. The school’s facade is discolored and chipping.

Jones says ultimately they’d like to move into a new space, potentially leasing from the school district. That would keep the money in the district instead of going to a private company. In the meantime, Jones says they’ll spend a little to improve the space they’re in now.

HB278 also requires school districts provide or pay for charter school students’ transportation and offer extra classroom space to charter schools first.

The bill provides a one time, $500 per student grant for new charter schools and limits what districts can charge for administrative services. It also establishes an appeal process for charters that don’t get approved by the local school board.

Deputy education commissioner Morse says HB278 is the biggest change to the charter school law since it was created in 1995.

“In some communities, certainly a charter would not have made sense and now with some of these structural changes, it could make sense and it could give new opportunities for kids and families,” Morse says.

The governor is expected to sign HB278 into law.

Categories: Alaska News

National Weather Service Issues El Niño Watch

Thu, 2014-05-08 11:58

(Graphic courtesy National Weather Service)

There could be more warm and cloudy weather on Alaska’s coast and more wildfire danger in the Interior this summer if a temperature trend in the waters of the Pacific Ocean along the equator continues.

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The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño Watch on Thursday, saying the weather pattern is more likely than not to develop this summer.

“At this point it does look quite likely that we’ll see that warmer water across the equatorial Pacific,” Rick Thoman, the Director of Climate Science and Services for Alaska, said. “That will influence where those big thunderstorms develop in the tropics over the summer, and that pushes lots of heat and moisture into the mid and high latitudes of the earth.”

The moisture transported to the north becomes clouds in Alaska.

El Niños were fairly common in the late 20th century but have only shown up twice since 1998. Thoman says because the jet stream is fairly weak in the summer, El Niño’s effects to the north can vary, but a general pattern can still be seen in records of past events that developed between spring and summer.

“When that’s happened in the past, that has correlated with active fire years,” Thoman said. ”It also does correlate to some extent with at least not cool summers, especially in coastal Alaska.”

The reason for the higher fire risk is thunderstorms.

“Because to get thunderstorms of course you need some moisture,” Thoman said. “Last year was a very warm summer across mainland Alaska, but there was unusually low thunderstorm activity and that was a result of the high pressure aloft and really a lack of low level moisture.”

“So to some extent we need that moisture to get thunderstorms across inland Alaska.”

The Climate Prediction Center says there is now a 65 percent likelihood of an El Niño developing this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Council Banishes 2 In Village Where Troopers Died

Thu, 2014-05-08 10:52

The tribal government in the village where two Alaska State Troopers were killed has voted to banish two men indirectly connected to the deaths.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the Tanana Tribal Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Arvin Kangas and William Walsh to leave permanently.

Kangas is the father of 20-year-old Nathanial “Satch” Kangas, who is charged with murder in the May 1 deaths of Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich.

Walsh is leader of the Athabascan Nation, a small group that rejects the authority of the Alaska state government.

Tanana Tribal Council chairman Curtis Sommer says the council is holding the older men accountable for rhetoric that “more or less brainwashed” Nathanial Kangas.

The council’s action must be reviewed by the tribal court.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic May Not Be That Busy, Report Says

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska (USCG photo)

As the ice goes out in the Arctic, many people predict more ships will be drawn through the Bering Straits to take advantage of a shortcut between Asia and Europe. But, a recent government report suggests less ice may not mean more ships.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski has made it her mission to remind Washington the Arctic is opening up. In speeches and at hearings with top officials, she aims to instill a sense of urgency about preparing for an increase in ship traffic and new economic opportunities.

“The time to development the infrastructure and support capacity to handle this growing amount of traffic is now. Actually, it was yesterday,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor last month.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office runs counter to her message. The report authors interviewed dozens of stakeholders, including executives at cargo companies, mining companies and cruise lines about their plans to send more ships into the Arctic.

“We came to the conclusion that it was going to be limited,” Lorelei St. James, team leader on the GAO report, said.

Two big caveats: The GAO report looked only at commercial activity in the American Arctic,
and only over the next decade, but St. James found that just because ships can traverse the Arctic for part of the year doesn’t mean they will.

“There’s just some fundamental geographic reasons that make it more difficult to operate in the U.S. Arctic,” St. James said.

While an over-the-top route can be 40 percent shorter than the traditional voyage between Asia and Europe, the GAO found container shipping companies aren’t interested. To them, speed is less important than reliability. The business is largely driven by the need for components to move steadily around the globe, from factories to assembly plants to markets. Nobody wants
inventory to pile up, so if ships are late, St. James says, a factory might have to halt production.

“They’re very concerned about on-time, and with the unpredictability of some of the weather patterns up there, it just made the shipping companies we talked to less, the U.S. Arctic less attractive to them,” St. James said.

Time is also a big factor for cruise lines in the Arctic, the GAO learned.

“We were told that even if there were deep water ports or ports that the cruises could stop at, that it just takes so long to go through the U.S. Arctic that there’s just a lack of demand from the mainstream for that type of cruise,” St. James said.

While the Arctic lacks deepwater ports and the U.S. has only two working ice breakers, better maritime infrastructure would not really boost shipping or tourism, St. James says, although miners told the GAO they could use a new dock.

“Right now the zinc that the Red Dog Mine has is lighter than copper, so the copper industry would need a deeper water port but officials told us that they were not prepared to pay for that type of … infrastructure,” St. James said.

Admiral Thomas Ostebo, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, says he agrees with the GAO report and the cautionary note it strikes on building maritime infrastructure.

“Based on what we know now … it’s too early to tell, what infrastructure we need where we would need it and how big it should be,” Ostebo said.

Get those answers wrong and you waste a lot of money. Ostebo says the perceived need for more icebreakers goes up and down, but the Coast Guard is in the very early stages of possibly acquiring a new one.  Meanwhile, though, Ostebo says the clearest need in  Arctic  waters is for things like better maps and charts, improved communication technology and new
environmental surveys.

“There is a future for the Arctic, and those things would be great investments in whatever future comes up,” Ostebo said.

Sen. Murkowski says she appreciates the GAO report’s emphasis on the need for mapping and charting, but maintains Arctic activity is on the rise, so now is the time to invest there.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Says Its Increased Arctic Presence Will Have ‘No Significant’ Environmental Impact

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Photo courtesy of the US Coast Guard: The Coast Guard Cutter Healy approaches the Russian-flagged tanker Renda while breaking ice around the vessel 97 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 10, 2012.

The U.S. Coast Guard has operated in the Arctic for more than a century, but as the maritime agency plans for an increased presence in the region, its taking stock of what its environmental impact will be in the Arctic in the years to come.

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Mike Dombkowski is on the team drafting the Coast Guard’s new environmental assessment for Alaska’s District 17, which was released Tuesday. The document looks at what increased training and patrols in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas will mean for arctic ecosystems.

“What you might call day-to-day Coast Guard operations, doing patrols, search and rescue, aides to navigation, the other types of missions that we perform, here’s what we see ourselves doing and here’s what we think the environmental impact of those things are.”

The assessment looks at the Coast Guard’s plans for a broader arctic presence from mid-March through mid-November. Beyond summer training exercises in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas—exercises the service has already conducted for several years running—the increased arctic operations call for establishing safety zones around vessels exploring for oil, enforcing laws protecting endangered species and marine mammals, and “poaching prevention” of fish stocks and mineral deposits. The plan also calls for routine patrols of arctic waters with the nation’s two active icebreakers.

The assessment claims the impact will be minimal, and finds an increased Coast Guard presence will have “no significant adverse impacts” on water quality, arctic biology, cultural resources, and public safety.

It’s supported by a companion document, a biological evaluation endorsed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that affirms the Coast Guard’s increased arctic presence is “not likely to adversely affect” protected bird, fish, and marine mammal species.

Even if their arctic commitments increase, the bigger question for the Coast Guard may be one of resources.

Andrew Hartsig directs the arctic program at the Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit oceans advocacy group in Anchorage. He says an increased Coast Guard presence above the Arctic Circle is, on the whole, a good thing, but he questioned if the agency has what it needs to carry out its goals.

“The limiting factor is clearly funding, and until the Coast Guard gets more funding, specifically to engage in arctic work, they are going to be resource-limited in terms of the personnel and the assets they can bring to bear.”

Despite continued calls from residents and organizations in the arctic for plans and preparation for maritime disasters like an oil spill in arctic waters, Dombkowski said those are all questions for a different assessment to tackle.

“Oil spill response is such a huge, big enough thing that it really deserves its own document,” he said, “and that document and supporting stuff is being done right now.”

For now, the Coast Guard plans to tour its new environmental assessment statewide, with plans to visit Anchorage, Kotzebue, Nome, and Barrow next week for public meetings.

A delegation from the agency will be in Nome Monday, May 12 at the Northwest campus, delivering at the campus conference room from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Emergency Personnel Battle Unalaska Warehouse Fire

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

(Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska)

While the rest of the state is gearing up for wildfire season, Unalaska’s emergency responders spent Wednesday fighting an industrial fire inside a local longshore warehouse. The building appears to be a total loss.

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Uber Sosa is a dock worker for Pacific Stevedoring. At 5 a.m. Wednesday, he was at home — in a dormitory right next door to the warehouse that his company leases from the Ounalashka Corporation.

Suddenly, Sosa says: “Someone woke me up. I was sleeping. It was the police, came knocking on everybody’s door, telling them to get out. So everybody had to get out, and we didn’t have time to get anything.”

The warehouse was on fire, and smoke was blowing through Sosa’s bunk. Sosa says he and about 20 other people made it out safely.

Meanwhile, more than 15 emergency personnel – along with volunteers from the Department of Transportation – started fighting the blaze.

They blocked off East Point Road around the warehouse and began pumping water inside.

After 11 hours, the building was still on fire – but also still standing. City workers used an excavator to peel back the charred aluminum siding and allow better access to the fire inside.

Steam and smoke were billowing out of the structure, but the fire stayed contained.

Fire Chief Abner Hoage says the warehouse was full of basic but highly flammable materials. There may have been tar-coated fishing nets:

“It was reported that there were about 20 pallets of wax-coated fiber board in there, as well as a whole bunch of empty pallets,” Hoage said. “And of course, that stuff burns really hot and really long.”

A little over a decade ago, a fire ripped through another structure in the same location as this warehouse. It contained the same kind of materials – pallets and fiber board. Hoage says that fire took three days to extinguish.

“So it could be a while getting everything completely out, to where it’s safe for us to go in and evaluate what happened,” Hoage said.

Hoage says that firefighters will stay on site as long as it takes. But at this point, it
doesn’t look like there’s anything left to salvage.

Hoage estimates between $1.5 and 2.5 million worth of damage has been done, including the value of the physical structure and the equipment stored in it.

That’s a big enough loss to trigger an investigation by the state fire marshal. They were expected to send representatives to Unalaska on Thursday to determine what caused the fire.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is also keeping an eye the fire.

Unalaska’s fire department used chemical foam to smother the flames Wednesday morning. Some of that foam leaked out of the building and onto the beach, about 100 yards away.

Fire Chief Hoage says they stopped using the foam and let the DEC know about the contamination.

“DEC sent a local rep out to take some pictures of the foam in the water and you can see a lot of that’s dissipated,” Hoage said. “And the Anchorage office has been notified.”

Managers for Pacific Stevedoring, which rents out the building, and the Ounalashka Corporation, which owns it, are cooperating with the investigation. But neither company could be reached for comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Agencies Emphasize Fire Prevention Awareness

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

The sunshine and warmer weather are bringing more Alaskans out to enjoy parks and trails. But that increase in recreation can also mean more accidental fires. Four agencies joined forces at a media event Tuesday to get the word out about fire prevention.

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Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Maintaining Presence In Tanana

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Alaska State Troopers are maintaining a presence in the village of Tanana. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says Troopers do not have a post in the village and the assignment of officers there is temporary.

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Categories: Alaska News

Honor Flag Lands In Fairbanks

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

(Photo courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

A commercial airliner delivered the United States Honor Flag to Fairbanks yesterday. The flag, which flew at Ground Zero in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and has since traveled around the country to honor fallen law enforcement officers and fire fighters, was brought to Fairbanks to pay tribute to Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich, who were killed in Tanana last week.

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Categories: Alaska News

NAACP Demands Apology Over Sullivan Comments

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

The Anchorage NAACP and the Anchorage Central Labor Council have called on lieutenant governor candidate Dan Sullivan to apologize for comments likening required payment of union dues to slavery.

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Sullivan, who currently serves as Anchorage mayor, made the comments during a candidate forum Monday.

The slavery comparison came up when Sullivan was asked about right-to-work legislation, in which employees are not required to join a union to get or keep a job.

Sullivan told The Associated Press today that there are many forms of slavery, and he was talking about “economic slavery.”

While he originally said he did not believe an apology was necessary, he later sent a statement saying that he apologized “if the use of the word offended anyone.”

Categories: Alaska News

Minecraft In The Classroom: When Learning Looks Like Gaming

Wed, 2014-05-07 18:05

Minecraft could help engage students in science, technology, engineering and math. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The popular video game Minecraft has made its way into Juneau high school classrooms.

A graduate education course at the University of Alaska Southeast showed teachers how to implement the game in their classes.

KTOO’s Lisa Phu went to a high school algebra class to hear what students have to say about Minecraft – not as a game but – as a learning tool.

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Solving a real problem inside a virtual world

Lori Sowa is assistant professor of engineering at the University of Alaska Southeast. She heard about Minecraft from her kids.

“My son, his first day of first grade, he came home and the first thing he asked me was, ‘Mom, what’s Minecraft?’” says Sowa.

Minecraft is a popular video game that allows you to build elaborate structures, gather resources and fly, among many other things. Some people call Minecraft virtual Legos.

UAS graduate student Colin Osterhout recreated the area of the “Monster Lobe” inside Minecraft. He’s also built Juneau and Douglas in the virtual world. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For Sowa and her teaching team at the University of Alaska Southeast, Minecraft is also a way to get kids to think critically, collaborate and solve problems, which is why they’ve made Minecraft part of a graduate education course. Development of the course was supported by apre-college grant from the Alaska Space Grant Program and a Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant from the Department of Education and Early Development.

The goal is to help teachers brush up on science, technology, engineering and math content but teaching Minecraft has also been part of it.

“Most of the students – you know, the teacher students – coming into this had probably heard of Minecraft but hadn’t actually played it, so we have spent some time working with the teachers to help get them up to speed on their gaming skills,” Sowa says.

The professors are teaching Minecraft through the context of a real life problem that’s taking place in Northwest Alaska about 40 miles north of Coldfoot. Sowa and her colleagues call it the “Monster Lobe.”

“It’s this mass of partially frozen soil and rock and woody debris and ice that’s moving down the hillside, but it’s moving very slowly. With warming temperatures it’s starting to move at a faster rate towards the Dalton Highway and the pipeline is right in that area,” Sowa says.

The challenge is for the teachers and their students to figure out how to protect the Haul Road and the pipeline from the Monster Lobe. And to do it inside Minecraft.

UAS graduate student Colin Osterhout is helping to teach the class. He created the Monster Lobe in Minecraft.

“On the screen right now is the topography of an area north of Fairbanks along the Haul Road. I added in all this texture along the landscape, so all this stuff is sliding down the mountain. So, like, one idea students might come up with is, ‘Well maybe we should put dams here, there, and there,’” Osterhout says.

Since everything in Minecraft is a one-by-one meter block, “you can really easily measure your distance from here to there, measure what your solution is going to cost in terms of amount of yardage, cubic yardage of material,” he says.

Without even realizing it, by brainstorming solutions the students start to think like engineers.

“Alaska in particular is suffering a shortage of engineers. A third of Alaska’s engineers don’t live in Alaska,” says UAS assistant professor of education Chip McMillan, who’s also teaching the graduate class.

The goal of trying to solve a complex problem like the Monster Lobe inside Minecraft isn’t necessarily about churning out engineers. McMillan says it’s about building qualities such as “grit, perseverance, this ability to stick with a problem and that’s something that I think we’re steadily losing.”

It’s also about meeting students where they are. McMillan’s research indicates that 85 percent of students in second to eighth grade are playing Minecraft.

“They’re preoccupied with this medium, so, you know, if your kids love baseball then you try to frame some physics problems in terms of baseball. You’re always trying to leverage what their natural interest is,” McMillan says.

Some teachers in McMillan’s class were leery about learning Minecraft. They now use it in the classroom. Parents have taken an interest in the class.

“The line is always the same: My kids are obsessed with this game and I hear you’re doing something,” he says.

In practice

During fourth period at Juneau-Douglas High School, Lexie Razor’s ninth grade Algebra 1 class is using the library computers. Minecraft is on the screens.

“Everybody should be in the building and you need to go to the different structures and start calculating the volume and the surface area,” Razor announces over the buzz of students settling down.

The class is part of CHOICE, an alternative learning program for students needing extra support in order to graduate.

15-year-old Mackenzie Biddinger and a classmate are working on finding surface area and volume of different shapes, but Mackenzie is more excited to talk about a different Minecraft project they recently did – building a 3D model of a plant cell.

She says the model included all the different parts of a cell.

“There’s the chloroplast and the mitochondria and what was the other one? Chlorophyll? The cell wall, the cell membrane, and the cell itself,” Mackenzie says.

Mackenzie enjoyed collaborating with other students for the project.

“You learn from each other and you learn other people’s strategies and stuff like that and it’s better to be social and I think it’s a lot more fun. It helps me a lot,” she says.

Mackenzie has Minecraft at home, but doesn’t find it appealing “to build random things out of pixilated blocks.”

But in class, she’s a fan.

“It’s better than doing actual, like, just writing on paper. I think this is a better way of learning than the usual way. It’s fun and you actually learn from it,” Mackenzie says.

For 15-year-old Evan Okpik, Minecraft is a way to stay engaged in academic work he often finds boring.

When asked what he’d be doing in class if he wasn’t on Minecraft, Okpik says, “Probably trying to sleep, listening to music. It’s what I do when I hate a class.”

Three months ago, teacher Lexie Razor didn’t know how to play Minecraft, let alone teach it in class. But after taking the UAS graduate education course, she’s happy to have another tool to use in the classroom.

“It just helps them to do things in ways that they’re interested in and so they may put forth more effort and understand it more because it’s something that they can relate to,” Razor says.

The students, she says, exhibit academic traits associated with science, technology, engineering and math – subjects collectively known as STEM.

For the last few minutes of class, Lexie Razor allows the class to play Minecraft in creative mode. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“They just think that they’re playing but when we were doing the project, listening to the groups and how they talked and how they were problem-solving and how they needed to fix the things that they built — that’s STEM and they don’t even realize that they’re doing it, but they’re practicing those things,” Razor says.

Razor plans to use Minecraft in her geometry class as well. She says it’s important to connect the game to the curriculum.

“I’m trying to come up with some kind of project where I’m going to give them a certain amount of volume and they have to build some structures or do something so that they can use Minecraft, ‘cause they’ve heard that I’ve been using it and they’re pretty jealous,” she says.

Toward the end of class, 12th grader Colin McClung walks over to the computer area.

“I was actually just sitting over there and I saw somebody playing Minecraft and I was like, ‘Is somebody slacking off in class?’ and I came over here and everybody had Minecraft open.”

McClung says he’s happy to see a teacher has realized that video games can be used as teaching tools and aren’t just a waste of time.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 7, 2014

Wed, 2014-05-07 17:15

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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Arctic May Not Be That Busy, Report Says

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

As the ice retreats in the Arctic, many people predict more ships will be drawn through the Bering Straits to take advantage of a shortcut between Asia and Europe. But, a recent government report suggests less ice may not mean more ships.

Coast Guard Says Its Increased Arctic Presence Will Have ‘No Significant’ Environmental Impact

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The U.S. Coast Guard has operated in the Arctic for more than a century, but as the maritime agency plans for an increased presence in the region, its taking stock of what its environmental impact will be in the Arctic in the years to come.

Emergency Personnel Battle Unalaska Warehouse Fire

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

While the rest of the state is gearing up for wildfire season, Unalaska’s emergency responders spent Wednesday fighting an industrial fire inside a local longshore warehouse. The building appears to be a total loss.

Honor Flag Lands In Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A commercial airliner delivered the United States Honor Flag to Fairbanks yesterday. The flag, which flew at Ground Zero in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and has since traveled around the country to honor fallen law enforcement officers and fire fighters, was brought to Fairbanks to pay tribute to Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich, who were killed in Tanana last week.

Troopers Maintaining Presence In Tanana

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska State Troopers are maintaining a presence in the village of Tanana. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says Troopers do not have a post in the village and the assignment of officers there is temporary.

Agencies Emphasize Fire Prevention Awareness

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Anchorage

The sunshine and warmer weather are bringing more Alaskans out to enjoy parks and trails. But that increase in recreation can also mean more accidental fires. Four agencies joined forces at a media event Tuesday to get the word out about fire prevention.

NAACP Demands Apology Over Sullivan Comments

The Associated Press & APRN Staff

The Anchorage NAACP and the Anchorage Central Labor Council have called on lieutenant governor candidate Dan Sullivan to apologize for comments likening required payment of union dues to slavery.

Sullivan, who currently serves as Anchorage mayor, made the comments during a candidate forum Monday.

The slavery comparison came up when Sullivan was asked about right-to-work legislation, in which employees are not required to join a union to get or keep a job.

Sullivan told The Associated Press today that there are many forms of slavery, and he was talking about “economic slavery.”

While he originally said he did not believe an apology was necessary, he later sent a statement saying that he apologized “if the use of the word offended anyone.”

Borough School Honors Redington, Sr.

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Ground was broken Tuesday for the first new school to be constructed in more than a decade in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The new Joe Redington, Sr. school is located near the original homestead of the father of the Iditarod.

Minecraft In The Classroom: When Learning Looks Like Gaming

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The popular video game Minecraft has made its way into Juneau high school classrooms.

A graduate education course at the University of Alaska Southeast showed teachers how to implement the game in their classes.

KTOO’s Lisa Phu went to a high school algebra class to hear what students have to say about Minecraft – not as a game but – as a learning tool.

Anchorage Schools Celebrate Bike To School Day

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Fifty schools participated in Bike to School Day in Anchorage on Wednesday. KSKA’s Anne Hillman talked to students from Lake Otis Elementary about why they hopped on their bikes instead of into vehicles, and what they learned along the way.

Categories: Alaska News

UAA, Willamette University Partner To Offer New Law School Opportunity

Wed, 2014-05-07 15:55

There isn’t a law school in Alaska, but the University of Alaska Anchorage is launching a new program to make it easier for Alaskans to attend law school.

It’s a partnership with Willamette University College of Law in Oregon.

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Prospective law school students in Alaska face a lot of obstacles, including cost and having to attend school out of state.

(Photo courtesy Willamette University College of Law)

Deb Periman, the UAA Legal Studies Program Coordinator, says the goal is to create more options for Alaska students.

“This partnership is designed as a way for very high-achieving, very highly-motivated and focused students to reduce their education costs and be able to get that law degree and their undergraduate degree in six years rather than seven,” Periman said.

This approach is called a “3+3″ program, and it’s modeled after Willamette’s current partnership with Oregon State University.

Students will complete all the requirements for their undergraduate degree at UAA during their first three years – with the exception of a year’s worth of general elective credits.

For their fourth year of school, students will attend Willamette University College of Law before they receive their undergraduate degree, which Periman says is unusual.

“They’ll complete their first year of law school and what they’ll do then is transfer those law school credits back to UAA as upper-division elective credits,” Periman said. “So, essentially, they’ll be graduating with their baccalaureate degree after their first year of law school.”

Periman says the program will help ease some of the financial burden on students by eliminating the cost of the final year of undergraduate work, and it will increase graduates’ earning potential by getting them into the workforce a year earlier.

Curtis Bridgeman, the Dean of the Willamette University College of Law, says there are a number of similarities between Willamette and UAA, so the partnership is a natural one.

“We really focus on a student-centered education, and by that we mean the sort of education where the students aren’t just a number; we really try to get to know them early on; get to know their goals for their career and try to help make them connections that are gonna lead to good employment outcomes,” Bridgeman said.

One requirement of the program is after their first year of law school, students must return to Alaska to complete an externship or capstone project. The idea is to allow students to get first-hand experience with Alaska law and Alaska employers.

With over 150 Willamette law school graduates in Alaska, Periman says there should be plenty of externship opportunities.

“There’s a tremendously active alumni association here and an association that takes a lot of pride in giving new graduates a leg up,” Periman said.

Job prospects bode well for students who graduate from the program. For the class of 2013, Willamette ranks fifth in job placement among West Coast law schools.

Periman says the program will kick off this coming fall, and anticipates between 4-6 students being accepted each year.

Categories: Alaska News
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