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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: 44 min 10 sec ago

Bethel Winter House Faces Difficulties As Board Members Prepare For the Second Season

Wed, 2014-11-12 17:00

The Bethel Winter House underwent its pilot project last winter, providing overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel, possibly saving lives. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have some challenges to overcome in order for that happen.

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Eva Malvich is the President of the Bethel Winter House, or Uksumi Uqisvik in Yup’ik. She says, before they open, they have to find and train enough volunteers.

Bethel Winter House logo. Courtesey of BWH

“We need a minimum of 60 based on how we did last year, and we are having a heck of a time getting people to sign up. If we don’t have 60 people signed up by the end of November we are going to have to meet as a board and decide whether we can open it or not,” said Malvich

Malvich says according to their policy, there will have to be two volunteers each night to run the shelter. She says volunteers will work twice per month, overnight, from 9pm until 7am.

Last year, Malvich says they ran the shelter with 20 volunteers and that wasn’t enough. They were overworked and burnt out. She doesn’t want that to happen again. As of Monda, November 10, ten volunteers have been trained so far, that leaves fifty more that have to be trained by the end of the month.

With winter ahead, Malvic says the community needs to get more involved for the hundred or so homeless living in Bethel to have a safe, warm place to stay.

“The whole purpose for this winter house is to prevent death by exposure for people in this community. There’s no reason why somebody should die from exposure because we’re in the 21st century. We have a big group of people in this community that experience homelessness. Last year there was a count of 100 people and 36 of those are children. It’s a community solution to a community problem.”

Malvic says the shelter has some good news on the funding front. Winter House officials announced last week that Conoco Phillips is contributing $5,000, the biggest donation yet. That brings the winter house one step closer to their goal of hiring a part time volunteer coordinator. There is also a possibility that the shelter will get a $13,500 grant from the state.

However the location of the shelter is still in discussion says Malvic. She says they might elect to rotate the shelter church to church, like last year – but that’s still up in the air.

You can find Bethel Winter House on Facebook.

Categories: Alaska News

When War Images Are Replaced With Something New

Wed, 2014-11-12 16:59

Veterans are being honored Tuesday for the time they have served the country. One Vietnam veteran in Petersburg has found healing by going back to the country that was once only known to him as a place of danger and destruction.

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War can hold difficult memories for many Veterans. Sam Bunge is a Vietnam vet living in Petersburg.

“If you said the term Vietnam I would think about mud and wet and danger and people getting hurt,” Bunge says.

Sam and his wife Linda volunteering in Vietnam in 2010. Photo courtesy of Sam Bunge.

Vietnam was a deadly war killing over 58,000 American soldiers from the late 1960s through the mid ‘70s. Those that returned alive were the lucky ones and Bunge knows it.

“I consider that my life after 1969 is borrowed time and so I try to take advantage of it, enjoy life and be good,” Bunge says.

He was in Vietnam for one year from 1968 to 1969.

“After I returned to the States in ‘69 and got back into real life, I wanted nothing to do with it,” Bunge says. “You couldn’t have dragged me into a Vietnamese restaurant.”

It took 40 years to change his attitude. In 2008, while Bunge was reading a veterans magazine he noticed an announcement about Vietnam veterans volunteering to build schools back in Vietnam. He had long been a volunteer himself as a fire fighter in Petersburg and he was drawn the idea.

“I said that sounds like something I’d like to do,” Bunge says.

So Bunge decided to return to the place that was a battle ground in his mind. He wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I was anxious. . . .because of my previous experience in ’68-’69,” Bunge says.

What Bunge saw was a surprise. So much had changed.

Bunge: “There’s electricity almost everywhere. Roads are improving. New areas are being opened up. For example, my first project was in a place called the A Shau Valley which is where Hamburger Hill is.”

Angela: “What does that mean? Hamburger Hill?”

Sam Bunge and ARVN LT in Vietnam in 1969. Photo courtesy of Sam Bunge

Bunge: “Oh that was a. . .very significant battle in 1969. . .with the 101st Airborne. Um.. . when I was there in 1969 it was a free fire zone littered with craters from B-52s and the only people who lived there were the North Vietnamese Army. And now, there’s a nice paved road that runs the length of the valley. There are thriving agricultural villages, there’s electricity, irrigation, and a lot of the land is under cultivation. So it’s quite a nice change.”

Bunge believes the process of volunteering was even more beneficial to him than to the Vietnamese who later used the schools he helped build. His memories changed from very negative images to some that are much more positive.

“Now if you say Vietnam I think about green and crowds and smiling kids,” Bunge says. “I was able to replace a lot of nasty, ugly images in my head with more contemporary, peaceful and cheerful ones. Vietnam nowadays is a really nice place. It’s beautiful, there’s an enormous variety in landscapes, some of which are pretty spectacular. The architecture is just fascinating and amazing. The Vietnamese people are very, very friendly.”

He says the proper word to describe it is reconciliation.

Bunge decided to return to Vietnam three more times after the war to build schools in remote villages. Besides the construction work, there were also planned meetings with Vietnamese veterans. He says through translators, they made the best of it. They would sit around a table, introduce each other, eat Vietnamese food, shake hands and take pictures. He says there was a mutual respect. Yet there was one particular instance when Bunge feels like he really connected with someone. It was when he was touring around the country after the volunteer work was over.

“In 2008, a buddy and I went down South where I had operated also, around Saigon and our driver-interpreter took us to a restaurant and there was a poster on the wall of the lady who was a proprietor of the restaurant and she was wearing her Vietcong uniform decked out with medals. Of course, this is after the hostilities has ceased. And she was a local heroine of the Vietcong Women’s Battalion and I had operated right in that area for six months in 1968 and we agreed that we probably had shot at each other (laughs) and we were both happy that neither of us had gotten hurt and we were happy to see each other being prosperous now,” Bunge says.

The volunteer group that Bunge was involved with was around for 25 years before it disbanded recently. Bunge says it’s due to members getting older and having difficulty fundraising.

He says he doesn’t know if his experience can translate to the modern wars. The wars are just so different. But Bunge hopes that if the conflict in the Middle East ever does pass, then perhaps for some modern day soldiers they too can find peace by revisiting their old battle grounds in the decades to come. Only time will tell.

Categories: Alaska News

With Persistent Lead, Sullivan Heads to Washington

Wed, 2014-11-12 12:16

With more votes counted in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Dan Sullivan still leads Democrat Mark Begich by about 8,000 votes. The Associated Press is calling Sullivan the winner. While Begich hasn’t conceded, the former attorney general seem to be claiming his victory.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve my fellow Alaskans in the United States Senate,” Sullivan said in a written statement issued a few hours after the Division of Elections announced the results of some 17,000 late-counted ballots. Begich made slight gains in the latest count and now trails by 3.2 percentage points. The state still has more than 30,000 ballots left to count, though they’d have to break very differently to affect the outcome.

Campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said Sullivan would be en route to Washington today and plans to participate in Republican organizing conferences Thursday.

In the U.S. Capitol today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell met with the incoming GOP freshmen, minus senators-elect from Alaska and Louisisana.

“We’re really excited about having a great new bunch here, and were hoping to be joined by Dan Sullivan and Bill Cassidy shortly,” McConnell said.

The new members of both parties meet this week for freshmen orientation. They don’t take office until January.


Categories: Alaska News

Jury Convicts Leroy Dick Jr. of First Degree Murder

Wed, 2014-11-12 10:56

Leroy B. Dick Jr. stood as the jury entered the courtroom to deliver a guilty verdict Tuesday evening in Dillingham.
)Credit KDLG News)

The murder trial of Leroy B. Dick Jr., 44, concluded Tuesday evening when the jury delivered the verdict.

“We the jury find the defendant Leroy Dick Junior guilty of murder in the first degree as charged,” read the foreman.

The nine men and three women notified the judge of their unanimous decision at 4:37 p.m. Tuesday, just an hour and a half after going into deliberations. The verdict was read a little after 5 p.m.

VPSO Thomas Madole’s widow Luan reached for a tissue as the judge finished polling each juror individually. Madole’s family was flanked by four law enforcement officers in the courtroom Tuesday evening.

Leroy Dick Jr. shot and killed Officer Madole in Manokotak on March 19, 2013. Dickadmitted to murdering Madole in at least six taped confessions, including one with KDLG News following his arraignment on March 20, 2013.

The trial began on Monday, November 3. It took four days to pick 13 jurors, and opening statements were made by the prosecution and defense on Friday, November 7. State prosecutor Gregg Olson called nine witnesses and published dozens of pieces of evidence as he meticulously laid out the events of March 19 for the jury.

State trooper Victor Aye, who works as a support trooper with VPSOs around the state, had been in Manokotak with Madole the day of the murder. He had flown back to Dillingham only moments before the shooting. When he was shown a picture of he and Tom Madole surrounded by children at Manokotak Elementary School from that morning, the 20+ year veteran of the force broke into tears on the stand.

“I’m sorry,” he said, as he asked for a moment before continuing.

A key piece of evidence was introduced Monday, when Olson called trooper investigator Nasruk Nay as a witness. Nay had taken custody of Dick when the plane transporting him from Manokotak landed in Dillingham after the murder. During an interview at about 9 p.m. that night at the Dillingham jail, the following exchange took place:

NAY: “First of all, what kind of a firearm was it that you used?”

DICK: “A .223, a mini-14.”

NAY: “A mini-14, ok. And where did you get that from?”

DICK: “In the gun cabinet.”

NAY: “Was the gun cabinet locked?”

DICK: “Yes.”

NAY: “Ok, so you had to unlock the gun cabinet to get the rifle?”

DICK: “Yes.”

NAY: “Was the rifle loaded?”

DICK: “I loaded it earlier cause they was gonna call the cops, you know, to come around me to bother me. I didn’t like it.”

NAY: “So you loaded your gun earlier?”

DICK: “Yeah after my mom took off, probably to go to the clinic.”

NAY: “And that was because you knew the cops were going to be coming?”

DICK: “Yeah cause she said she was gonna call the cops and send them to me.”

On Tuesday morning, Olson played the audio tape from VPSO Madole’s recorder, which was on during the shooting. The horrifying audio captured the brief, violent interaction between Madole and Dick, starting as Officer Madole knocked on Dick’s door and asked to talk to him. An agitated Dick screamed back, and Madole began to walk away as Dick had told him to do. Dick emerged from the door with the rifle, and Tom Madole could be heard starting to run just before six shots were fired.

Four or five of the shots hit Madole’s body, and the audio captured his agony. Dick is heard approaching.

“Fucker,” Dick yelled from very close, as he fired a seventh shot that entered just behind Tom Madole’s ear.

Madole’s body was 49.6 feet from Dick’s front door.

“Tom Madole almost made it around the corner,” Olson told the jury in his closing arguments, pointing out on a map how close Madole had been to making it to cover behind a nearby house.

To prove first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt, Olson had to prove that Dick had intended to cause death, and that he had in fact killed Madole.

“Was that his purpose when he pulled the trigger six times, and then pulled the trigger a seventh and final time?” Olson asked.

He played the tape of the murder again before the jury went to deliberate. Presiding Judge Gregory Miller appeared emotionally affected after the tape had played a second time, and briefly struggled to read instructions to the jury.

Dick’s defense attorneys, Jonathon Torres and Lars Johnson, never disputed that Dick had shot and killed Tom Madole. They called no witnesses, presented no evidence, and Leroy Dick chose not to testify. They cross examined only a few of the witnesses. According to presiding Judge Miller, the defense had also not attempted to enter any mental health issues as evidence prior to the trial.

The defense asked the jurors to consider a lesser-included charge of second degree murder, arguing that the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Dick had intended to kill Madole.

“What happened on March 19 was a tragedy, there’s no two ways about,” Torres said in his closing arguments. “And tragedies have consequences. The consequences in this case boil down to murder one versus murder two. That is what you are here to decide. The difference between first degree murder and second degree murder is intent.”

Torres said Dick had acted out of anger, and a sense of persecution from his family and community, but that it hadn’t been his “specific intent” to kill Madole.

Torres continued, “If one of you does not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Leroy’s intent to kill VPSO Madole, then you cannot convict Leroy of murder in the first degree, and the appropriate conviction would be murder in the second degree.”

The jurors were sent to deliberate at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and returned the guilty verdict on the first degree murder charge just after 5 p.m. Judge Miller set March 6 as the date for Dick’s sentencing hearing. The state earlier announced its intention to seek a 99 year sentence.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Unseats Begich In Senate Race

Tue, 2014-11-11 23:21

Republican Dan Sullivan won Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.

Sullivan led Begich by about 8,100 votes on Election Night last week, and when state officials counted absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday, the results indicated that Begich could not overcome Sullivan’s lead.

The Alaska seat was initially considered key to the Republicans’ hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, but that was accomplished election night with the GOP sweep.

Sullivan, a first-time candidate, ran a confident campaign, ignoring the debate schedule Begich released during the primary and setting his own agenda. He also attracted some star power to the state, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney rallying support for Sullivan in the waning days of the hotly contested race.

Sullivan pledged to fight federal overreach, talked about the need for an energy renaissance in the U.S. and at seemingly every opportunity, sought to tie Begich to President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who are unpopular in Alaska.

Begich complained that Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich also tried to paint sharp contrasts between himself and Sullivan in areas such as women’s health, education and Alaska issues.

Begich, for example, was born and raised in Alaska. He cast Sullivan, who grew up in Ohio, as an outsider, and many of the early attacks by pro-Begich groups keyed in to that theme. That perception of Sullivan made for an at-times uncomfortable debate on fisheries issues, in which questioners grilled Sullivan about his knowledge of one of Alaska’s most important industries.

On several occasions, Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, an Alaska Native and frequent companion on the campaign trail, appeared in ads defending her husband’s ties to the state and his positions on women’s issues.

Sullivan has roots in Alaska dating to the 1990s but was gone for nearly seven years for military service and work in Washington, D.C., that included working as an assistant secretary of state. He returned to Alaska in 2009, when he was appointed attorney general by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.

He most recently served as Alaska’s natural resources commissioner, a post he left in September 2013, to make his first run for public office.

Sullivan hit the ground running, exhibiting a fundraising prowess that rivaled and during some quarters exceeded that of Begich. Many of his supporters cited his service in the Marine Corps reserves or repeated the oft-repeated GOP refrain that became of hallmark of the campaign — that Begich voted with Obama “97 percent of the time,” a figure that takes into account votes during 2013, many of them on confirmations, on which Obama stated a preference.

He said he was humbled by the support he received and publicly sought to tamp down expectations, even as campaign members expressed great confidence in a victory in the lead-up to Tuesday and said the Democrats’ much-talked-about ground game wasn’t all it was made out to be.

Tens of millions of dollars were pumped into the state, with Republicans seeing Begich as vulnerable and Democrats trying to hold the seat Begich won in 2008. Voters were barraged by calls and ads, which many said they were turned off by.

Sullivan emerged from a hard-fought, three-way GOP primary to take on Begich, who had token opposition. Begich focused during that race on bolstering his homespun image, casting himself as an independent thinker unafraid to stand up to Obama, with a record of working across party lines, including with Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski, who backed Sullivan after the primary and is in line to chair the Senate energy committee now that Republicans have taken over the Senate, told Begich to knock it off.

A turning point, in the view of many observers, was an ad from Begich’s campaign shortly after the primary that painted Sullivan as soft on crime. It featured a man identified as a former Anchorage police officer standing outside the home where an elderly couple was beaten to death and a family member sexually abused in 2013. It ended with the man saying Sullivan should not be a senator.

The ad, which Sullivan responded to with one of his own, was pulled following a demand from an attorney for the victims’ family.

Begich, in discussing the ad, said Sullivan had a “pattern when he was attorney general of doing these plea deals that let violent offenders, sexual offenders out earlier than they should be.” He said Sullivan’s record as attorney general needed to be scrutinized. But that didn’t become a major focus of TV ads by his campaign and surrogates.

Instead, some of the strongest criticism of Sullivan was with regards to his residency, his support of a permitting bill that critics said would have limited public participation in the state’s permitting process and his stance on abortion.

Categories: Alaska News

Job Fair Highlights Challenges to Veteran Unemployment in Alaska

Tue, 2014-11-11 18:50

Craig Crawford, on the right, a vice president at CH2M Hill, has partnered with the state in the past helping train Veterans and match them with private sector employers. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

A s military forces continue drawing down from deployments abroad, more service members are transitioning back into the civilian workforce. A recent job fair in Anchorage is just one of the ways the state is spending resources to match vets with employers in the public and private sectors to combat the nation-wide problem of veteran unemployment.

Dressed in her camo fatigues on a break from work at Joint Base Elmendor-Richardson, Sargent Alena Withers still has another year in the Army, but thinks she’s behind the curve when it comes to job hunting.

“I feel like I should have started a long time ago,” Withers said, taking a break from perusing folding tables covered in handouts and displays from the 130 companies that attended the fair. “Honestly, I feel like I never should have taken my eyes off the civilian job market. Finding a job, and just learning how to network–that’s a skill-set in and of itself.”

At 15%, Alaska has the highest number of vets per capita of any state in the nation. They face unemployment rates below their un-enlisted counterparts, 5.1% for Alaska vets, compared to 6.4% unemployment for state residents overall. A state policy gives veterans priority at job centers, offers employers tax-credits, and organizes job fairs like the one at University Center in Midtown last Friday.

As a combat medic in Afghanistan Withers shouldered a lot of responsibility, and is discouraged by the prospects for getting to carry those skills into her next job.

“The problem that I’ve been seeing is that I don’t have the civilian certifications that back up the training and the skill set that I’ve learned how to do,” she explained. “So I’m having to be forced to go back to school regardless of whether or not I’m really good at that job. And it kind of makes me feel like I should maybe just start over and do an entry-level position outside of my field, because it takes a long time to learn to do aviation casualties on an on-board.”

Withers was with her friend Maria Gusto, who has been looking for a job since this summer after four years as an Army HR officer. It has not been going well. She thinks that civilians don’t always understand she not only learned a career field, but it was exceptionally difficult.

“We would train as if we were deployed,” she said, dressed in business attire and holding an attache case.

“We would get attacked in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day. And you’re in the middle of doing your work and you have to go into your bunker,” she continued. “So it’s definitely more stressful than the civilian life.”

Employers often see job candidates’ time in the service as a black box, not always knowing what happened inside. Many veterans may have never applied for a job, and not know how to translate their work histories into civilian terms. Craig Crawford is a vice-president at CH2M Hill, one of the companies collecting resumes at a booth near an athletic store, and he sees there needs to be more work done bridging the all-too-frequent employment gap after service that can cause short-term joblessness to drag on long-term.

CH2M Hill does a lot of construction and support services for Alaska’s oil and gas industry. That’s partly because many veterans learned how to do the exact same work in the service.

“Just about every job you can imagine in the military is reflected again in the oil and gas field,” Crawford explained. “We gotta have security, we gotta have administrative help, we have to have welders, pipe-fitters, mill-wrights–all of those skill sets. We have to have frontline supervision, which looks like a sergeant, we gotta have captains, lieutenants, even a few generals.”

Crawford believes the current national troop draw-down is creating a much-needed state-side pool of skilled labor. It is a sensible, but slightly optimistic perspective.

Steven Williams coordinates employment for veterans with the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and highlighted another common experience for veterans leaving the armed forces: feeling overqualified for civilian life.

“I think one of the challenges with transitioning out of the military is having to start from scratch,” said Williams, who spent more than a decade in the National Guard, including a tour of Iraq spent mostly around the oil fields in Kirkuk.  ”When I was deployed I was 20-years-old, and more than just equipment–I was trusted with lots of equipment there, vehicles–but also just the lives of my supervisors. And then the struggle comes when you get to the civilian sector, and you come with all this experience and all this responsibility–and you’re trusted with a broom.”

Sargent Alena Withers’s priorities for the years ahead are starting a family and going back to school. She is keeping her eyes and ears open–but for a new job, not yet a new career. Still, she said job fairs like Friday’s are important for getting a better sense of the part-time work that’s out there.

“I didn’t realize that there were jobs outside of the medical field that are still sort of para-medical. And what they provide was services–in-home services. They’ll do your laundry, clean your house. You know, whatever you need done on an hourly basis.”

Withers traded info with one such company, and was happy to have made the connection. Even if it is a year away from potentially panning out.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Division of Elections Begins Counting Absentee, Questioned Ballots

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:46

After a week of collecting and reviewing absentee ballots, workers at the Division of Elections are now running 17,000 of those uncounted votes through machines. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is at the Anchorage office observing the process.

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Lori: So, going into today, Democratic Senator Mark Begich was 8,000 votes behind Dan Sullivan, his Republican challenger. And in the governor’s race, Republican Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Have we seen these numbers move at all?

We got an update a little after 4pm, and there should be another update later this evening. The 8,000 votes that have been added to the tally really didn’t move the needle much at all. Sullivan very, very slightly increased his lead. Now Begich has to close a gap that’s closer to 9,000. Meanwhile Parnell closed his gap … but by a few dozen votes. That’s well short of what he needs to overcome Walker, or even get within the range of demanding a recount.

Lori: What’s the scene there like?

It’s like being in the world’s most bureaucratic zoo. You have four election workers at tables who have been working non-stop, and then you have a chain barrier in front of them, where reporters and political types are watching them. The newspaper photographers all have their cameras, and I’m there with my recording gear, and it’s like these people are on exhibit. I kind of expected the whole thing to seem a little more automatic, but it is literally just people pushing thousands and thousands of sheets of paper.

Lori: The votes that are being counted today are only about a third of the ones that are left outstanding. Where are they coming from?

Kenai, Ketchikan, the western part of Fairbanks, Eagle River, and parts of the Mat-Su are seeing the most votes counted today. With the exception of the Fairbanks district, those are areas that went pretty heavily for Republican Dan Sullivan. Parnell also fared relatively well in those areas. So, this is a batch of absentees that could even more Republican than the outstanding ballots as a whole. There are some districts, like Juneau, which have a large number of outstanding ballots and that favor Begich and Walker that are only getting a portion of their ballots counted today. Also, even though they only make up 4,000 of the outstanding ballots, very few of those the rural areas of the state are being counted, because the Division of Elections hasn’t received the voter registers from these district. The Begich campaign has talked up those ballots and wants those to be counted before the race is called.

Now, the reason why some districts are coming in before others is pretty much logistical. I talked with elections director Gail Fenumiai this afternoon, and she says it’s basically a first come first serve sort of system.

Lori: So where do we go from here?

It’s kind of a start and stop process. After counting ends tonight, there won’t be any more votes tallied until Friday. That process could then continue into next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Archaeological Findings Could Shed Light On Alaska’s Early Residents

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:44

An archaeological site southeast of Fairbanks continues to yield information about the Native people who lived along the Tanana River thousands of years ago. The site, first identified in 2005 during reconnaissance for a railroad extension project, has been the subject of major archaeological excavation, and Monday researchers announced the discovery of skeletal remains and other materials dating back to the end of the last Ice Age.  The finds are helping to broaden understanding of Alaska’s early residents.

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Categories: Alaska News

BC Official Says Mine Concerns Heard, Critics Disagree

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:43

Drilled rock cores wait for analysis at the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project, one of the British Columbia mines planned for near the Southeast Alaska border. Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the provincial government will listen to critics’ concerns about potential damage to transboundary rivers where salmon spawn. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

British Columbia officials say they understand why Alaskans are concerned about new mines planned for transboundary rivers. But critics on this side of the border say they’re not doing anything about it.

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Canada’s farthest west province is in the midst of a mining boom. With government support, more than half a dozen projects are under exploration or development near rivers where Alaska salmon spawn and live.

British Columbia’s top mining official says he’s not ignoring objections from fishermen, environmentalists and tribal leaders on this side of the border.

“My message to Alaskans is not, ‘Don’t worry, be happy, nothing to worry about,’” says Bill Bennett, B.C.’s minister of energy and mines.

He recently visited Alaska to meet with government officials and address the state mining association.

“I think that people who are downstream from any industrial activity have every right to know what’s going on, to express their point of view. And we in B.C. need to be listening,” he says.

“There is no policy set that allows us to have any influence in what is happening on the Canadian side,” says Jill Weitz of Trout Unlimited.

She was part of a recent Salmon Beyond Borders tour through Southeast Alaska. Appearances in five cities drummed up opposition to transboundary river mines.

“Canada has come in and they have essentially weakened some of their environmental regulations as far as streamlining permitting processes,” she says.

Tour speakers cited plans for the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, or KSM, project, one of the most controversial near-border mines. They said its water treatment plant will not be up to Alaska standards.

Bennett says that’s not true. He says B.C.’s government has strict rules to protect the environment from mine runoff and other pollution.

“It’s just not credible to suggest that somehow or other we have some sort of a weak process in British Columbia and that it’s easy to build a mine there and operate a mine there, because it isn’t,” he says.

Bennett says he wants Alaskans to know his agency has been working with the state Department of Natural Resources to address concerns.

He says the same is true for developers of the KSM.

“I had assumed that if the Department of Natural Resources was engaged in the assessment of the KSM project that first of all, the public would be aware of that. And that secondly, the officials involved would be accountable to some elected folks,” Bennett says.

Salmon Beyond Borders and other critics, including several state lawmakers, don’t have much faith in that process.

Weitz, of Trout Unlimited, says they’re lobbying for a U.S.-Canada panel that considers cross-boundary issues to take it up. She says her coalition wants the panel to look at all the transboundary projects, not just one or two.

“This is going to be a big push in order to have this International Joint Commission look at this issue as a regional issue, rather than project by project,” she says.

Critics point to last summer’s dam break at the Mount Polley Mine, in eastern British Columbia. There, a dam collapsed, allowing millions of gallons of water laden with silt and rock to flow into nearby waterways. They say it’s an example of what could happen near transboundary rivers.

B.C. Energy Minister Bennett disagrees.

“We are not taking any chances.” he says.

He says that mine is closed until his agency knows what caused the breach. And he says he’s ordered fast-track government inspections of similar dams around the province. That includes the Red Chris Mine, which will open soon in the Stikine River watershed.

“I ordered all of those companies that have tailings impoundment facilities in B.C. to engage an independent engineering company that has no connection to the mining company, to the site, to come in and do a second inspection,” he says.

He calls the Mount Polley dam break huge and impactful. But he says so far, officials have not found dangerous levels of toxins in a nearby lake or its fish.

Categories: Alaska News

Filmmaker Documents Emotional Toll Of Caring For Alzheimer’s Patients

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:42

Local filmmaker Mary Katzke of Affinity Films, has taken on the subject of family members caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease. Katzke says she started out documenting friends in the sandwich generation: Those with careers, children at home and also caring for aging parents but she focused in on five families dealing with Alzheimer’s because of the emotional toll of caring for a family member who may not recognize you. One of those caregivers is Janet Burts, who has been caring for her mother since her father passed away in 2010. Katzke says in a state with the fastest growing elder population per capita of any other, exploring the individual decisions that each family has to make is timely.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Code Talkers Honored At Veterans Day Ceremony In Juneau

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:41

Southeast Alaska Native Veterans honored Tlingit code talkers at a Veterans Day ceremony Tuesday morning in Juneau. The families of five men who served during World War II received medals and Congressional certificates recognizing their service.

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Tony Jacobs’ dad and uncle were among the soldiers who used Tlingit to relay important information during the war.

“The Tlingit Indians had their own Tlingit names for various places around Southeast,” Jacobs said. ”And that’s what they were used for is to let the ship’s captain or quartermasters know where they were located secretly actually, where enemy forces would not be able to ID their location.”

Jacobs says he was overcome with emotion at the recognition. He served in the Navy himself during 1970s, and says he’d recommend military service to anyone.

“You get benefits – health benefits, education benefits – and you get to see the country and/or the world,” Jacobs said.

More than 100 people attended the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Ceremony, held at the Tlingit & Haida Central Council’s Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

Mark Jacobs Sr., Harvey Jacobs, Jeff David, Richard Bean Sr. and George Lewis were all posthumously honored by Congress last year.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 11, 2014

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:39

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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Alaska Division of Elections Begins Counting Absentee, Questioned Ballots

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

After a week of collecting and reviewing absentee ballots, workers at the Division of Elections are now running 17,000 of those uncounted votes through machines.

Claman increases lead in House District 21 race

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Division of Elections workers have counted all of the reviewed ballots they had for House District 21. The West Anchorage race between Democrat Matt Claman and Republican Anand Dubey was too close to call on election night, Claman was winning by 35 votes. An additional 942 votes from the district were counted today. New numbers put Claman ahead by 86 votes.

Archaeological Findings Could Shed Light On Alaska’s Early Residents

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An archeological site southeast of Fairbanks continues to yield information about the Native people who lived along the Tanana River thousands of years ago. The site, first identified in 2005 during reconnaissance for a railroad extension project, has been the subject of major archeological excavation, and yesterday (Mon.) researchers announced the discovery of skeletal remains and other materials dating back to the end of the last Ice Age. The finds are helping to broaden understanding of Alaska’s early residents.

The Job Hunt Is On As Military Members Transition Back To Civilian Life

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

It’s veteran’s day, and as military forces continue drawing down from deployments abroad, more service members are transitioning back into the civilian workforce. A job fair on Friday in Anchorage is one of the ways the state is spending resources matching vets with employers in the public and private sectors.

BC Official Says Mine Concerns Heard, Critics Disagree

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

British Columbia officials say they understand why Alaskans are concerned about new mines planned for transboundary rivers. But critics on this side of the border say they’re not doing anything about it.

Filmmaker Documents Emotional Toll Of Caring For Alzheimer’s Patients

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Local filmmaker Mary Katzke of Affinity Films, has taken on the subject of family members caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease. Katzke says she started out documenting friends in the sandwich generation: Those with careers, children at home and also caring for aging parents but she focused in on five families dealing with Alzheimer’s because of the emotional toll of caring for a family member who may not recognize you. One of those caregivers is Janet Burts, who has been caring for her mother since her father passed away in 2010. Katzke says in a state with the fastest growing elder population per capita of any other, exploring the individual decisions that each family has to make is timely.

Tlingit Code Talkers Honored At Veterans Day Ceremony In Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Southeast Alaska Native Veterans honored Tlingit code talkers at a Veterans Day ceremony Tuesday morning in Juneau. The families of five men who served during World War II received medals and Congressional certificates recognizing their service.

After 70 Years, WWII Dog Tag Discovered on Bering Sea Coast is Returning Home

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

After 70 years, dog tags that belonged to a World War Two soldier who was stationed in Nome are on their way home to his family.

Categories: Alaska News

Claman increases lead in House District 21 race

Tue, 2014-11-11 16:25

Workers at the Division of Elections scan early, question, and absentee ballots. Hillman/KSKA

Democrat Matt Claman has pulled further ahead of his opponent, Republican Anand Dubey, in the House District 21 race. The Division of Elections started counting absentee and question ballots Tuesday afternoon. Workers won’t finish this batch of ballots until early evening, but they have counted all of the reviewed ballots for House District 21. The West Anchorage race was too close to call on election night. Claman was only ahead by 35 votes.

An additional 942 ballots from the district were counted Tuesday. New numbers put Claman ahead by 86 votes and give him 50.39% of the vote.

Claman observed the process at the Division of Elecitons in midtown. He said he’s not calling it yet.

“Until all the votes are in, it’s an open question. But it’s looking better.”

It’s unclear how many more votes from the district still need to be counted. The division is still opening and verifying ballots. They’ll continue counting the district on Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Entertainment Center Slated for Wasilla

Tue, 2014-11-11 15:55

The Valley Family Fun Center, set to open late next year, could bring an economic boost to growing Wasilla.

The builder, Oregon businessman John Schwieger, is owner of the Coming Attractions Theaters chain, which operates 18 theaters in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. Coming Attractions also owns the Valley Cinema in Wasilla. The Valley Family Fun Center will be constructed on five acres that Schwieger already owns adjacent to the Valley Cinema.  Wasilla mayor Bert Cottle says negotiations have been going on for the better part of a year.

“We’re excited, you know, it’s expansion and economic development. That’s the direction we want to go, economic development,” Cottle says.

Cottle says the city welcomes the new facility, which is about half the size of the city’s Curtis Menard Sports Center in Wasilla. When completed, the Fun Center is expected to provide up to 50 local jobs.

“We hope he does real well, because we survive on sales tax. So this is a good thing. ”

Valley Fun Center owner,  John Schwieger, speaking from Florida, says the complex will have numerous games and attractions, including an indoor track for racing carts.  He says the lap times  and driver skills will be monitored with an electric timing system used by NASCAR. 

“This is something that is sweeping the nation now in popularity, and there are leagues being formed, and everything, and it will be outstanding. So what we are doing is bringing something brand new to the state of Alaska. ”

Other elements to the entertainment center will be laser tag, video games, and of cours food.  There’ll be party rooms available to rent, too, Schweiger says.  He calls it a “true entertainment city”.

According to Karston Rodvik, spokesperson for AIDEA, the six million dollar facility will be paid for through AIDEA’s Loan Participation Program. AIDEA is providing about 90 percent of the loan funding, or 5 point 4 million dollars.

“Our mission is to promote, develop and advance economic growth in the state of Alaska. And we do that by providing various means of financing an investment. One of our key programs, and a very longstanding, highly successful programs, is our loan participation program. We do this in partnership with Alaska’s banks. ”

Northrim Bank is providing a 600 thousand dollar loan for the project, according to Rodvik. The funding plan allows Northrim to originate the loan, and bring in AIDEA as a partner.

“The banks originate the loan, then they bring it to AIDEA. And we can purchase up to 90 percent of a loan, up to 20 million dollars, in order to advance business growth and economic development in Alaska. The most important benefit that AIDEA’s loan participation offers to businesses, is the long – term, fixed interest rate. “

AIDEA’s partnership with banks in the loan participation program has funded some highly visible entertainment projects, like The Bear Tooth Theater- Pub, and H2O water park in Anchorage, Pike’s Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks and the Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau. Rodvik says the Valley Family Fun Center could be another success.

“We believe that the ownership and the management of this has a proven track record of profitability, they got a strong management team, he’s gotsignificant strengths in his business experience in the entertainment related industry. We believe it will be a great assest to the Valley. ”

AIDEA’s Loan Participation program benefits borrowers by providing a 25 year fixed interest rate on a long term loan. AIDEA benefits in that participation increases the corporation’s portfolio, Rodvik says. AIDEA is a self supporting entity, which earns money through it’s investments and contributes an annual dividend to the state.




Categories: Alaska News

After 70 Years, WWII Dog Tag Discovered on Bering Sea Coast is Returning Home

Tue, 2014-11-11 11:47

Mario Gandolfo displays Earl Vogelar’s dog tag. (Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM)

On this Veterans Day after 70 years, a small piece of Earl Vogelar, a Michigan soldier stationed in Nome during World War II, is finally on its way home.

Nome resident Mario Gandolfo was combing the Bering Sea coast for sea glass last week when he says the small brass treasure found its way into his hands.

“I bent down to pick up a piece of sea glass and the wave went out, and as I was picking it up the wave came back in and with the wave—the only way I can really describe it—it was almost as if God’s hand had incorporated into a wave and he placed this 1943 World War II dog tag into my hand,” said Gandolfo. “And I just looked at it and stood up in complete shock.”

Perfectly preserved though battered by the waves, the dog tag identified Vogelar as a solider from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gandolfo said, immediately, he wondered what happened to the solider and how his tag wound up in the Bering Sea.

“I was in basically a mild state of shock because all these things were going through my mind: were they out of maneuvers and they hit a reef or something off of Nome and they sunk and everybody was lost on board? All these things were going through my mind,” said Gandolfo. “I’ve got to find out what happened to this man.”

After a bit of investigation with help from social media and a Grand Rapids television station, Vogelar’s family was located. It turns out the soldier was stationed at what is now the Nome Airport. He was a member of the 11th Airforce Squadron and helped transport tanks and planes from the Lower 48 to Alaska. A survivor of the war, Vogelar finished his life as a welder and died in 1994.

Due to a family feud, Vogelar never knew his grandson Dustin, but Gandolfo was able to meet Dustin over Skype to share the news of the recovered tag and see photos of Vogelar as a young soldier.

“Even right now sitting here my arms…the hair is standing up. I just get all chilled thinking about it,” said Gandolfo. “I mean, most people’s reaction would be, ‘That’s cool, I’m gonna keep this,’ but to me, this is somebody’s life and obviously it was lost and it had to find its way back to where it belonged.”

Vogelar’s tag is currently on its way home to Linda, his eldest daughter, and Gandolfo said he’s happy his stroke of luck came at the opportune time.

“I feel really good, especially because I found these people before Veteran’s Day. That makes it even more special, you know? There aren’t that many WWII vets left and we should cherish and honor them each day that we can,” said Gandolfo.

And if this rare find isn’t impressive enough, Gandolfo added that he believes he found two other military relics along the beach this week: a Confederate States of America brass belt buckle and a fork from the U.S. Army.

Categories: Alaska News