APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 54 min 7 sec ago

Alaska News Nightly: January 31, 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:10

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.

Download Audio

Mallott To Decide Walker’s Future Involvement In Point Thomson Settlement

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has delegated his authority on the Point Thomson lawsuit to his lieutenant governor, while still leaving open the possibility of his involvement.

New Campaign Hoping to Increase Conservation in Aleutians

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The waters around the Aleutian Islands support a dizzying range of wildlife — and major industries right along with it. Right now, the government’s job is to help find a balance. But there’s a new campaign to permanently tip the scales toward conservation in the Aleutian Chain.

Arctic Shipping Chills In 2014

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC

Predictions of the Arctic as a major shipping route appear to have dimmed in 2014. Just 31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013. Malte Humpert, director of a Washington-based think tank called the Arctic Institute, said the number of transits is an indication of slower economic activity in the Arctic, and predictions of an Arctic boom have cooled, too.

Crude Price Drop Unlikely To Affect Fuel Prices In Western Alaska

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

Oil prices continue to fall, with Brent crude around $55 a barrel –and gasoline prices are dipping below $3 per gallon in Anchorage. But even as fuel prices plummet, rural Alaskans are unlikely to see major savings. Sean Thomas is the vice president of energy and shipping corporation Crowley Maritime. He said western Alaska’s unique geography is a contributing factor to static fuel prices in the region.

Fish and Game Commissioner: All Resources Important

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Fish and Game resources are important to nearly every Alaskan and the state’s new acting commissioner of Fish and Game says he’ll take that to heart as he makes decisions. Sam Cotten is a former democratic state lawmaker. More recently, he’s been a commercial fishermen and a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Anchorage Sets New Temperature Record

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The city of Anchorage can claim a new record. The city did not see a temperature drop below zero for the entire year of 2014. The last time Anchorage residents saw a below zero reading was Dec. 26 of 2013.

Bainbridge Island Nonprofit Providing Unique Deliveries

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

This time of year, many have been buying pasta or cans of soup to contribute to food drives. But food bank organizers say they could use foods with protein.  A Bainbridge Island, Washington nonprofit is delivering such foods in a unique way.







Categories: Alaska News

New Campaign Hoping to Increase Conservation in Aleutians

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:10

Download Audio

The waters around the Aleutian Islands support a dizzying range of wildlife – and major industries right along with it. Right now, the government’s job is to help find a balance. But there’s a new campaign to permanently tip the scales toward conservation in the Aleutian Chain.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game Commissioner: All Resources Important

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:03

Download Audio

Fish and Game resources are important to nearly every Alaskan and the state’s new acting commissioner of Fish and Game says he’ll take that to heart as he makes decisions. Sam Cotten is a former Democratic state lawmaker. More recently, he’s been a commercial fishermen and a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Sets New Temperature Record

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:01

Download Audio

The city of Anchorage can claim a new record. The city did not see a temperature drop below zero for the entire year of 2014. The last time Anchorage residents saw a below zero reading was December 26, 2013.

Categories: Alaska News

Bainbridge Island Nonprofit Providing Unique Deliveries

Wed, 2014-12-31 17:00

Download Audio

This time of year, many have been buying pasta or cans of soup to contribute to food drives. But food bank organizers say they could use foods with protein. A Bainbridge Island, Washington nonprofit is delivering such foods in a unique way.

Categories: Alaska News

Ambler Road Would Have Mixed Impact on NW Arctic Caribou

Wed, 2014-12-31 14:26
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, says it is still moving forward to prepare an environmental impact statement for the contentious Ambler Road, even after Governor Bill Walker has placed a hold on the project. The Ambler road would branch west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville and run into the copper deposit near Ambler. If the road eventually gets the go-ahead, it will be a mixed bag for the Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd which winters on and migrates through land that the road would bisect. “I think we’ve got enough information to show that with regard to caribou, it’s not an easy answer,” said Jim Dau, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Kotzebue. “It varies tremendously, seasonally. It’s hard to make a categorical statement saying roads are terrible for caribou or they have no effect. It’s not that simple.” Dau says the road and development that comes with it will have long-term impacts on the caribou herd and its users—but the costs and benefits aren’t clear-cut. Dau said caribou can coexist with roads but they fragment habitat and interrupt migration range. “I think the major impact of roads on caribou is how it affects movements, not just how much lichen is covered by gravel.”

In a recent study, biologists from the Wilderness Society, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service found that about 1.5 to 8.5 percent of the northwest herd’s lichen-rich winter habitat would be displaced by the proposed road. That may not sound like much but Dau said there is more to consider.

Most of the caribou migrate south in the fall, traveling just to the west of where the road would end, but sometimes, instead of traveling south toward the Seward Peninsula, they hook a left and walk up the Kobuk.

“You know, I’ve seen 50 or 80 thousand caribou walk completely out of the Kobuk into the Koyukuk—the upper Koyukuk drainage—and that’s completely along that road, that proposed road.”

The caribou can likely learn to live along a road. They have done it time and time again throughout the continent. Dau has studied herds’ movements near the Kuparuk oil fields, near the Red Dog Mine. He’s talked to biologists in Canada whose herds navigate much more developed land than in Alaska. But Dau’s question is one many share: Will this be the only road, or is it just the first?

AIDEA has said many times that the Ambler Road will be the only road and it will be closed and remediated once mining operations have ceased. The public has been skeptical, especially given its cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dau said he doesn’t support or oppose the road, but if this is just the beginning of development, he says he’s taking the long-term view. “If they were going to extend that road from Ambler out to any deep-water port, then it would bisect the NW Arctic herd range and the caribou would have to cross that road multiple times per year,” he said. “That would be a very, very different animal. So, I tend to think about long-term things. Not just the next 10 years or 20 years. What’s this road going to look like in 50, 75 years or 100 years? Those are the time frames you need to think about.” While AIDEA has maintained that the Ambler Road would be industrial-use only, Dau said the public, including subsistence users in villages near the road, would likely desire access for hunting and other uses if the road were built.
Categories: Alaska News

Crude Price Drop Unlikely To Affect Fuel Prices In Western Alaska

Wed, 2014-12-31 13:49

Fuel tank farm in Wales, Alaska. (Photoby: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM.)

Oil prices continue to fall, with Brent crude around $56 per barrel and gasoline dipping below $3 per gallon around the state. But even as crude prices plummet, rural Alaskans are unlikely to see major savings this winter.

Sean Thomas, the vice president of energy and shipping corporation Crowley Maritime, said western Alaska’s unique geography contributes to static fuel prices in the region.

“The western Alaska market is not a traditional market that you would see at the corner gas station,” he said. “Those markets are served by very large bulk orders that are placed into tank farms, and then are pretty much locked in by ice. So new product does not get in to those locations until the ice goes out.”

Thomas said the price customers see at a gas station in Nome, for example, reflects the market value of gasoline during the summer, when Crowley purchased the fuel. Gasoline stored in tank farms throughout the winter has already been paid for, and doesn’t fluctuate with world market prices.

Nome Utility Manager John Handeland said most utility systems in the region operate under a similar purchasing system. He explained that the Western Alaska Fuel Group – a consortium of communities including Nome, Unalakleet, Kotzebue and Dillingham – purchases diesel and other fuels in bulk, trying to minimize costs during the limited summer window.

The group receives its fuel from Vitus Marine, Handeland said, at an average price calculated for the month when the order was placed. Though the current market fluctuations are extreme, Handeland noted that the price of oil tends to rise in summer and fall in winter every year.

Thomas said summers do generally mean a spike in fuel prices — a trend he attributed partially to demand. But while locked-in prices may seem burdensome when the market is low, he said stable fuel values have also benefited rural customers in the past.

“If you think back just a couple years ago when oil was trading at $60, $70, $80 a barrel and spiked to $140 a barrel. People in Anchorage and elsewhere were paying twice as much at the gas station, and places like Nome and Bethel and Kotzebue prices stayed the same,” said Thomas.

As for whether current market lows will hold until next summer’s purchasing season, both Handeland and Thomas agree: Only time will tell.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Shipping Chills in 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 11:39

The year 2014 has proved to be a slow one for Arctic shipping. Just 31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013.

Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says this year has served as a reality check on some of the over-heated Arctic predictions of recent years.

“I think 2014 kind of shows that development and Arctic shipping may be further off than we might have thought a few years ago, that the ice is not melting as quickly as previously predicted,” he said.

Humpert says shipping is a good indicator of economic activity on the ground in the Arctic. 2007 and 2012 were low ice years, fuelling excitement about Arctic resource extraction, container shipping, even large-scale tourism. Then this year, the ice rebounded a bit. Not only did the number of ships drop off, but Humpert says the purpose changed, too.

“Last year (2013) we had a lot of oil carriers, we had one LNG carrier, we had iron ore, we had timber – a lot of natural resources,” he said.  ”And this year we had actually a few passenger ships, we had heavy lift vessels so that indicates there was building equipment, like an oil platform being transported into the Russian Arctic.”

Humpbert closely watches the Northern Sea Route. (That’s the course over the top of Russia – meaning, if you’re coming from Asia, you go through the Bering Strait and hang a left.) It’s not just ice that’s putting a damper on Arctic activity. Humpert says Russia is feeling the effects of sanctions, resulting from its move on Ukraine. That has scaled back Russian oil activity, and low oil prices haven’t helped. Humpert says he hears a new tone among Arctic forecasters these days.

“I think, in general, the pendulum of excitement and reality, it might be swinging back to reality a little bit,” he said.

Joël Plouffe, a Montreal-based managing editor of the journal Arctic Yearbook, has noticed the same thing. Plouffe says the opening of the Arctic has been oversold as a major and immediate boom, but it remains a region where access is limited and development expensive.

“This is the reality. The boom is not there. And whatever will happen will take years and years and years,” he said.

Still, he does see some exciting developments this year, starting with the Northwest Passage. (That’s the course you’d be on if you went north through the Bering Strait and turned right, over Alaska and Canada.) It sees much less traffic than the Northern Sea Route, but this year, Plouffe says, one transit was a commercial ship travelling without a separate icebreaker.

“The shipping company called Fednav was the first shipping company to actually take some minerals out of the Canadian Arctic and take them out to China using the Northwest Passage, and using drones to help them in Arctic waters,” Plouffe said. “So that’s something new and this pattern will continue.”

And, he says, this year saw the first shipments of oil from Russia’s Arctic waters. Plouffe says expectations of a sudden boom have helped focus some American attention on the Arctic, at least in Congress and among some journalists. Now Plouffe hopes that focus can be expanded to concern for people –the high energy bills in rural Alaska, for instance, and the safety of travel in the region.

“It might not be as sexy as talking about the big boom, but there’s a lot of work to be done to explain to people that eventually what will happen in the North when there will be less ice there will be more human activity,” he said. “So this is not a boom. This is just more human beings travelling in the north and being more vulnerable, also.”

Both Plouffe and Humpert say climate change is transforming the Arctic, even if the pace of its impact on shipping has been over-hyped at times. Humpert likened it to the Gold Rush, which forever changed California, although many reports at the time of easy riches proved to be exaggerations.




Categories: Alaska News

Walker Plans To Stick To Marijuana Implementation Schedule, But Other Delays Still Possible

Tue, 2014-12-30 21:30

After considering a delay in legal marijuana sales, Gov. Bill Walker has confirmed that implementation of rules regulating the drug should meet the schedule approved by voters. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event earlier in mid-December, Gov. Bill Walker made a crack about how he wished he could delay the work of marijuana regulation for four years. During campaign season, back when he was still a candidate and the fate of a marijuana ballot measure was yet to be decided, Walker spent little time talking about the initiative except to say he opposed it. Now obligated by voters to do something about it, Walker told the Fairbanks audience he would like to delay some parts of the marijuana initiative by 90 days.

But in a press release on Tuesday, the governor announced he plans to stick to the schedule set by the initiative, with marijuana business licenses available by May of 2014. According to those tasked with the work of implementation, making that deadline is still going to be tight.

“There’s very little leeway or room in that timeline,” says Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s alcoholic beverage control board

That board is working with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to come up with an implementation plan. At a recent meeting with governor, participants concluded that is possible to meet the terms of the initiative. It’s just not a guarantee.

“When you actually go look at the process for meeting those deadlines, really, everything has to go right. What we were pleased [about] when we had the meeting with the governor’s office is that everyone is on board with making everything go as right as possible.”

The marijuana initiative gets added to the books on February 24, and the law will basically go into effect in stages. Possession of the drug outside the home will become legal at that point, but the state legislature will be given the chance to set some of the terms governing commercial operations. Then, a regulatory board has until November 24 to craft its own rules for the industry. Those rules then go to the Department of Law for legal review. It won’t be until next February until marijuana ventures can submit licensing applications.

While that sounds like a long time, Franklin says there are plenty of opportunities for hold-ups, and a lot of that depends on what the Legislature decides to do with the new marijuana policy. Lawmakers could just let the existing alcoholic beverage control board manage the cannabis industry, but they could also create a separate marijuana control board to govern it. Initiative proponents have supported this idea to prevent regulatory power struggles between the alcohol and marijuana industries, and bill to create such a board is already being drafted by Senate judiciary chair Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican.

Franklin says if the legislature goes that route, and serves it with a new agency, it will be impossible to meet the initiative’s deadlines.

“There is no question in my mind that if the legislature creates a separate marijuana control board and a separate marijuana control agency — and that agency has to be hired and put in place and put somewhere physical, and they all have to learn and understand their new jobs, and then they have to work with their brand new board in their brand new industry creating brand new rules from scratch — they will not meet those deadlines,” says Franklin.

Bruce Schulte represents a marijuana industry trade group, and while he’s not as emphatic as Franklin, he doesn’t totally disagree.

“I don’t know that it would be impossible, but certainly it would take up valuable time if a new board is to be created,” says Schulte.

That leaves the members of his group — the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation — in a bit of a bind. Schulte says they like the idea of marijuana and alcohol being regulated separately, but they also want to see implementation happen as quickly as possible. Constitutionally, the Legislature cannot weaken or undo an initiative for two years. But because so much of those two years need to be spent on rule-making before retailers can sell the product, Schulte is worried that leaves the new marijuana law in a vulnerable spot.

“Optimistically, the first stores would be open by August, maybe September, of 2016,” says Schulte. “So, at that point, you’ve got barely six months to establish a track record and to generate some revenue and prove that it can be done responsibly before the legislature then has the opportunity to shut the whole thing down.”

Schulte thinks it’s possible to create a separation between alcohol and marijuana regulators while still meeting the initiative timeline. He says that could be done by establishing an independent marijuana board, while keeping it in the same agency as the ABC board and having it share the same staff.

“I think that would be a compromise,” says Schulte.

If the legislature opts not to create any sort of marijuana control board, the ABC board will be granted regulatory authority over the drug by default.

Categories: Alaska News

Mallott To Decide Walker’s Future Involvement In Point Thomson Settlement

Tue, 2014-12-30 21:16

Gov. Bill Walker has delegated his authority on the Point Thomson lawsuit to his lieutenant governor, while still leaving open the possibility of his involvement.

In a letter signed on Monday, Walker granted Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott the power to decide if Walker’s prior litigation against the state while an attorney in private practice should prevent him from participating in decisions about those same cases in his new role as governor. As a partner at the Anchorage law firm Walker & Richards, Walker sued the state over a settlement with Exxon to develop Point Thomson, and the case became a point of contention during the campaign against incumbent Sean Parnell. Parnell argued that Walker’s lawsuit would halt development of natural gas reserves on the North Slope, while Walker responded that the agreement amounted that the agreement amounted to a closed-door deal by bypassing the legislature.

The letter comes just days after his former law partner and current attorney general, Craig Richards, relinquished his own authority to participate in such litigation in more specific terms. On Friday, Richards wrote that his chief assistant attorney general, Martin Schultz, would take on those cases until his “former clients no longer have financial obligations” to him. In addition to the Point Thomson case, Richards wrote he would recuse himself from a number of municipal property tax proceedings concerning the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Walker and Richards sold their law firm shortly after the election to attorney Robin Brena, who chaired the Walker transition team’s oil and gas committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Regional Subsistence Advisory Councils Having Trouble Filling Seats

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:26

Subsistence harvests are managed by federal agencies with input from local residents through regional advisory councils. But, local residents aren’t stepping up to be on the councils.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Second Boy Reaches Deal in Illegal Brevig Mission Muskox Killings

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:25

Both boys charged with chasing down a herd of muskox before killing several of the animals just outside of Brevig Mission have now reached a deal with state prosecutors, bringing to a close a case that started back in 2012.

Download Audio

More than two years ago the two boys—at the time aged 10 and 13—were charged with shooting at a small herd of the iconic animals with rifles and shotguns over the course of several days before ultimately chasing the herd down on four wheelers and killing seven of the animals—five cows and two bulls.

The names of both of the boys involved with the incident are not being released due to their age.

In all, the pair faced dozens of charges, including a combined 11 counts of wanton waste of big game, when they first appeared before a Nome judge in January.

The younger of the two boys faced seven charges of wanton waste of muskox, as well as eight misdemeanor hunting violations and tampering with evidence. Alaska statue calls for a $3,000 penalty for illegally killing a muskox.

In a Dec. 2 plea bargain, the younger boy reached a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a guilty plea to “one consolidated charge” of wanton waste, he was fined $500—with $500 suspended—and ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution to the state, just a fraction of the $21,000 fine he could have faced. The boy also has to forfeit his Yamaha four wheeler and the four guns used in the muskox killing. In addition, the terms of the deal rescinds the boy’s hunting privileges for one year.

In July the older of the two boys reached a similar deal, pleading guilty to one count of wanton waste in exchange for a single $3,000 fine and the forfeiture of all equipment—including guns and four wheelers—used in the incident.

In the deal reached with the older boy earlier this year, state prosecutors said many of the financial penalties and other punishments the boys faced were reduced due to their young age.

Categories: Alaska News

Lance Mackey Enters 2015 Yukon Quest Field

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:24

One of the biggest names in long-distance dog mushing has signed up for the Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks.

Download Audio

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports four-time champion Lance Mackey entered the race Monday.

He’s replacing Jimmy Lebling, who had planned to run his first race with a team from Mackey’s Comeback Kennels.

Mackey says changes among his kennel staff led him to decide to enter the race. The Fairbanks musher says the Quest is in his backyard and it’s hard not to want to be a part of that.

Mackey will race against three other former champions, including Allen Moore, who has back-to-back titles the last two years.

Former champions Hugh Neff and Jeff King are also part of the 28-team field.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Shooting Death Ruled Suicide

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:23

A shooting death at the University of Alaska Fairbanks earlier this month has been ruled a suicide. Forty-eight-year-old student Scott Austin was found dead from a gun shot, next to his car in a campus parking lot on the morning of December 3rd. Austin’s death was initially suspected to be an accident, but UAF Police Chief Keith Mallard says an autopsy performed at the state medical examiner’s office, found Austin’s injury to be consistent with suicide.

Download Audio

“This was further collaborated with a note that was left in his residence,” Mallard said.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported earlier this month that Austin was a sophomore petroleum engineering student, who had attended UAF since the fall 2012 semester. Austin was an Air Force veteran, originally from New York.


Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program Sees Changes in 2015

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:22

The National Marine Fisheries Service held outreach meetings in Kodiak and Homer in December.

Download Audio

Fishermen and NMFS representatives discussed the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer program.

The overall feeling at the meeting seemed to be discontent with a grain of salt. Many fishermen who attended voiced their frustration with the observer program in general. But, many also said that they understand what its purpose is. That sentiment is nothing new to Martin Lefled.

“I’m with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, based out of Seattle, and I’m the director of the observer program in Alaska for the federal fisheries,” Lefled said.

He says NMFS has received a lot of feedback and it’s listening.

“So, the council and NMFS recognized that something wasn’t working that the program has some flexibility to change,” Lefled said. “So, we’re changing it to the area that is working.”

Lefled says the greatest change will be to the way observers are placed on partial coverage category vessels. Starting in 2015, observers will be placed when a vessel is selected through the Observer Declare and Deploy System or ODDS.

In the past, large vessels with 100 percent coverage and vessels greater than 57 and a half feet fishing with trawl gear or hook-and-line fixed gear fell under what is called trip selection. Vessels between 40 and 57 and a half feet fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear were previously under vessel selection.

“So vessel selection was not working very well,” Lefled said. “So the change is that we’re going to treat all of those vessels just like we treat the bigger trip selection vessels, because that worked very well.”

So, all partial coverage category vessels that use trawl gear or are greater than or equal to 40 feet and use hook-and-line or pot gear will be in the trip selection pool.

Vessel owners and operators will be required to log each fishing trip onto ODDS at least 72 hour before departure. Then, they’ll be immediately notified if the trip has been randomly selected. If chosen, a NMFS contractor will provide the observer.

“And that’s going to fix the problem where previously, they were being selected for a two month period. So, the burden was very great,” he said. “So, we think we’ve made it more workable for the fleet so the impact of the observer coverage is going to be for just that trip that’s been picked. [There is a] relatively low rate so not that many trips will be picked. It will still be a burden, but just for a trip. And I think everyone can deal with a trip.”

The other main change to the program, Lefled says, is the rate for the larger vessels that are 57 and a half feet and greater is going up to 27 percent. So, about one in four trips will be picked.

The no selection pool comprises vessels fishing with hook-and-line or pot gear that are less than 40 feet, all catcher vessels of any length with jig, handline, troll, and dinglebar troll gear, and vessels that are conditionally released due to life raft capacity. Additionally, starting in 2015, vessels voluntarily participating in NMFS’ Electronic Monitoring Study will not be selected.

Malcolm Milne works with the North Pacific Fisheries Association. His group has been involved with testing and designing what he calls a reasonable and applicable electronic monitoring system. He says E-M could be a more economical alternative to a physical observer.

“The numbers are all over the board but it’s something like a thousand dollars a day for an observer on a boat – that’s what it’s costing the program,” Milne said. “We’re trying to get a system where we can bring those costs down and therefore provide more coverage across all the fisheries.”

Milne says he doesn’t foresee E-M replacing observers anytime soon. But, he says the program has potential; they’ve just got to work out the kinks.

“It’s still in its development stage- that’s for sure,” Milne said. “But, there’s been a lot of cooperation and a lot of frustration between the industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service, between getting the program running and what the goals should be and what direction we should be going with it. It’s a ways off.”

The idea of taking a camera instead of a live observer seemed to go over well with many fishermen in the room. But they still had questions about other facets of the program.

A few voiced concerns about an observer bumping an IFQ holder off a trip if there’s not enough room to carry both. Others worried that some observers don’t communicate enough with crews and write down complaints that they say aren’t entirely valid.

Chris Sylce of the Katrina M. had a suggestion for the program – allow tenders to transport observers on and off boats so they don’t have to be picked up on the docks.

“Where if the tenders could bring them to the grounds, we deliver to the tender, they get on their boat, we do a trip, they get back on the tender, they go back to town or they get on the other boat that’s coming to deliver,” Sylce said.

He thinks it would streamline the process, cause less hassle for some boats, and even out the playing field for others. He says it would be in the best interest of the program.

“And if they want to get their 24 percent coverage, this is huge, in my mind,” Sylce said. “Say I get selected for Trip 2 for an observer. Well, I [could] leave on Trip 1 and I just don’t go back to town. I deliver to a tender all winter. Technically, I do one trip all winter but I make 25 deliveries. So, I’m never going to have to take that observer because I never go to down.”

Martin Lefled says the council and NMFS are discussing the tender issue and are taking other concerns into consideration as well. But, big changes will only come after thorough research.

“We want to make sure the science has integrity,” Lefled said.

So, he asks fishermen to work with the program for another year as it develops more throughout 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC Commissioner to Rule in 2015 on Groundwater Sulfolane-Cleanup Level

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:21

It appears the dispute over how much to clean up contaminated groundwater in the North Pole area will continue into the new year. Officials with the state’s environmental regulatory agency are still reviewing studies to help them decide on a safe cleanup level for the chemical that leaked from a North Pole refinery into the area’s groundwater.

Download Audio

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation suggested last fall that DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig may issue a decision on a cleanup level for groundwater contaminated with the industrial solvent sulfolane around the end of the year.

But DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell says that’s unlikely to happen.

The cleanup plan announced Monday requires Flint Hills Resources-Alaska, and potential future owners of its North Pole refinery, to continue remediating and removing contaminants from the facility. (Credit KUAC file photo)

Sulfolane leaked for years from the North Pole Refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills closed the refinery last summer, citing increasing costs, including those related to the sulfolane cleanup. A portion of the facility is now used as a fuel terminal.

“Currently, there is no estimate for when DEC will issue a final cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said.

It’s a complex issue, made even more so because there’s no accepted standard for how much sulfolane a human can be exposed to before it poses a threat to health.

O’Connell says DEC officials are continuing their analysis of data as part of the review of a DEC staff recommendation for a stringent cleanup level of 14 parts-per-billion. Hartig agreed to the review in April in response to a request by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska. Flint Hills owns the North Pole refinery that leaked sulfolane into the groundwater, apparently before it bought the facility in 2004.

Flint Hills officials suggested a year ago that DEC should instead set a less-stringent cleanup level that would allow 25 times more sulfolane than the agency’s recommendation.

O’Connell says much of the data that DEC is weighing on the subject was presented during a two-day session in September by a panel of experts the DEC asked to look into the issue. The experts with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, focused on studies on reference doses for sulfolane. That refers to the maximum amount of a toxic substance that can be ingested before it poses a risk to human health.

“Those discussions were in regards to the reference dose, which is one factor of a number of factors that go into calculating a cleanup level for sulfolane,” he said

O’Connell says a report on the two days of discussions has been posted to the TERA website.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Seek Public’s Help In Locating Missing Wisconsin Man

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:20

Alaska State Troopers are seeking the public’s help in a search for a 72-year-old Wisconsin man who disappeared in August.

Download Audio

Troopers say Roger Yaeger of Eagle River, Wisconsin, traveled to Alaska over the summer to view wildlife. Family members last heard from Yaeger Aug. 8 when he visited a relative in Wasilla.

Troopers traced Yaeger’s subsequent travel to Fairbanks, where he turned in his rental car a day or two after his Wasilla visit.

Troopers were contacted a few weeks ago by relatives who said Yaeger didn’t return emails for an extended period of time. According to troopers, Yaeger had told relatives he was going to travel around Alaska and would update them around Christmas.

Troopers say there is no record of Yaeger flying in Alaska or leaving the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Marine Highway Prices To Rise Next Summer

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:19

It will cost passengers more to ride the state ferry starting in the summer. That’s when fares for most Alaska Marine Highway will increase by 4.5 percent.

Download Audio

According to the Department of Transportation, tickets booked after the first of the year for travel after May first will reflect the new rates. Tickets booked before the New Year will fall under the current rates.

The new fare structure is spurred by the recommendations of a recent rate analysis. The Marine Transportation Advisory Board saw the preliminary recommendations of that report during a recent meeting in Ketchikan. DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the department was planning to raise fares even before the recommendation.

“The department knew its rates were out of balance and by increasing most fares by four-and-a-half percent that was consistent with a lot of other recommendations that were coming through the department as a way to help increase revenues to offset operating costs. So the department would likely move ahead with this rate increase regardless,” Woodrow said. ”So by announcing it now, we’re giving the general public the most amount of time possible to prepare for that increase.”

The analysis was conducted by Northern Economics. It recommends the Marine Highway System set rates so that they to cover between 39 to 65 percent of operating expenses. Revenues currently cover less than one-third of the operating budget, according to the department.

Woodrow says the complete rate study will be released to the legislature in February. More changes in operating costs may come after that.

“The rate increase that was just announced was one of the first preliminary recommendations from that report,” Woodrow said. “The study is not complete yet so we’ve not released the first report. We’ll do that when we release the full report to the legislature this upcoming session.”

The analysis suggests that rates more than 25 percent above average not change. Woodrow says that means about 30 fares within the system will remain unchanged, including the route between Skagway and Haines, the highest per mile rate in Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Prepares to Offer Grizzly License Plates

Tue, 2014-12-30 17:18

Alaska is bringing back the bear to license plates.

Download Audio

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Alaskans next spring will be able to choose license plates of blue and gold that reflect state flag colors or a new version of plates last offered in 1976 that feature a grizzly bear.

Outgoing state Rep. Peggy Wilson sponsored a measure last session to bring back the grizzly plates. House Bill 293 passed unanimously in the final days of the 2014 session.

The old grizzly plates had red lettering, beige mountains and a brown bear on its hind legs on a white background.

The new plates feature a darker bear on a fading blue background with a silhouette of the Alaska Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Continues To Fill Out Cabinet With Administration, Education Commissioners

Tue, 2014-12-30 13:15

Gov. Bill Walker has made his final decision on his administration and education commissioner.

Walker has named Sheldon Fisher head of Administration, a department with a wide range of government responsibilities including overseeing the Division of Motor Vehicles as well as the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Fisher has been an executive at McKinley Capital Management since 2011. Before that, he led the sales and marketing team at Alaska Communications. Fisher also made a failed bid at public office in 2010, when he launched a primary challenge against Republican Congressman Don Young. Young took 70 percent of the vote. For the past month, former DMV director Amy Erickson has served as the acting administration commissioner.

Walker, in concert with the Board of Education, has also reappointed Mike Hanley as a commissioner. Hanley was originally named education commissioner in 2011, by then-Gov. Sean Parnell. Hanley — along with environmental conservation commissioner Larry Hartig, transportation commissioner Pat Kemp, and public safety commission Gary Folger — is one of four department heads from the previous administration who Walker has decided to keep on his cabinet. Before being named education commissioner, Hanley spent 20 years in the Anchorage School District, with six of those as a principal.

All of Walker’s commissioner appointments must be approved by the Legislature this spring.

Categories: Alaska News