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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: 22 min 21 sec ago

Parnell Signs Gasline Legislation

Thu, 2014-05-08 17:40

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.

PARNELL: So with my signature today, Alaska will be on its way to becoming an owner in an Alaska LNG project, and the project will officially get underway.

The proposed natural gas project is seen as a lifeline for the state, as North Slope oil production declines and state revenue dwindles. Its construction has also been attempted many times without success.

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More than 40 years ago, trillions upon trillions of cubic feet of natural gas were discovered on the North Slope. And ever since, Alaska’s leaders have been trying to figure out a way to sell it.

“In 1968, when they discovered oil and gas at Prudhoe Bay, the whole play was you build a pipeline to take the oil to market, take the weekend off, turn the equipment around, and go build a gasline,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “Didn’t happen.”

In the 1970s alone, you had companies with names like Arctic Gas, El Paso, and Alaska Northwest all making plays to build a gas line. Congress was supportive, too. Permits were issued, federal regulations were met. There were a lot of people who wanted the project to work.

“So you had three legit proposals in the Seventies,” says Persily. “None, as we know now, worked out because of the economics.”

The demand for natural gas just wasn’t enough to justify tapping the supply. The price for natural gas was so low that there would be no way to cover the costs. And on top of that, natural gas on the North Slope had value insofar as it made oil recovery easier.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to make any money.’ So, no one wrote any big checks to order pipe or go ahead with it,” says Persily. “That’s the simple answer.”>>

Through the decades, there were other private attempts at a gasline.

And since the late 1990s, there have been three major legislative efforts to get a gasline built. Gov. Tony Knowles got behind the Stranded Gas Act, which would have let the state enter into negotiations with firms to build a line. No one bit. Gov. Frank Murkowski tried to get through his own version of that, but it didn’t even come to a vote because of concerns that it prevented future legislatures from making tax increases. Then there was Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which offered a half-billion dollars in subsidies to get a project kickstarted.

“Stranded Gas Act 1 didn’t work. Stranded Gas Act 2 didn’t work. AGIA didn’t work,” says Persily.

So, what’s different this time?

“Well, what’s different this time around is the state would be an investor,” says Persily. “So, when you think about a business, every dollar that the state invests as a partner the companies don’t have to invest.”

Parnell’s gasline bill sets the state up as a partial owner of the project. The major North Slope producers — that is, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips — each get a 25 percent share in the project. The state will also get a quarter, but it will be giving the pipeline-building company TransCanada a cut to effectively serve as the state’s bank. Instead implementing a traditional tax on the natural gas, the State will simply get a share of the gas itself.

Persily says the economics for selling the natural gas to Asia are different, too.

“It wasn’t until about 2008 that LNG prices in Japan looked to be high enough to cover the costs of an Alaska LNG project.”

The politicians behind the bill are quick to call it the real thing. At Thursday’s bill signing, more than one person said they believed this piece of legislation would truly get a gasline built.

But there are skeptics, too. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker puts the odds that the legislation will lead to a gasline at zero. He says it commits the state to a hundred-million-dollar studies without a guarantee that anything will be built.

For his part, Persily is cautiously optimistic.

“If the market grows like many people expect. If prices in Asia stay high. If the producers do their engineering and environmental permitting work and don’t find any surprise and don’t find any big problems. If the producers and TransCananada and the state pass the political test with the public and the Legislature,” says Persily, before pausing. “Yeah, we have a decent shot at this, we really do.”

Lawmakers hope so, too. They will revisit the deal in 2015, when they are presented with more enabling legislation to allow the project to go ahead.

Categories: Alaska News

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
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