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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: 57 min 8 sec ago

Heroin Hits Home: One Woman’s Struggle to Get Clean in Bethel

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:51

Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than in 2013. The growing use of the drug is impacting urban and rural areas. This is the first in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. It begins with one woman’s struggle to get clean in Bethel.

Don’t be fooled by Tracy Faulkner’s 5’4” frame. The small brunette with thick hair and the nickname malaggai, which means “fur hat” in Yup’ik, is a former wrestling champion.

Black tar heroin is one form of the narcotic that’s reached rural Alaska. Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Public Safety.

She competed against boys in high school, going all the way to state and national competition. But in her off time she hid a dark secret.

“When I wasn’t training I would go and use — steal my parents’ booze, you know, find weed. It eventually progressed to taking pills,” said Faulkner.

That started when she was 12. One semester into college drugs started taking a priority over schoolwork. She dropped out and returned to Bethel where she tried school again, but her drug use intervened. She started a food truck business, but couldn’t maintain that either. That’s when Faulkner’s need for escape escalated.

“I got addicted to Tramadol – started taking that, eventually it wasn’t doing the trick for me anymore – I wanted that same high which I first got in the beginning. Then went to Oxycontin, and then went to using heroin,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner smoked it. Others inject. She couldn’t hold a job and was stealing to support her habit. Each high, or ‘nifty’ as they’re called, cost $100 here.

Tracy Faulkner. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK

There are no treatment programs specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel. Treatment centers in Anchorage have waiting lists. Rick Robb is Bethel’s Mayor and also runs residential facilities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.  “It seems like a few years ago it would be non-existent to rare, but now we’re seeing full-blown heroin and we’re seeing it more and more. So the numbers are definitely increasing,” said Robb.

YKHC’s behavioral health division offers outpatient and inpatient treatment for those struggling to get off drugs and alcohol. But there are only 16 beds at the local center and they’re not equipped to handle heroin withdrawal. Sometimes, Robb says, people endure the painful process in the hospital emergency room or at home.

“People can come in if they have a problem, and we’re gonna do the best we can with the resources we have to get people the help they need. I think we have to. There’s some emphasis on us. We have to improve our programing specifically for heroin and we have to learn more about it,” said Robb.

Faulkner says she distinctly remembers the day this winter when she gazed out the window at a friend’s house and realized she wanted to make a change.

Rick Robb, YKHC Residential Facilities Director. Photo Courtesy of Dean Swope/KYUK

“I remember looking out on the river and just seeing everybody living life and I was stuck in this dark place,” said Faulkner.

But with no detox facility in Bethel, Faulkner realized it would have to be cold turkey. She reached out to an uncle for help. He cared for her as she went through withdrawal.

“You get sick to your bones, I mean you want to crawl out of your skin. You lay in bed all day. You have the shakes, the sweats, you know. You’re puking, out the other end, you know it’s bad to where I couldn’t get out of bed,” said Faulkner.

After detox at home, she was ready to check herself into the local treatment program run by YKHC. But it wasn’t an easy process. YKHC told her it could take weeks to get an assessment necessary to access treatment. Instead of waiting she got the assessment at a local primary care clinic and was able to check in to in-patient treatment through YKHC within a few days. Robb, with YKHC, says he knows they need to do a better job of getting patients quickly into treatment. Now Faulkner is done with her treatment program. She says she gains strength from her ancestors and from her young son, who she says deserves to grow up in a healthy environment.

Rick Robb, YKHC Residential Facilities Director. Photo Courtesy of Dean Swope/KYUK

“It’s our younger generation that’s going to be most affected by this. I mean, our heritage, our culture is gonna be lost. For me, looking at my own child, I don’t want him to grow up in this kind of community. I want him to grow up in the community that I was raised in. Where we showed love for each other, where we cared for each other, where we stood as one,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner says she knows she’s in a unique position to help unite people in the region around the issue, and now that she’s clean that will be her focus.

Categories: Alaska News

Police Investigate Body Found in Bethel Park

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:41

Alaska State Troopers and Bethel Police are investigating after a body was found in a Bethel park. A press release from the Bethel Police Department Sunday said, in the early morning hours, around 4 a.m., witnesses reported a dead body near Pinky’s Park Boardwalk. Police responded and found the remains of a female in nearby bushes.

Investigators from the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Bureau of Investigation were dispatched to the scene from Anchorage and are working with the BPD Investigations Unit.

Currently the female has not been identified and the details of the case are not being released. But police are urging anyone with information regarding the case to call Bethel Police and speak with Investigative Sergeant Amy Davis.

Categories: Alaska News

Sleetmute Man Arrested on Sexual Abuse Warrant

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:40

Alaska State Troopers arrested a Sleetmute man Friday on a warrant for sexual abuse of a minor. Aniak-based Troopers arrested Sakar N. Zaukar of Sleetmute at his Housing Road residence around 3 p.m.

The 44-year-old was placed under arrest on an outstanding warrant for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the Second Degree, Sexual Assault in the Second Degree, and Sexual Assault in the Third Degree.

Zaukar was remanded to the YKCC in lieu of $25,000 bail and court approved third party custodian.

Categories: Alaska News

Researcher Leaves Homer for Studies in the Arctic

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:38

Sixteen researchers from the United States, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden will participate in the Fulbright Arctic Initiative. The group will meet in three countries for three different seminars. Each person will join a team to research developments in one of four specific areas: health, water, energy, and infrastructure. Individuals will also make international trips for their specific areas of study.

“We work in cross disciplines to find the common ground of different issues. For example, our climate up here is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. How does that affect communities relative to family, wellness, health and sustainability,” says Dr. Linda Chamberlain.

Dr. Linda Chamberlain’s work falls under health and she will contribute to the initiative by sharing her 20 plus years’ experience studying ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences. Simply put, she says ACEs are examples of childhood trauma.

“The original research on ACEs looked at all forms of child maltreatment so sexual, physical, and emotional. It also looked at neglect,” says Chamberlain.

She adds ACEs also stem from household dysfunction caused by substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and a litany of other issues. The other side of her work is building community resiliency.

“What can we do to keep those tough times during childhood from affecting brain development, a child’s school performance, and the long term health effects that we know can happen with this,” says Chamberlain.

But, how does the other researchers’ work impact ACEs in the Arctic and vice versa? Chamberlain explains it like this. Problems in households that negatively impact children can be triggered or worsened by outside stressors. Take climate change for example.

“That is affecting subsistence living. It affects the fish. It affects the fishing lifestyles [and] families’ economic welfare. Then you have another layer of pressure on a family or community that may already be struggling with these issues,” says Chamberlain.

And Chamberlain will in turn be a voice that pushes to understand what effect ACEs can have on the issues her fellow researchers are studying. Chamberlain expects the opportunity to learn from her Fulbright colleagues will be priceless.

“Communities like Homer are working to become trauma informed. I think we’ve learned a lot from communities elsewhere who are doing a lot of work around that and now we have an opportunity to learn from communities who live like we do in the circumpolar world,” says Chamberlain.

The researchers met for the first time this week for a program orientation in Iqaluit in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. Through the next year they will conduct their research at home as well as travel to institutions located in the home countries of the initiative’s participants.

Chamberlain will visit Finland in June to give a presentation on ACEs and from there she’ll travel to a research center in Nova Scotia that studies community resilience.

“Then I’ll be back home laying out what my research plan will be. I’ll be spending the spring in Finland doing my research, but I’ll also be returning there in February,” says Chamberlain.

Once all the teams’ research is complete and the results are analyzed the initiative will culminate in a final meeting next year in Washington D.C. Chamberlain plans to share the end result of her research online.

Categories: Alaska News

Fast response, wary public keeping Alaska wildfires down

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:34

Aggressive response and the public’s adherence to good fire practices are keeping forest fires down in Alaska despite tinderbox conditions in much of the state.

Through Sunday the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported 159 fires this year but fewer than seven square miles burned.

Unseasonably warm and dry temperatures coupled with grasses that remain brown from lack of moisture are making spring fire danger high.

The Yukon Flats and surrounding uplands, Fortymile River country, the Deltana-Tanana flats, and the Eastern Alaska Range remain under a red flag warning watch.

Fire agency spokesman Tim Mowry says two air tankers, a water-scooping aircraft and 16 smokejumpers from Boise, Idaho, were moved to Alaska last week because of the continued danger.

He says the public is to be credited for following burn laws.

Categories: Alaska News

Tok man arrested, charged with shooting into sporting store

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:33

A Tok man has been jailed after troopers say he fired a gun into a sporting goods store while his wife was locked inside.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that Alaska State Troopers responded to calls about a disturbance at Three Bears Outpost in Tok and found a 59-year-old man leaving the area.

Officials say he was intoxicated and had been arguing with his wife. When he tried to enter the sporting goods store to contact her, the manager locked him out.

Troopers say the man then fired three shots into the store with his handgun, narrowly missing the manager.

They charged the man with misconduct involving weapons, assault and driving under the influence.

Categories: Alaska News

COMMENTARY: A War, A Plane, A Young Soldier and The Ultimate Sacrifice

Mon, 2015-05-25 08:00

Photo of a B-17 bomber. U.S. Air Force.

His picture was on the wall in the small terminal building – Lt. Laird Hendricks, 25, young, like most military men and women. It said he died July 28,1941, in a B-17 crash in England and was Florida’s first war causality. No other information. The Pearl Harbor attack was five months later: December 1941. I needed to know more.

I was at the Sebring Airport in central Florida, on the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “experience history” tour. I serve as volunteer pilot-docent on a B-17, a 70-year-old World War II bomber, known as the Flying Fortress. It was used mainly out of England for daylight bombing raids over Germany. Those missions were responsible for victory in Europe.

But victory came at a high price.

Over 4,000 planes, each with 10 crew, were lost in combat. Sebring airport had originally been built in 1942 as B-17 crew training base – known then as Hendricks field.

After graduating from a small-town high school in Florida, Hendricks attended a military prep school for a year, hoping for a military career. He was selected for West Point and graduated from there just before his 23rd birthday in 1939. The Army Air Corp took only the best for flight school. Hendricks was selected. Primary flight training was in Texas – most likely in the biplane trainer of the day: the open-cockpit Stearman. Then came multi-engine training. And finally training in the B-17 – the biggest, baddest, most complex, airplane of the day. Early in 1941, Hendricks, 24, with about 200 hours of flight time, graduated from flight school – a four-engine bomber pilot and a lieutenant.

I remember being a young 200-hour pilot. It was exciting.

B-17C aircraft displays Royal Air Force colors. Photo: U.S. Air Force.

The Germans started bombing London in the fall of 1940. The U S. did not want to enter the fight. It’s was still more than a year before Peal Harbor. So what do we do in those situations? Send weapons. We sold 20 B-17Cs to England. The 17C was the latest model, but had problems with the autopilot, engines, and oxygen systems. They went to a Royal Air Force base in Polebrook, England. What goes with the weapons? Advisors. Sound familiar? Lt. Laird Hendricks volunteered – a choice assignment for a young officer from a rural Florida town.

He reported to Polebrook on Friday, July 25, and made an entry in diary he bought in London: “First day at RAF station Polebrook England.” His last entry was two days later on Sunday, July 28: “Taking a ship up tomorrow.”

July 28, late in the afternoon, the B-17C with Lt. Hendricks and six other RAF crew members took off on a training test flight – not a combat mission. Fewer than 30 minutes later the plane was seen by witnesses falling out of the sky with a wing coming off. All were lost. Not heroically in combat. The sacrifice was just as great though. The results as tragic to loved ones left behind. More than 4,000 B-17s were lost in noncombat flights.

I can’t help but think of those serving in Alaska who have also made that sacrifice. The C-17 crew a couple years ago at Elmendorf . The young F-22 pilot on night training mission over Gulkana. Doesn’t really matter what happened. They paid the ultimate price serving. It’s dangerous work our young military men and women sign on for – even in peacetime. They are all heroes.

Categories: Alaska News

Summit builds community through hip hop culture and history

Sun, 2015-05-24 21:44

Brianna McMillen shows off her breaking skills. Hillman/KSKA

Hip Hop is more than just music and dancing; it’s a culture based on bringing people together. That was the message during this weekend’s All Tribes Hip Hop Cultural Heritage Summit at Begich Middle School in East Anchorage.

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Local break dancer Brianna McMillen is surrounded by an eager group of elementary school students who are spinning on their backs and standing on their heads. Camo sweatpants hang from her petite but powerful frame, baseball hat askew on her head. She’s providing an impromptu dance lesson.

“I want you to move your foot there… Then do this,” she says while demonstrating an awkward crab-like walk.

McMillen, aka Bgirl Snap1, started listening to hip hop as teenager at South High in Anchorage.

“I could relate it to an adrenal rush on nice sunny day,” she says of listening to hip hop. “Just that rush of good feeling and just like that breathe of fresh air that life is really good.”

But she says at 16, she couldn’t really express what she felt physically.

“I loved music, but I never felt very rhythmically coordinated. I was more of an athlete more than anything. I didn’t know how to dance. And when I saw breaking I saw all the athleticism in it, and all the crazy moves that they were doing. And they were still dancing to the music that was just catching my ear.”

McMillen says through breaking, she met kids from all over town and from a variety of different backgrounds. She soon learned that hip hop isn’t just creativity, it’s self-discipline. She’s using that skill as a Blackhawk mechanic with the National Guard. She says hip hop is also about understanding that people are all just people.

Summit organizer and hip hop artist George Martinez explains that hip hop was created in New York in the 1970s as a way to unify people.

“Because fundamentally it was a group of people who are unlikelies – the write-offs, people who were poor, the people of color in the South Bronx who everyone forgot about who decided that just with cardboard boxes, they could transform a sidewalk into a dance studio and give each other hope.”

Martinez says hip hop values are peace, knowledge, and having fun. The culture gives people tools to compete and air their differences through non-violent, creative means. He says underground battles are happening all the time in Anchorage to see who raps better or dances better.

Samuel Johns grew up in Copper Center living a traditional lifestyle of hunting and fishing with his family. But he also listened to a lot of Tupac. He told the crowd of 40 youth and community members that it was Tupac’s storytelling through music that taught him how to connect to older generations. Now he’s known as AK Rebel and raps about ending domestic abuse and other violence.

“When I make music, I make music that will be remembered 10 years from now because it meant something. Because it’s a real story. It’s not just something that’s meant for clubs; it’s not just something that people dance to.”

Kids learn about graffiti art at the Hip Hop Summit in Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

Outside of the school, tall white wooden boards lean against a lamppost – temporarily blank canvases. Fourteen-year-old Kwali Phillips shakes a can of spray paint. He’s learning about another element of hip hop, graffiti art, as he reflects on the messages he learned from different rappers.

“Just to be true to myself and don’t make an impersonation of somebody. Not to portray myself in a negative light,” he says.

12-year-old Layla Kremer says the music and the dancing unite the kids at Begich Middle School.

“If, like, a new dance comes out, like all the kids are doing it. Everybody’s doing it. Like with the Whip, Lil’ Einstein’s music. Like I’ve seen white people, black people, African-Americans, Chinese. All just hanging out and doing the exact same dance just hanging out. It brings us all closer together.”

She grabs some paint and leans over a friend to add her mark to the board.

Categories: Alaska News

As Negotiations Continue, Little Public Action From Legislature

Sun, 2015-05-24 19:26

With negotiations over the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit still underway, the Alaska House and Senate met in brief and uneventful floor sessions over the weekend.

Because there was no agreement to vote on, the House session lasted 15 minutes. The Senate session was over in five. Both bodies also canceled separate Finance hearings. While no public action was taken on the budget, which requires a draw of $3 billion dollars from the state’s rainy day account or another fund, legislative leaders were optimistic that a deal could soon be reached.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, says there has been some progress between the House’s Republican Majority and Democratic Minority. Meyer says Speaker Mike Chenault has been talking to House Minority Leader Chris Tuck about what Democrats need to support drawing from the rainy day fund.

“If their requests are reasonable, I think the Senate will be amenable. If Mike has to give a lot to get Chris and the minority on board, then we could be at this for a while, because it’ll be a hard sell to the Senate.”

In most situations, a three-quarter vote is needed to draw from the state’s constitutional budget reserve. Democrats have withheld their support for more than a month in hopes of increasing funding for education and advancing other aspects of their agenda.

Last week, the Republican majorities had floated a plan to circumvent the Democrats using a loophole to the three-quarter rule. That threshold drops down to a majority vote, if funds in other accounts — like the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve — are not available for spending. In a bit of tricky accounting, Republicans had proposed moving money in the earnings reserve account to the corpus of the Permanent Fund, so that money would not count against them when taking a vote on the budget reserve.

But a group of six majority members opposed that plan, out of concern that it could have a negative impact on dividends in years where the stock market was weak.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, says that fracture has reinvigorated the budget compromise.

“I do think this week something’s going to happen,” says Wielechowski. “I feel like we’re getting close to a resolution on this.”

Lawmakers have until June 1 to pass a budget before layoff notices are sent to state employees, and until July 1 before Alaska experiences a partial government shutdown.

Categories: Alaska News

Unhappy Public Speaks For First Time In Special Session

Fri, 2015-05-22 19:19

For the first time since the regular session adjourned in April, a legislative committee took verbal testimony from the public.

The House Finance committee allotted three hours for input on the state operating budget, and more than 80 people spoke. The meeting opened with a series of former foster children coming to the microphone, and asking for more funding for social workers at the Office of Children’s Services.

Robin Ahgupuk is 20 years old, and spent 15 of those years in foster care. He experienced the agency’s high turnover rate firsthand.

“While I was in care, I had over 56 social workers in OCS,” said Ahgupuk. “The reason I had so many social workers is they were overburdened, stressed out, and overworked.”

The topics that came up after were varied. Some called for increased education funding, others Medicaid expansion, and then there were comments on a smorgasbord of other cuts made to things like public broadcasting and domestic violence programs. They also asked the Legislature not to tap the Permanent Fund to plug the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

But there was one common theme: frustration. While many expressed their vexation with restraint, Frank Gold of Fairbanks did not hold back on his opinion of state government.

“Stop playing with Alaska’s money like it’s your own alone,” said Gold. “You were elected to make the hard decisions, the politically unpopular decision. No one’s going to come home unscathed after a cantankerous and ludicrous session in Juneau or Anchroage. There’s no doubt that at least some of you will be pilloried for the budget you finally develop.”

While most of the comment focused on restoring cuts and achieving a budget deal, the testimony turned in the final hour. About a dozen people came to the hearing to express their support for more budget cuts, after the president of the conservative political group United for Liberty sent out an action alert notifying members that “liberals are out in mass to force their spending spree on the legislators.”

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Battle: Republicans Search for Workaround In Lieu of Courting Democratic Support

Fri, 2015-05-22 17:43

For weeks, the Legislature has been at a stalemate over its budget deficit. The Republican majority has been trying to secure a three-quarter vote to tap the state’s rainy day account, but they need Democratic support to do that — which means increasing education funding and expanding Medicaid. Now that the Legislature is in its second special session, some Republican leaders are trying to find an accounting workaround that would let them plug the deficit without reaching a deal with the Democrats. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us from the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, where lawmakers are meeting.

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TOWNSEND: So, the annual costs of running the state are about $5 billion, but the Legislature has only $2 billion in revenue that it can apply to that amount. What’s the plan to find the rest of the money?

GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s not like the state is broke, even though we’ve got a budget shortfall. Beyond the state’s unrestricted general fund — which is the pot of revenue that the Legislature can use with no strings attached and which mostly comes from oil taxes — there are a few other accounts that count as state money. The traditional rainy day account is the Constitutional Budget Reserve, but there are some pretty weird rules for accessing it. It requires a three-quarter vote, unless there are no other accounts you can readily tap. If the budget reserves your only real option, then you can tap it with just a majority vote.

The rub is that the state does have another big pot of money it can access with just a majority vote, and that’s the permanent fund earnings reserve. To get easy access to the rainy day account, you need that money to go away.

TOWNSEND: So is the Legislature looking at using the Permanent Fund to fill the budget deficit?

GUTIERREZ: The short answer is no. They’re just looking at playing an accounting trick.

The way the permanent fund is set up, is there’s the corpus, which requires a vote of the people to access, and then there’s the earnings reserve account, which comes from investment earnings off the corpus. That earnings reserve is where dividends come from.

What the Republican leadership is considering doing is moving money from that dividends reserve account into the corpus.

The Legislative finance director, David Teal, describes it like this: “like moving money from checking account to savings.”

The Legislature would leave enough money to pay dividends, but they would move most of the money into the main fund itself, which lets them get an easier vote on the rainy day account.

TOWNSEND: Does the Republican leadership have the support in their caucus to do this?

GUTIERREZ: It’s not unanimous by any stretch. On Wednesday, a group of six members of the House Majority caucus — basically a mix of some of the moderate members and some of the Bsh Democrats who caucus with them — sent a letter to the House Speaker saying they didn’t like the plan. They’re worried that if you went through with it and then had a stock market crash, your dividends would be at risk. Rep. Jim Colver, a Wasilla Republican who signed the letter, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner described the group as the “musk ox coalition” and the approach they were taking to the Permanent Fund was like a bunch of musk ox circling around a baby to protect it.

Without these six members of the majority on board, you basically don’t have the votes to implement this plan. That empowers the Democrats more when it comes to negotiations, and makes the three-quarter vote look more necessary.

TOWNSEND: So, does it sound like they could figure out a solution to all this soon?

GUTIERREZ: Well, if they don’t figure something out by June 1, layoff notices get sent out to state employees, and if they don’t pass a fully funded budget by July 1, we get a partial government shutdown. Those are some pretty important deadlines that could spur lawmakers to action.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton Flooding: DOT Digs Trenches to Keep Airport Open

Fri, 2015-05-22 17:40

Flooding in Deadhorse. ADOT&PF photo.

The northern stretch of the Dalton Highway is expected to remain closed into next week.

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Melt water from extensive overflow along the Sag River began flowing across the road last weekend, resulting in an initial closure Sunday effecting miles 375 to 410, south of Deadhorse, and the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. The closed area was expanded about 40 miles on the south end, and a few miles to Deadhorse on the north side, Tuesday, as water began impacting additional sections of the highway. Department of Transportation spokeswoman meadow Bailey says water no longer seems to be rising, but it will likely be several more days until the road re-opens.

“We’re still waiting for the water levels to go down, and after the water levels go down, we still have to go in and make some pretty significant repairs to quite a long stretch of road.”

Bailey says the DOT briefly had to shut down some electronic navigational aids at the Deadhorse Airport, as water came up. She says the DOT dug trenches to channel water away from the airport and some man camps, but some other lodging facilities remain flooded.

Gov. Bill Walker has issued a second disaster declaration in light of the ongoing flooding. The declaration enables DOT to request federal funds to help mitigate damage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 22, 2015

Fri, 2015-05-22 17:40

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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Budget Battle: Republicans Search for Workaround In Lieu of Courting Democratic Support

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

For weeks the Legislature has been at a stalemate over its budget deficit. The Republican majority has been trying to secure a three-quarter vote to tap the state’s rainy day account, but they need Democratic support to do that, which means increasing education funding and expanding Medicaid.

For $1B Radar, It’s Clear

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Missile Defense Agency on Friday confirmed that it has selected Clear Air Station as its preferred location for a new type of radar system, called Long Range Discrimination Radar. The final decision will depend on the outcome of safety and environmental studies.

State Takes Control of Nursing Facility, Citing History of Violations

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

It’s been a week since the State of Alaska took the rare step of assuming control of Prestige Nursing home in Anchorage. State inspectors found dozens of violations during a visit to the facility. And the state says the nursing home had plenty of prior warning that it needed to improve.

Dalton Flooding: DOT Digs Trenches to Keep Airport Open

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The northern stretch of the Dalton Highway is expected to remain closed into next week.

Museum of the North Rolls Out A New Exhibit: DINOSAURS!

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Museum of the North opens a new exhibit Saturday. “Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs” gives visitors the opportunity to experience paleontologists quest and what they’re finding in an underexplored region.

AK: A 12-Year-Old Cultural Ambassador

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

Imagine you arrive in a world where it rains all year round, and daylight swings from 17 hours in summertime to a paltry six in winter. And you’re only seven years old. That’s the situation Jasmine Molina found herself when she first got to Sitka, over 5,000 miles from her native city of Manila in the Philippines. Sitka’s Filipino population has grown substantially in the past five years, but there remains no formal system to help new students transition to school. That is, until Jasmine came to town.

49 Voices: Jean Aspen of Homer

This week, we’re hearing from Jean Aspen- a writer of wilderness books and a nurse who lives in Homer.

Categories: Alaska News

Museum of the North Rolls Out A New Exhibit: DINOSAURS!

Fri, 2015-05-22 14:42

UA Museum of the North head of production Roger Topp and “Snaps.” Photo: Dan Bross/KUAC.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North opens a new exhibit Saturday. “Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs” gives visitors the opportunity to experience paleontologists quest and what they’re finding in an underexplored region.

Amid the stapling, drilling and cutting of the dinosaur exhibit going up, Museum of the North earth science curator Pat Druckenmiller reflects on the aberrant natural environment Arctic Alaska dinosaurs roamed 70 million years ago.

Druckenmiller has spent the last eight years working in Alaska, looking for and finding evidence of dinosaurs in a part of the world where the creatures once walked, but few paleontologists have explored.

The museum exhibit includes casts of footprints as well as fossilized bone fragments Druckenmiller and fellow scientists are using to identify and even discover dinosaur species.

Druckenmiller is working with Alaska Native speakers to come up with names for the new Alaska dinosaurs. The exhibit takes visitors into what it’s to be paleontologist exploring for dinosaur evidence in Alaska’s backcountry.

Roger Topp heads up production at the museum and has accompanied the paleontology team to shoot photos and video. He’s also involved in fleshing out an exhibit, which includes dinosaur models, even one that moves.

Other kid friendly parts of the exhibit are a big orange tent fashioned after one paleontologists use in the field, and tubs of silt visitors can paw through to try and find fossils. Seeing it all come together, and connecting scientific field work with the public is gratifying for Druckenmiller.

Druckenmiller says some of the special exhibit materials will be incorporated into the museum’s permanent dinosaur display, which hasn’t been updated in 30 years.

Categories: Alaska News

For $1B Radar, It’s Clear

Fri, 2015-05-22 14:38

The Missile Defense Agency today confirmed  Clear Air Station as its preferred location for a new type of radar system, called Long Range Discrimination Radar. The final decision will depend on  safety and environmental studies.

The selection of Clear helps solidify Alaska’s role as host to the ground-based mid-course missile defense system, designed primarily to shoot down warheads from North Korea. Clear is on the Parks Highway, 80 miles from Fairbanks. It is already home to an upgraded early warning radar system that will be part of the missile defense system.

Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance,  says LRDR improves the view of the target, giving interceptors a better chance.

“You want to see it, just like a baseball player playing outfield. You want to be able to watch that ball once it gets hit off the bat all the way into the mitt, to make the best chance of catching the ball,” says Ellison, whose organization accepts money from the defense industry. “Right now, we can’t see it all the way through. We have to close our eyes for a good part of it, and then we have to look up and find it.”

That’s the “long-range” part of the name. Ellison says the “discrimination” part is also vital to defeating an enemy missile.

“When it goes though space, there’s a lot of junk. There’s a lot of parts. There’s a lot of stuff in that, including countermeasures, including decoys and maybe a couple of warheads in there, he said.  “So this radar is able to pinpoint exactly what the actual vehicle is, the target vehicle that’s carrying the weapon.”

George Lewis, a visiting scholar at Cornell University and a long-time critic of missile defense, says the discrimination is crucial. Lewis says existing radar will likely spot a North Korean launch right away, or when it clears any cloud cover in a minute or so.

“We will see it quite early in flight. This radar would probably be the first one that can begin to make serious discrimination measurements, and the earlier you do that, the better off you are,” said Lewis.

Existing radar, Lewis says, has a range resolution of about 30 feet.

“That means that at about 30 feet apart — if there are two objects that are about 30 feet apart — that’s the distance at which it would being to be able to tell that there’s two objects, instead of one,” he said.

A typical warhead is about 6 feet long, so Lewis says the current system would see lots of stuff as a possible warhead. Lewis says LRDR’s range resolution would most likely be about 18 inches. Even with LRDR, Lewis says it won’t be easy to pick out the warheads from the debris, but he calls it a necessary component.

LRDR is estimated to cost about $1 billion. Much of that will be spent on hardware and technology, though the system would require construction on site. The Missile Defense Agency says it hopes to have the new radar system operational by 2020.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Jean Aspen of Homer

Fri, 2015-05-22 14:31

This week, we’re hearing from Jean Aspen, a writer of wilderness books and a nurse who lives in Homer.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Y-K’s Facebook Phenom Helps Kick Off Arctic Council Chairmanship

Fri, 2015-05-22 14:20

Photo: Facebook

A Tooksook Bay teenager who became a singing sensation on Facebook performed for ambassadors and Arctic VIPs at the State Department in Washington D.C. last night.

Byron Nicholai was introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry at a reception to mark the beginning of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The two-year rotating chairmanship gives each arctic country an opportunity to set priorities. The United States has selected ocean safety, security, improving living conditions and climate change. Kerry described the balance:

“We have to implement the framework that we’ve developed to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane in the Arctic, and at the same time we have to foster economic development that will raise living standards and help make renewable energy sources the choice for everybody.”

Alaska leaders have urged the State Department to focus beyond climate change and recognize the needs of Arctic people. That message came through in Kerry’s speech.

“As beautiful as it is, (the Arctic) is not just a picturesque landscape,” Kerry said. “It’s a home. It’s a lifestyle. It has a history, and those folks deserve as much respect for that as anybody else in any other habitat on the earth.”

Nicholai was the only performer at the reception in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department. He is 17, and has more than 16,000 followers on his Facebook page “I sing. You dance.”

See video of his performance.

Categories: Alaska News

State Takes Control of Nursing Facility, Citing Repeated Violations

Fri, 2015-05-22 13:34

It’s been a week since the State of Alaska took the rare step of assuming control of Prestige Nursing home in Anchorage. State inspectors found dozens of violations during a visit to the facility. And the state says the nursing home had plenty of prior warning that it needed to improve.

Over the past two years, state inspectors have spent a lot of time inside Prestige Care and Rehabilitation Center of Anchorage. The facility has logged four times the number of complaints as Providence Extended Care, a similarly sized nursing home in the city.

So for the nursing home’s annual recertification review earlier this month, state and federal inspectors decided to show up on a Sunday morning, unannounced. Margaret Brodie is the state’s director of health care services.

“We typically don’t go in on a Sunday but we did in this instance, because anything that was wrong would show on a Sunday,” she says.

The inspectors talked to administrative staff, they pored through patient records and interviewed every single one of Prestige’s 98 residents. The investigation took about a week. And the results were alarming. Brodie says inspectors found 50 violations, eight in the most severe category: immediate jeopardy.

“We were surprised at the number,” she says. “It was extremely high.”

At the end of the inspection the department decided to take the unusual step of assuming temporary management of the facility. The inspection report is not yet public. In the past, Prestige has been cited for things like inadequate nursing care, failing to provide medication to patients, and for numerous problems with call lights and call light response times. Given the volume of complaints against Prestige the health department has investigated over the past two years, Brodie says the company had plenty of warning to correct problems before they escalated to the point of state management.

“What’s happened with Prestige is we write up what their issues are, they put in a corrective action plan, and they work it for a while, and then they kind of stop and then they go right back to where they were,” she says. “And I think the reason for that is that they bring in outside help to correct all the deficiencies and then the outside help leaves.”

Prestige Care is a for-profit corporation based in Washington state. They own 36 nursing homes across the western U.S. and 42 other senior facilities, like assisted living and independent living homes. They bought the Anchorage facility in 2009, after the state took over management from RainDance Healthcare Group following an inspection that likewise revealed potentially dangerous conditions.

Buffy Howard oversees ten nursing homes for Prestige Care in the west. She wouldn’t address whether the company was concerned about the number of complaints the facility has received over the last two years.

“There’s not a way to say that there were more complaints than normal but it’s something we continue to look at in quality improvement,” she says. “Each state is different in the amount of citations that are average. Each building is different on what is a normal amount of ‘tags’ so I can’t really comment on the specifics on that.”

Prestige has already corrected five of the eight violations the recertification inspection uncovered in the ‘immediate jeopardy’ category. The company has until June 4 to correct the other three, which Howard describes as “overarching” administrative problems. She is confident Prestige will meet the deadline.

“We do take these findings very seriously and the safety and welfare of our residents is our priority; it’s always our number one,” she says. “This is a big deal and we understand, and we’ve heard the state and we’re working together, very closely together, to fix and improve.”

Margaret Brodie, with the state, says one thing inspectors found is that Prestige didn’t have enough staff to adequately care for patients. In response, she says the company has added another nurse at night. Overall, she’s pleased with the progress Prestige is making. So is Noel Rea, the interim administrator hired by the state to oversee the facility.

“Prestige has marshaled a lot of resources in here in terms of training and education and that’s been impressive. And I’ve seen a very clear and visible response to the survey and the decision to put in interim management,” he says.

Prestige will be subject to state and federal fines and is paying for Rea’s salary.

Brodie and her staff want to ensure the changes Prestige puts in place to get its full license back won’t evaporate when corporate leaders return to Washington. They’re focusing on making sure local staff are adequately trained to maintain high quality care.

Categories: Alaska News

The Legislative Special Session

Fri, 2015-05-22 12:00

Lawmakers have gaveled out of the Governor’s special session without acting on his requests of fully funding the state budget, expanding Medicaid and passing sexual abuse prevention legislation, known as Erin’s law for schools. Legislators have now called themselves into special session. What changes when lawmakers make the call?

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Governor Bill Walker
  • Representative Chris Tuck
  • Callers statewide



  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: A 12-Year-Old Ambassador

Fri, 2015-05-22 11:04

Jasmine Molina

Imagine you arrive in a world where it rains all year round, and daylight swings from 17 hours in summertime to a paltry 6 in winter. And you’re only seven years old. That’s the situation Jasmine Molina found herself when she first got to Sitka, over 5,000 miles from her native city of Manila in the Philippines.

Sitka’s Filipino population has grown substantially in the past five years, but there remains no formal system to help new students transition to school. That is, until Jasmine came to town.

“Hello – ang pangalan ko ay Jasmine Molina.”

There’s something about Jasmine that makes you want to talk to her.

“It’s a pretty big school compared to the Philippines,” she said, walking down the hallway.

Maybe it’s her big brown eyes or her silky black hair, which she quickly tucks behind her ear while dialing her locker combination.

But it’s probably her smile , which turns her face into a huge pair of parentheses.

“I just like want to go up to them and be like, “Hey, do you want to be my friend?” And they’ll be like, “Yeah.” And I’ll be like, “Cool,”’ Jasmine said. “Everyone says I’m weird. But weird is awesome. I think weird is awesome.”

Oh, and she’s got killer self-confidence. Again, not your typical middle schooler.

Janelle Farvor was Jasmine’s language arts teacher last year.

“She’s funny. Sensitive. And she’s generous,” Janelle said.

Janelle remembers the very first time she saw Jasmine. At the grocery store, with a bunch of other Filipino kids, talking.

“I thought, ‘What is this little girl doing?’   She’s talking so fast, and I just kinda observed a little bit and then I saw her pointing out things and showing things, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this little girl is explaining how this store works,’” Janelle said.

Janelle saw her again a few years later. She’d grown a bit taller, but was doing the same thing.

“I thought, I wonder if she’s an ambassador,” Janelle said. “These kids all look very new. They’re just wide-eyed and mouth agape, wondering what this is about, what this can is of. And there was Jasmine, explaining it all.”

And last year, when Janelle met her 6th grade class, Jasmine was in it – all grown-up. Jasmine’s dad is a fisherman and came to Sitka five years ago. Jasmine and her mom followed, a month later.

“I was really shy,” Jasmine said. “I didn’t really know anything about Sitka until my cousin showed me around the next day. There was a lot of tall people.”

And not only that, but it was several degrees colder than in Manila, where Jasmine grew up.

“I only had one jacket and it was really cold and there was a lot of snow on the ground,” Jasmine said.

As she got used to the cold, one thing that made a big difference to Jasmine was meeting other kids her age.

“On the first day I went to second grade they’re like, ‘Hey what’s your name?’ I’m like my name is Jasmine. I came from the Philippines.’ They’re like, ‘Cool.’ I wanted to do the same thing and make people comfortable where they are,” she said.

And it’s something Jasmine has been doing ever since. Greeting new families and showing their kids the ropes, from how to open a locker to getting around the building. It’s more than middle school survival tactics. Jasmine is helping her classmates succeed in a Western school.

“And for her to do it on her own volition, and to just see a need and to step up to fill a need, I think that says a lot about her character,” Janelle said.

At Blatchley Middle School, there are 29 Filipino students and in the whole district, 121, making up 9% of the Sitka student body. At the bottom, the school district doesn’t have a designated Tagalog speaker or support group to help students orient themselves. But for now, Jasmine fills that gap.

“I’ve had her – even I’ve brought her down to help me scold,” Janelle said. “They need to not be so chatty or whatever, I have her talk to them in Tagalog to hear a lecture in the mother tongue. There’s nothing like it.”

Now, it’s hard to imagine Jasmine yelling at anyone. And if you asked her if she’s an ambassador or a leader, she’d probably say no. She’s just being a friend. Antonete Partido remembers meeting Jasmine in dance class.

“When I first got here, she talked to me instead of just ignoring me.,” she said.

The two girls chatted in both English and Tagalog. Antonete lives with her grandmother, who adopted her. She hasn’t seen her parents for five years and describes her family as broken apart.

“I don’t really get to call them because I have school. My grandma has work. So we don’t really have time to call them,” Antonete said. “I don’t think other people know that my parents aren’t here because I don’t show my feelings to them.”

But Jasmine knows. And when we finish the interview, Jasmine takes Antonete aside and says, “you’re my one.” She says it again, “Don’t forget. You’re my one.” And with that, Jasmine turns on her heels and heads out the door to go to her next class.

This year, Jasmine Molina won a Spirit of Youth award, which recognizes teens making a difference in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News