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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: 29 min 27 sec ago

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.  The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

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“It’s pretty clear to us that the Department of Environmental Conservation is bowing to pretty intense political pressure,” Jaime Duhamel, the Coalition’s program director, said. “They have not approved this permit two times before, not much had changed in this third round, and so their approval of it is more of an indication of political pressure to approve one way or another to make development happen whether it makes sense or not.”

Duhamel charges that DEC used air quality data from 1990s Eagle River, not Palmer, in making the decision.

DEC’s air quality permit writer Aaron Simpson says the permit takes into account the proposed mine’s pollution emission rate. Simpson says the permit meets state and federal criteria, so DEC has the obligation to issue the air quality permit.

“”The department developed this minor permit under the authority of our state regs, which contain provisions designed to protect public health,” Simpson said. ”The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are health based standards and they are set at levels designed to protect public health.”

The air quality permit does not allow Usibelli to move forward on mining at Wishbone Hill. The actual mining permit is in dispute at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

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The Saanya Kwaan, Cape Fox dancers, were chosen to lead the processional of 50 dance groups in the Grand Entrance.

Harvey Shields is the leader of the Chief welcome dance.

“We are the Saanya Kwaan people and we originate about 50 miles south of Saxman,” he says.

Like other groups here, the Saanya Kwaan range in age from about 5 years old to elders.

“At two and three years old, they put regalia on them and then they start walking around and as they get older they find their place of where they need to be,” Shields says.

The Johnson O’Malley dance group from Wrangell is further down the street.

“I was still sewing on the ferry,” Sandra Churchill says, laughing. She made two button robes this year for Celebration.

“I know we know it’s every two years, and we still put it off ’til the last minute, but it’s worth it,” she says.

Celebration started in 1982 and Churchill has been to all 16 events. Her dance group has been practicing for months for this year’s festivities.

“It’s important for the young children,” she says, “to see the elders and how much they love it and instill that so they will carry it on for us.”

The sidewalks were clogged with people snapping pictures and taking videos. Patricia McGraw and her husband Gary looked like they were on a safari. They had traveled from Pensacola, Florida to Juneau specifically for Celebration.

McGraw grew up in Juneau. She chokes up as she recalls that time.

“When I was young the Native traditions were totally disrespected. And you know kids knew. I was told not to play with the Native kids. But kids know what’s right, what’s wrong, and I’ve always felt quite strongly that they needed their traditions and we needed to honor their traditions,” she says.

And as a non-Native, Celebration is a homecoming McGraw embraced.

At age 75, Ken Grant says his dancing days are over. But he’s danced at many Celebrations with the Mount Fairweather group from Hoonah.

Grant works for the National Park Service and lives in Bartlett Cove, where he has a spectacular view of the Fairweather range on clear days.

His formal Tlingit name even comes from Mount Fairweather.

“It means being proud, and having pride in the mountain and all that it stands for; the songs, the regalia and the stories that come from it,” he says.

Much like Celebration, he says.

“Most of all I think it builds in pride, it builds in passion, which I think is really important. For anything to function properly you need to have that pride and passion,” he says. “And I think that Celebration is a good source for pride and passion.”

Celebration continues through Saturday with dance performances, Native Art, Native language sessions, lectures, a parade and the Grand Exit.

Categories: Alaska News

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

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Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

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Ritchie Musick at her first cabin in Fairbanks in 1966. (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

Ritchie Musick is standing outside the rustic trailer in Ester Village where she raised three kids without running water. Out the backdoor is a giant playground of aspen, trails, and other mysteries.

“You teach your kids here to be aware of three things: bears, amanitas, and mine shafts,” Musick said.

In 1964 Ritchie drove her Volkswagen Beetle up the Alcan from Los Angeles – over 1,000 miles of dusty gravel road riddled with frost heave. She and her girlfriend drove all over Alaska, seeing otters in Prince William Sound and buildings broken in half by the earthquake in Anchorage that year.

“And then on the way home I took a curve too fast and flipped the car,” Musick said. “Bounced three times off the highway and ended up upside down, but we were not hurt.”

They left the car hanging on a tow truck in the Yukon and caught a ride with a paratrooper to Denver. Back in California, she kept dreaming about Alaska. When she was offered a teaching job in 1968, she packed up her Mustang convertible for another big road trip.

“There was a big bullfrog, there was a big boa constrictor, there were two dopher snakes, one king snake, and an iguana,” Musick said.

The reptiles were in boxes in the backseat. Her friend was in the front.

“Somewhere along the way, the king snake escaped and went slithering across her ankle as we’re driving up the highway. She was not one happy camper,” Musick said. “He disappeared and we never found him until we unpacked the car in Fairbanks and he was under the backseat.”

Ritchie Musick in Ester with her first daughter Michelle (Photo courtesy Ritchie Musick)

She rented a dry cabin for $100 a month, pumping water out of a garbage bin to shower and wash dishes. She tried to get a job with her zoology degree.

“There were only two women with Fish and Game and I could not get hired,” Musick said. “When they sent the women into the field it made front page.”

She ended up teaching high school science for 22 years. When she started in 1968, there were about 10 guys for every girl in Fairbanks. One night in 1970 she went to a party in North Pole.

“Mike and I just kind of fell in love that night, even though I was there with somebody else,” she said.

They started dating in the fall, just before Mike left for Mexico. Love letters flew back and forth that winter.

“He came back in April and we set the date to get married six or seven days later,” Musick said.

Ritchie had wanted to see gorillas since high school. For their honeymoon they flew to Germany and bought a Volkswagen camper bus. After 6 months touring around Europe, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and spent a year driving across Africa. When they got back to Fairbanks, the pipeline was in full swing. Mike got a job surveying between Salcha and the Yukon.

“All of a sudden you were reading about people being murdered here and there,” Musick said. “We’re at a stop sign one time, I’m driving and he’s in the car, some gal’s leaning in the window propositioning him.”

Ritchie started mushing with a hand-crafted children’s dog sled and a black lab, and gradually acquired sled dogs. One day she was running her team on a trail south of Ester.

“I had just started out and it got kind of narrow and I kind of freaked out, put my foot on the brake when I shouldn’t have. And when you cut a corner with a tree, it flipped me over,” Musick said. “And so I’m being dragged behind the sled thinking, ‘Oh no I’ve got 30 miles to go.’ And I saw the tree. Somehow I was stupidly trying to push my sled against the tree but it got me right in the face.”

Her face was shattered and she needed reconstructive surgery. She touches below her right eye.

“I still have a plate and 16 screws under this eye,” she said. “For awhile I had metal here but they took it out because the screws kept popping out of my nose.”

Ritchie and Mike still live in the log house they built in 1986. They have three kids and four grandkids here. Fairbanks has grown in the 50 years since Ritchie’s roadtrip. But it’s still the Last Frontier for a girl from Modesto.

Categories: Alaska News

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:55

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage can now boast two comedy improv groups. Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

When you go to a rehearsal of improv group Urban Yeti, you find out really quickly that their name isn’t the only weird thing about them.

But just who is this group? And why are they called Urban Yeti? Those answers will have to wait until later.

First things first – I ask co-founder John Hanus, the most important question – can I meet the Yeti?

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You could meet the yeti if you were in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, John Hanus and the urban yeti are usually not in the same place at the same time.”

Ok, so it’s disappointing that I can’t get a yeti appointment and a little odd that Hanus talks about himself in the third person, but it’s clear, Hanus, who is a BP engineer by day, is really into his improv group. I ask him why.

“John Hanus’s answer is, I love the aspect of tinkering around with a small business in my spare time and I love the aspect of directing and trying to get the best out of people and shared on a common goal and going in the same direction,” he said. “So I love leaving work and saying, you know, let’s think about marketing and advertising for urban yeti today, let’s think about contracts and to be honest I know I’m a total nerd, let’s think about taxes! That’s cool! I’m getting to know about small business tax structure.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

Hanus and his wife Mallory got into improv in college in Washington State, moved back to Anchorage, worked with Scared Scriptless and then decided to start their own improv group. Mallory says of all the performance art to choose from, improv is the most freeing and forgiving.

“Because I can make a fool of myself and just dust it off and move on to the next thing,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in theater type things and got involved in improv in college and it’s been the only thing that’s stuck because it’s so addicting.”

John Parsi is another member of the group. Parsi came to Alaska to work as a law clerk for the Supreme Court. He says he loves the playfulness of improv and the physical comedy.

“You’ll do something as easy as someone pantomime struggling to open a jar and the audience will connect with that and think it’s hilarious because everybody experiences that,” Parsi said. “To see a group of people be able to be playful with those things, I think is fun for an audience, and is an interplay between all of the players on stage, all of the actors on stage and the people in the audience.”

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

“You have an opportunity to do that in improv because every single night, it’s a creation, organically produced by four or five people on a stage and 90 people in an audience and that’s an incredible feeling.”

But rehearsal is important as director John Hanus reminds his crew.

Hanus asks me for a word to get things started for Parsi. Clearly I’m not cut out for the spontaneity of improv. All I can come up with is…radio…

Erik Dahl, MaryJo Mrochinski and Aneliese Palmer round out the group. Palmer says trust and cohesion is paramount.

“And if you can create something together, that is what makes a wonderful show,” Palmer said. “If you’re on different pages, its just kind of, individuals walking around, saying crap….and if you are together, then it becomes a scene it becomes theater it becomes funny, it becomes fun.”

Urban Yeti picks themes for their performances. Last season it was Frigid Affair, this year? Debauchery! Urban Yeti performances are the first Saturday of the month at the Alaska Experience Theater.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 12, 2014

Thu, 2014-06-12 17:12

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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Newly Forming Permafrost May Not Survive Century’s End

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists are announcing a surprising find from the arctic: new permafrost is still forming. But it is unlikely to survive beyond the end of the century. That’s according to a new study out this week in the publication Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers made the discovery at a lake in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

Air Quality Permit Raises Ire

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the go ahead for an air quality permit for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill mine near Palmer.   The move has been met with outrage by members of the Castle Mountain Coalition, an anti-coal group in the Matanuska Valley.

Subsistence Users Criticize Miners And Regulators At Nome Meeting

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Subsistence users in Nome are criticizing gold miners and regulators for failing to take into account the negative impacts mining is having on other resources in the area. Officials from different agencies took public comment on the issue at a community meeting yesterday.

Research Opportunities Abound In Funny River Fire Aftermath

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The Funny River fire is now considered 60 percent contained, with minimal fire growth over the past few days. As the fire slowly burns out, scientists are excited about new research possibilities in the area.

2,000 Dancers Make Grand Entrance To Celebration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

More than two-thousand Southeast Alaska Natives danced their way to Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening for Celebration 2014.

The biennial festival is the largest cultural event in the state. Organized by Sealaska Heritage Institute, it brings multiple generations of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people together to celebrate their culture.

Before The Pipeline: Ritchie Musick

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

Fairbanks didn’t attract a lot of young, single ladies in the ‘60s. Ritchie Musick was 24 when she first came to Alaska to escape city life in southern California. She found all the adventure she dreamed of–hauling water, mushing, and moose in the backyard. Fifty years later she has the same frontier spirit, though she finally got plumbing.

Urban Yeti Improv Group Enters Second Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

How can you tell when a town has matured into a city? You could use sheer population numbers, but that’s boring. How about entertainment offerings? Anchorage can now boast two comedy Improv groups.  Scared Scriptless has been around for several years, and newcomer Urban Yeti Improv is starting its second season.

Categories: Alaska News

Large crowd greets Celebration paddlers

Thu, 2014-06-12 15:50

(Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Dozens of paddlers from Yakutat to Metlakatla and places in between landed their canoes on a Juneau beach on their way to the Southeast Native cultural festival Celebration 2014.

More than 500 people waded into the water or watched from the shore as the paddlers ended their journey Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of others lined a nearby causeway or cheered from parks and bridges along the route.

We spoke with some of the paddlers and recorded some of the songs and filed this audio post card.

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Celebration continues through Saturday night. You can watch many of the events on 360North TV or online at 360north.org.

Categories: Alaska News
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