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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: 17 min 55 sec ago

Department seeks consultant on health care provider tax

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:06

The state health department is seeking consulting help to develop a proposal for a health care provider tax in Alaska.

The solicitation is in line with legislation from Gov. Bill Walker to expand and make changes to Alaska’s Medicaid program.

The bill includes a provision calling for the department to submit by late January a proposal to authorize a provider tax “up to the maximum extent allowed by federal law” to help offset Medicaid costs.

In material provided to the House Finance Committee, Walker’s office said Alaska is the only state without a provider tax and that Walker would not propose any tax that results in a loss of medical providers.

The deadline for responses to the solicitation is next Thursday. The budget for the work is estimated at $175,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski wants to change federal ‘rural’ label process

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:05

A U.S. senator for Alaska has introduced legislation that would reverse a 2007 federal decision designating Saxman a nonrural community, making residents ineligible for subsistence hunting and fishing on federal land.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports that a bill from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, would reinstate the list of rural Alaska communities as it stood prior to 2007.

In that year, the Federal Subsistence Board’s rural determination criteria put Saxman within Ketchikan’s nonrural designation, sparking protest from the Saxman community.

Murkowski’s legislation would also bar the federal government from changing the status of Saxman or other Alaska communities unless done through an act of Congress.

It has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs.

Categories: Alaska News

This winter may be Anchorage’s least snowy on record

Fri, 2015-05-15 10:02

The National Winter Service says this past winter was unofficially the least snowy on record for Anchorage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that although the NWS continues to record snowfall through June 30, it does not expect to see any more measureable snowfall this season.

The NWS says it is “pretty confident” in its prediction that this year will be the city’s least snowy.

The agency recorded only 25.1 inches of snow during the 2014-2015 winter season, beating the previous low-snowfall record of 30.4 inches in 1957-1958.

Only a few years ago, in 2011-2012, Anchorage saw the heaviest snowfall on record when 134.5 inches were recorded.

NWS says the seasonal average is 74.5 inches of snow.

Categories: Alaska News

How can Alaska solve its fiscal crisis?

Fri, 2015-05-15 08:00

We’ve been hearing for months about Alaska’s fiscal crisis. The budget is being cut and we’ll have to dip into reserves. Some economists predict that the state will run out of savings in less than a decade. But is there an alternative? Can the state make money for the general fund from sources other than oil revenue? Some economists say yes.

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Joe Beedle, CEO, Northrim Bank
  • Richard Monroe, managing director, PT Capital

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 15 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 16 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 16 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

House Finance Committee Blocks Medicaid Expansion Bill

Thu, 2015-05-14 17:46

House Finance Committee Chair Steve Thompson says the committee will not advance the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill. He made the announcement at the beginning of a scheduled hearing on the bill this afternoon at the Anchorage legislative information office:

“Hearings this week have made it very clear that Medicaid is a bigger problem than we knew; it is a highly complex system facing significant challenges. The legislation the governor has put before us does not address a plan to move forward; only an acceptance of twenty to forty thousand more people into a system that has been acknowledged as broken.”

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The decision makes the passage of Medicaid expansion highly unlikely this special session. As Thompson gaveled out of the hearing, Anchorage Democrat Les Gara attempted to respond before his microphone was silenced.

Gara says he wanted to clarify that Democrats on the Finance Committee were not consulted on the action. He calls the decision an “insane trifecta:”

“We supported the $580 million in state budget savings it would have brought to us in next 6 years. In a time of budget deficits, turning away those savings is insane. We supported the 4,000 jobs it would of created. Turning away 4000 jobs is insane. And keeping health coverage from people who need it is insane.”

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson says she was very disappointed by the committee’s action. She says all of the concerns Republican lawmakers had with Medicaid expansion were addressed by the administration. And she points out the legislature has had three years to consider the issue:

“So for folks to say now that they just haven’t had enough time to be able to consider the issue the issue and study the issue I think is disingenuous. They certainly have had the time, whether they have had the will is quite another matter.”

In a written statement, Governor Bill Walker said he will continue to work with the legislature to expand Medicaid.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Gets a Federal Boost for Unmanned Aircraft

Thu, 2015-05-14 17:45

The FAA last week named University of Alaska Fairbanks a “Center of Excellence” for research on unmanned aircraft. Actually, UAF is part of a group of universities, led by Mississippi State, that make up the Center of Excellence. They’re charged with helping the FAA figure out how to integrate the unmanned machines in the national airspace. It’s still not clear if much federal money will follow.

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Marty Rogers, director of UAF’s unmanned aircraft program, says the coalition of universities has more unmanned aircraft than the U.S. Air Force. Rogers says UAF alone owns at least 120.

“We have a very active unmanned aircraft program. This is our 14th year of operations. We fly over 150 days a year. Much of it’s in Alaska. Some of it is out of Alaska.”

In 2013, UAF was chosen to run one of the national drone test ranges. Rogers says there’s an important difference between that and the new designation:

“The award now of the center of excellence is sort of a different animal in that unlike the test sites which were not funded by the federal government, this is actually a funded activity, so it’s on a one-to-one match.”

UAF has commercial clients, and is already bringing in the kind of non-federal revenues that can serve as the match. Rogers said he couldn’t name names, but among their customers are companies that want to use drones *to* sniff pipelines for methane leaks.

“Our real focus areas are typically the Arctic with an emphasis on low-altitude safety, beyond line of sight operations, and against that long-range Arctic work we do for science and research.”

In the Lower 48, privacy is a huge concern with drones.

And By the way, the people interested in expanding drone use in America dislike the word “drone,” which has military connotations. These days, they prefer UAS, for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Some worry the aircraft will become Big Brother in the sky. Rogers says in Alaska they stick to unpopulated areas.

“Our big thing is actually when we’re flying marine mammal missions, is not disturbing the wildlife.”

Most of their unmanned aircraft weigh just a few pounds and have electric motors, so Rogers says they’re not too bothersome.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, at a press conference to announce the “center of excellence” designation, said the state’s wide open spaces are a selling point.

“You want to talk about your ability to engage in low-altitude flying? The landscape there on the North Slope and moving out onto the ocean there is about as flat as this floor. There’s no bumps. There’s no hills. There’s no nothing in the way. So you have a lot of room to test!”

How generous Congress will be with this “center of excellence” is … up in the air.

“Well, the bad news is we’re out of money,” says Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi. The comment earns him some laughs. He says it’s a worthy cause but couldn’t commit to any dollar amount of future funding.

So far, the “Center of Excellence” has $5 million, which doesn’t go far if it’s split among all six universities in the group.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Police Experiment With Body Cams

Thu, 2015-05-14 17:42

By Karen Simmons, KUAC – Fairbanks

Repeated cases of actual or alleged police brutality, have spurred conversation about officer worn body cameras across the U.S.

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Categories: Alaska News

Eyesore to Eye Candy: Juneau Rebuilds A Historic Treasure

Thu, 2015-05-14 17:41

In 2004, an awning patch-job went bad and led to a fire that razed a historic commercial building in the heart of downtown Juneau, where the grand opening of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building will happen Friday.

Listen now:

Haida artist Robert Davidson’s metal panel “Greatest Echo” adorns the front of the Walter Soboleff building in Juneau. Photo: Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO

In its 108-year history, the two-story, wood-framed building at the corner of Front and Seward streets had gone by many names: The C.W. Young Building, Rusher’s Hardware, the Skinner Building, the Endicott Building and the Town Center Mall.

Opening ceremonies for the Walter Soboleff Building begin Friday at 8:30 a.m. The grand opening ceremony will be broadcast live on 360 North.

Oke and Robert Rodman were keeping shop at Percy’s Liquor across the street that Sunday afternoon in August 2004. They saw a couple of guys on top of the awning working with tar and a torch.

“I knew it’s bad idea.”

“Well, once they started running around looking for a fire extinguisher, it seemed like a bad day,” recalls Rich Etheridge, who was Juneau’s acting fire chief  at the time.

When he arrived, he saw smoke rising from one corner of the building, but no open flames. The fire was burning inside the walls.

We sent crews in with chainsaws and axes to cut through walls to get to the fire. But they’d cut through one wall, then they’d find another wall, then layers of plywood to another wall, and so they couldn’t get to the spots where things were burning.

Because of the old construction, and things that had been added on, what happens is the smoke travels through all those void spaces, and the smoke actually ignites.

With a firefighting crew inside, the building filled with smoke floor to ceiling.

“And smoke explodes also. We had a smoke explosion. It was like a low volume explosion. It was more like a big ‘woof.'”

Fortunately, he says there were no serious injuries.

“It was a big, big wave of relief after they called back in on the radio, said they were fine.”

Etheridge put a crew on the roof, hoping to cut a hole in it to let the heat and smoke escape instead of spreading through the building. But that plan was foiled by multiple roofs, layered on over the years.

Meanwhile, the windless, dry weather kept much of the smoke at street level.

He says downtown Juneau reminded him that day of eerie scenes in New York City on 9/11… “…with just that real thick haze in the air and nobody in the streets? That’s kind of what it looked like.”

He shut down and evacuated several downtown blocks, and the cruise ships left early.

Hand tools weren’t cutting it. And it still wasn’t clear where the fire was in the building.

“There wasn’t a lot of active, open flame that you could see, it was just lots and lots of smoke, and all the flames were concealed where it was real difficult.”

So Etheridge brought in an excavator to peel the walls down and keep the fire from spreading to other buildings.

By the next morning, just about every firefighter in town had worked the blaze. When the smoke cleared, the second story was gone. Rubble from the 18 businesses that occupied the building was all over the streets.

By December that year, the site had been cleared, debris with asbestos in it had been scooped out to below street level, and a new eyesore was taking shape.

“Town hole: Prime lot sits idle since 2004 fire,” was the headline in the Juneau Empire 18 months later. Another two years passed. The headlines in 2008 were “The hole in the heart of downtown” and “Juneau’s biggest ashtray.”

Candice Bressler moved to Juneau in 2009.

“So when I arrived, it was already ‘the pit,'” she remembers. “It was filled with anything from beer cans to cigarette butts to old newspapers. A lot of things.”

In early 2010, Bressler and other United Way volunteers started a public advocacy campaign for a solution. They started a Facebook page called “Fix the Pit.” Almost overnight, it drew hundreds of fans.

About that same time, city officials threatened the lot’s owners with a six-figure lawsuit, not because of the eyesore, but because the pit was literally undermining the city’s surrounding sidewalks, curbs and streets.

Before it went to court, Sealaska Corp. stepped in paid $800,000 for the 9,500 square-foot lot, which is across the street from its headquarters. Sealaska filled the pit and addressed the city’s issues. When temporary landscaping went in, Bressler declared the pit fixed.

It’s been more than 10 years since the fire, and Sealaska Heritage Institute’s new cultural center is just opening at the corner of Front and Seward streets.

“I think it’s sad that such an eyesore existed for so long. And I think it’s sad that millions of tourists got to walk past it over the years and see, basically, what people called the ground zero of Juneau.”

But… she adds: “Just looking at this magnificent building. Just, it’s so spectacular to look at. And just to see that it’s filled! With beauty and with development and with culture. So exciting.”

Just down the street in another prime downtown spot, the husk of the Gastineau Apartments still stands since a 2012 fire. If the recovery timelines parallel, it’ll be about 2023 before something new opens its doors there.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thu, 2015-05-14 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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House Finance Committee Blocks Medicaid Expansion Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

House Finance Committee Chair Steve Thompson says the committee will not advance the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill.

UAF Gets A Federal Boost for Unmanned Aircraft

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The FAA last week named University of Alaska Fairbanks a “Center of Excellence” for research on unmanned aircraft. Actually, UAF is part of a group of universities, led by Mississippi State, that make up the Center of Excellence. They’re charged with helping the FAA figure out how to integrate the unmanned machines in the national airspace.

Death of 4 Believed to Be of Domestic Violence Incident

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The death of four people, two small children and their parents, in a South Anchorage residence appears to be a domestic violence incident.

Body of Argentine Climber Found High on Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The National Park Service reports that the remains of an Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

Fairbanks Police Experiment with Body Cams

Karen Simmons, KUAC – Fairbanks

Repeated cases of actual or alleged police brutality, have spurred conversations across the country about officer worn body cameras.

Historially Low Hooligan Run On the Chilkoot Is a Mystery

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Hooligan fishing is a tradition for many people in the Upper Lynn Canal. But this spring, those who fish in the Chilkoot River had disappointing results. Researchers say the mysterious fish seem to have turned right instead of left into the Taiya River, near Skagway, instead of the Chilkoot.

Eyesore to Eye Candy: Juneau Rebuilds A Historic Treasure

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

In 2004, an awning patch-job went bad and led to a fire that razed a historic commercial building in the heart of downtown Juneau, where the grand opening of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building will happen Friday.

‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A life devoted to whaling and land rights has come to an end. Charles Etok Edwardsen passed away in the place he loved best, a whale camp. Edwardsen was an outspoken activist who fought against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act because he believed the Inupiaq people of the north should control the land and resources of the arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

Thu, 2015-05-14 17:39

A life devoted to whaling and land rights has come to an end. Charles Etok Edwardsen passed away in the place he loved best, a whale camp.

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Edwardsen was an outspoken activist who fought against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act because he believed the Inupiaq people of the north should control the land and resources of the arctic. He was born in Barrow and was the oldest of 14 children. His sister Beverly Hugo says he fought for modern services for his people after seeing running water and flush toilets at boarding school. She says, even as a child, he was strong willed, stowing away on his grandfather’s whaling boat when he was only 5 years old.

“He did hide… [laughing]… and got into Grandpa’s boat. And when Grandpa realized that his son was not going to be denied, he gave him the task of throwing the float after the shoulder person has shot the whale and the harpooner has sent the harpoon off, and Etok’s job as a little boy was to throw the float out.”

Beverly says her mother loved to sew traditional clothing for her oldest son. She says when her mom was dying, her brother got his parka wet on a hunting trip and her mom worried about who would care for him after she was gone.

Beverly Hugo is a younger sister of the late Charles Etok Edwardsen, who died on May 8th. She says as he requested, there will be a political rally instead of a memorial service in his honor. That rally will happen on Saturday in Barrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Pre-Historic Shark Fossil Comes Home

Thu, 2015-05-14 12:47

A unique fossil rock from Atigun Gorge is back in the state after a 29 year detour in Washington, D.C. The rock bears the imprint of teeth from an animal that has not been seen on Earth for about 250 million years.  But the  the story behind the rock and it’s current status as centerpiece of a Seward art exhibit is almost as fascinating as the prehistoric creature which imprinted it.

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Scientists call the animal a Helicoprion but some call it a buzz saw shark. That’s because of the odd placement of teeth in the animal’s lower jaw. They are in the middle of the animal’s mouth, in a single line, curved like the edge of a scimitar.

“This is a real monster, and there’s nothing alive like it today, that has this crazy grouping of teeth that it keeps its whole life. But it was successful, it lived for 8 million years, as a species.”

That’s Leif Tapanila, an expert in the workings of the dental gear on animals that flourished millennia ago. Tapanila says there’s about 151 fossils of this kind in the world. The helicoprion may have gone extinct 250 million years ago, but one day in 1986, grad student Richard Glenn stumbled upon a strange rock on a mapping expedition to the Brooks Range.

“I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t know if it was important enough that it should be found, recorded, saved, preserved, or if we’d find more. So I left it up there where I found it, for a day, and then I went back up after my advisor came and told me that maybe I should go back and get it. ”

The young Glenn gave the rock to his instructor.

“He’d never seen one before either, so he sent it away to a paleontologist colleague of his, and that’s how it got identified, and then he sent it away and it never came home. ”

It would be almost 30 years before Glenn saw his fossil find again.  The fossil rock ended up at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, where it was mislabled, then stored away. The original curator of the fossil later died, and the fossil rock was forgotten.

Enter artist Ray Troll, long known for his imaginative paintings of sea life, and, it turns out, an ancient shark enthusiast. Troll and the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward have partnered on an art exhibit, featuring Troll’s depictions of ancient sharks, and in February of this year, Troll and Richard Glenn crossed paths at a Sea Life Center event. The subject of buzz saw sharks came up, Troll says, and he heard about Glenn’s  fossil find.

“I was pretty excited though. maybe I better follow this up. It would be pretty wonderful to have one from Alaska, especially since this Buzz saw shark show was coming.”

And that triggered a chain of events that brought the fossil home.

“I knew a few folks back at the Smithsonian. I’d met Dave Bohoska, the collections manager before, so I made a special plea with him to find it.”

It took weeks, but finally, a FedEx package showed up with the precious rock inside. Now, gathered around a table, Glenn, Troll and Tapanila look lovingly at the rock in the center.  Definite tooth patterns in a whorl like pattern are set in the rock, and the over head light sets tiny glints of sparkle from it’s surface.

Glenn, who now works for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and Tapanila, with the University of Idaho, spoke Wednesday at a Geological Society of America meeting at UA Anchorage. Troll joined them for a special presentation of the fossil rock, which now heads to Seward on loan until September. But Glenn says, he’d like the rock to stay in Alaska.

“My dream is to put it on a loan, semi permanent in nature that brings it as close to home as where I found it. And there’s a nice museum about forty miles w est of where this was found that would be a great exhibit for a rocks, fossils of the Brooks Range, in Anaktuvuk Pass, Glenn says.  Troll adds,  “So stay tuned.”

Glenn says the Simon Paneak Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass would be just the place for the only helicoprion fossil ever found in Alaska.

Ray Troll’s art exhibit “Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago” will be at the Alaska Sea Life Center through September 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

Thu, 2015-05-14 12:11

The National Park Service reports that the remains of an Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.

The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb. He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.

No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.

Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues.”

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the first death on Denali in the 2015 climbing season.

Categories: Alaska News

Death of 4 in Anchorage Believed To Be Domestic Violence, No Suspect

Thu, 2015-05-14 11:55

The Anchorage Police Department has directed substantial resources towards investigating the deaths, according to Sgt. Mike Couturier.

 

The death of four people, two small children and their parents, in a South Anchorage residence appears to be a domestic incident, with no outstanding suspects.

Evidence from the Anchorage Police Department suggests one of the parents is responsible for the deaths, but just a day into the investigation detectives are not yet able to say conclusively what took place.

All four occupants of the rental unit at E. 74th Avenue suffered gunshot wounds, and a firearm was recovered at the crime scene.

“At this point of the investigation we believe this is an isolated domestic violence-related incident, and are not looking for any additional suspects,” Sargent Mike Couturier told reporters during a briefing Thursday.

Detectives don’t yet have a motive in the case, but collected electronic devices to look for clues about what might have taken place.

The family was discovered by the father of one of the victims, Desiree Leandra Gonzales, 27, during a welfare check Wednesday morning after the children’s father, 24-year-old Curtis Young III, did not drop them off as planned earlier in the day.

Couturier said that during police follow-ups in the neighborhood multiple neighbors reported hearing shots during the night between 1:37am and 4am, but no call was made to APD.

The other two victims were identified as Zaiden and Zarielle Young, both under the age of five.

This is a developing story and will be updated as details become available.

Categories: Alaska News

Three People Ill After Eating Fermented Seal Flipper

Thu, 2015-05-14 09:49

Three people have contracted botulism after eating separate batches of fermented seal flipper in Koyuk over the weekend.

Alaska’s Division of Public Health says the first case presented signs of the illness on Friday, with two more becoming sick by Monday afternoon. All three have been transported to Anchorage for emergency medical treatment, and officials say an investigation to “identify and monitor” others who may be at risk is currently underway.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by bacteria that can incubate in some traditional Alaska Native foods — including fermented seal flipper and fermented fish heads.

The cases in Koyuk come after a botulism outbreak last fall that killed one and sickened two others near Lower Kalskag in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. The Alaska Dispatch News reportedthat death was the first to be caused by botulism in Alaska for over a decade.

Officials are urging health care providers to immediately report suspected cases so that they can be treated quickly, and others can be prevented from eating contaminated food. Symptoms of the illness include a dry mouth, blurry vision, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea or difficulty breathing.

Categories: Alaska News

Katmai staff take closer look at F/V Northern Pride

Thu, 2015-05-14 09:46

The F/V Northern Pride ended up on Katmai’s Shelikok Strait coastline. It was spotted May 7, and NPS staff were on the scene May 11.
Credit National Park Service

Staff from Katmai National Park and Preserve were on the scene of the wrecked fishing vessel Northern Pride Monday.

According to KMXT, the 82-foot fishing tender Northern Pride was enroute from Seward to Kodiak on April 21 when it caught fire and capsized northeast of Marmot Island. The three crew abandoned ship and were rescued by the Coast Guard, and theNorthern Pride was believed to have sunk.  The Coast Guard spotted it drifting about a week later, and then it appeared hard aground on Katmai’s Shelikof Strait coastline last Thursday.

Katmai’s Chief of Resource Management Troy Hamon was at the scene of the wreck Monday:

“The Northern Pride is reduced basically just the hull, upside down, stranded on the beach. The structure above the hull, the superstructure, appears to be, in part, in the water. The tops of it are visible at low tide,” said Hamon.

To Hamon’s eye the ship looks like it came further apart after it beached. He says the nearby beach is littered with debris, mainly lumber and other parts from the wooden vessel. There were also some five gallon buckets of oil washed ashore:

“Most of them still sealed,” he said. “I think we only found two buckets that had holes punched in them, and one of them had its lid off and was empty.”

The Northern Pride had a maximum capacity of 4900 gallons of diesel, 200 gallons of hydraulic fluid, and 200 gallons of lube oil, but it’s unclear how much fuel remained on board by the time it beached on Katmai’s coast. According to NPS, an initial aerial survey spotted a small sheen emanating from the vessel. But from the assessment on the site Monday, Hamon says they only found a few traces of spilled oil, and little if no further harm:

“There was some sand that clearly smelled of petroleum and was strongly saturated with it,” said Hamon. “But we didn’t find any animal carcasses that had been oiled. We found one crab in the tide line that was dead, but there was no smell of oil, and no oil on it.”

The Northern Pride’s owner is required to see that it is salvaged, and a company has been hired to get it done. Several agencies, including Katmai and the Coast Guard, will assist in and oversee salvage operations.

Categories: Alaska News

KPBSD Schools Receive Threatening Automated Phone Calls

Thu, 2015-05-14 09:24

Two Kenai Peninsula Borough schools received threatening phone calls the afternoon of Wednesday, May 13th, which were later determined not to be credible. That’s according to a release from the district.

The school district sent out the release at about 3:30 p.m. It stated that both Skyview Middle School and K-Beach Elementary School received automated telephone calls with threatening messages just after 1 p.m.

According to the district, the schools went into “stay-put” mode under advisement from Alaska State Troopers while the nature of the threats was determined.

That means all exterior doors are locked, students were brought into the buildings, and classes continue as usual. The “stay-put” mode lasted less than an hour.

Troopers responded to Skyview while Soldotna Police went to K-Beach.

The district says it sent an automated message to parents and guardians just after 2 p.m. with information about the threats and the schools’ response. The messages went out to families in Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, and Nikiski.

The district says law enforcement later determined the two calls were not credible threats.

This comes on the heels of similar threats two weeks ago to central peninsula schools. That time, the district waited until school was out the day of the threat to contact parents. They did so via their Facebook page and did not release much information about either the threat or the school’s response. Parents took to social media to criticize what they considered a slow, incomplete, and confusing public notice from the district.

In an interview last week with KBBI, school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said she was out of town during that incident and coordinated the public information response remotely. She said then that in retrospect, she wouldn’t have used Facebook, but would have gotten in touch with families directly.

“I would have conveyed it directly from the district office and used our voice-activated system to let parents know that this was happening,” said Erkeneff.

Unfortunately, the district got that opportunity. They did use the voice system and got the message out much faster than before.

The district notes that there may be an increased law enforcement presence at schools for a while and parents are asked to contact school principals with any questions.

Categories: Alaska News

Bobby Andrew, leading voice in anti-Pebble fight, died Tuesday

Thu, 2015-05-14 09:22

Credit Anders Gustafson

Bristol Bay elder Bobby Andrew, who has been a leading voice in the fight against Pebble Mine, passed away Tuesday in Aleknagik at the age of 73. State troopers say Andrew died of natural causes, and was found at his cabin on Lake Aleknagik Tuesday afternoon.

“He went up there to get whitefish and pike,” said longtime friend and Nunamta Aulukestai coworker Kim Williams Wednesday. “He was supposed to come home Sunday or Monday morning, and when he didn’t, his wife Ingrid asked someone to check in on him. He passed away in his sleep, in a place he loved and cherished. It’s a sad day for Bristol Bay, but it’s a happy day, too.”

For a decade or more, Bobby Andrew has been outspoken on protecting Bristol Bay. He has been featured in films, written articles, spoken at public meetings, and taken his message around the country and overseas.

“I was looking at the photos this morning, and I think he’s been to London five or six times carrying the message to the large mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American to say, ‘You know Bristol Bay is not a place to develop a large, open-pit mine,'” said Williams. “He’s gone to Juneau, to D.C., to Nevada … anywhere he was needed, he would go.”

Others recall the gentle, unassuming, elder with a soft voice as a powerful advocate for Bristol Bay.

“I’ve been in meetings with him where the whole darn room was against us, and he didn’t back down an inch,” said Robin Samuelson.

Samuelson added that Andrew was always well-prepared for meetings and presentations, represented his region well, and believed till the end that the fight against Pebble would be won.

“He was unique too in that he never asked for anything for his efforts,” he said.

According to Earthworks website, Andrew was born in Aleknagik and attended the B.I.A. territorial school there as a child, then Dillingham High School. Andrew earned an accounting degree from Dyke Spencerian Business College, which is now Chancellor University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Andrew lived at the end of Wood River Road in Dillingham, but the cabin on Aleknagik was a favored retreat, according to friends. They speak of a man tied intimately to the lands, waters, and people of Bristol Bay.

“He loved fish, he loved his family, and was especially proud of his grandchildren,” said Kim Williams. “As an Uppa, he wanted to make sure that whatever he did today would benefit his grandchildren, and the fish that they had today, he wanted to make sure they had in the future.”

Andrew was also a strong Russian Orthodox believer, and was a reader and choir member at church. Family and friends were still planning services Wednesday, but indicated a funeral and burial were tentatively scheduled for Saturday.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Budget Still A Work In Progress

Thu, 2015-05-14 00:28

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly was handed a letter Wednesday  night from the Borough manager, outlining a dire revenue forecast for the coming four years. The bad news further dampened budget discussions.

The Mat Su Borough Assembly has failed to pass next year’s Borough budget, opting instead to postpone votes on key amendments that would add appropriations to a budget already stretched thin. The body did approve an amendment adding more than $900,000 to the areawide fund to increase wages and benefits for emergency services personnel while providing for additional full time EMS positions. But the Assembly postponed until next week a bid to increase Borough fees for services, and put on hold until the end of budget deliberations a move to carry over one hundred percent of the Mat Su School District’s 2015 fund balance to next year. The panel also amended, and approved, and then reconsidered and then postponed, a move by Assemblyman Dick Mayfield to provide money to refurbish four of the Borough’s ailing ambulance fleet.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss complained that the Assembly was getting too close to a mil rate not to his liking.

“We have done nothing but nickle and dime around and add plus signs,” he said in seeming exasperation.

DeVilbiss says he’ll get out the veto pen if the mil rate reaches over ten, but without the $500,000 for ambulance refits, the mil rate is just shy of that at 9 point 981, according to Borough finance director Tammy Clayton.

Borough manager John Moosey threw cold water on the Assembly with a letter outlining just how much Borough revenues will be down through FY2019. Moosey says for next years, the Borough’s state revenue share is down four percent to under 4 million dollars, and losses from Borough tax exemptions and decreases in other areawide fund revenues are more than one point 5 million dollars.

The Borough Assembly takes up budget discusssions again on May 20.  

Categories: Alaska News

4 Found Dead In South Anchorage Home

Wed, 2015-05-13 17:48

Anchorage police say they consider the deaths of four people found inside a home in South Anchorage as suspicious.

Listen now:

Police say a relative conducting a welfare check at the home Wednesday found the four people dead inside and called police about 12:30 p.m.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro tells KTUU the deaths appear suspicious, but wouldn’t discuss the causes of death. She also would not say if the bodies were of adults, children or a mix.

Castro says the bodies have not yet been identified.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Survives More Than An Hour Adrift After Skiff Capsizes

Wed, 2015-05-13 17:44

Ronald Johansen was out camping with his brother and cousin in Chagvan last week.

After some successful geese hunting, Johanson set out alone by skiff Friday afternoon to return home to Goodnews Bay. His cousin and brother were to follow in their own boat later. The trip should’ve been an hour and half ride back, and the waters outside the sand bars were calm, at first.

Listen now:

“But then out of nowhere the west wind hit the outgoing tide and it started making swells out there. These were 8 to 10 foot swells,” said Johansen.

In his 14 foot skiff, Johansen took one of those waves head on.

Ron Johansen on his skiff. Photo: KDLG.

“And I was going straight up and down on the back side of the wave and by the time I got to the bottom there was another bigger wave that hit the bow of the boat and shot me straight underwater and then the boat shot back out the water and I was still holding on,” said Johansen.

Johansen was wearing a life jacket, but didn’t think that was going to be enough. He grabbed a bundle of logs in the skiff, threw it overboard, and jumped in after it.

“And as soon as I jumped overboard into the water and held onto the stump and the wood, I looked back at the boat and another wave hit the skiff and did a barrel roll. So I jumped off just in time,” said Johansen.

The 22 year old says he was scared, alone in the water, no one knew where he was, and passersby were unlikely.  As he started to drift further towards open ocean, he began calling for help on his emergency radio.

“Twenty minutes of being in the water my legs went numb. And then about thirty minutes my arms went numb. And I tied myself to the log and told myself if I die I am going to die tied to this log so they can find me,” said Johansen.

As his strength failed him, he panicked, and for a brief moment Johansen started swimming away from his makeshift raft. Thoughts of his family sent him back to the safety of the logs.

“And during this whole time there was a school of sea lions that were out there so I was six feet away from the sea lions who were just watching me the whole time. They just grut around and watch me,” said Johansen.

His radio calls were being received, but that didn’t mean a rescue was guaranteed. Those back in the village notified boats, the Coast Guard, and others … phone calls, text messages, and VHF traffic were flying out of Goodnews Bay Friday.  The Coast Guard says one good Samaritan vessel made an effort but was turned around by the rough conditions. Now late into the evening and unsure about rescue efforts, Johansen was trying to make himself as visible as possible.

“Once I seen a big swell coming, as soon as I got to the top of the swell I would push myself up with one log to try and reach my hand as high as I could,” said Johansen.

Bethel based Yute Air was among those notified of the situation, and was able to direct pilot Ernie Turentine to detour from his route and join the search.  Turentine says the big seas made for a tough search.

“I kept thinking I saw a lot of stuff in the water because it was rough out there,” said Turentine.

By air, Turentine spotted the swamped boat, and directed Johansen’s brother in law and cousin towards that spot. But Johansen wasn’t with the boat, and the tide was going out, so the pilot flew sea-ward, looking for Johansen and his bundle of logs. He didn’t spot him, but Johansen’s relatives on the water, given the swamped boat’s location, soon did. They hauled Johansen out after what he thinks may have been an hour and a half in the cold, choppy water.

“My wife and my kids are the only thing that made me hang on,” said Johansen.

Johansen says elders told him the sea lions he saw had been there to protect him.  He doesn’t know if that’s true or not. But he does believe he is lucky to be alive this week.

And he also believes it’s a very good idea to wear a life jacket. Johansen has received reports his boat has washed up on shore. He’s hoping to get back out there soon to recover what’s left.

Categories: Alaska News

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