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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 52 sec ago

Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:41

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

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Mott, who serves as the assistant adjutant general for the Connecticut National Guard, was recommended to Gov. Sean Parnell by the National Guard Bureau.

The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations looked into allegations of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard and found that victims do not trust the system because of a lack of confidence in the command.

Parnell released the report earlier this month and also called for and received the resignation of Alaska’s adjutant general.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:40

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:39

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

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In their petition they suggest reducing the 2014 overall Chinook salmon by-catch hard cap in the Bering Sea-Aleutian Island Pollock fishery by 40,000 fish.

Natasha Singh is an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She says together, the tribes along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers making the request total nearly 100. And they want the Secretary and the Council to make the Pollock fishery conserve the way that families along the rivers have.

“There’s not food in the freezers for our families, yet you see significant profit from the fleets in the ocean who are taking kings as bycatch and we know that they have the technology where they could increase avoidance of the bycatch we are pleading that for the sake of the people and the families in the river who depend on the king salmon to eat, to provide and subsist, they reduce the bycatch,” said Singh.

The petition calls for the bycatch hard cap in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery to be slashed from 60-thousand to 20-thousand and the performance standard, which is a lower threshold to avoid penalties, to be cut from 47,591 to 15-thousand. That’s just for the remainder of the 2014 season. Historically Pollack bycatch spikes have occurred late in the season in the fall.

But that all appears to be moot. Federal officials say the Pollack fishery has reached 99 percent of their available quota and the B season is expected to close soon, perhaps in week or so, which would make an emergency closure redundant. They add that the total bycatch is expected to be under the 15,000, the lower cap requested by tribes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages off shore fisheries, including bycatch, asked in June for an in-depth analysis of ways to reduce the incidental catch of kings in Pollack nets.

Scientists say there are likely many factors that could be impacting the wild Western Alaska King salmon stocks, from food supplies and climate change to ocean acidity. The state of Alaska has committed funding toward a long-term study to try to figure out what’s gone wrong. But bycatch is one consideration.

Myron Naneng is President of AVCP. He says after a summer of sacrifice, tribes are eager to see a commitment to conservation from the trawl fleet.

“The State of Alaska already implements openings and closures on the river system whenever they feel the returns of salmon are low. So we want that same requirement to be carried through with the trawl fleet in the Bering Sea,” said Naneng.

Attorneys for tribes say if the Pollock fishery bycatch stays under the 15,000 mark, it demonstrates what the tribes claimed in their petition, that the Pollock fishery can stay under a Chinook bycatch of 15,000 and still catch the allowable limit of Pollack.

Categories: Alaska News

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:38

Flint Hills Resources-Alaska closed its refinery in North Pole in May, citing rising costs associated with cleaning up sulfolane contamination in area groundwater and other economic factors.
(Credit KUAC file photo)

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

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DEC asked scientists with Ohio-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, to take a second look at the reference doses used by the state agency in setting a stringent cleanup level for sulfolane, an industrial solvent that leaked from the refinery over several years.

The TERA panelists reviewed scientific literature on reference doses used by DEC to come up with the 14-parts-per-billion cleanup standard that the agency says Flint Hills must attain before DEC will declare the water safe to drink.

“It’s a very important step in the process,” says DEC environmental program manager Bill O’Connell.

O’Connell says the agency will now use the TERA panel’s work to help it determine whether the 14-parts-per billion cleanup standard is warranted.

“Once TERA submits a written report, which will be in about two months, the DEC will take their recommendations under advisement,” he said. “And then we will go forward and calculate a cleanup level based on the reference dose that they have coalesced around.”

Flint Hills Resources officials told DEC late last year that they believe the 14-parts-per billion standard is overly stringent. They say the level should set at about 25 times that level – around 363 parts-per-billion.

Flint Hills asked DEC to reconsider the cleanup level; in April, Commissioner Larry Hartig agreed.

In February, Flint Hills officials cited the stringent cleanup level as one of the reasons they can’t operate the refinery profitably. They closed it in May, and now operate a fuel terminal in one part of the facility.

Flint Hills and the former refinery operator, along with the state, have all filed lawsuits against each other in efforts to assign blame and liability for the cleanup.

O’Connell says DEC will send its final recommendation on a cleanup level to agency Hartig by the end of the year. Hartig will issue a ruling thereafter.

Categories: Alaska News

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:37

A students works in the Thorne Bay greenhouse. (Courtesy Megan Fitzpatrick)

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

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The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

It will be called the Thorne Bay Café.

The Southeast Island School District hired Susan Powell, a restaurant manager from Oregon, to take charge of the café. She listed some of the entree possibilities:

“Carnitas tacos, ‘cause we have the great tortillas from Coffman Cove. Maybe a taco salad, you know, some Mexican things. A barbeque pork sandwich. A Philly cheese steak or chicken cheese steak. A couple different kinds of soup every day ‘cause we’re going into winter”

She’s still working on the menu. But she plans to use produce from four school greenhouses. And she’ll get bread and tortillas from a small bakery run by the Coffman Cove school.

“I think the main goal is to support the schools and promote their products and to have student involvement,” Powell said.

Megan Fitzpatrick is Thorne Bay’s 7th through 12th grade teacher. She said this restaurant is one more fruit to spring from the labor and success of the student-run greenhouse. The school district starting operating the hydroponic greenhouse in Thorne Bay in February.

“We decided to split the class and run [the greenhouse] like a company. We broke the 20 kids into five or six different departments,” Fitzpatrick said.

The departments included construction, business, horticulture, and purchasing and ordering. Fitzpatrick says the students were evaluated on their “youth employ-ability” skills, like work ethic and showing up on time.

“[We were ] pushing it home that we’re running a business here and it takes the whole group to keep the business running,” Fitzpatrick said.

They grew mostly lettuce – butter lettuce, red leaf, romaine. And they sold it to the school lunch program and local grocery stores. The greenhouse was so successful that the school district is planning to build three more in Naukati, Kasaan and Coffman Cove.

So what happened to the Thorne Bay operation after the school year ended?

“There were a few kids that were really into it,” Fitzpatrick said. “They worked all summer long. They independently kept the greenhouse running.”

The idea to revitalize a vacant restaurant and connect it with the greenhouse came from the students and from Superintendent Lauren Burch.

“I think the restaurant might’ve originally come from Mr. Burch but then the kids sort of morphed it so that they can grow the products for it and have a place to sell their products,” Fitzpatrick said.

The restaurant used to be in Coffman Cove. Thorne Bay City Administrator Wayne Benner says Thorne Bay bought it and moved it in 2012.

“The goal was try to generate some economic development,” Benner said. “Try to get some jobs going in the city of Thorne Bay.”

Since then, two operators have leased the restaurant. But both cancelled their leases after less than a year. The city put out a request for proposals again. And the school district was the only bidder.

“The City Council approved going into negotiations with the school district,” Benner said.

The school district doesn’t want to lease the restaurant, but buy it. The council has to do one more reading of the plan to sell, and then they’ll negotiate an agreement.

Fitzpatrick says the students like the idea of a café, not just because it’ll expand their greenhouse business.

“They wanted to have café where they go and do homework after school,” she said. “A place to kind of hang out but also get a snack and some food.”

Along with the café, the students also want to set up a little shop near the restaurant to sell their goods.

Another new development — four schools are getting into the chicken business. So the café will have local eggs.

Restaurant manager Susan Powell says she’s looking around at other local food options, like a Coffman Cove oyster farm. The ingredients Powell can’t find on-island will come from national food distributors.

She plans to set up a Facebook page where people can check on the day’s menu.

Powell thinks if all goes well, Thorne Bay Café could be open in mid-November.

Categories: Alaska News

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:36

Elder Lucy Jacob enjoys lunch with her friends in the cafeteria at the Senior Center. (Photo by Charles/KYUK)

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

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As lunchtime nears, elders gather at the Chief Eddie Hoffman Senior Center in downtown Bethel. Seniors mill around the common area talking, smiling, resting, getting help with paperwork, and playing card games, as they’ve done since the center opened in the mid-80’s.

Just before noon, an elder offers a prayer before lunch.

As the seniors line up for their meal, elder Luther Oscar says he loves the time he gets to socialize with his friends.

“I started coming to the senior center to enjoy the fellowship, also to enjoy a meal with other elders over at the dining hall,” says Oscar.

The meal is bittersweet, as it’s one of the last the seniors will have together in the building. Bethel’s Tribe, Orutsararmiut Native Council, manages the senior center program. This summer they announced that they could no longer afford to stay there.

The senior center serves lunch for elders, delivers food to homebound seniors, and drives a bus to bring them to places like the post office and the grocery store.

Elder, Lucy Jacobs has been a regular at the center for many years. She says her worst fear about the center closing is loneliness.

“I’m afraid I’ll be lonely again, I don’t want the senior center closed. Some of us are always lonely in our homes while our families are gone. When all of us are here together, we are happy, we even get to enjoy games,” says Jacobs.

The center has been housed in a city building off Atsaq Street through a memorandum of understanding that allowed ONC to use the city building free of charge, if they paid the bills. But ONC officials say the cost to run the program totaled over $600,000 last year and that’s just too much

Zach Brink is the Executive Director of ONC.

“The expenses needed to take care of the building are getting too high now that it’s getting too old. We are closing the Eddie Hoffman Senior Center on September 30th, but along the way we are looking at options for a new site,” says Brink.

Brink says they plan to use part of the Lulu Herron Congregate Home, an apartment building for seniors, as a makeshift senior center until a more permanent location can be found.

It is unclear what the city will do with the old site, other than close it off for the winter. Elder Catherine Peters says it’s important for seniors to have a place to socialize and she hopes they’ll find a new home soon.

“We can laugh with them, talk with them, cry with them if we have to. And I hope the younger generation think about, they’re going to get old too and they’ll need a place to stay, comfortable. Everything takes time, everything takes money, don’t wait too long. Get it started,” says Peters.

Brink was uncertain on what level of services ONC can provide seniors in the temporary location.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Chignik

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:35

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Removal of Federal Building trees elicits fierce opposition

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:27

The proposal to remove two trees from the front of the historic Federal Building in downtown Anchorage elicited fiery comments from a handful of community members during a public meeting on Thursday.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/19-Fed-Bldg-Trees.wav

The General Services Administration, which oversees the building, planned to cut down the spruce trees this summer. GSA spokesperson Stephanie Kenitzer says the trees were damaging the building and they needed to repaint the exterior.

“As a homeowner I’ve been told multiple times to not have a tree touching the side of my house. It’s difficult on the siding, it’s hard on the paint. It’s the same kind of philosophy,” she explained.

The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.

But they were stopped from cutting them down by public outcry from community members like arborist Nickel LaFleur.

“Because it’s history. Because our trees are legacies,” she said. “We don’t have that many trees here in Anchorage, and these trees are quite historic.”

Photos show they were planted next to the building at least 56 years ago. Some time around then, a bristlecone pine joined the line up. It’s anecdotally thought to be a gift from Anchorage’s sister city in Japan, though documentation is scarce. GSA never planned to cut down the bristlecone pine.

After the public complained, the agency decided to just trim the trees and repaint — for now. Kenitzer said it’s not a long-term solution.

“The trees will grow again. That’s what trees do. Sunshine, water, they’ll grow again. And we may be addressing this problem again down the road. So it’s really in the best interest of the long term preservation of the building.”

She said an arborist’s report on the situation also claimed that the trees’ roots will hurt the foundation of the building, so they should be removed completely.

LaFleur doesn’t buy the argument, especially since the trees are separated from the building itself by a wide window well.

“The root ball will never hurt the building,” she explained. “If the building is leaking, then roots have a way of heading toward water. But you can’t blame the trees for the problems. Just fix the leaks in the buildings and leave the trees.”

The arborist who completed the initial report on the trees asked GSA to keep his name confidential for fear of damage to his business. Some of the community members have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see the report and other information about the plan to remove the trees.

GSA will make a final decision in 30 days.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 19, 2014

Fri, 2014-09-19 16:20

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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Mott to Lead Alaska Guard Response Team

The Associated Press

Brigadier General Jon Mott will lead a team charged with implementing recommendations for restoring confidence in the leadership and structure of the Alaska National Guard.

Alaska Delegation Review 113th Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House and Senate are on recess now. When lawmakers return it’ll be after the November election for a lame duck session that will end the 113th Congress.

Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

Panel Completes Review of Standard Used to Set Refinery-Pollution Cleanup Level

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A panel of experts wrapped up two days of meetings Thursday in Fairbanks that will help the state Department of Environmental Conservation determine the appropriate cleanup level for contamination of North Pole’s groundwater caused by chemicals leaking from the refinery now owned by Flint Hills Resources.

Student Greenhouses Prompt Thorne Bay Restaurant Purchase

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There are no restaurants in the 500-person town of Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island. But that looks like it’s going to change. The Southeast Island School District, which serves Thorne Bay and several other rural schools, is buying a vacant restaurant from the city. They’re going to use food from school greenhouses and a bakery to provide fresh meals for residents and business experience for students.

Closing Date Looms For The Senior Center In Bethel As ONC Looks For New Venue

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

ONC, Bethel’s Tribe, recently announced they are closing the Senior Center at the end of the month and moving to a temporary location.

AK: Mushrooms

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Heidi Drygas is a lawyer by day, and a food blogger by night. She features mostly Alaska-grown ingredients in her recipes, and her resume boasts everything from moose chili to devil’s club salad. But, there’s one thing she’s been too afraid to forage, until now.

300 Villages: Chignik

This week, we’re heading to Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula. Adam Anderson is the Mayor of Chignik, Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

USDA Rural Development Seeks Loan Applicants

Fri, 2014-09-19 11:18

The USDA’s Rural Development arm is is offering grants and loans for rural community projects throughout Alaska. The agency recently hosted a working session in Anchorage in an outreach effort to encourage community economic development ideas. 

 Jim Nordlund, the state’s USDA Rural Development director, gathered his statewide managers and program directors together in Anchorage earlier this month [Sept 5] to galvanize the outreach his agency is promoting in pursuit of community economic growth in the five regions the agency serves within Alaska.

 During the training session, Nordlund brought his staff together to hear panels of professional economic developers so they could listen to, and learn from, the experts.He said he’d like his staff to “be more knowledgeable and proactive in pursuing projects in rural AK that can result in a better quality of life and more jobs.”

“A lot of people are very surprised to know the level of activity that we have in the state. In the past five years, we have done one and a half billion dollars worth of investments, in loans and grants, in the area of electric and telecom, business, housing and community facilities, as well as sewer and water projects in rural Alaska.”

 And, Nordlund says, USDA Rural Development has plenty of money to lend. He said the department has a $200 billion loan portfolio nationwide. All of Alaska is not considered rural, however. Anchorage, for instance, has too great a population. Rural communities are defined by the numbers of houses, and businesses or the size of their power and telecommunications utilities. But, Nordlund says, most of state is considered rural, and that means it faces hurdles in creating jobs. And, he says, federal programs, such as the loan programs his agency offers, are available to help small communities get local businesses started.

“Remember, most of what we do, and you will see that reflected across the federal government now, is that there is getting to be fewer and fewer grants. But we do have really attractive loan programs, and because loans get paid back to the federal treasury, Congress is much more accepting of our loan programs. So we have plenty of loan money available, either for community facilities or businesses, as well as utilities. “

 One challenge – the loan opportunities often are not tapped by the entities that could be using them. Nordlund says one goal of his department is to support projects that improve quality of life. He points out that twenty years ago, most rural Alaska villages didn’t have running water and flush toilets, now most do, in part because of USDA funding and partnerships with other entities, such as the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the state’s department of environmentalconservation, and the Indian Health Service

“We’ve all been partners in providing better sanitation conditions in rural Alaska, and I think that obviously improves the quality of life.”

Nordlund stressed the benefits of collaboration between entities to achieve successful results.

Presenters, such as Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, and Annie Fritze, the Economic Development director for the Bristol bay Native Association, spoke about their role in promoting development from idea to reality. Holst advised looking to local products and attractions — such as commercial fishing and tourism — to devise money-producing ideas.

Annie Fritze says one idea in her community is the recycling of cardboard boxes, that normally would be dumped in the landfill, to make pellets for fuel. Fritze says that idea is on the drawing board now, but a USDA rural grant could help pay for a pellet making machine.

Bill Popp, executive director of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, says small business can be an economic stimulator, although they face an uphill challenge in rural areas. Popp said economic development and community development are two different things, but both need the other to succeed. He said Alaska’s small workforce and long distance from the Lower 48 is a big drawback to both local enterpreneurs, and to companies seeking to locate in the state:

“First thing that a company looks at , depending on it’s purpose, it looks at the market opportunities in Alaska. They are going to be looking at an available workforce. …….. We have some challenges on those points. We don’t have a large population, there’s only 730,000 of us, we don’t have a large available workforce, we have relatively low unemployment, especially in the Southcentral region, and that makes it challenging for new businesses trying to invest in Southcentral, in trying to find the workforce that they need.”

Popp said transportation costs to and from Alaska is one of the major blocks to the development of state manufacturing.

USDA Rural Development works to strengthen the relationship between the community and it’s economy, Nordlund said

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to fight ISIL

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:02

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIL, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

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Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the measure in the House yesterday, saying it was a tough choice but the only way to stop the atrocities and prevent the group from attacking on U.S. soil.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also voted for it, as part of a short-term spending bill to keep the government operating. She said before the vote she was greatly reluctant and knows Americans are weary of war.

“We don’t willingly want to do this,” she said, “but I think Americans are looking at this and saying, ‘By doing nothing are we putting ourselves at greater risk from these barbaric acts?’”

The bill expires December 11, so Murkowski says Congress will have to face the question again after the election. For now, she says it boils down to selecting among bad options.

“And so I look at what we have in front of us and I see no good options,” she said. “But I’m very fearful of the no-option strategy.”

The issue cuts across normal party and ideological lines. The sole Democrat in the Alaska delegation, Sen. Mark Begich, voted against the bill. In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote, Begich criticized Obama’s plan to arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight extremists, saying it could backfire because alliances often shift.

“Do not arm, with U.S. dollars and weapons, the rebels of today that might not be the rebels of tomorrow,” Begich said.

He says the U.S. should continue air strikes, but he says the Arab countries who are also threatened by ISIL need to provide the ground troops.

“What is the long-term plan here for sustainability in the Middle East to get rid of these terrorist organizations that every single one of those countries know is bad for them – they know it – but they do not step up to the plate enough?” he said.

Begich was one of only 22 senators to vote no. His Republican challenger, Dan Sullivan, said in a written statement he would have voted for the measure because ISIL is a threat to the U.S.

Categories: Alaska News

One-Man PAC To Target Four House Races

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:01

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

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Keithley is launching a $200,000 independent expenditure campaign to install his vision of a more fiscally responsible Legislature in Juneau. He’s hired a campaign manager, he’s done polling, and after collecting candidate surveys, he’s decided to get involved in four races. Keithley is supporting two Democratic challengers — Laurie Hummel against the incumbent Republican Gabrielle LeDoux in Muldoon, and Matt Moore against House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt in East Anchorage. In West Anchorage, he’s backing a Republican, Anand Dubey, against Democrat Matt Claman in a race for an open seat. And in Mountain View, he’s spending on behalf of Libertarian Cean Stevens, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr.

“These are districts where we think we can move the needle,” Keithley says, from the kitchen of his unfussy Anchorage condo.

So, why is he doing all this? For the past two years, Keithley’s been a regular at the state Capitol, preaching a gospel of budget caps. But while he thought his message of limiting state spending to $5 billion was resonating, the last state budget tapped $6 billion from the general fund and the one before took out over $7 billion.

“We went backward over the next two years. Rather than saving, we had the two highest deficits in Alaska’s history.”

To make up the difference, the Legislature and governor had to tap the state’s budget reserves, basically a $15 billion piggy bank the state can dip into when there’s shortfalls. Keithley thinks that instead of draining the reserves, Alaska should let the funds grow and then use the interest to counteract declining revenue from oil production — a plan crafted by retired University of Alaska economics professor Scott Goldsmith, which generated a lot of buzz in the Capitol when it was introduced.

Keithley says he thought there was buy-in for that plan from the Republican majorities when they listed “sustainable budgets” as a priority going into the legislative session two years ago. Based on the spending they did, Keithley doesn’t think they’re justified in using those terms now when running for reelection.

“They’re just saying words. After what happened in 2012, and after the Senate Majority coming out and making the statement it did, and after seeing the two largest deficits in Alaska history, they know what words constituents want to hear. They know what words resonate at voting time, and they’re just saying those words. They’re not living up to the words.”

Keithley has a few objectives with his independent expenditure campaign. Obviously, he’d like his chosen candidates to be successful. But he also wants to get people talking about the state budget. And he believes his spending could have an effect in other races.

On top of targeting four House districts, he also plans to send issue mailers in the Senate district represented by Republican Cathy Giessel and the open Senate district in West Anchorage where Democrat Clare Ross and Republican Mia Costello are squaring off. That means candidates Keithley considered targeting but didn’t find vulnerable enough – like Rep. Mike Hawker, who shares a district with Giessel and has been criticized for the expensive renovations of the Anchorage legislative information office – might still have to address fiscal issues in their campaign.

Keithley has been a vocal critic of incumbent Sean Parnell’s limited use of the line item veto during the past legislative cycle, except didn’t think $200,000 directed at that contest was enough to make a serious difference. By targeting high-turnout districts and doing web and radio advertising that could have a broader reach, he thinks there may be a ripple effect.

“The mailers certainly are going to identify, and the web advertising is going to say, ‘This is both the governor and the legislature that has been doing this.’ It’s both Alaska’s chief executive and its board of directors that is sending the state down this path. So, it may have some carryover effect in the governor’s race, and that’s certainly not going to bother me.”

Needless to say, the independent expenditure effort has ruffled feathers.

Keithley, who isn’t registered with a party but describes his views as libertarian, says he’s lost friends over it. Republicans have accused him of simply trying to elect Democrats. He’s been described as arrogant and dogmatic. People have questioned his attachment to the state – he’s been an Alaska resident since 2007 and uses a cell phone with a Georgia area code – and asked him who he thinks he is to be the arbiter of fiscal responsibility. He says people also wonder why he is putting $200,000 into political spending instead of toward philanthropy.

Keithley, who wouldn’t disclose his net worth but says he’s financially secure after a career as an oil and gas attorney, says he does give money to other causes. And he thinks his political spending may have more of an impact than giving to a specific charity.

“It creates a better world for that philanthropy and for that small segment, but it doesn’t improve the economy of the state or it doesn’t hand off a better world – a better state fiscal world – to the next generation.”

Keithley says he’s also prepared to be negatively compared to political spenders like the Koch brothers and George Soros, who are viewed as election-influencing boogeymen by the left and right respectively. Though, he sees himself more like billionaire Ross Perot, who self-financed a 1992 presidential run centered on reducing the national debt.

“You know, Ross Perot may have lost that election, but he changed the discussion. He changed the dynamic.”

Keithley even considered pulling a Ross Perot and running for governor. But after some self-reflection, he realized he “just wasn’t a good candidate” and did not have a shot at victory. So, he figured he may as well put money behind people who did have a chance. After all, he thought that was the fiscally responsible approach.

Categories: Alaska News

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Thu, 2014-09-18 17:00

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

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Categories: Alaska News

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

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Categories: Alaska News

Board of Education to Consider Regulations

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:59

The state board of education will consider regulations surrounding how students can test-out of courses they have mastered.

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Lawmakers this year passed legislation allowing secondary school students to test-out of and receive credit for courses offered in math, language arts, science, social studies and world languages.

The proposed regulations would require districts to provide testing at least twice a year and develop standards regarding the degree of mastery needed.

In public comments, Ron Fuhrer, president of NEA-Alaska, said the regulations, if implemented properly, would allow students to take more advanced classes.

But he said if the testing requirements are too lax, it won’t prepare students for long-term success. He also said he didn’t want new testing days added to the school calendar.

The board meets this week in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

Signs mark the end of Juneau’s Glacier Highway in 2013. The latest environmental impact statement maintains a preference to extend the road 47 miles north along the east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

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The 694-page draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Project is a reaction to court challenges to the project’s 2006 environmental impact statement.

The new document maintains a preference to build a road along the east side of Lynn Canal, north to the Katzehin River. There, a new ferry terminal would make a short connection to Haines and the road system.

The new document attempts to fulfill a major regulatory hurdle to highway construction, estimated at $523 million. Ferry terminal and vessel construction is estimated to cost another $51 million.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council was one of the parties to challenge the 2006 environmental impact statement. It may do so again, says Executive Director Malena Marvin.

“Our lawyers have not analyzed it yet but it’s likely that it will be challenged.”

The federal courts in 2009 and 2011 said the original statement failed to adequately consider improved ferry service as an alternative to building the road. The new document addresses that and revises outdated information.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the next step for the department is to collect public comments that will eventually be integrated into an additional report.

“Depending on how many comments we receive will determine the length of time it takes us to put together the environmental impact statement for review by the Federal Highway Administration before we can reach a record of decision. So, that could take several months or longer.”

The public comment period on the draft document is open until Nov. 10.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Fish Boat Explodes in Valdez; 1 Injured

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:58

A Coast Guard spokesman says a 30-foot commercial fishing boat exploded and burned Wednesday evening in the small boat harbor in Valdez. The lone person on board was able to walk off and was taken to a hospital.

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Lt. Ben Bauman says Valdez firefighters and police responded, as did Coast Guard personnel. They found the vessel Fireman afloat, with the majority of its wheelhouse torn apart by the explosion.

Once Valdez firefighters said the area was safe, Bauman says Coast Guard officers were able to board the boat to begin a pollution investigation.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:57

Magnuson-Stevens created 8 separate regional councils to manage fisheries in federal waters. According ALFA’s Linda Behnken, not all regions have placed as much emphasis on resource protection as the North Pacific. (NOAA Fisheries image)

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

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Draft language containing proposed changes to Magnuson-Stevens has been working its way through the US House of Representatives, but the political lines became clearer when Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced his version of the billon September 16.

Read the full text of Sen. Rubio’s Florida Fisheries Improvement Act.

The top priority for Rubio is giving the regional management councils more flexibility in setting timelines for rebuilding depleted fish stocks.

This is exactly what Linda Behnken, the director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was hoping not to hear.

“There’s quite a pushback right now against the rebuilding timelines and the catch limits. You start rebuilding stocks, it means you have to catch less fish, generally, and that’s a painful process for fishermen.”

Behnken says she wasn’t expecting a Senate bill so soon, but Rubio’s paralells some language she’s seen in the House. Fishing Community Coalition is worried about a reauthorization that merely “reaffirms the status quo” or worse “moves backward.” The Mangnuson-Stevens Act was first passed in 1976, and wasn’t considered very effective for its first two decades. But substantial amendments in 1996 and 2006 reinforced the law’s commitment to sustainability.

Behnken would like to stay the course.

“To protect the gains that we’ve made in the last two reauthorizations, for the resource. And also to look for ways to support policy that keeps a healthy resource and provides access for people who live in traditional fishing communities, to those resources.”

Behnken served three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, one of eight regional councils established under Magnuson-Stevens. While there were always politics and tension over the allocation of fish, one thing remained unchanged.

“In this region, in the North Pacific, the council never sets any catch limits for stocks above what the scientists recommend to be optimal levels — the maximum levels that can be taken without undermining the health of the stock. That’s not the case in other parts of the country.”

“We definitely have some out here, with our Georges Bank and our Gulf of Maine cod stocks, that are a mess,” says Tom Dempsey,the Policy Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

“And they’re collapsing right in front of us. We need improve how we manage those stocks, to give ourselves a chance at rebuilding to a point where we can have a sustainable fishery.”

Dempsey says fisheries for scallop and lobster are doing well in his region. But, groundfish, the flagship of the historic New England fisheries, are on the verge of becoming commercially-extinct. As recently as 30 years ago there were 60 boats fishing for cod throughout the summer out of Chatham, Massachusetts, where Dempsey lives. Today there are two part-time boats.

Dempsey also holds a seat on the New England Fisheries Management Council. He says there’s a tendency to distrust science in his area, and unlike Alaska, no annual stock assessment. Management decisions are sometimes being made on biological information that is several years old.

“That is a huge frustration of ours. It’s one of the central things we want to get done in this reauthorization process. And unfortunately there’s been opposition out here to the levels of catch accountability that you need to manage stocks. I say it all the time: When you’re managing fish, there are only two questions. How many fish are in the water, and how many fish are you taking out?”

Sen. Rubio’s bill includes provisions to increase funding for stock assessments and data collection, but the track record of success of Magnuson-Stevens outside of Alaska is not stellar.

Matthew Felling, spokesperson for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says his boss holds some sway over her Florida colleague.

“She is someone that he relies on for guidance and for knowledge. Sen. Begich, of course, has a role because he works closely with Sen. Rubio on the Oceans Subcommittee. But as all three of them are members of the Oceans Caucus, Sen. Murkowski has been able to inform Rubio’s understanding of our waters, our fishing industry, and of our success story that we have in Alaska.”

Felling says that with the Senate likely to go into recess until mid-November, there’s no way any reauthorization will happen in this Congress. He thinks the extra time will produce a more thoughtful bill.

“Just last month at an event in the Kenai, Sen. Murkowski said that the most important priority to MSA authorization was to not just rush it and get it over with, but to do it right, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, and make sure that all possible stakeholders have their voices heard.”

Those stakeholders — according to Sen. Rubio’s office — include some of the producers, processors, and retailers trying to make the most of limited stocks. And although giving the councils “flexibility” to depart from strict conservation guidelines may become the most politically-charged idea in the reauthorization process, ALFA’s Linda Behnken says it doesn’t have to be. She says flexibility — as in the use of new data-collection tools, like cameras rather than on board observers — can actually be a good thing.

“That kind of flexibility doesn’t compromise the resource, but it’s real important to small boats and fishing communities.”

In addition to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the Fishing Community Coalition includes the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 18, 2014

Thu, 2014-09-18 16:50

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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Alaska Delegation Divided on Arming Syrian Rebels to Fight ISIL

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Congress today approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group known as ISIS, but no one in the Alaska delegation was happy about it.

One-Man PAC to Target Four House Races

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It’s not unheard of for wealthy individuals to get involved in ballot measure fights. This year alone, grocery magnate Barney Gottstein put $100,000 toward a failed oil tax referendum, and financier Bob Gillam has spent more than $1 million supporting an initiative to slow the development of Pebble Mine.

But what is unusual is for a single person to sweep into legislative races and operate basically like a Super PAC would. Attorney Brad Keithley is doing just that, targeting a handful of Anchorage races.

State Takes Step Toward Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Until recently, Governor Sean Parnell, like his two Republican predecessors, and Governor Wally Hickel before them, used lawsuits, legislative initiatives and policies to dispute or diminish tribal authorities on several fronts. The Parnell administration now is taking a step toward acknowledging tribal sovereignty.

Researchers, Academics Convene On Arctic Development Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Researchers and academics from multiple nations are gathering at the University of Alaska Anchorage this week to aggregate research on Arctic development. There are two efforts underway. The first is the initial meeting of Arctic Frost or Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability, looking at resources and development in a changing north. The idea is to bring together existing international research, clarify the new knowledge and get the information out to the public and schools. Dr Diane Hirshberg is the Professor of Education Policy and director of UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. She says in addition  to Arctic Frost, the second Arctic Human Development report will be released. The base line study was conducted 10 years ago.

DOT Puts Out New Juneau Access Project Document

Jeremy Hsieh & Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

DOT puts out new Juneau Access Project document

Thursday, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities put out a draft document that addresses environmental issues stemming from the battle to extend Juneau’s only highway north toward Haines and Skagway.

Groups Hope MSA Update Won’t Move Fish Conservation ‘Backwards’

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A number of regional fishing associations are joining forces to strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act.The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association announced last week (9-9-14) that it’s reached an agreement with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and several east-coast industry groups to form the Fishing Community Coalition. The new organization wants to ensure that Congress makes protecting fish stocks a priority as it prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most important law governing the harvest of seafood in federal waters.

Categories: Alaska News

Valley Opponents Gather To Fight Prop Two

Thu, 2014-09-18 15:40

A roster of prominent Republicans – both candidates and sitting legislators – showed up  Wednesday night in support of a Wasilla fundraiser for the anti- Proposition 2 group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, although  campaign manager for the newly formed Matanuska Valley arm of the anti- marijuana initiative group, Eric Cordero, says  Big Marijuana, Big Mistake is non- partisan:

“We are kicking off our MatSu fundraiser campaign here and just getting a lot of more volunteers in the MatSu area. This is going to happen in Fairbanks next week, and it’s going to happen also in Ketchikan in a next few weeks. So we are excited that more and more people are coming on board.”

 Cordero says national observers of events in Colorado and Washington are keeping a close eye on the impacts of legalization  since those states legalized marijuana.

“And most of our supporters believe that there is absolutely no reason to rush. That we have a petri dish in Colorado and in Washington and we can see what has worked, what hasn’t worked. What are the pros and cons. “

Mat Su Business Alliance director Crystal Nygard used the occasion to announce her organization’s stand on Prop 2:

“And with all of the uncertainty around how they are going to regulate it, how they are going to tax it, and how businesses will be able to either take advantage of the opportunity or not, are not real clear. And we are in a state in Alaska where we don’t need to risk trying to learn new businesses.”

 Big Marijuana, Big Mistake’s Valley kickoff event was attended by some prominent Republicans, such as Senate candidate Bill Stoltze, Mat Su Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Most of the Valley’s delegation to the state legislature made an appearance.

Supporters of Proposition 2, working for the Marijuana Policy Project, say MMP is the largest organization in the country focused on ending marijuana prohibition. MMP spokeman Taylor Bickford, says MMP empowers local activists with tools needed to fight current marijuana policy.

“I don’t think that Alaskans are particularly concerned with what politicians think about this issue. We’ve seen public opinion at the national level and here in Alaska as well, shift dramatically in favor of regulating marijuana like alcohol over the last ten years, and the political leadership and establishment has lagged behind that trend. “

 Bickford says responsible adults “should be able to make reasonable decisions about how to live their lives without government intrusion and fear of prosecution.”

 Bickford says his group has support from all over the state, regardless of political affiliation. He says proposition 2 is on the ballot because 45 thousand Alaskans signed a petition asking for it. Voters will decide in November.  

Categories: Alaska News
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