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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: 26 min 49 sec ago

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:11

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture.

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The state says the decision in Tununak v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“Baby Dawn,” not her real name, was four months old in 2008 when the state took custody of her. She was put in foster care with a non-Native family in Anchorage. Because Baby Dawn is Yup’ik, the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, applies. ICWA was enacted to reduce the high number of Native children being placed in non-Native homes. It gives preference to Native families in custody cases. But after the mother’s parental rights were terminated, the foster parents’ petition for adoption of Baby Dawn was approved in 2012. The baby’s grandmother had testified she wanted custody, but didn’t file an adoption petition, which would have required the help of an attorney.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Jacklyn Schafer says the case revolved around the way the grandmother asked to adopt.

“The question in this adoption appeal then became did the grandmother formally seek to adopt the child. Even though she didn’t file an adoption petition, or intervene in the adoption case, or attend the adoption hearing,” says Schafer. “She did testify in the related child in need of aid case placement hearing that she wanted custody.”

Schafer says the Alaska Supreme Court was bound by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against granting custody of Baby Veronica to her Cherokee father. He had mistakenly terminated his parental rights and was seeking to have that overturned. The ruling against him was decided in part because he had not filed a petition to adopt his biological daughter.

The Baby Veronica case was decided by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision. One of the dissenting justices said the ruling violated ICWA’s text and purpose.

Alaska Federation of Natives co-chair Ana Hoffman, of Bethel, says the Alaska court ruling that removes Baby Dawn from her Native family and community also contradicts ICWA.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted to prevent that exact thing from happening,” says Hoffman. “It was to ensure the unification of Native families and Native children and to all Native families to provide the nurturing homes for the Native children that are in care.”

Schafer says the requirement to file an adoption petition means everybody interested in adopting a child will lay their cards on the table at a placement hearing rather than an adoption hearing that would come later in the process. That, she says, will put children into permanent homes more quickly.

“When the child has a permanent placement option that wants to adopt, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to be saying it’s not good enough to have people come forward that far along in the case and say ‘Sure, I want to adopt and see where this goes and I’m interested,’” says Schafer. “That isn’t enough when you have a formal adoption petition on the table and that child could achieve permanency. The U.S. Supreme Court is saying we need to see a formal request to adopt.”

Hoffman says the court has added a costly step to an already complicated process. Schafer says the court directed the court system, tribes, agencies and attorneys to work to make the process of filing an adoption petition easier.

“After the decision,” says Schafer, “the court really emphasized there needs to be more rules to make it easier to file for adoption.”

Hoffman says as it is now, various families can be considered for placement. But she says the addition and complications of getting legal assistance and initiating an adoption case will be insurmountable hurdles for some families. As a result, she says there will be fewer options for the best placement for a child, and more children will be leaving their home communities, with, she says, serious consequences.

“What it would mean for these communities is loss of access, continuation of culture and a loss of the sense of community that should be there,” says Hoffman.

Attorneys for the Native Village of Tununak may ask the court to reconsider its decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

The Nunalleq archeological dig near Quinhagak in August, 2014. (Photo by Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel)

An archaeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer.

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The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

The project, called Nunalleq, meaning ‘old village’, is located five miles outside Quinhagak. Dr. Rick Knecht is an ararchaeologist with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland who manages the dig. He says permafrost at the ancient Yup’ik village of Araliq, preserved artifacts up to 700-years-old made of wood and leather that normally would have disintegrated.

Knecht says that most sites in the Lower 48 provide just ‘stones and bones’, but at the Araliq site they get, “Things like utensils that people used in their daily lives. We get bentwood bowls and scoops. We get ul’us with the handles still on them. We get grass baskets for example, complete grass baskets and woven mats. We’re getting things like weapons and kayak parts, masks and artwork, things that you normally just see in museums. And these all date from between about 1400 and 1600 AD.”

And hundreds of hair samples Knecht says, likely clippings from haircuts were also preserved at the site. Some of those clippings contributed to the study of indigenous Alaskans that was featured in the journal, Science, this summer.

“We contributed about 33 hair samples to the study and I think that’s more than any of the sites were able to produce. Just because of the extraordinary preservation here,” Knecht said.

Dr. Rick Knecht at the Nunalleq dig site. (Photo courtesy of the University of Aberdeen)

There were 169 samples analyzed in the study. The study, led by a group of Danish researchers revealed that the modern Inuit people, including those in Alaska are descended from the Thule, who developed around 700-hundred years ago, replacing an earlier population, the Paleo-Eskimos. The genetic evidence shows there was very little interbreeding, and that the Thule are the ancestors of the Yup’ik and Inupiat people living on Alaska’s west coast today.

“We don’t know the origins of that, of what we call the Thule population or the Neo-Eskimos. But we do know that both in the archaeological evidence, both the artifacts and the genetics look very much alike, surprisingly so, on the two ends of the Arctic, which is the largest indigenous territory of any group in the world,” Knecht said.

Knecht says the donation of the hair clippings from the Araliq site was the sole contribution for the study from Alaska.

Warren Jones is the President of the village corporation in Quinhagak, Qanirtuuq Inc. He says they agreed to work with the archaeologists because they want to learn more about the people who they believe may be their ancestors.

“The archaeologists know what they’re doing. And everything they dig out is going to be brought back to us. So it will be back here for our future, children, generations. Now our future kids, grandkids they’ll be able to see what our ancestors lived, how they lived, what they used, the tools they made. All the little stories are coming alive,” said Jones.

Warren Jones talking to Quinhagak elder Paul Beebe. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cleveland)

Jones says the corporation is interested in comparing the DNA of the ancient people of Araliq with the modern residents of Quinhagak.

“We might get to see who was related to the people of Araliq, that’s pretty cool,” said Jones.

Jones says the corporation in Quinhagak eventually wants to develop ecotourism around the archaeological site, but rapid erosion at the site has made getting artifacts out a priority.

Knecht says it requires a certain level of trust for Native people to allow genetic material to be released for studies, and the over the past five years of the project researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Native people in Quinhagak have built that trust.

The project is funded by Qanirtuuq Inc. and through a $1.8 million grant from the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council.

KYUK reporters visited the Nunalleq archeological site in August. KYUK’s Shane Iverson and Charles Enoch contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 2, 2014

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:10

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Gov. Parnell Defends Against Claims That Response To National Guard Was Too Slow

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last month, Gov. Sean Parnell released a brutal federal report on misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Sexual assault reports were mishandled, and alleged perpetrators were promoted. Military aircraft were used for personal reasons. Two state officials have already resigned as a result of the abuses. Now, the governor is playing defense, too. With only a month left before Election Day, Parnell is rejecting claims that he did not respond to the problems quickly enough.

Fairbanks 4 Member Granted Parole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man imprisoned for murder has been granted parole. The Alaska Parole Board approved Eugene Vent’s request despite continued claims by him and other members of the so called “Fairbanks Four”, that they are innocent.

Hilcorp Drilling Platform Catches Fire In Cook Inlet

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

Four people were safely evacuated from a drilling platform in Cook Inlet that caught fire this morning. The Coast Guard says the fire appeared to be out by 1 p.m. but has since flared up again.

Native Leaders Say Court Ruling Will Cut Off Native Children From Community, Culture

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Native leaders say a Sept. 12th Alaska Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a Yup’ik child will cause higher numbers of Native children to be cut off from their families and culture. The state says the decision in Tununuk v. the State of Alaska will put kids into permanent homes more quickly, and follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Quinhagak Residents Hopeful Hair Samples Will Unlock More Mysteries About Ancestors

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

An archeological dig near Quinhagak, in Southwest Alaska, contributed the largest set of genetic samples for a groundbreaking DNA study of Arctic indigenous people released this summer. The study answers longstanding questions about migrations of the ancient Alaska Native people, on the state’s west coast, and the local people hope to learn even more about their own ancestors.

Congressional Candidates Talk Fish in Kodiak

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

Alaska’s congressional candidates descended on Kodiak Wednesday night for a debate that pinned candidates running for both the House and Senate against their opponents on a number of fisheries-related issues.

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

A new fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

Categories: Alaska News

Congressional Candidates Talk Fish in Kodiak

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:09

Alaska’s congressional candidates descended on Kodiak Wednesday night for a debate that pinned candidates running for both the House and Senate against their opponents on a number of fisheries-related issues.

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First to take the stage at the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium were the candidates for U.S. Senate.

Incumbent Senator Mark Begich squared off with Republican candidate Dan Sullivan, answering questions from a media panel, audience members and each other. One topic brought up was Russia’s recent ban on seafood imports from the U.S., and its potential impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry. When asked how he might handle an international issue like this, Sullivan cited his work with the Bush administration as useful experience.

“I served as an assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration. Part of my responsibilities were working to open markets for American goods throughout the world. So I have deep experience, not only working with the state department, where most of this would take place in terms of how we deal with these kind of issues, but also in terms of dealing with sanctions. And the big problem right now with Russia is with sanctions,” Sullivan. “So to me it’s very important to make sure that we go to the state department, we go to the Obama administration and make sure that when we place sanctions on countries, or threaten sanctions, that in many ways we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot by having retaliation that hurts our markets.”

Begich addressed the state’s aging commercial fisheries fleet and how to promote better access for the next generation of young fishermen. He said the cost of entering the industry is very expensive and more needs to be done to help with those costs.

“One thing we should do and consider and I know the state of Alaska has looked at it and we should participate where we can is having a cost-effective loan program so people can afford to borrow if they want to get into the business. Second, there’s been conversation which I think I’m very intrigued about – the Magnuson Stevens Act offers it, it’s never been used – how you do community shares. Community shares are an opportunity where you can engage maybe at a lower cost – engage that first time, as I like to call it, first time home owner,” Begich said. “You know, first time fishermen. To get their feet wet, literally, and be able to do some fishing and understand the business. But you have to have a certain amount of shares available. This concept that now the council is discussing, I’m very intrigued about.”

During the second half of the debates, the candidates for U.S. House took the stage to try their hand at fisheries issues. Incumbent Republican Congressman Don Young was asked whether or not he felt current regulations and environmental cleanup operations in place were sufficient to handle possible environmental damage caused by increased shipping traffic and oil exploration in the Arctic.

“You know again I grew up in Cordova and our issue when I was first going out fishing farmed fish was flooding the market and the price had crashed and people weren’t able to distinguish – and they still have trouble distinguishing between farmed salmon from Norway or Canada or from fresh Alaskan salmon,” Dunbar said. “That’s wrong. They have an inferior product. We have a superior product and it should be labeled as such. Now with regard to Pollock, right now Russians are importing their Pollock calling it Alaskan Pollock. It’s twice frozen; it’s an inferior product; it should be labeled. Now you’re also talking about cooked seafood, I understand that, I support labeling, I support pushing the FDA to strongly label things that say where they’re from. Not just the country but also the region.”

Young was asked his opinion on seafood labeling, and he was quick to express his support of country of origin labeling and an overall strengthening of all seafood labels.

“They’re not sufficient. This is one of our problems. I’m, with Mr. Larsen from Washington State, a congressman, bipartisan, we’re setting up an Arctic Commission,” Young said. “We’ve worked to try to get the Coast Guard established in the Arctic and I’m trying to get new ice breakers. When I say I’m trying, it’s about $1.4 billion to build one. And I don’t see the appetite for that much money. In fact it hasn’t even been asked for. So I’m trying to get them to lease the vessels, maintain the vessels by the leaser and have an ice breaker available with oil recovery equipment.”

All four candidates will be on the November 4 general election ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

A Sneak Peak Of Bethel’s New Fitness Center

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:08

The Fitness center, which includes a swimming pool, is set to open in Bethel in November. The project has been in the works for decades and anticipation is building in the community, where no other such facility exists.

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Immediately to the right of the entrance is a food court where healthy snacks will be sold. Straight ahead is the main attraction.

“The main question when I got here is, ‘Is there water in the pool?’ Yes there is water in the pool?” Raunica Ray, the Director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Regional Aquatic Health & Safety Center, said.

In a town with not much indoor recreation to speak of and where the temperature is below freezing much of the year, the center is an exciting prospect. It’s been in the works for decades. Most people don’t call it by its big, unwieldy name, they just call it “The Pool.”

Actually, there are two pools. The biggest one being, a regulation size pool with six lanes separated by blue and white floats. The larger pool can be used for water sports, both competitive and fun. The smaller pool connected to it is more bout fun; A yellow tube slide leads into the smaller pool. It has sensors that signal kids when the slide is clear and it’s safe to slide. The smaller, more shallow pool has a handicap entry and can also be used for therapy. And a Jacuzzi with state of the art jets for maximum therapy.

The pools and the Jacuzzi are filled with well over 100,000 gallons of water that has to be cleaned. The pool looks like it’s constantly overflowing but it’s really draining into small holes just off the edges. Ray explains where the water goes.

“This right here takes it into the surge tank, goes through the surge tank and then refilters throughout the system. Before it goes back into the system, it goes through an ultraviolet light, which kills everything inside of the water,” Ray said. “After going through that ultraviolet light, then its chlorinated and filtered back into the pool.”

A state of the art cleaning system, says Ray. Going into the next room, she explains the large machines that are constantly humming.

“These right here are sand filtration systems for the main pool,” Ray said. “So we have a set of three of ‘em so that way at all times, water is continuously circulating and we have backup pumps as well.”

All of this seems like it would take a lot of power to run, and it does. But Ray explains a windmill outside provides well over half of the power needed to run the center, while the rest comes from the grid. In the next room, is an emergency generator, in case of a power outage. There are also rooms for yoga, dance classes and a workout room.

Bev Hoffman, of Bethel, has been working to make the Center a reality for years, and she says it’s nice to see a longtime dream come true.

“I kept thinking that it will become a reality but for 30 years it was a dream until 2007, the community started to get behind it,” Hoffman said.

In the early days Hoffman and other community members held bake sales and other fundraisers. More recently, funding the project was made possible through several grants and donations. Around $23 million came from the state. The Rasmuson Foundation and The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Diabetes Prevention Program both contributed funds for workout equipment.

Managers say they’re still putting the finishing touches on The Center, and it’s on track for a grand opening in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough District 5 Race

Thu, 2014-10-02 13:49

Two political newcomers are vying for the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s District 5 seat, since incumbent Darcie Salmon has decided to retire. Borough elections are set for October 7, and the heat is building up in this, the only contested race, which pits two long time community leaders, Bill Kendig and Dan Mayfield, against each other to represent the Borough’s fast growing industrial area.  

The  Borough’s District 5 stretches through back roads from Big Lake to Port MacKenzie, then down Knik Goose Bay Road to the outskirts of downtown Wasilla. The two candidates come from opposite ends of the district, but they are similar in outlook as to what’s needed in the Borough.  Bill Kendig says it’s time he stepped up

“I’m knocking on as many doors as I can. I’ve got some disabilities, I’ve got a bad ankle, but I’m four-wheeling door to door and we are making phone calls.”

  Kendig, who has spent close to three decades living along Knik Goose Bay road, known locally as KGB. He has raised two children while watching his neighborhood grow from a few sparse homes to one of the most traffic-heavy areas within the Borough.   He says traffic congestion makes transportation planning one of the Borough’s most challenging tasks. He says a state plan for KGB is unacceptable

“They’re going to make it a divided highway. The problem is, there is not enough access, there is not enough left hand turns. Now, when they designed that, probably in the summer when it was nice and shiny and dry. What happens in November, December and January, when you’ve got to go a mile and make an U turn on a dark and icy road, just to get to the other side of the road. I’d like to get involved with DOT and their design, and come up with a better design.”

Kendig asks voters to give their opinion on the KGB upgrade on his website.    Perhaps Kendig’s home spun campaign logo: the slogan “KEN ya DIG it!” splashed over a silhouette of a giant backhoe, says it best. He is definitely pro-development:

“It’s coming. It’s not a matter or whether it is going to be here, or whether it’s not going to be here. The development’s coming, the people are coming and it is a matter of when, and are we going to be ready for it.”

Kendig is a small business owner with a background in real estate and scrap metals buying, was on the Knik-Fairview Community Council for fifteen years, and now sits on the Borough’s planning commission.  Kendig also helped to start the Knik Sled Dog Recreation District, the only park in the US dedicated to dog mushing.  But, he says the Borough’s future is linked to it’s development projects.

 ”We have an opportunity in front of us in that port. It’s something that has been worked on for a long time. It’s birth was when Darcie Salmon was mayor, and Ted Stevens kicked in fifty million dollars to start developing it. It was a good idea then, it’s a good idea now. It’s our future. “

Big Lake candidate James “Dan” Mayfield couldn’t agree more.  Mayfield strongly supports Port MacKenzie development, and says the integration of the Port and the new Alaska Railroad spur linking it to Houston could be a big revenue booster for the Borough.. although he admits that at present, that’s not happening. 

“You know, we need to get the port and the railroad going in producing revenues. I think we need to move that forward in a more aggressive time period, so that we can produce revenues. Government is not generally a revenue – generating operation, but we have invested in some infrastrucutures, the port and the railroad for sure, that should be returning revenue to the taxpayers.”

 Mayfield has a long history of service to the Big Lake community, and is founder of Big Lake Trails, Inc, a non profit which improves ATV trails linking Big Lake to Willow and Knik. He’s Vice President of the Big Lake Community Council and a member of the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce.

“My goal is to make the political process work for the average citizen. Local government, more than any other level of government is about people and making the community vision come alive for them. And I just want to help make that a reality in the Borough.”

 Mayfield has raised three children and has retired from the insurance business, where he specialized in property and casualty claims.  He says new Borough growth is bound to cause traffic snarls in some areas, and he points specifically to KGB road.

 ”KGB definitely has some safety concerns. It’s one of the three main safety corridors in the state. I am in favor of the four lane divided option for KGB. You know, safety is one of the concerns of government. I think we have to go with the safest option.”

 District five is the seat of the BIG PROJECTS…Goose Bay Prison, Knik Arm Bridge, Port MacKenzie and its railroad spur. And the Borough has invested money in all of them, often overlooking criticism that Borough spending and Borough income are not in sync.

 ”When we plan projects, we need to make sure we understand all the intricacies of that, and how it’s going to return revenue to the Borough, and relieve our tax burden,”  Mayfield says.

 Other than opposing views on a KGB upgrade, there’s not a lot separating Kendig and Mayfield. At a recent Wasilla luncheon forum, Kendig gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” to a question about bringing cruise ships into Port MacKenzie. Mayfield answered not so fast,” it is an industrial port now, and the prospect needs more review.”  

Categories: Alaska News

With Little Opposition, Minimum Wage Campaign Seeks Mandate

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:45

This past legislative session, a bill that would have raised the minimum wage was among the most divisive items under consideration. Now, a citizen’s initiative to do the exact same thing is about the least controversial question on this year’s ballot.

There’s no spirited dissent to the proposition, and polls show the measure passing by a margin of two to one. So why is that? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how the minimum wage campaign found itself running without organized opposition.

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Rep. Andy Josephson vividly remembers testimony on the minimum wage bill. As a member of the House Labor and Commerce committee, he sat through the failed legislation’s only hearing.

“There was a packed room. There was a lot of media. There were no people testifying, with one exception that I recall, against the bill.”

The one person who testified against raising the minimum wage was a bar owner from Nikiski, who argued it would burden her business.

“There was no organized opposition from the business community, from the Chamber [of Commerce], from the seafood industry, or really anywhere else,” says Josephson.

In what might seem like a funny twist, Josephson ended up voting against the bill when it made a rushed appearance on the House floor, even though he’s now advocating for the wage increase. Actually, the whole story of the minimum wage bill is one of strange bedfellows and accusations of political gamesmanship.

The legislation was introduced by House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski. An initiative to raise the minimum wage to $9.75 over two years and then peg it to inflation had already been certified to appear on the ballot, and the language of the bill was identical.

Initiative sponsors had two theories about this. The first worry was that legislators wanted to pass a minimum wage bill so they could go back and weaken it. If law is made by ballot initiative, legislators can’t touch it for two years, but they can fiddle with it if they pass it themselves.

Josephson points out that’s exactly what happened a decade ago.

“I believe that the intent was what it was in 2003, and that was to pass a bill and then at some later time – as soon as January 2015 — to entertain a bill that would undo, essentially, and amend the existing bill,” says Josephson.

The second theory was that Republicans didn’t want the minimum wage question on the ballot because of the potential to draw out liberal-leaning voters. In a recent interview with member station KTNA, Rep. Wes Keller of Wasilla said that he voted the minimum wage bill as a Republican in part because he was making a “political” calculation based on the “huge ramifications” on who show up in November.”

Speaker Mike Chenault didn’t respond to interview requests about the bill’s origins or whether he supports the proposed initiative. But at the time, Chenault charged it was the Democrats and organized labor playing games in trying to draw out a more sympathetic electorate.

Regardless of the motives, the April fight over the bill has left the usual opponents of a minimum wage increase in a bit of a bind when it comes to the initiative.

Denny Dewitt directs the National Federation of Independent Business’s Alaska chapter. They oppose a further increase to the minimum wage on the grounds that it could reduce employment opportunities, particularly for teenagers. Even though NFIB has been consistent on that position, DeWitt remembers the political overtones of the debate, and he says responding to it was a bit of a conundrum for his lobbying group.

“The question on what we did on that bill really effectively came down to: Do you want it on the ballot or not?” says DeWitt.

In the end, NFIB did not take a position on the minimum wage bill, even though they’re speaking against the initiative now. Same goes for the state Chambers of Commerce, and the industrial seafood processors.
At most, the groups are raising their concerns at public forums. DeWitt says he’s served as the voice of the opposition at state-sponsored hearings because the Lieutenant Governor, Mead Treadwell, asked him to for the sake of balance. The Alaska NFIB chapter has no plans to put money into fighting the measure

“We don’t have the resources to do that,” says DeWitt. “We’re not a huge, well-heeled lobbying activity like some are, so we do what we can.”

The National Federation of Independent Business website boasts that it’s ranked as the top business lobby in the country by Fortune Magazine, and the group has received backing from billionaires Charles and David Koch.
The interplay between the bill and the initiative also has the Alaska Republican Party and some of its candidates straddling positions.

Back during the legislative session, the party put an action alert on their Facebook groups, encouraging confused members to call their senators and ask them to pass the minimum wage bill. (One user commented, “Why do we want to pay them more? Could someone explain that to me?”) Now, Party Chair Peter Goldberg says there’s no official position on the minimum wage initiative.

Dan Sullivan, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, also recently announced he was going to support the minimum wage initiative, after having come out against an increase in the primary. In an e-mailed statement, he stressed it was a personal stance, and that he still opposes any increase at the federal level.
So, initiative sponsors are looking at silence, lukewarm protests, or half-endorsements from groups who might normally fight against them.

This was clear at a recent Anchorage hearing, where multiple pastors spoke in favor of the initiative and supporters waved signs outside the meeting at the Dena’ina Center.

On the anti-side, Denny DeWitt testified over the phone from the airport, a seafood lobbyist came out against it, and a representative from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce offered his disapproval while noting that he didn’t want to look like a villain. And that was it.

Ari Gardner is the campaign director for Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage. He says there have been times when he’s been invited to forums to speak on the initiative that he’s had to help the organizers find someone, anyone to do the counterpoint.

“It’s a good problem to have that we don’t have a solidified opposition,” says Gardner. “But I think we still have a lot of work to do.”

Gardner says this point, the goal isn’t just to win – it’s to secure a mandate. Even though the few polls that have been done on the measure show it clearing 60 percent of the vote, Gardner wants to guarantee as wide a margin as possible to discourage lawmakers from tampering with the minimum wage or the inflation indexing component in the future.

“It’s important that people don’t take for granted that this is going to pass,” says Gardner.

So, he says they’re still planning on running hard, even if there’s no one really running against them.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Grants Boost Services at Aleutian-Pribilof Clinics

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:44

Community health centers in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands will get at least $600,000 in federal grant money for new services this year. The grants are aimed in part at helping new patients who enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act.

But there aren’t many of those in the Aleutian Islands. Instead, providers will use the money for the patients they already have.

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Jennifer Harrison oversees clinics from Whittier to Adak as executive director of Eastern Aleutian Tribes. She estimates they only had about 11 patients sign up for new health plans on the federal marketplace.

“They’re probably people that were under the self-pay category and that have gotten insurance now. That would be my guess,” Harrison says. “Because we’ve kind of already been seeing everybody in all the communities, so I don’t think it’s necessarily bringing in a new person through the door. It’s just helping that person pay for the services.”

So Harrison’s organization will use their $196,000-dollar grant to contract with a traveling optometrist and physical therapist. They’ll also set up a fund to pay to send people to residential drug and alcohol treatment centers, which right now, Harrison says isn’t happening:

“It’s really this weird gap in services throughout the state — it’s not something the Indian Health Service really supports in a big way, and it’s been really hard for people to get substance abuse treatment,” Harrison says. “Because often, they don’t have a job because of the substance abuse, so then they don’t have the insurance, so there’s nobody to help pay for it.”

Most of Eastern Aleutian Tribes’ patients are insured by the Indian Health Service. Harrison says they can make referrals for detox programs, but until now, they haven’t been able to cover the programs’ costs.

The federal grants will also pay for a mid-level provider on the Pribilof island of St. George for the first time. The Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association is getting a $190,000 grant to help out the clinic there.

Like at Eastern Aleutian Tribes, APIA health administrator Jessica Mata-Rukovishnikoff also says the money will mainly serve current patients — increasing “access to a higher level of service.” But she does say most of St. George’s hundred or so residents enrolled in federal health plans. APIA got another grant to make that happen.

As enrollments go, Unalaska is the outlier in the region — the town’s clinic didn’t have any patients sign up for federal health care. Most of Iliuliuk Family & Health Services’ clients use commercial insurance, or pay out of pocket. Clinic director Eileen Conlon-Scott says those patients haven’t been able to afford to enroll in federal health plans.

“Well, if we could get them on the insurance rolls, our revenues would go up,” Scott says. “But understandably, they don’t have $500 a month to pay in insurance.”

So she says her clinic will use their federal grant like everyone else. They’re getting between $200,000 and $400,000 to pay for new medical equipment and new visiting specialists. It’ll mean more care for the people they’re already treating — and for now, it’ll be at the same price as before.

For the full list of grant recipients in Alaska, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

No Confirmed Cases Of Unusual Respiratory Illness In Alaska

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:43

The manager of Alaska’s infectious disease program says it wouldn’t be surprising if an unusual respiratory illness that has affected children in the Lower 48 is detected soon in Alaska.

Download Audio

So far, Dr. Michael Cooper said Alaska has not had any confirmed cases of enterovirus 68.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable.

The state health department says infection occurs through close contact with someone who is infected or by touching one’s mouth, eyes or nose after touching a contaminated surface. The department says there are no specific anti-viral medications for the illness.

To guard against respiratory illnesses, the department recommends good hygiene and getting a flu shot in early fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Agency Expresses Concern With Dam Studies

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:42

A federal fisheries agency has raised concerns about the accuracy of some studies being conducted for a massive proposed dam in Southcentral Alaska.

Download Audio

In a letter to the project manager for the Susitna-Watana dam, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, James Balsiger, said new study requests can’t be developed given the current problems with the data.

Among other things, he questioned the accuracy of the identification of fish species.

Project spokeswoman Emily Ford said overall, the Alaska Energy Authority, which is pursuing the project, is confident in the information it is gathering.

She said the comments raised by agencies and others will be discussed during an upcoming round of technical meetings, at which the authority also will discuss its plans for next year.

Categories: Alaska News

Frontier Airlines Pulling Out Of Fairbanks Market

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:41

Two airlines that serve Fairbanks seasonally have made decisions that will decrease flights to the Golden Heart City. One is related to increased fuel cost.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

‘Targeted Hunting’ Permits Considered In Fairbanks Area

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:40

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering an option to issue “targeted hunting” permits this winter to take moose that frequent roadways in the Fairbanks area.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Health Policy Innovators Gather In Anchorage

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:39

A group of health policy innovators gathered at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage this morning to talk about how Alaska’s health care systems have evolved. The event is part of the Alaska Health Care Commission’s initiative to look at how Alaskans health status has improved in the last 60 years. A lot has changed in that time, including the development of an independent tribal health system.

Paul Sherry was a part of that development, first with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and then with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, where he was CEO until 2008.

Sherry says in the 50′s and 60′s health care leaders were focused on designing a health system that worked for the unique aspects of Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 1, 2014

Wed, 2014-10-01 17:38

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

Download Audio

Minimum Wage Campaign Running Without Organized Opposition

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

This past legislative session, a bill that would have raised the minimum wage was among the most divisive items under consideration. Now, a citizen’s initiative to do the exact same thing is about the least controversial question on this year’s ballot.

There’s no spirited dissent to the proposition, and polls show the measure passing by a margin of two to one. So why is that? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez looks at how the minimum wage campaign found itself running without organized opposition.

Federal Grants Boost Services at Aleutian-Pribilof Clinics

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Community health centers in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands will get at least $600,000 in federal grant money for new services this year. The grants are aimed in part at helping new patients who enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. But there aren’t many of those in the Aleutian Islands. Instead, providers will use the money for the patients they already have.

No Confirmed Cases Of Unusual Respiratory Illness In Alaska

The Associated Press

The manager of Alaska’s infectious disease program says it wouldn’t be surprising if an unusual respiratory illness that has affected children in the Lower 48 is detected soon in Alaska.

So far, Dr. Michael Cooper said Alaska has not had any confirmed cases of enterovirus 68.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable.

The state health department says infection occurs through close contact with someone who is infected or by touching one’s mouth, eyes or nose after touching a contaminated surface. The department says there are no specific anti-viral medications for the illness.

To guard against respiratory illnesses, the department recommends good hygiene and getting a flu shot in early fall.

Federal Agency Expresses Concern With Dam Studies

The Associated Press

A federal fisheries agency has raised concerns about the accuracy of some studies being conducted for a massive proposed dam in south-central Alaska.

In a letter to the project manager for the Susitna-Watana dam, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, James Balsiger, said new study requests can’t be developed given the current problems with the data.

Among other things, he questioned the accuracy of the identification of fish species.

Project spokeswoman Emily Ford said overall, the Alaska Energy Authority, which is pursuing the project, is confident in the information it is gathering.

She said the comments raised by agencies and others will be discussed during an upcoming round of technical meetings, at which the authority also will discuss its plans for next year.

Frontier Airlines Pulling Out Of Fairbanks Market

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Two airlines that serve Fairbanks seasonally have made decisions that will decrease flights to the Golden Heart City.  One is related to increased fuel cost.

Cruise Traffic Level, But Could Grow Soon

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Alaska’s cruise-ship season ended last week. It, and other types of tourism, attracted a similar number of visitors as in 2013. But the next few years could be different.

‘Targeted Hunting’ Permits Considered In Fairbanks Area

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering an option to issue “targeted hunting” permits this winter to take moose that frequent roadways in the Fairbanks area.

Health Policy Innovators Gather In Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A group of health policy innovators gathered at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage this morning to talk about how Alaska’s health care systems have evolved. The event is part of the Alaska Health Care Commission’s initiative to look at how Alaskans health status has improved in the last 60 years. A lot has changed in that time, including the development of an independent tribal health system.

Paul Sherry was a part of that development, first with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and then with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, where he was CEO until 2008.

Sherry says in the 50′s and 60′s health care leaders were focused on designing a health system that worked for the unique aspects of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Cruise Traffic Level, But Could Grow Soon

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:55

Tourists off the Norwegian Sun book a Mendenhall Glacier tour near Juneau’s waterfront on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season, as a waterfront worker watches. Passenger numbers were similar to last year’s. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Alaska’s cruise ship season ended last week. It, and other types of tourism, attracted a similar number of visitors as in 2013. But the next few years could be different.

A group of Japanese tourists off the Norwegian Sun cruise ship walk Juneau’s waterfront, looking for an open sales kiosk.

Most days, they’d find more than a dozen. But right now, there’s just one, because the Sun is the only ship in town.

The Sun can carry up to 2,000 passengers, plus 1,000 crew. Many times this summer, they’ve joined 10,000 or more other visitors and workers visiting Alaska’s capital city.

The cruise ship Norwegian Sun docks at Juneau’s waterfront on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Many are taking their first trip to Alaska–and they’ve got a lot of questions. Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau volunteer Sharon Meier is one of the people giving them answers.

Some of those questions have pretty obvious answers.

“How far are we above sea level?” is one. “And I’m not making that up,” Meier says. “We get that all the time–and if we take American money.”

If they’re off a cruise ship, she’ll politely remind them that it’s floating in the ocean.

“And as far as the currency goes, you have to answer that based on who you are speaking with. You can never assume they want to joke, at their expense. So you just say ‘Yes, we do.’ But if they need an exchange, we can help them find a bank or someone who can help them out.”

Juneau saw almost all of the cruise ship passengers sailing Alaska waters this summer. Skagway and Ketchikan saw a lot. And Sitka, Hoonah, Whittier and Kodiak hosted far fewer. Smaller ships called at other cities, such as Petersburg and Wrangell, plus some Southeast villages.

John Binkley is president Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska.

“It was a great season. We had almost a million visitors that will have come to Alaska on cruise ships. And about the same overall for other modes of transportation,” he says. “I think there were close to 2 million visitors this year.”

This season brought a new ship, the Crown Princess, which carries about 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew. The same-sized Ruby Princess will sail next season, replacing a smaller ship.

Cruise lines often shuffle vessels in and out of their Alaska routes. Binkley says that has advantages.

“Many times when they put a new ship, or a newer ship, into a market, it has a loyal following. So you see a lot of passengers who want to go on the new ships and want to go to Alaska as well,” he says.

Passenger capacity has hovered around a million for several years. That may be as many as North America markets can provide.

But Binkley says cruise lines are targeting new customers, especially in Asia.

“It’s staggering the number of people who will be in the economic strata in China in the next 10 years to afford cruises. And one of the top destinations that they want to cruise through is Alaska,” he says.

“Absolutely, there’s significant interest from China,” adds Jillian Simpson, director of membership and tourism policy for the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Tourists consider checking out a sale on South Franklin Street, Juneau’s gift-shop row, on one of the last days of 2014′s tourism season. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“And actually, already we’re getting visitors, not only from mainland China, but also people in the U.S. who are studying from China or for business who are then adding on trips to Alaska,” she says.

Simpson says the association’s final figures aren’t in. But it looks like 2014’s season was strong, with about the same number of visitors.

But not everywhere.

“With the amount of rain we saw, the flooding that was happening early in the season, impacted Denali and the railroad. And anytime there’s lots of rain or storms it impacts the day cruises or people who need to take a boat out to a lodge, as well as flightseeing tours and being able to get out to remote parts,” she says.

Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage also saw extra rain. But that didn’t affect its numbers, since cruise ship berths are booked months in advance.

Back at Juneau’s docks, a visitor’s bureau volunteer doles out maps and tips, as he has all summer.

Some dockside greeters get to be more outgoing. Sharon Meier says she went on board ships this year, to hand out information and answer questions.

What’s her favorite part?

“Meeting the people. The visitors are so eager to see Juneau and Alaska. I think it’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists to come up here,” she says.

Many of their questions are the same, about weather and wildlife, and of course, altitude and money.

But Meier says this season brought something different.

“Some people this summer have been asking where the Sarah Palin statue is. For some reason they think there’s one in town,” she says, laughing. (There isn’t one.)

Next year’s season begins in early May, when the Ruby Princess docks in Ketchikan. The ships will keep sailing till mid-September.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Allowed to Keep In-State Tax Credits in Maryland

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:45

Maryland tax collectors had good news for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan today, and perhaps bad news for his campaign. Maryland authorities say he doesn’t have to repay about $5,000 in homestead tax credits he received from 2006 to 2008, for a home he owned in Bethesda. Only owners claiming a home as their principal residence are entitled to the credits.

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That bad news for Sullivan, at least politically, is that Maryland authorities announced in an email today they’ve concluded Sullivan and his wife were residents of Maryland at the time. Democrats have for months been making an issue of Sullivan’s Alaska residency.

Zack Fields, a spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party, said Tuesday that Sullivan hasn’t been straight with Alaskans.

“It’s clear at this point he’s been dishonest on the campaign trail, because his official declaration of candidacy says he’s a 17-year resident of Alaska, and he and his spokesman have said that he’s been a resident of Alaska since 1997.”

The Sullivan campaign issued a written statement saying, among other things, that a person can be a resident for tax purposes while remaining a citizen of another state. Campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says the Sullivans lived in Maryland temporarily while Dan Sullivan worked at the White House and the State Department but they always intended to return to Alaska.

Maryland authorities started looking into Sullivan’s tax credits after getting a letter from the chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party. Maryland taxation director Robert Young said in an email today the conclusion the credits were properly granted relied on “confidential information that may not be publicly disclosed under Maryland law.” In a previous interview, Young said they give a good deal of weight to the address the homeowners list on their federal tax return, along with other documents.

Sullivan’s opponent, Sen. Mark Begich, pays taxes to the District of Columbia for a house he owns on Capitol Hill, as does Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski. Neither of them, according to property tax records, claim the homestead credit D.C. grants to its residents.

Categories: Alaska News

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:44

In April, it was reported that Gov. Sean Parnell’s top staffer used his personal e-mail account to communicate with Alaska National Guard whistleblowers about sexual assault response. In an interview with APRN that month, the governor said Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s correspondence on the National Guard should be a matter of public record.

PARNELL: I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels. However, I’ve asked Mr. Nizich to check his personal e-mail for that and his recollection is that it’s one email, but again that was four years ago, five years ago. I’ve asked him to check for that and move it to the state account, which is protocol to follow. And that will be a part of the public record at that point.

Shortly after that interview, APRN filed a records request to learn how the Office of the Governor handled complaints about the Guard. Four months later, that request has been denied. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more.

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Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one.

The request asked for any e-mails Parnell Chief of Staff Mike Nizich sent to National Guardsmen using his personal account from 2010 on. It also sought interdepartmental correspondence between the governor’s office and the top two officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: Adjutant General Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre. The governor asked both of those men to resign this September, after a scathing federal report concluded the Alaska National Guard mishandled sexual assault reports and was plagued by a lack of trust in leadership.

APRN asked for these documents to find out how the Governor’s Office responded to complaints about the National Guard from its own members: Did they respond efficiently, and did they take complaints seriously?

Since the request was filed in May, APRN put in more than two dozen calls to the governor’s office to find out when the request would be satisfied, many of which went unreturned. The response finally came in as a three-page letter that arrived on Friday, September 26, at 6p.m.

The denial letter, sent by Policy Director Randy Ruaro, brings up three major reasons for rejecting the request. It cites the legal right to privacy, and it makes reference to a recent attack ad by Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign that upset the family members of sexual assault victims. It mentions not wanting to identify victims, even though two victims have already publicly come forward. It also suggests the documents fall under privileges protecting personnel and the communications of clergymen.

The letter notes that a “significant amount of information on the subject of alleged misconduct in the National Guard has already been made public.” To that end, the Governor’s Office also included a 56-page enclosure of news stories on the matter, including some done by APRN, instead of any actual documents.

Gov. Parnell was aware of the request, but not of its denial. After a Monday debate in Juneau, Parnell did not say if he believed records related to the National Guard should be made public, and instead repeatedly referred questions to his policy director before telling a reporter she was not “serious” in her questions.

PARNELL: I’ve known about the request, but I have not reviewed any records. I don’t know what he has done.
CANFIELD: Do you want to release the records?
PARNELL: We will comply with the statute to the best of our abilities and that’s why I suggest you go see and ask Randy Ruaro.

So, that’s what we did. First, Ruaro apologized for the slow response.

“That is a long period, I agree,” Ruaro said in a phone interview.

Ruaro said they were “swamped” with requests and lacked manpower to deal with them. He said there was no political calculation behind the delay, and that there was no effort to avoid potential litigation over the request being processed before Election Day.

As far as the denial itself, Ruaro said he took a “broad view” when he opted to reject the request wholesale instead of partially fulfilling it or releasing redacted documents.

“There’s no exceptions for partial releases of records when it’s coming to identities of victims, their circumstances, personnel records,” said Ruaro. “The statutes don’t just say in those instances that you can release part of a record but not all of it. As I read it, they’re more of a blanket prohibition.”

Parnell’s political rival disagrees with that legal interpretation. Bill Walker, an attorney who is running as an independent candidate for governor, questioned some of the reasons for the denial, specifically the argument that the correspondence with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about leadership should be excluded.

“They’re trying to apply a privilege that doesn’t apply to them,” said Walker. “Those chaplains are not the clergy for Mike Nizich and Sean Parnell.”

Walker said if he were governor, his interpretation of the public records statute would make transparency a higher priority.

“Certainly the victims’ names would be redacted out, but not necessarily the process would be redacted out,” said Walker of the policy he believes should have been followed.

Walker also suggested the governor is stonewalling, and the point of the delay is “to keep the issue out of the public eye — to not expose the governor’s wrongdoing until after the election.”

The chaplains who notified the Governor’s Office of wrongdoing within the National Guard declined interview requests or did not respond to messages. But their attorney, Wayne Ross is disappointed Parnell is not providing more information about his office’s response to the allegations.

“I think you ought to hold his feet to the fire and get them,” said Ross. “Obviously he said if it would be released and it’s not being released, somebody’s not following his orders — or he’s not being truthful. I would like to believe that somebody is not following his orders.”

While the Governor’s Office did not provide any records, APRN was separately able to obtain three e-mails sent by a National Guard chaplain along with one response sent by Nizich from his personal account.

The e-mails were sent at the beginning of 2012, and the chaplain’s correspondence refers to the sexual assault crisis only broadly. The chaplain does not identify victims, but he does name specific Alaska National Guard leaders and proceeds to excoriate them. The chaplain mentions the “misuse of a government credit card to the tune of over $200,000” and the promotion of a senior officer who ignored the problem of sexual assault in his command. On a third message sent February 3, the chaplain expresses concern that he’s “cluttering up” Nizich’s inbox.

Nizich did not respond until more than two weeks after the chaplain’s third message. The e-mail, sent from Nizich’s personal e-mail account, reads “just so you know I am receiving your messages. I got a call … wanting to me [sic] to send an acknowledgement.”

KTOO’s Jennifer Canfield contributed reporting to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 30, 2014

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:44

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

Download Audio:

Sullivan Allowed to Keep In-State Tax Credits in Maryland

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Maryland tax collectors had good news for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan today, and perhaps bad news for his campaign. Maryland authorities say he doesn’t have to repay about $5,000 in homestead tax credits he received from 2006 to 2008, for a home he owned in Bethesda.

After Long Delay, Governor Denies Record Request Into National Guard Response

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska regulations give government bodies 10 working days to fulfill a records request, plus another 10 if they need an extension. It took Parnell’s office 86 full working days just to deny one concerning the executive branch’s response to sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard.

Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

How Should the US Lead in the Arctic?

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year. Recommendations ranged from the lofty to the concrete.

Walrus Are Hauling Out On Alaska Shores In Record Numbers

The Associated Press

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast.

Deciphering AO-37, Anchorage’s Labor Law

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage’s controversial labor law, commonly referred to as AO-37, will be on the ballot this November. The mayor and his administration want you to vote yes to keep it. The municipal unions want voters to get rid of it.

None Testify In Favor of Pot at Hearing in Bethel

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel Legislative Office was packed Monday afternoon as Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell lead a hearing on Ballot Measure 2, a marijuana initiative that will appear on the November 4 ballot.

Tlingit Woodcarver Revives An Old-World Tool: The Adze

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute is incorporating a traditional Native carving method into the building of the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau. Wayne Price is a Tlingit carver from Haines. He’s using an adze, a tool used by his ancestors thousands of years ago.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:43

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia, is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control says he has no doubt that the disease will be stopped in its tracks in the U.S.

Red Cross volunteers prepare to bury the body of an Ebola victim in Pendembu, Sierra Leone. The Ebola outbreak in Africa has claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Photo by Tommy Trenchard for NPR.

Still, public health officials in Alaska are prepared to respond to Ebola if it arrives in the state.

Michael Cooper is the Infectious Disease Program Manager with the state’s Division of Public Health. He says Alaska is making sure everyone at every level is ready for a potential case of Ebola. But he says because the state has few people with roots in West African countries, Alaska isn’t likely to see a case of the disease:

“Our risk is exceptionally low. It’s harder to get here and the we have fewer people who have ties there that are from there or going over there to work and coming back to Alaska.”

But Cooper says even though the risk is low, the state is taking extensive precautions. The division of public health has issued health alerts and is ensuring that any health care worker or airline worker who could be involved in responding to Ebola will know what to do.

“We’re making sure that whether it’s today or in three months, if somebody comes and they fit certain criteria, they were over there, they have a high risk exposure, they have certain symptoms, that everyone they were to come into contact with in Alaska has a high index of suspicion and they know what to do and who to call very quickly.”

Cooper says if a patient is diagnosed with Ebola in Alaska, the disease could be quickly contained. That’s because Ebola can only be transmitted through bodily fluids.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa, in countries that lack basic public health infrastructure.

 

Categories: Alaska News

How Should U.S. Lead in the Arctic?

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:42

Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.

Download Audio:

Recommendations ranged from the lofty to the concrete. David Hayes, recently the second-highest ranking official at the Interior Department, made the case for better infrastructure planning. He says climate change and the fragile Arctic environment make it vital to choose the right locations for ports, oil wells and other developments.

“If we just go project by project, as we tend to do in the United States today, we’re going to make really bad decisions,” he said, at a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s what integrated Arctic management is all about. Getting a science base and getting everyone together to make sound planning decisions going forward so we don’t screw it up.”

If the U.S. can coordinate that integration at home, he says it can carry the banner for the region.  Hayes says it will take a lot of cooperation to prepare for the oil development that’s coming to the Arctic Ocean, in Russia, Greenland and possibly the United States.

“I went through the Gulf oil spill; I went through the Shell issues. And holy cow, we have got to be careful, as a world, on how this is developed,” he said.

Hayes says there’s no infrastructure to support spill response and suggests it might be time to consider international governance for oil and gas rules. He also says the United States should use the chairmanship to promote renewable energy for Arctic communities that are now mostly dependent on expensive fuel. Combination wind and diesel generators have been successful in Alaska, and Hayes says now it’s time to bring down the cost of the generators with standardized parts and better control systems.

“This is an opportunity for the United States to use its technological leadership in renewable energy to bring to the world small-scale renewable options to replace diesel and to just show, to remind everyone that the Arctic is about people,” he said.

That was a common theme at the one-day conference: Arctic policy isn’t just about conserving wildlife or exporting oil but improving life for Arctic people. Alaskan speakers, like Democratic legislator Bob Herron of Bethel, say Alaskans should be included at every level of decision-making when it comes to Arctic policy.

“We believe that northerners are Arctic experts. And our advice should be inclusive. We want it, and we’re going to strive for it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Robert Papp, the State Department’s special representative on the Arctic, says he’s been searching for a way to make the Arctic a priority for the nation, the way putting a man on the moon was in the 1960s, and building the Alaska Highway was in the 1940s.

“What I have finally concluded is perhaps it’s not defense or security related. Perhaps rather than a national imperative, what we have here is a moral imperative,” Papp said. “We all have a responsibility, an obligation to protect this area of our Earth for future progress, for the people who live there and to preserve this wonderful asset.”

The U.S. assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council after Canada hosts its last meeting in late April.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News
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