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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: 30 min 58 sec ago

Happy 40th, Kupreanof! All 24 Residents Celebrate A Remote Alaska Lifestyle

Thu, 2015-08-13 17:30

Most people in Petersburg don’t give much thought to the handful of houses which sit on the other shore of the Wrangell Narrows.

But to the people who live there it’s a place they are proud to call home. It’s name is Kupreanof and with just 24 residents it’s Southeast’s smallest, and Alaska’s second smallest, city. And this week it turns 40. It’s a community still proud of their little piece of Alaskan independence and unified against their older brother across the water.

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The view over to Kupreanof from Sharon Sprague’s house on Sasby Island. (Photo by Joe Sykes/KFSK)

When Sharon Sprague and her husband Dick moved to Sasby Island, in the middle of the Wrangell Narrows in 1975, they had to build a life from scratch.

“We started with nothing. There was no electricity, there was no water here. Nothing,” Sprague said.

Since then they’ve created what some might call a homestead. They have their own hydroelectric power system, chickens run around in the garden, and plump fruit hangs off trees ripe for picking.

They came here to get away and live out on their own. And together with a group of other isolation inclined individuals they helped found the city of Kupreanof, the smallest city in Southeast Alaska.

It sits on the shore of Kupreanof island just next to the Sprague’s house and on the opposite side of the narrows from Petersburg.

Sharon Sprague picks vegetables in her garden on Sasby Island. (Photo by Joe Sykes/KFSK)

It began when residents who lived on the island decided they were sick of Petersburg and so organized themselves into an independent city. And the Spragues went with them.

And Sharon Sprague says Petersburg and Kupreanof are separate for a good reason.

“The two communities are so opposite,” she told me.

That opposition still simmers and boiled over in 2013 when Kupreanof fought the establishment of the Borough of Petersburg. They lost that battle meaning they had to pay more money into Petersburg’s coffers but retained their status as a city.

At a recent council meeting, jokes at Petersburg’s expense flew over breakfast of watermelon slices, sausages and eggs.

Kupreanof Mayor, Tom Reinarts, heads up a meeting of the Kupreanof City Council. (Photo by Joe Sykes/KFSK)

“Has the assembly over there every provided you with breakfast?” Kupreanof Mayor Tom Reinarts quipped as he offered me my share of their Saturday morning spread. In a city so small the mayor is not just the mayor.

“I’m also the police chief and the fire chief,” he said.

Everyone has to play a hand in Kupreanof.

Butch Anderson’s been living here for about eight years. He turned up to the council meeting one day just to see what was going on.

“There was an extra seat open. So they voted. I got one vote,” he said. “I got in by a landslide, one vote was all it took.”

He likes it here because he can kind of do what he wants.

“I’m a hermit. I live alone and enjoy life. I don’t like heat. In my house, it will get down to 25 inside. Then I’ll go light the fire,” he said.

They’re idiosyncratic. They keep to themselves and because of that sometimes it’s hard to remember just how many people actually live here.

“Our official population is 24, I think,” Tom Reinarts said.

“I thought it was 25. I read 25,” Butch Anderson jumped in.

“Maybe 25, I concede,” Reinarts replied.

Either way, their six-member council makes up about a quarter of their population. And while they say they’ve not always seen eye to eye, they do have a common bête noire: The Borough of Petersburg.

“We’re like Petersburg’s red-headed step-child. They’re like ‘we want you guys to follow our rules. So we can tell you how to live your life over here, ” Anderson said.

So now it’s their 40th anniversary and they’re determined to show Petersburg they’re here, they’ve been here for a long time and they are here to stay.

“I think we need to make a big splash for our friends across the bay in Petersburg East,” Reinarts announced at the meeting.

He says he calls them Petersburg East because people in Petersburg often refer to Kupreanof by its original name, Petersburg West.

They’re proud to be Kupreanof and they know with so few people it will always be a struggle to survive. But Sharon Sprague, standing on her dock looking out over both communities has the answer.

“If you’ve got a group of people and they have one goal and they all feel the same and they’re a unit, they have strength,” she said.

I ask her what she thinks that goal should be:

“To keep it as it is,” she says. “This is a jewel.”

And it’s a jewel that will always be a bugbear to Petersburg.

“They hate us, they hate us. We’re a thorn in their side. They just wish we’d go away. But we’re not going to,” Sprague tells me with a glimmer in her eye.

They’re not going anywhere and if it was up to Sharon Sprague they’d be a thorn in Petersburg’s side for another 40 years to come.

Categories: Alaska News

After More Than 30 Years, The Mendenhall Valley Library Moves Out Of the Mall

Thu, 2015-08-13 17:30

Friday was the last children’s storytime at a Juneau library branch that’s been in the Mendenhall Mall for over 30 years. The days of checking out books and grabbing a slice of pizza are over because the branch is moving to a new location at the end of the month.

About 15 kids are sitting crisscross applesauce listening to Amelia Jenkins read a picture book. She works at the Mendenhall Valley Library.

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Amelia Jenkins reads a book for the last storytime at the Mendenhall Mall library location. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Her audience is sometimes captive, sometimes not. But she knows how to handle the crowd by breaking into song and dance.

“There’s some weeks when everybody wants to sit on a lap and listen quietly and these other weeks like today when everyone wants to do the hokey pokey straight for half an hour,” Jenkins says.

Kids can check out the books at the end of storytime, which is exactly what library staff want. Left behind materials have to be transported to the new location so patrons are encouraged to check out up to 40 books.

You can check out all the Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games and Fifty Shades books and you’d only be halfway.

M.J. Grande, the youth services librarian, has worked for the library for 15 years and is excited about the new 20,000-square-foot space at Dimond Park.

It cost $14 million to build, paid for by a grant from the state and city sales tax. Another million was contributed by the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries.

Of all the perks, there’s one Grande says she’s looking forward to the most.

“Space. We are almost doubling our footage here so the kids programing is a really dominant part of the library,” Grande says.”We have these wonderful reading cubicles that are extra padded and cozy.”

There’s also wheelchair accessible reading nooks and a room that has its own teen advisory committee to decide function and decor. But probably the biggest difference is it won’t be sandwiched between a restaurant and a tanning salon.

Grande says not too long ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see a library in a mall.

“You know, kind of in the 70s when malls were really getting established as a one-stop shop, you can do your shopping, you can do your library, you can do your other business. That role in the evolution of malls has changed.”

For Letha Bethel, the old location has been convenient. She’s a stay-at-home mom with two kids and another one she watches during the day.

The new library at Dimond Park is expected to open in November. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries)

She says the kids love dancing and singing at the reading circle, the toys in the children’s section and of course the books.

They walk to the Mendenhall Mall on sunny days and Bethel says she’s sad the library will be closed for a few months as it moves to its new location.

“It’ll be nice though that it’ll be bigger hopefully and more space to run around. They’re excited to see it and it’s right by the pool,” Bethel says.

But will she check out 40 books?

“For their sake, probably not. Because I don’t know if they’d last at our house.”

Bethel says she might consider checking out one or two before the Mendenhall Valley Library closes on Aug. 31, opening back up at Dimond Park sometime in November.

Categories: Alaska News

New proposed Anchorage anti-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT community

Thu, 2015-08-13 17:05

The Anchorage Assembly is trying again to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances. Assembly member Bill Evans filed the amendments Thursday. The ordinances prohibit discrimination by the municipality, employers, businesses, and renters.

The new amendments include exemptions for religious organizations and say that no person should be forced to participate in an event that conflicts with sincerely held religious beliefs.

Another provision says that people will be required to use restrooms and locker rooms appropriate to their gender presentation regardless of their assigned sex at birth.

In a press release, Evans wrote ““The ability of every person in society to be judged based upon their skill, accomplishments, and talents, and not because of some immutable characteristics, is a result we should encourage.”

The Assembly will take public comments on the ordinances on September 15. Previous attempts to pass a similar ordinance were vetoed by former mayor Dan Sullivan and rejected by voters.

Categories: Alaska News

Permafrost Carbon Takes A Trip to Davy Jones’ Locker

Thu, 2015-08-13 16:40

Mackenzie River delta. Photo: NASA Visible Earth; Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC Satellite: Terra Sensor: MODIS Image Date: 08-29-2001

It’s been widely accepted in the science community that melting permafrost means more carbon in the atmosphere. But a new study has identified a quirk in that process.

Permafrost is a layer of subsurface soil that stays frozen year-round. And it’s generally understood that melting permafrost in the north means more methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — bad for global warming.

But a new study published in Nature suggests that some of the carbon stored in permafrost meets its bitter end like Bootstrap Bill Turner in “Pirates of the Caribbean” — Davy Jones’ Locker.

In other words, it gets buried at the bottom of the ocean.

Dr. Valier Galy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is one of the study’s authors.

“The burial of permafrost carbon in marine sediments offshore of the river is something that matters in terms of fluxes when it’s taken for several thousands of years,” he says.

Down in Davy Jones’ Locker, that carbon is sequestered; It becomes a carbon sink as opposed to a carbon source. And it’s in a format that won’t contribute to climate change or ocean acidification.

“That’s correct… as long as permafrost carbon reaches marine sediments and is being buried in marine sediments. It is then stable for really long periods of times,” Dr. Galy says. “We can be talking hundreds of thousands of years. Millions of years.”

High-latitude rivers are the engines at work here. Dr. Galy and his colleagues did their study on the Mackenzie River in Canada:

“So what we did is, we took samples from different places of the river system… and we took samples offshore — sediment core — and then we looked at the organic carbon concentrations, but also its composition using geochemical tools. And what this shows is that a lot of these carbons are pretty old and come from the permafrost.”

Finding those permafrost carbons offshore was somewhat of a surprise.

It was previously understood that these carbons made their way back into the atmosphere when permafrost melted — and that’s still the fate of the majority of the carbon stored in permafrost. Year to year, what’s buried at sea is fairly insignificant, but it adds up over thousands of years.

The Mackenzie is a massive river (the second largest on North America behind the Mississippi) — and the study estimates it buries more than 2 million metric tons of permafrost carbon per year. The power of the Mackenzie is what makes the river so good at burying permafrost carbon.

“The Mackenzie has very high physical erosion rates, and that’s what makes it very efficient at burying permafrost carbon at sea.”

Dr. Galy says some version of this carbon burial process likely happens in most watersheds at high-latitudes. More so with big rivers, including Alaska’s Yukon:

“In the Yukon the physical erosion rates are also very high. And so it’s pretty likely that we’ll find the same things that we’ve been finding in the Mackenzie system.”

Even though some permafrost carbon is being cycled to the bottom of the ocean, it’s a process that takes thousands of years — much slower than the rate at which greenhouse gases are being emitted.

Categories: Alaska News

70 Years After WWII, Two Nations’ Militaries Jump Side By Side

Thu, 2015-08-13 16:21

Seventy years ago this month, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, prompting it’s surrender and the end of World War II. Now, the two nations’ armed forces are collaborating in Alaska.

As part of the Alaskan Command’s Red Flag exercises this summer, two dozen Japanese paratroopers are training with Army soldiers based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. After 10 days of exercises, the group flew north in cargo planes before jumping into the Donnelly Training Area near Fort Greely.

It’s not the first time the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force have partnered with Alaskan troops. Lieutenant Colonel Alan Brown says in the past, soldiers have gone through cold weather training at the Army’s Black Rapids site.

“The airborne capability is something that Japan has been developing in recent years. Our first experience with it recently is jumping with them over in Japan as part of an exercise this February.”

Brown says the goal is building a firmer partnership with one of the U.S.’s most important Pacific allies.

“The deeper the foundation, the more readily we’ll be able to integrate with them in an emergency situation–a contingency like a human disaster, where we need to assist in concert with that country for Recovery operations, or Search and Rescue, those types of things.”

The U.S. is increasingly shifting it’s military focus to the Pacific.

According to the Army, Tuesday’s jump was a success, with no reports of injuries.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Look For A Bear Impersonator Caught Approaching Cubs Near Haines

Thu, 2015-08-13 16:05

Photo: USDA.

A man dressed in a bear costume was reported to state troopers this week for harassing a sow and bear cubs on the Chilkoot River.

Mark Sogge with Fish and Game in Haines says their weir technician witnessed and wrote a report about the incident.

Technician Lou Cenicola reported that around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, a man in a ‘realistic-looking’ bear costume ran through a group of people standing on the side of the road bear-watching. The man ran ‘waving and jumping’ up to the weir gate, apparently trying to get the attention of a sow with cubs. Cenicola says the man in the costume got within 5 to 10 feet of the cubs.

Cenicola reported that he ran toward the man to stop him, telling him he could be cited for wildlife harassment. The man then left without identifying himself. Cenicola did get the man’s license plate number, and he reported the incident to state troopers.

Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters says they know about the incident and are investigating. No charges have been filed.

Sogge, with Fish and Game, says getting that close to bear cubs when their mother is present could have ended tragically. He says wearing a bear costume will not deter a mother bear from attacking a person if she thinks her cubs are threatened.

Categories: Alaska News

Sled Dog Fatally Gored By Muskox Outside Nome

Thu, 2015-08-13 15:56

A grimly familiar sight to Nome dog owners returned with the fatal goring of a local musher’s dog by a bull muskox Wednesday.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Bill Dunker said Nome police called his office Wednesday afternoon to report two dogs were injured—one fatally—in the attack before the bull muskox was killed in what Dunker calls a clear case of “defense of life or property.”

“Everything appears to be a justifiable DLP,” Dunker said.

A bull musk ox. Photo: Tim Bowman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The dogs belonged to musher Rolland Trowbridge, who ran the Kuskokwim 300 earlier this year. He also ran the Yukon Quest in February—withdrawing near the race’s midpoint. Daughter Janelle Trowbridge also ran dogs from the family kennel in her 2014 Junior Iditarod run.

Trowbridge declined to comment on the incident.

Dunker said it’s the first fatal clash between muskox, and Nome residents and their animals, so far this summer. That’s a far cry from the multiple gorings and dog fatalities seen last year, including a DLP kill of a muskox harassing a dog and a similar DLP kill in the community of Wales.

“This summer has been much better with regard to conflicts with muskox,” Dunker said. “We’re still having them on occasion, but certainly last year was kind of the ‘perfect storm’ of muskox conflicts in the Nome area. It’s certainly been the case that this year has been much less active with regard to muskox conflicts.”

But just what makes up that “perfect storm” isn’t fully understood. Dunker said “anecdotal” observations on brown bear predation may have pushed muskox into the Nome area last year. But so far this summer, that’s not the case.

“We haven’t made those same observations this year,” he said, “so we can’t say one way or the other that it was brown bear predation that was the smoking gun that ultimately drives them into the Nome area.”

Dunker said Fish and Game’s muskox mitigation is ongoing. Failed attempts last year included everything from rubber bullets to bear decoys and the spraying of bear urine. This year he said ADF&G is trying an experimental electric fence installed at the Nome airport. Biologists are still waiting to see if the fence is effective.

“But to be honest,” Dunker said, “we haven’t had a muskox bump into the fence yet. So we’re still investigating its effectiveness.”

As for the DLP kill, salvage requirements include surrendering the meat from the animal, but in this case, the meat will stay local: its been donated to the Nome Covenant Church. The animal’s hide and the skull were salvaged and turned over to the department.

Pastor Harvey Fiskeaux with the Covenant Church said the muskox in currently hanging in a church member’s shed, and a group from the church will be processing the meat tomorrow and putting it into the church’s freezer.

Fiskeaux said they’ll be serving musk ox roasts and stew at their Friday soup kitchens beginning in September.

Categories: Alaska News

Mayor Pulls The Plug on A Slow and Spendy Software Project

Thu, 2015-08-13 15:45

Photo: Zach Hughes/KSKA.

A massive software project that’s run millions of dollars and years over budget was halted today by Anchorage’s new mayor. The move is meant to reexamine the city’s path forward, but won’t totally shut off money for the project.

Implementing the SAP software across the municipality’s offices is–to put it mildly–a pretty giant mess. There are a lot of unflattering numbers associated with the program’s over-runs. When former mayor Dan Sullivan’s administration announced the project in 2011 it was forecast to cost around $11 million ($10.6 million, to be exact), and take just a year-and-a-half to come online. But Assembly Member Elvi Gray-Jackson ran through a much different timeline at a the start of a committee meeting.

“September 2014: project now two years behind schedule. Budget is $31.4 million, tripling the projected cost.”

Currently, it costs the city $50,000 a day to pay for employees, consultants, and office space–all without a clear end date. So, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced his administration has decided to take what he’s calling “a pause.”

“At this juncture the responsible course of action for us to follow is to take a pause, assess where we are, make a determination what options we’re going to have moving ahead.”

The length of that pause has yet to be determined. It will cost the city several hundred thousand dollars just shutting down current operations–that is, paying consultants as their jobs wind down, keeping up with rent payments, and other obligations. No city employees are losing work, they’ll all be reassigned internally.

This is the third time the SAP project has been put on hold. And Assembly member Amy Demoboski–who was critical of the last administration’s spending on the project–reminded the new administration that the longer the pause, the more costly it is to resume operations down the line. Asked whether full termination was a possibility, Berkowtiz replied:

“We’re gonna be reviewing all options.”

The administration has recruited a team of seven Alaskans mostly from the private sector to review the project.

Categories: Alaska News

Man accused of distributing child pornography arrested in South Carolina

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:48

Gene Geisler. Photo from LinkedIn.

Authorities have arrested the former computer network manager at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation who is accused of possessing and distributing child pornography.

An Anchorage grand jury indicted Gene Geisler Wednesday and authorities said in the afternoon that the man’s whereabouts were unknown after he had fled the state.

He was arrested the Wednesday around 9:30 p.m. in Goose Creek, South Carolina and booked in the Berkeley County jail. He’s held on $200,000 bail.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake swarm hits Yakutat

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:32

About 30 earthquakes have hit the Yakutat area this week.

The Gulf of Alaska city, about 250 miles northwest of Juneau, is in a fault zone and quakes aren’t unusual.

But this swarm is caused by calving glaciers in a nearby bay, not movement of the Earth’s crust.

Alaska Earthquake Information Center Seismologist Natalia Ruppert says it happens all the time. But she says at least one of this week’s quakes were stronger than usual.

“Maybe the size of this particular ice chunk was very large and as it fell into the water it created lots of energy,” Ruppert said.

She says there’s no connection to the Yakutat Fault, and a block of the Earth’s crust that’s slowly moving under that part of Alaska.

Most glaciers are retreating and thinning as climate change increases melting.

Seismologist Ruppert says that could eventually lead to more quakes from moving blocks of crust.

“If the glaciers keep melting and if they keep losing the mass, the pressure on the surface of the Earth becomes less,” Ruppert said. “And so, on a very long time scale, the lessening of this pressure might actually influence the tectonic forces and the pressure on the faults in that area.”

Since Monday morning, 28 glacial quakes have hit the Yakutat Bay area. Another 11 hit Cape Yakataga, about 100 miles to the northwest. That’s as of midday Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Giant cruise ship to (briefly) almost double Unalaska’s population

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:26

The Celebrity Millennium. Wikipedia photo.

Unalaska’s population could nearly double Sept. 15 when the Celebrity Millennium docks here.

Community leaders are worried enough, they’re holding a town hall meeting on how to handle—and help—the onslaught of tourists at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Burma Road Chapel.

“It’s going to be overwhelming,” Unalaska/Dutch Harbor ports director Peggy McLaughlin said.

Cathy Jordan with the Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau said she’s expecting at least 2,100 passengers and 1,200 crew.

They will have spent three days at sea and will be spending five days at sea after their day in Unalaska.

“We expect all the passengers to disembark,” Jordan said.

The occasional cruise ship is nothing new to Unalaska, but this floating city is much bigger than usual.

“Typically, we’re in the hundreds, not in the thousands,” McLaughlin said. “This is the largest one we’ve seen.”

Alaskan towns like Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan often see their populations double when several big cruise ships come to town. Unlike those towns, Unalaska isn’t set up to handle a large influx of cruising tourists.

“Generally, cruise ships and industrial working ports is not really a good mix, unless you’re set up that way,” interim Unalaska city manager Don Moore said.

Moore told Unalaska City Council Tuesday night that there’s always a risk passengers will step off their cruise ship go wandering around docks where cargo handling and other industrial activities are going on.

“That is an issue that probably needs to be addressed,” Moore said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to hear people’s suggestions for how the community can help the throngs of people enjoy their eight-hour visit to Unalaska, and how the community can weather the storm of tourists.

They’re looking for bus drivers and volunteers to help out on the big day as well as businesses that might want to exploit a brief opportunity to have a large number of customers.

The Unalaska School District has offered its gyms and auditoriums for lectures, dances or other activities for the cruise passengers. Entrance fees would raise funds for the school district.

The 965-foot ship will dock at the U.S. Coast Guard dock off Ballyhoo Road.

“This is a new arena for us,” McLaughlin said. “It’ll be sidewalks full of people wearing the same jackets, is my guess.”

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage teen who hit, killed cyclist in court Friday

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:23

An Anchorage teen who ran over a cyclist with a pickup truck and drove away will soon find out whether her plea agreement will be accepted, putting her behind bars for up to three years.

KTUU-TV reports that 18-year-old Alexandra Ellis is scheduled to appear Friday in Anchorage Superior Court for the July 2014 crash that killed 51-year-old Jeff Holder Dusenbury.

Court documents say Ellis had just taken a friend home from a large party she hosted while her parents were out of town when she hit Holder-Dusenbury, an avid cyclist.

A plea agreement reached by state prosecutors and defense lawyers would put the teen in jail for one to three years for negligent homicide.

The judge will decide whether that agreement is fair.

Categories: Alaska News

Ex-police officer, US Coast Guard officer accused of fraud

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:18

A former Southeast Alaskan police officer and an Alaska-based U.S. Coast Guard officer have been indicted for defrauding the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend system.

The Juneau Empire reports a grand jury on Friday brought indictments against Valent Maxwell, a former officer for the city of Klawock, and in a separate case, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Geoffrey Michael Barela.

Both men allegedly broke their Alaska residency but still continued to apply for PFD money.

Maxwell faces three felony counts for providing false information on his 2013-2015 applications to the state. Barela faces two counts for the same charge for his paperwork filed in 2011.

Barela and Maxwell are expected to appear in Juneau Superior Court at a later date. It is not clear whether they have attorneys yet.

Categories: Alaska News

VA secretary pays tribute to WWII Alaska Native militia

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:17

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has paid tribute to those who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II.

McDonald addressed seven surviving members of the largely Alaska Native militia, thanking them during a brief ceremony Wednesday in the northwest Alaska town of Kotzebue. Event representatives say the veterans attending the ceremony came from Kotzebue and three villages.

Alaska was still 17 years away from statehood when the 6,400-member militia was formed in 1942 to defend the vast territory from the threat of Japanese invasion.

But members of the militia weren’t formally recognized by the Army at U.S. military veterans until 2004.

The unit was activated after Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor and points along Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

The militia disbanded with little fanfare in 1947.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard files charges against Portland protesters

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:16

The Fennica and its yellow capping stack in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on July 18. (KUCB/John Ryan photo)

The U.S. Coast Guard says it is fining five Greenpeace protesters $5,000 each for dangling from a bridge over the Willamette River and blocking a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker from leaving Portland for an Arctic drilling operation.

The protesters facing fines include three who dangled on lines below the St. John’s bridge for 40 hours late last month and two support staff on the deck of the bridge.

The violations have been referred to a Coast Guard hearing office in Virginia. The protesters have the right to appeal.

A Greenpeace spokeswoman told Oregon Public Broadcasting she was working to confirm the charges.

The icebreaking vessel Fennica arrived in Portland late last month for repairs to its hull after sustaining damage in the Aleutian Islands. More than a dozen Greenpeace protesters suspended themselves from the bridge, but the ship was able to leave the city on July 30.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Air buys eight new planes to replace older Caravans

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:14

The first of Bering Air’s new planes touches down in Wales. The airline expects all eight caravans to be flying by November. (Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM)

Bering Air is upgrading its fleet with eight brand-new airplanes — Cessna Caravans worth about $2.5 million dollars each.

The regional airline — which flies to 32 communities in western Alaska — is replacing older C208B Caravans with the newer EX model, which has features that Bering’s director of operations, David Olson, says will improve safety and speed of travel.

The new planes are equipped with an anti-icing system, which prevents ice from forming and weighing down planes in cold conditions. That means easier handling for pilots and quicker travel for passengers. Olson says the anti-ice capability improves safety “very much.”

The Caravans also come with standard glass cockpits, new GPS technology, and bigger engines. While glass cockpits are not a recent innovation, they are new to the region and the company, according to Bering’s chief pilot, Fen Kinneen.

Paired with a new Garmin navigation system, the cockpits need less on-the-ground equipment and lower minimums for approach requirements like visibility — which Olson says is great for flying to smaller villages and in poor weather. The larger engines add nearly 200 horsepower and also help with taking off in bad weather and on short runways.

According to Olson, the new Caravans mean less maintenance, shorter inspections, and greater reliability. “It’s mostly done for the safety and convenience of the traveling public,” Olson said.

Bering Air already has three of the new planes flying, and the other five are expected by November. The older planes will be sold.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska defines consent in new student code of conduct

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:12

The University of Alaska system updated it’s Student Code of Conduct to include a definition of consent.

The University of Alaska system has defined “consent” for the first time when it comes to sexual misconduct terminology. The definition is in the university’s new student code of conduct, which is the basis of university disciplinary proceedings. One expert calls the definition good, but thinks it could go further.

“Consent is defined as being clear, knowing and voluntary. It can be withdrawn at any time. It’s defined as being active, not passive and cannot be given while an individual is incapacitated,” says Michael Votava, reading from the  University of Alaska’s updated Student Code of Conduct.

Votava is the director of student conduct and ethical development for the University of Alaska Anchorage. He was part of the working group that established the definition.

“Past consent does not imply future consent. And that silence, or an absence of resistance, cannot be interpreted as consent,” Votava adds.

It can be words or actions that create mutually understandable clear permission.

“So in other words, UA is not requiring a verbal yes,” Votava says.

He gives this example:

“If there were two parties that were involved in a romantic encounter and one party started removing their clothes and started motioning with their finger for the other party to come toward them and had a smile on their face, that’s in my mind, I think a reasonable person would argue that that was a form of nonverbal consent,” Votava says.

“Why not start with verbal? Because verbal is the most common way we make agreements for anything,” says Mandy Cole, deputy director of AWARE, Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit.

“What I would like to see and what I think is kind of a best practice is that we get more used to getting verbal consent and that we get more used to saying the words, ‘Do you want to have sex with me?’” Cole says. “Because honestly if you feel comfortable enough to have sex with somebody, you should be comfortable enough to say the words.”

Cole says UA’s definition of consent has the necessary elements. Other higher education institutions like The State University of New York, Northwestern University and University of California have similar language defining consent as either words or actions.

Cole says it’s difficult to require a verbal agreement, but she’d like society to move in that direction.

“It’s kind of a new thing really. When I went to college, no one said a word to me about consent. Certainly no one ever said a word to me about getting verbal consent before sexual contact, so I think this is developing,” Cole says.

One company Consent Game Changers has gone beyond verbal by selling consent kits. Each pouch comes with a contract card, breath mints and a condom. The company’s website says the contract gives both parties “the confidence of a documented consensual encounter (or to at least remind you to have the consent conversation).”

Cole says she’s happy UA has defined the term and is part of a national conversation, even if it was prompted by an increasing number of sexual assault reports in colleges.

More than a year ago, the U.S. Department of Education put UA on a list of about 60 colleges nationwide being investigated as part of a compliance review or for mishandling sexual assault complaints. That list is now at about 130.

Cole says advancing the conversation about consent keeps people safer and more prepared to discuss sexuality.

“So that we don’t continue propagating this idea that sex is about power,” Cole says. “So if we talk about sex being more about consent and agreement, and it’s freely and knowingly decided by both people, then it takes away some of the old thinking about what is legal and what’s not legal.”

Cole says it’s more about what’s right.

Categories: Alaska News

Alakanuk woman killed in ATV crash

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:09

A woman has died in Alakanuk after crashing an ATV into a shipping container.

Alaska State Troopers say 21-year-old Cecila Chikigak of Alakanuk was driving fast near the city office when she left the roadway, crashed, and was thrown from the ATV. Investigators say she died on impact. She was the only person involved.

Alakanuk is a village of around 700 located about 160 miles northwest of Bethel. Her body will be sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy. Chikigak’s next of kin have been notified.

Categories: Alaska News

President Obama: Alaskans Are On the Front Lines Of Climate Change

Thu, 2015-08-13 08:48

Alaska is ground zero for climate change — that’s the message of a new video issued by the White House detailing president Obama’s upcoming visit to the Last Frontier.

“In Alaska, glaciers are melting.  The hunting and fishing upon which generations have depended—for their way of life, and for their jobs—are threatened,” the president says. “Storm surges once held at bay now endanger entire villages.  As Alaskan permafrost melts, some homes are even sinking into the ground.  The state’s God-given natural treasures are at risk.”

President Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Alaska Arctic. He will also be visiting Anchorage, where the U.S. has called a summit to discuss climate change with representatives from other Arctic nations.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wed, 2015-08-12 17:49

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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Former YKHC Network Manager Indicted for Child Porn Distribution

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

A former computer network manager at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is accused of possessing and distributing vast amounts of child pornography.

Berkowitz Moves to Unravel The ‘Gordian Knot’ of City’s Homelessness Problem

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The city of Anchorage is hiring a new coordinator to deal with issues associated with homelessness. Though the topic is usually framed as an urban issue, politicians often complain the city is shouldering the burden of a state-wide problem.

Shell Ready To Drill For Arctic Oil As Delayed Icebreaker Arrives

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell’s wayward icebreaker made it to the company’s Arctic Ocean drilling site Tuesday.  The arrival of the Fennica after a month’s delay means the company could get to drill for oil beneath the Chukchi Sea this summer.


Looking (And Listening) For Alaska’s Rarest Whale

John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska

It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. But at least these needles make noise. Researchers are cruising the Gulf of Alaska looking, and listening, for one of the world’s rarest animals. It’s the North Pacific right whale.

As The Final Dock Pilings are Drilled, a Hoonah Controversy is Put to Rest

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The final pilings for a new cruise ship dock are being driven at a Hoonah tourist attraction, marking an end to the nearly decade-long saga that split the community.

Marijuana Regulators Run Low on Time And Money

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The group setting up Alaska’s rules for commercial marijuana is on pace to finish regulations by a November 24th deadline. But just barely.


A Two-Wheeled Crusade Against Transphobia Hits the Road

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Reports show that violence against transgender people is rising nationwide. But one Anchorage woman is trying to fight transphobia locally by raising awareness that they’re part of the community, too. Her plan involves a bike, flashy pink nails, and an achingly long ride.


Categories: Alaska News