APRN Alaska News

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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: 28 min 38 sec ago

49 Voices: Tom James Greg Tomaganuk of Scammon Bay

Fri, 2015-03-13 18:00

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Now it’s time for 49 voices. This week we will hear from a high school student from the western Alaska village of Scammon Bay. Tom James Greg Tomaganuk is from Scammon Bay. He was in Anchorage recently for the Academic Decathalon.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 13, 2015

Fri, 2015-03-13 17:53

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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Medicaid Reform Bill Introduced In Alaska Senate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN -Juneau
A Medicaid reform bill has been filed in the Alaska Senate. Many Republican legislators have said reform of the state’s low-income health care program must happen before they accept federal dollars to expand it.

House Passes Leaner Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
The Alaska House of Representatives has passed a $4.1 billion operating budget, reducing agency operations by 10 percent over last year. The vote happened shortly after midnight. House Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman said a $230 million cut in unrestricted general fund spending set a record.

Board of Game Says No to Denali Buffer Zone

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
The Alaska Board of Game has turned down an emergency petition to re-establish a buffer zone to protect Denali National Park area wolves. Meeting on Friday in Anchorage, the board voted unanimously to reject the petition from the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, Denali Citizens Council and several individuals, to create a no kill zone on state lands along the northeastern edge of the Park near Healy.

Worker Killed at Port of Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA-Anchorage
A worker was killed at the Port of Anchorage earlier today handling military equipment. Lindsey Whitt is the head of the External Affairs for the Port, and says this morning’s incident involved cargo shipping to the 1st Stryker Brigade in Fairbanks.

Three Advance in Pilot Project to Arm VPSO’s

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel

Three Village Public Safety Officers have been selected to advance in the VPSO Arming Pilot Project with training this month in Sitka. Twenty one VPSOs initially showed interest in taking part. There were seven earlier this year still in the process.

Gray Named Bethel DA

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Alaska’s attorney general has named the Fairbanks district attorney as Bethel’s new district attorney. J. Michael Gray will begin in Bethel April 1 and will replace June Stein, who was fired last month.

New Route Makes Some Mushers Feel Like Rookies

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
This year’s race reroute has left even the most seasoned of Iditarod mushers feeling like rookies. Race leaders won’t start to appear until after teams complete their mandatory layovers and make up their start time differentials. But as Emily Schwing reports, many mushers are still surprised at where they’re finding themselves in the standings.

Women’s Hall of Fame Inducts New Members

Lori Townsend, APRN-Anchorage
The annual Alaskan spring ritual of honoring women who have helped shaped Alaska, took place last weekend in Anchorage. The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremony in the Wilda Marston theater at the Loussac Library. Every year, women, some well known and others not, are honored for their contributions to the state.

AK: Blogger Libby Bakalar

Scott Burton, KTOO-Juneau
There are a bazillion blogs these days but what does it take to write one people will actually read? Juneau writer Libby Bakalar has figured out the formula with her blog “One Hot Mess.” Bakalar mixes it up when she writes- using humor, self-deprecation, social media and even a Stephen Colbert-like character to connect with her audience. Her most-read post, titled “Alaska Airlines-to-English Dictionary,” received more than 8,000 hits, and the blog is getting national attention too.

49 Voices

Now it’s time for 49 voices. This week we will hear from a high school student from the western Alaska village of Scammon Bay. Tom James Greg Tomaganuk is from Scammon Bay. He was in Anchorage recently for the Academic Decathalon. 49 voices is AK’s attempt to put every Alaskan on the radio.

Categories: Alaska News

Women’s Hall of Fame Inducts New Members

Fri, 2015-03-13 17:02

The annual spring ritual of honoring women who have helped shaped Alaska, took place last weekend in Anchorage. The Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremony in the Wilda Marston theater at the Loussac Library.

Every year, women, some well known and others not, are honored for their contributions to the state. This year’s 13 inductees ranged from one of the first female USGS geologists, who at one point worked on a top secret federal program– to women who had achievements in musical artistry and activism and others who championed conservation and science education.

One of this year’s inductees was Marie Meade, honored for her work in preserving and teaching Yup’ik language and culture. Marie was raised in the Bethel region and now works as a language scholar at UAA. Known for her humble nature, she said she didn’t feel as if she’d accomplished anything, just saw the work and did it- starting in the 1960s with Native students in Anchorage.

“I was teaching boarding home students in East High and I would get on the bus with students and go to Dimond/Mears and work with students there and I would work with junior high students at Romig Junior High, so that was the beginning” she said.

Another well-known Alaska name, even though she passed on many years ago, is Ann Stevens, honored posthumously for her work assisting her husband, the late Senator Ted Stevens and serving on the board of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, league of women voters and other organizations.

Her oldest son Walter accepted the award for the family. He said his mother had a great sense of humor, but also taught him important lessons about respect. Particularly in the 70s when Richard Nixon was President and the Stevens family had been invited to the White House for Sunday services.

“I just kind of put my foot down and said “No, I’m not going to see ole tricky Dick.” And well, my mother came down the hallway, extremely agitated and said, “You will go. You might not like the person, but you will respect the office, so get get your suit on and go.’ And so I did, there wasn’t much choice and that was a great lesson in respecting the higher institutions in this country which I think we all should regardless of who we might disagree with at the time who might be occupying those positions.”

Ann Stevens was honored for community and statewide activism, volunteering and as a role model.

Inductee Arlene ‘Buddy’ Clay came to Alaska in 1944, long before statehood. She and her husband worked for the civil aeronautics administration. She says their first station was Nome, and then they were transferred to Aniak. There, she became a magistrate. The Clay’s built a cabin near the village and lived a subsistence life together, traveling around the country with their dog team for a decade. When her husband died she stayed on.

“I had a 30-ft round bottom river boat with a 40-horse Johnson and I commuted to Aniak with in the summer,” she said. “In the winter I used my dog team and I became magistrate in 1960 for the Alaska Court System and I had 12 villages under my jurisdiction, Kuskokwim, Yukon and Iditarod Rivers.

Clay was inducted for her work in rural justice. She now lives in an assisted living home in Wasilla and at 102, she still operates her ham radio every Thursday evening, something she started in 1948. In all, thirteen women were honored. It is the seventh year of inductions.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Reform Bill Introduced In Alaska Senate

Fri, 2015-03-13 16:58

A Medicaid reform bill has been filed in the Alaska Senate. Many Republican legislators have said reform of the state’s low-income health care program must happen before they accept federal dollars to expand it.

APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what’s in the bill and what it means for the program’s future.

Talk of a Medicaid reform bill coming out of the Senate picked up earlier this month. Today, Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, finally introduced it. What are his goals with the bill?

An a meeting with reporters this afternoon, Kelly said his objective was to rein in waste that exists with the state’s Medicaid program. He sees unnecessary spending happening in four areas:

KELLY: Travel, ER, prescription drugs, self-referral to more expensive specialists.

The bill he introduced Friday addresses those areas generally. There’s a section on emergency services, setting up a program tracking frequent ER visits. There’s language that setting up a prescription monitoring program and requires guidelines for prescribing narcotics to Medicaid patients. There’s also a section directing the Department of Health and Social Services to look into the pros and cons of privatizing services at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the state’s pioneer homes for senior citizens.

But it is not Kelly’s goal to expand Medicaid. He’s been firm about that, saying he does not want to add more people to a “broken system.” There is no language accepting $145 million in federal money to bring people near the poverty line into the program, and he’s not in favor of such language being added.

Right now, the state’s Medicaid program mostly covers low-income children and pregnant women. With expansion, adults who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level could get government health care — that’s about $20,000 a year for a single person. What does this bill do for people who don’t receive Medicaid now, but would through expansion?

This bill really does not apply to them. There’s a section that sets up a managed care pilot program of sorts, and it only applies to those already enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. There’s also a section establishing a health savings account by taking 10 percent of a recipient’s Permanent Fund dividend that’s voluntary, but again, that only applies to people who are eligible for state Medicaid now.

Now, as it goes through the committee process, there are changes that could be made that could affect them. The legislation is just seven pages, and it’s written in pretty broad strokes. Health care policy is complicated and wonky, and by comparison, the Affordable Care Act was more than 1,000 pages.

You mentioned the creation of a Health Savings Account through people’s PFD. Tell us more about that.

The idea is that if you’re eligible for Medicaid because you’re a child or a pregnant woman near the poverty line, a chunk of your PFD could be diverted for medical expenses. Traditionally, the big benefit of health savings accounts is that money can go into them tax-free. However, most people who are eligible for Medicaid don’t really have a big tax bill anyway.

Kelly stressed that enrollment in the health savings account is voluntary — nobody in this category is going to see their PFD automatically used for their medical bills. But he also said he’s not yet sure how the health savings account is going to work.

KELLY: I can’t tell you why people would choose it. We’ll figure that out. But we’re going to get it started.

At any rate, he said there are other parts of the bill — like the push to a managed care system — that were more important for reform.

KELLY: It’s very possible that this portion of this bill will not have a lot of teeth in it, will not have a lot of impact in the short term.

There’s one other interesting — if kind of inside baseball — thing to note about the PFD section. Because of it, the beginning of the bill title is “An act relating to Permanent Fund Dividends.” Bill titles basically dictate what changes and additions you can make to a bill. So, a bill with phrasing that vague leaves an opening for other policies dealing with the Permanent Fund to be added in. Because that could be such a Pandora’s box, Kelly’s office says they’re planning to tighten that up.

What’s the financial impact of this bill?

It’s unclear. Kelly says there could be savings in the long term, but there would also be start-up costs to some of the programs established by this bill. The Legislature will have a better sense of the price tag after a fiscal note is drafted.

So, what does this bill mean for Medicaid expansion, if anything?

It’s hard to say. Kelly says he has been working with Gov. Bill Walker and his administration on Medicaid reform, and that things have been nothing but cordial between them. But Medicaid expansion has been such a priority for the Walker administration, that this bill isn’t guaranteed to get the governor’s support.

While the bill does not currently expand Medicaid, legislators could add expansion language in, if they so choose, as the bill goes through the committee process. For passage, the bill will have to go through the Senate, and then go over to the House for review. It is expected to be referred to the House Health and Social Services Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who has been open to the idea of Medicaid expansion. It would also likely go to the House Finance Committee, where there are also a few friendly members.

But even if expansion language does get added to this bill, the legislation would still have to go back to the Senate for approval and potentially for a conference committee. Kelly is not optimistic about that going over well in his body.

KELLY: If I were to look into a crystal ball, I would say that would die in the Senate.

For their part, officials at the Department of Health and Social Services, who have been pushing for expansion, say they have not had time to review the bill.

It’s Day 53 at the Capitol. We’re more than halfway done with the 90-day session. Can all this happen in time for adjournment?

If it does, it would have to be on a tight schedule. It’s a pretty complicated subject to jump into so late in the game. But then again, and some people might throttle me for saying this: There’s always the option of a special session.

Categories: Alaska News

New Route Makes Some Mushers Feel Like Rookies

Fri, 2015-03-13 15:53

This year’s race reroute has left even the most seasoned of Iditarod mushers feeling like rookies. Race leaders won’t start to appear until after teams complete their mandatory layovers and make up their start time differentials. Many mushers are still surprised at where they’re finding themselves in the standings.

When he arrived in Ruby, Aaron Burmeister had no idea he was near the front of the pack.

“At no checkpoints we’ve been in have we had any idea where we are.. there have been no data, no information available for where we are. I was just taking care of my dogs and tending to things and came in here in third place and was like ‘wow, what in the world?’ I figured I’d be in 20th.”

Burmeister isn’t the only musher who has been surprised about where his team is in the standings.

“I am very surprised at where I am definitely.”

That’s Wade Marrs.  The 24 year old has finished three Iditarods.

“I thought I’d have a lot more catching up to do if I wanted to get in the top ten. Well, right now we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and keep things together and we should be able to pull it off.”

For Paige Drobny, it came as a surprise that she arrived in Galena in 24th place. She says she’s had more rest this year, in comparison to her previous two races.

“The last two years, I felt like I had been pretty on top of things, like running and resting quickly and I was in like 40th place.  I couldn’t believe there were doing it faster than what I was doing.”

This year, no one is running a traditional race plan, because they aren’t travelling a traditional trail. So even for seasoned veterans like 14-time finisher Ken Anderson, it’s not entirely clear even for veterans like Ken Anderson exactly how their teams are performing.

“I’ve run Iditarod so many times you’re like ‘ok the dogs are going to look like this at this checkpoint,’ and you’re just ready for it.”

A third of the way into the race, Anderson wanted his dogs too look the way he’d expect them to look in Takotna, had he been running the normal southern route.

“Come to think of it, they look better, yeah I just realized that!”

Standings will remain something of a mystery until mushers complete both their mandatory eight and 24-hour layovers and make up their time differential from the start. A trail report from race officials warns mushers of a “long, cold slog” along the rerouted trail to Huslia and beyond to Koyukuk.  Perhaps, mushers may find bliss running in subzero temperatures, if they remain somewhat ignorant about the new trail and where they’re running amid the pack.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Gray Named Bethel DA

Fri, 2015-03-13 15:41

Alaska’s attorney general has named the Fairbanks district attorney as Bethel’s new district attorney. J. Michael Gray will begin in Bethel April 1 and will replace June Stein, who was fired last month.

The state says Gray has 20 years of experience as a prosecutor in Alaska, beginning in Kodiak. He was named district attorney there and later moved to head up the DA’s office in Fairbanks.

He began his career in rural Virginia.

Chris Carpeneti is the Acting District Attorney in Bethel after Stein
finished this week. He’s resigning as of April 3rd. The department of law says it’s actively recruiting to fill the role and expects to make a hire in the coming weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

“Scrubbers” to Cut Cruise Ship Pollution

Fri, 2015-03-13 15:24

A Celebrity Cruise Line ship sails into Juneau in 2012 with emissions coming out of its stack. New pollution-control equipment being installed on Alaska-bound and other ships will reduce the emissions plume. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau)

Cruise lines that sail Alaska waters are installing new pollution-control equipment. It’s aimed at clearing the air — and meeting new regulations. But it’s also dodging some stronger, more expensive measures.

The stuff that comes out of cruise ship smokestacks can cloud the air, leaving a haze over port cities, and plumes along their routes.

But it’s more than unsightly. Sulfur dioxide, ash and other ingredients contribute to acid rain and smog. They can also cause respiratory problems — and even death.

That’s why the Environment Protection Agency set new emission standards for most vessels.

Smoke pours out of the smokestack of the Carnival Spirit as it fires up its engines. (Courtesy Ground Truth Trekking)
That includes almost 30 large cruise ships sailing Alaska waters, some of which are getting new pollution-control equipment.

“One of the ships, which is the Solstice, is being retrofitted right now,” says Rich Pruitt, vice president of environmental stewardship for Royal Caribbean International.

The line will send five ships to Alaska this summer.

He says about 20 of its vessels, close to half its worldwide fleet, are getting new air-emission control equipment, calledscrubbers.

“By spraying water into the exhaust stream, the sulfur dioxide and particulates are basically captured in the water spray. And it effectively removes any sulfur dioxide, up to about 98-99 percent, and a significant portion of the particulates,” he says.

Pruitt says the rest of the corporation’s fleet will eventually get the technology, though it may try some other options.

The cruise industry could meet EPA standards, and upcoming international rules, by switching to low-sulfur fuel, which causes far less pollution. But Pruitt says that’s too expensive, and refineries may not make be able to keep up with the demand.

That’s why the industry is installing scrubbers.

“We’re looking at this as a way of ensuring that we’ll be able to be compliant regardless of where we operate,” he says.
Royal Caribbean is one of several worldwide lines installing scrubber technology.

Carnival Corporation, which owns Princess and Holland-America lines, announced its intentions in 2013.

“The only other major cruise line that brings ships to Alaska is Norwegian Cruise Lines and they also have a program to start to install scrubbers on their existing ships,” says John Binkley, president of the Alaska chapter of the Cruise Lines International Association.

The new federal rules, which mirror those in Canada, are for lines sailing within 200 miles of the coast. They took effect in January, but Binkley says many ships were not ready.

“Each company has negotiated with the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, on a schedule and when they’re going to bring certain ships into compliance,” he says.
Critics say the lines should have been ready sooner.

Chip Thoma campaigned for a tax-and-pollution-control initiative voters approved about 10 years ago.

“The cruise lines fought that tooth and nail in the State Department, and every chance they’d get in Washington, D.C., to try to scuttle that treaty,” he says.

He’s encouraged by plans for new scrubber technology. But he says the lines should also switch to low-sulfur diesel.

“I think the price of fuel, all fuel, is going to keep going down. And it’s eventually going to be in everybody’s best interests to just burn clean fuel,” he says.
Some critics say scrubbers only change air pollution into ocean pollution, since the filtering water is disposed of overboard. Pruitt says Royal Caribbean ships, which include the Celebrity line, will treat the water and dispose of the resulting sludge on land.

Similar technology is used on other large ocean-going ships and coal-fired power plants.

Alaska does not regulate the chemical composition of cruise-ship air emissions. But it does measure its density.

Ed White of the state’s cruise ship monitoring program says scrubbers should improve the situation.

“The assumption is that as the amount of sulfur in the fuel decreases, the opacity would as well. We don’t have any requirements for the equipment used or anything like that. So we’re not directly involved with the scrubbers. But once it goes overboard, we’ll be monitoring that,” he says.

Scrubber technology is expensive.

Some lines won’t discuss what they’re spending. But Carnival has said installation on 70 of its ships would cost about $400 million, or around $6 million each.

Royal Caribbean’s Pruitt says despite the cost, the new equipment won’t increase fares.

“By having the exhaust gas cleaning systems or scrubbers, it will allow us to burn the more affordable fuel. So, it’s not like we feel that we have to pass that on,” he says.
While EPA rules kicked in this year, worldwide standards won’t take effect until 2020. They’re less stringent, but are still a significant reduction.

Categories: Alaska News

Three Advance in Pilot Project to Arm VPSOs

Fri, 2015-03-13 14:36

 

 

First Sergeant James Hoelscher instructs officers at a 2014 training. (Photo By Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel)

Three Village Public Safety Officers have been selected to advance in the VPSO Arming Pilot Project with training this month in Sitka. 21 VPSOs initially showed interest in taking part. There were seven earlier this year still in the process.

Veteran VPSO First Sergeant James Hoelscher of Hooper Bay is the only VPSO set to be armed in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region. Also advancing are Sergeant Philip Plessinger of Fairbanks and Noatak’s Corporal Michael Gagliano.

Lieutenant Andrew Merrill with the Alaska State Troopers says there are many reasons why the 18 other VPSOs did not continue in the program.

“We had a physical fitness test, which was a new process for many VPSOs, and some could not physically pass that test. They have the opportunity to pass that test and participate in the future. Other VPSOs that were fully capable physically and thought they could use force later thought about the fact they live in a community in which they are related to the majority of the community: cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. The thought of using deadly force against one of their family members had them choose to not participate,” said Merrill.

Participants also had to undergo an extensive psychological exam during the process. In 2014 the Alaska legislature passed the law allowing VPSOs to carry guns, in addition to a taser and baton. It was spurred by the death of a VPSO in Manokotak, Thomas Madole, who was shot and killed while unarmed.

The VPSOs that were selected are each employed by the Association of Village Council Presidents, Tanana Chiefs Conference and Northwest Arctic Borough.

In addition to the firearms training, the three VPSOs will receive instruction on defensive tactics, weapon retention, police communication, scenario and judgment training, ethics, and use of force. There are plans for extensive in-the-field training with troopers for the pilot project VPSOs. They are expected to graduate from the program in April and could be armed soon after.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Bill Walker And The Alaska State Budget

Fri, 2015-03-13 13:00

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks to reporters during a press conference Jan. 27, 2015. He was discussing a draft plan released earlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Interior that would block oil development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Governor Bill Walker and legislators need to work together to bring down state spending and raise new revenue. The Governor wants to expand Medicaid, beef up the instate gasline proposal and halt spending on several large infrastructure projects. Some Lawmakers are pushing back. How will they compromise?

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Alaska Governor Bill Walker
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

River Running, Good Dog Care Allows Iditarod Mushers To Keep Larger Teams Later In The Race

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:19

Mushers are allowed to start the Iditarod with a maximum of 16 dogs. More than a third of way into the race, many teams are still that large because of a combination of easy-going river miles, good dog care and support from fellow mushers.

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As the sun set over the Galena dog yard, musher Travis Beals walked up and down his line of dogs, sprinkling ground salmon in front of each one.

Beals’ original race plan did not include a 24-hour layover in Galena, but when arrived at the checkpoint, he realized his 14 dogs needed the rest.

“I had a couple sore dogs – key members of the team that needed some attention,” Beals said.

Because he hadn’t planned to stop for long, Beals didn’t have enough food to last 24 hours.

Dallas Seavey’s team pulls into Ruby Wednesday. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

“Mushers are the type of people – they’re always willing to lend a hand and DeeDee’s leaving now and she’s got a smorgasbord of stuff,” he said.

DeeDee Jonrowe was parked a few feet away. She only planned to stop in Galena for a few hours, so before she pulled out of the checkpoint, she handed Beals all of her leftover dog food.

Jonrowe: “I understand because that’s happened with me before.
Beals: “It’s not that I didn’t pack. It’s either behind me in Ruby or [ahead] in Huslia or Koyukuk, you know.”
Jonrowe: “What’s happened with me too is planning to not have as big a team. Because on the coast with 14 dogs, well they ate everything I had and so, I totally have been there.”

Jonrowe is running the Iditarod for a 33rd time. As she packed her sled to go, she said she was glad hers is among a number of teams that have remained large this year.

“If you look at the data, in cold years they often do for a while,” she said. “It just depends on a person’s ability to hold it together with dog care.”

Norwegian Thomas Waerner works in the Ruby dog yard in the middle of the night. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

Paige Drobny still has 15 dogs in her team. She says this year’s reroute may have something to do with fewer dropped dogs.

“The teams are all really big and I think that shows how forgiving more of the trail is because we’ve been on flat river running instead of going through the gorge that can maybe knock dogs out of the competition faster,” Drobny said.

But some of those flat river miles have been hard-packed, so dogs are showing up with sore wrists. Those are injuries musher Richie Diehl did not expect.

“We’re going to work on it and try to get it all straightened out and move on down the trail,” he said. “It’s just frustrating, you know? Dogs that I’ve had to drop who have been some of my most durable all year, you know, and I had to leave them behind. But I mean that’s part of dog racing.”

Diehl wants to massage sore muscles and wrists during his 24-hour layover. He’ll leave Galena with one of the smaller teams in the field.

“I thought I would have more right now, I definitely do,” Diehl said. “But 12 is a big team too. You can do a lot with 12 dogs, so I’m not worried.”

For Aliy Zirkle, it’s continued cold weather that’s causing worry.

“It’s difficult to put extra attention to dog care when it’s cold, because your ointment’s frozen, Algyval is frozen, your hands are frozen, your protective gear is frozen,” she said.

The next two runs exceed 80 miles each – long, by Iditarod standards, and teams will leave the flat, forgiving river for a rougher, forested route.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Mushers Prepare For Break From Yukon River

Fri, 2015-03-13 07:47

Huslia marks the halfway point along this year’s Iditarod Trail. Many mushers are looking forward to leaving the Yukon River and heading for the tiny Interior village.

For most of the first 385 miles of the race, teams travelled long stretches of flat, frozen river. Musher Paige Drobny says the easy-going trail has been good for her.

“I don’t really mind it,” she said. “I’ve gotten more sleep than I ever have before, because of being able to sit on my sled and being able to sleep while the dogs are running.”

But Drobny says the monotony is getting to her dogs.

Wade Marrs at the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“The dogs are bored. On the way here, my leader Wiseman was trying to take every random snow machine off of the trail that he could, because he was getting bored, and it was very clear they weren’t dog trails,” Drobny said. “He would take a 90 degree turn onto the snow machine trail. He was like ‘get me somewhere more interesting and maybe I’ll do my job right.’”

Wade Marrs says his dog team is also ready for a change of scenery.

“Every time the trail turns and heads toward the bank, they get really excited and take off wide open like ‘oh, we’re going somewhere new!’ So, yeah it will be really cool t get off the river and the dogs will be really happy about that,” Marrs said.

For rookie Jason Campeau, it’s not the trail that’s the most challenging part.

“You know you have to be tough mentally to get through these.,” Campeau said. “There’s times that you’re out there and it’s beautiful and you’re with your dogs and you’re loving it and then there’s other times when it’s freezing and every single person in here will tell you it’s tough when that happens, so it’s a matter of staying tough mentally and staying focused.”

Huslia is the next stop along the Iditarod trail. It’s the home of George Attla, one of Alaska’s most famous sprint mushers. Also known as the Huslia Husler, Attla passed away last month. Many of the mushers taking part in this year’s race say they are looking forward to paying their respects to Attla and visiting a village that hasn’t seen an Iditarod since the last time the trail was rerouted in 2003.

Categories: Alaska News

Aaron Burmeister Leads Iditarod Teams Into Huslia

Fri, 2015-03-13 07:19

Nome musher Aaron Burmeister was the first to reach Huslia Thursday night. He was followed by reigning Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey and rookie Thomas Waerner.

A 3-year-old sled dog named Wyatt on Lance Mackey’s team died suddenly Thursday afternoon between Tanana and Ruby. Iditarod officials say a necropsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

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Aaron Burmeister. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Mushers are allowed to start the Iditarod with a maximum of 16 dogs. More than a third of way into the race, many teams are still that large, largely because of a combination of easy-going river miles, good dog care and support from fellow mushers.

As the sun set over the Galena dog yard, musher Travis Beals walked up and down his line of dogs, sprinkling ground salmon in front of each one.

Beals’ original race plan did not include a 24-hour layover in Galena, but when arrived at the checkpoint, he realized his 14 dogs needed the rest.

“I had a couple sore dogs – key members of the team that needed some attention,” Beals said.

Because he hadn’t planned to stop for long, Beals didn’t have enough food to last 24 hours.

Dallas Seavey’s team pulls into Ruby Wednesday. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

“Mushers are the type of people – they’re always willing to lend a hand and DeeDee’s leaving now and she’s got a smorgasbord of stuff,” he said.

DeeDee Jonrowe was parked a few feet away. She only planned to stop in Galena for a few hours, so before she pulled out of the checkpoint, she handed Beals all of her leftover dog food.

Jonrowe: “I understand because that’s happened with me before.
Beals: “It’s not that I didn’t pack. It’s either behind me in Ruby or [ahead] in Huslia or Koyukuk, you know.”
Jonrowe: “What’s happened with me too is planning to not have as big a team. Because on the coast with 14 dogs, well they ate everything I had and so, I totally have been there.”

Jonrowe is running the Iditarod for a 33rd time. As she packed her sled to go, she said she was glad hers is among a number of teams that have remained large this year.

“If you look at the data, in cold years they often do for a while,” she said. “It just depends on a person’s ability to hold it together with dog care.”

Norwegian Thomas Waerner works in the Ruby dog yard in the middle of the night. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

Paige Drobny still has 15 dogs in her team. She says this year’s reroute may have something to do with fewer dropped dogs.

“The teams are all really big and I think that shows how forgiving more of the trail is because we’ve been on flat river running instead of going through the gorge that can maybe knock dogs out of the competition faster,” Drobny said.

But some of those flat river miles have been hard-packed, so dogs are showing up with sore wrists. Those are injuries musher Richie Diehl did not expect.

“We’re going to work on it and try to get it all straightened out and move on down the trail,” he said. “It’s just frustrating, you know? Dogs that I’ve had to drop who have been some of my most durable all year, you know, and I had to leave them behind. But I mean that’s part of dog racing.”

Diehl wants to massage sore muscles and wrists during his 24-hour layover. He’ll leave Galena with one of the smaller teams in the field.

“I thought I would have more right now, I definitely do,” Diehl said. “But 12 is a big team too. You can do a lot with 12 dogs, so I’m not worried.”

For Aliy Zirkle, it’s continued cold weather that’s causing worry.

“It’s difficult to put extra attention to dog care when it’s cold, because your ointment’s frozen, Algyval is frozen, your hands are frozen, your protective gear is frozen,” she said.

The next two runs exceed 80 miles each – long, by Iditarod standards, and teams will leave the flat, forgiving river for a rougher, forested route.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Leaner Operating Budget

Fri, 2015-03-13 03:49

The Alaska House of Representatives has passed a $4.1 billion operating budget, reducing agency operations by 10 percent over last year.

The vote happened shortly after midnight. House Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman said they set a record with a $229 million cut in spending from the unrestricted general fund.

“That reduction represents both the single largest single-year dollar reduction and percentage cut in Alaska’s history,” said Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake.

Every state agency saw its non-formula funding reduced compared to the previous budget. The Departments of Commerce, Education, and Military and Veterans Affairs took the greatest hits, with funding cut by roughly a third each.

But while the cuts are significant, they’re only a fraction of the $4 billion budget deficit that triggered them. One member of the Republican Majority broke caucus rules and voted against the budget for that reason. Rep Lora Reinbold, who represents Eagle River, said she wanted bigger reductions.

“I will be pushing the red button tonight, knowing that there may be unnecessary consequences by bucking the system, by challenging a very difficult system to work within,” said Reinbold. “I encourage you to join me and do best for what’s Alaska’s future by voting no on this unsustainable budget only until we make more meaningful reductions that reflect Alaska’s current fiscal crisis.”

The last time a member of the Majority opposed the budget was in 2005, when Nancy Dahlstrom, also of Eagle River, voted against a capital appropriations bill. According spokesperson for the Republican Majority, the caucus plans to meet to discuss Reinbold’s actions.

The Democratic Minority also opposed the budget, but because it did not reflect their priorities. Juneau Democrat Sam Kito said the cuts would cause pain without actually fixing the deficit.

“I will be voting no on this budget, but not because we haven’t cut enough but because I believe we have cut too much,” said Kito. “We have a $3.5 billion deficit. We’ve reduced that to $3.4 billion. We’re still going to have to withdraw a significant amount of savings. But the amount of money that we’ve cut out of the budget will have a significant impact to Alaskans’ lives.”

Other Democrats voted against the budget because it did not include federal money for Medicaid expansion.

Through the night, their caucus offered 21 amendments to restore funding for early education, for workforce development, and for health care. None of their amendments succeeded.

The operating budget will now be considered by the Senate, which says it plans further reductions.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Consideration Sparks Medicaid Debate

Thu, 2015-03-12 18:50

As of 6pm, debate on the state’s operating budget was underway in the Alaska House of Representatives. Democrats have proposed 22 amendments, and discussion of the bill is expected to last into the late hours. The minority opened with an effort to restore Medicaid expansion to the budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

It’s often said that a budget is a moral document, an exercise where lawmakers literally spend money on the things they value. With that in mind, the House minority caucus traditionally offers a series of changes that promote their platform, but that are rarely adopted. At the top of the current priority list is expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, offered language to accept federal dollars for that purpose.

“I think there is a moral imperative,” said Josephson. “So I would ask that we expand Medicaid, and I think this can be done. And I think the economy would be better. People would be better. People would be healthier.”

The amendment, which failed on caucus lines, would have allowed the state to accept $145 million in federal funds so that Alaskans near the poverty line can get health care through Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid has been a major priority of Gov. Bill Walker, and the budget he sent to the Legislature included a line to do just that. But the House Finance Committee removed the language, with some members saying the budget was not the appropriate vehicle for expansion.

The Medicaid debate highlighted some of the fractures on the issue not only in the Legislature, but within the Republican majority caucus. Some Republicans, like Rep. Shelley Hughes of Palmer, categorically oppose Medicaid expansion on ideological grounds.

“In the coming years, it’s time for communities to pull together. It’s time for churches to step up,” said Hughes. “We can be kind as people. It’s not the government’s place to be kind. We need to be kind as people.”

But others, like Rep. Dan Saddler of Eagle River, rejected the amendment on the basis of process. If the Legislature is going to consider expanding its Medicaid program, Saddler said the action should be done through a larger reform bill.

“This amendment, sir, has no cost control provisions. It has no over-utilization control for emergency room visits. It has no provision for health savings accounts,” Saddler listed.

In response, Democrats spent nearly an hour touting the economic and health benefits of expansion. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays the entire cost of expansion in the first years, and then covers 90 percent after 2020.

Amendment sponsor Andy Josephson said it was unusual for Alaska to go out of its way to reject federal money, invoking the name of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who aggressively brought funding to Alaska during his tenure in Congress.

“I think that Sen. Stevens, if he were here would, unless he just turned 180 degrees, he’d say, ‘What are you doing? Why don’t you reap the benefit of $1.1 billion? 4,000 jobs?’” said Josephson.

The amendment failed 11 to 26. Even though it was an up-down vote, the issue of Medicaid expansion may come up again in the Legislature. Members of the House Health and Social Services committee are taking part in a Medicaid working group, and a reform bill is in the works in the Senate.

The operating budget spends $4.1 billion from the state’s unrestricted general fund, and cuts $273 million in agency operating funds compared to the budget passed last year. Even with the cuts, the state is facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion.

Categories: Alaska News

Demboski Draws Mat-Su PAC Support for Anchorage Mayor

Thu, 2015-03-12 18:26

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A conservative Political Action Committee in the Mat-Su valley is wading into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The Palmer-based group is endorsing Amy Demboski’s mayoral campaign, in part because of her stance on a contentious equal rights measure.

Categories: Alaska News

Village Corporation, Tribe at Odds Over Mineral Deposits

Thu, 2015-03-12 18:04

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Interest in a potential gold and copper deposit near Nondalton has put the village’s tribe and corporation at odds. Nondalton’s village corporation, Kijik, has entered into an agreement to explore the Groundhog claims, and that action doesn’t sit well with all shareholders.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 12, 2015

Thu, 2015-03-12 17:57

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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U.S. Arctic Rep: Russia’s Arctic Buildup Not Necessarily Martial

Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington
Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activities. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

House Begins Debating Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
Debate on the state’s operating budget is now underway  in the Alaska House of Representatives. Democrats have proposed 22 amendments, and discussion of the bill is expected to last into the late hours. The minority opened with an effort to restore Medicaid expansion to the operating budget.

House Speaker Reattempts Agrium Tax Credit

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
The Alaska Department of Revenue expects a proposed tax credit for the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski to cost the state between $3 million and $4 million in foregone revenue annually.

Coast Guard to Train for Shooting at Docks 

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB-Unalaska
The Coast Guard is teaming up with emergency personnel in Unalaska to practice their response to a mass shooting on the docks — in one of the region’s busiest ports.

Demboski Draws Mat-Su PAC Support for Anchorage Mayor

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA- Anchorage
A conservative Political Action Committee in the Mat-Su valley is wading into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The Palmer-based group is endorsing Amy Demboski’s mayoral campaign, in part because of her conservative stance on a contentious equal rights (bill) *measure* in Anchorage.

Broad Donor Rolls and Deep Pockets in Anchorage Mayor’s Race

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA-Anchorage
Candidates Dan Coffey and Andrew Halcro have raised the most money in the Anchorage mayor’s race.

Swanson’s Employees Embrace for Change

Ben Matheson, KYUK-Bethel
Following the announcement that Swanson’s grocery store would be closing, a rapid response team from the Alaska Department of Labor was dispatched to Bethel Wednesday.

Village Corporation, Tribe at Odds Over Mineral Deposits

Matt Martin, KDLG-Dillingham

Interest in a potential gold and copper deposit near Nondalton has put the village’s tribe and corporation at odds. Nondalton’s village corporation Kijik has entered into an agreement to explore the Groundhog claims, and that doesn’t sit well with all shareholders.

Dogs in Tow More Common This Iditarod

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
Whether sled dogs are in need of rest will start to show as teams near the halfway mark in this year’s race.  More mushers than ever are towing trailers behind their sleds to carry dogs as they travel down the trail. The jury is still out on whether the method actually does benefit dogs.

NCAA Rifle Champions Showcase Expert Shooters

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
The National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Rifle Championships are being held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Friday and Saturday. The championships bring together shooters capable of extreme accuracy.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard to Train for Shooting at Unalaska Docks 

Thu, 2015-03-12 17:10

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The Coast Guard is teaming up with emergency personnel in Unalaska to practice their response to a mass shooting on the docks — in one of the region’s busiest ports.

Categories: Alaska News

Dogs in Tow More Common This Iditarod

Thu, 2015-03-12 17:02

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Race Update: 5:45 p.m.  Aaron Burmeister was leading a pack of mushers into Huslia early Thursday evening. He was running ahead of a small group that included Martin Buser, Thomas Waerner, and Dallas Seavey. 

Whether sled dogs are in need of rest will start to show as teams near the halfway mark in this year’s race.  More mushers than ever are towing trailers behind their sleds to carry dogs as they travel down the trail. The jury is still out on whether the method actually does benefit dogs.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Arctic Rep: Russia’s Arctic Buildup Not Necessarily Martial

Thu, 2015-03-12 14:27

Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activity. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

“One person can look at what’s going on in terms of what they call ‘military buildup’ and rightfully say they’ve got an awful long border along the Arctic, and if you’re going to have increased maritime traffic you should have search-and-rescue facilities, you should have modern airports and other things — things I’d like to have built in Alaska as maritime traffic increases,” he said.

Papp says the other Arctic nations have supported the U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursions in the Ukraine. But he says the Obama Administration and other Arctic countries also agree it’s important not to shut Russia out.

“For the good of the Arctic, for the environment and other important issues, we need to keep Russia in the fold and keep communications open,” he said. “We are all committed to that. ”

Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral, spoke this morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

 

Categories: Alaska News

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