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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: 40 min 57 sec ago

Study: Forecasts For Summer Arctic Sea Ice Lack Reliability

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:20

Year-to-year forecasts of summer Arctic Sea Ice extent aren’t reliable.  That’s according to a report out from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But A two-day workshop that starts Tuesday in Colorado will focus on ways to improve sea ice extent predictions.

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Every year various groups set out to predict summer Arctic sea ice extent.  The information is useful for ship navigators, biologists who study marine mammals and scientists who consider sea ice a sensitive climate change indicator.  A new study finds that the forecasts aren’t always reliable.

“The wildcard really still is the summer weather patterns,” Julienne Stroeve, a Senior Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said.

She and colleagues looked at more than 300 forecasts from the last six years.  She says improved summer weather predictions as well as satellite measurements of sea ice thickness and concentration could help forecasting.

“We don’t predict the summer weather yet and because of that the sea ice is still sensitive to what happens in the summer time which makes these predictions difficult during those anomalous years,” Stroeve said.

Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. Stroeve says 2012 and 2013 were anomalous years when predictions fail.  She says that’s because the extent of the ice strayed from what has otherwise been accepted as a general downward trend since satellites started keeping track in 1979.

“It didn’t seem to matter so much as a group what method your were employing to do the sea ice forecasting,” Stroeve explained. “So, if you were using a statistical approach to forecast what the September ice extent would be, or if you used a model sophisticated modeling approach where you’re initializing sea ice atmospheric models with boundary conditions of where the ice is and what the atmosphere is, and then run those forward, those didn’t do any better.”

She says when forecasting takes place also doesn’t affect accuracy.

“The forecasts for what was going to happen in September also didn’t necessarily get any better if you initialized your forecast in June, July or August and I thought that was curious because you would think as the summer progresses, you update your forecast with the current ice conditions that probably you should do a bit better forecast for what’s going to happen in September.”

She says looking back at old forecasts could be helpful for future forecasts. ““You’d call that hindcast model evaluation so, go back in time and say ‘Well, would you have actually predicted the extent right if you had had all the relevant data that you needed, or is there a problem with the forecasting method itself?’”

Stroeve and colleagues are in Boulder this week for a Sea Ice Prediction workshop to discuss how to improve future forecasts.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Says Melting Permafrost Emitting More Carbon Than Tundra Can Offset

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:19

The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe. As temperatures increase, permafrost melts, releasing carbon dioxide, and the growing season lengthens, absorbing CO2.

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However, a study being conducted by the Woods Hole Research Center and published in the journal Ecology, finds that the thawing permafrost emits more carbon dioxide than the tundra’s vegetation can offset.

Dr. Susan Natali is an Assistant Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center and the lead author on the study. She says permafrost covers one-fourth of the Northern Hemisphere’s land area and contains twice the amount of carbon than what currently exists in the atmosphere.

“So the permafrost thaw is putting us at risk, because even if a small portion of this carbon is released into the atmosphere, it’s a significant emission of greenhouse gases,” Natali said.

Natali says most models predicting future greenhouse gas totals do not account for emissions from permafrost. This research provides data on how this massive carbon sink reacts to rising temperatures.

“So our estimates of temperature changes as a result of human input from fossil fuels isn’t yet accounting for these additional carbon inputs that we may see from permafrost thaw,” Natali said. “And this is a really large pool of carbon.”

The permafrost acts as a carbon cache, because during the growing season, plants through photosynthesis remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their tissue. At the end of the season, the plants die and freeze before they fully decay. So for tens of thousands of years, permafrost has been collecting this carbon-rich material.

As long as the permafrost stays frozen, the carbon remains locked. But when the permafrost thaws, microbes begin breaking down that organic matter, releasing CO2 and methane. As these greenhouse gases are emitted, more warming occurs, spurring more thawing and more decay. Dr. Richard Houghton is a Senior Scientist at Woods Hole. He says the cycle creates an amplifying system.

“Just think of it as a layer of organic matter and it’s frozen, not at the surface, but in the permafrost it’s frozen,” Houghton said. “And as you’re warming the earth, the warming keeps penetrating into deeper and deeper depths of this organic carbon. And so it’s a large source ready to be released over time.”

The research is in its fifth year on the Eight Mile Lake Watershed in Alaska’s Northern Interior.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Fairbikes’ To Open In Fairbanks

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:18

A bike share business plans to start operating in Fairbanks this summer. “Fairbikes” owner Jennifer Eskridge previewed what’s planned for the North Star Borough assembly last week.

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Categories: Alaska News

Board to Review Proposal Limiting King Salmon Fishing to Federally Qualified Subsistence Users

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:17

With salmon fishing just a few short months away, the Federal Subsistence Board will consider a special action request to limit king salmon harvest in the Kuskokwim drainage to federally qualified subsistence users.

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Steven Maxie is the tribal administrator for the Napaskiak Traditional Council, the group that made the request. They are asking for the change because of the anticipated strict king salmon closures.

“Well it will give us hope, all this winter, we are hearing there’s going to be pretty good restrictions, that there won’t be much open opportunity for subsistence fishing for Chinook. It creates hopelessness for the people,” Maxie said.

Federally qualified subsistence users are people who are residents of rural communities and live in a community or area with a customary and traditional use determination. In this case, they must live in the Kuskokwim River fishery management area. Maxie says the people here are the ones whose livelihood depends on king salmon.

“We don’t need people coming in from the big cites or the state coming in to participate because during these conservation measures, we should focus on local people to harvest our Chinook. We’ll share it, but we want to try this,” Maxie said.

The tribe also wants to have what is known as a section 804 analysis, named from the portion of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA that can determine how to restrict the resource further among subsistence users. It depends on three criteria: customary and direct dependence upon king salmon as the mainstay of livelihood, local residency, and the availability of alternative resources.

The proposal will first go to the Yukon Kuskokwim Regional Advisory Council for a recommendation. The Federal Subsistence board can then take up the request. The Office of Subsistence Management is currently analyzing the proposal with partner agencies.

There will be a regional advisory council meeting at 10am on April 7th at Yuut Elitnaurviak to discuss the proposal and a public hearing, at 1pm on April 8th.

The board is also accepting comments.

Fax: (907) 786-3333
E-mail: subsistence@fws.gov.

Categories: Alaska News

April Fools: Balloons Are Future Of Brown Bear Relocation

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:16

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Residents in Alaska’s largest city are distressed by the increasing human/bear encounters in Anchorage parks, along the coastal trail and area streams. In the lead up to salmon spawning in local waterways, an Anchorage biologist is working on a brown bear relocation program. Dr. Robert Bastic has developed a plan that will safely take bears away from the heavy population of Anchorage while also providing a unique tourism experience. The method? Hot air balloons.

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Townsend – Hi, Bob.

BASTIC – Hi Lori. Thanks for having me.

TOWNSEND – How did you come up with this idea?

BASTIC – The idea hit me while watching these hot air balloons carrying passengers above the low mountains near Temecula California. It’s such a gentle ride, I realized you could dart a bear, strap it into a sling harness, lift off and relocate them far into the wilderness of the Chugach Mountains where they won’t bother humans and be at risk of being put down as a nuisance.

TOWNSEND – Where does the tourism element come in to this concept?

BASTIC – That’s actually one of the best parts! Tourists would pay to be part of the relocation effort, staying safely away from the bear until it’s sleeping soundly. Then, while the bear is being moved they would have tremendous photo opportunities from the air as they travel over the city and into the wilderness for the bear drop off. It would be built in to the budget to sustain the program.

TOWNSEND –What would your start up costs be and where will the money come from?

BASTIC – We’re hoping to get some funding from the legislature. Anchorage based lawmakers are desperate to find a solution to this bear encounter problem in the city. And then we’re developing a kick starter campaign. We’ll need about 300,000 to get a large enough balloon, the harness and other equipment.

TOWNSEND – Dr. Bastic, It sounds a bit farfetched. Have you ever heard of a similar effort for animal relocation?

BASTIC – Well, few people realize that this was the original plan for Maggie the elephant, when she was going to relocate to the elephant sanctuary in California. But the lift required was considered too much for most hot air balloons, so the expense got out of hand and the military stepped in and offered a plane to take her instead.

TOWNSEND – So, really, there’s been nothing like this?

BOB BASTIC – Well, no, but Alaska is a pioneering and innovative place! It’s really quite perfect. Hot Air balloons can only operate in cool conditions, if the air gets too warm they don’t work properly so when the bears wake up, we’ll be ready to dart them, harness them in the sling and take them a few hours away into the wilderness and return in ideal, cool air temperature conditions for maximum balloon lift. And most of the cost will be offset by enthusiastic tourists and their kids wanting pictures with a cute, sleeping bear. Really – what could go wrong?

TOWNSEND – Yes, really, what could. Thank you Dr. Bastic, we’ll watch the skies over Anchorage later this spring.

BASTIC – Thank you Lori. We hope the inaugural trip will happen sometime in May.

TOWNSEND – Dr. Robert Bob Bastic is leading the effort to relocate brown bears out of Anchorage by hot air balloon. There’s not more information at our website because it’s April Fool’s day people.

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Signs Law Excluding Homer Harbor From Habitat Area

Tue, 2014-04-01 15:30

The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area just became a little bit smaller. Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill into law Tuesday that excludes the Port and Harbor of Homer from the habitat area.

Under the new law, the harbor is excluded from the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area (Photo by Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer)

Senator Peter Micciche and Homer Representative Paul Seaton say the bill had their support. Seaton says the previous boundaries of the critical habitat area, which included parts of the Homer harbor, were most likely the result of a mistake. When officials with the state Department of Natural Resources first drew up the boundaries, Seaton says they used already-established section lines, which had the unintended consequence of including the outer part of the harbor, including the Deepwater Dock.

Seaton says the new map will keep established industrial areas on the east side of the Homer Spit, from the Deepwater Dock north to the barge basin, out of the critical habitat area.

In a news release Wednesday, Parnell said the law is about “recognizing the balance between jobs and environmental protection.”

Parnell pointed out that Homer is the only year-round ice free, deep water port in Cook Inlet.   The Homer harbor has been designated as a Port of Refuge by the U.S. Coast Guard and maintains the assets required to improve marine safety, respond to emergencies at sea and to enhance environmental protection.

The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area was created in 1976. Its management plan forbids all oil exploration vessels from operating in the bay.

Categories: Alaska News

House Speaker Proposes Exception To Residency Rule For Gasline Board Appointees

Mon, 2014-03-31 20:42

Amid controversy over whether the non-residents can legally serve on state commissions, the Speaker of the Alaska State House is proposing a policy change that explicitly carves out an exception for the board that could oversee development of a natural gas pipeline.

Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault informed fellow lawmakers on Monday that he will offer the rider to a routine bill continuing the existence of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. The amendment makes clear that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors is not subject to a law requiring appointees to be registered Alaska voters.

Chenault says the domestic violence council bill was chosen as a vehicle for the amendment because he wants the law changed before April 11, when the Legislature votes on Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointees. This bill has the potential to make that deadline, since it has already passed the Senate and made it through the committee process in the House.

“You know it wasn’t our first choice,” says Chenault. “But we think it’s important that we get this done before we get to appointments to make sure that it’s clear that in the case of Alaska corporation boards, we want the best.”

Similar exceptions already exist for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

The change would allow for the confirmation of Richard Rabinow, a former president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company who lives in Houston, Texas. Some Democrats in the Legislature have called for Rabinow’s nomination to be withdrawn, and Rabinow has told the governor that he will resign if the law is not clarified. Last month, a controversial appointee to the State Assessment Review Board pulled his name from consideration because of his California residency.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican who is sponsoring the domestic violence council bill, says he’s “disappointed” his legislation was chosen for the amendment.

“You know, this time of year, it’s not unusual for people to hijack bills and put other things on them,” says Meyer. “But I was a little surprised to see that they hijacked this one.”

Meyer’s own preference is to see an Alaskan appointed to the AGDC board. He also has not decided how he will vote on the bill if it comes back to the Senate with the amendment attached.

“There’s a good chance that we don’t concur,” says Meyer. “And then what will happen is we go to a conference committee, and you just simply take this amendment off and the bill’s clean again.”

Chenault says he anticipated questions over his choice of a vehicle, which is why announced his plan to legislators before introducing the amendment. He says ideally, he would attach it to legislation setting terms for a natural gas mega-project, but Senate Bill 138 is not moving quickly enough for that to work.

Chenault believes the change itself is should not be controversial, since it only applies to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

“You know, it’s not for every board,” says Chenault. “You look at the cosmetology board or you’re looking at the hairdressers board, those folks should be from Alaska. They’re dealing with Alaskan issues. But whenever you’re dealing with the possibility of a multi-billion-dollar project, we want to make sure we’ve got the best.”

Chenault plans to introduce the amendment on Thursday during a special meeting of the House Rules Committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Overturns Dillingham’s Annexation Of Nushagak Bay

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

The 2012 annexation of Nushagak Bay into the City of Dillingham has been overturned by the local Superior Court Judge.

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Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Considers Ordinance Allowing Borough To Pay For Ballot Proposition Ads

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

An ordinance now before the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly would allow the Borough to pay for advertising to influence voters in the case of state ballot propositions. The ordinance comes at a time when an upcoming state ballot is expected to put a number of controversial issues before the voters.

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Categories: Alaska News

Herring Seiners Hit Target – And Then Some – In Quick Saturday Opener

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

The 2014 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is over. The 48 permit holders caught the last remaining fish in this year’s harvest limit – and then some – in a wild 45-minute opener Saturday afternoon right in front of downtown Sitka.

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The preliminary estimate from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game for Saturday’s harvest is just shy of 4,000 tons, bringing this year’s total catch to 17,200 tons — about 900 tons more than the guideline harvest level.

The final harvest numbers will be known once processing is complete. In both 2012 and 2013 seiners undershot their harvest limit significantly, as widespread spawning occurred just as fishing started.

ADF&G will continue to conduct aerial surveys of the shoreline as the spawn progresses. At last word, there were 3.8 nautical miles of spawn. The herring typically continue spawning into late April, depositing eggs along 70-80 miles of beach.

The department’s research vessel, Kestrel, will also return to the Sound sometime after the first week in April to conduct dive surveys of egg deposition. These studies help determine the biomass forecast for future years, and the associated harvest level.

Meanwhile, the traditional subsistence harvest of roe-on-hemlock and roe-on-kelp is beginning in earnest in the areas around Middle Island. One subsistence fisherman at Sealing Cove Sunday morning reported making three large sets of hemlock branches, all of which had received a heavy coating of eggs.

Categories: Alaska News

Feeling Left Out: The Health Insurance Gap In Alaska

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

Monday is the deadline to sign up for health insurance and avoid a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. Insurance is available through multiple sources, from private carriers to publicly funded providers like Medicaid. But Alaska is among many states that have so far declined to expand Medicaid, and it’s created a coverage gap.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Approves Credit Line For Interior Gas Utility

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has approved an up to $7.5 million line of credit for the Interior Gas Utility. The loan fund is for the borough created IGU to begin preliminary work on local gas distribution piping in anticipation of LNG being trucked to town from the North Slope via the state’s Interior Energy Project.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bills Addressing Alaska Native Issues Get Mixed Reception

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:40

Two bills dealing with Alaska Native issues got different receptions from members of the Legislature on Thursday.

At least three House lawmakers were skeptical of a bill that would make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. About an hour later, they joined the rest of their House colleagues in voting unanimously for a bill honoring the late Rev. Walter Soboleff.

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Categories: Alaska News

Landmark Subsistence Decision Stands

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:15

The Katie John lawsuit over subsistence fishing rights is finally over. The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not review a lower court’s decision to leave standing federal rules that provide a rural subsistence priority on 60% of Alaska’s inland waters.

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Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka says it’s a victory for Natives and rural residents, who Kitka says rely on the subsistence harvest for their physical and cultural existence.

“We’re pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today. This should end 19 years of litigation,” Kitka said.

She says she hopes it marks the beginning of a better relationship with state government, which, in the eyes of subsistence advocates, has aggressively fought harvest rights guaranteed in federal law.

When he announced the appeal last year, state Attorney General Michael Geraghty said the rules erode the principle that Alaskans, not the federal government, should manage their own fish and game. It was the primary reason Alaska fought to become a state. The AG’s spokeswoman, Cori Mills, said today the decision leaves in place a muddled system of dual federal-state management.

“It’s just going to continue to lead to litigation and further uncertainty to what we believe is the detriment of all Alaskans because the lines just won’t be clear,” she said.

At the heart of the long-running subsistence conflict is a disagreement between federal and state law.  A 1980 federal law says rural subsistence users in Alaska have priority rights to fish and hunt on public lands, while the state Constitution forbids discriminating between urban and rural residents. To provide the rural preference, the federal government took over fisheries management on federal land in 1999.

Heather Kendall-Miller, who represented Katie John as senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, says winning the case isn’t the end of the story, because there’s still no rural subsistence priority in areas where the state has jurisdiction.

“It’s not a complete victory for Alaska Native rural subsistence rights. That work remains to be done and probably will only be accomplished through legislation,” she said.

Ideally, Kendall-Miller says, Alaskans would amend the state Constitution for add a subsistence priority.

“The other alternative is to adopt federal legislation that would make the priority extend through all lands in Alaska,” she says.

The case began in the 1980s, when Athabaskan elder Katie John wanted to fish at a traditional fish camp on the Copper River, a spot the state had closed to fishing. John died last year at age 97. Her granddaughter, Kathryn Martin, says she’s been hearing from supporters all day on Facebook. Martin says she can imagine her grandmother’s reaction.

“She probably would’ve just (said) , ‘Finally! I’m done! No more! Good!’ “ Martin said.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 31, 2014

Mon, 2014-03-31 17:03

Individual news 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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Landmark Subsistence Decision Stands

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Katie John lawsuit over subsistence fishing rights is finally over. The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not review a lower court’s decision to leave standing federal rules that provide a rural subsistence priority on 60% of Alaska’s inland waters.

Judge Overturns Dillingham’s Annexation Of Nushagak Bay

Mike Mason, KDLG 0 Dillingham

The 2012 annexation of Nushagak Bay into the City of Dillingham has been overturned by the local Superior Court Judge.

Fish And Wildlife To Review Southeast Alaska Wolves

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review whether or not Southeast Alaska wolves should be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency in March announced what’s called a “positive 90-day finding” on a petition to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf.

Mat-Su Considers Ordinance Allowing Borough To Pay For Ballot Proposition Ads

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An ordinance now before the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly would allow the Borough to pay for advertising to influence voters in the case of state ballot propositions.  The ordinance comes at a time when an upcoming state ballot is expected to put a number of controversial issues before the voters.

Herring Seiners Hit Target – And Then Some – In Quick Saturday Opener

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The 2014 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is over. The 48 permit holders caught the last remaining fish in this year’s harvest limit – and then some – in a wild 45-minute opener Saturday afternoon right in front of downtown Sitka.

Feeling Left Out: The Health Insurance Gap In Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Monday is the deadline to sign up for health insurance and avoid a penalty under the Affordable Care Act.  Insurance is available through multiple sources, from private carriers to publicly funded providers like Medicaid.  But Alaska is among many states that have so far declined to expand Medicaid, and it’s created a coverage gap.

Fairbanks Approves Credit Line For Interior Gas Utility

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has approved an up to $7.5 million line of credit for the Interior Gas Utility. The loan fund is for the borough created IGU to begin preliminary work on local gas distribution piping in anticipation of LNG being trucked to town from the North Slope via the state’s Interior Energy Project.

Bills Addressing Alaska Native Issues Get Mixed Reception

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Two bills dealing with Alaska Native issues got different receptions from members of the Legislature on Thursday.

At least three House lawmakers were skeptical of a bill that would make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. About an hour later, they joined the rest of their House colleagues in voting unanimously for a bill honoring the late Rev. Walter Soboleff.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Passes Bill To Limit Access To Certain Court Records

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:38

If you’ve ever been charged with a crime in Alaska, it’s documented in an online database called “Courtview” that anyone can check. Landlords use it. Employers use it. Some people even use it use it while dating to see if their romantic partner has a criminal history. Soon, those searches could be limited to only cases where a guilty verdict has been reached.

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Sen. Fred Dyson’s bill would make it so all criminal cases that result in a dismissal or an acquittal are considered confidential. They won’t appear on the Internet, and you won’t be able to access them at the courthouse unless you are a state worker who deals with child welfare.

The Eagle River Republican presented it on the Senate floor as a justice issue.

“This one is about Amendments Four and Five: privacy and due process,” said Dyson, referencing the United States Constitution.

The rationale behind the bill is simple: If a jury does not find a person guilty of a crime, then that person should not be punished by the court of public opinion.

According to data from the Department of Law, about a third of misdemeanor charges and a fifth of felonies never go trial. Dyson said over time, that adds up to a lot of people with publicly available criminal records who never saw the inside of a courtroom but might be judged negatively when applying for a job or an apartment.

“My guess is that there are 60,000+ people who have never been tried or never went to court who are on Courtview, with a huge impact to them,” said Dyson.

The bill received broad support, passing on an 18-to-1 vote. Anchorage Democrat Hollis French, a former state prosecutor, was the lone opponent. He argued that in a state with such high levels of sexual assault and domestic violence — crimes that are difficult to convict — the Legislature should err on the side of transparency in criminal cases.

“Just say there are a thousand assaults in a year. Out of those, you’ll probably get 250 arrest, and out of those, you get 200 convictions,” said French. “Well, what happens to that information? Neighbors will hear the screams and the cries. The children will see the bloody eyes. But what happens to that information? I’m not saying you have to report everything, but I think you have to be very careful when you start closing off public information.”

The bill will now go to the House for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Boost in B.C. Mining has Alaska Fishermen Nervous

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:37

The head of British Columbia’s government has pledged to spur mining development in the western Canadian province, and that has fishermen in Southeast Alaska nervous. A group from Southeast flew to Washington D.C. this week to see how it can raise its voice in Canada.

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B.C. Premier Christy Clark is making good on a promise to break ground on eight new mines and expand nine others by next year. The increased activity has already brought more than 2,000 jobs to B.C.

“Well, if there’s any doubt that here in British Columbia we are in favor of mining …  I’m going to dispel that now!” she said to applause at a mining conference in January, as she announced plans to continue a $10 million tax credit to help finance mineral exploration companies. The province has already streamlined its permitting process, cutting in half the turnaround time for one type of mining permit.

“It has made a heckuva difference in raising revenue in B.C. and we’re going to keep doing it!” she said at the conference, speaking of the tax credit.

British Columbia now has more than 20 major mines and expansions moving through the permitting process. The largest, known as the KSM mine, would be about 45 miles from Hyder, Alaska. Brian Lynch of the Petersburg Vessels Owners Association says his group isn’t anti-mine, but they’re wary of the KSM mine and at least four other proposed projects in B.C. that are upstream from Alaskan waters.

“They’re huge, probably some of the largest mines in North America, if they go forward and we just have a great deal of concern,” Lynch said. “We want input because we have multi-million dollar fisheries on the U.S. side.”

Lynch was part of a group of five Alaskans in Washington this week to ask for help from the State Department and the Congressional delegation. Lynch says they’re concerned B.C. regulators may not be able to keep up with the new pace of mining and that water quality and fish habitat may suffer. A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she plans to raise the issue with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment declined several requests for an interview this week, saying it had no one available. But in an email, the ministry said an environmental assessment of KSM is underway and a decision is expected mid-year. The Ministry says U.S. and Alaska state officials have participated in a technical working group that provides comments for that assessment.

Dale Kelley, a Craig fisherman, came to Washington on behalf of the Alaska Trollers  Association. She says they haven’t been very involved in the Canadian process and have no particular reason to think they’d be rebuffed.

“But they don’t really have to listen to us,” she said. “So I think it would be nice to have a mechanism between the countries where, whether it’s our state or our federal government, can actually weigh in and have some authority for ensuring our interests are protected on the downstream side.”

The two countries have an International Joint Commission to work out boundary water issues. Lynch says as he understands it, the commission can’t help until a threat occurs, and by then it’s too late.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Days To Enroll In Health Insurance

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:36

Enroll Alaska Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says her staff have been working 12 hour days to accommodate people trying to enroll. They will be working through the weekend to help people get signed up. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The deadline to enroll for health insurance is March 31. If you’re still uninsured after that, you’ll likely not be able to enroll until November. And you’ll also have to pay a tax penalty.

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With only four days left, nationwide enrollments have increased. More than 6 million Americans have gotten health insurance under the Affordable Care Act as of Thursday. To maintain the momentum, the Obama administration is reaching out to as many people as possible.

Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Obama. Besides traveling to cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix to talk about the Affordable Care Act, she’s also been given a list of 10 states to call. She says others in the administration have been given similar lists.

“We don’t want to wake up on April 1 and say, ‘Somebody didn’t sign up because they hadn’t heard about this opportunity,’” Jarrett says.

The Obama administration wants to make sure that if you try to enroll for health care by March 31, you will get it, even if you haven’t quite finished the application process.

“This is going to be on the honor system. People who just verify that they began the process, but they haven’t had a chance to finish it yet, will be given a reasonable period of time to complete it. We don’t want to cut people off who are starting the process, particularly because we’ve seen a great increase in the traffic on our website just in the last couple of days,” Jarrett says.

According to Jarrett, 1.5 million people were on the healthcare.gov website on Wednesday. Even with the high traffic, Jarrett says the website is holding up really well, “but as more and more people are on the website, it’s possible that you could have to wait for a bit.”

Within Alaska, enrollment activity has also increased.

With the March 31 deadline just days away, Juneau’s United Way Navigator Crystal Bourland is the busiest she’s been since enrollment started in October.

“I think I’ve enrolled over 20 people at this point just in the last week,” she says.

United Way navigators in Alaska have assisted with more than 500 enrollments. Bourland says the people she’s been helping recently aren’t all procrastinators.

“Some people have just gotten lost in the website and some of the features of the website, or they’re trying to send in supporting documents or people that forgot their passwords two months ago and now are trying to get back in. That’s a big one,” Bourland says.

At Enroll Alaska, chief operating officer Tyann Boling says staff and agents have been working 12-13 hour days and they’ll be working through the weekend.

“But the appointments are filling up very quickly so people need to call us,” she says.

As of Monday, the health care broker enrolled over 1,900 people. Boling thinks another 200 or more have been enrolled just this week.

The deadline to enroll for health insurance is 8 p.m. Monday. Boling says Enroll Alaska agents will still be available after that for people who may experience a life-changing event.

“Say if they lost a job or they lose coverage or they have a child or they get married – any of these life changing events creates a special enrollment people where they can enroll,” Boling says.

And Enroll Alaska plans to work hard this summer thinking of new ways to reach out to the uninsured for the next open enrollment period in November.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Author Reflects On ‘64 Quake

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:35

The 1964 earthquake caused immediate devastation in many communities in Southcentral Alaska. In Seldovia, on Kachemak Bay, the story was different. The town didn’t initially notice much damage from the disaster. But that changed when the spring high tides came in.

Author Dana Stabenow was celebrating her 12th birthday with friends in Seldovia on March 27th, 1964. She told KBBI’s Aaron Selbig she was focused on opening her presents when the house started moving back and forth in a slow steady motion.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Disaster Response

Fri, 2014-03-28 17:34

A training participant checks the water flow at Hagevig Fire Training Center before putting out a controlled fire. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The first responders in any disaster like the Good Friday Earthquake will likely be the firefighters and emergency medical technicians. But even the routine fire or medical call can be physically taxing and rely on months, perhaps even years of training.

Capital City Fire and Rescue and the International Firefighters Association recently held a unique event in Juneau designed to demonstrate the rigors of the job to those unfamiliar with their routine.

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KTOO reporter Matt Miller learns how to operate a fire hose from his “shadow” firefighter Erik Goldsberry at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

It was a golden opportunity for me as I got to play firefighter for a whole day.

Many little boys and girls dream of becoming a firefighter, and this is the first chance I’ve had to dress up as a fireman since running home to see afterschool reruns of Squad 51’s Gage and DeSoto.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Captain John Krebsbach says their day-long experience is designed to show local policy makers and the media how to operate an effective fire department in any community.

“The purpose is to demonstrate the need for more staffing. That’s the whole gist,” Krebsbach said.  “There’s three main points that were trying to get out of this whole thing. That our jobs are time sensitive, labor intensive, and very technical.”

I’m at the Hagevig Fire Training Center in Juneau along with other invited participants.

Firefighter Joe Mishler helps place on Juneau Assembly member Kate Troll’s oxygen mask at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

I get to wear or use all the usual firefighters tools : the bunker or turnout gear, boots, helmet, Nomex fire resistant hood, and the SCBA or self-contained breathing apparatus. Those are the air packs used by firefighters when they enter a smoke-filled structure.

“Suck in, there you go!” advises CCF&R firefighter Erik Goldsberry as he helps me fit my mask and activate my SCBA. Goldsberry is my shadow:  my partner, instructor, and guardian angel all rolled into one.

I’m now wearing another 60 pounds.

I’ve already climbed a truck ladder, operated a hose for defensive fire operations, used a chainsaw to ventilate a roof, and entered smoke filled rooms to douse fires or find victims. But it is this next exercise that is the most revealing.

Juneau Empire reporter Emily Russo Miller performs chest compressions on a dummy during a CPR training exercise at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

“So, Matt? I need you to start doing CPR on this guy,” says EMT Travis Larsen, coordinator of the medical call scenario.

Something is wrong with the victim. We don’t know anything about underlying health issues yet, but his heart has stopped. We need to get it pumping again before we can get him into an ambulance for the trip to the hospital.

“Like this, Matt,” says Goldsberry as he shows me the proper hand placement and technique for CPR.

Goldsberry and I are helping with initial care.  He paces out a rhythm for me.

“It’s like this. One, and 2, and 3…”

City Assembly member Kate Troll assists a dummy during a CPR training at the Hagevig Fire Training Center with Joe Mishler. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

We’re not alone. Also responding in this scenario is a CBJ Assemblymember, a city employee, and a newspaper reporter and their shadows.

“You’re too slow, Matt,” Goldsberry says.

EMT Travis Larsen directs us to rotate positions, working with the heart monitor, administering medications, respirating the patient, and doing chest compressions.

“Going to charge it. Keep doing compressions,” Larsen calls out as the whine of a defibrilator rises higher and higher in tone. “

It’s my turn with the compressions.

“Keep going,” Goldsberry advises.

Participants rush the dummy into the ambulance as if it were a real patient at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The victim is really a mechanical training dummy that provides feedback to the portable heart monitors.

“Everyone’s clear?!” asks Larsen.


“Shock delivered. Back on CPR!” orders Larsen.

But I’m not going deep enough, I’ve lost count, and I have absolutely no rhythm.

“…19, 20, 21, 22, 23…” counts Goldsberry.

“He’s tired,” says Goldsberry when Larsen asks about the how many cycles have been completed.

The patient is eventually stabilized and we put him on a backboard to carry him out of the second-floor room.

“Lift with your feet,” advises Goldsberry.

Participants load the dummy into the ambulance where they will perform CPR on the patient while the vehicle is in motion. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

At 185 pounds, this patient may not be that heavy. But, still, it’s no wonder that firefighters frequently get injured on the job. Goldsberry says back injuries are at the top of the list.

“Imagine if this is a 350 pound man and how much harder that it’s going to be,” Larsen says. “Or, if he was in a bathroom?”

I get to step backward down the stairs, holding my end of backboard as high as I can.

“Hold him high, Matt!” Goldsberry says.

“You’re going to want to go higher and higher,” advises Joe Mishler, another firefighter shadow.

At the bottom of the stairs, we put the backboard on a gurney, wheel it out the door, and into the ambulance for the trip to the hospital.

Training begins at Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2013. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

This is why you usually see a fire engine following an ambulance to a medical call in Juneau. CCF&R officials say the number of EMTs and firefighters is only half what they need for the various apparatus and vehicles. The captain and engineer may be the only ones at the scene of the fire until other crews arrive or volunteers are summoned. And ambulance crews? It’s now very clear why two EMTs are not enough.

On the way to the hospital, Larsen communicates with the hospital while us four students in the ambulance bumble and fumble with administering medications and air, or continuing compressions.

“Boom, boom, boom” jokes Larsen as he half-sings out a rhythm. “Dun, dun, dun… Staying Alive! Staying Alive!”

I’m back at it, standing up while pumping away.

KTOO reporter Matt Miller climbs the ladder during the morning training at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

The ambulance driver lets us know about potholes and most turns.

“Left turn!”

“Left turn, alright” repeats Larsen.

But a sharp turn and I lose my balance, nearly falling completely on top of the patient.

Finally, we arrive at the virtual hospital and get the patient inside.

“You guys have any questions about anything in general?” asks Larsen.

“Is he still alive?” I ask, half-joking.

Participants learned how to cut a ventilation hole in a roof using a chainsaw during the training. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Condition of the patient may be a little unclear, but I know for sure that I just got my butt kicked.

I’m all hot, sweaty and exhausted. What I don’t know now is that I’ll be stiff and aching all over tomorrow.

Captain John Krebsbach says participants of earlier exercises in the Lower 48 had similar reactions.

“They’re usually eye opening,” Krebsback says. “They didn’t realize how involved the job actually is. It is a hard job. It’s physically demanding.”

So much for my childhood fantasy. Playing firefighter was a serious reality check. This is not a job anyone can just walk into. I just experienced – in a matter of hours  – a taste of what the normal, entry-level firefighter goes through in a full year of training.

Categories: Alaska News

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