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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: 12 min 45 sec ago

Education Department funding for Mt. Edgecumbe preserved

Wed, 2015-05-06 17:39

With education a hot button issue in the ongoing budget debate, one school in Sitka is definitely safe this fiscal year. The state-run Mt. Edgecumbe High School will continue to receive $4.6 million from the Department of Education and Early Development (EED). That money goes directly towards boarding over 400 students from around the state.

Listen now:

Mt. Edgecumbe students perform during Elizabeth Peratrovich Day (2-16-15). $4.6 million in funding for the boarding school from the Department of Education and Early Development (EED) will continue next fiscal year.

 

Dionne Brady is a Mt. Edgecumbe alumna. Class of 1991. Back in February, when the House Finance Subcommittee was talking about what cuts could be made to education, she was surprised that Mt. Edgecumbe came up. The conversation, led by Representative Lynn Gattis of Wasilla, asked how much the school cost the state. But as Brady put it, the underlying question for many teachers and students was “whether or not Mt. Edgecumbe is even needed anymore, at all.”

Brady is a social studies teacher and she said her first reaction was denial. “Even as a government teacher who should have been more aware of the possibility that state revenue that’s so dependent on oil would decrease, that this school might not exist forever never occurred to me. I’ll confess that my second – because it’s like a second home to me – my second reaction was anger.

Brady took to the Friends of Mt. Edgecumbe Facebook page, which has almost 1000 followers. A network of alumni around the state began making phone calls, writing letters to legislators, and uploading photos of themselves with Braves sweatshirts and hats. Their colors are maroon and gold. Brady said it was a springboard point for lessons in her class, to “kind of show students how the government works and how the budget process works.”

“Underclassmen who definitely knew they wanted to continue their education at Mt. Edgecumbe were very worried at that time,” said Brady. “I think this just sort of validated what we’ve been telling them. That it’s not  not an inalienable right for Mt. Edgecumbe to exist. In fact, we  live in a fishbowl with people always trying to see whether Mt. Edgecumbe is doing the job it’s kept open in order to do.”

And according to the administration, what the school is trying to do is provide an educational alternative for students around the state, some in rural places with less opportunities. Ayla Reynolds is a new student I met at the beginning of the school year. She’s from Savoonga, an island in the Bering Sea.

“It’s a big world out there. There’s a lot of stuff to do than stay at home on an island,” said Reynolds. “It’s the same old routine every day on an island. I couldn’t envision how it was going to be [at Mt. Edgecumbe] because it’s a new adventure.”

Superintendent Bill Hutton said he’s relieved the funding will continue, but with one major hitch: it may not be enough this year to cover the rising cost of operating the boarding school. Contracts for dorms and food service, as well as personnel costs, are up.

“And with flat funding – flat sounds like it’s perfect, but really we have incremental increases in expenditures,” said Hutton. “We have to cut in order to be prepared for those.”

Also of major concern for Hutton is how much money the school receives from the legislature per student enrolled. The legislature proposed a cut of 1.1% to the foundation funding, which translates into $46,000 less for Mt. Edgecumbe. If that figure survives the special session, it will leave the school — and likely many others — with  a deficit.

“As of right now, we’re about $220,000 short for next year,” said Hutton. The school’s annual budget is $10 million, with 45% coming from the legislature, 45% from the EED, and 10% from grants.

To prepare, Hutton is planning to purchases a minimum of school supplies, reduce travel for student activities, reduce dual-credit programs with the University of Alaska Southeast, and keep two and a half open teaching positions empty.  But much is up in the air.

Hutton’s experience speaks to the odd situation many superintendents are finding themselves in as their await the final budget: to plan for a financial future with a foggy crystal ball.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Struggles to Contain Lagoon Sewage

Wed, 2015-05-06 17:38

One of Seward’s city-owned sewage lagoon is currently drained and non-functioning, according to a city schedule for maintenance. And that has caused a problem.

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On Tuesday, the Seward City News reported litter being washed up on a local beach at high tide. The trash consists of small bits of cardboard packaging, some plastic individual condiment containers and cigarette butts. The debris is thought to be coming from Spring Creek prison. Sewage headed for the unused lagoon is supposed to be collected and trucked away, but some of it is escaping a primary screening process, according to Seward city executive liaison Jackie Wilde.

“We assume the debris came from Spring Creek [prison] but it’s condiment packages that haven’t been used at the facility for some time, they are not biodegradable. During the sludge removal process they got stirred up and made it through the screens that were on the pump and made it out on a fallout line.”

The city organized a cleanup plan Tuesday and is currently taking measures to mitigate the problem.

“The city public works has four people on the beach cleaning right now along with six people that are at the lagoon itself cleaning, and Spring Creek has been actually been very cooperative and has people on their site also.”

Cleaning efforts can only take place at low tide.

The trash washed up on Fourth of July beach and some is caught on a fence around the sewage lagoon. The Spring Creek Prison has a sewage outlet pipe near the beach. Sherrie Daigle, spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, says minimum security inmates are helping with the cleanup.

Russ Maddox is a Seward resident who is active in environmental matters. Maddox says he was alerted to the mess Tuesday.

“Apparantly somehow they over flowed or some sewage or wastewater passed through without being filtered out and unfortunately it covered the beach right there. And so we went back out this morning hoping the city would be cleaning it up and sure enough they were there starting a cleanup and we checked it out. It was low tide so we could see it was all spread out through the intertidal zone, and there is a tidal pool right at the mouth of Spring Creek and the bottom of it is littered with this debris under waters. “]

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been notified and is sending a site inspection team.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wed, 2015-05-06 17:33

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

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Sen. Sullivan Lashes Out Against ANWR Management

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The head of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service this morning appeared before a U.S. Senate committee to defend his budget. Sen. Dan Sullivan took the occasion to question him about the management of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Berkowitz Nabs Mayoral Victory After High Voter Turnout

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage voters elected Ethan Berkowitz by a wide margin yesterday to be the city’s next mayor. The runoff consisted of two candidates from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Gov. Walker Establishes Pot Board

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has signed a bill establishing a board to regulate the marijuana industry.

Program Provides Housing, Life Skills To Help Youth Succeed

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Research shows kids who age out of foster care are less likely to finish high school, find jobs, or go to college. But one organization in Anchorage is trying to change the outcome for former foster kids and other young adults who need to learn the skills to live independently.

Education Department Funding for Mt. Edgecumbe Preserved

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

With education a hot button issue in the ongoing budget debate, one school in Sitka is definitely safe this fiscal year. The state-run Mt. Edgecumbe High School will continue to receive $4.6 million from the Department of Education and Early Development. That money goes directly towards boarding over 400 students from around the state.

Seward Struggles to Contain Lagoon Sewage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

With education a hot button issue in the ongoing budget debate, one school in Sitka is definitely safe this fiscal year. The state-run Mt. Edgecumbe High School will continue to receive $4.6 million from the Department of Education and Early Development. That money goes directly towards boarding over 400 students from around the state.

Tidal Echoes: Capturing Southeast Culture in Print

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The latest edition of the University of Alaska Southeast literary journal Tidal Echoes was recently released. It takes a year to curate all of the work that goes into the book, which showcases poets, fiction writers, and artists. There’s only one requirement for submission: you have to be a full-time resident of Southeast.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan Lashes Out At Refuge Management He Calls Illegal

Wed, 2015-05-06 16:44

Pond on ANWR coastal plain. (Photo: USFWS)

In Congress, they call it “questioning witnesses” but it can sound a lot like verbal pummeling, as it did when Sullivan had his few minutes.

“How can the president of the United States, a couple of months ago, say he’s going to submit a bill to make the 1002 area wilderness — which is fine. He has a right to do that. It’s got to be approved here (in Congress). It won’t go anywhere. – but then in the meantime say I’m going to quote ‘manage the 1002 area for wilderness anyways.’?” Sullivan asked Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “That’s what he said. On Air Force 1! To big fanfare!”

(President Obama’s video statement from Air Force 1 in January doesn’t use those words, but he talked about “designating” the coastal plain for “preservation.”)

Sullivan’s question includes an assertion has been making since January, after President Obama announced he was going to ask Congress to designate new wilderness areas in the Arctic Refuge. Sullivan alleges the Obama administration also changed how the area would be managed in the meantime. Sullivan says the coastal plain of the refuge – known as the 1002 area –  is being managed as wilderness, the category of highest protection, that only Congress can grant. For Sullivan, it’s another case of the president overstepping his authority.

“How can he manage the 1002 area for wilderness, when you don’t have the authority to do that? Can you explain that to me? This is a huge issue for my state,” Sullivan said, gaining energy as he continued. “And I think you’re violating the law. I think the president is violating the law. How do you do that?”

Ashe at times attempted to answer a few times but the questions kept coming. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., interrupted Sullivan to object to the inquiry style, but Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., overruled her and gave Sullivan more time.

The Fish and Wildlife Service insists it hasn’t changed its management on the coastal plain of the Refuge, an area within the South Carolina-sized federal property, in the upper right corner of the state, that Alaskan political leaders have been trying to open to oil and gas exploration for decades.

“It’s managed in an administration zoning category that we call ‘minimal management,” says Brian Glaspell, the manager of the Arctic Refuge. He says the zoning regime has remained the same since 1988.

“The wilderness recommendations of the Arctic Refuge don’t change how we currently manage any of the recommended areas, including the coastal plain,” he said.

As for how “minimal management” differs from wilderness management, Glaspell acknowledges the disparities are administrative, with little difference on the ground. For example: imagine scientists want to put a weather monitoring station in a refuge. If it’s a designated wilderness area, Glaspell says they have to go through a specific analysis to determine if the weather station is necessary for proper management of the area.

“It’s a fairly onerous process to go through that analysis and documentation,” he said. “In minimal management, though we similarly strive to maintain the natural conditions of the area, there is no requirement to conduct that kind of analysis.”

Sullivan’s spokesman says the service speaks out of both sides of its mouth. He points out that at the hearing, the director of the agency said they manage the 1002 area “to protect wilderness value.”

Also at the hearing, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, raised an issue sure to jerk some chains in Alaska. He sponsored a bill that would ban leg-hold traps and other body-gripping traps from all National Wildlife Refuges. Booker brought big photos mounted on poster board to the hearing.

“Last month in Missouri on public land, a mountain lion .. paw was found torn in one of these traps. They found nothing but the torn paw of a mountain lion,” he said.

Booker also showed a photo of a dead beagle in a trap. He says her named was Bella.

Trapping is allowed in all 16 of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges. Proposals to ban them surface frequently in Congress.

Four decades ago, Alaska Congressman Don Young famously stuck his hand in a leg-hold trap at a hearing, in an attempt to demonstrate that they aren’t inhumane. 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Program providing housing, life skills helps youth succeed

Wed, 2015-05-06 16:05

The L.I.F.E. apartment building. Photo courtesy of Shiloh Community Housing, Inc.

 

Research shows that kids who age out of the foster care system are less likely to finish high school, find jobs, or go to college. But one organization in Anchorage is trying to change the outcome for former foster kids and other young adults who need to learn the skills to live independently.

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Twenty-two-year-old Luke Guthrie shows off the sparsely furnished kitchen of the small two-bedroom apartment he shares with a roommate.

“This is my cabinet,” he says, pulling open the aged wooden door to reveal a stack of ramen noodles and other easy-to-prepare foods. “We both have one side, each of us. That’s my cabinet. That’s Jesse’s. This is our shared table.”

His fluffy, blazing orange ponytail flows behind him as he heads to the stove to put on a kettle for tea, eager to be polite and welcoming.

“Do you guys, like coordinate? Someone’s duty to dishes on one day…?” I ask, glancing around the tidy kitchen.

“Yeah, we have a rotation chart actually. That the program provides.” Guthrie pulls out a sheet of paper the outlines each of the duties.

Guthrie is part of the Living Independent ForEver program at Shiloh Community Housing in Anchorage. The program provides low-rent housing for young adults while also teaching them life skills, like learning to live with other people.

Guthrie says it was hard at first because he never saw his roommate.

“But one night he just came out and said ‘Hey man, wanna watch a movie?’ I was going ‘Alright.’ Apparently he had a movie I wanted to watch. I can’t remember what it was. It was about robots. Fighting or something else.” He shrugs.

Guthrie grew up in Ketchikan but moved to Anchorage to go to job training. When he finished, he didn’t want to go back to the drama of his family life. But he was young and shy and didn’t really have the skills to live on his own.

Shiloh Community Housing Executive Director Verna Gibson says many kids end up in the same situation. They come from rough homes or age out of foster care and have nowhere to go. They often don’t know what is and isn’t acceptable as responsible tenants.

“Nobody wants to rent to them. They’re not good renters. They don’t know all of the rules. They turn their music up too high; they throw trash on the ground.”

Gibson says many of her former foster kids had the same problem and they needed help transitioning into adulthood. So she worked with Shiloh Baptist Church to create the L.I.F.E. program back in 2008. They don’t provide anything for free. To live in the 8-plex apartment complex, the 14 young people have to start applying for jobs from day one.

“The Bible says if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” Gibson explains. He office is dotted with religious references though the program does not have any religious requirements. “They needed to understand that they needed to work to provide for themselves. But they needed the opportunity to be put in a position to increase their skills, get their GED or diploma, and do that in a safe, affordable environment.”

The residents also learn about financial literacy, hygiene, interviewing for jobs, and showing up to work on time.

L.I.F.E. graduate Jessica Steve says the program gave her a safe environment to make mistakes and learn from them. She was fired from a job because she chose to stop showing up.

“I knew the policy. I knew what I was doing. So I took responsibility for my actions. That’s another thing that Shiloh has taught me. To take responsibility for myself.”

Now, she’s starting a new job with a decent wage and knows she needs to be responsible.

Back at Luke Guthrie’s apartment, he comfortably settles into the old used couch in his living room with his cup of tea and smiles at Steve and another resident. The young adults interview each other to make sure they’re a good fit before joining the program.

“This program is like family. You gotta live like a family. Help each other,” Guthrie says.

Each week the entire group meets together to discuss their issues and their successes. He says this new, supportive family has changed his outlook on life.

“I feel more confident. More inspired. More outgoing. Before, I’m not going to lie, before, at work, as a janitor at the 5th Avenue Mall. Before, if I saw a homeless guy, I’d try to avoid him and stuff. But now, man, I just walk up, and buy him a meal if he’s hungry. I just feel like a nicer person.”

He’ll take those strengths and the skills he learned as an electrical apprentice to his new job as well. After acing the application test and the interview, he’ll begin as lead electrician for a cruise line railroad this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor signs SLAM bill for Kashevaroff, Foster

Wed, 2015-05-06 11:20

Gov. Bill Walker signs the bill Tuesday morning as Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford, Rep. Sam Kito III and Sen. Dennis Egan look on. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill this morning officially naming the new State Libraries, Archives and Museum Building after Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff. The signing took place in the historical library in Juneau’s State Office Building.

Of Russian and Native heritage, Father Kashevaroff was the first librarian and curator of the Alaska Historical Museum and Library when it relocated to Juneau in 1919.

Bob Banghart is deputy director of the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums.

“He was charged with the task of getting it on its feet and going forward with it, and if you look at the diagrams of the old facility, it would almost appear to be a cabin of curiosities. He was pulling in material from all over,” Banghart says. “But you read his writings and he was deeply engaged in social issue, the studying of cultures.”

Kashevaroff acquired thousands of objects for the museum. He held the position for 20 years until his death in 1940. Kashevaroff was also the Russian Orthodox priest of Juneau’s St. Nicholas Church.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan’s bill naming the SLAM building also honors former Rep. Richard Foster from Nome. A reading room upstairs in the facility will be named after him.

“Richard was in the archives all the time. If he was missing on the House floor, they’d have a page go down to archives and there would be Richard,” Egan says.

The Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum Building is being built in downtown Juneau. It’s scheduled to open to the public next May. Kashevaroff’s portrait will be on the Founders Wall located off to the right as you enter the facility.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ninilchik Community Library Hires New Director

Wed, 2015-05-06 11:17

The Ninilchik Community Library is a small building with a single room divided into sections packed full of kids’ books, Alaskana, science and history.

“I think that every child should have the opportunity to find out what a glorious thing a book can be and what a wide world is out there,” says Victoria Steik.

She lived in Ninilchik for about 20 years and that was about 15 years ago. She wanted to move back but needed to find the perfect job. And she did as the new library director. She says it’s a wonderful feeling to help bring the rest of the world to her community through books.

Victoria Steik in the Ninilchik Community Library. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI)

“Living in a village this small and this remote – I mean it doesn’t seem remote to us, but relatively speaking we are remote – and those children may not have the opportunity to go to Boston and see where Paul Revere rode or go to California and learn about the gold rush. But all the books we have can take them there,” says Steik.

And there are a lot of books- so many, in fact, that finding the space to house them is an issue. But it’s a good problem to have says Steik. The library is always looking for new and interesting volumes to add to its collection. For that, like most things here, they rely on the generosity of community members. The library has purchased about half the books it has. The rest were donated.

“Our budget is very small, painfully small. In fact, I’m not totally sure, but I know it’s less than $25,000,” says Steik. “The difficulty that we have is our funding. We have no municipality, we don’t have a city, to help us with our expenses. So, it’s truly a community library. We are having fundraisers all the time and doing things to try to supplement the very small grant we get from the state.”

But the village have stepped up to support them, says Jeff Smith, president of the library board.

“The gas hookup that we just had last year, that was done with volunteer effort and that was very nice. We have our garbage taken out by volunteers. Most of our computer work is done by volunteers,” says Smith. “Of course, the board is all volunteer effort is volunteer effort too and several of the board members volunteer time at the library to keep it open.”

As the years pass and technology and information sharing evolves, Smith says the library has tried to stay relevant by diversifying what it offers.

“We have some GED testing, we have some meetings that go on here. We would really like to expand to have our book club coming back,” says Smith. “And of course in the summer time, when you have a lot of older tourists here, this is a place that they come to access the internet.”

Steik says for permanent residents, it’s the entertainment hub for the town. There’s no dedicated movie theater and many residents don’t have access high speed internet or television.

“And in order to get TV, you almost have to have cable,” says Steik. “And we’re kind of a low-income community so a lot of people come here for videos. As a consequence of coming into the library to get videos, they’ve  discovered all the wonderful books we have. So, there’s a lot more reading going on in our town because we have a lot of people who use that as entertainment.”

She says as library director, she wants to make sure the library stays attractive for younger generations. She plans to build up the collection of teen and young adult literature as well as add graphic novels and perhaps even graphic art books that students can come in and use.

She also wants to offer more storytime and activities for young children, especially in the summer when the preschool is closed and school is out of session.

But while looking to the future, she says it also does its best to remember the past. She takes pride in its large collection of old Alaskana, calling it the jewel of the library.

“In addition to a lot of the things that have been donated to us by residents who have been here for 40 or 50 [years], and of course, our native residents have been here forever, so there are a lot of cool artifacts and photographs of our community. Our community is very old and we have a lot of that history here in the library,” says Steik.

And that’s what makes libraries like these so special, says Steik. They’re more than just buildings for books. They’re special spaces made by the community, for the community, to learn and explore the whole world.

Categories: Alaska News

Black bears removed from Anchorage neighborhood move to Hope

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:29

A family of black bears that used to frequent an Anchorage neighborhood and were relocated last week have found their way back to civilization, this time in a small town on Turnagain Arm.

Alaska Dispatch News reports the sow and four cubs traveled east from the Chickaloon Flats area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where they were released to Hope.

The bears gained attention for rummaging through Government Hill trash cans. Ken Marsh with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said they had not seen evidence that the bears had gotten into any cans in Hope. They moved out of the town within hours of the sighting.

Marsh says Fish and Game received reports Saturday that new black bears were in the Government Hill neighborhood of Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Floatplane capsizes in Ketchikan; all evacuated safely

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:28

A commercial floatplane with a pilot and four passengers capsized in Ketchikan but all escaped without harm.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports the Alaska Seaplane Tours floatplane was returning from a tour late Monday morning and struck something as it landed in Tongass Narrows.

The Coast Guard says one float was punctured and it took on water.

Ketchikan Police Department Sgt. Andy Berntson says the float was sinking as the plane tried to taxi to a dock.

A skiff helped the floatplane to reach the dock. Officials were not sure if passengers climbed into the skiff or directly onto the dock.

Berntson says the airplane started to sink from the back end and capsized.

Categories: Alaska News

Teen pleads guilty to local cyclist’s hit-and-run death

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:24

An Anchorage teen is facing a three-year sentence instead of the decade possible in exchange for pleading guilty to driving under the influence last summer and killing popular local cyclist Jeff Dusenbury.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports the defense and prosecutors said in court that they agreed to a possible three-year sentence for 17-year-old Alexandra Ellis, with two years suspended.

The court will sentence Ellis in August for backing over Dusenbury, a husband and father of one, on July 19. Officers found Ellis at her home less than half a mile away with blood alcohol content above the legal limit.

Prosecutors dropped the charge of leaving the scene of an accident in exchange for Ellis’s plea.

Dusenbury’s family and friends were in court Monday, and are planning a memorial ride for this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Continue Working on Nikolaevsk Fire, Now Contained

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:23

The fire started just before 4 p.m. Monday in the Jim Howard Road area near Nikolaevsk. Anchor Point Assistant Fire Chief Doug Loshbough says the wildfire grew to about five acres before it was contained.

“It started in high grass, it appeared, and quickly ran into the woods,” says Loshbough. “And as it was going through the woods, it burned a lot of the brush on the ground and occasionally torched a tree. It was an area where it was mixed high grass and spruce trees, so there was a lot of fire going through the grass and a little bit going through the understory of the forest and occasional trees torching.”

Crews, tankers, and support vehicles responded from nearby stations in Nikolaevsk and Anchor Point. They were aided by Kachemak Emergency Services and the Division of Forestry, which brought in an air tanker, helicopter, and spotter plane.

“And because there are houses in the area, it was a pretty significant fire,” says Loshbough. “We were worried about containing it before it was able to reach a house.”

There have been no reports of structural damage or injuries. But the fire was substantial enough to warrant support from the Mat-Su.

Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry says the Gannett Glacier Type 11 Initial Attack Crew from Palmer came to provide relief and help clear hotspots.

“They’ve gone through a thousand gallons of water I think on one pile that was specifically sort of a problem area,” says Mowry. “They’re just starting the gridding process now, which is where they’re going to walk the entire fire, feeling and checking for hotspots, with their bare hands, making sure there are no hotspots left that are going to reignite.”

Mowry says the dry, warm conditions on the Kenai this winter and spring have allowed a lot of dead brush to build up, which is easy fuel for a hot and quickly-spreading fire.

“That fire spread into some hardwood, spruce and birch that were starting to burn, and when hardwoods are burning, that’s a sign that it’s really dry,” says Mowry.

This week has seen overcast skies with light rain on the southern peninsula. Loshbough says the conditions helped keep the fire from getting too big too fast. He says this time, crews got lucky.

“People should be aware that tall grass right now, if the sun comes out for a few hours, it can dry out really quickly and it’s pretty easy to get a spark in there and set it going and fire moves pretty quickly through tall grass. Once it’s off and running, it’s hard to slow down,” says Loshbough.

The fire is currently under investigation. The Division of Forestry says an unattended burn pile was responsible. A fire prevention officer is on scene and will be contacting the residence to find out more information.

They remind all residents to practice fire safety, clear dry brush around houses and on private property, and always take precautions before burning.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Aerial Media flies state’s first commercial drones

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:17

Drones are flying commercially for the first time in Alaska after with the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent approval.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports Alaska Aerial Media is joining about 150 other companies to gain FAA approval in April.

Commercial drones were prohibited under federal law until reforms were passed in 2012.

Founder Ryan Marlow says drones can make an impact on education, public safety and recreation.

Categories: Alaska News

Berkowitz wins Anchorage Mayoral Race

Tue, 2015-05-05 22:44

Former state legislator Ethan Berkowitz won the Anchorage mayoral runoff with 59 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. Assembly member Amy Demboski officially conceded the race around 10 pm.

Check back soon for more updates.

Categories: Alaska News

Berkowitz Holds Early Lead in Mayor’s Race

Tue, 2015-05-05 21:19

With Election Central in downtown Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center beginning to fill with members of the media and local politicos, early results show a sizable lead for mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz over rival Amy Demboski.

With 48.4% of precinct’s reporting so far, Berkowitz has about 63% to Demboski’s 37%.

The runoff election is the result of no one candidate reaching the 45% of votes necessary to win outright in the April election.

Early voting reached record numbers ahead of polls opening today, though officials caution that is not necessarily an indicator of higher overall turnout. April’s election saw the lowest returns of any recent mayor’s race at just under 28%.

Check back for results throughout the night.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tue, 2015-05-05 18:11

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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Ice Retreat Linked to Low Pollock Numbers

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The mass of pollock in the Bering Sea plunged from 2002 through 2005, and NOAA fisheries scientist Ed Farley has research suggesting a reason for the drop.

Return of the Blob

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Climate researchers say a giant mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean may be responsible for unusual sightings of marine life in the North Pacific while also influencing North American weather patterns.

Budget Cuts Means Less Lawyers, Trying Fewer Cases

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Cuts to positions within the Department of Law could change the type of cases the state chooses to pursue in rural districts.

B.C. Promises Alaska A Larger Voice in Mine Permitting

Ed Schoenfeld – CoastAlaska

British Columbia’s top mining official says Alaska will soon have more input into the transboundary mine permitting process. That news came Tuesday after a meeting with Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Grizzly License Plates Ready For Issue

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Starting on Thursday, Alaskans will be able to get license plates with bears on them.

Kick the Bucket: The Future of Rural Sanitation in Alaska

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Over the past four days, we have brought you stories that go out into the field for an in-depth look at Alaska’s rural sanitation situation – a series we call “Kick the Bucket.”  We have seen how the lack of modern sanitation is linked to disease as people strain the limits of their clean water supply. And we have looked at the implications of decreasing funding and looming maintenance expenses in villages with a limited cash economy. Today we’ll wrap up the series by trying to look into the future.

Body Recovered Believed to be Akiak Woman

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Troopers say the body thought to be an Akiak woman who died last year when a four-wheeler went into an open hole on the Kuskokwim River near Kwethluk has been recovered.

Record Cruise Ship Season Forecast for Unalaska

Annie Ropiek, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska will get a big population boost this weekend, with the first cruise ship of what’s shaping up to be a busy summer.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts Mean Less Lawyers, Trying Fewer Cases

Tue, 2015-05-05 17:28

In a May 4th email, Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny told staff reductions will be in place by May 29th.

The Department of Law is cutting positions that will change the type of cases the state pursues in rural districts.

Department employees were told in a May 4th email that 15 positions will be eliminated as part of an effort to close a 6% budget gap. The cuts take effect on May 29th.

Last year the Department cut four positions from larger offices, and taken together Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny said the cuts are spread equitably across the state. The effects, however, are more evident in rural hub communities.

“In Dillingham, in Kotzebue, in Barrow,” Svobodny said, “we will have gone from four people in the offices to two in the offices.”

Other communities losing either attorneys, para-legals, or support positions are Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka, as well as the Office of Special Prosecutions in Anchorage.

94% of the Department’s budget is for fixed costs like personnel and leases, with the rest going to discretionary necessities like travel related to cases. With less staff, prosecutors will have to be even more selective on what kinds of cases they pursue.

“We are not going have as much time to spend on each case,” Svobodny said. “Some of the less serious, non-personal crimes are going to get less attention than they did in the past.”

The Department’s budget was built on state revenues forecasting oil at more than $100 a barrel, according to Svobodny, who anticipates more cost reductions in the years ahead.

Critics of the state and federal government’s role in rural Alaska say there is already a “law gap,” with too few law enforcement officials based in hubs tasked with responding to incidents in smaller communities.

The reductions will ensure the Department is only pursuing serious charges, and cutting out cases where there are civil alternatives to criminal proceedings. They are also examining sharing space with sister agencies like the State Troopers in the future.

Six of the eliminated positions will come through attrition.

Categories: Alaska News

Grizzly License Plates Ready For Issue

Tue, 2015-05-05 16:26

(Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles)

Starting Thursday, Alaskans will be able to get license plates with bears on them.

The Division of Motor Vehicles has brought back a 1976 license plate that was originally issued for the United States’ bicentennial. The updated plate features a grizzly reared up against a sunset backdrop.

Right now, the standard license plate in Alaska is solid yellow, with an Alaska flag in the center and the words “The Last Frontier” below. DMV Director Amy Erickson expects the bear plates to be a popular alternative.

“We’re anticipating that most people are going to select the bear over the ‘Last Frontier’ now,” says Erickson.

Erickson says she plans to keep her Last Frontier license plate. But retired legislator Peggy Wilson, who sponsored the bear plate bill last year, says she plans to change hers immediately. The Wrangell Republican says the grizzly design is a conversation starter, particularly for Alaskans roadtripping outside the state.

“When you are from Alaska, people just want to talk about Sarah Palin,” says Wilson. “And now, this is something else — the license plate, it gives them another conversation starter.”

Wilson says the original idea for the bear plate legislation came from a constituent, who once had the original version on his car. That constituent will be the first person to be issued the new plates.

Drivers seeking to swap their Last Frontier plates for the grizzly design can do so for $5.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Promises Alaska A Larger Voice in Mine Permitting

Tue, 2015-05-05 15:38

British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett proposes opening more of its permitting process to Alaska officials.

State government already has a chance to comment on environmental certificates needed for mines to open. Bennett says he’s willing to expand that opportunity.

“We would propose to have Alaska also have access into the second part of a development of a mine, which involves my ministry and the Mines Act here in British Columbia and the permitting for the actual construction of the mine and how water treatment is built,” he says.

The mines minister made that announcement after meeting with Alaska’s lieutenant governor.

Byron Mallott is in charge of a state working group looking into potential damage to Unuk, Stikine and Taku river fisheries if B.C. mines release toxic materials. Those rivers begin in the Canadian province and flow through Southeast Alaska before entering the Pacific Ocean.

Mallott says the state wants a larger voice in resource development and other projects along those rivers.

“Certainly, mines have the greatest chance of impacting water quality and the environment. But from Alaska’s public policy and sovereignty perspective it’s about what the water quality is that reaches our shores.”

Mallott says he’s encouraged with British Columbia’s commitment to including Alaska in a wider range of decisions.

Bennett planned to hold meetings in Southeast Alaska this spring to address environmental concerns. He never came and says he pushed those back until his agency had a chance to hear from Mallott.

He says those discussions addressed what he acknowledged to be “legitimate concerns.”

“I think we have the beginnings now, a good foundation if you will, to proceed with a discussion with Alaska on a memorandum of understand that will capture the obligations that B.C. is prepared and is committed to taking on, to meet the expectations of the Alaska government in terms of them understanding what is being proposed in B.C.”

And Alaska also having a hand in the assessment of these projects.

Bennett says his province has a similar arrangement with Montana. It covers the Flathead River, with headwaters in southeastern British Columbia.

“We have a memorandum of understanding that guides the relationship and there’s water testing done at the border as it crosses into Montana. We would visualize a similar process with Alaska,” Bennett says.

Mallott’s trip to the province includes meetings with mining industry and tribal representatives, including the B.C. Assembly of First Nations

He’ll also meet up with a delegation of Southeast Alaska fishing, tribal and environmental groups to tour the area around August’s Mount Polley Mine dam breach.

Critics of Canadian miners and government regulators say not enough is being done to keep such a disaster from happening again.

Jill Weitz, of the Juneau-based Salmon Beyond Borders campaign, is part of that group. She met with the Canadian consulate in Seattle before heading to B.C. She says she’s optimistic.

“They were interested in hearing what we’ve done as a campaign in bringing together different sectors of Southeast Alaska. And really wanting to engage with us and understand what we see as a solution,” Weitz says.

Like most other mine critics, Salmon Beyond Borders wants transboundary mining to go before a U.S.-Canada panel that addresses cross-border water conflicts.

Categories: Alaska News

Ice Retreat Linked to Low Pollock Numbers

Tue, 2015-05-05 15:01

The years 2002 through 2005 were bad for Bering Sea pollock. The biomass plunged during those years. In a presentation in Washington, D.C., a NOAA fisheries biologist said today ongoing research points to two suspects: ice and fat, in league with each other.

Ron Mitchell drops nets onto the deck of the F/V Seadawn during pollock season. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

NOAA biologist Ed Farley of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center says the low pollock years were warm, resulting little Bering Sea ice by May. The ice rebounded in 2007-2012, and so did the pollock.

“If we focus on that downward trend, that tended to occur during that early ice retreat period. That drop amounted to a 40 percent drop in available pollock catch, so that was a big issue. No one really understood why the pollock biomass was declining but it was impacting the fishery.”

Farley told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, that the key Arctic ingredient is fat. And it starts low on the food chain. Farley says when the ice retreats early in the spring, it benefits small zooplankton that are low in fat. The pollock have to eat a lot of them to become fat themselves. But late ice retreat favors big, fatty zooplankton that Farley says make for bigger, fatter pollock.

“If you’re a fish or a marine mammal you’re going to want to store as much fat as possible before winter so you have a better chance to survive,” Farley says.

If further research bears this out, it’s bad news, of course, for the $500 million pollock fishery in the Bering Sea. Not only is the climate warming over the long haul, but we may be in the midst of a short-term warming trend, too. Farley says this is an early ice retreat year that looks a lot like the bad pollock years of 2002 to 2005.

“It’s extremely warm in the sub-Arctic, southeastern Bering Sea. It was warm last year, so we’re seeing back to back years where it’s warm again. And last year we started to see a shift back to smaller zooplankton.”

There’s a lag in the effect on pollock. Last fall NOAA announced trawl survey results showed a big increase in pollock biomass.  Farley says it would take at least three successive warm years before he’d expect to see a decline in stock assessments.

Further north, in the Chukchi Sea, Farley says they’re finding a similar effect on two abundant fish in the food chain. Warm water turns out to be bad for Arctic cod but saffron cod thrive in it. Trouble is, the warm-loving cod have far less fat, so Farley says warm water means trouble for marine mammals.

“If you’re an ice seal, you’re going to have to eat 2.7 times more saffron cod to get the same amount of fat as you get out of one Arctic cod.”

By the end of the century, Farley says, the water temperatures are projected to be outside the Arctic cod’s comfort zone.

“It’s going to warm up to be about 10 to 13 degrees Celsius and that is a potential to be too warm for the Arctic cod, so they’re going be moving out of this region, or not make it.”

That would be bad for the ice seals, he says, and for the polar bears that hunt them.

Categories: Alaska News

Tidal Echoes: Capturing Southeast culture in print

Tue, 2015-05-05 14:45

The latest edition of the University of Alaska Southeast literary journal Tidal Echoes was recently released. It takes a year to curate all of the work that goes into the book, which showcases poets, fiction writers, and artists. There’s only one requirement for submission: you have to be a full-time resident of Southeast.

Emily Wall flips through 114 matte pages of the freshly published journal.

“That’s a photograph, that’s 3-D art made out of an egg carton,” she says.

Wall is faculty advisor for Tidal Echoes, now in its eighth year. The journal is edited by UAS students. It accepts work from all over Southeast Alaska, from Lemon Creek Correctional Center to Metlakatla. Wall says there are no themes. It’s more about creating a platform for local artists and writers.

“So I really like that for down south audiences, it’s a way to distinguish us as a region. This is a very particular and different aspect of the state,” Wall says.

There are other literary journals in Alaska. Some accept submissions from out-of-state, but none are regionally specific. In this edition of Tidal Echoes, the featured writer and artist are both from Juneau. The cover has Fumi Matsumoto’s artwork on it, a collection of used tea bags stamped with ravens.

Dancing Ravens by Fumi Matsumoto

“It’s a happy cover. You know what I mean? Someone said that, too. All the ravens look like they’re having a good time,” she says.

Matsumoto is a found artist who’s lived in Alaska for almost 30 years. You might look at an empty milk carton or the dying leaves of a house plant and see trash. Matsumoto thinks of something else.

“The image of a wolf popped out of the pile of leaves. It’s almost like a puzzle. Then looking for the right leaf to make the ear. That’s what I like to do, if I find something and you look at it for a while, a piece of driftwood or whatever, what kind of images come out when you’re staring at it,” Matsumoto says.

There was the time she noticed the glint of a pile of Mountain Dew cans.

“I don’t drink it. I just have the cans and I thought, ‘Wow the colors are really nice.’ You’ve got the greens and reds,” she says.

She realized the colorful aluminum looked like the feathers of her bird, Pogo.

“Very parrot like. So I just made parrots out of those,” she says.

Matsumoto is Japanese-American and uses different Eastern techniques in her art: origami, kirigami or paper-cutting. Also, sumi-e, which is ink brush painting. Some of her work is playful, like the Mountain Dew Parrots. Other pieces tell the story of her family history, like Minidoka Interlude.

“It’s a very subtle photo of a Japanese woman in a kimono and that’s my mom,” she says.

The photograph is encased in a square metal cage.

“There’s a gold button, barbed wire, and a scroll that has the name of some of the Japanese internees there,” Matsumoto says.

Minidoka refers to the Idaho internment camp that Japanese Americans were sent to during World War II. Matsumoto’s father and other relatives were sent to a different camp. At the time, the U.S. government feared another attack like Pearl Harbor. But little evidence was ever uncovered to support theories of espionage.

“It’s just that we looked like the enemy. You know? I don’t know if we hadn’t looked like Japanese people, I doubt we would have been rounded up and stuck in camps,” she says.

Matsumoto says she didn’t learn about her family’s past until she was older.

“That was the thing. Most Japanese Americans were basically wanting to put it behind them. It was very shameful to be accused of being a spy or un-loyal because they weren’t,” Matsumoto says.

Her father later left the internment camp for the U.S. Army and went on to be a highly decorated war hero. Matsumoto says she hopes making artwork like this will help create a dialogue.

“Then perhaps people will become aware and sensitive to what happened and that it won’t happen again,” she says.

You can see Fumi Matsumoto’s work in the latest edition of Tidal Echoes, along with other pieces from Southeast artists and writers.

Copies can be purchased at UAS or Hearthside Books.

Categories: Alaska News

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