Alaska News

Rescue Helicopter Blows Deflating Raft Ashore

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-23 09:52

The Air Force, Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers have worked together to rescue a man who found himself on a deflating raft in Cook Inlet near Anchorage.

The Coast Guard got a request for help Tuesday evening from troopers who reported the man was in trouble. That agency launched a helicopter crew from Kodiak.

Then the Air Force advised that it had both a plane and a Black Hawk helicopter about five minutes away.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Diana Honings says the Black Hawk crew used the helicopter’s rotor wash to push the man’s deflating raft to shore, where he was met by troopers. They flew him to a hospital for evaluation.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Still Working To Make Deal On Education Bill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:46

The Alaska State Legislature is still at an impasse over the Governor’s education bill.

A committee tasked with brokering a deal met for the first time today — about 36 hours after the Legislature blew past its deadline for gaveling out.

The “free conference” committee has the power to rewrite the education bill entirely, and it’s made up of three House representatives and three senators. The House named Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker, Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, and Juneau Democrat Sam Kito III as its representatives. The Senate sent Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer, Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy, and Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman.

The group spent the day trying to find places where they could agree. They debated whether students should be able to test out of pottery classes, and whether the state should change the rules on teacher tenure.

But as Committee Chair Mike Hawker laid out, the real question is education funding.

“Probably the largest sticking point between the Senate approach to this legislation and the House approach was the House’s desire to include some element of funding within the [base student allocation] and the Senate’s preference to not put that money in the BSA, but yet to make substantial commitments for the next three years outside of the BSA,” said Hawker, an Anchorage Republican.

When Hawker means by the “base student allocation” is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. That has sat at $5,680 for four years. The House version of the bill adds $185 per student to that formula, and they’ve budgeted about $225 million over three years for that increase along with $30 million in one-time funding for this year. The Senate included even more money — $330 million over three years — in their bill, but they left it outside of the formula.

Education advocates, the state’s biggest teacher’s union, and the Legislature’s Democratic minority have all pushed for putting the money in the BSA, because they believe it gives school districts more security in crafting their budgets. They also believe the proposed education funding boosts don’t go far enough to prevent layoffs, because it’s been years since the Legislature increased the BSA.

Legislative leadership has said whatever compromise they broker should include some money inside the BSA and some out of it.

But when that deal will be brokered is unknown. Committee Chair Mike Hawker said they want to take the time needed to rewrite the bill in a way that makes both chambers happy.

“This is not going to be something that we rush through,” said Hawker. “It will come together really as quickly as we can find consensus in the building over today, tomorrow, or throughout the coming week.”

While the Legislature has already gone two days over their statutory deadline, they can meet for 29 more days without running afoul of the Alaska Constitution.

Categories: Alaska News

BP Sells Some North Slope Assets To Hilcorp

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:21

BP announced Tuesday it’s selling some of its assets on the North Slope. The company will sell to aging oil fields – Endicott and Northstar – to Hilcorp, a company that is developing oil and gas wells in Cook Inlet. Hilcorp will also buy a 50 percent interest in two other fields- Milne Point and Liberty.

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Dawn Patience is a spokesperson for BP Alaska. She says the sale is an opportunity for Alaska to bring new partners to the North Slope.

“This is part of BP’s corporate wide view that we are good at managing and operating giant oilfields like Prudhoe Bay and we have a lot of interest in gas value change such as the Alaska LNG project,” Patience said.

Patience says BP is committed to increasing production under Governor Parnell’s oil tax reform, including adding two new rigs at Prudhoe Bay by 2016.

Hilcorp came to Alaska in 2012, and now operates 18 oil fields in Cook Inlet, after acquiring leases from Chevron and Marathon Oil. Lori Nelson manages external affairs for the company in Alaska. She says Hilcorp wasn’t necessarily looking to enter the North Slope.

“The acquisitions that we made in Cook Inlet were kind of a full plate,” Nelson said. ”But when opportunities like this come around, it’s not our timing, it’s the sellers and we were certainly open to that opportunity and here we go again.”

Nelson says the company plans to extend offers to the vast majority of the 250 BP employees associated with the oil fields Hilcorp is buying.

She says the North Slope is a completely different operating area than Cook Inlet, with a separate tax structure. But she says the company is excited by the opportunity.

“Long range we’re aiming to reduce operating costs and extend the field life,” Nelson said. “We certainly intend to increase capital investments in hopes of developing additional oil reserves from the Slope.”

Nelson says venturing on to the North Slope won’t detract from Hilcorp’s assets in Cook Inlet. Both BP and Hilcorp are hoping to close the deal by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval.

BP also announced today it will submit a new development plan for the Liberty field, which Hilcorp will own 50 percent of, by the end of 2014. The company suspended work on the offshore project two years ago because of financial and other concerns. The development is on a man-made gravel island four miles off Alaska’s shore.

Categories: Alaska News

Miller Kicks Off Campaign in Wasilla

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:20

Candidate Joe Miller, with family in front row.

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller kicked off his campaign last night in Wasilla before a few hundred supporters. Miller drew cheers as he hit on popular Tea Party themes, like abolishing the IRS and ending state surveillance. And he may be the only candidate in the race with a personalized country-western anthem.

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“When Alaska needs anything done they say, ‘get Joe to do it. Joe Miller’s the one,’” says the song, written by a fan Miller met in Kansas.

The kick-off included music videos, two live singers and conservative talk show host Lars Larson, who broadcast his nationally syndicated show yesterday from Wasilla. Big Lake Pastor Ethan Hansen led the opening prayer and later told the crowd he likes Miller for three reasons. Among them: ”No. 3: He understands that we need a transformation in our country,”Hansen said.  ”The days are long past when a little tweaking could fix America.”

Joe Miller supporters stand for national anthem.

Miller, a veteran and Yale-educated lawyer, says he’s the true conservative in the race, although his two Republican rivals are also vying for the title. When he took the stage, Miller portrayed government as an oppressive force that robs people of their liberty and impedes success.

“They need to understand that the people have had it,” Miller said. “That’s why you’re here today. This is about ‘we the people.’ It’s not about Joe Miller. It’s about restoring you to your rightful position, where government is the servant and you are the master.”

In 2010, Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the primary election, though she kept her seat by winning the general as a write-in.  Miller didn’t mention the series of damaging revelations that emerged that year, except for a joke about the time a security team guarding Miller handcuffed a journalist after a campaign event. Miller made the aside as he was introducing his four younger children, who were on stage with him in Wasilla.

“They’re all martial arts experts,” Miller said. “We learned that from the 2010 race. We needed in-house security. So I don’t have to bring my handcuffs any more.”

Despite a low campaign profile in recent months, Miller has been raising money. On that score, he’s in third place in the three-way Republican race, but gaining on Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

Categories: Alaska News

APD Implements New Crime-Tracking Systems

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:19

The Anchorage Police Department is using two new systems to communicate with the public about crimes in the city. One is a crime mapping system and the other allows city residents to receive messages directly from the department.

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Categories: Alaska News

Expert Anticipates Low Prices For Togiak Herring Fishery

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:18

The largest herring fishery in Alaska is the Togiak sac-roe herring fishery and many stakeholders are preparing for an early start to the season. But at least one expert thinks the price may be so low this year, it won’t be worth fishing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Comment Period Opens For Cruise Waste Permits

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:17

The Legislature approved new regulations last year for cruise ships to release wastewater into Alaska’s oceans. Since then, the state has developed a permit process based on those regulations. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water Director Michelle Hale stopped in Ketchikan this week to talk about the changes.

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Division of Water Director Michelle Hale. (KRBD photo)

With the new regulations in place, cruise ships that travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage will have better wastewater treatment systems than some coastal communities.

Hale said no untreated sewage is allowed to be dumped, and the legislation closed so-called “donut holes,” parts of the ocean that were just outside of state jurisdiction. The main activity that the new regulations now allow is the use of mixing zones.

“And that’s very similar to all other industries and municipalities in the state of Alaska,” she said. “It’s a little bit controversial relative to cruise ships; it’s a very standard practice when we are actually permitting wastewater discharges.”

Ketchikan has numerous mixing zones for the various wastewater permits, allowing discharge into the Tongass Narrows. They include the City of Ketchikan’s Charcoal Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, Point Higgins School, seafood processors, the shipyard, the Coast Guard, Vallenar View Mobile Home Park and the airport, among many others.

Mixing zones allow discharge to exceed the standards for certain contaminants, as long as

the standards are met within a certain distance of that initial discharge. In other words, it becomes diluted fairly quickly after its hit the water.

Hale said mixing zones for cruise ships are a little different, because ships move.

“The cruise ship defines two different regulatory mixing zones, one for discharge underway and one for discharge at 6 knots or less or stationary,” she said. “Primarily, that 6 knots or less is for stationary vessels, but we kind of had to make a break point. So, if you’re going faster than 6 knots, you get covered under one mixing zone, if you’re going slower, you’re covered under another.”

Hale said some members of the public were concerned that the permits for cruise ships wouldn’t protect the ocean enough. But, she said, her division wrote the permits in a way that treats cruise ships like other wastewater discharge systems.

“When we do our modeling and establish limits, we do that so that the water is protected, so that water quality is protected for the uses that that water is used for,” she said.

Hale said the water must be safe enough for a fish to pass through the area within 15 minutes, and not be affected.

She notes that it’s possible for cruise ships to treat wastewater so that it meets all standards before the water is released into the ocean; but it’s not practicable.

“This is our regulatory definition for practicable: ‘Available and capable of being done, taking into consideration cost, technology that actually exists and logistics, in light of overall project purposes,’” she said. “So, what practicable means, is it has to make sense.”

More details about the draft cruise ship wastewater permit program is available on the Division of Water’s website. That’s also the place to go to find out how to submit comments. The comment period closes May 23rd.

Click the following link to review the Division of Water’s draft permit for cruise ship wastewater.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Elder, Master Storyteller Cyril George Dies

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:16

Cyril George Sr. in 2007, speaking at Angoon Presbyterian Church, where his son Joey George is pastor. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

Tlingit elder Cyril George Sr. has died at the age of 92. A fisherman, boat builder, master story teller, and man of great faith, George passed away last week at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

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A memorial service for Cyril George Sr. is Wednesday, 6 p.m., at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in Juneau. The Tlingit elder died April 15 at the age of 92.

Over his life, he was a fisherman, boat builder, master storyteller, and man of great faith.

George was of the Deisheetan clan (Raven/Beaver) of Angoon and lived in the Admiralty Island community most of his life. He moved to Juneau in 1975.

One of his five sons, Richard George, recalls his father to be a successful seiner, halibut and herring fisherman.

He also served his community. He was elected to the Angoon City Council and was mayor. He was on the first board of directors of Sealaska, the regional Native corporation for Southeast, from 1972 to 1974, and served as a member of the board for Kootsnoowoo Inc., Angoon’s village corporation.

Richard George remembers his father as a strong man.

He made decisions which always seemed to be the proper decision. That’s what I was impressed with when I was young,” he says. 

Cyril George attended Sheldon Jackson high school and college in Sitka in the late 1930s, where he became a machinist and learned to build boats. The Presbyterian school was tasked with helping Tlingit shipwright Andrew Hope build the Princeton Hall, a replacement vessel for the church mission fleet.

“I wasn’t the only one that had this feeling of an enormous undertaking when he started to build this boat,” Cyril George recalled in a 2007 interview with KTOO.

“I could weld, I did everything in the machine shop. I was with him all the way from lining up the motor, the shaft, setting up the electrical,” he said. George also built the shaft.

It took a year to complete the Princeton Hall. Then in 1941, just a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the boat was to be launched.  It had already been conscripted by the U.S. Navy.

George said all the Sheldon Jackson students trooped down to the harbor to watch the launch.

“When the Navy started to tow it away all the kids were crying. I was crying. I don’t think there was anybody that wasn’t crying,” he said.

After the war, the Princeton Hall was returned to the Presbyterians and it traveled Southeast Alaska waters for years, going village to village.

While George helped build it, he had never been on the boat. Many years later, he had a number of cruises on the Princeton Hall after it was purchased by the late Bill Ruddy. Bill and Kathy Ruddy became close friends with Cyril George, the boat builder, the musician, and the Tlingit storyteller.

George gradually began to lose his hearing. For several years, Kathy Ruddy took on the role of stenographer – typing out conversations for him.

“It really helped him to have things written down so he could look over your shoulder and know what people were saying,” she says.

The hearing loss didn’t slow him down. He continued to play his guitar and sing, visit classrooms, churches, and be involved in the community. He was a delegate to the Juneau chapter of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which provided a transcriber for George, so he could be actively involved.

“You know for a guitarist and a really excellent musician, hearing loss is a really poignant thing,” Ruddy says. “The fact that he maintained this constant sense of gratitude even as hearing was failing is just a tribute to his character.”

As a fluent Tlingit speaker, George liked to teach his language and often went to Tlingit language classes at the University of Alaska Southeast, taught by Lance Twitchell.

“In Tlingit he’d tell us: ‘I just feel wonderful whenever I’m looking upon your faces and you guys are learning your language.’ He said he felt that it (Tlingit language) was drifting away from us but then just seeing us fills him with hope.”

Son Richard George calls his father a Godly man. In the 2007 interview, Cyril George talked about a battle with alcohol, which he said he finally won through prayer and his faith.

He was a member of the Salvation Army and was a local commissioned officer known as a sergeant major. He often wore his uniform and always wore it to church, says Lt. Lance Walters of the Salvation Army in Juneau.

He explained one day that he put it on to remind him of what he came from and that he wasn’t going back,” Walters says.

George will be buried on Killisnoo Island near Angoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 22, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 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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BP Sells Some North Slope Assets To Hilcorp

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

BP announced Tuesday it’s selling some of its assets on the North Slope. The company will sell to aging oil fields – Endicott and Northstar – to Hilcorp, a company that is developing oil and gas wells in Cook Inlet. Hilcorp will also buy a 50 percent interest in two other fields- Milne Point and Liberty.

Legislature Remains Embroiled Over Education Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature is still at an impasse over the Governor’s education bill.

Miller Kicks Off Campaign in Wasilla

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller kicked off his campaign Monday night in Wasilla before a few hundred supporters. Miller drew cheers as he hit on popular Tea Party themes, like abolishing the IRS and ending state surveillance. And he may be the only candidate in the race with a personalized country-western anthem.

APD Implements New Crime-Tracking Systems

Jolene Almendarez, APRN – Juneau

The Anchorage Police Department is using two new systems to communicate with the public about crimes in the city. One is a crime mapping system and the other allows city residents to receive messages directly from the department.

Expert Anticipates Low Prices For Togiak Herring Fishery

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The largest herring fishery in Alaska is the Togiak sac-roe herring fishery and many stakeholders are preparing for an early start to the season. But at least one expert thinks the price may be so low this year, it won’t be worth fishing.

Comment Period Opens For Cruise Waste Permits

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Legislature approved new regulations last year for cruise ships to release wastewater into Alaska’s oceans. Since then, the state has developed a permit process based on those regulations. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water Director Michelle Hale stopped in Ketchikan this week to talk about the changes.

Tlingit Elder, Master Storyteller Cyril George Dies

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Tlingit elder Cyril George Sr. has died at the age of 92. A fisherman, boat builder, master story teller, and man of great faith, George passed away last week at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

Brace Yourselves, Bird Season Is Coming

Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage

Birding season is about to pick up in Alaska, and now is the perfect time to start preparing.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Rescued As Troller Goes Aground In Heavy Surf

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 09:29

SMR captain Don Kluting describes sea conditions at Low Island Monday morning as “a bit sporty.” Crew members left the Mirage on foot, once the tide ebbed. (SMR photo/Don Kluting)

Two crewmen were rescued safely after their troller ran aground in heavy seas in Sitka Sound early this morning (Mon 4-21-14).

The 52-foot steel-hulled troller Mirage radioed a distress call at about 3:30 AM. The boat had gone aground on the southern shore of Low Island, in surf and strong winds.

Don Kluting coordinates Sitka’s Mountain Rescue team, which also conducts maritime operations.

Kluting says he and three other team members left the harbor in darkness, and used night-vision goggles and a global positioning system to navigate the six miles out to Low Island, where they arrived at daybreak. The team was prepared for the worst.

“Full precautions. We had everybody in drysuits, had tow ropes. We had briefed that we were going try and establish a tow. We had a line gun with us. Basically, getting ready to pull a fairly large vessel out of the surf and try to give them enough to keep the waves from pushing them farther and farther up on the rocks to get him under his own power.”

Low Island is a known hazard in Sitka Sound, or a known recreation area, depending on your point of view. When a swell is running, Sitkans occasionally surf the waters between Low Island and Shoals Point.

Once Kluting and his team found the Mirage it quickly became clear that the stranded troller would not be going anywhere.

“We had breaking surf conditions 100-yards around him in all directions. We had circled around that south end of Low Island trying to figure out a path to get in close. And it pretty much not going to happen, and we made a determination to get a helicopter out from Air Station Sitka.”

Kluting says the rescue boat was able to get within 50 yards of the Mirage while waiting for the helicopter, and stood by in the event the troller capsized or swamped and the two crewmen were forced into the water.

The Coast Guard helicopter rescue crew determined that the safest course of action would be to let the tide go out from under the Mirage. After about 90-minutes, the helicopter landed on Low Island and the two fishermen were able to walk ashore unharmed and board the aircraft.

Kluting says he is not optimistic about an immediate salvage of the Mirage.

“Not a friendly location, getting a larger vessel in there and establishing a tow rope in those conditions is going to be challenging at best. With the tide not being as high, it’s going to be interesting to see if they’re able to drag it off. Or if that next storm coming in doesn’t beat up the hull too bad.”

The weather forecast for Sitka called for winds of 29 knots on Monday, and seas of 13 feet, with seas falling to 9 feet on Tuesday.

Kluting was accompanied on the mission by Gerald Gangle, Tyler Orbison, and Jake Denherder. Kluting says he has received no official word on the cause of the accident. The Coast Guard reports the Mirage has about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board.

The Mirage is registered to J&J Mirage LLC in Elfin Cove, Alaska. According to state records, it is valued at $200,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Subsistence Board Votes To Limit Kuskokwim Kings to Federally Qualified Users

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 09:23

Federal management responsibility map, from Office of Subsistence Management.

The Federal Subsistence Board Thursday unanimously approved a special action request from the Napaskiak Traditional Council that would limit any available king salmon to federally qualified subsistence users of 32 specific Kuskokwim communities.

In the discussion about limiting the pool of eligible fisherman, the board heard passionate testimony about the need for chinook harvest.

“Through blood, sweat, and tears we feed our families,” said George Guy of Kwethuluk.

They also heard calls for strong conservation measures. Lisa Feyereisen is from Chuathbaluk.

“I want to be able to show my grandchildren what a Chinook salmon looks like,” said Feyereisen.

The action passed by the board doesn’t specifically open up any harvest of kings nor does it shut down fisheries that could incidentally catch kings. All it does it say who will be at the table if the runs comes in stronger than expected.

Between 71,000 and 117,000 kings are expected in the river this year. If the run is on the smaller side, there could be little to no surplus.

Gene Peltola Junior is the Assistant Regional Director for the Office of Subsistence Management.

“The forecast right now is for a very small harvestable surplus. If there is not an opportunity for a harvestable surplus, all of this is a moot point. But if the run progresses such that there is deemed to be a harvestable surplus available you have to have this in place in attempt to allocate or provide fish,” said Peltola Junior.

In that scenario, the initial pool contains residents of 32 villages, running from Chefornak up to McGrath, including Bethel. The list excludes communities in South Kuskokwim Bay and Nelson Island including Quinhagak, Platinum, Goodnews Bay, Nightmute, Newtok, Tununuk and Tooksook Bay, plus Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island.

The 14,000 people in the 32 communities still have incredible fishing power. David Jenkins is with the Office of Subsistence Management.

“We still have the problem under that situation of a projected too few fish and lots of users who would access to those fish,” said Jenkins.

Managers would need to further restrict among those users. The board indicated they wanted the federal in season manager to have a range of management tools at his disposal, but they did not specify an exact allocation strategy.

There were several ideas presented by the Office of Subsistence Management for how a surplus might be handled. Managers could begin by allocating 25 chinook salmon per village. If there are more fish available, the surplus could be split among villages, excluding Bethel, proportionally based on their 20 year harvest average.

The allocation among Bethel residents could be done through a second so-called section 804 analysis, in which individuals would see opportunity based on three criteria: customary and direct dependence on the resource as a mainstay of livelihood, local residency and the availability of other resources.

But it is mid April already. The draft framework says if it were not possible to do that analysis in time, there could be a simple drawing permit for Bethel residents.

The board did not endorse any of the presented allocation schemes, but expressed a wish for the in season manager to have alternatives available.

Categories: Alaska News

Miller Kicks Off Campaign in Wasilla

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:06

Joe Miller, with family in front row on stage.

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller kicked off his campaign last night in Wasilla before a few hundred cheering supporters.  Amid prayer and patriotic songs, Miller and those introducing him talked about God, guns and government mistrust.  Miller drew cheers as he hit on popular Tea Party themes, such as abolishing the IRS and ending state surveillance.

“They need to understand that the people have had it That’s why you’re here today,” he said, to applause. “This is about ‘we the people.’ It’s not about Joe Miller. It’s about restoring you to your rightful position, where government is the servant and you are the master!”

This is Miller’s second run for U.S. Senate. He didn’t mention the dramatic undoing of his earlier campaign, except for a passing reference to the time his security team shackled a journalist trying to interview him. Miller, a father of eight, made the aside as he was introducing the four younger children, who were on the stage with him in Wasilla.

“They’re all martial arts experts. We learned that from the 2010 race. We needed in-house security. So I don’t have t0

Standing for the national anthem at the Joe Miller kick-off.

bring my handcuffs any more,” he said.

Other speakers at the event included a Big Lake church pastor, a Gun Owners of America director and also conservative radio talk show host Lars Larson. Despite a low campaign profile in recent months, Miller has been raising money. On that score, he’s in third place in the three-way Republican race, but not far behind Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Search For Education Bill Solution

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:25

Full House: The House of Representatives and the Senate met in a Joint Session in the House Chambers on April 17, 2014. They confirmed all of the governor’s appointees to boards and commissions. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Last night, the Alaska State Legislature failed to meet their 90-day deadline after the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement on a major education bill. Lawmakers stayed on the floor until 4am trying to wrap up their work, but it was not enough. Now, they’re back at the Capitol for a 91st day of session trying to hammer out a deal.

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APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is there with them right now. Hello, Alexandra.

Hello, Lori.

Has any progress been made on the education bill?

The Senate just finished their debate and passed their version 16-4, with Anchorage Democrats opposing the legislation. The bill before them was introduced by the governor and is a major priority for him. It’s a pretty sprawling piece of legislation, and it includes provisions to that make it easier to establish charters school, gets rid of the high school exit exam, all sorts of things. But the big hang-up has been the education funding question.

The governor started the session with an $85 increase to the base student allocation in it, with future increases promised. That’s the amount of money a school gets for each student, and every $100 increase is worth about $25 million. The House more than doubled that number, with an education package worth about $250 million over three years. The Senate went even higher – up to $330 million — but they offered that money as one-time funding.

That’s where things blew up.

Many education advocates have been screaming for that money to be put into the base student allocation because it gives schools a lot more security. If the money is a one-time thing, there’s no guarantee the school districts won’t have to come back and ask for it again to help make up their budget gaps and avoid teacher layoffs.

The debate that happened in the Senate is kind of a pro forma thing. Democrats offered amendments to the bill, but none were adopted. The real fight will happen when the bill gets sent back to the House, because it could trigger a pretty unusual negotiating process called a free conference committee.

Can you explain what that does?

Last night, as everyone was kind of slaphappy and it was clear that the Senate and House just did not see eye to eye on education funding, I heard one legislator describe it as a committee with super powers. The House will send a few of their people, the Senate will send theirs, and then they hammer out their differences in a way that hopefully works for both bodies. In a normal conference committee, you pick and choose the bits that each side like. But in free conference, you have the power to add completely new stuff and dramatically change the bill. 

It’s something that’s really only used when there’s a major impasse. But because the committee has the power to add entirely new language to the bill, there’s a risk for things to get messy.

Are there any other hang ups beyond funding?

There are a few. The House doesn’t like that the Senate took out language that lengthens the probationary period from three years to five years before  urban teachers can get tenure. They also don’t like that the Senate version requires municipalities to take on a bigger burden in funding education. That provision could result increased property taxes in some communities, which doesn’t really play well in an election year.

So, how long can session go at this point?

Even though voters put a 90-day limit on the legislative session a few years back, the Legislature can meet up to 121 days without running afoul of the Constitution. Obviously, people want to get out as quickly as possible, but since they’ve already blown the deadline, they may as well try to get things done as best they can and finish work on other bills that were at risk of dying.

How much work is left unfinished, aside from education?

Well, the two other big priority bills did pass this weekend. At the beginning of session, Gov. Sean Parnell asked the Legislature to put a few billion dollars toward the pension system and to pass a bill that allows a massive natural gas pipeline to be built. The Legislature did that. That’s done. That’s off their plate.

But there are still dozens of lawmakers’ personal bills that got close to passing, but were then held up either as leverage in negotiations or were just caught up in the logjam as things fell apart this past week. Those cover everything from a popular crime reform bill to legislation allowing the DMV to offer license plates with bears on them. 

Categories: Alaska News

‘Demo Dose’ Lab Tests Find Bacteria

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:24

Lab testing of a synthetic saline solution wrongly used in a University of Alaska Fairbanks medical class shows bacteria. A Houston based laboratory was hired by the university to analyze samples of “Demo Dose.” The solution, which is not intended for humans, was used by UAF Community and Technical College Clinical Procedures Class students to practice injections on themselves and one another.

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Categories: Alaska News

Gasline Official Says In-State Project Is No Pipedream

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:23

With an oversupply of natural gas in the country, Alaska is exploring the construction of a relatively small, low-pressure gasline within the state’s borders – while still holding out hope for a much larger project should prices improve.

Dan Fauske is the president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation – or AGDC. He spoke to Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce last week about when and where Alaskans may see gas.

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Dan Fauske. Photo by Ellen Lockyer.

The AGDC is the latest attempt by the state to put something — anything — together to promote the construction of a gasline from the North Slope. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation was established by the legislature in 2010 to explore in-state options for gas while a more high-profile effort — Gov. Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA — was trying to connect North Slope gas to markets in the lower 48 through a gasline in Canada.

Earlier this year, Gov. Parnell announced that the state and TransCanada had called it quits, putting an end to AGIA.

Now, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation is the only game in town. And Dan Fauske knows this game has been played time and time again.

“We have a plaque in our office. It says, Fairbanks to get Gas. It’s from the 1954 Daily News-Miner. So this debate’s been going on a while.”

The problem is economic. Natural gas is sold in volumes of 1,000 cubic feet at a price — right now — somewhere between $3 and $4. To sell gas, it has to be delivered in pressurized pipelines, or be super-cooled and liquefied.

If you’re close to the gas, it can be a great deal. The city of Anchorage has been served for decades by low-cost gas from oil refineries next door in Cook Inlet.

On the North Slope, where the state has vast reserves of natural gas, Fauske says it’s considered a byproduct.

“For years, the gas a Prudhoe Bay has been reinjected into the ground to force the oil out. The petroleum engineers will tell you that we’ve looked at this gas three and four times. They’ve recycled it.”

The AGDC is exploring a 700-mile gasline from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski, which would be about one-hundred miles shorter than a gasline to Valdez, where the TransAlaska Oil Pipeline terminates. There are two options on the table. A 36 -inch low-pressure pipeline that would carry so-called “lean gas” — or gas ready for delivery directly to consumers. The other option is a 42-inch pipeline delivering much higher volumes of gas under much higher pressure. The smaller pipeline would cost almost $8-billion and serve primarily Alaskans. The larger pipeline would cost $65-billion, and supply Alaska and the global export market.

The big three oil producers — Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP — and even TransCanada would partner with the state in the big pipeline, if it ever pencils out. Fauske says this is a big “if.”

“Oil companies are not charged with taking care of Alaskan citizens. Oil companies do things for their shareholders. I’m not defending them, I’m just saying no one’s going to invest in this kind of project so that 700,000 Alaskans can get a benefit. The reality is: They do things for their shareholders. The irony is that the Alaska Permanent Fund is a huge shareholder of Exxon stock. People say, They should have done this. It’s been looked at thirty times.”

The state invested $355 -million dollars in the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation to perform the preliminary engineering and design for the smaller gasline — called the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline — which will take about 2 years. Fauske believes that sometime in that window, the two projects will meld and the state will ultimately have a 10-percent stake in a gasline that is operational by 2020.

Fauske spent 18 years as the director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation before taking over AGDC. He was on Gov. Palin’s AGIA team, which he says was a good idea, when gas was at $10. His expertise is in finance.

The discovery of shale gas in the northern plains of the US undermined AGIA, but Fauske believes this new gasline strategy, based on revenue bonds, is a workable solution for the state’s energy needs, as well as the largest construction project in the country.

But he says gas is nothing akin to the discovery of oil on the North Slope.

“Oil is king. Gas gives us security. From a revenue standpoint gas will never replace oil.”

Asked by a member of the chamber audience to give odds on which gasline would be built, Fauske pointed to the radio microphone and tv camera and declined. Instead, he quoted a line from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and said, “Something wonderful’s going to happen.”

Categories: Alaska News

Delta vs. Alaska: Dueling Airlines Benefit Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:22

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau on Wednesday in preparation for daily service to Seattle starting May 29. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

In preparation for daily flights between Juneau and Seattle starting May 29, Delta Air Lines performed test flights in the capital city on Wednesday. For a long time, Alaska Airlines has been the only one flying that route.

Juneau is set to benefit from the competing partner airlines.

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Alaska travel analyst Scott McMurren says the power of competition goes a long way in lowering airfares.

“The moment that Delta’s rubber hits the tarmac in Juneau, fares will be at historic lows. The moment Delta leaves the market, fares will immediately return to their previous level. This is a great opportunity for Juneau travelers, and that great opportunity will last as long as Delta flies there and not a moment longer,” McMurren says.

An online spot check of round-trip flights between Juneau and Seattle in early June showed the airlines offered the same fares, $487.40. In September when Delta service ends, flights on Alaska Air Lines jump $80.

Adding service to Juneau is part of Delta’s expansion in Seattle. Right now, the airline makes 35 daily departures out of Sea-Tac Airport. By August, Delta hopes to increase that to 86 departures.

“We are reaching out to markets that are key travel markets for us that allow us to carry passengers both into Seattle as well as connect them onto international flights. We’re adding a significant amount of international service. We just added London Heathrow at the end of March and we are going to add Hong Kong and Seoul in June,” says Anthony Black, Delta spokesman.

The airline already flies from Seattle to Amsterdam, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Connecting to international destinations is what Black says will set Delta apart from Alaska Airlines, which only flies internationally to Canada and Mexico.

Between Juneau and Seattle, Delta will be flying a Boeing 757. Alaska Airlines uses 737s. Black says a 757 can carry more passengers and has more powerful engines.

He also says Delta’s prices are competitive and, so far, Delta is pleased with bookings.

Marilyn Romano, regional vice president for Alaska Airlines, says she feels very secure with Alaska’s position in Juneau. She says Delta’s one flight a day between Juneau and Seattle during the summer doesn’t compare with Alaska’s eight flights a day.

“That’s our standard operating business coming in and out of Juneau and that doesn’t include all the other flights that we have – Anchorage to Juneau, or Juneau to other cities in Southeast Alaska – so as far as competing, I think we feel like we’ve been operating daily service into Juneau for over four decades,” Romano says.

Plus, there’s free baggage if you’re a member of Club 49, the airline’s program for Alaska residents, and bonus mileage, like last summer. Travelers flying on Delta from Juneau to Seattle will still get Alaska Airlines miles, though.

While Alaska and Delta are now competing in Juneau, the two airlines are partners for other destinations.

“At times, the competitive nature of our business is bigger than at other times and this is probably one of those times. We’re doing what we need to do to grow our business and Delta will do what Delta feels they need to do to grow their business, and at the same time, we are partners, so it’s a unique situation,” Black says.

Juneau International Airport manager Patty deLaBruere says competition is good for Juneau’s economy.

“Alaska Airlines, I think, has taken very good care of people up here but Delta may add a different flair on what they’re going to do for the travelers. So choice is good,” says deLaBruere.

That also means more revenue for the airport, an enterprise of the City and Borough of Juneau. Renting space for a check-in counter and offices, flying in and out, and parking its plane overnight in Juneau for the summer will cost Delta about $90,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Earth Day Celebration Helps Mark Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:21

Earth Day will be celebrated with a concert in Fairbanks on Tuesday. It’s part of a summer long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 21, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:12

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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Lawmakers Search For Education Bill Solution

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Last night, the Alaska State Legislature failed to meet their 90-day deadline after the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement on a major education bill. Lawmakers stayed on the floor until 4am trying to wrap up their work, but it was not enough. Now, they’re back at the Capitol for a 91st day of session trying to hammer out a deal.

Missed Deadline Pushes Initiatives To General Election

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Because the Legislature did not meet its midnight deadline, three citizen’s initiatives are expected to be moved from the August primary to the November general election.

Alaska Becomes The Second State To Officially Recognize Indigenous Languages

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Supporters of a bill to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages organized a 15 hour sit-in protest at the Capitol on Sunday. Their dedication paid off early Monday morning, when the Alaska Senate passed the measure on an 18-2 vote.

It now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

‘Demo Dose’ Lab Tests Find Bacteria

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Lab testing of a synthetic saline solution wrongly used in a University of Alaska Fairbanks medical class shows bacteria.  A Houston based laboratory was hired by the university to analyze samples of  “Demo Dose.”  The solution, which is not intended for humans, was used by UAF Community and Technical College Clinical Procedures Class students to practice injections on themselves and one another.

Gasline Official Says In-State Project Is No Pipedream

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

With an oversupply of natural gas in the country, Alaska is exploring the construction of a relatively small, low-pressure gasline within the state’s borders – while still holding out hope for a much larger project should prices improve.

Dan Fauske is the president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation – or AGDC. He spoke to Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce last week about when and where Alaskans may see gas.

Delta vs. Alaska: Dueling Airlines Benefit Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

In preparation for daily flights between Juneau and Seattle starting May 29, Delta Air Lines performed test flights in the capital city on Wednesday. For a long time, Alaska Airlines has been the only one flying that route.

Juneau is set to benefit from the competing partner airlines.

Earth Day Celebration Helps Mark Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Earth Day will be celebrated with a concert in Fairbanks on Tuesday. It’s part of a summer long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Becomes The Second State To Officially Recognize Indigenous Languages

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:33

In the Senate gallery, an emotional Rep. Charisse Millett holds hands with Liz Medicine Crow while Senators debate the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Supporters of a bill to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages organized a 15 hour sit-in protest at the Capitol on Sunday. Their dedication paid off early this morning, when the measure passed the Alaska Senate on an 18-2 vote.

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House Bill 216 passed the Alaska House of Representatives last week, 38-0.

It now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

Dozens of people of all ages and races, many wearing their Easter finest,  gathered in the hall outside Sen. Lesil McGuire’s office. The Anchorage Republican and chair of the Senate Rules Committee had the power to put House Bill 216 on the Senate’s calendar. But with end of the legislative session looming, the bill’s supporters worried it was getting caught up in last-minute, behind-the-scenes politics.

The group started their vigil just after noon, singing, dancing, and playing drums, and talking about why Alaska Native languages are so important.

“Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins,” said Lance Twitchell, a professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast.

HB 216 would add the state’s indigenous languages to a statute created by a 1998 voter initiative, which made English the official language of Alaska. While the bill is largely symbolic, Twitchell said it’s important to recognize all languages as equal.

“That’s all we want is equal value,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying that. It takes a lot of courage to do that. And it takes a lot of something else to try and go against that.”

Many elders who attended the sit-in recalled being punished as children for speaking their first languages. Irene Cadiente of Juneau said her teachers would hit her with a ruler when they caught her speaking Tlingit.

“Sometimes I wonder when my hand hurts, is it on account of me speaking Tlingit?” Cadiente asked. “My hands were rulered. Is that why it hurts? I never forget that.”

Cadiente said she’s proud that her great grandchildren are now learning to speak the language.

Heather Burge, a student in the Native Languages program at UAS, said she didn’t understand how HB 216 could become controversial.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompins (center) celebrates by posing for a “selfie” with supporters of House Bill 216, his legislation making 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. The bill had passed the Senate only moments earlier at 3 a.m., April 21, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

“We should be at the point where this should be a non-issue,” Burge said. “But it’s still scary to some people, which is a little disheartening. But hopefully we can get past this.”

After the group had been outside McGuire’s office for about 30 minutes, the senator’s Chief of Staff Brett Huber announced the bill would be scheduled for a floor vote. McGuire later made an appearance of her own.

“We just got the bill, so we’re going as fast as we can,” McGuire said. “But it’s nice to see all of you. Thank you for coming, and thank you for your passion. I know you have support.”

It was 3 a.m. by the time the measure finally reached the floor.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, who’s Inupiaq, said the bill would not have made it through the legislature without a groundswell of support.

“The elders, the youth, Native and non-Native,” Olson said.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, took responsibility for the delay in getting the bill to the floor. Coghill tried to explain what he hoped to achieve last week when he proposed amending the bill to create a new category in statute for “ceremonial languages.”

“I thought if you had them in that place of honor you would aspire to them and honor them,” Coghill said. “Where if you put them in this place, they’re more likely to be under tension that I think would be harder to get to the honor and easy to get to divisiveness.”

Coghill said he was an apologetic no vote. He added that he would be willing to own up to it if he ends up being proven wrong. Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, was the other Senator to vote against the bill.

After the bill passed, supporters gathered outside Senate chambers to embrace each other and shed tears of joy. Twitchell summed up the feeling with a Tlingit phrase.

“We succeeded. We obtained,” Twitchell said after first saying it in Tlingit.

The bill explicitly says the official language designation does not require the state or local governments to conduct business in languages other than English. But Twitchell said putting them in the same part of the law builds momentum for future generations of Native language speakers.

If Gov. Sean Parnell signs the bill into law, Alaska will become just the second state after Hawaii to officially recognize indigenous languages.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Passes Gov. Parnell’s LNG Pipeline Plan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 09:24

The Legislature did pass the Governor’s liquefied natural gas pipeline participation plan.

The House voted 36-4 on the measure Sunday. The Senate later voted 16-4 to agree to the House changes. Senate Bill 138 would set state participation at about 25 percent in a project also being pursued TransCanada, the Alaska Gas-line Development Corp., and the North Slope’s major players. It would allow the project to move to a stage of preliminary engineering and design and cost refinement.

It also would allow the state to negotiate project-enabling contracts but they would have to come back to lawmakers for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

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