Charities are stepping up to help more Fairbanks families this holiday season. Organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.
Unknown Oily Sheen off Shishmaref Coast Returns
Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome
A mysterious oily sheen found along the northeast coast of Shishmaref this summer has returned.
Governor Walker Shares Upbeat Message With Fairbanks
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Governor Bill Walker is striking an optimistic tone despite tanking oil prices that are reducing state revenue. Speaking to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Walker pointed to opportunity.
Scientists ID Two Bat Species Never Before Seen In Alaska
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Scientists are in a race to learn as much as they can about bats in Alaska. And that race has led to the discovery of two species previously unknown in the state. The Hoary bat and the Yuma bat were both found in Southeast Alaska.
Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.
Tulsequah Mine Study Outlines Taku River Barging
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Chieftain Metals has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.
DEC Reaches Diesel Spill Site Along Dalton Highway
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has accessed a remote spot along the Dalton Highway where a fuel tanker wrecked and overturned Sunday night, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The spill and resulting fire occurred near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg
Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg
Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3 near Petersburg.
Sealaska Heritage Institute Begins Move into Walter Soboleff Center
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau started moving into its new home this week.
Charities Help Fill Void From Santa’s Clearing House During Holiday Season
Heather Penn, KUAC – Fairbanks
Charity organization’s like Love Inc. and the Salvation Army are providing gifts for Fairbanks kids whose families were formerly served by Santa’s Clearing House.
Chevron has pulled back on plans to drill for offshore Arctic oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea.
Chevron has leases in Canadian waters and notified the Canadian government Wednesday that developing its EL 481 lease tracts would not be competitive in the company’s anticipated future markets.
The new University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel Sikuliaq is on its way to Alaska waters.
The 261-foot vessel had trials in the Great Lakes. It went through the Panama Canal, and on to Hawaii, Guam, and should arrive shortly at the navy submarine test center in Behm Canal outside of Ketchikan before crossing the Gulf to Seward and a commissioning ceremony.
Exactly one month from the start of the Kuskokwim 300, 31 mushers have signed up for the race to Aniak and back. Race Manager Zach Fansler says it’s the biggest field in two decades.
“We’re really excited for this race. 31 teams is the most teams we’ve had sign up since 1994,” said Fansler.
Most of the sport’s biggest names like Jeff King, DeeDee Jonrowe, and Martin Buser will be at the line, along with fan favorite Lance Mackey. From Western Alaska, fans will see Pete Kaiser, plus Isaac and Nathan Underwood from Aniak, and Richie Diehl. Akiak’s Mike Williams Junior and Senior are back. Donald Towarak of Unalakleet is signed up, along with Nome’s Rolland Trowbridge and Tara Cicatello. Past champion John Baker and partner Katherine Keith of Kotzebue are set to race.
To pull off a successful race, Fansler says the race is looking for extra logistics help for housing mushers and trucking dogs, along with trail support.
“We’re checking for more mushers on the trail, we’re looking at safety, we’re looking at dropped dog situations, there’s a lot more transporting of food that needs to be done,” said Fansler.
There will be fewer dogs per team this year, as the limit was lowered from 14 to 12 dogs.
Leading up to the big race the K300 organization has set the date for their early season sprint race later this month. Fansler says the 40-mile Holiday Classic, will be December 27th — that’s moved back a week due to bad trail conditions.
“We’re still looking to get some established trails, with the travel on the river that we’ve been seeing lately, and we’d like to get more snow, which I think is coming. Anecdotally speaking with some of the teams, not all of the teams are as trained as others, which is always a concern. We’re weighing these things heavily,” said Fansler.
Another race, the 100-Mile Challenge, was scheduled for December 27th and will be delayed to January 3rd. The Kuskokwim 300 begins January 16th in Bethel.
Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3. The Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee has introduced two proposals to expand brown bear hunting near Petersburg.
The proposals will be considered by the State Board of Game at its meeting January 9-13 in Juneau.
Petersburg resident Bob Martin is Chairman of the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
“We like the brown bears to be relatively scarce on the island,” says Martin.
Unit 3 is predominantly black bear country. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and are considered more dangerous when encountering humans.
“I think the motivation for these proposals is that in recent decades maybe. . .last 25 years, we’ve become aware that there’s bears on Mitkof Island,” Martin says, “and there is a brown bear hunting season in the Spring. It’s not really an intentional hunt on this island but it’s part of the larger Unit 3 hunting regs and it’s Spring only. I don’t think many people target brown bears but people do encounter them in the fall when they’re deer hunting.”
Both proposals would add a fall hunt every four regulatory years and by permit only. One would provide a fall hunt for just Mitkof Island and the other would allow for a fall hunt for all of Unit 3. Unit 3 includes the islands of Mitkof, Kupreanof, Wrangell, Kuiu as well as other islands. It does not include the mainland.
Martin grew up on Mitkof Island and said they assumed there were no brown bear here because they never saw them.
“We did have a lot of black bear around before the dump switched to a baler facility that ships out garbage but I was always under the impression and so was my family that this was a brown bear free zone and when you’re out berry picking and other such things you just kind of assumed that you just had to make a lot of noise and you’d be fine,” Martin says, “but then there have been a few incidents, two in particular, where deer hunters have encountered aggressive brown bears and then had to shoot them. And since then, I’ve heard that there are quite a few brown bears on the island, especially the South end.”
In the summer of 2012 there were two brown bears spotted near Petersburg, one at the Blind River Rapids and one at Frederick Point East. Then that fall, a third brown bear was shot by some moose hunters who said it was self defense.
Rich Lowell, Area Wildlife Biologist for Fish and Game, thinks the idea that there are a lot of brown bear on Mitkof Island might be rumor more than anything.
“There’s a lot of bad information disseminated,” Lowell says.
The State Department of Fish and Game opposes the brown bear proposals. Lowell says while they don’t have precise population estimates for Mitkof or Unit 3 brown bears it’s safe to say the number is relatively low. Brown bears move back and forth from the mainland to the islands and it is believed that there are just a few bears on each island except for Deer Island which is closer to the mainland.
Lowell: “And because the population is considered to be relatively low there are questions about the ability to have a sustainable hunt of those animals. And by mandate we are required to manage wildlife on a sustainable basis and therefore we need to ensure that our harvest of those animals is within sustained yield principals.”
Angela: “So in other words, you don’t want to open a hunt and have it last a year or two, you need to think about, can this hunt last ten, 20 years something like that?”
Lowell: “Sure. Sure, or longer.”
The proposals recognize that more hunters are out on the land in the fall looking for deer and moose, which would give them more opportunity to encounter and take bears. There has been a Spring brown bear hunt in Unit three islands for the last nine years. In that time, only four bears have been harvested. Three of the four were sows, something that the department wants to avoid.
“The fall season is when most of the females or sows actually get taken,” Lowell says. “The cubs of the year are venturing further from the sow and so we see a lot of sows get harvested in the fall or, you know, a disproportionate number that we don’t want to see with brown bears.”
The proposal that includes a brown bear fall hunt for just Mitkof Island received broader support from the local advisory committee. They approved it with an 8 to 2 vote. The proposal for establishing a hunt for all of Unit 3 passed 6 to 4.
The Board of Game will take up these two proposals and others regarding Southeast hunting and trapping when they meet in Juneau January 19-13.
The Wrangell Fish and Game Advisory Committee came up with a similar proposal to open a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3.
The deadline to comment on the proposals is December 26.
Sealaska Heritage Institute started moving into its new home in the yet-to-be-opened Walter Soboleff Center this week.
“Next door will be our new home,” Kadinger says from his current office at One Sealaska Plaza. “So every time you hear we’re having a Native Lecture Series, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Every time you hear that we’re having weaving classes, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Everything that we do isn’t going to be scattered around in different places or classrooms or meeting rooms; it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage.”
The building will have space for art exhibits, demonstrations and education. The main collections vault will be in the basement, the retail shop on the first floor, Sealaska Heritage offices on the second and office rental space on the third.
In the very center of the building, visible as soon as you enter, is a traditional clan house.
“If we want to have lectures in there, if we want to have presentation in there, if we want to have smaller performances in there – it’s really a flexible space. It’s a multiuse space and it’s an educational space,” Kadinger says.
The clan house front will be carved and painted by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. The inside will feature a carved glass house screen and two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.
Other permanent art work includes 40-foot panels by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will go on the building’s cedar-clad exterior.
Formline design expert Steve Brown created the glass sidewalk awnings that are already installed.
Having raised around $20 million for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center, Sealaska Heritage continues to fundraise for added artwork and exhibits. Kadinger says more than a thousand individuals, businesses and organizations have already donated.
The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in Alaska this fiscal year.
The spending bill appropriates $50 million for construction work at Fort Greely’s missile-defense base. And another $50 million for design work a new radar facility elsewhere in Alaska to improve the missile-defense system’s ability to detect and track incoming enemy missiles.
Matt Felling, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, says those appropriations demonstrate the military’s confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense system after it succeeded to destroying a decoy in a test earlier this year.
“Just this past June, we had a successful interceptor missile test,” Felling said. “And I think that the military realized that we’re building a lot of momentum, to double down on the funding levels, to make sure that everything possible could be done to get our missile defense as strong as possible, quickly as possible.”
Felling says the funding will pay for continued work on Greely’s missile field 1, one of three at the base. It’s part of a $1 billion project approved in 2013 to prepare the base for an expansion that would increase the number of interceptors there from the present 26 to 40 by the end of next year.
The other $50 million appropriation will be used to design a facility to house an advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar system. Felling says the military hasn’t decided whether to build that facility at Clear Air Force Station, near Anderson, or at Shemya, an island in the far western Aleutian Island archipelago.
Those are the only major appropriations for military construction in Alaska. Felling says the spending bill also contains funding for smaller projects at Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“We have funding coming to Alaska at our military installations, he said. “We haven’t seen the dramatic increases, like we have seen in missile defense, in terms of construction on base, or construction, or maintenance.”
One proposed missile-defense facility did not get any funding in the spending bill – that’s for a second Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense installation that some lawmakers have proposed for the eastern United States. Congress approved language specifically prohibiting funding for that base in another piece of legislation passed last week, the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Alaska congressional delegation and other lawmakers have criticized in recent years, saying it’s an unnecessary installation. Felling says the authorization bill language, and $100 million appropriation for the Alaska missile-defense projects, means the proposal for the East Coast installation is dead – at least, for now.
“These bills are an affirmation of Alaska’s A.) location, in terms of defending America from threats abroad, and B.) of our ability, and our success story.”
President Obama is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill this week.
Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.
If built, the industrial road would provide access to the Ambler Mining District, rich in deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold. Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse is the CEO of NovaCopper, Inc., a mining company that would benefit from the road.
“The Ambler district is a very special district,” said Neuwenhuyse. “It’s very high grade. It’s the sort of district that can provide jobs for generations because it’s very substantial. It’s been known about for a very long time and it’s always been the issue of access.”
But funding may also become a problem as the price of oil continues to fall. This week, Alaska Governor Bill Walker slashed more than $100 million dollars from the capital budget including $8 million that would have gone toward the road project in fiscal year 2016. Van Nieuwenhuyse said he doesn’t necessarily see the cut as a set back.
“It’s a big wake up call. The state will have to make tough decisions,” he said. “This may be one of them. There may be other alternatives for finding the continued advancement of the EIS.”
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is still working on the application to begin a federal Environmental Impact Study. Mike Catsi is the Business Development and Communications Director for AIDEA.
Cats said the Governor’s recent cut hasn’t hindered what is already a long and arduous application and permitting process.
“This is a proposed budget it still has to go through the legislative process. We’ve been in communications with the Governor’s office about the project,” Catsi said, “so right now we’re moving forward. We still have money in our budget until the end of June, 2015.”
Currently, funding for the project is coming entirely from state dollars appropriated by the legislature, but Catsi said if that changes in coming years, there are other ways for AIDEA to find money.
“At AIDEA, we look at projects from a business perspective,” Catsi explained. “We have to build a business case to move forward with them, so when we make an investment and we’re looking at paying for the permitting or moving forward with that, then we would be looking at recouping those funds over the long term of the project,” he said.
The state has already spent more than $26 million dollars on feasibility and development studies since 2011. Catsi said information from those studies is available on AIDEA’s website.
This week, AIDEA invited a number of representatives from various tribal organizations and villages that could be affected by the road’s construction to Fairbanks. During an interactive presentation, the majority of attendees told AIDEA they believe more studies on the environmental and cultural impact of the road are needed.
The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.
Eighteen-year-old Brett Pauk was arraigned today on three charges: felony criminal mischief, felony burglary, and a misdemeanor theft charge.
Pauk’s alleged co-conspirator is a 17-year-old from Togiak. As a minor, he ia unnamed in court documents, but troopers say charges will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
At least $100 in cash and a pair of headphones valued at $160 were stolen from the clinic.
Troopers say the two men ripped electrical wires out of the wall in an apparent attempt to knock out surveillance, quote, “annihilating” the clinic’s communication and electrical systems. That damage has caused the loss of communication between the clinic and the Kanakanak Hospital, and the clinic may remain closed for several days as crews scramble to make repairs.
A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.
That includes renewals and new sign-ups. Aimee Crocker, operations manager for Enroll Alaska, says most of those enrolled by the broker this period have been renewals.
Overall enrollment figures aren’t yet available. Alaskans also can sign up themselves.
Monday marked the deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage beginning Jan. 1. People have until Feb. 15 to sign up for 2015 coverage through the federally run online marketplace.
Crocker says unlocking accounts for renewal clients has been frustrating.
She says website passwords were reset in April and some individuals have had to get temporary passwords or find documentation with their identification number.
As we’ll see, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be costly and sometimes dramatic.
In much of Alaska, bridges, roads, buildings, and runways have been built on permafrost. That’s soil that became frozen during ice ages from 400 to 10,000 years ago, and a few feet down is frozen rock-hard year around.
Geophysics professor Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, said that due to human activity that removes the natural ground cover and warming temperatures, permafrost from the Brooks Range south is becoming unstable. He said when permafrost that’s a mix of ice and soil melts, the water often flows away and the surface sinks.
“It’s not just everything sinking evenly,” said Romanovsky. “But there’s some dips and troughs and all kind of thing develops, which for infrastructure is the worst case scenario.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ chief of maintenance and operations Mike Coffey said as permafrost thaws, it takes more time and money to keep roads in shape.
“When it thaws, then we maintenance and operations spend just about all summer up north fighting the roller coaster ride,” said Coffey. “So, we’re removing pavement, re-leveling, smooth roads, then repaving or chip sealing back over the top to try to smooth roads out.”
Coffey said during most of the 32 years he’s been with the Department of Transportation, Fairbanks winters were cold.
“Historically in the fall they instantly, or very suddenly, went to below zero and they stayed below zero until spring,” said Coffey.
Now, Coffey said, warmer temperatures are changing maintenance requirements for Fairbanks roads.
“We’re getting freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw. We had a huge rainstorm in January; I think that was in 2011,” said Coffey. “It’s forced us to change the way we do our winter maintenance operations in that we’re actually now having to do anti-icing in the Fairbanks area, which 10 or 15 years ago probably wouldn’t have even been thought of.”
Jack Hébert is founder and CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. He said melting permafrost can also damage building foundations, putting houses at a tilt or out of square. Sometimes houses sink into the ground, or the soil subsides, leaving stairs dangling above the ground. But Hébert said there are ways to save a structure whose foundation is damaged.
“There’s ways that you can inject material where the ground is starting to subside,” said Hébert. “And actually — it’s called slab jacking — you can actually lift parts of the foundation that are failing that can either be done with a fluid, even concrete, or it can be done with a slab jacking foam, and that pushes the foundation back up.
Also in Fairbanks, some hillside residents have seen their wells run dry, and downhill residents’ have seen their basements fill with water as permafrost melts. Hébert said mortgage funders and some municipalities now require soil tests so homes are not built on permafrost at risk of thawing.
Climate change has some people hoping warmer summers and milder winters will become the norm in Alaska. Other effects range from disastrous to inconvenient.
Mike Brubaker, director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Center for Climate Change and Health, said people can prepare for the downsides of climate change by increasing local self-sufficiency ̶ food, water, and energy security
“It’s something that’s always been a challenge and always been a priority for small rural Alaska communities,” said Brubaker. “And I think we just have to continue to work on that, and to make sure as opportunity presents itself through construction, through investment, through development that we’re making good decisions and helping to make our communities as climate resilient as possible.”
While there may be challenging times ahead, Jack Hébert said he’s still optimistic for the future.
“We can learn and work together on finding ways to address this climatic change that we’re experiencing just as in many other ways we have to adapt to the times we’re living in,” said Hébert. “I think we’ve got the talent to do that up here. It’s going to take research. It’s going to take commitment. Working together, I think we can get there.”
The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. The Sitka Sound Slayers got rolling two years ago and boast 29 members on their roster. But how did this former spectacle turn into a bonafide sport?
Off the track, these 29 women are teachers, commercial fisherwomen and stay at home moms. But on the track, they are a force of raw female power.
Slayers: HotWheelz, La Femme Nikita, Ivanna Getonya, Kippered Smacks, I’m the Filthy Oar, Sin & Tonic, Sodium Chloride, Bev O’lution, Valkori, Chooser of the Slain…
Meet the Sitka Sound Slayers
Their logo is a skull with crossed halibut and gaff hooks. Yes, they skate in fishnets and lipstick, but also helmets and mouth guards. Roller Derby is tough to play and addictive to watch. Their last bout with the Garnet Grit Betties of Wrangell sold out in five days.
“I typically have very thick glasses and wear ridiculous dresses,” said Bridgette Whitcomb, a 7th grade science teacher.
“My goal in life is to be Ms. Frizzell by day. And so, like my students will see me and they’re like. ‘Wait. I know you. Who are you?’ And then they get really upset because they realize, ‘OMG, it’s Ms. Whitcomb.’
“I was missing athleticism in my life,” said Cori Schumejda.
Schumejda played basketball in college and is now the league president. She goes by Valkori and sometimes warms up with Viking horns on her head.
“There was that point where I felt like I had my professional life and then I was a mom,” said Schumejda. “And there was no little slice of that for me. I think women are looking for a place to be competitive.”
Players skate on a flat track, not a banked track, and safety is paramount. There’s no punching, no elbowing, no clotheslining. In other words, modern derby is not the derby you may remember from a few decades ago.
According to the National Museum of Roller Skating, it all started with a TV publicist named Leo Seltzer who losing money during the Great Depression. He decided to organize these marathon skating events and sold tickets.
The public loved it, even more so when players began exaggerating their falls and elbowing opponents. Seltzer tried to curtail this fake play, but it was too late. By the 1970s, Roller Derby was part-theater, part-wrestling. A raucous, rage-filled spectacle with staged fights and little regulation.
In this bout between the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and the Chicago Hawks (about 40 seconds in), one skater grabs another by her collar and slings her across the track into the medical bench. And she’s not wearing a helmet. The crowd goes wild.
Rebirth as a Women-Owned Movement
So how did Derby go from that, to this?
“Extraordinarily independent,” described Juliana Gonzalez. “Fiercely feminist as far as I can tell. And pretty unapologetic about where we see women in the world and where we see sports in the economy.”
Juliana Gonzalez (aka Bloody Mary) is the Executive Director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. In 2001, a grassroots league formed called the Texas Rollergirls. Gonzalez was one of the founding godmothers. When we spoke, she was in the locker room of Team Greece at the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas.
Globally, the WFTDA has roughly 400 leagues, representing about 25,000 athletes. Gonzalez explains that while Roller Derby has retained elements of its former self, the power structure is flipped. The female skaters run their own leagues, not an outside owner or a commercial interest. For Gonzalez, derby’s fundamental autonomy is why leagues are springing up around the world.
“Our sport is not designed with the intention of getting recognition from the sporting world,” said Gonzalez. “There is such incredible appeal to a movement that will say, ‘We stand for ourselves. We’re glad you like it. Join us.’”
Derby Finds a Home in Alaska
And women in Alaska are heeding that call. There are member leagues in Wasilla,Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau. In Southeast, there’s also the Ketchikan Rainforest Rollergirls and the Petersburg Ragnarök Rollers. The Slayers hope to one day join the WFTDA. But for now, they’re mostly savoring the house they’ve built at right at home.
“I really love Sitka’s audience because they just come alive and it really just breathes fire into the skaters,” said Courtney MacArthur. Her derby name is Bev’ Olution, a tribute to how the sport radically changed her life. She has a tattoo on her arm of a little girl praying to a Barbie doll.
“I always thought I had okay self-esteem, but looking back, it was like, ‘No.’ It was connected to all these unhealthy things,” said MacArthur. “I get my sense of self from a completely different place now and I take pride in completely different things, like being strong, being fast, being healthy.”
Roller Derby was invented by a man. No argument. But it is definitely women who are taking it back.
What’s on Gov. Walker’s Federal Wish-List?
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.
Federal Spending Bill Appropriates $100 Million for Missile Defense in Alaska
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The federal omnibus spending bill that awaits President Obama’s signature contains $100 million for missile defense in Alaska. It’s the only major funding for military construction work in the state this fiscal year.
Governor Cuts Funding for Mining Road Project That is Subject of 2-Day Meeting in Fairbanks
Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks
Tribal leaders and stakeholders representing communities that could be impacted by a proposed 220-mile industrial road– gathered in Fairbanks to discuss cultural, environmental and social impacts of the road’s potential construction. The meeting is happening at a time when the state is facing difficult budget decisions that could hamper the project.
Togiak Clinic Remains Closed After Monday Night Burglary
Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham
The Togiak Health Clinic was damaged in an apparent burglary earlier this week, and two young men have been identified as the suspects. The only health clinic for the village of 900 residents remains shut down on account of the damages.
Broker Enrolls About 1K Alaskans In Latest Signup
The Associated Press
A broker established to help individuals sign up for private health insurance has enrolled about 1,000 Alaskans in the first month of the latest open enrollment period.
Proposed Anchorage Ban on Commercial Pot Fails in Assembly
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
An effort to keep Anchorage out of the marijuana regulation process failed last night in the Anchorage Assembly after extensive public comment.
Meeting Teaches Immigrants How Proposed Reforms Affect The Immigration Process
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
About 50 people attended a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday aimed at teaching Alaska’s immigrants about President Obama’s proposed actions to help immigrants gain legal status. The main message of the meeting was that you cannot apply for any of the programs yet, but you can start preparing documents.
Melting Permafrost Threatens Infrastructure, Homes
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Today we’ll hear the last in KNBA’s series on Climate Change and Alaska Natives. As Joaqlin Estus reports, the effects of warming temperatures on infrastructure can be dramatic.
Sitka Sound Slayers: A Women’s Movement on Wheels
Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka
The sport of flat track roller derby is booming in Alaska. There are more than a dozen leagues in the state, from the North Pole Babes to the Sitka Sound Slayers, with 29 members. And the derby they’re playing is not the derby of 40 years ago.
Alaska has more federal land than most states and depends more on federal spending, so Alaska’s governors always have a substantial list of priorities they want Congress or the Administration to accomplish. Like governors before him, Bill Walker says the item at the top of his federal wish-list is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. Alaska’s congressional delegation has been trying for decades, but Walker believes opening ANWR is politically possible.
“I think it is,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m not a stranger to that issue, and I’ve been in D.C. many times over the years on that issue. We’ve come close in the past, so that is certainly going to be a priority for me, absolutely.”
He also wants the Obama Administration to expedite all necessary permits and reviews for the Alaska Natural Gas pipeline. The project is a joint effort of the state and the private sector, but Walker says the feds can help by streamlining the regulatory timetable.
“Not bypassing the public involvement or process at all but, rather than moving one permit and then the next permit, maybe moving some permits at the same time,” Walker said.
Clearly, money matters. Walker this week submitted a bare-bones capital budget that relies mostly on federal funds. Walker says he’s a big fan of infrastructure, and projects that have federal funding are good candidates for the capital budget. But when it comes to the Knik Arm bridge, which isn’t in his first budget, federal construction funds aren’t the only consideration. Walker says he’s concerned about the cost of operation and maintenance.
“And we have to sort of figure out this incredible deficit, one of the largest in our state’s history, so it’s hard to ignore that,” he said.
Alaska, like most states, has an office in Washington D.C. It’s has five state employees, led for the past three years by Kip Knudson, the director of state and federal relations. Walker hasn’t yet announced who he’ll appoint to the job.
The Anchorage Assembly’s vote last night to uphold the state’s timetable for developing commercial marijuana guidelines has state-wide implications.
As the largest potential market for commercial pot, much of the drive behind the proposed measure was to leverage Anchorage’s size in order to shape how regulations develop in the year ahead.
“This goes back to an absolute opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength, not to be a follower,” explained Assembly member Amy Demboski, who introduced the bill as a “wait and see” approach. “To me this is an opportunity to be problem-solvers, not to be obstructionist, it’s literally to look at it and say ‘ok, how do we proceed carefully.’”
Almost a hundred people came to last night’s meeting, many of them to share their feelings on the marijuana ordinance. The majority of those who spoke during public testimony opposed the ban, citing reasons that spanned the ideological spectrum, appealing to democracy, tax policy, and even scripture as they made their case.
Likewise, those testifying to keep commercial marijuana out of Anchorage offered a diverse range of reasons.
“We don’t need another industry promoting the use and increased use of another intoxicant,” explained Jeff Jesse, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, who believes commercialization could exacerbate Alaska’s already-high rate of substance abuse. “Ending prohibition does not necessitate the creation of an industry to promote increased consumption.”
After hours of testimony and debate, the assembly overwhelmingly voted to kill the measure, with only Demboski and Assembly member Paul Honeman supporting it.
Drafting the regulations around marijuana will take months, and some who supported the ballot campaign think the hardest work is still ahead. In February state legislators will start the year-long process of laying out the specific rules determining permits, taxes, advertisements–all the technical details that come with an industry.
Bruce Schulte is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says after input has been collected from around the state, communities will then have three months to decide whether the commercial regulations fit local needs.
“That three month window is the appropriate and proper time for any community around the state to look at the state-wide rules, consider their own needs and objectives and then make a decision to opt out or apply additional rules and guidelines of their own,” Schulte explained. “Honestly, what makes sense for Anchorage is going to make just as much sense for Fairbanks, for Bethel, for Nome, for Kotz.”]
The vote doesn’t mean Anchorage will automatically opt in to regulations once they are done, only that a “wait and see” approach will unfold over a longer timeline.
President Obama today extended an executive action that puts Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas development.
“Under the authority granted to me under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act,” he said. “This withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any oil or gas leasing for purposes of exploration, development or production.”
The president’s announcement is being celebrated in Dillingham.
The Department of Health and Social Services has created a new position to help the state work toward the goal of expanding Medicaid.
The job is “Medicaid expansion project director” and it’s being filled by Chris Ashenbrenner, who spent two decades working for the department and came out of retirement to take on this challenge.
Ashenbrenner has been on the job only a few weeks, but her desk in Juneau is already covered with post-it note reminders and piles of paper. Those piles will help Ashenbrenner with the challenging task of coordinating the state’s plan for expanding Medicaid.
Ashenbrenner has a lot of experience with federal health policy in Alaska. She was director of the division of public assistance when she retired in 2009 and helped carry out welfare reform and start Alaska’s Denali KidCare program- the Medicaid program for kids.
She says helping the state expand Medicaid is the only job she can imagine coming out of retirement for:
“I saw such great need for people to get healthy,” Ashenbrenner said. ”Be able to get health services and be healthy in order to really lead them to be able to support themselves and their families. It’s such a barrier.”
Ashenbrenner hopes the state can expand Medicaid next summer. But a lot has to happen to make it work. Ashenbrenner has to identify costs, make sure the right systems are in place and work with the community and lawmakers to come up with a plan that will work for Alaska.
She recognizes the plunging price of oil and the state’s growing budget deficit could stymie Medicaid expansion. But she’s confident Alaska can come up with a proposal that offsets any costs of the program. She says Alaska has the advantage of building off the experience of other states like Wyoming and Utah:
“Both of those states have said they can do expansion without spending any new money and that’s the kind of plan we’re looking toward being able to develop,” Ashenbrenner said.
The department faces a big technical hurdle before Medicaid expansion can work. The systems for Medicaid enrollment and payment aren’t functioning properly. But Ashenbrenner thinks those problems can be resolved by the summer.
The federal government is offering a team of people to help Alaska work through any challenges. And within the state, Ashenbrenner says there’s an encouraging amount of enthusiasm and support:
“From community groups, from people inside the department, people inside the department, really excited about the possibility of getting this up and going and so that feels really good,” she said.
Ashenbrenner’s position is a temporary one. She’ll resume her retirement when expansion is complete. At first she was hopeful that would be in time for king salmon fishing. Now, she thinks moose hunting season is more realistic.
A fuel tanker headed to the North Slope wrecked at a remote spot along the Dalton Highway Sunday and overturned, spilling 1,200 gallons of diesel. The wrecked rig later caught fire and burned up.
The tanker owned by Fairbanks-based Big State Logistics was headed to a customer on the North Slope Sunday when it slid off the road around milepost 189 of the Dalton, near Wisemen, and overturned around 8:15 p.m.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a news release Monday afternoon stating that the cause of the wreck was unknown and under investigation by the state Transportation Department. And that the driver was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released.
Ashley Adamczak, an environmental specialist with the Fairbanks DEC office, says the tanker’s rear compartment ruptured and spilled about 1,200 gallons of diesel.
Big State Logistics sent personnel Sunday night to recover about 9,000 gallons that was still in the wrecked tanker. That was pumped into another tanker and sent on its way to the North Slope.
Adamczak says at some point after the fuel was removed, the wrecked tractor-trailer caught fire.
“The cause of the fire is still under investigation,” she said.
Adamczak says investigators with DEC were unable to survey the spill Monday, because of the fire.
“Due to the fact that the fire was still burning, we haven’t been able to get in too close and take a look at it.”
Adamczak couldn’t confirm Monday afternoon whether it had been extinguished.
She says investigators hope to get back into the area soon to survey the spill.
“One of the first priorities will be delineating the area of contamination, which means basically checking the soil for petroleum and seeing how much of an impacted area we have.”
Adamczak says DEC also will have a better estimate on how much of the ultralow-sulfur diesel was spilled once the tanker carrying the remaining load gets to its customer.
Montessori Borealis has been part of the Juneau School District for 20 years as an optional program. After a couple years of planning, the Montessori Borealis community submitted a proposal last spring to become its own school.
The school board will decide tonight.
Part of the Montessori Borealis school day includes a 3-hour block of time where the student decides what to learn. Montessori Borealis teacher Cory Crossett reads off a student’s work plan.
“He’s going to go on to do some long multiplication. After that he’s going to do some language work and write a poem and parse it, which means to break out the different parts of speech and symbolize those, ” he says. “It looks like it’s on to writing a final draft on his research on Ancient India.”
The plan has to be approved by the teacher.
“And so he’s going to work through this at his own pace and the idea, just like it is when you’re an adult, is to make a plan and successfully complete that plan and, you know, sometimes you’re going to pull it off and other times you’re not, but you’re going to learn how to self-regulate,” Crossett says.
Montessori education is based on multi-age classrooms. Borealis has two lowerelementary classrooms of first through third graders, and two upper elementary classes of fourth through sixth. Its adolescent program is made up of grades seven and eight. Total enrollment is about 140 students and their classrooms are in the Marie Drake Building.
Crossett says mixed grades means maintaining a consistent classroom culture.
“When I get new fourth graders, the older kids help them orient to the systems and the older kids have an investment in the systems running the right way. It essentially means that you are no longer the only teacher in the room. You may be the only adult there, but the kids learn how to help each other and to rely on each other in that way and it creates a really powerful sense of community,” Crossett says.
Montessori was developed in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, a developmental psychologist from Italy. The Montessori education model begins at age 3. If Borealis becomes its own school, adding a preschool and kindergarten is part of the plan.
“We’d love to be able to say we offer a full Montessori program from age 3 through middle school with fidelity, so we’re doing a program really more as it’s supposed to be done,” says Montessori Borealis Principal Kristin Garot.
The district would charge tuition for preschool; kindergarten would be free.
Expansion would also add a third lower elementary classroom and eventually a third upper elementary classroom, guaranteeing enough students to support its middle school program.
Garot says becoming its own school would make Montessori Borealis more prominent as a public school option for parents.
“When they reach out to different schools we sometimes get left aside because they don’t realize where we are or that we’re here, and so I think having our separate school designation will make it really clear,” Garot says.
If Borealis becomes its own school and maintains a minimum enrollment of 176, it could receivemore than $800,000 a year from the state and the city, according to the district. Preschool tuition could add another $100,000. These funds would cover costs and produce a surplus for other district needs.
Montessori Borealis isn’t the only Montessori program in the community. Juneau Montessori has been around for almost 30 years. The private nonprofit in Douglas offers toddler, preschool and kindergarten programs. Parents who want Montessori educated children often start them out at Juneau Montessori and then enter the Montessori Borealis placement process for first grade.
Juneau Montessori Executive Director Sharlyn Smith is excited about the prospect of having more Montessori education in Juneau, but she’s worried as well. If Borealis becomes its own school with a kindergarten, it may draw those children away from Juneau Montessori.
“If we have children that’ve been here for four years that suddenly all leave to try to get into the Borealis program, that’s a big hit on your program because those are your experienced children and then the level of functioning in your classrooms really goes down,” Smith says.
Juneau Montessori has about 60 students, including toddlers as young as 15 months. Smith says families often pay for their children to go through the whole program, including kindergarten, to maintain the community and learning style.
“But if you could have this education for free, people might try to do that, just because it’s good for their family and, of course, they should do what’s good for their family, right?” Smith says.
Tuition at Juneau Montessori is around $900 a month. Preschool tuition at Borealis could be roughly the same. That detail, among others, will be worked out if Montessori Borealis becomes its own school.