Alaska News

Artist Casts Bodies in Bethel to Highlight Mental Health

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:34

An artist is creating life-sized sculptures of Alaskans to tell the story of those who struggle with mental health. Sarah Davies travelled to one of the state’s most vulnerable regions, recently for a project called, ‘100 Stone’. She’s attempting to highlight the toll that depression takes and what people can do to help those in need.

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The 100 Stone project seeks to tell the story of mental health struggles and empower people to seek help from one another. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK.

Sarah Davies is dressed in plaster-covered overalls and slathering the white, gluey substance on the 6-foot-4 frame of Chuck Herman in the art room at the Kuskokwim campus of UAF in Bethel.

“At first it felt like they were just putting a big heavy wet blanket on me and then it started getting more and more constricting. So I feel pretty immobile at the moment,” said Herman.

That’s a lot like what Sarah Davies says mental illness can feel like. She knows, as she’s struggled with physical and mental health herself, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts.

“What that means is people who experience chronic illness, mental illness, which is a huge umbrella, grief, persistent grief, suicide losses, addiction and substance abuse, trauma – those are emotional burdens that may be like the weight of a bull on our shoulders, which is what the unit of weight 100 stone represents,” said Davies.

Photo: Dean Swope/KYUK.

Davies is leading the project, called 100 Stone. This is the very first casting session off the road system in Alaska. It’s a public art installation of 100 stories of personal struggles with mental health.

Alaskans suffer at rates well beyond the national average in several mental health categories.

Davies wrapped Herman in plastic, burlap and plaster. It’s kind of like a cast for a broken arm or leg, but for the whole body.

Davies has already completed about 80 body-castings on the road system. The aim of the project, she says, is to transform cultural attitudes and approaches toward those who struggle with mental health.

“Suicide awareness is one of the affects of what we are doing. What this is truly doing is speaking a truth: that we are here and we are suffering, and we are hiding in plain sight, and it is an isolating experience, and it is within that isolation that we find ourselves most at risk for things like suicide,” said Davies.

Photo: Dean Swope/KYUK.

The YK Delta region has high suicide rates, especially among Native youth. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation confirms nine suicides in the region this year, four of them in Bethel.

Herman, who works with youth as a high school career counselor in Bethel, and is a member of the Bethel City Council, says he hopes to put the issue out front.

“Anything that raises awareness of mental health issues is obviously an important thing, especially in the U.S. in general, and then in this community with all the issues we’ve had, and continue to have, around mental health,” said Davies.

Davies plans to display all of the life-sized human forms from across the state on the Anchorage mudflats in December. They’ll be positioned walking into the water. Like the uncertainly of mental illness, the dramatic tides of Cook Inlet will wash some away.

“We expect some will be lost, and that matches our experience in the world. We expect some will remain, some will be recoverable but perhaps unrecognizable,” said Davies.

Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK.

Davies says the scene will deliver a critical message of hope to Alaskans.

“The important truth there is that isolation and shame is what puts us at greatest risk and that when we can see each other in that special way, that part that we try to hide, that’s where we find the light,” said Davies.

Davies cast six bodies in Bethel to add to the project. She has about 20 more castings to do in other bush communities to reach her goal of 100.

Categories: Alaska News

Suspected Capitol flag thieves caught on tape

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:33

Three men were caught on tape who are suspected of breaking into the construction site at the state Capitol building, scaling the scaffolding and stealing flags off the roof.

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A video still of the three men that Capitol building security suspects scaled the Capitol to steal rooftop flags. Shared via KTOO.org.

Capitol building security circulated security videos and video stills of the three men on Monday. In an email to legislative staffers, the Capitol’s Chief of Security Steve Daigle said the heist went down around 1 a.m. Friday.

The Legislative Affairs Agency typically keeps a security guard on site around the clock.

Daigle said he was forbidden from speaking to media. His boss, Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Pam Varni, could not be reached for comment.

If you have information about this crime you can call Steve Daigle, Chief of Security, at 465-6227 or JPD at 586-0600 (Case No.: 150731-004).

Categories: Alaska News

Construction to start at Brucejack Mine in British Columbia

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:32

Construction of another British Columbia mine near a river that flows into Alaska could begin within a month. But it’s a small operation sparking fewer concerns on this side of the border than some other projects.

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The Brucejack mine site is shown in this 2013 photo. (Photo courtesy Pretivm Resources)

Brucejack is a high-altitude, gold and silver prospect about 80 miles east of Wrangell. It’s within the watershed of the Unuk River, which drains into the ocean northeast of Ketchikan.

Vancouver-based Pretivm Resources is its owner and developer.

Spokeswoman Michelle Romero says heavy equipment could begin moving by the end of August.

“The construction would involve bulk earthworks first to level the area for the project infrastructure, the site facilities, as well as continuing the underground development in order to access the ore,” she says.

Brucejack is moving ahead because it just won a major environmental permit from Canada’s federal government. British Columbia’s environmental and mines agencies OK’d the project in March.

Canadian officials found the mine would cause some adverse, but not significant, environmental impacts on fisheries, wildlife and migratory birds.

It also decided project plans meet terms of agreements with the Nisga’a First Nation, whose tribal members hunt and fish in the area.

The Nisga’a were part of the environmental assessment process that led to government approval. Members will likely be among the hundreds of people who build and operate the mine.

“We will be expected to hire from the north, pursuant to all of our conditions, which includes everyone in the north, in the communities that were part of our assessment,” Romero says.

Construction will take two years and cost about $750 million. Additional investments and a few more permits are still needed.

A heavy equipment operator moves a drill into position during exploration in a Brucejack Mine tunnel. (Photo courtesy Pretivm Resources)

Most transboundary mine concerns focus on safe storage of tailings — waste rock from the milling process.

Romero says Brucejack will not store its tailings behind an earthen dam, which critics say are unsafe.

“The tailings management plan is to put half of the tailings underground as part of the paste backfill in the spent mine workings. And then half would be deposited at the bottom of Brucejack Lake,” she says.

The high-altitude lake is frozen most of the year, has no fish and rarely drains water.

Critics in Alaska are less concerned about Brucejack than larger British Columbia projects.

Those include Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, which is close to Brucejack and in the exploration phase. Another is Red Chris, which recently opened in the Stikine River watershed. Yet another is the Tulsequah Chief, which could reopen in the Taku River watershed.

“Brucejack itself is certainly not a mine that rises to the level of concern of KSM or Tulsequah Chief, given its size and method of operation,” says Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders, an international environmental group.

“It is close to KSM. It raises the issue of cumulative effects and how many mines are we going to see in that small area. But I think the overall concern is less about Brucejack itself but more about this overall mining binge in the transboundary (area) coming at us very fast without any safeguards,” he says.

If built, Brucejack is projected to operate for 18 years.

If more high-grade ore is discovered, Romero says it could have a longer life.

Categories: Alaska News

A Year After Mine Disaster, Wrangellites Protest BC Mines

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 17:31

A protest in Wrangell on Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of a mining disaster in Canada and sought to bring attention to mines being developed across the border from Southeast Alaska.

About 100 people marched through Wrangell behind a banner that read “Keep the Stikine Clean.”

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Tribal member Apryl Hutchinson arrives at Shakes Island at the end of the march. Photo: Katarina Sostaric/KTSK.

They marked the one-year anniversary of a British Columbia mine disaster with a rally and water blessing to raise awareness for other B.C. mines that could pose a threat to Southeast Alaska’s rivers and salmon.

Wrangell tribal member Apryl Hutchinson said she hopes the community effort will make a difference.

“We don’t want what happened at Mount Polley to happen on the Stikine,” Hutchinson said. “And we just want to make everyone aware–especially here in Wrangell at the mouth of the river–that we are here, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

“A lot of the perception is that since it’s going on in Canada, we don’t have much of a voice down here,” said Mike Hoyt. “And I think that’s what this is about, is trying to get people motivated and involved and showing them that we do have a voice in this.”

Hoyt helped organize the event with Salmon Beyond Borders and the Wrangell Cooperative Association, the local tribal government.

Last August, the Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. spilled millions of gallons of mine waste into a salmon-bearing watershed. The owner of Mount Polley, Imperial Metals, also owns the Red Chris Mine that opened this summer upriver from Wrangell. Red Chris has the same waste-rock storage system that failed at Mount Polley.

Tlingit and Haida tribal members, other Wrangell residents, conservation organizations and representatives of First Nations in Canada marched to the Chief Shakes Tribal House to sing, dance and learn about B.C. mine issues. There was a strong call for unity between Native tribes of Alaska and First Nations of B.C. in efforts to prevent another mine disaster.

Jacinda Mack is from the First Nation in the vicinity of the Mount Polley spill. She told the crowd this was the first year the community didn’t have fish, and she’s very worried about potential long-term effects on the environment.

“My hope is that my people, the Secwepemc, from where the Mount Polley mining disaster happened, can work together with the different tribes of Alaska,” Mack said. “Because we have so much in common and so much to learn from each other and share with each other to protect our common interest of healthy, clean water.”

A protest in Wrangell on Sunday, August 2, 2015. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

Mack said she wants to help protect Alaska from the same problems.

Oscar Dennis of the Tahltan Nation near the Red Chris Mine talked about his direct action campaigns to expel other resource extractors from that area over the past 10 years. He said the rally was a start, but getting the U.S. and Canada to invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty could take some extra pressure. The treaty is intended to settle disputes about bodies of water shared by the two countries.

“Letter writing is not going to get it done,” said Dennis. “And you can sit here for 10 years and watch it, and by the time everything’s over and destroyed, you wake up and that’s a little bit too late. You have to force your politicians to take action. That’s basically the only way. In my experience, after 10 years on the ground, it’s the only way we’ve ever gotten results.”

But Wrangell Tribal Administrator Aaron Angerman said it is important for everyone to get educated about what could happen.

“If Wrangell could wrap their heads around not having fish for a whole year, possibly longer, maybe it would really open their eyes to see what could happen with this mine up there on the Stikine,” Angerman said.

He plans to host more events like this in Wrangell, and he hopes more Southeast communities will follow suit.

Categories: Alaska News

Meet The Elasmosaur: Alaska’s Darling Version of Nessie

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 15:38

Earlier this summer, paleontologists confirmed that fossilized vertebrae found in the Talkeetna Mountains belonged to an ancient sea creature, the elasmosaur. This is the first time that remains of the species have been found in the state.

This painting of life in a Cretaceous sea by Anchorage artist James Havens depicts elasmosaurs. Photo: Museum of the North –

The elasmosaur was a carnivorous reptile that prowled the oceans during the Cretaceous Period, which ended about sixty-five million years ago. Pat Druckenmiller is the earth sciences curator at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. As he explains, the most striking feature of the elasmosaur was its incredibly long neck.

“Imagine an animal, maybe thirty feet long, with half of that length being its neck, and this long neck sticking out supporting a relatively small head at the end.”

Based purely on description, the elasmosaur can be hard to picture in the imagination. Druckenmiller says there is one good visual comparison.

“Although I’m a little loathe to use the comparison, if you think of the Loch Ness Monster–which is definitely a mythical animal–that mythical animal was basically based on the body plan of an elasmosaur.”

With elasmosaur’s neck taking up as much as half of its total body length, it had to serve some evolutionary advantage. Pat Druckentmiller says scientists don’t agree on what exactly that purpose is nearly a 150 years after the animal’s remains were first discovered.

“That’s the million dollar question, and frankly that’s defied any widely-accepted answer.”

Druckenmiller says there are plenty of theories that try to explain the purpose of elasmosaur’s extreme anatomy. Many of them deal with feeding. Pat thinks that there are other possibilities as well, however.

“One idea I like, actually, is that sometimes animals have very strange anatomy because they use them for sexual selection, in other words showing off to potential mates, and species recognition. So that’s also a possibility.”

While scientists continue to work toward a consensus on elasmosaur’s neck, the other question I wanted the answer to was how an animal that lived in the ocean found itself, millions of years later, buried in a cliff at over 4,000 feet of elevation. Pat Druckenmiller says finding marine fossils at elevation is not uncommon.

“Alaska looked very different. In fact, these rocks, which were being laid down as sediment below sea level, were along the southern margin of what was Alaska, then. In the last seventy-million years, because of movements of the Pacific seafloor under Alaska, they’ve been crunched and brought up above sea level.”

Druckenmiller says that a great deal of credit should go to Curvin Metzler, the Anchorage resident who first noticed the bones eroding out of a cliff in the Talkeetna Mountains and called the Museum of the North.

“My hat’s off to somebody who does what I would say is the right thing in this situation and reports significant finds like that to the museum so we can study it and share it with the rest of the world.”

Pat Druckenmiller believes that a large portion of the elasmosaur’s skeleton is fossilized in the mountain, and he and his team will continue their work to extract it next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Drums of Waste Dumped Around Kodiak Island

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:22

Someone has dumped drums of hazardous waste in the Buskin River State Park. That’s according to Preston Kroes, an Alaska State Park Ranger, who says they discovered two 55-gallon containers last month.

“Either sometime over the night on July 12 or early morning July 13, a couple of barrels were dumped along the Buskin river approximately 80 feet from the river,” says Kroes. “And they contained what originally we thought was just diesel fuel, and it turned out to be diesel salt water, more consistent what would have been from a vessel’s bilge.”

Kroes says some of the drums spilled and required cleanup. And there have been more tossed around the island.

“The ranger investigating it all had determined that around the Kodiak borough there had been an additional 18 other barrels kind of in the same timeline dumped, and we’re kind of going under the assumption that they were from the same subject that was doing all the dumping,” says Kroes.

He says there could be somewhere between 18 and 21 drums in total and that park rangers are not certain about the motivation behind the illegal disposal.

“We’re assuming it was just to save the cost from the dump fee. It could have just been that that’s what they thought they needed to be or that was their only option. We’re not sure.”

Kroes says that if you have any information, you should call 907-486-6339 and ask for Park Ranger Jennifer Culbertson or leave a message on her extension.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Coast Guard celebrates 225th birthday

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:19

Rescue swimmers from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak wait for a basket pickup by an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during open water training off the coast of Kodiak Island April 23, 2008. (Official USCG photo by PA1 Kurt Fredrickson)

Today is the 225th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. And to celebrate that event, the new commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, Captain Mark Morin, joined KMXT to talk about Coast Guard history and his experiences in Kodiak.

He says he started in his current position this June, but his time as a pilot in the Coast Guard brought him to Kodiak in the mid-1990s.

“A lot of the kids that we knew, a lot of the people that we knew have grown up, have some moved away, some are still here,” says Morin. “So, it’s great to engage with them again and to see them as adults now, because my wife was a teacher and taught a lot of the local community – the kids here at the schools – so, it’s nice to run into these folks and see them being productive citizens here in Kodiak.”

Morin says flying through the local weather is as challenging as ever, but says he loves Kodiak’s ruggedness. And, according to Morin, the Coast Guard has been fighting the wind and the rain on Kodiak Island since the late 1940s.

“This was a Navy station built to commission in 1941 and then, in 1947, we had a coast guard detachment of PBY Catalina aircraft, which were the kind of aircraft that had a boat-type bottom that would land on the water and would conduct search and rescue out here in this region and then, in 1972, it officially was turned over – the base was turned over – to the U.S. coast guard.”

And he explains the United States Coast Guard has been around since the late 18th century, but not as one organization.

“1790 was the birth of the Coast Guard, and we weren’t called the Cost Guard back then,” says Morin. “We were called Revenue Cutter Service, Lighthouse Service, Bureau of Navigation, Steamboat Service, and then Life-Saving Service. So, there were like five agencies back then.”

Morin says the Coast Guard as we know it was established in 1915.

“We took all of those agencies that overlapped in different authorities and we called it the Coast Guard, commissioned it as the Coast Guard, and obviously, the rest is history. A hundred years of modern day Coast Guard, if you will, up until now.”

Categories: Alaska News

Stimson Patrol Vessel Leaves Dutch Harbor for Kodiak After 17 Years

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:17

The Patrol Vessel Stimson in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. KUCB/John Ryan photo.

The Patrol Vessel Stimson sailed out of Dutch Harbor Monday morning, marking the end of an era for Unalaska and for the Stimson.

After 17 years based in Dutch Harbor, it’s heading to Kodiak, where the state of Alaska’s biggest patrol vessel will be based.

“I will certainly miss Dutch Harbor,” said Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sergeant Robin Morrisett, one of six Department of Public Safety employees who are leaving Unalaska with the Stimson. “I’ve got a lot of friends here, and so does everybody else on the boat. We’re all going to miss Dutch Harbor.”

With the Stimson crew’s family members serving on the school board and other local committees and occupying seats in city schools, it’s a loss to the small community.

But Morrisett said law enforcement on the Bering Sea and around the Aleutians won’t take a hit, even though the Stimson will be based some 600 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.

“As of right now, we’re going to keep same amount of sea days out on the water that we do now, plus extra ones for the running time [from Kodiak],” he said. “We’re not going to see a downsize in enforcement. Same areas, plus newer areas around Kodiak and the south Alaska Peninsula, over there by Chignik.”

Even with the extra running time and fuel, public safety officials said the move will save close to a half million dollars a year.

Unalaska city officials fought the move when it was proposed in previous years, but they didn’t put up much fight this year in the face of the state’s deepening budget woes.

As of July 1, Department of Public Safety director Col. James Cockrell told KNBA that the department had to find $8.5 million in cuts. At least 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated.

“I just don’t see us, with this budget climate, being able to save everything,” then-city manager Chris Hladick told KUCB in March.

State troopers said they pay employees in Unalaska 60 percent more than the Anchorage rate, and they provide state-leased housing.

The Stimson’s main mission is enforcing commercial fisheries laws, but its wildlife troopers also enforce other laws.

Morrisett said the ship has responded to several assaults this summer among the sockeye fishing boats in busy Bristol Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Atchak Arraigned for Murder Charge in Death of Roxanne Smart

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:15

Roxanne Smart. (Photo Courtesy of Justice For Roxanne Smart)

Twenty-year-old Samuel Atchak was arraigned in Bethel Superior Court Tuesday morning. He’s charged in the murder of Roxanne Smart last August. The arraignment follows an indictment by a grand jury. A public defender Tuesday entered not guilty pleas.

Atchak was arrested in July after a long wait for results from a crime lab.

According to court documents, he admitted to investigators that he killed Smart in August of 2014. His case will be back in court October 1st for an omnibus hearing.

19-year-old Roxanne Smart was found dead outside last August after being sexually assaulted.

Categories: Alaska News

Shageluk Man Dies After Reportedly Jumping from Boat

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:13

The man jumped from a boat upriver of Shageluk. Image from Bing Maps.

A Shageluk man has died after reportedly jumping out of a boat in the Innoko River.

State troopers say 48-year-old Robert Demientieff jumped out of the boat about seven miles upriver of Shageuluk late Friday evening.

That night, local search crews attempted to locate the man but were unsuccessful.
State troopers flew out Saturday to investigate the incident and look for the body.

Searchers ultimately found Demientieff’s body Sunday evening.

Troopers say alcohol was involved and Demienteff was not wearing a life jacket.

His body will be sent to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Slow Fall Chum Run Leaves Yukon Smokehouses Empty

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:10

Slow fall chum runs have kept subsistence fisherman from being too active on the Yukon River this past week, but as Chinook continue crossing the border, officials say their numbers are well above escapement goals.

“As far as I know, everybody’s smokehouse is empty, waiting for fall chum,” said Fred Huntington in Galena.

It was a sentiment echoed by many calling in to the weekly teleconference for fishermen and managers along the Yukon last week. That wait has been going on for two weeks now—ever since fall chum officially started running around July 18, creating a midseason lull for many fishermen between summer and fall chum runs. Bonnie Borba, the fall chum research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the first pulse of fall chum would be making its way upriver by the end of July and into the first week of August.

In all, the fall chum run on the Yukon is expected at between 700,000 to 800,000 fish. It’s a moderately-sized run that Fish and Game’s Jeff Estensen said may be slow, but they are on their way.

“[Fall chum] certainly will be getting there,” he told callers. “They’re making their way up. I did get a chance to talk to a fisherman in Holy Cross a couple of days ago; he mentioned there’s definitely signs that that pulse was definitely going by Holy Cross. So they did see them, so by all accounts it definitely seems like we have a pulse of fish going upriver.”

The fall chum run should be enough for escapement, subsistence, and commercial needs, Estensen said; already, commercial harvesters in the lower river have caught nearly 27,000 fall chum.

But Huntington pressed managers to loosen gear restrictions for mid- and upper-river fisherman who are  still trying to meet their subsistence needs. Right now, he said, he has to travel downriver to Koyukuk to catch the fish he needs.

“It would be helpful to us, because (of the) price of fuel here, and the lack of fish in our smokehouses, it would help quite a bit if we were able to just go out here with our five gallons of gas, that we could possibly have [Districts] 4B and C open for drifting,” he asked. “Get our ten fish or whatever we want to get, rather than going to Koyukuk and trying to get a hundred.”

While fall chum slowly move upriver, the Chinook continue moving into spawning grounds in Canada. As of last week, nearly 65,000 kings have now crossed the border. Stephanie Schmidt, the summer season manager for Fish and Game who oversaw the king salmon run, said beating the upper-limit escapement goal of 55,000 fish is a victory for everyone involved.

“This run is still well below average, well below what we used to see a couple of decades ago,” she began. “However, thanks to the tremendous conservation efforts on behalf of fishermen up and down the river, we’ve been able to achieve escapement goals on all of our Alaska drainage projects so far. And we’ve now achieved the upper end of the escapement at the border. And thanks for working to make sure these fish get on the spawning grounds so we can try and rebuild this run for the future.”

Another update on the fall chum in the Yukon will be available for fishermen to weigh in on Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

BSNC Buys Chain of ‘Alaska Industrial Hardware’ Stores

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-08-04 12:08

The Alaska Industrial Hardware store in northeast Anchorage. Photo: Google Street View.

Bering Straits Native Corporation is getting into the hardware business after purchasing a small Alaska-based chain of industrial construction and equipment stores.

The company announced Monday the purchase of Alaska Industrial Hardware.

Founded by James Thompson in 1959 in a Quonset hut in midtown Anchorage, AIH now operates eight locations statewide—including three in Anchorage—with stores in Eagle River, Wasilla and Kenai. Outside of Southcentral the company also has stores in Fairbanks and Juneau. The company also hosts the annual Salmon Classic Fishing Tournament.

Details of the sale—including the purchase price for the company—were not given by BSNC or AIH. As of a 2008 profile in Alaska Business Monthly, AIH boasts a $15 million on-hand inventory in its stores, but AIH President Terry Shurtleff said Tuesday those numbers are higher today, and the company’s distribution network connects it to 400 retailers across Alaska, including the bush.

“If they’re buying hardware in western Alaska, odds are the vendor who has it purchased it through our wholesale division,” he said.

In a release from BSNC, corporation president and CEO Gail Schubert was quoted as saying “AIH is a solid company that fits well with the growing Bering Straits portfolio of companies.”

Shurtleff and the existing executive team will continue managing the company, and its more than 230 employees, on a day-to-day basis. No major changes in staffing are expected as a result of purchase.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to know that we’ll continue to be Alaskan owned,” Shurtleff said of the sale. “I think some of the expertise that Bering [Straits Native Corp.] brings to the table, and expertise we bring to the table, we’re going to be able to use that to benefit all the shareholders of the corporation … that’s what we’re here to do, it so provide a return to the 7,100-plus shareholders of the corporation.”

Bering Straits said in the release the purchase is part of the company’s strategic plan to expand its holdings beyond commercial and government operations, lands, and resource development.

BSNC was established to represent shareholders in the Bering Strait and Norton Sound region under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

Categories: Alaska News

3,000 in Anchorage to Lose Food Stamps Under Change to Work Requirement

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 17:46

A change in state policy will end access to Food Stamps for thousands of Alaskans.

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A letter sent out from the Division of Public Assistance on June 24th to all state residents receiving Food Stamps says “able-bodied adults without dependents” who do not meet the program’s work requirements will no longer be eligible three months into the new year.

Most food stamp recipients will not be affected. The work requirements hit those who are between ages 18 and 49, do not have a noted disability status, and have no dependents.

But the letter has left many worried they will lose important access to food.

“We received… five, six calls just in the last week,” said Derrick Pennington, who works for the LINKS Mat-Su Parent Resource Center in Wasilla, although he added most of the clients he serves fall within the exempted categories.

Still, Pennington said many feel unsure, “Folks who received the letter and are just really confused about whether or not their benefits are going to be impacted. ”

Work requirements have been a contentious part of public assistance rules since a 1996 change to the federal laws. Alaska suspended the work requirements in 2004 because of high unemployment rates.

The state’s Department of Health and Social Services has also fielded questions from concerned residents, according to Public Information Officer Sarana Schell. In an email, Schell wrote, “With improving economic conditions throughout the country, many states no longer qualify for these statewide waiver, including Alaska.”

Officials have requested a waiver covering 28 borough and census areas, along with 155 native villages where unemployment is 20 percent above the national average. The only area not covered by that request is Anchorage, where as many as 3,000 residents stand to be affected.

Schell wrote the Public Assistance Director’s letter is intended to inform recipients about how to meet work requirements so as to keep as many people as possible qualified for the Food Stamps program.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, August 3, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 17:40

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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3,000 In Anchorage to Lose Food Stamps After Work Requirement Change

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

A change in state policy will end access to Food Stamps for thousands of Alaskans.

Alaska Exempt From New Federal Clean Power Rules

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The White House and the EPA today released the final version of its rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants. The administration’s Clean Power Plan sets targets that states have to meet and requires them to submit plans detailing how they will acheive them. But Alaska will not have to comply with new mandates, at least not yet.

Murkowski Votes to Move Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood failed a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate today. Sen. Dan Sullivan is a co-sponsor of the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted to advance the defunding measure also, but she says she doesn’t want to see Planned Parenthood’s funding removed without an investigation.

Summer Work Underway at Red Devil Mine in Advance of Big Cleanup

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Crews are sampling water and sediments this summer near the site of the old Red Devil mercury mine in the middle Kuskokwim. It’s work that comes in advance of a large clean up project.

Pregnant Kotlik Woman Loses Child After Assault

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

State Troopers are investigating an assault in Kotlik after a pregnant victim’s baby died.

Former NICU Parent Helps Others Navigate A Stressful Time

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most people working in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit have some type of advanced medical degree.  But one employee at The Children’s Hospital at Providence in Anchorage has a very different set of qualifications. Ginny Shaffer spent more than three months in the NICU as a parent, with her daughter who was born at 23 weeks. Now she helps other families through one of the most stressful times of their lives as a Parent Navigator.

With Subsistence Foods Running Short, Bering Strait Villages Receive A Donation of Halibut

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

For four communities affected by this spring’s poor walrus harvest in the Bering Strait region, help is on its way in the form of 10,000 pounds of halibut.

Gambell Basketball Player Chooses Between Hometown Team and Seattle Offer

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

Sixteen-year-old Wallace Ungwiluk [un-GWILL-uck] is a standout point guard for his basketball team in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. But the game could carry this high school junior 2,000 miles from home to Seattle, where he’s been recruited to play for a private high school.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Exempt From New Federal Clean Power Rules, For Now

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 17:36

By Dori (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Alaska will not have to comply with new federal mandates to cut carbon emissions from power plants, at least not yet.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she got word in a phone call from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“And she said, ‘I listened to you.’”

In the draft rule, Alaska would have had to cut emissions by 26 percent. Murkowski, at a hearing in April, told McCarthy the target was unreachable and that Alaska was different, in part because its limited grid is cut off from all other states. The final rule says the EPA doesn’t have enough information to set target reductions for Alaska and other areas cut off from the national grid. Murkowski says that’s what McCarthy told her.

“And she said we realized we didn’t have the data and we didn’t have the data for good reason, because it effectively doesn’t exist. And so she said we realized we could not advance this at least for some time.”

The new national rule, released today, requires other states to eliminate about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030. The final rule doesn’t apply to Alaska, Hawaii, Guam or Puerto Rico.

“I wouldn’t use the word exempt. I would use the word defer,” says Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s air quality office.

That’s Janet McCabe, head of the EPA air quality office.

“We intend to work with those jurisdictions and other sources to get information and move forward to finalize a plan. We do not set out a schedule for that at this time but we will move forward with that.”

Murkowski says she repeatedly pressed McCarthy on when the rules for the non-contiguous areas  might be ready and she got no definite answer. The senator says it was her impression time might run out on the Obama Administration before then. Murkowski was visibly happy about the news.

Now, the question is whether she, as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee will join Republican efforts to block the rule from going into effect in other states. Murkowski says she hasn’t had enough time to look at the final version.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Votes to Move Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 17:35

A bill to defund Planned Parenthood failed a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate today. Sen. Dan Sullivan is a co-sponsor. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted to advance the defunding measure also, but she says she doesn’t want to see Planned Parenthood’s funding removed without an investigation.

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“A move to wholesale defund Planned Parenthood is just not smart,” she said just outside the Senate chamber after a procedural vote on the defunding bill.

Murkowski says she wanted the bill to advance so she could vote for an amendment offered by Republican moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. That measure would have required the Justice Department to investigate whether Planned Parenthood or its affiliates violated federal law regarding the harvest of fetal tissue. The Collins-Kirk measure would have cut off funding just to the facilities, if any, that profited from that practice. (Today’s procedural vote split Collins and Kirk. Collins voted to advance the defunding bill with hopes of amending it. Kirk was the only Republican to vote agasint advancing the bill.)

The reasons Murkowski is giving for her vote are nuanced and likely to be lost in the heated debate. After the vote, the Alaska Democratic Party issued a statement headlined “Murkowski Abandons Alaska Women.” On the other side, Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Action, has been urging his anti-abortion followers to tell Murkowski to support the bill.

Murkowski, who is up for re-election next year, has had a complex stand on abortion and women’s health issues since her days in the Alaska Legislature, and she has alternately pleased and angered both sides of the abortion debate.

Murkowski says she knows people will read a lot of meaning into today’s vote. She says she believes Plannned Parenthood does good work and she notes that it provides health care to 21,000 Alaskans.

“What I’m opposed to is any measure that would completely defund … important services to men and women.  Unless, unless there has been illegal action,” she said. “And we don’t know if there has been.”

She says she was repulsed by the videos taken by anti-abortion activists in which Planned Parenthood officials seem to discuss compensation for providing fetal tissue for research and methods of collection. Murkowski today asked the U.S. attorney general for an investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Gambell Basketball Player Chooses Between Hometown Team and Seattle Offer

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 17:31

NBA point guard Derrick Rose was first scouted at his local high school and eventually drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls. Sixteen-year-old Wallace Ungwiluk is a big fan of Rose — and a point guard too. But basketball could carry the junior from Gambell much farther from home — more than 2,000 miles to Seattle, where he’s been recruited to play for a private high school.

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This summer, Ungwiluk has a decision to make — stay home and try to win Gambell its first championship in 30 years or move to Seattle and get seen by college scouts.

According to Alvin Aningayou, there’s nothing like a Gambell home game.

“It’s a raucous, rowdy, exciting, electrified environment,” he said. “When we win, you can feel the excitement and the buzz. And when we lose, you can feel their heart breaking just as our heart’s breaking. It’s just incredible.”

Aningayou is coach of the Gambell boys basketball team, and he said its Wallace Ungwiluk who has gotten the crowd going in recent years.

As a sophomore, point guard Wallace Ungwiluk averaged over 27 points per game for Gambell. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

He is the team’s captain, point guard, and top scorer. As a sophomore last season, he averaged over 27 points per game — nearly double the production of Gambell’s second best scorer. And Coach Aningayou said he’s just getting better.

“He’s special,” he said. “He started to shine, and he’s continually trying to get better. And that’s what we need — not having players settle.”

Wallace was in Anchorage last summer for a basketball camp. He trained, worked on his game, and — for the first time — saw just how far basketball could take him.

“That was the first time I’ve really ever been coached or pushed that hard,” he said. “I went to that camp not thinking I’d get much exposure there, but I actually did and I was quite surprised. This is a big opportunity for me.”

That’s the opportunity to move to Seattle, attend a private school, and play competitive ball. The offer comes from Seattle Lutheran High School, which had a solid postseason last year and is planning for a deep run in this season’s state tournament.

But the offer comes at a critical time for Wallace and his hometown team. Gambell is looking to improve after a string of early exits from the Bering Strait School District’s annual tournament. In the last two years, Gambell has been knocked out quickly, and Wallace wants to help turn the team around and contend for the title.

“I do want to stay here in this village and win a championship for this village, because it hasn’t been done in about 30 years. But I’m not only thinking about my high school career,” he said. “I’m also thinking about after high school. I want to play college basketball, and my best chance for that is getting exposure in Seattle.”

Wallace said western Alaska is no hotbed for college recruitment, and he knows most scouts don’t make it to St. Lawrence Island. Even after writing letters to 12 colleges and making a YouTube video of his highlights, Wallace isn’t sure he can crack a college lineup if he stays in Gambell.

“No one’s really heard of me,” he said. “But Seattle — they’ve got colleges all around Seattle. They’ve got scouts there too. It gives me a better chance.”

But Seattle would also be a big change. In Gambell, Wallace gets around on his four-wheeler, often with his 12-year old brother Skyley. He loves boating, snowboarding, and doing subsistence hunting with his family. His dad Rodney has home movies of Wallace’s first whale-hunting trip, and his mom Yuka makes his favorite meal, walrus.

Life in Seattle would be different, and Wallace worries about being homesick, getting lost in a big city, and having to make new friends at school. But he takes pride in representing Gambell, and Coach Aningayou said he’ll support Wallace whether he stays in Gambell or takes his talents to Seattle Lutheran.

“If he decides to stay, I think it’s going to be a breakout year for Gambell,” he said. And if not, “he has a chance of actually making a living playing basketball — something he loves. That’d be a great success for him. For the community also.”

But either way, Wallace said he won’t leave Gambell for good.

“I want to study business, and I want to come back out here to this village because the unemployment rate is super high,” he said. “I want to be able to establish something where there could be jobs for everybody because it’s hard to live out here. And that’s one of the reasons that I want to go off to college and I’ll be coming back.”

Until then, Wallace will attend three summer basketball camps and think about his decision. His final stop will be Seattle, where Wallace and his dad will tour his prospective school and meet with the Seattle Lutheran coaches in person. He’ll make his final decision after that visit.

Categories: Alaska News

Draft petition calls for a third city in Ketchikan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 16:01

North Tongass Fire and EMS. (KRBD file photo)

Consolidation has failed in Ketchikan many times in the past. Now, a group of people in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s North End is trying something completely different: They want to create another city in the borough, which would add a fourth local government in a community of about 13,000 people.

The draft petition calls for creation of the City of Ward Cove, using roughly the same boundaries as what is now the North Tongass Service Area. The home-rule city would begin where the City of Ketchikan’s ends, a little north of the Shoreline Drive area, and would extend to Settlers Cove State Park on the far north of the road system.

The draft petition argues that the proposed new city is distinct from the City of Ketchikan geographically and culturally. Also, mountains and streams limit the ability of the City of Ketchikan to expand utilities for North End residents. Becoming a city would allow those residents to improve utilities on their own.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said the petitioners have consulted with him while drafting the petition. He said areawide powers, such as public education, transit and the airport, would remain with the borough. But the petition calls for transferring a number of non-areawide powers to the new city.

“The ones that are currently provided in that area by the borough include library, sewage disposal, solid waste, regulation of the sale or possession of drug paraphernalia, regulation of possession and sale of fireworks, the North Tongass Fire and EMS Service Area, the Ward Creek Road Service Area and the Mud Bight Water and Utility Service Area,” he said.

Settlers Cove State Park. (KRBD file photo)

Library funding has been a point of contention between some borough residents and

the City of Ketchikan. The city operates the Ketchikan Public Library, and has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Under that MOU, the borough provides per-capita funding to the city for library services, and to collect that, charges a fee on a non-areawide basis.

Based on that agreement, the borough provided about $400,000 for the library this year.

Bockhorst says that agreement applies only to borough residents who don’t live within any incorporated city.

“So, if a City of Ward Cove were to form, our power to provide library services would be restricted to exclude that area,” he said. “So, there would be an adjustment in terms of not necessarily the formula of how the borough pays, but there would be a rate adjustment.”

The petition estimates that the population of the proposed City of Ward Cove would include 3,250 permanent residents. That equals roughly $256,600 of this year’s borough contribution to library services.

The proposed new city would encompass 42 square miles of land, three square miles of water and tidelands; and property with an assessed value of $350 million.

Knudson Cove is on Ketchikan’s North End. (KRBD file photo)

The petition does not propose any change in the current property tax rate, which now is 5 mills for the borough, and 2.4 mills for the service area. There also is no proposed sales tax for the new city, beyond the current 2.5 percent boroughwide sales tax.

The petition calls for a strong-mayor form of government, which means the mayor would act as the city manager. The city also would have five elected council members, serving two-year terms.

Bockhorst said if the City of Ward Cove does eventually form, it will be an interesting development for the borough.

“It will have an effect, and not necessarily a negative effect,” he said. “At this time, I do not have any concerns about that.”

Bockhorst adds that the petitioners seem to have drafted a clean, well-thought-out petition.

“They are consulting with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, as they should be,” he said. “And they’re planning to consult with the City of Ketchikan and also with the North Tongass Service Area Board.”

Petitioners named in the document are Trevor Shaw, who is a Ketchikan School Board member, and Jason Harris. Neither returned a call seeking comment by deadline for this story.

The petition is still in draft form, and has not yet been formally submitted to the state Local Boundary Commission. The petitioners will need to gather signatures of at least 15 percent of voters in the last election before officially submitting the petition for review.

Once that has taken place, the LBC will decide whether to move forward with an incorporation election for what would be Ketchikan’s fourth local government. The other three are the borough, the City of Ketchikan, and the City of Saxman.

Categories: Alaska News

Pregnant Kotlik Woman Loses Child After Assault

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 14:23

State Troopers are investigating an assault in Kotlik after a pregnant victim’s baby died.

Troopers say a family member assaulted the pregnant woman and following the assault, the woman’s child was lost due to “unknown circumstances.”  They’re looking whether the loss of the fetus was connected with the assault.

Troopers learned of the incident Thursday morning and responded to the village. The alleged assault took place last Monday. The investigation is still underway, according to a trooper dispatch.

Troopers say any charges, if warranted, will be send to the district attorney’s office.

Categories: Alaska News

Q2 Earnings Reports Show It’s a Tough Time for Oil

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-08-03 14:17

As Shell’s Fennica icebreaker endured a standoff with Greenpeace protesters in Oregon last week, the company was also contending with the release of a dismal second quarter earnings report.

Shell logged quarterly earnings of $3.8 billion – nearly 40 percent lower than earnings for the same period last year. That’s actually an improvement over first quarter earnings, which were down more than 50 percent.

The bearish report puts scrutiny on Shell’s appetite for the Arctic, where the company has invested billions in recent years.

Shell declined an interview request, but sent a statement from the company CEO Ben van Beurden’s shareholder briefing. Van Beurden says, “Alaska is a long-term play, that’s the way you have to look at it.”

Van Beurden also added that the area Shell plans to drill in the Chukchi, the Burger prospect, has the potential to be multiple times larger than the biggest fields in the U.S.’ Gulf of Mexico.

Shell is not the only oil company to see its profits slide this quarter. ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil lost earnings at a similar rate, while Chevron fared marginally better.

Shell reported nearly a 40 percent dip in earnings in its second quarter report released July 30.

Categories: Alaska News

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