Alaska News

AK: Didgeridoo

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-21 11:54

Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan.

You might not expect an ancient Aboriginal instrument from Australia to find its way to Alaska. But walk around downtown Ketchikan on a warm day and you may hear 15-year-old Kinani Halvorsen playing her didgeridoo. She’s played the unusual instrument for three years. And she hopes to bring the didgeridoo into the mainstream band practice.

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Here’s the response Kinani Halvorsen got from a boy in her 7th grade band when she played the didgeridoo a couple years ago.

“What the heck is that? And his jaw literally dropped. ‘Cause you wouldn’t expect that sound to come out of a little tube thing like this.”

The tube thing is actually not so little. Kinani is a tall girl, and the didgeridoo is a tall instrument. It comes up to her shoulders, at about 5 feet.

You can’t exactly play any Katy Perry or Macklemore on something like this. So why is a high schooler here in Ketchikan playing this ancient Aboriginal instrument? It all started with an Australian substitute teacher in Kinani’s fourth grade class at Houghtaling Elementary School.

“He brought in his didgeridoo and I thought, ‘Wow! That is coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’” she said.

Fast forward a few years. It’s 6th grade, and Kinani has been playing the trombone for a year.  She walks into McPherson’s, a local music store, and there on the shelf, is a didgeridoo.

“It’s really interesting to hear and see someone play such an intriguing thing like the didgeridoo,” Kinani said. “And it’s a memory that really sticks in your head. So when you see one, and you’re like hey, maybe I could play that, it’s a want you really get.

“I said no, no, no,” Krissy Halvorsen, Kinani’s mom, said. “Because she likes to pick up things like that and of course, they end up in the closet or elsewhere.”

Kinani swore to her mom that she wouldn’t throw the instrument in the closet. She brought it home and started practicing. Her older brother, Keelan, was upstairs.

Keelan: “I rushed downstairs because I thought it was a wild animal. Saw her with a long tube and was even more confused.”

Emily: “And then after you found out what it was and what was happening what did you think?”

Keelan: “I was entirely amazed. It was a beautilfulish sound coming from a stick, and I didn’t know how it worked so I asked a lot of questions.”

Kinani has been playing her didgeridoo for three years now. She’s had to teach herself, because there isn’t anyone else she know in Ketchikan who plays the didgeridoo. Her brother is impressed.

“She’s definitely improved a lot,” Keelan said. “It went from a semi obnoxious noise, to be honest, to something we all enjoy hearing.”

Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan.

The didgeridoo is over 1,000 years old. It’s still used to accompany song and dance in the Arnhem Land region of Australia.

“What really motivates me to keep playing is it’s such a unique instrument, unless you’re in Australia, you really don’t get a chance to see, hear, or play something like this,” Kinani said.

Kinani is in four bands. Three at Ketchikan High School, and one other outside school, called Sound Waves. She’s been on a mission to incorporate the digeridoo’s sound into more traditional music.

“We haven’t had occasion or any particular reason to hear her play it in here, because this is a big band that is mostly saxophones, trumpets, trombones, rhythm section,” Roy McPherson,  director of the Sound Waves band where Kinani plays trombone, said.

The didgeridoo is nowhere to be seen at a recent practice here.

But in a couple weeks, that’s going to change. Kinani has a didgeridoo solo in the band’s upcoming show, during “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book.

And she’s going to keep trying to play her didgeridoo in different settings. She’s attending the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer.

“And so I’ll bring it and I’ll talk to whoever’s running the class and I’ll say, ‘Hey I have a didgeridoo, is there anything I should bring it in for?’” Kinani said.

And If Kinani keeps spreading the sound of the unique instrument, maybe she’ll get fewer “What the heck is that?” responses, and more people saying, “Oh, that’s a didgeridoo.”

Categories: Alaska News

Seiners Land 4K Tons In Herring Season Opener

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-21 11:11

Seiners in Starrigavan Bay during the first opening of Sitka’s 2014 sac roe herring fishery. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

The Sitka herring fishery had its first opening yesterday afternoon.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game declared the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery open at 1:45 p.m. The fishing area covered much of Starrigavan and Katlian bays, north of Sitka.

The opening lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes, closing at 4:20 p.m. The Department estimated that the fleet caught at least 4,000 tons of herring, and announced that there will be no fishing Friday (3-21-14), to allow processors to work through the catch.

If sold at last year’s price, today’s catch would be worth about $2.4-million to fishermen at the docks. This year’s price, however, remains unclear.

The total harvest level for this year is over 16,000 tons. Speaking with KCAW earlier this week, Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon estimated that it would take about four separate openings to reach the limit.

Officials gave the fleet two hours’ notice of the opening at 11:45 a.m. (Thu 3-20-14), after samples of fish tested in the morning found well over 10-percent mature roe, or eggs, in the herring.  10-percent mature roe is the Department’s threshold for a fishery. The most recent two samples came back with 12.5-percent and 13.1-percent mature roe, which is high even for the high-quality Sitka fishery.

The opening kicked off with a voice countdown from Gordon, on board the state’s research vessel, the Kestrel:

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, OPEN! The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. This is the Department of Fish & Game standing by, Channel 10.

There are forty-eight permit-holders in the lucrative seine fishery. On Thursday afternoon, most of those boats were concentrated in Starrigavan Bay, within sight of Sitka’s road system. People lined Halibut Point Road near Sitka’s ferry terminal, watching through binoculars and cameras as the fishery unfolded in front of them and spotter planes circled overhead.

Among the spectators were two women who identified themselves as Karen and Leanne.

Leanne: You’ve got your pilots flying, and you’ve got spotters actually looking down talking to boats, so you’ve got several people in the planes. And they just have to be very, very careful. They get special permission to work in this kind of airspace.  Normally you’re not supposed to fly that close to each other.”

Karen: It’s very exciting of  course when they do the count down and you see all the boats jockeying for position. And seeing what they catch — it’s actually amazing to see how many herring are in a net.

The Department of Fish & Game plans aerial and vessel surveys throughout the day on Friday (3-21-14), and will be issuing informational updates over the radio at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those can be heard on VHF marine radio, on Channel 10.

Emily Forman contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News

Witnesses Begin Taking The Stand In Yakutat Homicide Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-21 11:00

Robert Kowalski prepares to leave the courtroom during a break in the trial on Thursday. Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau.

Opening statements were held Thursday and the first witnesses took the stand in the case of a man accused of killing his girlfriend at a Yakutat lodge 17 1/2 years ago.

Robert Kowalski, 52, is charged with first and second degree murder for the death of Sandra Perry. The 39-year old woman was shot and killed at the Glacier Bear Lodge in July 1996.

Prosecutor James Fayette jolted the jury and spectators with his opening statements that included a vivid description of the fatal injuries sustained by Perry after a shotgun was fired at her head at close range.

“Blew her head off, clean off,” Fayette said.

That Kowalski was handling the shotgun when Perry was killed is not in dispute. But the question is whether he intentionally killed her or he knew his conduct could lead to her death, or whether it was an accident – as Kowalski claimed — that stemmed from tripping or a reaction after being startled by Perry.

Public defender Eric Hedland said the investigation by local police and state troopers was immediate and thorough.

“I think I will be able to establish that with any witness that is asked to give a rendition of an event, over time, there will be discrepancies,” Hedland said. “That’s true if you’re taking about an alleged victim, a dispassionate eyewitness, or the possible suspect. But the core facts that Mr. Kowalski described did not change.”

After opening statements, some of those who testified included Perry’s oldest son, a waitress and dinner cook at the lodge, and a lodge resident who was asleep in an adjacent room when Perry died.

Categories: Alaska News

UniSea Worker Accused of Two Assaults in One Day

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-21 10:54

A 20-year-old man is facing felony charges in back-to-back assaults at the UniSea bunkhouses this week — including an attempted sexual assault.

Police allege that Jose Sedona got into a fight on Tuesday, striking a man in the face. Sedona was a UniSea employee. Company security reported the fight to police.

Public safety director Jamie Sunderland says officers judged Sedona to be sober and took him into custody.

“Well, that was at 2 in the morning,” Sunderland says. “Later that day, Mr. Sedona was arraigned on his Assault 4 charges and released on bail later that afternoon.”

A few hours later, UniSea security contacted police and asked them to help respond to another fight — also involving Sedona.

Police allege that Sedona had tried to sexually assault a woman around 9 p.m. as she was opening the door to her bunkhouse room. They say that Sedona forced his way into the woman’s room and pushed her down, tearing at her clothes.

Sedona’s family members allegedly came in and tried to pull Sedona away. When police arrived, chief Sunderland says they came across a fight, with Sedona taking part.

“And he was struggling against what I believe is a couple of security personnel and possibly some family members all in kind of a big shoving, scuffle match,” Sunderland says.

Sunderland says that officers arrested Sedona — and again, he appeared to be sober.

Sedona was arraigned in Unalaska district court this morning on two counts of felony assault and one unclassified felony for attempted sexual assault. He was also charged with felony burglary, for allegedly forcing his way into a private room, and a misdemeanor for violating the terms of his release after he got out of jail on Tuesday afternoon.

Magistrate judge Jane Pearson set Sedona’s new bail at $50,000, with a third-party custodian to watch him at all times.

The judge heard comments from two members of the defendant’s family, who said that Sedona has a mental condition and needs treatment. UniSea security supervisor Juan Salazar told the court that UniSea has terminated Sedona’s employment and permanently banned him from their property.

The judge noted that Sedona appears to have no criminal record in Alaska or any other state.

Categories: Alaska News

Navy Subs Training In Arctic Ocean

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-03-21 10:21

A pair of Navy submarines are on maneuvers in the Arctic Ocean sea ice. One came up from the East Coast and the other from the West Coast.

The Navy says the “New Mexico” and the “Hampton” are testing Arctic capacities and their mission includes building an ice camp somewhere in the Beaufort Sea.

Categories: Alaska News

Paddle Making Workshop Illuminates State’s High Suicide Rate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:54

Suicide rates in Alaskan communities are some of the highest in the country. Last weekend, the One People Canoe Society held a two-day paddle-making workshop in Wrangell. As part of the workshop, participants attended a behavioral health course on suicide prevention. Its goal is to bring communities together to both learn a traditional art and talk about a contemporary problem.

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Categories: Alaska News

Lessons from the Exxon Valdez

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:51

Dune Lanakrd, an Eyak fisherman turned activist. Behind him: Gene Karpinkski, president of League of Conservation Voters, and David Grimes.

Twenty-five years ago today, Alaska was about to mark the anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake, and, unknown to all, was less than four days from its next big disaster: the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Today in Washington,  environmentalists who’ve been dealing with the spill and its political effects for all these years met to publicize what they say are the lessons of the Exxon Valdez. 

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It was a media event, but at times it felt like a class reunion, if one were held at a funeral home. David Grimes, a prominent fisherman in Cordova in the early post-spill years, spoke in spiritual terms.

“(It was) incredibly, powerfully symbolic: It took place 25 years ago on Good Friday,” Grimes said, “in the myth, the day of sacrifice.”

Grimes says animals gave up their lives in North Slope crude, and through that, other parts of Alaska were saved. The spill pulled Congress back from the verge of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It also preserved acres of forest, because the government used settlement money from Exxon to buy land and logging rights.

Marine Biologist Rick Steiner, a fixture of spill news in the 1990s, is now an international oil spill consultant. Steiner says using settlement funds to protect habitat from other industrial damage is a positive lesson from Prince William Sound, one that he says applies to spills everywhere.

“And that’s been one of the sublime silver linings in the whole dark cloud of Exxon Valdez, to be honest with you,” he said.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council labels most of the species it is tracking as recovered, or recovering. Steiner put it another way:  most of the populations are still not fully recovered. Steiner says a big lesson from the Valdez is there’s just no cleaning up from a marine spill.  Once oil hits the ocean, Steiner says, it’s game over. And it’s not a question of money.

“All the guys in the orange suits, and clipboard and hard hats in the world, are not going to clean up a major off shore oil spill,” Steiner said. “It just won’t happen. What we need to do is prevent them.”

He and other environmentalists at the event say the risks of a catastrophic spill are so great that the U.S. shouldn’t allow drilling off sensitive coasts at all, particularly in the Arctic Ocean.

Adrian Herrera, head of the Arctic Power lobby in D.C., says no one wants to prevent a spill more than the oil industry. But the nation still needs oil, and Herrera says it’s better to get it from a well-regulated place like Alaska.

“The answer is mitigation and putting in place responsible the strictest rules possible to allow this to happen safely,” Herrera said.

The environmentalists, on the other hand, say broken promises are another legacy of the Exxon Valdez.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Nixes ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:50

Despite all the fuss over the Save Our Salmon Initiative that passed by a narrow vote of Lake and Peninsula Boro Voters in 2011, that law is now officially null and void. That’s on account of a ruling from Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Wednesday, following a three-year long lawsuit brought by Pebble and the State of Alaska.

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Pebble and the state of Alaska filed separate lawsuits even before the contentious ballot measure went to the polls in 2011, but Judge John Suddock deferred judgment until after the election.

You may recall that when SOS went to the polls that year it passed by just 37 votes. Who voted in that election was itself the subject of a lawsuit, but putting that aside, when the initiative passed it became law in Lake and Pen, until Judge Suddock’s ruling Wednesday.

“In the conclusion of his decision, he wrote that he was ‘enjoining the enforcement’ of the SOS Initiative,” attorney Matt Singer, from the law firm Jermain, Dunnagan, + Owens, which represents Pebble, said. ”In plain language, that means the Initiative is void, like it was never passed.”

Judge Suddock’s 29-page ruling takes a few steps backwards at first, examining Pebble’s expected size and potential impacts, the details of which have prompted opponents to try and stop its development.

A 2008 statewide effort to do so, known as the Alaska Clean Water Act, was soundly defeated at the polls. So the 2011 SOS initiative focused on the borough only. It added a separate borough-specific permitting requirement that both the plaintiffs and defendants agreed would be co-equal with the state permits needed for the mine.

You may recall that the ballot’s sponsors said early on that SOS was a prudent way of avoiding the lengthy, costly state and federal permitting altogether, since the mine developers could bank on never getting the necessary borough permit.

With their lawsuits now merged, what Pebble and the state of Alaska argued was that the SOS-required permitting superseded the legislature’s constitutional authority.

“We have a constitutional mandate to responsibly manage our natural resources,” Singer said. “And under the constitution, the legislature has adopted a robust permitting process through the Department of Natural Resources. And what the judge held is that that is the process for determining whether or not a mine should be developed.”

Judge Suddock wrote that the SOS Initiative goes beyond “simply tailoring mining processes under the borough’s land use authority; it instead forecloses the state’s due exercise of its natural resources.” He went on to say that granting the kind of power implied under SOS to local governments would “Balkanize” the state’s natural resources policy.

As an anecdote, Singer says imagine if any one community along the pipeline passed an ordinance outlawing the pipeline in town:

“That would, you know, could potentially cut off the funding that runs our entire state. As Alaskans, we all have an interest in the responsible management of our natural resources. Not just mines, but oil and gas and fish and all the rest,” Singer said. “I think what the judge recognized here is we don’t want statewide resources to be regulated and dictated by one special interest group in one part of the state.”

The Bob Gillam-backed sponsors of the SOS Initiative were disappointed with Wednesday’s ruling. In a written statement, attorney Scott Kendall said the purpose of the initiative was to “ensure local voices had a seat at the table” discussing permitting for mines like Pebble in Bristol Bay. That’s a role, they argue, they don’t otherwise have.

Kendall said the sponsors strongly disagree with Judge Suddock’s ruling and may appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“Through this litigation the Pebble Limited Partnership sought to silence those local voices before they can ever be heard,” Kendall wrote. ”They may have succeeded temporarily, but the battle for Bristol Bay is far from over.”

Judge Suddock’s striking down of the Save Our Salmon Initiative is final, but the lawsuit isn’t entirely closed. Having won the case, the plaintiffs, they being Pebble and the state of Alaska, can now ask the judge to have the defendants, they being the Lake and Pen Borough and several initiative sponsors, pay up to 20 percent of the legal fees from the three-year-long court battle.

The plaintiffs haven’t said yet whether they will seek that compensation or not.

Categories: Alaska News

ADF&G Opens Herring Fishing In Starrigavan, Katlian Bays

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:49

(KCAW graphic/Robert Woolsey)

The Sitka herring fishery will open this afternoon.

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The Department of Fish & Game has announced that the first opening of the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery will be at approximately 1:45 PM today (Thu 3-20-14) in the area of Starrigavan and Katlian bays.

Fish & Game biologist Dave Gordon announced at around 11:45 AM that he had collected four test samples of fish today that tested well over 10% mature roe, the Department’s threshold for a fishery. The most recent two samples came back with 12.5% and 13.1% mature roe.

Gordon did not say how long the fishery would remain open, but the Department’s goal is to ensure the harvest does not exceed the processing capacity in Sitka, which is now about 2,000 tons of herring a day.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska House Passes Izembek Road Resolution

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:48

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the U.S. Department of the Interior to reverse course and allow a road to be built between the Alaska Peninsula communities of King Cove and Cold Bay for safety reasons.

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Categories: Alaska News

UA President Opposed To Bill Allowing Concealed Handguns On Campus

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:47

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble told a Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday a re-worked bill that would permit concealed handguns on campus, is still unacceptable.

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Categories: Alaska News

Manokotak Honors Fallen VPSO

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:46

Wednesday was the one year anniversary of the death of VPSO’ Thomas Madole, and the community of Manokotak honored him on that day.

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Categories: Alaska News

Nome To Make Decision On Geothermal Energy

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:45

If Nome wants geothermal power, the city has to decide by next week if and how it is going to pay for that energy.

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Categories: Alaska News

Why Mental Illness Is The ‘No-Casserole’ Illness

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:44

Mental illness is usually a personal matter, the type of sickness that doesn’t receive much attention. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, wants to change that.

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After several years without an organized presence in the State Capitol Building, NAMI advocates spent this week in Juneau sharing firsthand accounts of living with mental illness.

During a panel discussion Wednesday, they turned extremely personal matters into public ones.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 20, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 17:23

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Lessons From The Exxon Valdez

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Twenty-five years ago today, Alaska was about to mark the anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake, and, unknown to all, was less than four days from its next big disaster: the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Today in Washington, environmentalists who’ve been dealing with the spill and its political effects met to publicize what they say are the lessons of the Exxon Valdez.

Judge Nixes ‘Save Our Salmon’ Initiative

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Despite all the fuss over the Save Our Salmon Initiative that passed by a narrow vote of Lake and Peninsula Boro Voters in 2011, that law is now officially null and void. That’s on account of a ruling from Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Wednesday, following a three-year long lawsuit brought by Pebble and the State of Alaska.

ADF&G Opens Herring Fishing In Starrigavan, Katlian Bays

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka herring fishery saw its first opening this afternoon, starting with the countdown.

Alaska House Passes Izembek Road Resolution

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the U.S. Department of the Interior to reverse course and allow a road to be built between the Alaska Peninsula communities of King Cove and Cold Bay for safety reasons.

UA President Opposed To Bill Allowing Concealed Handguns On Campus

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble told a Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday a re-worked bill that would permit concealed handguns on campus, is still unacceptable.

Manokotak Honors Fallen VPSO

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Wednesday was the one year anniversary of the death of VPSO’ Thomas Madole, and the community of Manokotak honored him on that day.

Nome To Make Decision On Geothermal Energy

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

If Nome wants geothermal power, the city has to decide by next week if and how it is going to pay for that energy.

Why Mental Illness Is The ‘No-Casserole’ Illness

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Mental illness is usually a personal matter, the type of sickness that doesn’t receive much attention. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, wants to change that.

After several years without an organized presence in the State Capitol Building, NAMI advocates spent this week in Juneau sharing firsthand accounts of living with mental illness.

During a panel discussion Wednesday, they turned extremely personal matters into public ones.

Paddle Making Workshop Illuminates State’s High Suicide Rate

Shady Grove Oliver, KSTK – Wrangell

Suicide rates in Alaskan communities are some of the highest in the country. Last weekend, the One People Canoe Society held a two-day paddle-making workshop in Wrangell. As part of the workshop, participants attended a behavioral health course on suicide prevention. Its goal is to bring communities together to both learn a traditional art and talk about a contemporary problem.

Categories: Alaska News

Buccaneer Energy Suspends CEO

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-03-20 11:44

The board of directors for Buccaneer Energy may be taking the company in a new direction. Last week, the board suspended CEO Curtis Burton.

In a news release, the Buccaneer Board of Directors announced that Burton had been suspended with pay. With little explanation, the board announced that the suspension would be in place until a review could be conducted. In the meantime, Chief Restructuring Officer John T. Young was named interim CEO.

Related: Small Victories, Big Problems for Buccaneer In Alaska

Endeavor jack-up rig. Photo by Bill Smith

The suspension comes on the heels of a string of bad news for Buccaneer. Last December, as the company prepared to move its onshore Glacier drilling rig from Kenai to Homer to begin work on its West Eagle project out East End Road, Buccaneer Alaska President Jim Watt was fired, as was Vice President Allen Huckabay and Alaska Spokesperson Christina Anderson.

Two months later, the company announced that the only well it drilled at West Eagle had come up dry, forcing the company to abandon the project.

It was Burton who led the charge for the Australian oil company to take advantage of tax incentives in Alaska and open up ship in and around Cook Inlet. That foray has led to a few successes – like the two gas-producing wells drilled at Kenai Loop – and a string of problems, like several issues with the company’s jack-up rig Endeavour.

Burton has filed a lawsuit against his employer in District Court in Harris County, Texas. The details of that lawsuit were not immediately known.

Buccaneer announced earlier this month that it has hired Conway MacKenzie, Incorporated to help it organize finances and reevaluate its strategies. Young, the interim CEO, sits on the Conway Mackenzie Board of Directors.

Categories: Alaska News

The Koch Effect: Two Rich Guys Democrats Love to Hate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-19 17:09

In Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, there’s been so much talk about the billionaire Koch Brothers you might think they were running for office. They’re not, though a Koch-affiliated group has already spent close to $1 million on ads against Mark Begich. The Cook Political Report today declared the race a toss-up and Begich one of the Senate’s most endangered Democrats. But the well funded anti-Begich ad campaign may not be having the desired effect. It’s been running for months. Last week, the Begich campaign aired its first TV ad. It doesn’t talk up his achievements or criticize his three Republican challengers.  It’s all about the Kochs.

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It’s a strategy that’s presumably working for Begich, says Anchorage political blogger Amanda Coyne, because he does the much same in virtually all of his fundraising appeals.

“It’s really hard to get an email from Begich without mentioning the Kochs,” says Coyne, who also writes a column for the Anchorage Daily News.

A point of clarification: People talk about the Koch Brothers’ ads against Begich.  The ads are sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group the Kochs helped found. Whether they’re still funding it isn’t disclosed, but it’s on track to exceed the $38 million it spent nationwide during the last mid-term elections. AFP says it has some 90,000 donors.

The Kochs, though, make an attractive target.  Charles and David Koch are two of the wealthiest men in America. They’re tied for 4th place, according to Forbes magazine. And they give big to conservative and Libertarian causes. Nationally, the Democrats are taking aim, directly at the Kochs, and it’s personal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has gone after them on the floor of the Senate, saying they’re trying to buy Congress to press their own agenda.

Some journalists and bloggers have said they’re the best enemy the Democrats could imagine, a gift, really, because railing against the Kochs fires up the left and drives donations. Begich says he’s not so sure about that.

“I don’t know if it helps me or not but I just know one thing: We’re going to tell Alaskans about these groups like his, like the Koch Brothers, and tell them that we’re up against billionaires and we need their help,” Begich said.

Campaigning against the Kochs is a page straight out of the latest National Democratic playbook, and it might be an especially easy play in Alaska. To start with, as the Begich ad points out, Koch Industries is closing a refinery near Fairbanks, a refinery with a water pollution problem. But it’s more than that.

Anchorage political consultant and ad pro Art Hackney calls the Kochs lovely men. He says they should receive more praise for things like their huge donations to hospitals. But Hackney says the Kochs – meaning Americans for Prosperity – have probably helped Begich more than they’ve hurt him. Exhibit A, says Hackney, is the ad AFP  ran featuring a featuring a fake Alaskan in her kitchen complaining about Begich.

“I mean, all of us make mistakes,” Hackney says, “but the minute it was outed so rapidly that that was a Maryland actress, the ad should have been pulled down.”

Instead, the ad ran and ran, Hackney says, in effect helping Begich show how Outsiders are attacking him.  It also allowed a pro-Begich Super Pac to air an ad ridiculing it that Hackney calls quite effective.

Americans for Prosperity tends to run the same ads in several states, just changing the name of the Democratic target. Hackney says that doesn’t work well on Alaskans, in part because they often know their U.S. Senators, face to face.

“I do think that most Outside groups have at tin ear when it comes to Alaska, because they’re used to in other states being able to be more generic in their messages,” Hackney says. “Alaskans need to be talked to in different ways.”

Hackney is not a disinterested party here. He formed a Super PAC supporting Dan Sullivan, one of Begich’s Republican challengers, which pays him for professional services. Hackney would like to work as an advisor to out-of-state groups, like Americans for Prosperity, that plan to run ads against Begich. For one thing, he’d advise AFP to quit running ads saying Begich supports a carbon tax. Begich calls it a lie, and Hackney says most Alaskans don’t know enough about the term to care.

“The public is scratching its head, not really sure what either side is talking about,” Hackney said. “It’s a whole lot of money spent not to have a great deal of effect.”

Marc Hellenthal, an Anchorage pollster and political marketing pro, also picked carbon tax as a losing issue for an anti-Begich ad. He says AFP’s decision to run it shows they don’t get the state.

“There’s a certain lack of understanding of what issues play in Alaska and what issues don’t and their ads haven’t reflected an appreciation of that,” he said.

He describes it as more than a waste of money. Hellenthal, who has no clients in the Senate race, says the attack ads are giving Begich something meaty to run against. But, he say,  he’d have to see polling data to believe Americans for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers are doing their cause more harm than good.

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The Begich campaign’s first TV ad

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Categories: Alaska News

Tsunami Debris Clean Up Is Slowed By Huge Volume, Rugged Terrain

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-19 17:08

The state is planning an aerial survey this spring to figure out how much new debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami has arrived on Alaska’s shores. Environmental groups spent much of last summer cleaning up debris. But the state’s vast and rugged coastline has made it a slow and costly project. APRN’s Annie Feidt visited Montague Island, on the edge of Prince William Sound with the man who’s leading the effort to return Alaska’s hardest hit beaches to their pristine state.

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Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage.

Chris Pallister steps out of the helicopter, on to the snow covered inner shore of Montague Island.

It’s a brilliant sunny day in early March and Pallister, who is President of Gulf of Alaska Keeper, is visiting Montague to get a handle on how much new debris washed up on the Island over the winter. He also needs to check on debris his crew collected into heavy duty bags called super sacks last summer. Pallister wants to make sure they held up over the punishing winter months:

“I guess it’s alright. I don’t see any damage here or anything.”

Related: Tsunami Debris Problem Gets Worse in Alaska, with Little Clean Up Funding In Sight

He rummages through a bag perched on the edge of a huge mound of super sacks. The bag is open on top, but otherwise looks ok:

Feidt: “Describe what’s in the bag.”

Pallister: “So anywhere from tiny little pieces of Styrofoam, all the way up to buoys and ropes and nets. But a tremendous amount of urethane foam, polystyrene foam and just plain Styrofoam.”

Pallister measures debris not by the pound, but by the ton. And on outer Montague Island, he estimates there is 20 to 30 tons of debris per mile. He guesses about half of it (by volume) is from the tsunami and half is the usual marine trash that has been washing up in increasing amounts for decades. Last summer, he used funding from the legislature and other sources to begin cleaning the first three miles of the island’s coast.

Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage.

“There’s another almost 70 miles to do on this shoreline and we spent close to 60 days cleaning these few miles that we did here, so this is a huge, huge problem. This island is really bad.”

The state identified Montague as one of nine priority areas for tsunami debris clean up. There are other hotspots from the southern tip of Southeast to as far west as the islands off of Kodiak. Japan gave the United States five million dollars for cleaning up debris in all the west coast states. So far, Alaska has received the biggest chunk of that money, $1 million. Elaine Busse Floyd is a director at the Department of Environmental Conservation. She thinks the state will be able to make the case for additional funding than other coastal states:

“Oregon has somewhere around 300 miles of coastline and we would call that a day trip. And they were able to put dumpsters and have volunteers go out and they just had to empty a few dumpsters a little more often. And that’s completely not the situation Alaska is faced with.”

Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage.

Alaska’s situation is vast coastline, often inaccessible even to small landing craft, combined with huge quantities of debris. Floyd is working on a federal grant application for more funding that would pay for a barge to pick up the super sacks Pallister and other groups are collecting. A helicopter would lift the sacks onto the barge and then the trash would go a recycling center in Seattle or landfill in Oregon.

Pallister is hopeful that funding will come through. He says it will cost millions more just to clean Montague:

“There’s actually a lot of new stuff here.”

He points out debris as he walks along the shale rock shore, next to the surf:

Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage.

“That’s an Asian bottle. Japanese. Look at all this plastic. This was all just cleaned in September.”

Montague Island is a spectacular stretch of Alaska shoreline. Pallister says the island has some of richest habitat in Prince William Sound. It’s is home to Sea Lions, Brown Bears and has a strong silver salmon run. It’s popular with local hunters, but few other people visit. Pallister is determined to clean it anyway:

“People always ask me, why do you do this? And I just tell them, you clean your kitchen counters. This is where we get our sustenance in this state. The inter-tidal area is where a lot of our fishing resources and all that came from. So I say this is our kitchen counter and a rational person keeps their kitchen counters clean.”

On his way back to the helicopter, Pallister compulsively picks up bottles and other small items and flings them above the tide line. He and his crew will be back to put them in super sacks later this summer.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

What Alaska Natives Need To Know About The Affordable Care Act

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-19 17:07

Only a paper version of the exemption form is available this year. You print it, fill it in, and mail it. Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau.

For most Americans, the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31. For American Indians and Alaska Natives, the process is a little different.

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Alaska Native Tribal Health ConsortiumUnited Way, and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium have teamed up at Juneau’s Gold Medal Basketball Tournament to inform as many Alaska Natives as possible.

Jamie Paddock traveled from Hoonah to cheer on her hometown team. Attending Gold Medal is an annual tradition.

In between games, she visits a health care information table.

“My grandfather told me I might win a gift card if I sign up here,” Paddock says.

Paddock isn’t actually signing up for anything. She’s filling out an Indian Status Exemptionform.

“It’s a little bit of a complicated form even though it’s pretty short. It’s only three pages but there are some tricky questions,” says Monique Martin with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “And it just means that if you don’t have health insurance you could face a tax penalty and if you send in that exemption that gives you a lifetime exemption from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.”

Paddock’s heath care provider is Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, which doesn’t require insurance. But she does have Blue Cross as well as Medicaid.

“We have a very robust tribal health system in the state of Alaska. The exemption is to acknowledge that Alaska Natives and American Indians have access to tribal health and Indian Health Services to get their health care needs met,” Martin says.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is targeting almost 50,000 Alaska Natives without insurance. They’re the ones who could face a tax penalty.

“The exemption form does not eliminate your ability to get insurance either athealthcare.gov or through an employer. It just covers you in the case that you have a gap in your insurance coverage,” Martin says.

So far, the tribal health consortium has helped fill out more than 2,200 Indian Status Exemption forms. One form can cover an individual or family.

“We’ve also sent out thousands of emails or also we print them up and mail them to people in rural parts of our state,” Martin says.

Only a paper version of the exemption form is available this year. You print it, fill it in, and mail it. Or have it all done at Gold Medal.

“Don’t forget to include a copy of either a tribal enrollment card or some proof that you’re an ANCSA shareholder or a copy of your Certificate of Indian Blood card issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If you don’t, the feds will send you back a letter saying your application is not complete,” Martin explains.

A health care information table will be at Gold Medal through Saturday.

“We’ve been from Barrow to Ketchikan, from Bethel to Fairbanks, Iliamna, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome. We’ve been to lots and lots of places to spread the word,” Martin says.

Open enrollment for Alaska Natives interested in getting health insurance is ongoing; there is no deadline.

And Alaska Natives have until the end of the year to submit an Indian Status Exemption form, although if you do it at Gold Medal, you could win a gift card.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Herring Fishery Could Open As Soon As Thursday

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-03-19 17:06

It’s herring time.

The multi-million dollar Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery could open as early as the end of this week. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced Monday evening (3-17-14) that as of 8 a.m. Thursday (3-20-14), the fishery will be placed on two-hour notice. That means seiners could have their nets in the water as soon as Thursday morning, if the department’s test samples find a high enough percentage of mature roe, or eggs, in the fish by then.

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The Sitka herring fishery packs a major economic punch in a short time span. The roe is sold to markets in Asia, and the fishery, which only lasts about a week, is worth an average of nearly $6 million to fishermen at the docks.

Seiners wait at the newly reopened ANB harbor for the 2014 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery to open. Photo by Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka.

Seiners will target over 16-thousand tons of herring in Sitka Sound this year. That’s considerably more than last year’s limit — but it’s a target, not a guarantee. For the last two years, the herring spawn has happened so fast that the fleet wasn’t able to catch the full limit.

To harvest the roe, the herring must be caught before they spawn, in the window of time between when the female fish develop mature eggs and when they actually move to shore to lay those eggs. Determining that window is the difficult job of Fish and Game biologist Dave Gordon.  He said the Department decided to put the fishery on notice this week so that they’ll be ready in case things start to move fast.

“We have very large fish,” Gordon said. “The sample we saw yesterday was really as big as they get in Sitka Sound, 200-gram-plus fish. And from what we’ve seen from those larger fish, when they get ready to spawn, they go. And they do it in a hurry, so we want to be prepared for that.”

Once it opens, the fishery will progress in stages. There’s only enough processing capacity in Sitka to handle about four- to five-thousand tons of herring at once. With 48 seiners participating in the fishery, that typically means the opening only lasts a few hours, Gordon said.

“You’re really putting them on the fish,” he said. “The fish are there, and you’ve got 48 boats that have fairly huge capacity to get fish, and it doesn’t take long to get the kind of tonnage that we’d be looking for. Four- or five-thousand tons can be caught in 15 minutes depending on the situation.”

After an opening, the fishery must close for about two days to allow the processors to work through the catch. With a harvest level of about 16-thousand tons, Gordon said, he’s anticipating about four separate openings.

The department’s research vessel, the Kestrel, will be in Sitka starting Wednesday (3-19-14). Fish & Game will also be conducting daily aerial surveys.

The department will hold an organizational meeting for fishermen and processors at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at the Westmark Hotel in downtown Sitka.

Categories: Alaska News

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