Alaska News

Obama Issues Executive Order on Arctic Co-ordination

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 14:57

President Barak Obama today issued an executive order aimed at coordinating federal action on the Arctic. The order establishes a new Arctic executive steering committee. It will have some two dozen members, including deputy secretaries from the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior. Among the stated goals is to better collaborate with the State of Alaska and Alaska tribes.

“You’d be amazed at how many people work and how many agencies work on the Arctic,”  said Marilyn Heiman, a former Alaska policy advisor to the Interior secretary in the Clinton administration. ”And having one place where all the issues are addressed and the agencies are convened to discuss the issues I think will help.”

The order, which  emphasizes the impact of climate change,  is part of the federal government’s preparations for assuming chairmanship of the international Arctic Council this spring. Heiman says the effort will only be successful if the U.S. develops good standards for things like Arctic drilling and shipping.

“Other countries look to the United States for leadership and the stronger we are on our policies in Alaska the stronger we can be in leading the Arctic Council,” said Heiman, who  now works on Arctic conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski faintly praises the executive order’s promise of consultation with Alaskans. But she says Washington-based environmental groups have too much sway while priorities of Alaskans are neglected.

“Science-based decision making is essential as we move forward, but we cannot ‘study’ ourselves into inaction,” she said in a written statement. “Investment and vision are needed – in infrastructure, ice breakers, and a predictable federal oil and gas permitting process – to craft an Arctic economy.”


Murkowski says president Obama’s Arctic policy boils down to two words: “Hands Off.”


Categories: Alaska News

Big Lake Shooting Range On Hold

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 13:57

A contentious shooting range issue dominated last [tuesday] night’s Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly meeting, and the debate over the range’s location affects a Valley youth program.  

Tuesday night’s crowd at the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly chambers in Palmer was there for one reason : to support or oppose a Borough ordinance that would allow the Borough to sell, at far less than market value, 80 acres near Big Lake, to be used specifically for a youth rifle range. The sale price at ten percent of fair market value is 17 thousand 720 dollars for the land.   There was no shortage of support for the idea during the public hearing that preceded Assembly debate. Neil Moss, president of the Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program, told the Assembly, “This piece of property….I’ve walked the entire eighty acres.. is absolutely perfect for a shotgun facility. It could not be designed better.”

Moss held up a map before the Assembly, showing the range acreage, and the surrounding Borough-owned land. He said the range would be only a small portion of the area located at Susitna Parkway and Puritan Parkway.  

 ”That’s what the skeet range area looks like ” he said, pointing to a tiny white dot surrounded by a red area depicting Borough land. Moss said shot would not escape a 300 yard limit and would be contained by a natural land formation.

 ASCTP had made the request for land from the Borough. Supporters of the bid, mostly parents and firearms instructors and a dozen young marksmen themselves, packed the house. They wanted a shooting range that would be located in an area that kids can drive to within a reasonable time. One Willow teen marksman said it takes him more than an hour one way to reach the Birchwood shooting range.

 But Big Lake homeowners balked at the idea. Kybie Lucas works in real estate.

“I am against this for obvious reasons. They are not compatible with residential neighborhoods. If people have a choice, they will not live next to a shooting range, and the sound will carry to these residential areas dramatically.”

Lucas also said that nesting loons, eagles and other wildlife would be disturbed by the shooting noise. Most of those opposed to the sale of the Borough land made it clear they were not against a shooting range for youth, they were against the location of the proposed range. John Yancey, a former hunter education instructor, said he’s in favor of the youth program, but the location is “terribly wrong.”

And the  land plan had inadvertently tripped a political trigger.

Jim Faikes told the Assembly he was “dismayed” that the Assembly had not contacted the Big Lake Community Council on the issue. The land in question lies within Big Lake’s Comprehensive Plan.. and Big Lake is considering incorporation as a city.

“Puritan Parkway is slated to be a four lane arterial connecting the Port (MacKenzie) to the Parks Highway. This (property) is a half mile on the frontage of that road. Big Lake has a comprehensive plan, the Borough is familiar with it. And that particular piece of property, that stretch, that corridor, is designated to be commercial or industrial along that route. To take it away for that (shooting range ) purpose would be inappropriate.”

In the end, Assemblyman Dan Mayfield, who represents the Big Lake area on the Assembly, moved to postpone action on the land sale until June, so that Borough staff can find a suitable alternative lands within the Borough. With arguments in opposition by Assemblymen Ron Arvin and Steve Colligan, the Assembly postponed action on the issue until June.

Categories: Alaska News

Heavy Rains Prompt Landslide Warning

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 13:53

While it’s raining in most of Southeast today, there’s another large, warm and wet weather system just offshore, waiting to plow into the region. It’s expected to bring heavy rainfall and high winds through the week.

With already unusually warm temperatures and above average rainfall in recent months, forecasters are warning this latest system is going to increase the chance for landslides and mudslides throughout the region, says warning coordination meteorologist Joel Curtis in with the National Weather Service in Juneau.

“We’ve had a moist flow aimed at us for most of the winter so far and then this thing is just putting more rain on top of that. We just have a real ‘watch out’ condition,” Curtis says.

He issued the first warning for landslides on Monday night. He is forecasting most areas of Southeast will get up to an inch and half of rain Tuesday followed by up to two inches overnight and more on Wednesday. The system will also bring high winds, expected to reach 40 to 50 miles per hour in many areas.

Curtis says with soils already saturated and high winds forecasted conditions are ripe for landslides.

“If you combine a lot of precipitation with wind, you’re trunks are moving therefore your root systems are moving and it’s much easier to get a blow down in these extremely moist conditions like we have right now,” he says. “So, when you start moving those root systems around and then you put some good gusts of wind on it, that’s one of the ways we try to look out for landslides and mudslides.”

He says with such a large system, it’s difficult to be precise about what areas are most susceptible to landslides.

“We don’t have the detailed knowledge of saying ‘OK, it’s going to happen along a certain road or certain clear-cut.’ We don’t have that knowledge. So we have to be very, very general when we put that in our special weather statement.”

Curtis says the alerts will be updated as the impending weather system moves over the panhandle.  He says the only region of Southeast not included in the landslide warning at this time the Yakutak area.

On Tuesday, the Haines and Skagway area was also forecasted to get several inches of snow along the Haines Highway and up to a foot and a half of snow was expected along the Klondike highway.

For the most up-to-date weather information, visit the National Weather Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fisheries Chairman Resigns

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 13:49

Alaska Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone resigned Tuesday after Gov. Bill Walker said he would not submit his name to the legislature for reappointment.

Rather than wait for his term to expire in June, Johnstone resigned immediately.

His resignation came after the Board of Fisheries blocked a candidate for Fish and Game commissioner from being interviewed for the position.

Gov. Walker’s press secretary, Grace Jang, said only one of four job candidates was interviewed by the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game.

“Well, Governor Walker was very disappointed that the process wasn’t allowed to play out and that only one name was advanced to him,” Jang said. “While he’s very confident that Sam Cotten will make an excellent commissioner and has been doing an excellent job in the past couple of months, he wanted to make sure that the public process was respected.”

Gov. Walker’s office also announced Tuesday that it appointed Cotten as Department of Fish and Game commissioner.

Jang said the governor wants to make sure the public is involved in all processes.

“Gov. Walker thanks Mr. Johnstone for his service. He wants new ideas on the board, essentially,” Jang said.

Johnstone could not be reached for comment.

His resignation is effective Jan. 27, after the Board of Fisheries finishes a meeting in Wrangell to consider Southeast shellfish proposals.

Governor Walker nominated Roland Maw, the candidate rejected by the Board of Fisheries, to fill the vacancy left by Johnstone. Maw’s appointment must be approved by the state legislature.

Johnstone has served on the Board of Fisheries since 2008.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Sea Pollock Fishery Casts Off

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 13:47

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

The Bering Sea’s largest fishery opened up on Tuesday afternoon. Pollock crews are gearing up for a potential increase in their harvest — while still keeping an open mind about what the winter has in store.

Within hours of arriving in Unalaska on Tuesday morning, the crew of the Seadawn was back to work.

“We’ll just get everything on the boat and then we can start organizing it,” Ron Mitchell yelled as he stacked extra nets on deck using a crane.

Once they start fishing, the Seadawn and the other vessels in the UniSea cooperative will have a little extra pollock to work with, too.The catch limit increased about 3 percent this year to 1.3 million metric tons.

But one of the fleet’s biggest expenses has been getting cheaper.

“We were hoping to make a little more money since fuel prices are down,” Mitchell says. “But then we heard the fish prices are down, too.”

Up in the wheelhouse, captain Richard Wyatt is a little more optimistic.

“Initial reports on prices aren’t so exciting to us,” Wyatt says. “But you can make up a little bit of that if fishing’s good, so we’ll just see where it goes.”

According to studies from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea is on the rise. That’s part of the reason why this year’s catch limit went up.

But other fish aren’t faring so well. Halibut have been getting smaller and harder to find. And the harvests have been shrinking, too.

That’s prompted some Alaska’s acting fish and game commissioner and others to file an emergency petition. They want a stricter limit on the amount of halibut that trawlers are allowed to take on accident — while they’re pursuing other fish, including pollock.

NMFS is still considering that request. But in the meantime, biologist Krista Milani says the same bycatch limits will apply.

“Everything’s managed by sectors and coops,” Milani says. “And so they kind of self-manage their caps. We definitely are looking at any kind of incidental catch that they’re coming across — prohibited species that they’re catching. And we’ll be watching their reports when they come in.”

The first round — and the first deliveries of pollock — are expected early next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Kink Community Readies its New Home After Years of Unique Hurdles

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-21 10:51

Sahra Shaubach in the room she and volunteers extensively rehabbed inside the basement of the 225 E. 5th Ave property, holding a poster from the The Eagle, a renown Baltimore leather bar. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

Alaska has a tightening kink community made up of people living alternative lifestyles that range from discomfort with mainstream society to unconventional sex practices. But they have struggled to find spaces in which to gather. Now, after a lengthy tenant dispute and thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles–ACAL– is ready to open it’s doors.

“Our stairwell, when we finish staging, will be full of pride-flags from across the lower-48,” explains Sahra Shaubach as she shows off the staircase leading into the 2000 square-foot basement she rents in downtown Anchorage, formerly the site of the Kodiak bar. ”Those will include Bear pride-flags, and GBLT pride flags, of course the Leather pride flag, the Trans pride flag and so on and so forth.”

ACAL is meant to solve a years-long problem of where people interested in unconventional sex can get together for events.

 ”You name it, we’ve rented it,” Shaubach explains.  ”We’ve done this out of restaurants after they’ve closed, we’ve done this out of convention halls, we’ve done this out of hotels–we’ve rented entire floors of hotels and done theme rooms. We’ve rented basements, we’ve rented empty houses. And we’ve been doing it with the respect of the greater community in Anchorage, I believe. We haven’t had anyone call the cops and say ‘Oh my god the perverts are screaming next door.’”

“Kink community” is the umbrella term covering everything from bondage and leather aficionados to erotic artists and exotic hoola-hoopers. Though Alaska’s kink community is dwarfed by cities in the Lower-48, it is far more widespread than the uninitiated may realize. In the last two decades, different groups like The Norther Lights Dungeon Society and Alaska Dark Realms organized coffee meet-ups and dinners nicknamed “munches.”

“It was just amazing to realize that people across the board–young, old, fat, ugly, educated, not, your doctors, your lawyers, your school teachers, your single mothers, your college students–everybody shows up to those munches,” Shaubach recalls from when she began getting involved eight years ago.  ”If you saw us sitting at a restaurant–20, 25, 30, 40 of us–you would have no idea we are Alaska’s alternative community. We look like the people you’d see at Fred Myers.”

Shaubach pounced on the opportunity to rent out the basement in the old Kodiak, even though it meant cleaning up years of broken furniture, trash, and remnants of people crashing when they had nowhere else to go. Upon seeing the space for the first time in two years, the landlord wept. Shaubach and volunteers organized “work frollicks”–a borrowed Amish term–to haul trash, paint, clean, and disinfect the industrial kitchen on the top floor. It took months, but the results are impressive. The rambling chambers of the basement are primed for activities: a tiny stage surrounded by tables, studded leather straps to hang donated art, and “playrooms” holding a few daunting apparatuses.

“There’ll also be a large padded table here that also has a cage that goes underneath it,” Shaubach explained, pointing inside her favorite room. It was filled with supplies and equipment, including an X-shaped St. Andrew’s Cross and wooden stocks affixed to a spanking bench.

“Forgive me if this is a little bit Suburban,” I asked, “but what is the table and what are the cage for?”

“Umm,” Shaubach paused, a smile spreading over her face, ‘there’s so many options for a table and a cage!” 

Alaska’s kink community numbers in the hundreds, and is committed enough that Shaubach can finance the costs of rent and upkeep by collecting membership fees.

“It’s like having a Sam’s Club Card,” said Shaubach, “you don’t get the groceries for free, but you definitely get a discounted rate for being a member.”

$120 s a year buys access to the space, along with priority rates on workshops and educational events on eclectic topics like knot-tying.

Shaubach stands in a corner of the industrial kitchen she says had been left in a state of disarray by the time she returned to the space for the first time since December. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

ACAL was set to open in December, but a high-profile tenant dispute disrupted those plans. The top-floor was leased to Charlene Egbe, who runs the Alaska Cannabis Club, and was evicted last week. By the time Egbe and her business partners vacated the premise the top floor was a mess, documented extensively by a local blogger with an interest in the case, who has since publicly archived photographs documenting the state of the property. The kitchen was filled with trash and flat-screen TVs, fixtures, and furniture were gone.

Egbe says that she and associates poured money and time into improving the space beyond its condition from when she first  signed the lease.

“We’re disappointed that our former landlord continues to attempt to assassinate the character of the Alaska Cannabis Club,” Egbe said by phone. “We are taking legal action against our former landlord, and other parties involved, for defamation of character, amongst other things.”

Shaubach is not eager to dwell on what happened, or on the pending civil case. Instead, she is planning more work frollicks to get the ACAL space ready in the weeks ahead. She knows where she’ll put a small library and has already picked a name (The Back Door) for the modest boutique that will sell leather accouterments. Mostly, she’s ready for the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles to finally become a gathering place.

“We’ve built this center, and created it with a vision of our community having a place to foster our foundations and elevate our education past what we’ve already done. And we just need a home,” Shaubach said, a sad note creeping into her voice. “We need a place that’s safe, sane, secure so that we can practice what it is that we do.”

The Center’s public premier is slated for the first Friday in February.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 20, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:38

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

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Alaska’s 29th Legislature Gavels In

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The state legislature began the 29th session this afternoon. House Speaker Mike Chenault gaveled in at 1 p.m. The State Senate followed an hour later. Senate President Kevin Meyer is a Republican from Anchorage. He says the caucus has several priorities this year – the gas line, education, arctic policy and development and federal overreach, but he says the state budget will – of course – need the most attention.

Walker Adds More Commissioners To Cabinet

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has decided to keep two acting commissioners, and appoint one new one.

Senate Finance Considering Bringing On Former Commissioners As Consultants

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Senate Finance Committee is considering hiring two former state commissioners to help lawmakers review state spending and address massive budget deficits.

Sen. Sullivan Weighs In On Potential State of the Union Topics

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress was Tuesday night, but the White House has been offering previews of his main proposals for weeks. Alaska’s new Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, said before it began he was expecting to hear an overly rosy depiction of unemployment.

Murkowski Named Chairman Of Interior Subcommittee Of Appropriations Panel

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Sen. Lisa Murkowski already chairs a full committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But today she was also named chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Appropriations panel. That subcommittee essentially sets the budget for the Interior Department, as well as the Forest Service and the Indian Health Service.

Bill Would Set Up Compensation Program For Wrongfully Convicted

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks Democratic State Representative Scott Kawasaki has pre-filed a bill that would set up a system for compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles Prepares To Open Its Doors

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska has a kink community made up of people living alternative lifestyles that range from discomfort with mainstream society to unconventional sex practices. But they’ve struggled to find a space to gather. Now, after the group has weathered a lengthy tenant dispute and thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles, or ACAL is ready to open its doors in Anchorage.

Walker Halts Demolition In Anchorage Neighborhood

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Walker has put the demolition of an Anchorage property on hold. Walker told reporters on Monday that he was halting further action on the demolition of a building that houses a Subway sandwich shop in the city’s Government Hill neighborhood because the demolition is part of the Knik Arm Bridge project.

Lack Of Snow Could Again Send Iditarod Start To Fairbanks

The Associated Press

Southcentral Alaska’s lack of snow and uncertain weather is again pushing organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to ponder moving the start of the race from Willow to Fairbanks.

Eaglecrest Suspends Lift Operations Due To Lack Of Snow

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area is halting lift operations until it receives enough snow to open at least part of the upper mountain.

People With Disabilities Find Independence Through Skiing

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Earlier this month, Juneau did get some snow and Eaglecrest had its smallest chairlift going. This allowed ORCA to run its Adaptive Ski and Snowboard program, which has been teaching people with disabilities how to ski for 18 years.

Categories: Alaska News

State Prosecutors Target Range of Child Sex Abuse Offenses in Round of Convictions

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:20

The Department of Law closed four child sex abuse cases last week. The charges are part of the state’s efforts to go after more offenders for a wider range of abuses.

Two of the cases were brought against a Sand Point resident sentenced to a total of 23 years, with 15 more on probation.

“James Griffith was sentenced on two different cases involving sexual abuse of a minor,” said Adam Alexander, assistant district attorney in the office of special prosecutions. “In the older of the two cases, Griffith was sentenced for sexually abusing a developmentally developed child.”

The other two convictions involve Anchorage residents possessing and distributing sexually exploitative images and videos. Alexander believes many people think of viewing child pornography as a lesser offense than direct abuse, but the Department of Law and the state Legislature are aggressively prosecuting those they see as driving the illegal market.

“In situations where those images of the child being victimized are trafficked on the Internet, it’s important to note that first and foremost these aren’t victimless crimes,” said Alexander.  ”When somebody possesses, downloads, or distributes child pornography in Alaska they’re directly contributing to that victimization, and creating a market which drives the creation of those images.”

The state has strict sentencing guidelines as part of its deterrence strategy. Conviction in a first-time offense carries a minimum of 2 years in prison with two more on probation.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s 29th Legislature Gavels In

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:10

The state legislature began the 29th session this afternoon. House Speaker Mike Chenault gaveled in at 1 pm.

The State Senate followed an hour later.

Senate President Kevin Meyer is a Republican from Anchorage. He says the caucus has several priorities this year,-the gas line, education, Arctic policy and development and federal over-reach. But he says the state budget will – of course – need the most attention.

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Categories: Alaska News

Walker Adds More Commissioners To Cabinet

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:09

Gov. Bill Walker has decided to keep on two acting commissioners, and appoint one new one.

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The newest face is Chris Hladick, who will direct the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Hladick *has* served as Unalaska’s city manager since 2001, and before that he worked in Dillingham and Galena.

The governor will also submit Sam Cotten’s name to the Legislature for confirmation as head of the Department of Fish and Game. Cotten is a former Speaker of the House, and served in the Alaska State Legislature as a Democrat for 16 years. Cotten has led Fish and Game on an acting basis since Walker’s inauguration, and the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game approved his nomination last week.

Walker also intends to keep acting Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor in the position on a permanent basis. Taylor was previously a deputy commissioner in the department, and focused on prisoners’ re-entry to society.

Walker’s Cabinet appointments must be confirmed by the Legislature.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Finance Considering Bringing On Former Commissioners As Consultants

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:08

The Senate Finance Committee is considering hiring two former state commissioners to help lawmakers review state spending and address massive budget deficits.

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The committee’s co-chairs have proposed contracts with former Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell and former Health Commissioner Bill Streur. The committee is expected to consider the proposals later this week.

Co-chair Anna MacKinnon says she and co-chair Pete Kelly spoke with Gov. Bill Walker and told him they are just looking for the best advice on issues that are major cost drivers, such as Medicaid and debt service.

“I want to be absolutely respectful,” says MacKinnon. The governor should absolutely have a team that he wants at his side to implement his policies and his strategies. But having someone who has been in the trenches I think will be helpful for Alaskans.”

Rodell and Streur served under the previous governor, Sean Parnell. Parnell resisted expanding Medicaid coverage, citing concerns with costs. Walker campaigned on expanding Medicaid and says he thinks it will save the state money.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan Weighs In On Potential State of the Union Topics

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:07

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress is Tuesday night, but the White House has been offering previews of his main proposals for weeks. Alaska’s new Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, said before it he was expecting to hear an overly rosy depiction of unemployment.

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“The vast majority of that decrease in unemployment has been Americans dropping out of the work force,” Sullivan said. “The labor rate participation is at the lowest rate in 30 years, so to me that’s not progress.”

Obama is also proposing tax reform. He wants a tax credit for middle class families. The president also wants to increase the tax on capital gains, which are now taxed at a lower rate than regular income, for wealthy Americans. Sullivan says it’s not good policy.

“You know, when you raise the Capital gains tax, you’re inhibiting investment, and I don’t think that’s what the country needs right now,” he said.

Democrats who support the proposal say it would affect very few taxpayers, since the vast majority have no capital gains and fewer still have incomes higher than $465,000 a year, the threshold for triggering the increase.

Sullivan is also skeptical of Obama’s proposal for free tuition at community colleges.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Named Chairman Of Interior Subcommittee Of Appropriations Panel

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:06

Sen. Lisa Murkowski already chairs a full committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but Tuesday she was also named chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Appropriations panel.

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That subcommittee essentially sets the budget for the Interior Department, as well as the Forest Service and the Indian Health Service. Murkowski says it means she’ll lead the panel that writes the laws related to resource agencies, review their work and hold their purse strings.

“This is a level of oversight, a level of control and a level of authority that’s somewhat unprecedented,” Murkowski said.

The Interior Department includes agencies that are hugely important in Alaska, from the Park Service and the BLM to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and BOEM, which manages off-shore energy resources.

Vanderbilt Political Science Professor Bruce Oppenheimer has researched Senate process and its impact on energy policy. He says the subcommittee assignment on Appropriations adds a great deal to Murkowski’s power as chairman of Energy and Natural Resources.

“That’s double barrels..I mean yeah. That’s probably almost as important,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer says the budget control gives Murkowski leverage over administration appointees who run the subdivisions of Interior.

“That puts the chair in a very useful position because there’s every reason that people in the Interior Department want to stay on the good side of the chair of that subcommittee,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski, in a written statement listed several priorities she intends to pursue on the Appropriations subcommittee. They include contract support funding for Indian health, cleaning abandoned wells and removing EPA authority for certain air quality permits.

Categories: Alaska News

Bill Would Set Up Compensation Program For Wrongfully Convicted

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:05

Fairbanks Democratic State Representative Scott Kawasaki has prefiled a bill that would set up a system for compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

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Wrongful conviction is a hot topic in Fairbanks as a decision is pending on key evidence in a long contested murder case.The Fairbanks Four case involves 4 local men convicted of the 1997 beating death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. The four maintain they didn’t do it, and the Alaska Innocence Project is working the case, seeking the release of incriminating statements made by a Fairbanks man convicted of an unrelated murder, to his attorney about the Hartman killing.

State Representative Scott Kawasaki says his bill, which would provide up to 2 million dollars to an exonerated individual, is not just about the Fairbanks Four.

“The Fairbanks Four is a very sensational issue in Fairbank, but the facts are out there that there were a record number of exonerations last year in the United States,” Kawasaki said. ”And, of course, there’s no way to turn back the time, but in a small way, I think compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted, this is a way to help heal.”

Kawaskai says the legislation is modeled after similar compensation programs in other states.

“We worked closely with the Alaska Innocence Project and with innocence groups across the U.S. that have introduced legislation like this,” Kawasaki said. ”I think currently half the states have some sort of compensation statutes in place.”

Kawasaki submitted a similar wrongful conviction compensation bill late last session that did not move, but says the reception was generally favorable, and he’s working with the judiciary committee to address issues, including provision that would prevent a wrongfully convicted individual who accepts compensation, from suing the state.


Categories: Alaska News

Lack Of Snow Could Again Send Iditarod Start To Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:02

Southcentral Alaska’s lack of snow and uncertain weather is again pushing organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to ponder moving the start of the race from Willow to Fairbanks.

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A ceremonial start for the 1,000-mile race is scheduled for March 7 in Anchorage.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports in 2003, the Iditarod Trail Committee started the race in Fairbanks north of the Alaska Range because of poor snow.

Race marshal Mark Nordman says one big storm could improve trail conditions but starting the race in Fairbanks is an option.

Categories: Alaska News

Eaglecrest Suspends Lift Operations Due To Lack Of Snow

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 17:01

Besides man-made snow on Porcupine it’s been a pretty dismal year at Eaglecrest Ski Area so far. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area is halting lift operations until it receives enough snow to open at least part of the upper mountain.

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General Manager Matt Lillard announced the decision in blog post on the ski area’s website.

Director of Sales and Marketing Jeffra Clough says it was not an easy decision, but so far this winter Mother Nature has not delivered enough snow to Juneau. But she says the season isn’t over yet.

“For the past several years she’s been great and given us a lot of snow, and this year, unfortunately, she’s just slow to giving us that snow,” Clough says. “But we feel certain that there’s still a lot of winter to go.”

Clough says Eaglecrest will look at ways to add skiing opportunities should the snow arrive this year.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s just unfortunate that it’s the first time in recent years that it’s happened,” Clough says. “So we’re looking at, you know, being open on Friday nights, possibly extending our hours in the spring time, closing 5 o’ clock or 6 o’ clock in the evening on weekends or holidays.”

The city-owned ski area has a long-established no refunds policy for season pass holders. Fortunately, Clough says, they’ve rarely had to use it.

For now, the mountain will be staffed by a skeleton crew. The ticket office and equipment repair shop will be open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For the latest conditions on the mountain go to

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla Fire Contained

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 13:58

A massive fire in Wasilla has destroyed a two story commercial building. There are no injuries reported due to the blaze, but the building, which housed a business and a family, is a complete loss, according to Matanuska Susitna Borough safety officials.

The fire was called in about 5 am Tuesday morning. The four family members living in the building escaped unharmed.

Dennis Brodigan, the Borough’s emergency services director, says the second floor was engulfed when firefighters arrived.

“Being a very very large building, and with the types of items that were in the building it was a difficult fire to fight. Two adults and two children made it out and were uninjured. But the fire load was in the building an and it was a very diffucult building to extinguish. We got the call just before 5 am and we didn’t get it under control until about 12:15 this afternoon.”

He says Borough – wide firefighting resources were called in due to the danger of the fire spreading into tinder dry trees. Fire units from as far away as Willow responded.

Brodigan says the cause of the blaze is not known.

“Part of the mopping up and the continuation is for the fire code officials to do a complete investigation and they will determine the area of origen and perhaps even how it was ignited.”

The building on Wasilla Fishhook Road housed an electrical supply business – Crescent Electrical Supply Company. The fire affected a power line to the building, causing Matanuska Electric Association to shut down power to the area for a time to help firefighters supress the stubborn blaze. At first, the firefighting crews were unable to douse the roof of the building. The fire caused huge clouds of smoke to be visible over Wasilla.

Wasilla Fishhook Road was shut down temporarily, and school busses on their way to Iditarod ElementarySchool this [tuesday] morning were diverted to Wasilla Middle School, as the fire caused Iditarod to shut down for the day. Mat Su School District spokeswoman Catherine Esary says Iditarod school was not threatened by the fire.

The commercial building also housed a thrift shop and the offices of Hope For Heroes, a veteran’s non-profit.

Brodigan says a “wealth of synthetic products ” on site helped fuel the fire. So far, there is no estimate of the cost of the blaze.Two hundred MEA customers were without power during the blaze. The displaced family is being assisted by the Red Cross.

Categories: Alaska News

Four Rescued As F/V Eyak Sinks Near Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:52

Sitka search and rescue volunteer Jake Denherder took this photo of the sinking F/V Eyak from the Alaska State Trooper vessel Courage, early on January 19, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Jake Denherder.)

Four people were rescued from the F/V Eyak early Monday morning after the boat went aground near Calligan Island, just north of the Goddard hot springs.

The Coast Guard received a call from a crew member on board the Eyak just before 5:45 a.m., stating that the boat was taking on water. The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter from Air Station Sitka and requested assistance from the Sitka Police and Fire Departments and the Alaska State Troopers.

By the time Sitka Police Det. Ryan Silva arrived on the scene at about 7 a.m. in the city’s Emergency Response Vessel, the Eyak was already partially underwater: the 80-foot boat was listing so hard that “the deck was at the water’s edge,” Silva said. All four people on board were wearing survival suits, and they had a life raft inflated and in the water.

The four were safely brought on board the ERV, Silva said, along with their dog. Within about forty-five minutes of the rescue, the Eyak rolled off the rocks and started to sink.

The State Troopers identified the four people on board as 48-year-old David Castle of Sitka, the Eyak’s owner and captain; and 29-year-old Anna Zallau, 23-year-old Charles Wlaslewski, and 49-year-old Debra Rose, all of Port Alexander. All four were uninjured and did not require medical attention, according to the Trooper report.

The Coast Guard reported that the Eyak had about 500 gallons of fuel on board when it sank, and is being monitored.

The Eyak has for years served as the regular mail boat for Baranof Island’s small communities, including Port Alexander, transporting U.S. mail, groceries and supplies.

By Monday afternoon, friends had started a fundraising campaign on the site GoFundMe to help Eyak captain David Castle get back on his feet. As of midnight, it had raised more than $5,000.

Categories: Alaska News

APU Student Killed In Climbing Accident On Mt. Yukla

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:42

A young man fell to his death on Sunday while climbing Mount Yukla, above Eagle River. 

Dasan Marshall, 24, of Portland, Oregon was a student at Alaska Pacific University. College spokeswoman Eeva Latosuo says his climb was not part of school.

“He was on a personal climbing trip with his climbing partner,” Latosuo said. ”He was attempting the north face of Mt. Yukla when he slipped and fell 1,000 feet.”

Lagosuo says Marshall had been living in Alaska since 2012. His climbing resume included ascents of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Baker. In Alaska, Dasan had completed the West Buttress of Denali and multiple routes around Kahiltna Base Camp and Pike Glacier, as well as many other technical peaks and routes in the Western Chugach.

Marshall had been attending his last semester at APU to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Studies and working on his senior project that involved starting an alpine club for the student community at APU.

Categories: Alaska News

Zaukar Sentenced to 61 years for 2012 Rape, Kidnapping

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-01-20 09:38

Colten Zaukar (center) visits with his brother and father after his sentencing Friday. (KYUK photo)

On Friday, a judge sentenced 24-year-old Colten Zaukar, of Sleetmute to spend what could be rest of his life behind bars for a violent 2012 rape. Bethel Superior Court Judge Charles Ray sentenced Zaukar to 61 years, with another 10 years suspended.

“There is good reason to isolate Mr. Zaukar for a substantial period of time, both for the safety of the community, the safety of the particular victim in this case and hopefully some deterrence to himself and others in his community and particularly to me the condemnation of the conduct involved,” Ray said.

Zaukar will be required to serve at least 55 of those years.

(Google map image – Sleetmute)

In June, a Bethel jury found Zaukar guilty on 10 counts in the case. Zaukar was found guilty on several sexual assault charges, kidnapping and assault. The jury found him not guilty of attempted murder and one sexual assault charge.

Court documents say that at about 2:00 a.m. on September 26, 2012, Zaukar broke down a door with an ax. He came back disguised in a blanket and attacked a woman. Authorities say he pushed her on a dark trail and raped her near the river. A family member later helped Zaukar hide for two-and-a-half days from troopers.

The victim of Zaukar’s attack spoke over the telephone at his sentencing saying she did not want him out of jail while she was still alive. The prosecuting attorney called Zaukar a sociopath with little hope for rehabilitation. The defense attorney argued his client has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. He noted outside court that there are questions about the jury makeup in the case and an appeal is possible.

Sleetmute is around 150 miles miles northeast of Bethel and has approximately 100 residents.

A 2012 Alaska State Troopers report says the rate of sex crimes in Western Alaska is the highest in the state.

Categories: Alaska News