Alaska News

AVCP Settles in Software Copyright Lawsuit

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:14

The Association of Village Council Presidents settled a lawsuit last month with a company that claimed AVCP had infringed copyright rules and misused trade secrets by providing unauthorized access to proprietary software.

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Since 2000, AVCP has contracted with an Oklahoma firm, Eaglesun Systems, for software used in federally funded tribal welfare programs like Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Bryan Nowlin, an attorney for Hall-Estill, a Tulsa, Oklahoma based law firm, litigated the case for Eaglesun Systems.

“The complaint alleged that screenshots had been sent to a new firm in order to develop a competing product. That’s what Eaglesun eventually learned about and felt it had to take action on, because if a competing product were developed that would be very harmful to Eaglesun’s business and to its ability to stay in business,” said Nowlin.

According to court documents, in 2010, AVCP hired a competitor to Eaglesun, a California software company called Front Range Solutions to write new software. Eaglesun says AVCP gave Front Range a login to access to the program as well the screenshots for their work in designing a new product.

Eaglesun in 2013 sued AVCP for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets. They say AVCP damaged Eaglesun’s business by at least 75-thousand dollars.

The complaint says an AVCP employee told Executive Vice President Mike Hoffman that the new software looked just like Eaglesun’s and that the new company “should at least change the colors.”

Attorneys for the two companies met in private mediation August 16th and agreed to settlement terms, which were not disclosed. The settlement was filed September 15th.

An attorney hired by AVCP did not respond to requests for comment. AVCP’s only comment was that to say the case has resolved amicably and the details are confidential.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Lease Expansion Threatens Fairbanks-Area Ski Area

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 17:13

A proposed lease expansion could put an end to a popular Fairbanks ski area. Most of the trails at Mt. Aurora Skiland could fall victim to a mineral exploration project.

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Categories: Alaska News

Hughes, LaFrance Vie for Greater Palmer House District 11

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 16:30

Shelley Hughes and Pete LaFrance faced each other on public television’s Running. Republican Hughes says she’s been working with the Valley’s legislative delegation for the past two years, and that’s a plus, in her opinion.

“I’ve been part of the Valley delegation, which is probably one of the strongest teams as far as the Mat Su delegation, as far as what we have been able to accomplish together. In the majority, I’m actually able to get things done, be very heavily involved in the committees. I’m very proud of the fact that I work bi-partisan. Every bill that I’ve had has had bi-partisan support. So I don’t play party politics. I’m not one to do that. “

 Hughes, who has lived in Palmer about a quarter century and is the mother of four, has served one full term in the House. She chairs the economic development, trade and tourism committee, and says that bringing in good paying jobs to the state is a priority

“I actually carried successful legislation on that front in a couple of instances. One was to allow the industry related to unmanned aircraft to begin to look to Alaska as a possibility. And, of course, the privacy of our citizens was my number one concern, I was originally hesitant, but I did carry that, and now we have industry looking here in Alaska, we have actually have someone opening a plant to begin to manufacture those. “

But opponent Pete LaFrance says Hughes is part of a Republican caucus and will rubber stamp anything, including the state’s operating budget

“The budget deficit is huge. I’ve knocked on well over 2,000 doors and this is an issue that keeps coming up. And one of the things that I’ve learned that I have been shocked and dismayed by is this idea of the Republicans’ binding caucus down in Juneau. Where they join the caucus and essentially surrender their vote saying that we’ll vote for the budget that comes out of the committee before they’ve even seen it. We can’t possibly get on a path of fiscal sustainability until we put aside notions like this.”

La France, a teacher and an IT professional, was born and raised in Palmer. He spent years working abroad, however in Luxembourg and Mexico.La France says the legislative majority, including Hughes, has locked in three more years of education cuts, while spending money on what he considers wasteful programs.

“The fact of the matter is is that we have the largest budget deficit in Alaska’s history this year. And we’ve given money away to refineries, we’ve loaned 270 million to Canadian companies for risky ventures, seven and a half million on an office building in Anchorage that we don’t even own. “

The two sparred over which was the most fiscally conservative, especially differing over how to deal with deficits incurred by the state’s employee health benefits plan. Hughes says she’s helped cut that  budget.

‘In the two years that I’ve been in, we’ve actually over those two year’s brought down general fund spending by 2.1 billion. And we will continue to work to bring that down, and one of the concerns that I’m hearing, and I understand that my opponent is wanting to return to defined benefits, which is not a cost neutral program, it put the state at tremendous risk.”

Hughes questioned LaFrance about his support of a defined benefits plan. LaFrance said previous legislation – Senate Bill 30 – would give workers the option of choosing to a defined benefit pension program.

“And the analysis thus far has show that they’re cost neutral. And you can argue with the analysis, but that’s what the people who crafted this legislation have noted. And I think that employees deserve that choice.”

 Hughes shot back that the last legislature posted a deficit because of the state pension plan.

“We are billions in unfunded liability. I will say the three billion [dollars ] we paid will save us over time in the coming budgets, and that’s one of the reasons why we did have the deficit we did was to pay down that three billlion [dollars]“

 As to how to bring up state revenues and cut spending, Hughes says she participated in gas line legislation and the rewrite of oil tax revenue collection, she says that’s helping to reverse oil production decline in Alaska.

LaFrance calls for improvements in Railbelt infrastructure.

“We need to invest in key infrastructure. We should modernize our electrical transmission grid, so that we can provide reliable and affordable power across the railbelt.”

He says a 900 million dollar investment by the state could save ratepayers up to 200 million dollars a year.

As of early October, Hughes has spent about 28 thousand dollars on her campaign , La France 30 thousand dollars.  

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Drifting Barge Heading for Arctic Sea Ice

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 12:52

A Coast Guard aircraft conducted a flyover of the drifting barge this past weekend. (Courtesy: USCG Air Station Kodiak)

A small fuel barge is drifting toward Arctic sea ice, north of Prudhoe Bay – and the Coast Guard says it’ll probably be stuck there until next summer.

The 134-foot unmanned barge broke off from its tugboat in a storm last week. Since then, Coast Guard commander Shawn Decker says it has been drifting away from Alaska’s shoreline.

At this rate, he says it’s likely the barge will get trapped in sea ice to the north. In that case, the Coast Guard would have to wait to remove it until the ice thawed next June.

The Canadian company that owns the barge hasn’t been able to find a nearby vessel that’s free from winter ice and can help respond right now. But Decker says they might try to reach the vessel in the coming months to offload some of its cargo: about 950 gallons of diesel fuel.

If the barge does end up in ice, Decker says the Coast Guard will track it through the winter to make sure it doesn’t break loose or begin to leak fuel. But he’s not too worried – he says the vessel owner keeps similar barges in ice all winter, and is confident this one would stay put.

Categories: Alaska News

Conservative, Progressive Democrat, Republican Vie for House District 9

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:17

Republican Jim Colver, Democrat Mabel Wimmer and the Alaska Constitution Party’s Pam Goode are vying for the House 9 seat.

Colver, from Palmer, sits on the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly where he has served 9 years. He’s been Borough School Board president, and is a member of the Assembly’s committee on school issues. He’s served on the Borough fish and game commission, the road service advisory board and the planning commission.

“And I have experience trimming budgets, solving problems, paving roads.”

 Colver upset incumbent Eric Feige in the August primary for the Republican slot on the November ballot. He says the widespread communities along the Richardson Highway have in common a need for affordable energy. He supports converting power plants to gas to lower electricity rates,

“If Ahtna is successful in drilling their gas well near Glennallen, we need to get that gas into the Glennallen area and convert that power plant to gas. For the short term, we need to work on more weatherization, we need to make firewood available. There’s a lot of things that we need to do that we can do now.”

Mabel Wimmer says residents in her area worked hard to get a Copper Valley hydro project on line to reduce electric costs.

“I think we need to look into alternative energy.”

Wimmer, from tiny Mendeltna, says she’s a “progressive” Democrat. She owns a roadside lodge, and says she’s frugal to a T

“I own the lodge at Mendeltna. We are a zero waste lodge and my campaign is a zero waste campaign. Please don’t look for signs on the highway.”

 Pam Goode is the Alaska Constitution Party candidate for House 9.  Delta Junction resident Goode describes herself as a conservative. She once worked for NASA and spent 11 years sailing around the world. Goode says she lives in an un-organized area now because she’s standing for personal freedom, privacy and constitutional values.

“That’s what got me into the race, was to get more involved and to use my voice and to share that and to give voters a true constitutional choice.”

 House 9′s many small communities depend on small businesses for an economic base. Colver says those businesses are hampered by too many regulations, Wimmer advocates having communities decide which businesses fit their area best. Goode says more resource development would help. She supports coal extraction.

State budget concerns top this year’s election debate. Pam Goode says the three biggest :

“The three biggest draws on our operational budget is K through 12, education, Medicaid and PERS and TERS. And I think they put a temporary patch on PERS and TERS last session”   Goode says the whole health care system needs a new look.

“The people have to realize that medical care has to be paid for like all your other needs in life. I think you just need to reset and come up with a good system that encourages that type of thinking. And encourages people to save for their medical care, maybe an HSA, Health Savings Plan, and catastrophic insurance.”

Wimmer supports expanding Medicaid to help reduce health costs

“We need to work to bring in the Medicaid expansion, so that insurance rates can lower, so that people can have more Medicaid dollars avaialable. I think that we need to improve nutrition.”

Colver opposes Medicaid expansion:

“I don’t favor an expansion of Medicare. Because, once you take the federal free lunch, it’s not free forever. We have a budget problem in Alaska. We need to tighten our belt, not bring in more expenses. “

Colver says the state HSS budget for Medicare has tripled since 2006.

As of October 6, Colver had spent 75 thousand dollars on both his primary and general election races. Wimmer, practicing what she preaches, has spent nothing for her run, and received a single 100 dollar donation. Goode, has raised over 7 thousand dollars for her campaign, most of it from her own pocket, and spent just under 5 thousand dollars,

Categories: Alaska News

Lyman Hoffman Endorses Dan Sullivan for Senate

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:48

Senator Lyman Hoffman. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Y-K Delta State Senator Lyman Hoffman officially endorsed Dan Sullivan for US Senate Friday. The former Attorney General and Natural Resources commissioner is seeking the seat of incumbent Mark Begich.

An announcement of Hoffman’s endorsement came late in the day. The two candidates debated Friday at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.

Hoffman was first elected to the legislature in 1991 and the Democrat has served continuously since 1995.

Categories: Alaska News

AFN Endorses Begich After Hearing From Senate Candidates

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:40

Candidate for U.S. Senate Dan Sullivan and incumbent Mark Begich met on-stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage Friday. AFN delegates voted Saturday to endorse Begich for re-election. An endorsement of Bill Walker for governor and Byron Mallot for lieutenant governor was also announced.

From the start, delegates were overwhelmingly in support of Begich. Many waved Begich campaign signs from the audience and clapped and cheered every time the senator answered a question. For Sullivan, things got off to a rocky start during the lightning round, which required yes or no answers.

“Do you support the development of the Pebble Mine project?”

Begich said no. Sullivan responded, “I support the process for all economic development.” Before he could finish the sentence a moderator repeated that the answer has to be yes or no and the audience booed him.

Sullivan criticized Begich for being a Democrat because in 2010 the Alaska Democratic Party sued to ban a list of write-in candidates from voting booths. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was a write-in that year, and there were concerns that Alaska Natives whose first language is not English would have a difficult time without the list.

In the end, the Alaska Supreme Court allowed the list. Dan Sullivan was the state attorney general at the time defending it on behalf of the Division of Elections. What he–and Begich–didn’t mention was that the Alaska Republican Party joined forces with Democrats on that issue. Still, Begich tried to distance himself from the leadership of the Democratic Party.

“There’s a process that they elect a chairman, I’m not the chair never have been, just to make that very clear to you Dan,” Begich said.

“I understand what that case was about. The question was very simple: When the list of the write-in candidates were put forward is that electioneering close to the ballot box? That’s what that was. I wasn’t party to that lawsuit, so let me make sure that’s clear.”

Both candidates agreed that Alaska’s subsistence management system was “broken.” Their solutions, however, differed. Begich supports more federal involvement.

“I get requests now from many different parts of the community of Alaska asking for more federal control in the sense of managing the subsistence rights because they believe the state is not listening,” Begich said. “An example of that was when the commercial fishing was closed and subsistence was closed and when they reopened, commercial got the opening first and subsistence did not. I wrote a strong letter to the governor about this, that subsistence rights are a fundamental right.”

Sullivan told the audience that he understands the importance of subsistence. He talked about spending summers at fish camp with his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, who is the daughter of Mary Jane Fate, a once prominent figure in the Alaska Federation of Natives. He thinks that more state involvement is key to fixing subsistence, not less. At the end of his answer, he defended himself to delegates for his role in representing the State of Alaska in the Katie John case, a case that AFN was involved in for 19 years. AFN saw the state’s appeals of the case as an attack on subsistence rights.

“When I was attorney general I did participate in an element of the Katie John case,” Sullivan said.

“This has been a case going on for decades. It was no personal lawsuit against Katie John; I have the deepest respect for her like I do my mother-in-law. That case was about, when I was involved, the extent of state control over our rivers and as Alaska’s attorney general, I advocated for more state control, not control from the federal government and that’s the way most state officials have done that.”

After the forum, volunteers with signs reading “Follow me to Vote” appeared. The volunteers led people across the street to city hall, where ballots for all precincts across the state were available for early voting.

On Saturday, the final day of the convention, delegates voted in a new co-chair. Tara Sweeney, who was appointed to the position last year, lost to Jerry Isaac, a former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Sweeney is a senior vice president for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and also the co-chair of the Sullivan for Senate campaign. Some delegates said that they didn’t think an AFN co-chair should be allowed to campaign for any candidate. AFN co-chair Ana Hoffman has been actively involved in the Begich campaign. Hoffman is the president and CEO of Bethel Native Corp. Her term as co-chair will be up next year.

Sealaska Corp. put in all their votes for Sweeney. All the other Southeast groups gave their votes to Isaac. The Southeast region has one of the largest percentages of votes in AFN; most of those votes are held by Sealaska.

Delegates met in an executive session Saturday afternoon to debate two candidate endorsement resolutions. The Walker/Mallott campaign endorsement took less than 30 minutes to be approved.

It took another hour before delegates decided to endorse Begich. Some groups reportedly refused to vote for or against the resolution endorsing Begich, saying that they didn’t want to get involved in the back-and-forth that has been a part of this year’s convention. AFN doesn’t always endorse candidates during an election and the conversations surrounding this year’s senate endorsement have at times been tense.

Categories: Alaska News

Young Apologizes for Suicide Remarks; Is Warmly Received at AFN

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 17:24

Alaska Congressman Don Young angered many of his constituents this week with remarks about suicide at Wasilla High that he later acknowledged were insensitive. Today, Young made the apology the focus of his annual speech to AFN.

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“Because I did say what I said, I am profoundly and genuinely sorry for the pain it may have caused people, genuinely sorry for the pain of the individual, as I have experienced it,” he said.

On Tuesday at a Wasilla school assembly, Young seemed to blame suicide on the lack of support of family and friends. Principal Amy Spargo said it offended her and some of the students, especially because Young had just been informed that a student at the school recently took his own life.

At the AFN convention, Young said he knows the tragedy of suicide.

“Because I have been touched by this issue,” he said from the podium of the convention hall. “It’s very personal to me. It may have caused me to mangle some of my statements and comments that’s caused this uproar, but I will tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, did I do enough? Did I take a (nephew) away from an abusive father? Did I love him enough? Did I do enough? And apparently I did not,” he said.

He says his record shows he understands that suicide stems from mental illness and said he voted for federal funds to train teachers and others to combat it. He also reiterated the importance of support. He said Kotzebue has not had a youth suicide in five years, which he attributed to good support.

“And that’s what we have to do around this state – a support group,” he said.

Young then reminded his audience what he’s done for Alaska Natives over the years, with land claims, business advantages for Native corporations, subsistence bills and fishing quotas. He told them he’s working to advance a co-management plan to give Native communities the ability to manage fish and wildlife on their own lands.

“Now I look out in this room and I would suggest respectfully I have been your congressman, and I want to continue to be that congressman,” he said.

His speech was repeatedly punctuated with applause and Young received a standing ovation. His Democratic opponent, Forrest Dunbar, listened from the back of the room. Dunbar noted that Young sounded less than sorry on Wednesday when asked about his Wasilla remarks, but Dunbar said he thought Young’s AFN apology was genuine.

“I think, given the huge importance of this speech I doubt he would rescind or further clarify any of it in a private setting. Hopefully he won’t because I do believe he was being sincere,” Dunbar said.

Young was warmly embraced when he stepped down from the stage. But not everyone in the room was impressed with him. Anchorage resident Gloria Poullard, originally from St. Mary’s, says she had a relative commit suicide this summer. Poullard thinks there’s nothing Young could say that would erase his hurtful statements from Tuesday.

“He’s a leader for Alaskans,” she said. “Why’d he even mention stuff like this?”

Joe Nelson, a Juneau resident from Yakutat, says he would have liked to see the congressman focus his speech more on subsistence.

“I guess he’s trying to make up for a little misstep that happened up in Wasilla in the school there, but I don’t know if he’s really connecting with the younger generations, and that’s where we really need to be connecting,” Nelson said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has endorsed Young, was among those on Thursday who called for Young to apologize. An online petition calling for her to withdraw her endorsement has attracted more than 300 signatures.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:59

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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Congressman Young Apologizes For Remarks On Suicide

Liz Ruskin, APRN

Alaska Congressman Don Young angered many of his constituents this week with remarks about suicide at Wasilla High that he later acknowledged were insensitive. Friday, he used his annual speech at the Alaska Federation of Natives to apologize.

Begich, Sullivan Meet At AFN Senate Candidate Forum

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Candidates for U.S. Senate Dan Sullivan and Sen. Mark Begich met on-stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage Friday.

Alcohol Advertising Near AFN Prompts Complaints

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Fostering healthy communities has been a regular theme of the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. Health associations set up booths with literature on substance abuse, and all official AFN events are sober. If anyone shows up under the influence, that person is escorted out.

State OKs Flint Hills’ Refinery Cleanup Plan

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

State officials have approved a plan proposed by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska to continue an ongoing cleanup of sulfolane and other contaminants that have leaked from its North Pole refinery since the 1970s. The agreement may help improve the chances of Flint Hills eventually selling the refinery, which it closed in May.

Is Someone Poisoning Sitka Bears?

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Someone appears to be poisoning bears near Sitka’s Sawmill Creek Road. A young male found dead last week may be the latest to be killed.

AK: Sea Star Mystery

Anne Brice, APRN Contributor

A trip to the coast usually means you’re going to see sea stars. But a mysterious disease is killing them along the West Coast. There had been a few reports of sick sea stars in Alaska, but recently in Sitka, the first mass die offs in the state were detected. Scientists in Sitka are tracking the progress of the disease.

300 Villages: Hydaburg

This week, we’re heading to Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. Natasha Peele is city administrator of Hydaburg.

Categories: Alaska News

Begich, Sullivan Meet At AFN Senate Candidate Forum

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:59

Candidates for U.S. Senate Dan Sullivan and Sen. Mark Begich met on-stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage Friday.

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Both candidates agreed that Alaska’s subsistence management system was “broken.” Each candidate’s solution, however, was different. Begich supports more federal involvement

“I get requests now from many different parts of the community of Alaska asking for more federal control in the sense of managing the subsistence rights, because they believe the state is not listening,” Begich said. “An example of that was when the commercial fishing was closed, subsistence was closed, and then when they reopened, commercial got the opening first and subsistence did not.”

“I wrote a strong letter to the governor about this, that subsistence rights are a fundamental right.”

Sullivan told the audience he understands the importance of subsistence. He talked about his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, the daughter of Mary Jane Fate, a once-prominent figure in the Alaska Federation of Natives. He talked about spending summers at the family fish camp. He thinks that more state involvement is key to fixing subsistence, not less. At the end of his answer, he defended himself to delegates for his role in representing the State of Alaska in the Katie John case, a case that AFN was involved in for 19 years. AFN saw the state’s appeals of the case as an attack on substance rights.

“When I was attorney general I did participate in an element of the Katie John case,” Sullivan said. “This has been a case going on for decades. It was no personal lawsuit against Katie John, I have the deepest respect for like I do my mother-in-law.”

“That case was about when I was involved that extent of state control over our rivers and as Alaska’s attorney general I advocated for more state control not control from the federal government and that’s the way most state officials have done that.”

After the forum, volunteers with signs reading “Follow me to Vote” appeared. The volunteers led people over across the street to city hall where ballots for all precincts across the state were available for early voting.

Categories: Alaska News

State OKs Flint Hills’ Refinery Cleanup Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:58

State officials have approved a plan proposed by Flint Hills Resources-Alaska to continue an ongoing cleanup of sulfolane and other contaminants that have leaked from its North Pole refinery since the 1970s. The agreement may help improve the chances of Flint Hills eventually selling the refinery, which it closed in May.

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Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Law announced Monday that they’d approved Flint Hills’ cleanup plan for the refinery property only. The plan does not include any cleanup outside of the refinery property line.

The cleanup plan announced Monday requires Flint Hills Resources-Alaska, and potential future owners of its North Pole refinery, to continue remediating and removing contaminants from the facility. (Credit KUAC file photo)

Kristin Ryan is the head of DEC’s Spill Prevention and Response Division, and she says the agreement essentially states that Flint Hills should continue to do what it’s been doing for about three years now.

“It’s basically our agreement that the activities that what they are doing on-site is the right thing to do,” Ryan said.

Flint Hills has been testing methods to cleanup sulfolane soon after the company announced in 2009 that it had discovered the sulfolane in groundwater outside of the refinery property. Sulfolane is an industrial solvent used in oil refining. It leaked from the refinery for years before Flint Hills bought it in 2004.

The company also began providing drinking water to North Pole-area residents. And it took the refinery’s previous owner and the state to court to make the case that they share liability for the contamination.

Ryan says in addition to sulfolane, Flint Hills will continue cleaning up other on-site contaminants such as benzene that have leaked from the refinery since at least the late 1970s.

“It’s not just sulfolane,” she said. “In fact, a lot of the on-site recovery systems are in place to capture the benzene and the other gasoline-related spills that have happened over the years. Which is unfortunately pretty common for a refinery back in the days when they perhaps weren’t quite as careful.”

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook says the state’s adoption of the plan is an important step toward continuing the cleanup – and, company officials hope, eventual sale of the facility.

“It is a critical step in detailing what’s expected of us, and allowing us to reposition ourselves for sale to a third party. And to continue our operation,” Cook said.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he’s encouraged that Flint Hills and the state have agreed to an on-site cleanup plan.

“It’s a step,” he said.

A step toward helping Flint Hills sell the refinery and getting it back up and running – and restoring some of the 90 jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues that the borough and North Pole have lost due to the closure.

Hopkins says he looking forward to the state moving ahead on a cleanup plan for the whole area affected by the contamination. The plume of sulfolane in the groundwater has now grown to about 3 miles long, 2-and-a-half miles wide and 300 feet deep – one of the largest contamination plumes in the state.

“Any of the other actions for the large plume that out in North Pole and the borough area – many residents have that plume under their property – so we’ll have to wait and see some of the outcomes are that are offered for that,” he said.

The big cleanup have to wait until after DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig issues his decision expected by the end of the year on whether to set a stringent sulfolane-cleanup level, as recommended by DEC staff, or a lesser cleanup level, favored by Flint Hills.

Categories: Alaska News

Fuel Barge Still Adrift In Beaufort Sea

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:57

An unmanned fuel barge adrift in the Beaufort Sea hasn’t run aground yet.

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A Coast Guard aircraft from Air Station Kodiak got a visual on the small Canadian barge Friday. Commander Shawn Decker says it’s about 20 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, floating west at three miles per hour.

“Right now, all of our computer drift models and after we actually saw it today, we are confident that it’s going to continue drifting past Prudhoe Bay, and it’s going to remain in open water for at least the next 12-24 hours,” Decker said.

The barge broke loose from its tugboat in a storm at sea on Monday. That tug has since returned to an iced-in port in Canada’s Northwest Territory.

And right now, there any aren’t any other vessels nearby to help get the barge under control. Decker says the Coast Guard is waiting to see whether it goes aground or gets stuck in winter sea ice before planning further response.

He says the vessel may not spill its diesel fuel cargo – about 950 gallons of it – even if it does hit the coast:

“That part of the shoreline up there along the North Slope is fairly flat and it’s mostly gravel … so there’s not a lot of big jagged cliffs and rocks and things like that that could potentially puncture the fuel tanks,” Decker said.

Still, he says any fuel barge that’s out of control poses a threat – so they’re notifying North Slope Borough communities of the situation. He says they’re working with the Canadian Coast Guard and the vessel’s owner, a large Canadian barging company, to keep an eye on the barge through the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

NIH Awards UAF $23.8 Million For New Diversity Program in Biomedical Research

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:56

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received a $23.8 million award from the National Institutes of Health for a new ‘Biomedical Learning and Student Training program,’ or BLAST. The new undergraduate program is part of a national effort by NIH to enhance diversity in the biomedical workforce.

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In a teleconference, NIH Director Francis Collins said diversity in biomedical research is critical.

“There is an increasingly urgent need to ensure that the scientific talent key to our nation’s success is nurtured, recognized and supported across all demographic groups,” said Collins.

As part of an effort to increase diversity in the biomedical workforce, NIH awarded five years’ worth of funding to three researchers from UAF. They’ll lead the new BLAST program to work with students from rural Alaska.

Barbara Taylor is the Director of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity at UAF. She says there’s a lot of interest in biomedical research outside of Alaska’s urban centers.

“Because there are hospitals and clinics there and those are seen as desirable jobs and the local students would like to know how to train for and compete for those jobs,” says Taylor.

“And on top of that, a lot of those communities still live pretty close to a subsistence lifestyle,” says Arleigh Reynolds. He’s the Associate Dean of UAF’s Department of Veterinary Medicine, along with Taylor, he’s also a Principal Investigator for BLAST.

“This program is designated a one health program which means we’re trying to integrate human health, animal health and environmental health into one package,” Reynolds, explains. “With things changing as they are in Alaska from a climate point of view and economic point of view, it would be great to have people from those communities trained in biomedical sciences so they can also be advisors back to the communities from where they came from on pretty important issues as they change,” he says.

There are roughly twenty labs on UAF’s campus that do some sort of biomedical research.  Already Barbara Taylor says there are a number of Alaska Native and minority students working in those labs.  She says the NIH funding will enhance their research.  It will also pay for infrastructure, scholarships, hands-on workshops and travel opportunities for students and faculty.

“We need a tiered mentoring network, so we have to involve graduate students and technicians and post-docs and faculty members,” says Barbara Taylor. We have to make it possible for them to be working on projects that are amenable to undergraduate participation,” she says.

The new program at UAF is similar to ten others funded by NIH nationwide. UAF will partner with Ilisagvik College in Barrow, the University of Alaska Southeast and nine of UAF’s rural campuses.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Sea Star Mystery

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:56

Taylor White is the aquarium manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Since sea star wasting disease hit Sitka a month ago, the aquarium has lost 35 sea stars and now, only two remain in the touch tanks.

A trip to the coast usually means you’re going to see sea stars, but a mysterious disease is killing them along the West Coast. There had been a few reports of sick sea stars in Alaska, but recently in Sitka, the first mass die offs in the state were detected. Scientists in Sitka are tracking the progress.

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Patty Dick lives on a boat in Thompson Harbor in Sitka. In the morning, when it’s low tide and she has an extra moment, she goes out and checks on the sea stars living in the area.

“I just sit there in awe of the beauty of that animal,” she said. “Everybody loves sea stars.”

Dick teaches 6th grade biology at Blatchley Middle School. She often takes her students on field trips to learn about marine animals, and they usually find dozens of sea stars.

But one morning last month, Dick noticed something was wrong with the sea stars. “I just looked over and I just stopped. There were these big, huge, white spots all over them and they were just wasting away. My heart just sank.”

She’d heard about this happening, but she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. “I’m trying to find one star fish that is not affected,” she said, “and they were all dead. They were all dead.”

Taylor White pulls up a rock on Sage Beach to see three leptasterias, which are small, 6 legged sea stars that are common at this site. She points to the one with three legs and lesions, symptoms of sea star wasting disease.

They had sea star wasting disease. All along the West Coast, sea stars have been dying of this disease. The first case was discovered in the summer of 2013 on the Olympic Peninsula and scientists still don’t know what’s causing it.

Taylor White is the aquarium manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center. For the past year, she’s been working with a team that is monitoring sea stars and other marine life in Sitka and along the West Coast.

“It’s a lot of just crouching down and going from the top left corner and going through the entire plot, moving this rockweed around, and counting as any starfish as you see,” White said.

She takes me for a walk along the beach to see for myself. She pulls up a rock and is looking at some six-legged sea stars called leptasterias. We’re looking at sea stars on Sage Beach, next to the science center.

The Sitka Sound Science Center is part of a project called MARINe, which stands for Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network. MARINe is made up of agencies that use the same marine monitoring methods. They’ve set up about 120 sites along the coast in the U.S., from Southern California to Alaska. There are three sites in Sitka – the only long-term MARINe sites in Alaska. White helps monitor the Sitka sites as part of her job at the science center.

“You really do look a lot harder at sea stars now that sea star wasting disease is occurring,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people are paying a lot more attention now.”

Once sea star wasting hits an area, it can quickly spread through the population. Research divers from the University of Alaska, Sitka, have surveyed different areas in Sitka Sound and have seen evidence of wasting in most locations. At Sage Beach, divers found that in the past few weeks, sunflower stars have disappeared, leaving behind white ‘ghost piles’ of tissue.

When a sea star has the wasting disease, its legs can walk away from its body, sometimes leaving behind only a central disk.

While there have been minor wasting events in the past, this event is by far the longest and most widespread.

White says she’s seeing the same thing happen in the touch tanks at the Sitka Sound Science Center. “A lot of those guys have been in there for a very long time. It was hard to see it suddenly hit.”

They use an open system, so sea stars live in water straight from the ocean. She describes what she saw when the disease hit. “They just started crawling away from their bodies,” she said. “They contort themselves. Then they just started to decay since there are so many bacteria in the water. They just kind of break down after that point.”

The Sitka Sound Science Center is part of a project called MARINe, which is a consortium of agencies on the West Coast that use the same longterm monitoring methods. Sage Beach is one of Sitka’s three MARINe sites.

When sea stars are sick, they can lose a leg and then regrow a healthy one. But with the wasting disease, they just keep losing legs, sometimes until only a central disk is left. The aquarium has had 35 sea stars die within three weeks, and now, only two remain in the touch tanks.

Scientists know there will be substantial impacts from these mass deaths, but they aren’t sure what yet.

Marnie Chapman, a biology professor at the University of Alaska, Sitka, has been working with White in the longterm monitoring project. She says sea stars play a big role in the ecosystem.

“They are major predators in the intertidal,” she said. “They’re definitely the lions and tigers of the intertidal environment.”

And they’re diverse. There are about 1900 species of sea stars in the world, and at least 18 in Sitka alone. “Sea stars are as unique and as individual than those predators that we’re more familiar with,” said Chapman.

There are several groups trying to figure out what’s causing this mass die off. It could be a bacterium, a virus, or environmental change, like lower pH levels in the ocean or warmer water. Most scientists think it’s a combination of things.

When scientists do figure it out, there’s not much that can be done. If it’s a pathogen, there won’t be a sea star vaccine. If it’s warmer water, that’s irreversible.

Chapman worries about the future of the species. She recalls a day when she was out counting dying sea stars and a boy was looking at healthy ones nearby. “This young kiddo was saying, ‘mom, look at all the sea stars,’ and there were a lot of really healthy, unaffected on the side they were looking on,” she said, “and I thought, ‘boy, I hope that still happens. I hope that still happens next summer.’”

But there is some hope. At some of the MARINe sites along the coast, they’re seeing some juvenile sea stars. So, they could make a comeback. In time, we’ll know better.

And there is something that everyone can do to help track the disease. If you see sick or healthy sea stars, report it to seastarwasting.org. Reports from the public help scientists better understand the disease and could help solve this mystery.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Hydaburg

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 16:55

This week, we’re heading to Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. Natasha Peele is city administrator of Hydaburg.

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Categories: Alaska News

Libertarian Candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 12:01

Libertarian candidates Carolyn Clift and Mark Fish are running for Governor and the U.S. Senate, respectively. (Photos from the candidate’s campaign Facebook pages.)

Libertarians believe citizens should be free to engage in any activity that does not violate the rights of others. Their party wants government out of the way so people can pursue liberty and freedom. How would this translate to elected positions?

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Carolyn Clift, Libertarian candidate for Governor
  • Mark Fish, Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. House Candidate Forrest Dunbar

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 12:00

Forrest Dunbar is the Democratic candidate for U.S. House.

Lifelong Alaskan and political newcomer Forrest Dunbar is young and determined. This Yale Law grad wants to be Alaska’s next Congressman. Dunbar is running as a Democrat. His social policy fits with that party, but he says he is more in line with Republicans on resource development.

Congressman Don Young was offered two options to appear on Talk of Alaska, and his staff said his schedule would not allow him to appear on the program.

HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Forrest Dunbar, Democratic candidate for U.S. House
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Fish & Game Revising Wildlife Habitat Management Plans

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 08:47

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is revising management plans for some of the most exceptional areas of wildlife habitat in the state. But critics say that even after an outcry about what’s been called a massive erosion in environmental protection by both the public and the Legislature, little to nothing has been fixed.

The Habitat Division within ADF&G oversees the 32 so-called “special areas.”  They’re state lands like McNiel River Game Sanctuary and Izembek refuge supporting wildlife from brown bears to sandhill cranes.

Randy Bates is the head of the Habitat Division, and is to release the first batch of eight revised management plans in the near future.

“We don’t have a target date yet, but in the relatively near future– I would hope in the next month or two,” Bates explained. “At the end of the day what we want is a plan that protects and preserves the area–the natural habitat, the populations of fish and game–for the reasons these areas were designated.”

Once those drafts are finished by ADF&G employees they’ll be made available for public review lasting about 45 days.

“That’ll give the public an opportunity to review that informally, see the changes that we’re proposing, and we’ll have the opportunity for public meetings in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks,” Bates added.

The informal review process is a way for Bates and his staff to hear concerns or recommendations for specific plans, but in a way that is less constrained by protocol than under the Administrative Procedures Act.

But Ric Sinnot, who retired from ADF&G after 28 years, said that during his time within Habitat the division would spend an entire year working on each plan, identifying every stakeholder–from birders to oil companies.

“And all year long those people would be involved in the process,” he recalled. “You didn’t just say ‘Well we’re gonna do this plan,’ and then go into hiding for a year, and then come out with a plan and go ‘Well you’ve got 30 days to review it.’ And that’s what’s happening now.”

Sinnot is also concerned that the “informal” commenting and review process is not legally binding, and so lacks a meaningful mechanism for public involvement in deciding who will use the special areas, and for what.

“The conventional wisdom is that these things are going to be changed so much that they’re gonna be unrecognizable from the earlier plans,” Sinnot worried.  “The pressure is to make them as unrestrictive as possible, so that pretty much anyone who comes in with a permit to do pretty much anything will be given the permit and told to go out there and do whatever they want to do.”

Sinnot’s concerns draw on what happened last year at Dude Creek: the Habitat Division released revised plans for the area covered in red ink, cut in half, with environmental regulations and scientific sections totally scrapped.

At the time, Bates explained to APRN the cuts were the result of a miscommunication with his staff.

But Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inlet Keeper, a conservation group, believes the process fits with a trend coming out of Governor Sean Parnell’s administration.

“Here we have our special areas–these are our critical habitat areas our refuges our sanctuaries–and the administration is making broad-brush changes behind closed doors without public participation,” he explained. “So there’s a real concern about the erosion of democracy here and the behind-the-scenes process that’s taking place.”

Shavelson is circulating a petition that he says has picked up about 800 signatures. It asks the administration to reconsider the state’s criteria for managing the Special Areas. Shavelson also worries that even stakeholders with specific concerns about individual areas will have a hard time reviewing all the information set to be released in just 45 days.

“When all these plans come out at one time it’s gonna be like drinking from a fire-house. There’s gonna be no way for local people to respond meaningfully.”

When it comes to the upcoming management plans, there is no way to get a preview of how they will look, or what changes to expect. The biologists within ADF&G working directly on revisions are not cleared to speak with the public–or even employees in different divisions within the department. That’s according to a year-old memo sent by Bates to Habitat staff.

Bates denies that this amounts to a gag order, the term offered by both Shavelson and Sinnot.

Asked for a response, Bates gave a light laugh and replied, “Not much need to respond to that. I do look forward to the open public process that we intend to have on these planned revisions.”

While ADF&G does not have a set date for releasing its revised management plans– and thus kicking off the 45 days of public review–Bates said the department will publicize the information as soon as possible on both the department website and the state’s public notice system.

Categories: Alaska News

Statewide Legislative Races; And The Alaska Federation Of Native Convention

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-24 08:00

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

From Southeast to the Northwest Alaska and many places in between, some interesting races and ballot issues top voter concerns. Also, the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention is happening in Anchorage, covering a variety of rural issues.

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HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, October 24 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 25 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 25 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Alcohol Advertising Near AFN Prompts Complaints

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-23 21:01

Fostering healthy communities has been a regular theme of the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. Health associations set up booths with literature on substance abuse, and all official AFN events are sober. If anyone shows up under the influence, that person is escorted out.

So a banner advertising drink specials alongside the AFN logo attracted attention on Thursday, when it was up at McGinley’s Pub in sight of the convention entrance.

“It’s literally across the street where everyone is going in and out of the door to come in here and conduct the business at hand,” say Liz Medicine Crow, who is attending the convention, and she takes issue with the sign beyond the unauthorized use of the AFN logo. The banner read “A Jack in the hand is worth two in the Busch” to advertise whiskey and the Busch brand of beer, while punning on the term “Bush Alaska.”

Medicine Crow says the advertising is in conflict with the spirit of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

“People are really disgusted,” says Medicine Crow. “I’ve heard that people are hurt. I’ve heard that people think that it’s 100 percent inappropriate. I also hear that people are not surprised, because the welcome from this place of Anchorage is just not as warm as it could be considering how much money comes into this town and how many people are utilizing the services here.”

The banner took on added significance because of McGinley’s affiliation with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Sullivan includes his status as a founding partner of the bar in his official biography, and a 2012 financial disclosure — his most recent completed filing available on the Alaska Public Offices Commission website — lists income from the establishment. Sullivan delivered welcome remarks to AFN on Thursday morning, and is running as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He did not return a message left on his cell phone asking about the banner.

But employees of McGinley’s Pub explained that the sign was actually the work of their beverage suppliers. Bar manager Denise Bostedt said that the sign was produced and installed by K&L Distributors, and that no one from McGinley’s was involved in its design.

“I can promise from the bottom of my heart that we never meant to insult anybody,” said Bostedt. “We love when AFN comes to town.”

A spokesperson for AFN confirmed that use of their logo was unauthorized, and that they received “many” complaints about the banner through the day. After representatives from AFN contacted McGinley’s about the sign, the pub covered up the logo with three sheets of white paper but left the sign up, with the rest visible. When approached by a reporter with questions about the sign on Thursday night, they took it down entirely.

Categories: Alaska News
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