Alaska News

State To Fight Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:37

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty plans to fight a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

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The Department of Law, in a statement, says the attorney general’s office has a duty “to uphold and defend the Alaska Constitution, which it intends to do.” The department says the state’s position will be more fully laid out in future court filings.

Alaska voters, in 1998, approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Five same-sex couples – four married outside Alaska and one unmarried couple – sued in federal court last month, seeking to strike down the ban on gay marriage. They say the ban violates their right to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

Categories: Alaska News

As Festival Season Kicks Off, So Does Campaign Season

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:36

Volunteers for Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan march in the Colony Days parade on June 7, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.

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The Colony Days parade lasted two whole hours this year.

In between the floats from sports teams, churches, and the local utility, there was a lot of this:

PARADE MARSHALL: All right. Dan Sullivan for Lt. Governor. Here’s Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, hello, and his wife Lynnette.

It was a literal parade of political candidates, where it felt like just about every other participant was asking for your vote. Sullivan had a volunteer wearing a green wig and propped up on stilts for his float. Members of Palmer Rep. Shelley Hughes’ entourage formed a kickline. Her opponent, Democrat Peter LaFrance, had a guy dressed as a yeti.

Out of 86 floats, 20 were manned by political candidates or organizations. Because it’s good advertising, political floats are each charged $100, while all other entries go free. All the major candidates for governor participated, and so did most of the U.S. Senate candidates. But events like these are especially important for first-timers running for office, like Cathy Tilton.

“It’s important to show up at the parades to get your name out there and to meet with the constituents and talk to them and make sure they know you’re in the race,” says Tilton.

Tilton is a Republican running for an open House seat in the Chugiak area. She’s been to Colony Days before, and she says the difference between an election year and an off year is pretty obvious.

“During a non-election year, the parade is not as full of floats and people,” says Tilton. “I’ve heard there’s 85 this year, and I think there’s been years where there’s been maybe 30? So, it’s a little more robust this year we can say.”

This isn’t the only event Tilton will go to before the August 19th primary. There are Fourth of July events, and the state fair, and plenty more. That’s a lot of marching to do, and a lot of fried food to consume.

“Well, it’s all going to depend on how many doors I walk to how many funnel cakes I’m allowed to have,” Tilto jokes.

Tilton’s not the only one to see a difference between parades in odd years and even years.

“From when we were younger till now, there’s a lot more political [campaigning] now,” says spectator Stacie Queripel. “It’s become very political.”

Queripel grew up in Palmer, and she’s been attending Colony Days for years. She has some misgivings about all the campaigning. She says the parade now feels more like political event than a community celebration.

“The kids don’t really get into it as much anymore,” says Queripel. “You don’t see the 4H groups in it as much anymore, and it’s kind of sad.”

About a block away from Queripel, Jim Daggett of Wasilla is hanging out by the orchestra. He’s got a “Sean Parnell for Governor” sign that he picked up during the parade, and he doesn’t have a problem with all the candidate appearances.

“They gotta shake hands and kiss babies, right?” Daggett laughs.

Daggett says it’s nice to see everyone out in person. It gives him a sense of whether the candidates are taking the campaign seriously and if they have popular support – something you can’t really tell from a campaign ad.

Rose LeCuche, also of Wasilla, is standing next to him, and she agrees. Appearances like these aren’t driving her decision on election day, but it gives her a sense of who’s running and what a candidate is like.

“It’s a time for them to actually look people right in the eye, and to shake their hands,” says LeCuche. “You can’t completely judge a person’s character by what you see for a few seconds, but you sure can get an impression.”

And between the signs they wave and all the bags of candy they hand out, the candidates marching are hoping it’s a good one.

Categories: Alaska News

New Effort To Repeal SB21 Kicks Off Around State

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:35

A grassroots effort to repeal Senate Bill 21 kicked off last week. Meetings of the “Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway” campaign took place from Anchorage to Unalaska, where organizers are struggling to convince residents that oil taxes matters in their community.

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Categories: Alaska News

Justice Department To Work With Tribes To Enhance Voting Access

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:34

The National Congress of American Indians is holding their mid-year conference in Anchorage this week. Titled-Claiming our Rights and Strengthening our Governance, the conference started yesterday and runs through Wednesday.

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(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

U.S Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Tony West adhered to the theme as he said DOJ would work with tribes to enhance access to voting.

“And so the Attorney General announced today that we would engage in consultation with tribal leaders to come up with legislative proposals that would hopefully at the end of the day would result in polling places in local Native communities, on reservations, in Native villages as well as ensuring that election materials, ballot materials are being presented and offered in those Native languages,” West said.

State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says remote precincts have a polling place in the most populated part of the precinct and other areas are designated ‘permanent absentee voting areas’. Voters in these areas can apply to have an absentee ballot mailed to them.

West said there are no legislative efforts being crafted yet, because tribal governments need to weigh in on what an equitable plan would look like.

West made it clear that Justice Department officials strongly support tribal government sovereignty and will work to help clarify jurisdiction issues in Alaska, particularly as it relates to domestic violence and sexual assault.

“In US Attorneys’ office, we’re making sure there are funds and resources available to try to deal with sex trafficking, to try to deal with violence against women,” West said. “We strongly support the repeal of section 910 of Violence Against Women Act which took Alaska Native villages outside of this ability of tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction and pursue, in certain instances, domestic violence perpetrators.”

Speaking earlier to a large group at the Dena’ina Convention center, West said DOJ filed a “statement of interest” last week in case called Toyukuk vs. Treadwell. Plaintiff Mike Toyukuk of the village of Manokotak, is suing the state over a failure to provide oral language assistance for citizens who speak Yu’pik as their first language.

“Because, if remote geography, or the inability to speak English, do not free any of us from the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship, then they should not impede the exercise of rights to which we are all entitled,” West said.

Categories: Alaska News

State Challenged On Native Translations Of Election Materials

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:33

Before the District Court’s ruling on Wednesday directing the state to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters with limited English skills, another effort to reach the same goal was in the works.

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U.S. Senator Mark Begich was working to turn back to what he calls protections that were in place until a year ago. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it’s unconstitutional to require nine states with a history of discrimination, including Alaska, to get federal pre-clearance on election changes. Begich recently introduced the Native Voting Rights bill in Congress.

“This will do a couple of things that I think are pretty important in ensuring ballots are translated into all written Native languages, and the state can’t close down polling booths and deciding where election booths should go without the Justice Department participating and reviewing those,” Begich said. “And also consultation between DOJ and tribes.”

Native American Rights Attorney Natalie Landreth says the Native Voters Rights bill would reinstate federal scrutiny of some election changes:

”Not as to all election changes,” Landreth said. :Only for specific kinds of things that are inherently suspect such as taking away early voting, removing the only polling place in a village, combining polling places in villages that are separated, that kind of a thing.”

“So you wouldn’t have preclearance for all voting changes, just for that small subset of them.”

Landreth says the legislation is needed because Alaska has a duel system for elections – one for urban areas and a less accessible, less convenient one for rural Alaska.

“Those of us who live in cities were unaware of some of the existing voting barriers in rural Alaska. Most of rural Alaska does not have early voting. A lot of villages have no polling places. There are more than 70 that have no polling places at all,” Landreth said. “A lot of places, the majority, where Native languages are spoken are not receiving adequate language assistance so voters understand what they are voting for. There are some serious, serious problems.”

In the 1960s, Alaska was tagged for pre-clearance because it provided English-only election materials and ballots to voters. The state has argued translations into Native languages were useless because the languages were spoken, not written, and few Natives read their language.

Lt. Gov. Mean Treadwell, a Republican candidate for Begich’s Senate seat, says the state sided with Alabama in the Supreme Court case because Alaskan elections are fair and pre-clearance is an unnecessary waste of time.

“We entered the Shelby county case to try and bring decision-making home,” Treadwell said. “Federal overreach on our elections had gotten so absurd that I could not even put an email address on a voter registration form without getting DOJ permission.”

Treadwell says he’s kept every polling place open that was there when he was elected. And he’s taken steps to have more.

“But getting good people to work on elections, we’re very interested in seeing that expanded,” Treadwell said. “We’ve done a number of things, from working to pay people more, to offering training for people who want to be election workers, to sending people out to villages to actually run elections when we can’t find people in a community.”

Treadwell says he’s open to a dialogue about how to improve elections.

“Elections are a sacred right and I don’t want this to become a political football,” Treadwell said. “It’s very, very good that we do everything we can to expand access to elections.”

Begich’s Native Voting Rights Act also would allow people to register using tribal identification cards, which are based on documentation and genealogies maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Other Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller, did not respond to email requests for comments on the Native Voting Rights bill in time for this broadcast.

Categories: Alaska News

First Sport Fishing Restriction For Any Targeted King Salmon Fishing in The Kuskokwim

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:32

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting sport fishers from targeting king salmon on the Qanirtuuq River.

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It’s the first time sport fishers have been restricted from catching kings there, but many locals are doubtful that guide companies will comply.

“Division of Sport Fish closed the entire Kuskokwim drainage and the Kuskokwim bay drainage to sport fishing for king salmon effectively Thursday May 1, and that precludes any catch and release. If they accidentally catch a king salmon while their fishing for another species, that king salmon may not be removed from the water and must be released immediately,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fish Division Area Biologist John Cythlook said.

He said this restriction was the result of an emergency order issued around the end of April.  Like rivers all over Alaska, King escapement has been dwindling in recent years on the Qanirtuuq River.

The emergency order states that only one un-baited, artificial lures may be used in the Kuskokwim-Goodnews area.

There are four guide companies operating on the Qanirtuuq River. They provide guided fishing trips among other wilderness services. There is a history of friction between subsistence fishers there and the guiding operations.

At a meeting held in Quinhagak on May 30, local fisher Willard Church said he’s doubtful that the guide companies stop targeting king salmon as they try to cater to their clients.

“If I came up from New York for a float trip for the very first time with a group of twelve, I’d want my King. Especially if I could get it up there,” Church said.

Of the four guiding outfits operating on the Qanirtuuq River three are currently advertising king salmon as a species anglers can expect to catch. Alaska West, which has the largest operation on the Qanirtuuq according to local residents, has this on their website regarding king salmon, “At Alaska West we have honed and refined our fly angling skills and collective knowledge to a point where we consistently hook and land these behemoth masses that more resemble chrome plated sea lions than fish.”

Brian Burke, a sales representative for Alaska West declined to be interviewed but said that their website is up to date.

Owner of another sport fishing guide company called Reel Action, Paul Jacob, said his company will be complying with the restrictions. He says he makes that clear to all his potential customers. But Jacob’s says sport fisher’s must purchase stamps from Fish and Game, and that revnue goes towards things like salmon research.  He says taking down the king salmon advertising on his website would be counter productive.

“I don’t believe that there is a good reason to do that, because it throws fear into the general public about coming to Alaska, and the research that is done to figure out why these salmon are crashing. It’s not just the Kuskokwim it’s all across all of Alaska, and when you scare people away by having them not come up to Alaska you take away the funding that it takes to figure out why the salmon are not doing well in the ocean,” Jacob said.

Meanwhile, Paul Hansen owns another guide operation called Alaska Rainbow Adventures. Hansen says he’ll be moving king salmon anglers to the Alagnak River near King Salmon where sport fishing for king salmon are allowed through king salmon stamps.

While the guide companies around the area appear to comply to recent restrictions, in Quinhagak many aren’t convinced, like John T. Roberts.  Roberts lives in the village and once worked as a sport guide.

Department of Fish and Game says wildlife troopers will be making unannounced visits to sport fishing sites to ensure these restrictions are not violated.

For more information in the emergency order, click here.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:32

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

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State To Fight Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The Associated Press

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty plans to fight a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

As Festival Season Kicks Off, So Does Campaign Season

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.

New Effort To Repeal SB21 Kicks Off Around State

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A grassroots effort to repeal Senate Bill 21 kicked off last week. Meetings of the “Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway” campaign took place from Anchorage to Unalaska, where organizers are struggling to convince residents that oil taxes matters in their community.

Justice Department To Work With Tribes To Enhance Voting Access

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The National Congress of American Indians is holding their mid-year conference in Anchorage this week. Titled-Claiming our Rights and Strengthening our Governance, the conference started yesterday and runs through Wednesday.

State Challenged On Native Translations Of Election Materials

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

That case will go to trial later this month. A federal judge has said the constitutional right to vote requires the state of Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters lacking English proficiency. A Congressional effort to reach the same goal is also in the works.

First Sport Fishing Restriction For Any Targeted King Salmon Fishing in The Kuskokwim

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued an emergency order prohibiting sport fishers from targeting king salmon on the Qanirtuq River.

Graduation Marks 10th Anniversary Of Dental Health Aide Therapist Program

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A group of six dental health aide therapists graduated from training Friday in Anchorage. The ceremony also marked the 10th anniversary of the innovative program that places mid-level dental practitioners in under-served rural communities across Alaska. 81 villages in the state now have therapists.

Anchorage Museum Becomes Smithsonian Affiliate

Joaquin Palomino, APRN Intern

This week the Anchorage Museum reached a new level of recognition when it became a Smithsonian Affiliate, making it the only institution in Alaska that’s part of the Smithsonian’s network of 160-museums.

Categories: Alaska News

Graduation Marks 10th Anniversary Of Dental Health Aide Therapist Program

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:31

(Photo by Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage)

A group of six dental health aide therapists graduated from training Friday in Anchorage. The ceremony also marked the 10th anniversary of the innovative program that places mid-level dental practitioners in under-served rural communities across Alaska. 81 villages in the state now have therapists.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis Sullivan spoke at the graduation. Sullivan says the American Dental Association has strongly opposed the program from the beginning. But he says dental health aide therapists help expand the reach of dentists.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Museum Becomes Smithsonian Affiliate

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 17:30

This week the Anchorage Museum reached a new level of recognition when it became a Smithsonian Affiliate, making it the only institution in Alaska that’s part of the Smithsonian’s network of 160-museums.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska’s Wildlife Troopers To Remain Short-Staffed

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 12:02

(Courtesy: Alaska Wildlife Troopers)

A recently vacated Wildlife Trooper post in Unalaska is staying empty for now. It means staffing levels will be unconventionally low in the town that’s home to the patrol vessel Stimson.

Being an Alaska Wildlife Trooper in Unalaska means having two jobs: working on land with local law enforcement, and going out to sea aboard the Stimson.

The boat patrols commercial fisheries in the Bering Sea and Western Alaska year-round. It’s been homeported in Unalaska since 1998. Trooper sergeant Robin Morrisett has been with it off and on since its second voyage.

“For the longest time we’ve had three people” in Unalaska’s trooper office, he says. “Prior to the Stimson being out here, we had one and two positions. Then when the Stimson got out here, we’ve always had three.”

The state considered moving the Stimson to Kodiak this year, but Unalaska lobbied to keep it, saying the town is in the best location to keep tabs on all the region’s fisheries.

So the Stimson is staying put – but not all its troopers are.

Trooper Jason Ball left Unalaska with his family last weekend. He’s taking a new position as a pilot in Anchorage. And with resources tight across the state, his position will be left open indefinitely.

“Now it’ll just be the sergeant and one trooper that’s out here,” says Sergeant Morrisett.

In the past, he says two troopers have gone out on the Stimson’s patrols, while another has stayed back in Unalaska.

“Now with not having three people here in town, that’ll leave two troopers for enforcement on the boat, and then zero people here in town,” he says. “Which, you know… sometimes we leave, and the guy in town just keeps on doing his work and then picks up work as it comes in. Sometimes … it just kind of all depends.”

Morrisett isn’t too worried about the deficit. He says local police share in their workload of traffic stops and warrant arrests, anyway.

And if an Unalaska trooper ever did need to stay behind while the Stimson went out to sea? Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says the state plans to fly in substitute troopers from Anchorage or Kodiak to go on the boat as needed.

Of course, it costs money to make that happen – but Peters says that’s something they have to balance against the cost of filling vacancies full-time.

“They just need to be looked at and analyzed and see where our greatest needs are,” Peters says. “And [we] also look at other resources on our abilities to get troopers out to places when they’re needed, versus whether we need somebody there on more of a regular basis.”

So the deficit in Unalaska isn’t necessarily permanent. But with 10 total wildlife trooper vacancies statewide, Peters says it’s something the town will have to deal with for now.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquakes Swarm the Brooks Range

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 10:09

Map for April and May 2014 Earthquakes in Northwestern Alaska. (Image: Alaska Earthquake Center)

An “earthquake swarm” is hitting the Brooks Range. Seismologists do not know why it is occurring or if it will continue.

Friday night a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20 miles northeast of Noatak. This is the third 5.5 quake that has struck the same area in the past two months.

Michael West is the Director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center and said, “We are now referring to this as an ‘earthquake swarm.’ That is there’s something in the earth that is causing a whole series of earthquakes of similar size. It really is quite unusual to have this in that kind of setting.”

West said earthquake swarms are common around volcanoes. But with no volcanoes in the Brooks Range, this seismic swarm is raising questions for seismologists nationwide.

“At the moment,” West said, “we are not aware of a similar kind of sequence like this that has ever really occurred in the Brooks Range or in Western Alaska.”

West says the Earthquake Center does not know what is causing the swarm. But it does know the quakes all ruptured from the same type of fault and are all moving in the same direction.

“All of these are the same type of motion. And that certainly tells us that there is a weak zone. There is clearly a fault system that we have previously not been very aware of in this area,” West said.

Last month, technicians installed temporary seismic stations in Noatak and Kotzebue after the second major quake hit the area. West says the data will allow seismologists to “see inside the fault,” and the stations are recording hundreds of aftershocks, helping seismologists better understand what is happening beneath the Brooks Range.

No injuries or damage has been reported.

Categories: Alaska News

Critics Question Sealaska Ballot

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 10:06

Four Sealaska board of directors candidates say the regional Native corporation’s balloting process violates a recent court ruling.

Sealaska says it’s not a problem.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

The Alaska Supreme Court decision came in a case involving CIRI, the regional Native corporation for the Cook Inlet area.

The group 4 Shareholders for Sealaska says Native corporations must now disclose how discretionary votes will be counted in board elections.

Discretionary votes are turned over to the board, which casts them for its slate. Shareholders authorize such voting by checking a box on their ballots, also called proxies.

Randy Wanamaker is spokesman for the 4 Shareholders group.

“Sealaska’s proxy does not contain that language. They have some language in their proxy booklet, but not on the proxy itself. And the state Supreme Court said you must put it on the proxy,” Wanamaker says.

Sealaska officials say election attorneys have reviewed the issue.

Corporate Secretary Nicole Hallingstad says the ballots are legal, as-is.

“The outside group misinterprets the CIRI case and is designed to confuse shareholders. Sealaska’s proxy statement, proxy card and bylaws all state clearly that discretionary votes will be allocated to elect the board slate candidates,” Hallingstad says.

Thirteen people are seeking four seats on the regional Native corporation’s board. There are three incumbents, the four-shareholders slate and six independents.

This year’s proxy also includes a resolution to limit discretionary voting.

Balloting is underway and winners will be announced at the June 28th annual meeting near Seattle.

Sealaska is the regional Native corporation for Tlingits, Haidas and Tsimshians with roots in Southeast Alaska. More than half its almost 22,000 shareholders live outside the region.

The 4 Shareholders candidates are Karen Taug, Ross Soboleff, Carlton Smith and Margaret Nelson.

The independent candidates are Myrna Gardner, Mick Beasley, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe.

The board incumbents are Sidney Edenshaw, Ed Thomas and Rosita Worl. Incumbent Bryon Mallott is not seeking re-election so he can focus on running for governor.

Sealaska4′s press release:Based on a recent Alaska Supreme Court decision, the four independent candidates for the Sealaska board – Karen Taug, Ross Soboleff, Carlton Smith, and Margaret Nelson — are questioning the rules governing Sealaska’s annual meeting voting process.

“It appears Sealaska failed to make changes to this year’s corporate ballot as required by a recent Alaska Supreme Court decision,” said the group’s spokesman, Randy Wanamaker. “On the advice of counsel, the Sealaska4 sent letters on May 22 to Sealaska’s corporate secretary and the independent inspector of elections. The correspondence pointed out Sealaska’s failure to properly disclose how discretionary votes will be distributed.”

Two weeks later, the Sealaska4 candidates have not received a response nor has Sealaska issued a corrected ballot. With only three weeks to go before the regional corporation’s annual meeting on June 28, the Sealaska4 candidates are pressing Sealaska for a response.

The Alaska Supreme Court’s decision in Rude v. CIRI now requires Alaska Native corporations to disclose on proxy ballots how discretionary votes will be allocated. Wanamaker says that Sealaska’s proxy ballot does not include the necessary explanation.

“It appears that Sealaska’s ballot advisors failed to adequately consider the new voting rules,” said Wanamaker. “The result may be that Sealaska will have to assign discretionary votes equally to its board slate candidates.”

According to Wanamaker, discretionary voting is a controversial practice long used by Sealaska to distribute votes in unequal amounts to elect as many of the board slate candidates as possible. “This practice often results in the election of incumbent directors who may have weak shareholder support,”
Wanamaker said.

A shareholder petition forced the question of discretionary voting practice onto the 2014 Sealaska ballot. If shareholders support the initiative, discretionary voting will not be allowed in subsequent elections. Wanamaker said that considering the new court decision, and Sealaska’s apparent failure to incorporate and disclose the required discretionary voting instructions on the ballot, the corporate bylaws are open for challenge.

Sealaska’s press release:

“The press release by the outside group misinterprets the CIRI case and is designed to confuse shareholders. Sealaska’s proxy statement, proxy card, and bylaws all state clearly that discretionary votes will be allocated to elect the board slate candidates. It is the duty of the Independent Inspectors of Election and Voting to determine the effect of each proxy. The Inspectors of Election has independent legal counsel, and verbally advised Sealaska that the proxies are valid as written. We expect written confirmation of this conclusion. Any Sealaska shareholder voting on Sealaska’s blue proxy can be assured their votes will be counted.

The press release issued by the outside group further confuses shareholders by wrongly representing the shareholder resolution. It is a resolution to reduce the use of discretionary voting on the Sealaska proxy unless an independent slate is present and also using discretionary voting. To claim that support of the initiative would disallow discretionary voting in all subsequent elections is simply not true.”

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Sector Juneau Gets New Leadership

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 10:05

U.S. Coast Guard Sector Juneau has a new commanding officer.

Capt. Shannan Greene took over for Capt. Scott Bornemann in a ceremony Friday at Centennial Hall.

Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo (right), commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 17th District recognizes outgoing Sector Juneau commander Capt. Scott Bornemann at a change of command ceremony on Friday. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Bornemann led Sector Juneau for the past three years. He said the men and women under his command during that time are the best the Coast Guard has to offer.

“I’d match them with any crew in the country,” he said, before listing some of their accomplishments.

“You sank a derelict Japanese fishing vessel,” Bornemann said, referring to the Ryou-Un Maru, which sailed across the Pacific Ocean without a crew following the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

“You planned and conducted multiple unified command-based exercises that broadened stakeholder and tribal engagement and group participation with key agencies in search and rescue, security and natural disaster scenarios,” he said. “You also ensured the safety of the pristine marine environment in Southeast Alaska.”

Bornemann is staying in Juneau as Chief of Prevention for the Coast Guard’s 17th District. He’ll oversee maritime safety, maritime security and environmental stewardship for the entire state.

Greene most recently served as Deputy Chief of Incident Management for the Coast Guard’s 1st District in Boston, where she supervised hazard response and search missions for eight Northeast states. According to a Coast Guard biography, highlights of her tour there include coordinating responses to Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Greene said she was impressed by all aspects of Sector Juneau during her transition week working with Bornemann.

“To our many partners throughout Southeast Alaska, we could not be successful without your expertise and involvement,” she said. “I look forward to continuing the robust relationship that already exists today.”

Greene’s husband is a Coast Guard commander. They have three young sons.

Coast Guard Sector Juneau has about 250 active duty, reserve and civilian employees.

District 17 Commanding Officer Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo presented Bornemann with a citation for meritorious service to Sector Juneau. Ostebo has been promoted to a position in Washington, D.C. His change of command ceremony is June 12.

Categories: Alaska News

Local Researchers Find New Home As Japanese Agencies Leave

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-06-09 10:02

The University of Alaska Board of Regents gave their formal approval for a $4.4 million project to re-purpose the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Building on the campus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks during a regular meeting last week.

The project comes after two Japanese agencies vacated the buildings. Their absence means a loss of funding that would otherwise pay to maintain the building.

(Credit International Arctic Research Center)

How the university will make up the deficit remains a mystery as the UA system continues to struggle with an anticipated $12 to $14 million budget shortfall in the coming year.

The Akasofu building, home of the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) was constructed in 1999 as a joint venture between UAF, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology. But after 15 years, the Japanese have decided to refocus their polar research efforts and vacate the building.

“We’ve had an incredibly strong partnership with the Japanese and they’ve been giving us between $3 and 5 million a year in research support,” Larry Hinzman, IARC’s Director, said. “And they’ve been paying for half of the lease on the building, so it’s been a tremendous boon for the university and we’ve had some huge research accomplishments through our partnerships with them.”

With the Japanese agencies gone, Hinzman says other research units directly associated with the University will move in. One of those organizations is the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP).  For the last five years, SNAP has been paying more than $180,000 to lease offices off campus. Director Scott Rupp says moving into the Akasofu building means more than financial savings.

“SNAP was set up by the university as sort of a bridging entity to take a lot of our high latitude research, get it more applied and to cultivate collaboration across the institutes and schools,” Rupp said. “So we’ve been doing a lot of that already, but the really big boon is just going to be the ability to walk next door to researchers and not have to get in a car or walk.”

But savings on SNAP’s lease won’t make up for a revenue loss.  The Japanese paid for a lease that covered 60 percent of the annual upkeep costs for the Akasofu Building. In fact, they paid extra over the last decade and a half.  The unspent money was held in a reserve account that now totals more than $5 million. More than half of that will pay to renovate offices for SNAP personnel. The rest will be reimbursed.

Hinzman says IARC will have to find other ways to cover maintenance in the future.

“Our researchers have been focusing on getting other external research funds, so we’ve been doing a lot more proposals to NSF, a lot more proposals to the department of energy, and NASA and the USGS, and so we are seeking other ancillary funds through external funding agencies,” he said. “So yeah we are making it up. And it is going to hurt us, we’re losing, just this year we’re going to lose $3.5 million from the Japanese support for research. And so that’s hard to absorb. It’s going to hurt us but it’s not going to kill us.”

The renovation is scheduled to start in September, with completion slated for early 2015. Once moved, SNAP will join three other research organizations that focus on climate assessment, policy and fire science in the Akasofu building.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Fisheries Money Heads to Senate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:05

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a spending bill that includes more than $150 million for federal programs important to Alaska’s fishing industry and marine navigation.

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It includes $4 million for electronic monitors for the fishing fleet. Alaska fishermen on small boats have asked for cameras as a substitute for some of the human observers that record catch data. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told her colleagues electronic monitors will allow the mission to continue while “recognizing that our small fishermen just simply cannot put another body on their boat as they’re out working.”

The bill also includes $25 million for sonar mapping of coastlines, with an emphasis on the need for more data on the Bering Straits and the Arctic. It has $6 million for removing marine debris, especially debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami that washed up on federal land.

The bill funding commerce, justice and science programs passed the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. Both Alaska senators sit on that committee, and Murkowski sits on the subcommittee that drafted the bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Kerttula Takes Ocean Policy Job In Obama Administration

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:04

Former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula has joined the Obama Administration as Director of the National Ocean Council Office.

Since January, Kerttula has been a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions. She was appointed to the federal job on Wednesday and is already at work in Washington, D.C.

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Photo by Skip Gray – Gavel to Gavel.

The job was announced in an email to her Stanford colleagues, where Kerttula has been working on ocean issues. She has described her role there as a conduit between state legislatures and science policy makers, bringing them together to discuss ocean policies. In that job, she had worked with the National Ocean Council.

President Obama established the council by executive order in 2010. Kerttula will lead the office that supports it.

Former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho says it’s a perfect fit for Kerttula, who was a coastal zone management lawyer in the law department when Botelho was AG.

“Given her background as a lawyer for the state, her years of involvement with coastal zone management in representing statewide council, but also being intimately involved in developing the regulatory and statutory scheme, she has the clear legal expertise in the area,” he says.

Botelho says her political experience also gives her a unique perspective for the federal job.

Kerttula represented Juneau in the state legislature for 15 years. She authored the first cruise ship pollution legislation in Alaska. In her last term, the district grew to include Petersburg, Gustavus and Skagway. During her tenure she served on several national boards dealing with environmental and coastal policy, including the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.

Kerttula will be in the National Ocean Policy job for a year, with the option of continuing through the end of Obama’s term. Botelho says it can only benefit Alaska.

“I expect that Beth, not only having the responsibility of translating national policy around the country including to Alaska, will be serving as someone who can convey the issues that are directly impacting Alaska and what that means for the country as a whole,” he says.

Alaska boasts the largest coastal area in the U.S., but is currently the only state that does not have a coastal management program. In 2012, Kerttula worked on the failed citizens’ initiative to restore the Alaska Coastal Management Program. The Alaska Legislature in 2011 did not re-authorize the program.

Categories: Alaska News

AEA Holds Public Meetings In Upper Valley, Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:03

This week, the Alaska Energy Authority held public meetings in the Upper Valley and Anchorage to discuss the plans for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition to AEA’s updates on the progress and plans for the megaproject, opponents to the dam expressed continuing concerns.

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Both the Talkeetna and Anchorage meetings began with a presentation by Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana.  He says that the Susitna Dam remains a key part of the state’s goal for fifty percent of Alaska’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.  Wayne Dyok says that, while AEA is interested in wind and other alternative energy projects, that the large dam would provide stability to the overall grid.

“Without having some kind of resource, like a hydro, it’s difficult to put that into the system and still have a stable electric system.  We also want reliable energy, and sustainable energy, and energy that’s clean.”

Wayne Dyok says that the Susitna-Watana Project would also have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Susitna-Watana would displace about 1.3 million tons of CO2, annually.  That’s actually a pretty significant number.  That’s equal to the emissions of about half the cars that are registered in the State of Alaska.”

AEA refers to Susitna-Watana as, “Clean, reliable energy for the next 100 years,” on nearly all of its distributed materials.  It also claims that the long-term price of energy would stabilize, then drop with Susitna-Watana.  AEA’s estimates show the cost of natural gas generation catching up to the price of power from the dam about twelve years after completion, in 2036. It says the price of power from Susitna would then drop sharply in 2052, after the project would ostensibly be paid off.

Those cost estimates have met with some challenge, however.  In 2012, Dr. Steve Colt, of the Institute of Economic Research at the University of Alaska in Anchorage said that the initial cost of power when the dam comes online will be significantly higher than what AEA estimates.  That study was brought up at the Talkeetna meeting.  Wayne Dyok says that the different results are a product of different assumptions regarding the financing of the project.

“We looked at his study, and we looked at some of the assumptions that he did.  We gave him our information, so he actually has what we put–and the model should give you the same thing.  If you put the same inputs, the model should be the same.”

Many of the comments from the crowd of eighty-plus in the Upper Susitna Valley centered around environmental concerns.  Fish habitat, seismic activity,caribou migration, and other topics that have consistently been brought up as concerns were reiterated by residents of the communities that would be downstream from the project if it is built.  Many of those questions were answered by the members of the project team that were also in attendance.

A few members of the audience also challenged the reliability of the material that AEA is sending to the general public.  One those is Molly Wood, a member of the Chase Community Council.  She specifically referenced a graphic that shows fish passage up to and beyond the proposed dam site.  She says the way the information is presented is incomplete and misleading.

“That really makes it looks like there aren’t any fish in this river, and you know–you’ve had much feedback, already.  That continues to show up at all of these meetings, and it’s being sent out in pamphlet form all over Alaska.  It misrepresents the results of your studies, number one, and you’re drawing very premature conclusions about potential impact.”

Other members of the audience, such as Ellen Wolff, challenged the fact that they see AEA as promoting the dam’s environmental impact and utility as a foregone conclusion as opposed to coming to a decision after all of the studies have been completed.  Her view is that advertisements and other materials are more sales pitch than science.

“[You] put it in all the newspapers, and it must have been very expensive.  They made the public think like this was a done deal.  It’s very promotional.  That was not waiting for the data.  You have fancy little water bottles that say “SuWa.”  You’re doing these meetings that, to me, seem promotional.”

Wayne Dyok says that AEA is using those tools primarily as a means to convey information to the public, and that all of the current study data is available in the Initial Study Report released this Tuesday.  That report includes over 8,600 pages of information from the fifty-eight studies required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

At a similar meeting on Wednesday in Anchorage, AEA faced many of the same environmental questions as in Talkeetna from an audience of about fifty.  Nobody in the audience rose to speak in favor of the megaproject at either meeting.

AEA plans to conduct studies this summer, despite budget cuts, and field work is scheduled to continue through 2015. If all goes to plan, construction would begin on the project in 2019.  That is all contingent on receiving the $90 million in funds that AEA says are necessary to complete the pre-licensing process.  With legislative attention shifting to a gas pipeline, and with the project receiving less than half of the total funds requested by Governor Sean Parnell this year, however, that is far from a certainty.

Categories: Alaska News

Indignant JDHS Alum Rallies Stanford Campus Around Rape Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:02

Sarai Gould and Chelsea Green at a rally on the Stanford University campus raising awareness about sexual assault and supporting Leah Francis. Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy Sarai Gould.)

Until this week, Leah Francis was probably best known as an Alaska distance running champ from her days at Juneau-Douglas High School.

That all changed after she went public saying she was forcibly raped by a fellow Stanford University undergraduate while in Juneau.

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Leah Francis came out as a rape survivor, and as an activist indignant over Stanford University’s in-house adjudication process.

“No one wants to do the Alternate Review Process, it’s super-traumatizing. I mean, it, it, it drags out, it’s mishandled.”

The university panel formally concluded the male student did sexually assault Francis. The decision was based on a university investigation and statements from both sides, according touniversity documents via The Stanford Daily.

The university has kept the male student’s name confidential, and Francis declined to name him; she wants to keep the focus on the bigger issues.

Like the university’s consequence for rape. The panel recommended 40 hours of community service, a sexual assault awareness education class and a five quarter suspension. That suspension wouldn’t take effect until the summer, which Francis says, is after her assailant graduates.

It’s a slap on the wrist, she says, that “invites my rapist back to campus” for grad school.

“In the end, you have a sense of futility. Like, you’ve, you’ve spent, you know, months of your life, reliving one of the worst nights of your life and you don’t get anything out of it.”

She emailed out her story on Tuesday, and has been riding the wave of support since. Thursday night, she said, “I haven’t eaten today, and haven’t slept in 48 hours.”

Earlier, Francis had led hundreds of students in a campus rally and protest to raise awareness about sexual assault and to demand reforms. They want mandatory expulsion for sexual assault, as well as better resources for victims.

Students yelled in unison for administrators to “Stand with Leah.” They plastered campus surfaces with posters and signs incorporating the #StandWithLeah hashtag, and blew it up on Twitter.

“This was awesome, I mean, today was more healing for me than anything that’s happened since I was raped.”

And, she’s gotten a lot of media attention.

“So I communicated with BuzzFeed, with Huffington Post, with the New York Times … I just can’t even keep track of them all. … L.A. Times, Palo Alto WeeklyStanford Daily.”

Francis says a criminal case is also open with the Juneau Police Department; the incident happened in Juneau early on New Year’s Day. She says she was in no condition to consent when it began — drunk and unconscious. Police could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Categories: Alaska News

Volunteers Still Searching For Missing Juneau Hiker

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:01

The volunteer search table is located behind the Mt. Roberts Tramway building. Volunteers are needed. The team will meet up Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Volunteers can also contact Luke Holton on Facebook. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KT

Luke Holton doesn’t know 48-year-old Sharon Buis, but he’s helping to organize the volunteer search effort that started Wednesday, less than one week after Alaska State Troopers called off the official search.

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“I’m an outdoorsman myself and I understand if I was out here in the cold, I wouldn’t want anyone to give up on me,” he says.

Holton and other volunteers have set up a search table at the bottom of the Mt. Roberts Tramway and meet there each morning.

On Wednesday, three teams of three searched Granite Creek Basin and Perseverance Trail, getting off the trail as much as possible when safe to do so.

Thursday afternoon, Holton was on top of Mt. Roberts, along with six other volunteers. They hiked to Icy Gulch and are sending skiers there by helicopter Friday.

These areas were covered extensively during the five-day search led by the Alaska State Troopers. But Holton says there’s no reason to give up hope of finding some sort of clue.

“It’s unlikely that we’ll find anything too positive at this point, but for the family’s sake, we want to keep looking no matter what we find,” Holton says.

Holton met with Buis’s brother and sister-in-law who came to Juneau from Ontario, Canada. He says they left Thursday but asked to be kept updated on the search.

One of Buis’s hiking friends said Buis owned a yellow backpack. It’s an unofficial lead, Holton says, but it’s something to look for. He hopes the volunteers can find anything that will restart the official search.

“The best option we would have is to find some of her personal property up here or anything else,” Holton says. “The further we go in, the less tracks you’re going to find in the snow, so once we get past Icy Gulch and you find tracks on the gulch or tracks on the peak of Gastineau, that could potentially also be enough evidence.”

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says a decision to start searching again will be based on what’s found.

“It’s going to be evaluated based on what is located and if we can confirm it belonged to Ms. Buis or not. Certainly if they find something and it is identified as one of her possessions, it gives us a new place to look,” Peters says.

Buis is in the Alaska State Troopers Missing Persons Clearinghouse, a database for law enforcement only. Peters says any missing person in Alaska is entered into the database and stays there until they are found dead or alive.

She says a volunteer search group could help close a missing persons case.

“Troopers can’t always be everywhere. There are a lot of things that we have to go and put our attention to and our resources towards. Certainly with search and rescue cases, we want them to have a positive resolution. And finding somebody even if they’re deceased at that point, at least we can provide some type of closure. We can return them to their families,” Peters says.

When Troopers called off the search and rescue effort May 29, Juneau Police Department took over the case. Spokeswoman Erann Kalwara says detectives started working on it this week.

“The detective has started reaching out to the missing person’s friends and her family, just discussing things that had been going on in her life, talking about where they think she might be, if they have any ideas of any lead that he could investigate, just trying to ensure that if she was hiking and she went missing, that that’s truly what happened,” Kalwara says.

She says they have no reason to believe anything suspicious occurred although they haven’t ruled anything out.

Juneau police are in the process of collecting Buis’s dental and medical information to enter into a database of the National Crime Information Center.

Kalwara also says there’s no information to connect Buis’s case with Sandra Gelber, the 61-year-old woman who died May 4 after being found in the water off Salmon Creek Trail. Both women were physical therapists and both cases are linked to hiking trails.

Buis has been missing since May 24. When she didn’t show up for a planned group hike with the Juneau Alpine Club that morning, a friend reported her missing. Buis was last seen May 23.

The volunteer search effort for Buis continues this weekend. Community members interested in helping should meet at the bottom of Mt. Roberts Tramway at 9 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And look for Luke Holton’s messages on the Facebook group Juneau Buy ~ Sell ~ Trade.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 6, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-06-06 16:00

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

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Federal Fisheries Money Heads to Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a spending bill that includes more than $150 million for federal programs important to Alaska’s fishing industry and marine navigation. It includes $4 million for electronic monitors for the fishing fleet. Alaska fishermen on small boats have asked for cameras as a substitute for some of the human observers that record catch data.

Kerttula Takes Ocean Policy Job In Obama Administration

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Former Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula has joined the Obama Administration as Director of the National Ocean Council Office.

AEA Holds Public Meetings In Upper Valley, Anchorage

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The Alaska Energy Authority held public meetings in the Upper Valley and Anchorage this week to discuss the plans for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition to AEA’s updates on the progress and plans for the megaproject, opponents to the dam expressed concerns.

Indignant JDHS Alum Rallies Stanford Campus Around Rape Case

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Until this week, Leah Francis was probably best known as an Alaska distance running champ from her days at Juneau-Douglas High School.

That all changed after she went public saying she was forcibly raped by a fellow Stanford University undergraduate.

Volunteers Still Searching For Missing Juneau Hiker

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

It’s been just over a week since Alaska State Troopers called off the search for missing Juneau hiker Sharon Buis. But a group of volunteers have taken on the effort and are still looking.

Chitina Dip Net Salmon Fishery Opens At Midnight

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Chitina Subdistrict Dip Net Salmon Fishery opens at midnight.  Dip netters can expect to see plenty of fish during the first opening.

Video Collars Provide Polar Bears’ Point Of View

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are using new video collars to get a glimpse into the daily life of polar bears.

AK: Police Dogs

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Dog owners know the challenges of dog training… the difficulties in getting their pet to stop jumping up on people, or barking. Police dogs have to excel at those basic tasks and then go beyond to meet a remarkable level of obedience.

300 Villages: Togiak

This week, we’re heading to Togiak, on Bristol Bay. Daryl Thompson is city administrator for the city of Togiak.

Categories: Alaska News
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