Alaska News

Shaktoolik Erects Coastal Berm to Delay Relocation

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:30

For years agency reports have listed Shaktoolik as eroding with immediate need for relocation. But without government funding, little action has been taken and erosion has progressed. Now the people of Shaktoolik are taking matters into their own hands and  building a coastal berm to protect their community.

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The beginning of the Shaktoolik coastal berm. Photo: Anna Rose MacArthur.

for years agency reports have listed Shaktoolik as eroding with immediate need for relocation. But without government funding, little action has been taken and erosion has progressed. Now the people of Shaktoolik are taking matters into their own hands and building a coastal berm to protect their community.

A four-foot high pile of driftwood lines the coast of Shaktoolik. It stretches one mile from the first house to the dump. The barrier is the city’s first step in building a coastal berm, and it is the community’s first defense for fall storm surges.

Harvey Sookikyak is one of the crew members constructing the berm. “If we try and wait for any kind of federal money, then it’s going to take more than a while to get this thing started,” he said, explaining the reason for the project. “So we decided it’s time for us to do something on our own.”

Coordinating the project is Eugene Asicksik. He’s the Mayor of Shaktoolik and the Vice Chair of the Shaktoolik Native Corporation. “There has been a number of agencies that have come up with plans but there’s been no money to actually start,” Asickik said. Those plans include evacuation roads, evacuation centers, and even relocation.

Over the years, Asicksik said a parade of government and private agencies have landed in the community to assess the erosion. He says they investigate, write a report, and leave.

Two examples are in 2008 the state’s Immediate Action Workgroup released a report classifying Shaktoolik as one of eight communities in Alaska “in greatest peril due to climate change.” In 2009 the federal Government Accountability Office listed Shaktoolik as one of four Alaska communities “likely need[ing] to move all at once and as soon as possible” from continued flooding and erosion.

“But again there is no money,” Asickik repeated. “That’s where we’ve taken initiative upon ourselves.”

That initiative is building a coastal berm. Over the past two years the community has saved and raised money to build it: $120,000 from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation in community development funds and $500,000 from NSEDC in an outside entity grant.

Asicksik said they are going to work until the money runs out— about three months. The funds will pay for labor, equipment, and fuel. It will not pay for an engineer.

Instead, Shaktoolik is basing the berm’s design off a blueprint from the Department of Transportation. The DOT had intended to construct a vegetated berm in Shaktoolik as an experiment for other eroding communities. Shaktoolik lifted that design, just without the vegetation.

“The money doesn’t allow it,” Asicksik said.

DOT coastal engineers Harvey Smith and Ruth Carter drafted the design and support the community’s efforts.

“They’re kind of taking our idea and making it happen in a bigger way than what we could do with our little grant,” Ruth Carter said when asked about the community’s self-engineering.

The berm will consist of a driftwood pile, embedded with gravel, backed by a gravel mound. The materials come from the Shaktoolik coast.

Though the community is paying to construct the berm, if the barrier gets damaged, the state or FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—might be responsible for repairing it.

Jeremy Zidek is the Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and explained, “This berm, if it was owned by the city, it was properly engineered and maintained as a protective measure for the community, it can be eligible under public assistance program.”

The berm’s construction is in its second week. To date, the workers have piled the driftwood and finished cutting a road to begin hauling the gravel.

Gesturing to the berm’s beginning, Asicksik said, “Yes, we could just sit here and see what happens. But I can’t. I personally can’t. So in a way we are taking our own fate.”

Asicksik said he does not know how long the berm will last. At best, he says the barrier will prevent a surge from cresting into the community. If anything, he said, it will buy the community time— time to remain in Shaktoolik or just time to escape the storm.

Categories: Alaska News

“Honor Flag” Comes to Anchorage for 4th of July

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:29

Shortly after September 11th, 2001, Chris Heisler traveled from Texas to New York to hang an American flag where the World Trade Center once stood. That flag has since been dubbed the “honor flag,” and Heisler says it has traveled more than seven million miles to pay tribute to those that have died serving the United States.

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“This flag represents everything that’s true and great about this nation and the emotions this flag brings out in people,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

This 4th of July weekend, Heisler brought the flag to Anchorage, and for the first time ever people will be allowed to handle it. “We have brand new custom gloves used to handle the U.S. honor flag and we’re going to allow the general public to take pictures with and handle the flag. This is a unique opportunity that has never been afforded to anyone in the nation.”

The flag will be part of the fourth of July parade, and will be on display at the Hilton Hotel Thursday night. In Anchorage, I’m Joaquin Palomino.

Categories: Alaska News

B.C. Pipeline Plans Could Mean More Bering Sea Traffic

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:28

Last month, the Canadian government gave conditional approval to the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia. If it’s built, it’ll bring hundreds more oil tankers through the Bering Sea. That’s putting pressure on the Aleutian Islands to get ready for an increase in vessel traffic.

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Canada’s government set out more than 200 conditions for the tar sands pipeline to meet before it moves forward. Many relate to spill prevention – but they don’t extend as far as the Bering Sea.

Leslie Pearson is project manager for the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment. She estimates the pipeline would bring about 200 more tankers a year through already crowded Unimak Pass.

As development spurs traffic across the Aleutians, Pearson’s group is preparing to release its report on how to keep the region safe.

“We’ll have a draft report from the Risk Assessment that identifies recommendations for building an optimum response system, and that includes towing, offshore distances, response, salvage, marine firefighting capabilities for the Aleutian region.”

The report is more than five years in the making. Among other things, it’ll propose that trans-Pacific tankers stay 50 miles from shore throughout the Aleutian Islands. Pearson says that would give rescue tugs more time to reach a disabled tanker before it ran aground.

“Right now, some vessels are transiting a lot closer to the island chain, which – time is of the essence, and there’s a great distance out there, so the intent is to push them further offshore, provide more time and hopefully prevent any accidents from occurring.”

The Risk Assessment will also recommend stationing rescue tugs in Unalaska, Adak or both. And it asks for more cleanup and salvage tools on those islands – including a large tank barge to off-load fuel from other vessels.

Ships traveling to and from Northern Gateway would do so in innocent passage – if they’re not stopping at an American port, they’re not really subject to American rules for spill prevention. But Pearson says more monitoring would help keep them in check.

Tankers stopping at ports in Alaska have to join the state Maritime Prevention Network’s satellite tracking program. Starting this year, Pearson says large container ships do, too.

“They’ve been able to contact vessels when they decide that they’re going to slow down and do donuts out in the Pacific or in some sort of close proximity just to bide time. The eye in the sky, I think, has been really pivotal.”

That program’s still voluntary for foreign vessels not stopping en route across the Pacific. But Pearson hopes tankers like those that would travel to Northern Gateway would buy in.

The Risk Assessment report won’t have much else to say about cost. Pearson says it shows the economic benefit in protecting the region’s fisheries from harm, but it doesn’t address the price of new equipment. She says they’ll use the recommendations to ask federal and private sources for help. The report is due out August 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Delays Scrapping Research Facility; UAF Seeks Takeover Deal

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:27

The Air Force has agreed to delay its plans to demolish a $300 million research facility near Glennallen to allow more time to work out a deal to transfer ownership to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

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The 30-acre HAARP facility is located near Gakona, about 20 miles northeast of Glennallen. Credit vlf.stanford.edu

Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Sen. Lisa Murkowski Wednesday that the service will halt dismantling the so-called HAARP facility until May 2015. HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It’s used to conduct experiments on the Earth’s ionosphere.

The delay is good news for Bob McCoy. He’s the director of UAF’s Geophysical Institute, and he and officials with other universities and science agencies have been negotiating with the Pentagon for more than a year now to hand over the HAARP.

“We’ve been reaching out across the country,” McCoy said, “trying to represent the scientific community, to say to the U.S. government, ‘Hey, this is important. This is the most exquisite facility of its kind. Please don’t destroy it.’”

UAF already owns a share of the HAARP facility, along with the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The 30-acre facility includes an array of 180 high-power-transmitting antennas that alter the Earth’s ionosphere to effect auroral displays and test communications and surveillance technologies, among other things.

McCoy says university officials and others in the scientific community decided to seek full ownership of the HAARP facility after the Air Force announced last year that it no longer needs the facility and would scrap it.

David Walker is the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for science, technology and engineering. He told Murkowski during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing in May that the service intended to dismantle the HAARP facility this summer to avoid winterization costs.

“We would like to get the critical equipment out of the site before the winter,” Walker said. “The harsh winter in Alaska does lead to a very costly winterization to maintain the site. We’d like to avoid that if we can.”

McCoy says he’s hopeful the UAF consortium can work out a deal. He said his immediate concern is to halt the dismantling and removal of diagnostic equipment that monitors the effects of the high-power transmitting antennas.

“You need diagnostic instruments – optical, radars – to see what’s been happening, to do the science,” he said.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday whether the Air Force has or will halt the dismantling of that part of the facility.

Walker told Murkowski in the May hearing that the Air Force would consider handing over the facility. But not if it was required to continue funding its operation and maintenance.

“We have gotten interest from the university in Fairbanks,” Walker said. “However, the interest that we have (heard expressed) is that they will run it if we fund it. Which is unfortunately in this fiscal environment that we’re in right now, this is not an area that we have any need for in the future and don’t see it would be a good use of Air Force S&T (science and technology) funds in the future.”

McCoy says he and the other researchers know they’ll have to operate the HAARP facility on a tight budget.

He says UAF and its partners are developing a business plan that would cut the estimated $5 million annual operation and maintenance costs, much of which went to paying for the facility’s diesel-fired generators.

“Five million dollars was a figure that we came up with, based on information we had from the past, and information we got from the Air Force,” he said. “What we’ve been looking at lately (is) the last campaign that was run by DARPA a few weeks ago. (It) was run on a shoestring. So we think that number we may be able to run it for much less, much more economically.”

McCoy says the business plan would be modeled on many of the same practices that UAF employs in the operation of the NASA-owned Poker Flat Rocket Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Bear Urine Tested as Musk Ox Repellent in Nome

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:26

A unique smell has been wafting through parts of Nome this past week, but it’s not your typical summer fragrance. It’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new plan being tested to keep musk oxen herds out of town. Tony Gorn is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome.

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Lawsuit Challenging Native Language Needs at Polls Winds Down

“We routinely—almost daily, now—move musk ox. But then they come back. So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town,” Gorn says.

He says the agency has tried it all—rubber bullets, firecrackers, even aircraft. Now, with tension in Nome mounting … as herds of the animals are continuing to congregate and threatening dogs and property—Gorn is trying a more natural incentive to coax them to leave.

“Some of the groups, at least, of musk ox are moving close to town because they’re trying to find a bear-free zone. So really the idea is to make it appear like there may be bears in the local area and maybe they would move back out. It’s absolutely not tested yet, but it’s worth a try.”

Gorn says the urine has been applied to two sites where people have had run-ins with the herds. However, Nome’s windy, wet climate is proving a challenge for implementation. Gorn is not yet sure how well the scent is carrying.

But where do you buy—or harvest—bear urine?

“Well, you can buy—you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing,” Gorn says.

Gorn has been in contact with other biologists that deal with musk oxen, but says Nome’s situation on the Seward Peninsula is unique. And it’s a polarizing issue for residents—some people are frustrated by the threat of herds in their backyard, while others like the experience of living close to wildlife.

The musk oxen population on the Seward Peninsula has been declining by about 13 percent each year.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Utility Sold For $170 Million to Outside Company

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:24

Southeast Alaska’s largest electric utility has merged with a Washington-based energy company. Alaska Electric Light and Power in Juneau is now a subsidiary of Avista Corporation, headquartered in Spokane. The deal closed on Tuesday.

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Alaska Electric Light and Power Company headquarters on Tonsgard Court in Juneau. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Juneau’s Alaska Electric Light and Power has merged with Spokane-based Avista Corp.

The sale was announced in November and the $170 million purchase closed on Tuesday.

At closing, Avista Corp. issued about 4.5 million shares of common stock to Alaska Energy and Resources Company shareholders at just under $32.46 a share. AERC is AELP’s parent company.

Avista is a mid-size utility that sells electricity and natural gas to nearly 700,000 customers in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and parts of Oregon. With the purchase of AELP, Avista Utilities acquires an additional 16,000 electric customers.

AELP Consumer Affairs Director Debbie Driscoll says they will not see any changes in day-to-day operations in the short term.

“Part of the contractual agreement was that when the deal closes everything remains as is or better for the next two years,” Driscoll says.

That includes retaining AELP’s Juneau headquarters and its more than 70 employees.

Avista Communications Manager Jessie Wuerst says Juneau may not be the company’s only entry into Southeast Alaska.

“We’re an investor-owned utility, so we’re always looking for opportunities to bring value to our shareholders and Southeast Alaska is certainly an area that has opportunities in it,” Wuerst says. “So we’re looking.”

She says 51 percent of Avista power generation comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric, wind and biomass. Avista also owns part of a coal-based generation plant in Montana.

Avista started as Washington Water Power on the banks of the Spokane River in 1889.

AELP was founded in 1894. The Corbus family bought into the utility in 1896 and has been majority owner since.

When former president Bill Corbus announced the Avista agreement in November, he said the company provided the best cultural fit.

Driscoll describes her fellow employees as excited about the merger, especially for the financial resources the bigger company brings.

“We’ve just expanded our resources significantly. There are changes in the industry, innovative improvements in the industry, smart grids, things that we can possibly now afford and maybe before it would have been too much of an impact to our customers from a rate standpoint,” she says.

AELP operates Snettisham and Lake Dorothy hydroelectric facilities as well as several smaller hydro projects and back-up diesel generation.

Note: Story updated at 9:40 a.m. to clarify that the no-change clause in the Avista agreement applies to daily operations.

 

Categories: Alaska News

After Floods, Huslia Earmarked $356,000 In Federal Funds

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 17:23

More than $270,000 in federal funds will help relocate five homes in Huslia following flooding and erosion on the Koyukuk River last month.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the money under its “imminent threat” funds. It supplements another $85,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover the full $356,000 cost.

The Athabascan village of 320 people is located about 250 miles west of Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Yellow Pages seek new life

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 16:43

New phone books are arriving at homes around Anchorage this month. So what do you do with your old ones? Give them a new purpose by recycling them.

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I opened a mysterious square door in my closet ceiling recently and thousands of bits of shredded phone book tumbled out onto my head. Some phone book publishers, like the Berry Company, collect out-dated versions of the massive tomes to shred and re-purpose as home insulation and garden mulch. They have collection points around Anchorage until the end of July

Berry Company Alaska branch manager Chris Vaughn says their “Think Yellow, Go Green” campaign aims to keep phone books out of landfills. Last year, they collected 38 tons of them.

You can recycle your new Yellow Pages too, but Vaughn says most people still use them. “There are less people using the phone directory. But when they say it’s dead, it’s not.”

Vaughn says their research shows 75% of consumers used the print yellow pages in the past year. Fifty percent in the past month. He says it’s another tool in comparison shopping that’s especially useful for small and medium sized businesses.

The Berry Company is collecting old phone books at Fred Meyer stores around Anchorage, the UAA Arts Building, and other locations until the end of the month. They can also be recycled along with your mixed paper at recycling facilities across the city.

You can opt out of receiving the phone books by going to www.yellowpagesoptout.com.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Enstar bill increase looks big but is temporary

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-07-03 16:23

Enstar customers will pay more for their natural gas this summer, but Enstar’s spokesperson says, it’s not quite the dramatic change that it seems.

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Getting an Enstar notice saying gas prices are doubling is shocking. But flip out; it’s not a permanent increase. John Sims is the director of business development for Enstar Natural Gas. He says that natural gas bills always change throughout the year.

Here’s what happens: Enstar has contracts with different gas producers in Cook Inlet. They set prices for how much Enstar is going to pay. Then Enstar estimates how much they think they will buy each quarter.

“First, we are tasked with the challenge of trying to forecast what the weather is going to be like for the next three months. And then we have to try to forecast what 137,000 customers are actually going to consume over that three month time frame.”

Sims says they forecasted this year that they would buy lots of gas during the winter at high prices. So customers paid high prices. When April hit, Enstar saw customers paid too much, so they decreased the prices. But then it warmed up. And people used less gas. And Enstar realized that they under collected for the second quarter. To make up for it, they are increasing the prices again.

“This over collection, under collection happens pretty much all the time,” he explains. “In every filing that we do on a quarterly basis. It’s just a little more extreme compared to prior years.”

Sims says that the 48% increase is misleading. It’s because people buy so little gas in the summer. The percentage would be much lower if the cost was spread out over more units of natural gas.

“If you look at your total cost for the entire year, you’ll find it’s pretty consistent to years in the past.”

Sims says Enstar won’t make any money from this quarter’s increase, just like they didn’t lose any money when they decreased costs in the spring. It’s just paying for the actual cost of the gas. Enstar makes its money from delivery fees.

Sims says the company is anticipating a slight decrease for rates in the fourth quarter. He says overall, this year’s natural gas prices will be fairly consistent with last year’s. Yearly natural gas prices are influenced by the producers in Cook Inlet.

Categories: Alaska News

One person dies in fatal crash at Merrill Field

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:32

A small airplane crashed during take off this morning around 8:25 am at Merrill Field in Anchorage. The pilot and sole occupant is confirmed dead.

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Lana Jensen was waiting for her flight to Nondalton when she saw it happen.

“I was just standing there watching the planes take off and noticed that plane was having strut problems. And I just heard it sputter and it went straight down.”

Fire trucks responded to the fatal crash at Merrill Field early Wednesday morning.

Jensen says she’s not really sure what to think about it. ”It’s kind of traumatizing. I don’t want to go home… just stay here now. But no, I have to go home. I have to go fishing.”

Police arrived on the scene within three minutes of receiving the report of the crash.

All of the runways at Merrill were closed for about an hour, but they have all since reopened.

The Anchorage Police Department says they will likely release the name of the deceased tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Arctic Policy Commission Listens to Community Input

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:31

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission held a listening session today in Anchorage. The aim was to get more statewide input, especially from the Alaska Native community, on how the Commission should try to shape future Arctic policy.

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The commissioners and people making comments discussed what they can and cannot control in the changing Arctic. They also heard a push for the Alaska Legislature to start thinking of itself as a body that’s part of a broader community.

Representative Benny Nageak from Barrow attended the meeting. He says people from the Arctic want to make sure their voices are heard, especially since they still rely on the natural resources of the area, like marine mammals.

He says his community understands their needs may be unique, but they live under state, national, and international governments. “And so we’ve learned how to work within the system. And as you can see from what you heard today, we’re not new to this.”

Nageak says his Arctic community needs to be involved in government and business decision making to protect their resources.

The Council will use today’s input and other public comments to produce a final report for the state’s legislature early next year. The report outlines Alaska’s written policy recommendations on topics ranging from scientific research to resource development to environmental protection in the Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Soboleff Wins Sealaska Board Seat, Nelson Becomes Chairman

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:30

The regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska has a new CEO, a new board chairman and a new board member.

Leaders of Juneau-headquartered Sealaska are following a direction set by their predecessors. But they promise some changes, following a recent board election.

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Shareholders elected Juneau businessman Ross Soboleff to an open seat.

New Sealaska board member Ross Soboleff. (Courtesy 4 Shareholders for Sealaska)

They also re-elected incumbents Rosita Worl, Sidney Edenshaw and Ed Thomas. A resolution limiting discretionary voting failed.

Joseph Nelson was named by the board as chairman. He replaces Albert Kookesh, who remains on the panel but stepped down from the post.

Results were announced at the end of the corporation’s annual meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel near the Seattle-Tacoma airport. About 6,000 of Sealaska’s 21,600 shareholders live in the Pacific Northwest.

New board member Soboleff was part of an independent slate called 4 Shareholders for Sealaska. Fellow members Carlton Smith, Margaret Nelson and Karen Taug were not elected.

Though he was the only one to win, Soboleff says the slate’s message was powerful.

“Most of the board members I’ve spoken to know shareholders are interested in very positive changes in the company. They and me are in the leadership and we have to figure it out together,” he says.

The slate, and most of the six other independent candidates, criticized the board for allowing corporate operations to run into the red by about $57 million last year.

“I would say central to what we came forward with was a turnaround plan for the company,” Soboleff says.

The slate’s Smith was enthusiastic about the results, even if he and two other members lost.

“It’s a powerful victory for shareholders today and it’s a change that’s been wanting to be implemented,” Smith says. “What we’ve got is the beginnings of a brand new board.”

He says the slate cast all its discretionary votes for Soboleff to make sure one member won.

Sealaska’s new CEO, Anthony Mallott, also says the results are a turning point.

“If today’s meeting isn’t proof of change, I don’t know what is,” he said in a press release. “We’ve heard from many people about what is expected of Sealaska, and the great news is that these are the things we’re already working on.”

It’s unusual for Sealaska to have an open board seat. Retiring members usually resign before an election and the board appoints a replacement who then runs as an incumbent.

This year, board member Byron Mallott announced he would not seek re-election so he could pursue his Democratic run for governor. But he completed his term rather than resigning. That guaranteed someone new would fill the seat.

A resolution changing discretionary voting to weaken the board’s hold on ballot counts failed.

Board candidate Mick Beasley, who authored the measure, says he’s frustrated, but would likely try again. He said he may also pursue a term-limits measure, as he has done before.

He was not optimistic about the election’s results.

“I see very little change,” he says.

In all, 13 candidates ran for four board seats this year.

Longtime incumbent Thomas was the top vote-getter, followed by incumbents Edenshaw and Worl. Challenger Soboleff won the fourth seat with the next-highest count.

The board runner-ups, in order of votes received, were Beasley, Myrna Gardner, Ralph Wolfe, Smith, Nelson, Taug, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin and Edward Sarabia Jr.

The voting share counts are below. Each shareholder casts a vote per share and most own at least 100 shares.

• Edward Thomas 677,440
• Sidney Edenshaw 674,874
• Rosita Worl 674,447
• Ross Soboleff 508,216
• Michael Beasley 472,611
• Myrna Gardner 390,509
• Ralph Wolfe 244,425
• Carlton Smith 206,829
• Margaret Nelson 156,551
• Karen Taug 151,966
• Michelle McConkey 137,691
• Will Micklin 112,261
• Edward Sarabia Jr. 102,166

Categories: Alaska News

Parnell: Pipeline Agreement Signed

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:29

Gov. Sean Parnell says an agreement has been signed that allows for the next stage in pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project.

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Parnell says environmental field work and pipeline engineering have begun as part of a phase in which the parties are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s still no guarantee the mega-project will be built, but Parnell called the agreement and work underway a mark of significant progress.

The parties involved are BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., TransCanada Corp., and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

ConocoPhillips was previously a holdout to signing because of issues the company said were confidential. A spokeswoman said those issues have been resolved.

Parnell said the project, in the coming weeks, will work to begin the process of securing an export license.

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senator Still After ANC Contracting Advantages

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:28

A U.S. Senator from Missouri is continuing her crackdown on the advantages Alaska Native Corporations enjoy in government contracting.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill this week pressed the Small Business Administration to show that rules in place since 2011 are tightening requirements on ANCs and producing better oversight.

Since the 1980s, ANCs have won government contracts worth billions of dollars, through a program designed to allow small, minority-owned companies to contract for government work without competition. Other businesses in the program are limited to contracts of up to $4 million. Alaska Native corporations, though, can get sole-source contracts of any size, and they can work in joint venture with non-Native companies as long as the ANC owns 51%.

McCaskill has previously sponsored bills to remove those special advantages. She’s asking the SBA for a list of all such joint ventures since 2011, and for reports showing how Native communities benefitted from these contracts.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, in a press release, says he’s tried to reason with McCaskill, a fellow Democrat. But he says she doesn’t understand Alaska history. He says ANCs shouldn’t be punished for their success.

Categories: Alaska News

Rainy Weather Continuing Into July

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:27

Rain continues to fall across the central and eastern interior as July extends a trend that made June Fairbanks rainiest on record.

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National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Berg is tracking precipitation totals.

“Just the first day of July we had 1.92 inches of rainfall, and that was a new record for that date, and it was almost three times what the previous record was. Since midnight last night we’ve picked up a bit more. So far this month we’ve had 2.73 inches of rain,” he said.

Berg says that puts Fairbanks well on its way to above normal rainfall in July.

“Our normals for July are around 5 inches, so we’re about halfway there already,” he said.

More rain is forecast for the first half of today. Berg says a band of rain over the area is expected to move off to the northeast this afternoon.

“By midafternoon we should be seeing just some scattered showers around the area, and by evening maybe some isolated showers, but for the most part the rain will be done by 5 or 6 o’clock this evening,” he said.

While the rain is expected to stop, Berg says area rivers will continue to rise, elevating flood potential.

“We do look for most of them to start peaking by tomorrow sometime, or even into Friday. Once the river forecast folks from Anchorage arrive we’ll get some new model guidance from them as to where [the rivers] are actually going to start peaking. But they are a little bit ahead of where we were forecasting them to be yesterday,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers sent out message last night saying they anticipated lowering gates on the Moose Creek Dam at the Chena Flood Control project late today or Thursday.

A Flood warning is in effect for the Upper Chena, Salcha, Goodpaster Rivers and the Eastern Alaska Range. Flood Advisories have been issued for the Alaska Range, east of the Parks Highway, and the Birch Creek Basin north of Fairbanks. There’s a Flood Watch for the Tanana River between the communities of Salcha and Tanana.

Berg says the high water will coincide with more summer like weather over the 4th of July weekend.

“Drying conditions, thank goodness. We will see the temperatures come up a little bit, into the 70′s and possibly into the 80′s for the weekend,” he said.

Berg says there will be chance of afternoon thunderstorms through the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Rain Causing Problems On Interior Roads

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:26

The rain is resulting in dangerous driving conditions. State Department of Transportation Northern Region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says she issued numerous travel advisories this morning.

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“For just about every road in the interior, reminding people or warning people that there are obviously extremely wet surfaces and a lot of people are experiencing hydroplaning. So just like in the winter, people need to reduce their speed and make sure that they are allowing extra time to reach their destination. This is not the kind of weather to be speeding around,” she said.

Bailey says the third major rain event in as many weeks rains is resulting in road damage.

“We’re seeing all kinds of pot holes and just degradation of the sides of the road. So areas where we’re kind of having some erosion and water is actually eating away sections of the road,” she said.

Bailey says DOT crews are driving area roads 24 hours a day making emergency repairs. She says temporary repairs are also being made to the damage caused to the Denali Park Road last week by rain swollen creeks near the road’s end at mile 92.

“We have a crew that is working in Kantishna and actually our maintenance crew is going there to look at what longer term repairs will need to be made today. So they’re going to bring back pictures and a more extensive report from that area,” she said.

The emergency repair work comes amidst numerous summer road construction and resurfacing projects the wet weather is hampering progress on.

Categories: Alaska News

Largest Bristol Bay King Salmon Run Reaches Minimum Escapement

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:25

The largest king salmon run in Bristol Bay has reached the lower end of the escapement goal but the managers with Fish and Game are hoping for more.

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Categories: Alaska News

Strong Chum Runs Mean Salmon Openings In Norton Sound

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 17:24

Chum salmon leaping near Cold Bay, AK. (Photo: K. Mueller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 28, 2011)

As severe restrictions on Chinooks continue to hit subsistence users, early signs of strong chum runs are leading the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to announce some unanticipated commercial openings.

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“What is happening is this year we’re have an early, strong chum salmon run in most areas of Norton Sound,” said Scott Kent, ADF&G biologist for the Nome area. “It’s front-loaded in that, it’s hitting hard right now, and then it’s probably going to drop off here considerably in a week or so.”

Kent said that means this next few days in the region are going to be fruitful for fishermen. “We’re going to probably start seeing a lot of fish passage this week and into the weekend.”

Kent said the region is seeing some of the best chum counts on record for this time of year. At the Kwiniuk tower on the North side of Norton Sound, for example, 12,000 chums have already been counted, making this year one of the best runs in the station’s 49 years of operation.

Kent said the strong chum run is especially good news considering the poor pre-season forecasts.

“We were not expected directed openings in Golovin and Elim this year, especially not this early,” he laughed. “So, it’s a pleasant surprise.”

The Norton Sound isn’t the only region in western Alaska seeing strong chum numbers. A three-hour opening Saturday, June 28 lifted gear restrictions in the Lower Yukon and gave some families a much-needed chance to put up chum on their racks.

“Everybody’s real happy for the Y1 and Y2 three-hour six-inch gillnet opening that you guys had,” said Basil Larson from Russian Mission during a weekly Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association teleconference on Tuesday.

Not everyone was able to take advantange of the opening, Larson said, but those who could made it count. “There’s not a lot of families that could afford to go down and go fish for those three hours, but the families that did go down, I talked to them and they are all done with their summer chum subsistence harvest.”

Callers further upriver on the Yukon, like Janet Woods in Rampart, said they are frustrated at having to wait until nearly all the Chinooks have passed just to have a shot at fishing for chums.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting. We can’t even so much put in a net. If you let people fish even one day, that would eliminate all these problems with people getting caught, and getting their fish nets taken away, and having to go to court and pay,” Woods said. “We need to have our fish—that’s what sustains us.”

Fish and Game representatives on the call explained that upriver communities can expect a similar subsistence opening once 90 percent of the Chinook have passed. Which, based on past years, is likely to be some time around July 18.

Kent said that, while the Chinook restrictions have been severe, they do appear to be working.

“The King run is very poor,” he stressed, “but it’s not as dire as we thought it was going to be going into the season. In other words, we think we’ve got a good chance of making our escapement goals because we’ve taken such severe restrictions.”

While making escapement into Canada is an important goal to hit, Kent stressed the run is still significantly below historical levels.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a good run, it doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back yet. But it appears the measures taken across the region are working to conserve Chinook salmon.”

For a full list of ADF&G’s salmon openings in the Norton Sound area can be found on their website.

Categories: Alaska News

Person Dies in Merrill Field Airplane Crash

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-07-02 09:25

Anchorage police confirm one person has died in a plane crash at the city’s small plane airport.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro says the crash was reported just before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Merrill Field.

Police were at the scene within three minutes of the call, and authorities were able to confirm the fatality within five minutes of arriving.

All runways were shut down at the airport near downtown Anchorage and the Federal Aviation Administration has been contacted.

No other details of the crash were immediately available.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Poll Suggests Parnell Vulnerable … In A Two-Way Race

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-01 18:16

In the three-way race for governor, Sean Parnell’s two challengers have developed a bit of a chummy relationship. Here’s Independent candidate Bill Walker last month at the National Congress of American Indians.

WALKER: There are many benefits of running and one of the benefits I’ve had is getting to know Byron.

And Democrat Byron Mallott …

MALLOTT: I have to say that we’ve become good friends.

But now, one of those candidates says he doesn’t want to have to compete with the other at all. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that Walker would rather face the governor alone.

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Since Independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott launched their campaigns, both have concentrated on beating Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. Mallott and Walker have never sent a press release bashing the other, and they’ve even complimented each other’s ideas on the campaign trail.

(Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Only, there’s a problem with that. In the polls that have been conducted, Walker and Mallott both lose in a three-way race. Now, Walker has released a poll suggesting he would be competitive against Parnell if they were facing head on. He says he wouldn’t mind it if were suddenly to find himself in a two-way race.

“No disrespect to anybody, but I certainly wouldn’t,” says Walker. “So I think the poll speaks to that.”

The poll was commissioned by the Walker campaign, and conducted by Ivan Moore Research and the Alaska Survey. It shows Parnell with 42 percent support from respondents, Walker with 29 percent, and Mallott with 16 percent. When the poll takes Mallott out of the equation, the difference between Parnell and Walker shrinks to one point – 46 percent to 45 percent. And when Mallott is matched up against the governor, Parnell wins by a landslide – 55 percent to 34 percent.

Looking at the results, Walker says he doesn’t regret bypassing the closed Republican primary, where he would have been able to challenge Parnell more directly. While Walker is now an independent candidate, he has previously run as a Republican candidate and lost to Parnell in the 2010 primary. He says his message now does better with a broader audience than just Republican voters.

Walker adds that even if he likes the idea of a two-way race in the November 4 general election, he hasn’t approached Mallott about dropping out.

“It’s not intended to be a shot at him in anyway, other than just the polls — they are what they are,” says Walker.

Not surprisingly, Mallott isn’t too friendly to the idea of leaving the race, or trying to merge tickets. Mary Halloran is Mallott’s campaign manager.

“It is not and it never will be a two-way race between Bill Walker and Sean Parnell,” says Halloran. “What the poll does show and we’re most interested in is that most Alaskans want a different governor.”

Halloran is also skeptical of the poll itself. She suggests that it could be a “push poll” — never mind the problem of Alaska being famously difficult to survey.

The only other polls released on the governor’s race have been done by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, and they reached an opposite conclusion. A May poll showed the numbers basically flipped, with Parnell getting support from 37 percent of respondents, Mallott coming in second with 27 percent, and Walker in third with 17 percent.

“We do know that in all the other polls we’ve seen, Walker’s come in dead last,” says Halloran. “And what’s changed? As far as we can tell: nothing.”

Halloran says that moving forward, the Mallott campaign plans to spend more time highlighting the differences between their candidate and Walker, particularly on social issues like abortion.

Halloran would not say if their campaign’s internal polls match any of the publicly available numbers.

Ivan Moore, who conducted the survey, stands by his numbers.

“There was nothing about this survey that could be characterized as ‘pushy’ in any way at all,” says Moore. “When you come out with poll numbers that people don’t like, they resort to attacking the poll itself. I am an open book, and anyone who wants to come and sit down and look at the original data with me can do it.”

Moore says his results likely differ from PPP’s because his firm calls cell phones and landlines. PPP collects its information from landlines and online responses.

For its part, the Parnell team is brushing off Walker’s statement that he could be competitive in a two-way race.

“No matter how hard Walker tries to ignore the reality of a three-way race, Sean Parnell continues to hold a double-digit lead,” says campaign manager Jerry Gallagher.

Categories: Alaska News
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