Alaska News

WAANT Makes Arrests for Alleged Bootlegging

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:42

Investigators from the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics team arrested two people in seperate incidents Monday. They say 23-year-old Olivia Guest was contacted as she attempted to fly to Chefornak with five bottles of alcohol in her luggage and purse. They say she became confrontational and pushed the investigator away from her luggage. Guest is being charged with alcohol importation and disorderly conduct.

They also arrested 40-year-old Theresa Sipary of Bethel. She is accused of attempting to import 13 bottles of liquor to Kipnuk. Both were taken to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.

Investigators also allege that 40-year-old Wilson Beaver of Bethel brought 22 bottles of whiskey to Tuntutuliak by snowmachine. They were in contact with the community earlier this month. The alcohol has a local value of $3,300, or $150 per bottle. Felony charges were forwarded to the district attorneys office.

Categories: Alaska News

Division of Forestry Stresses Being ‘Firewise’ This Season

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:35

2015 will likely be a year with higher than usual fire risk on the peninsula.

Paul Pellegrini is a fire prevention officer with the Division of Forestry for the Kenai/Kodiak region.

He says conditions this year are reminiscent of last year, before the Funny River fire, and 2005, the year of the Tracy Avenue fire out East End Road.

“What that means for us is that there wasn’t enough snow to compact the cured grasses and that’s a big difference. If the grasses are on the ground and compacted, they burn differently than if they’re standing up. And right now, they’re high and dry.”

Pellegrini says there’s lots of fuel for wildfires, but grasses are some of the most dangerous.

“I fought fire for the State of California and it was all about these really fast-moving grass fires. And [on] the Kenai that’s a recent phenomenon. It’s maybe 10 or 15 years old, where these grasses have pushed in where the forest used to be.”

The changing landscape is due in part to the mass beetle kill that in the 1970s and 1980s. According to the Division of Forestry’s website, since the mid 1970s, Spruce bark beetles have killed mature spruce trees on more than a million acres of land here. That’s about half of the Peninsula’s total forested land.

“Our forest has been falling on the ground. Some of it is still standing up and dead and some of it is alive. But that dead and downed component that we can’t see very well, it’s still laying on the ground and it’s got grass all around it because when that canopy went away, the sun hit our landscape and that’s where all this grass came from.”

Pellegrini says that makes it even more important for residents to be very careful managing fires, especially during hot, dry seasons.

“The majority of fires on the Kenai are human-caused. The majority of human-caused fires are started by debris burning- people having open burns usually on their property, in their backyard, let’s say, where they’re cleaning up branches and woody debris. Most of those fires that we lose- those debris fires- they escape because the folks didn’t follow the guidelines on their burn permit.”

Burn permits are required for open burning from April 1st through August 31st and are subject to burn suspensions and closures.

Pellegrini says regardless of whether or not people plan on burning, they should practice Firewise. That includes clearing dry and dead brush within 30 feet of a house, and not storing firewood and other flammable items underneath decks or patios, among other things.

And he says, always think twice and take precautions before setting any type of fire.

“It’s still risky. Every time you choose to light a fire, whether it’s for a burn barrel or an open burn or even a camp fire, there’s a chance that the wind changes or you didn’t anticipate an event that happens and some ember cast from your fire ignites nearby grasses and you’re going to have a wildfire.”

Information on burn permits and Firewise tips are available on the Division of Forestry’s website,forestry.alaska.gov/burn.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Woman Faces Manslaughter Charge in Heroin Death

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-08 10:29

A Bethel woman has been indicted on a charge of manslaughter for allegedly fatally injecting her father with heroin. 35-year-old Shannon Cooke faces the charges for an incident from September 29th, 2014.

The state says that 56-year-old Thomas Tungwenuk was found unresponsive in an Anchorage apartment. Police and medics responded and the man was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Daniel Shorey is an assistant district attorney in Anchorage.

“The manslaughter charge is for delivering heroin to her father, Thomas Tungwenuk. She is also charged with misconduct involving a controlled substance for the actual delivery of the heroin,” said Shorey.

The state medical examiner found that Tungwenuk had died of the acute combined effects of alcohol and heroin. Police received a report that Tungwenuk had injected himself and then was found by his daughter 30 to 45 minutes later, however the state alleges that Cooke injected him.

Cooke was arrested Friday by Bethel police. Bail was set at $20,000 with a third party custodian. If convicted, Cooke faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A pre-trial conference before Judge Jack Smith in Anchorage is scheduled for May 13th.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Prison Deals With Overcrowding By Housing Women In A Tent

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:30

A view inside the tent at Lemon Creek Correctional Center as seen from a security monitoring screen. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Alaska’s prison population is the third fastest growing in the country, and the prisons are over capacity. The crowding problem is especially evident at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center where half the female inmates live in a tent outside. Some of them actually like it, but it’s an indication of a problem one state senator is trying to fix.

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“It kind of looks like a greenhouse from the outside,” says 29-year-old Lemon Creek inmate Catherine Fredrick. She lives in the tent. “It has bunks all in one row and we actually house more than the dorm does.”

The 20 by 30 foot curved roof canvas tent sits on a raised wooden platform. You can see it as you enter the grounds of the Lemon Creek Correctional Center and it really does look like a greenhouse. When I first visited the prison, I had no idea women, up to 20 of them at a time, were living there.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, you know. Sometimes it gets cold in the winter, but they allow for us to have an extra blanket if it’s really cold out. And in the summer, it’s hot,” Fredrick says.

That’s when they can open a window or decide to walk outside to get fresh air. Inside the prison, it’s different.

“You don’t open your own doors, it’s always keys open the doors, moving gates, you hear the clanking, you hear the keys rattling, you hear the bells going,” Fredrick says.

There is one big con with the tent, though. No running water. Two porta-potties sit outside between the tent and the entrance to the prison.

“The outhouse gets full quick when we have too many people, so you have to use the broom with a plastic bag on the end to push the poop down, and that’s kind of disgusting but we take one for the team,” Fredrick says.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Ronald Taylor admits the living situation isn’t adequate, especially without running water. But given the prison overcrowding situation, he says he doesn’t have much choice.

Catherine Fredrick at a prison event in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center gymnasium. Fredrick lives in the tent. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“As long as the housing issues are what they are, then the tent is going to be used for that as an overflow,” Taylor says.

It’s been used that way for more than 15 years. Men have stayed there before, but lately it’s been for women. Since 2002, Taylor says the number of female inmates in the state has been growing at a faster rate than males.

He says the state’s primary prison for women, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River, recently had a daily count of 441. That’s almost 50 people over capacity.

Taylor says overcrowding issues throughout the state prison system will continue to affect the situation at Lemon Creek.

“When we’re able to really manage our population to where that’s no longer an issue and we can consistently stay down below our numbers in terms of the overflow, then I think that we’re not going to utilize the tent for that,” Taylor says.

A December report from the state’s legislative audit division called the tent a weakness for security reasons. But inmate Veronica Parks comes back to the living standards issue. She lives in the dorm now, but remembers how she used to bang on the prison door for an hour before being let inside to shower.

“We shouldn’t be holding girls in here that we can’t put inside the building,” Parks says.

State Sen. John Coghill has introduced a bill that he hopes will ease the prison overcrowding issue and get more Lemon Creek inmates inside the building.

His proposal would use electronic monitoring to keep nonviolent offenders and people awaiting trial out of prisons, while providing incentives for them to go to treatment programs. The bill would also cap the amount of time someone is in prison for a probation violation.

“We can’t afford another jail. Where would we build it and how would we build it when we don’t have the money?” Coghill says. “So that’s the pressure to keep us being creative, to give people avenues to succeed, hold them accountable and maybe jails isn’t the best way to do it.”

Coghill says he didn’t previously know about the tent at Lemon Creek, but he finds it troubling.

“Just because they’re in prison doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated with the best dignity we can treat them,” Coghill says.

But inmate Catherine Fredrick still says the tent is actually better than living inside the prison.

“Living in a tent is kind of like a privilege for the jail because you get the feeling of being outside, feeling of being home when you can open your window,” Fredrick says.

Of course, she says she’d rather be home with her 11-year-old son. But for now, she says home is where you make it.

Categories: Alaska News

Seaton Suggests Income Tax for Diversification of Revenue Sources

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:29

Peninsula Representative Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, filed a bill Friday to bring back an income tax to Alaska. Representative Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, co-sponsored the bill.

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Alaska’s budget is in dire straits. Belt-tightening is happening across the board to compensate for a sharp decline in oil revenue that’s left the state with an immense budget deficit.

Representative Paul Seaton says the hole is so large, cuts just don’t cut it anymore.

“You know, three and a half, four billion dollars of deficit and we know we cannot solve it by just making cuts. [You can] terminate the entire state employee force and we would not get halfway there. So, we need to look at diversifying our revenue sources,” says Seaton.

The state last had an income tax in the 1970s but the growing oil industry and the money it pumped into the economy prompted the state to get rid of it in 1980. Then, the state took a look at reinstating the tax 10 years ago. It was briefly considered and then put to the side. Seaton says his proposal now uses information from that past research.

“I was here during the Murkowski administration in which we looked really carefully and analyzed both a sales tax and an income tax. They both raised about the same amount of money but an income tax was much more efficient to collect; it cost less than half the amount that a sales tax did.”

The income tax he is proposing is based on federal tax rates and brackets. A person would pay to the state of Alaska the equivalent of 15% of their federal tax.

“I think everybody can quickly make their own example. All they have to do is look at last year’s tax form and take 15% of it and that would be what they would pay. If they sent $500 to the federal government, it would be $75 dollars. If they sent $5,000 in taxes, then it would be $750. Now, if you also have capital gains, which the vast majority of people do not have, then you would add 10% of the capital gains.”

Taxes is a buzzword in politics. Voters are often strongly for or against increasing or instating them. Seaton says since he introduced this bill last week, the majority of his constituents that have contacted him have been quite supportive.

He says he thinks that’s because Alaskans are feeling the pressure of the economic shortfall. And he says, it’s becoming clear that the ability to maintain services and programs in the state depends on its one major industry.

“Well, it becomes very volatile when you’re relying only on one source. And we may as well say only one source since I think it’s 92% of our general fund money is coming from taxes and royalties on oil.”

Seaton says this tax is in part bringing home a lesson from other states that have dealt with similar issues.

“It’s hard to maintain responsibility when nobody is paying any taxes. We’re the only state that has neither a state property tax or a state sales tax or a state income tax. So, there is no individual revenue that comes to the state from its residents and so it’s a lot easier to spend somebody else’s money.”

Finally, he says not only would this tax rely on contributions from residents, it applies to non-residents who earn money in-state as well.

“Right now it doesn’t matter if you’re in the tourist business or whether you’re in the fishing business and you’re up here in the summer or you work on the North Slope. All of that money goes outside and nothing is left for the state to help support the infrastructure. So, that brings them into the fold as well.”

Seaton says he doesn’t necessarily expect the bill to pass, but he hopes it will start a conversation about diversifying revenue sources for the state which he says could lead it down a more stable path in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Villages Seek Yukon, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Change

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:28

The Federal Office of Subsistence Management is holding a series of public hearings on requests for expanded federal control of salmon fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Faces Big Decision on Local Liquor Licenses

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:26

BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman speaks at a community meeting in Bethel. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Bethel residents are urging the city to protest a package store license that’s before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits LLC application was officially filed Monday morning.

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With a separate deadline of 90 days to act on BNC’s proposal, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board attended a community meeting in Bethel to bring people up to speed on the process. Director Cynthia Franklin, explained that the board by law must honor a hypothetical government’s protest of a license, unless it meets specific criteria.

“Is this protest arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable? When people ask me what it means- is the city council picking on this application? That’s basically what it means in everyday language. Everyone would know arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable if they saw it,” said Franklin.

The city hasn’t taken any action. Bethel is unique in that it’s wet but with no liquor stores or bars. Voters in 2009 went unrestricted and did away with local option laws limiting imports and prohibiting sales. The next year citizens rejected local sales in an advisory vote.

That 2010 vote weighed heavily with Deborah Sampson, one of dozens in the more than four hour meeting who testified against the idea of a liquor store.

“We overwhelmingly said we don’t want alcohol here. We don’t want it sold, we don’t want a distribution point, and I don’t think that status should change until we have another vote,” said Sampson.

And citizens could again go to the polls if the council chooses to sponsor a community vote. Mayor Rick Robb, who has spoken publicly in favor of local sales, says he will bring a proposal before council to have an advisory vote.

People from the villages around the lower Kuskokwim spoke up, mostly to oppose the store. The regional significance of Bethel as a hub was a theme throughout the night. Dan Winkelman, President and CEO of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, cited research about the the effects of easier access to alcohol.

“It is not whether prohibition works or doesn’t work as some have said. But rather as these studies have concluded, the issue is more precisely that as alcohol availability increases, so do alcohol related injuries and death,” said Winkelman.

A handful of the nearly 50 speakers made the case for local sales. BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman said the choice is not about whether to have liquor sales, but whether to have regulated sales or continue to support an underground bootlegging economy.

“It is time for the community to mature and no longer be crippled by paternalistic mentalities. We manage our lives in the most challenging of environments. We can handle a liquor store in Bethel and the area villages can handle it too. Let’s give ourselves a little credit. We are capable, sophisticated, adapting people,” said Hoffman.

The vast amounts of liquor being shipped in helped shape the perspective of Alan Evon from Kwethluk who worked at an air carrier.

“I used to offload 10,000 pounds of booze a day for Bethel and the bootleggers. We should stop the orders coming in, stop that artery of alcohol coming in, and just sell it at the liquor store,” said Evon.

A variation of what Evon describes would require a change in the local option status, and the idea that came up several times in the meeting. ABC Director Franklin says Bethel’s legal situation makes it difficult to regulate.

“As long as you’re in the wet status, you have no rules, so what I keep trying to let people know, when people stand up and say ‘we can’t let the alcohol come here,’ you’re fooling yourself. The alcohol is here. You’re wet. Wet, wet, wet. You’ve got a lot of alcohol here, and you have no rules that are enforceable,” said Franklin.

Franklin added that with Bethel’s current adjusted population of just under 6,000 people, the law would allow for two package stores, two bars, and four restaurants, plus a few specialty licenses.

The timing for the current licenses is in flux. Currently none of the scheduled ABC board meetings this spring and summer meet both 60 day and 90 day requirements. There is a possibility of more meetings. The board can hold a public hearing related to objections to the license, which can be filed in writing by individuals.

Categories: Alaska News

Co-op Herring Fishery Means Fewer Boats, Quiet Year In Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:25

Most years, the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka means boats filling the harbor, crew members filling the bars, seiners jostling for position within sight of town, and spotter planes in close formation overhead. But this year fishermen voted to abandon the competitive fishery in favor of a co-op. That meant a much smaller footprint, with fewer boats, crewmen, tenders, and spotter pilots. The reason? Low prices for roe, for starters. And a strong US dollar that makes all American exports more expensive.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Artist Rie Muñoz Dies At 93

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:24

Alaska artist Rie Muñoz has died. She was 93.

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Rie Muñoz. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)

A statement from her family says Muñoz was “active and independent until her last hours.”

She was known for her colorful watercolor paintings of Alaska scenes, such as fishermen at work, children at play and life in remote villages. Her paintings, prints and reproductions are in galleries throughout North America.

Born in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1921, Muñoz first came to Alaska in 1951, traveling by steamship up the Inside Passage. She fell in love with Juneau and decided to make it her home. She held several jobs, including journalist, teacher and museum curator, before devoting herself full-time to art in 1972.

She traveled extensively in Alaska, visiting every community on the road system and several off of it.

Her experience as a teacher on King Island inspired the children’s book “King Island Christmas” by her long-time friend Jean Rogers. Muñoz illustrated the book. Rogers passed away in 2013.

Rie Muñoz is survived by her son Juan, daughter-in-law Cathy, grandchildren Mercedes and Matthew, and her brother Piet Mounier, as well as a niece and two nephews.

A celebration of life will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 23 at Centennial Hall.

Categories: Alaska News

Historic Auk Totem Pole Being Restored

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:23

The The Yax té totem is 47 feet long (Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

A 74-year-old totem pole that once stood at the Auke Recreation Area in Juneau is being restored for a second time. The Yax té pole had to be taken down in 2010 after it was damaged by woodpeckers and heavy rains. Now after being in storage for five years, it’s getting a new life.

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In 1941, The Yax té pole was carved by Frank St. Clair, a Tlingit from Hoonah as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Originally, it was intended to be one of many in an Auk Village totem park. But World War II broke out and funding dried up. Fred Fulmer, Frank St. Claire’s great-grandson, is helping with the restoration.

“Whenever great-grandpa’s pole needed to be restored redone I wanted to be a part of that. My nephew told me about Wayne over here doing the totem pole so I stopped by and he said come on over,” says Fulmer.

Wayne Price finishes painting the top of the pole (Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Wayne Price is the master carver for the restoration and has been doing this kind of work for over 43 years—making dugout canoes and totems. He’s a Tlingit from Haines and says he found his calling watching his dad.

“I remember looking up watching him carve. That’s it. That’s what I want to do. I got the opportunity to start sweeping up the wood chips,” Price says.

He’s worked on 36 different totem poles in his career, and he says the feeling he gets is the same every time.

“You walk into the room and smell the red cedar and see the tools and create the artwork that means so much and goes so far back,” he says.

In Tlingit, Yax té means “Big Dipper.” The raven sits at the top of the 47-foot tall pole. Price says it’s one of the tallest totems he’s ever worked on.

This isn’t the only time the pole has been restored. In the 90s, the base was vandalized by arson. The carver who worked on that first restoration made a startling discovery: several bullets had been shot into it. Rosa Miller is the tribal leader for the Auk Kwaan. She remembers being heartbroken seeing it in that state before.

“I don’t understand why people shoot at things like that,” Miller says. “It’s obviously there for a reason. The reason it was put there was to honor us. We are the original settlers here. The clan of the area.”

Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO

Fred Fulmer, the original carver’s great grandson, says he has childhood memories of taking care of the totem. He’s from Hoonah but when he would come to Juneau, his mom would want visit the pole at Auk Bay Village.

“She would go around and pick up garbage and start weeding. All of us would jump in and start cleaning. She didn’t say anything. She just went to it. You know, you got the cue, get in there and do that,” Fulmer says.

He’s passed on that reverence for the Yax té pole to his daughter, Yolanda.

“The feeling I get is just one of connection with my ancestors,” she says. “You know with my great-great grandfather. I can imagine the hands that worked on this pole. So it’s a real visceral feeling. I get the tingles and I get the chills.”

The restoration will be completed in the following weeks. The wings will be put back on the totem. It’s being repainted turquoise, yellow and red. Wayne Price says story poles like this one are, essentially, a history book of Native culture.

“We didn’t have paper but we carved the whole tree. This is classical example of that. Being a part of keeping that book so people can read it is very, very rewarding,” he says.

Yolanda says it’s going to be wonderful to see the pole return to its home.

“Know that our ancestors are with us and that we can sing and celebrate and bring this pole back to life,” she says.

But it might be a while before the Yax té totem returns to the Auke Recreation Area. The Juneau Ranger District is still looking for funding to put the pole back in its place.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 7, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 17:22

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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Juneau Prison Deals With Overcrowding By Housing Women In A Tent

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s prison population is the third fastest growing in the country, and the prisons are over capacity. The crowding problem is especially evident at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center where half the female inmates live outside, in a tent. Some of them actually like it, but it’s an indication of a problem one state senator is trying to fix.

Seaton Suggests Income Tax for Diversification of Revenue Sources

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Representative Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, filed a bill Friday to bring back an income tax to Alaska. Dillingham Democrat Bryce Edgmon co-sponsored the bill.

Villages Seek Yukon, Kuskokwim Salmon Management Change

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Federal Office of Subsistence Management is holding a series of public hearings on requests for expanded federal control of salmon fishing on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

Greenpeace Protestors Board Arctic Rig

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Royal Dutch Shell is seeking a court injunction to remove Greenpeace activists who boarded a vessel carrying a Shell oil drilling rig across the Pacific.

Bethel Faces Big Decision on Local Liquor Licenses

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel residents are urging the city to protest a package store license that’s before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Bethel Native Corporation’s Bethel Spirits LLC application was officially filed Monday morning.

Co-op Herring Fishery Means Fewer Boats, Quiet Year In Sitka

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Most years, the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka means boats filling the harbor, crew members filling the bars, seiners jostling for position within sight of town, and spotter planes in close formation overhead. But this year fishermen voted to abandon the competitive fishery in favor of a co-op. That meant a much smaller footprint, with fewer boats, crewmen, tenders, and spotter pilots. The reason? Low prices for roe, for starters. And a strong US dollar that makes all American exports more expensive.

Alaska Artist Rie Muñoz Dies At 93

Casey Kelly & Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska artist Rie Munoz passed away last night at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau. She was 93.

Historic Auk Totem Pole Being Restored

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A 74-year-old totem pole that once stood at the Auke Recreation Area in Juneau is being restored for a second time. The Yax té pole had to be taken down in 2010 after it was damaged by woodpeckers and heavy rains. Now it’s getting a new life.

Categories: Alaska News

Greenpeace Protestors Board Arctic Rig

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 11:26

Credit: Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Shell’s Arctic drill rigs have picked up some unwelcome guests on their trip across the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, six activists from Greenpeace boarded the Polar Pioneer rig. Their goal is to raise awareness about climate change, says senior Arctic campaigner Laura Kenyon.

“We as humanity really can’t afford to drill for oil in the Arctic and we can’t afford to let Shell open production in the Chukchi Sea if we want to avoid dangerous climate changes,” Kenyon said Monday.

She was speaking from the Esperanza — a rainbow-painted, 237-foot research vessel that’s been following Shell’s Arctic rigs as they head north to Washington State. Continuing that chase to Alaska isn’t out of the question.

But for now, Greenpeace wants the group that’s actually camped out on the rig to speak for itself. The activists have been outfitted with satellite phones and wireless internet, and they’ve already started posting updates about their trip on Twitter.

“The plan is to let them use this Arctic oil drilling platform as a platform for themselves — for their messages they want to send to people,” Kenyon says.

In a statement, Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino said the company values opposing viewpoints on Arctic drilling — but they don’t support “illegal tactics” like boarding a rig.

“Nor will we allow these stunts to distract from preparations underway to execute a safe and responsible exploration program,” Baldino said.

Baldino wouldn’t comment on whether Shell will seek another injunction to keep Greenpeace away from its Arctic fleet. A federal court granted Shell a restraining order in 2012 after activists climbed onto the Noble Discoverer rig in New Zealand.

The actress who portrayed TV’s “Xena, Warrior Princess” was part of that group. But this time around, Lucy Lawless is not involved.

Categories: Alaska News

2015 Anchorage Municipal Election

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-04-07 11:22

Voting day is here for the 2015 Anchorage Municipal election. Click here to find your polling place and check out a sample ballot before you head to the voting booth.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill To Seize Federal Lands

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 17:25

Of the nearly 200 bills that have been introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives, fewer than 20 have been put to a vote. On Monday, a controversial bill that would seize millions of acres of land from the federal government joined that group. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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To say Alaska has a complicated relationship with Washington, DC, would be an understatement. The federal government spends billions in the state, but it also owns millions of acres of land in Alaska and often manages those lands in a way that is not to the liking of the state’s leaders. Now, lawmakers are moving legislation to seize those acres, with a few exceptions.

“The bill requires that the federal government turn over the lands held by the federal government except for lands that are in private ownership, lands used for military or naval purposes or military reservations, and land that was a national park on January 1 of 2015,” said Rep. Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, while carrying the bill on the House floor.

If the bill becomes law, Alaska could lay claim to nearly 170 million acres of federal land within the state. But there may be a slight problem: The federal government may not feel legally obligated to comply with the bill.

“The Constitution says it’s illegal,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat. “The Supreme Court reading the Constitutions says it’s illegal. The lawyers we pay in the Terry Miller building say it’s illegal. And our past attorney general says it’s illegal.”

Josephson cited a memo, drafted by the Legislature’s legal department, that plainly said as much. He also pointed to unintended consequences, like the state unintentionally seizing United States post offices and interfering with the delivery of mail.

“Now, some people will say, ‘Andy, this is hyperbole, and you’re overdramatizing this,'” said Josephson. “I’m just reading the words. I don’t mean to overdramatize it. I really don’t. It’s just what the words call for.”

Other opponents, like Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage, argued that the bill should not be a priority at a time when the state is facing a fiscal crisis. In Utah, such legislation is expected to cost $2 million to litigate.

“We’re facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit. We don’t have the money to litigate a bill that is 100% unconstitutional,” said Gara.

When a similar bill passed in Arizona, its Republican governor vetoed it because of its questionable legality.

But defenders of the bill pointed out that Alaskans still should be able to take the battle to court, if they want to. Referencing the Declaration of Independence, Wasilla Republican Wes Keller argued that the state had grounds to pursue the land seizure policy.

“It’s never unconstitutional to fight what’s rightfully yours,” said Keller. “That’s just part of the fundamentals of the pursuit of happiness — it’s ours, we can fight for it, whether we’re talking 5.5 acres, a million acres, or more.”

Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux noted that the state has defied the federal government by legalizing marijuana, and the federal government has not yet interfered.

“I suspect that at least some of the lawyers might say that the pot initiative was unconstitutional, and yet we’ve done that. Colorado has done that. Several other states have done that,” said LeDoux. “And guess what? The federal government blinks. If enough states do it, and enough states say what they want, and say we’re going to take it — we just might get what we want.”

The bill passed 27 to 11, on caucus lines. It will now be sent to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines School Restricts Yoga Pants And Saggy Pants

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 17:14

Haines School is now one of many around the US that have put restrictions on yoga pants and leggings. These rules have sparked discussions about appropriate school attire and personal choice.

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At Haines School, the new dress code slogan is ‘hitch up your britches and cover your bums.’ Students who wear leggings or yoga pants must wear a long shirt or skirt that covers their rear. And students whose pants sag are reminded to pull up their britches.

Dean of Students Rene Martin says this was the problem: some students were wearing leggings and yoga pants that were see-through, and there were also some boys who wore pants that sagged and showed their underwear.

“Quite honestly, no one needs to know what underclothing you have on,” Martin said. “And when you can see or not see underclothing, that is impacting education setting. Both for males and females and staff and teachers and visitors to our building. It’s a distraction.”

She says she talked to individual students about it, but they kept wearing the same thing.

“You know, I was giving them a chance, giving them a chance,” Martin said. “And then it’s like the day I had to see everybody’s something-something, I was like, ‘okay, it’s time.’”

The week before spring break, the school made an announcement: Students wearing baggy pants, pull them up and wear a belt. Students who want to wear yoga pants or leggings, wear a shirt or skirt that covers your butt. They said the updated restrictions would go into effect after spring break.

Martin says this isn’t a change to dress code policy, but an update. The dress code states: “Undergarments including bra straps and sports bras, underwear, are not to be visible.”

The “hitch up your britches and cover your bum” update applies to all grades, Kindergarten through 12. Martin says even though see-through or baggy pants weren’t a problem in younger grades, it’s just more equitable to apply restrictions throughout the whole school.

A group of high school students sitting together at lunch last week said they think the rule is mainly targeted at girls who wear yoga pants and leggings. The saggy pants restrictions aren’t new.

“I don’t really care. I’m a jeans person. I don’t wear leggings, I don’t wear yoga pants as often,” said Gabrielle Galinski.

Rachel Haas says she does wear leggings and yoga pants.

“Since we’re going through high school,  everyone’s having their own body issues — like gaining weight and stuff like that,” she said. “And some people grow out of their jeans and leggings are just way cheaper. So that kind of made me mad.”

Rachel is wearing a long, knee-length rainbow sweater. She says she’s worn the sweater almost every day in order to keep wearing leggings.

A group of middle school girls across the cafeteria had even stronger feelings about the rule. Ashley Williamson says not all yoga pants are see-through, so why put restrictions on them all? She also feels like the dress code rules are unfairly enforced.

“The authorities are nagging on girls for, like, leggings but there are also guys who sag their pants. I’ve never heard any teacher talk to them about that, ever.”

Ashley and her friends say a rule that focuses on whether or not your butt is covered makes them uncomfortable. One girl put it this way: “When someone says you need to cover your butt, I’m like, ‘why were you looking at my butt in the first place?’”

“I walked in one morning and I heard several people in the hallways arguing about the rollout of the policy,” said high school English teacher Ryan Harms. He says when he heard how fired up some students were about the dress code, he decided to have class discussions about it.

“[Students said things] ranging from the sense of victimization as a woman that they’re being sort of objectified. And then there were other people who said ‘It’s not a big deal, I’m not violating the dress code anyway so it doesn’t affect me.’”

Martin says only one student has come to her with concerns about the dress code.

“Their biggest concern was, are we picking on the girls for what they’re wearing? And that it should never matter what you’re wearing, and that you shouldn’t be ashamed,” Martin said. “And I reassured them that it wasn’t about personal choice of clothing, it wasn’t about shaming them for what they’re wearing. It’s about professionalism in an educational setting, and appropriate wear for this setting.”

A few years ago, the student council appealed a dress code rule banning hats. And now, high schoolers are allowed to wear hats in the building. Martin says if students want to change dress code restrictions, that’s the way they can do it.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 6, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 17:12

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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Bill To Seize Federal Land Goes To Vote In Alaska House

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Of the nearly 200 bills that have been introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives, fewer than 20 have been put to a vote. Monday, a controversial bill that would seize millions of acres of land from the federal government joined that group.

Anchorage School Board considers wide-ranging budget cuts

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board is discussing the possible ways to cut $29 million from their budget for next year. The $784 million budget passed last month, but needs to be adjusted for proposed funding cuts from the legislature.

School District Faces Potential Revenue Loss of $8 Million

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a potential revenue loss of nearly eight million dollars, if current proposed budget cuts stand. That’s more than double the three million dollar cut the district was already preparing for.

Dalton Highway Closed South Of Deadhorse

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The far northern end of the Dalton Highway will remain closed until Tuesday morning.  The section south of Deadhorse, was also closed for 2 days last week as overflow from the Sag River continues to impact the only road supply route for North Slope oil fields.

First Two VPSOs Graduate From Firearm Training

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Two Village Public Safety Officers graduated from firearm training Friday, becoming the first officers in the 40-year history of the program to be armed.

New Version Of Erin’s Law Targets Teen Dating Violence

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The latest version of a law to mandate sexual abuse prevention education in public schools is unlikely to reach the governor’s desk this year.

That’s according to Senate Rules Committee chair Charlie Huggins, who said in a committee Thursday that an expanded version of Erin’s Law would likely be a two-year bill. Sen. Lesil McGuire’s rebranded Alaska Safe Children’s Act includes teen dating violence prevention.

Community Potluck Shows Support For Local Refugees

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 200 people crowded into the main hall of Northway Mall in Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to show their support for Anchorage’s refugee community. The event was organized in response to vandalism aimed at Sudanese refugees.

Chief Mat-Su Medical Services Official Resigns

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A February union complaint has resulted in the resignation of the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s chief medical services official.  Clint Vardeman handed in his resignation Monday. Vardeman directs the Borough’s emergency responders.  His resignation is effective April 20.

Haines School Restricts Yoga Pants And Saggy Pants

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

At the Haines School, the new dress code slogan is ‘hitch up your britches and cover your bums.” The school is now one of many around the US that have put restrictions on yoga pants and leggings. And the new rule has sparked discussions about appropriate school attire and personal choice.

Cim Smyth Wins The Kobuk 440

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

Big Lake musher Cim Smith won the Kobuk 440 sled dog race this weekend.

Categories: Alaska News

Chief Mat-Su Medical Services Official Resigns

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 16:50

A February union complaint has resulted in the resignation of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s chief medical services official. Clint Vardeman handed in his resignation today Monday. Vardeman directs the Borough’s emergency responders. His resignation is effective April 20.

Vardeman and two other Borough emergency services officials were placed on administrative leave last month. The others are Brian Wallace, head of EMS in the Wasilla-Palmer area, and Gene Wiseman, who heads response for more rural parts of the Borough.

Borough officials are saying little about the reasons for Vardeman’s departure, or about the complaint that seems to have sparked it. An internal investigation is ongoing.

Last month, Dennis Brodigan resigned his job as director of the Borough’s Emergency Services department, citing personal reasons.

Big Lake Fire Chief Bill Gamble has been named inerim replacement for Brodigan and Casey Cook, the Borough’s emergency manager for disaster planning, is to be Vardeman’s interim replacement.

Categories: Alaska News

School District Faces Potential Revenue Loss of $8 Million

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 16:46

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a potential revenue loss of nearly $8 million, if current proposed budget cuts stand.

The school district isn’t panicking just yet, but they are seriously reevaluating their budget for fiscal year 2016.

“Fortunately right now we have general fund balance. We want stability. We built into our budget stability and reserves so in the event something happens, we can take care of things,” says Pegge Erkeneff, communications specialist for the school district.

She says the school board was planning on approving the budget today, but those numbers don’t include the most recent cuts. Since late last week, she says everyone’s been crunching numbers.

“And then again we also know in Juneau, everything is fluid,” Erkeneff said. “So, we’ve been working all evening and all day on this holiday day for us to calculate what these numbers mean and what it means for contracts that haven’t been issued as well as what it looks like for open positions; we have several open positions right now we’re hiring for.”

Erkeneff says the district had planned for reductions in some areas, but not in others.

There are a few ways the school district gets funding. The first is through the Foundation Formula, which includes the Base Student Allocation, or a dollar amount the district receives per student enrolled.

“The Senate Finance committee proposed a 4.1 percent reduction to the Foundation Formula overall,” Erkeneff said.

That’s not tied specifically to the BSA but from the formula in general.

“And the actual amount that relates to for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is $4,238,432 and that’s for this upcoming year’s budget,” Erkeneff said. “So, we’ve already been in the budgeting process. We’ve been working on this since last fall. So, this is a reduction of $4.2 million that was unanticipated.”

She says the amount the borough can contribute is tied to what the state contributes, which means almost another million dollars in unexpected lost revenue potentially.

“That 4.1% reduction to the Foundation Formula also correlates to a reduction in what the Borough’s maximum allowable contribution is to the school district and that amount is $977,000,” Erkeneff said.

So that’s a total of more than $5 million of unanticipated cuts. However, there is another nearly $3 million in cuts the district was prepared for.

“Often times, the legislature will give one-time funding so it’s outside of the Formula, which has happened every year,” Erkeneff said. “So, when Governor Walker proposed the operating budget reductions, that included already – and we’ve known about this one for a couple months – that we were going to potentially have a reduction of what the state could give the school district of $2,262,989.”

That corresponds to a $520,000 reduction in the borough’s matching contribution as well.

Erkeneff says the district has looked at what $8 million adds up to in physical form.

“So when we just look at the big picture, so over 80% of our budget, of the 2015-2016 budget, is related to staff salary and benefits. So, an $8 million reduction if we translated that straight into positions would be approximately 100 positions in the district,” Erkeneff said. “Now, I’m not saying-and I don’t want to panic-that we are cutting 100 positions. That’s not what we’re looking at. But that is what $8 million translates into.”

She says a special worksession is planned for today to reexamine the budget and see what can be done to compensate should the cuts remain this deep.

Categories: Alaska News

Cim Smyth Wins The Kobuk 440

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 16:39

Cim Smyth arrived in Kotzebue early Easter morning, winning the 2015 Kobuk 440 sled dog race.

In the early hours of Easter morning, the first mushers arrived into Kotzebue at the end of the Kobuk 440 sled dog race. The first place title and more than $11,000 purse went to Cim Smyth of Big Lake, who arrived just past 6 o’clock on Sunday morning – after 2 days 18 hours and 4 minutes on the trail.

It was a first-time win for Smyth, who says the race was his primary focus this year, after he chose not to run the 2015 Iditarod. Despite a controversial date change that pushed it closer to the finish of the 1000 mile sled dog race, the Kobuk 440 drew a total of twelve mushers this year – competing for an historic $35,000 combined pot.

And while several teams had completed the race from Fairbanks to Nome just two weeks earlier, that didn’t keep former Iditarod winner, and defending Kobuk 440 champion, Jeff King from the competition.

Smith and King travelled neck-and-neck for much of the race, with King leading from Ambler to the halfway point of Kobuk and back. But Smyth finally passed King on the westbound trail Saturday evening, at a shelter cabin between Ambler and Selawik.

“You know, when I caught Jeff out there at the shelter cabin, I felt pretty good,” he says. “I really felt like I had a big advantage because…he had a lot of time to make up at that point.”

“I stopped for twenty minutes at that shelter cabin,” says King. “And I’m glad [the dogs] did — they ate really, really well. They cleaned out a whole cooler while I was there. But, um, that’s where I was went he went by… and it became apparent — I mean my dogs had really full stomachs, they ate a lot at that shelter cabin — and I had to back off.”

The race was close, and tensions appeared to be high as the pair flew through several upriver checkpoints. But at the finish line, both competitors shook hands and congratulated each other on a great race.

Smyth even surprised King with an offer to remove booties from his rival’s team.

Kotzebue musher John Baker was next to arrive at the finish. He started the race with a strong showing –arriving first into Ambler, and collecting a bevy of local prizes in the process. Baker says another highlight came at the halfway point, where he caught up with cousins and other family members in Kobuk.

“That’s the wild side of my family,” he says.

Just as Baker was arriving in Kotzebue, the battle for fourth and fifth place had begun. Kristin Bacon and Ken Anderson sprinted, less than a mile apart, across the narrow stretch of Hotham Inlet.

Ultimately Bacon emerged victorious, arriving fourth to the finish line in her longest distance race to date. But Bacon says the nearly 500-mile event wasn’t as intimidating as she’d expected.

“I had a blast. I mean, I totally lucked out this year. This was stellar,” she says.

Bacon was the only woman to run this year’s Kobuk 440, and the only musher to complete the race with a full team of twelve dogs.

Tim Pappas, racing a team of dogs from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails kennel, arrived next in sixth place. The race rookie says he was more than pleased with his placement, which he hopes will go toward qualifying for next year’s Iditarod.

Mushers continued to arrive throughout the afternoon and night — including Kotzebue locals Andrew Brown, Paul Hanson and Jim Bourquin. As of Monday afternoon, Dempsey Woods Sr. of Ambler was the last musher still on the trail, despite a stormy turn in the weather.

Only one musher scratched from the race; Tony Browning says he decided to pack it in after his dogs, many of whom ran the Iditarod with Nome’s Aaron Burmeister, began experiencing health problems near Selawik.

But Browning was quick to quip that the race was still a pleasant one, saying: “It was fun while it lasted.”

Categories: Alaska News

New Version Of Erin’s Law Targets Teen Dating Violence

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-06 16:11

Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire and aide Lauren Rasmussen presented the Alaska Safe Children’s Act in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The latest, beefed up version of a law to mandate sexual abuse prevention education in public schools is unlikely to reach the governor’s desk this year.

That’s according to Senate Rules Committee Chair Charlie Huggins, who said in a committee Thursday that an expanded version of Erin’s Law would likely be a two-year bill. Sen. Lesil McGuire’s rebranded Alaska Safe Children’s Act includes teen dating violence prevention.

Senate Bill 37 still requires public schools to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education from Erin’s Law. Now, it also includes teaching seventh through 12th graders about dating violence and prevention.

“Violent behavior normally – this is astonishing, but – begins between the ages of 12 and 18. That’s when we start to see the signs of it. Only 33 percent of the teens who have been in a violent relationship are reported to have ever told anyone about that abuse,” said Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire.

This part of the bill was largely created due to what happened to 20-year-old Anchorage woman Breanna Moore, McGuire said. Moore’s mother Cindy Moore gave a tearful testimony describing how her daughter was shot in the head and killed in 2014. Breanna’s boyfriend has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

“How could this have happened to such a strong, beautiful and independent young woman. Why didn’t she say something about the continuing abuse we later discovered? Why did she stay? Why did she not seek help? As parents, why did we not see the signs?” Moore said dating violence education in schools will save other young people.

McGuire’s rewritten bill gives parents the option of excusing their children from the prevention education. Another added component of the bill would make it mandatory for some volunteer athletic coaches to report child abuse. They’d receive training.

Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner said that requirement may put off some volunteer coaches.

“Even if we recognize that it’s important for people to understand what they might be looking for and how they can intervene or get help, be responsive to something that isn’t right, we don’t want to go so far that people just plain don’t want to volunteer,” Gardner said.

The bill requires school districts to bear the cost of implementation, but it also repeals other unfunded mandates, like requiring a second round of fingerprints and background checks for certified preschool teachers.

Still, school district representatives like Ketchikan Gateway Borough Superintendent Robert Boyle called McGuire’s bill another unfunded mandate.

“Public schools are the go-to agency when it comes to efficiency, quality and creating massive changes in the society. We’re very good at this. But providing the change needed in our state related to Senate Bill 37 is something I believe we will accept willingly and fully embrace. However, the way the bill is written is extraordinarily unfair to the public school system if it is to be implemented at no cost,” Boyle said.

Four bills addressing Erin’s Law have been introduced this session. Erin’s Law is the one specific piece of legislation Gov. Bill Walker said he wanted on his desk during his State of the State Address.

McGuire’s Alaska Safe Children’s Act was held in the Senate Education Committee and isscheduled to be heard again on Tuesday. Republican Rep. Charisse Millett’s similar bill is in committee Monday at 8 a.m.

Categories: Alaska News

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