Alaska News

Municipal League Supports Pension Infusion Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:50

Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement. The lobbying group Alaska Municipal League is backing Governor Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.

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Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement.

The Alaska Municipal League is backing Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.  AML lobbies the state and federal governments on behalf of cities and boroughs.

Alaska communities and the state share the costs of the Public Employees’ Retirement System. Municipalities pay 22 percent of their payroll into PERS each year. Some also pay 12.5 percent into the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The state pays the rest of what’s needed to cover pensions in a particular year. That amount is determined by actuaries and set annually by the Alaska Retirement Management Board.

“Certainly it’s a good enough chunk that municipalities cannot afford for that to go up,” said Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Kathie Wasserman.

If nothing is done to address the PERS shortfall, Wasserman fears the local contribution could increase to 40 percent of payroll. She says the governor’s plan to transfer $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to the retirement system would maintain the rate at 22 percent until the funds are solvent, whenever that might be.

“We really can’t define how many years, because it’s based on interest rates, it’s based on the market, it’s based on the baby boomers, when people die. There’s a lot of variability in that,” Wasserman said. “But, 22 percent, right now we can plan for.”

Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson says local communities need predictability.

“If we keep it at those percentages, we’re now going to be able to do business and keep our infrastructure in place, keep police and fire operating, schools open,”  Branson said.

The Parnell administration estimates its proposal would reduce the state’s annual payment to PERS and TRS. Without the cash infusion, the governor’s office says the state would soon pay more than $1 billion a year toward the pension shortfall.

Deputy Administration Commissioner Mike Barnhill told municipal league members that doing nothing is not appealing.

“If the governor’s approach doesn’t pass, the status quo will persist,” Barnhill said. “We will continue to make actuarially required contributions, however they are calculated.”

The governor’s plan is part of his proposed operating budget.

Many states and communities in the Lower 48 have faced even bigger pension problems, leading to bankruptcies and cuts to retirement payments.

Categories: Alaska News

Mekoryuk Residents Seek More Musk Oxen For Local

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:49

Residents of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island are seeking more involvement, and more musk oxen harvest. This is happening as the 20-year-old agreement that guides management is set to undergo changes.

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The harvest of musk oxen is currently split between a registration hunt for cows and a costly permit lottery for bulls that’s largely utilized by out of town sport hunters, led by local guides. Managers have issued just 5 cows for the local registration hunt for the past three years and have given out 30 or more bull permits that mostly go to outsiders.

Mekoryuk’s Dale Smith spoke at a recent meeting in Bethel with state and federal managers.

“The way it stands now, they’re favoring a commercial enterprise over a subsistence way of living. It was evident when they voted on that in early January. Of all the thing we discussed, the main thing is subsistence priority. That’s our stance right now,” said Smith.

82 people signed a petition in Mekoryuk asking for an allocation of more musk ox for residents. They’re seeking 30 more musk oxen which would be taken from the outside permit hunt.

In an effort to take a more active role in management, member of Mekoryuk’s tribal council have formed a federally recognized Tribal Conservation District through the USDA. This program allows groups to help manage natural resources and establish conservation priorities. They can seek funding and build partnerships with other agencies.

They unsuccessfully asked the Alaska Board of Game for an emergency allocation this January. Missing at the meeting in Bethel were the guides and transporters that earn their living working with out-of-town hunters.

There are no predators on Nunivak island, where musk oxen were first introduced in 1936, but it is not necessarily straightforward to manage them. A 1992 agreement sets a goal of maintain a population between 500 to 550 musk oxen, that’s musk ox alive after the hunt, but before calves are born. The island has been below that level since 2009.

There were more cows harvested prior to 2010-2011, but the last few years has shown poor survival of calves. Whereas there used to be around 100 calves per year, now they’re getting more like 60. The bull to cow ratio is also out of balance, getting as high as 138 bulls per 100 cows. Patrick Jones is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“When you have that many bulls they’re probably injuring a few cows. We’d like to have that ratio around 80 bulls per 100 cows. So we have a surplus of bulls, even though the population is below our objective, it’s to our benefit to lower that bull cow ratio. So we’ve been allowing extra bull harvest. We have it, it’s available, and it’s to the benefit of our population at this point,” said Jones.

The allocation, however, of which hunts get the bulls and cows is up to the Board of Game.

A huge factor is the health of the food supply. The Yukon Delta Nation Wildlfe Refuge does not have current data on the health of the range. The island’s 1,853 reindeer eat on the same territory.

Managers at the meeting agreed to revise the 1992 document that sets the foundation for musk ox management on Nunivak Island. There will be a meeting in March on the island to discuss revisions and meet with stakeholders.

The Board of Game and Federal Subsistence Board are at the end of their two year cycles for taking up proposals, but the group wants to pursue designation of the musk ox as a subsistence priority species.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Rural Recycling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:48

The city of Nome just bought a new recycling shed online. It’s another step towards diverting more waste from the landfill, and either re-purposing it or shipping it out of Alaska. Rural recycling presents some unique challenges for environmental management. And the city is finding some unique solutions.

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Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Tazlina

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:47

This week we’re headed to Tazlina, a small community off the Glennallen Highway near Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. Sheila Hay owns The Aurora Borealis Bed and Breakfast in Tazlina.

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Categories: Alaska News

ASD Board Taps Saving to Pass Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:46

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget on Thursday night.

It cuts $23 million and 200 positions. More than a dozen people testified about the cuts. Then the board made small changes that will make a big difference to the community.

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Superintendent Ed Graff started out the meeting by suggesting that the board do something student and parent groups had been pushing for.

A large audience attended Thursday evening’s Anchorage School Board meeting Thursday night where the Board Passed a carefully crafted budget for the 2014-15 school year.

“I would like to request consideration from the board that you proposed an amendment to the budget that would postpone the 7-period schedule change in our comprehensive high schools, “ Graff  said.

He asked them to stick with a six period schedule. In addition, Graff recommended adding 16 high school teaching positions back into the budget. But the money for both changes would have to come from district savings.

ASD is in it’s fourth consecutive year of budget cuts due to funding from the legislature that does not keep up with inflation. The legislature is considering Governor Sean Parnell’s recommendation that the base student allocation be increased by 200 dollars over three years about one percent per year. If passed, it will take some pressure off the district. But not enough say officials and many teachers and parents who testified at the meeting.

Several people praised the superintendent for his recommendation postpone the 7-period schedule.

“In my 18 years as a teacher I have never seen such unified and profound disapproval among the education community and students and I applaud your decision to reject this idea,” Laura Kimmel said.

Austin Baily, a student at West High School agreed, saying he was concerned compressed class periods could impact learning.

“Less face-to-face time and less time to do actual learning inside the classroom,” Baily said. ”So I’d I would just like to call on your members to agree with what Mr. Graff said and at least postpone it for another year.”

Others testified about the importance of sparing English Language Learner Counselors, including self-described second generation Latino immigrant Jose Santiago who said he was concerned cutting ELL counselors could hurt graduation rates.

“Keep in mind that the ELL community for the most part occupy the lower levels of the economic ladders,” Santiago said. ”Their the ones that have the most to lose. I was looking at your destination 2020, very lofy goals and you should be commended. But you have student body that is behind the 8 ball to begin with.”

After hearing testimony, the board made amendments adding the 16 high school teaching positions plus 3 high school counseling positions back into the budget. But they had to dig into their savings to do it, suspending a longtime policy that insured the board keep a minimum of 8 percent of funds in savings.

None of the School board members seemed happy about having to tap into reserve funds. Board member Natasha Von Imhoff said taking the money with no commitment from the legislature to increase funds made her nervous.

“In the event that we don’t get significant money and we go below our fund balance, what’s gonna happen next year,” she said.

Other members concurred but said adding back teachers and counselors was critical to serving vulnerable populations. The 16 teaching positions spared will be for classes helping students who are at risk of not graduating. The 3 counseling positions saved will likely be English Language Learner counselors.

School Board officials say the funding they’re getting from the legislature is not enough to keep up with costs. And they want a long-term solution in the form of an inflation-proof formula for funding Schools. School Board Chair, Tam Agosti-Gisler.

“I’m hoping that we can get beyond this funding crisis and find solutions in this state to do what we are constitutionally mandated to do and that is to fund education so that this board can dedicate its energies to supporting this administration to make the innovations that are required, that are needed in our global economy,” Agosti-Gisler said.

The board still plans to cut 200 positions. 143 of those are teaching positions. 20 are instructional support positions which includes counselors. The rest are mostly administrative positions.

The Anchorage School District 2014-2015 budget is $743.449 million, slightly less than last year’s. The budget now goes to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 21, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 17:30

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

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Sam Kito III Named As New Juneau Representative

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell appointed civil engineer and legislative lobbyist Sam Kito III to fill the House District 32 seat on Friday, vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Report Focuses On Potential NPR-A Development

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An analysis of what would be the first commercial development in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is the subject of a report issued by the Bureau of Land Management.

ASD Board Taps Reserves to Pass Budget

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget last night that cuts $23 million and 200 positions, nearly 150 of those are teaching positions in middle and grade schools. More than a dozen people testified. Then the board made small changes at the high school level that will make a big difference to the community.

‘Arctic Ambassador’ Position Draws Mixed Reaction From Alaska Delegation

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC & Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that he’s creating a new position called Special Representative for the Arctic Region. It’s been referred to as an “Arctic Ambassador” in some reports, but it’s not exactly that, and the reaction of Alaska’s two U.S. senators has been mixed.

Municipal League Supports Pension Infusion Plan

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska’s mayors and other local officials are worried their governments may be asked to pay more toward public employees’ retirement. The lobbying group Alaska Municipal League is backing Governor Sean Parnell’s proposal to use $3 billion in savings to reduce an estimated $12 billion shortfall in state pension funds.

Mekoryuk Residents Seek More Musk Oxen For Local

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Residents of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island are seeking more involvement, and more musk oxen harvest.  This is happening as the 20-year-old agreement that guides management is set to undergo changes.

AK: Rural Recycling

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

The city of Nome just bought a new recycling shed online. It’s another step towards diverting more waste from the landfill, and either re-purposing it or shipping it out of Alaska. Rural recycling presents some unique challenges for environmental management. And the city is finding some unique solutions.

300 Villages: Tazlina

This week we’re headed to Tazlina, a small community off the Glennallen Highway near Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. Sheila Hay owns The Aurora Borealis Bed and Breakfast in Tazlina.

Categories: Alaska News

New Understanding of Canine Capabilities

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 13:00

The top sled dog teams in the Iditarod have become so competitive that the slightest edge can make a critical difference. And that means that mushers want to know everything they can about what their dogs can do.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Mike Davis, veterinary scientist, Oklahoma State University
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

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Categories: Alaska News

ASD Board Taps Reserves to Pass Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-21 01:24

Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff listens to Jose Santiago testify about English Language Learner Counselor Cuts

After weeks of number crunching, the Anchorage School Board unanimously passed a budget that cuts $23 million and 200 positions on Thursday night.

More than a dozen people testified. Then the board made small changes that will make a big difference to the community.

High School’s will maintain a 6-period school day instead of going to 7 periods, something student and parent groups had been fighting for. The board also made amendments that added 16 teaching and 3 counseling positions back into the budget that had previously been on chopping block. But they had to dig into their savings to do it, suspending a longtime policy that insured the board keep a minimum of 8 percent of funds in savings.

None of the School board members seemed happy about having to tap into reserve funds, especially the chair, Tam Agosti-Gisler.

“I’m hoping that we can get beyond this funding crisis and find solutions in this state to do what we are constitutionally mandated to do and that is to fund education so that this board can dedicate its energies to supporting this administration to make the innovations that are required, that are needed in our global economy,” Agosti-Gisler said.

The 16 teaching positions spared will be for classes helping students who are at risk of not graduating. The 3 counseling positions saved will likely be English Language Learner counselors. The board still plans to cut 200 positions, which includes 17 teachers and 5 counselors. More than a dozen people testified.

The Anchorage School District 2014-2015 budget is $743.449 million, slightly less than last year’s. The budget now goes to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Say No To Energy Break

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:35

State lawmakers will not be getting a “spring break” this year.

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Traditionally, the Legislature puts everything on hold for one week in March to attend a meeting of the Energy Council in Washington, DC. It’s been going on for so long that many lawmakers and staff don’t even know when it started.

But now, the streak ends. House Speaker Mike Chenault announced on Thursday that the break would not happen this year.

“It’s my intent that the House continues to work,” Chenault told reporters.

Chenault says there will be floor sessions and committee hearings during the first week of March. His counterpart in the Senate, Charlie Huggins, has also resolved to work through Energy Council.

“Normally, as you know, we have more people in DC than we have in Juneau during that time frame, and that won’t be the case this year.”

In 2013, a third of the Legislature attended Energy Council – 10 from the House, and 10 from the Senate. This year, just six representatives from the House — Mia Costello, Eric Feige, Pete Higgins, Doug Isaacson, Ben Nageak, and Dan Saddler — will be attending. Sens. Bert Stedman and Johnny Ellis will be representing the Senate, with Sen. Lesil McGuire traveling to DC at the same time on separate business.

Huggins says with subjects like education and the development of a natural gas pipeline under consideration, many lawmakers opted to stay in Juneau this year. On top of that, leadership is hoping to gavel out in less than 90 days. The session is currently scheduled to end on Easter Sunday, and Huggins would like to close out before the holiday.

“We want to stay here, we want to work hard, and our reward may be to get out a day or so early,” says Huggins.

Huggins says money is not a factor in this travel decision. Expense reports from previous years show the cost usually exceeds $2,000 per legislator.

The Energy Council is an association of energy-producing states in the Americas that meets quarterly. The spring conference in Washington, DC, is scheduled to run from March 6 to 9.

Categories: Alaska News

Democrats Offer Their Own Education Package

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:34

Alaska Minority Democrats today offered their own education package that includes an increase in base student allocation and allows charter schools to be located within neighborhood schools when space is available.

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Incorporated in the set of bills will be an increase of the base student allocation to $404 per student, a one-time grant of $500 for charter schools to assist with startup costs, and a requirement for traffic control at and around school zones.

Democratic lawmakers hope the allocation increase will hold off teacher layoffs for next year.

The bills will be introduced Friday, more than a third of the way into the session. Sen. Berta Gardner, a Democrat from Anchorage, says of the timing: good things take a long time to happen.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Parental Notification Law

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:33

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that halted a voter-passed law requiring health care providers to notify parents of minors before performing abortions.

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The legal case centers on privacy grounds and equal protection grounds.

Planned Parenthood attorney Janet Crepps said the law would end up discriminating because it subjects a minor seeking an abortion to a delay that would not be faced by a pregnant minor simply seeking pre-natal care:

“The idea that the state can discriminate among pregnant minors because the health interest of some are more important than others cannot be a legitimate distinction,” Crepps said. “Properly framed, the question is whether the state has a legitimate interest in delaying access to health care for one group while allowing unimpeded access for another, the answer is clearly, ‘no.’”

Crepps said women in those two situations should be considered “similarly situated.” Arguing for the initiative sponsors, attorney Kevin Clarkson said they were not “similarly situated.” The only time a delay would be involved is if a pregnant minor made a choice:

“There is the issue of the choice, you know, once you’re pregnant, you really don’t have a choice to not have a baby other than abortion, so the focal of the law is on the abortion choice, because that’s the choice, once they’re pregnant,” Clarkson said.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh told the Supreme Court that the state’s interest justifying the delay was family cohesion.

The judicial bypass provision of the law, which allows minors to get an abortion without the consent of their parents if certain criteria were met, was also a point of contention.

Kevin Clarkson says the clear and convincing evidence standard must be adequately applied, because there is more at stake during the judicial bypass proceeding than the girl’s reproductive freedom.

“It is her parents’ fundamental right to the care, custody and control of their minor daughter,” Clarkson said. “It’s a fundamental right that both the U.S. Supreme Court and this court have recognized. They have absolutely no opportunity to be heard. They don’t even know that they have a reason to be heard because they don’t know it’s taking place.”

“The absolute minimum that we can do in this law is to tell the judge, ‘when you make your decision, be sure.’”

Janet Crepps disagreed, saying that the argument over parental rights was framed incorrectly.

“The parental notice law burdens fundamental rights of minors in order to increase parental involvement. But, parental rights don’t add to that interest,” Crepps said. “They’re not an enforceable right. Mr. Clarkson referred to them as the parents’ fundamental rights being adjudicated, but that is not true.”

The parental notification law was voted into effect through an initiative after a parental consent law was ruled unconstitutional.

Categories: Alaska News

Accuser Absent at Tosi APOC Hearing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:32

Mao Tosi’s campaign for an East Anchorage Assembly seat was under scrutiny by Alaska Public Offices Commission Officials on Thursday. They held a hearing to address allegations of 15 violations filed in a complaint Tuesday.

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Mao Tosi.

The 15-count complaint was filed Tuesday by John E. Lewis who requested expedited review. However Lewis withdrew his request for expedited review because of his unavailability to attend Thursday’s hearing telephonically or in person. Attorney Elizabeth Hickerson, Chair of the Commission, told Tosi they would try to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

“What we think is the best thing is for the staff to work with the complaintant and  the respondent and come up with procedures and timelines that will help us resolve this matter as quickly before the election as possible,” Hickerson said.

Tosi, a former NFL football player and activist who manages the Northway Mall and runs the non-profit, Alaska Pride Youth Programs, jumped into the race against sitting Assembly member Adam Trombley and candidate Pete Peterson at the last minute. Tosi sat with APOC staff directly after the hearing to begin resolving the allegations.

“With APOC officials, we’re going through each one to insure that we have taken care of these and once we finish these then I think we’re okay,” Tosi said. “You know, I just want to get finished with this so I can get back on the campaign trail.”

Allegations in the complaint include making campaign expenditures before filing for office, not properly identifying that political ads, like bumper stickers, were paid for by his campaign and using his position at the Northway Mall to benefit his campaign, among other things.

Categories: Alaska News

Walter Soboleff: ‘He Fed The Spirit Of People From Many Walks Of Life’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:31

A bill to establish Walter Soboleff Day in Alaska cleared a state House committee on Thursday, after lawmakers on the panel heard heartfelt testimony from the late Tlingit elder’s friends and family.

The Rev. Dr. Walter Soboleff. KTOO file photo.

The bill does not have any more committee stops before a vote on the House floor.

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Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand President Bill Martin recalled listening to Soboleff’s church services on the radio as a child growing up in Kake.

“His delivery was low key and his message was simple: Love your neighbor, for love is God,” Martin said.

Soboleff was the first Alaska Native minister in Juneau, at a time when the town was segregated. He became a cultural and spiritual leader in the community and statewide, impressing both Natives and non-Natives with his teachings.

Selina Everson with the Alaska Native Sisterhood said Soboleff meant everything to the Native community in Southeast Alaska.

“He performed marriages of our people. He gave comfort when there was sorrow. He stood by us. How else can we honor him?” Everson asked.

All four of Soboleff’s children testified before the House State Affairs Committee. Son Ross said his father always told him to feed his spirit.

“I think he fed the spirit of people from many walks of life,” Soboleff said. “In his church and in his service, and sometimes as chaplain at this legislature.”

House Bill 217 would establish Nov. 14 as Walter Soboleff Day in Alaska. That was the day he was born in 1908.  Soboleff died in 2011 at the age of 102.

“He truly was a towering figure in the Native community, statewide through the Alaska Federation of Natives, through the early Native civil rights movement,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, prime sponsor of the legislation.

Kreiss-Tomkins envisions Soboleff Day as similar to Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, just celebrated on February 16th. It marks the day territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening signed the 1945 Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act, which Peratrovich championed.

“That’s noted in a lot of schools – the history of anti-discrimination legislation in the state or territory of Alaska,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “It’s really how groups, schools, institutions, choose to honor or observe the person and what the person represented.”

There’s recent precedent for the legislation. Last year, lawmakers created Jay Hammond Day to honor Alaska’s self-proclaimed “Bush Rat Governor.” In 2011, the legislature established Ted Stevens Day, honoring the state’s longtime U.S. Senator.

HB 217 has several co-sponsors, including every House member from Southeast Alaska. After the hearing, State Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Vice Chair Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, said they would sign on, too.

Categories: Alaska News

Iron Dog Racers Depart Nome

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:30

Early Thursday, pairs of snow machines began zipping out of Nome to continue the second leg of the 2014 Iron Dog Snow Machine Race.

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Nome is the halfway mark of the 2,031-mile Iron Dog, known as the longest, toughest snow machine race in the world.

First to leave at exactly 8 a.m. this morning was team number 10, Chris Olds and Nome’s own Mike Morgan. Teams were heading out of town throughout the day based on their arrival and wrench times.

Thirty-one of the original 38 teams made it to Nome. This year was predicted to be on of the toughest races on record with open water and areas of no snow. Kevin Kastner, Iron Dog Executive Director, says the hype concerning this year’s rough conditions actually worked to the competitors’ advantage. The concern upped the racers’ caution, keeping most of them in the race.

“Really, the caution and all the concern, I think, in the end allowed most of these teams to get to Nome,” Kastner said. “Was the fact that they were so worried, were so cautious, there was so much hype, they throttled back just a little bit and I think that’s what allowed them to actually survive to this point.”

Kastner says though there’s no typical Iron Dog, on average one-third or more of the racers do not make it to Nome. This year beat those odds. And though only half-way through the race, Kastner says already it’s one of the better Iron Dog’s he’s seen.

“Given the rough conditions, given the caution, given the number of competitors and strong teams and the relatively minimal damage that we’ve seen, by all accounts it’s a great race this year,” Kastner said. “And it’s clean. The sportsmanship is fantastic. I think it’s one of our better years even though it’s a tough one.”

So far 28 teams remain in the running. 10 teams have scratched. And only one will finish first in Fairbanks on Saturday.

Categories: Alaska News

First Section Of Denali National Park Road Remains Open

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:29

The first section of the road into Denali National Park is open. The 90-mile road is usually closed beyond the park entrance area during the winter, but as of this past weekend, it’s being kept plowed to mile 12 at the Mountain Vista rest area.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Police Nab $400K In Drugs

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:28

A California man faces federal charges after Anchorage police arrested him trying to retrieve cocaine and heroin that had been shipped to a motel.

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Twenty-seven-year-old Markee Allen is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Friday on drug possession and distribution charges.

Police say employees at the downtown Motel 6 called, saying Allen had boxes delivered after he checked out Wednesday. Federal charging documents say Allen checked back into the motel and tried to retrieve the packages.

Officers contacted him, and canine units indicated the packages held drugs. Police got a search warrant for the packages, and say they found a kilogram of cocaine and a half-kilogram of heroin.

Police say it has a street value of $400,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Delayed In Coast Guard Shooting Case

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:27

The trial of a Kodiak man charged in the fatal shooting of two men at a Coast Guard station has been postponed.

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James Wells’ trial was to have started Monday, but has been postponed until March 31.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis says the trial in Anchorage will likely take several weeks.

Federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty if Wells is convicted.

Wells is charged in the shootings of Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle in April 2012.

The 62-year-old Wells faces six felony charges: two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of a U.S. officer and use of a firearm in a violent crime. He has pleaded innocent to all the charges.

Categories: Alaska News

Salty Dog Rally Swaggers To Southeast This Summer

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 18:26

The Salty Dog yacht rally is coming to Alaska this summer. Wrangell is the official end point of the rally and will be the hub of boats and merriment for four days in June.

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Former commercial fisherman and Salty Dog Rally Alaska founder Dawny Pack says this event is a long time coming.

“This is Dawny, aka Naknek Sea gal, and it’s a 15 years plus dream. All my years out of Southside, Naknek, Bristol Bay, Egegik, Clark’s Point and running downhill, we always loved breezing by Wrangell and the great, fabulous Wrangell Narrows. Since I’ve converted, about 18 years ago, to the yachting white boat from commercial, it’s been a dream to get all these yahoos to come up to Alaska,” Pack said.

Pack says yachters from around North America will join together for this epic trip up the Inside Passage.

And by around North America, she means—around—North America.

“Oh my gosh. God only knows, because they’re boats. They go around the world everywhere, right? So, we’ve got Florida, some in Mexico, some in California, Oregon, Washington…one guy is in New York. So, he needs to hurry up and get around. He’ll come over on either Seven Star or United Yacht Transport—one of the transport companies out of Fort Lauderdale over to Vancouver. So, they’ll just cruise through the Panama Canal and just flop over here,” Pack said.

All the boats will…flop up to Seattle, where the rally begins on June fourth.

From there, the group will head up the Northwest coast, stopping in Anacortes, Sidney, False Bay, Campbell River, Port McNeill, Cape Caution, Bella Bella, Green Inlet and Prince Rupert.

The rallyers will first set foot on Alaskan soil two weeks later in Ketchikan on June 15.

Then, they’ll bring their boats and, Pack says, their personalities to Wrangell, arriving two days later.

Wrangell is the official end point of the rally. But—just the beginning of the festivities, according to Wrangell’s Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore.

“So, we’re working with the tribe to do a Chief Shakes tribal house tour and performance, and then also do a traditional foods dinner. So hopefully that will work out. There’s going to be a golf tournament with a barbeque dinner and some entertainment offered. The charter guys will be offering different types of tour trips and we’ll get them signed up for some of those things. Bonnie Demerjian has offered to lead a bird walk. There are some other activities that we’re looking at trying to do spaced throughout the four days that they’re going to be here,” Rushmore said.

Rumor has it there’s also a poker night and pub crawl in the works.

With about 16 boats already registered for the rally and hopefully double that as the final count, that’s gonna be lot of people visiting these small communities looking for good times and good memories. And that’s good for Wrangell’s economy.

Carol Rushmore says the cost of the special activities are either being donated or paid for by the yachters themselves.

“So, it’s providing us a great deal of recognition in other parts of the country, through the yachting community itself about what we’ll have to offer here and what we’ll be able to provide. Plus they will be here for over a four-day period, visiting downtown, taking tours, doing the things that visitors do while they’re here,” Rushmore said.

Chamber of Commerce office manager Cyni Waddington says she hopes the rallyers will support local businesses while they are in town.

“The Chamber is one of the sponsors for the event because we’re hoping that having all these people come to town will promote our economy,” Waddington said.

She says it’s good timing for the rally as fourth of July prep will be in full swing, with food booths, activities, and of course, royalty raffle tickets.

Rally founder Dawny Pack says that’s why she chose Wrangell for the big party.

In exchange for being a welcoming community, she hopes the rally will bring money and recognition.

“The town has just been so supportive so we’re very happy to breeze by and make Wrangell our official hub. There’s a lot of boots on the ground, a ton of support, a ton of encouragement in the lower 48 and through Southeast Alaska, and it’s just been a long, long dream that’s finally coming to fruition,” Pack said.

So, put your sea legs on, the Salty Dog Rally Alaska arrives in Wrangell on June 17.

There will be an optional extra salty leg to Petersburg and Juneau from the 21st to the 24th for those who want to keep on yachting.

For more information or to enter a yacht, go to saltydograllyalaska.com.

Categories: Alaska News

U-Med Access Route Design Dependent On Wetlands Permits

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 17:52

A poster delineates the wetlands throughout the U-Med area. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Earlier this week DOWL HKM engineering and the Alaska Department of Transportation held an open house at East High School, presenting the preferred U-Med Access route.

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The new road is the most direct and would connect Elmore to Bragaw near the western edge of the Alaska Pacific University campus, bordering the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Stewart Osgood is the president of DOWL HKM. He says now that the alignment is selected, the firm will submit an application to the Army Corps of Engineers to get a permit to fill in the wetlands the road will go through.

“We typically classify wetlands into relative ecological values,” Osgood said. “And so, working with the Corps, we’ll identify the wetlands that are the most valuable, avoid them and try to stay on uplands or on lower-quality wetlands with our alignment.”

The chosen route has $1 million set aside for environmental mitigation – which is the largest amount of the four potential routes. Osgood says those funds could be used on a variety of things during the construction and design process.

A poster outlines the preliminary cost estimates for each road option. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

“The mitigation number that we have here is to both change the alignment of the roadway, potentially to bridge over small sections of wetlands, and also to, in the end, if we are unable to avoid wetlands, we pay into fee in lieu of mitigation, into a wetlands bank that allows land to be purchased elsewhere that can go into conservation easements or some sort of trust to allow them to be preserved forever,” Osgood said.

A number of residents attended the meeting and voiced their dissent that the road would proceed without adequately considering the effect it could have on surrounding areas.

“We believe that before any construction is done whatsoever, that it’s imperative that the public know the true cost, the true total cost, and that includes the social, the environmental, the safety costs – period,” Dr. Peter Mjos, a past president of the Rogers Park Community Council, said.

He said residents have had limited opportunities for discussion and input since the legislature approved funding for the road last year.

“We’ve been placed in a position where we must simply look at mitigation efforts, and we are not comfortable with that,” Mjos said.

If the company is successful in securing permits needed for the wetlands area, work on the road could begin within a year. DOWL HKM expects the road to open in late 2015.

Categories: Alaska News

Geese in Petroleum Reserve Find New Habitat Amid Melting Sea Ice

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-02-20 11:18

The U.S. Geological Survey says melting Beaufort sea ice is creating new habitat for geese on the North Slope. That could have implications for conservation inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

For animals that live on Arctic ice, like polar bears and walruses, rising sea temperatures usually mean a disappearing home.

Black brant geese molt on the North Slope’s Teshekpuk Lake. Photo by Tyler Lewis, USGS.

But John Pearce, a biologist for the US Geological Survey in Anchorage, says that’s not always the case.

“We really don’t know how all the different species of wildlife are going to respond to changes in the Arctic as a result of warming climates and diminishing sea ice,” he says. “But folks often say there’s likely going to be winners and losers.”

The winners in this round: black brant geese. They spend their winters on the Pacific coast and in the Aleutian Islands, and summer in the high Arctic.

On the North Slope, the brant frequents inland waters like Teshekpuk Lake, which feeds a wetlands system in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

A year ago, the Bureau of Land Management put together its first-ever unified plan for managing both wildlife and resources in the petroleum reserve. They drew a line around the Teshekpuk area and closed most of it to oil and gas development.

Some of it is technically open, but the BLM wouldn’t lease it without extra consideration for the waterfowl and caribou that live there.

In the meantime, the U.S. Geological Survey is watching to see how animals are using the wetlands. And John Pearce, their biologist, says he’s noticed changes.

Black brant are now flocking to a part of the Teshekpuk area where there didn’t use to be food for them. That’s changing as sea ice melts off and saltwater creeps further inland.

“And that’s causing more coastal flooding of these low-lying habitats, killing off the plants that are more used to fresh water and creating environments where salt water-loving plants can grow,” Pearce says.

Those environments are new coastal salt marshes, full of plants that the geese like to eat. The plants are growing faster than the black brant can crop them, meaning other species of goose and Arctic shorebird are also moving into the new marshes.

These areas used to be home to caribou. Pearce says there’s more than enough fresh water and grazing habitat for them further inland on the Teshekpuk parcel.

And there’s more than enough new marsh for the birds along the coastline. Pearce says they haven’t filled it all up yet. Right now, many of the geese are staying at Teshekpuk Lake like they always have, or splitting their time between the lake and the coast.

It’s not clear what’ll happen next. Pearce says he and other biologists have a lot of questions going forward:

“If the storm surges continue to come inland, are these areas just going to be permanently flooded? Or as the permafrost continues to thaw underneath these habitats, are they going to sort of sink out of reach of the brant?” he asks. “And is there sort of a march of this habitat inland, or do we reach a point at which it can’t extend any further inland?”

All those dynamics — short- and long-term — are important to the Bureau of Land Management. They need data about where wildlife are, and where they’re going, to make decisions about where it’s safe to drill and build.

Stacy McIntosh is the acting manager of the BLM’s Arctic field office, based in Fairbanks. She says they can’t draw any major conclusions from the new information just yet.

But McIntosh says she’s taking it as a good sign that melting sea ice off the North Slope is creating habitat for a change.

“There was an unsurety as to what climate change may be doing to this area,” she says, “whether or not it was going to respond positively or negatively.”

One thing is sure — oil and gas leasing around Teshekpuk is never going to be popular with conservation groups, which have so far kept it undeveloped. The closest it’s come was in 2006, when the Bush administration tried to open it for sale and lost the case to the Audubon Society and others in federal appeals court.

Categories: Alaska News

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