Alaska News

Tour Bus Rollover on the Parks Highway Results in One Fatality

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:52

A tour bus rollover near Mile 173 of the Parks Highway has resulted in at least one fatality. Alaska State Troopers say the report of the rollover came in just after 8:00 am on Friday. 

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The bus belongs to Princess Tours, and trooper spokeswoman Megan peters says that three people were on board, including the driver.

EMS and troopers responded to the scene from Cantwell, Trapper Creek, and Talkeetna.

Troopers say that the driver, Brian Lanning of Trapper Creek, initially reported that both passengers had suffered “significant injuries.”  Just before 9:30, one of the passengers was declared deceased.  The other passenger is listed as having life-threatening injuries. Lanning sustained injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.

Neither passenger’s identity has been released by the Alaska State Troopers.

Julie Benson, a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, says that all three people on board the bus are Princess employees.

Categories: Alaska News

Kiana Teacher Arrested on Missouri Child Sex Abuse Charges

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:51

The Kiana School on November 14, 2011. Photo: Justin Rummel via Flickr Creative Commons.

A Missouri man who spent the last four years teaching throughout western Alaska has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter—and is alleged to have subjected his six other adopted children to “years of physical abuse and neglect.”

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On Friday, Aug. 29, Alaska State Troopers arrested 42-year-old Owen M. Miller in Kiana, where he had been teaching language arts to middle and high school students in the community of more than 350 people just east of Kotzebue.

Miller faces an extraditable warrant from the State of Missouri on five felony counts of child sex abuse, stemming from allegations from one and testimony from at least two more of his adopted children.

“We were contacted by the Missouri authorities,” said Kotzebue Trooper Nathan Sheets. “They provided us a copy of his arrest warrant and said they had been told he was in Kiana working as a teacher.”

State teaching records show Miller has been teaching in Alaska since 2010, first in the Yupiit School District along the lower Kuskokwim River for three years. Miller said he worked at the Akiak and Tuluksak school sites (both communities of fewer than 400 people)  before moving on to the Kiana School in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District since fall 2013.

In an interview at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center Thursday, Sept. 4, Miller said he was a teacher before he came to western Alaska, and said he moved to the state in 2010 “to pursue a lifelong dream” of living in rural Alaska. Missouri court records, however, list a Wasilla apartment as his home address dating back to November 2003.

Though he claimed to have moved to Alaska “with his family,” he said he and his wife soon divorced and she moved to Wasilla.

“I planned a new life in Alaska,” Miller said.

But Missouri court documents allege Miller and his wife left a dark past behind them. Citing as witnesses a Missouri sheriff’s deputy, two Missouri State Highway patrol officers, a Wasilla police officer, Miller’s seven adopted children, and others, the Missouri court’s statement of probable cause alleges Miller and his wife were responsible for years of “sexual and physical abuse” of the couple’s adopted children, abuse the sheriff’s deputy claims occurred “in many jurisdictions throughout Missouri and Alaska.”

Miller faces five felony charges, including statutory rape, sodomy, two counts of child molestation, and incest. All charges have been filed in Missouri; no criminal charges have been filed in Alaska. Miller’s wife has not been charged with any crimes.

A sworn statement from the Andrew County Sheriff’s Department in Savannah, Missouri, alleges Miller and his wife routinely locked their adopted kids in attics, basements, and outdoors, leaving them without food for days. At other times, with their siblings padlocked inside their rooms, the children had to crawl through holes in the wall to steal food from a freezer and heat it up on a wall furnace.

In August of last year, the Missouri court documents describe one of Miller’s adopted daughters reaching out to a Wasilla police officer to disclose more than a decade of physical and sexual abuse. The documents describe “a marriage ceremony in Savannah” in August 2002, but exactly who was married is unclear. After the ceremony, the adopted daughter—who at the time court documents say was under 12 years old—alleges Miller sexually abused her, beginning more than ten years of such abuse, with Miller said to have routinely plied the victim with alcohol.

Miller’s wife told the same Wasilla police officer in August 2013 that she knew of the physical abuse but denied any sexual abuse.

“I didn’t do what I’ve been charged with,” Miller said from jail in Nome Thursday. “I don’t know what to say beyond that.” He denied the charges, refusing to talk about his children, and said he had had trouble contacting family members and a lawyer in jail. Miller said he had not even seen a full list of charges a week after his arrest.

Susan Morgan, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said Alaska adoption officials were unable to comment on whether or not Miller’s children were adopted in Alaska due to the state’s confidentiality laws. Miller said his children were all adopted in Missouri.

Prosecutor Steve Stevenson in Andrew County, Missouri, said the initial reports regarding the abuse came to his office in October and November of last year. Stevenson said Miller has other offenses in other Missouri counties. “There were several problems in other places,” he said.

Stevenson credited the state’s “longer statute of limitations for sexual offenses” with making the warrant for Miller possible. “In cases of physical abuse only, we don’t have as long to prosecute someone on late-arriving information.”

Miller has no criminal history in Missouri or Alaska. Sondra Meredith, who administers teacher certificates for the Alaska Department of Education, said that means he had no trouble passing the mandatory background check for his teaching certificate in Alaska.

“In the case of Mr. Miller, there is no indication that any of those checks resulted in any of those red flags in our office,” she said Thursday, going so far as to run another background check that day. “Basically he came through with a clean background check.”

Annmarie O’Brien, superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District where Miller most recently worked, said there was no record of any concerns of child welfare during Miller’s time with the school.

“The staff has expressed surprise, but there haven’t been any concerns [expressed] of Mr. Miller while he was working in Kiana,” O’Brien said.

Norma Holmgaard, the superintendent of the Yupiit School District, refused to release any information on Miller’s three years with the district.

James Seitz, executive director of Alaska’s Professional Teaching Practices Commission—the body that enforces the code of ethics on the state’s teachers—said Miller had never been sanctioned by the teaching commission. Seitz added that privacy concerns prevented him from disclosing if complaints had ever been filed against Miller during his time teaching in Alaska.

Miller is currently awaiting extradition to Missouri in Nome’s correctional center, pending $250,000 bail.

Kenny Ragland with The Savanna Reporter contributed to this story.

Categories: Alaska News

Huge Increase For Insurance Rates In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:50

Alaskans who buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace will see a significant rate hike for next year. The state Division of Insurance says consumers can expect to pay an increase of more than 30 percent on average for coverage.

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Two insurers offer individual plans on the marketplace – Premera Alaska and Moda. Premera’s plans will increase the most – an average of 37 percent. Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says even that increase is not enough to pay for customers’ claims.

“We do have a pretty clear influx of folks with some very significant medical costs that in the past was spread across the insured market, including employers,” Earling said.

Earling says the way the individual market is structured under the Affordable Care Act is not sustainable in a small population state like Alaska.

“Before the ACA took effect in January, people could access coverage through a state high risk pool or through a state high risk pool,” Earling said. “Many of those folks are now purchasing coverage on the individual market and we believe Premera probably picked up a disproportionate share of those folks with really significant medical needs.”

Premera is working with the state on a solution that would spread the risk of those high cost customers across the insurance market. The state is analyzing the plan and hasn’t yet taken a position on it.

Premera serves 7,000 customers in the state who bought marketplace plans. Earling says the company expects to lose four million dollars insuring those customers this year. He says a small number of enrollees account for a huge amount of claims.

“We’ve seen since January first through June 30th, seven million dollars in medical claims from only 33 members out of those 7,000,” Earling said. “So that’s about 1/3 of all of our medical claims costs for those 7,000 members are coming from 33 individuals.”

Earling says Premera would have to increase rates by more that 70% next year to break even. That’s the rate increase the company first proposed when it approached the state Division of Insurance, according to director Lori Wing-Heier. After looking at the company’s data, she agreed with their financial assessment. But Wing-Heier says through discussions they were able to compromise on a lower rate increase:

“And we felt that they could sustain another year of significant loss,” Wing-Heier said. “They’re indicating they’ll lose 5 million dollars in 2015 in addition to what they lost in 2014. But they are financially strong and they’re willing to take that loss to see what the data looks like when we go through rate filling next year.”

Moda, the other company offering individual plans on the marketplace, will increase rates by an average of 27 percent. Rates increase for both companies will vary depending on age and geographic region. Wing-Heier says state statute prohibits her from releasing the specific rates until they go into effect on January 1st.  She says she hopes in a year or two, the rates will stabilize.

“We are being asked through a federal program to price a product that some people cannot afford,” Wing-Heier said. “And we’re doing the best we can to keep the cost of that product down.”

The federal government points out that many Alaskans will be able to use subsidies, and that will help lessen the impact of the rate increases. In Alaska, almost 90 percent of consumers who bought plans on in 2014 qualified for financial help to purchase the plans.

Categories: Alaska News

Snow Falls In Near Tok

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:49

This week’s cooling trend brought snow to the Alaska Range.

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“I went cross country skiing; decided to break out the skis and go down the trail,” John Ruysniak, owner of the Log Cabin Wilderness Lodge on the Tok Cutoff, said.

He says more than 9 inches of snow was on the ground there Wednesday, enough to ski, build a snowman and block the road into the lodge.

“We had about 20 trees that had bowed down to the ground and so we had guests that wanted to leave, so we had to go down with a chainsaw ahead of them and clear out the trees before they could get out,” Ruysniak said.

Ruysniak says the trees are still fully leafed out, and the snow is one of the earliest he’s experienced in the Tok area.

“September snow is common, but September 3rd is real early,” Ruysniak said. ”We’ve seen it on Labor Day before, but it’s been probably since around 2000 or maybe 1998 that we had a big dump like this — ’92 is another year.”

“It’s not very normal that my garden get snowed on before it gets its first frost. My neighbor has been in this area 38 years and she doesn’t remember ever going in August without a frost.”

Ruysniak says that’s allowed his garden to keep going, adding he was able harvest some lettuce from under the snow, which had started melting some yesterday. The rest could go this weekend, with rain forecast for the eastern Alaska Range.

Categories: Alaska News

Mayor Calls For Federal Review of Fairbanks Four Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:48

The mayor of the city of Fairbanks is calling for federal review of long questioned murder convictions of 4 Native men. The mayor joins numerous leaders and groups pressing for review of the Fairbanks Four case.

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Categories: Alaska News

Reaction to Alaska Voting Rights Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:47

Plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit are reacting to news that a Federal Court Judge has ruled in their favor. Wednesday a judge ruled that the State of Alaska violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translations into Native languages.

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Judge Sharon Gleason found the State of Alaska violated the Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translations of voting materials to voters whose primary language is Gwich’in or Yup’ik.

Benjaman Nukusuk is the Tribal Chief for the Native Village of Hooper Bay, a plaintiff in the case.

“I was very pleased because the elders of the Y-K Delta want to know what they’re voting on and who they’re voting for and why and our elders by nature are very articulate and precise in what that want, especially when it comes to things that matter for our people and the things of our Y-K Delta.”

Judge Gleason issued the partial decision after presiding over a two-week trial in June and July. Native American Rights Fund Attorneys argued the state’s voting materials in Yup’ik and Gwich’in were inaccurately translated and poorly distributed. NARF Attorney Natalie Landreth says the law the state was supposed to be following passed in 1975.

“We’re obviously extremely pleased and relieved but the reality is that the case, the decision and the changes that it’s supposed to bring are 40 years overdue.

JudgeGleason gave the state until Friday to indicate what changes they can make before the November 4th general election. Landreth says she hopes the state will deliver comprehensive translations.

“There’s a hundred-page voter information pamphlet that goes out every election in English and the reality is that Yup’ik speaking voters are entitled to all of that information before they go vote and so what we want to see is some plan to make sure that Yup’ik speaking voters will learn about the candidates, the ballot measures, the bond measures, the judges, everything on there.”

The Department of Law has said it will work with the Division of Elections to draft a proposal. Judge Gleason has not yet ruled on whether the state intentionally violated voter’s rights on the basis race or color.

Categories: Alaska News

Foundation Swoops in to Save Sacred Alaskan Artifacts at Auction

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:46

Archivist and collection manager for Sealaska Heritage Institute Zachary Jones holds up the wood panel, which arrived last week. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

As early as the late 1700s, European visitors and explorers in Alaska wrongly took objects that were sacred and important to the indigenous people. Several of these items were set to be auctioned off in Paris last December, despite protest from tribal groups around the U.S. It was a done deal, until an anonymous buyer stepped in.

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Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl flips through a printed catalog of items that were up for bid at a Paris auction house last December. She points to several Native items taken from Southeast Alaska a long time ago.

“That one. This is probably from the northern area. This is another Northwest Coast piece, another Northwest Coast piece, something that should be here at home,” says Worl. “This makes me sad when I see them.”

Sealaska Heritage and other tribal communities around the country had written letters to protest that Paris auction and another, which featured sacred Native objects. The U.S. Embassy in Paris got involved but nothing could legally stop the auctions.

“So we thought it was a done deal and then all of a sudden, a couple days later we got a call from the Annenberg Foundation,” says Chuck Smythe, culture and history director at Sealaska Heritage.

A carved wooden panel painted with a Chilkat design would be returning home to Southeast Alaska.

“They had purchased this item unbeknownst to us, so it came as a huge surprise,” Smythe says.

Little is known about the panel, which is 20 inches tall, 18 inches wide with wood nails and detailed carving. It was likely part of a Tlingit bentwood box that could’ve belonged to a shaman or used by a clan to keep ceremonial objects and regalia. Sealaska Heritage officials think the panel could date back to the early 1800s, a time when many outsiders wrongly took Native objects.

The Annenberg Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Los Angeles,anonymously purchased 27 Native objects from two Paris auction houses last December, the majority of which will be returned to the Hopi and San Carlos Apache tribes in Arizona. Besides the wood panel to Sealaska Heritage, another object was repatriated to the Chugach Alaska Corporation. The two Alaska items were purchased for several thousand dollars each, according to the foundation.

Carol Laumen was one of the foundation’s bidders during the auctions. She says this isn’t normal practice for the foundation, but there was a great interest to repatriate the items.

“These artifacts were in some cases over a hundred years old and it was suspect in some cases how the artifacts actually ended up in private hands, so to return them to the rightful owner was the right thing to do,” Laumen says.

Since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act took effect in 1990, Worl says Sealaska Heritage has been active in bringing sacred items back to Southeast Alaska.

“The objects that we are trying to get back are what we call at.óow. That means they’re owned or purchased property. They belong to clans. They represent our ties to our ancestors and spirits of our ancestors are associated with our at.óow and we know that our ancestors want to come back home,” Worl says.

Sealaska Heritage has repatriated dozens of objects from museums on behalf of individual clans. But thousands more remain in museums and private collections.

Worl remembers being part of a group visiting the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum for the first time.

“The curators thought they were doing a wonderful thing in letting us see their collection. There was about 10 of us and when we saw our at.óow, I saw 10 Tlingits just crying over those objects,” Worl says.

A large part of repatriation is educating people on the cultural significance of objects to indigenous people, Worl says. She recognizes that people pay a lot of money for these items and wants to figure out a financial incentive for collectors.

“For example, a tax credit. Could the government provide a tax credit to a collector for donating it back to a tribe?” Worl says.

In some cases where objects are repatriated from museums, Worl says tribes have given back.

“Cape Fox — they repatriated a totem pole from the Harvard Peabody Museum and in return, they carved a totem pole and left a totem pole there,” Worl says.

She’s thankful to the Annenberg Foundation for bringing the wood panel back to Southeast. It arrived at Sealalaska Heritage August 29.

“We couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that an organization would do this on our behalf,” Worl says.

Sealaska Heritage doesn’t know the panel’s origins but hopes to find out and return it.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: US Army Rangers Train In Alaska’s Rugged Interior

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:45

In a forested area outside of Fairbanks, the U.S. Army operates a remote facility where it trains military servicemen and women in cold, mountainous environments. It’s called the Northern Warfare Training Center. And in August, they hosted an elite unit of Army Rangers.

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A U.S. Army Ranger ascends a rock face at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids. Soldiers from the 75th Army Ranger Regiment visited the facility for two weeks of training.

Staff Sergeant Michael O’Brien looks on as Private First Class John Carrmill readies his rope system to ascend a 50-foot rock face next to a waterfall. He goes over his equipment under O’Brien’s watchful eye.

“I’m going to put this around my foot, tie a prussick knot in the rope, clip into my locking carabiner and lock in,” Carrmill says.

“What’s the difference between this rope and this rope? Which is for your waist and which is for your foot?” O’Brien asks. “This one’s for my waist, this one’s for my foot,” Carrmill nails it his first try.

Two NWTC instructors look on as a U.S. Army Ranger readies himself to ascend the rock face.

Between the waterfall and a steady drizzle of rain, the rock is slick.

Carrmill has been a U.S. Army Ranger for about a month. He says coming to the middle of cold, wet Alaska for training is exactly the kind of thing he signed up for.

“I love it so far,” Carrmill says.

When it’s Carrmill’s turn to head up, he’ll have to shift his weight between two loops of cord to shimmy up the climbing rope. It’s a new skill for him.

O’Brien keeps quizzing him. “What’s the distance you want to keep between these two prussicks?” About a fist’s width, Carrmill replies. “What are you going to do when you get 8-10 feet off the ground?” Carrmill says he’s going to tie a safety knot, a figure-eight. “Go ahead and ascent,” O’Brien tells him.

The Rangers here are an elite unit of Army special operations forces. Alongside other Army special ops groups, like Delta Force and the green berets, they’ve had boots on the ground in nearly every major U.S. war. They were some of the first to head in to Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of their exploits have been immortalized in Hollywood movies like “Black Hawk Down.”

For two weeks in August, the Georgia-based Rangers are testing themselves against the rigors of the Alaskan Interior. This facility at Black Rapids is called the Northern Warfare Training Center. It offers crash courses in alpine and glacier travel, cold-weather survival and high-altitude operations.

A U.S. Army Ranger backs off the rock wall after rappelling down. Approximately 150 Rangers came to the Northern Warfare Training Center in the Interior for two weeks of training.

Lt. Col. Mark Adams, who oversees the facility, says the year-round training they provide gives soldiers hands-on experience in an Arctic climate that can’t easily be simulated elsewhere.

“We offer some very extreme temperatures up here,” Adams says. “Every place has some unique differences about it, but this place is one that offers some extreme conditions.”

And even though the center is an Army facility, it’s at the disposal of all Department of Defense personnel and affiliates. They’ve trained up Navy SEALS, groups from the FBI, and more.

The center also doubles as a kind of testing lab for Army gear. Earlier this summer they tried out mosquito nets for troops to use on deployment in malaria-prone areas. Mosquitoes, Adams says, are in copious supply in this neck of the woods. Later on this winter, they’ll be testing different gloves for the Army.

But their primary mission is training.

Back on the rock, private first class Carrmill has just finished his ascent and successful rappel down the slick rock face. Once back on the ground, he yells, “OFF THE ROPE!” to those still above.

When I ask him about how it went, he shrugs and says it was fun. Carrmill was actually faster than a lot of the guys once he got off the ground. I ask him about it and all he says is, “Yeah, once you get used to doing it, it’s fun.”

Carrmill, like a lot of the guys here, is a man of few words. One of the Army PR guys chocks it up to Ranger culture — be quiet, and let your actions do the talking.

Across a small creek, another group of Rangers is doing a basic climbing and rappelling exercise. One Rangers yells up to his buddy about a foothold that’s just within his reach.

Staff Sergeant Joel Rockhill has already been up the wall and back again. Since becoming a Ranger nine years ago, he’s been to airborne school — jumping out of planes and stuff — but scaling a rain-slicked 50-foot rock wall still gets his adrenaline going.

Two U.S. Army Rangers scale a rock face at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids. It’s the first time the Rangers have been to NWTC for training since the War on Terror began in 2001.

“I mean it was… I’m scared of heights, not going to lie,” he laughs. “It can be pretty difficult.”

Rockhill says coming to Alaska for cold-weather warfare training is a change of pace for the group. In his time with the Rangers, he’s been deployed nine times, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercises like this.

“It’s a unique training opportunity. We haven’t really gotten to do a lot of this stuff because of the wars. But coming out here and doing this, getting exposed to the different environments than Iraq and Afghanistan, and really kind of starting to prep for the future, it’s really good.”

With fewer deployments on the horizon as national military focus shifts away from the Middle East, trainings like this one, Rockhill says, help keep the Rangers a close-knit group.

“Obviously we get new guys a lot, and different guys move to different squads and stuff like that, but you build that cohesiveness through training and different situations that happen on deployment,” Rockhill says. “A lot of these guys, these peers of mine, we stay pretty close knit… we hang out on the weekends and such.”

Getting to travel to Alaska together and rough it in the mountains, Rockhill says, isn’t a bad way to spend two weeks with your friends.

Categories: Alaska News

Wasilla’s VA Clinic Operating Without Doctors

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-09-05 16:45

The Veterans Affairs clinic in Wasilla is without doctors, after the three physicians working under contract over the summer decided not to renew those.

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A nurse practitioner, who transferred from Anchorage last week, now has to carry the 1,000-patient caseload.

The clinic is supposed to have two full-time doctors but has been down one since 2012. KTVA reports the last full-time doctor left in May.

Cynthia Joe, chief of staff for the Alaska VA Health Care System, said the VA is offering what it is allowed to offer for salaries. That level is capped at $195,000. She said there are also incentives and cost-of-living allowances.

There are no applicants.

Categories: Alaska News

General Katkus Resigns As Report Details Guard’s Failure In Addressing Sexual Assault

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:10

An investigation released Thursday details a long list of failures in how the Alaska National Guard handles reports of sexual assault and other matters.

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In response to the findings, Governor Sean Parnell asked for the resignation of National Guard Major General Thomas Katkus, effective immediately.

Find the full report here

“This culture of mistrust and failed leadership in the Guard, it ends now,” Parnell said.

Governor Parnell requested that the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations look into allegations in February, after receiving complaints about how guard leadership addressed reports of sexual assault. At a press conference in Anchorage this afternoon, Parnell summarized the findings of the 230-page report.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell addresses the National Guard Bureau’s report on sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“Alaska Guard members lack trust and confidence in the Alaska national Guard’s leadership to handle sexual assault cases, or to administer justice for other misconduct in a fair, evenhanded manner without reprisal,” Parnell said.

The Guard Bureau looked at 37 cases of sexual assault. The Bureau found that many of the cases were reviewed by people who weren’t trained to conduct sexual assault investigations. Some victims also told the Guard Bureau they were ostracized and abused by fellow guard members after reporting sexual assault.

Confidentiality was also a problem. One victim of sexual assault reported to the Bureau that she had overheard a fellow service member discussing the details of her own assault while at work.

Parnell first heard of issues in the Guard in 2010 and he has been criticized for not acting sooner to correct the problem. Parnell says when he looked into concerns in the past, he heard from Guard members and leadership that the cases were being handled properly. He says the complaints persisted and that led him to call for this outside investigation.

“I’m extremely frustrated and I’m angry it’s taken so long to get to the bottom of these issues,” Parnell said. “The Alaska Guard members deserve better.”

“The victims who have been hurt and those who have brought complaints forward deserve better. In hindsight is clearly shouldn’t have taken this long.”

The report details several other problems in the Alaska Guard including sexual harassment, discrimination based on race, and fraud committed by guard members and leadership.

The report makes dozens of recommendations for changes and describes a plan to make those changes. Parnell says he will establish a project team to implement the recommendations.

Categories: Alaska News

Dems Ask Maryland to Investigate Sullivan Tax Breaks

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:09

Maryland tax authorities said this week they’ll investigate whether Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan improperly benefited from tax breaks intended for Maryland residents for a house he owned in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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As it turns out, Sullivan’s history of voting in Alaska elections may cost him, even though it helps counter charges that he’s a newcomer.

Questions about the length of his residency in Alaska that have dogged him since the start of his campaign. Rival Republican Mead Treadwell said he had mayonnaise with longer tenure in his fridge. And months ago, the superPAC supporting Sen. Mark Begich, Put Alaska First, zeroed in on a house Sullivan bought in Bethesda, Maryland in 2006, when he worked for the State Department.

“Documents show that while Sullivan pocketed a Maryland tax credit for residents living there, he was voting in Alaska, claiming to be one of us,” one of their ads said.

The head of the Alaska Democratic Party wrote Maryland authorities last week to question whether Sullivan was eligible for that tax break, known as the Homestead exemption. Party Chair Mike Wenstrup insists the purpose of the letter is fact-finding, not to get Sullivan in trouble with tax collectors.

“If he’s saying ‘I’m a resident of Maryland’ to people in Maryland and also saying ‘I am a resident of Alaska’ to the people of Alaska, you know, he’s not being truthful,” Wenstrup says.

The director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, Robert E. Young, said this week he hadn’t yet received the letter, but he will launch a review of the case.

“We have an obligation, a legal obligation, to investigate every claim that someone is improperly receiving a Homestead credit,” he said.

Maryland legislators passed a law in 2007 to crack down on abuses of the tax break. Young says he gets thousands of complaints a year, many from citizen watchdogs and some against members of Congress. Just last month, his office told Walt Havenstein, the Republican nominee for governor of New Hampshire, he must pay back $9,000 in Homestead credits he took for a condo he owned in Bethesda, starting in 2007, when he was working in the Beltway for defense contractors.

Democrats in New Hampshire are drawing attention to it. Wenstrup, the Alaska Democratic Party chair, says news of that case prompted him to request a review of Sullivan’s file.

A spokesman for the Sullivan campaign declined requests for an interview for this story. On his campaign website, Sullivan says he never applied for Maryland’s Homestead credit, which he says was automatically provided back then for owner-occupied homes.

Young, the Maryland taxman, says it wasn’t automatic but based on a document Sullivan and his wife signed in 2006, swearing the Bethesda house was their principal residence and they planned to live there most of the next year. The statement references a different tax break for residents, known as the recordation tax, but Young says it’s what his office and county authorities relied on to grant the Homestead credit. All told, their Bethesda residency claim saved the Sullivans some $5,000 over the two and a half years they lived there.

Young says he looks at a number of factors in deciding whether a homeowner is eligible for the Homestead credit. Physical presence is required, but Young says so is legal presence. If a person votes in another state, he says that’s evidence he can’t overlook.

“What’s my legal presence? And my legal presence is where I vote,” he said. “And as I say, voting is important.”

According to the state’s voter list, Sullivan voted by mail in Alaska’s general election in 2008, during the period he was claiming Maryland’s homestead credit.

Sullivan’s campaign website says he and his wife considered their time outside Alaska as a temporary duty assignment.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Coal Dumping Case Referred Back To Lower Court

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:08

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower  court decision in a Clean Water Act case. According to attorneys for the  Sierra Club, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting in Anchorage in August, has ruled that Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad Corporation are in violation of the Act by dumping coal from their Seward Coal Export Facility into Resurrection Bay.

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Wednesday’s ruling reverses an earlier court decision in which the lower federal district court said that the facility’s stormwater permit protected tAurora and the railroad from liability for the pollution. This latest decision finds that the terms of the permit prohibit dumping coal into the Bay. The Ninth Circuit has sent the case back to federal district court.

 Vicki Clark, an attorney with the Trustees For Alaska, represented the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 

“Well the judge would get the case back and then decide if there is a discharge of pollutants that’s occurring to the waters of the United States, then a permit would have to be obtained. So that will be the question before the district court. The court was clear that the terms of the stormwater permit that they have do not cover them, and so they cannot be shielded from having to get a proper permit under the Clean Water Act for these discharges.”

Tim Sullivan, with Alaska Railroad External Affairs, said in an email Wednesday:

 ”The Alaska Railroad Corporation  is reviewing the September 3 ruling from a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Seward coal terminal…… That panel reversed a decision of U.S. District Court Judge Burgess finding that the Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) under which the Seward Coal Loading Facility has been operating shields ARRC and Alaska Energy Services  from liability. 

Despite this ruling, ARRC and AES have not been found liable for any violations of the Clean Water Act. Notably, this ruling represents a small portion of a much larger lawsuit, all of which was dismissed by the U.S. District Court and most of which was not appealed by the plaintiffs.

Categories: Alaska News

Archaeological Dig Near Quinhagak Provides a Look Into Ancient Yup’ik Culture

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:07

Students from Scotland excavating at the Araliq site. (Photo by Charles, KYUK – Bethel)

At the site of an ancient village near Quinhagak, archaeologists race against erosion to uncover Yup’ik artifacts. What they find not only provides a look into the daily lives of Yup’ik ancestors, but also sheds light on a brutal period in the region’s history.

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A cold breeze from the Bering Sea sweeps clouds across a tundra hill, upon which sits the ancient village of Araliq. Students and archaeologists are carefully scraping away layers of soil when something catches the attention of the crew.

An ivory handled ul’uaq with a blade made of slate found by Anna Sloan. (Photo by Charles, KYUK – Bethel)

The abandoned village of Araliq is about 5 miles south of Quinhagak, home of Warren Jones, President of Qanirtuuq Incorporated, the tribal corporation. There was a sense of urgency in 2009, Jones explains, when people first noticed erosion along the shoreline was exposing artifacts. Afraid that the site and its treasures would be lost for good, Jones contacted the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. 5 years later, he says the artifacts are bringing elders stories to life.

“It’s like the elders are saying, in their own way, ‘we told you so.’ Now all the little stories are coming alive,” says Jones.

Today there’s a show and tell of some items excavated from the site at a community building. Quinhagak elder John ‘Aatassuk’ Fox says this about a miniature carving of a human-like face.

“That was made by a shaman. It’s not that way for no reason,” says Fox.

Other elders agree that it might be the case. On display are many variations of household items, tools and jewelry. One item that stands out is a labret, a piece of carved wood or stone that Yup’ik people once wore by inserting them into piercings – men wore two, one along each jawbone while women wore one over their chin.

Other discoveries point to a violent end for the village. Weapons were also found at the site along with a layer of ash, and skeletal remains of humans who seemed to have died in an attack. Rick Knecht is the lead archaeologist on the project. He says the site holds evidence of the warring period known in Yup’ik folklore as ‘the bow and arrow wars.’

“There is a piece of armor that’s derived from Asian samurai armor where there’s these overlapping plates, except its made of antler sewn together. And here’s some more evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars,’ this is one of the burned arrow points that we found in the ruins of the house. It was fired at somebody in anger. Roof sods and stuff absolutely riddled with those kinds of points. Seventy-five percent of the all the arrow points in that house were found in that upper layer,” says Knecht.

Archeologist say it’s the first tangible evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars’ or ‘anguyagpallratni,’ as the period is called in Yup’ik. Stories say Araliq residents were massacred in a ferocious attack by the old village of Qinaq, and the village was burned and renamed Araliq. Which means ‘lots of ash’ due to the amount of ash, or ‘araq’ in Yup’ik, which was present on site after the attack. While it’s clear that Araliq’s residents experienced war, archaeologists also discovered signs of everyday life. Ann Riordan was there on behalf of the Calista Elders Council. One of the biggest things that struck her is how similar, yet different, some of the artifacts are to modern tools and crafts used by Yup’ik people today.

“There was an ul’uaq with a little indentation in it, but if you hold it, your thumb just fits in it beautifully. I’ve never seen one like it and it’s made out of stone and wood,” says Riordan.

With climate change causing erosion across much of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, Riordan says other communities could carry out similar projects, but the clock is ticking.

“There’s just never been anything this big in our area, and there’s lots and lots of old sites, many other old sites that are being washed away. Many more communities can have this experience,” says Riordan.

Back at the dig site, University of Oregon graduate student Anna Sloan uncovers what instantly has everyone at the dig site smitten.

It’s an ul’uaq, a woman’s cutting knife, with an ivory handle, beautifully carved in the likeness of a mythical sea monster known as the ‘Palrayak.’ It will travel to Scotland for study and preservation before being returned. Tribal leaders say they will eventually display it either in Bethel or Quinhagak for future generations.

Categories: Alaska News

YWCA aims to close gender pay gap by 2025

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:06

Women in Alaska earn significantly less than men, and the YWCA is setting out to change that. Their new initiative aims to close the wage gap by 2025. One of the solutions may be simple–encourage more women to join the trades.

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Deborah Kelly walks through the maze of buildings at ML&P in Anchorage, where she works.

Lineman Deborah Kelly stands in front of an ML&P truck.

“So this is the line shop. The barn,” she says as she walks into a cavernous garage. “We got all of our bucket trucks and some tree trimmers that work here as well.”

Kelly is a lineman, which means she fixes high voltage power and telephone lines. She opens a truck to show some of the gear she uses.

“So this what we actually use to climb the poles,” she explains as she pulls out a contraption that looks like an ancient leg brace attached to leather chaps.

“And there’s a small spike that is angled out and actually goes into the wood. And you just walk up the pole like you’re walking on the ground. Only different.”

“Seriously?” I ask, filled with doubt.

“Yeah, it’s great,” she smiles.

Kelly says she didn’t plan on working on power and phone lines, but when she tried it out during her apprenticeship with the IBEW, she instantly fell in love.

There was just one problem — she’s a woman.

“Well, I definitely had to prove to everybody why I was there and that I deserved to be in the trade. Because most guys have never worked with a woman and a lot of them have never even heard of a woman in the trade. I’m only the second one in the history of Alaska.”

The line trade is not the only industry where women are grossly under represented. State Department of Labor data shows few women work in natural resource development and construction as well, some of the highest paying jobs in the state. And state economists say that contributes to the overall gender pay gap.

The size of the pay gap depends on which data you look at. State estimates show that a woman only makes 67 cents for every dollar a man makes. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says women make 73 cents for every dollar.

YWCA of Alaska CEO Hilary Morgan says the gap is closing too slowly — only 5 cents in 20 years. ”If we continue to do nothing at this rate, women and men will make equal pay in the year 2142, which is really not acceptable.”

Her organization is trying to close it by 2025 instead. But how? Morgan says she’s not exactly sure.

“When Kennedy said he was going to the moon he didn’t know how he was going to get there either, but he was going to get there,” she quips.

Morgan says the first step is changing societal norms — people need to stop accepting the pay gap as normal. The YWCA is partnering with other organizations and industries in Alaska to try to educate people on the discrepancy and to develop solutions. They’re also developing a tool to help businesses and organizations measure if they treat women differently.

“Many of them, their intent is not to pay their female employees less than their male employees. I think that just happens over time because people aren’t really looking at the issue.”

Back at ML&P, Kelly walks through the halls, joking with some of her colleagues.

“And, uh, don’t talk to this guy…”

A man puts on a jokingly serious face. “Trouble,” mutters at Kelly.

“Yeah, trouble,” she laughs. “Just pretend he wasn’t here.”

Kelly says she had to fight to get the same training as the men during her apprenticeship because her crew doubted her abilities and wanted to protect her because she’s small. She says she confronted sheer pig-headedness, too. The men didn’t understand what she was doing there.

But Kelly says the challenges were worth it.

“It’s the best job in the world. And skepticism and a few bad apples are not worth giving that up over.”

Kelly says she hopes to see other women doing what she does, and the sooner the better.

Categories: Alaska News

California Company Pitches LNG Project At Port MacKenzie

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:05

A California energy company is exploring establishing a liquified natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie to supply gas to interior Alaska and the railbelt. WesPac representatives outlined the plan to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly last week.

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WesPac, with offices in Fresno and Oakland California, and in Reno, Nevada, plans to spend about $600 million on LNG infrastructure at Port MacKenzie, according to company Vice President Brad Barnds [BARNS], who made the pitch to the Borough Assembly in late August.

“Our objectives in Alaska are to build, own and operate new, scalable midstream LNG facilities in Cook Inlet, to establish and LNG alternative for Fairbanks and the Interior markets. To create new markets for natural gas in rural and coastal Alaska by displacing high cost diesel. We believe that we also by putting in a new facility at Port MacKenzie we’ll be in a position to offer peaking gas to the greater Railbelt communities, by putting gas into the pipeline system to meet peak day requirements. ”

Barnds says the company is working on an agreement with at least one Cook Inlet producer to supply the gas. He highlighted the projects’ 11 megawatt power plant and the gas pipelines that would accompany the LNG processing facility.

He said WesPac became interested in Cook Inlet gas some years ago, when it seemed like the Inlet’s natural gas supplies were running low. Since a resurgence of natural gas development in the Inlet, WesPac wants to jump on board the rush to get cheap fuel to Alaska’s Interior villages.

“The integration would be the proven reserves plus the energy facility plus the rail and marine infrastructure necessary to move LNG by railcar, or truck or vessel to rural Alaska. The site that we’re intending is one hundred acres at Port MacKenzie. The facility itself would be on par with the current facility contemplated for the North Slope to Fairbanks on the order of two hundred fifty thousand gallons of LNG per day. We’d connect to the existing Enstar pipeline, which is approximately fifteen miles away.”

Barnds said WesPac is working with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and with the Department of Natural Resources on the proposed project, although he said it would be privately financed. He said the project could provide 350 jobs during the construction phase, and about 30 permanent ones.

WesPac is in the process of information gathering and will be ready to make a firm proposal in about three months.

Karston Rodvik, spokesman for AIDEA, says WesPac representatives have met with the state agency although there is no firm plan on the table yet.

“Well, we are certainly aware of the WesPac idea, but I am not aware yet of any formal business proposal that has come to us. If one does come through the door, it will of course go through the same kind of rigorous due diligence process that any proposed or potential project goes through when we look at it. ”

AIDEA is a billion dollar public corporation of the state, which is self – funded and does not depend on legislative appropriations. It returns an annual dividend to the state which goes into the state’s General Fund.

WesPac specializes in gas storage, pipelines and fuel depots. The company operates facilities on the East Coast, and is working with TOTE Ocean Marine on designing a LNG bunkering operation in the US, using container vessels to deliver LNG from Florida to Puerto Rico.

Barnds told the Borough Assembly on August 26 that

“We have actually obtained five expressions of interest form various producers in the Cook Inlet who have made commitments to us or indications to us that they have a lot of natural gas that can be produced to meet our supply requirements. We are actually in active detailed discussions with one particular producer to actually acquire those reserves. ”

He did not name which of the Cook Inlet producers are interested in WedPac’s Port MacKenzie project.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Earthquake Monitor Ramps Up

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:04

Seismologists are ramping up efforts to monitor the region where a major Interior earthquake occurred. The area was already targeted for research.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: September 4, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:03

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

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General Katkus Resigns As Report Details Guard’s Failure In Addressing Sexual Assault

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

An investigation released today details a long list of failures in how the Alaska National Guard handles reports of sexual assault and other matters. In response to the findings, Governor Sean Parnell asked for the resignation of National Guard Major General Thomas Katkus, effective immediately.

Dems Ask Maryland to Investigate Sullivan Tax Breaks

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Maryland tax authorities said this week they’ll investigate whether Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan improperly benefitted from tax breaks intended for Maryland residents for a house he owned in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Seward Coal Dumping Case Referred Back To Lower Court

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court decision in a Clean Water Act case.  According to attorneys for the Sierra Club, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting in Anchorage in August, has ruled that Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad Corporation are in violation of the Act by dumping coal from their Seward Coal Export Facility  into Resurrection Bay.

Archaeological Dig Near Quinhagak Provides a Look Into Ancient Yup’ik Culture

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

At the site of an ancient village near Quinhagak, archaeologists race against erosion to uncover Yup’ik artifacts. What they find not only provides a look into the daily lives of Yup’ik ancestors, but also sheds light on a brutal period in the region’s history.

YWCA aims to close gender pay gap by 2025

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Women in Alaska earn significantly less than men, and the YWCA is setting out to change that. Their new initiative aims to close the wage gap by 2025. One of the solutions may be simple – encourage more women to join the trades.

California Company Exploring Port MacKenzie’s LNG Possibilities

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A California energy company is exploring establishing a liquified natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie to supply gas to interior Alaska and the Railbelt.  WesPac representatives outlined the plan to the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly last week.

Interior Earthquake Monitor Ramps Up

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Seismologists are ramping up efforts to monitor the region where a major Interior earthquake occurred. The area was already targeted for research.

LKSD Moves Forward On Student-Based Health Center

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is moving forward on a school-based health center for students in Bethel.

Categories: Alaska News

LKSD Moves Forward On Student-Based Health Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 17:03

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is moving forward on a school-based health center for students in Bethel.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Man Shot by Officer Arrested in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-09-04 10:55

Screenshot of a witness video of the incident that led to police shooting Aaron Moses.

A man shot in Bethel last month during an altercation with police was arrested Wednesday by Alaska State Troopers after being released from the hospital in Anchorage.

“Aaron Moses was arrested by Alaska State Troopers in Anchorage at about 2:50,” Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, said. ”He was arrested after he was released from a medical facility. Moses has been charged with Assault II, Assault III and Criminal Mischief III. A Grand Jury did indict Moses for the charges on Thursday which is August 28th.”

On August 15th, Troopers were contacted by the Bethel Police Department, requesting investigative support for an officer involved shooting that happened in a neighborhood.

An affidavit from an investigator details a struggle in which officers say Moses swung a baseball bat at the two police officers, hitting one twice. Police were not able to disarm Moses verbally or with tasers and one officer ultimately shot Moses in the chest. He was medevaced to Anchorage and hospitalized until Wednesday.

Peters says the Bethel Police Department requested help from The Alaska Bureau of Investigation.

“Nothing will come of it until a point to where it’s reviewed by OSPA, which is the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals. We would take our investigation and we would give it to OSPA to review and OSPA would then review it to see if the officers acted within the scope of the law. And if they didn’t then they would potentially be charged.”

Peters says the investigation is ongoing. Moses is being held at the Anchorage jail and is scheduled for an arraignment in Anchorage Superior court Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

“Partial Ruling” Against State In Alaska Native Language Ballot Case

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-09-03 17:00

A federal district court judge has sided with plaintiffs who say the state is not doing enough to help non-English-speaking voters.

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A “partial decision” Wednesday in a case against the state division of elections is aimed at  protecting  the voting rights of Alaska Natives.

In Toyukuk v. Treadwell, plaintiffs argued that translation of state of Alaska ballot language from English into Yupik is not adequate to ensure voters’ understanding of the ballot.

Four tribal councils filed the suit against the state division of elections last year, alleging the state violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by not providing language assistance to Yup’ik and Gwich’in speaking voters in three census areas.

State attorneys argued that because the languages are historically unwritten the Voting Rights Act requires only oral language assistance in these languages. The division of elections said it provides translators and bilingual poll workers.

In a hearing Wednesday before a federal judge in Anchorage, Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth argued for the plaintiffs.

“But the federal court held this morning that [the state was] not providing even oral language assistance,” Landreth said. “Because they don’t ask or pay their outreach workers in the villages or bilingual poll workers to translate any of the information in the official election pamphlet. That was part of her holding today.”

Landreth says, plaintiffs want written information translated.  Under the current system, Yup’ik speaking voters do not get a written election pamphlet in advance of the election.

“If you’re a Yup’ik speaking voter, the translated information you receive consists of three things: here’s the day of the election, here’s the time of the election, here’s where it will be. And then there will be language assistance available at the polling place,” Landreth said. “There’s no advance information about the candidates, no advance information about bond measures, nothing about constitutional questions, nothing about ballot measures.”

“To such a degree that the plaintiffs and other witnesses testified that the first time they find out about ballot measures is often when they go to vote on election day.”

Federal district court judge Sharon Gleason sided with plaintiffs. In a partial decision Wednesday, which addresses only the Voting Rights Act claims, Gleason said the division of elections has violated the Act by not providing substantially equivalent language assistance in Yup’ik and Gwich’in in the three census areas.

The court has given the state until Friday, Sept. 5 to provide a proposal for additional language assistance measures that could be implemented in time for the November election.  Alaska assistant attorney general Corey Mills says time is running out.

“And the court also recognized the difficulty that the division of elections has in providing this type of assistance,” Landreth said. “So the state and the division of elections and the department of law are looking at that and what that proposal will entail.”

The court did acknowledge the state’s efforts so far in providing ballot translations for Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers, saying the state has been working diligently this year in providing language assistance.

Categories: Alaska News