Alaska News

Group Challenging Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

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The complaint is being filed in federal district court today, and it names Gov. Sean Parnell as the lead defendant. The parties are challenging the ban on the grounds that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Caitlin Shortell is one of three attorneys representing the couples.

“I think there’s a very strong, growing recognition that laws that single out a particular group of people to deny them rights do not square with the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, not with the Alaska Constitution,” Shortell said.

All but one of the couples challenging the ban have already been married in other states. But their marriages are not recognized by Alaska because of the ban that was instated in 1998. The fifth couple is unmarried, but would like to wed in Alaska.

Because the state officials named in suit have not seen the complaint, a spokesperson from the Department of Law could not comment on the case.

The State Supreme Court has ruled as recently as last month that gay couples need to be treated equally under law in situations like employee benefits and tax breaks, but it has skirted the question of whether the marriage ban conflicts with other parts of the Alaska Constitution.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. Federal judges have struck down marriage bans in several states since that ruling.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Walruses Removed From Unusual Mortality Event In North Pacific

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Pacific walruses have been removed from the unusual mortality event declared in the North Pacific for several marine mammal species.

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Categories: Alaska News

Panel Discussion Addresses Effects Of British Columbia Mines

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Over the weekend, the Western Mining Action Network held a panel discussion in Anchorage on the development of large scale mines in British Columbia that could impact the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers. All are prolific salmon producers for Alaska.

Chris Zimmer is the Alaska Rivers without Borders campaign director. He says there are a number of mines proposed for BC and two of the most concerning are the Tulsequah Chief mine and the much larger Kerr Suphurets Mitchell or KSM prospect which is half the size of the Pebble mine proposal and 50 times larger than Tulsequah.

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Why are these mining proposals ramping up now?

Zimmer – Well part of it is the price of gold. When I started this work 15 years ago, gold was in the 300 to 400 an ounce and now with it well into the thousands, that’s really driving a lot of this. And you also have two big pushes from BC. One a very strong pro mining push from the BC government. Premiere Christy Clark said she wants to see eight or ten mines in eight or ten years. Then you also have over the last couple of years, both Canada at the federal level and BC at the provincial level have, I’d say significantly cut their permitting regulations, significantly weakened some environmental laws. So these mines are going through much faster, in the permitting reviews, they’re not being held to as rigorous a standard, so we really see this as a tremendous mining binge in the BC side of the Southeast Alaska/BC transboundary region here.

Describe what the concern is for Alaska.

Zimmer – The biggest issue is, we’re downstream from all of this. If the rivers flowed the other way, it would be quite different. So the concern is for our water quality, our fish and the jobs, the livelihoods, the cultures that depend on those. Basically what we have in the headwaters now is a toxic time bomb if these mines are built. You’re going to have millions to billions of tons of acid mine generating rock, constant water flow and in the case of KSM, the company says they’ll have to treat the water for 200 years when most people think they’ll have to treat it forever. So forever is a tough concept, who is going to pay for forever? Who is going to pay to clean this up? So Alaska is going to get no benefit from these mines, the benefits will all flow to Canada and we get nothing but the risk to our downstream fisheries.

This is a trans-nation border issue, waters flowing from BC into Alaska, U.S. waters, have you spoken to anyone from the congressional delegation about this?

Zimmer – Over the last couple of months, we’ve put together a loose coalition of almost all the stakeholders in these watersheds, from commercial fishermen to tribes to environmentalists and we did send a team back to Washington DC in March. The response there was excellent from federal agencies and from our congressional delegation. They saw the risk, they listened to everybody and the congressional delegation immediately fired off a letter to Secretary John Kerry, saying this is an international issue and we need the State Department to engage directly with the Canadian government, because this isn’t an Alaska/BC this is really the U.S. and Canada and the border creates some problems of jurisdiction, the mines are in another country so the only way we thought we could get some traction and get these issues addressed is to make this a federal government to federal government level. Secretary Kerry does have other things on his plate these days, so we haven’t gotten an answer back yet, but we’ve been working with lower level officials in the State Department to try to engage with Canada. So that type of diplomacy is slow, it’s painful, but its really the only way for Alaska to get satisfaction, to get it’s concerned addressed. Canada is probably going to dig its heels in a bit so this could be a tough battle here.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Finds No Discernable Impact From Tulsequah Chief Mine Discharge On Fish

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Chieftan Metals Corporation, based in Toronto, is the owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Company President and CEO Victor Wypryski was traveling and could not be reached for comment today, but a recent posting on the company’s website highlights the results of a February water quality study.

Conducted at the request of the British Columbia ministry of the environment, the study tested four sites on the Tulsequah River, near the confluence of the Taku River near the mine site. Chinook, Coho, sockeye salmon and dolly varden were tested. Researchers reportedly found no discernable impact in fish tissue samples from historic mining discharge.

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Categories: Alaska News

Concerns Raised Over Alaska’s Lack Of Standing To Address Canadian Mining

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Robert Sanderson is first vice president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes and was at the mining conference. He also is concerned that Alaskans don’t have legal standing to address Canadian mining.

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“So that’s one thing we’re working on now is to start a dialogue with the tribal first nations first in Canada, and encourage them to work closely with their government, the provincial government, and on this side of the border, the U.S., we’re working with our Congressional delegation and the state of Alaska, which I feel could do more,” Sanderson said.

Something that may help the BC mining operations is a 2011 initiative to sign revenue sharing agreements with Canadian First Nations or tribes.

Categories: Alaska News

Motorcycle Collisions Claim 5 Lives This Year In Southcentral

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

A string of motorcycle collisions have taken five lives in the Southcentral area during the past several weeks.

And on a narrow highway shoulder near Palmer last week, riders lined up for an impromptu memorial service at the site of an accident on May 3 that claimed the lives of three members of the Harley Owners Group Alaska Chapter. They placed flowers and flags at the site.

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Categories: Alaska News

Blind Climber To Attempt Denali Ascent

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Next month, Seattle-area mountain climber Bruce Stobie is going to attempt to get to the top of Denali. That alone is impressive, but Stobie faces an additional challenge. He’s blind.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 12, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 17:32

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

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Group Challenging Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

Pacific Walruses Removed From Unusual Mortality Event In North Pacific

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Pacific walruses have been removed from the unusual mortality event declared in the North Pacific for several marine mammal species.

Panel Discussion Addresses Effects Of British Columbia Mines

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Over the weekend, the Western Mining Action Network held a panel discussion in Anchorage on the development of large scale mines in British Columbia that could impact the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers. All are prolific salmon producers for Alaska.

Chris Zimmer is the Alaska Rivers without Borders campaign director. He says there are a number of mines proposed for BC and two of the most concerning are the Tulsequah Chief mine and the much larger Kerr Suphurets Mitchell or KSM prospect which is half the size of the Pebble mine proposal and 50 times larger than Tulsequah.

Concerns Raised Over Alaska’s Lack Of Standing To Address Canadian Mining

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Robert Sanderson is first vice president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes and was at the mining conference. He also is concerned that Alaskans don’t have legal standing to address Canadian mining.

Study Finds No Discernable Impact From Tulsequah Chief Mine Discharge On Fish

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Chieftan Metals Corporation, based in Toronto, is the owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Company President and CEO Victor Wypryski was traveling and could not be reached for comment today, but a recent posting on the company’s website highlights the results of a February water quality study.

Conducted at the request of the British Columbia ministry of the environment, the study tested four sites on the Tulsequah River, near the confluence of the Taku River near the mine site. Chinook, Coho, sockeye salmon and dolly varden were tested. Researchers reportedly found no discernable impact in fish tissue samples from historic mining discharge.

Banking Error Delays State Payroll

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

About 15,000 State of Alaska employees will wait another day for their paychecks, due to a banking glitch.

Juneau Birders Photograph Rare Long-Billed Curlew

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau couple has likely made the first verified sighting of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska. North America’s largest shorebird, rarely seen in this part of the country, may become the next entry on the Checklist of Alaska Birds.

Mt. View Community Spruces Up For Spring

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Things look a little different in Mountain View. The community in north Anchorage just finished their 25th annual community-wide clean-up. This year they were joined by other city residents to improve a local park as well.

Motorcycle Collisions Claim 5 Lives This Year In Southcentral

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A string of motorcycle collisions have taken five lives in the Southcentral area during the past several weeks.

And on a narrow highway shoulder near Palmer last week,  riders lined up for an impromptu memorial service at the site of an accident on May 3 that claimed the lives of  three members of the Harley Owners Group Alaska Chapter. They placed flowers and flags at the site.

Blind Climber To Attempt Denali Ascent

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

Next month, Seattle-area mountain climber Bruce Stobie is going to attempt to get to the top of Denali. That alone is impressive, but Stobie faces an additional challenge. He’s blind.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Mt. View community spruces up for spring

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 17:25

Things look a little different in Mountain View these days. The community in north Anchorage just finished their 25th annual community-wide clean-up. This year they were joined by other city residents to improve their green space as well. KSKA’s Anne Hillman learned more.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/12-mt-view-cleanup.mp3

Behind clean-up coordinator and longtime Mountain View resident Scott Kohlhaas, massive machines scoop mattresses and old couches into dumpsters.

“We’re taking everything from hazmat, electronics, car batteries, tires, metal, general trash…” he lists as he looks around at the groups of old refrigerators and piles of metal.

Over a week, the community collected about 200 tons of waste to be thrown out or recycled. Most of it has already been hauled away.

“There’s a lot of mobility here, lots of transition, so there’s lots of stuff in apartments that people have moved from, lots of stuff in the streets, in the alleys. It’s a constant struggle” to keep the area clean, Kohlhaas explains.

But Kohlhaas says when residents come together to clear it away, it improves the community atmosphere. “Yeah, there’s no doubt there’s more pride,” he says. “It’s the broken window syndrome. If we fix the broken window then everyone cares, and it’s gonna be a better place. And if we leave it broken then they’re gonna break the other windows. I think it makes big difference and I think people are proud of how it looks right now.”

Volunteers haul and clip brush during the Davis Park Fix-It in Mt. View

Though it’s the 25th annual community-wide clean up in Mountain View, it’s the first-ever Neighborhood Park Fix-it at Davis park. The park is a small plot of wooded land with trails running through it next to a giant playground. Community members initiated the event to improve the safety of the area.

Mountain View Lions Club member Amy Orange Posma drags bags of trash filled with things like power cords and pillows from abandoned homeless camps in the park. She says historically many homeless people have lived here, but the area is for everyone.

“This is a marvelous little chunk of trees, wild nature — and you have a street right there, schools over that way, housing. It’s just a lovely little refuge in Anchorage. All the parks are.”

Further down the path, Tony Lukian and members of his church group from south Anchorage are clipping back brush from the trail that winds through the trees.

He explains they’re doing it “just to create some visibility into the woods, you know. Make it a little bit more safe. Give people a little more clearance. Whether it be wildlife, any other dangers, possible hazards.”

Anchorage Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Mirna Estrada explains that trimming the brush helps give residents a place they feel comfortable gathering.

“Parks are great for our development, creating bonds with our friends and our family and our community.” She pauses and ducks as a volunteer snips a sapling right on top of Estrada. Uninjured and laughing, she continues. “See we’re bonding with nature!”

The clean-up is attracting new people to the park as well, like Rebecca Castleman, who recently moved in just a few miles away. “We thought, it’s our first time here at the park, we wanted to see what it’s all about, maybe clear some of the trails, and then we can enjoy it with our two little girls.”

The Park project marked the end of this year’s citywide clean-up week.

Volunteers enjoy lunch after cleaning up Davis Park

Parks and Recreaction has Park clean ups planned for the entire summer. Find out more at muni.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Banking Error Delays State Payroll

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 16:07

About 15,000 state of Alaska employees will wait another day for their paychecks, due to a banking glitch.

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State Office Building in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Direct deposits were not processed as expected by U.S. Bank on Monday, according to the Administration Department. Spokesman Andy Mills says the deposits are expected to be complete by Tuesday morning.

He says the state transmitted the payroll information to U.S. Bank on Friday, and the error was made by the bank.

U.S. Bank is a new vendor for the state and this is first time the company has processed the direct deposits. Wells Fargo was the previous vendor.

Mills calls it a big disappointment that U.S. Bank couldn’t get it right the first time.

“While our folks processed and did their portion of this payroll transmittal information, U.S. Bank did not complete their part and we’re looking to  make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mills says.

State workers may end up with fees on their personal bank accounts due to the problem, he says, which will be U.S. Bank’s responsibility.

“U.S. Bank has confirmed that they will be covering employee banking fees that are incurred from this error that they created and we’re going to hold them to that.”

Employees in every agency of the executive, legislative and the judicial branches of government statewide are affected.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Birders Photograph Rare Long-Billed Curlew

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 12:11

Doug Sanvik took this photo of a Long-billed Curlew on May 3. To the left of it is a Whimbrel. (Photo by Doug Sanvik)

A Juneau couple has likely made the first verified sighting of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska. North America’s largest shorebird, rarely seen in this part of the country, may become No. 502 on the Checklist of Alaska Birds.

Gwen Baluss went to Boy Scout Camp after the initial sighting and also saw the Long-billed Curlew. (Photo by Gwen Baluss)

Martina Kallenberger and husband Doug Sanvik were bird watching at Boy Scout Camp on May 3. Kallenberger says they started around 11 a.m. walking the trail and beach and were going through the meadow around 1:30.

“We were actually watching a flock of Lapland Longspurs when we noticed these two shorebirds on a little rise by the stream and one of them was a Whimbrel, which we recognized, and the other one was just shockingly different,” Kallenberger says.

Kallenberger and Sanvik watched the bird for at least an hour, taking pictures and referring to guidebooks. They had an inkling it might be the Long-billed Curlew.

“During the course of the time we were sitting there I was going through the bird book thinking, ‘Well, gosh it can’t be this, it could be— No…’ And I kept coming back to the Curlew, and Doug and I were both like, ‘It sure looks like a match but, gosh, it just doesn’t seem right.’”

They had reason to be hesitant.

“It is very rare,” says Steve Heinl.

Heinl is a lifelong birder and sits on the University of Alaska Museum’s Alaska Checklist Committee, which maintains and decides what goes on the official list of birds documented in Alaska.

“There had only been three previous reports of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska, but none of them were photographed,” he says.

Bob Armstrong captured the Long-billed Curlew in flight. Steve Heinl says the bird is most distinctive this way because its underwings are cinnamon colored. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)

This is what makes Kallenberger and Sanvik’s sighting a likely entry on the list. Heinl says a sighting can be verified with photographs or a specimen.

Sightings of Long-billed Curlews on the unsubstantiated list first took place in 1973 near Juneau’s Eagle River, not again until 1992 on the Stikine River near Wrangell, and most recently in 2008 on the Situk River in Yakutat.

Long-billed Curlews spend winters in Mexico and on the west coast of North America. They breed throughout the West from southern Canada to New Mexico.

Heinl says the bird in Juneau likely flew farther than it needed to.

“I think it overshot its normal breeding range, which means it migrated too far north. Often birds that migrate to the wrong place are younger birds so it perhaps was on its first northward migration,” Heinl says.

That’s part of what makes watching birds so great, Heinl says, and why the Checklist of Alaska Birds will likely never stop growing.

“They have wings and they fly off in the wrong direction and there’s always potential to see something you’ve never seen before,” he says.

Kallenberger and Sanvik are proof of this. Kallenberger says they’ve spent many hours birdwatching at Boy Scout Camp and never imagined they’d see a Long-billed Curlew.

“Anytime I see a new species, it’s just hugely exciting,” Kallenberger says. “But to see something as unusual as this bird in this place was even doubly so.”

For Kallenberger and Sanvik, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Bethel Establishments Reportedly Were Operating as Bottle Clubs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 10:31

The Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board says two Bethel establishments have been illegally allowing patrons to bring in and consume their own alcohol, operating as what’s known as “bottle clubs.” But two conflicting statutes in the state alcohol law put certain clubs in a gray area.

State Troopers and ABC Board teams have been in discussion with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10041 and an unnamed Bethel restaurant earlier this year after reports that they were allowing people to bring alcohol on site. Shirley Coté is the Director of the ABC Board.

“You can’t BYOB to any premises that under the law would require a license,” said Coté.

Until late April, the VFW allowed members to bring in their own alcoholic beverage. The ABC board and state troopers say because there were no charges filed they’re not disclosing the name of the restaurant.

Michael Calvetti is Commander of VFW post 10041, which has 174 members throughout the Y-K Delta. He says the post was operating under advice they had received from an attorney that under one statute, they are exempt from needing a license. But a separate section of state law specifically outlaws bottle clubs, unless allowed, thus blurring the law.

“Because there is a conflict between those two statutes, at this point, we have said we don’t want any alcohol on the premise until ourselves, the ABC board, and the legislative body get to together and discuss and figure out the exact solution to this concern,” said Calvetti.

Coté says the two statues indeed collide with each other. In this case, she says there are no consequences for what would be violations of the state’s bottle club law.

“We talked to them on the phone, we work with them like we work with a lot of people around the state who are unaware the acts they are doing, they’re unaware that what they’re doing is illegal. We gave them an opportunity to fix it, and they said it was fixed, and unless we get other information that it’s still ongoing, our case is closed,” said Coté.

The ABC board last month discussed a change to regulation that would have allowed the VFW to continue, but they elected not to go in that direction.

The board pointed to a category of license, a club license, that would apply for the VFW. But that would require them to sell alcohol, but Calvetti says the membership does not want to be in that business.

When Bethel voted to go wet in 2009, six establishments, including the VFW applied for liquor licenses. The city protested the applications and they were rejected.

The Alaska Legislature could also change state law to allow certain patriotic clubs to operate as they had in the past.

As for now, the VFW has a no alcohol sign posted on the door and is in discussions with regulators and lawmakers.

“We do not plan on moving forward in any direction with the thought of alcohol until we have something in writing that we know applies to this post. I don’t want a generalization, I don’t want ‘a I think so,’ I want it to be solid so there’s no question on any party’s part,” said Calvetti.

Calvetti says the VFW operates a bingo hall and hosts many community events and alcohol is not the focus of the organization. As a non-profit, he says he wants to continue to provide money and support for the community. So far this fiscal year, they have given $150,000 for local causes.

Click here to view correspondence between the VFW and the ABC board and the regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Catch Nikiski Teacher Accused of ‘Inappropriate Behavior’ With Student

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 10:29

A Nikiski teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student was the subject of a law enforcement manhunt Thursday afternoon. After the man threatened to commit suicide, two local schools were placed on lockdown. Alaska State Troopers caught the man on Friday.

Neither the Troopers or the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are saying much about the incident.

What’s known is that a male teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School was suspected of “inappropriate behavior” with a student. School District Spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says district officials reported their suspicions about the teacher to Alaska State Troopers Thursday morning and Troopers began their own investigation.

Troopers responded to the school and attempted to locate the teacher but he had already left the campus. At some point – it’s not clear when – the man threatened to commit suicide by consuming alcohol and sleeping pills.

Troopers began searching for the teacher’s red 1993 Dodge Dakota truck and urged members of the public to help locate the vehicle.

Meanwhile, both Nikiski Middle-High School and North Star Elementary School went on lockdown. Erkeneff says that decision was made after the report came in that man had threatened suicide.

“As a precaution, the school dostrict put students’ safety first,” said Erkeneff. “And so we did a lockdown at both of our schools that were in close proximity.”

Both schools were under the lockdown for about two hours Thursday. Under the district’s current procedures for a “modified” lockdown, students are confined to their classrooms but parents are still allowed to come and pick them up. Erkeneff says that at the schools’ regular closing time, Troopers were on site and students were allowed to go home as they normally would.

Trooper Spokesperson Beth Ipsen says Troopers finally caught up with the suspect Friday.

“(We) caught up with him at about noon today at about Mile 15 (of) the Kenai Spur Highway,” said Ipsen. “Based on some medical issues that he was going through, medics were called in and he was transported to the hospital, where he remains, getting treatment.”

Ipsen would not say what the nature of the man’s injuries were. He has not yet been charged with a crime.

As for the allegations that the teacher had “inappropriate behavior” with a student, Pegge Erkeneff says she cannot say much because the case is still under investigation.

“What I can say is that we did an internal investigation,” she said. “(We) deemed it necessary to contact the Troopers and bring them in.”

Erkeneff says the suspicions about the teacher were originally brought forward to district officials who then began an internal investigation.

She says the teacher has been placed on administrative leave. His name has not yet been released.

“People want to know everything but we can’t give out all of the information,” said Erkeneff. “We can just assure that all of our students … are safe right now. That’s the priority. I just ask for parents to trust us. We’re keeping kids safe and working with law enforcement.”

Categories: Alaska News

Ambler Man Faces Attempted Murder Charges for Shooting at VPO

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 10:22

Aerial view of Ambler and the Kobuk River in the summer. (Courtesy of the National Park Service via UAF Gates of the Arctic Research Portal)

An Ambler man is facing attempted murder charges after Alaska State Troopers say he tried to shoot a village police officer through the door of his home.

According to a dispatch from Troopers, it all happened around 1:15 Saturday afternoon. That’s when Troopers say 34-year-old Harry Morena was “intoxicated and belligerent” using a VHF radio.

Ambler Village Police Office Jeffery Metlon went to Morena’s home and knocked on the door. That’s when the officer says he heard Morena yell, “one shot, one kill” before shooting through his front door at the officer.

The VPO was uninjured and backed away—as Troopers say Morena shot at least two more times though the door and walls of his home.

A concerned friend then tried to contact Morena through the VHF. Officers investigating the shooting say the friend asked to meet with Morena but only if he promised not to shoot him. Morena allegedly told the friend he, “only wanted to kill the VPO.”

Troopers say the friend then met Morena in the street and convinced him to surrender his weapon.

Morena was arrested, and when Troopers arrived to investigate, a search warrant for his home later found evidence of a home-brew alcohol operation.

Troopers say Morena’s deaf and blind mother was also found in the home, oblivious to the gunfire Troopers say unfolded around her.

Morena was taken to the Kotzebue regional jail. He faces charges of second-degree attempted murder, two charges of second-degree assault, and several charges related to home-brewing alcohol.

Ambler is a community of about 260 people in the Northwest Arctic Borough, about 280 miles northeast of Nome.

Categories: Alaska News

Libertarian Party Sees Opportunity In GOP Fractures

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 17:11

Republican Senate Candidate Joe Miller did something unusual on Thursday: He spoke out in support of party that was not his own. The comments concerned the Libertarian Party, which could be in a position to gain converts from some dissent within the state GOP.

As the state’s biggest organized political party, the GOP represents plenty of different sects. There are big businessmen, and small businessmen, religious conservatives, Tea Partiers, and a slew of other subgroups.

The state’s Libertarian Party is not so big. Its membership has hovered around 7,000 voters since the Division of Elections began tracking their registration in the late 1990s. But there may be a perk to that: With fewer members, you can have more cohesion.

“It’s obvious the GOP is fractured. Everyone is well aware of that,” says Brad Leavitt, Alaska Libertarian Party vice chair and chair of its platform committee. “And to be honest, we’re reaping the benefits. People are coming over, and they’re disgruntled.”

Leavitt says he’s one of those guys. He only joined the Libertarian Party a year ago, and he often voted for Republican candidates before that.

Now, Leavitt says he’s seeing more interest in his party from the Ron Paul faction of the GOP. That group took over the GOP in 2012 in a coup, but then lost control a year later to the establishment wing.

Because the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party platforms have a lot of things in common, Leavitt sees the organization appealing to some the insurgents who might feel marginalized in the Republican Party. And one of the biggest position differences between the two parties was recently taken out by the Libertarians. Where the Republicans have an anti-abortion plank in their platform, the Libertarian position was that government should stay out of abortion.

Leavitt says the decision to remove it from the platform was:

LEAVITT: To make it an individual choice. Be it the individual’s decision one way or another. It’s the same for the candidate — not pigeonhole any candidate to say you must be this way or you must be that way. It’s just it’s about liberty.

That could make his party friendly to some of the Republican dissidents, including one big one: Joe Miller.

A U.S. Senate candidate in a three-way Republican Primary, Miller has had a strained relationship with the Alaska GOP over the years. While he has said he has no intention of running as anything but a Republican, Miller also rejected a pledge to support his Senate rivals if he loses the primary.

Miller is running against Dan Sullivan, a former attorney general and natural resources commissioner for the state, and Mead Treadwell, the sitting lieutenant governor. Sullivan has come out ahead in a recent primary poll, and he has also raised over $2 million since joining the race, putting him ahead of Miller and Treadwell.

This week, Miller raised eyebrows when he sent out a press release criticizing Mark Begich for remarks the Democratic Senator made about Libertarians in an interview. Miller argued that Begich was misrepresenting the Libertarian Party for political benefit, and Miller also stated he was “proud to share … values with the Alaska Libertarian Party.”

While Miller was traveling on Friday and could not be reached, Leavitt says there is no arrangement for Miller to run as a Libertarian should Miller’s Republican bid fail. But the Libertarian Party is open to the idea.

“We’d entertain it,” says Leavitt. “We’d talk with him — see what his thoughts and intentions are.”

The Alaska Republican Party is not so open to this.

Party Chair Peter Goldberg says the whole strategy would be self-defeating for conservatives.

“If one of the losers of the Republican Party tried to run anyway, it will hurt the winner of the Republican primary,” says Goldberg. “Surely some votes will move, and if it’s just enough, that means Begich wins again.”

Goldberg adds that his party has space for Libertarian-minded members.

Earlier this month, the Republican Party changed its rules to make takeovers by party dissidents less likely.

The Libertarian Party still has not named its Senate candidate.

Categories: Alaska News

YKHC CEO Releases Layoff Details

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 16:44

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Officials announced layoffs this week due to a $12 million budget shortfall. It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year.

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After a recent audit of the organization, CEO Dan Winkelman realized it would take dramatic measures to get the organization that delivers health care to Bethel and surrounding villages back in the black.

“According to our audited financials that just came out we lost almost 12 million dollars in 2013,” Winkelman said. “That’s not sustainable and we had to make a budget correction because of the that.”

Winkelman says 110 employees will be let go, across departments, and 50 more vacant positions will not be filled.

Dan Winkelman took over as CEO of YKHC January 17, 2014.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Last fall, around 50 positions were cut. Winkelman, who took over as CEO about three months ago, says the budget shortfall is a result of several factors.

“We didn’t meet our revenue collection goals since late 2012 so that’s had a huge impact to decrease our revenue. Also the federal sequester that occurred last year, that’s effected us and that decreased Indian Health Service’s budget, therefore it decreased our budget as well,” Winkelman said.

Last year the federal sequester by Congress decreased the Indian Health Service’s budget by about 5 percent. That translated to over $7 million in cuts at YKHC, Winkelman says.

In addition, he says expenses went up because of investments in a new elders home and in a new medical records system. Increases in temporary duty physicians, he says, and YKHC’s employee health insurance costs were also a factor. He’s working to correct inefficiencies in their revenue collection systems as well.

Winkelman says YKHC does not plan to lay off any doctors but reductions will be made companywide, and village clinics will be impacted.

“Human Resources is going to be working with out managers to determine that,” Winkelman said. ”This is going to take approximately 30 days, the next 30 days to implement.”

“It’s a large layoff so its going to take a lot of administrative time to complete it. Individual employees are going to be notified June 2ndthrough the 6th, so the first week of June and we’ll go from there.”

Severance packages will be offered to all employees who are laid off.

YKHC consists of a regional hospital in Bethel, nine regional facilities and 47 village clinics. The corporation employs around 1,500 people and has an annual payroll of $70 million.

Forty-million-dollars in Indian Health Service settlement money recently awarded to YKHC for unpaid contract support services between 2005 and 2011 will not be used to shore up the budget, Winkelman says. Instead, he and the YKHC Board are safeguarding that money for the future.

“We’re thinking out long-term and part of our long-term strategy is to use those funds in addition to some other funds to try to get us a new hospital as well as a new primary care center,” Winkelman said.

Existing facilities in Bethel, built in 1980 are getting run down, Winkelman says, and the population they serve is growing. The new settlement money will be added to an investment account containing 40 million dollars from a previous IHS Settlement for a total of around $80 million.

With the layoffs, a spokesperson for YKHC says patients can expect a decrease in access to appointments, longer wait times and fewer services.

Winkelman says, even with the cuts, he projects YKHC will lose over 3 million dollars this year. However he does not anticipate any more layoffs at this time.

Thursday YKHC President and CEO, Dan Winkelman, released thisstatement explaining the layoffs:

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Mining Extension Offering Basic Prospecting Class

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 16:44

The University of Alaska Fairbanks mining extension program will offer a basic prospecting class in Palmer on Saturday.

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Dave Wright has worked on recreational and commercial mining claims for more than 30 years and will teach Saturday’s session.

He says the day long class will have broad appeal to both the weekend gold pan crowd as well as those looking to make it a business.

Wright says Alaska is endowed with some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. And it’s not just gold and copper.

“There are opals being mined at one area of Alaska, diamonds have been found although as of yet, nothing significant enough to mine but diamonds are here,” Wright said. “Emeralds exist in Alaska and the possibility of a real good emerald find is not beyond reach.”

Saturday’s class will be at Kerttula Hall in Palmer. You can register online.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Pelican

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

This week, we’re heading to Pelican, in Southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. Patricia Phillips is Mayor of Pelican.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 16:04

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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Tacoma Climber Dies On Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Just days into climbing season, a mountaineer has died in an an accident high on Denali.  Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma Washington, became separated from her climbing partner before falling nearly 1,000 feet.

Joe Miller Speaks Out In Favor Of Libertarian Party

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Thursday, Republican Senate Candidate Joe Miller did something unusual: He spoke out in support of a party that was not his own. The comments concerned the Libertarian Party, which could be in a position to gain from some dissent within the state GOP.

YKHC CEO Releases Layoff Details

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Officials announced layoffs this week due to a $12 million budget shortfall. It’s the second round of cuts in less than a year.

Sand Point Sees Progress In War On Drugs

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A man allegedly carrying black tar heroin was arrested as he stepped off a plane in Sand Point last month. It’s the most recent development in the town’s fight against hard drugs.

UAF Mining Extension Offering Basic Prospecting Class

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Fairbanks mining extension program will offer a basic prospecting class in Palmer tomorrow.

AK: Plastics

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

Some say that after climate warming, plastic is the biggest environmental problem we face. And unlike climate warming, no one argues over who is responsible for the plastic in our oceans. We are.  After researching and reporting on it, Johanna Eurich wanted to do her part to reduce plastic trash.  The task is daunting. She started at home, in her tiny log cabin in Spenard.

300 Villages: Pelican

This week, we’re heading to Pelican, in Southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. Patricia Phillips is Mayor of Pelican.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Plastics

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-05-09 14:41

Some say that after climate warming, plastic is the biggest environmental problem we face. And unlike climate warming, no one argues over who is responsible for the plastic in our oceans – we are. After researching and reporting on it, Johanna Eurich wanted to do her part to reduce plastic trash. The task is daunting. She started at home, in her tiny log cabin in Spenard.

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I am sorting my trash and logging the plastic that has come into my life this week. It is all packaging.

When I was born, there was very little plastic around. Now, more than half a century later, there is tons of it floating around in the world’s ocean. Most of it comes from land. And it’s stuff from our cupboards and trash bins.

(Photo courtesy Johanna Eurich)

Unlike the long molecules that nature makes, the plastics we produce last forever. None of it rots the way natural cellulose does. Instead it breaks down into smaller, less visible pieces and becomes even more dangerous in the environment. Some of Alaska’s most remote beaches are covered with confetti of it.

The plastic issue makes me confront the limits of consumer choice. What I can easily, I am already doing. We don’t use plastic shopping bags anymore.

But I still suffer from plastic guilt. Then I meet someone like Kylee Singh working at the Alaska Center for the Environment. She comes at the plastic issue from a public health perspective.

“I just continually was trying to wrap my head around something that we had just created like plastic water bottles,” Singh said. “If I was drinking out of a plastic water bottle and drinking out of it for weeks at a time – I was living in the desert at the time – there has to be something leaching out of that plastic.”

She was in college when she got to help lead an effort to stop the use of bottled water on campus.

“A year after I graduated we found out that we had lobbied hard enough to put the bad on bottled water on Humboldt State,” Singh said. “So we became the first public university to ban plastic bottled water on campus.”

My plastic campaign isn’t all doom and gloom. Some of it’s fun. I’m making yogurt in a glass jar so I don’t have to buy the stuff in the plastic containers. The result is cheaper and tastier. I wrap the jar of lukewarm milk with a spoonful of yogurt in it and put it in the oven to incubate. The old pilot light keeps it warm.

Every little bit helps.

Dave Bass takes his own containers to restaurants when he buys take-out. He remembers the reaction the first time.

(Photo courtesy Johanna Eurich)

“The person who took the containers wasn’t even sure it was an option,” Bass said. “They had to go back to check to see if that was possible; they were confused but they eventually did it.”

Now local restaurants expect Dave to show up a few minutes early with glass Tupperware. It doesn’t save a ton of trash, but he says the thought of the unnecessary Styrofoam used to make it hard to take his food to go.

“The tastiness and convenience is nearly overshadowed by being forced to accept responsibility for several stupid Styrofoam containers that are going to be floating around in the ocean for the next billion years,” Bass said.

When I lived off the road system, I would buy large quantities to keep prices down, but everything came wrapped in plastic. That’s why rural dumps are stuffed with plastic. We bury it and hope for the best. But the amount in village dumps pales compared to the quantities that wash up on our shores from Asia. The man on the front line is Chris Pallister at Gulf of Alaska Keeper.

“We’re working on shorelines now that have up to 30 tons of plastic per mile on them,” he said.

Chris thinks the price of plastic should include all the external costs, like cleaning it up.

“Other things like glass will be cost effective then,” Pallister said. “We can make it here and reuse it here. And we could do that everywhere.”

“I don’t understand why people are opposed to internalizing costs and letting the consumers pay for it.”

Finally, I want to show you where I go when the plastic gets overwhelming. Welcome to my garden compost heap. This is the temple of rot and my husband Steven is the priest. He waters it and turns it to make it heat up.

Compost is entropy transformed and transcended. The heroes are worms and microbes. They break down and recycle all the long molecules made by nature. We will all rot someday. If I’m lucky, my chemistry will make more food, more blossoms like the sweet black compost from this heap.

After we are all long gone the plastic we have already made will still be here. It is a huge and growing pile and there are no simple answers. All I can do is start with my own pile and look for others willing to do the same.

Categories: Alaska News
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