Alaska News

Measure To Elect Attorney General Moves Ahead

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:15

Alaska is just one of seven states in the country that does not elect its attorney general. A constitutional amendment that’s moving through the Legislature would change that.

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During every Legislature of the past decade, someone has introduced a measure that would put the office of attorney general up to a vote. It’s been offered by Republicans. It’s been pushed by Democrats. And every time, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere.

That is, until now. Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, is carrying the measure this time, and he’s actually getting hearings on it. On Tuesday, he told the House State Affairs Committee that it’s an issue of accountability. If the attorney general is elected instead of appointed …

STOLTZE: It would certainly sanctify that that is the people’s lawyer. The attorney generals call themselves that, but really, in de facto, it is the governor’s lawyer.

The attorney general is one of the most powerful offices in Alaska state government. As head of the Department of Law, the attorney general defends the state in court and makes recommendations on what statutes, regulations, and even citizens initiatives are constitutional.

Stoltze can think of a recent example of the attorney general exerting considerable influence over state policy. Last month, the current attorney general signed off on an opinion that an initiative to ban commercial setnetting operations in the state’s urban waters would be unconstitutional.

“That bothers me a little bit – not the content of the initiative, but [that] an assistant attorney general has more power than the people of Alaska,” said Stoltze.

While some members of the state affairs committee expressed support for the measure, there were reservations. A couple of members of the committee wondered if electing an attorney general could lead to conflict between that office and the governor. Some would like to see it amended so that the attorney general is required to be the same party as the governor, and so that there’s a removal mechanism. One Democrat noted that potential for friction could be a risk as the state pursues a complex natural gas megaproject.

But mostly, members of the committee wondered if electing the attorney general would make the office overly political. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, couched her support for the measure with that caveat.

“I value the intelligence of the citizens of Alaska and would hope and pray that it wouldn’t become a beauty contest and a public speaking contest, which sometimes elections can be,” said Hughes.

Stoltze argued that putting the office of attorney general to a vote wouldn’t make the position more political. It would just change who’s playing politics.

“Anybody who has watched attorney generals in this State of Alaska knows they already are political by nature,” said Stoltze.

Now that it’s been heard by the state affairs committee, the measure advances to the judiciary committee. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the measure needs two-thirds approval from the Legislature and a majority vote of Alaska citizens.

Categories: Alaska News

Kikkan Randall Finishes Out Of Medals In Olympic Skate Sprint

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:12

Kikkan Randall talks with her husband Jeff Ellis after the race. Photo courtesy of

It was a disappointing day for Kikkan Randall and her fans. The Anchorage skier failed to medal in the Olympic skate sprint in Sochi- an event many thought she would win. Randall missed advancing to the semifinals by a tiny margin: seven-hundredths of a second. She was gracious with the heartbreaking result saying she was, “happy to be in the fight” and “gave it everything she had.”

Nathaniel Herz is covering the Olympics for and the Anchorage Daily News. He watched the race and talked with APRN’s Lori Townsend.

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Lori Townsend: What do you think happened today?

Nathaniel Herz: It was an interesting day here. It was not super warm but it was just warm enough overnight that it didn’t freeze up and it ended up being soft and sloppy day out on the course. Kikkan had a slower preliminary round of racing than she usually does. And then in her quarterfinal heat… she was facing two of the toughest competitors on the circuit. One was this woman Marit Bjoergen from Norway. And the other was a German woman named Denise Herman who’s leading the sprint standings. And the heat started and Kikkan ended up at the front heading up the hill. And I didn’t actually talk to Kikkan today, my colleagues did.

I talked to Kikkan’s coach (Erik Flora) and he said their plan was to have her lead into the corner after the downhill, because it was a tight corner, and had the potential to be a dangerous spot. So she led through that corner and then they sort of turned, after that corner there’s a straight stretch and then they turned back into the home stretch. On that first straight stretch, Kikkan had been leading and that let her opponents sit behind and build up momentum because they’re not in the wind. And they sort of came around her heading into the home stretch and basically just left her behind there.

The top two advance out of each of these heats. It was super close, I think there was the tactical move to be in the front and then it sounded like on the home stretch she didn’t quite have enough energy to be able to keep up when it really mattered. Her coach, Erik Flora said when it comes to fitness, it’s hard to tell, he thinks it will become more clear if she’s having more problems there during the rest of the races here in Russia. Certainly those are some preliminary explanations. But it’s not totally clear.

LT: Kikkan worked eight years toward this goal. How does she seem to be handling the disappointment?

NH: I have seen Kikkan after a lot of races. Some that have gone really well and some that have not gone well. Her last big sprint race before the Olympics was at the World Championships in Norway a couple of years ago.  A similar thing happened there. She was in a preliminary heat and she got tripped up by a Swedish woman. It was a split second and that was it, she was out. She was clearly disappointed and a few minutes later she comes to this area where you do interviews with the media and she was totally put together, she was composed, she was patient with us, answering our questions.

Today, I saw her talking with her husband right after her finish and she just looked a little shocked. One of my colleagues said they saw her in tears and clearly distraught, but then she went through the whole media rigmarole. I did talk to her briefly she said she had to give the same answers about ten times. Then she actually stuck around all the way through the end of the race even though she wasn’t competing because one of her teammates made it all the way through the final round and was actually kind of in medal contention, although she ended up getting caught in a crash. And yeah, Kikkan was out there smiling, talking to her teammates.

I think there’s no doubt that this is totally devastating but she’s a professional. One of the things her coach said [was that] she spent a huge amount of time preparing to win this race and also part of that was preparing if she didn’t win this race. And we talked yesterday and Kikkan said if I don’t win there are a lot of things in my career I can still look back on.

LT:  Kikkan’s Olympics aren’t over. What will she compete in next?

NH: Well, there are a couple other events in which the U.S. has a shot at a medal. This was the event where Kikkan was among the favorites. But the team sprint is another event where the Americans will be pretty strong. The coaches still have to pick that team sprint team. There may be a couple of Americans who finished ahead of Kikkan today. There was another American who came in 6th place (Sophie Caldwell). And so it depends who they pick for that team. But someone paired with Kikkan could be in medal contention.

And one of the last events is the relay where you have four women who each ski a leg of five kilometers and the American women, right now, they’re extremely deep and could really be in contention. Norway has a pretty strong lock on that gold medal and then silver and bronze are more up in the air. It’s not a sure thing by any means, but there’s the potential for those guys [the Americans] to be in contention for sure.

LT: Kikkan’s 31. The skate style sprint won’t be back (in the Olympics) for another eight years. Do you think this is it for her?

NH: I haven’t talked to Kikkan about that. I talked to her coach a little bit about that today and he was a little cagey. I think Kikkan talked with Beth Bragg with the Anchorage Daily News earlier and she may have mentioned something about racing on the circuit while starting a family, so what Erik Flora told me today is that she wants to keep racing in some form, what that’s going to look like, whether it’s going to be full time, 100% committed, maybe that will change.

She’s 31, seeing her race another eight years, that’s a lot of time traveling around Europe, but… she’s improved a lot in the other disciplines over the last four years and it’s not unreasonable to see her at the Olympics in four more years, she could be a good enough classic sprinter by then. So that remains to be seen.





Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Chamber Works To Keep Flint Hills Open

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 18:10

The Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce isn’t giving up on the Flint Hills refinery. Flint Hills announced last week that it plans to cease crude oil processing at the North Pole Plant, and turn the facility into a distribution depot for fuel shipped in from other facilities. Fairbanks chamber board chair Steve Lundgren says the organization will work with the state to try to find a new owner-operator for the refinery.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tok Biomass Boiler Heats School, Funds Music Teacher

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:40
In late 2010 the Tok School fired up its new biomass boiler to heat the school.  By 2013 it was providing electricity as well and saving the school district about $350,000 per year. Now, those same scrubby trees will help grow fresh vegetables for the district’s students. Listen Now It all starts with a massive pile of wood chips made from trees cut to reduce wild fire risks near the community of Tok, which is surrounded by thick stands of spruce. The chips feed onto a thin conveyor belt that slowly dumps them into a giant boiler. “We put three pounds of wood into the boiler,” said Scott MacManus over the sound of running turbines and compressors. MacManus is the school district’s assistant superintendent, and one of the major forces behind this innovative project. He explains the efficient wood boiler produces steam for a turbine that powers the school. Then, the steam warms up glycol that heats the school. The combined heat and power system saves the school district enough money to employ a counselor and a music teacher. Tok’s 5th graders tinker with their instruments, testing the sounds as they blow into  the mouth pieces and bang on the drums. Music teacher Ruth Fastenau tries to pull  in their attention so they can play “Merrily We Roll Along.” High school senior Claire Burnham hoists her trombones and helps them out. “It’s amazing,” Burnham said about the music program. “We used to have one but it  ended my third grade year and so when we found out it was coming back, a lot of us were really excited to have music again.” Burnham will study music at UAF in the fall.  Meanwhile, back at the power plant, Macmanus said that even after the new facility heated the entire school, “We have all this extra heat. You see how we have the  doors open? We’re just blowing heat out into the air right now.” Initially the school district wanted to build a heat loop to provide warmth to other community buildings, but they couldn’t find funding for the project. So while they refine that idea, some of the heat is being pumped into a commercial greenhouse. “The floor is made of woodchips, as insulation. Better than foam, we can lay the beds right on it,” MacManus said as he walked into the plastic high tunnel greenhouse, fans and heaters whirring from the ceiling. “I’m not sure what the temperature is, maybe 70 degrees?” In front of MacManus, rows of old highway guardrails are filled with soil. As soon as there’s enough daylight, they’ll be planted with vegetables to feed the district’s students. “What did I say – spinach, kale, regular lettuce. Probably not too much head lettuce.  And then that’s what we’re gonna do right now because we’re wanting to get the  salad bar going this spring. So we’ll actually have food on the kids’ plates this spring.  So I’ll send you a picture of a plate full of lettuce. That would be awesome.” In the summer they’ll plant things like tomatoes and onions that can be processed into sauces and salsas and preserved for winter. Food services coordinator Danni Rutledge said there’s a practical reason for the school to grow vegetables. “The stuff might last longer because a lot of times by the time we finally get  something it’s already a week or two or a month old. So the preservation time will be longer,” she said. “And one of our goals is to have less preservatives in our food.” The school district is considering cooking and freezing hundreds of pounds of lasagna using the summer vegetables instead of buying it pre-made. Rutledge said they also want the kids to be able to connect to their foods, even  though it’s primarily a commercial enterprise. “We want to bring the kids out there. We want them to see the process of growing their own vegetables and processing  their own vegetables.” Part of the process is caring for the soil and adding nutrients, which takes us back to the biomass plant and a barrel of ash cleaned from the boiler. MacManus said they will use the ash as fertilizer in the greenhouse. Local gardeners already collect it. Sometimes, though, it’s not only ash at the bottom of the boiler. MacManus says they briefly had a problem with dirty wood. The silica-heavy pine needles melted in the boiler and left chunks of glass. Though they’ve had to work through some kinks in the system, he says for the most part the project has gone smoothly. “There’s nothing in here that’s not been tried and proven. We had a little bit of tweaking to do related to an artic environment.” The school plans to begin planting vegetable starts in mid-February.
Categories: Alaska News

Sass Still Planning for Iditarod

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:39

Brent Sass answers questions about his accident during a press conference in Whitehorse.Credit Mark Gillet / Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest Race Organization held a press conference with Brent Sass this morning (Tuesday). The musher discussed the accident that led to a serious concussion and took him out of this year’s race. The musher was emotional, but he’s confident about his future mushing career.

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Brent Sass says he let his dog team down. “I’ve always had ambitious schedules and always wanted to run a race like this race and we were able to do it.”

But he stands by his decision to press the ‘help’ button on his GPS Spot tracker after he fell from his sled and smacked his head on some lake ice. “No race, no win, nothing is worth sacrificing the health and well-being of myself or my dogs or the credibility of the race and you have to think about that when you’re out there,” says Sass.

The 34-year says he’s recovering well, but he still has a raging headache and numbness in his hands.
He says the accident has forced him to reflect on what he can do differently. “I definitely feel like I wore myself out to the point where I was falling asleep on the back of the sled and could not help it and those are the things I have to change.”

Sass’s race strategy has him blowing through most checkpoints. During this year’s race, he didn’t stop at a single checkpoint unless it was mandatory. Even though he admits he was not well-rested, he says he does not support the addition of more mandatory down-time on the trail. “If we’re scheduled to have to stop at the checkpoints, I can’t run the race that I just ran,” he says. “The only reason that I was competing with Allen Moore and Hugh Neff is because I was on a completely different schedule and I was blowing through and Allen and I were leap-frogging the whole way. It’s amazing for me, it’s amazing for Allen and it’s amazing for the fans, the spectators and the sport. I don’t think by giving more mandatory rest, it helps anything. I think as mushers, we have to do better.”

Sass plans to wear a helmet when he’s mushing for the rest of his life if it’s comfortable and safe in subzero temperatures. He plans to run this year’s Iditarod. That race is a little over two-weeks away.

Categories: Alaska News

Raven Guitars, Icy Straits Lumber Win First Path To Prosperity Contest

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:38

The winners of the 2013 Path to Prosperity contest (L-R) Steve Helgeson, Kevin Skeek, Sue Tyler, and Wes Tyler. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

An acoustic guitar maker and a small saw mill are the winners of the inaugural Path to Prosperity contest.

The business plan competition for Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs was sponsored by Haa Aanì, the community development arm of Sealaska Corp., as well as the Nature Conservancy.

The winning entrepreneurs will receive up to $40,000 in seed money for consulting services to develop their businesses ideas.

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Two of the 12 finalists for the Path to Prosperity contest were guitar makers.

“Got the news that I made the top 12 and I saw the list of people and I saw Tongass Guitars, and I remember thinking that was my second choice of the name,” recalled Kevin Skeek of Hoonah, co-owner of Raven Guitars. “And I was like, who is this guy!? How did this leak out!? Who do I have to!?”

Skeek eventually joined forces with Steve Helgeson, the other guitar maker in the contest. They chose Raven Guitars as the name for their business. Helgeson, who’s from Wrangell, says they bonded at a small business boot camp the finalists attended in October.

“It was obvious that we shared a passion for guitar building, and had a common vision about guitar construction, and design, and aesthetic,” Helgeson said. “We also shared a passion for natural resource sustainability, and social sustainability and community sustainability. So really, we just had so much in common that it was a no brainer.”

The company aims to use Southeast Alaska timber – mostly Sitka spruce, yellow and red cedar – to manufacture high quality acoustic guitars. They have a few prototypes, which Helgeson says sound quite nice.

“It’s a very bright and strident sound,” said Helgeson. “In my mind it’s similar to a mahogany guitar.”

The other Path to Prosperity winner also uses Southeast forest products. Wes Tyler and his wife Sue own Icy Straits Lumber and Milling in Hoonah. For years, they’ve been trying to expand their business into cabin construction and home building supplies. For the contest, Wes Tyler says the company rebranded that portion of its business as Alaska Legacy Homes and Products.

“Through that we’re going be able to open up our markets, develop log cabins or stick frame cabins with log features and things like that,” he said. “We’ll also be able to have packages of the different kinds of things that go into homes, like a siding package, or a paneling package, or trim package.”

Like the guys from Raven Guitars, Tyler says he prefers to work with wood from the Tongass National Forest.

“You can make anything you want to out of it and it’s the best around,” Tyler said.

Path to Prosperity sponsors Haa Aanì and the Nature Conservancy received 59 proposals for the 2013 contest. The twelve finalists were set up with consulting services, including the small business boot camp and help writing a business plan. The winners were selected based on the quality of their plan.

Haa Aanì President and CEO Russell Dick says the contest has three main goals.

“Jobs, conservation, sustainability,” Dick said. “That’s what it’s about – being able to create a platform for employment and lifestyle in rural communities, because rural communities drive the culture of our state in my mind and we want to be able to support that.”

So what’s next for the winners?

Helgeson says Raven Guitars will use the financial award for more training, as well as marketing, branding, and imaging. They hope to open a manufacturing shop in Wrangell within the year.

“We anticipate that in our first year we’re going to try to complete 44 guitars,” he said.

Within five years he hopes to have about 10 full time employees and be manufacturing 500 to 1,000 guitars per year.

Tyler says the plan for using Alaska Legacy Homes’ award is similar. He says they’re thankful for the consulting services offered through the contest.

“We’ve had experience where the rubber meets the road a whole bunch,” said Tyler. “But where it really counts in trying to figure out things in a business fashion, why that was extremely valuable.”

The Path to Prosperity is a four year project. The Nature Conservancy and Haa Aanì will accept proposals for this year’s contest starting in March. The 2013 winners were announced at the Juneau Economic Development Council’s third annual Innovation Summit.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senate Rejects Pay Raises For Governor, Commissioners

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 19:02

The Alaska State Senate has voted to reject pay raises for the governor and his commissioners.

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The decision was rooted in politics as well as policy. Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, carried the bill, and he said the salary recommendations from the State Officers Compensation Commission were appropriate. But:

MEYER: It’s just in these times of tight budgets and deficit spending, we cannot afford these recommendations at this time.

The state is facing a $2 billion shortfall, and the pay raises would cost over $200,000.

The bill was approved unanimously and now needs a vote from the House.

Gov. Sean Parnell has already said he would refuse to take a pay raise, but that he thought his cabinet deserved a salary hike.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Cuts Shrink AVO’s Seismic Network

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 19:01

The ability to monitor several volcano’s in Alaska is being diminished due to funding constraints. The Alaska Volcano Observatory confirms that all of the monitoring instruments and stations at the Fourpeaked Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula have failed.

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John Power is the Scientist in Charge for AVO.

“The cause is not completely known but the most likely thing is deferred maintenance. Maintenance that has not been performed. It’s beginning to catch up to us.”

Power confirms that AVO will continue to use satellite data, infrasound, and first hand reports from pilots to detect signs of eruptive activity. The Fourpeaked Volcano lies within the Katmai National Preserve and there have been no reported historical eruptions of the volcano. The announcement that the monitoring equipment on the Fourpeaked Volcano was not working comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that the same thing had occurred at the Aniakchak Volcano, also on the Alaska Peninsula. In total there are 5 volcano’s in Alaska that have monitoring equipment on them that are not currently working.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a joint program of the United States Geological Survey, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the State of Alaska’s Division of Geophysical Surveys. The Observatory was created in 1988.

Categories: Alaska News

Empire Reporter Fired Following Disagreement With Publisher

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:58

The Juneau Empire on Channel Drive. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

A former Juneau Empire reporter says she was fired when she refused to set up a meeting between the publisher and a legislator on a bill that affects newspapers.

Jennifer Canfield left her job as state capital reporter last week.

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The last few years at the Empire have been marked by turnover and some uncertainty as its parent company struggled financially.

Municipalities buy space in newspapers to publish notices on certain information, like raising taxes, meetings, and foreclosures. House Bill 275 would give municipalities another option – publish the information electronically, to be accessed on a municipal website.

Rep. Mike Hawker is the main sponsor of the bill. He says it would empower municipalities to find the most cost effective way to operate.

“It’s information that we have determined that it is in the public necessity and good that it’s made available and, as time has progressed and moved forward, there are alternatives to the traditional newspaper route of publication that might actually even do a better and more efficient and effective job of informing a public.”

Juneau Empire publisher Ruston Burton disagrees.

“It’s a common legislative move that’s made in a lot of states, it’s been made before, trying to basically take public information and hide it behind a website that nobody goes to essentially.”

After state government reporter Jennifer Canfield pointed out the bill to Burton, he asked her to set up a meeting with Rep. Hawker. Burton said he intended Canfield be present at the meeting as well.

“In my mind, I’m thinking that as we’re sitting with him, she’s asking the questions – a reporter would be asking the questions about, you know, ‘Why are you wanting to push this bill? What’s the reason behind it? What instigated it to make you feel it was super important?’ It’s pretty simple. There’s somebody pushing a bill, we want to know why, and we’re going to tell the story about it.”

Reporter Canfield didn’t think it was so simple. She didn’t want to do it.

“There really needs to be a firewall between the business side and the editorial side and I think any journalist understands that implicitly,” says Canfield.
To Burton, it was just a meeting. He says the Empire has a financial stake if HB275 passes, but says his concern is not about the money. He says less than 1 percent of the paper’s total revenue comes from municipal notices.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time when I asked and I didn’t expect such a push back on it either. I don’t know that there’s anything unethical about saying, ‘Hey we’re going to go talk to this guy that’s trying to push a bill and I want to be there when you’re talking to him and you can report the news.’”

Canfield made it clear she didn’t want to set up the meeting.

“It was insisted that I do it, and eventually the conversation got to the point where I was told that if I didn’t do it, our working relationship could not continue. I again expressed my ethical concerns and I was fired.”

Canfield says she got notice of her termination the day after being asked to set up the meeting. She says being fired is a direct consequence of her saying no.

“In our conversation it was pretty clear that was the reason.”

Burton says the two events are unrelated.

“A decision had been made long before there was ever anybody asking for a meeting with Hawker,” says Burton.

Canfield is not the first reporter to abruptly lose their job at the Empire. In 2012, state government reporter Pat Forgey was dismissed from the paper; he went on to cover the capitol for the Alaska Dispatch. His replacement at the Empire, Andrew Miller, quit after just one day, claiming the work environment was “dysfunctional.”

At the time of the interview, Burton still hadn’t set up an interview with Hawker but says he plans to.

Editor’s note: Story updated to clarify that Canfield initially notified Burton about the bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish Board Restricts Commercial Fleet in Cook Inlet

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:51

After spending Sunday listening to stakeholders’ committee comments on Northern District proposals, the state’s Board of Fisheries Monday morning got down to deliberations on central Cook Inlet management changes. The Board unanimously approved a proposal to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

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 The Board unanimously approved substitute language for a proposal [135] initially sponsored by commercial drifters intending to modify the plan to ensure escapement goals for the Northern District.

 But the language the Board approved was put forward by the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. Commission member Larry Engle says the board’s approval of the substitute expands harvest opportunities for the drift fishery during the early part of the fishing season, while it expands fishing areas for the drift fleet until July fifteenth. After that date, until the end of the month, the drift fleet harvest will be restricted to allow more fish passage into the Northern District.

“So it was kind of a balancing act, and the whole issue surrounded around conservation. Every board member talked about this, and they couldn’t predict exactly how this was ultimately going to turn out, but things have gotten so bad in terms of fish passage through the Northern District, escapements, the closures and its impacts on tens of thousands of Alaskans, that they knew they had to try something different. And they did. “

 Engle says the changes to Central District drift management is one of the most critical issues at the meeting. He says the drift fleet will be able to catch more fish up front at the start of the season, while later season restrictions on commercial harvesters will allow more fish for Northern Cook Inlet. Mac Minard, a consultant for the Mat Su Fish and Wildlife Commission says sports harvests should benefit.

“It will deliver tens of thousands, if a hundred thousand coho North into the streams and waters of the Northern District. There will be an immediate and measurable effect in those fisheries for local anglers this fall. “ 

The move affects all salmon headed for the Northern District. Engle says Board members put concerns about conservation of the stocks over allegiance to harvest groups.  Board actions can be reconsidered within 24 hours.




Categories: Alaska News

Museum Exhibit Opens Highlighting Marine Debris Problem

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:46

Marine Debris used to be mostly nets, buoys and fishing gear but now it includes plastic bottles, bottle caps, and styrophone. It’s everywhere, there’s nowhere to put it and more is coming every day. Johanna Eurich reports on a new museum exhibit highlighting the problem.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tourists Rescued Near Chatanika

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:33

Alaska State Troopers rescued a group of tourists late Friday night after they got stuck in their vehicle trying to get to a lodge about 20 miles north of Fairbanks near Chatanika on an outing to view the aurora borealis.

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Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Considers Starting In Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:26

The Iditarod Trail Committee is considering moving the restart of the race from Willow to Fairbanks. Saturday’s statement says that the ceremonial start will take place on March 1st in Anchorage as planned, and that the current plan is to have the restart, where the competitive part of the race truly begins, in Willow the next day. But there are concerns about trail conditions between Rainy Pass and Nikolai. If the trail isn’t acceptable by the beginning of next week, the restart will be moved to Fairbanks on March 3rd.

Moving the start of the race would mean logistical challenges for race officials and mushers. In addition, many Mat-Su Valley businesses bring in significant income during the Iditarod.

Now, race officials, mushers, fans, and business owners will be watching the weather forecast, hoping for good news. A final decision is expected sometime next Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Allen Moore Wins 2014 Yukon Quest

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 18:23

Allen Moore was choked up at the finish line. It’s a bittersweet win for the Two Rivers musher. Credit Mark Gillet / Yukon Quest

Allen Moore has won the Yukon Quest International Sled dog Race for the second consecutive year.  Moore’s team is known for its petite stature, perky ears and wagging tails and they didn’t disappoint.  They jumped in harness and yelped after arriving at Takhini Hot Springs 30 miles outside of Whitehorse.

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But Moore’s win is bittersweet.  What was expected to be a foot race to the finish, turned into a solo run after Eureka Musher Brent Sass sustained a minor head injury Sunday morning, roughly 80 miles from the finish line.  The accident was clearly difficult for Moore as he crossed the finish line.

“It would have been interesting, especially for the media if Brent hadn’t have gotten injured, because we would have been neck in neck all the way here.” The Two-Rivers musher choked up as he talked about the race. “We’d have probably both slid around the corner right there.  So, anyway, he said probably next year.”

This is Moore’s fourth top-ten finish in as many years. He also had to catch his breath when asked about his lead dog, Quito. “Quito’s been in every one of our races and she’s always been in the lead. She’s just the best dog a person could have.  The last four year’s she’s run back-to-back Quests and Iditarods in lead and I wish we had a lot more like her.”

Quito led the team in single lead for much of the race.  When she wasn’t running alone, she was running next to a tri-colored leader named Scruggs.  Moore says he plans to be back for the race, and he expects Quito and Scruggs are likely to run the Quest again next year. “Well, I would hope so. Until she tells us she doesn’t want to do it anymore, and she’s hasn’t said that yet and she’s just six or seven, one of the two.”

There are still 12 teams on the trail.  They will continue to make their way toward the finish line throughout the week.  The finish line was relocated 30 miles from downtown Whitehorse due to weak ice on the Yukon River and poor trail conditions. The change and the elimination of American Summit outside of Eagle shortened the total distance by roughly 50 miles.

Categories: Alaska News

Drumming and Healing at Beans Café

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-10 14:37

At midday, huge crowds of homeless men and women filter inside Beans Cafe in downtown Anchorage for meals and socializing. It can be noisy and chaotic. For many, it’s their only respite from the cold and dust outside on the city streets. But once a week, volunteers recently began serving up more than a hot meal. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.

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Dressed in a traditional fringed and beaded moose hide jacket, when Samuel Johns steps into the industrial-sized building filled with cafeteria tables, heads

Some of the homeless people ask about his jacket, others about his drum with the word Ahtna scrolled across the front and two red feathers on either side. Even more gather round when he brings out his stick and starts pounding out the beat.

His cousin Andrew wears a black hoodie and dances and sings at his side. During a recent one-day point in time survey, The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation found the majority of chronically homeless people in Anchorage – Around 70 percent of the 700 or so homeless people surveyed – self-identified as Alaska Native. Johns noticed too. He says he got the idea to start drumming at Beans while volunteering there a few weeks ago. At the end of the song, the audience let out sounds of approval.

28-year-old Johns grew up in Copper Center, or as he calls it Kluti Kaah. He is Ahtna and Gwich’en Athabascan. By his own account, Johns could have been among the men and women with substance abuse issues at beans. He spent his youth drinking to numb out emotions, he says, he did not know how to deal with. Traditional songs, drumming, dancing helped him find connection again get sober when he was 21. He says he was apprehensive about how he’d be received but something cool happened when he started drumming and singing at Beans.

“I just started singing. And it amazed me the respect that I got and the quietness that happened.”

Quietness followed by request after request for traditional Native songs from every corner of Alaska. Ed Pratt, who says he’s Tlingit from Huna and Juneau asked Johns to play a song to honor a friend who recently died.

“I love the drumming. I love the drumming! Because it takes me away from myself.”

Vernita Ballot who is Inupaq from Selawik, likes the drumming too.

“Driving me crazy. In a good, beautiful way. (Daysha: Does it remind you of home?) It remind me a lot of the way long ago people, Inupaq people, they used to drum too and dance. They taught me how. I know a little bit about it. But you know just to hear them drummin’ – it’s beautiful. I love it. Made me feel young again (laughs).”

“Our Native dancing and drumming, long ago, was kind of our form of going to church.”

That’s Ed Tiulana, a cultural programs coordinator at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

“Before western civilization came to Alaska and religion came to Alaska this was our way of making prayer to honor animals, our ancestors and the land and to share stories with everybody.”

Tiulana’s learned traditional drumming from his grandparents who come from King Island while he was growing up in Anchorage. He says they taught him that drums are used to replicate the sound of your mother’s heartbeat – that they help you relax, release energy and feel connection. With Alaska Native culture still in a transition from traditional to modern times, Tiulana says, the drum is a connection to healthy traditions and finding a way forward.

“Physical abuse, mental abuse, alcohol, drug abuse. You know, These things we tend to get lost in. And then we are disconnected from our culture. But when we hear our drumming and our singing, that fills an empty spot in our heart.”

A spot Johns says he’s excited to help fill with his drum.

“Our drum is like Medicine. Our drum is a tool for healing. And that’s what I was telling them while we were down there. You don’t just buy this thing at a store. You don’t get this at the hospital. It’s something that’s been passed down from generation to generation for a reason.”

Johns only knows songs from his region. He hopes Alaska Native people from other regions will join him to drum, sing and dance with the people at Beans Cafe soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Winds Whipping Up Dust, Gravel in the Mat-Su

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:07

Schools stayed open in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Friday, despite high winds raking the area late Thursday night and were expected to continue through Friday afternoon.

A low pressure center moving into the Northern Gulf of Alaska, in combination with a high pressure area over the Interior, caused the winds. Palmer, Wasilla, Chickaloon and Sutton were affected by the winds, which reached 60 mph with gusts of up to 80 mph.

Casey Cook, the Mat- Su Borough’s emergency services director, said the wind was blowing up gravel from the roadways, and was kicking up a lot of dust. Schools were open, but other facilities were not

Cook said intermittent power outages were caused by the wind damage and that there was at least one injury blamed on the wind event.

Matanuska Electric Association reported that about 3,500 people were affected by power outages Thursday night and Friday morning, according to company spokeswoman Julie Estey.

Crews worked between Willow and Talkeetna to take down lines that needed repair. Additional crews had been called to help restore power to 500 MEA customers still without electricity noon on Friday.

An air quality advisory was in effect throughout the Mat-Su Borough,  because of the dry air and the lack of snowfall in the area. The wind was kicking up dust and silt, and children, the elderly and persons with existing lung or heart disease were encouraged to stay indoors for the duration of the windy period.

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Categories: Alaska News

Parnell Warns Ketchikan of Lawsuit Repercussions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:06

In a visit to Ketchikan Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell said there could be “unintended consequences” to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state. Photo by KRBD.

Governor Sean Parnell is warning that Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding might make him and lawmakers reluctant to fund Ketchikan projects.

In a visit to the community Thursday, Parnell discussed the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit, which argues that municipalities in Alaska should not have to pay a local contribution for public education. If the suit is successful, it could hold the state accountable for hundreds of millions more in education spending and Parnell predicted potential repercussions.

Parnell confirmed some people’s worries here in Ketchikan. He said the lawsuit filed in January could jade his and other lawmakers perspective toward Ketchikan funding.

“When Ketchikan asks for money but yet the state might be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance or a reticence to step forward for other projects.,” Parnell said.

Parnell said he understands the frustration behind the lawsuit. But he thinks a local contribution for education is a good thing.

“I actually think a local contribution is important, I think it helps keep people connected to the school district and helps really make people interested and invested in the school district and the system that is here for our kids.”

- Emily Files – KRBD, Ketchikan


Categories: Alaska News

Parnell’s Ketchikan Comments Draw Response

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:05

Governor Sean Parnell’s candid comments regarding Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state over school funding drew some response. Sen. Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, listened to the interview and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.

Stedman added he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He said a House bill submitted by North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t believe North Pole will be discriminated against, either.

Ketchikan Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.

Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools, it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.

Moran said that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks School District Planning for Funding Shortfall

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:04

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Fairbanks district is planning for a major funding shortfall. The district is anticipating cuts even if requested state and local funding increases come through.

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Categories: Alaska News

Partnership To Combat Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-02-07 19:03

A new public health campaign to eradicate fetal alcohol syndrome is in the works.

For nearly a year, a group made up of lawmakers, mental health advocates, and Native leaders have been working on a strategy to bring down the number of babies born with the disorder. The syndrome can cause birth defects, nervous system damage, and psychological problems.

The public-private partnership is called “Empowering Hope,” and on Friday, Sen. Pete Kelly called on his fellow lawmakers to support the initiative.

“As we’ve seen with seatbelts, smoking, drunk driving – so many things – that the hearts and minds of Americans and Alaskans can be changed if we focus, and if we identify a problem and we agree as a people that this problem needs to be dealt with.”

One of the key ideas the group has for preventing the syndrome is identifying “natural responders” in the community who can assist pregnant woman who might be likely to consume alcohol. The group also wants to help women identify their pregnancies as early as possible, as a way of stopping drinking early.

About two out of everyone hundred children born in Alaska are believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome, according the state Division of Public Health. Kelly says that many of the state’s social ills like suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse are associated with that high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome. In his speech on the Senate floor, Kelly said that each case of the syndrome costs the state millions of dollars in care and treatment. The Fairbanks Republican says the number is even higher when you factor incarceration costs for people with the syndrome who then go on to commit crimes.

“If we took a woman who we knew was going to give birth to a fetal alcohol syndrome child, and we flew them first class to Aruba and gave them a seaside five-star hotel, gave them 24-hour care and lavished them with luxuries, then flew them back and gave them a car as a prize — if we did that, we would be so far ahead in this state financially,” says Kelly.

Kelly filed two resolutions in support of the initiative, but has not asked for state funding for the project as of this time.

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Categories: Alaska News

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