Alaska News

Our Own Geological Era

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 12:00

What if what we call the natural world no longer really exists, and we live already in a world of our own creation?  There is growing evidence that human activity has triggered a new geological era.  Scientists are debating whether the evidence we leave behind in the layers of the earth will be plastic, nuclear isotopes, changed biomass indicators, or other things, but they agree that humans have actually changed the planet.  The question is – how do we take responsibility for that, and what can we do from this point on?  It’s a question that means a lot for Alaska, and it’s what we’re talking about on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Christian Schwagerl, author, “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet”
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Legalization In Alaska; And Sally Jewell’s Arctic Visit

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-02-20 08:00

First, we’re discussing what the legalization of marijuana coming up next Tuesday means for state residents in real terms. We’ll be breaking down the first step of implementing Ballot Measure 2. Decriminalization in Alaska hardly means there are no more rules when it comes to recreational marijuana.

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We’ll also bring you a report from the Alaska Public Radio Network’s Alexandra Gutierrez on a rare visit from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic Borough and the large group of lawmakers who were also in the Arctic.

Watch the full Sally Jewell press conference:

Categories: Alaska News

New Prelim ASD Budget Reinstates Middle School Model

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 22:42

The Anchorage School Board unanimously passed next year’s $784 million preliminary budget at their meeting Thursday night. It includes money for giving equal planning time to all middle school teachers and supplements the language immersion programs. But until the state legislature passes its budget, this one could still change.

The School Board voted to redirect $2 million away from a technology upgrade fund in order to reinstate the middle school team planning time, including for elective teachers. Board member Bettye Davis said the middle school model works and needs to be followed.

“I prefer that the money go toward the students rather than towards things at this time,” she told the board.

The money pays for an additional 20 full-time middle school teachers. The administration says they will continue to collect data on the effectiveness of the middle school model.

One hundred and fifty thousand dollars from the same technology fund will be used to hire teachers for primary school Chinese and French language immersion programs. In total, the preliminary budget adds in more than 60 new teaching positions.

However, ASD’s final budget will depend on the state legislature. Governor Bill Walker has removed some one-time education funding from his budget. That could leave the district with a $12 million shortfall. Board member Pat Higgins says the budget is not yet final.

“And I look forward to really addressing more issues later in late April, once the legislature gets out. That’s when we really finalize the budget. So for those who think this is it, it’s a long way from it.”

The district is required by the municipal charter to submit a budget to the Anchorage Assembly for approval by the first Monday in March.

Board member Kathleen Plunkett says this early deadline forces them to review the budget twice, which is inefficient. She’s looking to change the charter.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Seeks To Scale Up State Gasline Project

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 17:38

When Gov. Bill Walker was elected, there were questions about the fate of the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project. The proposed $10 billion state-owned gasline was viewed as a backup plan to the large line currently being pursued alongside the North Slope producers, but Walker had criticized the project as being redundant.

Now, Walker plans to keep the ASAP project alive — and scale it up. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The original Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline would have been able to transport half a billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. While that sounds like a lot, it’s really only enough to service Alaska consumers.

“I’m looking at upsizing that,” says Gov. Bill Walker.

Walker would like to substantially grow that project, so the state could sell gas to Asian buyers, too. It’s a change that makes the new version of ASAP look a lot like another gasline project the state is pursuing — the AKLNG project.

“We continue with parallel projects, but pretty darned close in size,” says Walker. “Envisioning whether it’s going to be a 42- or 48-inch line is something to be yet determined.”

So, if the projects basically look alike, and both have the same goal of getting North Slope natural gas to market, what’s the difference? And why have both of them in play?

The distinction is that with the AKLNG line, Alaska has a 25 percent share at most, with the pipeline company TransCanada getting a cut. The rest of the equity is split by Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and BP.

They way the ASAP project is currently structured, the state has total ownership. To scale it up, the state could court Asian buyers and offer them equity in the project in exchange for their investment. By pursuing a scaled-up version the ASAP project, Alaska would be positioned to be the majority stakeholder.

Walker would not definitively say which project concept he preferred, though he advocated for majority ownership in a gasline while campaigning. He also says only one large-diameter gasline will be constructed, describing the new iteration of the project as a backup in case the AKLNG project falls through.

Walker says he consulted with the North Slope producers on his new plan for ASAP, and that he did not face opposition from the North Slope producers when he informed them of his plans.

“I just couldn’t bet on one particular project,” says Walker. “I didn’t really receive any pushback from them on this.”

When contacted, a ConocoPhillips said they were still reviewing the changes to determine what they mean for the project, while a spokesperson for BP referred questions to the governor. Exxon offered a written statement.

“ExxonMobil management did receive a call from Governor Walker advising that an announcement was forthcoming on a State of Alaska ‘back up plan’ for gas development. The governor clearly stated that he was committed to Alaska LNG and only wants one project to proceed. ExxonMobil responded that the Alaska LNG team were actively engaged with his administration in progressing the project,” wrote Exxon spokesperson Kim Jordan. “Now that the governor has announced that the State of Alaska is sponsoring a project in direct competition with the Alaska LNG Project, we are assessing the impact on our forward plans.”

Meanwhile, members of legislative leadership are skeptical of Walker’s plan. Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, is one of the architects of the bill that created the ASAP project. He says taking on majority ownership creates extra risk for the state, and that the proposal could put the AKLNG line in jeopardy.

“The governor has introduced a great deal of uncertainty into my mind into what the state’s intent and mission is, and I know it has introduced that same uncertainty into our business partners minds,” says Hawker.

Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, also has concerns about how the project would work if the producers who control the gas leases are not major players in a project. He says that raises the question of whether Alaska would have an actual product to put on the market, and whether it would get a good price for it. His preference would be to partner with the producers, rather than the end buyers, to get a project built.

“I think if you align yourself with buyers, their main mission is to get the lowest price they can possibly get. Which translates into the lowest price for Alaskans,” says Johnson. “On the other hand, if you’re doing producers, they’re involved with negotiating the highest price, which means a better price and more money for the state of Alaska.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Walker said he did not believe any legislation or additional money was needed to move the ASAP project in a new direction. Legislators are currently reviewing that statement.

Categories: Alaska News

NAACP leads conversation on helping young men of color succeed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 17:37

 

Dr. Allia Carter and author Omar Tyree speak about helping young men of color succeed. Hillman/KSKA

Data from the state’s Department of Education and Early Development show that students of color drop out of high school at higher rates than white students. Anchorage’s chapter of the NAACP is trying to change that.  They hosted a community meeting on Wednesday night where a crowd  the Anchorage School District Boardroom to start a dialogue about helping young men of color succeed. Community members asked questions of two experts who have led programs to help young black men in the United States.

When the moderator asked what the community should do if they find the district is resistant to change or says there isn’t a problem, a murmur of recognition ran through the crowd. Parent Chrystel Bankhead-Scott nodded, wanting solutions. She says she feels like her son is being tracked and given fewer educational choices, though she says she doesn’t know if it’s linked to race.

“That’s why I’m here today,” she said after the meeting.  ”I’m so disappointed. In fact it’s mind blowing. I was shocked about what we were going through.”

Bankhead-Scott says she’s worried that other students are also being impacted.

Dr. Allia Carter is the interim vice president of student affairs at Darton State College in Georgia and was one of the speakers. She says schools are so institutionalized that it’s hard for teachers and administrators to form authentic relationships with the students. She says the solution starts with meeting the kids where they’re at as individuals.

“It’s all really about building that relationship. So the moment you connect with that child and you can truly see that they’re learning and inspired and want to learn, keep that going and stay motivated with that.”

But the solution needs to go beyond traditional teacher-parent-student relationships. Carter says it needs to involve the whole community.

The schools “need to reach out to the advocates for those children. Some times they’re not parents. They might be people who are affiliated with faith-based organizations, their youth organizations, their parks and rec departments. Those kind of people. And I think it’s time for all of us to step up and respond to our community’s needs.”

Community member and parent Adrienne Reed says it’s time to stop talking and start reaching out.

The conversation “needs to go to the junior highs and the high schools. The counselors, the community leaders, go into the classrooms, pull these young men out and ask them, ‘What is the disconnect? Why are you out here doing things that we shouldn’t be doing when you have so many other opportunities? What are we, as adults, as your community doing to fail you?’ Don’t just shove money down their throats, don’t just shove education down their throats. See what it is that they need.”

Reed says she’s ready to start knocking on doors and helping the young men of Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Tops Gallup’s Index of Well-Being

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:57

Gallup today released its annual Index of Well-Being, and for the first time, Alaska tops the list.

The researchers who produce the Gallup-Healthways report say Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014. The Gallup report doesn’t mention that the state has among the highest rates of suicide, sexual assault and other violence.

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Nonetheless, Alaskans working in the social services trenches were inclined to greet news of the report with open arms.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for United Way in Anchorage, says a friend had posted the story on her Facebook wall before she woke up.

“It’s awesome! I wasn’t even aware that we were even close to being number 1, so seeing that was really nice to know,” Brown said.

She got to work and found the well-being report all over her inbox, and it was the talk of her office. Brown says it was a real shot in the arm, a counterpoint to Alaska’s high ratings on all those other national indices: Suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse.

“It’s kind of ironic, I think, that we’ve got both of those things happening at the same time,” Brown said.

The well-being index is based on phone surveys – nearly 177,000 nationwide.

We couldn’t reach Gallup to ask how many were contacted in Alaska, but their website says the results weighted to match each state’s demographics. They asked about five areas: Sense of purpose, financial, social and physical health, and liking your community.

The research director said in media interviews Alaskans reported the lowest levels of stress, high blood pressure, and drug use. Remember: this is based on telephone surveys. It’s also No. 1 for having residents who help to improve their community. The community part rings true to Anne Weaver, a manager at the Fairbanks Community Food bank.

“I’m so excited to hear that because we get to see all the good in this community and we see it every single day,” Weaver said.

Weaver says people hear she works at a “Food bank” and they connect with the suffering. But she’s definitely a glass half-full type. As Weaver sees it, the food bank gives her an opportunity to witness amazing generosity, and to do her own bit for well-being.

“You know we typically serve approximately 150 people each day, and 40 percent of them are kids, so I can go home tonight knowing that I made 150 people’s day better,” Weaver said.

Peter Pinney, Executive Dean for the College of Rural and Community Development at UAF and president of a Fairbanks social services network, can’t vouch for Gallup’s methods or findings. But Pinney does see how the dark and light of Alaska’s well-being can both be true.

“Well, certainly we are leaders in lots of bad indicators in certain areas, but overall, depending on who you talk to, it is a state where people do pay attention and look out for each other,” Pinney said.

Pinney says Alaska has higher than average rates of philanthropy and volunteering, particularly in the social services sector.

“So even though we have issues, we have a lot of people working on those issues,” Pinney said.

You might think people immersed in that work would be inclined to dismiss a well-being survey that doesn’t mention Alaska’s serious problems, but Suicide Prevention trainer Eric Boyer at UAA says he’s happy for it.

“If you think about resilience in a community, they need to know that some things that we’re doing are good, and have some positive,” Boyer said.

Boyer says he thinks Gallup did tap into something real about Alaska, but maybe just one side of a dichotomy.

Categories: Alaska News

YKEDC Gets Grant to Improve Economy, Housing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:54

Bethel dorms feature the integrated truss design. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

The State of Alaska has awarded a grant to the Yukon Kuskokwim Economic Development Council, YKEDC, for a truss-manufacturing project.

If the plan goes forward, local workers would use the region’s wood resources to build frames for highly energy efficient housing.

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If all goes as planned, there will be a truss manufacturing plant in Bethel supplied by logging operations and saw mills in upriver villages, within the next few years.

Brent Latham is the Economic and Energy Development Director at theAssociation of Village Council Presidents, AVCP, the regional tribal non-profit that houses the new YKEDC, for which he’s also director. He says the project has the potential to create new jobs in one of the state’s most economically depressed regions.

“It would be dozens of jobs, in my thinking, especially with the truss-manufacturing plant combined with the additional jobs that would be needed to harvest timber and make lumber out of timber,” said Latham.

The grant of about $70,000 was awarded January 23rd. Half of it was awarded immediately and the other half will be dispersed after a mid-year report is submitted. The funds are intended to support the truss-manufacturing project from assessment and feasibility to implementation.

AVCP Crews prepare to put the integrated truss building that will be new dormitories for their flight and aircraft maintenance schools. (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

AVCP President Myron Naneng says local manufacturing could have cost advantages for building housing.

“[We’re] trying to find ways to reduce cost of ordering material from out of state sources, and also have some of the supplies in Bethel that can be shipped to the local area villages,” said Naneng.

The goal is to promote regional economic development and improve housing. 40 percent of housing stock in the region is considered over crowded and about 3,000 homes should be replaced according to a feasibility study produced for AVCP by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and funded by the state of Alaska. Jack Hebert is CEO for the non-profit that works to develop energy efficient building technology adapted for the arctic. He says the plant would supply trusses made from local white spruce for a their ‘integrated truss’ design. Hebert says the design isn’t fancy but it’s adaptable and much more energy efficient than the houses that exist in the region now.

“Our typical home that’s built with this technique, a house that would use, a regular framed house, about 1200 gallons a year in fuel, uses more like 200 hundred gallons a year in fuel. It’s about an 80 percent reduction,” said Hebert.

Hebert says the Cold Climate Housing Research Center has tested the design throughout the state and has two duplexes that use it under construction in Bethel now. Eventually they’ll serve as dormitories for AVCP flight and aircraft maintenance schools.

Nolan Klouda, withUniversity of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Economic Development is developing business plans for the project.

“Our role in the project is to help with the business analysis and the business planning. So we’re going to be doing some financial modeling and projections on the two business operations really, the sawmill and the truss plant,” said Klouda.

Klouda says the business planning should be done by the end of June. AVCP and YKEDC officials say they still have to secure construction funding and probably won’t break ground on the truss plant until 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 19, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:53

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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Walker Aims To Ramp Up Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline Project

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When Gov. Bill Walker was elected, there were questions about the fate of the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project. The proposed $10 billion state-owned gasline was viewed as a backup plan to the large line currently being pursued alongside the North Slope producers, but Walker had criticized the project as being redundant.

Now, Walker not only plans to keep the ASAP project alive – he wants to scale up.

New Alaska Branch of Americans For Prosperity Campaigns Against Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently opened an office in Anchorage. They’re working to convince elected officials to support their vision of smaller government. And one of their main priorities this legislative session is defeating Medicaid expansion.

Tlingit Masks On ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Draw Questions From Southeast Alaska

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A recent episode of the popular PBS program “Antiques Roadshow” caught the attention of some Southeast residents when a couple of 200-year-old Tlingit masks from Haines appeared on-screen. It sparked the interests of regional Natives and historians and raised questions about how the items ended up in the Midwest.

Alaska Tops Gallup’s Index of Well-Being

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Gallup today released its annual Index of Well-Being, and for the first time, Alaska tops the list. The researchers who produce the Gallup-Healthways report say Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014.  The Gallup report doesn’t mention that the state has among the highest rates of suicide, sexual assault and other violence. Nonetheless, Alaskans working in the social services trenches were inclined to greet news of the report with open arms.

Seward Highway Reopened After Rock Slide

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A rockslide closed the Seward Highway in both directions for about two hours Thursday morning.

Tanaina Supporters Appeal To UA Board of Regents

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Supporters of the Tanaina Child Development Center appealed on Thursday to the University of Alaska Board of Regents …urging the board to help save the day care center. Tanaina was informed it would need to find a new home late last month, when UAA opted to end an agreement which allowed the childcare facility space on campus.

YKEDC Gets Grant to Improve Economy, Housing

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The State of Alaska has awarded a grant to the Yukon Kuskokwim Economic Development Council, or YKEDC, for a truss-manufacturing project. If the plan goes forward, local workers would use the region’s wood resources to build frames for highly energy efficient housing.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanaina Supporters Appeal To UA Board of Regents

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:20

Tanaina supporters voiced their concerns to the University of Alaska Board of Regents. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Supporters of the Tanaina Child Development Center appealed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents on Thursday, urging the board to help save Tanaina.

The center was informed it would need to find a new home late last month, when UAA opted to end an agreement which allowed the childcare facility space on campus. 

Max Kullberg is an assistant professor with the WWAMI program at UAA, and one of several Tanaina parents to testify. Aside from being a faculty member and parent, though – Kullberg is also a graduate of the program.

“All my earliest memories come from Tanaina,” Kullberg said. ”I believe my very first memory is sticking my tongue to a yellow metal duck out on the playground, and being stuck to that duck – howling as the teachers ran to get warm water and pry my mouth from it.”

“I remember nap time; I remember my best friends; I remember my teachers; and I remember trying cottage cheese for the first time.”

Kullberg’s three-year-old daughter attends Tanaina, and he hopes his son will be able to go next year.

Kullberg’s desire to keep Tanaina open and on campus echoed that of the other supporters at the meeting.

Jo Heckman is the chair of the Board of Regents. She says the board understands it’s a sensitive and emotional issue for those affected by the decision.

“I, myself, am a mom,” Heckman said. ”So I understand what displacement does to people, their work lives and their ability to function in a work environment.”

And Heckman says she also sees it from the university’s point of view, with the bleak outlook on state funding. Heckman says public testimony is a good opportunity to listen, but ultimately, the Tanaina decision isn’t one the board will be involved in.

“Board of Regents will allow the chancellors to run their universities,” Heckman said. ”Otherwise, we would be doing their job, and really I don’t think that’s the right thing for us to do as a governance body.”

Heckman says the scope of the board is to provide oversight and policy to the university system…not to make decisions at the campus level.

UAA has created a task force, involving university students, staff and faculty, Tanaina board members along with non-profit and early childhood development experts to help figure out a future for the center.

Megan Olson is UAA’s vice chancellor for University Advancement and a member of the task force. Much of the discussion over the last few weeks has surrounded the issue of space, but she says the group’s first task is to define and lay out Tanaina’s goals.

“Once we define that dream, I think we need to start planning toward that, and then the space will come,” Olson said.

Olson says the task force hopes to meet weekly. She says the university has also committed $10,000 dollars to help cover Tanaina’s rent expenses over the summer.

The center has to vacate it’s space on the UAA campus by May 8th.

Public testimony will continue Friday morning at the Board of Regents meeting in Anchorage.

 

Categories: Alaska News

New Alaska Branch of Americans For Prosperity Campaigns Against Medicaid Expansion

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 16:01

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently opened an office in Anchorage. They’re working to convince elected officials to support their vision of smaller government. And one of their main priorities this legislative session is defeating Medicaid expansion.

Americans for Prosperity opened up it’s Alaska office in early August to help elect Dan Sullivan to the U.S. Senate. It’s one of 34 chapters across the country. And state director Jeremy Price says the group is here to stay:

“This is a long term effort to promote economic freedom.”

The office has four staff members right now and Price expects that number to grow soon. Stopping Medicaid expansion tops the group’s legislative agenda. Americans for Prosperity led a successful campaign to defeat a Medicaid expansion bill in Tennessee this year, even as the state’s Republican Governor supported it. Price is hoping for the same success in Alaska:

“We think this is a huge issue that will have monumental impacts on the state budget for years to come.”

Medicaid expansion would allow low income childless adults to have health coverage. It’s funded by the federal government at 100 percent through next year, and then the match rate gradually decreases to 90 percent in 2020.

So far, Americans for Prosperity’s campaign against expansion in Alaska has been relatively quiet. The group held a reception at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau last month, where Fox News contributor Guy Benson made the case against expansion. Price says about 10 lawmakers attended.

In Tennessee, the group launched an aggressive radio ad campaign that asked constituents to join the fight against “expanding Obamacare.” Price won’t say if they’re planning a similar campaign in Alaska:

“I would say all of our tools are on the table and it will be kind of a wait and see approach…. We’ll take it day by day.”

Price says Medicaid expansion may seem like a good deal for the state, but it comes at the expense of taxpayers. He says the state can’t afford the program, even at the generous federal match rate because Medicaid already eats up too much of the state budget. Price also argues the federal government will abandon its funding commitment. Republican lawmakers hit on all those themes at a legislative hearing on expansion earlier this week.

David Guttenberg, a Democrat from Fairbanks, spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion at the hearing. He says Americans for Prosperity is interfering in the rights and health of Alaskans:

“Go home, go back to where you came from. Go back to your billionaire funders. The conservative movement now relies on Outside interests, Outside think tanks to tell them what to do, tell them how to vote and clearly there’s way too much of that.”

It’s an argument Jeremy Price is defensive about. He grew up near Fairbanks. Two other workers in Americans for Prosperity’s Anchorage office are also from Alaska. Price says 5000 Alaskans have identified with the group and many are ready to help get the group’s message out. He says the mission isn’t to convince the public something they don’t already believe:

“You can’t just come into a state, dump a bunch of money in and expect to have long term, lasting change. That doesn’t work. The only way this works is by engaging citizens on a grassroots level identifying issues that they care about, educating them on the perspective they may not be hearing and making sure those opinions and voices are heard in the assembly, the state capitol and in Washington.”

Price is planning to return to Juneau when the debate over Medicaid expansion heats up.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit Masks On ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Draw Questions From Southeast Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 15:22

Appraiser Tim Trotta with the unidentified owner of the masks. (PBS Antiques Roadshow image.)

recent episode of the popular PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” caught the attention of some Southeast residents when a couple of 200-year-old Tlingit masks from Haines appeared on screen.

It sparked the interests of regional Natives and historians and raised questions about how the items left the area.

Fans of Antiques Roadshow wait for those moments when an item on the program is valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. The TV cameras catch the owner’s stunned reaction when they hear their family heirloom is worth more than they imagined. That’s what happened recently during an episode of the show that was filmed in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“[It] would sell in the neighborhood of $175,000,” The appraiser, Ted Trotta said about one mask. The other he valued at $75,000. “This is really, really remarkable material. These are among the most rare objects in North America.”

But for some Alaska viewers the value wasn’t the surprise – it was the two items being appraised. They were wooden carved masks, in the Tlingit style, clearly old and according to the owner, originally from Haines.

PBS does not identify guests on the show. Calls to the public broadcaster were not returned. But he did give one clue to his identity when he explained where the masks came from.

“They date back into the 1890s where my great-grandfather was a missionary to what is now called Haines, Alaska.”

The Tlingit masks. (PBS Antiques Roadshow image.)

Trotta, the appraiser, described the masks as a wolf and a face mask. He said there is a carving of a raven in the wolf’s ears and abalone was used for the wolf’s eyes. He said the face mask may depict an ancestor. He pointed out the faint pigments still visible. He estimated they were from the 1700s.

But local Natives and art experts say Trotta got a few details wrong. Those aren’t raven figures in the wolf’s ears, they’re eagles. The masks are likely from Klukwan, a native village about 20 miles north of Haines.

“When I look at them I see they are Tlingit sacred clan objects,” said Rosita Worl, director of Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. “This belongs to Kaagwaataan of Haines. You’ve got a wolf and an eagle in the ear, so it’s got to belong to the Kaagwaataan there.”

Worl does agree the pieces are likely shamanic or tied to spiritual practices.

Helen Alten, who is the director of the Sheldon Museum in Haines, watched the online video of the show and said if they are that old, they would have had to been kept inside, perhaps in a covered grave. But she says they also appear worn and used.

“My thought was is that these were used in a cultural context,” Alten said. “That’s the kind of wear that I see in stuff that has been used in a cultural context over a long period of time.”

That brings up another point – how did the masks make their way into private hands, and to North Dakota? Using the clue from the guest about his great-grandfather having been a missionary here, the museum did a little research.

“From our research and our records, if his great-grandfather was here as a missionary in the 1890s for a decade the only person that could be is Pastor William Walter Warne and his wife Viola Bigford,” Alten said.

It’s difficult to say if the pieces were given as gifts or were collected. Alten says there are instances of pieces of spiritual value being gifted to missionaries if someone converted to Christianity.

“The other thing that has happened with Christianization, the missionaries were there to Christianize,” Alten said. “What happens is that with conversion people will give gifts like this of their old beliefs. Sometimes it’s part of the conversion is giving up the old. So, many missionaries acquired things as gifts.”

Worl says if that’s the case, the masks illustrate the ironic and difficult history of missionaries in the Chilkat Valley.

“What I find interesting is the contradictions,” she said. “The great-grandfather was a missionary and a teacher and at that time they were teaching Tlingit people our spiritual beliefs and practices were wrong. But at the same time he’s appropriating Tlingit objects. I like to quote Joe Hotch of Klukwan who said, ‘They collected our sins.’”

During an interview with PBS after the appraisal, the owner said he was shocked at the value, but didn’t plan on selling the items. He said they were important to his family.

Worl says Sealaska will try to contact the man if they can find out his identity.  Since the items are now privately owned, she says they can’t be repatriated. That avenue is only available when items are held by federally funded institutions. But Worl still thinks the items should be returned.

“In this case if we could identify the individual we definitely would write to him and suggest he return them to the Tligint Kaagwaataan in Haines,” she said.

Alten says the Sheldon Museum is also interested in reaching out to the owner. She says the museum would work with the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center in Klukwan to suggest the masks be donated back to the community or perhaps loaned so they could at least be displayed here.

It’s also possible Sealaska could work with other organizations to purchase the masks, if they ever come up for auction. But with the recent appraisal of a quarter-million dollars, that would be difficult.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward Highway Reopened After Rock Slide

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-02-19 08:07

A rockslide closed the Seward Highway in both directions for about two hours Thursday morning.

The slide pushed debris and at least one huge boulder onto the highway just before seven o’clock this morning.

State Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says an SUV hit the boulder, which alerted officials to the incident. McCarthy says local weather conditions could have triggered the slide.

“Anything that causes a freeze – thaw cycle can loosen material,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy says slides are not unusual in the area, just south of Anchorage.

“This area, from Potter weigh station down to Indian, we do monitor throughout the year, but particularly in springtime, and other times, such as like after a seismic event or after high winds, for any material that may have become loose and may have fallen on to the roadway,” McCarthy said.

Highway crews cleared the rocks away, and the highway opened up by nine a.m. According to Anchorage Police Department there were no injuries reported in the incident.

 

Categories: Alaska News

International Experts on Arctic Warfare Gather For First Time At Remote Alaska Training Site

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 19:31

Soldiers from 12 countries and units all over the United States convened to discuss tactics, programs, and pedagogy on training military forces for operating in extreme cold environments. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA).

 

Just as the Defense Department is putting the country’s military focus on the Arctic and Pacific, the U.S. Army in Alaska held its first ever international summit on cold weather combat. Elite specialists in mountaineering, skiing, and Arctic survival came to the Northern Warfare Training Center near Fairbanks to learn new techniques for fighting in terrain that can itself be a weapon against troops.

http://media.aprn.org/2015/ann-20150218-04.mp3

 

It was -10 to -20 degrees at the Black Rapid Training Site–depending on who you asked–as Chief Warrant Officer Rommel Hurtado struck a magnesium bar against his knife, casting sparks at a pile twigs and tinder.

“It’s a very tedious process,” Hurtado said, but, “nature provides.”

Hurtado was at Black Rapids for an Army course in Arctic survival. The site is an hour south of Delta Junction, and usually used for training troops stationed in Alaska on how to operate in cold terrain. But for one week in February specialists from 12 countries and a handful of domestic units paid their way from as far away as Nepal for a summit on Arctic and mountain warfare.

For for to five months of the year, specialists with the Northern Warfare Training Center teach soldiers techniques for cold weather survival and combat, sometimes spending days at a time in sub-zero temperatures during training exercises. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

As international attention drifts further North, the Defense Department is leaning more on its military assets in Alaska.

“We recognize that cold regions are pretty significant right now, and becoming more significant,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Alan Brown, a USARAK spokesman. “The Arctic is only going to become more relevant, so military forces across the world are going to have to be able to adapt and react to these colder regions.”

Snow-shoeing up a hill in a thin white tunic, Lieutenant Colonel Francois Dufault of Canada’s Advanced Warfare Center watched soldiers and specialists ski by on the site’s groomed trails.

“I think the most important thing that we’re looking when we go outside like this is how you get dressed, because in the Arctic you know the big point is the layer system, and either you will freeze or you’re overheating,” Dufault explained. Part of his work at the summit was seeing how colleagues from other parts of the world do many of the same things, but differently, whether it be keeping rifles at an even temperature to prevent jamming, or slipping a plastic bag between layers of socks to trap moisture.

Not everything was so hands-on, though. Delegates spent a lot of time explaining to on another the finer points about their country’s cold weather military capabilities. Denmark became interested in its Arctic areas just three years ago, and is trying to integrate the unique abilities of its Home Guard in Greenland, some of whom spend months patrolling the remote coasts by dog-team. The Germans boast a mountain facility where specialists can take courses in high altitude sniper-shooting.

Lieutenant Colonel Dorjnyam Shinebayor is head of the Mongolian army’s Special Task Battalion, which is drawing on nomadic traditions for carrying artillery and supplies.

“We [use] the horse, and yaks,” Shinebeyor said. “And camel,” he added.

Sustained Unit Support Vehicles are small, durable pieces of equipment for quickly moving troops over snowy terrain. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Some of the specialists came from countries without an obvious connection to the cold. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Rogerson oversees Australia’s rescue operations for Antarctica, as well as the rarely mentioned “Australian Alps” in the island’s interior, which get more snow annually than Switzerland.  Rogerson believes Arctic readiness is essential for the kinds of international conflicts drawing warm weather troops to cooler climates.

“The Australian Army continues to have a global mission promoting peace. And so, in particular with our U.S. partners that’s taken us to some pretty cold places, be that Korea or more recently Afghanistan,” Rogerson said. “So who knows where that next location might be, but we want to be well prepared.”

Going forward, military leaders want a better sense of who knows the most when it comes to cold weather. Sergeant Adam McQuiston has been stationed in Alaska for around a year-and-a-half, and spent part of January training with the Finnish Army’s elite Jaeger Brigade, who practically wrote the book on Arctic warfare. McQuiston is helping bring what he learned there back to the U.S. Army’s own training, lessons like how to build a fire on top of a hill after submerging in ice water–part of his coursework. As well as some training that is really only available in Finland.

“They did a reindeer slaughter,” McQuiston recalled. “One of the gentlemen brought live reindeer in, and we ended up field-dressing them, and…cooking them that night.”

But the Defense Department is sending mixed signals. The national troop draw-down could hit Alaska’s two Army bases hard, with as many as 11,100 positions potentially cut. Officials are visiting Forts Richardson and Wainwright for themselves on February 23rd and 24th (respectively), and will hear from community members during listening sessions.

Staff Sargent Manuel Bezo with USARAK at the Black Rapids Training Site. Many of the soldiers who come to the site are new to Alaska and have never seen snow. Trainers show them practical survival techniques like digging re-inforced shelters into snow mounds, as well as the effects of extreme cold on equipment and cognitive faculties. (Photo: Zachariah

Yet during the week’s meeting, General Ray Odierno, head of the entire U.S. Army, flew in aboard a Blackhawk helicopter for a quick lunch with troops before giving a brief address.

“As I look at the new environment that we’re operating in around the world, in order to solve these many problems that are popping up it’s going to require a joint, inter-agency, multinational solution,” Odierno told the worldly room of specialists, elaborating on where collaborative efforts like this one fit within the Army’s overall strategy.

One auspicious absence at the event was Russia, who the U.S. military is barred from working with because of sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine. However, specialists say their interest in preparing for cold weather combat has less to do with any one particular geopolitical hot-spot than building a long-term ability to operate effectively in an area garnering more and more attention from travelers, companies, and countries.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 18, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 17:36

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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Murkowski Concludes Obama Aims to Kill Alaska’s Pipeline

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

President Barack Obama has stopped in Alaska to refuel, but he plans to make his first real trip to the state in August. Or so says U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She let it slip during her annual address to the Alaska Legislature today. The speech was aimed primarily at fighting the administration’s moves to shield parts of the Arctic from oil development.

Crowd Rallies Attention Toward Climate Change

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Sen. Lisa Murkowski barely talked about climate change in her annual speech to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday. And outside the Capitol, a small group rallied to bring attention to climate change and to demand more action on the issue from Murkowski.

Port Officials Call For “Tweaks” to Shell Moorage Plan

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

As Shell tries to chart a course back to the Arctic this summer, the company is looking for space to store its drill rigs in Unalaska.

Army Using Alaska To Prep For Cold Weather Combat

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Army in Alaska held its first ever international conference last week on cold weather combat. Elite specialists in mountaineering, skiing, and Arctic survival came to the Northern Warfare Training Center near Fairbanks to learn new techniques for fighting in terrain that can itself be a weapon against troops. The conference comes as the Army is putting its focus on the Pacific and the Arctic.

Alaska’s Healthcare.gov Enrollment Jumps To Nearly 21K

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Almost 21,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed February 15th.

With Budget Changes, Walker Boosts Ferry, Community Jails Funding

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has sent his final amendments to the capital and operating budget to the Legislature.

Gov. Walker’s New Adviser To Focus On Rural Economy, Local Governments

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker named his new rural affairs advisor today at the Alaska Federation of Natives winter retreat in Kotzebue. Gerad Godfrey’s full title is Senior Advisor on Rural Business and Intergovernmental Affairs — a title that Godfrey says is meant to communicate that his work will focus on economic development in villages and consulting with tribes.

Anchorage YWCA Works for Gender Pay Equity

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Anchorage YWCA has taken on the topic of pay inequity for women. Nationally women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in Alaska, the rate is 67 cents, placing Alaska at 48th for women’s pay in the nation.

Fairbanks Mountaineer Nearing Seven Summit Feat

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man is nearing completion of a mountaineering feat. Bill Cole has climbed the highest peaks on 6 of the world’s 7 continents.

Categories: Alaska News

Crowd Rallies Attention Toward Climate Change

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 16:54

Sen. Lisa Murkowski barely talked about climate change in her annual speech to the Alaska Legislature Wednesday. And outside the Capitol, a small group rallied to bring attention to climate change and to demand more action on the issue from Murkowski.

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Categories: Alaska News

Port Officials Call For “Tweaks” to Shell Moorage Plan

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 16:53

As Shell tries to chart a course back to the Arctic this summer, the company is looking for new space to store its drill rigs in Unalaska.

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Shell has asked the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to sign off onthree moorage sites for the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer — all on on state-owned tidelands. If they’re approved, the rigs could cycle through Wide Bay, Nateekin Bay, and the edge of Summer Bay until 2019.

Shell declined to comment through a spokesperson. But port personnel in Unalaska say some of those spots are less than ideal.

Shell wants to use its Noble Discoverer drill rig to explore the Chukchi Sea this summer. (KUCB)

Summer Bay sees heavy traffic from cargo ships. And marine pilot Rick Entenmann says the 500-meter safety zone that Shell is requesting around its rigs may not leave much space for tugboats and barges to get past the entrance to Nateekin Bay.

“So we’d like to maybe move that position — maybe tweak that a little bit more towards the Broad Bay area and Wide Bay,” Entenmann says. “Get him out of the way. Because it’s going to be a visual [thing] too. You know? ‘What the heck is that. How long is that going to be there?’”

It’s not clear how long the vessels would stay in Unalaska. Shell didn’t intend to keep either of its Arctic rigs in port back in 2012. But heavy sea ice and permitting delays kept the fleet tied up in Unalaska for more than a month.

During that time, the Noble Discoverer broke free from its moorage in Unalaska Bay, grabbing national headlines in the process.

Shell isn’t looking to use that spot again. But after the issues the company faced on its last Arctic expedition, Shell sent several employees to Unalaska to hammer out new anchorages.

Ports director Peggy McLaughlin says that meeting took place just over a year ago.

“You know, I think that Shell made the effort to come out and communicate and to work with local government and work with local industry to come up with the best possible solutions,” McLaughlin says. “Somehow — in the mix-up and the time lapse between then and now — some of those priorities have been lost in translation.”

There’s also been turnover in Shell’s ranks. McLaughlin says she’s asked for another meeting with the oil company later in the week to discuss their moorage proposal.

Alaska’s DNR will be taking public comments on the plan through February 24. They can be submitted in writing to the Division of Mining, Land and Water at 550 West 7th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501. Questions should be directed to natural resource specialist Candice Snow at candice.snow@alaska.gov or (907) 269-5032.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage YWCA Works for Gender Pay Equity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 16:48

The Anchorage YWCA has taken on the topic of pay inequity for women. Nationally women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in Alaska, the rate is 67 cents, placing Alaska at 48th for women’s pay in the nation. Hilary Morgan is the CEO of Anchorage YWCA, she says when she researched the pay disparity, she thought it may be skewed due to jobs in the resource development industry that required more physical strength, so she examined industries that didn’t require brawn.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Mountaineer Nearing Seven Summit Feat

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 16:47

A Fairbanks man is nearing completion of a mountaineering feat. Bill Cole has climbed the highest peaks on 6 of the world’s 7 continents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Healthcare.gov Enrollment Jumps To Nearly 21K

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 15:58

HHS region 10 director Susan Johnson. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Almost 21,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period that closed Feb. 15.

Susan Johnson announced the numbers at a press conference in Anchorage Wednesday. She’s the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director for region 10, which also includes Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Johnson says Alaska’s increase of 62 percent over last year leads the region.

“The Alaska numbers are incredibly strong they’re over about 162% of last years numbers in half the time,” Johnson said. “We just had three months this year, we had six months last year, so that’s huge.”

Nationally, enrollment increased 41%. Nearly 90% of Alaskans who enrolled qualified for a subsidy to help pay for it. The average subsidy was more than $500 per month.

Johnson says she is hopeful state lawmakers will decide to expand Medicaid- which would offer health coverage to thousands more Alaskans. The federal government funds the program at 100 percent until the end of next year, then the state’s share gradually increases to 10 percent in 2020. Republican lawmakers in Alaska have said the state shouldn’t expand Medicaid because the federal government will abandon that generous funding commitment. Johnson calls that argument a “false asteroid.”

“You know I’m used to politicians thinking federal dollars have 3rd grade cooties attached to them and I got over that in 6th grade,” Johnson said. “And I think we can get over that to see that it’s really about those people who are suffering and could die and could need our help now. It’s a trust in that need, not a trust in in the federal government.”

It would take an act of Congress to amend the Affordable Care Act to reduce the federal match rate for Medicaid expansion.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Concludes Obama Aims to Kill Alaska’s Pipeline

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-18 15:53

President Barack Obama has stopped in Alaska to refuel, but he plans to make his first real trip to the state in August, in the company of Secretary of State John Kerry. Or so says U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She let it slip during her annual address to the Alaska Legislature today, a speech aimed primarily at fighting the administration’s moves to shield parts of the Arctic from oil development.

Murkowski says she’s not normally an alarmist, but she says President Obama’s actions in the Arctic show he’s trying to starve the trans-Alaska Pipeline of new oil.

“I just can’t come to a different conclusion: It looks like the goal is to shut down the pipeline,” she said. “Now, they’re not saying that. But when you’re working against those initiatives that would allow us to fill it up, how can you conclude otherwise?”

 

And, Murkowski says, if the pipeline is done and dismantled, the effect on the state would be huge.

 

“Really, the Alaska that we know, I don’t think it exists anymore,” she said. “That’s not a future that I’m prepared for, and I don’t think that’s a future that any of us want.”

 

Murkowski gave her annual address to the Alaska Legislature as a rallying cry — to the extent that her deliberative personal style allows. She urged Alaska leaders to storm ramparts – politically, anyway. She’s asking them to reach out to their contacts Outside to make Alaska’s case, and to make their views known to the federal government through the public process.

She recited the issues that have inflamed Alaska’s leaders for weeks: Obama’s request for wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a decision to withdraw offshore areas from Arctic leasing, and restrictions in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Legislators applauded an idea she floated to put part of ANWR under state control, either by buying it, or through a land trade.  Congress has been unable to pass a bill to open it to drilling. Murkowski didn’t explain why a land trade or sale would be any more popular, but she vowed to fight at every legislative opportunity.

“Truly folks, every must-pass bill, every open amendment process, every chance that we have to leverage something for Alaska, know that I’m going to be keying in on every one of them,” she said.

This year, Murkowski became chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel that controls the Interior Department’s spending. She stopped short of saying she’d seek fiscal revenge on the Administration, though she says she has new tools to use and some are pretty sharp.

Afterward Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, called Murkowski’s speech “half good.” Gara says more drilling doesn’t necessarily mean good revenue flow for Alaska.

“Oil production involves two things. One the drilling, and our delegation is pounding their fist on that, and that’s fine,” Gara said. “And one is whether we get any money for it. Right now, unless they change the law, we get none of the federal royalty for outer continental shelf oil. We get no state tax for OCS oil. We get nothing. Other side benefits but no revenue.”

Gara says under the state’s tax system, developing ANWR wouldn’t solve Alaska’s revenue crunch either.

Categories: Alaska News

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