Alaska News

Sealaska Reports $35 Million Net Loss Last Year

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:11

Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation says it had a net loss of $35 million last year.

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Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

Sealaska’s 2013 annual report says three-quarters of the loss came from its construction subsidiary. It badly underestimated the cost of two building projects in Hawaii.

The report says the subsidiary’s managers are gone and bidding on such projects has stopped.

Sealaska says another $25 million was lost as the corporation adjusted its accounting practices. Earnings from investments, profitable ventures and resource revenues from other regional Native corporations shrunk the overall loss.

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil says the corporation remains healthy and is positioned to grow.

The corporation is headquartered in Juneau and has close to 22,000 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian shareholders. More than half live outside Southeast.

Shareholder and longtime critic Brad Fluetsch says actual, unadjusted losses are twice the $35 million figure.

The Juneau financial adviser says the losses are a sign of poor management.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Man In Custody After Slashing Police Car Tires

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:08

A Skagway man is in custody after allegedly on a vandalism spree and slashing the tires of most of the squad vehicles on the town’s police force and setting a police dispatcher’s car on fire.

Twenty-one-year old Casey Collom was arrested early Wednesday after a witness allegedly saw him slashing tires of the vehicles parked at the home of Skagway police chief Ray Leggett. The witness called 911, and then the dispatcher called the chief at home. According to court documents, the chief went outside to find tires slashed on his patrol vehicle, his personal vehicle and a third vehicle parked in his driveway.

The witness told police he saw Collom take a bike from another residence and peddle away. A short time later a police officer located Collom and after a struggle, arrested him. The officer writes in court documents that Collom had three steak knives and a box cutter on him. He also had with him two cans of beer and appeared intoxicated.

As police continued investigating, they discovered several other vehicles in the neighborhood with slashed tires, including three more police patrol vehicles parked at officers’ homes. Around the same time, the police dispatcher on duty discovered her personal vehicle was on fire and all four tires slashed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, police had discovered a total of 28 slashed tires they attributed to the spree.

Deb Potter was one of the residents who discovered the tires on her vehicle destroyed Wednesday morning. She had just woken up when she received a text message about the spree. Then she checked Facebook for scuttlebutt.

“After that I was lying in bed and thinking ‘Well, maybe I should go look at my car,’” Potter said. “That’s when I went outside and saw that two tires on the left hand side we slashed and then right around the corner my neighbor’s tires were slashed as well.”

Collom, a seasonal resident originally from Idaho, was arraigned in Skagway on Wednesday to face a total of 12 charges, including several for felony mischief. Lesser charges include theft and resisting arrest. Collom was also arrested in Skagway one week ago for drunken driving.

Chief Leggett said there were two squad cars not affected in the spree; one at home with another officer and the other on patrol. He said the department was able to have tires flown up from Juneau and all the patrol cars were operational again by the end of the day Wednesday.

But as for replacing the tires on personal vehicles, that task is not so easy. Normally, large items can be order from Juneau and sent via the ferry. But as Potter points out, with Skagway’s ferry dock still undergoing repairs from recently sinking, and is not scheduled to reopen until May 11.

“I know, right? What do I do?” Potter said. “It’s not like I can catch somebody getting on the ferry to come back up from Juneau to bring me tires.”

Potter said some residents are talking about placing a joint order for tires and having them shipped on the weekly barge, or traveling to Whitehorse to buy them.

Leggett said he wasn’t as upset about the incident seemingly targeted at his police force as he was impressed by the amount of people willing to help. He said several people volunteered their time and tools to help replace tires. And someone volunteered their car for the police dispatcher whose car was set on fire.

“We’re just grateful for the support of the community,” Leggett said.

Collom has been transported to Lemon Creek Correctional facility in Juneau and is being held on $3,000 cash bail.

Categories: Alaska News

Copper River Commercial Salmon Fishing Kicks Off Thursday

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

The Copper River commercial fishing season kicks off Thursday morning.

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Categories: Alaska News

Diesel Fuel Spilled Into Nushagak River

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

A vessel transiting the Nushagak River apparently hit something overnight that punctured a fuel tank. An estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the vessel.

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Categories: Alaska News

Old And Bold Pilots: Chuck Sassara

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series on Alaska aviators, we’re gathering stories of flying. Chuck Sassara came to Alaska in 1955 after graduating from UCLA. He and his wife Ann drove the Alaska Highway in a VW bus. He got a job the day they got to Anchorage with Pacific Northern Airlines.

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Categories: Alaska News

With Wedding On The Line, Plaintiffs Prep For Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:30

Five gay couples are behind the lawsuit challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. The suit was filed Monday in federal court. And in this case, the political is especially personal.

Courtney Lamb is in the early stages of planning her wedding.

“I’ve asked people to be like, you know, bridesmaids. And I have my veil and my shoes.”

She has ideas for a dress, too. For a location, she’s thinking Girdwood. And when it comes to the reception, Lamb wants it to be more fun than traditional.

(Courtesy Stephanie Pearson)

“Like I want a cupcake tower, not like a big eight-tier cake,” says Lamb.

There’s just one big wrinkle: Lamb doesn’t know if the state will allow her to marry her fiancée by their wedding date.

She and her partner Stephanie Pearson are one of five gay couples fighting an Alaska ban on same-sex marriage. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government must recognize gay marriages, judges all across the country have decided state-level bans are unconstitutional. On Wednesday, Idaho’s ban was struck down. The same thing happened last week in Arkansas. Oklahoma, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas have all seen similar decisions from the federal courts this year.

Lamb thinks there’s a good shot that gay marriage could be legal in Alaska — and even nationwide — by next May.

“We’re planning our wedding, and if this goes through and it’s legal by the time we have all of our plans finalized, then that’s wonderful,” says Lamb. “And if not, then we will have a big party with our friends and still celebrate ourselves and our relationship.”

Fellow plaintiffs Matt Hamby and Chris Shelden are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. They’ve already been married — twice.

The first time was in 2008, in Canada, where same-sex marriage has been legal for nearly a decade.

“We were married outdoors, and that time of year it was raining a lot, so we took a lot of umbrellas with us,” says Shelden.

Matthew Hamby and Chris Shelden in 2012. (Photo by Chris Hamby)

They read their vows again this Christmas Eve, this time in Utah. A judge had ruled against the state’s marriage ban that week, and the couple was already there visiting family. So, they took advantage of the moment.

“Of course, when you fill out the license, you have to state that you’re not married,” says Hamby. “So, of course I said, ‘Well, we are married. We’ve been married since 2006 in Canada.’ And she says, ‘Well, as long as you’re marrying the same person, it’s okay.’”

That’s when they realized the possibility for Alaska.

“I think that we saw that if Utah could see that change, that Alaska’s constitutional amendment was probably unconstitutional before the United States Constitution, too,” says Shelden. “It really did give us hope.”

Hamby and Shelden have been a couple for nearly a decade, and they’ve lived in Alaska longer than that. Shelden moved here in 1994. Hamby came up in 1997, right before voters adopted the first gay marriage ban in the country.

HAMBY: I thought it was almost devastating. It seemed like I was moving to a place that was creating a different tier of status for gay people.

SHELDEN: Yeah, you feel like do you even want to stay, but we love Alaska and we don’t really have any desire to be anywhere else. And yet we don’t feel like we’re protected. We don’t feel like we have the same rights as other people. We don’t feel like we can take care of each other properly.

It’s more than just a social stigma, they say. They wanted to get a specific title on their house for legal purposes, but they can’t because their marriage is not recognized.

Hamby says there’s just a greater burden placed on them when dealing with state government.

“Straight couples just have to check a box and put a name and social security number on there and say they’re married,” says Hamby.

Gay couples have to provide an affidavit and have a handful of legal documents like vehicle registrations and wills ready to go to prove they’re together.

Shelden says if their legal challenge is successful, that would be a thing of the past. And he thinks having legal recognition matters for the gay community, especially its younger members.

“For the security of our relationship, it’s not that important. For our ability to take care of each other, it is important,” says Shelden. “But I think this is more important than us.”

The State of Alaska is expected to defend the marriage ban in court.

Opinion in Alaska has recently been shifting toward gay marriage. According to a survey released by Public Policy Polling on Wednesday, 52 percent of Alaskans favor gay marriage, while 43 percent oppose it. Last year, the numbers were essentially flipped.

Categories: Alaska News

East High grads reflect on diversity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:28

Seniors from most of Anchorage’s high schools are graduating this week and next. The district’s high schools rank among the most diverse in the nation. East high tops that list with more than 2000 kids from every corner of the world.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/14-east-grad-pkg.mp3

Inside the Sullivan arena, students lined up to receive their diplomas. Outside, a few tables were set up with a selection of classic graduation presents like flowers and teddy bears, but the leis are clearly the most popular.

East High graduates celebrate after flipping their tassels.

Pepe Ahkui sat at a booth surrounded by candy strung together and leaves woven into necklaces. She said giving a graduate a lei is a way to show love and honor—it’s a way of life.

“And if we’re able to do that here – you know, cause there’s so much different nationalities, and with the mixture of people sharing their cultures, I think it’s a way of making the world a better place to live,” she said.

Graduate Nichole Child arrived at East from private school and said the transition opened her eyes. “I’ve learned to accept more cultures, actually. Like, I dunno, like my family background—I believed more what they said but as I met other kids and their cultures, it wasn’t bad.”

Valerie Thao said she took time during high school to learn about other cultures, and fellow students asked about her Hmong culture too. But she admited her circle of friends is probably less diverse.

“They’re Hmong. Mostly their Hmong, but I also have a couple of friends who are from other cultures, too.”

Friday Thor, who graduated from Bartlett two years ago, was with her friend who just graduated. They both agreed that in their experiences, diversity didn’t always equate to integration. Thor said people often hung out together because they connected through language.

“Us, we speak another language,” she said, referring to her native Nuer. “Like I’d be more comfortable going to my people, going up and hanging out with my people who speak my language rather than hanging out with people who speak English. I feel like African-Americans and Caucasian kids mix around because they don’t have that comfort group that they’re with.”

UAA sociology professor Chad Farrell, who ran the numbers for Anchorage, said diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to cross cultural friendships. He used Department of Education data to see how the city’s schools compared to others in the nation. Just like many Anchorage neighborhoods, they’re all significantly more diverse than average. But East, Bartlett, and West take the top spots.

“Another way to think about it is that your average Anchorage resident has more localized diversity surrounding him or her than your average American. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are hanging out or striking up friendships with their neighbors who are from a different ethno-racial group but it certainly speaks to the exposure to localized diversity is higher here than you would see in other metropolitan areas.”

After the graduation ceremony wraps up, Presley Piliati emerged from the arena. His face peeked out from a mound of leis made from Cheetos, candy bars, and small pink flowers. He was surrounded by family and friends who shout to him as he tried to explain how the leis reflect his culture and his family’s love.

Piliati said at East, the students from different backgrounds do hang out with each other.

Presley Piliati poses with signs made by family and friends.

“I mean everyone sits together. It’s not just Polynesians on one side and Dominicans on one side. It’s mixed,” he said. “We just make friends with each other.”

And share their leis, which hang around hundreds of graduates’ necks.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 14, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:10

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

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Couples’ Decision To Fight Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban A Personal One

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Five gay couples are behind the lawsuit challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. The suit was filed Monday in federal court. And in this case, the political is especially personal.

Diesel Fuel Spilled Into Nushagak River

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A vessel transiting the Nushagak River apparently hit something overnight that punctured a fuel tank.  An estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the vessel.

East High School Most Diverse In Nation

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Seniors from most of Anchorage’s high schools are graduating this week and next. The district’s high schools rank among the most diverse in the nation. East high tops that list with more than 2,000 kids from every corner of the world.

APICDA Tries to Draw Graduate Students Back Home

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Community development quota, or CDQ groups, are supposed to harness some of the wealth from western Alaska’s booming fisheries. They all invest in education, by handing out scholarships to coastal residents.

But, one CDQ group is changing the way it invests in graduate students, to get the returns it wants.

Unalaska Tallies Cost of Blasting Issues at Wastewater Plant, Landfill

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

It’s been a year since Unalaska started uncovering big problems with a major construction project in town. Work is moving forward on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. But, the city is still trying to put a price on the damage done.

Copper River Salmon Fishing Kicks Off Thursday

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Copper River commercial fishing season kicks off Thursday morning.

Old And Bold Pilots: Chuck Sassara

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series on Alaska aviators, we’re gathering stories of flying. Chuck Sassara came to Alaska in 1955 after graduating from UCLA. He and his wife Ann drove the Alaska Highway in a VW bus. He got a job the day they got to Anchorage with Pacific Northern Airlines.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Novelist Wins Rasmuson Grant

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:26

Don Rearden has won a Rasmuson Project Award grant of $7,500 to turn his novel, The Raven’s Gift, into a screenplay.

Rearden says he painstakingly filled out paperwork for a handful of applications and survived years of rejection before he finally won the Rasmuson grant.

Don Rearden.

“It’s a huge honor to be amongst so many of my peers and to know that my work has been validated a little bit by the Rasmuson Foundation. And hopefully, it’s just kickstarting off a project that will culminate in a film being shot in Bethel and he Y-K Delta, at some point.”

Rearden grew up in Bethel and is now an Associate Professor at University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, The Raven’s Gift, published in the U.S. in 2013, is a post-apocalyptic love story set in Bethel and the Y-K Delta region. It was a 2013 Washington Post Notable book and has won several awards including 2012 Alaska Professional communications novel of the year. Rearden says he passed on a Hollywood offer to buy the rights to make his book into film because he wanted to make sure the film was made at home.

RELATED: Talk of Alaska – “The Raven’s Gift” - with author Don Rearden.

“I didn’t want to just give up control of it when I knew there was a chance that we could actually have it made in Bethel, on the Kuskokwim and have local people in the movie and as a part of it. And so that was important to me and I’ve always wanted to bring movies out there I just didn’t think that this was the one and now I think maybe this will be how I’ll get started.”

Rearden says he encourages other artists to not let rejection get them down.

“People should keep trying, not give up, not get discouraged from the comments. I’ve had some friends get some comments and feedback from the process that were really kind of discouraging to them. Never let criticism like that stop you from what you want to do.”

The Rasmuson grant puts him one step closer to sharing the culture and landscape he loves through film, Rearden says, and he hopes it will inspire others from the region to use the arts to highlight the important lessons that the Yup’ik Culture and people have to share with the world.

“Reading and writing are one way and the arts and film and music is one way to fill that void of boredom that people have and also one way to help capture the culture and save what’s there and bring the other stuff back, before we lose it.”

Rearden is one of about two-dozen Alaskans who Rasmuson awarded grants for projects in 2014. Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955. This is the eleventh year of the Individual Artist Awards program. The program has awarded 338 grants, totaling more than $2.7 million, directly to Alaska artists.

Categories: Alaska News

After Growing to 50,000 Acres, Officials May Recharacterize Prescribed Burn As Wildfire

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:21

A fire weather map from the National Weather Service shows Red Flag Warnings for much of the southern half of the state.
(Image by National Weather Service)

A prescribed burn on the Oklahoma Range in the Donnelly Training near Delta Junction has grown to more than 50,000 acres.

The burn was ignited in dry grass last Saturday. Alaska Fire Service Spokesman Mel Slater says officials are considering whether to change its characterization from a prescribed burn to a wildfire.

“The reason for doing that is it allows for additional resources to be put in place,” Slater said.

The fire has made for hazy, brown skies from Delta Junction north to Fairbanks, but Slater says the blaze is still under control.

“Well right now, it’s not problematic,” Slater said. “It’s a fire that is burning in grass and so it’s putting out some smoke, but right now, the resources that we have on it aren’t treating it like it’s a fire that’s out of control, so at this point there’s no cause for people to be overly concerned.”

Slater says there are no other prescribed burns scheduled for the remainder of the summer.

“Actually the prescribed fire season is coming to a close,” Slater said. “So, once we get a hold of this Oklahoma Range Fire, that will be end of the prescribed fire season.”

As of Tuesday, 95 wildfires have burned more than 150acres statewide.  The Alaska Fire Service says 94 of those fires are human caused, but Mel Slater says it’s not only due to negligence.

“Some of those human caused fires are related to like a tree might fall on the power line,” Slater said. “But with that being said it’s always a good thing to be mindful of your surroundings.”

No red flag warnings had been issued for the Deltana and Tanana Flats region where the Oklahoma Range Fire was ignited on Saturday, but the National Weather Service has since issued Red Flag Warnings for a large swath of the state. Regions including Fairbanks south to Anchorage and from King Salmon near Bristol Bay, east to the Canadian border are red on the weather map.

Forecaster Bob Fisher says things are likely to stay dry, but strong winds will die down over the next few days.

“That means conditions won’t be quite severe enough to issue a red flag warning, but people probably shouldn’t go out and light camp fires, because humidities are still going to be low in the afternoons and evenings,” Fisher said.

Fisher says the air quality in the Fairbanks area is likely to remain smoky until the weekend.

“We’re expecting another upper disturbance to come in Saturday night or Sunday,” he said. “That could give us cooler temperatures and some rain and that might help clean out the air a bit.”

Categories: Alaska News

Spotted Seal Pup Found Near Clarks Point Taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:17

This spotted seal pup was found on April 30 near Clark’s Point and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. (Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center)

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has taken in the first stranded marine mammal of the year.

The one-week-old spotted seal pup was picked up on April 30th in Clarks Point and flown by Grant Aviation and PenAir to Anchorage. From there the pup was taken to the SeaLife Center in Seward.

The pup weighed in at 21-pounds and is currently being fed 5-times a day. The SeaLife is listing the seal pup in “good but guarded” condition. The pup is being cared for in the I.Sea.U. Critical care unit and the pup can been viewed by visitors to the SeaLife Center.

NOAA does not allow rehabilitated ice seals to be released back into the wild so the new pup will be cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center until a long-term placement facility is identified.

The Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska and it operates a 24-hour hotline to report stranded marine mammals. The hotline number is 1-888-774-SEAL.

Categories: Alaska News

As State Advances Unprecedented Mining Road to Ambler, Local Support in Question

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:15

Two potential routes for the the prosed Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road, (Photo by AIDEA)

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA, meets in Kotzebue today with a game management group to discuss a proposed 220-mile road to a copper deposit in the Northwest Arctic Borough that’s potentially valuable.

If built, the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road (AMDIAR) would head west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville, pass through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, and end in a remote area near three Upper Kobuk Valley communities.

“We’re already approaching 10 billion pounds of copper. That’s a major mine. So we don’t have a mine yet–but we certainly are getting something that has the size and potential to be a major mine,” said Ric van Nieuwenhuyse, head of the privately owned NovaCopper company.

“But, you won’t have a mining district without out road to it. So, that’s where AIDEA steps in,” Nieuwenhuyse told the Resource Development Council. He addressed them last April in Anchorage on the mining district, as well as the economic viability of a large-scale open-pit copper mine in the area.

AIDEA is spearheading the state’s push for the project. The road would be unprecedented in many ways, requiring construction of 15 long bridges over waterways in some of the state’s most remote wilderness. Though the project could take years, AIDEA is moving swiftly—a timetable one official called “daunting.”

In April, the agency began the long process of determining what the environmental impact of the road would be. $8.5 million for that study was set aside by lawmakers last month in the capital budget that passed in the Legislature, and will be part of what AIDEA sends to the feds if they apply for permits to begin work.

Karsten Rodvik is AIDEA’s director of external affairs. He says construction is still years away, and the process relies on input from those living where the road would pass by.

“We continue to work on the permit application process and are continually focused on a very active community involvement program,” Rodvik said. “We’re getting dates set in June for the Upper Kobuk communities and then throughout the summer we’re looking at establishing meeting dates for communities on the Koyukuk River.”

Feedback is important for AIDEA because under state law they’re required to have community support before developing projects.

But what exactly constitutes community support is not fully clear.

“The state does not have a good way to receive public comment,” said John Gaedeke, owner of a wilderness lodge close to the proposed road. Gaedeke started a petition opposing the road that’s gathered over 1,600 signatures online. He’s also the head of the Brooks Range Council, a group of business owners who charge that AIDEA and the state haven’t been open with the people who stand to be most affected by the project.

“The agencies have not connected [with] me at all, even though the road would pass within about eight miles of my family’s business,” Gaedeke said. “So, huge impact to the area the lodge is in–and the state has made no attempt to contact businesses affected in the area. That I’ve seen.”

But both AIDEA and NovaCopper tout local support for the road. They cite backing from NANA, the borough’s Regional Corporation, for the  forthcoming AIDEA EIS process. NANA owns part of the Red Dog zinc mine 90 miles north of Kotzebue that’s often mentioned as a template for profitable mining projects in the state.

But Gaedeke and others opposed to the road say NANA doesn’t speak for them, and that their voices aren’t being heard. It’s a sentiment echoed by John Horner and the others on the Kobuk Traditional Council.

“We felt that they weren’t giving us much information to begin with,” Horner said in March after Kobuk passed a resolution against the AMDIAR.  “As far as I am concerned, the Native Village of Kobuk is opposing the road.”

In Kobuk, opposition is tied to subsistence, with concerns the road will disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd’s migration. After years of decline, the worry is more activity in the area will further diminish the herd, and upend its migratory patterns in the region.

Representing 42 Interior communities, the Tanana Chiefs Conference in March also formally opposed the project after all six communities along the proposed route drafted their own statements against it. But coming from a regional non-profit in an unorganized borough (as opposed to the Northwest Arctic Borough, which is organized–a distinction with legal bearing under state mandates) it’s unclear how AIDEA will weigh that opposition.

Today’s Unit 23 Working Group meeting will have state and federal, regional, and local representatives to hear AIDEA’s plan for the road ahead.

Categories: Alaska News

Old And Bold Pilots: Warren Polski

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 17:42

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series, we’ve invited seasoned aviators to tell us about their adventures at the controls. Retired Anchorage pilot Warren Polski came to Alaska with his family when he was 9 and got his pilot’s license at age 16. He flew with the Civil Air Patrol for the next 50 years on search and rescue missions. One memorable flight was right after the 1964 earthquake. Polski took the first plane into Whittier, flying in two workers from the department of public safety. He says the ground was covered in debris and he needed to attempt to land on an airstrip maintained by the railroad.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Billionaire Behind Alice Rogoff

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 17:41

David Rubenstein on the Jumbotron at the Washington Monument Monday. (Liz Ruskin)

The Washington Monument reopened this week for the first time since it was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. A ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday featured military bands, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Washington’s mayor and TV weatherman Al Roker. But the man of the hour was David Rubenstein, who single-handedly paid half of the $15 million repair bill.

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“Seven and a half million dollars, which is incredible. Thank you David,” Jewell said, one voice in a chorus a gratitude for Rubenstein that morning.

If you’ve heard anything about Alice Rogoff, the woman who recently bought the Anchorage Daily News, you’ll likely know that she’s married Rubenstein, the billionaire who co-founded the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, and is No. 209 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

With his white hair and serious glasses, he looks a bit like the actor Steve Martin if he were playing someone wonky. Rubenstein says he may be the only person to have climbed up the Washington Monument in a suit and tie. His public speeches are often laced with witty, self-effacing asides. But when it was his turn at the microphone Monday, Rubenstein spoke only briefly.

“Many Americans have had good fortune,” he said, his words undercut by the siren of a passing emergency vehicle. “I have had good fortune. And I really wanted to give back to the country and this is just a down payment on my obligation to pay back the country for what it has done for me and my family.”

He’s done a lot of what he calls “patriotic philanthropy” lately, and it’s giving him a reputation makeover. After 9/11, Rubenstein became known as the mastermind of Carlyle Group. Conspiracy theories swirled around his private equity firm, mostly because it invested money from wealthy Saudis, and also because it hired ex-prime ministers and Pentagon bigshots who opened doors, making the firm rich. A more recent rumor, all over certain YouTube channels, has it that Carlyle Group is behind the disappearance of that Malaysian jet.

Rubenstein talks to news crews at the Washington Monument (Interior Department photo)

“Are we to believe the NSA’s private surveillance army run by the Carlyle Group has no information on Flight 370?” the narrator of one video says, with spooky music playing in the background.

The allegation has been discredited by the conspiracy-debunkers at Snopes.com. But if you’re inclined to believe in such things, a lack of evidence only proves it further.

Meanwhile, though, Carlyle Group has changed its style. Rubenstein says he failed to forecast how his firm would be perceived in a post-9/11 world. The ex-presidents and cabinet secretaries retired and weren’t replaced. Rubenstein told Forbes magazine he’s “depoliticized” the firm.

Now, Rubenstein is making headlines with big, patriotic donations: $10 million to restore George Washington’s estate at Mt. Vernon, and the same for Thomas Jefferson’s place at Monticello, plus $75 million for the Kennedy Center. He’s also purchased copies of the founding documents of the United States. He said at a conference recently it all started for him when he heard the Magna Carta, the 13th-century ancestor of the Bill of Rights, was on the auction block at Sotheby’s.

“The things that enable me to rise up from modest circumstances are kind of the freedoms so I really want to do something about it and I decided I was going to go buy the Magna Carta.”

Yes, he says he knows that sounds presumptuous. But he did buy it, for $21 million, and it’s on display now in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery of the National Archives. Pretty good for the son of a postal worker and a homemaker who grew up in Baltimore. He told the New York Times when he’s considering how to give his money away, he aims for things to make his mom proud.

Rubenstein went to law school on a scholarship — and later paid the school back with scholarships for 60 law students. He has signed a pledge to give away at least half of his wealth. He encourages other philanthropists to give to the nation, as well as to foundations and hospitals, “because our country doesn’t have the resources it once had. It just doesn’t.” He also tells them to give it away while they’re still alive. You’ll feel better about yourself, he promises, and thus live longer.

He said at a luncheon in Georgetown a few years ago that he never fell in love with Alaska the way his wife did. He says he’s more prone to air conditioning than to fresh air.

“I’m not big on the outdoors … not so much,” he told Washington society interviewer Carol Joynt. “But I got out of the car to come in here! I was outside for maybe 10 seconds.”

But he does, perhaps, owe his fortune to Alaska, and to the late Sen. Ted Stevens. In the 1980s, when Rubenstein and his partners were scratching for their first few million, Stevens authored a bit of tax code allowing Alaska Native Corporations to “sell” their operating losses. Rubenstein brokered some of the deals, helping profitable companies buy those losses to owe less in taxes. He says his big innovation was an accounting method that found far more losses than the $50 million originally projected. He once said his firm sold some $8 billion dollars worth. It was a boon for the Native corporations, for the buyers of their paper losses and also for Rubenstein and his partners. Only the U.S. Treasury was the lesser for it.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 13, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 17:12

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

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State Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Survivor Benefits Case

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case that challenges whether same-sex couples should receive survivor benefits.

Rubenstein Reforming Face Of Carlyle Group

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

If you’ve heard anything about Alice Rogoff, the woman who recently bought the Anchorage Daily News, you’ll likely know that she’s married to a billionaire. David Rubenstein founded the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, and he’s Number 209 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

Shishaldin Volcano Rumbling To Life

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Shishaldin Volcano is rumbling to life in the Aleutian Islands.

Bethel City Council Fires City Manager Lee Foley

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council voted unanimously to fire City Manager Lee Foley during a special meeting Monday.

Fish and Game Expects Low Yukon Chinook Run

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The run size for Yukon River Chinook, or king salmon is likely to be lower than last year’s.  Fishermen saw the lowest run of kings on record in 2013. Sport fishing throughout the entire Yukon River drainage area, including the Tanana River is closed this summer.  Biologists don’t expect enough fish for a subsistence or commercial harvest this year either.

Old And Bold Pilots: Warren Polski

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series, we’ve invited seasoned aviators to tell us about their adventures at the controls. Retired Anchorage pilot Warren Polski came to Alaska with his family when he was 9 and got his pilot’s license at age 16. He flew with the Civil Air Patrol for the next 50 years on search and rescue missions. One memorable flight was right after the 1964 earthquake. Polski took the first plane into Whittier, flying in two workers from the department of public safety. He says the ground was covered in debris and he needed to attempt to land on an airstrip maintained by the railroad.

Kuskokwim Elders React To This Year’s Breakup

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

This year residents along the Kuskokwim River experienced a rare break-up when the river seemingly broke up in reverse. While elders say this year was a unique event they also believe it could be sign of things to come.

The Dauenhauers Teach Tour Guides How To Teach Tourists

Emily Forman, KCAW – Sitka

Two of greatest living scholars on Sitka’s Russian and Tlingit past were in town last week to train National Park rangers on the historic battles that took place there. Park rangers give programs but sometimes they’ll interact with visitors for only a few minutes. So the challenge is: How do you teach visitors about the culture in a memorable way?

Categories: Alaska News

The Dauenhauers Teach Tour Guides How To Teach Tourists

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 16:25

Two of greatest living scholars on Sitka’s Russian and Tlingit past were in town last week to train National Park rangers on the historic battles that took place here. Park rangers give programs, of course, but sometimes they’ll interact with visitors for only a few minutes at a time. So the challenge is: How do you teach visitors about the culture in a way that will have impact – when the most commonly-asked question is “Where’s the bathroom?”

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Nora and Dick Dauenhauer wrote Russians in Tlingit America. The book is used to train Sitka’s park rangers. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

I’m on a bus tour. All the passengers are trained historical interpreters. And the tour guides are the leading scholars on the topic. They literally wrote the book.

Dick: One of the earliest recordings of the history is from Sally Hopkins. And her daughter asked Nora if she would transcribe and translate this…

Nora and Dick Dauenhauer are the author’s of Russians in Tlingit America – the definitive work on the battles of 1802 and 1804.

The bus stops in old Sitka. It’s just a patch of grass near the ferry terminal. But in 1802 it was where Tlingit warriors attacked the Russian fort.

Latanich: This is Dick and Nora is right there in the blue sweater.
Dick: Hello
Park ranger: I like your book!
Dick: Thank you.
Park ranger: I make all of my staff read it.
Dick: It’s a good one I’m glad it’s in there because my memory isn’t what it used to be so at least it’s all in there now.

The Dauenhauers are in town to advise Sitka park rangers how to reinterpret the history for transient cruise ship passengers who know nothing about it.

Nora is Tlingit and a native speaker of the language.

Nora: The way we got into this was I was teaching Tlingit in Juneau high school and I got this letter from a professor.

Dick was the professor, he admired her work. The rest is history.

Sitka park rangers take tips from the the Dauenhauers on how to engage tourists. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

Dick: We’ve been partners in scholarship for over 40 years and we had our 40th anniversary in November…

Somewhere along the line they got married.

Dick: Still doing business but slower than we used to be.

While their relationship was always solid. The making of Russians in Tlingit Americanwas an on again off again kind of affair.

Dick: The first issue that came up to us in doing this book was who owns history.

Nora was asked to translate Tlingit oral histories recounting the battles. But then Native elders didn’t want to rehash the past, which put the book on hold. When the elders died the new generation wanted to know the history. Then the Soviet Union crumbled – freeing up access to Russian archives. It took decades of cultural and political change before they could complete the book.

Dick: So, these are difficult issues. I think it’s important to kind of be up front that this is living history that this is not just something that happened 200 years ago. People are very aware of that here.

Sitkans might be very aware of the history, but tourists from… Idaho? The challenge is getting visitors to care. I asked second season tour guide Janet Drake about her approach.

Forman: So much research, and so many different sources, a combination of written and oral history, and then you have to try and synthesize this for a group of tourists that…
Drake: know nothing about this place and..
Forman: How do you do that?
Drake: I know, that’s the challenge – finding those pieces that hit home for people.

Forman: What’s the most common question you get?
Drake: Where’s the bathroom? Hahaha! Just kidding… But actually that’s kind of serious.

Chief of Interpretation Becky Latanich is always thinking about how to make the history relatable.

Latanich: I think visitors have a hard time relating to this story. They come here and they don’t know anything about it and they think Sitka and they think totem poles. The battle is a little difficult for people because it’s not well know. It’s not Gettysburg. So do you have any suggestions for our staff about what themes you’ve encountered that people might be able to relate to?

Dick: Whoever controlled Sitka controlled the whole Northwest fur trade… If you got a flare for the dramatic you can reinterpret for the tourists… Imagine Katlian coming down, the Russians on the beach, and all of a sudden the Russians are behind them and here’s Katlian with his hammer because it’s easier to bash heads in than it is to pull a dagger out.

While engaging tourists is one thing, retelling the story in a way that’s respectful of the families that have a personal connection to the history is another. Some parts of this history are so sensitive that the Dauenhauers were actually asked to omit some of the detail. And they did because that’s the respectful thing to do.

Dick: And that’s of course the challenge of ethnohistory you are dealing with the families, family memories, and family traditions.

The idea that family history is complicated? Most people, even out of town visitors, can relate to that.

Categories: Alaska News

Shishaldin Volcano Rumbling To Life

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 16:18

Shishaldin Volcano is rumbling to life in the Aleutian Islands.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory detected long tremors and an increase in surface temperatures at Shishaldin earlier Tuesday.

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Shishaldin Volcano with a typical steam plume, pictured on Sept. 14, 2013. Photo by Joseph Korpiewski, U.S. Coast Guard.

Those could be signs of an eruption, says Robert McGimsey, a geologist at the AVO.

“Typical eruptions of Shishaldin have involved what we call Strombolian eruptions, which are gas-charged emissions,” McGimsey said.

Shishaldin, which is located on Unimak Island is unique among volcanoes in Alaska. It doesn’t have a lava plug or a dome – just a deep, open vent.

McGimsey says that when Shishaldin erupts, “It’s gas bubbles coming up through the throat or the vent of the volcano. And when they pop, it just kind of throws magma up into the air. That’s
kind of what defines lava fountaining.”

That lava glides down the flanks of the volcano, leaving a smooth layer. That’s why Shishaldin is the most symmetrical, conical volcano in the world.

But for now, there’s no lava coming out of Shishaldin. Satellite images show steam, and some light traces of ash.

Still, this is the most active that the volcano has been since 2009.

The AVO started logging small explosions and ash clouds at Shishaldin this winter. They elevated the volcano’s official alert level in March.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Survivor Benefits Case

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 13:49

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that challenges whether or not same-sex couples should receive survivor benefits.

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Deborah Harris’ long-term partner Kerry Fadely was shot and killed when working at Millennium Hotel in 2011. According to Alaska law, spouses receive survivor benefits if their husband or wife is killed from a work-related injury. Same-sex couples do not because same-sex marriage is illegal in Alaska.

Harris said after her partner was killed, she had to leave their home because she did not receive the benefits.

“I still don’t have a home, not really…” she haltingly told the press after the oral arguments closed. “I work on the Slope for three weeks because housing’s included. And the other three weeks I stay with my children still, because you know, you don’t plan on these things happening, so you don’t have the resources…”

Attorney Donald Thomas argued on behalf of Millennium Hotel, which declined to provide Harris with death benefits. “Thus if the marriage amendment is precluding same sex couples from marriage, it is inherently, implicitly denying them – any person whose not validly married, the rights and benefits of marriage,” he told the Court.

Lamda Legal staff attorney Peter Renn represented Harris. He said same-sex couples are denied the same safety nets as opposite-sex couples.

“State law absolutely discriminates against loving, committed same-sex couples in this context, and it has absolutely no reason for doing so,” he told the press after the arguments finished.

Renn said the case is not directly challenging the same-sex marriage ban, but the Court could choose to take up the matter. “We’ve given the Court an option of menus. It could take a smaller bite and decide only the death benefits issue that is raised here for Ms. Harris. But it could also decide to take a somewhat broader step and declare the marriage amendment itself unconstitutional. So that is available to them. They could go there.”

This is the third case before the state’s Supreme Court that has challenged unequal benefits for same-sex couples. In both 2005 and 2014 the court ruled that same-sex couples should not be discriminated against. However, the Court did not strike down the marriage ban amendment.

Renn said the Court will likely issue a ruling late this year or early next year.

Monday five couples filed a case in federal district court directly challenging the ban. A circuit court in Arkansas overruled that state’s same-sex marriage ban last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim Elders React To This Year’s Breakup

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:36

Kuskokwim and Gweek Rivers on 5/2/14 . (Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK)

This year, residents along the Kuskokwim River experienced a rare breakup when the river seemingly broke up in reverse.

While elders say this year was a unique event they also believe it could be sign of things to come.

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The Kuskokwim River serves as the main transportation route for the Yup’ik living along it.  People use it to reach other villages and gather their food. So predicting its behavior is an essential part of survival.

Atmautluak elder Henry Tikiun says this break-up was unlike any he’s ever seen.

“They said the weather would change with the people, I never thought I’d ever reach this in my lifetime,” Tikiun said.

Originally from Bethel, Tikiun recounts his childhood memories when seasons were more predictable.

“In my first memories in Bethel, upriver areas like McGrath and Aniak would always break up first,” Tikiun said. “After that, downriver would break up even though it’s closer to the ocean.”

Tikiun says the ice would be much thicker in those days. Breakup would be signaled by loud rumbling from the river caused by ice grinding and breaking against each other. He says the climate is changing because of the way people treat the land.

“All of us just the same are polluting our land with no respect,” he said.

Tikiun points to trashed fuel drums along riverbanks as just one of numerous examples.

At the mouth of the Kuskokwim, Tuntutuliak elder and pilot James Charles says the early downriver break-up is attributed to the lack of snow and thin ice.

“The lower area had no snow and the ice was thin so it broke up first,” Charles said. “It usually breaks up last when there’s snow.”

Charles says he’s noticed reports of melting glaciers and permafrost and believes this is attributed to global warming.

“People say our land is thawing and getting warmer and I believe what they call ‘global warming’ is happening,” Charles said.

On the south side of the Kuskokwim Bay, elder John Alexie says breakup near Eek was similar to just one other that occurred about a decade ago. He says warming temperatures were predicted by his ancestral elders.

“I used to hear from people who came before me that the weather would change,” Alexie said. “It wouldn’t be as cold as it used to be and the winters would be different.”

Alexie also heard some of the elders mention that while this area gets warmer, other areas in the Lower 48 would get colder with harsher winters.

While break-up was unusual this year, the elders say similar break-ups may not be uncommon in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

‘I Am A Girl On The Run’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:15

The theme of this Girls on the Run 5K was tutus. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

When Molly Barker exclaimed, “I feel beautiful,” the crowd of runners, running buddies, volunteers and family members cheered. When she yelled, “I am a girl on the run,” everyone – female and male alike –  shouted, “I am a girl on the run!”

More than 100 girls from around Southeast Alaska participated in Saturday’s Girls on the Run event in Juneau. The after-school program has been in Juneau since 2008, but this particular run was special – Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker was visiting from North Carolina.

 

Every runner in Girls on the Run has a running buddy who stays with them for the entire 5K. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Girls on the Run is a three-month after-school running program that empowers girls to be healthy, happy and confident. Each program session culminates in a 5K run.

Glacier Valley fifth grader Teija Loving says the program works.

“Because you can get fit and you can have new friends and you can, like, just meet a lot of new people and you can have more respect about yourself,” Teija says.

Emma Rice, also in fifth grade, says she’s learned a lot from the program.

“To, like, be confident and never give up on yourself and don’t think that you’re a failure,” Emma says.

Teija and Emma are on the cusp of entering a new phase of life where, Barker says, things starts to get more difficult.

“What I’ve learned is that around sixth grade, which is the age you guys are, the world suddenly – I don’t know if you’ve experienced this – starts to somehow get the focus off of who you are in the inside and put the focus where? On your outsides, like, maybe how you look, your body, your hair, all the other stuff,” Barker said.

Speaking to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School, Barker shared one way to handle this.

“If you are funny, are you going to kind of be a little bit funny if your gift is to make people smile and laugh? No, you’re going to really let that out,” Barker said. “So part of what I think we can do as strong empowered women, instead of focusing on each other’s outsides, we can bring our gifts, walk it into a room and own it.”

This is a lesson that Barker herself didn’t have growing up in the South. She struggled with being popular and fitting in. At age 15, she started drinking. Barker said her struggle continued until she was 32.

“I had this experience while out on a run actually that just changed everything and I became incredibly conscious of the fact that I lived 32 years of my life allowing words and other people to define me and I thought, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’” she said.

Three years later, Barker created Girls on the Run. It started in 1996 with 13 girls. Now, more than 130,000 girls in the U.S. and Canada are part of the program.

 

Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker speaks to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

AWARE is Juneau’s women’s shelter and domestic abuse nonprofit. It started Girls on the Run as one of its primary prevention initiatives. The program has spread to 11 other communities in Southeast Alaska and serves more than 350 girls.

Back at the 5K, 11-year-old Eli Mead stands with his little sister, Samantha, who’s in Girls on the Run.

“I’m her running buddy today because I love running,” Eli says. “I’m going to make sure that she never stops and I’m going to compliment her and I’m going to tell her that she’s doing fine.”

Volunteer Leslie Daugherty is also a running buddy.

“It’s just about taking baby steps. So we walk until we feel like running and maybe we don’t feel like running at all, and that’s okay, too. We’ll just be joyful about it and just feel strong and like we can do anything,” Daugherty says.

And that’s what Girls on the Run is all about – bringing joy and confidence. Or, as a girl once told Barker, “teaching girls to be the boss of their own brains.”

Categories: Alaska News
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