Alaska News

Charges Filed In Haines Bear Shootings

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-27 18:40

Charges were filed against two Haines men for the shooting brown bears recently in cases that highlight the challenges of bear and humans coexisting.

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Forty-eight-year-old Kevin Shove is charged with failure to salvage a bear he claims he shot in defense of life and property. Alaska State Troopers say Shove shot a large male brown bear on his Haines property on August 8th. Instead of reporting the death and turning the bear over to authorities to salvage as required by law, Shove instead used a backhoe to bury the bear on his property.

Twenty-three-year-old Dalton Huston was charged after killing a sow and two cubs near his home at 7 and a half mile. Troopers say Huston chased the bears off his property on August 10 and the bears left. Troopers allege Huston then pursued the bears and shot all three of them. He is charged with three counts of taking brown bear out of season and unlawful possession of game.

Both men will appear in Haines court in early September.

Stephanie Sell is a wildlife biologist with Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She says the bear shootings are “dishartening.”

Sell said from what she knows of the cases, they were both instances of bears getting into fruit trees or garbage. Sell says if a property owner wants to grow or have crops or stock, like chickens or cherry trees that are appealing to bears, it’s also the owner’s responsibility to keep them secured from bears.

“Chickens are like a beacon in the night and so are fruit trees. So, bears are going to target into that and keep coming back as long as there is fruit there.”

While brown bear sightings are common in the summer in Haines, this year has been particularly active, with the Haines Police Department blotter listing several calls each day about bear sightings or encounters. The bears seem to be taking advantage of a bumper crop of berries and tart cherries on trees around town, as residents have reported foraging bears throughout Haines and in outlying neighborhoods.

Sell says the encounters are not unusual, but that residents need to be vigilant about deterring bears, rather than waiting for a dangerous encounter to happen. She said some of the best deterrents are electric fences and bear proof containers.

“Bears are out. It’s something that happens every year and I don’t know how to many times I can stress this, but we need to keep garbage contained,  we need to keep attractants contained, whether that be in a bear proof containers, or out of sight or taking your garbage to the landfill.”

Sell also recommends noise-making devices, like air horns, clapping and even banging pots and pans to chase bears off. She says Fish and Game offices also have some Critter Gitter noise makers available for loan. They also have electric fences for short term loan for property owners to try out.

Fish and Game has more information about Living with Bears at their website at

Categories: Alaska News

Judges Weigh Yup’ik Religious Appeal

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-27 18:40

Three judges with the Alaska Court of appeals are now weighing whether Yup’ik Fishermen, who targeted Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted. Their attorney based their defense on a 1970s moose-hunting case. The fishermen say state fisheries managers interfered with their religious rights and they want new regulations to insure it won’t happen again.

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AFN President, Julie Kitka talks with reporters at the Boney Courthouse.

Attorney James Davis with The Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage-based private civil rights law firm, represented the fishermen. He said that the state should have tried to accommodate the fishermen’s religious beliefs and that the state of Alaska had a duty under the free exercise clause to accommodate the Yupik fishermen’s spiritual practices.

The precedent Davis cited was Frank versus the state a case from the 70s in which a judge ruled an Athabascan man from the Minto area could take moose out of season for a funeral potlatch, on religious grounds.

One judge hearing the appeal, asked if Yup’ik people were consulted through the advisory working group. Davis said the working group did include some Yup’ik members, who recommended managers open the subsistence fishery, but the state did not listen to them.

“And you’ll see that whatever the working group says, if the state doesn’t like it the state says, ‘never mind we’re gonna keep it closed for another five days,’ so it’s another one of those advisory committees that the state doesn’t have to abide by,” said Davis.

Due to a reduced run of king salmon the state closed the lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishery in June 2012. Davis argued that traditional Yup’ik fishermen believe their God, ‘Ellam Yua’, will be offended if they do not pursue kings and that fewer fish will return.

Dozens of people fished in defiance of the state closure. Many were given fines and some nets were confiscated. A few days later the state opened the area to fishing for other species of salmon, which allowed about 20-thousand king salmon to be caught as by-catch.

The trial court agreed that king salmon fishing is integral to the Yup’ik religion but convicted the fishermen and decided that Alaska’s need to protect king salmon overrode the fishermen’s religious rights. Thirteen decided to pursue an appeal.

Attorney Laura Fox with the State Attorney General’s Office argued that issuing citations for fishing during an ‘emergency closure’ was necessary to protect king Salmon.

Fox also argued the Minto moose case shouldn’t apply because subsistence fishing would result in unfettered taking of fish, which would prevent the state from managing the fishery. Fox addressed the decision to allow a commercial opening.

“We have to be looking at this from the perspective of an in-season manger, who’s – you know, not with 20/20 hindsight about exactly, what would have been in hindsight the optimal way to manage the fishery, which might have been not to open it to six-inch gear, which wouldn’t have been helpful to these defendants or anybody else who needed to meet their food needs in 2012, but maybe in hindsight the state shouldn’t have allowed that opening,” said Fox.

Fox said there is not mechanism in state law for making a religious exemption for Natives to subsistence fish. Davis said that’s what the Yup’ik fishermen are asking for. Alaska Federation of Natives president, Julie Kitka, attended the hearing. She said that the state needs to begin taking other points of view into consideration.

“The pivotal role that this could play would be for the state to finally realize that you have to respect Native people and their cultural beliefs … and it is okay to adjust the regulatory system to accommodate that doesn’t have to destroy and turn the regulatory systems upside down, but that you can accommodate. That’s I think the pivotal issue of this case and other cases like this is that it’s okay to have flexibility in your system,” said Kitka.

This summer federal managers took over management of the Lower Kuskokwim River fishery at the request of tribes. Federal managers did allow a small cultural and social harvest of king salmon. The ACLU, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives have filed amicus briefs in the case. A panel of three judges will weigh the arguments in the case of David Phillip v. the State of Alaska and issue a decision, likely sometime later this year or early next year.

Categories: Alaska News

DOT To Commence Herbicide Spraying In Southeast

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-27 18:35

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to spray herbicides on Prince of Wales Island. It will be the first time the DOT has applied herbicides in southeast Alaska since the state eliminated public review requirements in 2013. This has some community members and environmental groups worried about chemicals leaching into nearby habitat.

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Mike Coffey, the DOT Maintenance and Operations Chief, says they’re spraying on Thorne Bay Road to combat miles and miles of invasive species, such as canary grass. The DOT plans to spray a single application of herbicides along 17 miles of the highway on the eastern side of Prince of Wales Island. “Vegetation in general blocks signs it causes sight distance on the inside of curves. You can’t see animals.”

He says there are a lot of reasons why the DOT does vegetation management. Most of the time, it’s done with tractors and brush cutters. “But in terms of invasive species a lot of times the mechanical methods just spread it.” The state drafts a plan to assess roadside conditions. For Thorne Bay Road, the DOT says they may use chemicals, like Garlon 4, Habitat, and Roundup. “The one thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that many of the herbicides that we have approved are things that you could buy in Home Depot and Lowe’s.”

Pamela Miller, the Executive Director of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says she knows the herbicides are EPA approved for certain household uses, but that doesn’t mean she agrees with its application in the area. “The DOT would be using much stronger formulations than would be found on a hardware shelf.” She says herbicides, such as Roundup, have been scientifically linked to birth defects, certain forms of cancer and neurological problems. “Particularly it is not safe to be used in a place where people are subsistence harvesting fish in around wetlands and streams.”

Kasaan resident Rob Leighton agrees. He’s trying to organize community members against the DOT’s use of chemicals. “There’s a large percentage of people that pick berries, hunt and fish.” He says spraying herbicides could also be harmful to the Native community who harvest plants along Thorne Bay Road for medicinals. “I don’t exactly know about the public comment. I think they have to come through the various communities that have concerns.”

Actually, that’s no longer the case. In 2013, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation eliminated the permitting and public review requirements for most applications on state land. Agencies can spray after giving the public a 30 day notice which, on Prince of Wales Island, they did by notifying residents via the local newspaper on August 2 and 4.

Karin Hendrickson, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Coordinator for the state’s Pesticide Control Program, says the state is doing everything lawfully. “You know people do have strong opinions about pesticides, but we make our decisions on risk analysis not just necessarily if people are uncomfortable or unhappy with the idea.”

Changes in regulations by the DEC last year sparked concern in other southeast communities like Petersburg and Skagway. On the Thorne Bay Road, The DOT says their environmental analysis still needs to be conducted, and they don’t know exactly when the spraying will happen. Alaska Community Action on Toxics says groups like theirs are examining legal options.

Categories: Alaska News

Post-Ferguson, APD stands by civil unrest preparation plans

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-27 16:54

The Anchorage Police Department says they are ready if civil unrest breaks out in Alaska’s largest city, like it did in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month. But their main tactic is being as transparent and open as possible so that riots don’t happen in the first place. 

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Police Chief Mark Mew says when a protest is planned, the police make a point to work with the organizers so everyone knows each other and the laws. They also help organizers deal with infiltrators who aim to cause trouble.

Sgt. Jack Carson says in the event of an unplanned protest or a riot, the department wants to keep the crowd as calm as possible and give them directions to disperse. They may wear helmets but they won’t carry shields. Carson says other police departments learned that crowds tend to be calmer when police don’t have shields.

Carson says the department has been criticized for some of it’s more militarized looking equipment, like patrol rifles. But he says they are actually safer than traditional shotguns.

“It’s way more accurate, allows us to deliver pinpoint hits. We also got more of a hybrid round for it. It’s an amazing round that’s got very little issues with over-penetration, where traditionally the shotgun’s got big issues with over penetration where it can actually go through our intended target and into secondary targets that we don’t intend to strike.”

Carson says armored vehicles, like those used in some SWAT responses, give officers the protection they need to respond with non-lethal force. He says officers are more likely to shoot when they are vulnerable.

Categories: Alaska News

Attorney: Yup’ik Fishermen Wrongfully Convicted

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:43

Attorneys argued before the Alaska Court of Appeals in downtown Anchorage today about whether Yup’ik fishermen, who fished for Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted.

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Attorney James Davis with The Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage-based private civil rights law firm represented the fishermen. He said that the state should have tried to accommodate the fishermen’s religious beliefs.

“The primary issue before this court is whether the state of Alaska had a duty under the free exercise clause to accommodate the Yupik fishers spiritual practices under the Frank versus state caseand its progeny and whether the state did so. We submit that the state had a duty but failed to comply with the duty,” Davis says.

Due to a reduced run of king salmon the stateclosed the lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishery in June 2012. Fishing for king salmon is a key part of Yup’ik spirituality. Dozens of people fished in defiance of the state closure. Many were given fines and some nets were confiscated. A few days later the state opened the area to fishing for other species of salmon, which allowed about 20,000 king salmon to be caught as bycatch.

The trial court agreed that king salmon fishing is integral to the Yup’ik religion but convicted the fishermen and decided that Alaska’s need to protect king salmon overrode the fishermen’s religious rights. Thirteen decided to pursue an appeal.

Attorney Laura Fox with the state attorney general’s office argued that issuing citations for fishing during an ‘emergency closure’ was needed to protect king salmon.

“The 2012 Kuskokwim King Salmon run was so weak and the numbers were so far from meeting the object that to say the state should have allowed more harvest is to completely disregard the public trust responsibility to manage that resource for sustained yield,” Fox says. “There was never any harvestable surplus of kings in 2012 and at the end of the day the state missed the escapement objective by 50-thousand fish.”

The ACLU, the Associate of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives have filed amicus briefs in the case. Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives attended the hearing. She says AFN supports the Yup’ik fishermen.

“Anybody in the Native community that knows traditional Yup’ik people know that their spirituality and their beliefs are a core part of who they are with everything that they do – how they treat their parents, how they treat their children, how they treat their neighbors, how they treat animals that give themselves up to them. You know we’re sad that this is in the court system but we hope the justices will give some consideration to them.”

A panel of three judges will weigh the arguments in the case of David Phillip versus the state of Alaska and issue a decision, likely sometime later this year or early next year.


Categories: Alaska News

Ad Alleges Begich Shortchanges His Female Staff – Is It True?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:42

An ad running against Sen. Mark Begich attacks him on his support for women – exactly where he proclaims his strength. The ad, by Crossroads GPS, says he favors men when it comes to setting salaries for his Senate staff.

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Categories: Alaska News

More Than A Win, Constitution Party Candidates Want Ballot Access

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:41

J.R. Myers has secured a spot on the November ballot. (J.R. Myers for Alaska Governor 2014)

Alaskans will have one more option in the governor’s race: The Division of Elections will allow Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers to appear on the ballot.

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The Alaska Constitution Party has just over 200 members, and it was first recognized by the state in 2011. Because the organization is so new and small, it doesn’t qualify as a political party under statute. Instead, it’s lumped in with the Green Party and Veterans Party as “political group,” a sort of electoral purgatory where candidates have to collect signatures to get their names on the ballot.

Myers and his lieutenant governor running mate Maria Rensel each turned in over 4,000 names, exceeding the 3,017-signature threshold set by the Division of Elections to run for office.

Rensel says they’re not looking to beat incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell. Instead, they’re aiming for a more manageable 3 percent of the vote in a fight for ballot access. That would upgrade them to official “party” status, and guarantee them an automatic spot on the ballot next cycle.

“I’ve been telling people from the very beginning that we don’t have a snowball’s chance to take the race,” says Rensel. “It’s really about establishing this party.”

Rensel, who is also vice chair of the party, adds that signature gathering was a good exercise, even if they want to avoid going through it again. The Constitution Party started collecting signatures in February, and they’ve upped their number of registered voters by 40. While that’s not a lot in the context of the Republican and Democratic parties, it amounts to a 25 percent increase in membership for them.

“To me, it was a whole opportunity to get out and talk to people and see how many people were ready for this party,” says Rensel.

The Constitution Party also has one legislative candidate who will appear on the ballot. Pamela Goode got the necessary 50 signatures to run in House District 9, which stretches from Delta Junction to Valdez. She will face Democrat Mabel Wimmer and Republican Jim Colver, who unseated incumbent Rep. Eric Feige in the primary.

The Constitution Party is politically conservative, with an explicitly Christian worldview. Its goal, according to its platform, is to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.” It has achieved some success in other states. In 2010, former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo ran for governor in Colorado as a Constitution Party candidate and took nearly 40 percent of the vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Seeks Continued Involvement In BC Mine Review

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:40

The state of Alaska is requesting to be involved with Canadian approval of a proposed copper and gold mine across the border in British Columbia. State commissioners of three departments submitted comments on Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM mine this month. That open pit mine is planned in the Unuk and Nass river watersheds across the border from Ketchikan. Alaska’s congressional delegation, fishing industry and tribal groups have asked for a more detailed review of that project following a tailings dam failure at a different mine in British Columbia this month.

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Fishing industry and tribal groups called for what’s called a panel review of the gold and copper project. Such a review could include public hearings and independent assessment of the mining development. Petersburg Vessel Owners Association’s Brian Lynch wants to prevent the tailings dam failure that happened at the Mount Polley mine. “The panel review is the only thing I think that would give us any kind of assurance that we’re not going to have something like that happen. There’s no guarantees but I think if the KSM mine is fully constructed that would be the only thing that would give us any kind of assurances that the water quality will not be impaired for either the Unuk or the Nass River.”

KSM received approval from the British Columbia provincial government this summer. The Canadian federal government still has to decide on the project.

The PVOA, Alaska Trollers Association, tribal organizations and Alaska’s Congressional delegation have appealed to the U.S. State Department to seek greater oversight from the Canadian federal government. Groups are hoping Secretary of State John Kerry will invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool to encourage increased scrutiny of KSM and other large mine projects proposed in the region.

Lynch thinks there’s a lack of oversight with projects proposed near rivers that flow out of British Columbia into Southeast Alaska. And he said it’s an economics issue for the fishing industry not just an environmental one. “We have sustainable fisheries, fisheries in Southeast have gone on for about a hundred years. And there’s really no reason barring some disaster why it can’t go on for another hundred plus years. However, with KSM, their mine life they’re estimating 52 years. Well I know fishermen here in Alaska that have been fishing themselves, individuals for 50 years.”

The state of Alaska’s comments on the KSM mine are signed by the commissioners of three departments, Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation. Those comments note that a panel review of the KSM Project may serve to address some of the continuing concerns held by Alaskans.

Kyle Moselle is large project coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources “What the commissioners have asked of the minister of environment is to fully consider those concerns and apply the most appropriate administrative process for addressing them.”

Moselle said the state of Alaska has been involved in the review of the KSM mine going back to 2008. And he says it’s too early to say what actions should result from the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley. “What the state of Alaska is looking for is a thorough investigation of the events that led up to that dam breach. There’s going to be a lot of information that needs to be gathered. It needs to be investigated fully. And there will be a report that summarizes that investigation. I think that we’ll be able to make better decisions as a state about what actions to take once we have that information.”

The state’s comments ask to review the plans for the tailings facility at the KSM mine and the commissioner formally request to be included in the development of authorizations for this project. The State also requests to be included in the development of monitoring plans associated with water quality, dam safety, and aquatic resources.

“We have good working relationships with BC,” Moselle said. “We have good working relationships with the federal government of Canada and we’re building on those relationships as we move forward and as they move forward on the review of additional mining projects that are proposed.”

New mines are also planned around the Stikine and Taku river watersheds.

Categories: Alaska News

Tlingit-Haida and State Sign Agreement to Improve Relationship

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:38

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the State of Alaska signed a Memorandum of Agreement yesterday signifying a new level of communication and cooperation between the two entities, focusing on education, workforce training and jobs. The Governor’s office says it’s the first of its kind.

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Central Council President Richard Peterson and Gov. Sean Parnell sign a Memorandum of Agreement on Monday at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO.

Central Council and the State already work together on a number of projects and initiatives, like the Village Public Safety Officer program, financial assistance and childcare.

But Randy Ruaro says there can be even more collaboration. He’s special counsel and policy director for Gov. Sean Parnell.

“We do a lot of the same things. We do workforce training, we do early education. But we weren’t talking to each other on a regular basis in some of them. And so I thought I’ll just meet with Richard and just talk about it and see if we can try to formalize our relationship a little bit and get both sides talking and communicating,” Ruaro says.

Richard Peterson was elected president of Central Council in April. He says it’s natural for the first people of Alaska to be working with the State of Alaska.

“We can utilize our programs with the state’s programs to deliver better services to our communities and our people,” Peterson says.

The MOA focuses on areas of common interest, like economic development, public safety and energy. It establishes a systematic review of issues and programs by both entities to identify opportunities to work together.

Peterson says it’s already been a historic year for Alaska Natives with the passage of two pieces of legislation recognizing indigenous languages as official state languages and making November 14 Dr. Walter Soboleff Day.

He says the bills are a good start in further broadening the relationship with the state.

“The next step now, I think, is to start making sure that legislation that represents our needs is being introduced. And so we need to start getting aggressive, and by aggressive, I don’t mean that in any negative way. Really, it just means that we need to be at the table and active participants in what happens around us,” Peterson says.

In light of the MOA, the State and Central Council have already started a new partnership working with Microsoft to bring educational opportunities and IT training to tribal members throughout Southeast and the state.

Peterson says in order to foster the new relationship, Central Council has created a government affairs liaison position. On the state side, Ruaro will be taking the lead.

At the MOA signing, Gov. Sean Parnell said the management of the VPSO program in Southeast is a good example of an existing relationship between the state and Central Council, something the MOA will only make stronger.

“We’ve worked to improve VPSO retention but frankly, that’s another area where I’m going to need additional work with Central Council on, and that’s an issue statewide,” Parnell said. “Tlingit-Haida has sought out federal funds for vehicles. You know, we’ve all kind of done our part to work to improve and enhance the VPSO coverage and the tools that they have.”

The agreement between the State of Alaska and Central Council is good for three years.

Categories: Alaska News

Giant Pumpkin Tips the Scales

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:36

“One thousand, two hundred and eighty three pounds!”  the emcee shouted to the crowd, to thunderous applause.

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A whopper of a pumpkin gets lifted onto a scale for weighing at the Alaska State Fair. Photo by Ellen Lockyer.

That’s the sound of a winning giant pumpkin being weighed at the Alaska State Fair today in Palmer.   The best of three entries tipped the scale at 1,283 pounds.

Pumpkin grower Dale Marshall of Anchorage took first and second place, because he grew all three entries in today’s contest. But the big, lopsided, orange pumpkin missed breaking the state record by a mere three pounds.  Marshall was philosophical about it.

“Three and a half pounds would have tied it. It was J.D. Meckelson’s record down in Nikiski. I thought it was going to weigh a little bit more, but oh well. I thought I had him this year, yeah, I really did.”

Marshall’s two other entries literally paled by comparison to the winner. The two white pumpkin entries weighed 780 and 753 pounds. The state fair runs through Labor Day.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: August 26, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 17:34

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 and on Twitter @aprn

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Attorney: Yup’ik Fishermen Wrongfully Convicted

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Attorneys argued before the Alaska Court of Appeals in downtown Anchorage today about whether Yup’ik fishermen, who fished for Chinook or king Salmon during a closure on the Kuskokwim River in 2012, were wrongfully convicted.

Ad Knocks Begich’s Stance On Women, Noting Staff Pay

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

An ad running against Sen. Mark Begich attacks him on his support for women – exactly where he proclaims his strength. The ad, by Crossroads GPS, says he favors men when it comes to setting salaries for his Senate staff.

More Than A Win, Constitution Party Candidates Want Ballot Access

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans will have one more option in the governor’s race: The Division of Elections will allow Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers to appear on the ballot.

Alaska Seeks Continued Involvement In BC Mine Review

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

The state of Alaska is requesting to be involved with Canadian approval of a proposed copper and gold mine across the border in British Columbia. State commissioners of three departments submitted comments on Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM mine this month.

Five Conservation Groups File Suit To Stop POW Timber Project

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Five more conservation groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday in hopes of stopping the Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island.

Tlingit-Haida and State Sign On to Improve Relations

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the State of Alaska signed a Memorandum of Agreement on Monday signifying a new level of communication and cooperation.

‘Never Alone’: Using Video Games For Cultural Learning

Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau

Until recently, no videogames on the market have told the story of an indigenous people from their perspective. But a group of Alaska Natives have partnered with a game developer to change that. The project is called Never Alone.

State Fair Pumpkin King Misses Record By 3 Pounds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The winning giant pumpkin was weighed in at the Alaska State Fair today  in Palmer.

Categories: Alaska News

Five Conservation Groups File Lawsuit To Stop POW Timber Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 16:46

Five more conservation groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday in hopes of stopping the Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island.

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The plaintiffs are Cascadia Wildlands, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and The Boat Company.

The lawsuit cites a declining wolf population on POW, and states that the planned harvest of about 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest would further injure wolves.

Larry Edwards of the Sitka Greenpeace office said the lawsuit focuses on what he calls the suppression of science in the Forest Service’s review of the timber project, “in not following through on formal declarations by wolf expert Dr. Dave Person whose done 22 years of research here on these wolves, in not following up on that and doing a supplemental EIS.”

The Forest Service released a Supplemental Information Report, or SIR, on the Big Thorne project last week. Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole writes that he did consider Dave Person’s research for the SIR, and concluded that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was not needed.

Cole acknowledges concerns about the wolf population, but writes that hunting and trapping regulations and enforcement would be the best protection for wolves.

Edwards takes issue with that argument.

“It’s not just people going out and hunting under Fish and Game regulations, there’s also a lot of illegal take of wolves,” he said. “And that illegal take is related to the very high density of logging roads on the island.”

The proposed Big Thorne harvest would include up to 46 miles of new roads, and the opening or reconstruction of about 37 miles of road.

Another concern in the lawsuit is deer habitat. Edwards said it all works together.

“You have a dynamic here between wolves and deer and hunters and it’s all got to fit together somehow,” he said. “And it worked for a long, long time but due to the habitat loss and the added complexity of access that enables the illegal take of wolves from all the logging roads, it’s really upset that whole system.”

The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Forrest Cole, Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and the U.S. Forest Service agency as a whole.

Another lawsuit seeking to stop the Big Thorne project was filed earlier by Earthjustice, representing the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. That lawsuit also cites the potential negative impacts on deer and wolves.

Forest Service officials haven’t returned messages seeking comment on the court complaints. But, in an interview right after the Supplemental Information Report was released, Cole said he expected the SIR would generate lawsuits.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Never Alone’ – Using Video Games For Cultural Learning

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 16:22

See an interactive version of this story here.

In a high school in Barrow, students sit in a dark room watching a screen.

A young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox are running across the screen, jumping from ice floe to ice floe.

Listen now:

“A bear!” a student calls out as a polar bear emerges from the water growling.

Students holler and laugh as the characters run across the screen.

“Just keep running, don’t look back,” another student urges.

They’re watching a demo of Never Alone, a game its creators hope will set a new standard in videogame development.

Until recently, no videogames on the market have told the story of an indigenous people from their perspective. But a group of Alaska Natives have partnered with a game developer to change that.

Photo by Upper One Games.

Like in movies, Native characters in video games tend toward stereotype. And few are heroes. But this game’s different.

It’s based on a traditional story known as Kunuuksaayuka and the experiences of Alaska elders, storytellers and youth.

The story follows a young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox as they go on an adventure to save her village from a blizzard that never ends.

Game developer Sean Vesce has 20 years of experience in the industry working on big-budget action titles. He went to Barrow to watch the students play a demo of the game. He says that day was his most memorable experience from the project.

“It was such a special moment because they were literally sitting forward, you know yelling and screaming at the players to avoid enemies and to navigate around obstacles,” he says.

Vesce’s introduction to Alaska Native storytelling began two years earlier. It arrived in boxes of transcribed stories. He says they contained tales and creatures as interesting and imaginative as anything in the movies today.

“We were just blown away at the richness and the beauty and the depth of that storytelling tradition and we realized that none of that had really been ever explored in a videogame,” Vesce says.

Vesce says it was a perfect match for what they were envisioning for the gameplay.

The team also wove elements, characters and themes from other traditional stories to create a mosaic.

But it wasn’t enough to just read the stories. The team needed to really know the people the stories came from.

Vesce made a dozen trips to Alaska with his team to gather more stories and imagery that will be used in the game as unlockable content.

The development team made more than a dozen trips to Alaska to gather stories and imagery. Photo courtesy Upper One Games.

Amy Fredeen helped connect Vesce with the Native stories. Fredeen is Inupiaq and the cultural ambassador between the developers and the community. She says in Native culture everybody depends on each other and that was the most important part of both the game’s story and creating the game itself.

The team is calling this creative process “inclusive development.”

“The last thing we wanted was this game to be kind of a cultural appropriation. We didn’t want this to be an outsider’s view of what the Inupiaq culture was. We wanted it to come from the people themselves,” Fredeen says.

One connection Fredeen made was with Jana Harcharek, who works in the Barrow school district to promote and preserve Inupiaq culture. Harcharek says when the students learned that the developers wanted to hear from them, the kids began telling their own stories.

“The ideas just started coming out. They were like ‘well, are you going to be able to maybe do this, because I’m a whaler and I’m a hunter and I have this experience and it would be really cool if we could make this happen or that happen.’ There was a lot of excitement right from the start,” she says.

Harcharek has had her own doubts about videogames. She doesn’t allow her kids to play them. She says most are just too violent. But she was intrigued by Never Alone.

“We need to ground our children to who they are in whatever medium we can find to be able to do that,” Harcharek says, noting that she’s going to let her grandkids play this game.

Harcharek helped the development team meet members of the Barrow community.

“When I was privy to having a conversation with some of the folks that were interviewed there were expressions of things like ‘that is really cool. This game is going to be so awesome. That was—‘and they’ll just start shaking their heads in some cases because what a concept, putting traditional stories together with gaming. Whoever would have thought of that,” she says.

The idea for Never Alone came from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage. Two years ago, President and CEO Gloria O’Neill asked developers if games could be used to share traditional stories.

Gloria O’Neill, President and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, Alaska, was the driving force behind the idea of making a videogame. Photo courtesy Upper One Games.

“It was an incredibly inspiring set of conversations because she asked, ‘Can games be used to transmit cultural values, cultural wisdom, history and heritage. Can it be used to pass that wisdom from one generation to the next. Can it be used to share that with a wide audience?’ And up until that point I had been doing a lot of action oriented games like Tomb Raider and giant robot games and things that were purely entertainment, so the idea to use games for social impact was really intriguing,” Vesce says.

O’Neill says the tribal council was looking to invest its money in a way that would also benefit Native culture.

“We started thinking about the future because our board also said to us, ‘Never forget who we are and where we come from, but think about how we can connect with our young people in the future,’” she says.

Over time, O’Neill started to believe that the perfect way to do that is through videogames, something even people in the most remote parts of Alaska want to play.

“Not only we could make money with the right partners, but we had a medium in which we could share our culture with the world; that we could create this invitation of courageous learning with the world,” O’Neill says.

At the time, there were no indigenous gaming companies in the U.S. O’Neill says the tribal council wanted to fill that space.

They joined forces with E-Line Media to form Upper One Games. Never Alone is its first big title.


Everyone involved with the project saw it as an opportunity to right some wrongs in how Alaska Natives are portrayed in the media.

“I was initially a little nervous about seeing the traditional Inupiaq stories and my culture portrayed in a game, because you know, honestly, we haven’t seen a lot of great media out there that portrays Alaska Natives the way they should be portrayed,” Fredeen says.

O’Neill says it was “an opportunity to represent our culture in the most appropriate and authentic way, but we also saw an opportunity where we could set a new standard in the video gaming industry.”

Fredeen says the game sets the bar for other developers who may want to do games based on different cultures by showing them how to include the people from a culture in the development process.

The team thinks the game will appeal to a variety of gamers. O’Neill and Vesce both identify indie gamers and a group they call “cultural creatives” as the kind of players who want the story Never Alone will offer.

“Folks who really care about not only having a meaningful experience when engaging in a game, but also those who want to learn something as well,” O’Neill explains.

O’Neill says the team was at Harcharek’s house in April and her grandkids were playing a version of the game. She said the moms became interested and were soon on the floor playing the game with their children. That is just the kind of exchange they hope to see happen with the game she says.

“Just to have a product in the market that all Alaskans, especially those Alaskans who are of the Inupiaq community, can be proud of, that would be a success for us,” O’Neill says.

Never Alone is slated for release later this year.


Never Alone – Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.

Categories: Alaska News

Charges Filed Against Bethel Man Shot in Altercation with Police

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-08-26 09:16

The state has filed charges against the 31-year-old Bethel man who was shot after he wielded a baseball bat in a fight with Bethel Police.

Aaron Moses is facing 2nd degree and third degree assault charges, which amount to a class B and C felony, plus a felony charge for third-degree criminal mischief.

Court documents filed Friday reveals more details from the incident and the of names the officers involved.

A police affidavit says Byron Moses, the brother of Aaron Moses, told investigators that Aaron had come to his house looking for a gun, which he did not provide. Aaron Moses told investigators while in the hospital that he wanted to commit suicide at the time of the incident.

Byron Moses said that he saw Aaron’s demeanor change that morning and a fight began. Another man inside the house was able to stop that struggle. Aaron Moses then went outside, grabble a Louisville Slugger, and broke windows on Byron’s Jeep.

Bethel Police Officers Joseph Corbett and Sammie Hendrix responded to a call from Bryon, who said Aaron had broken a window with the bat. Corbett was the first officer to arrive, followed by Hendrix.

In a struggle in the street, the two officers tried to disarm Moses verbally and with tasers. Officer Hendrix told investigators that he was hit with the bat twice – once on the calf, once on the sole of his boot. He was on his back, on the ground when he fired his gun, striking Moses in the chest. Hendrix noted that Moses was swinging the bat and that Hendrix was “in fear”.

Police have not yet commented on the incident. The city has hired an Anchorage attorney to represent them in an allegation of police brutality and the shooting incident.

An arraignment date has not been set for Moses. Bail is set at 15-thousand dollars. Moses was recovering last week at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Categories: Alaska News

Scientists Check Up On Nuc Site Rattled By Summer Quake

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:44

A team of scientists is descending on a former nuclear test site in the Aleutians on Monday to search for damage from a massive earthquake.

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Mark Kautsky oversees Amchitka for the Office of Legacy Management at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Kautsky says they weren’t supposed to visit the island for another two years. Then, a 7.9 quake struck pretty close to the old nuclear sites in June:

“Like 25 miles north of the island. It’s actually also 70 miles below the surface,” Kautsky says. “So we don’t expect that there was any deformation in the area under the island.”

And that means, probably no release of radioactive material. Since the last detonation at Amchitka in the early ‘70s, there haven’t been any leaks detected in the marine environment.

But this earthquake might have shifted things above ground. The island holds seven cells full of drilling mud from the nuclear tests — all contaminated with diesel fuel.

Categories: Alaska News

Female Inmate Found Dead In Cell At Mat-Su Facility

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:42

A female inmate died Monday morning at the Mat Su Pre-Trial Facility in Palmer; 37-year-old Tisha Rochdi was found unresponsive in her cell around 6:30 this morning, according to the state Department of Corrections. Sherrie Daigle, is deputy director of administration for the corrections department.

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“The female inmate was actually in a dorm-type setting with 19 other female inmates,” Daigle says. “The other inmates did notice that she was unresponsive; they notified corrections officials immediately. Corrections staff responded and began CPR and notified emergency medical services and an ambulance responded.”

Rochdi was pronounced dead shortly past 7:00 this morning, after CPR efforts failed. The State Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

According to Alaska State Troopers, there is no sign of foul play.

Daigle says, in light of a hearing on prison deaths conducted earlier this summer, the corrections department has made changes in it’s death investigation policy and information about the death is made public online.

Rochdi was in prison on probation violation charge related to a felony DUI.


Categories: Alaska News

4 Injured In Brooks Range Plane Crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:41

A pilot and passengers were were hurt in a plane crash in the Brooks Range on Sunday. National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Region chief Clint Johnson says the single engine Navion, operated by Kirst Aviation of Fairbanks went down in Atigun Pass, near mile 244 of the Dalton Highway.

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“Four individuals on board, injuries ranged from serious to critical, and they were medevaced last night.”

Johnson says the crash was witnessed, and first responded to by Trans-Alaska Pipeline workers. Alaska State Troopers report that the Alyeska crew was able to get the injured pilot and passengers out of the wreckage and to a nearby airstrip for evacuation to a hospital. Johnson would not speculate on a cause of the crash.

“Whenever the pilot’s health allows, we want to be able to talk to him to get it first hand what exactly took place. However his injuries are probably not going to allow us to do that for probably the next  couple of days.”

Johnson says the plane went down about 400 feet below the top of the 4,800-foot pass, close to the highway and pipeline. He says the pilot had filed a VFR flight plan to take the passengers from Fairbanks to Bettles, Deadhorse, Barter Island and back to Fairbanks.

“Preliminary information would indicate that they were cruise passengers. We don’t know exactly which cruise line they were from, but they were visitors, and we understand that they are from Canada,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the NTSB is working with the federal Aviation Administration in Fairbanks, and Troopers on the crash investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

On Ballot Or Not, Nees Continues Campaign For West Anchorage House Seat

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:39

In June, the Division of Elections rejected David Nees’ candidacy because his filing papers weren’t notarized. Now, the Anchorage Republican plans to run for State House anyway, even if it means a write-in campaign that could pit him against another member of his party.

Nees had originally wanted to participate in the party primary for House District 22. When he found out his candidacy had not been certified, he challenged the decision in court. A superior court judge denied his request for injunctive relief, but Nees is continuing his appeal in hopes of getting his name on the candidate list. With a final decision still outstanding and ballots scheduled to be printed in early September, Nees is preparing to run as a write-in.

“We’re still campaigning,” says Nees. “We just don’t know whether it’s going to be ‘write in David’ or if ‘David’ is going to be on the ballot. It’ll be confusing for voters because you’ll have two Republicans and a Democrat in that district.”

Nees – a former teacher who has previously run for Anchorage School Board – plans to go up against fellow Republican Liz Vazquez and Democrat Marty McGee in November. Vazquez is an attorney who once ran for State Senate. and recently edged out candidate Sherri Jackson in the Republican primary. McGee spent 17 years as Anchorage’s property tax assessor, and chaired the powerful State Assessment Review Board that determines the oil industry’s municipal property tax bill. He was controversially removed from the position early this year, because Gov. Sean Parnell believed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was being overvalued during his tenure. While McGee had previously been registered as a Republican, his firing became a rallying point for Democratic legislators and the party has responded enthusiastically to his candidacy.

District 22 covers the Sand Lake neighborhood of Anchorage. The area tilts conservative and is currently represented by Republican Mia Costello. But with Costello vacating the seat to make a bid for the State Senate, the District 22 House race is viewed as one of the more competitive contests this cycle.

Nees says one Republican group has discouraged him from running, out of concern that he could split the vote with Vazquez. Judy Eledge, president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club, is critical of Nees’ continued candidacy, and says Nees had a chance to run as a Republican candidate had he filed for office properly.

Nees says he’s not trying to “disrupt the Republican process” — he just thinks it’s better for voters to have more options.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” says Nees. “I think it’s very important that somebody go out and challenge the system.”

Nees says he plans to focus his candidacy on education and budget reform.

Democrat Marty McGee says he welcomes Nees to the race. Vazquez did not return a message left on her phone.

Categories: Alaska News

Emergency Housing Ministry Looks to Grow In Unalaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:38

Unalaska attracts thousands of transient workers every year, lured by the promise of a steady paycheck. But marine industry jobs can fall through — leaving people stuck with no shelter and no money to fly home.

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Community groups have stepped up to help. And now, one nonprofit is ready to expand its safety net for stranded workers.

Alexandria House is building an apartment and commercial space for rent in the old Elbow Room bar. Annie Ropeik/KUCB.


The apartment next door to the Unalaska Christian Fellowship is simple – just a couple of couches, some sleeping bags, and a whiteboard inscribed with Bible verse.

“This is home sweet home, with the bathroom and the laundry and the little kitchen area in this area here. The most people that I put in here is four,” John Honan says.

John Honan is the pastor at the church, and the head of Alexandria House. For the last 20 years, this nonprofit’s been finding spare beds — and even buying plane tickets home — for folks in need.

“You get to meet some amazing people that have been through horrific things,” Honan says. “So we’ll do what we can to help them on their way.”

Honan sees it happen every day – people fly in expecting to find work in the fishing industry. But it’s not always there — or, it doesn’t last.

When people get stuck, two local groups can offer help: USAFV, or Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence, serves mostly women and children. Alexandria House is geared more toward single men.

The women’s shelter gets grants from the city, among other sources. But Alexandria House is a ministry, and they’ve never had a steady source of funding – until now.

They’re planning to open an apartment and storefront in Unalaska’s historic downtown. The space used to be filled by the Elbow Room Bar. It was an infamous dive in its day.

Yeah, you can see that it was pretty bad, so it’s got to be repaired all the way around,” Honan says.

Alexandria House got this building as a donation five years ago. When they’re done renovating it, Honan says the space will be rented out. The money will go toward hotel reservations or airfare for stranded people.

It’s a big deal for Honan’s organization – but it wasn’t his original plan. He wanted to turn the building into a homeless shelter.

Neighbors like Suzi Golodoff weren’t happy. Her family’s lived next door to the old bar for decades – and she’s had her fill of strangers wandering her streets.

“So I’ve no objection to being, you know, a kind-hearted community. We should help each other, and we’re known for that in Unalaska. However, I think that we also need to respect the older people that have lived here all these generations – and this part of town is the old historic part of town,” Golodoff says.

That’s the argument she and her neighbors made in a petition to Unalaska’s planning commission back in 2009. The board ruled in their favor: Honan couldn’t use the building as a shelter.

So he changed tacks. When he came back with his current plan for a rental property, some neighbors were still opposed. But the zoning board couldn’t say no.

Planning director Erin Reinders says the neighborhood is zoned to fit an apartment. And given the housing shortage in Unalaska, it made sense to approve the ministry’s plan.

“A side benefit of that is that then it supports an organization that’s already identified … under emergency housing, to actually do that mission as well,” Reinders says.

Reinders says the best spot for a shelter would be way across town – on the Dutch Harbor side, home to the airport, stores and most of the industry jobs.

That’s where Jerrick Reyes lives, in a bunkhouse provided by his employer. Reyes moved to Unalaska almost a year ago, thinking he could find a high-paying job.

But there was no work — and nowhere for him to stay.

“When I came here, you know, I was, like, kind of scared,” Reyes says. “I just kept thinking about it, like, ‘What are we going to do?’ and stuff like that.”

He heard about Alexandria House, and reached out to John Honan. Soon, Reyes was living in the apartment next to the church. He had to follow some ground rules: No drinking. No drugs. And mandatory prayer meetings twice a day.

“I’m Catholic myself, but I still read the Bible [with Honan]. I know there’s, like, similarities between the two. So, I mean, I got along with it, and that was fine,” Reyes says.

Reyes stuck it out, and after a few weeks, he landed the job he’d hoped for.

And that’s how emergency housing should always work, says John Honan. He hopes the money from his new apartment will make it easier to get more people to that point.

Honan’s building should open this winter, but he’s not sure who the first tenants will be. He wants a couple or family to sign a long-term lease – which would mean long-term income for Alexandria House.

“We have no salaries, we’re not paying anyone – so 100 percent of the money, apart from, obviously, building maintenance or whatever, can go to making sure people are cared for every night,” Honan says.

Whoever moves in will have the right to invite guests to stay with them. And if they want to take in stranded folks for Alexandria House, Honan says that’ll be their decision.

And that means neighbors will be watching closely – and so will the rest of a town where getting stranded’s always going to be a possibility. John Honan’s project is a small step – but it’s still progress, as workers keep coming here in search of better chances.

Categories: Alaska News

Binders, Pencils, Erasers: Charity Readies Kids For School

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-08-25 17:35

On Monday the Homer food pantry inside the United Methodist Church was filled with families lining up for their chance to pick up fish fillets, beans, rice, and other necessities. But before they reach the food a few split off to get into another line leading into a separate room where the Omicron Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma is set up handing out backpacks full of the goodies every child needs for school.

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“Do you like your backpack?” “Yeah a lot. It has a peace sign on it. It’s kind of multi-color.” “Is that your favorite thing that you’ve gotten so far.” “Yeah.”

Eight year old Lana Prescott is going to the third grade this year. She’s standing in line with her eleven year old sister Makayla who is moving into the sixth grade.

“We’re just getting some of our school supplies. Mama saved some of our school supplies from last year like pencil boxes and glue sticks and stuff like that.”

The girls’ mother Crystal is on the other side of the room keeping a close eye. She says the past two years she’s gotten as many supplies as possible from the pantry.

“Even with one child the list that they give you at school is so long that even at the food pantry they can’t possibly provide you with all of the supplies but it’s still a great deal of help.”

Helping the parents is what most members of Delta Kappa Gamma say motivates them.

“Parents and the students themselves are thrilled to get a backpack and have most of their supplies in it.”

Milly Martin is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma. She says her children are grown and in their forties now but she remembers what it was like to get them ready for that first day.

“Whoa boy what do we need to have? What do we have to get? We did have to do that.”

But, she also remembers the lists back then were different.

It was not quite as complex as it appears to be today. It surprises me many times the things that the teachers do ask for that I know some people simply can’t afford.”

After a quick Google search I found the supply lists for West Homer Elementary, Homer Middle School and Homer High school. The supplies of course varied by grade, but there were similarities in each list. Of course kids need notebook paper, binders, pencils, and erasers. Plus kids need their arts and craft supplies and gym shoes, and then there are calculators and protractors for older kids…

“I’ve come here a couple of years in a row and they’ve always been a saving grace.”

When I spoke with West Homer Principal Ray Marshall about Delta Kappa Gamma’s work to help. He had nothing but high praise.

We have a large school supply list and sometimes it’s hard to put together and they do a great job removing barriers for children.

“Every teacher in our school will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on snacks on school supplies and on bolstering their professional education. This is a great helping hand for teachers”

The principal added the current supply list hasn’t changed since he started at West Homer and he doesn’t think it’s much different from others he’s seen throughout his career even while serving in other states.

Delta Kappa Gamma’s members say they help about 100 students in the Kachemak Bay Area get supplies every school year and there is always a need as the school year moves forward.

“If they didn’t give it out I wouldn’t be able to make it.”

Categories: Alaska News