Alaska News

Entertainment Center Slated for Wasilla

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-11 15:55

The Valley Family Fun Center, set to open late next year, could bring an economic boost to growing Wasilla.

The builder, Oregon businessman John Schwieger, is owner of the Coming Attractions Theaters chain, which operates 18 theaters in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. Coming Attractions also owns the Valley Cinema in Wasilla. The Valley Family Fun Center will be constructed on five acres that Schwieger already owns adjacent to the Valley Cinema.  Wasilla mayor Bert Cottle says negotiations have been going on for the better part of a year.

“We’re excited, you know, it’s expansion and economic development. That’s the direction we want to go, economic development,” Cottle says.

Cottle says the city welcomes the new facility, which is about half the size of the city’s Curtis Menard Sports Center in Wasilla. When completed, the Fun Center is expected to provide up to 50 local jobs.

“We hope he does real well, because we survive on sales tax. So this is a good thing. ”

Valley Fun Center owner,  John Schwieger, speaking from Florida, says the complex will have numerous games and attractions, including an indoor track for racing carts.  He says the lap times  and driver skills will be monitored with an electric timing system used by NASCAR. 

“This is something that is sweeping the nation now in popularity, and there are leagues being formed, and everything, and it will be outstanding. So what we are doing is bringing something brand new to the state of Alaska. ”

Other elements to the entertainment center will be laser tag, video games, and of cours food.  There’ll be party rooms available to rent, too, Schweiger says.  He calls it a “true entertainment city”.

According to Karston Rodvik, spokesperson for AIDEA, the six million dollar facility will be paid for through AIDEA’s Loan Participation Program. AIDEA is providing about 90 percent of the loan funding, or 5 point 4 million dollars.

“Our mission is to promote, develop and advance economic growth in the state of Alaska. And we do that by providing various means of financing an investment. One of our key programs, and a very longstanding, highly successful programs, is our loan participation program. We do this in partnership with Alaska’s banks. ”

Northrim Bank is providing a 600 thousand dollar loan for the project, according to Rodvik. The funding plan allows Northrim to originate the loan, and bring in AIDEA as a partner.

“The banks originate the loan, then they bring it to AIDEA. And we can purchase up to 90 percent of a loan, up to 20 million dollars, in order to advance business growth and economic development in Alaska. The most important benefit that AIDEA’s loan participation offers to businesses, is the long – term, fixed interest rate. “

AIDEA’s partnership with banks in the loan participation program has funded some highly visible entertainment projects, like The Bear Tooth Theater- Pub, and H2O water park in Anchorage, Pike’s Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks and the Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau. Rodvik says the Valley Family Fun Center could be another success.

“We believe that the ownership and the management of this has a proven track record of profitability, they got a strong management team, he’s gotsignificant strengths in his business experience in the entertainment related industry. We believe it will be a great assest to the Valley. ”

AIDEA’s Loan Participation program benefits borrowers by providing a 25 year fixed interest rate on a long term loan. AIDEA benefits in that participation increases the corporation’s portfolio, Rodvik says. AIDEA is a self supporting entity, which earns money through it’s investments and contributes an annual dividend to the state.




Categories: Alaska News

After 70 Years, WWII Dog Tag Discovered on Bering Sea Coast is Returning Home

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-11-11 11:47

Mario Gandolfo displays Earl Vogelar’s dog tag. (Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM)

On this Veterans Day after 70 years, a small piece of Earl Vogelar, a Michigan soldier stationed in Nome during World War II, is finally on its way home.

Nome resident Mario Gandolfo was combing the Bering Sea coast for sea glass last week when he says the small brass treasure found its way into his hands.

“I bent down to pick up a piece of sea glass and the wave went out, and as I was picking it up the wave came back in and with the wave—the only way I can really describe it—it was almost as if God’s hand had incorporated into a wave and he placed this 1943 World War II dog tag into my hand,” said Gandolfo. “And I just looked at it and stood up in complete shock.”

Perfectly preserved though battered by the waves, the dog tag identified Vogelar as a solider from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gandolfo said, immediately, he wondered what happened to the solider and how his tag wound up in the Bering Sea.

“I was in basically a mild state of shock because all these things were going through my mind: were they out of maneuvers and they hit a reef or something off of Nome and they sunk and everybody was lost on board? All these things were going through my mind,” said Gandolfo. “I’ve got to find out what happened to this man.”

After a bit of investigation with help from social media and a Grand Rapids television station, Vogelar’s family was located. It turns out the soldier was stationed at what is now the Nome Airport. He was a member of the 11th Airforce Squadron and helped transport tanks and planes from the Lower 48 to Alaska. A survivor of the war, Vogelar finished his life as a welder and died in 1994.

Due to a family feud, Vogelar never knew his grandson Dustin, but Gandolfo was able to meet Dustin over Skype to share the news of the recovered tag and see photos of Vogelar as a young soldier.

“Even right now sitting here my arms…the hair is standing up. I just get all chilled thinking about it,” said Gandolfo. “I mean, most people’s reaction would be, ‘That’s cool, I’m gonna keep this,’ but to me, this is somebody’s life and obviously it was lost and it had to find its way back to where it belonged.”

Vogelar’s tag is currently on its way home to Linda, his eldest daughter, and Gandolfo said he’s happy his stroke of luck came at the opportune time.

“I feel really good, especially because I found these people before Veteran’s Day. That makes it even more special, you know? There aren’t that many WWII vets left and we should cherish and honor them each day that we can,” said Gandolfo.

And if this rare find isn’t impressive enough, Gandolfo added that he believes he found two other military relics along the beach this week: a Confederate States of America brass belt buckle and a fork from the U.S. Army.

Categories: Alaska News

With Votes Still Coming In, Elections Division Prepares For Count

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 18:34

After a week of collecting and reviewing absentee and questioned ballots, the Division of Elections will start counting votes on Tuesday.

The Division of Elections has nearly 50,000 uncounted ballots in its possession with more still coming in. Director Gail Fenumiai says it’s unlikely that staff will get through all of them in one day.

“I would love to have half, but I don’t know if we’re going to be there. We really are trying to concentrate on those districts that we haven’t counted any absentees for yet.”

Some of the regional elections offices will start their counts at 9am. In Anchorage, workers will start opening ballots at 1pm. Because absentee ballots in some districts have already been counted, Fenumiai says the focus will be on places like Juneau and the Kenai Peninsula where no absentees have been processed.

“I know for sure we’re counting the rest of the early votes that haven’t been counted, which is just a little over 2,600,” says Fenumiai. “But we’re hoping to dig into some questioned ballots and get a bunch of absentees ballots for districts that haven’t already been counted.”

Even after Tuesday’s count, the number of ballots could continue to rise. The Division of Elections accepts absentee ballots postmarked within the United States through Friday, with a deadline of November 19 for absentee ballots mailed from abroad.

But in recent days, the biggest gains the Division of Elections has seen have been in the category of “absentee in-person” votes. Those are votes cast at regional election offices or at 200-odd voting stations across the state in advance of Election Day.
So far, 10,000 absentee in-person ballots have been returned.

“Our mail is starting to slow down, we’re not getting a lot of ballots in the mail,” says Fenumiai. “But we’re still continuing to see a rise in the ballots to be counted due to those [absentee in-person] ballots.”

This has resulted in some vagueness over the total number of votes cast. The Division of Elections has a sense of how many mailed absentee ballots they have to process, because those need to be requested in advance. But Fenumiai says there isn’t an estimate of how many more absentee in-person votes may come in because those ballots don’t require any sort of early paperwork from voters.

“It would require a daily monitoring of 200+ locations to find out how many people did [elections workers have] vote each day,” says Fenumiai. “So it’s just something that isn’t done because that’s a huge task.”

Right now, neither the Senate race nor the gubernatorial race has been conceded. Republican Dan Sullivan leads Democratic incumbent Mark Begich by 8,000 votes in the Senate race, while unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker has a 3,000-vote lead over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

The Division of Elections expects to update its unofficial results by early evening on Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 10, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:12

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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Division of Elections To Start Counting Absentee, Questioned Ballots Tomorrow

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After a week of collecting and reviewing absentee and questioned ballots, the Division of Elections will start counting votes Tuesday.

Lawsuit Claims Chukchi Rules Fail to Protect Walrus

Liz Ruskin, APRN

A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit today against the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying its rule allowing the oil industry to disturb or harm Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Appeals Court Revives Alaska Suit On Roadless Rule

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Alaska will continue its court battle against a U.S. Forest Service policy that blocks logging in undeveloped areas of national forests.

7 Escape Kenai Juvenile Detention Facility, 5 Apprehended Over Weekend

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Seven teenagers were involved in an attack on unarmed guards at a Kenai Peninsula juvenile detention facility Friday night. Five escaped the facility and were apprehended over the weekend.

Some Communities Investigating Local Option To Ban Marijuana

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Though the final count is still pending, unofficial results show Alaskans voting “yes” to legalizing marijuana in last week’s election. But the road to a legal and regulated marijuana market is months away, and communities who still want to keep the divisive drug out are looking at doing so the same way many currently ban alcohol: the local option.

Team Documents Elders’ Memories of Colder Winters

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Multimedia producers are in Alaska gathering audio for a project called ‘Winters Past’. Their first stop was in Bethel where they’re talking with elders about how they’ve seen the climate change in their lifetimes.

Settlement Signed In Sitka Gender Equity Dispute

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka School District has reached a settlement in a gender equity dispute over the community’s new ball field.

The resolution averts a full blown civil rights investigation, but also means that high school baseball and softball will have to arrive at an equitable practice and game schedule at the city-owned field – a goal which has been difficult to achieve so far.

One Option To Avoid High Housing Costs In Juneau: Live On a Boat

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau has some of the highest housing prices in Alaska. According to the state Department of Labor, the average single family home costs $349,000 dollars in the capital city. A typical rental unit is more than a thousand dollars a month.

One way to combat the high cost of housing is to rent a slip on the docks for a houseboat or a live aboard.


Categories: Alaska News

Appeals Court Revives Alaska Suit On Roadless Rule

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:11

Alaska will continue its court battle against a U.S. Forest Service policy that blocks logging in undeveloped areas of national forests.

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Aerial view of Tongass National Forest (Photo by Alan Wu/Flickr Creative Commons)

In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a federal judge’s ruling that Alaska waited too long to file its complaint.

The appeals court said Alaska’s lawsuit, filed in 2011, was within a six-year time limit.

The U.S. Forest Service argued that the clock on Alaska’s suit began running in 2001 when the roadless rule was issued. The three-judge appeals panel disagreed, saying the rule was repealed in 2005 by the Forest Service and reinstated in 2006 by a federal judge.

Categories: Alaska News

7 Escape Juvenile Detention Facility, 5 Apprehended Over Weekend

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:10

Seven teenagers were involved in an attack on unarmed guards at a Kenai Peninsula juvenile detention facility Friday night. Five escaped the facility and were apprehended over the weekend.

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Categories: Alaska News

Some Communities Investigating Local Option To Ban Marijuana

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:09

Though the final count is still pending, unofficial results show Alaskans voting “yes” to legalizing marijuana in last week’s election. But the road to a legal and regulated marijuana market is months away, and communities who still want to keep the divisive drug out are looking at doing so the same way many currently ban alcohol: the local option.

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Categories: Alaska News

Team Documents Elders’ Memories of Colder Winters

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:08

An Ice Yacht on the Hudson River. (Photo Courtesy of Isaac Kestenbaum)

Multimedia producers are in Alaska gathering audio for a project called ‘Winters Past’. Their first stop was in Bethel where they’re talking with elders about how they’ve seen the climate change in their lifetime.

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Two years ago around Thanksgiving Isaac Kestenbaum read an article in his local paper about how his grandparents’ generation used to skate outside during Thanksgiving. Growing up in Maine that was something he’d never seen because it wasn’t cold enough. It got him thinking about preserving memories of winters past before they’re lost to climate change.

“So I just started to think about how winter is changing and how our expectations of winter as a season are changing so I wanted to find a way to capture that so we started this project called Winters Past and the idea is to capture memories of winter the way winter used to be, to kind of preserve those memories and then to share those memories with other people,” said Kestenbaum.

Brooklyn-based Kestenbaum grew up in Deer Isle, Maine. He’s worked as a newspaper reporter and as a producer for the radio program Story Corps. He and his wife, fellow-multimedia producer, Josie Holtzman got a small grant to fund their project and they began collecting stories in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. A highlight was talking with people who remember spending winters doing a sport called ‘ice-yachting’. Imagine an ice skate merged with a sailboat and that’s essentially what the nearly forgotten sport is.

“It used to happen right on the Hudson River, which is the big river that runs through New York State. And it use to happen every winter regularly. The river would freeze from end to end and thousands of people would come out to watch these ice yachts race each other. Today that sport is carried on by kind of a handful of eccentric die-hards who rarely get out on the ice as much as they used to because the winters are just getting so much warmer,” said Kestenbaum.

Then, last winter, Kestenbaum saw a news report about how there was nearly no snow on the ground in Alaska during the 2014 Iditarod. They booked their tickets for Alaska. Kestenbaum and Holtzman’s first stop was in Bethel, gathering stories at the Senior Center. They’ll also travel to Akiak where they plan to interview dog mushers. They’ll also be gathering stories in Anchorage and Kotzebue. The stories will be produced and shared through their Winters Past podcast and eventually air on public radio programs.

Categories: Alaska News

Settlement Signed In Sitka Gender Equity Dispute

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:07

Moller Field re-opened in 2012 after a $2.6-million renovation. (KCAW photo)

The Sitka School District has reached a settlement in a gender equity dispute over the community’s new ball field.

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The resolution means that high school baseball and softball will have to arrive at an equitable practice and game schedule at the city-owned field — a goal which has been difficult to achieve so far.

Superintendent Mary Wegner informed the school board Tuesday night (11-4-14) that an agreement had been signed with the individual who filed the complaint under a federal anti-discrimination statute commonly known as Title IX.

“The settlement proposed by the complainant was something that was very realistic, and something that will help us move our initiative forward in sharing Moller Field.”

The agreement was drafted by the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights under the “Early Complaint Resolution” process. The agreement averts further investigation into gender equity in Sitka’s schools. District officials feared that a full-blown Title IX investigation would put several relatively recent programs at risk, such as football and soccer.

The agreement itself is only three paragraphs. It requires the district to develop a plan this fall for scheduling varsity baseball and softball teams for the 2015 season. The district must reaffirm its responsibility to ensure that both genders receive “equivalent benefits with respect to practice and game facilities,” and finally, the agreement does not constitute an admission of any violation of Title IX by the district, and the complaint is officially withdrawn.

“You know I’m really excited to see this,” says softball coach Bob Potrzuski. “Practice facilities, times of practice. Where one team is using the facility, it’s going to be on an equal basis with the other, and I think that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Moller Field opened in 2012 after a $2.6-million dollar renovation, including artificial turf and lights. Baseball, which historically played there, claimed the new field, though accommodations — such as a removeable pitcher’s mound and temporary outfield fence — were provided for softball games.

And a final twist: Moller Field doesn’t belong to the district. It’s owned by the city. Potrzuski says that created a grey area of scheduling that the Office of Civil Rights resolution has fixed.

“What it’s done is asserted the school district’s authority to assign Moller Field to high school teams.”

The OCR resolution specifies that the city’s Parks and Recreation participate — if needed — in the scheduling process developed for the spring season.

Sitka’s municipal government has already weighed in on the problem: It’s proposed asking the legislature for $1.5-million in renovations to the Frank Vilandre Field at Blatchley Middle School, so that it can be used for softball and Little League.

Superintendent Mary Wegner said the softball funding request was still on the table. And coach Potrzuski — though perfectly content with the OCR settlement — wouldn’t say no to a new field either.

“If the community can bear it, if the state can bear it, if this is something that certainly people bigger than me think that they can provide for our kids — I’m all for it.”

Potrzuski has consistently advocated for equity for his team, but did not file the Title IX complaint. That individual’s name will remain confidential. However, had the parties not arrived at an early resolution, the complainant would have been required to come forward  in the public process associated with a Title IX investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

One Option To Avoid High Housing Costs In Juneau: Live On a Boat

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 17:06

Houseboats in Aurora Harbor (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KTOO)

Juneau has some of the highest housing prices in Alaska. According to the  state Department of Labor, the average single family home costs $349,000 dollars in the capital city. A typical rental unit is more than a thousand dollars a month.

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One way to combat the high cost of housing is to rent a slip on the docks for a houseboat or a live aboard.

Carrie Warren and her three children live in Aurora Harbor. She’s originally from Washington state, but has lived in Alaska on and off for 20 years. In 2013, she moved to Juneau from Tenakee Springs. As soon as she came to town, she started looking for housing and found a houseboat that suited her needs.

“I chose it because I could actually own it. There are not very many things in Juneau that you can purchase for 50,000 dollars or less.”

Warren says the seller financed the boat for her, and she paid it off in about a year and a half.

She says harbor fees add up to around $200 a month, plus a little extra for utilities. The city’sDocks and Harbors department provides power, water, outhouses and a sewage pump-out. Warren says cooking can be a challenge.

“I have a Dickinson stove that doesn’t work,” she says. “It’s not hooked up. And even if it did, that’s mostly for heat. You can’t bake on it. I mean, you can heat water. I can make a mean pumpkin pie in my toaster oven. I don’t have a microwave. Electricity is hard because you can’t have too many things happening at once. You blow your breaker.”

Warren is a single mother who home-schools her kids and the boat is about 200 square feet. She says sometimes it’s a challenge to make sure the family gets along in such a small area. Warren’s older son plays upright bass and her daughter French horn and they need to arrange individual practice times.

“Our space and boundaries are different than most people’s, and rather than sit around and whine about it, you just suck it up,” Warren says.

Katie Spielberger is Warren’s neighbor. She lives in a houseboat with her partner and a cat.

“A couple of our neighbors have seen the cat and have come by with an extra can of cat food or half a container of kitty litter that they found in the free bin,” she says.

Spielberger works for the state and has been in Juneau for about nine years. She compares living on a boat to the tiny house movement, in which architects design homes that are less than 400 square feet. She says living in a small area has made her more creative.

“It’s kind of nice to have that challenge to simplify things and it feels very rewarding when you actually can live in such a small space and have everything you need,” Spielberger says.

She hangs as much as she can on walls, takes advantage of all available space and rents a storage unit. Spielberger says living on a houseboat provides the best of Juneau at an affordable price.

“It feels very much of this place,” she says. “You don’t feel like you’re living in a house that could be anywhere. The views surrounding a boat in any harbor in Southeast Alaska, I think are gorgeous and hard to beat except at some very nice land property.”

In addition to houseboats, some people in Juneau have live-aboards.

“There’s a live-aboard vessel which is just your normal boat that somebody might live on,” explains Harbormaster Dave Borg. “And then we do have some houseboats designated specifically just as a houseboat. They generally don’t have any mode of power.”

Borg says there are nine houseboats in Aurora, three in Douglas Harbor, two in Harris Harbor, and nearly 140 live-aboards. Monthly moorage fees are $4.20 per foot.

Warren says there are unique problems with houseboats, but they’re mostly in-line with other homeowner concerns.

“When it’s real windy, it’s a little freaky. You know, I worry about things like my canvas blowing away, but you know, I think any homeowner when it’s stormy and yucky has those same kinds of worries. Anybody who’s living in a not super insulated home has those same kinds of worries,” says Warren.

And she says it’s more affordable than other housing alternatives.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawsuit Claims Chukchi Rules Fail to Protect Walrus

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 14:42

A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit today against the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying its rule allowing the oil industry to disturb or harm Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe  says the rule the Fish and Wildlife Service issued last year isn’t specific enough to protect walrus from seismic work, oil drilling and other industry activity in the Chukchi Sea.

“Instead the rule defers analysis of the impact of oil and gas activities at the Hanna Shoal and mitigation of those effects to a later stage that is not subject to public comment and that the people don’t get to know about until after the fact,” he said.

The waters governed by the rule, off Alaska’s northwest shore, include an area where Shell has leases and may resume exploration as early as next year. The Fish and Wildlife Service determined industrial activity would harm only a small number of walrus.  The rules require aircraft to stay away from the animals and limits seismic noise when walrus are present.

Grafe  says walrus are already suffering from a massive loss of sea ice that used to allow them to rest closer to their foraging grounds. Now, Grafe says, they congregate on land in summer and travel to productive areas like the Hanna Shoal,  a 30-mile shallow shelf  that’s near Shell’s Burger Prospect.

“So what they’re having to do is swim all the way from those coastal haul outs, all the way out to the Hanna Shoal to feed and then swim all the way back,” Grafe says. “And this is mothers and calves and it’s a huge burden on them and a huge stress, and allowing activities in the Hanna Shoal without analyzing those impacts just adds to walruses’ woes.”

Kara Moriarity, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, says walrus are already protected by law. She says the Fish and Wildlife service rule includes flexibility so companies can meet protection standards using the latest technology. Moriarity says her group is still studying the suit.

“It appears, at first blush anyway, this could just be another attempt to delay progress through frivolous litigation, because we’ve certainly seen our fair share of that,” she said.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Alaska Wilderness League, Greenpeace and four other environmental groups.


Categories: Alaska News

Y-K Delta Representative Bob Herron Named Majority Whip

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-11-10 11:54

Y-K Delta House Representative Bob Herron will be the Whip for the Majority Caucus this January. Herron and the Republican-led caucus just finished two days of organization meetings. As Majority Whip, the District 38 Democrat is charged with making sure there is effective communication in the caucus.

“Like a collie dog, to keep the group going in the right direction. It’s an honor, to say the least, because you’re in all leadership meetings internally in the house, and when the House meets with the Senate and their leadership, you’re always in the meeting,” said Herron.

Representative Bob Herron

Herron will chair the special committee on Military & Veterans Affairs and be Vice-Chair of the Legislative Council, which runs the legislature in the interim periods. He’ll also serve on the Resources committee and the special committee on Fisheries.

The resources committee is expected to play a key role in figuring out whether and how the state should advance a large diameter natural gas pipeline with major oil companies.

“If it doesn’t make sense to them it ain’t going to happen, if it doesn’t make sense to us, it’s not going to happen. But that’s not what we’re anticipating. We believe we’ll put together a project that does make sense for us, brings affordable gas from the slope to people in Alaska, and it generates a revenue stream that will help Alaskans for a long time,” said Herron.

Herron says the next decision point for the state and oil companies will be near to 2016. Legislators will have to contend with falling oil prices, which could mean a multi-billion dollar deficit for the state, depending on what the future budgets look like. Herron says tough decisions are ahead.

Alaska has become accustomed to providing many services. Are there going to be reductions? Most likely, but it’s how you do it. I don’t envy the people of Finance who have to come back to the rest of the legislature and say ‘here’s what’s we think we can do that is the least painful,’” said Herron.

Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham who represents the upper Kuskokwim will serve on the Finance committee. The legislature meets January 20th.

Categories: Alaska News

Worst of Bering Sea Storm Over for Aleutian Island Residents

APRN Alaska News - Sat, 2014-11-08 17:26

Bering Sea
November 8, 2014

A potent low-pressure system is quickly losing power over the Bering Sea.

From the western Aleutian Islands to the Pribilofs, National Weather Service meteorologist Shaun Baines says “everybody has seen the worst of it.”

“Originally, all indications were that this low was going to progress a little bit further into the Bering Sea before it slowed down,” Baines says.

That would have made for rougher seas and higher winds near Adak and Atka. Instead, the storm stalled out in the southwest Bering Sea. And the biggest winds and waves struck in an area where few people were actually around to see them — the far western Aleutian Islands.

The top gust was clocked at 96 miles per hour on Shemya Friday morning. It’s not clear how big the waves got, since the National Weather Service’s weather buoy wasn’t transmitting full data reports.

So far, no major damage has been reported along the Aleutians or Pribilofs as a result of the storm. The Coast Guard has been monitoring the region, but Petty Officer Diana Honings says there had been no emergencies as of Saturday afternoon.

Justin Patterson helps run the CarQuest auto supply store and repair shop in Unalaska. Before rough weather hit on Friday, he walked around the property tying down loose parts.

Patterson has only lived in Unalaska for three months. He says he also prepared to face the storm on a personal level.

“I figured it would be like some sort of life-altering experience,” says Patterson. “I mean, I was praying.”

Unalaska didn’t see hurricane-force winds Friday night. The top gusts were only about 35 miles per hour.

And while there weren’t any reports of damage, police sergeant Jennifer Shockley says there was a potential assault at Unalaska’s sports bar.

“When we have bad storms and people are trapped here in port for a while, we do sometimes get a lot of drunken activity that results in a lot of criminal charges,” Shockley says. “But it’s been relatively quiet.”

Several crab fishing vessels pulled into Unalaska to dodge rough seas. But they may not have reason to stay much longer.

“As this storm continues eastward, it will continue to weaken,” says Baines, the meteorologist. “The winds will pick back up again in Adak and even in Unalaska, but it will be very typical wintertime winds.”

Unalaska can expect to see winds around 30 miles per hour into next week. Those gusts may be slightly higher in Adak.

By Wednesday, Baines says the storm will likely dissipate. But it will have an impact in the Lower 48 for another week or so.

That’s because the low pressure system created a ridge in the weather scale pattern, which will send cold air spilling out of Canada into the contiguous United States. Temperatures will be below average for there the next week, Baines says, and warmer than usual in Alaska.

Saturday afternoon in Unalaska
November 8, 2014

Categories: Alaska News

Trial Begins For Man Charged With Killing VPSO Thomas Madole

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:08

After a lengthy four days to select a jury, opening statements were made Friday morning in the murder trial of Leroy Dick Jr. at the courthouse in Dillingham.

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Dick is charged with first degree murder for the killing of unarmed Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole in Manokotak in 2013.

In his opening statement, state prosecutor Gregg Olson described the scene after the murder as investigators collected evidence, including the spent .223 shell casings outside of Dick’s home in the village.

“They recovered shell casings in various locations,” Olson said. ”There were, I believe, six shell casings closer to the front door of the house, and then one final shell case next to VPSO Madole’s body.”

Olson said an autopsy showed Madole had several gunshot wounds to the lower portion of his body, and one gunshot wound to the head.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Lars Johnson told the jurors the state would not be able to prove that Leroy Dick had intended to kill Officer Madole, which is the substance of a first degree murder charge.

“Leroy killed Officer Madole. We’re not going to argue otherwise, that’s the reality of the situation. But it takes more than that for the state to ask you to convict him of first degree murder,” Johnson said. ”It takes that intent to cause the death.”

Jurors heard testimony Friday morning from the Manokotak health aide who had called officer Madole to respond to the scene, then warned him about going there alone. Also called to testify was state trooper Victor Aye, a VPSO support trooper who spent that morning with Tom Madole in Manokotak and had flown back to Dillingham only moments before Madole was shot and killed.

The state presented evidence until 3 p.m. Friday. The trial is expected to resume Monday morning.


Categories: Alaska News

Bering Sea Storm Expected To Lose Power Quickly

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:07

After a week of warnings, a heavy-duty storm washed into the Bering Sea early this morning. Hurricane-force winds smacked the far western Aleutian Islands. And while the storm has disturbed life at sea, it’s expected to start losing power fast.

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Categories: Alaska News

How Will Legal Marijuana Work In Rural Alaska?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:06

Early next year, Alaskans will be able to legally buy, transport, and use small amounts of marijuana. The initiative will not be law until three months after the vote is certified, and the state has more time to come up with rules for marijuana sales.

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In the meantime, there are still many questions about how legal marijuana would work in rural Alaska. Municipalities have the option to ban the sale of marijuana, but they can’t restrict transportation or possession. The campaign to oppose marijuana had its base in rural Alaska, and named Akiak’s Mike Williams as its chairman. He says he’s disappointed in the results.

“The villages need to take a look at what they can do, at the local level, the tribal level, and continue to pursue making sure that our communities are healthy,” Williams said.

Many questions remain on the law enforcement aspect of legal marijuana, but it’s clear that Alaska’s large rivers remain under federal law, which prohibits marijuana.

Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow, a Coast Guard spokesperson, says his agency’s crews are responsible for federal navigable waterways, including the transportation corridors of the Kuskowkim and Yukon rivers.

“They are federal law enforcement agents so if they encounter people who are in violation of federal drug laws, we do have the authority to seize the illegal drug and possibly take that person into custody depending on the amount and what the situation was,” Wadlow said.

The Coast Guard would follow up with other law enforcement. Wadlow emphasizes that the Coast Guard’s other top concern is making sure people are not boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The law doesn’t restrict employers’ ability to outlaw drug use. Williams says that’s a tool that may expand in the coming months.

“Maybe it would be time for mandatory drug testing to all of the employees in schools and community organizations,” Williams said.

Bethel voters were split on the vote to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, with 52 percent voting against legalization, and 48 percent for the ballot measure. It passed statewide with those percentages flipped: 52 percent for, and 48 percent against.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Miners Association Convention Held In Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:05

The Alaska Miner’s Association annual convention has been going on all week in Anchorage. Coinciding with the AMA’s 75th year, is the 25th anniversary of Kotzebue’s Red Dog Mine.

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The success of Red Dog did not come easy, according to NANA Regional Corporation CEO Marie Greene, who was Friday’s keynote speaker. Green said NANA is uniquely positioned to meet development needs of the future.

“Northwest Alaska has many of the minerals that the world will need in the future, and the world is looking North,” Green said. “Climate change, open ocean shipping routes, potential existing mineral development and off shore oil and gas exploration and development are drawing global attention.”

Green says it all began with Red Dog, the mine developed in partnership with Teck – Cominco, but getting the mine started was a long, difficult process. When mining giant Cominco found zinc in the region in 1980, there was opposition to a large scale mine. Lawsuits and counter suits followed, but Alaska Native land claims under new federal legislation enabled NANA to select the lands where the mine is now located.

Since it’s start in 1989, Red Dog mine has provided $1 billion in proceeds to NANA, $608 million to other regions and $199 million to shareholders.


Categories: Alaska News

Chenault Extends Record As House Speaker

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:04

Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault will serve his fourth term as House Speaker in the Alaska State Legislature. That will make him the longest serving speaker in legislative history.

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At a press conference on Friday, Chenault stressed that advancing the development of a gasline is a major goal for the Republican majority in the House. He also said he would be willing to work with unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker, should Walker’s lead in the governor’s race hold.

“No one wants to be adversarial to start with,” said Chenault. “I think that what we will do is wait until it’s determined who are next governor is going to be, and then we will have those conversations about what directions the state should go.”

Chenault and Walker have in the past disagreed on where a gasline should end, what stake the state should have in it, and if the state should pursue the development of a small-diameter bullet line as backup plan should a deal to build a bigger line fall apart.

Chenault also said the state of the budget will be driving a lot of the Legislature’s work this spring. With the price of oil down substantially, a major revenue shortfall is expected.

Chenault said a draw from savings is likely, and that the majority could have to win over some support from the small Democratic minority to get the votes necessary to tap the constitutional budget reserve.

“If that happens to be the case and we end up in a position because of the price of a barrel of oil or the revenue stream, and we’ve got to go to the [constitutional budget reserve], then we’ll negotiate with the minority over what it’s going to take to be able to fund Alaska’s budget,” said Chenault.

The Democratic minorities in the House and Senate have also selected their leaders. Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner will lead the Senate minority.

“We are happy to work with anybody on any issue whether they’re in our caucus or not in our caucus,” said Gardner in an interview. She added that she expects her caucus to have more access to the executive branch should Walker win election.

Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck will again lead the House minority caucus.

Categories: Alaska News

UA President Warns Regents About Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:04

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has passed a budget for next year, but there’s concern about state funding.

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Categories: Alaska News

Crews Troubleshoot Bethel’s Pool Sprinkler System

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

There’s no timeline for reopening the $24 million Bethel pool, which closed right after the grand opening this past Saturday due to a sprinkler system issue.

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Acting City Manager Pete Williams says the city wants to have experts look at the system, in light of the recent devastating fire at the new Alcohol Treatment center.

Bethel residents enjoy the new pool. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“As we speak they are trying to determine what the problem is, until they can determine what it is and what’s needed for the fix, it’s hard to give a timeline of when it will be open again,” said Williams.

Doug Cobb works for ProDev, the project management firm, and is in Bethel trying to figure out the issue.

“We have pressure at the hydrant and there’s something inconsistent in the building, we have gotten the system to work successfully several times, but to pass that test that has to be done over and over, and over. That’s what we’re troubleshooting,” said Cobb.

Williams says the crews thought they had found the problem Thursday morning, but another issue popped up.

The state Fire Marshall granted the city an exception last Saturday to host the grand opening, even though inspectors the day before found the pressure to run the sprinkler system to be inadequate.

Cobb says a fire sprinkler specialist from the Lower 48 has been consulted in the troubleshooting.

Categories: Alaska News