Alaska News

49 Voices: Amanda Cash and ‘The Magpie’

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 14:26

This week, we’re talking with chef Amanda Cash, who owns a new food trailer in Anchorage called ‘The Magpie’ that specializes in making breakfast- and lunch- with local ingredients.

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Categories: Alaska News

Suicide Prevention

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 12:00

Spring is a time of new growth and renewal but it is also too often a time that an increase in suicide occurs. Why does Alaska continue to lead the nation in rates of self harm? What’s being done to help Alaskans choose to live rather than end their lives?

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Cynthia Erickson, founder ‘My Grandmother’s House,’ and a member of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council
  • Eric Boyer, UAA’s Center for Human Development
  • Callers statewide


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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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



Categories: Alaska News

Crab Fest Food: The Bruin Burger

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 11:21

Crab Fest hit town this weekend, and one of the stars of the festival was the bruin burger.

On the first day of Crab Fest, there’s a line trailing away from the window of the Kodiak Sno-Bruins food cart. The nonprofit fries up the Kodiak staple every year for the festival.

But what is the Bruin Burger? We asked a few people in line.

Sno-Bruins volunteer, Tom Abell, recieves customers’ orders at Crab Fest 2015. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

“It’s basically a flattened out dough with some burger, cheese, a little egg and oil to hold it all together and then they just deep fry it…”

“Meaty and cheesy…”

“Deliciousness, it’s deep, fat friend amazingness…”

“A hot pocket of friend goodness.”

According to a couple of people in line, it sells out fast.

“’Cause sometimes at the end of the crabfest, it’s almost gone, so everybody’s trying to buy it first day of the crab fest,” says one customer.

“Talked to a few people around here and they said, yeah it sells out within Saturday,” says another patron. “People come and get dozens of them and bring them back to the tribe and everything like that. It’s that amazing. I’ve walked around and everything looks so good, but I’ve always learned follow the line. The one longest line is the best one.”

The bruin burger isn’t just a fried guilty pleasure or fairgrounds treat. It’s also fundraising gold.

Inside the Sno-Bruins food cart, volunteers arrange, fry, and package up bruin burgers. The bruin burgers look like square burritos with the ends tucked under, and they fill the table tops.

22-year club member and volunteer, Tom Abell, stands at the window speaking with customers. He takes a break to explain the origins of the Kodiak Sno-Bruins.

“It started out in 1968 and Karen Sayling who passed away this last month was the person that thought of making the bruin burger, just to raise a few dollars for the club to have a banquet at the end of the year, the snowmobile season and etcetera , and it’s bloomed into the people gotta have their bruin burger every year,” says Abell.

Proceeds go toward the Sno-Bruins’ promotion of winter sports, their safety education efforts, and their donations to local nonprofits. A couple of the young people volunteering in the food truck are from groups like the soccer team and the Kodiak branch of Health Occupations Students of America

One person mans the fryer.

According to Abell, that’s the only treatment the bruin burger gets the day of Crab Fest.

“They cook 1100 pounds of the meat one day, which is secret ingredients, I can’t tell you that – it’s just meat – and then the next two days on Saturday and a Sunday, they roll them up, and they bring them in and defrost them and deep fry them and sell them out the window,” says Abel.

Abell says they sold about 2,500 bruin burgers the first day. According to a for mer Sno-Bruins volunteer who stands in the line outside, buying one is a given.

“It’s one of those things that it’s crab fest, go and get a bruin burger,” he says. “I think it’s kinda ‘when it Rome.’”

Especially if it’s your first visit. It’s a rite of passage.

Categories: Alaska News

UAS Chancellor John Pugh leaves behind a legacy of caring for students

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 11:18

John Pugh joined UAS in 1987. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

John Pugh’s last day as chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast is Friday. He’s retiring after almost three decades with the college. Pugh leaves a legacy of being much more than a chancellor to students — he was a teacher, adviser and friend.

Valerie Davidson was 19 when she met John Pugh. She was interning for the Alaska Legislature and studying elementary education at UAS. He was her college adviser.

“As many 19-year-olds are, I had these grand visions of how I was going to change the world and what I so appreciated about John was he enthusiastically accepted all of my grand visions of the world, but helped me to establish more realistic timelines,” Davidson says.

Davidson is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, a position Pugh formerly held. When she was appointed, Davidson and Pugh saw each other at a governor’s reception and they reconnected. She says he continues to be her adviser.

“You know there are just times in your life when you meet people who are there at exactly the right time, exactly the right place and for exactly the right reason. And I was very fortunate because I got not only one of those experiences with John but I got two, at times in my life that were really critical decision points for me,” Davidson says.

Pugh arrived in Juneau in 1978 to work for health and social services. Afterward he worked briefly as a legislative staffer before joining UAS in June of 1987 to help with the budget. By fall, Pugh was the dean of Arts and Sciences.

Since then the number of full-time students has grown from 300 to more than 800. Several facilities, like the Egan Library and residential housing, have been built on the Juneau campus.

Pugh was also part of the 1987 reorganization to integrate what was then Ketchikan Community College and Sitka Community College into campuses of UAS. Pugh says that was a hard transition.

“We worked constantly getting to Sitka and Ketchikan and making sure they felt a part of this, and I’d say it took a good ten years to get to where there was a real comfort level of trust,” Pugh says.

Ketchikan Campus Director Priscilla Schulte has been at the school for 35 years, back when it was a community college. She says Pugh has done a great job of being inclusive.

“We get the feeling that he understands our community. He has always kept us in mind so that when issues came up he was always, ‘What does Ketchikan think?’” Schulte says.

She says Pugh really supported the bachelor of liberal arts distance program, which helped UAS Ketchikan evolve.

“Once the pulp mill closed and we were losing the local students, moving into the e-learning was really important for us,” Schulte says.

Pugh was appointed chancellor in 1999. He says his biggest challenge was making sure UAS got enough funding to be a quality institution. With UAS representing less than 10 percent of the entire University of Alaska budget, Pugh says it was never about competing with the bigger schools for resources.

“We’re not UAF, we’re not UAA. We’re UAS. What is it that we can do? What can we do for our region? What can we do for the state?” Pugh says.

Pugh is known for walking around campus with a smile. He’s a self-proclaimed “glass half full” type of person, but if he ever did find himself down, “I would find where the students are and it always picked me up.”

UAS Student Body President Callie Conerton says Pugh would do anything to make the students laugh.

“John did the dunk tank at Spring Carnival and students, of course, lined up. How many students can say that they dunked their chancellor,” Conerton says.

He’s had pies in his face. He’s jumped into frigid water for the polar plunge. Pugh has even been duct taped to a library pillar.

Conerton says having an approachable college leader has made a difference in her academic career.

“It makes me want to attend school. It makes me realize that people care about me. One thing that UAS is great about is that it’s a community and so John was great about making sure that students knew that they were a part of something bigger than themselves,” Conerton says.

Pugh says he got just as much from the students as they got from him.

“Those interactions really buoyed me and gave me strength and it made me understand why I’m doing what I’m doing, helped me to really push harder to advocate for higher education,” Pugh says.

He says his departure from UAS is filled with mixed emotions.

“I often wonder what I’m going to do when I get up in the morning. I’ve said that to my wife. So not coming out here – that will be very different,” Pugh says.

Pugh became Chancellor Emeritus as UAS’s recent commencement ceremony. Pugh says that means he’ll have a permanent connection to the college. He doesn’t see the rank as just a title, but as a responsibility.

Categories: Alaska News

Canada plans to allow overnight travel at Stewart crossing

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:27

The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, will open to overnight travelers as part of a pilot program planned by the Canada Border Services Agency.

The agency released some details Thursday on plans recently outlined to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and local officials.

Travelers would use a telephone reporting system to gain entry into Canada at Stewart. An agency media representative couldn’t immediately provide details on how the system would work.

The agency said it was refining the logistics of a plan that will help enable the free-flow of legitimate goods and services while ensuring Canadians’ security. The plan is expected to take effect June 22.

The crossing was closed from midnight to 8 a.m. last month, giving rise to concerns from residents. Allowances were made for emergencies.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Police Ask For Help ID’ing Man in Video Related to Sunday Stabbing

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:26

Bethel Police are asking for the public’s help identifying and locating a person of interest in the homicide of Eunice Whitman. Whitman was found stabbed to death early Sunday morning along a boardwalk in a Bethel park.

Police Thursday released a video from the Bethel AC Quick Stop store. Police have already arrested the primary suspect, but Lieutenant Joe Corbett says they’re trying to identify another male who appears with him in the video taken around the time of the murder.

“The man with the gray sweatshirt over his head, we have not been able to identify yet,” said Corbett.

The video shows two men walking down a hallway at the AC Quick Stop store apartments early Sunday morning. Whitman’s boyfriend Justine Paul walks ahead while the person of interest trails behind in a gray hooded sweatshirt. Paul, the primary suspect, was taken into custody and arraigned on first-degree murder charges Tuesday. But police say they want to talk with the other man in the video.

“We know that he was there right around the time of the homicide or at least the time of the report. He was with our primary suspect, so his role in it is unclear to us and that’s why we want to talk with him and figure out how he was involved,” said Corbett.

Bethel Police are asking anyone with information about the man in the images to contact Investigative Sergeant Amy Davis at the Bethel Police Department.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton Highway Still Closed, But Repairs Underway

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:22

Repair work is progressing on the northern end of the Dalton Highway, where breakup flooding has made the road impassable for nearly 2 weeks. Water began dropping back last weekend, leaving behind extensive damage, and Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says there’s no repair timeline.

“This is gonna be a really big task. It will take several days, and at this point we really don’t have an estimate on when the road will be able to be re-opened.”

The closure extends from mile 335, all the way to mile 412 near Deadhorse. Bailey says repairs have been focused on at either end of the closed section, laying culverts, filling in erosion and diverting around thawed roadbed.

“Ice lenses have been impacted by the water, so there’s unstable soil now.”

Bailey says a full accounting of the damage won’t be available until crews can reach damaged sections in the middle of the closed area. She says repairs done so far this spring have cost 5 million dollars.

The most northern section of the closed section of the highway, between mileposts 391 and 412 is the focus of a scheduled 27 million dollar reconstruction project to elevate the roadbed. Bailey says the new damage has changed the project timeline.

“Originally this was going to be divided into 2 separate construction projects, and were going to start on one half this year, and start on the other half next year, and instead of doing that we’re gonna go in and start on the entire flooded section this year, which makes sense because we have all of this repair work that will have to happen anyways.”

Bailey says the project also includes additional culverts and hard surfacing of the highway. Some overflow and flooding have been an issue on the Dalton Highway south of Deadhorse for years, but Bailey this spring’s more extensive problems are considered an anomaly, and the state does not anticipate having to raise the grade of other sections of the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake rattles Southwest Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:15

There were no tsunami warnings, but last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake northeast of the Chigniks rattled residents all over Southwest Alaska. The quake happened at 11 pm sharp.

Alvin Peterson in Chignik Lagoon says it’s the strongest earthquake he’s felt in decades.

Map showing the location of the 6.4 earthquake off the coast of the Alaska Peninsula.
Credit Alaska Earthquake Center

“Well, it was almost comparable to 64 earthquake. The house was rocking pretty good,” stated Peterson. “I understand there was some rock slides and stuff falling off the selves and breaking. It defiantly rattled everybody’s nerves”

The quake was initially reported as a 6.8 magnitude but was later downgraded. Residents all around the region took to Facebook last night to discuss the earthquake and its effects. Many of those commenting said the earthquake’s unusually long duration was a bit shocking. Peterson agreed.

“I heard a couple reports it lasted almost a minute but it was pretty long, and pretty violent,” added Peterson.

Closer to the coast, residents in Chignik Bay headed for the tsunami shelter last night to be on the safe side. Fire chief Guy Ashby, speaking this morning, said the quake started as a slow roll.

“It started of maybe like a three, just shock a little bit. And then you can start hearing it building and it starts shaking a little harder,” said Ashby. “It probably shook about 35 or 40 seconds.”

The quake happened at a depth of 35 miles. It had a magnitude, according to the Alaska Earthquake Center, of 6.42 on the Richter Scale, and according to posts on Facebook, was felt as far west as Platinum, and Wasilla in the east.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon Quest board announces best finances in 6 years

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:09

Yukon Quest leaders announced a $38,000 surplus, the largest surplus the organization has seen in 6 years.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that leaders of the 1,000-mile Fairbanks-to-Whitehorse sled dog race announced the budget at their annual meeting Thursday. Board President Bill McDonald says he expects prize money for the race to stay the same or increase in 2015.

The announcement comes in stark contrast to the organization’s Yukon board meeting held last week, where members announced a $50,000 debt. Yukon Quest has two nonprofit boards in both Alaska and Canada.

The Quest has struggled to break even since the global recession reduced sponsorships and finances in 2009. Officials talked about halting the race four years ago and reduced the purse to $100,000 in 2013, half of 2007’s purse.

Categories: Alaska News

Low oil prices could threaten trans-Alaska pipeline

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 10:06

A high-ranking federal Energy Information Administration official has said lower production levels could threaten the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and that oil prices may not rise above $100 a barrel until 2030 or later.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that EIA administrator Adam Sieminski said Thursday at the Alaska Oil and Gas Associations annual luncheon that geopolitical tension could drive prices up much sooner than 2030.

He said the agency is concerned that engineering complications could jeopardize the oil pipeline if the flow falls below 300,000 barrels a day, potentially resulting in an unexpected shutdown.

The pipeline is designed to move 2 million barrels of oil daily. Today production is about 525,000 barrels daily.

Oil prices are currently around $60 a barrel, leaving the state with a $3.5 billion deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

The purpose and history of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-29 08:00

Today, we’re talking about the Permanent Fund. Some House Republicans want to move some of the fund’s earnings into the body of the fund so it can’t be touched. Others are tossing around the idea of using the Permanent Fund as collateral for earning more money for the General Fund. Is this what the Fund is for? So, we’re taking a step back and looking at the history of the Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend.

HOST: Anne Hillman


  • Sterling Gallagher, former commissioner, Department of Revenue
  • Cliff Groh

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 29 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Judge Accused of Misconduct

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 17:45

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct.

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The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct cites six incidents—brought to their attention through anonymous complaints—beginning the first month Dooley was on the job in May of 2013 and running through September of last year.

Courtroom recordings—made available through the commission—highlight a series of statements by Dooley the commission says violates state law and the state’s code of conduct for judges—by showing “insensitivity” to victims, witness, and others in both criminal and civil cases.

In a May 2013 hearing, Judge Dooley asks a man facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest:

“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”

In a November 2013 sentencing hearing—after a guilty conviction for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl—Dooley says:

“From what I’ve read this was not someone who was, I hate to use the phrase asking for it, there are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”

And last August Judge Dooley spoke to the jury during a domestic violence case—with the victim on the stand.

Juror: “She keeps mumbling and I can’t understand her.”

Dooley: “I know. I’m not allowed to slap her around, I can just say something.”

A civil trial that same month showcased Dooley’s self-described “medieval Christianity”—statements the commission says are “inappropriate to the dignity of judicial office.”

“I’m going to enforce those oaths and they’re enforceable with a two-year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge. I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”

A final violation alleges Judge Dooley essentially bargained a specific sentence in exchange for a defendants’ “no contest” plea. The commission says that defendant didn’t have a lawyer—all of which the commission says is conduct that harms “the administration of justice” and brings the judicial office “into disrepute.”

Marla Greenstein is the executive director of the commission. She says the complaint was built on review of court transcripts and interviews with people working in the Nome legal system. The case, she says, has been building for months.

“The commission evaluates the conduct in the investigation at various stages and gave notice to the judge several times in the process. The point where they made the determination it was serious enough to warrant public charges was at a meeting on May 12.”

Judge Dooley has 20 days to respond to the complaint. He said Wednesday he has no comment on the violations.

Greenstein says Judge Dooley could face a hearing before the 9 members of the commission, or reach a settlement—either outcome will go before the state Supreme Court, which will rule(s) on 1 of 3 possible outcomes.

“A public censure, basically a public statement that the conduct was wrong and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct; suspension from office for a certain period of time; and then, the most severe, is a removal from office.”

An Alaska resident for nearly 40 years, Judge Dooley has lived all over the state: from urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks to rural communities like Bethel and the North Slope. He opened a private law practice in 1993, he was appointed to his current position in Nome in March of 2013 by former governor Sean Parnell.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Officials to Meet With Forty Mile Gold Miners

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 17:43

Bureau of Land Management officials are scheduled to meet with Forty Mile area gold miners tomorrow. BLM Alaska spokeswoman Leslie Ellis Waters says Friday’s meeting in Chicken will include the agency’s top administrators.

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Ellis Waters says they were invited to attend the meeting. It follows recent years of tensions, highlighted by an August 2013 Environmental Protection Agency lead armed raid of several mining operations. Miners felt intimidated, but a subsequent governor’s report found officers did nothing wrong. Ellis Waters says there’s no official agenda for Friday’s meeting, but reclamation regulations are likely to be a primary topic.

Ellis Waters says there’s a lot of confusion around the topic, but stresses that the BLM will be there to listen. She could not say what data the water quality assessment and regulatory changes are based on, but longtime Forty Mile area Miner Sheldon Maier of Fairbanks contends the science isn’t there.

Maier’s wife Yenna describes the conflict between miners and regulators as over control, not better practices.

The Maiers have refused to pay federal access fees for a road they say they’ve invested thousands of dollars to repair. Last year the state sued the federal government claiming ownership of numerous historic rights of way in the Forty mile region. The Maiers, who have been vocal advocates on behalf of Forty Mile miners, say they’ve grown weary of meetings that don’t yield changes, and don’t plan on attending tomorrow’s session with the BLM in Chicken.

Categories: Alaska News

#StickFigureAK uses art to spark community

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 17:41

An early #StickFigureAK entry by Kim S from the project gallery.

From ancient cave art to bathroom sign indicators, stick figures are everywhere. And so sometimes, we don’t really think about them. But The Arc of Anchorage is trying to change that, and the way we see people who experience intellectual disabilities, with a new statewide art initiative.

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Everyone can draw a stick figure, right? Here’s mine:

But most people who participate in #StickFigureAK are much more creative. They’re using everything from candy to crab legs to human bodies to make stick figures that represent things they love.

“Sometimes we think of a stick figure and we kind of think, ‘Well, you know, whatever.’ It doesn’t seem that exciting or it doesn’t have a lot of potential,'” says project creator Naomi Hodawanus. “And unfortunately, and I hate to even say this, but unfortunately, when some people think of a person with a disability,they’re quick to dismiss that person’s potential, too, just like we do with a stick figure. But really, even if someone has an intellectual or developmental disability, they were created to create just like we do.”

The statewide initiative is run by The Arc of Anchorage, which works with people with intellectual disabilities. They offer work-skills training, social opportunities, and art classes.

“At the Arc of Anchorage we embrace people of all abilities, and we recognize that everyone really does have the ability to create. We create words, pictures, sounds, movement. We’re always creating something. And when we’re doing that we’re giving form to who we are and context of us as an individual.”

Everyone in Alaska is invited to submit up to three figures to the StickFigureAK web site where people will vote for their favorites. The top 100 will be printed in a limited edition coffee table book. Submissions are open until September 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 28, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 17:38

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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Fed. Jugde Hears Oral Arguments from EPA, Pebble Over Alleged FACA Violations

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Environmental Protection Agency and Pebble Limited Partnership presented oral arguments Thursday over whether or not the EPA violated federal law when it opted to restrict mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay.

Coast Guard Adds Response Vessels in Anticipation of Shell’s Arrival

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The Coast Guard is preparing for increased marine traffic in the region this summer.

Nome Judge Accused of Misconduct

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct—as well as violating sections of state law that the charges say could call his integrity into question.

Alaska LNG Gains Milestone With Export License

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The federal Energy Department announced today it will license Liquified Natural Gas exports from Nikiski, even to countries without a free trade agreement.

Federal Officials to Meet With Forty-Mile Gold Miners

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Top Bureau of Land Management officials are scheduled to meet with Forty Mile area gold miners Friday. The meeting follows recent year’s tensions, highlighted by an August 2013 armed raid of several mining operations, led by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Heroin Hits Home: Small Airlines Are The Drug’s Inroad

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than compared to 2013. State law enforcement officials say heroin gets into Bethel mainly on low-security, small airline passenger flights. This is the third and final story in a series about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how Bethel is fighting it.

#StickFigureAK Uses Art To Spark Community

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

From ancient cave art to bathroom sign indicators, stick figures are everywhere. And so sometimes, we don’t really think about them. But The Arc of Anchorage is trying to change that, and the way we see people who experience intellectual disabilities.

Salmon Skin Wallets and Crab Shell Shirts for the Masses

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A small Juneau business launched a Kickstarter this week to crowdsource funds for a unique line of products. The company is hoping it’s onto the next big thing in fashion: clothing and accessories sewn from discarded salmon skin and crab shells.

Need to Get Away? Why Not Build An Airplane

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

Most of us are firming up our summer plans right about now. For one Seattle family, that means getting their home-built plane ready for their annual trip to the most isolated parts of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Assembly Shoots Down Mayor’s Vetoes

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 15:49

Last week, Matanuska Susitna Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss threatened to veto line items in the Borough budget.. and last night [wednesday] he did just that. But the Borough Assembly had a different plan.  

Mayor DeVilbiss presented the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly on Wednesday with a veto document outlining seven budget items that he considers unnecessary spending. DeVilbiss said he wants to keep Borough spending to the limited powers granted to the Borough, and “hold the line on grants that go outside those powers.”

“The grant process, which I am suggesting, is a wide-open door that needs to change.”, DeVilbiss told the panel, adding that grants are “the easiest money to get in this state, with no limits on how much or what for. ”

First item on the mayor’s hit list, $106, 000 dollars in grants to the cities of Palmer, Wasilla and Houston.

Assemblymembers quickly voted to override that one, and went on to override mayoral vetoes against grants for a Sexual Assault Response Team for Wasilla, and for the Youth Court.

But the veto against a $150,000 grant for the Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program was sustained. This item caused the greatest debate of the evening, but gained only four votes in support of an override. Assemblymember Steve Colligan supported the override, saying the grant, which would fund the purchase of land for a shooting range, would only be a one – time ask and would benefit kids.

“But I’ll remind you that this year we passed through $200,000  and some for a kitchen at a ski facility, we’ve invested $ 4,000,000  at a Nordic ski facility, and we’re paving the road there, for that group of young folks. And all sorts of other things, and as was pointed out, we’ve had [target shooting ]Olympic champions and the like, and I don’t think that this competes with the adult shooting ranges, over time I think it will actually augment it. ” Colligan said.

But Assemblymember Jim Sykes had concerns about process, saying

“Every other one of these proposals had some kind of process.. there was an ask. To me, this looks just like an end run around process, and that’s one of my main objectio

Assemblymembers Matthew Beck and Barbara Doty joined Sykes in voting against the override.

The shooting range funding was the only veto that stood. Vetoes against funding for Willow Fire Service Area, Houston’s Fire Hall and Big Lake’s Community Center failed.

DeVilbiss expressed his disappointment, saying that Borough revenues are not the problem, but Borough spending is.

“This wide open window, which was just a niche a few years ago, to help the libraries and the cities, has blossomed into a bundle of things that is going to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

Borough spending and subsequent taxation has consequences to Borough property owners, DeVilbiss admonished, noting the thirty pages of foreclosure notices now going to print.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska LNG Gains Milestone With Export License

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 15:32

The federal Energy Department announced today it will license Liquified Natural Gas exports from Nikiski, even to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the U.S. The authorization is conditional on winning final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski says it’s a big boon for the project to bring North Slope natural gas to market.

“When you distill it down to, ‘what exactly does that mean?’ as one reporter asked, it basically means we can start selling our gas to anybody. So Japan: come on up. Taiwan? I don’t care where you’re coming from. Know that this project is real,” she said, at a luncheon today of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

Alaska LNG would be authorized to export up to 2.55 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day for 30 years. Alaska LNG is a partnership of the state, the producers and pipeline company TransCanada. The project, including a new trans-Alaska gas pipeline, are forecast to cost as much as $60 billion.

Categories: Alaska News

Need to Get Away? Why Not Build An Airplane

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 15:24

Photo: Mark Reed via KPLU.

Most of us are firming up our summer plans right about now. For one Seattle family, that means getting their home-built plane ready for their annual trip to the most isolated parts of Alaska.

For about 11 months of the year, Mark Reed and his wife Chris Buchanan live in Ballard. They recently moved into a fixer-upper.

“The house is still a work in progress,” Buchanan jokes.

The other month of the year, they spend in Alaska. Their home there is a tent they pitch wherever they’re able to land their plane. They drink water filtered from a stream. They eat fish they catch themselves. They’ve been hooked on that wide open space ever since their first trip up in 2008.

“We were traveling over terrain pretty soon into our trip where we couldn’t see a town or settlement or even a road outside of any of the windows.”

They let the weather dictate their way – if it’s clear, they can make it to places few humans get a chance to go – the northernmost reaches of Alaska – Prudhoe Bay, the Brooks Range, the Colville River. Their means of transportation is kept in a hanger at Paine Field.

“And this is the machine,” Reed says.

It’s a single-engine prop plane, canary yellow, a bit longer than a Subaru Outback.

“And the wings are riveted aluminum here. There’s thousands of rivets in there. Lots and lots of hours of riveting,” Reed says. He did all the riveting himself.

Reed built it from a kit but added lots of customization – mostly to make the plane safer. He has three GPS’s and two electrical systems.

When asked what it was like to take the plane up for the first time, Reed said it was a hoot.

“There’s a certain amount of trepidation. I’d spent almost 3,000 hours building it. I didn’t have too many doubts about it. But you are a test pilot and that first flight is always an exciting one. It’s always something to celebrate when it’s done.”

Reed has always loved making things – especially things that go up in the sky. In college, he taught himself how to make technical, high-end kites – you know, the kind that do flips in the air. He turned that into a business called Prism Designs. About a decade ago, he reached a point where things were going well, but he felt a little bored.

“When that happens for me it’s always been helpful to think about what would you be doing if you could be doing anything at all and time and money was no object and one day that idea popped into mind, and the idea was to build an airplane and fly it to the northernmost point in Alaska and fly it to the southernmost point in South America.”

Buchanan adds, “There’s an assumption that this is a mad idea that my husband had that I somehow had to be convinced to go along with and my friends who know me are just as likely to think the idea came from me.”

They share an adventurous spirit. Reed already had his pilot’s license, and Buchanan got hers too. After their first trip, they decided they wanted to go to Alaska every year and they ditched the South America idea.

“We really had our minds blown by the experience of being in that landscape,” Reed says.

Two years after that trip, their daughter was born.

I asked if things changed when Rachel arrived. “Did you guys have to have a conversation about oh are we going to keep doing this?”

“No, that was not a conversation for us,” Reed says.

They just installed an Evenflo kids’ car seat in the back of the plane. They rejiggered what they take to accommodate kid gear. Some necessities these days include Dum Dum lollipops and a few stuffed animals. The trips are special for Rachel, too.

Picking blueberries, she says, is her favorite thing about Alaska.

I’m fascinated by that. I have kids, and sometimes I feel almost paralyzed by fear about the dangers that exist. When they climb too high in a tree, I get freaked out. It’s hard to imagine taking them to isolated parts of Alaska in a small plane. But I admire it. It’s all about teaching kids to jump into life with both feet.

Buchanan and Reed want their daughter to experience how amazing our planet is.

“There’s something to be said for appreciating the scale of the world that you live in and it shouldn’t be scary,” Buchanan says.

Making good judgments is another thing they want to teach Rachel. They plan extensively before each flight. That is how they handle the risks of flying in Alaska – the massive mountains, the unforgiving weather.

“You spend a lot of time looking pretty far ahead of the airplane trying to think about what could happen next, what you may be headed toward next and what you’re going to do about it,” Reed says.

That means not just having a plan B — but plans C, D, E and F. Still, flying’s not the only risk, there’s also wildlife. They’ve seen plenty of bears. But animal encounters can also be magical. Once, a curious caribou spent a long time watching them fly a kite and then slowly moved toward them.

“That caribou just decided it was time to come check it out and see what was going on with this colorful thing in the air and these strange bipeds on the ground,” Buchanan remembers.

It sounds amazing.

“I’m going to have you put this on. This is a life vest,” Reed says.

And that’s why, when Reed asks me if I want to go up with him in his plane, I agree. I’m a little nervous. And I’m kicking myself for not buying life insurance like I’ve been meaning to. But if it’s safe enough for them to take their kid in the plane, I decide to chill out.

“It’s the survival gear that we typically like to travel with,” he says.

“Do I need to know how to use this?”

“Rudimentary stuff.”

We climb into the plane. It’s not roomy.

“Clear!” Reed says.

It feels teensy compared to the giant Boeing triple seven rolling down the runway before us. I’m feeling pretty calm, I know Reed is a careful guy. But then I see a sign on the dashboard.

“I just noticed this passenger warning,” I tell him. “This aircraft is amateur built and does not comply with federal safety regulations for standard aircraft.”

Reed says, relax. He says the plane actually exceeds a lot of those regulations. We get the go-ahead from the control tower and take off.

Sinatra is playing in the background…. “come fly with me… let’s fly, let’s fly.”

If you’re used to flying in a jet, being in a small plane feels almost like you’re hardly moving. Reed says we’re flying 140 miles per hour. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s mesmerizing to see Seattle landmarks from above – there’s Husky Stadium, there’s Gas Works Park. I can see every color of Lake Union in a way that you can’t from a boat. Then Reed says, do you want to take the controls? I don’t want to be a chicken, but I’m anxious. I lightly push the stick forward and the nose dips. I bank the plane slightly to the right and slightly to the left and after 30 seconds, I tell him I’ve had enough.

Back on the ground, Reed loads up for a weekend trip. They don’t just take their plane to Alaska, they often head to the San Juan Islands. This is a familiar routine. City life is what can feel hard now and then.

“Sometimes birthday parties are a little challenging,” Buchanan jokes.

Come July, they won’t have to worry about a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Instead, they’ll be monitoring the weather in Alaska and figuring out good places to land their plane, and keeping an eye out for bears.

Categories: Alaska News

Heroin Hits Home: Small Airlines Are The Drug’s Major Inroad

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 14:58

Heroin confiscated by law enforcement. – Photo courtesy of Alaska State Troopers

Federal officials say they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska in 2014 than compared to 2013. State law enforcement officials say heroin gets into Bethel mainly on low-security, small airline passenger flights. This is the final story in a series about the impacts of heroin in Bethel.

Bethel City Manager, Ann Capela, says the trouble heroin is causing in Bethel requires a coordinated campaign not unlike the one that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed with the goal of rooting out terrorists. Although Bethel’s heroin campaign is on a smaller scale, it uses the same slogan:

“If you see something, say something,” said Capela.

Capela, who was hired about six months ago, says the city doesn’t have the capacity to take on multinational drug rings, so the community must work together to root out dealers and traffickers, who have set in motion a slew of problems impacting everything from OCS cases to fire and police calls.

Ann Capela, Bethel City Manager. Photo by Geraldine Brink/KYUK

“We need the information from the community. We don’t have the manpower to be, but we need to be our eyes and ears [about] what’s going on. They need to let us know,” said Capela.

Capela says the idea is to support a grassroots effort already brewing in the community. One aspect of the campaign promotes a tip line that goes straight to the Alaska State Troopers Western Alaska Alcohol & Narcotics Team- or WAANT. Capela says the city also hopes to work with social services and health care providers, tribes and others to get addicts the help they need to quit.

At a meeting in which the Bethel City Council tasked city administration with making a heroin action plan, Councilmember Mark Springer said the heroin problems have gotten so bad, that they need to call in reinforcements.

“We would be happy to see as much law enforcement pressure as possible against people who are importing narcotics into Bethel and selling them here. As I said before, it’s criminal conspiracy, it’s organized crime in no uncertain terms,” said Springer.

Alan Wilson, a supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Anchorage, says law enforcement needs tips from people on the ground in Bethel to help.

Wilson says it’s happening across the country. After regulators cracked down on prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, and reformulated them to be less attractive to addicts, heroin found a market again.

“We have drug traffickers that we know have contacts in Mexico and they purchase their heroin either in Mexico or on the border of Mexico in the United States and they ship it up to Alaska,” said Wilson.

Doreen O’Brien testifies about heroin before the Bethel City Council. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK

Todd Moehring is an investigator with WAANT. He says heroin makes its way to Bethel and other bush communities, in smaller quantities.

“We’re not receiving pounds directly from Mexico on a freight aircraft or something like that, but we’re receiving user amounts. Typically what we’ve learned so far is that most of the dealers have roughly a gram of heroin or more, so that’s usually around 10 hits on a user level, maybe up to an ounce or so – again, because we are at the end of the line,” said Moehring.

Moehring says they’re after source dealers and traffickers. He says it’s coming through mail, freight services and the port. But he says a lot comes in simply on passengers on smaller airlines serving Bethel.

“Smaller airlines that operate under different federal rules, and the security screening is not the same as we get for your larger commercial jets. So folks are carrying drugs in their baggage, they’re carrying it on their person, in their clothing, they’re also doing it on internal body carry,” said Moehring.

Under federal regulation small airlines, which carry less than 50 passengers, are not required to participate in TSA screening. A spokesperson forRAVN Alaska, the main smaller airline that serves Bethel, declined to go on tape. She said via email: “It’s not our policy to search bags. If we have reasonable suspicion that someone may have an illegal substance or item in their bag, we pull the bag and call the troopers or local police authority.” City Manager Capela says she wonders if a drug dog would help.

“I don’t know whether we would require a K-9 unit that looks at the cargo when it comes down. A K-9 unit just as people are going by,” said Capela.

Troopers with the WAANT team say they have requested a drug dog for their Bethel office, but state of Alaska officials say they don’t have the resources to provide one. Moehring says the Anchorage WAANT office just got a drug dog to stop the flow of heroin and other narcotics out of the city. The dog is funded by the North Slope Borough, and will focus on that region but could also be used to follow up on tips from Bethel.

Bethel WAANT tip line: (800) 478-2294

This is the final story in a 3-part KYUK series.Click here for part 1 and part 2.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Adds Response Vessels in Anticipation of Shell’s Arrival

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-28 14:44

Because the Coast Guard anticipates heightened marine traffic, two 25-foot response boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor this summer. (Emily Schwing/KUCB)

Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell moves forward with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

“This is very unusual, especially for Alaska,” said Lieutenant Aaron Renschler. He’s the Chief of Enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage.

“We do deploy our assets around other parts of the state, but specifically for Dutch Harbor, this is the first time.”

The Coast Guard will establish safety zones around Shell’s exploratory vessels. They’ll will use Dutch Harbor as a port of call between June and July.

“If something were to occur, we’re at least two to three weeks from getting assets into Dutch Harbor,” said Renschler, “so it’s prudent that we forward deploy them in anticipation f any activity.”

Renschler said the vessels can be used for emergency response as well as daily operations.

“They are there to ensure that the marine transportation system remains open to all users and that includes facilitating commercial traffic, recreation traffic, all your commercial fishing vessels, as well as allowing individuals to express their first amendment rights,” he said.

The boats are not required as part of Shell’s permitting process, but the oil company has subcontracted the vessels. The daily operations are being funded with money from the U.S. Coast Guard’s budget. Renschler did not have an immediate cost estimate.

Categories: Alaska News