Alaska News

Board Of Fish Meetings Continue

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

The state Board of Fisheries continued its Upper Cook Inlet meeting Tuesday. Much of the day was devoted to Kenai River king salmon issues, but the Board began the day by taking a step back.

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Categories: Alaska News

Court Temporarily Suspends Restrictions On Medicaid-Funded Abortions

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has temporarily suspended a regulation that would have restricted women who qualify for Medicaid funded abortions.

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The regulation went into effect over the weekend. It requires doctors to fill out a new form certifying the woman seeking a Medicaid-funded abortion is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function.

The regulation was introduced in August by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last Wednesday. They object to the state narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Judge John Suddock can issue a Preliminary Injunction suspending the regulation for a longer period of time if the court case is not settled quickly.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pole Crude Refinery Shutting Down

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:43

Officials with Flint Hills Resources Alaska announced today they will halt processing crude oil at the company’s North Pole refinery over the next few months.

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Categories: Alaska News

Top Three Mushers Strategize As They Come And Go From Eagle

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:41

The top three Yukon Quest teams arrived in Eagle in the wee hours of Monday morning, well ahead of schedule. It was clear as they relayed their tales that teams are starting to strategize as they near the half-way mark in this year’s race.

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Categories: Alaska News

Teachers, Parents Speak Against Using Public Funding At Private Schools

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:11

Gov. Sean Parnell is calling on the Legislature to take on education reform. And as part of that, he wants lawmakers to advance “SJR 9.” That controversial resolution is the first step in amending the state Constitution so public funds can be spent at private schools. The second step would be to put it on the ballot, so Alaskans can make the final decision.

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But do they want that option? Over the course of two days, scores of people weighed in before the Legislature on that prospect.

The Senate Finance Committee took testimony for four hours straight on Monday, and most of it sounded like this:

TESTIFIER #1: “Amending the Constitution in this way is a mistake.
TESTIFIER #2: I think diverting public funds to private educational institutions is wrong.
TESTIFIER #3: We are standing in opposition against SJR9.

Close to a hundred members of the public offered comment and all but a dozen spoke against removing the prohibition on state money benefiting private schools.

Many of the arguments against SJR9 focused on school vouchers. While the measure would not create a voucher system, it would enable lawmakers to set one up if they desired. Some testifiers worried that such a system could drain public school funding. Others expressed concern that private schools wouldn’t be held to the same standards as public ones, and that they would discriminate against students with special needs.

Brian Schilling, of Eagle River, told the story of his adolescent daughter, who has special needs. His family spent $50,000 on private schooling for her, but she continued to be years behind in her learning and was at risk of being expelled. Schilling says they ended up switching into the public school system, and her progress has been noticeable.

“Private schools do not have to take all kids, and they definitely don’t want my kid. And they don’t want kids like her,” said Schilling.

The people who testified in opposition to SJR9 were spread across the state. Some self-identified as politically conservative. Most said they were parents. And many said they were educators.

During the first portion of the meeting, Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, asked each person whether they belonged to the National Education Association, the union that represents teachers. He stopped after 45 minutes, saying he was doing that to get a sense of which constituencies opposed the bill.

KELLY: Mr. Chairman, I won’t be asking that anymore. I just want to make a point that whether people are a member of the NEA or not, does not make their testimony any less valid or their testimony less sincere. I just want to get a sense of where people are coming from, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea here.

While the questions stopped, testifiers spent the rest of the meeting declaring their NEA membership or lack thereof – like in Terrie Gottstein’s case.

GOTTSTEIN: I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the NEA. I am however a member of Triple A. *laughter*

The public testimony offered the next morning was more supportive of SJR9. By that point, at least one conservative advocacy group had blasted an action alert urging members to testify. Just over half of the two dozen comments were in favor of the resolution.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican who’s leading the charge on SJR9, told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks members of the public education community simply managed to rally their base faster, and that polling data shows the majority of Alaskans support his position.

“I think the folks that oppose SJR9 got a number of their people out,” said Dunleavy.

In defense of his resolution, Dunleavy has also said that concerns that SJR9 would negatively affect public schools are overblown. He wants people to separate his resolution from the idea of vouchers.

“There’s no case that we could find in which it spun out of control. In which it emptied the coffers. In which it bankrupted school districts,” said Dunleavy at the Monday morning committee hearing. “We can’t find any situations like that, although we’ve heard about this through those that don’t necessarily support this concept that this could be the case. We can’t find data that supports that.”

The measure needs the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature to advance. If successful, the constitutional question would then be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 4, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:10

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

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North Pole Crude Refinery Shutting Down

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Officials with Flint Hills Resources Alaska announced today they will halt processing crude oil at the company’s North Pole refinery over the next few months.

Court Temporarily Suspends Restrictions On Medicaid-Funded Abortions

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has temporarily suspended a regulation that would have restricted women who qualify for Medicaid funded abortions.

The regulation went into effect over the weekend. It requires doctors to fill out a new form certifying the woman seeking a Medicaid-funded abortion is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function.

The regulation was introduced in August by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last Wednesday. They object to the state narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Judge John Suddock can issue a Preliminary Injunction suspending the regulation for a longer period of time if the court case is not settled quickly.

Governor Parnell Calls For Education Reform

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Sean Parnell is calling on the Legislature to take on education reform. And as part of that, he wants lawmakers to advance “SJR 9.” The controversial resolution is the first step in amending the state Constitution so public funds can be spent at private schools.

Over the last two days, more than 100 people weighed in before the Legislature on that prospect.

Division of Elections Verifies Signatures On Marijuana Initiative

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A measure that would regulate marijuana like alcohol has enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Today, the Alaska Division of Elections verified that more than 31,000 of the signatures submitted come from registered voters.

The lieutenant governor is expected to certify the initiative this month.

If the marijuana initiative is successful, Alaska will be one of the first states in the country to effectively legalize the drug.

Richardson Highway To Reopen Wednesday

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

After nearly two weeks, the Alaska Department of Transportation says the Richardson Highway in the Keystone Canyon area could reopen as soon as Wednesday.

Board Of Fish Meetings Continue

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The state Board of Fisheries continued its Upper Cook Inlet meeting Tuesday. Much of the day was devoted to Kenai River king salmon issues, but the Board began the day by taking a step back.

Keith Hackett Settles In As UAA’s Athletic Director

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Anchorage’s new athletic director, Keith Hackett, wrapped up his first 100 days on the job last month. He’s finished his first Great Alaska Shootout and watched cross country running and volleyball cap off successful seasons. But he says there is still work to be done.

APU Coach Finds His Own Recipe For International Success

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most Alaskans know who Olympic skier Kikkan Randall is. But can you name her Alaskan Pacific University coach? His name is Erik Flora. He’s a workaholic who is enthusiastic, passionate and motivated. And he deserves more than a little credit for the dramatic turn around the U.S. cross country ski team has managed in the last decade.

Top Three Mushers Strategize As They Come And Go From Eagle

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The top three Yukon Quest teams arrived in Eagle in the wee hours of Monday morning, well ahead of schedule.  It was clear as they relayed their tales that teams are starting to strategize as they near the half-way mark in this year’s race.

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Initiative Meets Signature Requirement

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 17:58

A measure that would regulate marijuana like alcohol has enough signatures to appear on the ballot. On Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections verified that over 31,000 of the signatures submitted come from registered voters. The lieutenant governor is expected to certify the initiative this month.

If the marijuana initiative is successful, Alaska will be one of the first states in the country to effectively legalize the drug.

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Categories: Alaska News

APU Coach Finds His Own Recipe For International Success

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 14:28

Photo courtesy of APU.

Most Alaskans know who Olympic skier Kikkan Randall is. But can you name her Alaskan Pacific University coach? His name is Erik Flora. He’s a workaholic who is enthusiastic, passionate and motivated. And he deserves more than a little credit for the dramatic turn around the U.S. cross country ski team has managed in the last decade. 

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It’s a freezing cold morning at Hatcher Pass. The sun won’t hit the cross country ski course for at least another hour and a steady wind is making things unpleasant. But as Coach Erik Flora starts directing the morning’s time trial, he appears to be enjoying himself.

Flora has reason to be in a good mood.

When he became the director of Alaska Pacific University’s nordic program in 2006 he coached one young Olympian- Kikkan Randall- and a handful of other promising athletes. Now four of the 14 members of the U.S. Cross Country Olympic team are from APU. In less than a decade,  Flora has helped transform the idea of what’s possible in cross country skiing. The only American to win an Olympic medal in the sport was Bill Koch nearly forty years ago. For Flora, it didn’t add up:

“We’re Americans. Hard working, lot’s of ingenuity. But for some reason in Cross Country skiing, we just weren’t doing it.”

Photo courtesy of APU.

Flora had hoped to go to the Olympics himself. But a car accident at Hatcher Pass  in 1999 left him with a career ending back injury.

“It was a pretty devastating experience. I had kind of worked my whole life toward this high level skiing and Olympic goal and then all of the sudden, it was taken away.”

At first, Flora thought he was done with the sport for good.  He took a job with an air taxi at Lake Hood, to pursue his airplane mechanics license and become a pilot.  For a few winters, Flora barely touched his skis. But then Alaska Pacific University convinced him to teach masters athletes for about six hours a week. That part time job sparked a new passion for Flora- coaching:

“It was amazing, being able to pass along what I had learned and to help someone forward. I could see that’s what I wanted to do.”

In 2002, Flora went to Salt Lake City to watch the Olympics. A friend from Norway, Tor Arne Hetland, was competing in the Skate Sprint that year. Flora met Hetland during a year he spent in Norway after High School, training with some of the country’s best young skiers. In Salt Lake City, Hetland won gold. The moment was life changing for Flora:

“You know it’s possible for someone to win a medal. But you’ve never seen it, you’ve never had breakfast with them. They don’t seem like they’re human. Being friends first with this athlete… and then all of the sudden he wins a gold medal. It’s like, ‘wait a second, I can do that.’”

Flora went skiing the next day and plotted his own comeback in the sport.  When that plan fell apart, he turned his attention to taking his coaching to the next level. Kikkan Randall was already a two time Olympian and gaining ground on the World Cup. When Flora took over as her coach in 2006 he began boosting the amount she was training, by more than 30% by the end of the first year:

“We didn’t have a recipe book on how this works. We didn’t have a manual on how to build this. But we kept on experimenting and trying to learn and find the key components.”

A year later, in 2007, Randall won her first World Cup Medal- a bronze in the skate sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. In the years since, she’s steadily improved, racking up 10 World Cup gold medals. Flora also coached Holly Brooks’ improbable transition from ski coach to Olympic level athlete. Now siblings Sadie and Erik Bjornsen are heading to their first Olympics under Flora’s direction. Luke Bodensteiner, a former teammate who is now vice president for athletics for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association says Flora is getting results:

“He really raised the bar. He’s demanded a lot from his athletes. He’s shown them not only how to do really big amounts of training, but how to do it wisely. How to put a premium on recovery.”

Bodensteiner says even as Flora pushes his athletes hard, he’s remarkably easy going and always has a positive attitude. That’s how Holly Brooks sees it too, from her point of view as one of his skiers, who also used to coach with him:

“He just exudes passion. It could be raining sideways. We could be hypothermic, hungry and he would still be jumping out of his socks excited. He’s just an incredible motivator.”

Flora says it turns out he’s a far better coach than athlete. Now he’s heading to Sochi with a team of medal contenders. And the formula is starting to look pretty simple to him:

“I always felt like there had to be some kind of secret process that had to take place to have this international success that we’re having. And it’s funny, the more success we have, the easier it feels.”

Looking back, Flora says the car accident at Hatcher Pass may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. And in Sochi, he’ll probably be the coach who looks like he’s having the most fun on the side of the trail.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Richardson Highway To Reopen Wednesday

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-02-04 13:10

After nearly two weeks, the Alaska Department of Transportation says the Richardson Highway in the Keystone Canyon area could reopen as soon as Wednesday.

Crews took advantage of favorable conditions and made significant progress in cleaning up the Keystone Canyon area.

Officials are confident that crews will have the area cleared by 3 p.m. Wednesday. DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says there maybe some cautions once it reopens.

“There may be some flaggers for the initial opening just in case there is a little bit of extra debris on the side of the roads, but they’re working on trying to clear as much of that debris and put it off the side of the road so that it isn’t an issue for traffic.”

DOT says the roadway is in good condition and can support both passenger and commercial vehicles.

The cleanup of the Keystone Canyon area of the Richardson Highway comes following nearly two weeks after being underwater to an avalanche.

Categories: Alaska News

Dept. of Corrections Confirms Inadvertent Recording of Attorney-Client Calls

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:50

Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

At a hearing last week in Dillingham, a public defense attorney mentioned to the judge that he had been cautioned by his agency about discussing confidential matters with clients in custody at state correctional facilities. The agency had learned that the state’s Department of Corrections was either monitoring or recording phone calls between inmates and their attorneys, a practice that defies the attorney-client privilege.

DOC officials say they are investigating the matter, and do confirm that some phone attorney phone calls were inadvertently recorded. They also say the problem isn’t yet fixed.

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Audio transcript:

The confidentiality of conversations between attorneys and clients is a basic and sacred tenet of the criminal justice system in the US.

And that’s not a privilege that defendants or even the convicted forfeit when they’re behind bars:  the Alaska Department of Corrections’ own policy clearly states that “calls between a prisoner and an attorney may not be monitored except when authorized by court order.”

“Sometime in the fall it was brought to our attention that some attorney calls were being recorded, and we started looking into at that time,” said Kaci Schroeder, a special assistant to DOC Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

Schroeder says that after the department determined that attorney-client calls had been, or were being recorded at state correctional facilities, steps were taken to correct the problem.

But right now there are more questions than the department has answers, starting with exactly how many attorney phone calls were recorded.

“We’re still trying to determine that,” said Schroeder. “At this time we don’t think it was very many, maybe less than forty. That’s what we’ve discovered up to this point.”

Are phone calls between attorneys and clients in jail still being recorded?

“We’re doing our best to make sure they’re not. But I can’t yet guarantee that,” said Schroeder, adding a warning for attorneys: “If at the beginning of a phone call, an automated voice says you are being recorded, then you are being recorded.”

Schroeder says DOC is in the process of destroying material that shouldn’t have been recorded. But can the department confirm that those tapes have not been listened to by law enforcement or state prosecutors?

“Not at this time. That will be part of the investigation.”

She says the department’s internal investigation will also look to see if any criminal cases have been jeopardized by the recorded conversations.

Automated System.  Phone communications at Alaska’s correctional facilities are handled by Dallas, TX-based Securus, which has contracts with some 2,200 facilities in 45 states according to the company’s Web site.

In each prison, the communication is automated to provide an easy way to monitor and record all of the inmate phone traffic, minus calls with attorneys (and a few others entitled to confidentiality). The system can also put time limits on calls, and can block specific numbers to prevent harassment.

It’s also designed to automatically not record calls to the listed numbers for inmates’ attorneys.

Hinting that it might have been a technical glitch or training issue, Schroeder says DOC is working with Securus to figure out exactly what went wrong with the system that allowed for the recorded calls.

“Chilled.”  The state’s Public Defender Agency says it is aware of at least one recorded phone call between one its attorneys and a client. The agency believes that was not an isolated incident.

In an email, Deputy Public Defender for the Criminal Division Douglas Moody said that until the agency has some assurance that the problem is fixed, the agency “will assume that DOC is listening” to all of the conversations between inmates and agency attorneys.

Private attorneys are also concerned about the recorded calls.

“It’s very troublesome, I’m sure for practically any attorney,” said Rex Butler, a Anchorage-based attorney known to tackle some high profile defense cases.

“It’s bad enough that we have clients spread out all over the state now, in jails that it takes hours to get to,” said Butler, “but then when you get a client on the phone, if they cannot rest assured that they’re getting attorney-client privilege, then it chills our ability to do our job.”

Butler says that DOC needs to provide attorneys with a list of the calls that were monitored or recorded. He also says the department needs to provide some assurances that the problem has been remedied, and that the tapes have been destroyed.

“I really want to be comfortable in knowing that my conversation with my client is going to be confidential. I have to have that.”

DOC is working on the problem and says it will notify attorneys, but adds that it could still take weeks or even months to get it all sorted out.

Categories: Alaska News

Helo 1 Crash Still Under Investigation

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

The State Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures following a helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year. The crash is still under investigation.

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A helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year is still under investigation. The Alaska State Trooper’s Helo – 1 crashed near Talkeetna during a rescue mission, killing its pilot, a state Trooper and one civilian in early 2013.

 Trooper director Colonel Jim Cockrell says in light of the accident, the state Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures. He says the National Transportation Safety Board has pointed out some concerns that need to be addressed:

“Including reviewing all our internal policies regarding our use of our aircraft with our department pilots. We’re hiring a safety manager or safety officer to oversee all aspects of safety at the aircraft section. We’ve hired a new aircraft supervisor with an extensive aviation background, and the same with a new commissioned leiutenant we put in the aircraft section. “

 Cockrell says the NTSB recommendations are not directly related to last year’s accident. In addition to the three new hires, the Troopers are now evaluating aviation training programs, and are making changes in risk assessment. The decision to send Trooper aircraft out on a mission will no longer be on one person’s shoulders:

“The issue is to ensure that we have some oversight on these missions to make sure that we are not taking undue risk. And we’re not asking the pilot to make that final decision. And, sometimes, people’s lives are definitely at risk, and it’s hard for our personnel who’s joined the department to provide public service, it’s hard for them sometimes to say ‘no’ and that’s why we want to make sure that we have someone outside, the if you want to call it the loop, that makes the decision if it’s worth our risk to handle this call. “

 

Trooper helicopters are operated under the division of Alaska Wildlife Troopers, which provides the department with 43 aircraft and 50 pilots.   Adjustments to the safety management system include installing real time satellite tracking devices in aircraft, which allow monitoring of all aircraft 24/7 by cellphone.

 Troopers are working with the NTSB to determine the cause of the 2013 Helo 1 crash, but results are inconclusive at this time. The NTSB has releases some 2,000 pages of documents related to the Helo 1 investigation on the agency’s website.    The night - time crash took the lives of pilot Mel Nading, Trooper Tage Toll and snowmachiner Carl Ober.  A report on the crash’s probable cause is expected in late summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fish Discussing Cook Inlet Salmon Issues

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

This week the board of fish is dealing with the contentious battles over Cook Inlet salmon. In both the Kenai and the Mat-Su Boroughs many are fighting over fish that are disappearing.

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Categories: Alaska News

Army Seeks ‘Data Gaps’ Over Cleanups At Old Chem/Bio-warfare Site Near Greely

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

The Gerstle River Test Site is located about 35 miles southeast of Delta Junction, east of the Alaska Highway. It’s adjacent to a 65,000-acre test site expansion area, which the Army has given back to the State of Alaska. Image from the U.S. Army.

Environmental officials are reviewing cleanup work conducted at a former military test site south of Delta Junction. The Gerstle River site was used by the Army to test chemical and biological agents during the height of the Cold War.

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The Army created the 20,500-acre Gerstle River Test Site in the early 1950s to determine how high explosives and chemical- and biological-warfare agents would work in the Arctic. The site is about 35 miles southeast of Delta, within a few miles of where the Gerstle flows into the Tanana River.

Substances tested at the site include mustard gas; nerve gas, including Sarin, and the biological agent tularemia.

The Army conducted several cleanups around the site was used before and after it was shut down in the early 1970s. It also monitored and periodically tested the area. But Army officials aren’t sure whether they’ve compiled all the data that’s been collected, and whether they know all there is to know about the site. So they’re taking another look at the issue to plug the “data gaps,” says Brian Adams, the project manager with Fort Wainwright’s environmental office.

“Plugging those holes is key to doing cleanup of the site,” Adams said.

Guy Warren is an environmental program specialist with the stateDepartment of Environmental Conservation who’s working with the Army on the data-gap analysis. He says the Army launched this latest round of studies on the site after it got funding for the project last year.

“They’ve hired a contractor that’s going back and looking through all the differentreports  that we have on the test site, to kind of get a picture of what do we know today about the history, the use and the disposal of chemical weapons and other components on that property,” Warren said.

Warren says this new round of analysis will pick up on the work of a previous round, which petered out about 12 years ago.

“I don’t think anything was ever really finalized with the public. There were still some questions out there about what may be left on the site,” he said.

Adams says the Army also is re-forming an advisory committee that was disbanded about 12 years ago, after Greely ended up on the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure list. He’s now looking for about 20 people to serve on the Reclamation Advisory Board, And he’d especially like to get residents of Delta Junction, Healy Lake, Dot Lake and Tok to serve on the board.

“There’s knowledge out there,” he said. “There’s a knowledge base out there. People know things. They may have worked out there. They may have been on the sites at the time, whatever.”

Adams says that information, along with data that’s already been collected on the Gerstle River Test Site, will help Army officials decide whether to close parts of the site to entry – or, as he says…

“… Delineate some of those areas that you don’t really want to go into and play in. Like some of those disposal pits. You don’t really want to play in a disposal pit area,” he said.

Adams says access to the test site is currently open, and that it’s a popular place for moose hunting. The site also is still being used for training by Fort Wainwright soldiers.

Adams says anyone interested in service on the board must contact him by Friday.

Editor’s Note: Persons interested in serving on the Gerstle River Training Site Reclamation Advisory Board may contact Adams at Fort Wainwright’s environmental office, (907) 361-6623 or email send an email topao.fwa@us.army.mil.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Democrats Nominate Kiehl, Kito, And Reardon For Kerttula’s Vacant Seat

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

Tongass Democrats have nominated Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III, and Catherine Reardon to fill the House District 32 seat vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Sam Kito III, Catherine Reardon & Jesse Kiehl take questions from reporters Monday morning in capitol entry way.

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The three were chosen after public interviews over the weekend. Nine Juneau Democrats applied to fill the seat.

All three nominees say they will seek a full term if appointed.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan took the nominees’ names to Gov. Sean Parnell this morning. The governor has 30 days to fill a vacancy in the legislature within 30 days of that vacancy.

Kerttula resigned Jan. 24 after accepting a position at Stanford University.

Categories: Alaska News

Stebbins Planning To Fix Long-Standing Problems Using Recovery Funds

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:47

Two-and-a-half months after severe flooding ruined homes and vital infrastructure, Stebbins is organizing to put recovery funds towards fixing long-standing problems exacerbated by the storm damage. President Obama declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster last month, unlocking federal funds to help the community.

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Most homes in Stebbins don’t have sewer or water. The provisional remedy—a honey-bucket hauling system—is a series of chest-high black containers along the main road that a truck periodically empties en route to the sewage lagoon. And it created a serious health hazard when flood waters spilled several across a marshy plane just behind a row of homes, which has since frozen over.

Residents and officials were worried what would happen to the contamination when the ground thawed in the spring. Sitting in her narrow office with files spread across her desk, city administrator Nora Tomm said signs of contamination started appearing even earlier.

“After the storm we had close to 10 dogs that were reported, that they died from being sick and they had signs of e-coli,” Tomm said.

Advised by officials that the flood waters could bring contamination, residents took precautions and threw out household goods and stores of food.

Sitting in the main concourse of the Stebbins’ school, Anna Nashoanak with the Stebbins IRA explained that in a cash strapped community with so little employment the loss of traditional food caches was a significant loss for many in the community. This week NSEDC sent 3,000 pounds of halibut and salmon in response to a request from the IRA for help with community-wide losses of fish and meat in the storm.

Tommy Kirk, head of the IRA in Stebbins, had put posters on bulletin boards in Stebbins’ native store, the washeteria, and post office, and said by Thursday almost all the fish had been distributed.

Morris Nashoanak is mayor of Stebbins and says that the top priority working with state and federal funders is the town’s water system.

“Currently, our water and sewer has been on for many, many years,” Nashoanak said. “The flood from, recent flooding has put us in the situation where the state and the federal are looking to try and speed the process of getting the water and sewer for Stebbins.”

Though water and sewer have been development priorities in Stebbins for decades, local officials are now approaching it as an essential disaster mitigation measure, just like their calls for a protective seawall.

A lot of the vital infrastructure in Stebbins is not just outdated—it’s right in the path of ocean-flooding that’s only getting worse as storms intensify, freeze ups latten, and the beachfront erodes.

The school’s large cylindrical gas-tanks are just on the other side of a thin, improvised dirt road from the water. There’s still a knee-high, rust-colored water-mark from November’s flooding on them. Nearby is a thin yellow spigot juts out of the earth towards the sea-ice—the hook-up for gas deliveries, and it’s surrounded by driftwood and crumpled boat left over from the storm months ago.

The development projects Stebbins needs are not forward-looking proactive measures—they’re basic protective measures that community doesn’t have the resources to put in place on its own.

Mayor Nashoanak says that rather than relying on consultants and outside engineer firms for management of the projects—as they did in the past—the city is reorganizing to lobby and labor on its own behalf.

“And I think, with our group of people have lived through years of enduring storms, and the needs of the community I think with our group of people that have knowledge of trying to obtain some funding sources would be more of a mark to the community because the community can be able to stand up on their own and lobby for themselves,” Nashoanak said.

The Department of Homeland Security has helped residents since the storms catalogue property damage, and should be dispersing funds in the next few months. But the leadership in Stebbins is working on solidifying priorities to capitalize on FEMA money that could make a long-term difference for the community’s safety.

The hope is to present a list of needs to representatives in Juneau during this current legislative session in order to spur action in time for the clean-up efforts set to resume in the spring.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 3, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:11

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

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Department of Corrections Says Some Calls Between Inmates, Attorneys

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

The Department of Corrections says at least a few dozen phone calls between inmates in state prisons and their attorneys were inadvertently recorded.  Officials with the department say they’re still investigating the problem, and cannot yet confirm that it’s been corrected.

Planned Parenthood Tries To Block Abortion Regulation

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Alaska argued before Judge John Suddock in a hearing Monday in Anchorage Superior Court. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last week, objecting to new limitations being placed on abortions paid for by Medicaid.

Trooper’s Helo 1 Crash Still Under Investigation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The State Department of Public Safety is reviewing its safety procedures following a helicopter crash that took the lives of three men in March of last year. The crash is still under investigation.

Board of Fish Discussing Cook Inlet Salmon Issues

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

This week the board of fish is dealing with the contentious battles over Cook Inlet salmon. In both the Kenai and the Mat-Su Boroughs many are fighting over fish that are disappearing.

Army Seeks ‘Data Gaps’ Over Cleanups At Old Chem/Bio-warfare Site Near Greely

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Environmental officials are reviewing cleanup work conducted at a former military test site south of Delta Junction. The Gerstle River site was used by the Army to test chemical and biological agents during the height of the Cold War.

Tongass Democrats Nominate Kiehl, Kito, And Reardon For Kerttula’s Vacant Seat

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Tongass Democrats have nominated Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III, and Catherine Reardon to fill the House District 32 seat vacated last month by Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula.

Commission Rolls Out Arctic Strategy Plan

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission is rolling out its strategy for the region.

Stebbins Planning To Fix Long-Standing Problems Using Recovery Funds

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Two-and-a-half months after severe flooding ruined homes and vital infrastructure, Stebbins is organizing to put recovery funds towards fixing long-standing problems exacerbated by the storm damage. President Obama declared November’s storms in Western Alaska a natural disaster last month, unlocking federal funds to help the community.

Front Of The Pack Shapes Up On Yukon Quest Trail

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

A “front-of-the–pack” is beginning to shake out on the Yukon Quest Trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Commission Wants Alaska To Have More Influence Over Arctic’s Future

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 18:04

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission is rolling out its strategy for the region.
The draft report is over 100 pages, and it offers recommendations on how to manage maritime commerce and resource development in the Arctic, how to improve emergency response, and how to include the state’s indigenous population in policy decisions.

Rep. Bob Herron, a Bethel Democrat who co-chaired the commission, says having an “Arctic thought process” puts the state on better footing with the federal government when it comes to having a say in policy for the region.

“We want to be in the center of all those decisions,” says Herron.

The Arctic Policy Commission’s work may have a more immediate influence on the state’s own policy. The report identified the lack of infrastructure as a key problem for the region, and Herron and his fellow co-chair, Sen. Lesil McGuire, each introduced legislation to address that last week. One bill would create a port authority for the Arctic, while the other would authorize the state to issue loans for projects like roads and harbors.

McGuire acknowledges that Arctic development will be expensive and difficult to afford given that the state is looking at a budget shortfall. Still, she sees it as a necessary investment.

“I think we’re going to have to start looking at it right now. We’re already behind,” says McGuire.

The Obama administration offered its own strategy for the Arctic region last week.

Categories: Alaska News

Planned Parenthood Tries To Block Abortion Regulation

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 17:52

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Alaska argued before Judge John Suddock in a hearing Monday in Anchorage Superior Court.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last week, objecting to new limitations being placed on abortions paid for by Medicaid.

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Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Social Services last Wednesday. They object to the state trying to limit abortions paid for by Medicaid by narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Attorney Janet Crepps argued by phone on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. She asked Judge John Suddock to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation, saying it could harm women who rely on Medicaid.

“The inability to obtain a medically necessary abortion or delay that unnecessarily increase the risks of the procedure are irreparable harm that justify the issuing of a temporary restraining order,” Crepps said.

Crepps said she worried about women with certain forms of diabetes or mental illness not qualifying for abortions if they need them. Initially the case was assigned to Judge Mark Rindner on Friday but the State of Alaska objected to him as the judge. Judge Gregory Miller was assigned the case the same day, but he recused himself. Then the case was assigned to judge Suddock.

State Attorney Stacie Kraly argued it would be fine to let the regulation stay in effect while the judge decides the case. The Department of Health and Social Services wants doctors to fill out a sheet checking off why an abortion should be reimbursed. Kraly said the additional documentation is not that big of a deal.

“What this form does is simply put a very minor additional documentation requirement on the part of the doctor providing the service to articulate that they believe, in their medical judgment, that the service that they are providing is medically necessary,” Kraly said.

The regulation requiring the additional paperwork was introduced in August by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur.

The regulation went into effect over the weekend. Doctors must now fill out a new form to certify a woman is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function in order to qualify for an abortion paid for by Medicaid.

Judge Suddock expressed concerns that mentally ill women might not qualify for abortions under the new regulation.

“A woman who’s bipolar, if she doesn’t take her medication she’s reverberating between a manic state and a depressive state,” Suddock said. “And it’s no fun and it has practical effects on all aspects of daily life, living, job, relationship, ability to provide childcare for the woman. But if she goes off her medication, is she really in imminent danger of impairment of a major bodily function?”

Jim Minnery with the conservative group, Alaska Family Action complained that Judge Suddock could not be impartial in the case because his former law partner had argued cases about abortion.

“We’re very disappointed that the state of Alaska didn’t accept Judge Suddock’s offer to recuse himself from the case,” Minnery said. “It’s that simple. We very much think that there’s a conflict of interest.”

Judge Suddock said he will rule swiftly on whether to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation until the case is decided.

Planned Parenthood has also requested a preliminary injunction which would suspend the state regulation for a longer period if the case takes more time.

Categories: Alaska News

Keith Hackett Settles In As UAA’s Athletic Director

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 17:20

The University of Alaska Anchorage’s new athletic director, Keith Hackett, wrapped up his first 100 days on the job last month.

He’s finished his first Great Alaska Shootout and watched the cross country running and volleyball seasons cap off successful seasons, but he says there is still work to be done.

New UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett addresses the media on Sept. 20. Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

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When Keith Hackett was hired, UAA was in the midst of recovering from the controversial firing of former athletic director Steve Cobb and hockey coach Dave Shyiak.

During the hiring process, Hackett knew of the lingering fractures caused by those events, but, it didn’t deter him.

“I accepted it knowing that and knew that what I had to do was be ready for, ready for anything,” he said.

So far, Hackett has spent a lot of time building new relationships and trying to rebuild old ones with community members and partners that were damaged or had fallen by the wayside over the past several years.

“I’m a firm believer in no one of us is smarter than all of us,” Hackett said. “And we just, I think it’s just so critically important for me in my role to bring people together.”

Among those relationships Hackett is setting out to repair is with Anchorage’s hockey community. Mark Filipenko is the president of the UAA Hockey Alumni Association. He says he likes what he’s seen from Hackett so far.

“Asks a lot of questions. I think he’s really trying to figure out what the next steps are and the best steps to improve the program [are],” Filipenko said. “And he has some really good ideas himself, coming from a successful program. So, it’s been a real nice pleasure working with him.”

There have been a lot of questions for Hackett to answer as he has spoken with members of the community. But, having only been in Anchorage and at the university for a few months, he says some are difficult to answer.

“Most of the questions have been, well: ‘What are you gonna do with this? What are you gonna do with hockey? How come there’s no ice at the arena?’ You know, I don’t have some of those answers, I just know that I’m gonna do the very best I can every day to help our student athletes to be successful and in turn help our coaches to be successful, help our university to be successful,” Hackett said.

But, he says even if he doesn’t have all the answers yet, those conversations have helped him identify some of the issues the athletics department is facing.

Hackett has also been eyeing other issues that need to be dealt with – most notably, revenue.

“My plan with regard to the financial equation has everything to do with generating revenue,” he said. “And that’s through ticket sales, concessions, rentals, all those kinds of things, because we have to take on a larger part of that burden.”

That issue is growing especially prevalent as the department prepares to move over to the new Alaska Airlines Center, which will cost an estimated $2.7 dollars per year to maintain.

Hackett says the sports center will open up opportunities for new revenue streams that are currently unavailable.

“We have to do some things to fully utilize or maximize the use of that building, and part of that is gonna be we want more people to come to games,” he said. “So, we have to go out and sell tickets; we have to find a way to get people to come.”

Ticket sellers will have a big job once they start work next summer, as the Alaska Airlines Center holds about 4,000 more people than the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.

Hackett is currently working on a report outlining his first 100 days on the job and identifying issues the department needs to address.

Categories: Alaska News

Dems Submit List Of Candidates For Kerttula Seat

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-02-03 11:50

Democrats in Southeast Alaska have named their list of finalists to fill the Alaska House seat vacated by Beth Kerttula last month.

They are Jesse Kiehl, Catherine Reardon and Sam Kito III. The Tongass Democrats submitted a list of three names to Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday.

Under the law, the governor is to appoint a qualified replacement within 30 days of a vacancy. The law states that the appointee shall be a member of the same political party as the predecessor and, in this case, would be subject to confirmation by a majority of House Democrats.

Kerttula, a Democrat from Juneau, resigned on Jan. 24 for a fellowship at Stanford University.

Categories: Alaska News

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