Alaska News

Tribes, Forest Service partner on climate change research

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:58

At the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society Conference in Juneau this week, a panel of five discussed climate change and traditional knowledge.

Jay Kazhe is a student at Eastern New Mexico University. He represented the Native “youth perspective” at the panel. (photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Rick Edwards is the research aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. He likened the observations of indigenous people to scientific models.

“If we focus on that part of this integrated body of spirituality, culture and knowledge, and if we focus on observation-based natural history parts of that, then indeed, that looks a lot like science to me,” he said.

In 2010, the Forest Service partnered with tribes nationwide to study the effects of climate change. Alaska Native tribes are also participating.

Ida Hildebrand is the tribal natural resource program director for the Chugach Regional Resource Commission, a nonprofit that oversees the stewardship of natural resources in the Chugach region. Hildebrand cautioned Native people to exercise sovereignty over their traditional knowledge.

“That is your tribal choice. You have that knowledge, you don’t have to share it. Or you can share parts of it and not all of it. There’s sacred knowledge. There’s common everyday knowledge. There’s all kinds of traditional knowledge,” she said.

The research is funded with federal money which means information gathered could become public record. The goal of the project is to preserve tribal culture in the face of changing climate.

Categories: Alaska News

Majority members outline concerns with budget option

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:55

Six members of the Alaska House majority have sent a letter to Speaker Mike Chenault expressing serious concerns with the potential use of the Permanent Fund earnings reserve to help balance the state budget.

This could create a new wrinkle in efforts to pass a funded budget.

Use of the earnings reserve has been seen as a possible alternative if agreement cannot be reached with minority Democrats to tap the constitutional budget reserve fund. There has been no apparent movement toward such an agreement in recent weeks.

The letter was signed by Reps. Bryce Edgmon, Louise Stutes, Neal Foster, Gabrielle LeDoux, Jim Colver and Paul Seaton. They said they would not intend to vote for use of the earnings reserve.

The letter was first reported by the Alaska Dispatch News.

Categories: Alaska News

Robert Mumford named to Board of Fish

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:55

Alaska Governor Bill Walker late Tuesday night appointed Robert Mumford to the seven-member Board of Fish. The governor was required by state statute to make the appointment by May 19th.

Mumford’s appointment cannot be formally approved by the Legislature until next year’s regular session.

Mumford is currently serving out a term on the Board of Game, which expires June 30.

According to a press release from the Governor’s office, he worked for 18 years in sport and commercial fishing enforcement.

Members to the Board of Fish set allocations and approve management plans for the state’s fisheries.

This is the Governor’s third attempt to fill the seat.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s popular walrus cam streams again after a decade

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:47

A popular webcam showing large male Pacific walruses lying on the beach is once again streaming on the Internet.

The high-definition stream from Alaska’s remote Round Island had been dormant for nearly a decade after private funding ran out.

But thanks to the philanthropic organization explore.org, the cam is again up and running.

Every summer, up to 15,000 walruses haul out on the island about 400 miles southwest of Anchorage in northern Bristol Bay.

There are four cameras pointed at two beaches on the remote island.

But like in 2005, the camera will be offline for a week in the fall so Alaska Natives can take part in a legal subsistence hunt of the walruses.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska wildfire responders keeping eye on dry conditions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:28

Interior Alaska and other parts of the state are experiencing conditions ripe for forest fires and natural resources officials are urging caution in outdoor activities heading into Memorial Day Weekend.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center says a fire along the Alaska Highway 50 miles northwest of the Canada border grew Thursday to 500 acres.

Spokesman Tim Mowry says trees may be green with leaves but grasses below remain brown and dry.

He says that grass can easily ignite. With low humidity and temperatures reaching the low 80s, conditions are perfect for sparking a wildfire.

Mowry says the same weather system is drying out southcentral Alaska and even making coastal rainforest on the Panhandle susceptible to forest fire.

Twenty-seven wildfires this year have burned five square miles.

Categories: Alaska News

Construction starts on Alaska Native Medical Center housing

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 09:27

Tribal, state, and private sector leaders Wednesday kicked off construction of housing at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

They say it will improve services for Alaska Native and American Indian people who travel to Anchorage from across the state for health care.

A state Senator who helped get the project financed says it will also save the state millions of dollars a year for decades to come.

The new six-story patient housing facility, with 202 private rooms, will be located behind and linked by sky-bridge to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, which serves some 150,000 patients a year.

More than half of those patients travel to Anchorage for health services. But many can be served as outpatients. They may need to be monitored or receive care for high-risk pregnancies, for instance, or for chemotherapy, or post-surgical follow-up.

Andy Teuber is board chair and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says the new facility will cut down on the cost of putting up patients in hotels, and make it easier for patients to receive services:

“This is one of many barriers that we look forward to breaking down and improving access for our patients across the state to health care here at ANMC,” Teuber said.

Teuber says Congress approved a land transfer from the Indian Health Service, and the Consortium worked with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and with legislators on financing.

“At a number of occasions we found that the enthusiasm around the project was sufficient to carry it through,” Teuber said.

That enthusiasm is due in part to the fact the state of Alaska will see an estimated jump of almost $9 million in Medicaid reimbursements, annually. Medicaid patients who stay at a tribal facility allow the state to receive 100 percent of the federal match. If those patients are being seen at a non-tribal facility, the state receives only half the federal match.

That’s one reason Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that authorized the state to issue bonds to loan ANTHC $35 million, a big chunk of the $41 million price tag for the housing facility.

“It was kind of a unique concept, and at first we had some hesitation as to how it would work and how much it would truly cost, but it’s going to pay itself back in a short time,” he said.

Meyer says knowing the Indian Health Service is a major source of funding for the Consortium reassured legislators, who, he says, gave a close look at the level of risk the state was taking on in funding the project.

“We did, because ultimately if the funding source doesn’t come through, it falls back on the state,” Meyer said. “The federal government for the most part is pretty trustworthy. It’s a good deal for the state and residents of Alaska. So it’s truly a win-win, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

The new housing facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

The Legislature’s Second Special Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-22 08:00

With the state legislature now gaveled in to a second special session in the new Legislative Information Office in Anchorage,  major state issues are under debate, namely the state’s operating budget.

HOST: Ellen Lockyer

GUESTS:

  • Pat Pitney, director, State Office of Management and Budget
  • Jim Duncan, executive director, of the Alaska State Employees Union Local 52

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 23 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only To Call New One

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:46

The Alaska State Legislature has gaveled out of special session, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. But almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the Legislature has formally relocated to Anchorage, and that they have set aside Medicaid expansion.

As Yogi Berra might have put it, it was déjà vu all over again.

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SEN. KEVIN MEYER: Sen. Stevens, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

REP. MIKE CHENAULT: Rep. Gruenberg, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

MEYER: Sen. Stoltze, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

CHENAULT: Rep. Lynn, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

The Legislature was gathered at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, where a single protester marched outside with a sign reading “You should be in Juneau doing your damn job!”

The Senate held two nearly identical floor sessions, and then the House did the same. Over the course of three hours, there were four pledges of allegiance, four roll calls for attendance, and so on. But not a single bill was taken up.

When Senate President Kevin Meyer rolled through the floor calendar and asked if there was any unfinished business, an aide to Gov. Bill Walker, watching the whole affair, muttered, “a lot.”

The purpose of these repetitive ceremonies was to gavel out from Gov. Bill Walker’s special session, where he had asked them to advance a budget, a bill creating a sexual abuse prevention program, and Medicaid expansion — and to do it all in Juneau.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill led his caucus in ending the Juneau session that had been called for, and officially reconvening a session in Anchorage, where they had been meeting for two weeks anyway.

<<”I would say that the best thing to do, practically speaking, is to meet where we are able to practically assemble the requisite amount of people to do it both economically, and practically … here.”

A poll had been taken, and more than two-thirds of lawmakers wanted to end the governor’s special session. They would keep at the budget and the sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law, but they would scrap work on Medicaid expansion entirely.

“The action taken today is at this point to tell the governor that no action is the action at this point,” said Coghill, a North Pole Republican.

Democrats in the minority pushed back. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, said his caucus had not been polled on the action. If they had, they would have opposed it, and found any vote taken to be against the rules that they meet in Juneau. Wielechowski cited a memo from the Legislature’s attorney.

“As much as I enjoy being in my hometown, Mr. President, this session violates the Alaska Constitution,” said Wielechowski.

Wielechowski added that it was inappropriate to end the session when nothing on the special session agenda had been completed.

“We have had very little work done on any of these bills, Mr. President. We have not done our job,” said Wielechowski. “We should not be adjourning this special session before we complete our jobs. We’ve had no public testimony on any of these items.”

But Coghill pushed back, noting that lawmakers had held meetings on each of the three agenda items. He said that with the Legislature still trying to find a way to plug a multi-billion-dollar deficit, they would keep working on the budget to avoid a government shutdown. Plus, Coghill said, the Legislature always had the ability to gavel out without doing anything.

“We had the right the very first hour that he did it,” said Coghill.

The Legislature voted to end the first special session and call a new one on caucus lines. The rest of the session was mostly uneventful. But when Coghill led one of the four prayers said on Thursday, the invocation took on a special significance.

“Creator of the world that we get to see, and the people we get to know, and the work that we get to do — we sure could use your guidance,” prayed Coghill.

If that guidance were granted, the governor might appreciate it. In a written statement, Walker said he was disappointed that the Legislature had not voted on any of his three agenda items before adjourning, and that he was “deeply concerned about the legislature’s lack of progress on a fully funded budget.”

Categories: Alaska News

Utility to Revive Long-Idled Coal Plant In Healy

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:45

GVEA’s Healy 2 Plant
Credit Golden Valley Electric Association.

Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long-idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week. The facility is being put back on line after nearly 20 years of failings and dispute.

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The power plant is one of two Golden Valley Electric Association has in Healy to burn coal from the next door Usibelli Mine. GVEA vice president of transmission and distribution Mike Wright says Healy 2, formerly known as the Healy Clean Coal Plant, is scheduled to fire up May 27.

Wright says Healy 2’s power output will displace higher price natural gas and oil fired electricity generation sources, but it’s not expected to significantly affect customer bills.

Wright stresses that coal is a long-term, price-stable fuel.  GVEA purchased the Healy 2 plant from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in 2013 for $44 million. The deal followed a drawn out legal battle that began when the $300 million, largely state and federally funded experimental plant failed to meet the utility’s standards in the late 1990s. Bringing the mothballed facility on line entails major upgrades, including Environmental Protection Agency required emissions system improvements at both of the utility’s Healy coal fired plants, changes Wright says add to the overall project cost

Wright says one looming coal fired power issue is new federal carbon dioxide emissions standards that could cap output of the greenhouse gas. He says that could require shutdown of GVEA’s older Healy 1 plant.

Categories: Alaska News

National Guard Welcomes New Leadership

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:42

Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General, and Col. Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard. Streff has been in the guard since 1987.

Streff sits down with reporter Zachariah Hughes to outline his plans for the guard’s changing mission in the wake of difficult revelations about misconduct.

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The Alaska Army National Guard welcomes a new commander during a change of command ceremony at the Alaska National Guard armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in March. Brig. Gen. (Alaska) Laurie Hummel, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, presided over the ceremony where Col. Joseph Streff took command of the Alaska Army National Guard from Brig. Gen. Leon M. “Mike” Bridges.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 21, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:40

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.

Download Audio:

 

Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only to Call A New One

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature gaveled out of special session this morning, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. Then, almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms.

Utility to Revive Long-Idled Coal Plant In Healy

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week.

Hyder Border to Reopen for 24-Hour Access

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, soon will be open 24-hours a day.

Sen. Sullivan: Prepare for A Long War

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is one of five freshmen on the Senate Armed Services committee, and he’s carving out a place for himself among the national security hawks.

Alaska National Guard Welcomes New Leadership

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General and Colonel Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard.

Wood Bison Bulls to Join Reintroduced Herd

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

A Nenana-based barge line will soon be hauling some unusual cargo.  Twenty-eight wood bison bulls are scheduled to travel on Inland Barge from Nenana to the Innoko River near Shageluk, beginning sometime during the next week.

Data: Positive Skill Building Improves Youth Behavior

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

A new study shows kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.

‘Baby Raven Reads’ Program Nurtures A New Generation of Tlingit Speakers

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute is helping to foster the next generation of Tlingit speakers in Juneau. It recently launched a free early childhood program.

Categories: Alaska News

Data show positive skill-building improves Anchorage youth behavior

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 17:40

A small portion of the data compiled by Anchorage Youth Development Coalition.

 
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Newly compiled data show kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.

Twenty years ago, behavioral health research started to show that if you want teenagers to behave, stop nagging them. Michael Kerosky with the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition says there’s an easier way.

“If we could just help kids build on their strengths, increase their social emotional skills, give them more caring adults, give them more opportunities to contribute, meaningful opportunities, feeling support, having caring teachers. A whole bunch of things,” Kerosky lists.

“If we did all of that, then all of the negative behaviors go down. We don’t have to talk about alcohol, we don’t have to talk about suicide, we don’t have to talk about depression. All we have to do is build on these strengths.”

So a group of youth-focused organizations in Anchorage did just that. And new data shows it might be working. Teens in Anchorage used to rank higher than the national average for considering suicide, experiencing sexual violence, smoking pot, and feeling unsafe at school. Now, they rank lower or equal for most risk factors.

The data is based mostly on the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is self-reported. But Kerosky says that doesn’t make it invalid.

The CDC has “gone to great lengths to make sure the survey is reliable and valid. They have all kinds of checks and balances built in so if the kids mark random questions the computer can pick that up and throw them out.”

Kerosky says it’s not only supportive families, teachers, schools, and youth agencies that can help strengthen kids’ resilience.

“All of us have a role. Even if you don’t have kids, you certainly see kids in the neighborhood. You don’t have to go overboard but just waving. I use the example of a bagger in the grocery store. Just look at their name tags and say, ‘Hi Sam!’ or ‘Hi Joni!’ Every kid loves to hear that.”

You can see all the stats here.

You can also check out data compiled by UAA that’s being used to develop behavioral health solutions.

Categories: Alaska News

Chester Creek Trail To Close This Summer for Repaving

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 16:52


Parts of the Chester Creek Trail will be closed for most of the summer starting on Tuesday while it’s being repaved and improved.

The Municipality’s parks department is closing the trail in two segments. The first – from the New Seward Highway to Nichols Road near Goose Lake – will close from May 26 until then end of July. The stretch from Arctic Boulevard to the highway will close from July 22 to early October.

Park Planner Maeve Nevins says the $2.3 million upgrade to the 20-year-old trail includes new techniques that will prevent things like flooding in the wetlands areas.

“We had to take some different technical measures from what we did in the past where we’re actually doing a full dig out and rebuilding the trail on something called ‘ballast stone,'” she explains. “And that’s a thick stone. It’s the stone that they use in railroad beds. It has a load bearing capacity. So by using that stone first, we lay that down and then we put our leveling course and then we put the asphalt, that allows the water to flow through the trail in that corridor.”

They’re also insulating the culverts with blue foam board to prevent perilous bumps from frost heaving.

Nevins says trail detours will be well marked and include sidewalks and smaller trails. Volunteers will guide users along the detour routes on Tuesday and Wednesday during commute times. Small sections of the trail will re-open as they are completed and will be marked.

You can find out more here.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Baby Raven Reads’ Program Fosters A New Generation of Tlingit Speakers

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 15:53

Families and young children mill around tables in the lobby of the Walter Soboleff Building. There’s a station for coloring, one for science. Margaret Katzeek and her 2-year-old niece Elayna are at the snack table.

Inside the clan house at the Walter Soboleff Building, Mary Folletti sings familiar sounding songs with Tlingit lyrics. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Do you want some water?” Katzeek asks Elayna. “Do you remember what it’s called? Heen. Let’s say heen.”

This is their second Baby Raven Reads family night. The free early childhood program run by Sealaska Heritage Institute builds on the strengths of Alaska Native culture in teaching early literacy. Katzeek says they’re a fun way to learn the Tlingit language, for her niece and herself.

“They say the best way to learn something and get to know something is trying to teach it,” she says, “so I definitely work on the words that I do know, I work with her on it lot.”

But Katzeek says Elayna picks up songs better and, lucky for her, there are several that evening with language learner and teacher Mary Folletti.

Margaret Katzeek brought her niece Elayna Katzeek to the Baby Raven Reads family night. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Inside the clan house, about 30 children, infants to 5-year-olds, start off sitting on small rugs or on the laps of family members. Moments later, many of them are on their feet, singing, laughing and dancing along. About 40 adults sitting on the periphery watch their children, smiling. Some join in the singing.

Folletti leads the group in Tlingit songs to the tunes of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hokey Pokey.” She helped translate these songs several years ago.

“Those songs are great because the kids are already familiar with them and they are the same idea. We do things different, like, ‘Dance like a Tlingit,’ but it is like, ‘Turn yourself around,’ so it’s got a lot of the same ideas,” she says.

Folletti says exposing children to the sounds of the Tlingit language is important for development.

“I know people who learn the Tlingit language when they were older and because they had never tried to make those sounds before, they’d never heard those sounds before, they physically could not make the sounds, so I think it’s important for them to hear it,” Folletti says.

Early education specialist Karen Larson is working with Sealaska Heritage Institute. She says the Baby Raven Reads program emulates other successful early learning practices. It gives out a free children’s book at each session, like the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. It brings families together, like events organized by the Association for the Education of Young Children. And it’s all done in ways relevant to Alaska Native families.

“People are really craving cultural experiences for their children and language exposure. And then people bring their own culture to it and it grows from there,” Larson says.

Parent Pamela Craig is one of those people. She’s with her 2-year-old son.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that I think he needs, to be able to meet up with his Native peers from an early age and be able to work with them and have people to talk to, especially learning language,” Craig says.

The Baby Raven Reads events are good for her as well.

“Just looking around, I have family here, my relatives and other people I’ve met through the years going to different Native events, and so it’s a good opportunity for me,” Craig says.

Betty Ann Samato reads a book with her grandson Bryson Stepetin at a Baby Raven Reads family night. (Photo by Brian Wallace/Courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute)

That’s part of the early childhood program – creating community.

Jackie Kookesh is the education director for Sealaska Heritage Institute. She hopes people like Mary Folletti will be an inspiration to parents and relatives.

“To sing along with Mary and their children and try to pronounce the Tlingit words that are in the song, that takes a lot of courage,” Kookesh says. “And so if that’s an outcome we come away with, I say that’s phenomenal, creating those safe places for the language to be in the air and to be heard and for everybody to do it together.”

Kookesh hopes the program will make more parents comfortable singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Tlingit with their children.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Borough Assembly Sets Mil Rate, Passes Budget

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 15:23

The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s mil rate will stay below ten in the coming fiscal year, despite warnings from Borough administration officials that the current level of service cannot be maintained without raising taxes. On Wednesday, the Borough Assembly approved the FY 2016 budget, but Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss says he’s sharpening his red pen.  

Mat Su residents will see some added perks in next year’s budget. At Wednesday night’s special Assembly meeting, the panel approved funding to pay for a full time Solid Waste position to work with Valley Community Recycling Solutions on community cleanup, passed a motion that will allow Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program 150 thousand dollars to purchase land for a shooting range, and agreed to pay 540 thousand dollars for chassis remounts on four ambulances. All of that within a 9 point 984 areawide mil rate, and a point 517 non area wide rate.

The Assembly also included in the budget: an amendment allowing the Mat Su School District to carry over it’s 2015 fund balance to next year.

But some Borough fees will go up, specifically usage rates at the Brett Memorial Ice Arena, and disposal fees for construction and demolition debris and landfill waste disposal at the Central Landfill.

In all, the budget was amended 21 times since Borough manager released his 400 point 7 million dollar spending package on April 30.

The final budget figure will be adjusted after all the amendments are added up, according to Borough Finance Director Tammy Clayton.

But Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss promised vetoes to come:

“There will be a veto document this year, I think, looking ahead, there’s a couple of trends that are bothersome to me. So, hopefully, it will be an educational exercise.”

 According to Borough mandate, the mayor has until the next regular Assembly meeting on May 27 to strike or reduce the budget. A 2/3 Assembly vote withing 21 calendar days is needed to override a mayor’s veto.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak Man Accepts Plea Deal for Fatal Hit-And-Run in 2008

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 15:08

A Kodiak man will spend at least four years in prison for killing another man in a hit-and-run that occurred on Pillar Mountain Road in 2008.

According to Kodiak court documents, 27-year-old Bradford Blondin has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the death of 43-year-old Justin McGriff in April 2008.

Blondin agreed Tuesday to the plea deal in exchange for a 10-year sentence with six years suspended. If the judge agrees to the deal at the sentencing hearing in August, two other charges stemming from the hit-and-run will be dropped. Blondin will then serve 10 years probation.

McGriff, a dishwasher at a local restaurant, was living in a tent on Pillar Mountain, on the edge of downtown Kodiak, at the time of his death. He was last seen by a taxi driver who dropped him off on Pillar Mountain Road in the early morning hours. McGriff’s body was found by neighbors around 6:30 that same morning.

The state medical examiner said at the time that McGriff likely would have survived the impact if he had received prompt medical treatment. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Police seized Blondin’s truck shortly after the incident, but it took over four years for authorities to charge him, partially due to the long-standing back up at the state crime lab. Blondin was indicted in November 2012.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 27th, where the judge can accept or reject the plea deal between Blondin and the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan: Prepare for Long War

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 14:17

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is one of five freshmen on the Senate Armed Services committee, and he’s carving out a place for himself among the national security hawks. Today  the committee heard from two architects of the 2007 surge in Iraq. Retired General Jack Keane calls President Obama’s war strategy “fundamentally flawed” and says it can’t defeat Islamic State. Frederick Kagan, a former advisor to General Petraeus, says the U.S. should now send up to 20,000 troops to Iraq. Sen. Sullivan had a chance to ask questions near the end of the hearing. Sullian says the president should prepare Americans for prolonged war.

“I think sometimes we look at what’s going on with ISIS and other issues in the Middle East and think we’re going to have this done in a couple months, 18 months, 20 months, maybe a couple of years,” he said.

Sullivan says Obama should tell Americans this war will last much longer and win their support for ongoing U.S. combat in the Middle East. The senator looked to the witnesses for back-up.

“Do you think that there’s an importance to have the leadership, both in terms of Congress, but particularly the executive branch, talk more broadly and, again, level with the American people about, ‘Look, this might be a generational conflict. This might be akin to the Cold War’?”

Kagan, now at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, agreed.

“We do need to understand that this is a war. These are battlefronts on a common war that is going to last for a long time, and we don’t get to end it. Unless we win,” he said. “We may not be interested in war, but war is interested in us.”

None of the witnesses at the Senate Armed Services Hearing defended the current military strategy. Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona said the Defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs will testify at a hearing in June.

Categories: Alaska News

Hyder border to reopen for 24-hour access

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 10:34

The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, soon will be open 24-hours a day.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office announced today that after many discussions with her office, the Canadian government has agreed to work with U.S. officials to open the gate — and keep it open, all the time.

(Photo via KRBD.org)

“This is an imminent change. This is not something that’s going to happen overnight, we don’t have a timetable,” Murkowski spokesman, Matthew Felling, said. “But the good news is that the political obstacles to removing the lock-box and key approach have been removed, and a resolution has been reached.”

The border has historically been open 24-hours a day, but starting this spring, Canadian officials decided to cut costs by closing the border between midnight and 8 a.m.

The approximately 100 residents of Hyder, who depend on Stewart for medical care, were concerned about access to emergency services. The Canadian government responded with a proposal that emergency providers could have a key to open the gate when needed.

There also was concern about how the closure would affect tourism for both communities. Many visitors stay in Stewart and then cross the border early in the morning to visit the popular bear-viewing facility in Hyder.

Felling said that with the new agreement in place, people on the Canadian side of the border will be able to cross between midnight and 8 a.m. without stopping or checking in.

“For Americans or tourists on the American side of the border going to travel into Canada, there will be some sort of electronic box, a display, a camera, where they report their – it might be a license, it might be a passport – they will  have to report in and announce that they’re entering the country,” he said.

Felling said there likely will be a faster process available for people needing emergency medical care. He said officials are still figuring out the details on how the system will work, so a precise timeline is not yet known.

The overnight border closure went into effect April 1.

Categories: Alaska News

ACLU says Anchorage restriction on alcohol sales illegal

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 10:29

The ACLU of Alaska is saying last month’s city proposal to prevent three-time users of Anchorage’s emergency sobering center from buying alcohol is illegal under state law. The group maintains that it would violate privacy by sharing confidential records with liquor stores.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports the ACLU sent a letter to Anchorage Assembly members Wednesday, saying that barring people who were admitted to the Anchorage Safety Center could make the city less safe, because people won’t be willing to go the safety center at all.

Backers of the proposal say it would push more people to get sober.

The ACLU says the ban would be illegal under Title 47, a law that essentially directs the state to treat public alcoholism as a disease and not a crime.

Categories: Alaska News

Delayed ferry heads for Unalaska despite government shutdown threat

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-21 10:24

The Alaska state Ferry Tustumena spent at least five extra days off the water and missed its first scheduled sailing earlier this month, and it is headed for Unalaska this weekend. But it’s still unclear what a possible state government shutdown could mean if the legislature fails to fund a budget by the start of the next fiscal year.

Jeremy Woodrow is a spokesman with the Alaska Department of Transportation. He says repairs were made to a water main line essential in the event of a fire on the Tustumena.  He said pieces of steel in the car deck on the 51-year old ship were also replaced.

Courtesy of Nancy Heise

“Those are just items that come along with the age of the vessel,” said Woodrow. “That actually emphasizes why we’re working on designing a replacement for the ferry and we’ll actually be working on replacing the Tustumena in the near future.”

Woodrow said a final design for a replacement ship should be completed by the end of December.

But whether a new ferry becomes a reality is in question. In February, the legislature proposed a 10 percent reduction in funding to the ferry system.

In response, earlier this month, Governor Bill Walker transferred $5.5 million dollars from this year’s fuel fund to next year’s operating budget for the ferry system.  That money was included in a spending plan lawmakers already passed.

But as legislators continue to spar of the state’s budget, Woodrow says it’s unclear what might happen to the ferry system if Alaska’s state government shuts down.

“It’s too early to say whether the ferry system will or will not be impacted,” he said.  “It’s a process that’s unprecedented and therefore we’re going through new territory in terms of what can and can’t be done.”

Woodrow says the Department of Transportation is working with the Governor’s administration to identify ‘essential services.’

Categories: Alaska News

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