Alaska News

Troopers Investigate Shooting Death Of Fox Man

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-05 09:06

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the shooting death of 69-year-old Jimmy Gojdics, an outdoorsman and character on National Geographic’s reality show “Ultimate Survival.”

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports officers responded to Gojdics’s residence in Fox Sunday to find the victim suffering from gunshot wounds. He was transported to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Trooper spokesman Tim Despain said officers are investigating the death as a homicide.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman Dies in ATV Crash in Upper Kalskag

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-05 09:04

State troopers say a woman died when her 4-wheeler flipped twice and threw her from the vehicle. 34-year-old Merna Spein was driving down main street in Upper Kalskag Saturday afternoon when she lost control.

A witness says Spein was the only person on the 4-wheeler when it crashed. She was not wearing a helmet and suffered head trauma.

Spein was taken to the clinic in Upper Kalskag and pronounced dead.

Troopers say alcohol was involved.

Spein’s body is being sent to the state medical examiners office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Body Believed to be Akiak Woman Recovered

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-05 09:03

Troopers say the body thought to be an Akiak woman who died last year when a 4-wheeler went into an open hole on the Kuskokwim River near Kwethluk has been recovered.

On Sunday remains believed to be Sally Stone were found near the crash site. Her body is being sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Twenty-seven-year-old Stone of Akiak was traveling with 51-year-old Ralph Demantle and 26-year-old George Evan in December from Bethel through a snowstorm. The vehicle went into an open lead in the ice. Troopers say alcohol was a factor in the deaths.

Demantle’s body was recovered in December, and searchers found Evan in January.

Categories: Alaska News

Record Cruise Ship Season Charted for Unalaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-05-05 08:12

Unalaska will get a big population boost this weekend, with the first cruise ship of what’s shaping up to be a busy summer.

On Sunday, the 781-foot Crystal Symphony will tie up at the Coast Guard dock and offload the most passengers Unalaska has ever seen — around a thousand people, as many as a quarter of the town’s residents.

About a thousand people are expected to disembark from the 781-foot Crystal Symphony cruise ship in Unalaska this weekend — the most the town has ever seen. (Courtesy: Crystal Cruises)

Normally, the state ferry marks the start of summer in the Aleutians. But this year, the aging ferry Tustumena is in shipyard for repairs — its first scheduled stop in Unalaska is now May 23. And state budget cuts could mean fewer sailings overall after that.

Unalaska visitor’s bureau director Cathy Jordan says a shorter ferry season will have a big impact on the Aleutian Chain — for tourists and residents alike.

“A lot of people like to come out on the ferry, stay for a day or two, maybe fly back on [PenAir], or they’ll take the ferry back the same day,” Jordan says. “But also important for the Chain is for the smaller communities that get on the ferry along the way and come out here and shop, and then bring goods back to their hometown. And that also impacts our businesses.”

But she’s hoping more cruise ships might help fill the gap. 2015 will be Unalaska’s longest, busiest cruise season ever — the Crystal Symphony is the first of eight ships with scheduled stops. One, in September, will bring 2,000 passengers to town.

“I’m a little concerned about how we’re going to be able to accommodate that many people on the island for that amount of time,” Jordan says. “They don’t always all disembark, so hopefully we’ll be able to scatter them throughout the island at one time. You know, our tourist destinations can’t hold but 150, 200 people. So we’ll try to keep them busy with some other alternatives.”

She’s calling in extra buses and working with the town’s few restaurants and museums to organize special events. She’ll also have volunteers on hand to help guide explorers. Jordan says that small-town feel is one advantage Unalaska has over bigger ports.

“I’ve seen many people stop and talk to cruise ship passengers and give directions, or give an idea of what to do next,” she says. “Or even when we have a group of birders in from a cruise ship, they’ll ask, ‘Where can I find this bird?’ And I’ve seen local people [say] ‘Oh, go down this road and take a right,’ you know, so it’s really great.”

Of course, Unalaska’s main draw is as a fuel stop. It’s the first big port of call for ships crossing the Pacific from Asia.

The Crystal Symphony is one of those. It’s en route from Tokyo to Vancouver, with stops in Kodiak, Seward and Ketchikan after it leaves the Aleutians.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage School Board amends budget, moves charter school facility money to save teaching jobs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 23:59

The Anchorage School Board passed an amended budget on Monday night for the 2015-16 school year. They voted to move $1 million from the Charter School Facility Fund into the budget to lessen the blow of potential legislative funding cuts and retain ten more teachers.

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In February, the school board passed a $784 million budget based on HB 278 – education funding promised by the legislature last year.

In April, the state legislature removed some of that promised funding. That meant the Anchorage School District needed to cut $16.7 million from their adopted budget.

On Monday night, the School Board had to use those not-yet-final state funding numbers to pass an amended budget for the 2015-2016 school year. They decided to soften the blow by moving $1 million from the Charter School Facility Fund created in December to retain ten teachers for kindergarten through second grade.

Board member Pat Higgins says it’s important to prioritize early literacy and send a message to teachers that they want to support them.

“By voting for this now, we’re letting people know that [there will be] ten less layoff notices for teachers, our priority is education – the teachers in the classroom. And we’re adding a little bit more stability to the process” of staffing for next year.

The Board had to pass the amended budget in order to start the staffing process and to send out pink slips to tenured teachers by May 15.

The newest incarnation of the budget does not include money for team planning time for middle school elective teachers nor for 20 new teachers for the whole district.

Anchorage Education Association President Andy Holleman says principals will find out how many teachers each school is allotted on Tuesday morning. They’ll have to decide which teachers they want to retain by Wednesday. Displaced teachers who want to stay with the district will be placed next week.

Some school board members are still hopeful the legislature will add some education funding back into the state budget.

Categories: Alaska News

As Early Voting Breaks Records, Uncertainty Prevails in the Mayor’s Race

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 18:36

Anchorage votersturned out in record numbers to cast early ballots in Tuesday’s mayoral runoff election. But the figures don’t necessarily mean a big overall turn out.

By mid-day Monday, the city had broken its record for early and absentee votes in a local election.

“We are at 11,167,” said Deputy Clerk for Elections Amanda Moser of the early votes and requests for ballots by mail.

That’s around 3,000 more early votes than were cast last month at this time ahead of the initial mayoral election with a broad field of candidates.

More than 20 people stood in line at the Loussac Library around lunch-time Monday to cast early ballots. The daily numbers of early voters have just about doubled at the polling site compared to past elections, according to Sharron McCracken, an elections official. She attributes the growth to a mix of the mayor’s race getting more interesting in the last month, better promotion from the city Clerk’s office, and plain old convenience.

“Most (people) seem to be just thrilled that they can do it on their schedule,” McCracken said in the library lobby, the line winding past the door, “just real happy to get it out of the way.”

McCracken is quick to counter that increased early returns are no guarantee of high turnout on election day, something she saw in the April election this year.

“Last election we thought for sure the percentage of voters would have been way higher,” McCracken recalled, “and yet then the final total was still only like 27% turnout.” 27.93% to be exact.

“I’m hoping it’ll end up higher,” she added, “but I really don’t have a clue.”

McCracken is not alone in her uncertainty. No public polling data has surfaced in the last month, making it difficult to say which candidate has an edge. With lower turnout, the margins between victory and defeat shrink. In the April election the space between top candidates Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski was just 7,385 votes. Now, margins like that could determine who’s in charge of Alaska’s largest city for the next three years.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Adopts Budget After Battle Over Utility Funds, Public Safety Jobs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:47

Alaska’s largest city has passed its budget.

But not without vetoes coming from the mayor’s office and a last minute deal over money connected to a utility the Administration has proposed privatizing.

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The final budget agreed to is $483.6 million. Getting there required a minor skirmish that Assembly Member Elvi Gray-Jackson called “messy.”

A number of new staff positions added through Assembly revisions to the Mayor’s budget were dropped. In exchange, the Mayor’s administration halved the amount it sought to transfer from a trash-collecting utility’s cash surplus.

“The final compromise was that instead of taking $4 million from Solid Waste Services we only took $2 (million) for property tax relief,” Gray-Jackson said after the meeting. “But the public safety vetoes were maintained.”

Gray-Jackson was one of a handful of a Assembly members that challenged the mayor’s budget during a meeting last week. They objected to the proposed fund transfer from SWS’s surplus, and added in line items worth $735,580 that many on the Assembly see as public safety necessities, including more dog-catchers, a homelessness coordinator, and a senior planner to handle new zoning issues arising from growing marijuana within the municipality.

The budget battle highlights a tension that’s been a recurrent theme in Anchorage city politics during Sullivan’s administration: public safety spending versus fiscal prudence.

Many believe the Administration’s emphasis on reducing the cost of government has become excessive given the Municipality’s growth

“You can’t expect the same amount of services for the same cost with a population that is no longer 200,000, but more than 300,000,” Gray-Jackson said. “It’s doesn’t cost the same.”

But the Administration maintains it is irresponsible to pay for new positions right now. Though this year’s budget is a 1.4% rise over last year’s, it’s still $1,619,555 below the tax-cap, something that Mayor Dan Sullivan believes is important amid a worsening financial outlook for the state.

“We didn’t want to see additional spending and adding of personnel at a time when we’re pretty sure we’re going to see some reduction in revenue sharing and additional state funding,” Sullivan said of his decision to veto the new staff positions.

The Assembly ultimately approved the final version of the revised budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Novelist Previews His Sixth Book

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:43

“In those days Harry didn’t recognize that the price of admission to the life he wanted was surrendering the tickets to all the other lives he might have had.” 

That’s the opening line of Juneau resident Stuart Cohen’s new novel “This Is How it Really Sounds.” This is Cohen’s sixth book and it’s hitting bookstores now. While the opening line hints at the novel’s theme, Cohen says the book revolves around three main characters.

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“One is the world extreme skiing champion circa 1982 who’s almost not seen at all in the book. Another is this faded rock star in his mid-forties who has lost all his money and is an alcoholic. And another is this disgraced financier who’s living large in Shanghai on his ill-gotten hundreds and millions of dollars and is hated the world over.”

Cohen says that connecting the three characters was a challenge, but it worth it. He says this novel is a departure from his previous books.

“I’ve written four other novels and especially the last two were basically set ‘em up knock ‘em down books. You set everything up and it’s like dominoes and you get the last 50 or 60 pages and you just start knocking them down one by one and it’s very exciting. And it’s fun, and you know what you’re doing when you’re writing it. But this book, it has a climax, but it doesn’t move like that conventional plot.”

Stuart Cohen’s new novel “This Is How it Really Sounds.”Cohen is available online and will be in bookstores soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Rural Sanitation Series: Innovating Beyond the Honey Bucket

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:43

What if you didn’t have piped water and sewer, and the government wasn’t picking up the tab to get you some. How would you find a low-cost system that you could keep running through the winter? In the fourth segment of “Kick the Bucket,” find out how experts are looking for answers to rural sanitation issues in Alaska.

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Villagers and people in the water and sewer business can name dozens of ways systems have failed due to parts that shattered in the cold, say, or components that had to be flown in from Europe and installed by a Lower 48 specialist.

Keeping it simple is not necessarily the solution when haul systems, where people pay by the gallon to get water delivered and waste picked up, leave them using as little water as possible, far below the 15 gallons a day needed for frequent hand washing. Brian Lefferts is environmental health and engineering director at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation:

“We recognize  that there are some places that the geology, the area won’t allow for piped water and sewer to the home, but that the small haul system the way it is just currently isn’t working, so there’s a push to do research and development in that area to try to find a solution for those homes,” Lefferts says.

Some of the push is coming from the state, which is putting up money for innovative solutions through the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge. Bill Griffith is the Alaska Village Safe Water facilities manager:

“We’ve established some performance targets that include things like sufficient water for health, affordable operation, feasible capital costs, constructability, long-term operability,” Griffith says. “We’ve also got some evaluation criteria like the requirement to go out and get user input from communities, and also we’re looking for some innovative approaches to design.”

The state has funded six teams to develop detailed proposals. Speaking from his office in Tok, Summit Consulting’s founder David Cramer says recycled water will be part of theirs:

“Water that comes from your washing machine, from your shower, that water can be recycled. It can be used to flush a toilet. It can used to do laundry again, and so on.”

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is seeking funding through crowd-sourcing to work on its proposed solution. Lefferts says recycled water is in their plans too:

“We’re hoping that by reducing the number of hauls that are necessary by retreating the water within the home, we’ll be able to make it  affordable to the point where people won’t conserve water.”

Another popular idea is mini-water and sewage treatment plants installed at each home.

Standalone systems for several homes in Kivalina are the goal of an Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium project begun a few years ago. Project manager John Warren says this summer they’ll install equipment that funnels filtered rain water into a tank in the house, and plumbing fixtures that conserve water. Because flooding is forcing villagers to relocate, Warren says the system is portable, giving the water treatment system as an example:

“It has filters. You can put some chlorine in the water and it’s in full compliance with the EPA requirements, and it’s safe. The treatment system that we’re providing is also mobile. They can actually take it with them to fish camp. It has an electric pump for ease of use, or it has a hand pump if there is no electricity,” Warren says.

As for sewage, ANTHC plans call for the separation of liquids and solids, and treatment of the solids to reduce the number of trips needed for disposal.
While the competitors have been asked to keep details confidential, Summit Consulting’s Cramer says reliability will come from sticking with the tried and true:

“I don’t think anybody expects to use space-age technology. What will go into these things will be products that are already on the shelf someplace and the idea here is to combine them integrate them in a way that’s unique.”

Lefferts says he’s optimistic the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge will result in new options but he hopes those don’t become the only choice for all rural communities:

“There are still a number of homes that are unserved that could easily be served with traditional pipes and gravity sewer mains. And we know that system works and can be cost effective. And we strongly encourage that we continue to fund construction projects to serve those homes using traditional water and sewer construction methods.”

A few Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge teams will be funded to further develop their projects into 2018. But innovative alternatives are just one part of what’s lying ahead. Next time, in Kick the Bucket, we’ll find out more about what the future holds.

Categories: Alaska News

Cruise Ship Season Comes to Port

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:42

The first big cruise ship of the 2015 tourist season arrived in Ketchikan on Friday.

In its inaugural visit to Alaska’s First City, the Ruby Princess brought more than 3,000 passengers and about 1,200 crew members.

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Tourists disembark from the Ruby Princess. Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD.

Lewis Banda is from Los Angeles, and had just gotten off the 952-foot-long cruise ship. He was snapping photos of his traveling companions as they waited for their tour bus.

“I came with my best friend and my wife,” he said. “We were actually interested since I was a kid, going to the Klondike, Jack London and all that stuff. It was one of my bucket list things to do.”

Banda said he’s excited to finally be in Alaska, and remarked how clean and crisp the air felt compared to L.A.

“I was a weirded out a little bit with the sun going down at 9 o’clock, and then it was 4 o’clock in the morning and I could clearly see outside. That was great. It was mind-blowing, actually,” he said.

When asked about the cold, not-quite-rainy weather that morning, he said, “This is

what I wanted. I didn’t want anything sunny. I just wanted to feel the moisture in the air, I wanted to see the mossiness of it. It’s really breathtaking. I told my friend like three times, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is.”

Banda and his friends were taking a five-hour tour through some national forest land, and then they’ll watch the popular Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show before getting back on board the Ruby Princess to leave by late afternoon.

In addition to cruise ship passengers, tour representatives were on the dock, selling tours and rounding up clients to make sure they get on the right bus.

Joe Linehan works for Lighthouse Eagles and Totems Excursions.

“I’m here as a dock rep today, but that’s not my normal function,” he said. “I’m a captain, (and) I usually skipper the Totem Princess.”

Linehan and his wife are longtime seasonal residents of Ketchikan. They come back every year to work in the tourism industry.

“This is our 12th year, my wife and I coming up here to work,” he said. “This is our second home. As a matter of fact, we spend more time in Ketchikan than we do at our home in Florida.”

A little ways away, but within sight of the big ship, Jai Mahtani was standing in the door of his Salmon Landing jewelry shop, Gold Rush. As he watched the first flood of cruise passengers disembark, he was cautiously optimistic about this year’s tourist season.

“It’s a beautiful day in Ketchikan. Hopefully, it’ll bring finances and money into the coffers of the town, too,” he said.

When asked if he was excited about the start of cruise season, Mahtani said, “It’s my livelihood. It’s everybody’s livelihood. Of course I’m excited about it. This is my 20thyear. I’m one of the oldest stores here.”

And what does he like about tourism season?

“People from all over the world, the interaction, the town is lively, people are happier,” Mahtani said.

Judging from the smiles on the dock, people were pretty happy, especially when the morning sun peeked through a break in the clouds. A good omen, perhaps, for the busy summer season.

The Ruby Princess is scheduled to dock in Ketchikan 20 times this summer. Cruise season will start slowly over the next week, with just a single ship visiting most days. May 9 is the first multi-ship day for Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Ferry Service Stalled by Engine Overhaul

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:41

Sitka and Juneau will lose a week of fast ferry sailings this month. The Chenega will return to Southeast service May 14th, a week later than scheduled.

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The vessel has been undergoing an overhaul, which includes replacing its engines. Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the Chenega turned out to have corrosion in its starboard hull. It’s being patched up for the season at the Ketchikan Shipyard, with permanent repairs planned for later this year.

“This temporary fix will be fine and it’ll be safe enough and it will be certified by the Coast Guard to run passenger service. And that way, we can get the vessel out sooner than if we had to do a major repair to this area where there is a little bit of corrosion found.”

The ferry usually sails in Prince William Sound. But it’s scheduled to fill in this month for the Fairweather, its sister ship, which is having an engine replaced.

The Chenega will miss four Juneau-to-Sitka roundtrips May 7th-10th. Its first sailing on that route, May 14th, includes a stop in Angoon. Its first Juneau-to-Petersburg roundtrip is scheduled for May 15th.

Woodrow says reservations staffers are contacting affected passengers.

Categories: Alaska News

Building A Community, One Story At A Time

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:39

Think about being sixteen, in high school, and standing in front of a group of friends and strangers telling a story. Your story. That’s what a new Anchorage organization called StoryWorks is teaching local students to do–and helping them build community at the same time.

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Regan Brooks remembers being in high school more than 20 years ago when her teacher gave them each an assignment — tell a story about yourself.

“And there was somebody in my class who I didn’t know well at all who I’d been in school with for several years, and she shared a story in front of our whole class that abolished some of my assumptions about her. And really made me realize there’s this person there haven’t ever bothered to get to know that I wanted to get to know more.”

Brooks says storytelling helps people see each other differently and through that new level of understanding, builds community. So that’s the task she and a group of teachers and volunteers have given more than 700 students in Anchorage — tell your story. She recently led a workshop at Service High in Anchorage.

Brooks moves out into the hallway with a group of students and prepares to listen to their stories and give them feedback.

“You want to try to begin your story without the word ‘so’ and end it without saying ‘And yeah…'”

So with that, 11th grader Kevin Goodman launches into a tale about the first time he went hunting with his father.

“It all started on a muggy morning when we drove seven hours up to Paxton, which is about 70 miles from Glennallen.”

He clicks on his pen incessantly as he tells about camping in the rain, wading through cold streams with jagged rocks, and trying in vain to find a moose.

“And you know that scene in ‘Lord of the Rings’ where everybody had to duck because of all the birds flying over their heads? Well, it was kind of like that except we had a gun and we shot them.”

Goodman says he chose to share that story because it sparked his imagination and was an important turning point in his life.

“It was my first big, week-long hunting trip. It was kind of a coming of age, I guess, for me. Because my dad’s pretty strict on what your capabilities have to be on hunting, so that’s why I chose it.”

And then he starts getting feedback — this detail is great, you didn’t stutter at all, but maybe you should change some things… Story coach Jack Dalton chimes in.

“How can you tell the story in a way so that when you get to the ending we all go, ‘Oh, that’s right! They didn’t get the moose but sounds like they still had a great time. Or they didn’t get the moose but I can only imagine all those ptarmigan.'”

English teacher Lisa Wiley says that’s part of the reason she wanted to get her students involved with StoryWorks — so they could get feedback from other people.

“I can never get outside perspective on their work within my classroom. It’s always me as the audience. So this raises the level, the audience is now other people. Students respond differently to that. They are trying harder because there are strangers looking at their work.”

It’s also teaching them reading, writing, and public speaking — required topics in an English class.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 4, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:35

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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City Budget Passes After Whirlwind Compromise

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

What if you didn’t have piped water and sewer, and the government wasn’t picking up the tab to get you some. How would you find a low-cost system that you could keep running through the winter? In the fourth segment of “Kick the Bucket,” experts are looking for answers to rural sanitation issues in Alaska.

Feds to Manage 2015 Kuskokwim King Run

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Federal staff will again manage king salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River after requests from tribes. Earlier this year, a handful of tribal governments asked the federal subsistence board to implement federal management. The Federal Subsistence Board deferred last month, but at a Friday meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders announced a plan for federal management.

Rural Sanitation Series: Innovating Beyond the Honey Bucket

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

What if you didn’t have piped water and sewer, and the government wasn’t picking up the tab to get you some. How would you find a low-cost system that you could keep running through the winter? In the fourth segment of “Kick the Bucket,” experts are looking for answers to rural sanitation issues in Alaska.

Cruise Ship Season Comes to Port

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The first big cruise ship of the 2015 tourist season arrived in Ketchikan on Friday. In its inaugural visit to Alaska’s First City, the Ruby Princess brought more than 3,000 passengers and about 1,200 crew members.

Southeast Ferry Service Stalled by Vessel Overhaul

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

Sitka and Juneau will lose a week of fast ferry sailings this month. The Chenega will return to Southeast service May 14th, a week later than scheduled. The vessel has been undergoing an overhaul, which includes replacing its engines.

Juneau Novelist Publishes His Sixth Book

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

“In those days Harry didn’t recognize that the price of admission to the life he wanted was surrendering the tickets to all the other lives he might have had.” That’s the opening line of Juneau resident Stuart Cohen’s new novel “This Is How it Really Sounds.”

Building A Community, One Story At A Time

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Think about being sixteen, in high school, and standing in front of a group of friends and strangers telling a story. Your story. That’s what a new Anchorage organization called StoryWorks is teaching local students to do while helping them build community at the same time.

Family Farm Brings Heritage Pigs to the Kenai

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

Think about being sixteen, in high school, and standing in front of a group of friends and strangers telling a story. Your story. That’s what a new Anchorage organization called StoryWorks is teaching local students to do while helping them build community at the same time.

Categories: Alaska News

City Budget Passes After Whirlwind Compromise

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 17:00

Alaska’s largest city has passed it’s budget. But not without vetoes coming from the mayor’s office and a last minute deal over money connected to a utility the Administration has proposed privatizing.

The final budget reached is $483.6 million. To get there, says Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson, a number of new staff positions related to public safety were dropped totaling $735,580 in the budget passed last week by the Assembly. In exchange, the amount of money the mayor’s administration pushed to transfer out of the utility handling trash was cut in half.

“The final compromise was that instead of taking $4 million from Solid Waste Services we only took $2 million for property tax relief. But the public safety vetoes were maintained.”

Gray-Jackson was one of a handful of a Assembly members that challenged the mayor’s budget during a meeting last week. They objected to the proposed fund transfer from SWS’s surplus, and added in line items many on the Assembly see as public safety necessities, including more dog-catchers, a homelessness coordinator, and a senior planner to handle new zoning issues arising from growing marijuana within the municipality.

The budget battle highlights a tension that’s been a recurrent theme in Anchorage city politics during the Sullivan administration: public safety spending versus fiscal prudence. Gray-Jackson believes the Administration’s emphasis on reducing the cost of government has become excessive amidst Anchorage’s recent growth.

“But you can’t expect the same amount of services for the same cost with a population that is no longer 200,000 but more than 300,000–it’s doesn’t cost the same.”

But the Administration maintains it’s irresponsible to pay for new positions by asking more of tax-payers. Though this year’s budget is a 1.4% rise over last year’s, it’s still nearly $2 million below the tax-cap, something that Mayor Dan Sullivan believes is important amid a worsening financial outlook for the state.

“My vetoes reflected, A, we didn’t want to see additional spending and adding of personnel at a time when we’re pretty sure we’re gonna see some reduction in revenue sharing an additional state funding.”

The Assembly ultimately approved the final version of the revised budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds to Manage 2015 Kuskokwim King Run

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 16:09

Federal staff will again manage king salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River after requests from tribes. Earlier this year, a handful of tribal governments asked the federal subsistence board to implement federal management. The Federal Subsistence Board deferred last month, but at a Friday meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders announced a plan for federal management.

Federal staff will manage the 2015 king run within the Yukon Delta refuge boundary. Photo by Shane Iverson / KYUK.

 

Federal staff plan to limit the chinook fishery to federal qualified users from 32 Kuskokwim villages and manage the fishery day-to-day within the boundaries of the Yukon Delta refuge. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Brian McCaffery, the in-season manager last year, points to guidance from federal law and the weakened state of king salmon.

“In a time of conservation needs, in resource shortage, if anyone gets a shot at the resources within the conservation unit, it has to be first the federally qualified subsistence users. By implementing the federal special action, we set that sidebar as the bounds for which any harvest can occur,” said McCaffery.

Only residents of the 32 villages would be able to fish for king salmon under federal management. The reason dual management exists is because state and federal law don’t match. While both have subsistence priorities, federal law includes a rural preference the state doesn’t have.

Federal staff managed the king salmon run last summer on federal lands after the Federal Subsistence Board took action on a request from the village of Napaskiak. Five tribal governments asked this year for federal management. The fishery has been in decline for years, and with another poor run expected, Yukon Delta Refuge Manager Neil LaLonde says king salmon fishing may not even be a possibility.

“We expect little to no harvestable surplus,” said LaLonde.

The state estimates the run at 96 to 163-thousand kings, well below the average run of 240-thousand fish. The drainage wide escapement goal range is 65 to 120 thousand kings. LaLonde says his team is still working out management details.

“The season framework itself will likely look very similar to what it was last year in 2014. It wouldn’t be things that would be drastically different. We want to improve on things we did last year and be more effective in different ways,” said LaLonde.

One area to improve is the early season set net fishing. Managers expect to close the river in mid-May to big salmon gear and allow fishing for white fish with four-inch set nets for a period each week, instead of 24/7 fishing like 2014, in which thousands of king salmon were caught.

If there are enough kings for some harvest, LaLonde says it’s too early to say how the harvest would occur. They could implement a limited community permit system or, as the state has proposed, allow a very short king salmon fishing period, with limits on net length, to keep the number of salmon harvested to a minimum.

At a meeting Friday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, fishermen from the length of the river tried to make sense of what this year’s version of dual management means. Working Group Chair Bev Hoffman emphasized that however it pans out, the goal should be the same for managers and subsistence fishermen.

“We’re going into another year of chinook conservation,” said Hoffman. “Any opportunity, 4” or 6” is not to target chinook for the drying rack.”

Members asked for consistency between federal and state regulations, which could change at Aniak. The state retains management outside of the boundaries of the refuge and the federal action only concerns king salmon. The state has new management options this year that should make it easier to match federal rules, like requiring set nets to be within 100 feet of shore and limited driftnet lengths. State and federal staff emphasized that they plan to work closely this summer and include the working group. The next Working Group meeting is not yet scheduled.

Categories: Alaska News

ick the Bucket: Experts Seek Alternatives To Costly, Ineffective Sanitation Systems

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 12:24

The state of Alaska is working with the private sector to find alternatives to expensive piped water, and the labor-intensive haul systems that are less effective in meeting public health needs. Find out more at: http://watersewerchallenge.alaska.gov/
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Village Safe Water Program

What if you didn’t have piped water and sewer, and the government wasn’t picking up the tab to get you some? How would you find a low-cost system that you could keep running through the winter? In this segment of “Kick the Bucket,” find out how experts are looking for answers to rural sanitation issues in Alaska.

Villagers and people in the water and sewer business can name dozens of ways systems have failed due to parts that shattered in the cold, say, or components that had to be flown in from Europe and installed by a Lower 48 specialist.

Keeping it simple is not necessarily the solution when haul systems, where people pay by the gallon to get water delivered and waste picked up, leave them using as little water as possible, far below the 15 gallons a day needed for frequent hand washing. Brian Lefferts is environmental health and engineering director at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

“We recognize  that there are some places that the geology, the area won’t allow for piped water and sewer to the home, but that the small haul system the way it is just currently isn’t working,” said Lefferts. “So there’s a push to do research and development in that area to try to find a solution for those homes.”

Some of the push is coming from the state, which is putting up money for innovative solutions through the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge. Bill Griffith is the Alaska Village Safe Water facilities manager.

“We’ve established some performance targets that include things like sufficient water for health, affordable operation, feasible capital costs, constructability, long-term operability,” Griffith said. “We’ve also got some evaluation criteria like the requirement to go out and get user input from communities, and also we’re looking for some innovative approaches to design.”

The state has funded six teams to develop detailed proposals. Speaking from his office in Tok, Summit Consulting’s founder David Cramer said recycled water will be part of theirs.

“Water that comes from your washing machine, from your shower, that water can be recycled, explained Carmer. “It can be used to flush a toilet. It can used to do laundry again, and so on.”

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is seeking funding through crowd-sourcing to work on its proposed solution. Lefferts said recycled water is in their plans too.

“We’re hoping that by reducing the number of hauls that are necessary by retreating the water within the home, we’ll be able to make it affordable to the point where people won’t conserve water,” said Lefferts.

Another popular idea is mini-water and sewage treatment plants installed at each home.

Standalone systems for several homes in Kivalina are the goal of an Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium project begun a few years ago. Project manager John Warren said this summer they’ll install equipment that funnels filtered rain water into a tank in the house, and plumbing fixtures that conserve water. Because flooding and fierce storms are forcing villagers to relocate, Warren said the system is portable — giving the water treatment system as an example.

“It has filters. You can put some chlorine in the water and it’s in full compliance with the EPA requirements, and it’s safe,” said Warren. “The treatment system that we’re providing is also mobile. They can actually take it with them to fish camp. It has an electric pump for ease of use, or it has a hand pump if there is no electricity.”

As for sewage, ANTHC plans call for the separation of liquids and solids, and treatment of the solids to reduce the number of trips needed for disposal.

While the competitors have been asked to keep details confidential, Summit Consulting’s Cramer said reliability will come from sticking with the tried and true.

“I don’t think anybody expects to use space-age technology,” said Cramer. “What will go into these things will be products that are already on the shelf someplace, and the idea here is to combine them integrate them in a way that’s unique.”

Lefferts said he’s optimistic the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge will result in new options but he hopes those don’t become the only choice for all rural communities.

“There are still a number of homes that are unserved that could easily be served with traditional pipes and gravity sewer mains,” said Lefferts.” And we know that system works and can be cost effective. And we strongly encourage that we continue to fund construction projects to serve those homes using traditional water and sewer construction methods.”

A few Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge teams will be funded to further develop their projects into 2018. But innovative alternatives are just one part of what’s lying ahead. Next time, in Kick the Bucket, we’ll find out more about what the future holds.

Categories: Alaska News

Weather Service Ends Manual Readings Of Mendenhall River Level

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 12:11

Hydrologist Aaron Jacobs takes the final Mendenhall River reading of 2014 in November.
(Photo courtesy National Weather Service)

The National Weather Service is changing the way it forecasts the water level in Juneau’s Mendenhall River.

The agency said Friday that it has stopped taking manual readings of the river level at the Mendenhall Loop Bridge. Instead, river level observations and flood forecasts will be based on an automated gauge located in Mendenhall Lake.

“We found that during the last couple jökulhlaups, especially at extreme high conditions, that the correlation between the lake and the river readings wasn’t so close anymore,” says Tom Ainsworth, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Juneau.

Jökulhlaup is an Icelandic term for a glacier outburst flood. Every summer since 2011, water from a basin located near the Mendenhall Glacier has drained,causing the lake and river to flood. When that happens, residents along the river rely on the weather service to provide them with flood warnings.

Ainsworth says there’s usually a strong correlation between the automated gauge located at the lake and the manual gauge at the Mendenhall Loop Bridge, except during those big floods.

“It’s hard to manually measure the river level when it’s really ripping,” Ainsworth says. “You’ve probably seen it during those last couple jökulhlaups out there. You know, it’s high, big waves, the instrument hits a wave crest and it starts swaying. So, it’s just not as accurate.”

He says using the lake gauge to predict how high the water will be downstream at the bridge should provide property owners near the river with more precise information. The lake level can be found on the weather service website, along with information about what happens to the river level at various stages of lake flooding.

Ainsworth says the weather service has already informed residents near the river of the change, as well as tour companies that offer Mendenhall River rafting trips.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Biologists to Manage Kuskokwim Kings

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 10:51

Federal staff will again manage king salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River after requests from tribes. Earlier this year, a handful of tribal governments asked the federal subsistence board to implement federal management. The Federal Subsistence Board deferred last month, but at a Friday meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders announced a plan for federal management.

Federal staff plan to limit the chinook fishery to federal qualified users from 32 Kuskokwim villages and manage the fishery day-to-day within the boundaries of the Yukon Delta refuge. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Brian McCaffery, the in-season manager last year, points to guidance from federal law and the weakened state of king salmon.

2015 is predicted to be a below-average king salmon run. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“In a time of conservation needs, in resource shortage, if anyone gets a shot at the resources within the conservation unit, it has to be first the federally qualified subsistence users. By implementing the federal special action, we set that sidebar as the bounds for which any harvest can occur,” said McCaffery.

Only residents of the 32 villages would be able to fish for king salmon under federal management. The reason dual management exists is because state and federal law don’t match. While both have subsistence priorities, federal law includes a rural preference the state doesn’t have.

Federal staff managed the king salmon run last summer on federal lands after the Federal Subsistence Board took action on a request from the village of Napaskiak. Five tribal governments asked this year for federal management. The fishery has been in decline for years, and with another poor run expected, Yukon Delta Refuge Manager Neil LaLonde says king salmon fishing may not even be a possibility.

“We expect little to no harvestable surplus,” said LaLonde.

The state estimates the run at 96 to 163-thousand kings, well below the average run of 240-thousand fish. The drainage wide escapement goal range is 65 to 120 thousand kings. LaLonde says his team is still working out management details.

“The season framework itself will likely look very similar to what it was last year in 2014. It wouldn’t be things that would be drastically different. We want to improve on things we did last year and be more effective in different ways,” said LaLonde.

One area to improve is the early season set net fishing. Managers expect to close the river in mid-May to big salmon gear and allow fishing for white fish with four-inch set nets for a period each week, instead of 24/7 fishing like 2014, in which thousands of king salmon were caught.

If there are enough kings for some harvest, LaLonde says it’s too early to say how the harvest would occur. They could implement a limited community permit system or, as the state has proposed, allow a very short king salmon fishing period, with limits on net length, to keep the number of salmon harvested to a minimum.

At a meeting Friday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, fishermen from the length of the river tried to make sense of what this year’s version of dual management means. Working Group Chair Bev Hoffman emphasized that however it pans out, the goal should be the same for managers and subsistence fishermen.

“We’re going into another year of chinook conservation,” said Hoffman. “Any opportunity, 4” or 6” is not to target chinook for the drying rack.”

Members asked for consistency between federal and state regulations, which could change at Aniak. The state retains management outside of the boundaries of the refuge and the federal action only concerns king salmon. The state has new management options this year that should make it easier to match federal rules, like requiring set nets to be within 100 feet of shore and limited driftnet lengths. State and federal staff emphasized that they plan to work closely this summer and include the working group. The next Working Group meeting is not yet scheduled.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Dies In Fall From Pickup Truck Bed At Rural Lodge

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 10:29

A 56-year-old man died Saturday after falling from the back of a pickup and striking his head.

The man’s name has not been released.

Alaska State Troopers took a 911 call just after 4 p.m. from Meier’s Lake Lodge at Mile 170 Richardson Highway that a man had fallen while his truck was parked at the lodge’s gas pumps.

The caller said the man was unconscious.

Emergency medical technicians arrived to give the man aid. They began transporting him but called trooper to request assistance for a medical evacuation by helicopter.

A LifeMed helicopter landed at Mile 149 but the man was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., about two and a half hours after the 911 call.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner is planned.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Man Charged With Murder In Weekend Stabbing Death

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-04 10:24

A 40-year-old Anchorage man has been charged with murder in weekend stabbings that left a man dead and a woman critically injured.

Alvin Rodriguez-Moya also is charged with attempted murder, felony assault and burglary.

Anchorage police say Alvin Rodriguez-Moya is suspected of killing 33-year-old Paolo Grassi early Sunday at a home on Anchorage’s east side.

Police responded to the home just after 3:30 a.m.

A 56-year-old female also suffered stab wounds. She was taken to a hospital and is reported as stable.

Police say the injured woman had been in a relationship with Rodriguez-Moya.

Police say Rodriguez-Moya broke into the home, fought with Grassi and stabbed him.

Police Sunday announced they were looking for Rodriguez-Moya. He called police to turn himself in at 9 p.m.

He’s being held without bail.

Categories: Alaska News

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