Alaska News

Alaska’s Top Military Commander Checks In After A Year On The Job

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 17:07

Alaska’s top military commander, Lieutenant General Russell Handy has been on the job here for more than a year. He’s overseeing ALCOM here at a time when the U.S relationship with Russia has grown frosty. In September, Russian military flights that were within 50 miles of the Alaskan and Canadian coast lines caused enough concern that F22s were sent from JBER to intercept them. Lt. General Handy says the Russian flights did not cross into the 12 mile international boundary zone and were not considered hostile.

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Categories: Alaska News

Hoonah Sound’s Herring Spawn-on-Kelp Fishery Will Remain Closed in 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 17:06

The herring spawn-on-kelp fishery in Hoonah Sound will remain closed in the 2015 season – for the second year in a row. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced the closure this week after forecasts for the area predicted herring numbers far below the threshold required for commercial harvest.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alexandria House Project Hits Permitting Snags

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 17:05

Plans to turn an old bar into a way to raise money for emergency housing in Unalaska are slowing down. That’s after the city discovered that the nonprofit Alexandria House had worked on the project all year without a building permit.

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The old Elbow Room has gotten a major makeover since Pastor John Honan started working on it earlier this year. He’s had volunteers install new floorboards, wall frames and windows, and there’s still more to do:

“So I need my sliding glass door, I’ve got that ordered, that has to go in,” he says. “The siding has to be completed. The roof is mostly done.”

The attached building at left was meant to be a bedroom for the upstairs apartment at the old Elbow Room — but city officials say that’s not what they agreed to. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

When it’s all finished, he’ll rent it out as an apartment and commercial space. The revenue will help Alexandria House shelter sober, stranded people in hotels and spare rooms all over town.

Unalaska’s planning board approved the project about a year ago. They gave Honan a conditional use permit, which he thought that was all he needed to start building.

But he was supposed to apply for an actual building permit, too. City Engineer Robert Lund says it was part of the conditional use.

“The point of that is to kind of get things to a point where the owner’s been formally notified and they can say, ‘Well no, I’m just doing siding or roofing, do I need a permit for that?’” he says. “But it gives us a chance to evaluate that.”

But Lund doesn’t go out looking for projects that might not have the proper permits. The Elbow Room was on his radar, but he didn’t know until this summer that Honan had missed a step.

“I got an email from someone that said, ‘I think they’re doing more than they said they were gonna do.’ Something along those lines,” he says. “So I call that a complaint.”

He told Honan to stop work and apply for the building permit, which Honan did. But the plans he submitted weren’t what the city was expecting.

The conditional use had limited the apartment to the second floor — a holdover from a previous owner that wasn’t revised. This year, though, Honan’s been building what he says is another bedroom in the back of the ground floor, beside the Arctic entry leading upstairs.

He says he still sees the apartment as one single-family unit. But the city isn’t so sure — Lund says the plans don’t make it clear whether the downstairs chunk constitutes a separate dwelling.

“If you were looking at that, and … the bottom floor is clearly an apartment, or really meant for living quarters — soup kitchen, that kind of thing,” he says, laughing, “then I don’t think that would kind of follow in the spirit of what the planning department thought they were giving a permit for.”

Lund’s talking about what he calls the “controversial” aspect of this project. Five years ago, John Honan asked if he could build a homeless shelter in the Elbow Room. Neighbors — and the city — said no.

This time, it’ll be up to whoever lives in the new apartment to decide whether to take in guests for Alexandria House. Barring a nuisance complaint, nothing in city code prohibits that.

So neighbors are still concerned — and the city says Honan will have to go through another public permitting process if he wants to move ahead with the two-floor plan. Honan’s not sure it’s worth the risk.

“If there was an article that came out that said Alexandria House is going for another conditional use….” He sighs. “I don’t know what would happen. I just — I’m thinking it could make more restrictions, maybe.”

His other option is to scrap the downstairs bedroom, and get a building permit for the commercial space and apartment as originally planned. As of now, he hasn’t decided what to do — he’s busy buttoning up the Elbow Room for the winter. The city’s letting him do things like seal the roof and walls through the end of the year.

“So the good news is I’ve got my hands full of work to do,” Honan says. Come January, though, that permission expires — and he’ll have to pick a plan in order to move forward.

Click here to see Honan’s recent building permit application, the city’s stop-work order and the changes they’ve requested to the new plans. 

Categories: Alaska News

Bryan Bearss Named as Substitute for Injured Musher Karin Hendrickson

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 17:04

Last week, six-time Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson suffered injuries that will prevent her from participating in the 2015 Iditarod.  Hendrickson is on the road to recovery, and it was announced Wednesday that, while she will miss the race, her dogs will not.

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Last week, Karin Hendrickson was injured in an accident that epitomizes being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She was on a training run with her dog team and a four-wheeler to the side of the Parks Highway when a vehicle lost control on the icy road and struck her.  Hendrickson suffered three broken vertebrae and an injury to her leg.   She counts herself lucky, given the circumstances.

Karin Hendrickson. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“It’s pretty incredible, because people don’t usually get hit by cars and walk away from it.  I didn’t walk away, but I’m doing really well.”

Karin Hendrickson is beginning inpatient therapy, which will be followed by more physical therapy after she is released.  She says that her injuries will prevent her from continuing to train for the 2015 Iditarod.

“I just have to be really careful and not do anything jarring or jumping around, which means no dogs for quite a good, long while.”

Like many mushers, Karin Hendrickson is as concerned, if not more so, for her team than herself in some regards.  She did not like the idea of her dogs missing this year’s race .

“I thought about these dogs.  What they love to do is run. What they love to do is go out, race, and experience new things.  They really do love it, and I just felt horrible to have them spend an entire year where they weren’t going to be able to do those things.

That’s where Bryan Bearss comes in.  He is a friend of Hendrickson’s and a veteran of the 2006 Iditarod.  Karin Hendrickson says that he is good with dog teams, and is a good choice to get on the runners behind her dogs.

“Having Bryan come on board and take them down the trail is–I think it’s great for everybody…except me.  I get left out.”

Bryan Bearss agreed, and now has the task of readying himself and the team for the race in March.

“I’m compacting twelve months of planning, preparation, and fundraising into a three-month period.”

Bearss says he has been training for a canoe marathon, so has been keeping himself in good physical shape.  For the planning and training side, he says he will rely on the work that Karin Hendrickson has already done.

“It’s just going to be a little sit-down with Karin and look at the schedule she’s set up for her dogs.  It’s her race.  I’m just going to be the jockey.”

After the planning will come the actual runs with the dogs.   Since Bryan Bearss’ has a full-time job during the week, his ability to run the dogs is limited to weekends.

“Every Friday night, after I finish work in the Anchorage School District, I’m going to be hopping in the car with my two dogs, driving up to Talkeetna, and putting in some long runs Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, then racing back to Anchorage so I’m ready for work on Monday.”

One other impact of Karin Hendrickson’s injury is that she will miss work in the coming weeks, and owning a sled dog kennel is expensive.  She says the community response has been substantial, especially over social media.

“I made a little comment on Facebook to say, ‘Don’t send me flowers.  Send me dog food.’  There’s been an account set up at Underdog Feeds.  It’s hard for me to keep track of things from a hospital bed, but it seems like there’s plenty of money for dog food for a month or two.”

Multiple other fundraisers are underway as well.  Karin Hendrickson says she hasn’t been able to keep up with them all, but that most are being organized or advertised on Facebook as well.

While she won’t be able to compete in the 2015 Iditarod, Karin Hendrickson says she doesn’t think her mushing days are over.

“I’ve got a lot of healing to do, but I think I’ll be back next year.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Communications Sells Wireless Customer Base To GCI

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 16:34

General Communication, Inc. – or GCI – will purchase Alaska Communications’ cell phone customer base. The $300 million purchase should be finalized by the end of March 2015.

GCI Vice President David Morris says the companies are working to ensure a smooth transition. And once the deal is complete, ACS plans will remain largely intact – at least for now.

“We have contracted with ACS to help transition the ACS customers moving on over to the GCI billing system,” Morris said. “Alaska Communications has a specific billing system; so we will need to take that and modify it for our back-office systems and, of course, train personnel to use that system, learn the rates and the plans of Alaska Communications.”

The purchase also includes ACS’s share of the Alaska Wireless Network. The network was formed in July 2013 and combined the wireless network assets of both companies in order to expand coverage and compete with national carriers.

Though the partnership did work, Morris says there were a number of inefficiencies, which he believes this purchase will help smooth out.

“By pulling this solely within GCI, it should allow us to more quickly make network decisions, technology decisions, and certainly reduce the amount of accounting and back-office tracking that was necessary,” Morris said.

Because customers of both companies have been on essentially the same network for the last year and a half, Morris says changes in service should be minimal.

Heather Cavanaugh is the director of corporate communications at ACS. She says the money from the sale will go toward paying down the company’s debt – which totals around $415 million. And it will allow ACS to focus on its resources on other services.

“We have an incredible opportunity to grow in providing broadband and IT solutions to businesses,” Cavanaugh said. ”And, in fact, this is an area where we’ve been growing steadily for almost the past three years now.”

“And we have one of the highest growth rates in this area in our sector compared to other telecommunications companies our size.”

Approximately 109,000 ACS customers will be affected by the purchase. ACS will continue to provide cellular service to customers until the purchase is finalized.


Categories: Alaska News

Palmer Waste Dump Plan Draws Opposition

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 10:37

About one hundred people turned out to speak at a Matanuska Susitna Borough planning commission meeting on Monday. At issue – a plan to construct an inert construction debris dump on private land near Palmer.  

Central Monofil Services wants to dump construction debris — some of it containing asbestos– on land near Palmer. The Anchorage based company has applied, twice now, to the Matanuska Susitna Borough for a conditional use permit to use a five acres of a 118 acre gravel pit the company owns as a site for a so called monofil, but the Borough planning commission turned down the company’s first request in 2013.

Now, Alex Strawn, development services manager for the Borough, says the planning department is looking at the new application with a “fresh perspective.”

“Our official recommendation is approval with forty different protective conditions, and on Monday I urged the planning commission to take our suggestion, but also use caution.”

 Strawn says he’s recommending approval, because Central Monofil has checked off a long laundry list of studies and tests and hired a battery of environmental services to meet the conditions of the monofil application, although Strawn admits he has reservations about the dump’s possible effect on the water table.

“So there is some concern that the height of the water table is a moving target. There are other influences that could potentially change the height of the water table. There’s a unresolved issue with the industrial ponds just to the North of the pit, that could potentially affect the height of the water table, and there is also a gravel pit operation North of the proposed development that is intending on doing some dredging operation that could also potentially cause the water table to rise.”

Strawn says current Borough code is not geared to Central Monofils type of development, and he strongly suggests that a liner be put underneath the dump site.  He is also recommending that Central Monofil create a 15 foot buffer between the dump and the water table. AK Dept. of Environmental Conservation requires a 10 foot high  buffer.”

 Borough planning commission approval is necessary for the operation to begin. But proceedings at Monday night’s planning commission meeting were cramped by the absence of two commissioners. A third commissioner was recused from voting, because of a hint of conflict. Stuart Jacques, representing Central Monofil Services, defended the proposal before the commissioners.

“The design and operations plan for the inert waste monofils are reviewed and permitted by ADEC. This proposed monofil is designed in strict accordance with the ADEC requirements. The only waste allowed to be disposed in this monofil is classified as inert material by ADEC. No municipal, toxic or hazardous waste will be accepted at the facility.”

 Laurie Aldrich, AK DEC regional program manager for solid waste, said at the meeting that a number of the Borough conditions placed on the monofil are already covered in the state regulations. Aldrich also said that the state permit application is complete, but is pending on the close of a public notice period which ends on December 29.

 Most of those who came to offer public comment were against the plan, like farmer Ben VanderWeele and homeowners Rose Williams and Craig Kelly.

 ”The whole scenario tells me they are sneaky operators. They tried to get away with illegal practices and got caught. I do not want them as my neighbor. The risks to health and quality of life are just too great.”

“Would you risk the trust and the health of a community because of one company’s financial gain? If our waters become polluted, who will explain that to the mothers and fathers of children who develop illnesses long term.”

“These people here, they’re coming out of Anchorage and dumping all their crap in our yards. We don’t want it.. WE DON’T WANT IT!”

In the end, no vote was taken, and the meeting was continued until December 15.

Alex Strawn says if the planning commission approves the plan, there is a fifteen day period afterward for appeal by any interested party.

Categories: Alaska News

Savoonga Post Office Faces Intermittent Closure Until New Postal Worker is Hired

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-12-04 10:10

Savoonga. (Photo by Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome)

Savoonga’s only postal worker resigned mid-November, and now the St. Lawrence Island community of 700 has been without regular postal service for almost two weeks. There’s no indication of when a permanent postmaster will be hired to fill the vacancy.

Savoonga resident Delbert Pungowiyi said he’s never seen their post office shut down for so long. Community members are waiting for their social security checks, food stamps, and money to pay their bills—not to mention medication and other online orders.

“We’re having a hard enough time right now with the elders’ checks, too, that are desperately needed for groceries and paying our bills,” said Pungowiyi. “So we’re really in a hard spot right now. The whole community is really suffering.”

And without checks arriving by mail, he said the community is strapped for cash—prompting many to use debit cards, if possible, to make necessary purchases at the local store.

“The cash flow is really going down at the store and our grocery supplies…” said Pungowiyi. “There’s a real big concern right now for cash flow.”

However, Dawn Peppinger, marketing manager for the U.S. Postal Service in Alaska, said USPS is doing its best to provide temporary relief. Last Monday through Saturday, they flew in a postmaster from Barrow to distribute all the packages that were piling up. And barring any weather delays, Peppinger said a postmaster from Teller was scheduled to fly in Wednesday afternoon to work at the Savoonga office for another week and a half.

Peppinger said the closures can be longer than desired because USPS has to find a postal worker willing to leave their work and family to support another community. It’s ideal, she said, if a community has one or two “postmaster relief” workers, who can step in if the full-time postal worker is out of commission.

“So that any time we have an unexpected absence—you know, someone’s going to get sick, someone’s going to get hurt, or a family member has an issue or something like that causes them to be unable to work that day, then the backup person would be able to fill in for them,” said Peppinger.

The first step, Peppinger said, is getting a couple of postmaster reliefs in each community in rural Alaska. Eventually, they hope to hire a career postal worker for each village, who will have regular hours and benefits. For now, Peppinger said she’s excited that they have a few good applicants for the open “relief” position in Savoonga, whom they’ll interview in the coming weeks.

But Pungowiyi’s biggest concern is that it’s taking so long for the Postal Service to solve what he calls a “preventable problem.”

“What I’m really shocked with is there was no immediate reaction. This was really a perfectly preventable disaster,” said Pungowiyi. “That’s what it’s really come down to: it’s a postal disaster.”

To prevent situations like this in the future, Peppinger encourages anyone interested to apply for postmaster relief positions. You can search open positions online at Peppinger said with USPS closing several facilities in the Lower 48 (and reducing some hours in Alaska), some people may apply for open postmaster positions in rural communities. And anyone who works as a postmaster relief would be eligible to apply for vacant career positions.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislators Prepare For Marijuana Regulation

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:10

With an initiative to treat marijuana like alcohol now certified, lawmakers are preparing for the issue to come up this legislative session.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, commissioned a legislative report examining the costs and logistics of marijuana implementation. It lays out what authority the Legislature has when regulating the drug, and includes an estimate that the state will net between zero and $3 million from marijuana commercialization in the first year. As regulation costs go down and the marijuana industry matures, sale of the drug is expected to bring in over $20 million in annual tax revenue by 2020.

When it comes to marijuana legislation, McGuire says the number one goal for her is to “implement the voters’ will.”

“The idea that the Legislature would come in and try to subvert the public will, in my opinion, is off the table,” says McGuire.

The marijuana initiative stipulates that the Legislature can create a body like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate the sale of the drug. If the Legislature does nothing, the alcohol board could end up responsible for marijuana.

McGuire plans to file a bill that would allow the substances to be managed separately.

“For one, ABC is overburdened as it is. They have a lot of issues that they’re already taking on as a board,” says McGuire. “And number 2, there is a perceived conflict of interest.”

McGuire says the marijuana and beverage industries could end up competing, which would make it harder for them them be regulated by the same group.

McGuire, who voted for the initiative, says her bill may regulate marijuana advertising and drug safety issues. She also plans to look at the interplay between state and federal law.

“I think this is going to be the most challenging issue we will have to face,” says McGuire. “It’s still illegal under federal law to consume marijuana. So what happens when someone who lives in rural Alaska is transporting that marijuana via their boat?”

In the House, Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn has already announced he plans to file a bill preventing marijuana retailers from operating near schools, churches, and parks. McGuire says multiple marijuana bills are likely to be combined in one omnibus bill.

The marijuana initiative was modeled after similar ballot measures in Washington and Colorado, and it passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Municipal Leaders Hold Joint Meeting to Consider Pot-Legalization Law

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:08

Municipal leaders from all three local governments gathered for a joint meeting Tuesday night with about 120 citizens to talk about the state’s new marijuana-legalization law. The first-of-its-kind meeting was held so the leaders could talk amongst themselves, and with the audience, about how they’re going to put the law into practice.

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Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says he organized the extraordinary meeting with the elected leaders of the borough and its two cities because each jurisdiction will have to make its own decision on how it’s going to deal with the pot-legalization law.

The meeting between members of the North Pole and Fairbanks city councils and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly was the first such local intergovernmental meeting of its kind, says Assemblyman Karl Kassel. (Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC)

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Kassel said. “It involves our entire community. And I think it behooves us to see if we can get all three local governments on the same page, to the greatest extent possible.”

Assistant Borough Attorney Wendy Doxey explained the law and then fielded numerous questions from the 15 or so elected leaders in front of the lively crowd at the Pioneer Park Civic Center. Doxey concedes she couldn’t answer many of the questions dealing with the how the municipalities are going to handle businesses that sell marijuana and pot products, because the law is unclear.

“There’s a lot of clarification that’s needed,” she said. “There’s a lot of gaps in the act as it stands right now.”

Doxey says legislators are going to have to sort out most of those details in the next session.

“Whether they do that by statute and legislation or they leave it to regulations to flesh things out – but something I think has to happen, yes.”

Kassel and several other of the elected leaders thought something has to happen soon at the local level, at least discussions and planning, because personal use of pot will be legal by the end of February. And commercial pot production and sales could begin by the end of next year or early 2016.

Several of the municipal leaders clearly opposed pot legalization and especially sales in their jurisdictions. But borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he believes the borough should move ahead on the issue, and not put it on hold, or ban pot sales, as some Anchorage municipal leadersseem inclined to do.

“I don’t see a moratorium action coming forward – not by me. And I don’t think that’s the right move,” Hopkins said. “I know that Anchorage Assembly is looking at some of these actions. And I don’t think we need to be following the big sister city in the south.”

Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart’s Chief of Staff Jim Williams says his boss, who was unavailable to attend the meeting, feels pretty much the same way.

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, who represents the only area that voted against Ballot Measure 2, didn’t offer an opinion on whether that city would regulate or ban pot sales.

Editor’s Note 1: Click here to read an analysis of Ballot Measure 2 by the Alaska Department of Law.

Categories: Alaska News

Anti-Corruption Measure Cleared For Signatures

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:07

Supporters of a proposed ballot initiative aimed at public corruption have been given the OK to begin gathering signatures.

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The measure would make it a felony for public officials to legislate competitive advantages for or direct appropriations to themselves, business associates, family members, employers or past, present or sought-after campaign contributors.

Contributors would include donors to third-party groups backing the election of those officials.

Those benefiting from violations they induced would also face a felony.

Before leaving office, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the initiative application, giving supporters a year to gather over 28,000 signatures. Their goal is to get it on the 2016 ballot.

A primary sponsor of the measure, Ray Metcalfe, says members of government should make decisions based on merit, not on who contributes to their campaigns.

Categories: Alaska News

Search Goes On for Missing Crew of Sunk Pollock Boat

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:06

Rescuers have recovered the bodies of 11 more crew members from a South Korean pollock boat that sank in the Bering Sea on Monday.

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The U.S. Coast Guard has been helpingRussian officials and good Samaritan fishing vessels look for survivors from the Oryong 501. The trawler was hit by a wave, and sank in Russian waters northwest of St. Matthew Island.

The Oryong 501. (via Korea Times)

More than 40 crew members are still missing. Coast Guard petty officer Grant DeVuyst says rescuers have no plans to stop searching.

“We don’t know exactly how prepared the crew members who are still missing were when they went into the water, so that plays a huge role in how long someone would be able to survive,” he says. “So we’re going to continue searching, continue working with the Russians and the good Samaritans.”

Those vessels are from South Korea and Russia, and they’ve been on scene since shortly after the Oryong 501 went down. The weather has calmed down since then — seas were around 5 feet with visibility up to 5 miles on Wednesday.

DeVuyst says the Coast Guard hasn’t been able to spot much debris from the sunk vessel.

“So far, what our air assets have been able to locate are a couple black life rafts that were floating,” he says. “And that’s the only wreckage they’ve reported.”

He says the Coast Guard has sent the cutters Munro and Alex Haley, plus aircraft from Air Station Kodiak, to help as the search wears on.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Delays Survey on Sexual Assault on Campus

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:05

The University of Alaska system has delayed a campus climate survey originally scheduled for October. The goal of the survey is to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and students’ attitudes on the issue.

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After initial delays this fall, the University of Alaska didn’t want the survey to bump against the holidays and final exams. University attorney Michael O’Brien says a survey about sexual assault on campus may bring about unexpected emotions.

“During stressful times of year, we have an extra duty to be concerned about our students’ mental health and putting them in a situation that could trigger past experiences with sexual harassment or, in particular, sexual assault was a bad idea,” O’Brien says.

This is the first time University of Alaska will do a campus climate survey. Back in April, the White House provided sample questions and recommended that colleges around the country conduct surveys.

Initially, the university modeled its survey after the federal government’s. O’Brien says the questions were focused primarily on sexual violence.

“And obviously we want to know about that, but we also want to know about cyber bullying, online harassment and it doesn’t really talk about that, so because our goal is to get it right, we want to focus on, is there either a better product or something we can add to this to make it the most comprehensive for our community?” O’Brien says.

University of Alaska also heard complaints from other schools that the White House survey was unclear, too narrow and didn’t address the needs of certain student populations.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education put University of Alaska on a list of about 80 colleges nationwide being investigated for mishandling sexual assault complaints or as part of a compliance review. Federal auditors from the Office of Civil Rights visited campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel in October.

A monthly online newsletter for UA employees called The Statewide Voice says the survey will likely be conducted early next year. Around 18,000 students, faculty and staff will be randomly selected to participate.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Divers Finish Up Sea Cucumber Season

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:04

It was a relatively quick season for Southeast Alaska sea cucumber divers. The season closed in mid-November after the fleet landed a little more than a million pounds of the seafood delicacy. Meanwhile, it looks like diving for geoduck clams might not be over so quickly.

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Divers had reached or nearly reached guideline harvest levels in seventeen different areas of Southeast by mid-November. The largest hauls this year came out of Moira Sound and Dall Island near Prince of Wales Island, Ernest Sound closer to Wrangell and in Peril Strait near Sitka.

Processed sea cucumbers (File photo courtesy of ADF&G)

Phil Doherty is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, a Ketchikan based industry group. “I didn’t hear any problems out on the grounds,” Doherty said. “Our quota was just a little over one million pounds which is down quite a bit from some of the levels we’ve seen in the past few years. The season lasted approximately six or seven weeks which is a fast season.”

With larger guideline harvest levels the season has typically remained open past Thanksgiving and into December.

Doherty expected the price to wind up somewhere around $4-4.50 a pound. That’s in line with the price from the last few years and would put the value of the fishery above four million dollars at the docks. To compare, last year’s harvest hit one and a half million pounds and at nearly four dollars a pound the fishery was worth over six million dollars at the docks. The number of divers participating has stayed just below 200 for the past decade and divers have earned an average of around 30,000 dollars in the past two years.

Meanwhile, another dive fishery that also opened this fall won’t be over as quickly. Around half of the 750,000 pound guideline harvest level for geoduck clams has been harvested but Doherty said divers will be slowing down their harvest in the colder months. Divers have decided to cut the length of Thursday openings from six hours to three hours.

“So we’ve really slowed down the harvest of geoducks to try and meet the demands of the market,” he said. “It’s a live market animal and if we put too many geoducks on the market at one time along with what Washington state and what British Columbia are doing then the price goes down. So we’ve slowed down our harvest. The season’s going to last for a while.”

Divers did not fish on Thanksgiving Thursday but planned to go back to work in December. “Normally after the Thanksgiving break, we start to lose a little bit of effort in the geoduck fishery as some of the divers who fished sea cucumbers don’t come back after the break. So we may ramp up the amount of hours that we’re fishing here as we get closer to the Christmas break.”

The price for geoduck clams has ranged between 4-6 dollars a pound in the early season.
Last year the fleet landed over half a million pounds of clams, averaging nearly eight dollars a pound. That made the fishery worth over four million dollars at the docks. For the past few years, just under 70 divers have made geoduck clam landings.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Homeless Shelter To Be Closed At Least A Month

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:03

Mike Ricker is a long-term resident of the Glory Hole, Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, which was damaged by a flood last weekend. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau’s nonprofit homeless shelter, the Glory Hole, will be closed at least a month after a burst water pipe caused major flood damage last weekend.

Patrons and staff were adjusting to that new reality Tuesday.

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Mike Ricker was about to go to sleep Sunday when the water started pouring down on top of him.

“It came down through the Sheetrock in the ceilings three floors, because it was in the ceiling of the third floor, and down through the light fixtures,” Ricker says. “The lights were on and the water was just pouring down out of them.”

Even though it’s technically an emergency shelter, Ricker has lived at the Glory Hole for about a year. He says he ended up homeless after getting behind on a number of bills. Now he’s working odd jobs and trying to get his life back on track.

Ricker and about 20 other Glory Hole patrons are housed at Juneau International Hostel for the time being. St. Ann’s Parish Hall downtown is hosting the shelter’s regular breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Ricker says he’s grateful to the hostel and church for stepping up on short notice.

“If they weren’t open, then what option would we have, you know?” Ricker asks. “We’d be in a pretty tough situation. Thank God for them.”

Glory Hole cook Katie Parrott says the whole situation is stressful for both staff and clients.

“We just want to make sure that people know that we’re still serving food and handing out sack lunches, so we’re still operating to the best of our ability,” she says.

Parrott served about 10 people lunch on Tuesday, a smaller crowd than normal. She says the breakfast service for 21 patrons was about average.

“So it could be just, you know, a lot of people will be doing things throughout the day, maybe won’t be here for lunch but will be here for dinner,” Parrott says. “It could be that people are trying to find somewhere to store their things. Who knows?”

The closure of the shelter comes after the first big snowstorm of winter hit Juneau over the weekend. Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk says the broken pipe had frozen before it sprung the leak.

Lovishchuk says insurance will cover the cost of repairs, but she worries people will forget about the shelter while it’s closed during the holidays – a time when the Glory Hole typically receives a lot of donations.

“One of the concerns that I have is that, you know, our fundraising efforts this year will not be as great,” Lovishchuk says. “So, you know, our operating funds for next year will be jeopardized.”

She says contractor North Pacific Erectors is already working on getting the shelter back in business, and the public can help by continuing to donate money and food.

Categories: Alaska News

Toksook Bay Teen’s Yup’ik Music Videos Gain Popularity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 17:01

Attracting an audience of over 10,000 Facebook followers, a Toksook Bay teenager is creating his own version of Yup’ik songs and sharing them with an international audience.

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Sixteen-year-old Byron Nicholai created a Facebook page called ‘I Sing. You Dance,’ that recently became very popular in and out of the country after his songs were featured on KTUU.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = "//"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Post by I Sing. You Dance.

“They helped me reach up to 10,000, because before KTUU it was only 3,000 (likes), and after that, to 7,000 (likes), then to 10,000. Its crazy for a guy like me in a village to get that many likes,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai has been a drummer in Toksook Bay’s traditional group since 5th grade. He says his video page started when he downloaded an app and started playing around with it.

After he uploaded videos without distortion, his audience told him they prefer his natural voice.

Nicholai hasn’t stopped experimenting with his sound. Nicholai uses a technique in which his voice is augmented by a natural echo off of a drum, a trick he learned from his cousin, Moses Charles.

“One time during a Yuraq practice, he showed me how he did that and I thought it sounded awesome. The phone has to be inside the circle of the drum for you to hear the echo… that’s why I’m kinda so close,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai says his songs aren’t exactly traditional. A Toksook Bay elder, Joseph “Anaruk” Felix, sings with Byron in school and is glad to hear the young man making music projects.

“When I listened to the videos the singing seemed unique to his style and personality, but I like it very much. They don’t have dances attached to them as is our tradition, but it is very entertaining to me. I encourage other people to try this, because it brings us closer to our culture,” said Felix.

Nicholai says he is working on a song that goes with a dance and expects to release it sometime soon. He says he would like to be able to travel to teach about his culture and traditional dancing.

The videos can be found here.

Categories: Alaska News

Traditional gut sewing at the Anchorage Museum

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 16:41

The Anchorage Museum is hosting three Alaska Native artists this week. They are teaching students and others about gut sewing, a traditional skill still used today to make rain gear. They’re also learning about the craft from each other and from historical items in the museum’s collection.

Yupik elder Mary Tunuchuk picks up the beginnings of a raincoat made of dried bearded seal intestine and shows a group of elementary school students.

Elaine Kingeekuk shows off different types of guts to a group of elementary school students at the Anchorage Museum. HIllman/KSKA

“This is the back of the hood and this is the arms,” she says.

The semi-translucent material crinkles like paper every time Tunuchuk touches it. She says the guts are extremely delicate when dry. You have to dip the parka in sea water to make it more flexible before putting it on. She says the traditional gear provides the best protection from rain and cold, especially when hunting on the ocean.

“The snow is blowing. The seas are rough. And you’re getting cold. If you have a rubber raincoat you’re gonna freeze to death. But if you have this one, this gut parka, you’re gonna last a little bit longer because it’s going to keep you warm.”

She says the guts are more breathable than modern materials, and they don’t freeze and crack.

Tunuchuk started sewing guts about 50 years ago. She says her husband needed a parka, and as a young wife she had to make one for him.

To make a parka, women start with fresh intestines from seals or walrus. They scrape off the flesh from the 70 foot-long guts and rinse them for hours. Then they blow up the cleaned intestines like a balloon and wait for them to dry. Tunuchuk says she prefers working with bearded seals over walrus.

“One time I asked my husband or one of my brothers to bring home a walrus gut. I’ll never do that again! It’s so much harder to work, to clean. It’s so wide, and everything seems like it’s super glued in there!”

Once the guts are dry, she carefully sews them together using sinew and sometimes sea grass.

“But don’t use a sewing machine or an electrical thing because those stitches are so close together that when you try to pull it out, you might tear it apart.”

Tunuchuk says sewing a parka can take many days. Every village has different patterns and stitches for sewing. She’s learned even more styles by looking at the materials in the collection at the Anchorage Museum.

A bearded seal gut parka sewn by Mary Tunuchuk. Hillman/KSKA

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center director Aron Crowell, says the goal of the residency is for the artists to learn from each other and from the artifacts. And they’re teaching the museum staff about caring for the materials.

“They’re also talking about the processing and the material qualities of intestines and other membranes from inside sea mammals and how those are uniquely suited to Arctic clothing.”

The artists will be at the Museum for the rest of the week. The public is invited to meet the artists on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1 to 3 pm.


Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Selections in Tongass Added to Defense Bill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-12-03 07:31

A long-awaited land selection agreement for Sealaska Corporation is among a package of public land bills that are now slated to move quickly through Congress. A deal to attach the package to the must-pass defense bill was announced late last night.

The bill would turn over about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska, the regional Native corporation of Southeast Alaska, for logging and development.

Nationally, the bill moves 110,000 acres out of national control, enables a controversial copper mine in Arizona and expands a Bureau of Land Management program to streamline drilling permits. Outside of Alaska, it also establishes more than 200,000 acres of wilderness and designates new national parks.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski called it a balanced package that will increase economic opportunities in Western states. If it passes, it will be the largest public lands legislation to become law in at least five years.
The bill would sell an old DEW Line radar station to Olgoonik (Ol’ OO-NIK) Corporation, the village corporation of Wainwright. The parcel is about 1,500 acres inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The bill says the corporation must pay market value for the acreage. It also clears federal interests in three municipal lots in downtown Anchorage and, further north, turns over an Air Force tank farm to the city of Nome. In the defense portion of the bill, lawmakers affirm the process the Air Force used when it selected Eielson Air Force Base to house the first F-35A squadrons.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Proposes Critical Habitat For Ringed Seals

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:21

A federal agency has proposed about 350,000 square miles of ocean off Alaska’s north and west coasts as critical habitat for the seal that’s the main prey of polar bears.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that it’s proposing much of the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas within U.S. jurisdiction as critical habitat for ringed seals.

Shaye Wolf is the climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity. She says the habitat proposal is the largest in history.

“We know that species that have critical habitat are twice as likely that species without it to be recovering,” Wolf said. ”So we know that critical habitat works.”

A critical-habitat designation means federal agencies that authorize activities there must consult with NOAA Fisheries to determine the effects on seals. Wolf says the designation wouldn’t ban oil and gas drilling, but it does require the permitting agencies to take extra precautions to ensure drilling won’t harm the seal’s habitat.

But Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized the size of the proposed critical habitat area. In a news release she said she is concerned, “this designation would severely impact any economic development.”

The seals were declared threatened in December 2012 because of the loss of sea ice from climate warming. Ringed seals use sea ice for breeding and molting.

The agency will take public comment on the proposed critical-habitat designation for 90 days.


Categories: Alaska News

BOEM Report Says Chukchi Sea Drilling Runs Heightened Risk Of Large Spill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:20

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding hearings around the state on lease sale 193, in the Chukchi Sea. In its latest Environmental Impact Statement, BOEM says there’s likely more oil there, but also more risk of a large oil spill.

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Categories: Alaska News

Caribou, Reindeer Compete For Space On The Seward Peninsula

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-12-02 17:18

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo: Jim Dau)

For decades, caribou have posed a threat to reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula — their numbers swelling, even as the reindeer population shrinks.

Now, a new front has developed in the turf war between reindeer and caribou.

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An unidentified herd of animals has settled near Serpentine Hot Springs, in close proximity to several reindeer herding operations. And the animals’ presence has both wildlife managers and reindeer herders asking: Are they reindeer or caribou?

“Nobody knows if it’s a caribou herd reestablishing itself on the Seward Peninsula, or if it’s a group of reindeer that have run off and gone feral,” said Greg Finstad with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research program.

In order to solve the mystery, UAF’s Reindeer Research Program is teaming up with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to genetically test the animals.

The two agencies are soliciting small tissue samples from hunters who harvested game — caribou or reindeer — near Serpentine Hot Spring this summer. Those samples will then be compared with relatively “pure” reindeer samples from St. Lawrence Island, and caribou samples from the Interior, to determine whether the Serpentine herd is more closely related to caribou or reindeer.

Jim Dau is an ADF&G biologist working on the project. He said while the distinction between the two animals may seem slight — it makes a big difference to reindeer herders in the region.

“The reindeer industry has lost a tremendous number of reindeer, especially since the mid 90s. And those losses have occurred primarily when caribou that winter down there leave in the spring. They can just overwhelm a reindeer range and when they leave in the spring they take reindeer with them,” he said.

According to Dau, if the animals are caribou, they’ll likely be viewed as a new threat — especially since they appeared at an unusual time of year: Summer, rather than the typical winter migration period.

On the other hand, if the animals turn out to be reindeer, the reaction would likely be more optimistic.

“If they are feral reindeer, then a reindeer herder can go out and recover them,” said Finstad.

A definitive I.D. would also make it clear which agency is responsible for the animals — for instance, caribou are public resources within the purview of ADF&G; while reindeer are under the stewardship of private herders — and who will have to foot the bill when it comes to monitoring them.

According to Finstad, monitoring is particularly important in the case of caribou. There is very little reindeer herders can do to protect their reindeer from a group of several thousand caribou — but early warnings do help.

“If you have a group of reindeer, and you know where the caribou are, then you do have a chance and you can maybe move them out of the way,” he said.

Still, Dau with ADF&G noted that tracking costs time and money. Warning systems rely on expensive radio collars, plus transportation costs and hours spent placing those collars on the animals.

The total Western Arctic caribou herd is over 200,000 strong. Dau said it’s hard to justify placing a several collars in a relatively small area like Serpentine Hot Springs when he has such a large group to worry about — as well as other stakeholder interests in the region.

“There’s another whole aspect to this,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the Seward Peninsula who are not reindeer herders. They are absolutely delighted to have access to caribou. They want to go caribou hunting and get meat.”

But when it comes to the Serpentine herd, identification is still the first step. Dau said ADF&G is still collecting tissue samples from game harvested between May and August of this year in the Serpentine-Shishmaref-Cape Espenberg area.

Hunters interested in donating samples can bring them to the ADF&G office in Nome.

Categories: Alaska News