Alaska News

Court Rules In Favor Of Same-Sex Couples In Property Tax Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

State Supreme Court on Friday justices decided in favor of two same sex couples in a property tax case that could have wider implications for the state.

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Categories: Alaska News

Jury Convicts Alaska Man In Coast Guard Killings

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

A federal jury in Alaska has convicted a man of murder in the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at a Coast Guard communications station on Kodiak Island.

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The jury returned its verdict on Friday in the case of 62-year-old James Wells. He was charged with killing Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle in April 2012.

Prosecutors had alleged Wells, a civilian, was unhappy that his position was increasingly irrelevant on the job because of the advancement of the victims.

The jury convicted Wells of six felony charges: two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of a U.S. officer and use of a firearm in a violent crime.

Federal prosecutors said earlier they would not seek the death penalty if he was convicted.

Categories: Alaska News

Surprise Inspection Finds High Radiation Levels At Acuren Facility

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

A testing and inspection company with facilities in Kenai is in trouble with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A surprise inspection of Acuren’s facility earlier this month revealed high levels of radiation outside the building.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Legislature Gavels Out

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

Friday, the Alaska State Legislature gaveled out, five days after they were supposed to. It’s the end to a grueling session that involved legislation on education and a major gasline project.

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So, first off, what took them so long?
Gutierrez: Honesty? Politics. The most obvious fight was education funding. In the background, minimum wage.  Major personal bills from leaderships were held up, especially on the House side. We saw Knik arm bridge fail on Wednesday night.

What caused the breakthrough?
Gutierrez: Well, once people have dug in their heels, there’s no point in dragging out a stalemate that will be unpopular with voters. Basically went down the middle with the education compromise. Plus staying long is unpopular with legislators themselves. Chenault in launchair, golf, John Wayne movies. They’re sitting around doing nothing and unhappy about it, and so are voters.

Are there any consequences for going longer than 90 days?
Gutierrez: Probably not. In the past when they’ve gone a little long, laws still stand. Constitutionally, can go until 121. But they are ignoring the statute and that was passed by voters. Spoke with the governor and he says he’s worried about the precedent, but was simply glad to be done. And quite frankly, everyone’s pretty glad to be out of here, including the press corps.

Categories: Alaska News

Three To Try Out For Juneau Symphony Conductor

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

The Juneau Symphony and Juneau Symphony Chorus performed the Mozart Requiem, April 5 & 6, 2014. (Photo by Glen Fairchild)

Three different conductors will direct the Juneau Symphony next season. They hope to replace Kyle Wiley Pickett, who will lead the Topeka Symphony and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, after 14 years in the capital city.

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The search began at the end of the 2013 symphony season, when musicians and board members gathered to answer three questions:

What are you looking for in the next conductor? What role does the symphony play in your life? What role do you think the symphony plays in the Juneau community?”

Search committee chairwoman and violinist Kristin Garot says the questions were asked again in the summer and fall.  The answers helped the 15-member committee come up with traits the orchestra wants in a new conductor.

Garot says lessons learned from the last recruitment, in 1999, and the Music Director’s Search Handbook from the League of American Orchestras morphed into a blueprint for the current search.

In October, the job was announced on the Conductors Guild website.

Nearly 70 applications rolled in. Only 28 made the first cut. That list was reduced to 13 conductors, who were interviewed over Skype, resulting in a list of nine. Committee members voted on each person to get to the remaining three.

Though the job pays only about $35,000 a year, Garot says the volunteer Juneau orchestra demands a lot of its conductor.

“Not only are they there to lead the musicians but they’re also kind of the face of the orchestra to the community,” she says. “We want someone who’s dynamic, who can energize an audience and speak to them about what they’re listening to. We also want someone who can connect with our youth audience and our youth organizations and help build that part of our program.”  

That means music director, long-range planner, fundraiser, and grand communicator.

The three finalists claim to be adept at all.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Cats

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

Ten years ago, Wrangell was crawling with feral cats. They roamed the streets, getting into trash and nesting in condemned buildings. Now, it’s hard to even find a cat downtown. That dramatic turnaround is due to the hard work of one woman who noticed the problem and decided to fix it. Dolores Klinke runs the St. Frances Animal Rescue, a non-profit that has saved hundreds of strays.

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Dolores Klinke is in her late 60s. She has salt and pepper hair and a big smile. As a kid growing up in New Mexico she had all sorts of pets (as a child.) Now, she’s Wrangell’s most prominent cat lady.

Klinke operates St. Frances out of two shelter locations. One is a forested lot for feral cats and the other is for adoptable cats, housed in her own garage. The first thing you notice when you walk inside is that it’s spotlessly clean and doesn’t smell like cats. That’s surprising as it’s currently home to about 20 rescues that live in kennels and cardboard boxes lining the walls.

“This is Jack. That’s Benjie;  that’s Iji, that black and white one; and that’s his brother, Lasty,” Klinke said, introducing some of the cats.

Some have been turned over by past owners. Many have been live trapped around town. She works patiently with the wild ones, like Kiki, to get them socialized.

“And at first she was very aggressive but she was scared, you know,” Klinke said. “She didn’t want to be any place else but her own home, but slowly she’s getting better and better.”

It’s this unflappable faith in these little animals that led Klinke to start St. Frances in 2008.

She says she was disturbed by all of the unwanted cats in Wrangell.

At first, she picked up one or two strays at a time. Then she started rescuing entire stray cat colonies. She never predicted it would turn into a full-blown animal rescue.

“I think I stopped counting at 600 cats that we’ve, you know, handled through the rescue program so, that’s a lot of cats,” Klinke said. “And that was what, a year and a half ago that I stopped counting?

“I just don’t have the time…just too busy.”

Once she brings a stray in, she cares for it indefinitely.

Every rescue gets a full lineup of shots and any other medical attention it needs. She’s adamant that each one gets spayed or neutered, preventing accidental pregnancies and litters of stray kittens. Fixing the cats is fixing the problem.

“It seems like it’s been a little over a year that I haven’t had any kittens come in at all,” Klinke said. “That tells me something – there are no kittens to be found in Wrangell I guess.”

It takes a lot of money to care for all of the rescues. Klinke says she goes through countless bags of kitty litter and cans of wet food. She gets enormous community support. The city chips in $5,000 a year. And in 2013, Klinke raised another $14,000 through rummage and bake sales and private donations. But she says it’s still not enough.

“Every 28 days we go through six bags of cat food,” Klinke said. “We have the other shelter that we have cats that we have relocated. Over there we go through another maybe four bags a month.”

We drive out to the other shelter about five miles out of town.

This gated outdoor colony holds the feral cats that are not socialized enough to be adopted out. Klinke says the cats here often hunt for their own food.

Cats appear left and right when they hear her walking around. She greets each of them by name. One cat, Clown, follows us around. Klinke says she was an especially difficult rescue.

“And the vet was coming into town so we got her ready to go in to get spayed, you know,” Klinke said. “And I grabbed her and that was the wrong thing to do. Boy, she tore my hands all up and bit. We got her though and took her in, got her fixed and I headed for the emergency room.”

But that antisocial behavior doesn’t keep her from pampering them.

Dolores Klinke truly loves her rescues.

“They’re appreciative.  That’s my favorite part of the job, I guess you’d call it. But I love doing it. It’s unconditional love,” Klinke said. “They don’t ask for anything, you know. They really don’t. They just want food and somebody to love them.”

And that’s why she puts in the countless hours and money, and doesn’t really mind those trips to the emergency room—to give these cats a place to call home.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: St. Michael

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:45

This week, we’re heading to St. Michael, a primarily Yup’ik community of almost 450 people near Nome in Western Alaska. Bobbi Ann Andrews is the mayor of St. Michael.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 17:00

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

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Jury Convicts Alaska Man In Coast Guard Killings

The Associated Press

A federal jury in Alaska has convicted a man of murder in the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at a Coast Guard communications station on Kodiak Island.

The jury returned its verdict on Friday in the case of 62-year-old James Wells. He was charged with killing Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle in April 2012.

Prosecutors had alleged Wells, a civilian, was unhappy that his position was increasingly irrelevant on the job because of the advancement of the victims.

The jury convicted Wells of six felony charges: two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of a U.S. officer and use of a firearm in a violent crime.

Federal prosecutors said earlier they would not seek the death penalty if he was convicted.

Court Rules In Favor Of Same-Sex Couples In Property Tax Case

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

State Supreme Court on Friday justices decided in favor of two same sex couples in a property tax case that could have wider implications for the state.

Surprise Inspection Finds High Radiation Levels At Acuren Facility

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

A testing and inspection company with facilities in Kenai is in trouble with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A surprise inspection of Acuren’s facility earlier this month revealed high levels of radiation outside the building.

Alaska Legislature Gavels Out

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Friday, the Alaska State Legislature gaveled out, five days after they were supposed to. It’s the end to a grueling session that involved legislation on education and a major gasline project,

Three To Try Out For Juneau Symphony Conductor

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Three different conductors will direct the Juneau Symphony next season. They hope to replace Kyle Wylie Pickett, who will lead the Topeka, Kansas Symphony, and the Springfield, Missouri Symphony Orchestra, after 14 years in the capital city.

AK: Cats

Shady Grove Oliver, KSTK – Wrangell

Ten years ago, Wrangell was crawling with feral cats. They roamed the streets, getting into trash and nesting in condemned buildings. Now, it’s hard to even find a cat downtown. That dramatic turnaround is due to the hard work of one woman who noticed the problem and decided to fix it. Dolores Klinke runs the St. Frances Animal Rescue, a non-profit that has saved hundreds of strays.

300 Villages: St. Michael

This week, we’re heading to St. Michael, a  primarily Yup’ik community of almost 450 people near Nome in western Alaska.

Bobbi Ann Andrews is the mayor of St. Michael.

Categories: Alaska News

Seward’s Icebox

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-25 12:00

What was William Seward thinking when he pushed the purchase of Alaska from Russia? What would most surprise him if he could see Alaska now? Seward’s Day is a state holiday; a town and a highway are named after him; but who was he? Two historians will help us understand why we’re not part of Russia, on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Walter Stahr, author, “Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man”
  • Steve Haycox, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alaska Anchorage, author of“Alaska, an American Colony”
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Southcentral Foundation Reaches Historic Settlement With IHS

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 17:41

Anchorage based Southcentral Foundation announced a settlement with the Indian Health Service over contract payments that at $96 million represents the largest IHS settlement in history.

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Lloyd Miller is one of the attorneys who brought suit against the IHS on behalf of tribes. Miller says after the U.S Supreme court in 2005 ruled the federal government was liable for underfunding tribal contracts, tribes filed hundreds of suits, but the IHS still refused to pay or settle, until the Supreme court reaffirmed their ruling in 2012.

“That signaled the beginning of a very long and very arduous settlement process because by late 2012, the agency was facing claims by over 200 tribes and inter-tribal organizations totaling in excess of $2 billion,” Miller said.

Miller says no claims were settled until 2013. But he says over the last 3 or 4 months, the logjam of disagreement over how to proceed with settlements has broken. Other payments in Alaska have happened in recent weeks, and Miller says the Yukon Kuskokwim settlement in December was the second largest in history behind Southcentral.

“Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation settled in December for $39 million and also settlements have been achieved for the Manillaq Corp, the Ketchikan Indian Corp, the Arctic Slope Native Association and the Bristol Bay Health Corporation,” Miller said. “All of those have been resolved and there are many more in active negotiations right now.”

Miller says the money will have great impact for Alaska tribes.

Katherine Gottlieb is the President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation. She says signing the agreement was a relief.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Food Policy Council Hosts Bethel Town Hall Meeting

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 17:41

Members of the Alaska Food Policy Council hosted a town hall meeting in Bethel last week to gather information they’ll use to guide statewide food policy.

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Categories: Alaska News

More Tourists Expected In Petersburg This Year

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 17:41

More tourists are expected to visit Petersburg this summer than in recent years. Located on Mitkof Island, the small town cannot accommodate large cruise ships because of the shallow channels. But that’s just the sort of thing that some visitors are looking for.

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It’s tough to put an exact number on how many tourists come to Petersburg every year, but it’s definitely in the thousands. The closest figure might be from the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program, which shows about 14,000 came in 2011. That number includes visitors by plane, cruise ship and ferry.

Dave Berg looks over a spread sheet of this year’s visitors at Viking Travel, Inc. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)

Dave Berg has operated Viking Travel, Inc. in Petersburg for 31 years.

“It looks like it’s going to be a better year for us,” Berg said. “We’re seeing a great increase in the number of independent visitors than we’ve seen in the past.”

“Independent travelers” is an industry term that means people who visit on their own outside of the large cruise ships.

“Most of the time they have Petersburg as part of an overall Alaska experience,” Berg said.

The phone lines in Berg’s office are busy these days. He’s dealing with people from all over the world. He says the increase in tourists is partly due to his business buying out Alaska Ferry Adventures in Homer. They were doing the same line of work—setting up travel packages for visitors. He’s now trying to get those people to come to Petersburg.

The main local draw is whale watching. There are also kayaking trips, the Bella Vista garnet mine, and the nearby Anan Bear Observatory. But Berg says it doesn’t have to be that adventurous. People just appreciate walking around the harbors and talking to fishermen.

“Just the small town atmosphere, the village that we have, the village feel of Petersburg versus places with the large cruise ships,” Berg said. “There’s a big difference in the experience that people have by coming to small towns.”

Marilyn Menish-Meucci runs the Petersburg Visitors Information Center.

“The independent traveler loves Petersburg,” Menish-Meucci said. “All the businesses here are locally owned. The only chain we have that is a national chain is Wells Fargo. And so that is huge to people because every time they buy an item in this town, the money stays in this town.”

Menish-Meucci says keeping it local is not only good for attracting tourists but also for local businesses.

Petersburg’s Chamber of Commerce Director, Cindi Lagoudakis, agrees.

“There’s more fuel sales, the gift shops see an increased business and I think some pretty steady clientele in the summertime from independent travelers,” Lagoudakis said. “The food businesses certainly see an uptick and in part that’s why some businesses are only open in the summertime as we have more people coming through town and can support those additional businesses and those dollars flow through town.”

It didn’t hurt that Yachting Magazine recently designated Petersburg as one of the best small towns in the country to visit.

“So, we’ve had a lot of people calling on the phone asking more questions about what Petersburg is like what we have to offer, questions about our harbors, and some really increased interest in what we have to offer here in Petersburg,” Lagoudakis said.

She says it’s often the small town charm that they’re after.

“What I hear again and again from folks that are visitors to town is how friendly the community is,” Lagoudakis said. “I think in part is because we don’t have so many people. There’s enough new people but not so many that you feel bombarded by it. And people will say hi to people in the street or they will offer to help you find something or tell you a little bit about why they like Petersburg and it makes it a very desirable place to visit and to live.”

Petersburg’s tourist season runs roughly from May 15 through September 15.

There will be one large ship– the Caledonian Sky—which is scheduled to be here twice but won’t be able to dock at the harbors because of its size. It carries about 150 passengers and will have to anchor out in Scow Bay or Frederick Sound.

A Gold Rush theme ship is scheduled to be here 12 times. Last year, it came up twice.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 16:53

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

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Ferry Dock In Skagway Sinks

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The state ferry in Skagway remains underwater and is closed indefinitely.

Southcentral Foundation Reaches Historic With IHS

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage based Southcentral Foundation announced a settlement with the Indian Health Service over contract payments that at $96 million represents the largest IHS settlement in history.

Lawmakers Make Tentative Deal On Education Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Negotiators from the State House and Senate have reached a deal on the governor’s education bill, and it includes a mix of permanent and one-time funding increases.

As Legislature Make Progress On Adjourning, KABATA Bill Falls Apart

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Less than two hours after the combative House and Senate seemed to reach a truce on education, a bill dealing with the proposed Knik Arm Bridge fell apart on the House floor.

Investigation Attributes USCG Death To Faulty Equipment, Work Practices

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Coast Guard has finished investigating a Bering Sea rescue that left a 28-year-old crewman with fatal head injuries late last year.

According to a review board, faulty equipment and work practices developed by the crew of the cutter Waesche put Petty Officer Travis Obendorf in harm’s way.

Customers Suing GCI For Poor Cell And Data Performance

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

GCI is facing a lawsuit filed by customers along the Kuskokwim River in Western Alaska.  The suit alleges that the communications company has been ripping off customers in the YK Delta.

Alaska Food Policy Council Hosts Bethel Town Hall Meeting

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Members of the Alaska Food Policy Council hosted a town hall meeting in Bethel last week to gather information they’ll use to guide statewide food policy.

NOAA Investigating Rare Whale Beachings

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Three rarely seen whales beached on Alaska’s coast last year, and NOAA Fisheries is investigating whether human activity contributed to the strandings.

More Tourists Expected In Petersburg This Year

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

More tourists are expected to visit Petersburg this summer than in recent years. Located on Mitkof Island, the small town cannot accommodate large cruise ships because of the shallow channels. But that’s just the sort of thing that some visitors are looking for.

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry Dock In Skagway Sinks

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 16:00

The AMHS dock in Skagway sank overnight. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

The Skagway ferry terminal dock is fully submerged, according to state transportation officials.

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DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says an engineer is on his way to Skagway to find out what happened. Apparently the dock started to sink overnight and by early this morning it was totally underwater.

The 160 foot by 120 foot dock is about 12-feet deep. It is made of 24 individual concrete chambers.

“The words that the engineer used is he’s perplexed,” Woodrow says. “We actually have inspected everyone of those individual chambers in the last year and there was no indication of any wear.”

Woodrow says the cause of the collapse remains a mystery until an engineer gets on site and a diver gets an underwater look.

No ferries are scheduled into Skagway today (Thursday), but the LeConte is to sail there tomorrow. Woodrow says marine highway officials are working out a plan.

This is a breaking story. Check back for details.

Note:  Previous reports indicated the dock had collapsed. That connotes structural failure and DOT’s Woodrow says the extent of the damage is still unknown.

Categories: Alaska News

Investigation Attributes USCG Death To Faulty Equipment, Work Practices

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 15:32

The Coast Guard has finished investigating a Bering Sea rescue that left a 28-year-old crewman with fatal head injuries late last year.

According to a review board, faulty equipment and work practices developed by the crew of the cutter Waesche put Petty Officer Travis Obendorf in harm’s way.

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Obendorf and the rest of the Waesche crew had been on patrol in the Bering Sea for three months when they were called to help the Alaska Mist. It was a large fishing vessel that lost propulsion and started drifting near Amak Island.

Cutter Waesche. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The Waesche reached the fishing boat on November 11. Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy says the situation was urgent.

“They had 22 mariners on board; they were disabled,” Conroy said “The Coast Guard needed to get the non-essential personnel off the Alaska Mist.”

Although they had access to a helicopter, Conroy says the Waesche crew wanted to send their rescue boat to pick up the crew. It’s a 24-foot inflatable Zodiac, with hard sides.

Conroy says the crew conducted a risk assessment of their rescue plan.

“With this particular mission, they had already done so many small boat operations in the environment that they were in on November 11 that they were more concerned about rescuing these people, and they were comfortable with conducting the operation,” Conroy said.

The Waesche had used the small boat 130 times during their patrol in the Bering Sea. It always went smoothly – except for the fact that the boat launch and recovery system was broken.

It was a capture net and line, designed to snag the rescue boat when the crew it back into its compartment at the back of the cutter. The system was supposed to secure the vessel without any human intervention.

But on the Waesche, it only worked about 40 percent of the time. The other two national security cutters also had problems with this system, but not as consistently.

Chief Warrant Officer Conroy says the cutters formally requested improvements to the boat capture system about four years ago.

“The safety implications were not evident at that particular time,” Conroy said. “Of course, retrospectively, the changes were incorrectly prioritized among numerous high-priority configuration change projects.”

In the meantime, the Waesche decided to work around it.

Conroy says they started posting a crew member at the very front of the small rescue boat. That person would manually secure the vessel after a mission. It wasn’t common practice, but it worked – until it was time to rescue the Alaska Mist.

Petty Officer Travis Obendorf – a 28-year-old Idaho native – was assigned to sit at the front of the rescue boat. They gathered five non-essential fishermen off the Alaska Mist and started to take them back to the Coast Guard cutter.

According to the Coast Guard’s investigation report, they faced rough seas – worse than what the rescue boat was rated to operate in. That made it hard steer the back into the compartment aboard the Waesche.

The rescue boat was halfway inside when a series of swells washed in behind it. The boat slid underneath the capture net, and the net shoved Obendorf backwards. He was slammed into the center console of the rescue boat and lost consciousness.

Obendorf had been wearing a helmet, but he still had severe head injuries. A medical crew aboard the Waesche responded as soon as possible, and Conroy says they called for a medevac.

“He was then medically evacuated from the Waesche and taken to Cold Bay,” Conroy said. “From Cold Bay he was taken to Anchorage; after Anchorage, he was then transported to Seattle for continued care.”

“And then, on December 18, he died in a Seattle hospital.”

Conroy says the Coast Guard started making changes to its national security cutters almost immediately after Obendorf was injured. They got rid of the rescue boat that the Waesche crew had been using and replaced it with a slightly larger model.

“There’s also been guidance put out that commanding officers are not to put any crewman forward of the center console, which is what happened in the incident with Petty Officer Obendorf,” Conroy said.

But Conroy says that within a few months, there shouldn’t be a need to put crew members in that position anymore. The Coast Guard is going to fix the system for launching and recovering rescue boats from cutters, so it’s fully automatic.

The repairs are similar to what the national security cutters requested back in 2010. And Conroy says that fact has prompted the Coast Guard to rethink the way they prioritize upgrades to their fleet.

“They are taking a closer look at the recommendations that are coming into the field, and specifically looking to see if they have a safety aspect and reevaluating those recommendations,” Conroy said.

In the end, Conroy says the Coast Guard is not taking disciplinary action against any personnel connected to the rescue operation or the accident. And Conroy says there haven’t been any lawsuits related to it, either.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Investigating Rare Whale Beachings

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 15:13

Three rarely seen whales beached on Alaska’s coast last year, and NOAA Fisheries is investigating whether human activity contributed to the strandings.

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The Stejneger’s beaked whales beached last fall: one on St. Lawrence Island and two in Valdez. Neither of those places are where Stejneger’s are usually found, and each animal showed indications of trauma.

A Stejneger’s beaked whale from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Marine Mammal Program, (Photo courtesy of Toshio Kasuya)

“They had bubbles of air within the blood vessels,” Dr. Kathy Burek Huntington, from the Alaska Veterinary Pathologist Service, said. “And this is true in all the cases—the animals in Valdez and also the animal up in the St. Lawrence Island area. You know, this is just a classic lesion that you see when there’s an animal that suffered from barotrauma.”

Huntington performed the necropsies on the whales and said barotrauma is like the bends in humans— often caused by rising too quickly to the surface from a deep dive. But Stejneger’s are built for deep dives. They’re usually found over a half mile below the water.

“They should have certain behaviors that should allow them to avoid that situation if they’re acting normally,” Huntington said.

Loud noises can send the whales rocketing to the surface, and seismic activity can also damage barriers within the whales’ bodies between gas-filled areas and the bloodstream. Both situations can cause trauma. “For example,” Huntington explains, “if there’s blasting going on in an area, underwater blasting, that can create this kind of thing. It’s thought that really high intensity sonar is another possibility. “

Beaked whales’ tendency for deep dives makes their presence in the shallow waters of the Bering Strait Region and Valdez unusual. Aleria Jensen, the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the Alaska Region, said beachings occur for many reasons, like disease, entanglement, and ship collisions.

So far, she said there’s no evidence of any of those in these whales.

“So it leads us back to the gas bubbles pointing to some kind of acoustic trauma, so we want to see what was going on in the area during that time,” Jensen said.

NOAA Fisheries is investigating the cause of the strandings and if noise from human activity contributed.

Huntington said there were reports of seismic activity in Valdez in the area of the beaching, but the investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Customers Suing GCI For Poor Cell And Data Performance

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 15:09

GCI is facing a lawsuit filed by customers in Bethel and along the Kuskokwim. The suit alleges that the communications company has been ripping off customers in the YK Delta.

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The complaint was filed in the Bethel Courthouse on Tuesday, April 22, by The Law Office of Jim Valcarce and the Law Office of David Henerderson. Henederson says the allegations against GCI are over the poor quality of their data plans and cell phone service, despite advertising that both are fully functional.

There are four plaintiffs currently listed including Mary Pete, Robert Sundown, William Howell and Lynda Kvamme. They allege GCI has been advertising their 3G network in rural Alaska, and specifically the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta regardless of the fact that their smartphone and data plans were not supported by sufficient infrastructure.

The suit alleges GCI’s data almost never works and that dropped call rates are often between 50 percent and 100 percent.

Henderson says they are petitioning the court to make the suit into a class action suit that could affect thousands of customers in YK Delta

GCI did return a call from KYUK by print time.

Categories: Alaska News

Kotzebue Man Charged With Animal Cruelty For Shooting Dogs

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 15:06

A Kotzebue man is behind bars and faces a felony animal cruelty charge after State Troopers say he killed four sled dogs while drunk.

Alaska State Troopers say 42-year-old Carl Henry Jr. showed up drunk at a family member’s cabin about 23 miles east of Kotzebue around 7:30 on the night on April 9.

The family member got in a fight with Henry, who Troopers say then left the cabin.

Photo of Kotzebue. (Photo by Neal Herbert/National Park Service, Alaska Region)

That family member then went out to feed a lot of sled dogs, only to find blood on the ground and four dogs missing.

The family member told Troopers Henry shot the four dogs and then dragged them away on his snowmachine. The family member told police they feared what Henry might do if he returned. Troopers say the family member then walked the two miles from the cabin to Camp Ivik to call for help.

When officers responded around 11:30 that night they found a second man—whose name is being withheld because he has not been charged with a crime—who told Troopers he and Henry had been drinking.

That’s when the man said Henry became angry that the dogs wouldn’t stop barking. The man told Troopers Henry began to “shoot his gun up in the air to scare them to shut up.” When the dogs wouldn’t quiet down, the man said Henry shot four of them.

Troopers found several dogs tied to trees, but noted four were missing. Troopers said Wednesday they were not able to find the remains of the dogs Henry is accused of shooting, but said all four are presumed dead. The dogs were worth about $500 apiece, the family member told Troopers.

Troopers weren’t able to find Henry at the scene and subsequently issued a warrant for his arrest. A Monday Trooper dispatch shows he was arrested by a Village Public Safety Officer in Koyuk—about 142 miles South of Koetzbue—on Sunday afternoon. Court records show he was taken to Nome before being formally charged in Kotzebue on Wednesday.

Henry faces two felony charges, one for criminal mischief and another for cruelty to animals. He faces a third misdemeanor charge for assault.  His bail was set at $2,500 and requires a court-approved custodian.

Categories: Alaska News

As Legislature Make Progress On Adjourning, KABATA Bill Falls Apart

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-24 12:01

Less than two hours after the combative House and Senate seemed to reach a truce on education, a bill dealing with the proposed Knik Arm Bridge fell apart on the House floor.

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The House rejected the Senate’s version by one vote on Wednesday night. Because 21 votes are required to pass legislation, the bill came up short when it got 20 yeas and 18 nays. Six Republicans broke ranks with their party to oppose the bill. They were Mike Hawker of Anchorage, Mia Costello of Anchorage, Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Kurt Olson of Kenai, Eric Feige of Chickaloon, and Paul Seaton of Homer. Two Republicans who were expected to support the bill were not present because of excused absences. Rep. Bob Lynn of Anchorage was excused for a family illness, while Rep. Lora Reinbold of Eagle River was absent because of a planned vacation.

While the bill originated in the House, it was dramatically changed in the Senate after an audit suggested that the project may be uneconomic. The new version sets up a financing plan for the billion-dollar bridge that involves a mix of federal highway grants, federal loans, and state bonds.

Because the House failed to concur, the bill may be sent to “free” conference committee with the power to rewrite it – just like was done with the education bill this week. That could extend a legislative session that has already gone three full days over its statutory deadline. While the Senate still needs to agree, the House has already named Kodiak Republican Alan Austerman, Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze, and Anchorage Democrat Harriet Drummond.

The bridge bill is a major priority of Senate President Charlie Huggins, a Wasilla Republican.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Make Tentative Deal On Education Bill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-23 22:19

Negotiators from the State House and Senate have reached a deal on the governor’s education bill, and it includes a mix of permanent and one-time funding increases.

The compromise was announced on Wednesday night, three days after the Legislature had blown its adjournment deadline because of disagreement on the bill. The conference committee in charge of rewriting the legislation has decided to add $300 million to the education budget, spread out over three years.

Half of the money will come as one-time grants for education programs. The other half will come through the “base student allocation,” the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled as part of the education funding formula. The new draft of the bill raises the BSA by $150 the first year, and by $50 in years two and three.

The new proposal is a blend of the House and Senate approaches to education funding. Even though both chambers are led by Republicans, the two bodies had different philosophies on education funding. Where the House wanted a slightly smaller amount that came through a more permanent source, the Senate was willing to spend more money but without putting it into the funding formula.

Sen. Kevin Meyer is an Anchorage Republican who is involved in the negotiations. He says that even if the compromise seems obvious now, it was not so clear on Sunday when the Legislature was facing its adjournment deadline.

“Well, you know, I think it took a couple days to realize that — that there’s an easy solution here,” says Meyer. “You know, we can meet halfway on the funding, that overall $100 million. And ultimately, we figured out, ‘Hey, we can meet half way on what’s in, what’s out, and we can be done and out of here.’ So, sometimes it just takes a couple days, and they you go, ‘Wow, Why didn’t we think of that?’”

The funding plan still does not meet the demands of education advocates, who pushed for a BSA increase of $400 this year alone. They argue that the state needs to give school district $450 million over the next three years, if teacher layoffs are to be avoided.

The conference committee also hammered out disagreements on more than a dozen other parts of the bill. They brought back Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to repeal the high school exit exam and require students to take the SAT, ACT, or WorkKeys test in its place. They also removed a section of the bill that would have required urban teachers to go through a longer probationary period before they get tenure.

The conference committee is expected to advance the bill on Thursday, the 94th day of the 90-day session.

Categories: Alaska News
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