Alaska News

Why Juneau Should Be Next For Housing First

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-29 17:17

A considerable amount of city resources is spent on addressing the needs of chronic inebriates who are homeless. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Momentum is building in the capital city to provide housing for the homeless who suffer from substance abuse.

Housing First is based on the idea that the homeless can’t deal with problems like alcoholism and medical issues until they have a permanent place to live.

Anchorage and Fairbanks have Housing First facilities. In Juneau, some non-profit organizations, city officials, and legislators think it’s a good idea.

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Fifty-seven-year old veteran Mark Maleski sits on a Telephone Hill park bench on a cloudy July day overlooking Merchants Wharf and Gastineau Channel. It’s 1 p.m. and he’s been drinking vodka.

Maleski is homeless. Sometimes he sleeps right there in the park. The night before, though, he picked a spot outside the Arctic Bar on South Franklin Street.

“I was sleeping on the street. The old lady said, ‘Come on, go walking.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to walk. I got no destination. Who wants to walk?’” Maleski says.

Instead, he was picked up.

“Rainforest Recovery got a hold of me,” he says.

Maleski spent the night in sleep off. It’s not the first time that’s happened and likely not the last.

Rainforest Recovery Center emergency vehicle patrols downtown Juneau six times a day looking for people who are publicly intoxicated. But it mostly responds to calls. In the first three months of this year, Rainforest received more than 480 calls resulting in 364 transports.

Some inebriates are brought to sleep off, a room with five mattresses on the floor, where they can sleep until they’re sober.

Rainforest Recovery director Jennifer Brown says a few people regularly use sleep off, as much as twenty times a month.

“In addition to them using Rainforest, they’re likely also high utilizers of other services, including the ER. So perhaps while they’re not with us, they might be over in the ER addressing their other needs,” Brown says.

Rainforest Recovery is part of Bartlett Regional Hospital. The City and Borough of Juneau allocated more than $1.1 million this year to the hospital for the emergency patrol and sleep off facility.

Capital City Fire/Rescue responds daily to calls about public intoxication, including those made by the drinkers themselves. Fire chief Rich Etheridge says about 30 dial 911 on a regular basis.

“A lot of them have legitimate medical issues. It’s masked by the alcohol and when they start sobering up then their symptoms become more apparent. So just because they’re inebriated doesn’t mean they don’t have medical needs that have to be met. People tend to overlook that from time to time. You know, they’re people too and we need to take care of them,” Etheridge says.

Of the estimated 600 homeless in Juneau, a 2012 survey found about 40 are considered vulnerable to dying prematurely on the street.

Both Etheridge and Brown support the idea of a Housing First facility for this group.

“Give people shelter, a safe place to be, and then try to wrap services around them, you see much greater success,” Brown says.

That’s what Ken Scollan has seen at Karluk Manor in Anchorage, the original Housing First facility in Alaska.

“We have six people working. We had one person here who got her CNA license, is currently working as a certified nurse assistant. We actually hire three people from the population to do our janitorial services on site,” Scollan says.

Scollan is the affordable housing manager of the statewide nonprofit Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP, which runs Karluk Manor. When it opened in December 2011, 46 homeless alcoholics moved into their own efficiency apartments. Since then, Scollan says people drink less. Interactions between residents and police have greatly decreased. Two people have moved into their own apartments.

Scollan says the concept is simple. With a place to call home and 24-hour support staff, residents are taking better care of themselves.

“They now have an address. They have a place to stay. They have a phone. And now people can get a hold of them. If they have medical appointments, they’re able to call here and set that up. If they have mental health appointments, the same thing. We’ll help them with their food stamp applications, their social security applications,” Scollan says.

A barrier to bringing a Housing First project to Juneau is cost. A new facility is estimated at $7 million. Refurbishing an existing building could cost around $4 million.

Supporters believe the savings to Juneau could be immense. Mariya Lovishchuk is executive director of the emergency shelter and soup kitchen The Glory Hole. She says the cost to a community drops dramatically when a Housing First facility is built.

“The number of emergency room visits, the number of police pick-ups, the number of criminal charges — they drop so, so significantly. And therefore, the cost to tax payers drops so significantly. We’re all paying for this and we need to be paying a lot less,” Lovishchuk says.

Another barrier is finding an organization to take the lead. Scott Ciambor with the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness has been educating various city and community groups on the Housing First concept for a couple of years.

The 13-member Glory Hole board of directors supports the idea, but members don’t think it’s a project they can develop on their own.

Finding an agency to take the lead may seem daunting, but Ciambor isn’t fazed.

“Two years ago when we had a burst of interest amongst the people who know this population and work in this industry, there was confusion as to what to do as well. Now the demeanor of this conversation is completely different because we know what the solution is. And now it’s about how do we get there as a community,” Ciambor says.

Just this week, Juneau’s legislative delegation met twice to talk about downtown issuessurrounding image, alcohol and the homeless. Sen. Dennis Egan says he hopes the legislature will consider an appropriation for a permanent supportive housing facility. Housing First is a Juneau assembly goal and city manager Kim Kiefer says members have discussed providing land.

Other funding sources could include grants through the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and private foundations.

Efforts have already been made to establish a Housing First Fund through the charitable organization Juneau Community Foundation.

Categories: Alaska News

Peony Industry Blooming in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-29 17:16

Peonies are a growing business in Alaska. Ample sunlight and moisture make for good growing conditions, and more farmers are looking at the flowers as a profit-maker.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 29, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-29 16:59

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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Southwest, Southeast Alaska Face Highest Risks From Ocean Acidification

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Coastal communities in Alaska that depend on fisheries were warned Tuesday to prepare for the impacts of ocean acidification. A study from federal agencies says many of the science questions remain unanswered but changes are already happening.

Research Team Sets Out For Islands of Four Mountains

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A group of researchers set out from Unalaska this week to a remote part of the central Aleutians: the Islands of the Four Mountains. The 16 scientists are beginning a three-year mission in territory that’s unpredictable – and largely unexplored.

UA President Offered Bonus at Time of Budget Cuts

The Associated Press

The president of the University of Alaska has been offered a $320,000 bonus if he stays on the job until 2016.

ConocoPhillips to Operate New Doyon Drill Rig

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Doyon is building a new North Slope oil drilling rig, the Interior Regional Native Corporation will operate for Conoco Phillips.

Questions Arise Over Profitability of Port MacKenzie

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Earlier this month the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s Port MacKenzie took on a load of 16 miles of cement-coated pipe from a foreign vessel. The pipe now rests at the Port, awaiting shipment to Nikiski to be used in construction of a new Cook Inlet oil platform.  Although the pipe shipment has boosted Borough revenues, some are asking questions about whether the port will ever be profitable.

New UAF Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community & Native Ed

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Evon Peter has been selected to run the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ rural campuses. He will serve as the new vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education.

Why Juneau Should Be Next For Housing First

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Momentum is building in the capital city to provide housing for the homeless who suffer from substance abuse.

Housing First is based on the idea that the homeless can’t deal with problems like alcoholism and medical issues until they have a permanent place to live.

Anchorage and Fairbanks have Housing First facilities. In Juneau, some non-profit organizations, city officials, and legislators think it’s a good idea.

Peony Industry Blooming in Alaska

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Peonies are a growing business in Alaska.  Ample sunlight and moisture make for good growing conditions, and more farmers are looking at the flowers as a profit-maker.

Categories: Alaska News

Elim Gathers River Data as Safeguard Against Uranium Mining

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-29 09:48

Shepherd and Takak begin to gather depth and temperature readings from the gauge site on the Tubuktulik. (Photo: Jenn Ruckel, KNOM)

Forty miles from Elim up the Tubuktulik River, a small gauge sits at the water’s edge, just downstream from the state-owned Boulder Creek site—the largest known uranium deposit in Alaska, and a hot spot for potential mining.

At the base of the gauge, a level troll device pulls temperature and depth recordings every 15 minutes from the bed of the river. The device is there because residents of Elim don’t want to see mining develop near the Tubuktulik. During the 2008 Iditarod race, students and elders rallied at the Elim checkpoint to protest Triex Minerals Corporation, the Canadian mineral exploration company that was exploring the uranium deposit near Boulder Creek in 2006. Now, they’re hoping to get official protection.

Hal Shepherd is the director of the Center for Water Advocacy, and has been working with Elim’s Tribal Council on a data collection plan for the Tubuktulik River. He and Leigh Takak, a field technician for the watershed program, have been boating up the river almost every month for the past two years. Their destination—the testing site—is one of the only spots on the Seward Peninsula with a gauge device that’s constantly collecting data. Grants from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs fund the fuel and testing equipment needed for the data collection project.

Last week, Shepherd and Takak conducted their routine testing at the site.

“First, we used an instrument called a level troll to test depth and temperature. And then we did the transect, so we measured the discharge along that long transect that was about 120 feet wide or so,” said Shepherd. “Then we measured water quality, because that is a concern about any type of mining activity—particularly uranium—that could contaminate the water source.”

Shepherd said these tests yield baseline data for the health of the river—data that will be turned over to the state of Alaska as part of Elim’s in-stream flow reservation application. If granted, Mayor Tyler Ivanoff said the reservation would grant Elim jurisdiction over the water flowing into their land.

“If we attain them, we would be able to stop mining companies from using the water which would flow into our area,” said Ivanoff. “If we don’t get those water rights, then the state or the other mining companies can just use our water and probably pollute our rivers that we’ve been fishing on since time immemorial.”

Alaska is one of few states in the country to allow for individuals, in addition to state, federal and local governing agencies, to apply for reservations of state-owned water. However, Ivanoff said, the state doesn’t hand out these reservations frequently—and the application itself is a large undertaking. You need five years of data to be granted a reservation, though the application can be submitted after two years of data collection.

Shepherd said Elim anticipates submitting their application this fall. But until then, and for the next three years, he’ll continue making the 10-12 hour trip up the Tubuktulik. He said it’s a journey ripe with challenges—and, of course, the occasional pit stop for fishing on this healthy river.

“It’s so difficult to get up here. It’s so remote. The logistics are almost mind-boggling. You know, a lot of people are really excited about collecting good data. We get excited if we can just get to the gauge,” said Shepherd. “And we do it in the winter time, too. We do ice flow measurements. You have to come up by snow mobile. It can be pretty dicey trying to get up here in the winter.”

Though the trip isn’t easy and chances of actually securing a water reservation are uncertain, Elim Water Advocate Emily Murray believes this work is worthwhile. Murray is working with Shepherd on applying for the reservation. Last year she was a strong voice against HB77, a state bill that would have prohibited applications for in-stream water reservations like the one Elim is currently working towards.

“We need to be at the table, we need to be part of the permitting process, we really need to be. Because you know [the mining companies] could come and go but we’re still going be here. It’s that much more important for us to fight for our clean water in our backyard,” said Murray. “You know, you need to exercise your authority in that area.”

Even if Triex Minerals Corporation does not pursue a mining operation along the Tubuktulik River—with the price of uranium now down to $30 per pound, less than half its trading price in 2006—the community of Elim is continuing to take precautionary action.

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly to decide on AO-37 on Tuesday, still discussing possible alternative

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-07-29 08:32

Assembly members and union representatives met on Monday to discuss the latest revisions of a proposed new version of Anchorage’s controversial labor law, AO-37. The Assembly has to make a decision by next week, or it will be up for a public vote in November.

Earlier this summer Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston set forth a new version of Anchorage’s labor laws. The ad hoc labor committee is working with union members to refine the details before the next Assembly meeting. Jason Alward, with Operating Engineers Local 302, says he’s optimistic about the conversations, but this ordinance isn’t ready yet.

“The biggest concern for all of labor is one thing, and it’s kind of the elephant in the room that no one’s discussed until today, and that’s current bargaining unit members no longer being part of the unit.”

Alward says the new definitions of “confidential” and “supervisory” employees could push some people out of their unions.

Other union representatives are concerned that Johnston’s version does not allow “past practices” to be considered during arbitration. Assembly member Bill Evans says removing it could be problematic. Johnston says leaving it in stifles innovation.

Assembly member Dick Traini says the conversations about this version of the labor law have been productive. ”Had we had this process you saw today with Labor there, saying ‘We have problems with this line, this line.’ And management saying ‘Well we can work on this if you do this,’ then this whole thing wouldn’t have happened the way it did.”

But Traini says now they just need to start over. He plans to put forth a motion to repeal AO-37 in its entirety.

If neither Johnston’s version nor the repeal pass the Assembly with eight votes on Tuesday — enough to override a veto from the mayor — then the issue will go to the ballot box in November. But Traini says that has ramifications.

“If it goes to the voters in November and they repeal 37, everything that’s written in there, the current code, is locked in for two years. Can’t be adjusted.”

The municipality must decide by August 18 if the repeal will be on the November ballot, which would cost the city $30,000.

The Assembly will have a work session on Friday at noon to continue the conversation. Then they’ll take public testimony and vote on the issue on Tuesday, August 5.

Categories: Alaska News

Campaign Profile: For Joe Miller, 2010 Looms Large

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 18:40

Here’s the story Joe Miller likes to tell about healthcare, that he told at his campaign launch in April: When he was in first grade, he injured his lip in a bad fall.

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“And (I) hit my face flat on the floor. And we didn’t have health care, so of course I didn’t go to the doctor,” he said.

It healed badly. He lived with the disfigurement for six years, but he saved his money to pay for surgery.

“I got a bus ticket, made an appointment, found a doctor, paid I think $200 or $300 and had them cut the scar tissue,” he said.

It’s a story of self-reliance and free enterprise, well suited to a Tea-Party candidate who rails against “Obamacare,” who says we must slash federal spending and entitlements to avoid national bankruptcy.

There’s another healthcare story he doesn’t talk about: After Miller moved to Alaska and had kids of his own, his family signed up for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. Asked repeatedly how he feels about that period in his family’s history, he turned the question into one of federal mandates. He says each state should decide whether to provide assistance.

“It’s a decision that the people of the state should make. Not one that the federal government should make,” he said. “I think it’s an upside down world when we think the ruling classes in Washington, D.C. should be making all these calls and decisions for us.”

This is as close as he would come to discussing his own experience on Medicaid: “My family’s been in situations where we have been in need, and as a consequence of it our objective is not to leave other people in need. The objective is to make sure we don’t end up hitched up to a federal government that completely tubes the entire country.”

The Medicaid episode is just one of a string of unflattering revelations that came out of the 2010 contest. His campaign website lists some of them under the label “myths.” The 2008 incident where he used his co-workers’ computers at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to skew an online political poll? The campaign says he had a “lapse in judgment” and was briefly dishonest before coming clean. The time during the last campaign that his bodyguards handcuffed a reporter? The guards weren’t paid campaign staff, Miller’s website explains, and anyway one of them turned out to be an FBI informant working for the other side.

As for the farm subsidies he accepted in the ‘90s, Miller says it was only about $100 a month. He says he’s not sure he could have refused them since they were in place when he acquired the Kansas farmland.

“I think that that provides me with a better position probably than many other people to comment on why those programs are bad,” he said. “You’ve got a government that is basically directing a farmer to grow a certain crop, or else they’re penalized. Wouldn’t it be better for the farmers to determine, based upon the market, what’s best for them to grow?”

Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary, only to lose to her in the general when she mounted a write-in campaign. He is clearly bitter toward Republicans who helped Murkowski win.

He says he was done in by the Republican establishment and a multi-million dollar smear campaign against him. Miller says his worst mistake of 2010 was letting establishment-wing Republicans work on his campaign after the primary.

“One of the biggest lessons was to keep the loyal folk around you, and to recognize that when you’re an anti-establishment reform candidate, you’re going to have enemies from all sorts of unexpected places,” he said.

Miller points out he’s the only non-millionaire in the race. He grew up in Kansas, the son of an independent church pastor and says his family got by despite limited means.

“My mom, for example — how many of you remember Toughskins, from Sears?” he asked the crowd at his campaign launch in Wasilla. “You know why as a kid you bought Toughskins? Because if you wore out the knee Sears would give you a new pair.”

He’s a West Point grad who was awarded a bronze star for commanding a tank platoon in the first Gulf War. He earned a Yale law degree and, in addition to working as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, also served as a magistrate, both state and federal. After Yale, he got a master’s degree in Economics from UAF. He and his wife Kathleen have eight children and a grandchild.

While 2010 left him with big negatives, he also emerged with a good chunk of campaign cash, more than $800,000 at the end of that year. After spending about half to wind down expenses, he transferred the remainder to the current campaign.

Another benefit that grew from his 2010 race is a cadre of loyalists. His campaign launch in Wasilla was crowded with eager supporters. Christopher Kurka, executive director of Alaska Right to Life, was there with his family. Alaska Right to Life later endorsed Miller, even though his Republican opponents say they, too, oppose abortion. Kurka says his group considered a double endorsement but concluded that Miller’s commitment was more reliable because he has never supported candidates on the other side of the issue.

“Joe’s pro-life rhetoric is rooted in the core of who he is,” Kurka says.

Anchorage Political blogger Amanda Coyne says Miller appears more confident and fluent than he did in 2010. She ticks off his assets as a candidate.

“He has command of the issues, no. 1. He’s got a clear vision, no. 2. He’s incredibly articulate and his message appeals to the Tea party base in the state,” she said, “and the Tea Party base is very devoted and very committed to their candidates.”

But Coyne says there’s not much he can do to convince Alaskans to disregard what they learned about him four years ago.

“To try to get over the 2010 negatives would demand almost a personality transplant and he’s not going to do that, he has no intention of doing that — from what I’ve seen at least — and I don’t think he can do that,” Coyne said.

Polls suggest Miller is trailing Republicans Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell. If he loses on Aug. 19, would he run as a third-party candidate? Miller won’t say.

“Because to (answer) would be making basically a vicarious promise to both of my opponents who have already demonstrated a lack of trust in that area,” he said. “They both, of course supported Murkowski in 2010, against the Republican nominee.”

As Miller sees it, Sullivan and Treadwell didn’t respect his win in that primary, so they don’t deserve his pledge to concede if he loses in this primary.

 

Categories: Alaska News

YouGov Model Shows Treadwell Within Reach of Begich

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:43

Most polls in the U.S. Senate race show Dan Sullivan ahead of rival Republican Mead Treadwell in the primary. But the Treadwell campaign is trumpeting a new analysis by the polling firm YouGov. It shows Treadwell would do better against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in November than Sullivan would. In a two-way contest, YouGov estimates Begich would lead Treadwell by 2 points, 47% to 45%. It says the gap between Begich and Sullivan is 12 points,  49% to 37%. The YouGov Battleground Tracker is sponsored by CBS and the New York Times and is based on Internet polling. Nationwide, it shows Republicans have a slight advantage to take the majority of Senate seats.  The researchers caution that Alaska is tricky to poll and there have been few recent surveys. The Alaska data is from 452 Internet respondents. Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says YouGov’s work is not based on the more reliable technique of random sampling but allows respondents to “opt-in,” or self-select. Anderson notes The Wall Street Journal reports Begich and Sullivan are evenly matched.

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Categories: Alaska News

Seismologists Uncertain if Southeast Quake Activity is Related

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:42

Several large earthquakes have hit Southeast Alaska recently. But State Seismologist Michael West with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center says it’s unclear whether the activity is related.

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Categories: Alaska News

Coalition Forms to Address Downtown Juneau Problems

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:41

Buildings beyond the Gastineau Apartments need paint and other work. The apartment building burned in November 2012. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The image of Juneau’s downtown ranges from the glamour of huge cruise ships and stores catering to tourists, to street people with nowhere to go.

An informal coalition has formed representing business and property owners, residents and social service organizations to tackle some of the issues.

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Bruce Denton has had an office in the Senate building on South Franklin Street for about 30 years. In May, he spent a lot of time outside painting, watching over downtown.

“I had no idea how bad it had become.”

Now he’s a man with a mission.

A video

Denton asked filmmaker Pat Race to produce a short video of some of the things he’d seen from his perch.

“My marching orders to Pat was that I didn’t want it to be an indictment of any one group. I just basically wanted the bad and the ugly of what was going on downtown,” Denton says.

The bad and the ugly?

“It’s everything,” he says.

The video starts at Front and Franklin streets and pans the burned-out Gastineau Apartments.

“You look up Franklin Street and think why would I want to go there?”

Pat Race calls his short video a snapshot of downtown.

“I filmed everything from like puke and poop and people passed out on the doorsteps of businesses and broken windows and busted up sidewalks. It really ran the gamut,” Race says. “It’s just a deterioration of attention.”

It even picks up the north wall of Denton’s Senate building.

“It looks horrible,” Denton says. “I thought, ‘Pat, why did you do that to me,’ and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is what we’re talking about. We all need to take ownership.’”

Race deliberately shot the footage over a short period of time.

“It’s not cherry-picked, it’s not all the greatest hits from the last month. It’s everything that just happened within a few days,” he says. “And it’s pretty pervasive.”

Race also owns a business downtown. He says he wasn’t surprised at the images he saw in his camera, but at how long he’d shut them out.

“I think the thing that surprised me was how much I had my blinders on now,” he says.  “I think once you start looking around it’s pretty appalling how many cigarette butts are on the ground, and how things haven’t been painted in quite a while and just what we let people get away with in a public space.”

Denton calls it “just a lot of obnoxious activity, a lot of people operating below polite society.”

An informal coalition

For the past month, Denton and Race have taken their concerns and the video to small groups of business and property owners, a few CBJ staff and a couple of elected officials. Even the Downtown Neighborhood Association has joined.

Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson dubs the informal coalition DIG, for Downtown Improvement Group. Earlier this month, Denton and Race met with Johnson and Lt. David Campbell. They don’t need a video to understand the issues.

“Typically, what we encounter in the downtown area is a lot of public nuisance-type complaints. Alcohol is a contributing factor to it,” he says. “A lot of people are consuming alcohol.”

Downtown Juneau consumes a lot of police presence, especially on nights and weekends.

When he steps out of his police lieutenant role, Campbell admits downtown is sometimes an unpleasant place to be.

“As a citizen and a parent, I don’t know, there’s just an uncomfortable air about it,” he says.

Campbell says Denton is on the right track. He points to a study done years ago calledBroken Windows.

“You have an area that’s got broken windows and graffiti, it gives an unconscious message that nobody cares,” he says.

And such problems grow. The reverse, of course, is well-cared for property, an inviting downtown.

“You keep places clean, you know you have the impression that somebody cares about it, is watching it. And as you’re able to get ownership and get back, it actually has a positive effect toward these low-level, quality-of-life issue crimes,” Campbell says.

Cleaning up is a start

As Denton spreads his message, he says peer pressure is the way to start cleaning up downtown.

“If your neighbor on both sides of your building cleans up their act, it kind of puts a lot of pressure on you to do the same thing,” he says.

While a general clean-up may be the best way to start addressing the issues, Denton and other members of the downtown group know it’s superficial; the tougher solutions may take years.

Those conversations are just getting underway.

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series on downtown Juneau issues. You can read the second part here: Bring your brooms and scrub brushes; downtown cleanup is Friday

Categories: Alaska News

Clearwater Lodge Owners Opt to Rebuild After Devastating Fire

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:40

The owners of Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction have decided to rebuild the historic structure that burned down in May. Fans and friends of the lodge want to help get work started with a fund-raiser next month.

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Categories: Alaska News

Inaugural Beringia Arctic Games Brings Indigenous People Together in Russia

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:39

The residents of Novoye Chaplino greeted vistors when they arrived on the beach with traditional song and dance.
(Emily Schwing KUAC)

This time of year, indigenous people across the Far North gather to play games and celebrate traditions. Earlier this month, in Fairbanks they took part in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. There was also a gathering of people from across the Circumpolar north in Inuvik, Canada. This year, native people from Arctic nations joined Russia’s Chukchi and Inuit peoples for the first ever Beringia Arctic Games. It was the largest gathering of its kind in a once forgotten corner of the world called Chukotka.

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Seven women row a long, wide boat out to the middle of a protected bay off Russia’s Bering Sea coast. A flare soars into the air and they pull with all their strength at long wooden oars. They’re in a race against seven other boats and teams.

These are skin boats, made from hand-carved driftwood and the hides of two female walrus. Valentina Attun stands at the back of one. She mans a giant wooden rudder and counts strokes in Russian to help her team keep a cadence. By the end of the race, her voice is hoarse.

“Of course we are very happy to win the race,” says Attun, “but we had a lot of training,” She says her team is very thankful for the men in her village and her uncle who helped build their boat.

This year, more than 20 athletes from seven Arctic nations including Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands joined the competition. They also took part in other games of agility, endurance and strength that test traditional hunting and survival skills.

In a school gymnasium, competition is fierce during the one arm reach. An athlete balances their entire body on one hand and reaches above their head for a tennis ball, but their legs cannot touch the floor. It’s the same movement you might make if you were gathering bird eggs from a rocky cliff.

Johnny Issaluk is from Iqaluit, on Canada’s Baffin Island. He was surprised to discover Russia’s Chukchi people play the same games as Canada’s Inuit.

“When we start competing, it’s just the same as competing at home. There’s nothing different. I am playing with my homeboys.”

Issaluk says the Russian competition is stiff because they are here to represent their villages. Andrej Kainenen agrees. He is one of 200 residents who lives here in Novoye Chaplino.

Kainenan captains a skin boat for his village. He says the event is good because it brings people together.  He says the people in Novoye Chaplino took the time to make their village presentable for guests.

The games were met with traditional drumming and dancing.  Olga Leitikai is from a small coastal village to the south. She came to sing. She also works as a liaison between the Russian government and local marine mammal hunters. As more attention is paid to natural resources in the region, she says there is dialogue on all sides.

“Of course the society of Chukotka is changing, like all over the world, it’s changing. I think the most important things is to take a balance between tradition and modern life.”

The challenge to find that balance is familiar for Sam Nystad, a native Sami from Norway’s Finnmark region. “The western world has definitely taken a big chunk in the Sami culture,” he says.  ”The thing is i was actually impressed by how they preserved their culture and how they wanted to chow it to the world through the games.”

After two days, the official games come to a close, but the residents of Novoye Chaplino aren’t ready to quit.

A group of teenage girls from Greenland sings around a bonfire as Andrej Kainenan shows the crowd a new game.  Men carry a giant rock around in a circle until their arms are exhausted.

As a midnight sun sinks below the horizon other local games last well into the night, the same way they have for generations.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 28, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 17:18

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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YouGov Model Shows Treadwell Within Reach of Begich

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

Most polls in the U.S. Senate race show Dan Sullivan ahead of rival Republican Mead Treadwell in the primary. But the Treadwell campaign is trumpeting a new analysis by the polling firm YouGov.

Campaign Profile: For Joe Miller, 2010 Looms Large

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Anchorage

The poll did not include numbers for Republican Joe Miller, who is also vying for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. The specter of his 2010 run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski looms large over his current campaign. Some of the residual effects strengthen Miller’s candidacy. But the negatives are persistent.

Seismologists Uncertain if Southeast Quake Activity is Related

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Several large earthquakes have hit Southeast Alaska recently. But State Seismologist Michael West with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center says it’s unclear whether the activity is related.

Coalition Forms to Address Downtown Juneau Problems

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The image of Juneau’s downtown ranges from the glamour of huge cruise ships and stores catering to tourists, to street people with nowhere to go.

An informal coalition has formed representing business and property owners, residents and social service organizations to tackle some of the issues.

Fecal Bacteria Contaminates Many Anchorage Waterways

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA – Anchorage

Scores of rivers, creeks, and streams flow through Anchorage. People fish in them, play in them, and swim in them.  But the city’s seemingly pristine watershed has a dirty secret:  it’s largely contaminated with fecal bacteria.

Clearwater Lodge Owners Opt to Rebuild After Devastating Fire

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The owners of Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction have decided to rebuild the historic structure that burned down in May. Fans and friends of the lodge want to help get work started with a fund-raiser next month.

Inaugural Beringia Arctic Games Brings Indigenous People Together in Russia

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

This time of year, indigenous people across the Far North gather to play games and celebrate traditions. Earlier this month, in Fairbanks they took part in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. There was also a gathering of people from across the Circumpolar north in Inuvik, Canada. This year, native people from Arctic nations joined Russia’s Chukchi and Inuit peoples for the first ever Beringia Arctic Games. It was the largest gathering of its kind in a once forgotten corner of the world called Chukotka.

Categories: Alaska News

VA, Metlakatla Tribe Reach Housing Agreement

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-07-28 12:02

Alaska Native Veterans in Metlakatla will soon be able to get a direct loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs for housing.

Ivonne Perez is a loan specialist for the V.A. She says the loans are meant to help improve Alaska Native Veterans’ lives.

“This is the very first one that we’re going to be signing in Alaska. We are hoping to have more tribal villages and housing authorities have interest and also offering this worthwhile program to their Native American Veterans,” says Perez.

Before the VA can make a loan to any Native American veteran, the individual’s tribe must first enter into an agreement with the VA and the home must be on federal trust land. If the property is not located on trust land, the veteran can use a different VA loan.

The Metlakatla agreement is the first in Alaska. There will be a signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, in Metlakatla on Monday, July 28 at 11am.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:43

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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Earthquake Rattles Southeast Alaska, Likely Damaging Communications Network

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Mother Nature rattled Northern Southeast this morning with and magnitude 5.9 earthquake and several dozen aftershocks. The quake appears to have damaged Internet and cell service to thousands of Southeast residents.

State Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Partners Can Access Death Benefits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex partners are eligible for death benefits, even though they are prohibited from marrying by the state Constitution.

Complaint Filed Against Anti-Marijuana Campaign

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

Sponsors of a marijuana regulation initiative have filed a complaint against their opposition, alleging that Big Marijuana Big Mistake has violated disclosure rules.

Comments Sought on Possible Beaufort Lease Sale

The Associated Press

A federal agency is testing the waters on a possible new lease sale in the Alaska Arctic.

Report Finds Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Response Inadequate

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

A report released today by the World Wildlife Fund in Canada finds the capacity for oil spill response in the Beaufort Sea is woefully inadequate, even as Canadian regulators consider relaxing safety standards for offshore exploration.

Officials Consider Proposed Federal Takeover of Kuskokwim Salmon Fishery

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

After a summer of long Chinook salmon closures and a weak chum run on the Kuskokwim river, middle and upper river subsistence fishermen eagerly await word about whether the federal government will take control of the fishery.

Usibelli Submits Coal Bed Methane Plan

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Usibelli Coal has submitted a plan to drill coal bed methane exploration wells on state land near Healy. The company is licensed to look for shallow gas on over 200 thousand acres of state and private land in the area, and this is the first action the company has taken.

AK: Welding

Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan

There are more than 100 people employed at Ketchikan’s Vigor Industrial Shipyard. Out of all of them, Cat Wong might have the most unusual story about how she got there. The 25-year-old is a pipe fitter and welder. She was born in the US, but grew up with her family in Singapore. When she was 21, Cat made an unusual choice, and ended up in Ketchikan.

300 Villages: Thorne Bay

Joaquin Palomino, APRN – Anchorage

This week we’re heading to Thorne Bay, on Prince of Wales Island. Rochelle Huddleston Lorton is the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Thorne Bay.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Rattles Southeast Alaska, Likely Damaging Communications Network

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:26

Mother Nature rattled Northern Southeast this morning with and magnitude 5.9 earthquake and several dozen aftershocks. The quake appeared to have damaged internet and cell service to thousands of Southeast residents.

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Alaska Power and Telephone is one of the primary internet and cell providers for Haines and Skagway and other small Southeast communities. With 3,000-4,000 of its customers without service, spokesman Mark McReady says the company presumes an major underwater fiber optic cable near Juneau was affected by the quake.

“It sounds like the majority of our Southeast Alaska customers are affected because, I believe, that particular highway was our primary link between Seattle and Alaska to the rest of the world,” McReady said. “So, at this point you basically have a lot of the carriers – long distance and data carriers – scrambling to reroute and talking to each other to determine how best to get that accomplished in the shortest time frame.”

The cable is owned by Alaska Communication Services but used by several providers, including AP&T.

ACS has not released any details of the outage or an exact cause, except to say it is working to restore service.

There was no information from AP&T or ACS about how long the outage might last.

The main quake happened just before 3 a.m. and was centered about 40 miles west of Gustavus. That’s along the Fairweather Fault, according to state seismologist Michael West of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. At 5.9, it was widely felt he said and is considered a significant quake.

“Only in Alaska would we dismiss that as maybe not that big,” West said. “We really have the magnitude scale completely devalued in Alaska – 5.9 is a very significant earthquake.”

West also explains earthquakes can generate underwater landslides that can damage or sever underwater cables. He can’t confirm that’s the exact cause of the Southeast outages, but it’s definitely plausible, he says.

“There are well-published studies on submarine landslides in this area,” West said. “You look at Southeast right there, there’s big, tall mountains and big glaciers and what are these processes doing? Well, they’re dumping massive amounts of sediment right into the ocean, right off shore. And so that whole area is known to be very prone to landslides.”

“We’re speculating here, right now, you and I, but there’s every reason to think that an earthquake of nearly magnitude 6.0 would be capable of generating modest submarine landslides.”

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Partners Can Access Death Benefits

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:25

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex partners are eligible for death benefits, even though they are prohibited from marrying by the state Constitution.

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The case was brought by Deborah Harris, whose partner Kerry Fadely was murdered in 2011. Fadely was a manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, and was shot and killed on site by a disgruntled ex-employee. When Harris applied for survivor benefits, she was denied by the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board on the grounds that the couple was not married as required by statute. Harris appealed the decision, arguing that their relationship had spanned more than a decade and that the two would have gotten married if the state allowed it.

“It’s pretty humiliating to be told as you’re grieving from the loss of the person you love most on this earth that you’re relationship was essentially worthless and your family was not the kind worth protecting,” says Lambda Legal’s Peter Renn, one of the attorneys on the case.

The Alaska Supreme Court sided with Harris on equal protection grounds. The court reasoned that because same-sex partners cannot legally get married, the denial of survivor benefits on that basis would essentially block a whole class of people from ever accessing them. Harris’ benefits claim will now be sent back to the workers’ compensation commission.

This is the second case the court has taken up this year where it has reaffirmed that the marriage ban does not extend to same-sex benefits. The court had the option of striking down the marriage ban entirely, but chose instead to rule on narrower grounds. Renn says that was expected, but that the ruling weakens the argument for the marriage ban.

“If you can’t discriminate with respect to benefits associated with marriage, then it stands to reason you really shouldn’t be able to discriminate with respect to marriage itself,” says Renn.

The Alaska ban is the currently being challenged in federal court with arguments scheduled for October.

Categories: Alaska News

Comments Sought on Possible Beaufort Lease Sale

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:24

A federal agency is testing the waters on a possible new lease sale in the Alaska Arctic.

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The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to take comments on areas in the Beaufort Sea that have the most promising oil and gas potential. The agency says it also wants to learn more about environmentally sensitive habitats and subsistence activities within the planning area.

Spokesman John Callahan says this is the first step in a long process, and no decision has been made on whether to go ahead with a lease sale.

The executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League says her group does not want to see more drilling in the Beaufort, citing the uncertainty of the arctic climate and lack of scientific information about the Arctic Ocean.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Finds Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Response Inadequate

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:23

A report released today by the World Wildlife Fund in Canada finds the capacity for oil spill response in the Beaufort Sea is woefully inadequate, even as Canadian regulators consider relaxing safety standards for offshore exploration.

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WWF ran 22 separate models looking at how different spill scenarios would impact wildlife and habitat in the Beaufort Sea, drawing on industry development proposals and environmental data. Though conducted in Canada, the research affects Alaska, as well.

“I think the report is very applicable because, again, it shows that oil spills don’t stop at a boundary,” Margaret Williams, the managing director of WWF’s Arctic program in the U.S, said.

She says the report demonstrates that subsistence users in Alaska’s coastal areas would be hurt if contaminants leaked into the Beaufort’s important marine mammal habitat.

“Almost all of the scenarios show oil moving in a Westerly direction from the Canadian Beaufort Sea into the Alaskan Beaufort Sea,” Williams said. “We share so many species, we share a common concern with the food they provide for the people living on the Beaufort Sea shore.

The report comes as Canada’s National Energy Board is about to conclude a public commenting period on August first over a proposal to ease its standards for oil spill contingencies in offshore operations. Imperial Oil Resources and Chevron of Canada are applying to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort. Canadian regulations require companies to have a backup plan for drilling an emergency relief well within one season to mitigate underwater blowouts. Chevron and Imperial are asking they be allowed to move forward in their Beaufort drilling with a contingency plan that can achieve the same outcomes, but using a different method than a relief well.

Very little in today’s WWF report is groundbreaking. The conclusions are general cautions that are well-known to anyone familiar with the Arctic: ice and light conditions will complicate cleanup efforts, important marine habitat will be hurt by a spill, and the oil is likely to travel West and North with ocean currents.

But the credibility of those conclusions is bolstered by the comprehensiveness of the modeling methods researchers used. And that, Williams says, should inform how development projects are weighed.

“It’s really important that the process—the decision-making process—is transparent, and is based on the best available science. And is based on knowledge that people living on the shores of the Beaufort Sea have,” Williams said.

A spokesperson with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association was unavailable for comment in time for broadcast on what the report means for industry in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Officials Consider Proposed Federal Takeover of Kuskokwim Salmon Fishery

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:22

After a summer of long Chinook salmon closures and a weak chum run on the Kuskokwim river, middle and upper river subsistence fishermen eagerly await word about whether the federal government will take control of the fishery.

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The Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage is preparing to present the Federal Subsistence Board with a recommendation on whether to federalize the salmon fishery, which is currently under state control.

Evelyn Thomas is the Tribal Council President in Crooked Creek, a community of about 100 people located upriver from Bethel. She says her tribal council plans to pass a resolution in support of federalization. She says the state has not listened.

“They keeping wanting to have [commercial] openings for silvers and late chum run when we haven’t even gotten enough, subsistence users don’t have fish yet, I know here in Crooked Creek, nobody has enough,” said Thomas.

Gene Peltola Junior is Assistant Regional Director for the federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage.

They’re currently responding to a growing number of resolutions from tribes and groups who want to ensure they get silver salmon. His team is in the early stages of drafting a recommendation based on current and historic data on silver salmon.

“There may not necessarily be an allocation between the federally qualified users aspect of it, that’s one part we’re determining now, we may not have a full 804 determination or analysis,” said Peltola Junior.

That refers to section 804 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, that determines how to distribute a resource that isn’t abundant enough for all subsistence users. His office went through a similar process this spring after the Napaskiak Traditional Council asked that federal managers limit Chinook harvest to Kuskokwim residents and make an allocation strategy.

Peltola was not clear about what a federal takeover could mean for the controversial commercial openings, and simply pointed to ANILCA. Both federal and state law include subsistence priorities. The state is expecting a below average coho run and an above average subsistence demand.

Any federal action would apply to just refuge waters, from the mouth to Aniak.

More and more silver salmon are showing up in the Bethel Test Fishery, and time is short on any potential action. Peltola Junior does not have a firm timeline.

“Fisheries issues are very complex, we’re not dragging our feet whatsoever, but we are taking the appropriate time to come up with a reasonable and appropriate proposal to the Federal Subsistence Board for their consideration,” said Peltola Junior.

The federal subsistence board has a work session for next week. Peltola says he doubts they’ll take up the issue at that meeting and it could take more time to issue a decision.

Categories: Alaska News

Usibelli Submits Coal Bed Methane Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-07-25 17:21

Usibelli Coal has submitted a plan to drill coal bed methane exploration wells on state land near Healy. The company is licensed to look for shallow gas on over 200 thousand acres of state and private land in the area, and this is the first action the company has taken.

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Categories: Alaska News
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