Alaska News

AK: Looking Inside

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-10-17 16:05

On AK we often travel to wild and strange places and meet the people who live there. Today’s journey is no different, except the place is inside each of us. Earlier this year Sitka had a tarot card reader in residence. The Tarot, it turns out, is mystical — but not magic. Like professional therapy, it’s really about looking into a mirror, as tarot skeptic Robert Woolsey discovers.

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My first problem with having a tarot reading is telling you about it. The Tarot is incredibly personal.

(Via Wikipedia)

“Everything you’ve said is kind of uncanny. I don’t think I can use this in a news story!” I said.

I assumed that a tarot reading would involve a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo — “you will meet a tall, dark stranger” kind of stuff. Richard Aufrichtig, who’s doing my reading, says people often have that misconception, and sometimes are a little disappointed at first to learn that a tall, dark stranger is not in the cards.

It’s something else entirely.

“I think that the world we live in is very much in need of healing and transformation, and the tarot is a very approachable tool to move people into a conscious space where they’re thinking in that way,” Aufrichtig said.

Aufrichtig is from Brooklyn. He’s been studying the Tarot for about three years. He was in Sitka for a residency in music and poetry, and offered tarot readings on the side for fun. It really caught on: Over the course of the summer in Sitka, he did readings for around 70 people in this downtown coffee shop. A skilled reader sizes up his client, and lays out some compelling options. I’m a single parent with college-age children; Aufrichtig doesn’t know this. All he sees is a guy with a microphone, and turns over three cards: The High Priestess, the Hermit, and the Emperor.

“I would say right now what I’m seeing in your life is that you’re in this space, this phase, where you’re trying to follow the light of your wisdom, and you’re being grounded by this aspect deep within yourself that’s like, ‘Let me be receptive to this, to what my wisdom is right now’… And you’re really being guided by the idea of taking the reins of your own kingdom,” Aufrichtig said.

(Via Wikipedia)

Who doesn’t want to hear this? What I most look forward to is taking the reins of my bank account, when my kids graduate. But I’m definitely feeling buoyed that the cards suggest I’m emerging from a challenging period.

Yet really the cards don’t suggest anything. I’m hearing what I want to hear, and there is enormous power in that.

“So many people in my life go to regular counseling, and it does wonders for them. And I think tarot works the same way: It’s an ongoing treatment plan for people,” Sophie Nethercut said.

Nethercut recently moved to Sitka. She fell into the study of the Tarot by accident, after being stranded in New Orleans. She has researched the Tarot extensively in Brazil, South Africa, and Vietnam. She didn’t study the cards, though. She studied the readers.

“I think every single reader I talked to acknowledged that they are a caregiver in some way,” Nethercut said. “One reader I talked a lot with in Vietnam described himself as a mental doctor.”

My tarot reading was 15 minutes, and used only three cards. Some last for over an hour, and clients ask pointed questions about important decisions in their lives.

(Via Wikipedia)

“I remember one reader in South Africa — and I’ll remember this interview for the rest of my life – she said, ‘Look, people come to me, they ask should I have a baby? Should I get divorced? Will my mom who’s had cancer for 10 years ever recover?’” Nethercut said. “And people come with incredibly challenging and deep personal questions, and for many this reader is the answer.”

Nethercut says tarot readers always work the same way, pointing toward possibilities, but not calling the shots. Asking clients to look inward, helping them understand things they might already know.

“If you ask, ‘Will my mom recover from cancer?’” Nethercut said. “There’s only one answer you want to hear.”

Back in the cafe in Sitka, Aufrichtig discloses what the skeptic in me has known all along: We all experience dark times; the benefit of tarot is as an exercise in positive thinking.

“I think I continue to study tarot because it’s the University of Yes…,” Aufrichtig said.

Aufrichtig also believes it’s important to act on the information you discover in a tarot reading, or the whole thing is reduced a feel-good parlor trick. But it’s one thing to hold up a mirror, and another to act on what you see there.

Rob – This is a lot better than You will meet a tall, dark stranger.
Richard – I tend to think so.

I will give it a shot, though, since the answer is in the cards.

Categories: Alaska News

Ebola risk low in Alaska, plan in place to stop spread

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:44

The State’s Department of Health says there is not much risk of Ebola reaching Alaska, but they do have a prevention plan in place.

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State epidemiology chief Joe McLaughlin says few people are entering the state who have been in the West African nations where the outbreak is occurring, which reduces the risk. He says certain measures are already in place to stop the spread of the disease, like a quarantine area in the Anchorage airport. He says people traveling from West Africa are screened as they leave the affected countries.

Deputy Chief Epidemiologist and infectious disease doctor Michael Cooper says health facilities, even in rural areas, already have measures in place to contain infectious diseases like Tuberculosis and measles. He says hospitals are setting up quarantine areas and the state will have rapid testing abilities for Ebola by next week.

Michael Cooper speaks at a press conference about Ebola risks. Hillman/KSKA

Cooper says health care workers are also receiving weekly trainings on how to deal with Ebola.

“So there have been beefed up efforts on the part of CDC and others to put out clear, updated and better guidance to hospitals, to nurses, and infection control preventionists about how to put on, how to take off equipment, what other things are recommended. Making sure everyone’s on the same page with the latest information and then offering more trainings.”

Cooper says the problem with Ebola is it has many vague symptoms, like a fever, body aches, and an upset stomach. The key to stopping the spread is for people who have traveled to West Africa or who might have been exposed to conduct self-monitoring and to be honest with their doctors. Alaska law already mandates that infections of this type must be reported to the Department of Health immediately. They will then work with the CDC to contact anyone who might have been exposed to the patient.

Categories: Alaska News

Settlement in Mt. Marathon Race Suit

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:43

 The Seward Chamber of Commerce has been freed from any responsibility in the death of Mt. Marathon runner Michael LeMaitre.  The Seward Chamber announced an out- of -court settlement on Wednesday, which exonerated the Chamber from any negligence in a wrongful death action filed by the widow of a man who went missing more than two years ago.

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 Michael LeMaitre disappeared while running the rugged Mt. Marathon race in 2012. His body was never found. The Seward Chamber organizes that race.   In July of last year, his widow, Peggy LeMaitre, sued the Chamber for five million dollars, claiming race officials were negligent, and claiming emotional damage to herself and to her family. The suit was scheduled to head to trial later this month, and the Chamber had filed a motion for summary judgement. The settlement avoids a jury trial.

 Cindy Clock is president of the Seward Chamber.

“Well, I’m obviously happy that this is over. We have changed a couple of things in the race. For instance, we have instigated race previews, so, what that is is practice on the trail. So that people can come down, if they are first time runners, and go with people who have experience up the race trail.”

 The Chamber’s legal counsel countered plaintiff’s allegations, saying that Michael LeMaitre had vision difficulties, making it likely that he could not see the rock that marks the midpoint of the race. Chamber attorney Laura Eakes  challenged Peggy LeMaitre’s accusations, because evidence showed that in 2009, Michael LeMaitre was involved in a dispute with his employer, and stated that his vision had so deteriorated that he could only recognize only part of a person’s face close up.  Cindy Clock says that Michael LeMaitre was not prepared for the difficult race.

“He never should have been on the mountain, he shouldn’t have been even driving. You know, and it came out that he had filed a suit for discrimination against his employer, because they wouldn’t accommodate his disability, which was extremely bad vision. Yeah,so he never should have been on the mountain, but maybe that was one reason he didn’t practice on the trail. “

She says findings that would have been presented at a trial indicated that Michael LeMaitre had never done a pre- race climb of Mt. Marathon. Race officials warn racers about pre race preparation at safety meetings.

And the court has ruled that Peggy’s LeMaitre’s claim of emotional damage has no standing in the suit.

The two sides have settled for twenty thousand dollars, after Peggy LeMaitre reduced her initial demand to forty-five thousand dollars.   Seward’s Chamber of Commerce will pay twenty thousand dollars, based on the Chamber’s  insurance company’s estimate of potential court costs. The Chamber has been exonerated of any negligence in the matter.






Categories: Alaska News

Jury Deliberates Pipeline False Statement Case

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:42

A Fairbanks jury has begun deliberations for a man charged with making false statements about the 1978 bombing of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

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If convicted, Phillip Martin Olson could face up to five years in prison.

The FBI says an agent interviewed Olson in November and January and that Olson acknowledged responsibility for the pipeline explosion on February 15th, 1978, east of Fairbanks.

The resulting small hole allowed 12,000 to 14,000 barrels of crude oil to spill before it could be sealed.

The statute of limitations had run out for charges in the bombing.

Federal prosecutors say Olson lied and said another man had assisted him in setting off the explosion, costing the FBI time and resources investigating.

Categories: Alaska News

BBEDC Releases 2013 Annual Report

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:41

Mailboxes across the Bristol Bay region have been filling up in recent days with the 36-page annual report from the community development quota organization that represents the region.

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Categories: Alaska News

Yup’ik Language Assistance Available For Early Voting In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:40

Early or absentee voting begins Monday, October 20th for those who want to cast their ballots before the General Elections on November 4th.

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Voting officials say language assistance is available at the absentee voting location at the City Clerk’s office in Bethel. There are currently two Yup’ik proficient employees at the city office who are able to assist by explaining the ballots in Yup’ik.

Another option for language assistance is for a voter to bring one person of their choice to translate the ballots and voting information for them.

Categories: Alaska News

Village Shows Teamwork Breaking Up A Frozen River For Fuel Delivery

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:39

Fuel Barge pumping fuel by Kongiginak. (Photo by Roderick Phillip)

Residents from the coastal village of Kongiginak, in Southwest Alaska, rallied against nature to clear the way for a barge, carrying a load of heating fuel and gasoline earlier this week. Freeze-up has already started along the coast.

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Forty or so community members broke the river ice by lining five boats they used as a makeshift icebreaker. It took more than 24-hours to break trail so a barge could reach the local gas station with the delivery. Kongiginak resident Roderick Phillip was a part of the effort that had residents working from Sunday evening to Monday afternoon, he says it was…

A broken outboard prop with significant damage to tabs on the lower unit. (Photo by Roderick Phillip)

“Cold and windy, it was frozen pretty good it had 3 inches of ice. We used Lund boats, the majority of boats were Lunds, and there was like ten 4-wheelers lined up in the river just to light up the river so the boats could see,” said Phillip.

Phillip says the broken ice also presented some hazards. The intrepid crew lost a few outboard propellers to the ice; dealing damage to many of the lower units.

Jerry Ivon manages the local tribal trading post, the Qemirtalek store. In late September he says they realized they wouldn’t have enough fuel to last through the winter, so they ordered more from a distributor in Anchorage. Weather delays and freeze-up looked as if they would prevent the delivery on Sunday.

“There was a north wind for a long time so the barge couldn’t make the delivery, then the river started freezing. Our elders asked for help so our corporation began by providing fuel for the small boats we used to to break the ice,” said Ivon.

Kongiginak is situated right along the coast, thirty miles from the mouth of the Kuskokwim River and is no stranger to high waves during the windy fall season.

Cold weather came early this year, and Phillip says without the vital fuel delivery, Kongiginak would have effectively shut down.

One of the icebreaker crews dozing through the pancake ice. (Photo by Elizabeth Otto)

“No gasoline would mean no hunting during springtime or even, I wouldn’t have any gas for the winter and our main source of heat is diesel fuel,” said Phillip.

With no nearby source of firewood, residents also use gas to travel to the Kuskokwim fifty miles away, or even to the Yukon for bigger logs, well over a hundred miles away to get wood for their steambaths.

The barge was able to leave safely Tuesday night thanks to the community keeping the river ice flowing. For now Kongiginak residents are focusing on getting nutrition from the Bering Sea before the surrounding sea freezes over.

Categories: Alaska News

Environmental Concerns Raised Over Navy Training In Gulf of Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:38

For several decades the United States Navy and other branches of the Military have performed a series of training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska during the spring and summer months. The Navy is required to file an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, which needs to be updated every five years. The public comment period for the latest Supplemental EIS closes next week. These exercises are conducted in some of the Alaska’s key fish habitats, so environmental concerns have been raised.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 16, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-10-16 17:18

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

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Ebola Risk Low In Alaska, Plan In Place To Stop Spread

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The State’s Department of Health says there is not much risk of Ebola reaching Alaska, but they do have a prevention plan in place.

Settlement In Mt. Marathon Race Suit

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Seward Chamber of Commerce has been freed from any responsibility in the death of Mt. Marathon runner Michael LeMaitre.

Jury Deliberates Pipeline False Statement Case

The Associated Press

A Fairbanks jury has begun deliberations for a man charged with making false statements about the 1978 bombing of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

BBEDC Releases 2013 Annual Report

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Mailboxes across the Bristol Bay region have been filling up in recent days with the 36-page annual report from the community development quota organization that represents the region.

Yup’ik Language Assistance Available For Early Voting In Bethel

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Early or absentee voting begins Monday, October 20th for those who want to cast their ballots before the General Elections on November 4th.

Village Shows Teamwork Breaking Up A Frozen River For Fuel Delivery

Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel

Residents from the coastal village of Kongiginak, in Southwest Alaska, rallied against nature to clear the way for a barge, carrying a load of heating fuel and gasoline earlier this week. Freeze-up has already started along the coast.

Environmental Concerns Raised Over Navy Training In Gulf of Alaska

Marcia Lynn, KCHU – Valdez

For several decades the United States Navy and other branches of the Military have performed a series of training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska during the spring and summer months. The Navy is required to file an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, which needs to be updated every five years. The public comment period for the latest Supplemental EIS closes next week. These exercises are conducted in some of the Alaska’s key fish habitats, so environmental concerns have been raised.

Unalaska School Board OKs Crisis Intervention Rules

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

At a special meeting this month, Unalaska’s school board approved a policy they hope they never have to use — one that tells teachers what to do if a student becomes violent or out of control. It’s part of a new state law banning what’s known as restraint and seclusion.

Teacher’s Pet: The End For An Educator

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School District recently said goodbye to one of its longest-serving and perhaps most unusual educators. And the departure leaves the district with a gap not likely to be soon filled.


Categories: Alaska News

Audit Of Alaska National Guard Launched

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:49

An investigation into fraud in the Alaska National Guard is now underway.

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The audit team is composed of three investigators from the National Guard Bureau. They arrived over the weekend, and will look into allegations of embezzlement and misuse of funds. Their findings are due in a draft report this December. An earlier report by the National Guard Bureau documented instances where money was siphoned from family programs and government equipment was used for personal gain.

The fraud investigation is part of a six-point plan recommended by the National Guard Bureau, after its investigators concluded there was a crisis of confidence in force’s leadership and that reports of sexual assault were mishandled. Gov. Sean Parnell also addressed other reform efforts on Wednesday in a message uploaded to his official Vimeo account. In addition to describing the approach his office is currently taking, Parnell addressed criticisms that he delayed responding to allegations of malfeasance.

“To have the critics say that I would know about something that’s gone on in the National Guard and not done something for four years – that is just not true. It’s not who I am, and Alaskans know it,” Parnell said in the video.

Since a report by federal investigators into the Alaska force was put forward last month, whistleblowers have come forward to express disappointment with the response from the Parnell administration. E-mails and meeting notes from chaplains in the Guard show that they alerted the Office of the Governor to problems with Guard leadership in 2010. Parnell says he or his staff followed command protocol on every allegation, and that Guard leadership told him matters were being handled appropriately.

Just an hour before Parnell released his video message, the group Alaska Women for Political Action held a press conference calling for the firing of two top National Guard leaders – Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges and Gen. Catherine Jorgensen — along with Parnell chief of staff Mike Nizich.

Categories: Alaska News

Appeals Court Halts Gay Marriages In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:48

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary halt to gay marriages in Alaska.

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The federal appeals court in San Francisco issued the stay late Wednesday afternoon. It allows the state until Friday to get a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

If that stay isn’t issued, the federal court action dissolves at 11 a.m. Friday, when gay marriages will be allowed to go forward.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess on Sunday struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriages as unconstitutional.

Gay couples began applying for marriage certificates Monday, beginning a three-day clock to when ceremonies could be held on Thursday. However some couples received waivers from judges and have already married.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Air Quality Regulation Now In Local Lawmakers’ Control

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:47

Voters in the Fairbanks North Star Borough have rejected a ballot initiative that would have continued a ban on local regulation of area clean air standards.

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A final tally of question and absentee ballots following last week’s municipal election shows the initiative has lost by 356 votes. That means the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly now has the authority to regulate home heating devices and make decisions about area clean air standards.

The local group Citizens for Clean Air campaigned heavily for Proposition 2 over the last few weeks. They painted old tires with the phrase “Tired of dirty air?” To encourage voters to vote ‘No’ on Proposition 2. Group co-sponsor and long-time air quality activist Patrice Lee says she’s pleased with the outcome.

“I’m happy I’m excited for the whole group,” Lee said. “I mean you can’t believe the fun we had rolling around tires in the dark and with no light and with headlamps on. “Tired of Dirty Air?” Well, we are, but we’re here and now we have a chance to try to make some progress at the local level and that’s a good things for the community.”

This is the third time borough voters have considered the proposition. It was first considered in 2010 and again in 2012, failing in both those years. Lee says already had a meeting planned for Tuesday evening to strategize on how to move forward regardless of the outcome.

“We have a whole community that we care about and while we’re passionate about our side of the issue, we’re also cognizant of what people are dealing with,” Lee said. “So, we want to have a strategy that moves forward that accomplishes the goal of cleaning up the air, but also makes some assurances that everyone can stay warm.”

The Proposition to keep the Borough from regulating home heating appliances, including wood stoves and boilers, is sponsored by North Pole Republican State Representative Tammie Wilson. Previous failures of the initiative gave the state authority to regulate air quality in and around North Pole and downtown Fairbanks where air quality has been identified as a problem.

2014 municipal election results will be certified next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Gubernatorial Candidates Spar Over Interior Issues

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:46

Two candidates running for Alaska Governor debated during a forum Tuesday in Fairbanks. Sean Parnell defended his administration when Bill Walker questioned what the current governor is doing about the high cost of energy in the Interior.

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“I am totally focused on reducing energy costs and fuel costs here in the Interior and across the state and when I think about ways I have worked to do that, in this gasline negotiations and agreements that have been signed, I made sure Fairbanks residents would pay the lowest costs for gas whether that’s Cook Inlet prices or North Slope prices,” Parnell said.

Candidate Bill Walker says the cost of energy is his top priority.

“Governor Parnell has had six years to bring down the cost of energy we need an immediate plan a mid-term plan and along term plan,” Walker said. “The first thing I’ll do as governor I will issue a declaration of disaster on the cost of energy in in Interior and rural Alaska.”

Walker says he believes a declaration will make a difference because it will bring greater attention to the cost of energy in the region.

The candidates also addressed the closure of the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole. Bill Walker says the Governor simply didn’t do enough to keep the refinery open.

“Well the first thing I would have done, what they should have done is the Governor should have met with them after they came to see him months before the announcement of shutting down asking for help saying ‘we’re in trouble, can you help us?’ I would have gotten back to them to be part of the solution,” Walker said.

Governor Parnell says he made an effort to keep the refinery open and he was surprised by the closure.

“I told them this is your moment to go speak with the Attorney general,” Parnell said. “Now my attorney general is Mike Geraghty, a Fairbanks boy. Do you really think he would just sit there and do nothing or do you think he went to work with it? I will admit the closing of the refinery is a huge blow. It’s something that caught me by surprise, but it is not something that I anticipated.”

The forum was hosted by the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Raises More Than Begich In Latest Quarter

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:45

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan raised more money than Democratic Sen. Mark Begich during the latest fundraising quarter.

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Sullivan raised $2.8 million for the period, which includes $264,000 reported in a July pre-primary filing. Begich reported raising $1.9 million, which includes $423,000 from the July report.

Begich and Sullivan each ended the quarter with about $1.2 million available. Sullivan reported $43,000 in debt, which the campaign said was from the primary.

The race’s outcome could help decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Late Journalist Honored By Fishermen’s Group

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:44

The United Fishermen of Alaska has inducted the late journalist Bob Tkacz into its Hall of Fame.

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Tkacz, who covered the Legislature and specialized in writing about the commercial fishing and seafood industries, died last May at age 61.

He was one of five inductees by the trade association. The others were retiring state Sen. Fred Dyson of Eagle River, Albert Ball Sr., Jim Kallander and Keith Jefferts.

The fishermen’s group says Ball, Kallander and Jefferts died this past year.

Categories: Alaska News

Bering Sea Crab Fleet Hopes For Big Haul As Season Begins

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:43

Captain Moore Dye of the F/V Western Mariner gears up for crab season this week in Dutch Harbor. (Annie Ngo/KUCB)

Wednesday marked the opening of the Bering Sea crab season. Quotas are up almost across the board. But one species that usually takes a backseat is outshining the rest – and that’s got some fishermen changing their game plans.

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Two years ago, there was no harvest for Bairdi tanner crab. Without enough legal females in the water, it wasn’t safe to fish.

When the season reopened last year, the quota was kept low. But now, Fish & Game biologist Heather Fitch says Bairdi seem to have bounced back:

“If you compare it to the whole history of this stock, it’s at one of its peak biomasses,” she says.

And that’s made for the highest quota since 1993. About 15 million pounds of Bairdis are up for harvest in the Bering Sea. That’s five times as much as last year. Fitch says new survey data shows legal-sized Bairdi spread out all across the region.

It also shows a surprising amount of red king crab — about 50 percent more of all sizes compared to the past couple of years. Fitch says it’s almost like they came out of nowhere.

“Just based on not seeing it come into the population, it does raise a lot of questions as to — where have these crab been? Why have we not been seeing them?” she says. “I would say it raises more questions than answers.”

But the harvest level for red king crab isn’t based on those numbers alone. Managers plug data from the past several years into a model — which gave them a new, increased catch limit of 10 million pounds.

This will be the first time in years that there’s less red king crab up for harvest than Bairdi — but reds are still worth more. To get the payoff, fishermen will have to rush to meet a Thanksgiving deadline in the lucrative Japanese market.

And that’s why the F/V Pacific Sun was heading straight for king crab as the season opened Wednesday. Captain Jeff Hochstein says they’ll lease their share of Bairdis to another boat, like usual. He thinks others might want to do the same.

“I don’t know how many extra boats are going to do it versus what has done it in the past, but it could be a lengthy season if they don’t split it up a bit,” Hochstein says.

That’s the plan for the seven crabbers in the Mariner fleet. Moore Dye is the captain of the F/V Western Mariner. Their strategy?

“There’s so much of the quota that we’ll have three of our boats fishing [Bairdi] on the eastern side, two boats on the western side, and then two boats are going up to do St. Matthew’s blues,” Dye says.

Blue king crab, up north near St. Matthew Island, is small potatoes compared to the rest of the Bering Sea’s species. The blue king fishery was closed in 2013. And now, the quota’s the lowest it’s ever been.

For the most part, the fleet wants to end their season like normal — with snow crab. That quota has increased, too, though it wasn’t an easy decision for managers.

Heather Fitch says Fish & Game’s standard snow crab model has been unreliable lately. So this year, they turned to surveys — and settled on a quota that’s up about 25 percent.

With so much crab up for harvest this season, Bering Sea fishermen could be working well into springtime — and hopefully, reaping the financial rewards.

Categories: Alaska News

American Seafoods Settles Over Scale Tampering

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:42

A Seattle-based seafood company accused of stealing groundfish from the Bering Sea has agreed to pay up.

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American Seafoods will pay $1.75 million to settle violations on three of its catcher-processors. The American Dynasty, the Ocean Rover, and the Northern Eagle were all accused of tampering with their scales for weighing fish at sea over a five-year period.

Crew members allegedly fixed the scales so they would weigh light — allowing them to take in up to 27 percent more fish than they were reporting. That’s a violation of the Magnuson Stevens Act and the American Fisheries Act.

American Seafoods tried to fight back against some of the charges by bringing the case to an administrative judge. Their settlement is about a million dollars less than what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration originally wanted to charge.

Besides the fine, the case also prompted a new set of rules for vessels that weigh their catch at sea.

Starting in January, factory trawlers will have to use scales that can track calibration data — and they’ll need to file digital weight reports every day. On top of that, the entire weigh-in area must be monitored on video.

NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle says that should ”reduce the possibility of scale tampering” and make it easier for regulators to pick out fraud down the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Cost, Avalanche Danger High On Juneau Access Opponents’ Concerns

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:41

A few dozen people participated in a rally the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council organized outside Centennial Hall. They were supporting ferries and opposing an extension of the Juneau’s main road. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

At a public hearing Tuesday night in Juneau, locals spoke out nearly 4-1 against transportation officials’ effort to extend the capital city’s main road 48 miles farther north.

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More than 50 people testified on the latest version of a federally required environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access Improvements Project.

Mendenhall Valley resident Brandee Gerke summed up many of the opponents’ key concerns about the road-building option that transportation officials have favored for years.

“Perceived convenience is being prioritized over cost and safety,” she said.

Highway construction along the east side of Lynn Canal is estimated to cost $523 million. The new road would end at the Katzehin River where a new ferry terminal would make short connections to Haines, Skagway and the road system. The new terminal and ferries are estimated at another $51 million.

According to the EIS, the plan would also drive up the state Transportation Department’s operations and maintenance costs by about 30 percent compared to the status quo.

On safety, the document projects about 22 crashes per year on the new road and about one traffic death every six years, based on statewide data from similar roads.

But the safety concern folks repeatedly cited was avalanches. The proposed road crosses 41 avalanche paths.

“The fear of the road would probably eliminate a lot of people’s actual access out of as well as to Juneau,” said Larri Spengler, who lives on the avalanche prone Thane Road.

“Do we want our children on their school buses driving up that road to a ferry terminal? I’d much rather put them on the ferry in Auke Bay.”

The high risk would be driven down through engineering, explosive avalanche control and simply closing the road when avalanche risk is highest – forecast at about 12 days a year. Motorists would still face moderate avalanche risk, though; more than on Thane Road, but less than on Seward Highway, according to an avalanche risk index in the EIS.

Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford, speaking for himself, ticked off what the upside would be.

“To be able to transport 10 times the number of vehicles, provide 5 to 7 times the number of ferry trips per week, cut travel time in half or more, and cut traveler cost up to 75 percent,” Sanford said.

And he added, 3 to 5 years of construction jobs.

Wayne Jensen said it’s incumbent on Juneau as a capital city to support the road and improve access for other Alaskans. Enhancing Juneau as a capital city is the mission of the nonprofit Alaska Committee that he chairs.

Another common thread in opponents’ testimony was skepticism toward cost estimates and traffic projections in the 694-page EIS. A few people even made outright accusations that officials cooked the books.

That wasn’t exactly what project manager Gary Hogins said he’d be listening for.

“Federal Highways and the department will respond to all comments, but the comments that are most helpful to us is constructive—did we make a mistake? Is there a gap in our information? You know, that sort of thing,” Hogins said before the hearing.

Tim Haugh is the environmental program manager for the Alaska division of the Federal Highway Administration. His agency would pay for much of the capital cost of the project and has the final say in which option is greenlit. He said the selection is based on “a balanced analysis of the transportation need with the environmental impacts, be they social, economic or natural.”

He said building the road best serves the overall public interest while improving transportation. At this stage,  he said politics aren’t a factor.

The public comments will become part of the Federal Highway Administration’s record and may lead to revisions in the final version of the EIS, expected next fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Great Alaska Shakeout Preps Alaskans For Future Quakes

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-10-15 17:40

This year was the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake. And, earlier this summer, a magnitude 6.2 quake shook Southcentral Alaska.

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This state has earthquakes on its mind. That’s why thousands of its residents have already signed up to participate in the largest earthquake drill in the world.

“On October 16th at 10:16, Alaska will be doing the Great Alaska Shakeout, but there’s many other states and nations around the world that will be doing a shakeout drill on the same day at the same time,” says Jeremy Zidek, who works with the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

He says to date, more than 20 million people are signed up to participate worldwide.

That includes more than 76,000 Alaskans. Of that number, 49,000 are from southcentral Alaska, including more than 10,000 from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

“Alaska is the most active seismic region in the United States,” says Zidek. “We also have had the largest earthquake in North American history and three of the six largest earthquakes recorded in the world. So, it really is important that we prepare for earthquakes here.”

Participants of the Great Alaska Shakeout will simulate being in an earthquake and taking the necessary steps to protect themselves.

“Basically what we want people to do is drop to the ground before the shaking drops them, find some type of cover to protect themselves, and then hold on,” says Zidek.

He says his office found that groups that had regularly participated in earthquake drills were the quickest to act when the real quake struck earlier this year.

“Earthquakes are no-notice events,” says Zidek. “So, they’re going to strike and unless people actively practice what they’re going to do when that earthquake hits, there may be confusion, they don’t know what to do, they don’t remember drop, cover and hold and they try to run out or they expose themselves to other falling objects. So, we really want people to practice the drop, cover and hold, so when the shaking begins, and there’s a little bit of panic, they’ll know what to do.”

Many schools and medical facilities on the peninsula will participate in this year’s Shakeout.

For more information or to sign up, visit

Categories: Alaska News

Judge Allows Gay Marriages To Continue In Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-10-14 18:00

A federal court judge has denied a request from the state of Alaska to put gay marriages on hold until an appeal is heard.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess denied the state’s request for a stay on Tuesday, two days after he struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

The state intends to appeal that decision to the 9th Circuit Court. The state could also ask that court to delay gay marriages from going forward but the court has allowed marriages to continue in other states within its jurisdiction.

A message left with the state attorney’s office after hours Tuesday wasn’t immediately returned.

Gay couples began applying for marriage licenses on Monday, triggering a three-day wait period. But in at last two cases, couples were granted waivers of the rule and were married in Barrow.

Categories: Alaska News