Alaska News

Inuit Circumpolar Council Discussing Food Security

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:42

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is holding a meeting in Nome next week. The topic is food security, and the goal is to create a framework to understand the issue from an Inuit perspective.

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Carolina Behe is the ICC Alaska Traditional Knowledge and Science Advisor and is organizing the event.

“Overall, it’s to teach how to take a food security lens to the entire environment,” Behe said. “Food security is synonymous with environmental health.”

Communities and organizations across the Bering Strait Region elected traditional knowledge experts to serve as representatives at the session. Behe says the meeting evolved after the ICC identified food security as a top priority for Alaska Natives but did not have a community understanding of that term.

“And so we started doing the research, and we found that there’s over 800 definitions to food security,” Behe said. “Only one of those that I have found so far is from an indigenous community and none of them are from the Arctic.”

These alternative definitions, Behe says, are based on purchasing power—how much money an individual has to buy food—and the nutritional and caloric value of that food.

Those things are really very, very important, but within the Inupiat and Yupik culture, food means a lot more than how many calories you’re getting,” Behe said. “It includes spirituality; it includes the clothes that you’re getting; it includes transfer of knowledge; it includes language; it includes you’re relationship within the environment or how you’re taught to be within that environment.”

“So all of these things have to be considered if you’re to consider food security.”

Two previous meetings were held in Barrow and Kotzebue and another meeting is scheduled for Bethel later this year. The collected information will be peer reviewed by a traditional knowledge advisory committee and then dispersed to tribal councils, industries, agencies, and the Arctic Council.

Behe says ConocoPhillips has already expressed interest in the project, and Inuit communities want to share the information with developers.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta Western Workers Approve Union Membership

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:41

After two months of protests, Delta Western fuel workers in Unalaska have voted to unionize. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific got the support of a slim majority in an election on Thursday night.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Alaska Innocence Project Challenging 1987 Murder Conviction

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:40

Evidence used to get a conviction for a 1987 Fairbanks murder trial is in question. The Alaska Innocence Project is pursuing post conviction relief for Michael Alexander, who was imprisoned for the March 23, 1987 kidnapping and killing of Fairbanks teenager Kathy Stockholm. The Innocence Project request challenges biological evidence that helped convict Alexander, and the group’s Director Bill Oberly says the FBI has concurred it could be suspect.

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Categories: Alaska News

Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:39

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

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The BLM Alaska Fire Service will work with U.S. Army Garrison Alaska through early June to conduct routine prescribed burns over nearly 60-thousand acres.

Mel Slater is the Public Affairs officer for the Fire Service. He says the plan is to reduce fire danger as summer weather heats up.

Smoke from the Stuart Creek 2 Fire. Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“Well, these are areas over the years that have had debris, fallen trees and over the years, those things have built up,” Slater said.

The BLM and the Army have worked together in years past to conduct prescribed burns to prevent fires that could be associated with military training. Slater says the two agencies are reevaluating their practices prior to the upcoming fire season and in response to the nearly 90,000-acre Stuart Creek 2 Fire that was ignited during an Army training mission northeast of Fairbanks last summer.

“There are agreements in place between the army and BLM Alaska Fire Service that says who provides what kind of services and those negotiations are just taking a look at those agreements and making modifications when they’re necessary,” Slater said.

Forecasters expect the fire season to come on strong in parts of Alaska’s South-Central and Western regions due to low snow pack and above normal early spring temperatures.  Parts of the Tanana Valley prone to warm winds, also known as Chinooks, may also see heightened fire danger in May, but Slater says fire prediction is complicated.

“Trying to predetermine what kind of fire season we’re going to have is a pretty difficult guess at best. Right now it’ kind of hard to say, I mean we still have snow on the ground, so we’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to do our prescribed fires right now,” Slater said.

Prescribed burns are planned for the Donnelly Training area, Yukon Training Area, Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, but recent snowfall has pushed back the burning.

Slater says it was supposed to start this week, but the Fire Service and the Army are reworking that schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

HAARP Research Facility To Shut Down

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:38

It’s been both praised and maligned. Praised by scientists as a tool to gain knowledge about Earth’s ionosphere; maligned as a secret means to develop an ultimate weapon. The HAARP resembles a giant radio antennae. It’s 180  towers are 78 feet tall and  have been beaming radio waves into the atmosphere since 1997. The facility covers about thirty acres of Department of Defense land just off the Tok Cutoff, not far from Gakona Junction. The news of its imminent shut-down has alarmed the scientific community. Bob McCoy directs the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

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“We’re up here in the subarctic, and we can see how the sun connects to the Earth along the magnetic lines at high latitudes. It would be a shame if this facility went away. “

McCoy says there are only three facilites like it in the world.

“One in Norway and one in Russia. But HAARP is much more flexible. It’s got a wider frequency range, it can go something like less than three up to ten megahertz, and has quite a bit more power.”

HAARP and UAF research projects have been linked for years. And major universities throughout the US remotely access the HAARP facility and it’s information – Cornell and Rice among them. That’s why recent news that the Department of Defense plans to abandon HAARP galvanized McCoy and fellow scientists to make their case to save HAARP to the secretary of defense earlier this year.

“So a lot of us realize how important it is, how powerful, how significant the facility is. So we’re trying to figure out ways to keep it alive as an active scientific tool. Last March the National Academy did a workshop and invited in forty- something scientists to testify about the value of the science that has been done and could be done in the future from HAARP.”

 It is a question of money. In these federal budget – cutting times, the roughly four million dollars a year needed to maintain the facility is getting scrutinized.

HAARP is owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory, but was until recently operated by an Anchorage contractor, Marsh Creek.

Steve Floyd is the principal systems engineer for Marsh Creek. He says HAARP’s money woes started with last year’s sequestration cuts.

“Our contract through Marsh Creek to run the facility, came to an end in the middle of June of 2013. And I guess it’s the sequestration cuts that really squeezed the budget and the Air Force Research Lab decided to save some money and take it dark for a while. “

 

He says the cost cutting measures are ill-advised, because the research done there is valuable.  Floyd says the ionosphere has a strong impact on satellite communications, but not enough is known about how that works.

 

“So we’ re transmitting out with a focused beam, doing a very, very, very minute but detectable stimulation of the plasma of the ionosphere with these what are really very standard short wave radio transmissions, but it is just enough to do a cause and effect study of the ionosphere.”

 

Floyd says the research conducted in Gakona has far reaching implications for both military and commercial communications systems.

“HAARP is in Alaska because we wanted to be underneath a region of concentrated ionosphere called the auroral oval. And we all have marvelled at the Northern Lights, and what that is doing is painting out this hollow ring of concentrated ionosphere, that’s caused by the Earth’s magnetic field. And we wanted to be underneath that auroral oval a good percentage of the time. “

He says there’s no better site than Gakona for the research facility. Bob McCoy agrees.  McCoy and his fellow researchers argue there’s a lot more science to be done in Gakona. McCoy says there’s a possibility that the defense department could find an entity willing to share the costs of HAARP’s upkeep.

 The Air Force is paying for HAARP ionospheric research now going on through this month and in May of this year.  During that time, HAARP will be inventoried to determine if some of its equipment can be used to support other scientific activities elsewhere.    Meredith Mingledorff, a public information officer with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirkland AFB in New Mexico, says in an email,

“The Air Force favors the transition of the HAARP facility to a basic research organization.”

But that depends on funding.  If no other organization can be found to pay expenses,

 ”The Air Force plans to decommission the research site…and initiate divestiture in June 2014.”

 The cost of the deconstruction has not been established yet.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Puppet Town

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:37

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

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We aren’t talking about Muppets. Those fuzzy, funny and googly-eyed characters are not the same as puppets. Not in Haines, Alaska.

Here, there are at least three puppet troupes, dozens of self-taught puppeteers and puppet makers and one artist who has traveled to Europe to explore the history of puppetry, Byrne Power.

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

“What I saw was a puppet troupe who was doing a show – it looked like stuff from their backyards, stuff you’d find at the Salvation Army, rusting metal, old toys – and I said ‘We could do that,’” Power said, at the Sheldon Museum in Haines where he helped curate the puppet exhibit Strung Up and Reconfigured.

Power is sort of the father of puppetry in Haines. Almost 10 years ago he gathered a group of artists and formed a puppet troupe. Here’s artist Debi Knight-Kennedy explaining how she fell into the puppet scene.

“Byrne came up to me one day before I knew him very well and he said ‘So, you’re a doll maker.’ And I said, ‘No, I make figurative sculpture.’ And he said ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. So you can make your dolls talk. I’m starting a puppet troupe.’ And that was it. It was all over for me,” Knight-Kennedy said.

After a few years, Power stayed with traditional puppetry, while some in the group wandered in a different direction. Now the group is called Geppetto’s Junkyard and consists of more than a dozen people including a plumber, a yogi, a boat builder, retired teacher, jujitsu instructor and others.

This winter, they created a show called “Space Lust.” It was described on posters as a cross between steam punk, space cowboy and puppet space opera. It was wild scene of live music, special effects, acting and of course, puppets.

The puppets are all hand-made and usually assembled from found objects, like bicycle parts, kitchen gadgets, vacuum hoses and carved wood.

Knight-Kennedy’s husband, Gene Kennedy is also in the troupe. He’s a handyman and plumber, but is drawn to creating puppets, like the carved wooden horse he made, with multiple moving parts.

(Photo by John S. Hagen)

“It’s all wooden cut out plywood,” Kennedy said. “Basically there are four parts to the body and two levers that work in tandem. And the head swings on its own and it’s counterweighted with lead weights so it always comes back to the same place.”

Geppetto’s Junkyard has their fans. They pack in the sporadic shows. But no one – especially the puppeteers and actors, pretend they are traditionalists. Power is more so. Back at the museum he says he doesn’t think anyone in Haines is true to traditional puppetry.

“There are some puppet styles for instance that take real skill to manipulate. It’s not as simple as you stick your hand up and wiggle it around,” Power said. “You learn very definite things about how to move your hand and it takes months and months of training, years, to be good.”

Of the more than 100 puppets in the exhibit, about two-thirds were made locally. There was even one that might be local from several generations ago. It’s a bone, shell and sinew Tlingit puppet on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Puppets, Power said, cross all cultures.

In Haines this winter, puppets were everywhere. Besides the museum exhibit and Geppetto’s Junkyard show, Power also put on a show. Students at the Haines School created their own puppets. There was even a visit from Carlton Smith of Juneau who performs Tlinigt ventriloquism with his puppet, Charlie.

Power says he’s drawn to puppets because they still surprise people. He says when he goes on the road with a show, he’s not pigeon-holed because puppets are still edgy and intriguing enough to cross all ages and interests.

“Because if you have a music group, you say to someone, ‘Oh what kind of music do you have?’ and they say whatever style of music it is and you say ‘Oh, then you play here.’ But if you have a puppet troupe, the first question is ‘Is it for children?’ and I say, ‘Well, not really.’ And they look kind of blank and say ‘OK’ and you can play for anybody.”

And maybe that’s why puppets and Haines go together. For puppeteers like Melina Shields with Geppetos Junkyard, it makes perfect sense.

“I think that there’s just something inherently creative that happens by taking these found objects and letting the puppets be born into whoever they are,” Shields said. “And it’s just magic.”

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Kasaan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:36

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:00

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

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Sullivan Maintains Fundraising Momentum

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Republican senate candidate Dan Sullivan has kept up his fundraising momentum. Sullivan’s campaign reports he raised $1.3 million in the first quarter of the year. That’s a bit more than Sullivan, the former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, raised during the prior quarter.  Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich also reports raising more than a million dollars during the first quarter.  Other challengers in the race haven’t yet announced their totals, which aren’t due until next week.

Little Progress Made In Dealing With Looming Retirement Problem

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The legislature has made little progress on Governor Sean Parnell’s goal of addressing the state’s looming retirement problem. Parnell hopes to change that by filing a bill that reintroduces his plan to deal with Alaska’s $12 billion unfunded liability.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Discussing Food Security

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is holding a meeting in Nome next week. The topic is food security, and the goal is to create a framework to understand the issue from an Inuit perspective.

Delta Western Workers Approve Union Membership

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After two months of protests, Delta Western fuel workers in Unalaska have voted to unionize. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific got the support of a slim majority in an election on Thursday night.

The Alaska Innocence Project Challenging 1987 Murder Conviction

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Evidence used to get a conviction for a 1987 Fairbanks murder trial is in question.  The Alaska Innocence Project is pursuing post conviction relief for Michael Alexander, who was imprisoned for the March 23, 1987 kidnapping and killing of Fairbanks teenager Kathy Stockholm. The Innocence Project request challenges biological evidence that helped convict Alexander, and the group’s Director Bill Oberly says the FBI has concurred it could be suspect.

Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

HAARP Research Facility To Shut Down

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Gakona’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, better known as HAARP, is slated for the junk pile.  But a group of University of Alaska researchers are trying to stave off a Department of Defense move to scuttle the often-misunderstood scientific facility.

AK: Puppet Town

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

300 Villages: Kasaan

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Vote On Abortion Bill Delayed After Divisive Amendment Process

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 21:15

The Alaska State House opened debate on a bill putting limits on state Medicaid payments for abortions on Thursday, only to shelve it and delay a final vote to Sunday.

The bill requires abortion providers to sign a statement that a procedure is “medically necessary,” and it defines that term to include only physical conditions – not mental ones. Advocates of the bill believe the state is paying for elective abortions under the current law, while critics argue that the bill restricts abortion access for poor women.

The version that the Senate passed last year also included a provision establishing a women’s health program, which made the bill more palatable to moderate Republicans. That program would have allowed low-income single women to access birth control and family planning services, with those services largely paid for by the federal government.
A House committee stripped that language in March with support from an influential conservative advocacy group, but the issue of family planning became a major focus of debate during the amendment process.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the Anchorage Republican carrying the bill, signed on to an amendment signaling the Legislature’s intent “to continue” funding women’s health services in the state. The amendment, which passed 35-5, does not commit the Legislature to expanding services in any way. A handful of Democrats opposed the measure because they did not believe it to be substantive, and they instead tried to reintroduce the original family planning language that would have compelled the state to establish a new program immediately.

LeDoux spoke against the Democrats’ amendment, arguing that the state already provides women’s health services through public health clinics.

“Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean we’ve done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services.” LeDoux said on the floor.

The Democrats’ amendment failed on a 22-18 vote, with four Republicans – Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Alan Austerman of Kodiak, and Paul Seaton of Homer — breaking ranks with their party.

Sen. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat who offered the original family planning language last year, thinks the amendment to simply continue funding women’s health services is not a compromise measure, but a fig leaf.

“It means nothing,” said Gardner in an interview. “It’s just like a little ‘P.S.’ but without the force of law.”

While the family planning amendments prompted the most discussion on the floor, the amendments that showed the greatest strife on the bill dealt with the lack of mental health exception.

One amendment added that exception back in, which would have allowed women receiving medication for psychiatric disorders to qualify for abortion coverage because of the pregnancy risk that creates. That failed 21-19, with Mike Hawker of Anchorage joining the bloc of Republicans seeking to alter the bill. The other amendment would have allowed for a mental health exception only in cases where suicide is likely. That failed 20-20, picking up support from Republicans Charisse Millett of Anchorage and Eric Feige of Chickaloon.

Once the amendment process wrapped up, the bill pulled from consideration and tabled until Sunday. House Speaker Mike Chenault acknowledged that the outcome would be close.

“You can see it’s kind of a divided issue,” said Chenault after the floor session. “It always is, it always has been.”

Chenault added that final consideration was not being delayed because of any uncertainty over the bill’s ability to pass. The bill was moved so that legislators with scheduled absences could be present for a vote.

Last year, the Department of Health and Social Services introduced regulations that are nearly identical to the bill language, but include the mental health exception. Those regulations are now the subject of a lawsuit, and a judge has put a stay on them until the courts determine if they comply with the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution.

If the bill passes, it will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature, and then, most likely, to the courts.

Categories: Alaska News

Geraghty Testifies On Tribal Law And Order Commission Report Findings

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:33

State Attorney General Michael Geraghty testified before a legislative committee this week to respond to a national report that singles out Alaska for its high rates of violence against Alaska Natives, especially Native women. The Indian Law and Order Commission report was deeply critical of Alaska’s law enforcement and judicial system. But the state’s Geraghty says the Indian Law and Order Commission is trying to impose lower 48 solutions that won’t work in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Army Sets New Protocols During Fire Season

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:32

The Army has a new protocol for live ordnance training during times of high wildfire danger. Army artillery practice sparked the Stewart Creek 2 wildfire that burned east of Fairbanks though much of last summer. The 87,000 acre blaze forced evacuations and cost more than $20 million to fight.

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Categories: Alaska News

Exit Exam Bill Could Bring Diplomas To More Students

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:31

Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they don’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the state Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

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The high school is especially quiet. Red signs are posted on the outside of the library doors and several classrooms.

High School Principal, Rick Dormer, says large groups of 10th graders are getting tested in the classrooms and smaller groups are in the library. The signs help others know to stay out because a quiet environment is important.

“You can see we have big red signs, ‘Testing, Do not Disturb’,” Dormer says, “We’re in the middle of it here today and kids are in a room and it’s three hours and it’s make it or break it. And we’ve had kids really crying before the test, crying after the test. It’s high stress, it’s high-stakes.”

There’s a lot riding on this test and students feel the pressure. If they don’t pass it, they don’t graduate with a diploma.

“And they must pass in three areas, reading, writing and mathematics. And they must pass it with a certain score that’s set by the state to earn their diploma,” Dormer says. “So despite anything that a student may or may not do, if they complete all graduation requirements, which has happened here in Petersburg, and do not pass this particular exam in the State of Alaska, we cannot give them a diploma in Petersburg High School. Rather, they get what we call a certificate of completion that is not equivalent.”

The certificate does not hold the same weight as a diploma. Students who want to further their education after high school can’t qualify for financial aid.

Sonya Stein is the Director of the Student Financial Assistance Office at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“The federal department of education requires that a student has a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to be federal financial aid eligible,” says Stein.

An equivalent would be the GED or the General Education Development, which would require students to pass another test.

The exit exam has been required in Alaska for a decade. It was established through state law before the No Child Left Behind Law prompted other standardized tests.

There’s no middle ground with the exit exam.  . .either you pass it or you don’t.

Principal Rick Dormer says it can be heart breaking.

“I can tell you we’ve had two students who have not passed the test by one point, one section by one point,” Dormer says.

In both cases, the school paid some extra money to appeal the results to the state’s education department but it didn’t work.

“We don’t believe that’s the best assessment of a kid’s knowledge of what they know,” Dormer says. “Really any testing is there just as a measure to see what they know and then you build on it and so we don’t agree that high stakes testing is the best measure of what a kids knowledge is and whether or not they deserve a diploma. I think it’s a much more complicated than a one shot test.”

House Bill 220 would work retroactively, so past students who received a certificate instead of a diploma because they didn’t pass the test would be able to get a diploma. They’d just have to request it.

So far the bill hasn’t seen much opposition. It passed the House with a vote of 32 to 5. The Parnell administration and the Education Department support getting rid of the test as well.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Pete Higgins, a Republican from Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Assembly Passes Anti-Smoking Law

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:29

The Sitka Assembly passed a controversial amendment Tuesday night, tightening the city’s anti-smoking laws. The question before the assembly was whether children should be prohibited from entering any business that allows smoking — even for a non-smoking event. The decision came down to different interpretations of what voters intended nearly a decade ago.

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It was the fourth time the Assembly had discussed the amendment, which pitted anti-smoking advocates against those who felt, in the words of one member of the public, “You’re going a little too far…You’re micromanaging things that a parent should do. So let’s do city things, and let parents do parent things.”

In 2005, Sitka voters passed a law that barred children from entering businesses that allow smoking. This past December, the American Legion, a private club that allows smoking, hosted a Christmas party for kids – but didn’t allow smoking at the event. The Legion asked the city attorney whether the party was legal. She said it was.

In response, Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett sponsored an amendment to clarify the intent of the 2005 law. The new language makes it clear that if a business allows smoking, then kids can’t enter, even for a smoke-free event.

That prompted protests from the Legion, and the Assembly sent the issue to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission. The commission voted unanimously in favor of the amendment. They cited, in particular, the possible health hazards of third-hand smoke, or the chemicals that can remain in walls and furniture after a room has been used for smoking.

But both McConnell and Hackett argued that all of these issues – third-hand smoke, public health, assembly overreach and even Christmas parties – were beside the point. Voters already settled these issues when they passed the law in 2005, Hackett said. The assembly’s job was simply to honor the voters’ original intent.

“The issue here, which I know some people are having a hard time understanding or choosing to believe, but the issue here is about intent, and it’s about the intent of the ordinance that was passed,” Hackett said. “And it was passed overwhelmingly by the voters.”

Assembly Members Mike Reif and Matt Hunter, however, insisted it wasn’t so easy to tell what voters intended nearly a decade ago. Reif pointed out that third-hand smoke, for instance, wasn’t even part of the debate in 2005.

“I personally really don’t know the intent of the voters in Sitka back in 2005,” Reif said. “It’s very cloudy trying to speculate what the intent was of all those voters.”

All the same, Reif said he felt he had a clearer sense of the voters’ will now.

“I do think that if we put this to the vote of Sitkan voters today, that they would pass this, they would want to see this banned,” Reif said. “I’ll support it because that’s what I think the majority of Sitkans want.”

Hunter, meanwhile, spoke at length about how his thinking on the issue had changed.

“I’ve publicly gone back and forth on this issue and I’m still conflicted on it,” Hunter said, adding that he had consulted the original 2005 ballot. “The language as it’s written, the whole reason for doing this amendment to change the language, is because the language is unclear. And to me it means that, what people voted on, it’s very easy for people to interpret it in many ways.”

He said he thought the issue should be put to a vote once again.

“I am going to not support this ordinance because I feel that this is an issue that really needs to go to the people to decide,” he said. “And while I have no intention of exposing myself or those I love to first-, second- or third-hand smoke, I also am very sensitive to the personal responsibility issue.”

In the end, Hunter was the only vote against the amendment. Assembly Member Pete Esquiro had agreed with Hunter during earlier meetings, but he voted yes, without offering any other comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Will Help Fund New Mental Health Drop In Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:28

The City of Fairbanks will help fund a new mental health drop in center. Earlier this week, the city council approved $58,000 for the Northern Door Clubhouse.

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Categories: Alaska News

Retired Detective Discusses ‘Finding Bethany’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:27

Retired Anchorage Detective Glen Klinkhart has written a true crime memoir called Finding Bethany. The story reveals the years of work it took Klinkhart and others within APD to find the killer of Bethany Correira, a young woman from Talkeetna who had moved to Anchorage for college and in 2003 was murdered by Michael Lawson, the man who managed the apartment building where she lived. Klinkhart says he also wanted to tell the stories of the dedicated people who helped solve the case in big and small ways.

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April 14th, Monday, at Little Italy Restaurant, 2300 East 88th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 5pm to 9pm

April 25th, Friday at Blue-Hollomon Art Gallery, 3555 Arctic Blvd., Anchorage, Alaska, 5pm to 9pm

April 26th, Saturday at the Anchorage Senior Center Activity Center, Giant Book Sale, 1300 East 19th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 11am to 4pm

Saturday May 3rd, Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Anchorage,  noon to 4pm

May 31st, Saturday, at Arctic Rose Gallery and Art Center, 423 West 5th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 3pm to 6pm

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 10, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 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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House Debates Limiting Medicaid Funding For Abortions

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Debate is underway in the Alaska State House on a bill that would put limits on state Medicaid payments for abortions.

Sponsor Wants Vote On Judicial Council Issue

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The sponsor of a constitutional amendment to reconfigure the Judicial Council says he wants a vote on the bill, even if the outcome is not guaranteed to be favorable.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has been trying to shore up support for Senate Joint Resolution 21 since Monday, when the measure was initially scheduled to appear on the Senate floor.

Geraghty Testifies On Tribal Law And Order Commission Report Findings

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

State Attorney General Michael Geraghty again testified before a legislative committee this week to respond to a national report that singles out Alaska for its high rates of violence against Alaska Natives, especially Native women. The Indian Law and Order Commission report was deeply critical of Alaska’s law enforcement and judicial system. But the state’s Geraghty says the Indian Law and Order Commission is trying to impose lower 48 solutions that won’t work in Alaska.

Army Sets New Protocols During Fire Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Army has a new protocol for live ordnance training during times of high wildfire danger. Army artillery practice sparked the Stewart Creek 2 wildfire that burned east of Fairbanks though much of last summer. The 87,000 acre blaze forced evacuations and cost more than $20 million to fight.

Exit Exam Bill Could Bring Diplomas To More Students

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they don’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the state Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Assembly Passes Anti-Smoking Law

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka Assembly passed a controversial amendment Tuesday night, tightening the city’s anti-smoking laws. The question before the assembly was whether children should be prohibited from entering any business that allows smoking — even for a non-smoking event. The decision came down to different interpretations of what voters intended nearly a decade ago.

Fairbanks Will Help Fund New Mental Health Drop In Center

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The City of Fairbanks will help fund a new mental health drop in center.  Earlier this week, the city council approved $58,000 for the Northern Door Clubhouse.

Retired Detective Discusses ‘Finding Bethany’

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Retired Anchorage Detective Glen Klinkhart has written a true crime memoir called Finding Bethany. The story reveals the years of work it took Klinkhart and others within APD to find the killer of Bethany Correira, a young woman from Talkeetna who had moved to Anchorage for college and in 2003 was murdered by Michael Lawson, the man who managed the apartment building where she lived. Klinkhart says he also wanted to tell the stories of the dedicated people who helped solve the case in big and small ways.

Categories: Alaska News

FEMA Head Meets With Mat Su Officials

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 11:47

A year and a half ago, a series of severe windstorms hammered Southcentral Alaska. The first toppled hundreds of trees in Anchorage, but a later storm combined with torrential rains to swell rivers and creeks in the Matanuska Valley.

 Well over one hundred Valley homes were damaged and several  were declared a total loss. The Borough  received an emergency declaration in the wake of the storm, and FEMA representatives soon arrived on scene to assist those who filed damage claims. But there have been glitches. In a meeting with FEMA adminstrator Craig Fugate, Mat Su Borough manager John Moosey said the Boro is still facing challenges due to the spread of the damage. During the storm, pockets of flooding affected the Borough from Talkeetna to Palmer

“..and it was unusual, because usually you have flooding in a smaller area. The Borough is the size of West Virginia, and it occurred in a large portion.”

 ”We are going to be hurting if we don’t correct the glitches going forward”,  Moosey told a group of Borough and FEMA officails.

 Casey Cook, the Borough’s emergency response manager, outlined some problems with 2012 flood response paperwork and building plans.  Cook said it was not possible to meet a FEMA three year deadline, due to Alaska’s extremely short building season. To which Fugate responded:

 ”So I’m wondering if this is something we’re driving on our end, or is this something internal. Because, I’ve got projects that go far past three years.” 

Fugate said FEMA allows extensions in paperwork and reporting all the time.

 Fugate told them thatthe Sandy Recovery and Improvement Act of last year made changes to the Stafford Act.  The Stafford act is the 1988 legislation that provides the legal authority for the federal government to provide assistance to states during major disasters.  Fugate said the changes  to the law   simplify the  repayment and reimbursement  process. Prior to the changes, FEMA could only reimburse actual costs, not cost estimates.

“Congress gave us new authorities under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. Where instead of now having to do everything [based on] actual cost, give me an estimate on the project. We agree that this will be for projects over a million dollars. If we agree to that, we write the project worksheet, obligate the funding at the front end, and we are done.”

 Fugate said, now if repairs cost less than estimated, the saved dollars can be used for disaster mitigation, rather than returned to FEMA.

Cook told Fugate that, during the flood emergency, the Borough spent 100 thousand dollars on emergency responders’ pay, but did not get reimbursed under the FEMA rules. FEMA does not reimburse normal working hours for Borough staff, but does reimburse overtime hours for emergency work, Fugate explained.

One big problem the Borough faces is the available flood plain mapping data.  It is not up to standard with the Lower 48,   Moosey said.

“We are behind on that, and so the new laws really don’t match up well, and kind of put people in tough spots and having to spend additional personal funds to try to correct something that should be corrected already. I think the staff will take a look at that. I believe and after our conversation that they understand what our needs our , our concerns and how we are different and how we are behind at times. “

 The Borough is relying on flood plain maps that are no longer accurate, Moosey said.  Insurance companies want accurate data when assessing flood insurance costs.  Homeowners who applied for FEMA assistance in 2012 got a nasty shock when they were informed what flood insurance costs would be if they rebuilt in a flood plain.  Up to date mapping helps to determine exactly where those flood plains are.

 Borough emergency manager Cook said that the FEMA rule  changes only apply to a few small projects  the Borough is completing.

Categories: Alaska News

Microphones Cut During Senate Hearing On Oil Production

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 22:45

After rejecting a request that oil industry experts be required to testify under oath, the Senate Resources Chair cut off microphones when the Minority Leader attempted to explain why he thought the request was appropriate.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said it was “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” of Sen. Hollis French to “spring an under-oath requirement on invited citizens” during a Wednesday hearing of the Resources Committee. Representatives from Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Repsol were there to give updates on how their work was proceeding under a new oil tax regime.

When French – an Anchorage Democrat — asked for a chance to respond, he was again denied.

GIESSEL: As the chair it is my decision, and I’ve gotten a legal consultation on that.
FRENCH: I guess I’ll just — As a point of person privilege I will say that …
GIESSEL: Sen. French, you are out of order.
FRENCH: The only …
GIESSEL: Brief at ease.
FRENCH: I’m going to keep talking …

What followed was a half-minute of silence on the Legislature’s official recordings of the proceedings, even though French continued to address the committee and its audience in the room.

French and Giessel later sparred on the Senate floor, through a pair of seething speeches.

In his address, French said his request complied with statute, even if that statute was rarely used. He also argued that the state has historically been too trusting of the oil industry.

“What does it say about us when we think it is unprofessional to use these statutes in the furtherance of our duties, of our obligations as Alaska state legislators?” French asked the body.

Giessel responded by pointing out that the last time the statute to compel testifiers to speak under oath was last used in 1997.

“I think that if we distrust the citizens who are coming, than we need to execute a different process. But simply asking for informational reports to a committee does not justify placing them under oath,” said Giessel.

Giessel also noted that it was “unfortunate” that the tension between the two senators had come to a verbal “duel” on the floor.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senators Prefer To Leave Minimum Wage Question On Ballot

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 19:48

While a minimum wage bill that could pre-empt a ballot initiative is on the fast track in the Alaska State House, Senate leadership says the idea is unlikely to get traction in their body.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who is in charge of scheduling bills, says some members of her caucus feel the question of raising the minimum wage is best left to voters.

“The public is fundamentally suspicious of the Legislature interceding on a minimum wage bill, because we did this in the past and we changed it,” says the Rules Chair.

Majority Leader John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, also expressed doubt that the bill would advance in the Senate at a press availability on Tuesday.

The last time a minimum wage initiative was certified to appear on the ballot, the Legislature kept it off by passing their own version. A year later, they gutted the legislation by removing a provision that pegged the minimum wage to inflation.

The House held its first and only hearing on the bill on Wednesday, and initiative supporters were blunt in their testimony that they did not trust the Legislature with this issue. The House could hold a vote on their bill as early as Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Name Two Pilots Killed In Crash Near Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:32

Two pilots are dead after a fiery plane crash Tuesday night just outside Bethel.

Alaska State Troopers have identified the pilots who were onboard the Hageland Cessna 208 Caravan as Derrick Cedars, 42, of Bethel and Greggory McGee, 46, of Anchorage.

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Ravn Alaska spokesperson Steve Smith confirms the downed plane was a Hageland training flight.

 “We are sending an investigator from the Anchorage office of the NTSB. His name is Chris Shaver. We also have two other individuals who are going to be joining the investigative team, one investigator from the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA as well as an additional investigator from a technical side from Cessna aircraft,” Clint Johnson, Chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. ”Hopefully they’ll be on site there later this afternoon and possibly make it to the accident site tonight to at least start their on scene potion of the investigation.”

 Troopers say the crash happened just after 6 p.m. Within the hour a pilot reported burned wreckage near Three Step Mountain close to a fishing weir. The Alaska Army Guard in Bethel dispatched a Blackhawk helicopter with local fire personnel and Alaska State Troopers on board in an attempt to locate survivors.

Troopers arrived on scene and observed a large debris field and the willows around the crash site were burned and charred.  Troopers were able to locate remains in the wreckage. They’ll return to the crash site Wednesday to further investigate as well as continue recovery efforts.

Next of kin for the pilots have been notified.

Hageland Aviation flies under the banner of Ravn Connect, a company operated by Ravn Alaska, formerly known as Era Alaska.

Four people died in November when an Era Cessna 208 Caravan passenger flight crashed outside St. Mary’s. The exact cause of that crash has not been determined.

Categories: Alaska News
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