Alaska News

Sled Dogs Get Their Final Pre-Race Check Up Before The 32nd Yukon Quest Starts

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 17:00

Sled dogs signed up to run in this year’s Yukon Quest got their final pre-race check up Saturday. (Photo by Emily Schwing KUAC)

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Over the weekend, veterinarians looked over the sled dogs that will run the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse. They wanted to make sure the dogs were healthy, well-fed and ready to race on the 1000 mile trail.

Inside a large warehouse, veterinarian Nina Hansen checks the paws and teeth and listens to the heart beats of sled dogs.

“I look at their eyes make sure their eyes are bright and clear,” she explained. “I look at their mucus membranes you can get a good idea of how well hydrated a dog is by looking at their mucus membranes,” Hansen said. “I look at their teeth. They should have clean teeth that are in good shape. If there’s a lot of dental disease, just like in people that can lead to problems in the rest of the body and then I will assesse body condition after that and I just run my hands along their spine, feel their ribs, feel their muscles in general,” she said.

A small reddish-brown dog stood nearby.  This dog didn’t have a radio frequency microchip, so Hansen reached for a needle and inserted one in the skin just behind the dog’s ear.

“So, it’s about the size of a grain of rice,” she said. “It’s a passive identification when you run this scanner over it, it will come up with a unique number that only this dog has so we use this to identify them.”

This is Hansen’s first year as the Yukon Quest Head Veterinarian, but she’s worked on the race for the last six years. For the most part, these dogs are calm, alert and many of them wag their tails. Hansen isn’t surprised.

“When I was in small animal practice, which I did for three years, there was not a day that went by that a dog did not bite me,” she laughed, “but I have been working with sled dogs for seven years now and I have been bit one time by a sled dog and I have looked at thousands of sled dogs,” she said. “Sled dogs are very well socialized, they’re great to work with they’re great with people they’re used to being handled, they’re used to being around people,” Hansen said.

A group of black and orange dogs surround us.  They belong to four-time Yukon Quest Champion Lance Mackey.

“Mine are very personable, very opinionated, they always have something to say it seems like,” he said of his dogs.

Mackey last ran the race in 2013, but he did not finish that year. He says this year, only one of his dogs is returning as a veteran. The others are young two-year olds he hopes to develop over the coming years.

“I want to race them like they are five-year olds, because I feel I have something to prove because of my race season in the last few years,” he said.

The fiercely competitive Mackey is one of four returning champions. As well, he’ll face off against a few big names who’ve never raced the Quest – that includes Ray Redington, Junior.

“Don’t count me out. I want my two minutes,” Redington said.

Redington may be a rookie to the Quest, but he’s run 13 Iditarods, finishing in top ten four times. He decided to sign up after the race committee decreased the mandatory layover at the midway point in Dawson City from 36 to 24 hours this year. “I like the 24 versus the 36, I think the race is going to be definitely ran faster if we have good trail conditions because of that,” he said.

This year, mushers are also required to take two additional six-hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last thirds of the race.  Like most of the sled dogs signed up , Redington’s team checked out well. He says they’ve been in good shape all season.  “Everyday after runs, they’re stretched out. When you’re taking their booties off, we’re going through their feet to make sure everything is good and if they have any problems then you work on it,” he said.

… And most of the musher’s set to race are confident their teams will hold up on the 1000 mile trail from Whitehorse.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Regional Hospital To Open Mountain View Clinic

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 15:28

Alaska Regional Hospital is planning to open a healthcare clinic in Mountain View by the end of year. There aren’t any primary care services in the Anchorage neighborhood currently. That’s forcing residents to use Alaska Regional’s emergency room for routine care, according to Medicaid data from the state Department of Health and Social Services. That is costing the hospital in uncompensated care and it’s costing the state in unnecessary Medicaid payments.

When Julie Taylor became CEO of Alaska Regional a year ago, the board was already talking about opening a Mountain View clinic. Taylor says it was immediately obvious to her that there was a need.

“If we’re looking at how we’re going to be using healthcare dollars effectively, finding ways to reach populations to treat them closer to home at the right level of care is a better use of those funds.”

Neighborhood residents have been asking for better access to primary care for years. In 2002, the Anchorage Community Land Trust hosted a summit where the need for local health services was a clear priority.

Kirk Rose is executive director of the land trust. He says Alaska Regional has responded in a big way and residents are thrilled:

“We’ve been very tough and staunch about fighting for a health presence in the neighborhood so we’re hoping this is a really nice win in that it enhances the quality of life for the people that live here.”

Taylor says the clinic will be large enough to offer about 3000 patient visits a year.

Alaska Regional is expanding in other ways. The hospital is planning to open two new freestanding emergency rooms, one in South Anchorage and one in Eagle River.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 


Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Standards Won’t Be Ready For Shell’s Return

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 15:14

After Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season in the far north, the Interior Department began working on Arctic-specific standards for offshore drilling. But those new standards aren’t done yet. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says they won’t be in place to guide Shell’s planned return to the Chukchi Sea this year.

“As Shell indicated just recently that they were going to go forward with their exploration plan this summer, we’ll be holding them to the standards that we’ve held them to before, with upgrades and proof that they can do what they say they do before they’re allowed to go up there,” Jewell told reporters in a press call today, primarily talking about the president’s budget for her department.

Jewell didn’t say when the Arctic standards would be released for public review but indicated it would not be in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been working closely with industry and learning from the lessons Shell experienced in 2012 in formulating those,” she said.

The standards are expected to require things like well containment systems and rigs on hand to drill relief wells and also limit the season.

The five-year budget President Obama sent to Congress today has nothing to bolster long-held Alaskan hopes of winning a share of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas. In fact, Jewell says the administration is trying to undo offshore revenue sharing with Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The outer continental shelf is owned by all Americans,” Jewell said. “There is a small portion of the Gulf (of Mexico) where there is revenue sharing proposed for certain Gulf states. We believe that needs to be re-examined to look at what is a fair return to the taxpayers across the whole United States.”

The Interior Department budget includes full support costs for Alaska Native health care contracts. It also has more than a million dollars for 3-d mapping of Alaska and nearly $3 million to clean up the Red Devil mine on the Kuskokwim River, in southwest Alaska.

The president’s budget, though, is essentially just a request, because spending decisions are up to Congress.

Categories: Alaska News

String of Earthquakes Shakes Up Pribilof Islands

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 09:20

A swarm of earthquakes have been recorded in the central Bering Sea. (Credit: AEIC)

The Pribilof Islands aren’t usually prone to shaking. But more than a dozen earthquakes have been recorded in between St. Paul and St. George since Friday afternoon.

Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, describes the activity as a “swarm.”

“That is, a cluster of earthquakes that are responding to some stress in the earth that appears to be releasing itself kind of incrementally,” West says.

Most of the earthquakes have been around magnitude 4.0, although five of them exceeded 5.0M.

Residents in St. Paul and St. George have been feeling the effects. But as of Sunday afternoon, there were no reports of damage in either community. And there were no tsunami warnings, either.

The National Tsunami Warning Center will only issue an alert for Unalaska and Sand Point if the earthquakes grow stronger – above a magnitude 7.0.

“This is a special region in Alaska,” says science officer Paul Huang. “It’s unlike the front part of the Aleutians. The water [around the Pribilofs] is shallower, so we have a different criteria.”

It’s been over 20 years since the Pribilof Islands saw a significant earthquake. A magnitude 6.7 quake struck north of St. George in 1991, sending a small tsunami across the Bering Sea.

But other than that, the Pribilofs have been pretty quiet. They’re not affected by subduction along the Aleutian Chain, which causes a lot of seismic activity in the region.

West says the recent outbreak appears to be coming from a different source — tension that’s built up in the Earth’s crust.

“Most of what we know about whatever fault it is that’s active is coming from the earthquakes that we’ve actually seen in the past couple of days,” West says. “They are sort of enigmatic.”

Categories: Alaska News

Eyak Salvaged, Back In Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 09:17

The Eyak bids goodbye to the tugboat Marauder, which brought it into Sitka Channel. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

The Eyak is back in Sitka.

Ten days after the 80-foot tender and mail boat ran aground and sank just north of the Goddard hot springs, it’s back afloat — after a virtual alphabet soup of state and federal agencies and local companies worked together to salvage it.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (1-30-15),  the tugboat Marauder chugged into Sitka Channel with the Eyak in tow. Those watching as the vessel was tied up at Sitka Sound Seafoods said the plan for now is to take the Eyak to Wrangell for repairs.

Michael Wortman, the head of the Coast Guard marine safety detachment in Sitka, said that in total, the Eyak spilled about twenty gallons of fuel — a fraction of the 800 to 1,000 gallons the boat was believed to have on board.

“We, honestly, got really lucky,” Wortman said. “Since the vessel inverted, all the oil was trapped inside,  and SEAPRO and SEAL did a great job preventing a lot more from being discharged into the water.”

The vessel was upside down in forty feet of water, Wortman said, which counter-intuitively limited leaking.

And Wortman said most of what was spilled was soaked up with absorbent material by the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization, or SEAPRO, the agency tasked with responding to local spills.

The Eyak is a crucial lifeline for the small communities of southern Baranof Island.

Mayor Debra Gifford, of Port Alexander, said the Eyak’s owner and captain, David Castle, has been supplying the town for more than two decades. Finding someone to fill the gap will be hard, Gifford said.

“It’s going to be kind of difficult because the Eyak was a multi-service operation,” she said. “Because they did all those things — the mail, the freight, buying fish — he was able to make a living doing those. But to do any single one of those is not super cost-effective, so we probably are going to have to think about the future here, to consolidate things and only get stuff in once a month or every few months. I’m just not really sure how that is going to play out yet.”

But for now, the town’s 45 year-round residents are in good shape, Gifford said. Castle owns a second, smaller boat, the Silver Arrow, which is taking mail and groceries down to Port Alexander while the Eyak is out of commission. Fuel comes in on a separate barge.

So while there’s no way to get, say, a couch or a new washing machine, or lumber for a building project, nobody is in dire straits.

“Everyone’s got food to eat and that kind of thing,” Gifford said. “I think mostly people, off the bat, are pretty heartbroken for Dave Castle.  The loss of the Eyak is more than just him bringing us stuff, it’s his home, and it’s a lifestyle for him to come out here and, you know, be a part of the infrastructure of our community. He’s a good friend to all of us out here.”

The Coast Guard’s Wortman said Castle had insurance, which is paying for the salvage operation. Friends also set up a fundraising campaign for Castle. So far, it has raised over $25,000.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg Man Arrested For Meth Importing

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 09:14

Petersburg police and the Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs task force arrested a Petersburg man this week in an investigation into two packages of methamphetamine mailed to town.

In a press release, police say they arrested 51-year-old Sam Nelson Wednesday afternoon for alleged crimes involving meth possession and distribution. The local police were assisted in their investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal Service.

Nelson is facing two counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third degree, one count of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the fourth degree and a charge of evidence tampering.

A court filing by police alleges Nelson had two packages, both containing over 28 grams of meth, mailed to his post office box in Petersburg. Police say Nelson picked up one of the packages this week and was arrested outside of his home. The combined street value of the two packages is up to 28-thousand dollars according to police.

Nelson had a court appearance Thursday afternoon and was appointed a public defender. His bail was reduced to 20-thousand dollars and he has a preliminary hearing scheduled in February.

Categories: Alaska News

Commission Recommends Boost In Coast-Wide Halibut Catch

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-02 09:13

The International Pacific Halibut Commission Friday voted to recommend a 1.7-million pound increase in the coast-wide catch of halibut.

The joint U.S. and Canadian body oversees management of the highly prized bottom fish from California to Alaska. The commission held its annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia this week.

The IPHC voted for a coast-wide catch for combined for commercial and charter fisheries of 29.223 million pounds, up from last year’s 27.515 million pounds.

Commissioner Jim Balsiger of Alaska noted wider participation at this year’s meeting. “I found it refreshing is the right word, but it’s certainly a change in direction that we had other sectors than the directed halibut users in the room,” Balsiger said. “I think it’s the only way we can make progress on what has been the major issue, major point of contention between Canada and the U.S. up here, is the other users of halibut that have not been in the room before. They were here full force. I think that’s a great step forward.”

The commission heard presentations on the issue of halibut bycatch, or fish caught in other fisheries by boats targeting other species. That included input from Bering Sea trawl fleet representatives and others on efforts to reduce bycatch. The additional halibut removal increased coast-wide last year, to over nine million pounds, with over six million pounds of that coming from western Alaska and the Bering Sea. Halibut are caught in trawl nets by boats fishing for sole and hook and line boats fishing for Pacific cod.

Commissioner David Boyes of Canada said the bycatch issue was important for the entire coast. “Juveniles from the Bering Sea migrate very extensively. They populate all areas of the coast right down to the southern most part of the range of this species. And so everybody has a vital interest in getting bycatch down to the lowest level that’s practicable, as it says in the Magnuson Stevens Act.”

The Commission plans to meet with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on the issue February 5th. That council is scheduled to take action on recommendations for bycatch limit reduction measures this June. Those measures could be in place for 2016.

National Marine Fisheries Service assistant administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck wrote to the commission seeking a higher catch limit for the longline fleet in the Bering Sea. She highlighted the importance of the directed fishery to residents and businesses, along with efforts to reduce bycatch by other fishing fleets. The commission voted to recommend the same level for area 4, the Bering Sea and Aleutian islands, as last year.

For Southeast area 2C, the commission approved a combined commercial and charter catch of 4.65 million pounds. That’s an increase from last year’s limit of almost half a million pounds.

For the central Gulf, area 3A, the commission recommended a combined commercial and charter limit of 10.1 pounds. That’s also an increase from last year, of over 600-thousand pounds.

The Commission also adopted catch-share plans for Southeast Alaska and the central Gulf that impact the number and size of halibut that charter anglers can keep.

Area 2B, British Columbia, was approved for just over seven million pounds, also an increase from last year’s catch.

Commissioners approved a season start date of March 14th and end date of November 7th. Balsiger of Alaska was appointed chair for the next two years. The commission’s next annual meeting is in Juneau a year from now.

Categories: Alaska News

Col. Laurie Hummel Named New Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:55

On the 17th floor of the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Walker introduced Retired US Army Col. Laurie Hummel and Retired US Air Force Col. Bob Doehl.

At a press conference in downtown Anchorage, Governor Bill Walker introduced the new Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard. Retired Colonel Laurie Hummel served in Army intelligence for 30 years after graduating from West Point, and is the first woman to lead the Guard.

In her time with the Armed Forces, Hummel said, she has seen “walls come down” as equality and opportunity extend further into the military’s diverse ranks. She plans to ensure the Guard follows the same course.

“We need to make sure that we have a moral and ethical climate that is worthy of our membership,” Hummel told the room. “we need to make sure that we build a mutual culture of trust. There will be no old boys network, there will be no old girls network.”

Hummel’s hire comes after accusations of misconduct within the Alaska Army National Guard led to dismissals and investigations under Governor Sean Parnell’s administration. Hummel and her staff will begin reviewing Guard policies and procedures to prevent sexual assault, harassment, favoritism, and other improprieties documented in a report by the Office of Complex Investigations.

A group of bills filed this session by Democratic legislators aim to modify protocols for reporting offenses within the guard and update the uniform code of military justice. Governor Walker’s office will help that effort as a special investigator continues looking into years of allegations.

“Those wrong-doers will be brought to justice,” Walker said, “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Hummel also assumes the role as Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Her deputy will be retired Air Force Colonel Bob Doehl, who left the Air National Guard in 2012, and earlier worked as an attorney within the Department of Law.

In November Hummel ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Northeast Anchorage seat in the state house.




Categories: Alaska News

Middle school teachers upset over pay inequities

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:16

Anchorage Middle School teachers are upset about pay and workload inequities between elective teachers and core subject teachers and the divisions it’s causing in the schools.  They have brought the issue to the School Board. 

Some middle school English, science, math, and social studies teachers are being asked to teach six periods per day instead of five to reduce class sizes. They’ll give up one period of planning time. In return, they’ll receive an extra 20 percent of their salary and will be expected to do their planning outside of school hours. But elective teachers already teach six periods instead of five without being paid any additional money.

A group of teachers packed the room at Monday night’s school board meeting to speak about the issue. Hanshew Middle School social studies teacher Nancy Neil says it’s unfair to pay core teachers more for teaching the same number of classes as elective teachers.

“As a core teacher, I have seen a division between core team members and elective teachers. This is not right. I’m a true believer in equity.”

According to the traditional middle school model, core subject teachers work as a team and all have the same group of students. They are given daily team planning time so that they can collaborate. That’s on top of their personal planning time. Middle School teachers are the only ones in the district that have two planning periods instead of one. Last spring, the School Board voted to take the team planning period away from elective teachers, who teach students from every team, but keep the extra planning period for the core teachers.

Some elective teachers, like Nadine Price from Wendler Middle School, say teaching six periods makes it hard to connect with students and share information with other teachers and staff.

“The Anchorage School District on one hand promotes social and emotional learning, yet in the specific classes where this is most apt to occur — electives — the educators are not being given the time or the resources to support their students. These teachers are caught not knowing what’s going on with their students lives and educational plans.”

ASD Chief Academic Officer Mike Graham says the district recognizes that some teachers are upset and does not want divisions in the schools. He says middle school principals plan to meet on Monday to discuss the issue and the value of team planning time.

“What needs to happen is real communication within the school internally as well as without –what’s really happening with that team planning time? Is it worth it? Is it equitable? Is the amount of work that’s going into that making a difference? If it’s not, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Graham says principals are supposed to be monitoring how core teachers are using their team planning period and holding them accountable. He says it is also up to the principals to help the elective teachers get information about the students from the core teachers.

Middle school team planning time is currently part of next year’s school budget, but only for core teachers. The budget will be discussed during Monday night’s school board meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Skeptical Of State’s Plan To Buy Fairbanks Natural Gas Utility

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:15

Governor Bill Walker’s latest move to advance the state backed Interior Energy Project with the purchase of a private natural gas utility is expected to expand availability and lower the price of gas in Fairbanks.

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The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has signed a letter of intent to purchase Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex. AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the state corporation would pay $52.5 million for Pentex company assets currently used to supply about a thousand Fairbanks area customers with Cook Inlet gas.

“The LNG plant at Point MacKenzie; it includes the trucking components, the storage components, the entire set of assets,” Rodvik said.

The deal also includes a distribution system in the core area of Fairbanks, a piping network FNG is already in the process of expanding. Pentex and FNG President Dan Britton says AIDEA’s access to low cost capital would help the company pay for infrastructure needed to meet new gas demand.

“Our current gas supply is maxed out, out of the Cook Inlet. In order to expand, it requires for additional liquefaction capacity in some form,” Britton said.

FNG isn’t the only Fairbanks area utility looking for more natural gas. Golden Valley Electric would wants to transition some generators from oil to gas, and the borough run Interior Gas Utility or IGU is laying distribution pipe to serve customers outside FNG’s downtown service area. AIDEA’s Rodvik says state ownership of the company will facilitate cooperation with the other entities.

“Promote an integrated gas distribution system that can be built and operated in a much more efficient manner for the benefit of Interior residents,” Rodvik said.

The deal opens up the potential of FNG and the IGU merging, but even if they don’t, IGU Board Chair Bob Shefchik says having both entities operating on a cost based, instead of profit based, business model, should be a plus to consumers.

“The idea that there’ll be a single postage stamp rate for all residential gas customers in the Interior is a likely outcome whether there’s a merger or not,” he said.

Shefchick calls the state plan bold and decisive, and believes the $52 million price is fair.

“And one could not replace what they have for that $52 million,” Shefchik said.

As evidence of the value Shefchick sites Hilcorp’s recent attempt to buy FNG’s gas processing plant, a deal blocked by the state. AIDEA’s Rodvik says the state corporation plans to pay for the Pentex purchase with money from a revolving fund.

AIDEA’s board of directors must approve the deal.

The Fairbanks Natural Gas acquisition will also come under scrutiny from the Legislature. Key Republicans, like Anchorage Representative Mike Hawker, are skeptical of the utility’s purchase.

“We have a long history of failed dreams when it comes to these equity investments by AIDEA,” he said.

Hawker says the deal is akin to the state investing in grain terminals and fish farms. He’s also critical of how the deal has been brokered, even likening it to “insider trading.” Pentex, the parent company of Fairbanks Natural Gas, was positioned to sell assets to Hilcorp, before the state intervened in December.

“I am very concerned about state government getting in the way of the private sector with regards to the Fairbanks utility purchase,” Hawker said.

Gov. Bill Walker has pushed back against the criticism. At a press conference on Friday, he called the letter of intent a “first step,” and said he was committed to a transparent process.

“We don’t believe we’re in any sort of overreach situation,” Walker said. “It’s time that somebody reaches out to Fairbanks, and that’s what we’re doing. So, any reaching we’re doing is reaching out to Interior Alaska energy consumers to bring some relief to them.”

While money for a Fairbanks energy project has been appropriated, there are conditions on the funding that could require statutory changes from the Legislature before the $52.5 million can be spent on the utility purchase.

Categories: Alaska News

Lack of Customers Puts CIRI Wind Farm Plans On Hold

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:14

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated has put the second phase of its Fire Island wind farm on hold because of a lack of customers.

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A plan that once envisioned 33 turbines on the island west of Anchorage has stalled at 11.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

CIRI’s only customer is the Chugach Electric Association. Chugach says it’s taking all the wind power it can under present conditions.

The other utilities have turned CIRI down. The Municipal Light and Power company says it’s not interested; the Matanuska Electric Association says it doesn’t pencil out for them, and the Golden Valley Electric Association is so far away that the cost of power balloons by the time it gets there.

So Suzanne Gibson, vice president of Fire Island Wind, says that for now, phase two of the wind farm is off. She says the state lacks the regulatory framework to deal with the situation.

“In the Lower 48, there’s no question that we would be construction the second phase of Fire Island next year – or actually this year, it’s 2015 already,” Gibson said. “But, unfortunately there’s just not the right regulatory and legislative framework here in Alaska to allow us to do it.”

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska is beginning to look at how utilities should deal with independent power producers, and Gibson welcomes that development because, unlike Lower 48 power companies, Alaska utilities are not federally regulated.  One issue is what are known as “wheeling charges” – the money that utilities charge to move power through their grids.  Gibson says that’s why a tentative deal for CIRI to sell wind farm power to Golden Valley has apparently collapsed.

“We were working with them and we thought that we were going to get an agreement with them. And what we offered them 6.3 cents a kilowatt hour to a utility that generates half of its power at 13.6 cents – so this is like less than half of the cost to generate their own power,” Gibson said. “But, they couldn’t see their way through it by the time they transport the power across another utility system to get it up to Fairbanks, they turned it into something they estimated was 20 cents a kilowatt. They didn’t see the benefit for it.”

The Regulatory Commission has set a date of February 11th to take up the issue of independent power producers.

Categories: Alaska News

Much To Sort Out Before Subsistence Gillnets Hit Kenai, Kasilof

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:13

A new federal subsistence fishery rule adds set gillnetting to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. State and federal biologists are concerned the new rule will hamper conservation efforts aimed at preserving king salmon and other fish species in the rivers. But the Ninilchik Traditional Council, which asked for the right to set gillnet, says it can fish responsibly.

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The Federal Subsistence board signed off on the proposal last week. And they did so despite objections from both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees subsistence use. The proposal was submitted by the Ninilchik Traditonal Council. Most of the concern is about the non-selective nature of gillnets.

“So when we talk about the conservation concerns that both agencies have, it’s not just the king salmon, it’s all the fisheries resources in the Kenai River,” said ADF&G management biologist Robert Begich. The recognized subsistence areas on the Kenai river are around the Russian River Falls, Moose Range Meadows and just south of Skilak Lake; all active habitat areas for several species.

“That area of the river up there, it’s only open to fishing with bait and multiple hooks for one month a year and 2011 was the last time king salmon were allowed to be harvested and we’ve been closing that area by emergency order since then. So, it’s a very tumultuous fishing method that kind of flies in the face of all the other regulatory things that are in place to benefit the fish resource,” Begich said.

“We want people to understand that we are 100 percent conservation-minded,” said Ivan Encelewski, Executive Director of the Ninilchik Traditional Council. He says the gillnets are simply another method of harvest added to what subsistence users are already allowed, including rod and reel, dipnets and fishwheels

“And I think one of the things that people don’t quite understand is that the feds, under this subsistence program, have so much leeway to either shut down or make emergency orders to close those fisheries. And as I noted in my testimony, the inseason federal manager has closed down the king harvest on subsistence the last two years. There’s absolutely no way that this fishery that would be implemented; one that we would implement it on our end that would create a conservation concern, we believe, or that wouldn’t have processes in place to maintain that conservation,” Encelewski said.

Subsistence users are allowed 4,000 sockeye and 1,000 king salmon. Barely a drop in the bucket relative to the overall sockeye return in Cook Inlet, but it’s a pretty large proportion of the king salmon return, which totaled fewer than 17,000 last year on the Kenai river. Enselewski says the push to allow the use of setnets is less about slaying fish and more about tradition.

“It’s definitely important, because it’s the actual traditional means of the community of Ninilchik, and that keeps in line with the culture and the tradition of our people, but it also allows for an opportunity for the community to work on subsistence harvest versus just the individual, so it keeps that connection to the history and the culture as well.”

There’s a lot to figure out before those nets hit the water, though. In the weeks and months ahead, subsistence users and Fish and Wildlife have to sort out whether the use of gillnets even fits into the already-established regulatory framework for the Kenai.  And there are more specific questions to answer on the Kasilof.

“I think for the Kasilof River, it will be working out  the details on an operational plan for fishing a specific time and area, so above the Tustumena boat launch during the month of July, within that framework, how do we provide an opportunity for qualified rural residents to harvest sockeye salmon with a gillnet,” said Jeff Anderson, Field Supervisor for the Kenai Fish and Wildlife office.

Ivan Encelewski thinks it can all come together, and in a way that doesn’t add to the management drama of two rivers that might already be too popular for their own good.

“We’ll see. I think we can do this responsibly and we’ll show people that this will be a good opportunity and a win-win for everyone.”

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Delays Vote On Air Quality Regulations

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:12

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has delayed voting on a package of air quality regulations, following abundant public testimony for and against the ordinance at a hearing Thursday night.

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The regulations are aimed at cracking down on wood and coal heating systems that chronically pollute neighborhoods, and many of the comments focused on the health impacts.

The second public hearing in two weeks on the proposed ordinance to clean up the air locally took place under a blanket of smog that’s been sitting on top of this area for several days now since the cold snap set in last week.

That was reflected in comments by Assembly Deputy Presiding Officer John Davies when he opened the hearing.

“The levels of pollution are serious and constitute a true health issue,” Davies said.

Like the previous hearing, another standing-room-only crowd turned out again to testify for and against the ordinance crafted by Davies and Assembly members Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub.

Many talked about the health impact of the air pollution. Some expressed doubts there’s a connection that can be made with smoke from wood-burning heating systems. Like Luke Mowry, who lives in Fox, He says he was born and raised in a wood-heated home, and says he didn’t suffer any health problems.

“(I) Got wood heat. (I) Use it quite a bit at my place. That’s our primary source of heat. My boy was born with respiratory issues. So, I know that piece of it, too,” Mowry said.

Bob Hook is a 37-year resident of North Pole. He says he burns six or seven cords a wood a year at his house. And even though Cook suffers multiple respiratory ailments, he’s believes they can’t be directly linked to air quality problems.

“I have in the last eight years developed asthma. I have COPD. I have respiratory issues. And can I directly relate those to air quality? No,” Hook said.

Hook says more research would be required to make a direct connection like that. But he says poor air quality is at least a contributing factor. And because of that, he supports the proposed ordinance.

But local health care professional Jennifer Nelson says Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has begun collecting data on whether and how much air quality affects the health of area residents. Nelson is the director of the hospital’s Emergency Services, Forensic Nursing and Trauma Services. And she says the hospital wants to offer its perspective on those health impacts.

“There’s been lots of comments made, but some of them were not necessarily backed up by hard data,” Nelson said. “So we feel the responsibility of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is to provide some HIPPA-compliant data to aid in this discussion as it relates to our health.”

Nelson says hospital staff crunched numbers and found a rise in emergency room admissions from four areas that registered high quantities of respiratory-tract irritating particulate matter, or so-called PM2.5.

“We have quite a number of respiratory-related complaints, relating from wheezing, shortness of air, cough…,” Nelson said.

Nelson says the data is preliminary, and that further studies are needed. She says the hospital is willing to conduct those studies, and Dodge enthusiastically encouraged her to proceed.

The Assembly will include that data and the public comments when it considers adoption of the air-quality ordinance in its Feb. 12 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 30, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 17:08

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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Laurie Hummel Named Alaska National Guard’s Adjutant General

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

At a press conference in downtown Anchorage Friday, Governor Bill Walker introduced the new Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard. Retired Colonel Laurie Hummel served in Army intelligence for 30 years after graduating from West Point, and is the first woman to lead the Guard.

Lawmakers Skeptical Of State’s Plan To Buy Fairbanks Natural Gas Utility

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks & Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The state is taking another step toward increasing the availability of natural gas in the Fairbanks area.  Governor Bill Walker recently re-focused the state backed Interior Energy Project to tap Cook Inlet gas, and it’s now proposing the purchase of a private utility to get the gas to more Fairbanks residents.

Lack of Customers Puts CIRI Wind Farm Plans On Hold

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage & Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated has put the second phase of its Fire Island wind farm on hold because of a lack of customers. A plan that once envisioned 33 turbines on the island west of Anchorage has stalled at 11.  CIRI’s only customer is the Chugach Electric Association.

Much To Sort Out Before Subsistence Gillnets Hit Kenai, Kasilof

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

A new federal subsistence fishery rule adds set gillnetting to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. State and federal biologists are concerned the new rule will hamper conservation efforts aimed at preserving king salmon and other fish species in the rivers. But the Ninilchik Traditional Council, which asked for the right to set gillnet, says it can fish responsibly.

Fairbanks Delays Vote On Air Quality Regulations

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly has delayed voting on a package of air quality regulations, following abundant public testimony at a hearing Thursday night. The regulations are aimed at cracking down on wood and coal heating systems that chronically pollute neighborhoods, and as KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, many of the comments focused on the health impacts.

In Response To Obama Actions, Senator Goes Seuss

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since President Barack Obama announced his plans to designate millions of acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, state legislators have taken to the House and Senate floors to rail against federal overreach. The speeches have mostly been indignant and incensed.

AK: Curling

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A warmer winter has pushed many Homer residents inside the local ice rink, looking for a blast of cold air and a good winter sport. And curling seems to be just the ticket. It’s a centuries old game that can be played by people young and old, highly athletic or not, by rookies and experienced players alike. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver stopped by an open curling night at the rink to see what the.

300 Villages: Huslia

This week we’re heading to Huslia, near the Koyukuk river- where there has been no shortage of winter this week. Elsie Vent is the city administrator for the city of Huslia.

Categories: Alaska News

In Response To Obama Actions, Senator Goes Seuss

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 16:44

Since President Barack Obama announced his plans to designate millions of acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, state legislators have taken to the House and Senate floors to rail against federal overreach. The speeches have ranged from incensed to righteously indignant.

But one state senator has decided to voice his displeasure in a more poetic way. On Friday, Fairbanks Republican Click Bishop gave a Seussian speech on the federal government’s attitude toward Alaska, and read from a modified version of Green Eggs and Ham, titled “Click on Uncle Sam”:

I do not like your crazy rules
like those proposed by Sally Jewell.
I do not like them
here or there.
I do not like them
I do not want them near or far
not Sally Jewell nor Salazar.
Could you, would you.. let us drill?
We have the folks, they have the skill.
We have the oil, underground..
we’ll leave it nicer than we found
I do not like your EPA
they’ve run amuck – they’re in the way.
I do not like this Federal Plan, I do not like it Uncle Sam.

The inspiration for the speech came from U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who once read Green Eggs and Ham as part of a filibuster. The copy of the book Bishop carried with him to the Senate floor was signed by Cruz last year.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Huslia

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 15:25

This week we’re heading to Huslia, near the Koyukuk river- where there has been no shortage of winter this week. Elsie Vent is the city administrator for the city of Huslia.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Curling

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 15:20

Curling stone. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

A warmer winter has pushed many Homer residents inside the local ice rink, looking for a blast of cold air and a good winter sport. And curling seems to be just the ticket. It’s a centuries old game that can be played by people young and old, highly athletic or not, by rookies and experienced players alike. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver stopped by an open curling night at the rink to find out just what attracts new people to this unique sport and keeps them coming back.

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Now, this might sound funny. But if there’s one thing every curler at the rink seems to agree upon, it’s that this sport is pleasing to the ears.

“I really like the sound,” Mike Hiller, who is pretty new to curling, said. He’s brought his 8-year-old son Tucker along who totally agrees.

“Sounds really loud because of all the rocks hitting each other and going down the ice,” Tucker  said.

Jeff Sharpe pushes off. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

And his teammate, Jeff von Rekowski, thinks it’s pretty cool too. After all, that’s why people call it “The Roarin’ Game.”

“When the two granite stones collide together, it just echoes throughout the whole building and it’s an incredible sensation and sound and it’s like man, it’s gonna be a good day. Boom!” Jeff said.

Tucker forgot to mention he also likes the brooms. Yeah, it’s the sport with the brooms. So, let’s be honest about curling.

“Well, I mean, if you think about it…we’re hucking a bunch of rocks up and down the ice trying to get them to land in a little circle with brooms in front of them,” Tucker said. “So, I mean, yeah, it’s kind of silly. But it works!”

Players sweep ahead of stone. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Brian Saunders is a first time curler. He came down to the rink this evening with his friend, Anders Gustafson, who’s also never done this before.

“I think everybody gets the brunt of jokes for curling and I wanted to see for myself what it’s all about,” Brian said. “So I got to come down and invited some friends to join me.”

His first impressions? That curling lives up to its nickname “chess on ice.”

“It’s a finesse game it seems like. It’s subtle movements. It’s getting the launching down. It’s getting the right strength that you’re throwing the weight, they called it,” Brian said. “And then, learning to curl and make it curve with a little bit of a hand spin.”

That’s curling in a nutshell. There are two teams with four players each. They take turns throwing stones across the ice to the house, or the circles at the end of each lane. The people with the brooms sweep the ice in front of the stone to speed it up or make a course correction. It’s scored on a point system depending on where the stones end up.

Homer Curling Club plays in Kevin Bell Hockey Arena. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Curling ice is a bit different from typical hockey rink ice. That’s why many established curling clubs have dedicated arenas. But since the Homer group started less than a year ago, it’s working with a hockey rink that needs to be prepped for play. Elizabeth Diament is one of the club’s founders. She’s walking up and down the rink doing something called pebbling.

“Which is basically just taking a sprayer and spraying droplets across the lanes of the ice and those will freeze into little pebbles along the ice,” Elizabeth said. “So, it’s much easier to walk on and it’s much easier to direct the stone where to go.”

When asked how she got into it, Elizabeth credits the Olympics. It’s the same story for several other people here this evening including Natalia Croly, who’s been curling for a few weeks.

“About eight years ago, my husband and I were watching the winter Olympics and we saw this game, curling. We started watching and at first we said that looks extremely boring,” Natalia said. “But, then we found ourselves watching and watching more, for longer. And then we were looking for when the next games were happening.”

Curling stone on the sheet. (Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

When they heard that a group was starting up in town, she says they couldn’t wait to sign up. Now, she’s hooked.

“I don’t know. I just love the feeling of gliding on the ice,” Natalia said. “I just love how that stone just carries you on the ice. I also love that it’s a game with a lot of etiquette.”

On top of everything else, it’s polite. Remember Mike who likes the sound? He calls curling a gentleman’s game. He likes that he can play with his son, that it’s a workout but isn’t too hard, that it’s inclusive.

“It does not matter how good you are. It’s just as fun no matter what your skill level is. It’s all mixed all the time, every night, every time you come here [there’s] a completely different skill level,” Mike said. “There’s always new people and it doesn’t impact the game in any way. It’s just as fun.”

So yes, curling’s kind of silly. But it’s also a serious sport that somehow seems to bring out the best in the people who give it a shot.

Categories: Alaska News

Plastic in the Ocean

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 12:00

Birds are now turning up dead on remote beaches with stomachs full of plastic. Certain areas of Alaska’s remote coast are now littered with debris that was carried there by ocean currents. Not only is the amount of this debris growing, but the amount of money available for cleaning it up is far too small.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Nicole Trenhom, Ocean Research Project
  • Callers statewide


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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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


Categories: Alaska News

What Do Wilderness Designation Proposals Mean For Arctic Development?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-30 08:00

The Obama Administration has proposed designating more than 20 million acres of both on and offshore federal areas be made off limits to development such as oil and gas exploration. The announcement was described as a gut punch by Senator Lisa Murkowski and had the entire delegation and the governor so steamed, they said it was a “war on Alaska.”

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HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Liz Ruskin, APRN, Washington DC correspondent
  • Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 30 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 31 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 31 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Police To Assemble Task Forth In Wake of Week’s Fourth Murder

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-29 17:52

APD Chief Mark Mew spoke in front of a dozen reporters Thursday afternoon at a press conference. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

A shooting in East Anchorage Thursday morning left a 20-year old resident dead. It is the fourth homicide since Sunday, and the city’s police department held a press conference addressing a rise in gun violence this month, announcing they will create a mutli-agency task force to address the issue. 

Police Chief Mark Mew had his staff analyze how many violent shootings have happened this year, compared to past Januaries. So far, they have doubled.

“For the month of January we had 31 of those occurrences,” Mew said, compared to 12 last year, and 14 in the same period of 2013.

“Of the 31, four were homicides,” he continued, “and approximately a half dozen of them were other assaults.”

In total, the department has 10 cases under investigation, with suspects in several, and leads in all of them.

So far, drugs are the common element. Mew says marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and pills have played a role in all but one of the cases.

“Something’s going on in the drug world right now,” Mew said.

Though it’s too early know for certain, Mew says some of the incidents appear to be related, involving gang activity and possibly retaliation. The department is putting together an in-house task force made up of potentially 10-15 officers pulled from different units to work on the new detail. APD has reached out to federal agencies to potentially coordinate on a task force, something that worked in a 2007 effort to respond rapidly to spikes in violent crime.

“We’re going to be going out, contacting all those people, serving warrants like crazy, taking one thing from one step to the next, shaking down everything that moves on the street,” said Mew, “and putting a lot of pressure on the criminal element that moves around at night.”

But some wonder if it’s the right approach. Paul Honeman is an assembly member representing East Anchorage, where the majority of this month’s shootings happened, and believes without more resources from the city to adequately staff the police department there will not be any long-term resolution.

“Community policing is a philosophy that needs time in order to address problems. And we haven’t seen that in a number of years,” said Honeman, who worked for two decades with APD. “We haven’t kept up with attrition, in fact some years we’ve slipped.”

Honeman has been approached by residents concerned over all the reports of violent crime. While most of the recent deaths and injuries may have had some connection to the illegal drug trade, the problem is felt far more broadly across the community.

“Statistics and numbers mean something, certainly, but it’s the perception of a safe community that’s most important,” Honeman explained. “I think if people in our community don’t feel safe then they’re not safe. In their mind they feel concerned for [themselves], their children, their families.”

The biggest obstacle for detectives is getting good information to pursue leads. Mew says the resistance to cooperation from residents and witnesses has been frustrating, and asks for anyone who may know something to contact police by calling 907-561-7867 (STOP) or online at


Categories: Alaska News