Alaska News

Kuskokwim 300 Mushers Ready to Race on Ice

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:57

Musher Lance Mackey files paperwork with K300 Race Manager, Zack Fansler Thursday. – (Photo by Dean Swope)

Twenty-five mushers are set to race from Bethel to Aniak and back in the 36th running of the Kuskokwim 300. After a couple winter warmups, and little snow, this year’s trail follows the truck road on the river almost exclusively to Aniak and back, cutting out the loop near Whitefish Lake.

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That trail is expected to be icy and fast. Nenana musher Aaron Burmeister isn’t phased by a slick trail.

“One year it could be deep snow an a white out and a blizzard, the next year open water or glare ice. Right now from what I’m seeing, these are favorable conditions. I’ve been here seven times, this is one years of better conditions I’ve seen,” Burmeister said.

Crews from several Kuskokwim villages worked together to clear a large jumbled section of ice resulting from a November break up. Vehicle traffic has further improved the ice. In any case, defending champion Rohn Buser says after running in little snow around Big Lake, his team is ready for a hard trail.

“We’ve been training on that pretty much all year. Maybe not quite as icy, it will probably a little harder footing, but we’ve had pretty firm, pretty hard packed trails, so we’re used to running on that,” Buser said.

The race mileage was estimated at 260 to 270 miles at the musher’s meeting Thursday. Eight of the top 10 mushers from 2014 return, including 9-time champing Jeff King.

“I’m not sure my team is the fastest, in fact I’m quite sure it’s not, but there won’t be anyone with more depth of conditioning. I’ve got a big team, a physical team. They’re not little peewee ice dogs, man, these are musk ox, but they’re fast musk ox,” King said.

Veteran Yukon Quest and Iditarod musher Brent Sass is in Bethel for his first K300.

“I’m excited to see new county I don’t have a lot of concerns. I have to be aware that I don’t lose the trail, but it sounds like the trail is marked well. I’m going to rely on my dogs to stay on the trail, I’m just really excited to be here. I wanted to run this race for a long time and the opportunity arose and we’re here. We’re ready to race,” Sass said.

Fan favorites DeeDee Jonrowe and Lance Mackey are back for the Kusko, along with six YK Delta mushers. First on the trail will be Ken Anderson, departing alongside Brent Sass. Mushers will be limited to 12 dogs, down from 14 in past years.

Six teams are registered for the Bogus Creek 150. The Akiak Dash is Saturday.

The K300 is not allowing spectator vehicles on the ice at the start due to the condition of the ice. They urge travelers to be extra cautious this weekend sharing the truck trail with dog teams.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Starring

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:55

Members of Unalaska’s Holy Ascension Cathedral congregation spin traditional stars for Russian Christmas, or Slaaviq, which took place last week. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different than elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town has evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths.

So the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik has more on how their Slaaviq has become a community celebration.

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In Unalaska’s historic downtown, Christmastime means almost every building is strung with lights – all but the Orthodox Church, which sits at the back of the neighborhood. Its green onion domes date back 200 years, standing out in a skyline of cargo cranes and seafood plants.

Outside the church, you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas – until early January, when a rare sound rings out across the island.

In the sanctuary, about 15 worshippers are singing a set of Russian and English carols. They’re grouped around a pair of spinning wooden stars, each a few feet across and strung with lights, bells and tinsel. This starring ceremony will repeat dozens of times in the next few nights, in kitchens and living rooms across town.

The congregation and other Unalaskans gather for a starring at Unalaska’s senior center. At far right, Father Evon Bereskin joins in the caroling. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

But the biggest, newest part of the holiday came earlier in the day. At least 100 people packed into the local senior center for a community Slaaviq potluck. The meal only dates back about 15 years, designed to give the elders a starring in the daytime.

“The meaning of the celebration of the nativity of Christ, the starring, is that we’re going out to proclaim the birth of Christ,” says Father Evon Bereskin, the Orthodox priest for Unalaska and several nearby villages.

“The stars that we’re spinning are the stars which the wise men followed,” he says. “So we’re spinning and singing and following the star, which leads us to Christ.”

From here, Bereskin says they’ll spend three days starring in people’s homes. These days, that can include longtime Unalaskans who aren’t actually part of the congregation.

But the list for the second night is all church-goers. The group that will bring the star to them is bigger than the one at the church. They meet at Father Bereskin’s apartment for coffee and brownies, then try to figure out who is next – and spread the word via text message.

Vince Tutiakoff, choir leader: Okay, listen up. We’re gonna go to Monty’s, Shirley’s, Vicki’s, Jenny’s…

Lifelong Unalaskan Sharon Svarny Livingston is one of the starring group. She says this part has changed a lot since she was little, when the town looked more like the villages that celebrate Slaaviq in the rest of Alaska.

“In all those other places, you walk with the star all over the whole town, you know? So that creates a different feeling. Here you’ve gotta drive,” Svarny Livingston says. “And if you’re working and you don’t get off until late, you’ve gotta try to find the star, which can be really difficult sometimes.

“It’s easier now with cell phones,” she adds, laughing.

The congregation after a starring ceremony in Father Bereskin’s kitchen. This white star is thought to be more than a century old. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

The congregation’s also had to condense some over the years. With many parents now raising their kids to celebrate two Christmases – American and Russian – Svarny Livingston says they’ve had to work harder to pass on the traditions.

“We kind of went through a period where we really had to teach the young kids the songs and stuff,” she says. “We all started to go in one group and we just kind of stayed that way. That’s what’s really changed.”

The single star they’re using now is thought to be their oldest – made about a century ago in the Native village of Kashega, which was abandoned during World War II.

Marie Schliebe, left, calls a friend to let them listen in on a home starring. At right, Sharon Svarny Livingston looks over her packet of Russian carol lyrics. (Photo by Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska)

Tonight, that star – as big as a small child – gets a ride in one of the SUVs caravanning up the road to the first houses on the list. Then, it crowds into Vicki Williams’ living room with its entourage of carolers singing in Russian.

The starring always ends the same way: with a blessing of long life.

Choir (singing): Many years to all, many years to all, to the people in this house. (In Russian and English) Merry Christmas, merry Christmas!

Williams: Thank you!

Vicki Williams wears a big smile, standing in the middle of the crowd and thanking all her friends for coming as they file out.

“I feel like I’m having my house blessed when they come here, you know, with the cross and the star and stuff,” she says, as she bids a “see you later” to a pair of young fishermen on their way out the door.

Around her, the room has emptied out as quickly as it filled. The starring group is heading back to their cars. They’ve got lots more houses to get to before the night is over.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Sleetmute

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:54

This week, we’re heading to Sleetmute, a small community east of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. Gladys Fredericks is the Tribal Council President in Sleetmute.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: January 16, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 15:53

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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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases; Alaska’s Appeal On Hold

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear four same-sex marriage cases and will rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by early summer.

Legislators Prefile 23 More Bills

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Pot, privacy, and Arctic policy are all issues the Alaska Legislature may take up this session.

As Work Continues On Spending Plan, Walker To Revive State Of The Budget Address

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

It’s been almost a decade since a governor has delivered a State of the Budget address. With Alaska now in deficit-spending mode, Gov. Bill Walker plans to bring the speech back.

Mat-Su Borough Ponders Legal Pot

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An entrepreneurial spirit drove a public forum on a future Matanuska-Susitna Borough marijuana law Thursday night. There’s no shortage of ideas as to how to deal with legal pot in the Valley.

A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A new film produced by the University’s Museum of the North in Fairbanks, seeks to reveal the secrets of the undersea migration life of whales. The animated film is called A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale. The film features English, Inupiaq and St Lawrence Island Yupik narration.

Kuskokwim 300 Mushers Ready to Race on Ice

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Twenty-five mushers are set to begin racing tonight from Bethel to Aniak and back in the 36th running of the Kuskokwim 300.

AK: Starring

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different than elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town has evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths.

So the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too.

300 Villages: Sleetmute

This week, we’re heading to Sleetmute, a small community east of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. Gladys Fredericks is the Tribal Council President in Sleetmute.

Categories: Alaska News

Supreme Court agrees to hear same-sex marriage cases; Alaska’s appeal on hold

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 14:59

The U.S. Supreme Court Building. Photo by Kjetil Ree, via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear four same-sex marriage cases and will rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by early summer. A federal court decision made same-sex marriage legal in Alaska in October. The Parnell administration started the appeals process for that decision. The Walker administration had been debating whether or not to continue with the appeal. But Cori Mills with the Department of Law says the Supreme Court’s decision to make a final ruling on same-sex marriage bans preempted the Walker administration. Attorney General Craig Richards issued a statement saying he will ask the 9th Circuit to put a hold on Alaska’s appeal until after the Supreme Court makes a final ruling.

Mills says same-sex couples in Alaska can continue to marry as the case proceeds through the court system. The Supreme Court denied the state’s request for a stay on same-sex marriages last fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Implementing Marijuana Regulation in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 12:00

Voters approved the legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old in the November election. (Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)

With a simple vote of the people, Alaska became a leader among states legalizing marijuana, but now it has to figure out how to do it. Is Alaska up to that leadership challenge? Some people would say it has been in the leadership on this particular issue for years.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Bruce Schulte, Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation
  • 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, January 20, 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

Lawmakers Prepare For 29th Legislative Session

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-01-16 09:00

As the 29th legislative session looms closer, legislators are busy prefiling legislation they hope will become law over the course of the session. From the legalization of pot, to the proposed LNG pipeline, to the state’s uncertain budgetary future, legislators have a lot to address this session.

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HOST: Zachariah Hughes


  • Ellen Lockyer, KSKA 91.1FM
  • Alexandra Gutierrez, Alaska Public Radio Network

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 16 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 17 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 17 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

As Work Continues On Spending Plan, Walker To Revive State Of The Budget Address

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 18:27

It’s been almost a decade since a governor has delivered a State of the Budget address. With Alaska now in deficit-spending mode, Gov. Bill Walker plans to bring the speech back. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The last State of the Budget address was delivered by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2006. That year, Alaska was looking at a billion-dollar surplus, and lawmakers needed to decide what to do with the extra revenue. There was a chance to buy a stake in Trans-Alaska oil Pipeline, and put money toward a natural gas project.

Jim Clark was the governor’s chief of staff then, and he says their office was in an exceptional situation.

“We wanted to talk about that because we were closing in on a deal with the producers,” says Clark.

Now, the State of the Budget speech is being revived under a different sort of exceptional situation. Oil is less than half the value it was a year ago, and the state is looking at a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall as a result.

“This kind of year is far worse than our administration had it,” says Clark.

The State of the Budget address can be delivered separately from the State of the State, but it is not done very often. It’s logistically more challenging, because it means getting the Legislature in one room on two nights, back to back. It also means hoping the public turns on the radio or television to hear speeches two nights in a row. In the past 15 years, it’s only been done once.

Grace Jang, a spokesperson for Gov. Walker, says the current budget realities make two speeches — one this coming Wednesday and one on Thursday — necessary.

“The state is facing an unprecedented fiscal challenge, and the governor wants to make sure that there’s enough time to address what’s coming and to communicate to Alaskans just how dire the situation is,” says Jang.

Jang won’t use the term “crisis” — the administration is trying to avoid panic language — but she says the State of the Budget address isn’t making a comeback just because the administration thought it was a nice tradition.

“Is it going to happen again? Is there going to be another State of the Budget speech in coming years? Hard to say,” says Jang.

Right now, Walker has currently offered the Legislature a placeholder budget. He submitted a version drafted by his predecessor, without changes and without endorsement, in December to meet a deadline. But he’s advised the Legislature that he will offer a seriously revised budget sometime before the drop-dead date of February 18. Walker has also asked his commissioners to look at how their agencies would manage cuts of up to 8 percent.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says legislative leadership is still waiting for that information.

“We have no idea right now. The administration hasn’t told us that they’re going to provide us with anything dealing with the budget yet,” says the Nikiski Republican.

His office had questions about Walker’s request to give a State of the Budget address without actually having provided the Legislature a budget with which to work. The Speaker also requested that the Legislature’s research staff produce a timeline of when the governor has provided separate speeches to find out how unusual the request was.

Chenault says the Legislature plans to start work on the budget shortly after they gavel in, adding that he would like direction on the governor’s budget sooner rather than later.

“We’ll wait to hear both the speeches and hopefully hear from the governor on which direction he would like to go,” says Chenault.

According to budget director Pat Pitney, the administration is not planning to have a finalized document ready by the State of the Budget address, but will have established target spending levels for each state agency.

Categories: Alaska News

Board Reverses Suspensions Of Former-Sen. Stevens Prosecutors

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 17:00

A review board has reversed the suspensions of two federal attorneys accused of withholding evidence in the prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens. The Merit Systems Protection Board ruled this month that the Justice Department bungled the disciplinary process against the two prosecutors. Joseph Bottini was facing a 40-day suspension. James Goeke was to be suspended for 15 days.

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Stevens’ 2008 conviction was eventually tossed out amid charges the U.S. attorneys violated court rules of evidence as they pursued the senator.

Ironically, the attorney suspensions were tossed out because, the review board found, the Justice Department violated its own rules as they pursued the two prosecutors.

The board said the department’s procedural error occurred after an attorney assigned to review the case against Bottini and Goeke concluded they did not commit professional misconduct. Justice officials then re-assigned the case to another attorney, who decided the opposite and pursued the suspensions. The board said that violated the Justice Department’s disciplinary process. The Justice Department can appeal.

Categories: Alaska News

Plunging Oil Prices Cast Doubt on Arctic Drilling

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:58

As oil prices continue to plummet, some corporations are scaling back on expensive exploration projects — like drilling in Arctic waters. But, one company with a major stake in the region has yet to tip its hand.

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Within the last few months, a handful of oil companies have backed away from the Arctic. Chevron decided to stop seeking government approval to work north of Canada. And over in Greenland, Statoil gave back three of its four licenses to drill offshore.

But Royal Dutch Shell has been quiet about whether it’s still planning to go back to Alaska this summer for the first time in three years.

Spokesperson Megan Baldino wouldn’t comment on the role that oil prices might play in Shell’s decision. But Foster Mellen, a global oil and gas analyst with Ernst & Young, says it’s clear what they’re up against.

“Pretty much all companies — even the big, financially sound companies — are looking at very much reduced cash flows for the coming year,” Mellen says. “So discretionary spending such as high-risk, high-cost exploration is probably the first to be put on the shelf.”

Unless the price of oil is above $80 per barrel, Mellen says it doesn’t usually make sense to drill in the Arctic. Right now, the price is somewhere around $50.

But Shell’s investment in the Arctic might overshadow that. The company’s spent about $6 billion on its prospects in Alaska. And Malte Humpert, the executive director of the nonpartisan Arctic Institute, says that could spur Shell forward.

“They might really assume that prices go back up and it would take years anyways to develop the drills and get the oil out of the ground,” Humpert says. “But I think it would be a hard sell, to weigh those short-term roadblocks over long-term potential.”

Shell has walked away from the Alaskan Arctic once before, though. The company drilled several wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the 1980s.

But according to a fact sheet produced by the company, it was ”too expensive to operate given the technology and oil price regime that existed at the time.”

Shell didn’t turn its attention back to Alaska for more than a decade. In 2005, the company started buying up leases again — eventually spending more than $2 billion on sites in the Chukchi Sea.

Those leases have been the subject of a long-running legal challenge. And that could be the biggest hurdle Shell faces as they consider a return to the Arctic in 2015.

John Callahan is a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in Anchorage.

“The court order prevents BOEM from formally processing — or what we call ‘deeming submitted’ — this exploration plan from Shell,” Callahan says. “However, this court order also explicitly allows BOEM to work with Shell, to get together and discuss ways the plan can be approved. And that’s what our people are doing.”

The formal review can’t start until the Secretary of the Interior decides whether to uphold the lease sale where Shell picked up big prospects in the Chukchi Sea. That decision is expected sometime in March.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for oil markets to bounce back before Shell’s Arctic fleet would have to head north to start their drilling season.

The company’s expected to provide more details on its plans for the Arctic — and other ventures around the world — during a quarterly earnings call with investors on January 29.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Businesses Struggle To Comply With Health Insurance Requirement

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:56

Starting this month, businesses in Alaska with more than 100 full time workers have to provide health insurance. And under the Affordable Care Act “full time” is any employee who works more than 30 hours a week. Senator Lisa Murkowski is sponsoring legislation that would change that threshold to 40 hours. Many restaurants owners in Anchorage are watching the legislation closely.

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It just after the lunch rush at Crossbar in midtown Anchorage and Sous Chef Roy Martinez is grilling steak, plating french fries and trying to make out a confusing order slip. He wonders out loud if “on side add B” means bacon. A server tells him it’s actually code for brown gravy.

Martinez does not get health insurance through work. But his boss, Crossbar owner Ken Ryther would like to change that:

“I would love to offer my employees that benefit.”

Ryther worked at the Bear Tooth Theaterpub & Grill for 12 years, where he had employer sponsored health insurance. He knows health insurance helps retain employees and that in turn improves service and food quality. He also thinks it’s the right thing to do. So when he opened Crossbar a year ago health insurance was on his radar, but he says it just wasn’t feasible:

“There was no way we could afford healthcare in the beginning given start up costs and a new business and managing cash flow.”

Starting next January, Ryther may no longer have a choice. That’s when the Affordable Care Act will require businesses with more than 50 full time employees who work over 30 hours per week to provide insurance. Ryther says he’s close to that threshold right now.

The legislation Senator Murkowski’s proposing would bump the definition of “full time” to 40 hours per week. That would make a big difference for Ryther:

“It would definitely make life easier.”

Murkowski’s office has heard from more than two dozen Alaska businesses who are concerned about the requirement, from restaurants, school districts and plumbers. Murkowski says the full time definition is forcing businesses to cut employee hours to under 30 hours per week to avoid paying the penalty for not providing insurance. She says it doesn’t make sense:

“If you ask most Americans, if you ask most Alaskans, what they consider full time to be, they’ll say 40 hours.”

Some local restaurants already do provide health insurance. Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria, which owns the Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing has offered employees health insurance for more than a decade. Brooke VanVeckhoven is the human resources manager for the company, which has about 500 employees in Anchorage. VanVeckhoven says the owners who started Moose’s Tooth in 1996 considered health insurance an important benefit and offered it within a few years of opening. But she understands why other businesses, especially restaurants, struggle to do the same:

“We’ve been contacted by a lot of small local restaurants who would love to offer health insurance to their employees, even before the requirement by the government, and it’s just hard for them to find something that’s affordable that doesn’t eat every bit of their profits.”

That concern for the bottom line is very real for Crossbar owner Ken Ryther. As he considers potentially having to provide health insurance, he is also worrying about the minimum wage increase, which will take effect next month. He says at a certain point, the impact on his business becomes unsustainable:

“Folks are going to be having to pay a whole lot more to go out to eat, which then they’re probably not going to go out to eat, and if people don’t go out to eat you don’t have restaurants if you don’t have restaurants you lose a lot of jobs.”

Ryther would like to see his business grow enough so that he can offer his employees health insurance. But he says he would rather have that be a choice than a government imposed requirement.

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




Categories: Alaska News

Governor Names New Deputy Labor Commissioners

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:54

Gov. Bill Walker has named two new deputy commissioners at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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Former State Senator Joe Thomas, a Fairbanks Democrat, is taking one of the posts. Thomas served in the Legislature for six years, and he was an official with a Fairbanks labor union for two decades.

Greg Cashen has previously served as an assistant commissioner with the department, and most recently worked for the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

Categories: Alaska News

UAS Closes Bookstore, Prepares For Tight Budget Times

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:53

The UAS Bookstore sold a lot more than just books. (Photo courtesy MRV Architects)

The University of Alaska Southeast closed its bookstore in Juneau at the end of last year, because it hadn’t been profitable for years. As the school looks ahead, UAS will need to make more tough decisions about its budget.

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Students at the UAS Sitka and Ketchikan campuses have long ordered textbooks through the school’s official Online Bookstore or another website. Now students in Juneau will have to do the same.

Callie Conerton is UAS student government president. She says the closure of the bookstore isn’t affecting how she buys textbooks. Conerton is in her fourth year at UAS, studying elementary education. She tends to order books online anyway.

“If I can get a book that is the older edition that still has 95 percent of the information and is $100 cheaper, I’m going to take that route,” says Conerton.

She says some students are upset by the closure, especially ones that sign up for or change classes right before the semester starts. They don’t have the convenience of buying textbooks at the bookstore but instead have to wait for them to arrive in the mail.

“So it is a little bit hard. Shipping to Alaska, of course, from down south is extremely hard, but it’s an adjustment period. It’s a transition,” Conerton says.

The bookstore has been on or near the Juneau campus since the early 1980s. In more recent years, it doubled as a gift shop and sold a lot more than just books. It had school and art supplies, dorm decorations and work by local artists. It was also the place to buy UAS sweatshirts and gear.

But UAS vice chancellor for administration Michael Ciri says it was simply not financially stable.

“The bookstore had not been profitable for quite a few years and it was increasingly unprofitable and all of the projections show that it was going to be between $50,000 and $150,000 deficit ongoing into the future,” Ciri says.

Starting in the fall of 2013 the university went through a lengthy process to review bookstore operations. In May, officials made the final decision to close it. Ciri says the bookstore’s budget was around $770,000.

UAS gear can now be purchased at a new convenience store in the Mourant Building, and soon at the recreation center. School supplies will be offered in vending machines on campus.

The almost 4,000 sq. foot bookstore was located in the same building as the school’s administrative services and human resources departments. In the near future, Ciri says the space will likely be used as temporary office space for staff while the Hendrickson building is renovated. Otherwise, he says UAS is actively looking at selling the building.

“Not quite certain what the solution will be for all of the business functions that are in that building yet,” Ciri says, “but if we can find a way to use space more efficiently on campus and be able to accommodate them there then we would have one less building to be maintaining, which in tight budget times would be advantageous.”

And Ciri says UAS needs to start planning for even tighter times. During the school’s Christmas break, Gov. Bill Walker asked all state agencies to look at the potential effects of a 5 percent and 8 percent budget cut. Ciri says that translates into either a $3.4 million or $4.3 million reduction, or between 30 and 50 staff members.

“That’s the equivalent of the general funding we receive for a third of all of our academic program, and so you can’t do that without significantly reducing staff. Ideally you wouldn’t do it all through staff reduction. You’d find some other strategies to do it, like selling a building,” Ciri says.

UAS is starting to look at budget cutting measures, he says, like a hiring freeze and identifying how departments can save money this fiscal year.

Full disclosure: Callie Conerton is the daughter of KTOO’s Jeff Brown.

Categories: Alaska News

Klawock Couple Plans Halftime Wedding

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:52

A couple in Klawock has been engaged since 2001, but they couldn’t quite come to agreement about what kind of wedding ceremony to have. They finally settled on a unique venue: Center court at halftime during Friday’s home basketball game.

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Lisa George definitely didn’t want a traditional wedding, with the church or the dress or any of that frilly stuff. Jared Barlow definitely didn’t want to go to the courthouse, with just a judge, a couple of witnesses and no fanfare.

How to get married then, has been a topic of discussion for the couple for quite some time. Last fall, they finally made a decision.

“ Lisa said:’We’ll have it at the first basketball game. There’s your time and place. You set it up.’” Said Barlow.

That’s another thing. The bride wants nothing to do with planning.

“So, I’ve been putting all the plans together and arranging everything, and all she’s got to do is walk in and show up,” he said.

It’s a bit of a role reversal. Traditionally, women tend to be more excited about planning weddings. But George said their relationship is not traditional.

“I’m more into the typical male role, if you want to put it that way,” she said. “And he’s more of the female that likes the lovey dovey, frilly things. It works for us.”

George has had minimal responsibilities. She had to say yes or no to a few things, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no wedding dress, either, although there are rumors that a veil might end up pinned to her Klawock Chieftains jersey.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just planned on being in my Chieftains gear, and whatever my cousins and aunties and relatives figure out, we’ll go from there.”

While George has stayed out of it, Barlow wasn’t completely on his own when planning the wedding. Other residents of the tight-knit community of Klawock have rallied to help.

“It really hasn’t been too much,” he said. “The biggest issue that I’ve had was trying to make sure my family from out of town could come up.”

That includes Barlow’s father, who is performing the ceremony and had a long four-day trip from a village in Peru where he’s now living.

Barlow said he met George online, as he was planning to move to Klawock. He had started his Alaska residency in Sitka, drawn there by his sister, who was attended Sheldon Jackson College.

“She sent me a bunch of pictures of the water and the hillsides, and so I said that’s where I’ve got to go and I moved to Sitka in June of 1999,” he said.

But, the tourism in Sitka was too much for him, so about a year later, Barlow moved to Prince of Wales Island. He wanted to find out more about Klawock before moving, so he did a search on Yahoo Messenger. That’s how he met George.

“I’ve tried to duplicate that search since then, and have never been able to duplicate a search to find her anywhere,” he said. “That one search was what did it for me in order to find her.”

Now, about 15 years later, wedding bells will ring – or half-time buzzers will sound — as the couple finally ties the knot.

Friday’s ceremony will take place after the boys’ team plays – which includes George’s 18-year-old son — and before the girls’ game. The visiting team is the Kake Thunderbirds.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage tourism numbers up, expected to continue

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:13

2014 was a record year for tourism in Southcentral Alaska according to Visit Anchorage. The organization predicts 2015 might be just as good. Visit Anchorage President and CEO Julie Saupe says the primary measure is bed tax collection. The municipality will pull in about $24.2 million this year, a third of which goes back to Visit Anchorage to market the city.

Saupe says tourism to the region is bouncing back because of marketing efforts and general economic rebound.

“I think there’s a lot of consumer confidence, a lot of people are finally feeling they might have a little disposable income after what we saw happen in 2008 and 2009, so there’s a little pent up demand.”

Saupe says tour operators and sales staff foresee tourism continuing to grow in 2015. Cruise ships plan to bring an additional 33,000 passengers to Southcentral Alaska next year. Organizations are also booking many conferences in the region.

Saupe says the increase in tourism is good for the entire economy. ”You look at the tourists on the street and yes they’re in the our restaurants, our hotels, our gift shops. That’s the easy layer to see. But all of those businesses have insurance, they have remodeling, they’re using gas for the tour vans. It really does trickle to just about every corner of our community.”

The city’s bed tax also feeds into the general fund and helps pay for the city’s convention centers.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Democrats Push Bills Combating Sexual Assault, Retaliation in National Guard

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 16:03

Jennifer Pastrick, far left, sat beside Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anch), Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anch.), and retired Lieutenant Ken Blaylock on the second floor of the Legislative Information Office.

Two lawmakers introduced a group of bills today designed to fix issues within the Alaska National Guard.

Anchorage Democrats Chris Tuck and Bill Wielechowski  made the announcement at a press conference inside the new Legislative Information Office in downtown Anchorage.

The first of the three bills aims to change reporting procedures in the Guard for crimes like sexual assault, protect victims from retaliation, and prosecute cases in civilian courts. Retired Lieutenant Ken Blaylock blew the whistle on crimes within the Guard, and spoke as part of the event.  He explained the measure eliminates inappropriate and criminal actions that have been taking place with impunity for the last 20 years.

“This type of thing would force a record,” Blaylock said.  ”You have a lot of leaders that make statements, but they don’t produce paperwork with a signature on it saying ‘I’m the one that made this decision,’ so things are just dropped, and a victim comes forward and complains and is basically ignored.”

Another bill revises the Uniform Code of Military Justice that guides legal procedures within the Guard. The highly technical document hasn’t changed since statehood.

“Right now, when there are offenses in the Guard they are typically handled as personnel actions,” said Senator Wielechowski. “By adding and changing the Uniform Code of Military Justice we would be creating a criminal justice system within the Guard.”

“I know people are concerned about cost,” Wielechowski said in response to a question about push-back he anticipates. “We think this can be handled by and large by the resources that the Guard has.”

A third bill creates a legal mechanism for private companies to give veterans priority in hiring.

No Republicans have signed on to the legislation so far. Representative Tuck says the absence of any Republican co-sponsors has more to do with timetables than with politics.

“This isn’t one party versus the other party type legislation,” Tuck said. “This is doing something that’s best for all of Alaska. So we hope that going forward we’ll have a lot of support and a lot of ideas coming from the whole Legislature.”

The Legislative session in Juneau starts Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Landbank Lawsuit Aimed at USACE Regs

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 11:48

 An obscure lawsuit filed by a Matanuska Susitna wetlands mitigation bank could have national implications. The suit, now in Federal Claims Court, alleges breach of contract by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and land developers are closely watching the outcome.  

Wasilla based Pioneer Reserve, a wetlands mitigation bank, is suing the US Army Corps of Engineers in Federal Claims Court for twelve million dollars, but the court’s decision could have further reach regarding the enforceability of wetlands mitigation agreements.

 Pioneer Reserve is the first, and possibly the only, family – owned wetlands mitigation bank in Alaska. The land bank was established by Scott Walther, a Wasilla landowner with holdings in the Hatcher Pass area.

 Walther worked with the Great Land Trust to place conservation easements on 166 acres of Little Susitna River drainage. The area is considered critical salmon habitat. Pioneer’s president, Calli Donn says Pioneer got full Corps of Engineers approval as a wetlands mitigation bank in 2011, and the two entities signed an agreement, called a “wetlands mitigation instrument.”

“When we signed our instrument, we had used a scientific methodology to determine how many credits we would get. And then we had a table of credits we expected to have upon signing the instrument.”

 Donn says Pioneer was initially  assessed at 150 credits by the Corps, through a process that involves a federal interagency review team. The credits can be sold to developers. Each of Pioneer’s credits is  worth $ 79,000.

 The trouble arose when the Mat Su Borough’s rail spur project filed with the Corps for wetlands fill permits in 2012. The Corps,  in most cases,  uses a wetland mitigation bank to offset a project’s impact on water resources. The Corps at first directed the Borough to purchase credits for the rail spur project from Pioneer. But then the Corps inexplicably reduced Pioneer’s ranking to only 17 credits, Donn says, about a year after the “instrument” was signed.

“We received an email saying that they [the Corps} felt that it  had been incorrectly mapped.”

Donn says Pioneer attempted to negotiate with the Corps over the downgrade, to no avail.
Pioneer’s land, now encumbered by a conservation easement, can’t be sold or used for mitigation credits due to the Corps’s sudden reversal.

The Borough had to purchase the bulk of the railroad project credits from a different company.  Donn says the sudden reduction in credits and the loss of potential sales cost Pioneer twelve million dollars, prompting the breach of contract suit against the Corps.

“It left us with almost nothing, which is why we turned to litigation.”

Pioneer filed suit last May. The Corps filed a motion for dismissal of the suit, claiming the wetlands “instrument” is not a binding agreement. But in November of last year,  a Federal Claims Court judge denied the Corps’motion, saying that Pioneer’s complaint presents enough information to allege the existence of a contract.

 Now the court must decide on Pioneer’s complaint, and implicit in that decision is whether or not the Corps’ initial wetlands instrument with Pioneer is enforceable as a contract.

Land bankers, and land developers, are watching the outcome, since establishment of a land bank is a long term financial commitment, and trust in a bargain with the Corps is a must.

Calli Donn says her company is not holding a grudge against the Corps:

“You know, it’s been financially a huge hardship. So if we can get to the end of that suit and we can collect damages, then I think we can continue to work with the Corp on other projects, and we expect to in the future, and I hope that they are working toward a better system that doesn’t have some of the pitfalls that the current system does. ”


Spokesman for the Corps in Anchorage and in Washington, DC have withheld comment, citing litigation in progress. No court date has been set .  








Categories: Alaska News

Grand Jury Hands Down 3 Murder Charges in White Mountain New Year’s Day Killing

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-01-15 11:33

Gilbert Olanna, Jr. faces a total of three murder charges in the death of Esther Lincoln. (Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM)

The man accused of killing his girlfriend on New Year’s Day in White Mountain now faces a total of three murder charges in her death.

A grand jury indictment handed down in the Nome court Tuesday charges 31-year-old Gilbert Olanna—who already faced one charge of first degree murder—with two additional charges of second degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, 40-year-old Esther Lincoln.

Esther Lincoln. (Photo: Luann Harrelson via KTUU)

The additional murder charges all point to what prosecutors claim Olanna’s intent at the time of the alleged crimes. The new second-degree murder charges claims he both intended to cause serious injury and acted with “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

District Attorney John Earthman said the additional charges comes from the grand jury considering each charge independently.

“There are all sorts of different possibilities when you start looking at significant alleged criminal episodes and you start applying the different possibilities,” Earthman said. “What you see in an indictment are different legal theories to try to apply to the evidence down the road at trial.”

In addition to the three murder charges, the grand jury also handed down two felony counts of tampering with evidence.

Olanna’s public defender entered “not guilty” pleas for all charges. His bail remained at 100-thousand dollars in cash. As of Tuesday, Olanna remains in custody at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center.

Ways to make donations to support the family of Esther Lincoln can be found on a Facebook page raising funds for the family.

Categories: Alaska News

Making walking in Anchorage safer

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-14 17:15

Source: Alaska Department of Transportation, 2014. Numbers include all injured parties involved in the incidents, not just pedestrians. 

Nearly 8 percent of Alaskans walk to work. It’s the highest rate in the nation according to American Community Survey data. The national average is only 2.8 percent.  But the state is also ranked #3 for the rate of pedestrian deaths. Three people have been killed in the past month. So what’s happening in Anchorage to help keep walkers safe?

Dressed in a heavy black jacket and dark pants, Keith Joe walks down Muldoon headed from the bus stop to his trailer as cars rush by. He’s not far from where a pedestrian was killed earlier this month and where he says a friend’s child was killed years before. It’s a trip he makes nearly everyday. He says he only has one major complaint with drivers in the area.

“They just don’t remember to look the other way. They’re just so worried about getting an opening in traffic that they pull out where they block you. They just don’t care. Or sometimes they’ll even see you and they’ll still pull out cause they just want to dive out. I just feel it’s wrong. They’re in a nice warm car and we’re walking and it’s cold. They could wait a second, you know?”

But Joe admits that sometimes he breaks the rules, too. He doesn’t like having trudge up the street to wait at crosswalks for the light to eventually change. He says if traffic flow is low, he’ll cut across the five-lane-wide street, despite the risks.

“Night time is most time we will cross right here.”

“Even though then it’s dark and people can’t see you?” I asked.

“Yeah, well, we can see pretty good…” He shrugs off the question.

State Department of Transportation data shows the number of pedestrian deaths in Alaska jumps erratically from year to year, but the trend is fairly steady– about 9 per year.

DOT Traffic and Safety Engineer Scott Thomas says part of the problem is that pedestrians think they’re visible when they’re not. ”You see the headlight on and you say ‘Well, I’m wearing brown.’ But to the motorist that is dark. And it may be competing with the oncoming headlights of other cars.”

Thomas says most pedestrian-vehicle accidents happen in the fall, when it’s dark and roads are starting to get slippery. He says things are usually better in the winter because it’s easier to see people with a white backdrop of snow. But not this year, when the grimy snow isn’t helping visibility.

So there’s recently been a slight spike in pedestrian deaths, but the number of pedestrian accidents that result in serious injury has actually been slowly trending downward since 2000.

Thomas says different design elements help. Crosswalk signals with timers reduce the number of accidents because pedestrians know how long they have to cross the street. He says medians, like the ones that will we built on Muldoon this summer, also help.

“If a pedestrian does try to cross in between an intersection, or in between a signal, then there’s a place of refuge. And it divides the crossing into two steps and makes it easier.”

Anchorage Traffic Engineer Stephanie Mormilo says city code now requires all new road projects to include facilities for walkers and bikers, like sidewalks and bike lanes. She says the municipality is becoming more aware of different needs, mostly in response to community demand.

“I guess there’s a shift in the dynamic, I think. And a lot of people are really recognizing that roads are not just for vehicles. They are not. They are transportation corridors that provide for all users.”

Mormilo says the struggle comes when trying to renovate old roads — they don’t have the right of way to add more sidewalks or bike lanes.

“When you’re reconstructing these existing roads you often have a kind of a set limit, set amount of space of what you really can do when you have all this development surrounding your roads.”

She says they try to use as many innovative designs as possible to incorporate the needs of all types of users. But she says no matter how the road is designed, drivers, walkers, and bicyclists needs to be aware of who is near them to keep everyone safe.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Anticipates Cutting Over 200 Jobs

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-01-14 16:58

The University of Alaska Fairbanks anticipates cutting between 200 and 250 jobs this year. That from UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, who in an address to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce yesterday focused on the affect of slumping oil prices on state funding for the university.

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Categories: Alaska News