Alaska News

North Pacific Council meets in Sitka

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 10:45

Fishermen, scientists, and seafood industry representatives from around Alaska — and the country — are in Sitka this week for the meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. That’s the body that regulates all federal fisheries off Alaska, including pollock, cod and flatfish.

The big, hot button item on the agenda is whether to limit halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Small fishermen up and down the coast are pushing to reduce the number of halibut taken and discarded by big boats targeting groundfish.

But the Council has several other issues on its plate.

That includes updates on the federal Observer Program, which places biologists on fishing vessels to monitor how much fish — and what kind — are caught. Two years ago, the program began placing observers on small boats, mostly in the longline halibut fleet. Small fishermen have protested that the extra person is a burden, and have asked for an electronic monitoring program, using cameras instead.

The Council will also decide on overfishing limits for three species of crab in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. And they will discuss a proposal to allow vessels fishing for golden king crab to offload parts of their catch in Adak, as part of an effort to sustain a live crab market there.

The Council itself will hold its first day of meetings Wednesday, June 3. It will begin by taking reports from staff and agencies. The Council is expected to take public comment on halibut bycatch late Wednesday or Thursday.

So far this week, two committees that advise the Council have been combing through reports on the various issues. The Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet through Wednesday. The Advisory Panel, made up of industry representatives, will meet through Saturday. That panel will take public comment on halibut bycatch Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska grizzly bear license plates off to a good start

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 10:17

Alaska’s grizzly bear license plate has made its comeback and is gaining popularity among vehicle owners.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles released the grizzly bear license plates on May 7, and since then 75 percent of the general-issue license plates have been the grizzly design.

A bill the Legislature passed last year reintroduced the plates.

The license plate was modeled on a 1976 bicentennial design. It features a brown bear standing on its hind legs with a backdrop of mountains and sun. The difference in the two designs can be found in the grizzly’s fur, which was darkened because the original was often confused for a gopher.

The division’s director, Amy Erickson, said last week there had been more than 3,700 issued since the release.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage police ID remains found washed up on mudflats

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 10:16

Anchorage police have released the identity of the man whose body was found in the mudflats near Kincaid Park.

Police in a Tuesday release identified the remains as 32-year-old Joseph Daniel Belmont of Anchorage.

He had been reported missing by family members on April 13. The cause of death hasn’t been determined pending both a full autopsy and toxicology reports, which would take up to two months to complete.

The decomposed body was found washed up on the mudflats near Kincaid Park on Friday by a couple walking their dog.

Categories: Alaska News

Congress Approves Commission on Native American Children

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:30

The U.S. Congress on Tuesday unanimously adopted legislation to create a Commission on Native American children, according to a prepared statement by bill sponsor and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The 11-member commission will study and develop recommendations on ways to combine and coordinate federal programs and funding for Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian children.

The commission is named in honor of Dr. Walter Soboleff, a Tlingit elder from southeast Alaska who promoted cultural education, and a lower 48 tribal leader, Alyce Spotted Bear.

Murkowski said, “Walter Soboleff lived his life by a simple motto: ‘Take care of the old person you are to become,’ but that must begin as early as possible.”

She says the aim is to more effectively address issues affecting Native children, such as poverty, abuse and domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Categories: Alaska News

Crews Battle 2500 Acre Wildfire Near Whitefish Lake

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:26

Several fires were started Sunday with lightening. Images from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

More than 80 firefighters are battling a 25-hundred acre blaze near Whitefish Lake. The fire south of Kalskag and the Kuskokwim River is one of about a dozen that were started by lightening on Sunday. Tim Mowry is the Public Information Officer for the Alaska Division of Forestry. He says smoke-jumpers and four crews were dispatched to the fire.

“For air resources we have a CL-215: a big water scooping aircraft working it, and also three water scooping airplanes called ‘Fire Bosses,’” said Mowry.

Managers don’t believe there are any structures at risk, but they want to prevent it from reaching village corporation lands. It is currently burning on Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge lands.

The fire started as two individual blazes Sunday, but Mowry say crews planned to join them Tuesday them to simplify the allocation of resources.

“Right now they’re just dropping water, trying to keep it from spreading because it’s burning on the refuge we have only a few spots where we can use retardant, so now they’re using water to try to get it under control,” said Mowry.

It’s currently burning a mix of black spruce and tundra grasses.

“Most of the fire is in light fuels, tundra and open country, it’s susceptible to rain if it falls. The forecast is calling for wetter weather moving into the area,” said Mowry.

Other fires with a staffed response include the 40-acre Getmuna fire northwest of Crooked Creek, which is now mostly contained. A 17-acre fire at nearby Little Creek was declared contained on Monday. Crews are keeping an eye on a small fire in the Lime Village area, which they believe could turn into a larger fire if conditions are right.

While green up has arrived in many places, Mowry says the tundra is still quite dry to the east. And with the arrival of summer comes more lightening storms and more human activity that can cause fires. Mowry encourages extra caution and vigilance.

“Just for people to be aware, if they’re are out and about and see smoke, please report it to the division of forestry,” said Mowry.

Nearly 11,000 acres statewide have burned so far this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Children Allegedly Set Fire to Grayling School

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:21

Alaska State Troopers report that two children intentionally set fire to the school in Grayling Monday.In an online dispatch Troopers say a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old are responsible for the fire.

They say the blaze was put out almost immediately by village residents.

The fire damaged an exterior wall, a steel door and two windows and there was minor smoke and water damage, according to the report.

Criminal charges are being referred to the Bethel Department of Juvenile Justice and the Office of Children’s Service will be notified.

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot Identified in Fatal Plane Crash

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:21

State Troopers have identified the pilot who died when a Yute Air plane went down on the Kwethluk River. Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, which responded to the scene 40 miles southeast of Bethel.

“They were eventually able to verify the pilot was inside the aircraft and they were able to tentatively identify the pilot as Blaze Highlander, age 47 of Olympia Washington,” said Peters.

Next of kin has been notified. Highlander was found in the plane, which was upside down and mostly submerged in the river.

On Sunday night, teams found the wreckage of the plane that went missing the day before. The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning for a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. Troopers received a report that the pilot was breaking in a new engine.

The National Transportation Safety Board has two investigators on scene. Clint Johnson, the chief of the Alaska Office says because there was no radio communication prior to the plane going down, the physical evidence is a big part of their early investigation. Recent rains are complicating the recovery of the partially-submerged aircraft.

“The water over the top of the wreckage has increased, which will make it more difficult for them to get those parts and pieces out of the water,” said Johnson.

There were no passengers besides the pilot as it was on a maintenance check flight following engine work. Johnson says his team is reviewing maintenance records, and once the 207 is removed from the water they hope to study it in Bethel or Anchorage.

“Obviously, because this was a maintenance operation check flight, that was the reason for the flight. We want to make sure we don’t miss anything that may be mechanically wrong with the airplane,” said Johnson.

Johnson says the agency hopes to have a preliminary accident report in five days. The full investigation may take a year.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall jökulhlaup forecast to peak just below flood levels

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:20

The National Weather Service in Juneau says a glacier dam release is causing high water levels in Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River. It’s the earliest glacier dam release from Suicide Basin on record by a month.

“A lot of our scientists are monitoring this, caught us a little bit off guard just due to how early it released,” says weather service hydrologist Aaron Jacobs. “Compared to previous years, the earliest one prior to this was right around July 4 in 2012.”

The phenomena, also known by the Icelandic term jökulhlaup, began Sunday. Lake and river levels are expected to crest at 8.7 feet around 10 a.m. Wednesday, just below the weather service’s benchmark for “minor flood stage.” That’s when Glacier Spur and Skaters Cabin roads flood. Historically, private property along View Drive has been the most susceptible to flooding.

Seasonal jökulhlaups in the Mendenhall Valley began occurring regularly in 2011. Water collects in Suicide Basin, which is about a mile upstream from the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. If enough water accumulates, it literally lifts the glacier up, kind of like an ice cube in a glass of water. As water flows out, it also bores a hole in the ice.

Jacobs says one hypothesis for why jökulhlaups have become fairly regular is the glacier’s shrinkage.

“How warm the temperatures have been the past winters, stuff like that, not having enough snow and ice accumulations, that, over time, the weight of the Mendenhall Glacier is losing that much mass and that much weight that maybe it won’t need as much water pressure to actually lift it up.”

Jacobs says forecasting Mendenhall jökulhlaups is challenging because there are several hard to measure variables, including the mass of ice in the basin, the mass of the glacier and the volume of water in the basin.

Categories: Alaska News

Groups sue agency to block Shell’s Arctic offshore drilling

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-06-03 09:17

Ten environmental groups are suing a federal agency over its approval of drilling permits off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The lawsuit seeks a review of permits granted to Royal Dutch Shell PLC by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean region is opposed by environmental groups that contend oil companies are not equipped to deal with a major blowout or spill in a region lacking deep-water ports, major airports and other infrastructure routinely present in other drilling areas.

The groups say the federal agency’s review of Shell’s exploratory drilling plan was rushed and cursory.

They say the company’s drill vessels and an accompanying flotilla of support vessels threaten whales, walruses and seals.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Categories: Alaska News

The Blob expands from Gulf of Alaska to Baja California

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:43

Scientists are watching for how a warmer North Pacific Ocean could affect weather and climate this year. There could also be significant impacts to marine life, including species that form the basis for Alaska’s commercial fisheries.

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Map showing position of sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly, aka The Blob, in the northeast Pacific Ocean in March 2014. (Image provided by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division at Boulder, Colorado)

A conference at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography earlier this month featured scientists in fields ranging from avian biology to Arctic climatology. They tried to determine the potential impacts of a giant mass of warm, ocean water that currently stretches from the Gulf of Alaska down to Baja California.

Map showing how the sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly had moved and spread along the West Coast by March 2015. (Image provided by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division at Boulder, Colorado)

Temperatures have increased more than two degrees Celsius since the fall of 2013.

“I know. It doesn’t seem like very much,” says Molly McCammon of the Alaska Ocean Observing System, an observing and data gathering organization based in Anchorage. “But for species that live in the ocean, it’s a big deal. One degree C is a big deal. So, yes, it can have a big impact.”

McCammon helped organize the Alaska contingent that participated in theCalifornia conference on the warm water anomaly that’s been nicknamed “The Blob”. The mass of warm ocean water may be a factor in Alaska’s recent mild winters, dry conditions along the West Coast, and extreme cold conditions in the Great Lakes region last winter. It’s not the same as El Niño which has its origins in the equatorial ocean, and it’s not clear if The Blob is related to Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a longer-term cycle of ocean climate variability. The Blob’s formation may have been generated by a lingering high pressure system over the Northeast Pacific that diverted winds and passing storm systems. As a result, the ocean surface did not have the chance to cool off as usual.

“I think the consensus was that, yes, this is an unusual warming event. It’s above and beyond just the warming that’s happening as a result of global warming,” McCammon says. “There also seems to be an El Niño forming right now as well. They think that’s separate, but it could be merging, exacerbating this warming event. So, there‘s a lot of unknowns.”

The relationship between the ocean and atmosphere is complex, and interactions are rarely linear or sequential. Ocean surface temperature, surface and subsurface currents, atmospheric pressure, winds, temperature, precipitation, and geography may all be linked in some way. How each condition influences another could vary significantly.

“That’s actually what we’re trying to figure out at the moment: What or how (are) things might be linked to The Blob,” says Peter Bieniek, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center. He was one of the Alaska scientists invited to attend the SIO conference.

“Normally, there are linkages to what goes on in the North Pacific, and especially the equatorial Pacific,” Bieniek says. “Sea surface temperatures, like if there’s an El Niño going on in the equatorial Pacific, then we’ll tend to get, for instance, warmer-than-normal winters in Alaska.”

Bieniek expects the higher ocean temperatures will persist for the rest of the year. The longer view, however, is difficult to predict.

Scientists believe the layer of warm surface water extends to a depth of a hundred meters. The boundary acts as a barrier and can hinder up-and-down movement of phytoplankton through the water column. The tiny, light-sensitive marine organisms form the base of the ocean food chain.

Jamal Moss, fisheries research biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Auke Bay, says the prognosis is good so far for juvenile Alaska salmon now heading out to the open ocean. This year’s juvenile pinks, for example, are the biggest ever and have the largest lipid or fat reserves.

“So, big fish that have lots of energy tend to survive better,” Moss says. “Right now, all signs are point to good conditions for at least the Alaska stocks.”

Moss, another Alaska scientist to attend the conference, specializes in juvenile salmon and juvenile marine fish ecology.

“This might be a boon for fish,” Moss says. “It might actually help them.”

“At least in the short term because it appears that the zooplankton that juvenile fish are eating is abundant, as well as high in energy and fat,” Moss says. “Even though there are a whole new suite of predators – host of predators – that are in these waters potentially preying upon them as well, it seems like they’re going to do well.”

Unusual marine sightings in high latitudes include blue and thresher sharks, pomfret, and sunfish. Those are species that usually congregate in warmer waters.

Moss says scientists have also detected an increase in juvenile sablefish or black cod offshore of Alaska. But they don’t know yet whether it’s related to the warm water event or if it’s a coincidence.

As for the West Coast, Moss says it may be a mixed-bag of conditions for those species already in warmer water.

McCammon says scientists are already planning summer research to find out how and why the warm water mass stretched out along the West Coast and determine any potential impacts on species. A follow-up conference to compare notes is tentatively planned for late fall.

Categories: Alaska News

Seniors Find Few Options Beyond Medicaid

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:42

Marian Friedrich recently received a Medicare denial. Photo By Quinton Chandler/KBBI

There has been a rise in the number of people denied the Medicaid waiver after reassessment. Duane Mayes, Director of Senior and Disabilities Services or SDS says the department wasn’t able to conduct its annual evaluations of waiver recipients’ eligibility up until several years ago because of a series of lawsuits.

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“So literally for a period of seven to eight years we were unable to remove anybody that no longer met level of care from our waiver system,” says Mayes.

Mayes says the lawsuits were settled three or four years ago and that made it possible to trim people from the program. In the last five years the department has carried out 8,253 reassessments for its waiver recipients in southcentral Alaska yielding a roughly 70 percent approval rate. That also left 2,464 denials. Marian Friedrich, a resident of Main Street Assisted Living in Homer, received one of the denials and she disagrees with the way her assessment was carried out.

“When they came and assessed me the woman who did the marking paid absolutely no attention to any mental or behavioral issues. She entirely skipped a whole half of the form as if it wasn’t important anymore. To me if you’re going to throw away half the form you better throw away the whole form,” says Friedrich.

Holly Chipps has been a Certified Nursing Assistant for 30 years. She’s worked at Main Street Assisted Living for the past two years.

“It is a very vague list, and vagueness connotes insincerity. To ask a resident can you take a spoon, put it in your bowl, and feed yourself is not a fair depiction. Can they go to the store? Can they cook their own meal? Can they determine what is good food and bad food, prepare it and then feed themselves? No they can’t. That’s why they’re here,” says Chipps.

To be fair, Mayes says the face-to-face interview isn’t the only research SDS conducts to determine a person’s eligibility. They check the questionnaire against medical records and the ultimate decision is reviewed by a third party contractor.

And lastly applicants are given a chance to appeal a denial.

Still, Chipps is certain not a single one of her residents in danger of losing their waiver can live by themselves. But, SDS has checked the paperwork and it says these people don’t qualify for that magical Nursing Home Level of Care. So for now, people like Friedrich have a couple of options. They can fight the system through appeals. Or if that doesn’t work, take the denial and try to get on the department’s other services.

“There’s general relief, there’s personal care attendant services. We spend 100 plus million in personal care attendant services.  We also have about $27 million in grant services,” says Mayes.

But these fallbacks might not be enough. Ruth Babcock, owner of Main Street Assisted Living, says General Relief is a temporary aid.

“General relief was originally setup to deal with people who did not have any resources and were younger and maybe were injured. [They] had a health issue [and] needed a place to get well for a few months maybe,” says Babcock.

The grant services are designed to help people before their health becomes so poor that they need round the clock care. And Personal Care Assistance (PCA) doesn’t necessarily guarantee all the services that could come with the waiver. PCA is also only available to people living in their home. People in assisted living centers would be left out.

Mayes says he’s heard the concerns that their continuum of care is not comprehensive enough. Partly for that reason, SDS is trying to bring two new waiver options online. One of these will serve seniors who aren’t eligible for Nursing Home Level of Care. The problem is it could take two years for those tools to come online. They won’t be around to help Marian Friedrich, and another 8 of 15 residents at Main Street Assisted Living who could lose the waiver in the next year. Friedrich still has a ray of hope. Her lawyer from Alaska Legal Services found a problem in the paperwork she received from SDS so she’s clinging to that.

This is the second in a three part series. To see part one click here.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, June 2, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:42

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

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Alaska Senators Vote to Reform Patriot Act

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to limit the NSA’s collection of bulk phone data. Both Alaska senators voted for the reforms, called the USA Freedom Act.

No Budget Deal, No Ferry Service

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

All state ferries will stop sailing by early July if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal.

Court Employees Assigned 2 Days Unpaid Leave

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

About 800 Alaska Court System employees will be forced to take two days of unpaid leave around the holidays – a result of state budget cuts.

The Blob expands from Gulf of Alaska to Baja California

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Scientists are watching for how a warmer North Pacific Ocean could affect weather and climate this year. There could also be significant impacts to marine life, including species that form the basis for Alaska’s commercial fisheries.

Seniors Find Few Options Beyond Medicaid

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The state is being criticized for finding hundreds of seniors ineligible for a Medicaid waiver program that pays the cost of their housing and nursing care.

Juneau to Be The Third City in Alaska to Shelter High-Risk Homeless

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Juneau will become the third city in Alaska to offer permanent supportive housing to the high-risk, chronically homeless. Those are the people who have been on the streets the longest, and may suffer from addiction or mental health issues.

Fort Yukon Goes Solar

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Ft. Yukon recently began operating a solar electric project. The system is testing integration of the energy source into the power grid of an isolated northern community.

Strings on the Bus: Anchorage Has A Conflux

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Over the weekend Anchorage experienced an “urban conflux.” If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t worry: it’s made up. A group of community members worked with cultural institutions and the bus system to engineer a unique project: throw a surprise party for the city.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau to become third city in Alaska to shelter high-risk homeless

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:41

Juneau will become the third city in Alaska to offer permanent supportive housing to the high-risk, chronically homeless. Those are the people who have been on the streets the longest, and may suffer from addiction or mental health issues.

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This concept drawing by MRV Architects shows the proposed Housing First project in Juneau. The facility would be built in Lemon Creek on land contributed by Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority.

The Glory Hole offers three meals a day and connects homeless people with services to look for work and find housing. Up to 43 people can sleep in the shelter’s beds, but a deal breaker to staying overnight is being intoxicated. You have to pass a breathalyzer with a blood alcohol level under 0.10.

Trevor Kellar is the outreach coordinator and housing specialist at the shelter. He says he doesn’t like telling people they can’t stay.

“It can be a bummer to kick folks out, especially in the winter asking them to leave when it’s really cold is just so hard to do. But we just try to hold a line of this is what we are, this is how we serve, these are our sobriety requirements,” he says.

Juneau is estimated to have nearly 600 homeless people. Forty of those are considered high-risk, and thus the hardest to house. That’s about to change for some. The Glory Hole just received a grant from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to build a Housing First project.

(Graph by Scott Ciambor/ Alaska Mental Health Board)

Mariya Lovischuk, The Glory Hole’s executive director, says before you can address substance abuse or mental health issues, you need to put the person in housing.

“You need to give the person no strings attached housing in order for the person to stabilize,” she says.

The grant includes $3 million dollars in capital funding as well as $1.2 million for operational costs for the next three years. Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority is contributing land in Lemon Creek where the project will be built. Lovischuk says there were a lot of obstacles to overcome to get the 32-bed facility to this point. One of them was her initial aversion to the idea.

“When I first heard about the concept I thought this is such a ridiculous idea this will never work and I’m philosophically actually opposed to it,” Lovischuk says.

She also thought it would enable residents to drink, so Lovischuk visited some of Housing First facilities in Seattle to find out for herself.

“It really took seeing how it works to realize when someone is in constant crisis and has been on the street for 12 years. You can’t just expect them to go to rehab,” Lovischuk says. “A lot of those people have been to rehab many, many times and they’re trying.”

After that, Lovischuk noticed patterns of behavior around The Glory Hole. For instance, she says a sober guest, fresh out of rehab would say, ‘Oh, I’m really excited I’m not going to drink anymore!’”

Then the inevitable stress of living in a shelter would cause them to relapse.

“’Oh, this person moved my stuff. Oh, my phone got stolen,’ and seeing that mounting and mounting, and then seeing that excitement about having a good life after rehab disappear — it was really heartbreaking,” she says.

Rainforest Recovery Center emergency vehicles patrol downtown Juneau several times a day looking for chronic inebriates. The program has a room where people can sleep off their intoxication, but the service is costly. In a two-month span, one client racked up over $33 thousand dollars in expenses that included trips to the emergency room.

Lovischuk hopes the Housing First facility will cut down these costs. The units will be more like apartments — everyone will have their own.

“So it’s definitely not going to be a shelter,” she says. “Nobody has to have annoying roommates. It’s going to be like people’s own little home.”

The Juneau Housing First Collaborative is looking for additional funding for the $7 million project, but Lovischuk says they would like to start breaking ground this summer. Once built, it will be funded by a combination of grants, donations and residents paying a small portion of their income for rent. The City and Borough of Juneau committed $1.5 million to the project in January.

Categories: Alaska News

Fort Yukon Goes Solar

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:40

Solar panels on Ft. Yukon Tribal Hall.
CREDIT DAVID PELUNIS-MESSIER / TCC

Ft. Yukon recently began operating a solar electric project. The system is testing integration of the energy source into the power grid of an isolated northern community.

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The regional Tanana Chiefs Conference and local Native Village Corporation are cooperating on the Ft. Yukon solar project, which went live last month. TCC rural energy Coordinator Dave Messier helped locals set up the system.

Like most rural Alaska villages Ft. Yukon’s power comes from generators fueled with expensive shipped in diesel, and Messier says the solar project is aimed at reducing that dependence.

During the sunny months of the year, Messier expects the panels, which went on line in mid- May, to produce more power than the Tribal Hall uses each month.

Messier calculates that the electricity produced from the solar array could offset 13 hundred gallons of diesel generated power annually, but cautions that adding a new energy source in the wrong proportion can result in an unbalanced load that reduces generator efficiency.

The solar project is combined with new LED’s lights and weatherization upgrades at the Tribal Hall, a total package that cost about a quarter million dollars, and was covered fifty, fifty by the tribe and a federal grant.

Categories: Alaska News

Investment Group Eyes Mat Su for Senior Facility

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 17:12

An Idaho company is looking into the possibility of constructing an assisted living facility near Palmer.

Douglas Clegg, CEO of Spring Creek Capital in Boise, told the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly recently that he has met with Borough officials on tentative plans to purchase property as a location for future transitional housing for seniors. Clegg says discussions center on the fact that there is no facility in Mat Su designed specifically for the care of seniors after they are released from acute care at local hospitals:

“Currently you do not have what we would call a rehabilitative post acute or sub-acute facility in the greater Mat Su, which is designed in large measure to help people move from a hospital situation to their homes. 

” And so consequently what is happening right now, is that they’re full, they are staying in their swing beds, they don’t have a place to go, they are going home prematurely, and they come back to the hospital for repeat visits, and it’s causing some real challenges down there.”

Clegg says he’s met with representatives of both Mat Su’s senior centers, and with Assembly members on a likely piece of property to purchase, and is looking at four acres located near Mat Su Regional Hospital that is currently occupied by the Mat Su Convention and Visitor’s Bureau [CVB]. Spring Creek Capital has made a cash offer and pledged one million dollars in earnest money on the property, according to Borough manager John Moosey.

“It is early, but it is my understanding that they [Spring Creek Capital] would be the owner and operator of the facility,” Moosey says.

Moosey says the Borough owns the land .

“Because the property is held in title by the Mat Su Borough, they’ll have to go through the normal process for any sale by the Borough, and that will essentially include Assembly approval.” 

Currently, the property and the building on it are undergoing an appraisal. The building, which houses the visitors bureau,  would be part of the sale. Moosey says  the CVB has planned for a year to move  to a new facility a mile up the Parks Highway.

Clegg, who  is a member of the National Investment Council for Housing and the Assisted Living Federation of America [ALFA] ) says needs for Mat Su’s burgeoning senior population are pressing due to rapid population growth.

“Your community right now is in dire need of this, this is not an issue, this is epic. If you look at the numbers of the growth of seniors in the Mat Su, you are one of five locations in the United States of America that has the fastest growing rate for seniors over the age of 65.”

Clegg says the Mat Su is in danger of losing families because of the lack of facilities for seniors.  He says that the history of Mat Su is living in the lives of its senior citizens right now.

Bonnie Quill, executive director of the Mat Su CVB is unavailable for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Court employees assigned two days unpaid leave

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 16:24

About 800 Alaska Court System employees will be forced to take two days unpaid leave around the holidays — a result of state budget cuts.

For more about Alaska’s possible government shutdown and layoffs, visit the 360 North government shutdown page.

Except for emergency business, the court system will be closed the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 27, and Christmas Eve, a Thursday, says spokeswoman Mara Rabinowitz. They’re typically light work days.

Court employees aren’t affected by the executive branch layoff notices mailed Monday.

Dimond Court Building in downtown Juneau. (File photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senators Vote to Reform Patriot Act

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 15:18

The U.S. Senate today  voted to curtail the National Security Administration’s collection of bulk phone data. Both Alaska senators voted for the reforms, called the USA Freedom Act.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski was an early sponsor, and last session was one of the few Republicans who voted to advance the bill.

Sen. Dan Sullivan says he became convinced the bill was a good revision to the controversial parts of the 2001 Patriot Act.

“I think that this reform dramatically, dramatically enhances civil liberties, and the protection of privacy, which is why I voted for it,” he said.

Late last month, Sullivan voted for a short-term extension of the Patriot Act, which failed. He says he didn’t want the less controversial programs to go dark during the debate. Sullivan says his support for the reform bill came after he pored over the most controversial section of the Patriot Act, and studied a recent court opinion declaring that the NSA overstepped its bounds.

“I think that’s what people in Alaska sent me to Washington for: Dig into the issues, study the issues,” he said. “I may have been one of the only senators that have actually sat down with that 100-page opinion and powered through the entire thing.”

Sullivan says surveillance and data-collection programs require a balance, and he thinks more reforms may be needed in the future.

“It’s the combination of wanting to make sure that we maintain our civil liberties but that we also keep up with the evolving threat, and we don’t know what the evolving threat is going to be three months from now, or six months from now.”

The bill, after it is signed into law by the president, will give the NSA six months to stop routinely collecting data about the phone calls Americans make and receive. Instead, the phone companies will keep the information about the calls — to, from and the duration. The government would need a warrant to get targeted records.

The bill passed with 67 votes. Among the 32 “no” votes were presidential candidates Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, who felt the reform bill didn’t go far enough to protect civil liberties. Also voting “no” were defense hawks like Republican senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell, who support the NSA surveillance programs. The bill already passed the House, where it had the vote of Alaska Congressman Don Young.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak protestors against Navy training take stand on land and sea

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 09:29

On Saturday afternoon, fishermen and concerned Kodiak residents gathered at Pier II to protest the location and timing of the Navy Training in the Gulf of Alaska. The Sun’aq Tribe helped to organize the event with the help of skippers and crew members alike.

On board the Mythos, a voice comes on over the radio telling vessels to tie together in front of pier 2.

We make our way into a line, where we face the crowd of about 33 people lined up on the dock in front of their cars. Crewmembers hurry to raft up the boats. Once they are secured and the rush to avoid collision is over, I climb down to the deck and speak to Mythos crewmember Rolf Hanning.

A picture of a smoke bomb from the flotilla protest. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

Hanning is a newcomer to both Alaska and fishing and came out to take a stand alongside his skipper and crew.

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea to kill all the fish that this whole economy runs on, and beyond that, we know it’s bad for the environment, we know that they could do it somewhere else, it’s the United States government, they can bomb wherever they want. Why are they doing it right here? It doesn’t make any sense,” says Hanning.

Fisherman Chuck McWethy also thinks the Navy training could take place elsewhere.

“If they want to go blow up their bombs, they can figure out where there’s less sea life, where there’s less commercial product available for harvest that has a real, real good possibility of being affected by it,” says McWethy.

I hop from boat to boat to talk to protestors. Around me, crewmembers shoot flares into the sky, release orange smoke bombs, and honk their horns. Cars on the pier respond.

I end up on a vessel captained by McWethy’s son, Quinnan.

He says he just heard about the Navy training and doesn’t know much about it, but he’s there to support the fishing community.

“The only way we can actually achieve anything is if everyone gets together,” says McWethy. Whether it’s striking for prices of salmon or standing up to this, I know that everyone’s kinda coming together for something and I stand behind the fishing fleet and what they want to do.”

Wrapped up in the interview, we hear the shout that they’re cutting the boats loose a little too late. One of the fishermen offers me a skiff ride and delivers me to a ladder at pier 2. I climb my way up to the protest on land, where things are winding down.

Vice-Chair of the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak Council, John Reft, is among the crowd and says he has a personal history fishing in Portlock Bank, one of the areas where the Navy plans to train. He says King Crab comes in through there and the Navy could disturb the crab as well as other sea life.

“They’re gonna diminish the possible stocks when we’re trying to build this island back up for the King crab like it used to be,” says Reft. “You cannot take a chance with all those bombs and stuff that they’re going to use.”

Council Chair, Sophie Frets, is also at the protest, and says she saw a united front from the fishermen.

“They’re from totally different boat aspects, the trawlers, and the jiggers, and the salmon fishermen all together united to speak up and say this is not a game, that we need this to exist, so they got together in a way that I’m very proud that we were able to see it,” says Frets.

Frets says the Sun’aq Tribe put in a request to the United States Department of Defense for a formal consultation and hopes to get the Navy to listen to their concerns. She says the tribe is still waiting to hear back from officials.

Categories: Alaska News

Boy Found Dead In St. Mary’s

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 09:16

A two-year-old boy was found dead in a creek in St. Mary’s Saturday. The boy’s mother reported to Alaska State Troopers the boy was missing Saturday afternoon.

Troopers and local search crews initiated a hasty search of the area. They also diverted an aircraft with a pilot and  spotter to fly over the area. Searchers combed the creek near the house and eventually found the child’s body caught under a sunken wood pallet.

Troopers say there are no signs of foul play. The boy’s body will be sent to the medical examiners office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

No budget by July means no ferry service

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-02 09:11

Three ferries dock at the Ketchikan Shipyard for repairs and upgrades in 2012. All 11 ships would tie up by early July if the Legislature does not reach a budget compromise. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

All state ferries will stop sailing by early July if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal.

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s plans are among dozens of state service cuts announced Monday by the Walker administration.

Ferry spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the 11 ships in the fleet will head to their home ports as close to July 1 as possible.

“We can’t play guessing games that there will be a fully funded budget at some point. And so, we have to play it safe and have the ships enter layup status in July,” he says.

Ferries will stop sailing between June 29 and July 1, depending on their location.

Woodrow says a skeleton crew will remain with each ship to keep it ready to return to service. He says the ferry system has enough money to keep all 11 ferries tied up for a year.

Notice of the layup plans will be posted on the marine highway website. But those scheduled to sail will not hear directly from staffers.

“There’s thousands of reservation holders. If we were to start contacting each one, by the time we reached them all, there might be a budget passed and we’d have to turn around and call them all back,” he says.

Woodrow says those changing or cancelling reservations will not face a penalty.

One ferry — the Taku – was already scheduled to be tied up for July and August as part of budget cuts.

The ferry system serves 35 port communities. Only five are on Alaska’s mainland road system. Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington, are also connected.

Categories: Alaska News

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