Alaska News

‘I Am A Girl On The Run’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:15

The theme of this Girls on the Run 5K was tutus. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

When Molly Barker exclaimed, “I feel beautiful,” the crowd of runners, running buddies, volunteers and family members cheered. When she yelled, “I am a girl on the run,” everyone – female and male alike –  shouted, “I am a girl on the run!”

More than 100 girls from around Southeast Alaska participated in Saturday’s Girls on the Run event in Juneau. The after-school program has been in Juneau since 2008, but this particular run was special – Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker was visiting from North Carolina.

 

Every runner in Girls on the Run has a running buddy who stays with them for the entire 5K. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Girls on the Run is a three-month after-school running program that empowers girls to be healthy, happy and confident. Each program session culminates in a 5K run.

Glacier Valley fifth grader Teija Loving says the program works.

“Because you can get fit and you can have new friends and you can, like, just meet a lot of new people and you can have more respect about yourself,” Teija says.

Emma Rice, also in fifth grade, says she’s learned a lot from the program.

“To, like, be confident and never give up on yourself and don’t think that you’re a failure,” Emma says.

Teija and Emma are on the cusp of entering a new phase of life where, Barker says, things starts to get more difficult.

“What I’ve learned is that around sixth grade, which is the age you guys are, the world suddenly – I don’t know if you’ve experienced this – starts to somehow get the focus off of who you are in the inside and put the focus where? On your outsides, like, maybe how you look, your body, your hair, all the other stuff,” Barker said.

Speaking to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School, Barker shared one way to handle this.

“If you are funny, are you going to kind of be a little bit funny if your gift is to make people smile and laugh? No, you’re going to really let that out,” Barker said. “So part of what I think we can do as strong empowered women, instead of focusing on each other’s outsides, we can bring our gifts, walk it into a room and own it.”

This is a lesson that Barker herself didn’t have growing up in the South. She struggled with being popular and fitting in. At age 15, she started drinking. Barker said her struggle continued until she was 32.

“I had this experience while out on a run actually that just changed everything and I became incredibly conscious of the fact that I lived 32 years of my life allowing words and other people to define me and I thought, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’” she said.

Three years later, Barker created Girls on the Run. It started in 1996 with 13 girls. Now, more than 130,000 girls in the U.S. and Canada are part of the program.

 

Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker speaks to sixth grade girls at Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

AWARE is Juneau’s women’s shelter and domestic abuse nonprofit. It started Girls on the Run as one of its primary prevention initiatives. The program has spread to 11 other communities in Southeast Alaska and serves more than 350 girls.

Back at the 5K, 11-year-old Eli Mead stands with his little sister, Samantha, who’s in Girls on the Run.

“I’m her running buddy today because I love running,” Eli says. “I’m going to make sure that she never stops and I’m going to compliment her and I’m going to tell her that she’s doing fine.”

Volunteer Leslie Daugherty is also a running buddy.

“It’s just about taking baby steps. So we walk until we feel like running and maybe we don’t feel like running at all, and that’s okay, too. We’ll just be joyful about it and just feel strong and like we can do anything,” Daugherty says.

And that’s what Girls on the Run is all about – bringing joy and confidence. Or, as a girl once told Barker, “teaching girls to be the boss of their own brains.”

Categories: Alaska News

APICDA Tries to Draw Graduate Students Back Home

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:10

Community development quota groups, or CDQ groups, are supposed to harness some of the wealth from western Alaska’s booming fisheries. They all invest in education by handing out scholarships to coastal residents.

Now, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is changing the way it invests in graduate students to get the returns it wants.

Larry Cotter is APICDA’s executive director. He says the scholarship program used to be simple: Students from the Aleutians and Pribilofs could get up to $5,000 every year to pay for school. That worked well for undergraduates.

“First and foremost, I think the goal is to encourage folks to get an education and set the table for their future,” Cotter says.

But it’s different for students who pursue an advanced degree, like a master’s or a doctorate. In the past five years, 15 graduate students have gotten grants from APICDA to put toward school.

There’s no data on how many of them have returned to the Aleutians and Pribilofs. But Cotter says the region needs all of those students to put their graduate degrees to work in their communities.

APICDA wasn’t doing enough to draw them back home, Cotter says.

“The way to do that would be to shift away from providing an outright scholarship to encouraging the students to go get student loans, and then we would pay those loans off at up to $5,000 a year if they returned to the region and worked or worked for somebody working with the region,” Cotter says.

That could be a government agency, like the Aleutians East Borough. It could also be a nonprofit group, or even APICDA itself.

Cotter says it’s a new concept for APICDA. But they’re not the only ones using loan repayments to hold onto highly-educated residents.

The CDQ group for the Bristol Bay region — the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation — will pay off up to $20,000 in graduate school loans for students from the area if they come back home to work for at least one year.

“Frankly I think we may have looked at their program and said, ‘You know, that makes sense,’” Cotter says.

The Bristol Bay group didn’t respond to a request for information about their program. But according to their annual reports, BBEDC has been offering loan forgiveness to graduate students for at least a decade.

In the Aleutians and Pribilofs, the changes are going into effect. Residents who have returned to work for the region will have until July 1 to apply for student loan payments from APICDA. After that, more rounds of funding are expected to follow.

Categories: Alaska News

Managers May Close Kuskokwim to King Salmon Fishing Earlier than Planned

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:09

The waters of Kuskokwim River are free of ice and at the moment open to subsistence king salmon fishing, but that could quickly change, depending on how many fisherman are targeting and catching king salmon in a year that managers believe is crucial for viability of the run.

Brian McCaffery, the Acting Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Manager and the Federal In-Season Manager, says the early season plan had the federal Kuskokwim waters closing to gillnets larger than 4 inches as of a week from Tuesday.

Ice passes by Bethel, AK on Sunday, May 4, 2014. (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“Right now the game plan is for the 20th, but if it turns out that a lot of people are out there targeting and successfully harvesting kings, we may need to make that date earlier to protect those fish that are trying to get upriver that are trying to get to the spawning grounds further up,” McCaffery said.

He says that there are concerns that the run might be building earlier as it has in other early break up years, but he doesn’t know with any certainty when the run will come in.

That said, Bethel resident Fritz Charles called into KYUK’s Friday Talk Line show and told listeners that the closures are not yet in place, and that it’s “a free for all.”

McCaffery says words like that are disappointing.

“We were hoping that given the widespread information that’s been disseminated across the year about the threats to the king salmon, that folks would use some individual restraint and not target the king salmon at this time and focus on some of the other fish species,” McCaffery said.

Later Friday, Charles explained that on one side, he is for conservation and making sure his grandchildren enjoy king salmon, but on the hand…

“Of course everyone one wants the fresh taste of fish,” Charles said. “And now is the time to do it, before any regulations or anything sets in place – that’s my personal opinion.”

Charles says he’s not hearing of any kings being caught as of Friday afternoon. This year if McCaffery sees large scale preseason king salmon harvest, he says in addition to closing the gillnet harvest earlier, he may also have to reduce or eliminate what was hoped to be a small cultural and social king salmon harvest of around 1,000 kings. He also may have to change or cancel the 6” gillnet openings penciled in for the last week of June.

2013 brought the lowest Kuskokwim king salmon run on record of around 94,000 kings, with only about 47,000 escaping to spawn, well below the bottom of the escapement goal. All of the weirs saw the lowest passage on record.

Whatever early harvest takes place this year could disproportionally affect the fish that head hundreds of miles upriver, says McCaffery.

“We suspect that many of these salmon that are headed up to the farthest reaches of the headwaters are among those that come in early,” McCaffery said. ”The folks upriver have made it very clear that they want and need those stocks to be protected.”

McCaffery says his crews may be travel this weekend to see how many fishermen are out. Enforcement crews were planning on beginning around May 20th, but they may arrive earlier if necessary.

“We’re really hoping that with some very conservative actions which we realize will take sacrifice and will cause some hardship for people that we that may be able to have a better chance at having healthy populations down the road, not just for this generation but for generations still to come,” McCaffery said.

Click here to view the early season regulation outlook and a letter from McCaffery explaining the consequences of the early season harvest.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Tallies Cost of Blasting Issues at Wastewater Plant, Landfill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 12:02

It’s been a year since Unalaska started uncovering big problems with a major construction project in town. Work is moving forward on the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. But, staff are still trying to put a price on the damage done.

Workers at the wastewater treatment plant site are busy pouring concrete for the building’s water tanks and foundations. City Manager Chris Hladick says they’ll be able to start building the actual structure of the plant in the next month.

“You know, they had planned on being further along than they are, but I don’t think it’s going to impact the total schedule,” Hladick said.

The plant has to be online by the end of 2015, as mandated by a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, Hladick says they’re working on another issue — one that was never supposed to be part of the project.

They’re trying to add up the cost of issues with blasting work done at the site last year.

Advanced Blasting was originally hired to carve out a hole for the wastewater treatment plant’s foundations, but the city says they blasted too deep and too wide, and left behind explosive materials, including sticks of dynamite.

Advanced Blasting owner Julia Saunders has said the company won’t comment on the allegations.

But contractors on the project say it’s cost them at least $1.6 million — and counting — to deal with the blasting issues.

In some cases, the city’s agreed to pay what the companies are asking. They granted a $340,000 change order to Alaska Mechanical, the lead contractor, to fill in the over-blasted area.

But Northern Mechanical, the subcontractor at the plant, is asking for a lot more — $1.3 million, to be exact. Hladick says the company did face a lot of extra work. They had to deal with the over-blasting and the abandoned explosives at the site.

“It was completed last July and August, I believe, the work — they’d find a blasting material and they’d stop work and deal with it, and there were a lot of starts and stops,” Hladick said.

Northern Mechanical hasn’t been paid for that extra work yet, because the city wants more details on why it cost so much.

“We’re saying, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money. Okay, show us your back-up. Show us your timecards, show us how many trucks you used…’ all that kind of stuff,” Hladick said. ”And that’s well within our rights to do that.”

Either way, it’s not just financial cost from blasting issues that’s adding up at the wastewater site. It’s costing time, too. Hladick says Alaska Mechanical wants to add extra days on the end of the contract to make up for delays.

He says that shouldn’t be a problem — the city built a buffer into their construction schedule so they could meet the EPA’s deadline even if they ran into problems.

But all those problems have had a ripple effect, and it’s spread to another municipal project: the landfill expansion. Dynamite wrappers turned up in piles of rock there last month, bringing work to a halt.

The contaminated rock had come from the wastewater treatment plant, and Northern Alaska, the contractor that was supposed to use it to expand the landfill, needed to clean it up. Hladick says they asked for $2.3 million extra to do it.

“That was just to go through 40,000 yards of rock, and they were going to go through it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure there wasn’t anything in it,” Hladick said. ”They had, like, $4,000 a day for a powderman to be on site, and they estimated 60 days to go through the pile.”

The city thought the change order was too expensive, so they canceled the contract altogether. The project is set to go back out to bid this week. Whoever picks it up will also have to deal with the contaminated rocks.

That’ll all make up the final price of the blasting issues at the wastewater plant. Once the city approves the contractors’ requests and tallies the total cost, Hladick says they’ll bring it to Advanced Blasting and start looking at getting paid back.

“Yeah, we’re going to sit down with them and talk about it, that’s for sure,” Hladick said.

That conversation won’t involve lawyers — at least not at first. But with projects worth more than $23 million total and several companies’ reputations at stake, Hladick it’s a definite possibility down the road.

Categories: Alaska News

Tongass Fire Warning Rescinded

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 11:52

The risk of fires in Southeast’s Tongass National Forest has dropped.

A warning was issued last week as warm, sunny weather dried out grass and underbrush.

But Fire Management Officer Seth Ross says that’s changed.

“It seems that the forecast and the current weather indicate that we’re going back to our typical Southeast Alaska pattern, coming out of that warm and dry weather,” Ross says.

“So, we are going to rescind that warning, but still, caution people to always be careful of fire in the woods,” he says.

Ross says the Tongass sees an average of 17 fires each year. Sometimes it’s as high as 40. Most are brush and peat fires.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game Expects Low Yukon Chinook Run

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 11:51

The run size for Yukon River Chinook, or king salmon, is likely to be lower than last year’s. Fishermen saw the lowest run of kings on record in 2013.

Sport fishing throughout the entire Yukon River drainage area, including the Tanana River is closed this summer. Biologists don’t expect enough fish for a subsistence or commercial harvest this year either.

(Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Anywhere between 64,000 and 121,000 Chinook salmon could swim up the Yukon River this summer. Fish and Game’s Yukon River Research Biologist Stephanie Schmidt expects the run size to be close to the lower end of that range.

“Because the last several years, we’ve seen run sizes that have come in lower or at that low end of our preseason projections,” she said.

If she is right, this summer’s will be the lowest run on record for the Yukon River. Schmidt says there could be several reasons for the decline in king salmon.

“I always like to use the analogy of a a rivet in an airplane,” Schmidt said. “If you take one rivet out the airplane will still fly; If you take two out, it will still fly, but once you start taking three, four, five rivets out it’s going to crash.”

“So it might not be one big thing that’s causing Chinook salmon to decline but several small factors.”

Fish and Game is trying to manage the king salmon population so that up to 55,000 fish make it to Canada. That’s close to 86 percent of the lower end of the projected total run size. Fish and Game’s Yukon Area Summer Season Manager Eric Newland says there hasn’t been a lot of argument against closing sport fishing, subsistence or commercial harvest this summer.

“I think most people on the river really understand this: that it’s a problem, we’re doing a lot to conserve these fish and we’re still not making goals,” he said.

According to Newland, biologists are looking for ways to allow for harvest of other species in place of king salmon.

“Initially, we’ll be trying to provide for sheefish in the lower river, whitefish in other districts as well as summer chum when those fish become available a little later in the season and at that time we’ll be using gear types that allow for the release of King salmon if they are incidentally caught at that time,” he said.

Newland says last year’s commercial harvest of chum salmon, also known as dogs, was one of the largest on record. The subsistence harvest last summer was also up for chums, and Fish and Game expects a strong fall chum run this year as well. In the meantime, several research initiatives to investigate the king salmon decline are underway.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel City Council Fires City Manager Lee Foley

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 11:44

The Bethel City Council voted unanimously to fire City Manager Lee Foley during a special meeting Monday.

The termination comes after the 3-month-long investigation conducted by a third party attorney into nepotism, contracts, and personnel issues, among other issues. Council member Mark Springer noted that Foley had done a lot of good for the city.

“However it is the council’s prerogative at any time to terminate the city manager and in light of matters that have come to our attention and that have been given very serious consideration by the council…that why I’m making this motion,” Springer said. “And as I’ve said in previous meetings, this is not something we are taking lightly.”

Former Bethel City Manager Lee Foley at City Council meeting, 5/12/14.
(Photo by Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel)

Mayor Joe Klejka says there were at lease three contracts that were not sent out for competitive bidding, including the demolition of the old police station. The mayor would not name the other two, but the investigation included examination of city contracts with former finance director Bobby Sutton.

“We’ve not been following Bethel Municipal Code, and as our administrator for the city, [Foley] is the person most responsible for that to occur,” Klejka said. “It has just not been followed multiple, multiple, multiple times.”

The council confirmed violations within the city related to procurement, nepotism, credit card usage, personnel policies, leave, and travel and training policies. Foley’s son, Bo, works for the city’s IT department, which violates current city code.

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Foley admitted to using a city credit card for personal business and allowing department heads to do the same before paying back the money.

The termination was effective immediately. Foley has been city manager since July of 2008. Port Director Pete Williams has been the acting city manager since Foley was placed on administrative leave in April.

Foley said in a brief statement to the council that it was an honor serving the city council and that he wishes the best for Bethel.

The council is hoping to hire a human resources director soon, in an effort to ensure personnel policies are followed.

The council passed four motions in the special meeting. One would freeze tuition assistance to city employees until next year. Others would not allow first class travel on city business trips, stop automatic credit card charges, and ensure employees who cash out sick leave and personal time do so according to code.

The city is not releasing the investigation, citing attorney client privilege. KYUK and five other media organizations have submitted a public records request for the investigation.

The council meets in a regular meeting Tuesday at 6:30 at City Hall where they plan to hold a public hearing about proposed increases to water and sewer rates, direct city staff to move ahead with bike path and boardwalk repair and discuss creating a Bing Santamour higher education scholarship.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Air Group To Repurchase Up To $650 Million-Worth Of Stock

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-05-13 11:40

The Alaska Air Group will buy back up to $650 million of stock, in a move approved by the Board of Directors.

The buyback will equal about 10-percent of the company’s current market capitalization and comes on the heels of the current $250-million stock buyback.

In a prepared statement, the Chief Financial Officer stressed that the Alaska Air Group will finance the stock repurchases with cash on hand and cash flow from operations.

Since 2007, the Alaska Air Group has instigated 8 stock repurchase initiatives at a cost of $519-million. The Board of Directors also approved a quarterly cash dividend of 25-cents per share to be paid on June 4.

The Alaska Air Group is the parent company for Alaska Airlines.

Categories: Alaska News

Group Challenging Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

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The complaint is being filed in federal district court today, and it names Gov. Sean Parnell as the lead defendant. The parties are challenging the ban on the grounds that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Caitlin Shortell is one of three attorneys representing the couples.

“I think there’s a very strong, growing recognition that laws that single out a particular group of people to deny them rights do not square with the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, not with the Alaska Constitution,” Shortell said.

All but one of the couples challenging the ban have already been married in other states. But their marriages are not recognized by Alaska because of the ban that was instated in 1998. The fifth couple is unmarried, but would like to wed in Alaska.

Because the state officials named in suit have not seen the complaint, a spokesperson from the Department of Law could not comment on the case.

The State Supreme Court has ruled as recently as last month that gay couples need to be treated equally under law in situations like employee benefits and tax breaks, but it has skirted the question of whether the marriage ban conflicts with other parts of the Alaska Constitution.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. Federal judges have struck down marriage bans in several states since that ruling.

Categories: Alaska News

Pacific Walruses Removed From Unusual Mortality Event In North Pacific

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Pacific walruses have been removed from the unusual mortality event declared in the North Pacific for several marine mammal species.

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Categories: Alaska News

Panel Discussion Addresses Effects Of British Columbia Mines

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Over the weekend, the Western Mining Action Network held a panel discussion in Anchorage on the development of large scale mines in British Columbia that could impact the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers. All are prolific salmon producers for Alaska.

Chris Zimmer is the Alaska Rivers without Borders campaign director. He says there are a number of mines proposed for BC and two of the most concerning are the Tulsequah Chief mine and the much larger Kerr Suphurets Mitchell or KSM prospect which is half the size of the Pebble mine proposal and 50 times larger than Tulsequah.

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Why are these mining proposals ramping up now?

Zimmer – Well part of it is the price of gold. When I started this work 15 years ago, gold was in the 300 to 400 an ounce and now with it well into the thousands, that’s really driving a lot of this. And you also have two big pushes from BC. One a very strong pro mining push from the BC government. Premiere Christy Clark said she wants to see eight or ten mines in eight or ten years. Then you also have over the last couple of years, both Canada at the federal level and BC at the provincial level have, I’d say significantly cut their permitting regulations, significantly weakened some environmental laws. So these mines are going through much faster, in the permitting reviews, they’re not being held to as rigorous a standard, so we really see this as a tremendous mining binge in the BC side of the Southeast Alaska/BC transboundary region here.

Describe what the concern is for Alaska.

Zimmer – The biggest issue is, we’re downstream from all of this. If the rivers flowed the other way, it would be quite different. So the concern is for our water quality, our fish and the jobs, the livelihoods, the cultures that depend on those. Basically what we have in the headwaters now is a toxic time bomb if these mines are built. You’re going to have millions to billions of tons of acid mine generating rock, constant water flow and in the case of KSM, the company says they’ll have to treat the water for 200 years when most people think they’ll have to treat it forever. So forever is a tough concept, who is going to pay for forever? Who is going to pay to clean this up? So Alaska is going to get no benefit from these mines, the benefits will all flow to Canada and we get nothing but the risk to our downstream fisheries.

This is a trans-nation border issue, waters flowing from BC into Alaska, U.S. waters, have you spoken to anyone from the congressional delegation about this?

Zimmer – Over the last couple of months, we’ve put together a loose coalition of almost all the stakeholders in these watersheds, from commercial fishermen to tribes to environmentalists and we did send a team back to Washington DC in March. The response there was excellent from federal agencies and from our congressional delegation. They saw the risk, they listened to everybody and the congressional delegation immediately fired off a letter to Secretary John Kerry, saying this is an international issue and we need the State Department to engage directly with the Canadian government, because this isn’t an Alaska/BC this is really the U.S. and Canada and the border creates some problems of jurisdiction, the mines are in another country so the only way we thought we could get some traction and get these issues addressed is to make this a federal government to federal government level. Secretary Kerry does have other things on his plate these days, so we haven’t gotten an answer back yet, but we’ve been working with lower level officials in the State Department to try to engage with Canada. So that type of diplomacy is slow, it’s painful, but its really the only way for Alaska to get satisfaction, to get it’s concerned addressed. Canada is probably going to dig its heels in a bit so this could be a tough battle here.

Categories: Alaska News

Study Finds No Discernable Impact From Tulsequah Chief Mine Discharge On Fish

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Chieftan Metals Corporation, based in Toronto, is the owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Company President and CEO Victor Wypryski was traveling and could not be reached for comment today, but a recent posting on the company’s website highlights the results of a February water quality study.

Conducted at the request of the British Columbia ministry of the environment, the study tested four sites on the Tulsequah River, near the confluence of the Taku River near the mine site. Chinook, Coho, sockeye salmon and dolly varden were tested. Researchers reportedly found no discernable impact in fish tissue samples from historic mining discharge.

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Categories: Alaska News

Concerns Raised Over Alaska’s Lack Of Standing To Address Canadian Mining

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Robert Sanderson is first vice president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes and was at the mining conference. He also is concerned that Alaskans don’t have legal standing to address Canadian mining.

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“So that’s one thing we’re working on now is to start a dialogue with the tribal first nations first in Canada, and encourage them to work closely with their government, the provincial government, and on this side of the border, the U.S., we’re working with our Congressional delegation and the state of Alaska, which I feel could do more,” Sanderson said.

Something that may help the BC mining operations is a 2011 initiative to sign revenue sharing agreements with Canadian First Nations or tribes.

Categories: Alaska News

Motorcycle Collisions Claim 5 Lives This Year In Southcentral

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

A string of motorcycle collisions have taken five lives in the Southcentral area during the past several weeks.

And on a narrow highway shoulder near Palmer last week, riders lined up for an impromptu memorial service at the site of an accident on May 3 that claimed the lives of three members of the Harley Owners Group Alaska Chapter. They placed flowers and flags at the site.

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Categories: Alaska News

Blind Climber To Attempt Denali Ascent

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 18:16

Next month, Seattle-area mountain climber Bruce Stobie is going to attempt to get to the top of Denali. That alone is impressive, but Stobie faces an additional challenge. He’s blind.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 12, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 17:32

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

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Group Challenging Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

Pacific Walruses Removed From Unusual Mortality Event In North Pacific

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Pacific walruses have been removed from the unusual mortality event declared in the North Pacific for several marine mammal species.

Panel Discussion Addresses Effects Of British Columbia Mines

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Over the weekend, the Western Mining Action Network held a panel discussion in Anchorage on the development of large scale mines in British Columbia that could impact the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers. All are prolific salmon producers for Alaska.

Chris Zimmer is the Alaska Rivers without Borders campaign director. He says there are a number of mines proposed for BC and two of the most concerning are the Tulsequah Chief mine and the much larger Kerr Suphurets Mitchell or KSM prospect which is half the size of the Pebble mine proposal and 50 times larger than Tulsequah.

Concerns Raised Over Alaska’s Lack Of Standing To Address Canadian Mining

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Robert Sanderson is first vice president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes and was at the mining conference. He also is concerned that Alaskans don’t have legal standing to address Canadian mining.

Study Finds No Discernable Impact From Tulsequah Chief Mine Discharge On Fish

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Chieftan Metals Corporation, based in Toronto, is the owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Company President and CEO Victor Wypryski was traveling and could not be reached for comment today, but a recent posting on the company’s website highlights the results of a February water quality study.

Conducted at the request of the British Columbia ministry of the environment, the study tested four sites on the Tulsequah River, near the confluence of the Taku River near the mine site. Chinook, Coho, sockeye salmon and dolly varden were tested. Researchers reportedly found no discernable impact in fish tissue samples from historic mining discharge.

Banking Error Delays State Payroll

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

About 15,000 State of Alaska employees will wait another day for their paychecks, due to a banking glitch.

Juneau Birders Photograph Rare Long-Billed Curlew

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Juneau couple has likely made the first verified sighting of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska. North America’s largest shorebird, rarely seen in this part of the country, may become the next entry on the Checklist of Alaska Birds.

Mt. View Community Spruces Up For Spring

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Things look a little different in Mountain View. The community in north Anchorage just finished their 25th annual community-wide clean-up. This year they were joined by other city residents to improve a local park as well.

Motorcycle Collisions Claim 5 Lives This Year In Southcentral

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A string of motorcycle collisions have taken five lives in the Southcentral area during the past several weeks.

And on a narrow highway shoulder near Palmer last week,  riders lined up for an impromptu memorial service at the site of an accident on May 3 that claimed the lives of  three members of the Harley Owners Group Alaska Chapter. They placed flowers and flags at the site.

Blind Climber To Attempt Denali Ascent

Ashley Gross, KPLU – Seattle

Next month, Seattle-area mountain climber Bruce Stobie is going to attempt to get to the top of Denali. That alone is impressive, but Stobie faces an additional challenge. He’s blind.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Mt. View community spruces up for spring

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 17:25

Things look a little different in Mountain View these days. The community in north Anchorage just finished their 25th annual community-wide clean-up. This year they were joined by other city residents to improve their green space as well. KSKA’s Anne Hillman learned more.

http://www.alaskapublic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/12-mt-view-cleanup.mp3

Behind clean-up coordinator and longtime Mountain View resident Scott Kohlhaas, massive machines scoop mattresses and old couches into dumpsters.

“We’re taking everything from hazmat, electronics, car batteries, tires, metal, general trash…” he lists as he looks around at the groups of old refrigerators and piles of metal.

Over a week, the community collected about 200 tons of waste to be thrown out or recycled. Most of it has already been hauled away.

“There’s a lot of mobility here, lots of transition, so there’s lots of stuff in apartments that people have moved from, lots of stuff in the streets, in the alleys. It’s a constant struggle” to keep the area clean, Kohlhaas explains.

But Kohlhaas says when residents come together to clear it away, it improves the community atmosphere. “Yeah, there’s no doubt there’s more pride,” he says. “It’s the broken window syndrome. If we fix the broken window then everyone cares, and it’s gonna be a better place. And if we leave it broken then they’re gonna break the other windows. I think it makes big difference and I think people are proud of how it looks right now.”

Volunteers haul and clip brush during the Davis Park Fix-It in Mt. View

Though it’s the 25th annual community-wide clean up in Mountain View, it’s the first-ever Neighborhood Park Fix-it at Davis park. The park is a small plot of wooded land with trails running through it next to a giant playground. Community members initiated the event to improve the safety of the area.

Mountain View Lions Club member Amy Orange Posma drags bags of trash filled with things like power cords and pillows from abandoned homeless camps in the park. She says historically many homeless people have lived here, but the area is for everyone.

“This is a marvelous little chunk of trees, wild nature — and you have a street right there, schools over that way, housing. It’s just a lovely little refuge in Anchorage. All the parks are.”

Further down the path, Tony Lukian and members of his church group from south Anchorage are clipping back brush from the trail that winds through the trees.

He explains they’re doing it “just to create some visibility into the woods, you know. Make it a little bit more safe. Give people a little more clearance. Whether it be wildlife, any other dangers, possible hazards.”

Anchorage Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Mirna Estrada explains that trimming the brush helps give residents a place they feel comfortable gathering.

“Parks are great for our development, creating bonds with our friends and our family and our community.” She pauses and ducks as a volunteer snips a sapling right on top of Estrada. Uninjured and laughing, she continues. “See we’re bonding with nature!”

The clean-up is attracting new people to the park as well, like Rebecca Castleman, who recently moved in just a few miles away. “We thought, it’s our first time here at the park, we wanted to see what it’s all about, maybe clear some of the trails, and then we can enjoy it with our two little girls.”

The Park project marked the end of this year’s citywide clean-up week.

Volunteers enjoy lunch after cleaning up Davis Park

Parks and Recreaction has Park clean ups planned for the entire summer. Find out more at muni.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Banking Error Delays State Payroll

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 16:07

About 15,000 state of Alaska employees will wait another day for their paychecks, due to a banking glitch.

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State Office Building in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Direct deposits were not processed as expected by U.S. Bank on Monday, according to the Administration Department. Spokesman Andy Mills says the deposits are expected to be complete by Tuesday morning.

He says the state transmitted the payroll information to U.S. Bank on Friday, and the error was made by the bank.

U.S. Bank is a new vendor for the state and this is first time the company has processed the direct deposits. Wells Fargo was the previous vendor.

Mills calls it a big disappointment that U.S. Bank couldn’t get it right the first time.

“While our folks processed and did their portion of this payroll transmittal information, U.S. Bank did not complete their part and we’re looking to  make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mills says.

State workers may end up with fees on their personal bank accounts due to the problem, he says, which will be U.S. Bank’s responsibility.

“U.S. Bank has confirmed that they will be covering employee banking fees that are incurred from this error that they created and we’re going to hold them to that.”

Employees in every agency of the executive, legislative and the judicial branches of government statewide are affected.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Birders Photograph Rare Long-Billed Curlew

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 12:11

Doug Sanvik took this photo of a Long-billed Curlew on May 3. To the left of it is a Whimbrel. (Photo by Doug Sanvik)

A Juneau couple has likely made the first verified sighting of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska. North America’s largest shorebird, rarely seen in this part of the country, may become No. 502 on the Checklist of Alaska Birds.

Gwen Baluss went to Boy Scout Camp after the initial sighting and also saw the Long-billed Curlew. (Photo by Gwen Baluss)

Martina Kallenberger and husband Doug Sanvik were bird watching at Boy Scout Camp on May 3. Kallenberger says they started around 11 a.m. walking the trail and beach and were going through the meadow around 1:30.

“We were actually watching a flock of Lapland Longspurs when we noticed these two shorebirds on a little rise by the stream and one of them was a Whimbrel, which we recognized, and the other one was just shockingly different,” Kallenberger says.

Kallenberger and Sanvik watched the bird for at least an hour, taking pictures and referring to guidebooks. They had an inkling it might be the Long-billed Curlew.

“During the course of the time we were sitting there I was going through the bird book thinking, ‘Well, gosh it can’t be this, it could be— No…’ And I kept coming back to the Curlew, and Doug and I were both like, ‘It sure looks like a match but, gosh, it just doesn’t seem right.’”

They had reason to be hesitant.

“It is very rare,” says Steve Heinl.

Heinl is a lifelong birder and sits on the University of Alaska Museum’s Alaska Checklist Committee, which maintains and decides what goes on the official list of birds documented in Alaska.

“There had only been three previous reports of a Long-billed Curlew in Alaska, but none of them were photographed,” he says.

Bob Armstrong captured the Long-billed Curlew in flight. Steve Heinl says the bird is most distinctive this way because its underwings are cinnamon colored. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)

This is what makes Kallenberger and Sanvik’s sighting a likely entry on the list. Heinl says a sighting can be verified with photographs or a specimen.

Sightings of Long-billed Curlews on the unsubstantiated list first took place in 1973 near Juneau’s Eagle River, not again until 1992 on the Stikine River near Wrangell, and most recently in 2008 on the Situk River in Yakutat.

Long-billed Curlews spend winters in Mexico and on the west coast of North America. They breed throughout the West from southern Canada to New Mexico.

Heinl says the bird in Juneau likely flew farther than it needed to.

“I think it overshot its normal breeding range, which means it migrated too far north. Often birds that migrate to the wrong place are younger birds so it perhaps was on its first northward migration,” Heinl says.

That’s part of what makes watching birds so great, Heinl says, and why the Checklist of Alaska Birds will likely never stop growing.

“They have wings and they fly off in the wrong direction and there’s always potential to see something you’ve never seen before,” he says.

Kallenberger and Sanvik are proof of this. Kallenberger says they’ve spent many hours birdwatching at Boy Scout Camp and never imagined they’d see a Long-billed Curlew.

“Anytime I see a new species, it’s just hugely exciting,” Kallenberger says. “But to see something as unusual as this bird in this place was even doubly so.”

For Kallenberger and Sanvik, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Categories: Alaska News

Two Bethel Establishments Reportedly Were Operating as Bottle Clubs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2014-05-12 10:31

The Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board says two Bethel establishments have been illegally allowing patrons to bring in and consume their own alcohol, operating as what’s known as “bottle clubs.” But two conflicting statutes in the state alcohol law put certain clubs in a gray area.

State Troopers and ABC Board teams have been in discussion with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10041 and an unnamed Bethel restaurant earlier this year after reports that they were allowing people to bring alcohol on site. Shirley Coté is the Director of the ABC Board.

“You can’t BYOB to any premises that under the law would require a license,” said Coté.

Until late April, the VFW allowed members to bring in their own alcoholic beverage. The ABC board and state troopers say because there were no charges filed they’re not disclosing the name of the restaurant.

Michael Calvetti is Commander of VFW post 10041, which has 174 members throughout the Y-K Delta. He says the post was operating under advice they had received from an attorney that under one statute, they are exempt from needing a license. But a separate section of state law specifically outlaws bottle clubs, unless allowed, thus blurring the law.

“Because there is a conflict between those two statutes, at this point, we have said we don’t want any alcohol on the premise until ourselves, the ABC board, and the legislative body get to together and discuss and figure out the exact solution to this concern,” said Calvetti.

Coté says the two statues indeed collide with each other. In this case, she says there are no consequences for what would be violations of the state’s bottle club law.

“We talked to them on the phone, we work with them like we work with a lot of people around the state who are unaware the acts they are doing, they’re unaware that what they’re doing is illegal. We gave them an opportunity to fix it, and they said it was fixed, and unless we get other information that it’s still ongoing, our case is closed,” said Coté.

The ABC board last month discussed a change to regulation that would have allowed the VFW to continue, but they elected not to go in that direction.

The board pointed to a category of license, a club license, that would apply for the VFW. But that would require them to sell alcohol, but Calvetti says the membership does not want to be in that business.

When Bethel voted to go wet in 2009, six establishments, including the VFW applied for liquor licenses. The city protested the applications and they were rejected.

The Alaska Legislature could also change state law to allow certain patriotic clubs to operate as they had in the past.

As for now, the VFW has a no alcohol sign posted on the door and is in discussions with regulators and lawmakers.

“We do not plan on moving forward in any direction with the thought of alcohol until we have something in writing that we know applies to this post. I don’t want a generalization, I don’t want ‘a I think so,’ I want it to be solid so there’s no question on any party’s part,” said Calvetti.

Calvetti says the VFW operates a bingo hall and hosts many community events and alcohol is not the focus of the organization. As a non-profit, he says he wants to continue to provide money and support for the community. So far this fiscal year, they have given $150,000 for local causes.

Click here to view correspondence between the VFW and the ABC board and the regulations.

Categories: Alaska News
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