Alaska News

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:18

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

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Missile Defense Agency director James Syring told senators they don’t need to worry about a repeat of last year’s botched test, when an interceptor launched from California missed because the head failed to separate from the booster.

“The failure last July I won’t go into details in this forum, but it was very simple. I’m confident that we’ve corrected that,” he said.

The Missile Defense Agency is asking Congress for $7.5 billion for next year. Syring says one crucial element is a new detection system called LRDR – long-range discrimination radar, which is likely to be based in Alaska. Syring told a Senate Committee he wants to have the billion-dollar radar operating within six years.

“The importance of the radar is that it provides us that needed discrimination capability against the threat from North Korea,” he said. “As they continue to progress and add decoys and counter-measures, and I’ll stop there in terms of classification, we must have a discrimination ability of a radar to counter that.”

Syring says he hopes to announce a location in a few months, but the agency has already told potential contractors to assume the radar will be installed at Clear Air Force Station, near Fairbanks. The budget also calls for 14 more interceptors at Fort Greely, bringing the total there to 40 by mid-2017. One part of Alaska the Missile Defense Agency is giving up on is Kodiak. The agency used to launch rockets from there to serve as targets but stopped in 2010 in favor a Kwajelein atoll in the Pacific. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked if the Kodiak Launch Facility might be part of a future test. Syring said no, because the testing has to be more realistic now, and the geometry of a launch from Kodiak makes it a poor stand-in for North Korea.

Categories: Alaska News

State Supreme Court Hears Case To Remove Pebble Initiative From Ballot

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

(Alexandra Gutierrez/Alaska Public Media)

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

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Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar presented the State’s case before the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“The mineral deposits and fisheries in the Bristol Bay fisheries reserve impact all Alaskans,” argued Bakalar. “They don’t just belong to or impact the people living in that region.”

The Alaska Miners Association and Council of Alaska Producers are behind the lawsuit. Their goal is to remove the Bristol Bay Forever initiative from the November ballot. The measure would add another layer of scrutiny to the proposed Pebble Mine beyond the permitting process by requiring legislative approval of large-scale mining operations in the region. (The Legislature is already obligated to sign off on oil and gas operations in the Bristol Bay area.)

The miners’ attorney, Matt Singer, held that the initiative circumvents the Legislature’s authority to delegate land management decisions to state agencies. He also argued that because the initiative only focuses on Bristol Bay instead of mining operations throughout the state, it is unconstitutional.

“We don’t regulate land and environmental decisions by balkanizing those decisions — by regionalizing those decisions — unless we’re seeking to solve a problem that cannot be addressed by a general law,” said Singer.

Justice Craig Stowers pressed Singer on that point.

“My question is, if we have statewide interest in the minerals and fisheries in this world-class watershed, in this world-class fishery, isn’t that enough in establishing general applicability — or general interest, statewide interest — putting aside the purpose statement of the initiative?” asked Stowers.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after the State certified the initiative in 2012, and has stretched on for about a year and half. The Fairbanks Superior Court sided with the State on the matter in February, and the Supreme Court justices would have to reverse that ruling for the measure to be removed from the ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Air Force Confirms Delay Of HAARP Demolition

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:17

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility. Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:16

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot.

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Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

“Judge Estelle filed 16 untrue affidavits, under oath, from September 2011 through February, 2013, swearing that he had completed or issued decisions in all matters that had been pending before him, for more than six months, when in fact, he had not completed those decisions,” DiPietro said. “Judge Estelle continued to receive his salary on time, and that’s contrary to a state law that prohibits a judge from being paid on time if the judge has undecided matters outstanding for longer than six months.”

The Judicial Council concluded that by filing untrue affidavits, Judge Estelle failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

Judge Estelle was appointed in 2003. He has been approved in two previous retention elections, in 2006 and in 2010.

In April of this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges against Judge Estelle, and, after a hearing, issued its findings and recommendations against his retention.

DiPietro says that only state judicial District Three voters will have an opportunity to vote for or against Judge Estelle. District Three encompasses Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:15

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

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The report shows basic health care – like a primary care doctor’s visit is generally accessible, even to low income, uninsured patients. Community health centers like the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center provide services on a sliding fee scale.

The report was prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services. Commissioner Bill Streur says there are 200 locations across the state that offer basic health care to low income Alaskans:

“The range of preventative services, the range of primary care services and the options for those folks are pretty significant,” Streur said.

But Streur acknowledges many low-income and uninsured Alaskans have more complicated medical needs. When that’s the case, they may find help through a patchwork system of charity care. Those options include hospital emergency rooms and Project Access, which connects uninsured residents to specialists willing to wave their fees. Streur says his department is trying to figure out how many uninsured Alaskans need regular access to specialty care:

“The majority are people with a chronic condition that require specialty care and there’s no service available to them,” Streur said.

The report also identifies outpatient mental health care as an area that may not be available to the uninsured. The department doesn’t make recommendations for addressing the overall gap in access. Streur says that will be the job of the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group that started meeting this spring:

“What could we do under Medicaid, what could we do under other initiatives to be able to fill this gap?” Streur asked.

Alaskans who fall into the gap generally are childless adults who have incomes under $15,000 a year. They aren’t eligible for subsidies to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act because the law assumed they would qualify for Medicaid instead.

Categories: Alaska News

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:14

Local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

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Richard Kuzuguk is with the Shishmaref Environmental Program. He said a gasoline-like odor from the sheen can be smelt throughout the community.

“You can smell the odor from the Native Store to the other store, which is three-quarters of the village’s length as far as houses,” said Kuzuguk.

Last Thursday June 5, 2014 Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer Barret Eningowak reported “a sheen on the nearshore icepack” to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The next day a team from the DEC, the Coast Guard, and Spill Response Coordinator Emerald Alaska arrived on the island to investigate.

Paul Lhotka is an Environmental Program Specialist with the DEC and said the sheen “looked to us to be some type of weathered petroleum product, such as a gasoline or a diesel.”

Contaminated nearshore sea ice. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

Lhotka said no source has been identified and no volume estimation of the product has been calculated. However, a situation report estimates the sheen covers a 1,200 foot area of near-shore ice.

Closeup of absorbent pad collecting product. (Photo courtesy Barret Eningowak, DEC)

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Eric Vogel with the Incident Management Division at Sector Anchorage said this ice is hindering clean-up efforts. Local responders are maintaining an absorbency boom and pads along the coast of the affected area to soak up and confine the substance. But with the ice in break up, responders cannot venture more than five feet offshore by foot or skiff to absorb the product.

“Responders are unable to work out on the ice,” Vogel explained, “so most of the recovery operations are from shore—the absorbent boom and pads that are anchored to the shore with rebar and passively collecting this emulsified oil.”

DEC’s Lhotka said the ice is thawing at a rapid rate and should be melted in a few days. Both Lhotka and Kuzuguk said “no known wildlife impacts” have resulted from the sheen.

Samples of the oily substance are being shipped to the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut. They are being compared to petroleum samples from the Shishmaref tank farm.

The Coast Guard personnel are returning to Shishmaref this Friday June 13, 2014 to continue their investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:13

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

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John Davies spent his first summer in Fairbanks on the upper Chena River, using satellite dishes to record radio emissions from the sun. On August 11, it rained 3-and-a-half inches.

“It was just raining like crazy. The water was coming up,” Davies said.

John Davies. (Photo courtesy John Davies)

At 11 a.m. his partner called from the research site a quarter mile away, stranded by flood water. John jumped in the only available vehicle – a front end loader – to go rescue him.

“The water was over the tires. It was 6 feet deep,” Davies said. “Fortunately the bunkhouse was high and dry but there was water everywhere around us.”

The Great Flood of ‘67 nailed Fairbanks the next day, flooding the power plant, wiping out the hospital and displacing 8,000 people. The bridges washed out and the two grad students were stuck there for weeks. Luckily they had a generator, an electric oven and all the ingredients for cake. The next day was the caretaker’s birthday.

“Then we made a raft out of oil drums and poled across this flooded area and delivered this birthday cake to her,” Davies said.

Then came the first winter.

“Fifty-below seemed like I was on the other side of the moon,” John’s wife, Linda Schandelmeier, said, laughing. “It just seemed like a completely different thing.”

She moved up the same year from a homestead in Anchorage. She says the ice fog was way worse than it is today, thanks to lower temperatures and dirtier car engines.

“You’d be at an intersection and you could barely see that the lights were red,” she said. “When they turn green you just had to go on a wing and a prayer. I guess I’ll turn left but I hope nobody else is out there. You really couldn’t tell.”

John had summit fever. In 1970, he attempted a first ascent of Mt. Kimball in the Alaska Range, skiing 40 miles in on the Canwell Glacier. But when they reached the final steep, icy pitch, they ran out of ice screws. They were climbing back down, roped together, when one member of his group vanished.

“It was a fairly narrow crevasse and the sound doesn’t travel very far,” John said. “We were concerned that he was unconscious.”

His friend was uninjured when they pulled him 50 feet up and over the lip of the crevasse, but it was the last peak John tried to bag. Fieldwork was an adventure too, especially before GPS and satellite phones. Linda spent one summer living in a wall tent near Bristol Bay studying cormorants. Once a month someone from Bethel would fly out to check in on her.

“We essentially had no communication,” John said. “They wouldn’t let you do that now. Are you kidding? What if you got hurt? The nearest village was 25 miles away.”

John spent many summers installing seismic stations in the Aleutians, cruising around islands in a fishing boat and climbing craggy hillsides.

“I mean, you first look at it and you think it’s a God-forsaken patch of grass out there in the middle of the ocean, and it’s just cold and windy, and it is a lot of the time,” John said. “But it’s also just an enormously beautiful place, and very, very rich in sea life.”

One time he hitched a ride with a fishing boat from Sand Point to Nagai Island. When the cannery called to say they desperately needed product, John ended up spraying shrimp with a fire hose all day rather than setting up seismometers.

“And fished for about 10 or 12 hours and we caught over 100,000 pounds of shrimp – that is a lot of freakin’ shrimp,” John said. “The guy who was sort of the chef fried up some of the shrimp for us. These were almost like prawns, they were really, really good.”

In 1993 he headed for the next summit: the state Legislature. Alaska’s oil revenues were cut in half that decade, as oil prices and production dropped. John, a House Democrat, proposed a state income tax to balance the budget.

“It was a crazy tax, but it had the advantage of being deductible from your federal income taxes,” John said. “It would actually save people in Alaska about $100 million over the course of a year.”

It passed the House but was crucified in the Republican-controlled Senate. Then his opponent used it to beat him in the next election.

“They ran an ad with a woman in her kitchen saying she just didn’t understand why that John Davies wanted to take $3,000 away from her,” he said.

In the past five decades, John has learned a lot about the physics, the resources and the people that make Alaska tick. Now he’d like to see the state invest in renewable energy for the future. Having lived here in the 60s, it’s not that hard for him to imagine life in Alaska without oil.

Categories: Alaska News

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 17:12

Vicki Soboleff talking to the group of parents and kids. (Photo by Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau)

Celebration begins this evening at 6 o’clock with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

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It’s a Thursday evening and some 50 kids and teenagers dance their way through the Tlingit-Haida Community Center near Salmon Creek. Group founder and leader Vicki Soboleff walks up and down the line giving instructions. Soboleff says she and the group have come a long way since the first practice in 1995.

“There were 12 children here and there was a group of their parents and maybe grandparents and aunts and uncles. All those children were looking at me and I was terrified. We didn’t start off singing Tlingit songs. We actually started off singing ‘This Old Man.’ I was just trying to get them to sing and plus I was nervous.”

At this practice they sing numerous Alaska Native songs and Soboleff says they’re instruments for learning.

“Knowledge of your Native culture and involvement in Native song and dance and language really helps you with your sense of self and belonging. To your tribe, your clan. I believe it’s really important for Native children to know who they are, where they came from, what their tribal clan is.”

One of Soboleff’s early dancers is now a teacher. Barbara Dude joined the group when she was seven and now, at 26, she’s an assistant group leader. She helps 15-year-old Allison Ford with her Tlingit introduction—just like Soboleff helped her. Among other things, Dude says she gained language skills, self-esteem, and public speaking skills. But the most important lessons were about something more. She says the group’s goal to help engender identity worked.

“When I started the group when I was seven I didn’t know that I was Tlingit. The group has helped me gain a sense of pride in who I am and now I am able to share that with my children who have known they were Tlingit since they were born.”

Dude is excited for Celebration, especially the grand entrance.

“We all dance in together and ahead of us are dancers from another group, and behind us are dancers from another group and we’re dancing across stage and each person gets their chance to go across stage and dance their hardest. They feel it because everyone around them is feeling it with them.”

Dude tears up and apologizes for becoming emotional.

“How powerful it is to watch them be immersed in the culture and the language. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

The All Nations Children’s Dance Group is true to its name and is open to children of all races and ages until high school graduation. Then Soboleff and Dude hope they’ll join an adult group or stick around to help children learn language, song, dance, and especially, cultural identity and pride.

The Grand Entrance procession begins tonight at 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall. You can watch it on 360 North or 360North.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska New Nightly: June 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-11 16:58

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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Former Haines Police Officer Hired As Security Officer For The Alaska Marine Highway

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position. But the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

Missile Defense Budget Shows Continued Alaska Role

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.

Air Force Confirms Delay In HAARP Demolition

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The U.S. Air Force is expected to slow down the demolition slated for Gakona’s HAARP facility.  Wednesday, Air Force Research Lab public affairs representative Charles Gulick, emailed APRN saying, “Air Force Leadership is currently considering the option of deferring the dismantling for up to 10 months to allow time for a potential transfer to another entity.”

UAF has conducted research programs at the HAARP for years.

State Defends Decision To Certify Citizens Initiative Slowing Pebble Mine

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The health of the Bristol Bay watershed and its salmon fishery is an issue of statewide importance: That’s the position the State of Alaska took Wednesday when defending its decision to certify a citizen’s initiative that would add another obstacle to the development of Pebble Mine.

Alaska Judicial Council Recommends All But 1 Judge For Retention

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Judicial Council has released its recommendations for retention of state District and Superior court judges. The judges will come up for vote on the November ballot. Suzanne DiPietro, executive director of the Council, says 13 of 14 state judges have been given the thumbs up. But one judge, William Estelle, who sits on the bench in Palmer, has not gained Judicial Council approval.

Report Says 12,000 Alaskans Without Reliable Access To Health Care

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

When Governor Sean Parnell decided to reject federal Medicaid expansion last fall, he asked for a study detailing the safety net services available to low income Alaskans. That report is out this week and it shows 12,000 Alaskans have no reliable access to health care, particularly specialty care.

Source of Shishmaref Sheen Remains Unknown, Locals Work to Absorb Substance

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

Despite precarious ice conditions, local responders in Shishmaref are working to absorb the oily sheen discovered off the island’s north coast last week. The source of the substance remains unknown.

Before The Pipeline: John Davies

Molly Rettig, APRN Contributor

John Davies came to Alaska in 1967 to study geophysics and climb mountains. Twenty-five years later he was making laws in the Legislature. Along the way he’s faced floods, volcanic eruptions, and a battle over state income taxes, learning a lot about the tectonic plates and the people who have shaped Alaska. Molly Rettig talked to John Davies for this series about life in Fairbanks before the pipeline boom.

All Nations Children’s Dance Group Fosters Cultural Identity

Scott Burton, KTOO – Juneau

Celebration begins Wednesday evening with the Grand Entrance procession to Centennial Hall in Juneau. The four-day cultural event of Southeast Alaska Natives includes 50 dance groups. Among them is All Nations Children’s Dance Group of Juneau. The group formed in 1995 and has about 80 members.

Categories: Alaska News
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